Friday, December 27, 2013

What Matters Most (to me)?

I have a novel approach to the New Year’s Resolution and it’s my own goal for 2014.  Forget the typical resolutions.  My plan?  To do less, to take on less, and with that goal - to be more present.

It sounds easy, but I think this will be one of my hardest resolutions yet.  It starts by taking stock of what I am doing.  Here’s what I know:  I am busy – to a near chaotic level – most of the time.  I don’t even know what’s taking up my time.  Is it purposeful?  Is it necessary? 
And I see it all around me.  We are better connected worldwide, and yet less connected to those we see face to face: our neighbors, co-workers, and friends.  We can shop online at any time day or night (saving us time, right?) but are too busy to get together with those we care about. 

In my own life I recognize other elements.  I don’t sleep enough.  I feel compromised in spending time with my husband and children.  And yet I still feel pushed to do more. 

Perhaps you are experiencing the same pressures on your time, and feeling the same need to evaluate.

Here’s my plan (at least the start of it). 

1.      Take stock of what I’m doing now.  I’m going to take one week (nights and weekends included) to pay attention to the details of how I spend my time.  I will jot down notes throughout each day of what I am doing with my time.  I will likewise make a list of those less frequent but often time-consuming activities like managing my QuickBooks.
2.      Charting and categorizing.  Next I’m going to set aside a day to pour over those notes.  I’m going to create categories to identify how my time is spent, and how much time is spent on each activity.  I will also jot down the purpose (short or long term) for engaging in each behavior, and its potential value to me or others. 
3.      Analyze the results.  Now seeing where and how my time is spent, where do changes need to be made?  Am I spending too much time on a particular business activity?  Do I have a good balance between personal time and business time?  Am I operating on each during the right hours of the day?  Are my activities necessary and purposeful?  Am I wasting time online?  So many questions that I cannot answer until I survey my time.
4.      Identify what I want.  Once I know what I am doing, it’s easier to evaluate what I’d like to be doing (with a realistic sense of how I currently spend my time).  How much time do I want to spend on business activities?  Do I want to devote nights and weekends exclusively to family?  How often do I want to go to the gym?  What does my preferred week (hour by hour) really look like?
5.      Create a new plan (I hope this part will be fun). Once I identify what I am doing, and what I’d like to be doing, I hope to be able to create a schedule that works for me.  Perhaps this will be liberating as I realize that I don’t have time to participate in that discussion group I felt pressured to join, or to attend that function clear across town.  It may also mean committing to an undisturbed four hours of prep time for a program that I typically spend six hours preparing.  As I become aware of how my time is spent, compared to how I’d like to spend it, I can make those tough decisions without feeling compromised.
6.      Making it work.  In creating a new plan, I also need to find a way to make it workable.  I’ll look to see what activities can be delegated to others.  Perhaps a subordinate can do the research; another parent can maintain the volunteer list; my husband can do the grocery shopping.  Other items may need to be released.  Maybe I need to limit my time connecting with friends/colleagues on social media, give up writing a fresh article for each newsletter I write, or stop using QuickBooks to account for every dollar I spend.
7.      Making peace with my choices.  As I choose what to change, delegate or let go of, I am sure to experience feelings of sadness or frustration.  Change is hard.  But I must also take stock of what I will be getting in exchange for these sacrifices:  A better work/life balance; a clearer sense of my own purposeful activity; more time with my husband and children. 

I have a hunch that as I manage my way through these 7 steps, I will start to feel more in control of my time and happier with my daily activities.  Whether you need to make changes personally, professionally, or (like me) across the board, choosing to do less may be the best choice you can make.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Boost Morale by Busting the Summertime Blues

Summer is full of wonderful things that make us feel good - vacations, warm nights, and plenty of outdoor activities, right? But for many employees and business professionals summer instead becomes a time of added stress.

For those taking a vacation, there’s planning and budgeting, preparing for time away from the office and catching up with missed work. But even those who don’t take time off can experience the vacation blues. Some will lament the reasons they’re unable to travel, others may simply feel the added pressure at work when co-workers are gone and they’re left to pick up the slack.

Regardless of the reasons for the added stress, employer awareness can really pay off. Here are five cool ideas for keeping your employees happy and relaxed during the hot summer months.

1. Half-day Fridays (or late-start Mondays) – Help those in the office feel the thrill of a little bonus time during the hot summer months. Whether you do this weekly or just once or twice, your employees will really enjoy the added time off.

2. Theme party or pot-luck - This feel-good activity can score big with employees, especially if the executive staff also participate. Having the boss serve you up some of her homemade chili, or seeing a stuffy manager dress up for the Hawaiian luau theme can really help staff feel connected to one another, and to management. You can encourage participation with voting and prizes.

3. Quiet time – Many people enjoy the quiet of a vacation over activities and outings. Make that possible by creating quiet time moments or "in office vacations".  Have planned dates or times when phones and email will be turned off for an hour or two. Encourage staff to read, take a walk, listen to music, or engage in some other quiet (non-work) activity.

4. Games and Contests – Keep staff excited to come to work by hosting games that are NOT tied to work or productivity. One fun idea is to hold an Office Olympics. Have staff come up with the various “sporting event” ideas and vote on which ones will be included in the final Olympic event. Enjoyment from this game can last several weeks as unique ideas are developed. Prizes can be given for creativity, teamwork, and for winning a gold medal. For a few other game ideas click here

5. Surprise treats – Half the fun of being on vacation is that wonderful and unexpected things can happen. So bring that into the office. Have a surprise ice cream day. Bring in a professional masseuse (or two) to give everyone a 20 minute massage. Keep the element of surprise by not alerting your staff to the up-coming treat, and by not having them occur on a scheduled basis.

All these ideas have one real purpose – to boost morale and bring the enjoyment of a vacation into the office. Keep it fun by having the executive team plan the activities, or letting interested staff volunteer to help. Find ways to reward those helpers who go above and beyond in bringing the vacation spirit into the office. Remember, these low cost ideas will pay high dividends in terms of staff morale and loyalty, which in turn will lead to better productivity and decreased turnover. This summer vacation has a win-win for everyone.

As Cyndi Lauper sang, “Girls just wanna have fun.” But do we know how?

Ladies, let’s face it.  We are often frustrated by the things men “get away with” both in our personal and in our business lives.  We feel angry, disenfranchised, over-looked, or under-appreciated.  Especially if we compare our work to theirs, and feel that we are doing more.  But what is really happening?  Are men really “getting away with it”, or are we merely taking on huge, unnecessary, and possibly unwanted burdens in the name of getting things done?

The reality is that women like to get things done.  That isn’t to say that men don’t.  But we go about it in a very different way – we plan.  We make lists, organize and arrange our day to be sure that everything on our “to-do” list is completed.  When working or teaming with others (especially our spouse or other family members), we check-in to determine if things are going as planned – often ready to jump in (and take over) if they are not.  We plan everything we can - our time, our activities, and even our contingency plans for things that could go wrong.  But does any of this really bring us happiness?  Or does all of this thinking and planning just go hand in hand with stress, worrying, and feeling unfairly burdened? 

More importantly, why do so many women share in this experience and how did we get this way?  To understand it better, we need to look beyond our current situation and to our evolutionary beginnings in the hunter and gatherer societies.    

Men – as hunters – were programmed to focus on two particular tasks…hunting and procreation.  Their survival, and that of their gene pool, was largely based on their ability to find a mate, and to take care of and protect themselves.  Their relationship with other hunters was predominantly competitive as each was seeking the same limited resources.

Women were the gatherers in these prehistoric times.  Gatherers scavenged for easier to obtain foods like nuts and berries.  They had to maintain a broad focus and detailed memory of where to find these precious resources, season after season.  Gatherers also preserved a cooperative spirit with other gatherers as their survival and that of their progeny necessitated that they cared for each others offspring, shared food sources, and warned one another of animal predators. 

In this way, Gatherers had to multitask and socialize just to survive the day – just as Hunters had to maintain solitary focus and take care of themselves in order to do so.  Looking at it in modern times, things are much the same.  Women tend to jump in and help out – at times taking on the work of others.  We are quick to apologize as social relations are important.  And we enjoy a lot of communication.  Men on the other hand are highly competitive, not likely to worry about their social impact, and are content to simply take care of themselves – and procreate. 

So ladies, what can we do?

Since feeling over-burdened is, at least in part, something we bring on ourselves, than surely we can also make some changes.  Here are a few ideas:

1.      Decide when you’ve done enough.  Yes, even if things aren’t done, have a cut-off point, but recognize that this doesn’t mean anyone else will do the rest.  To determine your cut-off point, ask yourself in each situation, how important/valuable the outcome will be, and compare that to the value of taking care of yourself.
2.      Let others be responsible for themselves.  Don’t check in on the progress of others unless you genuinely need to know.  No more hovering over your children regarding homework, your spouse regarding household duties, or your co-workers concerning project updates.  Recognize that it is not your job to oversee the work of others.  Imagine what they might learn or achieve if you step back.
3.      Enjoy the moment.  Men are much better at this than women are. All our planning and scheduling leaves us living in the future.  Find ways to embrace the moment – even if everything on your to-do list is not done.  Reprioritize what matters most to you, and keep true to that list instead.
4.      Recognize your own core nature.  We evolved by taking care of others, so this isn’t something we’re likely to be able to release without experiencing some stress.  However, the above suggestions should help you to step back a bit more, letting others be in charge of their own destiny.  If you do, you just may reap the rewards of feeling a little happier, a bit more relaxed, and even experiencing a little bit of fun.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Communication - Enough is Enough!

We talk about the importance of communication, yet are we getting any closer to solving our communication problems?  All too often, the answer is "No".  Well I'm here to say, "Enough is enough."  Are you with me?

Good. Because here is what I'm really saying - enough is enough. In other words, as a specialist in communication and conflict resolution, I can tell you that the biggest problems I find in business, among teams, and within families, occurs when one, both or all parties fail to pay attention to whether or not enough information has actually been exchanged. How could you know when this is happening? Read on:

1. You can tell the other person is "giving in" to you - or you are giving in to them.  Often done to avoid an argument or lengthy discussion, this situation occurs when we try to get things done without over-questioning or over-explaining. Things may seem fine as work is getting done and things are being handled. However, the long term result is that the party who "gives in" makes assumptions about the other person and the reason for their requests. They may see him or her as difficult, unreasonable, or even foolish. Over time respect is lost and the relationship is damaged.

2. You unexpectedly get resistance over something - Similar to the situation above, this time the other person isn't giving in, but is in some way pushing back. S/he may be quietly avoiding work that should be done, pushing your buttons by asking questions you see as unnecessary, or repeatedly doing something the "wrong" way. You may feel frustrated or angry with this person's attitude or behavior. Over time this resistance may reach to a level of insubordination and discipline.

3. You find yourself telling the other person to "Just do it" - Perhaps you've learned to expect resistance over a particular request or by a specific individual.  Rather than enter into a discussion you give a straight-forward order. You may see this as the fastest way to get from point A to point B, but at what cost? While intended to cut out some of the problems above, instead this type of communication complicates things further. A direct order demonstrates a lack of trust in the recipient's ability to make decisions or think things through. In business this causes employee dissatisfaction and in any situation erodes positive elements of the relationship.

4. You sense the other person's unspoken confusion, annoyance, or frustration - Perhaps you are savvy enough to recognize these signs of resistance, but are you addressing them? Have you truly unveiled the problems that lead to those feelings? Most of the time we take the shortest route for getting something done, and instead of entering into a discussion about the task, request, etc., we respond by allowing one of the three prior scenarios to take hold. Or, we do seek to address the issue, but allow it to be closed even when we aren't sure that the problem has been solved - only that the effort has been made.

In all of these situations, "enough" did not happen. The best of intentions did not lead to the best results. Instead, communication was stilted, incomplete, compromised, or completely ignored.  To improve communication, you must be sure that the information exchange also answered the question, "Why?"  In other words, why is this needed, why should it be done this way, and/or why are you resisting the request that was made?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Top 5 Situations where Intervention is Necessary

As a business owner or Human Resources professional, you're aware of employee tensions and occasional outbursts of anger or frustration. They're common to the workplace. And things usually settle down in a day or two. But sometimes they don't. Sometimes things get worse, or even spiral unexpectedly out of control. How can you know which conflicts need your involvement and which can be allowed to resolve themselves?

As a Conflict Resolution professional, I hear these questions often. Here are the Top 5 Situations where Intervention is Necessary, along with my rationale for why it is time to step in.

1. Repeat Complaints
As the most common problem requiring intervention, repeat complaints are also the one most likely to be ignored or given a low level of attention. Why? Complaints between employees are often chalked up to personality differences or viewed as minor or commonplace. Repeat complainers may even become branded as being the problem itself.
The reality: Repeat complaints signal a level of urgency. When a number of people share the complaint, the problem is widespread. If one person is complaining, and running the risk of being labeled as a result, the problem is most likely unbearable for them. In either event, keep in mind that when you hear a complaint, you're only hearing about the tip of the iceberg. There is always more that lies beneath the surface - and you need to find out more.

2. Frequent or Unexpected Turnover or Transfer Requests
While turnover issues get noticed, it's typically because the focus shifts to replacing the lost or transferred individuals. HR or Management may rationalize the reasons for such departures, or (if the employees are not of particular value to the company) they may be unconcerned about the staffing changes. But the key words here are "frequent or unexpected". Turnover and transfer requests are usually precipitated by problems or dysfunction within the department or team from which they are occurring.
Waiting to step in and address such issues sends an unfortunate message that either HR/Management doesn't recognize the problem, doesn't know what to do about the problem, or simply doesn't care that the problem exists. In any event, the problem will snowball and more staff will leave, including those you can't afford to lose.

3. Legal Concerns
Let's say you learn through the grapevine that an employee is making general threats of legal action. Or, you hear words like "hostile work environment" or "harassment" floating among certain groups. Unfortunately, HR or Management frequently start their efforts to address this issue by getting in touch with their legal adviser, focusing on their departments' record-keeping, and ensuring that all requisite training programs, like sexual harassment training, are up to date and documented.
Reasons for this point of focus range from disbelief that the problem or threat is significant, concern that addressing the issue will make things worse, or wanting to wait until the affected person approaches or informs them directly. Unfortunately, I see these asr duck and cover efforts.  They are not focused on resolving the problem, but on insulating the company from further damage.
The problem is that time is being wasted. If the issue is minor, there is no need to perform an audit of all record-keeping; if instead the issue is serious - any delay means you are losing the opportunity to minimize damages or nip the potential problem in the bud.

4. Arguments or Tensions are Intensifying or Never-Ending
Sometimes HR or Management is aware of a problem, but no one has asked for help and there are no concerns about bullying, harassment, or other workplace violations. The problem is simply chalked up to a "personality difference" between employees. Due to limited time and resources, such problems are often given little, if any, attention. However, when these conflicts intensify or are long-lasting it is no longer appropriate for helpers to remain on the sidelines. Whether there are complaints or not, such tensions will lead to problems with morale, increases in turnover and absenteeism, and possibly even lead to workplace violence. Further, the longer these problems fester, the worse it will get. While there is no line in the sand to say when it is time to step in based on time or intensity of the problem, it is imperative that you keep such issues on your radar, and have a plan for addressing them.

5. Tensions among Top-level Staff
Human Resource professionals and mid-level management often hit a brick wall when there are tensions or problems among top-level staff. They often see the issue or feel the impact, but are unable to create change or resolve the issue. Why? Trying to help those in a position of power above you creates its own strife. Add to that the limited authority HR often holds, and the confined level of trust or respect they typically enjoy when it comes to working with the C-suite executives and owners. It's a near impossible situation to contend with. HR may want to help, but are limited and/or fearful of doing so. Regardless of these limitations, it's not OK to wait. Expecting things to blow-over is a fallacy. Chances are that by the time HR has becomes aware of problems at the top, things have already deteriorated. And while things may go into temporary remission, most likely because of the recent exposure to HR or other staff members, anger and grudges do not go away because we ignore them. They fester, grow, and become more explosive and damaging over time. Problems at the top are like an avalanche, and can easily destroy all that lies beneath them.

If you recognize that intervention is needed for these or other reasons, please contact us to discuss how we might help you address these challenging situations.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Changing The Phantom Culture

Google the words “company culture” and you’ll find nearly ¾ billion results.  Yet ask business leaders to define their company’s culture or to discuss ways their culture was created or changed, and the results are minimal.  Company culture it seems, is a bit of an enigma. 

On the surface, it’s often characterized as a product of the company’s values, beliefs, and behaviors.  But when the stated values, beliefs, and behaviors take a detour from the reality of daily business activities, the culture isn’t living up to the mission of the organization.  And most certainly the employees know it, further destabilizing the potential of that purported culture to ever take hold.  As an added concern, the opportunity for the company culture to positively impact clients, customers, and consumers is lost as well.

So where does the declared culture separate from reality?  The divide occurs through daily interactions, and decisions, through policies and practices.  Look to the following to determine where your culture is truly defined:

1.      Rewards.  Who and what is promoted in your company?  Are the hardest and most competent workers rewarded in kind?  Do employee attitude or workplace relations factor into opportunities and pay raises?  How are requests for paid time off granted?  Also looks at areas of nepotism, loyalty (regardless of competency), and highest sales performance (regardless of attitude).  How each of these is rewarded will also impact your company culture.
2.      Punishment.  Who is terminated and why?  Does poor behavior, insubordination, dishonesty, or other problem behavior get addressed – and punished – in a swift and decisive manner?  Are problem people allowed to move about seemingly untouched?  How many opportunities is staff given to change/improve before consequences set in? 
3.      Communication.  How open are the channels of communication?  Do staff have a voice in discussing things that impact them – like a new computer program or a recent update to how work-load is to be calculated?  Or are they blind-sided or surprised by things that are occurring or changes that are implemented?  Can staff adequately rely on the chain of command for getting information to or from where it needs to be?  Is communication one-way (ie: top-down) or reciprocal? 
4.      Teamwork.  How do people work together?  Are teams thoughtfully created with competent leaders put in charge?  Is blame or finger-pointing a problem?  Are accountability and personal responsibility being reinforced?  Are collaboration and operational reciprocity a reality or are people or divisions siloed and disconnected? 
5.      Conflict Management.  How are tensions or conflicts managed?  Are people encouraged to seek help or left to deal with issues themselves?  Are people in leadership roles trained in basic conflict management?  When help is offered, is it legitimate and multi-tiered or superficial and temporary?  Do managers and leaders receive training in employee relations or conflict management?    

The above questions offer just the start for examining the factors which determine your company's true culture.  We hope they pose a healthy challenge to all companies looking to create or improve their own company culture.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Deciding Who's First

Whether you are married, have children, or single and on your own, when it comes to personal matters, it’s often hard to find the right balance of taking care of your family, yourself, and ‘being there’ for other friends and loved ones. 

Your mental debate may even lead to conflict if others who learn of your choices, don’t approve.  Below are some thoughts/guidelines for managing these issues while improving your relationships with others.

1.      Be True to Yourself – Prior to making a decision, and certainly before communicating that decision to others (who may not approve), think about why that decision makes sense for you.  For example, say you are choosing to get a massage instead of helping your cousin.  What are the reasons for that decision?  Is it because you two have a difficult relationship?  Because he’s never helped you when you needed it?  Because your back is injured and the masseuse can only fit you in when your cousin needs you?  Think about the reasons for making what could be termed a “selfish” choice.  Often times “selfish” choices occur as a result of a damaged relationship, and the desire to avoid or punish the other person.

2.      Be Honest – Keeping your rationale to yourself isn’t helping.  And, it will likely build added resentment from others if it is misunderstood.  In making a choice that others can’t readily appreciate, be prepared to communicate your reasoning with those impacted by it.  (For guidelines on having those conversations see my earlier article).

3.      Know Your Priorities – Sometimes, it isn’t a selfish choice that becomes a challenge.  It’s the reverse.  Perhaps a friend wants to see you (and you them) but it means your child will have to endure a play-date with a child she doesn’t like, or be left with a babysitter you don’t feel great about.  Here your concerns are letting someone down one way or the other.  While your child may forgive you more easily, or be simpler to bribe with a toy or dessert, think about which choice makes you feel better as a person.  Worry less about how your rationale sounds to others, and more about your own conscience and what helps you to sleep well at night.  Let that feeling guide you. 

4.      Don’t Make Excuses – When communicating your choices, don’t turn them into excuses.  Explain yourself directly and with factual points, including any notes about how you might be able to compromise, or make it up to the other person, if that is what you want to do. 

5.      Hold Your Head High – This is just a reminder that if you are true to yourself, honest with others, communicate clearly, and make added efforts when reasonable, you should be able to feel good about yourself, your decisions, and your relationships with others.

State of the...Company

Every January our Commander in Chief presents a State of the Union or Inaugural Address.  Setting your own political ideologies aside, business leaders should take note of the address and the purpose behind it.  This address is a leadership strategy – one that can be implemented within any company, team, or organization.   The Inaugural Address or State of the Union inspires, explains, motivates, and builds enthusiasm for what is both desired and possible. 

Translate that to a business model, and you are offering your staff a glimpse into your views on the recent past and your goals for the coming year.  You are building a sense of unity, a feeling of pride, and a desire to give the best of oneself in those who hear your own address.  Do you acknowledge the hard times?  Yes.  Will you sometimes have to acknowledge that there may be more hard times to come?  Yes.  But you also have this forum to explain what you can/will do to lessen the impact of these hard times and to plant seeds of hope for the positive changes that are on the way.

The “State of the Company” address may be the one time each year you address your staff or team in this manner, so make it count.  Be sure to include:

1.     Gratitude for their commitment to your company, team, or organization.
2.     Recognition for their hard work and effort to reach goals.
3.     Awareness of any difficulties of the past year (or more if this is your first such address).
4.     Appreciation for the success and accomplishments of the past year (or longer).
5.     Goals and/or changes to come in the year ahead.
6.     An acknowledgement of what it will take to reach those goals (of them and you).
7.     A request for their commitment to making those goals or changes happen.
8.     Repeat of Gratitude – this time with a focus on moving forward.

Strong leadership requires communication, inspiration, a vision for the future, and a building of trust – both up the corporate ladder and down.  As you craft and deliver your “State of the Company” keep these ideals in mind.

If we can be of help in addressing these and other leadership challenges, through executive coaching, training, or other services, please contact us.