Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Occupy# - An Opportunity for Business

The Occupy# movement which is growing throughout our cities has implications that stretch beyond the obvious. This movement is not just about the unemployed and underemployed, but
about the concerns all Americans are having about the future of our country. It isn’t just about Wall Street and big-government decision making, but stretches to concerns about Main Street and organizational leadership.
Through these stressful times business owners and leaders are gaining the unique opportunity to stand out from that cynicism and negativity, and to come forward as a company that cares.

What Steps Can Business Leaders Take?

Executive compensation – I read a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute that said in 1965 the average CEO was paid 24x what the average employee received. In recent years that number has been as high as 300x that amount. This disparity is unacceptable to many.
While some would argue that talent retention requires competitive income, I would suggest that retention comes instead from a person’s respect for a company’s core qualities including its values, the products or services it provides, and its customer’s or clients. Financial compensation only becomes of primary importance when one or more of those core qualities are missing.
Rather than keeping up with the Jones’ in CEO compensation, reconsider what would be an acceptable income and make that change. As an added boost to your image, make the change public. Rather than hiding this scaling back, challenge other organizations to follow your lead.
If this idea strikes a cord with you, and you think that in a competitive marketplace that it is not possible, look for an up-coming article I am writing which elaborates on the subject.

Political contributions – Let’s face it, Google has made research nearly effortless. So while you may be focusing your online attention to SEO and social networking, some may be Googling you for different reasons. If you are making notable contributions to either party, or to lobbyist or other groups, be aware of the potential message this sends out. Your affiliations, once known, affect the perception of both your employees and your customers. What can you do? If you donate money or resources, consider doing it as a personal rather than a business contribution. Where possible, be open to addressing any controversy by putting the topic on the table for discussion and explain your point of view. Most importantly, be aware of the impact this may have on your image and act accordingly.

Flexibility and Understanding
– Those same financial pressures are affecting both your employees bottom-line and that of your business. Sure you can’t give bonuses this year. But you can find creative ways to show you appreciate your staff and care about them. In lieu of bonuses perhaps allow an extra day off, a more flexible work schedule (holiday or year-round), even encourage them to organize an in-house secret-Santa to celebrate the holidays. These small efforts will pay long dividends as your team of employee’s feels you understand and care about them.

Creating a workforce that is happy, cohesive, and dedicated to the success of your business is the goal of any leader. Demonstrating you care about them and their concerns is just one important step. If your team is not exactly where you’d like them to be, we’d like to help you get there.

Surviving Holiday Conflict

If you find that 'the most wonderful time of the year’ is instead filled with tension, you’re not alone. Conflict often comes from difficulties associated with negotiating time spent among loved ones and over concerns of past conflicts re-igniting or new ones emerging. Add in a little too much "merry-making" and issues of addiction and inappropriate behavior can sneak up on you, too.  While stressful on their own, these events are then co-mingled with what are supposed to be joyous and happy celebrations, often making survival the real goal of the holiday season.

Here are some suggestions for handling these difficult situations – and getting through this year’s holiday season - unscathed.

1. Identify the Problem – Are you concerned about cutting short your time with an ailing relative? Do you worry about the impact of Uncle Bob’s drinking on your teenage kids? Is your sister always dragging you back into childhood conflicts? Whatever is causing you anticipatory stress needs to be revealed for healing to take place.
2. Have a Plan – Think through your situation, and decide what is best for you over the holidays. If you have a spouse or child, consider their interests as well. Then talk about it with someone you trust to give you feedback and support. While your ideal solution may be impractical or overly selfish, it helps to start out by knowing what you want, and identifying what matters most to you. Once you do, making a compromise or stretching your comfort level will have a clear purpose and intent.
3. Expect it – Sure, it seems foolish to worry about something that may not happen, but it’s on your mind anyhow. Avoiding such thoughts leaves you unprepared and caught off guard when the problem comes up. Expecting the problem means having a contingency plan. Perhaps it’s to leave the house if Uncle Bob starts drinking, or to plan to say “I always enjoy seeing you, please let’s not argue” if your sister provokes you. Being prepared will help you to feel happier and more confident leading up to those difficult encounters.
4. Enlist an Ally – Your spouse, or another relative/loved one (who will be with you over the holidays), can prove to be a valuable asset as you navigate difficult waters. Explain to them the problem and your plan for coping with it, and ask for their assistance. Let them know if you’d like them to intervene, come to your defense, or simply provide moral support.
5. Share Your Decisions – Often conflict occurs because a person’s actions or behaviors are surprising and misunderstood. To prevent your self-preservation strategy from causing new issues, keep others informed of the decisions you make. Let your Mother know why you’ll be spending a disproportionate amount of time with your in-laws this year. Tell the host/hostess that you plan to leave if Uncle Bob starts drinking or your sister becomes unrelenting in her conversations with you. By letting others know your boundaries, you help them to honor them.

We hope these ideas help, and that your holiday season  is a whole lot brighter as a result.  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Favorite Gift Ideas

Holiday gift giving is often stressful. Whether it's finding that individually perfect gift for each person on your list, the challenge of heading to an overcrowded mall, or the strain on your pocketbook, gift-giving can often feel less than joyful.

An idea that I always enjoy - is the handmade or homemade gift. Whether I'm the recipient of someone's thoughtful efforts,
or the gift giver, there is a special feeling that goes along with giving or getting a gift that is born out of a person's creativity and efforts.

It seems the most difficult part in offering such a thoughtful gift is simply in thinking of something to make.

Here are some ideas of homemade and handmade gifts that might work for you:
1. Cookies, candies, breads, or other baked goods
2. Recipe in a jar (good for baked goods, chili, soup, etc.)
3. Artistic project - A painting, stained glass, wood-working, etc.
4. A framed (enlarged) photograph that you have taken
5. Knit or sewn items
6. Create a scrapbook or photo album
7. Create a recipe book (with a treasured recipe or two inside!)
8. Jewelry
9. Compilation CD of their favorite tunes
10. Compilation DVD of cherished memories caught on video
11. Gift of skill or time (gardening, babysitting, organizing)
12. Promise a "date" - (cook a special meal to enjoy with them)

There are so many more ideas than I can think of. I encourage readers of this entry to add their own as comments below so that we can all benefit from the ideas and creativity of others!

Happy Gift-Making!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why You Should Look Outside the (Company) Box

As a specialist in interpersonal workplace relations I often see dismay in the faces of Business owners, senior executives, HR managers, and the like when they engage with me to provide services for their organization. They express frustration, anger, or even shame as they share detailed information about the conflict or problem which is occurring, and their unsuccessful efforts to remedy it thus far. What they rarely seem to recognize however, is that their struggle may stem more from their proximity than their competency.

Consider the following advantages of being a consultant:

Objectivity - As an outsider to the company, a consultant has an unclouded perspective of the conflict or problem, and the people involved. Simply sharing this unbiased and unique viewpoint can begin to pave the way toward clearer solutions.

Neutrality – As both a function of their role as Mediator, and as a person not otherwise involved with the company or its employees, an outside consultant is recognized as being neutral to the conflict. This allows each side to believe that the process and any resolution will be fair.

Confidentiality – Staff experiencing conflict can feel assured that their issues are not going to be shared in the lunchroom, now or ever. More to the point, any shame, embarrassment, or fear they may feel in connection with their dispute can more easily be managed as the person who has this knowledge isn’t down the hall or socializing with their coworkers.

Availability of time – With the goal of getting to the root of the conflict, it is imperative that time is taken to allow staff to open-up completely and to fully discuss the issues that are occurring between them. Time constraints only serve to undermine this goal, and in-house helpers (managers, executives, HR) are simply unable to devote unrestricted time to these efforts.
Beyond those initial advantages, are other benefits which tip the scales in favor of change being possible:

Trust – Fear is the biggest impediment to honesty. By bringing in an outside expert and allowing for confidentiality, you demonstrate to your staff that they are valued and that you also place great importance on their resolving the issue. This dispels fear, and allows staff to feel safe when they open up.

Subject-Matter Expertise – Beyond the challenges of gaining trust and carving out time to resolve interpersonal issues, is the importance of having the right skills to bring the conflict to positive resolution. Placed in the wrong hands, even well-intended efforts may yield greater problems like increased tensions, unwanted turnover, or worse. A capable and expert consultant, can address even the most sensitive of issues in a way that promotes understanding, improves cohesion and creates better workplace relations.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When the Financial Crisis Affects Your Family

Financial woes have stretched to affect and impact everyone, including your kids. Whether you’re telling your 7 year old that he can’t have a new PlayStation, your pre-teen that a Smart-Phone isn’t an option, or your 17 year old that her favorite college is financially out of reach, the message is the same, we can’t afford it. Helping your kids to adjust to financial challenges isn’t easy – here are a few guidelines to help you through it:

1. It’s going to be OK. It’s important to start any conversation about change by providing a sense of safety, especially when children are involved. You may want to start your conversation with a simple sentence that covers it all, such as: “Jamie, I need to have an important talk with you about some changes we need to make as a family, everything is OK, but I’m going to need you to help out too”.

2. Get them involved. Just as the ending of the sample sentence above said, giving kids a role in the change allows them to feel some control and to take some personal responsibility. Whenever possible, tell your kids the changes YOU will be making, and then ask them to think of some changes THEY can make. Guide their decision making so that their contributions or sacrifices are genuinely helpful.

3. Recognize their efforts. Let them know how much the reduced allowance or the decreased spending on activities is helping the family. When they can’t participate in a favorite activity due to funds, let them know how much you appreciate it, and try to find ways to reward them.

4. Keep them informed. You began the conversation by saying things will be OK. Now keep them posted. It’s been a few months…are things getting better or worse? Is this change permanent or is it still temporary? By keeping them informed you make them feel safe, and part of the team which is your family.

5. Find the bright side. Instead of going out to the movies, make it a movie rental and with a big batch of popcorn, and maybe invite over a friend (or the dog!) to join you. Instead of going out to dinner, have a “make our own pizza”, or “decorate your own cupcake night”. And lastly,

6. Give yourself a break. These and other family activities may well become favorite activities and cherished memories you and your children will share for years to come. Rather than worry about what they can’t have, remind yourself of the values you are showing them, the love you are giving them, and the lessons you are teaching them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Domestic Dance of Time Management

My husband and I operate very differently. I am the task master - forever planning, scheduling, and trying to squeeze the most out of any free moment. He is the procrastinator - industrious yet forgetful, and seemingly always putting things off. Yet despite my satisfaction in checking things off my list, I'm the one who is stressed, while he is calm. This is what my friend calls the domestic dance of time management. And funny enough, it seems that most couples share in this yin/yang relationship where opposites somehow attract.

Well, I may just have figured out the simple truth of this relationship conundrum. It boils down to our sense of urgency for getting things done. I live my life with a high sense of urgency, always thinking “What can I get done today?” My husband on the other hand, operates with a low sense of urgency, and carries the mindset of “What must I get done today?” A subtle yet profound difference – Can vs Must - which affects our levels of stress, and our ability to relate to one another.

Realizing this simple difference has liberated me. I now have the context for creating change without feeling guilty or pressured. I can choose to give myself a “must” day and take it easy. Or I can simply realize that what I can get done, and must get done, are not the same. Similarly, I better understand my husband’s relationship with time. So if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I now know to define what “must” get done so that he feels ready to help me without nagging or reminders. With this knowledge we may finally have bridged our time management differences.

While the battle of the sexes will wage on, I hope sharing my new awareness will help you to take one step further in creating peace in your world too.

Best of Luck,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Lesson about Anger Management

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father was very concerned for his son’s future and thought hard about how he could explain to his son why relationships are so important and controlling his temper is a key factor in this.

After much thought his father gave him a bag full of nails and told him, “Every time you lose your temper, hammer a nail into the back of the fence.” His son did not understand but knew that his father was wise so he agreed.

On the first day that the boy received his bag of nails he ended up driving about 37 nails into the fence. Each day he learned little by little to control his temper. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.

He was very proud of himself and went to share his good news with his father. His Father was very proud of him and offered a challenge to his son. “Why don’t you pull out a nail everyday that you are able to hold your temper?”

As there were many nails in the fence it took the boy sometime to finally remove the nails from the fence. But eventually that joyous day arrived. He was so pleased with himself and he wanted to share this with his father.

His father was so proud of his son, but he wanted him to understand that holding his temper was more than just being able to add or remove nails from a fence. He took his son’s hand and showed him all the holes that were left from the nails. “As you see my son, this fence will never be the same, the fence is scarred with holes from your temper. Think of these holes as the words you have spoken in anger, the wounds you have left in people’s lives. Words really are like weapons they leave a wound, that does not heal easily. Son, your family and friends will make you smile and encourage you to succeed, they will lend an ear, share words of praise and they always want to open their hearts to us. Always remember the fence before you speak words of anger.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When is it Time to Intervene?

Conflict at work has left you wondering...
Can the parties work it out themselves?
Can you as HR, their boss, or co-worker assist them?
Is outside intervention your best option?

Some conflict is normal. And people who work together will periodically experience frustration and tension with their co-workers, colleagues, and partners. But when things escalate, or simply persist – never reaching a point of resolution, it’s time to take action.

So the question becomes:
How do you know when the problems between two individuals (or a team) have gone too far?
How can you assess if it’s time to intervene or bring in outside help?
What should you do if only one person deems the issue to be a problem?

To best answer those queries, you need to go to the source. We’ve developed three straightforward questions for the involved
parties to answer with respect to their feelings about the person(s) with whom they are experiencing conflict or tension. We recommend these questions be asked confidentially. The responses you receive will paint a clear picture of the depth of the
problem, and the most likely path to take for creating solutions.

1. How do you feel about working with this individual(s)?
a. Good. We get along fine
b. Manageable. It could be better, but things are stable
c. Bad. Things need to improve soon
d. Miserable. I do not like working with this individual

2. What is your trust level with this individual(s)?
a. High. I trust this individual and can rely on him/her/them
b. Moderate. I trust this person(s) about the same as I trust most others
c. Low. I do not trust this person and often feel the need to watch him/her
d. Extremely low. I cannot trust or rely on this person

3. How confident are you that you can resolve the issue on your own?

a. I am certain I can resolve this issue favorably – and plan to do so.
b. I believe I can resolve this issue favorably, but am not sure yet
c. I have given up trying to resolve this issue
d. This issue cannot be resolved

The following two questions are directed toward the “helper” in this situation. This may be a member of Human Resources, a Manager, an Executive, or an Owner.

4. How confident are you that you can bring trust back to the desired levels?
a. Very confident – I know I can do it
b. Somewhat confident – I see the possibility
c. Not very confident – So far nothing has worked
d. Not at all confident – Nothing has worked, and probably nothing will

5. How confident are you that things will get better without further intervention?
a. Very confident
b. Somewhat confident
c. Not very confident
d. Not at all confident

With regard to all five questions, any answer of “C” or “D” is an indication of a problem. The more answers in that range – the greater the degree of concern.

Responses to the first two questions are designed to tell you about the breadth of the problem. Question 3 will indicate the ability and willingness of the involved parties to work it out on their own. Don’t be misled by inconsistency between respondents. Even if only one person responds with C’s or D’s, the answers you receive are significant. A one-sided complaint typically identifies that one side is being more honest, is experiencing more pain from the conflict, or is simply more eager to see the interaction improve.

Finally, to determine what level of intervention is appropriate, examine the responses to questions 4 and 5. Here, answers in the C or D range will indicate the need for outside assistance. But don’t despair. When issues are close to us, we often lack the perspective, insight, and objectivity to resolve them ourselves. Investing in an outside consultant can yield phenomenal results and bring about much desired improvement and change.

We have been successful in helping individuals and teams to improve their working relationships and bring things to a level of respect, civility, and at times, even harmony. Please contact us to see if we can help.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Have Tough Information to Share? Think About Telling a Good Joke

The secret to telling a good joke is in the delivery and the timing. The same can be said for many of the most challenging things we need to communicate. Whether it’s giving feedback, describing a
problem behavior, or telling someone they’ve hurt you, all of these uncomfortable conversations walk the fine line between offering helpful advice, and giving hurtful criticism. The easiest way to control how your message is received is to plan the right delivery.

Begin by setting the stage
Before a comedian begins his routine, he makes sure you’re seated, ready to listen, and hopefully in a good mood (thank you warm-up act). Staging is needed for difficult conversations as well. Rather than ambush the message recipient, make an appointment with him/her to talk, and give the gist of what you want to talk about. You might say, “Bob, I’d like to talk to you about that project that’s behind schedule, when do you have time this week to meet?” This allows the other person to be in the right mental state when you do sit down to meet, and keeps them (or you) from being caught off guard by an impromptu discussion.

Have the right intentions
A comedian wants you to laugh and have a good time – but that doesn’t keep him from saying things that may cross the line. When delivering difficult information, make sure your intentions are pure and are kind. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Believe s/he didn’t intend a problem, or know what they did was hurtful. Have the mindset that your purpose is to build their awareness or help them to change.

Tell the story
A comedian doesn’t start with the punch-line, he builds up to it. By telling a story, he helps you to see things from his perspective, and therefore creates a stronger impact. The same is true when giving difficult information or feedback. Don’t drop it like a bomb and expect a favorable response. Similarly, don’t expect the other person to talk first. Do you laugh before you hear the joke? You are bringing the problem forward, so it is your responsibility to explain it to the other person. Tell the story. Explain the problem with your observations and from your point of view. Help the other person come alongside you and recognize why you are bringing this to their attention.

Wait for the response
Have you ever noticed how a comedian pauses to give the audience a chance to laugh? In giving difficult news, you should expect a response from the listener. Welcome it. Ask for it. Pause for it. Until the other person responds, you won’t know if the message was understood or accepted.

Delivering difficult information is never funny - however it can be productive, even positive, if you handle it like a pro.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Five Indicators of Great Teams

Have you read Patrick Lencioni’s best-seller The Five Dysfunctions of a Team? I find it to be a terrific guide for creating great leadership, teamwork, and group cohesion, but I also imagine where the most doubts are raised. Below are some of the more controversial behaviors that Lencioni encourages – along with my brief explanation about its purpose, value and importance.

1. Team members are passionate and unguarded in their discussion of issues.
We think we want and encourage this, but how often do your meetings instead involve polite exchanges, quiet attention, and cautious questioning? A truly provocative and open discussion makes it possible to learn about problems, ask for details, offer ideas, and present challenges. All of which ultimately improve decision making and problem resolution. If your meetings are ruled by polite behavior, chances are your team is not fully engaged.

2. Morale is significantly affected by the failure to achieve team goals.
High-morale is the workplace equivalent of high self –esteem. In neither arena can the sense of worth be given. Morale must be achieved. While we want our teams to experience high morale – lowered morale due to problems or failures is not only normal, but healthy. It pushes teams to work harder to create a successful outcome. Morale is affected by our sense of purpose and remains high when we feel we are on the right path and making progress.

3. Team members are deeply concerned about the prospect of letting down their peers.
Consider this as a healthy form of peer pressure. When staff feels compelled to prove themselves to their team, they work harder to achieve. This sense of connectivity and interpersonal responsibility also lends itself to a shared appreciation for the efforts and attention each person puts into the project, ultimately creating a stronger and more cohesive team.

4. Team members know about one another’s personal lives and are comfortable discussing them.
First, a disclaimer for those concerned about HIPAA and other legislative mandates: The openness this refers to is not artificial or required, but occurs naturally and is an indication of trust and respect.
The healthiest of teams are aware of each others’ strengths and weaknesses – both within and beyond the office setting. They share important details about an ailing parent, a health condition, or even a pending adoption. Through sharing they create an otherwise unattainable level of understanding, allowing them to graciously pitch in or ask for help when a personal challenge interferes with their professional efforts.

5. Team members challenge one another about their plans and approaches.
While many teams have members who operate with “Mind your own business” independence, truly successful teams have members who welcome the broader attention of the group. Such teams are apt to consider divergent points of view, and to expect discussion before decision making. The result is clear - Mistakes are often avoided, good plans become better, and all participants become active stakeholders in the decision making process.

Creating healthy teams takes time. Developing trust and a willingness to engage in constructive conflict and communication are important steps along that path.