Saturday, November 14, 2015

How Do You Communicate?

With all the technology to communicate, email, text, chat, phone (landline or cell), what is the best tool?

I had a rule, when I was in corporate America, after three consistent emails back and forth, I picked up the phone and called the person. After two consistent phone calls , I’d show up in their office. Of course, this was before text and chat. Now, the rule would still apply. Just include text and chat with email.

It seems we have become to dependent on texting. Sometimes I think to avoid face-to-face communication. Don’t get me wrong, I think texting is a good thing (as long as you’re not driving). It can be less intrusive, like email, allowing the recipient to respond on their own time or get a quick answer to an immediate need.

A colleague of mine told me he sends an email and then calls the person. He’s in sales and informed me people have a harder time saying no over the phone. The concept is valid in all communications. Working with someone in their presence has its own dynamics - facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc. I think these are positive traits, whether the conversation is positive or negative, typically some result is accomplished.

If we all could adopt a similar policy to communications, as mentioned above, I believe humanity in the workplace can be augmented or even restored if lost. Life is all about relationships.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Work/LIfe Balance

You can't help but to have heard this term before. The tech industry is showing both sides of this cultural spectrum, with Netflix offering unlimited maternity time-off for both the mother and father on one side and Amazon pushing their associates to their limits on the other. Work-Live-Play complexes are sprouting up everywhere.

The operative word here is "balance". Managing a company strictly by data eliminates humanity. Too much flexibility and productivity can suffer. Every humans' needs are different. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, management is responsible to learn what motivates their associates. So how do you create the perfect balance, when no two people are the same?

The basic factors:
  • Data - In business you must have measurements, financial and productivity
  • Competition - I believe that a certain level of competition is healthy among associates, as well as "constructive" conflict. This country was founded on free enterprise and has thrived on competition
  • Family or social life outside of work
  • Health - Physical, mental and financial

What's the magic formula for work/life balance? I don't think anyone has developed it, nor do I believe it exists. How can it exist, with so many factors? If I took the time to dig very deep, I could probably write a Doctorial treatise on the subject. This would take years of research on a constantly changing target, as society evolves and companies come and go. Not only are no two people the same; no two companies are the same.

The question that needs to be asked, when choosing a company culture, is, "How much does the company own you." You can state what a miserable workplace exists at Amazon, but they were just rated the most valuable retail company over Walmart. That doesn't mean you should work there. As a company, you may decide your most valuable assets, hopefully after your customers, are your associates.

Companies will continue to push associates. Associates will continue to push back. This is how change works.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Does Your Manager Help or Hinder You?

Over the past month, I’ve been contacted by two individuals complaining about their direct supervisor hindering their work. In one case, to the point of seemingly sabotaging them. Let me include, these are high level positions with C-Level managers. During this time period, I have received two articles on workplace antics, that validate this situation is more prevalent than most realize.

Company cultures are rapidly changing, as the economy improves and hiring is on an upswing. Qualified leaders will be required for success.

Here’s a litmus test to answer the headline question:

Traits of a supportive manager.
  • Freedom to perform your duties
  • Open to new suggestions for improvement
  • Communicates on timely matters
  • Gives you the tools you need to succeed
  • Gives clear direction

Traits of a non-supportive manager (besides the obvious reversal of the above bullets).
  • Critical of your performance without some form of validation
  • Interferes or overrides your decisions (applicable to your responsibilities)
  • Clearly undermines your tasks
  • Evasive or aloof

Consulting on this matter is precarious for me. I end up asking more questions regarding the company culture, than directly applying any advice. Here are my thoughts:
  • Job descriptions are becoming more defined with technology maturation. Be sure to understand your deliverables. This applies to an interviewee or a current associate.
  • Know your net worth to the company. What would happen if you were not there? Be careful in this review, as everyone can be replaced. Be honest in your assessment.
  • What is your impact of error on the company?
  • Can you detect a company culture shift? Good or bad? Does it give you hope or is it time to move on?
  • Is your performance accurately represented in your reviews?
    • If you do not have written reviews, start/demand them immediately.
  • Can you compare your performance to others in the company? Again, be careful, stick to performance not personalities.

In conclusion, mentors, inside or outside the company, will help you air your thoughts. Stay informed of your industry trends. Read blogs and articles on this subject to stay current, as times change faster than ever.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Start the New Year with Knowledge

In a recent conversation with a couple line associates, it came to my attention that many managers have no experience managing people. I commented about education and thought maybe they don’t teach management in college. The response I received was “they do in business school.”

Personally, I don’t have a business degree, but my very first college class was management. I have been managing people my entire career. One possibility is the proliferation of MBA graduates has caused the mindset you must have this degree to be a manager. Let me tell you here and now, managers exist in all industries! And most don’t have business degrees. Unfortunately, with or without a business degree there are many bad managers. I firmly believe management of people is an innate skill, either you have it or you don’t. People with marginal people skills can be coached. There is no dearth of management training books, seminars, or courses? 

So why are there so many poor managers? There is a plethora of answers and I can not begin to cover them all. Here are just a few I’ve learned while consulting:
  • Haphazardly promoted into management, because the associate was good in their previous position (Peter Principle, of course many managers didn’t learn it)
  • Education credentials in their expertise, but without people skills
  • Sychophants
  • Great sales people
  • Age discrimination - the company wanted young managers
  • Nepotism or favortism

How can this situation improve, as it is detrimental to productivity, company culture health and creates higher associate turnover? 
  • Like the 12 step program, the higher level managers must recognize the problem. To do this they must have an open-door policy or mechanism to hear from the lower ranks. The 360 program is a good tool for this.
  • Upper level management must be in touch with operations and human resources
  • Provide management training and feedback
  • Be bold enough to make manager changes
  • When hiring, look for management courses, experience or people skills on the résumé
  • Recognize people management skills can come from any industry
If you’re a job seeker or looking to grow in your career, look for ways to develop your management skills. I learned many of my techniques from excellent senior managers. I picked what I saw was effective and ineffective ways to motivate people. The most effective tool, I’ve experienced, is a mentor. A mentor does not have to be within your company. Stay in touch with your mentor frequently to review observed and your own people management techniques.

Start the year off with new skills and knowledge.