First, I was reminded by a friend how differently two people can recall a verbal exchange that simply did not quite rise to the necessary level for communicating. Ugh. Here we both were after some time: one still wondering what was meant by the words he heard and the other not wondering at all about the exchange, because he knew what he meant when he spoke.
Next there was an episode of two friends tackling a small household project: one person ready to jump in and get started and the other unwilling to dive in until there was a mutually understood plan for the work. These two people know about this difference in approach, but that doesn’t make the necessary conversation easy. Communication does not occur and frustration sets in.
Last, consider this quote, “If your people aren’t informed by you, there’s a good chance they’ll be misinformed by others,” fromPatty McCord’s book, Powerful – Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility. I have not read this book. For purposes of this writing, I would hope the author raises the possibility that misinforming may in fact come from self.
This idea is not new, but it surely is important. That is, communication typically requires conversation: all parties willing to get out of their own heads (i.e., what we “know” we mean) and invite other participants to join in understanding. It’s in fact why great authors need great editors. Editors help question and clarify what an author means.
For example, as a leader of a project team, give the essential elements of a new project and then stop telling (i.e., talking). Ask your team:
- What have I not shared that would be helpful for you to know before we begin this work?
- How might this work plan be improved from your perspectives?
- What suggestions do you have to break the project into meaningful parts?
- When does it make sense to bring the whole team together for status reporting?
- If you have questions or need tools or information, do you know what resources are available?
In other words, remind yourself that telling people what you know, even as the leader of a team, is likely not sufficient verbal activity. If communication is indeed the experience of all participants getting all of the information they need for understanding and engagement, we must work to achieve it. Our teams, as well as our families and friends, will be better for that work.
I might have first heard that instruction as a part of a television ad. It did not cause me to remember whatever was being advertised. It did capture my attention as a great way to prepare my mind to greet a day.
Think with me.
“Check your lens.” It is short and easy to remember. As most of us have noticed, a photographer must first set the lens, and the result can then be constant throughout the day.
For example: Initially setting your lens to connect with and care about others and their ideas could take you through a day:
- Stopping for coffee on the way to work. As a friend has recommended, make the time to actually go into the facility, make eye contact, and greet someone who works there. Check your lens and take the opportunity to speak, to share a smile, to make a connection – even a brief one.
- Arriving at work. Check your lens and be the first to smile and greet others. Ask questions and listen to others’ replies.
- Participating in a meeting. Remind yourself that talking more than others likely makes it seem that others’ ideas are less important than yours. Check your lens. Listen. Ask for clarification. Encourage. Help assure everyone’s ideas are heard.
- Greeting your family at home. Once again, check you lens. Be the first to extend a genuine warm greeting. Listen. Your connecting (i.e., caring) lens will help you hear not only a report of activities but also the sense of achievement, the frustrations or the curiosities behind those activities. Those underlying emotions will provide fruit for caring conversation.
It seems a marketer’s shame that I don’t remember the product behind this reminder. Nonetheless, I am grateful for its value in framing a day.
How might you set your lens and check it throughout a day to make the most of your time?
In response to questions about a favorite activity, I have told others that one of the best things about scuba diving is the peacefulness of it. One plans the travel and packs the luggage. Once there, one endures the hauling, checking, donning gear and the entry itself. Then, the reward – the gift – is immediate.
For the duration of that dive, there is no telephone, computer or other electronic noise. There will be no loud voices, no incivility, no horn honks or flashing billboards. There won’t even be a to-do list, because there won’t be a desk or work station. Bliss!
At favorite sites, one is immediately overwhelmed by beauty and color, by the genuine fascination of variety and even humor before one’s eyes. It becomes obvious that the surface we all see when looking at the ocean contains under it all, more color and life and natural behaviors than any man-made facility on land. One learns that taking an electronic-free vacation is indeed as wonder-ful and revitalizing as the experts say it can be.
This author argues that simply making time to notice and appreciate a quiet moment or a natural landscape can be refreshing and revitalizing as well.
I suggest, “just do it:”
- Enjoy a walk or simply sit in a park, leaving your favorite device behind.
- Create time|space, not responding to calls or messages after a particular time – or even for a whole day.
- Let yourself dream what it might be like to be surrounded by quiet.
If you’re an introvert, these ideas may naturally suit you and energize you, stimulating your creativity.
If you’re an extrovert, these ideas may energize you as you get creative when sharing them with others at your next opportunity.
Curious about a new term, I recently checked a definition of ludic loop: doing something over and over again because every once in a while you get a reward.
Considering the definition and how it might apply to the workplace, one imagines its usefulness in several situations.
- Individual Level: As a manager dealing with a ‘problem employee’ ask yourself a hard question: are you trying to address that problem the same way over and over again? If yes, stop the ludic loopiness.
- Take a fresh look at the situation and use a new, better approach.
- Before the next conversation with that employee ends, be certain you have a clear mutual understanding of what is expected going forward.
- Team Level: Put some time in your next team meeting agenda for a new discussion item with an opportunity for creative problem solving. During that meeting, share the term and come to a team understanding of its definition.
- Before the meeting ends, ask what is happening within the team that may fall into ludic loopiness.
- Collect ideas and identify one that seems to grab people’s attention.
- Use collective creativity to plan for changed behaviors so that particular loop is no longer preventing team success.
- Self Level: Do you get to the end of too many days without completing urgent items on your To-Do list? That’s another potential ludic loop.
- What changes will you make to better manage your work day?
- What rewards will you experience when the loopiness is overcome?
Use these ideas to identify and overcome the ludic loopiness within and around you.
Once your organization decides to make intentional Culture change, the work has only begun.
After agreeing on the need, value and direction of the change, each individual must be invited and expected to participate. At this individual level, ongoing work and success requires:
- Description: What work behaviors demonstrate this new intentional Culture: the way we will do things around here?
- Mutual understanding and commitment: Does everyone have the same understanding of what’s expected and the willingness to make the change? Express willingness out loud among the team.
- Repetition: repeat, repeat.
Relationships among staff need to be built so that it’s expected to reinforce and reward each other in making the change as well as to hold each other and self accountable for continuous improvements. Team members need to recognize there will be slip-up’s and need to talk about how to help each other recover and move ahead.
There are several personal techniques that may be useful in such accountability. One of those techniques is perspective: a personal pocket mirror so to speak:
“I am the person who __ (fill in the blank) __.”
- (respect) I am the person who starts staff meetings on time to show respect for those who are prepared.
- (courtesy) I am the person who actively listens to each person with whom I speak.
- (respect, courtesy) I am the person who takes a deep breath and practices continuing respectful conversation in difficult moments or on difficult subjects.
- (teamwork) I am the person who informs others about potential delays in a project timeline so that the whole team can plan well.
- (courtesy, leadership) I am the person who practices criticizing without judging and helps others do the same.
To help you visualize the value of this practice, consider a recent glaring example: Can anyone imagine the individual who would not have benefitted from a deep breath and a seconds-long break in the situation of removing a passenger from a flight to remind himself, “I am the person who treats others with respect?”
What powerful change could that moment of perspective have wrought? What every-day change can this practice make for you?
A familiar quote, “Get up, dress up and show up.” is attributed to author Regina Brett. It has entered my head and helped me start more than a few days through tough times. I have heard myself remind colleagues of the sentiment. We all have tough times, and we find different ways to keep moving forward.
Toward that goal of moving forward: in line with some of the ideas I have presented in these postings and influenced by a recent conversation with a friend, I have created a personal ‘work’ version of Brett’s solid three-part direction.
1. Shape up: Before showing up anywhere, one must “shape up:” focus at least a little time on getting one’s head into the approaching day. Once your feet are on the floor and you’re looking the part – and before you greet others in your day – get your head into it all.
2. Set up: Set a goal for those encounters you may have with people during that day. Three good possibilities:
• Listen well and get to mutual understanding to address an issue.
• Clear the air: have a necessary difficult conversation focused on respect and treating each other well.
• Learn something new from someone you didn’t expect to be your teacher / because your mind was open to growth.
3. Lift up: Simply share kindness because you choose to do so. If you will speak with others via telephone or other devices, setting goals is equally as important. It will matter that you’re smiling when you pick up the phone. It will matter whether you’ve decided to listen well and to treat the other party with respect – or not. In defiance of all the known laws of gravity, lifting another’s spirits often raises our own.
I have heard it said that sometimes life simply hits one in the head. While that may be true, I think this straightforward plan could help each of us focus, learn something and even grow along our way.
Once upon a time individual employees quit bad bosses. Attentive leaders could notice a trend, identify the problem (i.e., the bad boss) and make decisions: coach, train, transfer (!), threaten, discipline, ignore, etc. Of course some of these decisions led to better outcomes than others in terms of managing employee turnover and the impact of a bad boss.
Recent research tells us those bygone days may be over. In our modern era, individual employees quit bad organizations: whole companies with negative cultures see good employees leave.
Turnover is no longer dependent upon individual bosses who treat employees poorly. Turnover is about what the organization – and individuals throughout the organization – do to demonstrate and support the culture described in the employee handbook or in ads directed at customers.
Can you easily match the ads you hear and see about your own organization with the behaviors demonstrated by and toward employees all around you each business day? Is that match strongly positive? In other words, do individuals throughout your organization ‘walk the talk?’
One key issue to consider: are there talented and productive – yet negative and toxic – individuals in your work teams? What have you done to address the problem so that talented and productive – positive and thriving – individuals are willing to stay?
If you need additional convincing that toxicity in the workplace is more than an interpersonal conflict to be ignored or avoided, the Harvard Business School’s Toxic Workers study concluded that avoiding a toxic employee can save a company more than twice as much as the revenue bringing on a star performer can add.
It isn’t ‘just’ your Culture that suffers from toxic workplace behaviors. It’s your bottom line. Now is as good a time as any to:
- Affirm your desired workplace Culture.
- Assure every employee knows what that Culture looks like in everyday workplace actions.
- Actively reinforce your expectations throughout the organization. No one is above Cultural workplace expectations, and everyone will be held accountable to them.
- Announce, as you make changes in support of your desired Culture, showing that expectations are real and mean business.
A topic often raised in conversation with business owners starts with the question, “Should payroll report to HR or to Accounting?” A flip response could be simply, Yes – or Either.
Responding more fully:
The key to deciding the question is understanding that the payroll process is much more a puzzle than a straight line. Payroll brings accounting principles and HR knowledge together:
- Balancing accounts
- Wage & hour regulations
- Knowledge of application of time off of work and other organizational practices
- Compensation and staffing principles
Add benefit enrollment, eligibility, deductions and invoicing and the puzzle becomes truly complex.
The ability to learn “the payroll system” may not be sufficient to monitor and report critical organizational information and trends. Strong spreadsheet, data analysis and database skills may add significant value to the payroll job. Communication skills are valuable to explain changes or errors to employees. Vendor relationships may be important as benefit enrollments are implemented. The ability to maintain confidentiality is critical.
The “final answer” is that payroll processing is an important function: not one to be assigned lightly or arbitrarily. The best organizational answer is that regardless of where payroll processing fits in the organizational chart, all interested parties from all relevant functions (accounting, HR, benefits, compensation, risk management, etc) need to participate in active and frequent communication.* In this way, the payroll function can offer valued service to employees and to the organization.
Recently while looking at some papers I’d been keeping, a couple of lines caught my eye:
- (You) should never work in a place where you want to keep your head down.
- Unrestrained venting just transfers your stress to everyone around you and (a favorite)
- How (you) do anything is how you do everything.
What can these reminders do for each of us as we face a new day? How can they help us make our own day – and that of our colleagues and families – better?
Start the day with positive intent.
Whatever it takes (looking at pictures of baby animals, meditating, walking, journaling, praying) put your mind in a positive place before you get on with your day. No excuses. Do it. Practice it. Go on from that point.
Start every conversation by smiling and saying something positive.
You have the opportunity to set the tone and to help the other person match your positive mood and approach. What better way to get any conversation started in a good direction and encourage honest dialogue?
Be aware. Negativity will influence each of us unless we practice, practice, practice positive habits.
Send a praising or thankful email to someone in your support network; it will remind you of the care and support you receive from others and let you acknowledge it.
Start meetings or work conversations not with the challenges to address but by sharing something positive: about life in general, about your team in general or someone specific on the team. It sets a better tone and still lets the work get done.
Take a positive personal risk. When someone asks how you’re doing, respond positively: “It’s a beautiful morning and I’m glad to be a part of the day.”
None of us goes to work and suddenly has no personal life. We don’t go home from work and suddenly not have experienced that annoying situation at work. Using these ideas just may help make each whole day as good as it can be. Spread throughout a workplace, it’s a sure way to improve and maintain a positive Culture.
Think about these findings reported in Susan Pinker’s book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier:
- Smaller groups that communicated face-to-face were more cohesive. There was more trust within the group, which made it easier for people to ask questions and seek help when they needed it. As a result, those groups were more productive.
- Want to be happier and more productive? Take your breaks at the same time as your friends at work do. This boosted performance, increased smiling and made the company that participated in the study an extra $15 million.
- When people connect— and especially when they touch each other— oxytocin is released, which damps down their stress and enables them to trust each other… A simple handshake, a pat, a fist-bump, a friendly nudge, or a high five does the trick. All evidence points to social contact lowering stress among colleagues and making a team more cohesive
What are some simple ways to build these productivity-boosting social interactions into your work place? Consider:
- If you’re tempted to drop a quick email message, don’t do it. Even if its efficiency is sorely tempting. Instead, get out of your work space and walk across the office. Smile and speak to the people you see. Shake hands with colleagues who’re available. Deliver that message or ask that question in person.
- When you’re planning a meeting, don’t gloss over the opportunity for participants to interact. Build time for conversation, connecting and hand shaking into the agenda.
- Missing colleagues who work remotely? Build some trust by connecting with them through a video chat.
- Had your nose to the proverbial grind stone completing a project? Reward yourself by taking a break with colleagues. Encourage others to regularly do the same.
Think about the productivity impact as well as the social value in these personal connections. Think about the long-term trust you’re building in such simple ways. Could there be better, more rewarding or less expensive ways to increase productivity and trust?