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.