Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cynical employees don't share quality ideas because they don't expect anyone to hear them

At the end of the first class of all the courses I teach, I ask students to write any questions they have regarding the course topic (management, leadership, business, etc.). Usually, students will write things like, "how do I motivate others?" or "how do I get senior leadership to buy into my ideas?"

Their questions help me remember students as individuals, understand what is important to them, and respond to their specific needs. I email an answer to all questions within 24 hours.

Yesterday I received 3 questions that were so broad and/or vague as to be unanswerable. I emailed the 3 students stating this, and discovered that while one person wasn't paying attention when he wrote his question, the other 2 never expected me to read their questions. In fact, one person wrote, "Im surprised that you actually took the time to read our questions. I was going to put gibberish on the sheet at first, since these things are usually left unanswered thus figuring it would never be read."

Gibberish! My first thought is, why would an instructor bothering asking students to write something down that he never intended to read? What would be the purpose of the use of class time and paper? My second thought was, this student assumes his instructors are not reading his work (whether they are or not, we'll never know) based on their inaction.

What's even more interesting is that I'd spent some of our class time discussing the criticality of management follow-up: when managers ask for employees' input on decisions, they must share the decision taken with the employees. They should thank them for their original input and, if it wasn't taken, explain why. Otherwise, the employees will assume the manager is giving lip-service to participative management.

Don't ask a question if you don't intend to listen to the answer.

For these two students, my words about follow-up could not be heard over their (louder) experience of not being listened to.

Do you take the time to listen to your employees? How do you find the time to respond to all their questions, and provide feedback on their ideas? How often do you communicate your organization's and/or work group's purpose and how does this communication influence how your employees commit to that purpose?

While it feels like a poor use of time, we must take into account employees'/students' cynicism and take the time to overcome it with each new person with whom we work. For, why would this manager, when at work or in class, bother to provide well thought-through, clearly articulated ideas to or ask specific questions of a manager who isn't going to listen anyway?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

to attend = to be present, to give attention

I attended a webinar today that focused on teaching ethics. I attend a lot of webinars (on teaching, business, management, and communication), as I believe that when one educates others, one must continually educate oneself.

Doesn't that sound good? A little highbrow, but still, sounds good. Right? Hmmm. . . .

Unfortunately, I noticed something today about the way I usually "attend" webminars: I listen in. I write something in the chat when asked a question. I look at the slides and maybe download them if they're good. I check my email. I check my phone messages. I check my twitter feed. And, oh yeah, I listen in.

This is not attending -- I am not fully present, even if my name is on the attendee list! When I read emails or facebook in a meeting, I'm not learning. Multitasking only works when the tasks don't require full brainpower. So much for high-brow!

I noticed this only because the webinar facilitator asked me a question by name while I was off on my email. "Oh gosh," I thought. "She expects me to be involved here!" In fact, the facilitator, unlike the vast majority of lecture-happy webinar facilitators, asked many open-ended questions. She stopped asking us by name after the first few minutes, but her open-ended questions kept me attending for the rest of the session -- for real this time.

What about you? Do you glance at the status of a recent ebay bid while your peer presents the latest financial data (particularly when in a remote meeting) or check out your facebook page while your child tells you about his day? If not, how do you maintain your attention, even when the subject loses your interest for a short while?

As meeting leaders, what tools or techniques do you use to engage all your meeting participants? Or do you let them attend in body (or computer connection) only?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How should we use power to effect change (if at all)?

Yesterday I worked with an intact workgroup on understanding and using conflict styles and strategies. One strategy, power-dominance, was at first confusing and later the subject of concern.

The group responsible for reporting when to use and when not to use power in a conflict stated that a leader should use his power when he wants to get a team to change; then they stated that a leader should not use power if he wants to effect change. Hmmm. These ideas were far enough apart in their discussion that they didn't notice the contradiction. When they reported back to the full group, the inconsistency was obvious.

After much discussion, the group realized that many of us tend toward using our power (when we can get it!) when we feel we must push a team toward some change because that team is dragging its feet. "If they'll just make the change," we figure, "they'll see it was worth it."

Intellectually, the group knows that when we use our power to make a team effect a change, we'll get short term compliance but long term resentment. Even if the team later agrees the change was worth it, they may feel a lingering lack of trust in us for pushing them to that change.

Rick Brenner writes in his Chaco Canyon blog, "Using fear as a tool of debate begets compliance, not heartfelt support." So what do we do when we know the change is the right thing to do but our team is dragging its feet?

This group agreed the optimum choice is to pull out all the influence strategies the leader can get his hands on: demonstrate (rather than tell) how the change will benefit the team; get outside voices whom the team trusts to talk up the change; put the change in visual form and get it in front of the team at every chance; ask team members one on one to help you understand their resistance -- find those whose resistance is lowest and once they're persuaded ask them to persuade others; garner incentives that have meaning to team members that will accrue to those who implement the change; find out if there's anything painful about the change and do everything in your power to eliminate or at least reduce the pain; search for the pain in the current way of doing things and bring it up frequently; ensure the team has the ability to make the desired change and train them or otherwise enable them; etc.

These ideas take more time -- and are a use of power, albeit a less resentment-causing use -- but I'm betting less than you'd guess -- particularly if we use all of them rather than one or two. What do you think? When was the last time you had to persuade your team (or teen) to make a change? What was your response when they dragged their feet?

Friday, January 6, 2012

bring energy to your work

"It's not just the number of hours we sit at a desk that determines the value we generate. It's the energy we bring to the hours we work."
--Tony Schwartz

Monday, January 2, 2012

Communicating is challenging for the best of us

"Even if you’re the most articulate person who ever lived, you still fail oftener than you succeed.”

Actor Jonathan Epstein in an interview with
Harvard Magazine.