Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do you have the guts to go against the crowd?

Many people at work hold themselves back from saying what needs to be said, taking care not to step on others' toes. And many women and men go along with the loudest voices in the room because they assume that everyone knows what they know, that their ideas are not as valuable, that others don't want to hear them. This is not about a lack of confidence, although it may sound that way. You can advise these quiet folks to stand up for what they believe and nothing will change. Usually it is not that they don't have a backbone but that they believe in waiting their turn politely. And their turn rarely seems to come.

In her article for LinkedIn's series, "Best Advice I Ever Got", Sallie Krawcheck, Past President of Merrill Lynch, US Trust, and Smith Barney, writes that her mom's advice to "ignore the chattering crowds" enabled her to "find her voice." Krawcheck made numerous decisions throughout her career that went against the crowd and nearly got her fired, yet each time her actions proved correct. 

Who has advised you to exercise your voice at work? What do you think are the barriers to ensuring all voices are heard?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do managers need to *make* their employees happy?

stockimages from freedigitalphotos.net

I used to tell management students that they don't need happy employees. I was wrong. Read here for why: http://j.mp/VRbuC0.

However, I stand by my underlying assumption that managers cannot make their employees happy and that should not be their first goal with employees. Managers create the conditions for happiness; employees choose to be happy.

Happiness at work, while unique to each individual, is often the product of:
  • Challenging, engaging work. Bored people are not happy.
  • Seeing the work as valuable and important.
  • Being immersed in a psychologically safe environment, where each person is free to, and expected to, speak his mind even when disagreeing, and where each person's speech and behavior are respectful of others.
  • perceiving pay, hiring, and promotion systems as fair
Managers are responsible for creating and maintaining these -- they delegate tasks, they demonstrate appreciation and link their employees' work with the organization's goals, and they set the tone of respect and candor. Beyond that, employees must take responsibility for their own happiness.

For some people, working with people with whom they have an affinity is also a necessary ingredient for happiness. If you are one of these folks, I recommend choosing your job carefully: be sure to meet as many coworkers as possible before taking a job and if possible, attend a meeting and/or a lunch with them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Women: Succeeding in school is not the same as succeeding at work

In their recent HBR blog, Women Need to Realize Work Isn't School, Whitney Johnson and Tara Mohr demonstrate that the keys used to succeed in school will not open the door to success at work and offer 5 tips for achieving work success:
  1. Figure out how to challenge and influence authority: school often rewards students who meet teachers' expectations; work rewards employees who solve problems and persuade others to implement their solutions.
  2. Prepare, but also learn to improvise: school rewards students who answer the questions "right"; work rewards employees who figure out new questions and discover new answers.
  3. Find effective forms of self-promotion: in school, we tests provide opportunities for us to demonstrate learning and performance. At work, we not only have to perform, we have to let people know we're performing. Tests with objective outcomes are rare at work.
  4. Welcome a less prescribed, full of surprises, career path: while schools often have course requirements for graduation, career paths must be self-directed. The HR office does not have a list of positions to complete to become CEO.
  5. Go for being respected, not just liked: as young women, many of us downplayed our strengths in order to fit in. To succeed at work, we must let go of behaving in "popular" ways and focus instead on gaining respect.

While what we learned in college prepared us for work, the behaviors to succeed in college are not the same as those that lead to success at work. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why listen

Here is Kevin Sharer, CEO of biotech giant Amgen, recounting the events that spurred him to become a better listener:

The best advice he ever got to listen better is to have only one objective when listening: understand what the other person is trying to convey to me.  His "bandwidth" for listening increased when he realized there will be time later to persuade or critique.

What about you? Can you let go of your own plans to argue convince, or object and use your listening time to focus on comprehension?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do we have to "normalize discomfort" to create a feedback culture?

In her interview with the Washington Post, University of Houston Professor and author of Daring Greatly Dr. Brené Brown states, "the most common criticism (HR People) hear [from people leaving their jobs] is, 'I never got any feedback.'"

Most managers and leaders with whom I meet and who I coach or train have no idea how to give feedback, or they assume that feedback is only something one does when one must take corrective action.  As Dr. Brown says, when most managers gave feedback it "was corrective. It was fast and not meaningful, and it was blaming."

We must give feedback frequently -- and look for opportunities to appreciate what people do -- to be heard when we have to correct a performance shortfall. Dr. Brown describes a "feedback culture where discomfort is normalized." But most of us don't want to normalize discomfort; we want to avoid discomfort at all costs! What we fail to realize is that avoidance leads to future much more uncomfortable conversations when things are so bad we have to say something -- and we're emotional about it and therefore less likely to speak calmly (which leads the other person to respond with their own negative emotions, which block them from fully hearing us).

So how can we "normalize discomfort"? First, give feedback when things are going well -- let people know what's working and why you appreciate them.

Second, when giving corrective feedback test yourself with two questions:
  1. am I just venting, or, if I truly want to see a change, am I feeling strong emotions when I think about it?
  2. can I define the changed behavior I seek clearly and concretely?

If you're venting, feeling emotional, or unable to define the future state you seek, now is not the time to give feedback.

Third, ensure your corrective feedback is given "respectfully and wholeheartedly" and tied into the organization's mission and goals. Feedback is critical for your best employees, your good employees, and your adequate employees (those not adequate should be moved out) because it keeps everyone focused on the purpose of their work, provides inspiration, and facilitates self-motivation.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stop talking!

Have you tried to persuade people to change behaviors? What methods are you using? If you're like most people, you've probably talked. And talked, and talked. I'm sure you've been very logical. I've no doubt you were quite sincere.  And maybe you persuaded your target to change a behavior -- eat less, walk more, collaborate with peers, speak up in meetings, avoid interrupting others. They followed your heartfelt good advice . . . for about a week. And now they are back to their previous behaviors.

Few people are persuaded by logic. Talking rarely works. So what does? How about changing the environment?
What is in your environment that encourages the behaviors you seek? What is in the environment that discourages the behaviors you seek?

Take a look around and let us know.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Help your manager handle conflict well

Today's Human Resource Executive Online presents a survey that shows that 41% of "employees think the person to whom they report does not deal well with workplace conflicts. In fact, of 20 managerial behaviors that the survey asked respondents to rate how much they trusted their immediate supervisor to master, handling workplace conflicts ranked last in the survey."

While managers should learn to both resolve conflicts and to coach their teams to resolve internal conflicts, employees can go a long way toward helping their managers do so by following these steps: 

  1. Before bringing a conflict to your manager, work to resolve it on your own. Have you looked at the issue from the side of the other party?  Have you fully listened to and understood his/her concerns?  Have you found ways to help the other party hear yours?
  2. When bringing a conflict to your manager, remember to bring the fullest story you can -- not just your own perspective but also what you understand the other party's perspective to be. There's no point in sending your manager off in a huff to confront the other party, then having him or her return to you with the other party's story. This would lead your manager to see you as manipulative. Your manager needs to see you as a partner, not a whiner.
  3. Approach your manager from the perspective of a collaborator, not a needy conflict-avoider: you want to resolve the conflict productively and you would like to ask for his help.  You respect your manager's time and have tried all you can think of to resolve the conflict on your own.
  4. Don't just drop the problem in your manager's lap but instead come prepared to suggest two or three solutions.
As much as possible, leave personal issues out of the message -- it doesn't matter if you think the other party is a jerk. What you need from your boss is help managing the problem, not the person.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Absence makes the team grow stronger, part 3

This screencast was created for a course titled, Leading Virtual and Global Teams and may refer to an assignment. Please be sure to view parts 1 and 2 of this series for full information. Source: Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger? By Ann Majchrzak, Arvind Malhotra, Jeffrey Stamps, and Jessica Lipnak © 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Running time: 00:04:45

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Absence makes the team grow stronger, part 2

Part 2 of 3 This screencast was created for students in a course titled, Leading Virtual and Global Teams. Running time: 00:04:28 Please be sure to view parts 1 and 3 (soon to be released) of this series for full information. Source: Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger? By Ann Majchrzak, Arvind Malhotra, Jeffrey Stamps, and Jessica Lipnak © 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to be professional online

Many of us, particularly those of us over age 40, struggle with knowing what is "appropriate" to post online: everything we do is available to everyone.  Whether I post a tweet, to my facebook page, my LinkedIn page, or I comment on someone else's blog, that information is available to current colleagues, potential clients, my children, my neighbors, and anyone else who cares to notice.

I grew up in a generation that was taught to be careful what we discussed at work -- certain topics were clearly unprofessional (sex, religion, and politics were the big 3 no no's), while others we should gear toward our audience. I might discuss my garden with a colleague who also gardens, but I wouldn't discuss energy conservation with a colleague driving an SUV -- he'd view me as sanctimonious, which could hurt our future dealings.  Good old fashioned New England culture (like the Brits they came from) teaches that sometimes it's best to turn a blind eye to the differences between us.

So, do I write a rant about water use on my Facebook page, presumably a place only my friends would look, and keep my blog and twitter feeds focused on business?  That's been my practice, but I'm not sure it really matters given how whatever I write will show up in any search.

Allison Fine has some good advice for those of us who did not grow up believing it's best to share everything about ourselves with everyone in her article for the Harvard Business Review, "What Does 'Professional' Look Like Today?"

Here's a summary of her ideas:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Do the difficult right, rather than the easy wrong

You know how it seems harmless to tell your assistant to tell a caller you're avoiding that you're out to lunch?  Or, when your kid answers the phone and it's a telemarketer, have the kid say you're not home?  Are these little while lies really a problem?  Well, as Dave Anderson says in a recent Success Magazine article, “If you really are unavailable, there’s no need to have your assistant say you’ve stepped out,” he says. “Just say you’re not available.”

Why, when it's so much easier to tell a fib?  The caller will never know.

True, but what have you taught your assistant, or your child, about what to say to you when what they have to say is too hard?  What will your assistant tell you when he misses a deadline?  Will he blame a vendor, or admit that he'd underestimated the time needed? 

So many of my kids' friends had facebook pages before they were 13 (the minimum age).  If we parents allow our children to misrepresent themselves at 13, will we let them write on their college application that they were captain of the soccer team when they were a member of the team?  Will they write on a job application that they were a Navy Seal when they were in the Navy but not a Seal teammember?

It's hard to think about repurcussions sometimes.  What do you do to ensure you do the difficult right and keep yourself from doing the easy wrong?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How do we measure business success?

How do we measure personal success? I've discussed in this blog that so many leaders assume that employees measure their success by their paycheck, when in fact, people focus on this metric only when it's raise time or when they hear other people are earning more than they. What about businesses? Isn't profit the obvious metric for the success of a business?

Not according to our youngest graduates: "92% of millennials say in a survey that a company's success should be measured by more than profit." What metric are they using?

They are looking at the business' influence and impact on society and the environment. They have higher standards than those currently running those businesses. What behavior will they force on their employers and in what ways can we expect a better world as they develop in their careers?

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is the purpose of a business?

One of my favorite HBS professors, Earl Sasser, asked that question of our class (in 1989) . A student replied that it was to provide a return to our shareholders commensurate with the risk they accepted.

Professor Sasser said, "Providing value to shareholders is one purpose of a business, but it is only one. And as a purpose it comes after these: to provide value to the communities within which it operates, to its employees, and to the larger world."

A hush fell over the classroom and I realized that no one had thought of that before. I figured it must be important so I wrote it down on a little piece of paper, put it in the briefcase I bought at graduation, and carried it for at least 10 years -- until the briefcase was destroyed in a flood.

Today's new graduates are less likely to be as shocked by Professor Sasser's assertion that businesses are not solely about investor returns. In a survey of more than 1,000 of its employees born after 1981, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu found that when respondents were asked to name three terms that encapsulate the purpose of business, 51% cited societal development and only 39% cited profit.

What are the implications for a society that sees the advancement of that society as the main purpose of daily life (which, really, is what business encapsulates for the vast majority of people -- it is our daily life to open our stores, teach students, raise crops, build cars, etc.)?

I can't wait to see.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We are teachers all the time . . .

How powerful are models? Very powerful. The folks at Crucial Skills provide a great example: They sent a researcher to cut in a long line at the movie theater in front of another research associate who was pretending to wait in line. The research associate politely said, "I'm sorry, perhaps you're unaware. We've been standing in line for half an hour." The line cutter apologized and moved to the end of the line.

How did this modeling change others' behavior?

"We then waited a few minutes and cut in front of the person who was standing just behind our research associate who spoke up. Would the subjects take their cue from the person who said something? . . . 85 percent of the observers said the exact same thing when one of our colleagues cut in front of them.

Demonstrating a simple, polite, and apparently effective script provided observers with the motive to step up to a problem they normally would have avoided. Individuals who would normally have said nothing, once exposed to a positive example now spoke their minds."

When someone speaks over others in a meeting at work (the equivalent of cutting the line), speak up! Respectfully and calmly say, "I'd like to hear the rest of So 'n So's comments and then hear yours. Would you please let her finish?" You will find that most everyone in the room not only appreciates it, but are willing to step in the next time.

How about you? Have you ever seen people take important actions to help a group overcome an individual's misbehavior? Has that action led to others' actions that support the group's working together?