Thursday, April 12, 2012

This Blog is on the Move

This blog is moving to a nice shiny new location and I think you will like it. I will no longer be posting here. However, there is a new blog called which will provide this and much more information. Thank you so much to the many viewers who dropped by to see my posts here. Please continue to follow at the new site. I look forward to seeing you there!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Leadership Series - Part XI - Make Sure It Is Enjoyable

Let's face it!  We are at work more hours during our careers than we are awake at home.  If we work 8 hours a day, take an hour for lunch and commute for an hour and if we get the 8 hours of sleep we are supposed to be getting, that means there are only 6 hours left at home. And the 6 hours we spend at home are not our best hours because we are tired from working (but that's another story).  So if we are at work that much for 35 years or so, we damn well better enjoy it.

We are at work for a reason. We have a job to do and there are certain expectations of us. But everyone has a little down time, even at work. Or, at least they should. If not, there is something seriously wrong. It could be that we are not working smart enough. It could be that there is just too much work to do and if that is the case, it is time to look for another job. It could be that our career is our life or we are using our career to cover for other things. For purposes of this little essay, I am going to assume a normal 8 hour a day career.

We don't have to like our colleagues but we should respect them and hopefully, we are working in an environment where we can have a little fun. In my opinion, keeping your head down and focusing on work for the entire time you are at the office is going to be far less productive than if you enjoy yourself there. There is nothing wrong with the odd practical joke at work as long as no one is offended by it. I have already talked about the importance of walking around and getting to know people. It is great to hear a little laughter in the workplace occasionally. It is much easier to come to work, in my opinion, when the mood is light. The work will still get done and probably more effectively.

We used to have team building sessions occasionally. Year end was always an extremely busy time of year, involving a lot of stress and overtime and a team building event always followed the closure of the year. I call it an "event" because they were meant to put the staff in a situation that required interaction that would be fun and figuratively, about as far away from work as we could get. One year we went on a river cruise for an afternoon. But there wasn't much interaction. The same little groups that socialized at work did the same on the boat. Then one year I decided to have a picnic at a beach where we could play volleyball and mingle a bit more.

What really made it successful was the request that everyone bring water guns. Most did and they came in all shapes and sizes. We had our picnic and then the water guns came out. There was more laughter among the staff that day and yours truly came home soaked. It was something people laughed about for weeks and the following year it was back by popular demand. The only difference was that the water guns got bigger each year.

The atmosphere in the office starts with the boss. If the boss doesn't enjoy his or her job and lets that show, it is not going to be a good environment to work in. If the boss is grouchy, there is a good chance the entire section will be grouchy. Everyone has personal problems from time to time, but it is how we deal with and express our problems that makes the difference. And let's face another fact. No one really cares about your problems; they care about their own. So keep them to yourself and deal with them on your own time. They serve no purpose being dragged into the workplace. Maintain a good disposition at work and others will do the same.

I am a firm believer in enjoying your time in the workplace while getting the work done. There are times to put your nose to the grindstone to make ensure the work is done effectively and efficiently. That is satisfying in itself. But there are also times to come up for air and enjoy the people around you. It relieves the stress, people are more willing to go that extra mile without being asked and it sure makes it easier to get up in the mornings. I can honestly say I have enjoyed my time at work throughout my career and if you can say that, you will be much more satisfied and your life will be just that much more complete.    

Friday, March 9, 2012

Leadership series - Part X - Communication is Not Only Electronic

At first I wanted to call this post, "Communication is a Sideways Street" because I wanted to discuss communication across organizational lines. I also kind of liked the title but since I have managed to work it into the post anyway, now I can move on to a different angle. Communication is so important, I thought I would talk about the electronic aspects of it.
It is through communication that relationships are built, issues are resolved and decisions are made. It is through lack of communication that misunderstandings develop and fester or things just don't get accomplished. I have already touched on the need for individuals to reach across organizational lines to communicate with their colleagues. That is quite often done, but it is now often by email. I really think it would be possible to go through an entire career without meeting someone you talk to on a regular basis!

I am going to risk sounding like an old fuddy duddy so before I launch into this, I would just like to point out that I think I embrace technology as much as the next person. In fact, some of my friends call me Mr. Gadget, although they might be a little technologically challenged themselves so I am not sure how much it means coming from them. The fact is that communication has to be face-to-face occasionally. There, I've said it!

Email, text messaging and chatting certainly have their place but communication involves delivering and receiving a message. Sometimes the message gets lost between the two parties because it is impossible to interpret tone, inflections or body language through electronic communication. As everyone who writes a blog or even a letter knows, the only way the writer can know if he or she is actually reaching someone is through feedback.

I went through an interesting exercise related to this when I was working and it really brought home to me the need to ensure that the message you are conveying in your email is what you intended to say. It also emphasized the need to speak to someone face to face sometimes. There was a problem at work that originated a few years previously and that was potentially going to be subject to public scrutiny. I had to go through 100s of emails related to the subject to review how they might be interpreted by someone who was new to the issue or who wanted to interpret them a different way than intended. I was shocked.

Some were meant as a joke that had lost context. Some were cryptic and no longer had meaning. Some could be read in different ways. Anyone with the wrong intentions could easily deliberately misinterpret them for their own advantage. It left us very vulnerable and required a lot of work to prepare for any eventuality.

There are a few lessons I learned from this that I wanted to share. An email is in writing and is in the public domain. Be very careful what you write and think about the consequences. Think about how it will be interpreted. Read it from the point of view of the reader. Would you read it the same way it is being written?  And finally, why not walk over to talk to the person or pick up the phone? Decisions can be documented but maybe far more of the discussion should be verbal. It might reduce the risks!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Leadership Series - Part IX - What About the Under-Performer?

Okay, so far all the posts have assumed that everything is great with those you are leading. You treat everyone with respect, you are getting respect in return, everyone is doing what they are supposed to.  Tasks are being completed, communication is amazing, the lines of accountability are being respected. Everything is great! Utopia!?  Yes, that must be where you are because realistically, you should probably remove your rose coloured glasses and realize that things are not always going to be that way.

No matter how much you strive for perfection, not everyone will fall in step behind you. At any given time, someone may be trying to get ahead of you, undermine you, sabotage you, ignore you or just plain not bother doing what you ask. Harsh? Maybe, but you have to be prepared to deal with the situation if and when it arises.

The key thing is that you just can't let things fester. They have to be addressed before they get way out of hand. What is it about one bad apple spoiling the barrel? It is a cliche but it applies. Unfortunately, a disgruntled individual can often influence others quicker than a solid performer. Why? Because people see someone getting away with something. Why should someone work their butt off when the slacker next door is being paid roughly the same salary for doing half the work? It spreads like the worst possible epidemic.

The situation should be addressed first by the immediate supervisor. If that doesn't work, then it should be elevated. The problem should be identified, explained to the employee and, most importantly, documented. Consequences for failure to improve need to be explained. And they have to be real consequences. Don't just blow smoke. The employee has to realize that you will carry out your threats or they will not have any meaning. Try to understand the reason for the poor performance. There may be things you can help the employee with, such as training.

Sometimes there is nothing to be done. The employee could just be a square peg in a round hole. If that it the case, it is time for that individual to move on. The key, once again is to to make it as quick and as painless as possible.  Your organization and everyone involved will be the better for it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VIII - Lines of Accountability

Lines of accountability.  That sounds ominous. What the heck is it? Well, organizations might have executives, directors, managers, supervisors, chiefs, assistants, executive assistants, CEOs, CFOs, CEs, deputies, assistant deputies, employees, staff, etc. Depending on the size of the organization, there may be divisions, sections, departments, directorates, branches, etc. Get it? Anybody need a program to tell the players?

Well, believe it or not there is a reason for all that. It is to establish lines of accountability or various layers of responsibility so that accountability can be assigned to each one. And there are usually maps available called Organization Charts. They lay out who reports to whom and within which area of the organization. So the work gets done by everyone having access to and talking to everyone else, right?

Well, yes...and no. The work gets done by talking to your coworkers in other areas of the organization. There is nothing wrong with communication across the organization and, in fact, it should be encouraged. But the decisions get made by the appropriate layers within the organization.

Let's say you are in the Finance Division working on the budget and you need some clarification on a line item from another branch. There is nothing wrong with sending an email, or heaven forbid, picking up the phone and calling or even speaking face to face with a counterpart in the other branch to get some clarification. That gives you the ammunition you need to discuss it with your boss. Your counterpart will love you for involving him or her in the process and for representing them. But you don't go running to your counterpart's boss to discuss the situation for a few reasons.
  • It makes your boss look bad because it appears he or she has no control over the staff.
  • It makes your counterpart look bad because you are bypassing him/her and going above their head.
  • It leaves your boss blind because he/she was not involved in the discussion. You think your boss will be upset? You bet your britches!
By the same token, if you are the one in a position of authority you don't go below your direct reports to discuss issues related to work with their subordinates. It undermines your direct reports.

Anyone who is a parent will have been in a situation where your little Johnny has had a run-in with the neighbour's kid. You wouldn't immediately go running to the neighbour's kid to find out what is going on.  Nor would you talk to the kid's parents first. You would talk to your own kid to get the facts before doing anything else. It is common sense and no different in business.

Lines of accountability are in place for a reason to keep chaos from erupting in the workplace. The lines should be respected.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VII - Setting a (Good) Example

A person who worked for me for a short period of time and whom I barely had the chance to know came up to me at my retirement party and said, "You have been a real inspiration to me." I was stunned. I was flattered, but I was stunned. How could I have possibly influenced this person when we had spent so little time working together? But obviously, something had happened that they felt was influential. It made me realize something very important after all those years, although I had probably been vaguely aware of it. When you are in a position of leadership, people are watching.

I have mentioned before that I learned throughout my career from people that I wanted to emulate and from others that showed me how not to do things. When we are in a position of leadership, we don't necessarily realize that we are under scrutiny at the time but when you think about the way you probably observe others, it makes perfect sense. We have to be aware at all times. We have to set an example. We should try to be a positive role model whether we are a coach , parent, boss or in any other role of leadership.

An example can be good or bad. In an earlier post I talked about a staff member who told me when I was a shiny new supervisor that I should always show up late for everything to differentiate myself from the staff. Well....that IS an example. But it is not the right kind in my mind. An example of setting an example to me is always being on time. Everyone's time is important and to show up late for a meeting is showing a lack of respect for the time of others. You are basically saying that your time is more imporant than anyone else's. Is it really??

Setting an example can be in the way you dress, the language you use, the way you carry yourself, the way you treat others, the instructions you give, your willingness to do tasks that you expect others to do... It is the way you conduct yourself in your daily life. It is being inspiring to others. It is called leading by example and it applies equally to anyone in a position of influence. It starts with setting a standard that you want the people you are leading to reach and then demonstrating by example the best way to get there.

The early readers of this blog may have noticed that I changed the name from "management" to "leadership." There is a difference. A manager plans, organizes and administers.  A leader offers inspiration and motivation. A manager is not necessarily a good leader and a good leader may not be a good manager. If you can manage and lead by example, you will truly be someone that everyone can look up to.

Leaders have a real responsibility. They are in a position to influence and sometimes even shape lives. So a leader has to decide on the message that they want to send, whether it is being sent directly or indirectly.  Sometimes, it is the messages you are sending without even being aware of it that are the most important. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VI - The Fine Art of Wandering Around

MBWA (Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around) became a popular term in the early eighties when management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman coined the phrase in their book, "In Search of Excellence." It is an extremely valuable technique for leadership, in my view, and one that I tried to use often.

So what does "wandering around" mean exactly. In a nutshell, it means being human.  There was an opposite view of management around the same time. In the recent book about Steve Jobs, he is quoted in the early stages of Apple as saying that you have to be ruthless if you want to build a team.  He went on to say, "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players."  According to the book, Steve Jobs did wander around, but it was more often to berate his employees for something that wasn't being done to his expectations. It is obviously difficult to argue with Jobs' brilliance and success, but I am not sure leaving a trail of broken people in your wake is an appropriate way to get the best from your staff. I will address the issue of C players in a future post.

Wandering around helps you know your staff on a personal and work level. It involves dropping by unannounced at someone's desk to say a few words. It could be to talk about last night's game, a new baby, things they do in their free time, etc.  It is an opportunity to show that you are the leader, but that you are also human. It is a few minutes to understand their work and some of the difficulties they face in their jobs and in their daily lives.  On some days, it may be just walking around and saying good morning.  The purpose is not to get too close, but to just to be visible and approachable and to listen and share normal everyday conversation for a few minutes.

It may also be an opportunity to explain what the organization stands for and how it affects each individual and where they fit in.  It may help individuals feel more valuable to the organization.

It should not be an opportunity for the complaint department to open from either side.  If the conversation turns to issues the employee is having with his/her supervisor, it is time to remind the person that they should address those issues with the person they are reporting to.  And it is not an opportunity to remind them that they could be doing better. That too is a conversation that should be held with their supervisor.

The best way to show the people you are leading that you are human is to ask questions of them. What are you working on? How was your weekend? How is (name of child)? Once you know a little about them, it is easier to ask questions about things that may interest them.  Everyone should receive the same amount of attention so there is no feeling of favouritism. 

This only takes a few minutes, it gets you away from your desk, it helps you understand the issues of the office and it is actually kind of fun.  The payback is well worth the time invested.

Next week: Setting an Example