Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Are Meetings Always Needed?

I just returned from a good meeting. Everyone was engaged, no one dominated (unless it made sense because of specific expertise), and everyone who spoke did something to check for understanding. It was more like a comfortable discussion around a warm fireplace in winter than a stereotypical business meeting.  So it made me think about the planning that went into it and how it was led.

A couple of months ago I read a blog that generated some thought about people who impede meetings and how to overcome them.  Here are 5 of the traps.  See if any sound familiar to you:

1)    People think they are experts.
2)    People think they are inspiring.
3)    People think others agree with them.
4)    People think others are clairvoyant.
5)    People think meetings are necessary.

Number 3 is my personal favorite, but number 5 is the one I run into most.

Five Hidden Traps in Meetings – If you have sat through a few bad meetings, you must have experienced the following traps.

People think they are experts. Many people tell me that they know how to hold a meeting. Actually, all they do is host a party. They invite guests, provide treats, and preside over a conversation. People talk. People eat. And nothing happens. Or, if they somehow manage to reach an agreement, no one implements it.

What to do: Learn how to lead a real meeting. Schedule a workshop or buy a book.  Death by Meeting: by Patrick Lencioni comes to mind.  When results really matter, hire a facilitator. Recognize that there are modern tools that help people make methodical progress toward results.

People think they are inspiring. Many people believe that long-winded announcements impress others. Actually, it’s the opposite. A long lecture quickly becomes a boring (and sometimes offensive) tirade. Why? Most employees want an active role in contributing to the business, and thus listening to a speech feels like a waste of time.

What to do: Design meetings that give the attendees opportunities to contribute. Plan questions that direct thinking toward the results that you want. Use activities that help people make decisions. Distribute announcements in letters, memos, or E-mails. Or, if you must use a meeting, keep announcements brief (less than a few minutes).

People think others agree with them. Many people rely on nods, smiles, and eye contact to measure acceptance. Actually, most employees will do anything to appease a boss. And if the boss seems to be upset, the employees will become even more agreeable. Then, once the meeting ends, the employees will do one of three things: forget the lecture, ignore the message, or sabotage the idea.

What to do: Conduct meetings by a process that everyone considers to be fair. Use consensus to reach agreements and make decisions. People will accept decisions that they helped make.

People think others are clairvoyant. Many people call meetings without an agenda expecting that everyone will arrive sharing their vision for what needs to be done. Actually, everyone brings their private hopes, fears, and vision to the meeting. Without a clear agenda, the result is something between chitchat and chaos, depending upon the complexity of the issue.  Note: A vague agenda, such as a list of topics, is almost as useless as no agenda.

What to do: Write out your goal for the meeting. Then prepare an agenda that is so complete someone else could use it to run the meeting without you. Specify each step and provide a time limit. Send the agenda at least a day before the meeting so that the attendees can use it to prepare. Call key participants before the meeting to check if they have questions or want to talk about the agenda.

People think meetings are necessary. Many people respond to every emergency, surprise, or twitch by calling a meeting.  Actually, a meeting is a special (and expensive) process. It should be used only to obtain results that require the efforts of a group of people working as a team. A meeting is NOT a universal cure for everything. Meetings held for the wrong reasons, waste everyone’s time.

What to do: Challenge every meeting for its ability to earn a profit for your business.  That is, make sure the value of the results is greater than the cost of holding a meeting. If any other activity can accomplish the same result, use that other activity.


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Modern Management

Modern management is all about removing roadblocks from the paths of employees in order to help them succeed.  This extends beyond managing people to empowering and engaging people.  The traditional idea of management was based on leading by fear and the notion of command and control.  Employees used to work hard to allow their managers to succeed and now it’s the managers turn to make sure their employees succeed.  As I’ve said many times, employees are the most valuable asset that any organization has.  In the past managers said “jump” and the employees said, “how high?”  Now, the managers are jumping with employees.

It used to be good enough for managers to say they supported something.  A manager would just need to approve the budget and say “go for it.”  When it comes to collaboration and the future of work that is no longer enough.  Managers need to commit to more than just funding collaboration.  They need to be the ones on the ground level using the same tools that the rest of the employees are using.  There is no way that employees can change and evolve (nor should they) unless they see their managers doing

Embrace vulnerability

This goes hand in hand with being open and transparent.  Our organizations were modeled after the military and if there’s one thing that a commander wasn’t, that was vulnerable.  However, times have changed and we aren’t running our organizations like the military anymore.  We go our whole lives learning how to be the opposite of vulnerable and we always have this “shield” up to keep people from seeing us when we are vulnerable.  However, Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly,” says that vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.  According to Brown, “Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity.  There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.”  Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak it’s about being courageous; a key quality that every manager must have going forward.

Belief in sharing

Traditionally managers sat at the top of the organization and had access to all of the information required to make decisions. Managers would dole out the orders and the employees had to execute on those orders without asking any questions.  Today managers cannot believe in hoarding information but in sharing information and collective intelligence.  Managers need to make sure that the employees can connect to each other and to the information they need to get their jobs done, anytime, anywhere, and on any device.  Managers now rely on employees to help make decisions instead of isolating them from this process.

What other qualities do you think the modern manager should possess?


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Civility At Work

Disagreements and anger are a reality in the workplace and in life in general. Various people react in different ways when under pressure. Some lose their cool completely and say things they instantly regret, while others launch into tormenting the perceived offender with the silent treatment. No matter the technique used to punish, all of these methods quickly become tiresome and, more importantly, adversely affect the workplace.

Too frequently in the work environment, many people just can’t suck it up and utter the two simple words, “I’m sorry,” even when they know they’re wrong. It’s not just a guy thing either.  I’ve seen women behaving just as unprofessional when they feel put upon.

What’s a manager to do when this stubbornness becomes problematic?  In a word: intervene. When not controlled, these unreasonable, obstinate antics can become time-consuming and disruptive. It could all start with an impetuous negative e-mail (can anyone say ALL CAPS) or a less-than-mature voice mail left in the heat of battle that cascades into a futile distraction, as otherwise effective and seemingly sensible employees act out as if they were back in the third grade rather than adults in the workplace.

The most expeditious method that works with either the protagonist or antagonist in an office drama is to call a spade a spade, so to speak, and get the feuding parties together and cut to the chase, making each person agree to bury the hatchet but preferably not in each other’s skull. If employees’ anger management issues are left to fester, they can easily result in other people in the same work environment taking sides, and in short order, you will find yourself in the midst of an all-out War.

The only thing guaranteed when this occurs is that there will be casualties. It is incumbent on the ruling manager to make sure that the company doesn’t wind up as the victim, incurring a loss of productivity and causing everyone around the two factions to feel as if they’re walking on pins and needles.

While many times it would be easier for the boss to ask one of the warring participants to approach the other to work out their differences, this tactic just takes too much time and the outcome can be iffy. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong but that the nonsense is stopped dead in its tracks. The best way to accomplish this is to make it more than abundantly clear that anger in the workplace is unacceptable and could be a career-inhibitor.

Allowing employees to exhibit a lack of civility will cause a domino effect that will lead to no good. Civility does not just apply to peers. Instead, it’s applicable to all who must work together, including superiors, subordinates and even fellow board members. And, don’t confuse civility with agreeing or disagreeing with someone. It also doesn’t mean one has to believe that someone is effective in his or her role. Instead, what must be required is that those within an organization, no matter what level, simply take the higher road and respect not necessarily the person but the role and make the assumption that everyone has a part in working toward shared goals, until it is proven otherwise.

Once everybody knows the rules of engagement, many times the negative engagement suddenly ends and it’s back to business as usual. When that doesn’t happen, it’s time for offenders to be forced to go to their respective corners so as not to do each other or the company any more harm.

To promote coexistence when no one wants to take the first step and say, “I’m sorry,” it’s up to the adult in the room — and that would be you, the boss — to step into the fray with your whistle to call a permanent timeout to these types of disruptive behaviors.

 


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Does Your Company Draw Top Talent?

I had a meeting the other day with a prospect and we were discussing why some organizations always have people applying for jobs wanting to work for them while others have a difficult time filling similar positions. I believe it’s all about a company’s reputation. Everyone wants top talent, yet few are willing to do the work that is required to be deserving of these people. That’s great news for those who are serious about becoming the type of workplace where everyone wants to work.

It’s hard to change perception, but it’s not impossible. Here’s how:

Be open to change. I’m tired of hearing business owners and leaders say that the reason things are done a certain way is because they’ve always been done that way. This kind of thinking won’t help you become the type of workplace that attracts people who are innovative. In fact, the opposite is true. People who are stuck in their old ways will remain thereby leaving you with a workforce that will never go above and beyond the status quo.

Rid yourself of toxic employees. Nothing brings a workforce down quicker than toxic employees. All it takes is one or two lousy managers to taint the workplace. I’m not going to tell you how to identify these people, as you already know who they are. Take action. Eliminate those who are making your workplace a stinky place to work.

Energize your workplace. Companies have been running mean and lean for so long that it’s now become the norm. Employees are dragging their butts to work every day and slogging along. Candidates who are interviewing with your company will sense the negative energy the moment they step foot in your door. Start investing again in your business. Begin by restoring pay cuts and by making some visible investments that will let your employees know your company is back on the move again.

Tell your story. You may be a great company to work for, but what good will that do if no one else knows about this? Revisit your mission statement and include a section on your company’s philosophy toward your people. Start a company blog, redesign the career section of your website, ask employees to tweet, hire a PR firm. Just do something!  Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Change up your strategy, trade some players and create the type of organization where only exceptional people need apply.


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Courage in the workplace

A leader must have courage; a leader must act in a courageous manner and so on.

While this is true, it is only part of the story about courage and the workplace. As we shall see, the virtue of courage must run throughout an organization or company – from bottom to top – in order for it to function at the highest level. 

Courage defined

Courage comes from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” In other words, courage is an innate, internal quality that resides within the core of your being.Courage is further defined as: “The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” Again, we see the word spirit. 

Courage is foundational

Courage is associated with such words as fearlessness, grit and power. It is experiencing fear, yet pushing through it to achieve your desired result.  Some say courage is the thing that underlies every other human quality. Without it, we cannot rightly be honest, dependable, generous or trustworthy. Courage is the foundation upon which all other virtues are built.

Courage and fear of reprisal

Why is so little courage seen in so many companies these days? In my estimation, it is because the leaders of those companies have fostered a culture where dissenting voices are discouraged and opinions that threaten the status quo are thoroughly silenced. With this climate of possible retaliation before them, team members are fearful of speaking up, sharing their thoughts and voicing their values. Fear of being the first one out the door at the next downsizing has stopped many ideas dead in their tracks in the workplace.

Courage, vision and openness

The first step in harnessing your courage is to develop a vision that represents your authentic self and goals, and aligning that vision with the business and its goals. This is true for the executive, manager and employee in the workplace.  Development of a vision that all members of the team can buy into depends on the openness of a company or organization. An open-minded company allows for discussion, sharing, brainstorming and even dissenting views. An open leader sees the value of the knowledge and experience of everyone in the room, including managers and employees. The leaders’ openness allows for others to work from a place of courage. They can step up without fear and lend their thoughts to the discussion. The ability to have that courage becomes transformational, both for the person sharing and the company or organization.

Openness leads to the ability to shape and form a vision. It is a vision wrought in courage which gives it power. That vision, brought about by the courage of the people involved in its development, will be the driving force carrying the company forward into new and exciting areas.

Benefits of courage in the workplace

Some of the benefits derived from demonstrating courage in the workplace include: high morale; commitment to the group mission; ownership; responsibility; momentum; effective; and stronger sense of purpose.

Here’s few questions that all members of your team can ask themselves regarding courage. Use these questions to help you determine what you can do to step up, step out and find your courageous voice.

–          What is your vision for the business/group/department?
–          How, specifically, can you be more courageous in your role at work?
–          What communication skill would help you become more courageous?
–          What tangible benefits will arise from your courageous action?


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Informal Recognition: A Powerful Tool!

Formal employee recognition programs can be effective, but many formal programs only pay lip service to recognizing employee performance.

Real praise should reward effort and accomplishment, reinforce positive behaviors, build self-esteem and confidence, and boost motivation and enthusiasm.

Do your formal recognition programs accomplish all that? I’m guessing maybe not.

Here are four informal and powerful ways to praise your employees:

Ask for ideas. Don’t just ask, “Do you have any ideas for how we can help you do your job better?” (Certainly ask that, but sometimes go farther.) Build off skills or insights they possess to use them in other ways.

Say a production employee is incredibly organized. Say, I am always impressed by how organized you are. I wish there was a way to clone you.” Then ask if she has thoughts about how to streamline order processing, or ways to reduce the flow of paperwork, or how another department could more efficiently collect data.

Not only will you get great ideas, but you also recognize skill and ability in powerful way.

Ask for help. Asking another person for help is one of the sincerest ways to recognize their abilities and value. Ask employees for help and you show you respect their skills and you extend a measure of trust.

The key is to ask for help partly or totally unrelated to their function, and to make the assistance relatively personal to you. Early on in my career I attended a meeting to talk downsizing; by the time I got back to the office word had already spread that layoffs were coming. One of my employees said, “So, layoffs, huh?” I didn’t have to confirm it; she knew. I said, “I’m struggling with what to tell our employees. What would you say?”

She thought and said, “Just tell everyone you’re doing your best on their behalf. Then talk about where we go from here.”

Simple? Sure, but powerful too. She later told me how much it meant to her that I had asked for her opinion and taken her advice.

Create informal leadership roles. Putting an employee in a short-term informal leadership role can make a major impact. Think how you would feel if you had a boss and she said, “We have a huge problem with a customer. If we don’t take care of it we may lose them. Can you grab a few people and handle it for me?”

Informal leadership roles show you trust an employee’s skills and judgment. The more important the task, the higher the implied praise and the greater the boost to their self-esteem.

Team up. You and your employees are on unequal footing since you’re the boss. A great way to recognize an employee’s value—especially to you—is to take on a task together.

What you choose to do together doesn’t have to be outside work, of course. The key is to do something as relative equals, not as boss and employee. Unequal separates, while equal elevates.

Verbal praise is great, but at times implied praise can be even more powerful. Ask for help or ideas, put an employee in charge, drop hierarchical roles, and work together. Each is a powerful way to recognize the true value of your employees—and to show you trust them, which is the highest praise of all.


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Undercover Boss

Every CEO should be an undercover boss for the day.  The information your managers never give you would amaze you.  On a recent episode of “Undercover Boss” a CBS reality show, the head of a US drive-through food chain broke his cover during filming and shut down a restaurant on the spot, because of how employees were being treated by a manager.

Early in the episode an employee named Todd told the CEO, Rick Silva that his manager treated staff badly and once threatened to take him outside and beat him for not working hard enough.  Todd said he was worried that Stevens would terminate him if he stood up to him, and he needed the job to support his mother.

Checking into these allegations CEO, Rick Silva went undercover.  After doing a little observation on his own Mr. Silva raised allegations to the manager, known in the show only as “Stevens”, about verbally abusing his employees.  The manager retorts that if he didn’t scream at the employees they would not listen to him. What training did he take? 

“I’m not going to let you continue telling me I’m disrespecting my crew. Have you been in the fast food business before?” the manager says.  Mr. Silva tries to maintain his cover, saying “no I haven’t”, but cracks when the manager continues to prod him over his supposed lack of experience.   He finally says to the manager that he does have experience.  Mr. Silva admits “I have been in the restaurant business for over 20 years and I’ve been in the fast food business for over 20 years. I’m the CEO for this company.”

Stevens’ jaw drops as Mr. Silva says: “Right here, right now, we’re going to shut the restaurant down.”

Mr. Silva reopened the store with a new general manager the next morning and sent the offending manager away for more training.  Personally, I would have fired the guy.  No employee should have to deal with a lack of dignity and respect.  But unfortunately, this manager’s style is more common than we would like to believe.  So think about doing your own internal observation, you may learn more than you want to know.