Archive for Topics and Issues — People

426 — The Opportunistic Employee

 

Early man often acquired food by chasing away a predator from its recent kill. He used its fur for warmth, dug edible roots from plants found along the trail, made tools from stones, vines or branches, and systematically scouted an area for the night’s shelter. He was opportunistic. We still are. What we wear responds to the weather. How we drive to work responds to the traffic. What we do at our desk largely responds to other people.

Smart companies tap into this basic human skill by creating a culture where employees think and act opportunistically, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. It brings growth and profits.

Niels Bohr famously remarked, “Prediction Is Very Difficult, Especially of The Future.” With today’s rapid change, prediction has never been more difficult, so  rewards go to cultures that don’t try to predict the unknowable but help employees see opportunities and grab them. Some top-down planning is essential, but too much leads to passivity in low levels.

For employee to grab opportunities, he or she needs to know:

  1. The overall game plan — where the company is going and how he or she fits into that picture, plus background information on finances, customers, company resources, and products — the information that helps a person make good decisions.
  2. When to decide independently and when to involve a superior or another department — what are the boundaries within which he or she has freedom to act, where does he or she stop and where do others need to be pulled in?
  3. That he or she needs the strong personal relationships and trust that give the confidence to act on opportunities. Seizing opportunities is too risky without the confidence that comes only from experience; that the organization will focus on successes, rather than on failures.

Every Employee Can Be an Entrepreneur
I worked with a company where package delivery drivers were presented daily with dozens of opportunities with customers to further the company’s business. Unfortunately this company did not see the drivers in the role of business development. That function went to the Marketing Department. Every day drivers watched business development opportunities slip by. The company that didn’t see what it was losing.

Imagine every employee, no matter what their defined job, unleashing their potential as an entrepreneur, a business developer, salesperson, R&D member, marketer, and customer service rep. Just release what’s already in your employee’s genes. It’s good for people and good for business.

cc 426 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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413 — Collaboration, Teamwork and Cooperation

People like to be valued and appreciated, and involved, in decisions that affect them. Involvement, teamwork and collaboration are basic human desires. To get them, invite them.

Here are two examples. The first is a manager, deep within the organization, who created a new collaborative setting with her peers. The second is how a top leadership team decided to change its collaboration message to those below.

Example I: Initiating Collaboration as A Mid-Manager

Jo-Ann, a second-tier manager in a major manufacturer, had a special assignment: to better coordinate the functions across R&D, marketing, sales, manufacturing, shipping and service. Jo-Ann and I carefully planned an approach that included “Interviewing” key people, together with carefully practiced group facilitation techniques (see Make Better Decisions).

At the first meeting, the managers, directors and VPs she invited, were suspicious. Some had wanted to send a subordinate in their place — she took this to mean that they were not on-board. It took Jo-Ann three, very carefully facilitated meetings, where she stood thoroughly neutral on all issues, before attendees trusted her enough to put their real concerns about collaboration on the table.

It was several more meetings before members allowed the group to make decisions that affected their functions. The group liked their experience and the positive results so much that they continued, expanding the topic to include other cross-functional issues. The Executive Committee applauded Jo-Ann’s success, rewarding her with a significant promotion.

The Lesson; You can invite collaboration from any level in the organization

Hidden behind much of people’s initial resistance to collaboration is the common human longing for teamwork and good relationships. If you have a project that affects others, talk with each one personally. Build a relationship. Take your time explaining how your project will affect them or their people. Stay open. Be clear that you don’t have the answer. Say something like, “I’d like to pull together everyone affected so we can all find a way to make it work for everyone. I’m planning on inviting . . . . . . . . . If I find a time that suits everyone, could you join us?” This way you can take the lead on collaboration.

If you persevere, most people will eventually join you. Don’t be fooled by people’s sometime gruff initial response. That usually just a defensive reaction to being burned in the past.

Example II: Upper Management Encourages Collaboration by Cutting the Criticism

This was the leadership group of a 5,000-person company located in the southwest. We met for several hours monthly, discussing how to build a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that at lower levels of the company, divisions were not working well together.

In my role as their company culture consultant, I frequently reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens below is partly because of your actions here at the top. And in any case, to be practical, that is the part you can most easily change.”

This time I did not give them this full spiel, but I did ask, “What might you be doing that inadvertently supported this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or another department or division?” Immediately a manger shot back with, “You mean since breakfast this morning don’t you?” Another manager chimed in, “You mean since the coffee break!” As the laughter subsided, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here we are setting an example, by criticizing other people and divisions, and then wondering why they don’t feel like cooperating.”

This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group. At the next meeting they told stories of how they had stopped criticizing, and instead, were working together on visibly cooperative solutions. They also reported that people below had noticed the change and liked it.

The Lesson; To Understand Employee’s Behavior, Look at Leader’s Behavior

The cultural or system perspective says: “No event occurs in a vacuum. If you want to understand an event — in this case, why people aren’t collaborating — just look at the situation. It will tell you.” Ask yourself, “If people aren’t collaborating, how is our organization saying, ‘Don’t collaborate’?”

People don’t collaborate when leaders give the signal not to. This is rarely intentional. I have never found a leader who says he or she wants non-cooperation. However, I have seen many leaders whose personal actions do not demonstrate or invite collaboration. For example, they might be critical of people’s suggestions or actions, or they might make decisions without involving the people affected, or they might be generally distant. Whatever the reason, if leaders don’t show collaboration in their daily actions, people throughout the organization will follow their lead.

cc 413 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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425 — Quickly Build An Effective Work Team

When a new work team is formed, members look to the leader for guidance. If the leader provides too much direction, the group will become passive, frustrated, and eventually disband. With too little direction, the group will flounder like an infant, becoming frustrated with itself and its inability to settle down to work.

The skillful leader avoids this apparent dilemma between too little and too much direction, by taking firm control of the group’s decision process, while insisting that members contributed their skills and knowledge to the group’s task. One way of doing this is spelled out in the paper titled, “Make Better Decisions”. Another example is described in “Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion”.

Groups Can Be Scary

Members of new groups are apprehensive. They need a secure and dependable leader. Over the years I have heard many “tough managers” deny that groups are scary places. But they are. If you think that’s not true just imagine yourself entering a new peer group. You don’t know:

    •  Who knows who and what existing relationships and commitments exist.
    •  Who is going to do what—participate, dominate, attack, undermine.
    •  What effect your actions will have on your career.
    •  What covert agendas exist with members and with the leader.
    •  If you will inadvertently make a fool of yourself in front of everybody.

If there are people from many levels of authority present in the group, the problems are compounded. In these groups, particularly when trust and relationships are weak:

    •  People in power will behave to assert their rank.
    •  Subordinates will attempt to show their competence, or try to out-do their peers.
    •  Others will posture, showing they’re not afraid of authority, or they will try to demonstrate their independence.

For these and many other reasons, it is very difficult for a group, with many levels of authority, to become a smoothly functioning team. Usually it requires a skilled and experienced facilitator, and ideally at some point, a frank discussion by the group of how it will manage these all-too-dominating authority issues. But eventually, if all goes well, over time, our personal questions about the new group are answered enough so that we can settle down to work. This process quickens if the leader takes firm control of the group process, so that members feel productive.

Each of us has probably been in a group where an inexperienced leader allowed the group to wallow for too long in uncertainty. Is one of life’s most frustrating experiences, and it can happen even if everyone in the group is highly competent and experienced. Few want to tell the leader he or she has no clothes. Don’t take a group’s failures personally. Group issues are about the group psychology and dynamics, which are not necessarily connected to the competency of individual members.

First—Solve an Easy Problem

Experienced managers and professional facilitators often settle the new group by asking members to list their favorite meeting ground rules. The group then decides if the list is one they will work towards and follow, to better manage themselves. This simple exercise is probably familiar to visitors of this site.

    •  It’s an ice-breaker.
    •  It gets everybody to speak out.
    •  It shows the meeting will be run democratically, that the leader is open to people’s ideas.
    •  It shows that the leader respects members as competent.
    •  It provides a quick win, i.e. the group immediately solves a problem and makes a decision.
    •  It helps people get to know each other.

 

cc 425 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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411 — Morale

High morale is a key to success. But what is morale? How can you build it? Here are some facts and suggestions.

What is Morale?

Morale is that special feeling you share with others of trust, usefulness, purpose, team loyalty and support, pride in your achievements and those of the group, and faith in the organization’s leadership and in the organization’s ultimate success.

High morale inspires people to be self-sacrificing and courageous, to go way beyond what is normally expected, to take extraordinary responsibility for their own work, and be totally dedicated to the work of the team.

Curiously, studies show that some apparently negative job factors, such as a safe working environment, are not necessarily connected with morale. For example, prison guards, firemen, and policeman, all work in dangerous jobs, but often have high morale. Even interpersonal difficulties between employees and line managers may not affect morale. Other factors related to individual job satisfaction, such as personal gratification around the tasks, or moving forward with a career plan, may not connect with morale.

To Build High Morale

High morale is closely connected to teamwork and confidence in the leadership. There are many things leaders can do with the team to build teamwork and morale.

    • Make decisions as a team.
    • Hold regular team meetings.
    • Encourage team activities such as:
          • Hold team celebrations for individual or team achievements at work or elsewhere with a BBQ or party.
          • At the team level this could celebrate meeting a tough deadline, responding well to an unusually difficult situation, or reaching a new level of productivity.
          • At the individual level this might recognize a marriage, a new baby, or a community or scholastic achievement.
          • Establishing a (softball) team or other outside group activity.
    • Encourage team members to work with others on solving problems.
    • Encourage everyone to take responsibility for, and initiation of all of the group’s actions, including the above items.

The goal is to have the team know they have real power and are in control of themselves as a team. You serve as their resource.

Build Faith In The Leadership

    • Be there for the team when they need you.
    • Be clear to the team about the overall direction, goal, and purpose of the organization and the team.
    • Bring the team’s relevant concerns and issues to the next level of management, and get back to the team with management’s response.
    • Don’t take the team’s problems away from them. Be a good coach.
    • Take the moral high ground during emergencies, such as:
          • Really put safety before productivity.
          • Voluntarily recall sub-standard products.
    • Give everybody information on the big picture, particularly anything that might help people make better, more informed decisions.
    • Let everybody know of successes in other parts of the organization, and make sure that their successes are known in other parts of the organization.
    • Invite senior managers to visit your department and talk with team members, perhaps even sitting in on a team meeting. This shows openness and cooperation and support of your efforts to build morale. Everyone likes to meet senior managers.
    • Share financial information with the whole group.
    • Foster their relationships with other parts of the organization, which might include:
          • Smoothing the way for them to invite a member from another department to a team problem-solving meeting, when the subject affects the other department.
          • Encouraging team members to work on company-wide problem solving teams.

Believe that high morale and personal pride are possible in large organizations.

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437 — Manage Uncertainty and Change with Adaptability

darwincolor

 

Charles Darwin discovered a key principle of evolution — survival of the fittest.  Massive dinosaurs dominated Earth for 20 million years, but following a sudden environmental change it was the insignificant, tiny, agile mammals that adapted and survived. Darwin recognized that in the long run fittest meant most adaptable.

With today’s increasing uncertain business environment — in markets, technology and regulation — organizing your company around yesterday’s predictability, brings unacceptable risk. We no longer have a stable environment — where the appropriate response is a hierarchic structure, policy manuals, and detailed procedures for each contingency. In a changing, uncertain, unpredictable environment, employees who are hampered by old-style structures and policies can’t respond quickly or properly. That’s the path to extinction.

Engage Employees with the Marketplace

The key to quickly adapting to the changing marketplace is being highly engaged with that marketplace. You can’t predict where the changes will come from but you will minimize your risk if every employee is fully committed and engaged, rapidly responding to change by feeding information into the organization, information they constantly receive through their engagement.

That kind of organizational adaptability takes strong relationships and trust. But how can you hold an employee’s trust when you can’t even promise they’ll be here tomorrow? “I want committed employees, but I can’t commit to them.” This looks like a dilemma. The challenge is to build a company culture, where employees are committed, open and trusting, but at the same time understand and accept that there are no employment guarantees.

It Takes Honesty, Openness and Trust

Employees know the realities of business. Adults appreciate straight talk. Unfortunately many managers think they should always put on a good front and that that sometimes means concealing negative information that may significantly affect employees, such as a severe financial downturn. But in an open and trusting workplace, where people at all levels are committed to each other, managers can talk as straightforwardly to employees about the financial health of the company, or unstable markets, or employment as they can about anything else.

Employees should be able to trust management to be open and honest, no matter what the topic. In such a workplace employees will accept the facts as facts because they know that no matter what happens, managers will do their best for everybody. That’s the new contract. It’s powerful and it works.

Does that sound hard to achieve? You might need help getting there, but the result is an adaptive, market-responsive company, guaranteeing survival. Darwin would approve, maybe even smile.

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