Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Disagree With Others Without Being Disagreeable

Someone once said, “Everyone has the right to his own stupid opinion.” Another person of the same ilk said, “You can disagree with me if you want. But you’ll still be wrong.”

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve disagreed with someone's idea or opinion. Differences in opinions often lead to defensiveness and closure. One of the difficult challenges of interpersonal communication is having the ability to disagree with someone without causing them to react negatively to the dispute.

As a management consultant I’m often called upon to mediate conflict between members of work groups or cross-functional teams. My role is to help people stay open as they work through their differences. I try to provide people with ways they can respond to each other that will encourage open dialogue rather than cause people to close down.

Here are nine techniques I teach people to use when they find themselves disagreeing with another person. These skills allow you to disagree without sounding disagreeable.

Since people always seem quick to interrupt someone when they are in disagreement, the first skill is to keep yourself from jumping into the discussion prematurely. You cannot argue with a point you have not heard. Most people start arguing at the first point of disagreement in a discussion. They don’t listen to the other person’s entire statement. This is what I call “arguing in process,” or disagreeing before the person is done. Many times, after being forced to stop and listen to the entire statement, you’ll find there is no disagreement once you’ve heard the entire message. You only thought you were in disagreement because you prematurely judged what the other person was saying.

This leads to the second confrontational skill. Make sure you understand the other person’s perspective first before stating your view. Or as Steven Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Ensure you have a clear grasp of the other person’s position. Find out why they see things and do things the way they do. As disagreements arise use statements like the following:

• “Help me to understand the reason why you do it that way.”
• “Walk me through your thought process so I can understand how you made that decision.”
• “What procedure do you follow when you do X?”
• “Let me make sure I understand where you’re coming from.”

Sometimes when people disagree they really are closer to agreement than they suppose. Unfortunately when disagreements arise most people go straight to the point of contention rather than stating the items on which they agree. This quick rebuttal makes the other party think there is disagreement on every aspect of the issue when, in fact, the person may only disagree on a few minor points.

By breaking down the various points of the discussion you can state where you are in agreement first. Identify what you like about the other person’s idea or actions before you address where you disagree. Tell them how close you are to agreement.

For example, you could say:

• “I agree that we should do X and Y. I’m not so sure about Z.”
• “I like what you’ve proposed about X and Y. I don’t think Z should be changed at this point because . . .”
• “I’m about 80% in agreement. I just have a couple of questions I need answered before I’ll be fully convinced that it will work.”

Some people ask a lot of questions because they’re trying to convince themselves that the idea or opinion is right. Others ask probing questions or make contrary statements because they want to see how committed the person is to his or her own idea or opinion. In these cases the person actually isn’t in disagreement, but the rapid-fire questions make it appear that way. Likewise, some people play the role of "devil's advocate" as a means to further explore the validity of an idea. But the devilishness of the advocate often hides the virtue behind the questioning.

To keep from being seen as an adversary, you should state when you’re playing the devil’s advocate role. You also should state why you are taking a contrary stance. The majority of people who play devil’s advocate do it to discover loopholes or problems with an idea or opinion. They do it to make the idea better, not to shoot holes in it. They do it to help solidify the idea or opinion, not to destroy it. On the other hand, if someone plays the devil’s advocate role just to stir up trouble or to be divisive, this individual should be the target of feedback about their disruptive behavior.

In all aspects of your discussion you should avoid using the word “but”, such as in “I agree, but . . .” Instead, replace “but” with “and,” or end your comment with a period where you would normally say “but.”

• “I agree with Z, (but) and I think we should consider replacing X and Y before implementing Z.”
• “There is validity in your point (but). Let me share another perspective.”
• “You’re right, you have been coming in on time lately (but). I expect you to be on time every day.”

Before you start offering suggestions for improvement, ask the recipient if they would like your input.

People are more receptive to feedback when they have asked for the feedback. However, there are times when you need to give feedback to people who have not asked for it. Since the probability is high that at some point you will need to give a colleague feedback, you should establish a “groundrule” in advance for how this is to be done should the need for feedback arise. Ask people in advance if they’d like input from you. Also ask them in advance how they would like to receive that feedback. For example:

• “I don’t have any ideas right now, but if I ever see something in your area that needs improvement, how would you like me to pass that information along to you?”
• “I have a couple of thoughts on how you might be able to do X faster. Would you like to hear my ideas?”
• “We have an interesting way of handling problems like that in our department. Would you like to know how we do it?”

Whenever you give someone feedback on how to improve, don’t load the dice. Give them only one or two issues to work on at a time. If you have several concerns, break up your feedback into separate sessions. Let them fix one problem at a time. Compliment them for taking action on the first issue, and then share another concern.

If you want to sway other people to your point of view it is best to acknowledge the other person’s position before you inform them about your view. Acknowledge their opinion or idea before you share yours. Verify your understanding of their perspective before you try swaying them to your position.

When you acknowledge the other person’s view up front with a responsive statement they normally will be more receptive to listening to your take on the issue. Examples of acknowledging statements are:

• “That’s an interesting idea.”
• “I can see how you could draw that conclusion.”
• “You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into this.”

Sometimes all a person needs to not feel offended is a simple acknowledgment of their concern or opinion. Men (who are from Mars) often raise the ire of women (who are from Venus) when they quickly inform her of what can be done to fix a problem without taking time to hear and acknowledge her frustration. Too often parents are quick to inform their teenagers of their reasons for saying no before they understand what really is being sought by the adolescent. The lack of acknowledgment of the validity of the teen’s request leads to feelings of rejection and resentment.

Finally, you need to understand that you cannot move another person until you move yourself. If you want to get other people to accept your perspective or move to your position, you’ll move them a lot faster by first moving yourself to their perspective. Once you have walked in their shoes or seen things through their eyes, you’ll have a much better chance of bringing them over to your idea or opinion.

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If you would like more information about how Innovative Management Group can help build effective teams within your company, please contact us at 702-258-8334, e-mail to mac@imglv.com, or visit us on the web at www.imglv.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Get the Work Done With Less People

If your company is like most businesses during these distressed economic times, you’ve been forced to layoff staff in order to improve the financial viability of your business.

What you hope is that the remaining employees will understand the business imperative for the layoffs and continue to perform at acceptable levels without adversely impacting the customers. To most managers this typically means you hope your employees will maintain the same level of production that was being achieved before the layoff -- only with less people. And you hope the quality of the work doesn’t diminish either.

This, of course, is impossible.

A building contractor cannot build a specified building with less material without reducing the quality of the building. A symphony conductor cannot eliminate a section of the orchestra without impacting the quality of the music. Likewise, a report that previously has taken four full-time employees a week to produce cannot be completed in the same amount of time with only two employees. A waitress who can provide great customer service to ten tables at one time cannot cover 15 tables equally well at the same level of quality.

If your employees are already working at or near full capacity, it will be almost impossible for them to do more with less staff without adversely impacting the quality of their work.

I like to demonstrate this by holding up four 3x5 cards, each representing 25% of an employee’s time. If 100% of an employee’s time is taken, and you want to give that employee more work to do (represented by another card you wish to add to the deck of four), how is it possible to add more work to the employee’s schedule when 100% of the employee’s time is already gone? The obvious answer is the employee must somehow find time to do the additional task. Or the employee must reduce the quality of the work being done on one or more of the already assigned tasks.

Historically employees somehow find the time to accomplish the added tasks when bosses load them up with work. But where did the additional time come from? If it’s true that 100% of the employee’s workday is filled, then the only way one can complete the additional work is to come in early, stay late, or reduce one’s lunch or break time to get the added work done. However, there are better ways to accomplish more with less people, as I outline later in this article.

There is an adage at work that says: “If you want to get the work done, give it to your busiest worker.” This tends to be true because your hardest worker usually is your most responsible employee. Responsible employees tend to do whatever they have to do to get the work done, even if it means sacrificing their own time.

Human beings have a great capacity to “kick it in gear” to get work done in a pinch. They can do more in less time. They can give 110% of their effort. They can sacrifice their families and personal time for the good of the company. But they can only do that for a limited time before they burn out.

It is possible to go to 110% percent on a nuclear reactor and get greater production by doing so. But staying “in the red” too long can have dire consequences.
The same is true of people. It is possible to push people in times of great need to do more – to give 110% – but they cannot do so forever without causing damage to themselves or the company. Eventually, the stress of working beyond normal parameters will cause a “meltdown.”

Consequently, if you've downsized your staff and still want to get the work done, you need to take certain actions as a manager. One of the greatest problems after a downsizing is that managers typically don’t do anything different from what they were doing before the layoff. They continue going about their work as if nothing has changed. But a great deal has changed; which means the manager must change, too.
Just like your employees, your workload increases the moment you lay off staff. There are numerous managerial duties you must perform immediately after a layoff if you want your employees to continue to perform at acceptable levels.

The first thing you need to do after a layoff is to identify what work is core to the business and what work is not. It’s easy to believe that everything you and your employees are doing is important, but when business is going good businesses typically become bloated and bureaucratic. “Pet projects” and “fluff” are easily allowed when a company is profitable. A downturn in business forces you to look at what you’re doing to determine what really matters to your customers. I can assure you that some of the work your employees are currently doing really doesn’t matter to your customers. They don’t care. Nor does it positively impact the bottom line of your enterprise.

You need to take a hard look at everything your staff is doing. Identify the work that is core to the business, and get rid of the rest. Be very clear about what things you will stop doing since you no longer have the staff. Remove all unnecessary tasks and responsibilities from your surviving employees before giving them the additional duties of the downsized employees. Pull unnecessary “cards” from their deck of duties before adding new cards to the deck.

While you’re looking at core work – what is and isn’t important to your customers – you also should identify which quality and service standards matter to your customers.

People’s expectations change as situations change. For example, customers who never would have shopped at Walmart during prosperous times may suddenly find Walmart quality to be acceptable during a distressed economy. Customers who expected attention to detail and added-value perks when flying high during the economic boom may quickly lower their standards when forced to pay extra for such privileges during a recession.

You may have to lower your quality or service standards during a recession since you may not have the staff to perform at a higher level after a layoff. The good news is that your customers may find the lowering of such standards to be acceptable, provided you know what is and is not important to them.

Obviously, one of the most important things you can do after a layoff is to prioritize the work. During stressful times people can easily lose focus as to what is important and what is not. They can spend too much time on trivial issues and too little time on major priorities. You need to help your employees identify where they should channel their energy and effort. You need to help them focus on the things that matter most. This is particularly important when new duties have been assigned to them that previously were not their responsibility. People tend to do what they have always done unless specifically instructed to do otherwise.

When people have been given additional duties, you may have to specifically teach employees how to multi-task. Don’t assume your employees will know how to link previously unassigned tasks with their current assignments. You may need to walk your employees through each step of their work processes and show them which steps can be optimized, minimized, synthesized or altered. Teach them how to do several tasks at once.

Look to your exemplar employees to discover ways to perform better. Your most productive employees have discovered little “tricks” to perform better, cheaper or faster. The best food servers, for example, have learned to scan all of their assigned tables while walking to or from the kitchen. They’ve discovered how to carefully stack the dishes on their arms so they can carry more plates in less trips. They mentally know how much time it takes to cook certain orders so they can perform other duties while they wait. They carry a water pitcher and a coffee pot at the same time, knowing someone will ask for one or the other as they pass by.

The most efficient production line workers in a manufacturing plant know exactly how to hold a tool or position themselves on the line to better reach the equipment they’re working on. The best auto mechanic can quickly diagnose a problem by asking a few simple questions or probing certain areas of an engine.

Every exemplar employee has discovered tricks that help them perform well. You need to teach the performance enhancing tricks of your exemplar employees to all of your workers so they can perform equally well.

By now you should realize that a company downsizing means you have to train and cross-train your employees to do the new tasks assigned to them. I’m continually amazed at the number of managers who assign the duties of laid-off employees to surviving workers and expect these workers to pick up the new tasks and perform to standard without significant training. Obviously there will be learning curves on newly assigned work with a decrease in quality and performance while that new tasks are being learned. You must expect diminished performance and implement the training necessary to bridge the gap between the employees’ current skills and those needed to accomplish the tasks.

Of course, the best scenario is one where the employees don’t have to learn the new tasks because you give the tasks to your customers instead. This may sound strange, but you may be surprised to discover how many tasks your customers are willing to do themselves. For example, when there are less bellmen at a hotel due to downsizing, sometimes all a company needs to do is provide self-serve bell carts at the front desk so customers can take their bags to the room themselves. Customers may also prefer a self-serve kiosk rather than having to stand in line for a human attendant when staffing levels are low.

If you use technology instead of people, you many find you don’t have to on-load as much work to your reduced staff as you supposed. During prosperous times companies tend to use human beings to add a “personal touch” to their business. But this personal touch may be completely unnecessary. Some customers may prefer automation, self-service, on-line purchasing, push-button technology and other means of conducting business rather than having to deal with over-worked and stressed-out employees. Never do manually what could more easily and more cheaply be done through technology.

Finally, from everything stated above it should be evident that your primary responsibility before, during and after a company downsizing is to clarify roles and expectations for your employees. Workers need to know exactly what is expected of them. They need clarification regarding the standards to which they must perform. Managers must take the time to clearly explain how each employee's work has changed in the new economy.

As can be seen by the comments above, it is unrealistic for you to expect fewer people to perform at the same level that the full compliment of employees did before the downsizing without significant changes to the way you manage. Life is significantly different for all surviving employees in a company after a layoff, and that includes you. You must manage different. You must undertake specific and deliberate actions to maintain the performance of your employees if you wish to satisfy your customers and keep your employees motivated and happy.


Innovative Management Group can help you maintain the enthusiasm and commitment of your employees, even in distressed times, by focusing your efforts on the things that matter most. For more information, contact us at 702-258-8334 or email to mac@imglv.com.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Four Feelings to Evoke From New Employees on Their First Day at Work

Public speakers and people being interviewed for a job know they have just a few minutes to make a good impression with their audience. They know rapport and relationships will either be solidified or damaged during those precious moments.

In a like manner the quality of your company’s new employee orientation and departmental training programs, to a great extent, determine the quality of performance you will get from your employees later on. Many managers miss the wonderful opportunity to capture the initial enthusiasm a new employee brings to the company on the first day of work. Yet doing so can keep that enthusiasm going throughout the employee’s tenure at the company.

An employee’s first day at work sets a precedent and makes an indelible impression on the employee. How she or he feels at the end of the first day determines whether the worker’s enthusiasm and commitment to the job will wax or wane. Your job as a manager is to make sure your employees feel good about the work they do, feel good about the company, and feel good about working for you. The key determining factor of how well an employee will perform is how good they feel at work. People who feel good generally do good.

According to a Staffing.org survey, companies spend anywhere from $2,000 to $11,000 to hire a new employee, but few put much effort into helping workers acclimate and become productive once they are hired.

If new hires don’t receive proper training and support early on, 47% leave their jobs within the first six months. This means the most important training a company can provide to its employees may be that which occurs immediately after the employee is hired. Unfortunately, many companies have weak or non-existent new employee orientation or on-the-job training programs, thereby missing a great opportunity to capture the enthusiasm and commitment from new employees from their first day at work.

I’ve been designing new employee orientation and other employee training programs for companies for over 30 years. I’ve become adept at delivering high-quality training products at a very low cost because I have a systematic way of developing courses that achieves very specific performance and behavioral outcomes.

The strongest indicator of a training course’s impact and effectiveness is how the participants feel at the end of the session and how capable they are to carry out the needed tasks at the desired performance level. Both the right capability and the right feeling are necessary for employees to fully internalize what is taught and to actualize the performance behaviors they’ve learned.

Over time I have concluded that, regardless of content, every training – particularly new employee orientation and on-the-job training – must result in four essential feelings at the conclusion of the event. To succeed in their jobs, new employees must feel comfortable, confident, proud, and included in order to perform at acceptable levels. The sooner the employees exude these feelings, the sooner they will perform competently in their positions.

Consequently, new employee orientation should be designed to help employees feel comfortable with their new company, work environment, job classification, manager, and colleagues. People in new situations are out of their comfort zone. They are unsure about who the key players are in the organization. They don’t know where things are. They are uncertain about what is or is not acceptable behavior in the company. They proceed cautiously, hesitant to make even minor mistakes.

On-the-job training should anticipate the discomfort new employees experience and design into the training ways to alleviate the uneasiness of the workers. Everything possible should be done to lessen the stress of learning a new job.

New employee orientation and training at both the company and department level must provide the employees with the requisite knowledge, skills and behavior to perform all job requirements without hesitation or timidity. By the end of the training new employees should feel confident they made the right choice when they took the job. They should feel fully capable of performing their assigned tasks at the performance level required.

Self-confidence is the key to self-action. The more a company does to build the confidence of its employees the greater the chances are the workers will perform at optimal levels.

When designed properly, orientation and training programs ought to make the employees feel proud of their new company, department, and team. The content of the training should instill a sense of ownership and wholeness within the new employees. The greatest indicator of successful training would be for employees to leave the session telling others how proud they are to be a part of the organization or group. Proud employees are the best recruiters for future employees.

Finally, the orientation session should ensure the new employees feel included as bonafide members of the team. By the conclusion of the training the employees should be viewed and treated as fully functioning, contributing members of the team, not as rookies. They should feel a sense of unity and oneness with the group. Most importantly, they should feel they are on the same level with other employees in the group.

Those companies who consciously and deliberately design their orientation and training programs around these four critical feelings will ensure their employees literally hit the ground running from the first moment they step into the workplace. More important, good leaders will realize these four feelings are what employees must feel each and every day they come to work, regardless of how long the employees have worked at the company. These four feelings are the keys to maintaining the commitment of employees over the course of their careers with your company.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Colin Powell's Lessons on Leadership

Colin Powell, former Army Chief of Staff, Colin Powell, outlines six “rules” of leadership he discovered while in the military.

First, Make the Difficult Decisions. “Being in charge means making decisions, no matter how painful," Powell says. In today’s businesses we need leaders who will do what is right, even if it is politically painful. Powell continues: "If it’s broke fix it. A leader cannot allow the majority to suffer under a bad situation to spare the feelings of an individual, or an organization.”

Second, Don’t Punish Every Mistake. “No body ever got to the top without slipping up. When somebody stumbles,” Powell explains, ”I don’t believe in stomping on him. My philosophy is: pick ‘em up, dust ‘em off and get ‘em moving again.” Too many managers spend inordinate amounts of time and energy criticizing every little mistake employees make. There are so many little things that just don't matter. Don't sweat the little stuff.

Third, Have Clear Objectives. The Vietnam war was a perfect example of the failure that can occur when the objectives are not clear. “Leaders must establish clear, achievable objectives and apply the means to accomplish those objectives,” Powell says, “or they are just wasting time, resources, and, tragically, lives.”

Fourth, Make Your Team Feel Important. “Find ways to reach down and touch everyone in a unit. Make individuals feel important and part of something larger than themselves.” Or, as Ken Blanchard has promoted for many years: "Catch people doing things right!"

Fifth, Be Skeptical of Experts. “Don’t be buffaloed by experts,” Powell warns. “They often possess more data than judgment.”

As I have often said, too many organizations rely on external consultants when they have the abilities and experience within their own employees. Use the talents within your company first. Then look outside for additional support.

And finally, Never Beat Down Enthusiasm. When employees get excited about something, get out of their way and let them do it. You’ll be surprised at how much they can accomplish when their excited. “Enthusiasm can overpower incredible obstacles,” Powell says.

“During my years in the Field, I learned what makes American soldiers tick,” Powell explains. “They will gripe about being driven to high performance. They will swear they would rather be somewhere else. But at the end of the day, they always ask proudly, ‘How’d we do.’

Powell concludes that “Americans love to win. They respect leaders who hold them to high standards and take them to the limit — as long as they see a worthwhile objective.”

Good advise for every manager!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Four Types of Employees and Four Reasons Why They Work

Once, while enjoying a dinner social at my church, it dawned on me that there are four types of church members when it comes to cleaning up after an event. There are chair-carrying members and non-chair-carrying members. In other words, there are those who willingly help out and those who absolutely refuse to help out. The non-chair-carrying members stand there while others work around them. Or they leave immediately after the event so they don't have to do anything.

In between the two continuum extremes of chair-carrying and non-chair-carrying members are two additional categories of church members.

The third category includes people who will carry chairs, but only after they are asked. They only become aware that assistance is needed when it is pointed out to them. Then, having been asked directly, they chip in and help with the work.

Finally, the fourth category includes those who will carry chairs when asked, but they only do the minimum amount of work to make it look like they are helping. These members typically sneak out after fulfilling their minimal obligation. They hope no one will notice their laziness.

Employees seem to fall into these same four categories.

There are those employees who always work hard and regularly pitch in without having to be asked. There are those workers who when asked, will do exactly what they are told. There are those who, when asked, will do the minimum amount necessary to make it look like they are doing what is asked. And there are those employees who won’t do anything, even when asked.

Upon reflection I’ve also noticed at church that people keep the commandments for four different reasons. Although the results may be the same, the quality of the experience is vastly different.

Some people maintain the standards of the church out of obedience. They do it because they have been commanded to do so. And they fear the consequences if they are disobedient.

Others keep the commandments because it is their duty as a member of the sect. They feel they must model certain behaviors because it is expected of them; and they dutifully comply.

Still others obey because they know when they do so they will receive the blessings that are associated with keeping the commandments. They are motivated by the promise of a higher status if they perform well.

Then there are those who are truly converted. They keep the commandments because they love to serve, they love their fellow man, or they love God. They don’t do it for blessings, out of duty, or fear of disobedience. They do it because it is the right thing to do. They do it because it is who they are.

Not surprisingly, employee motivations seem to fall under the same four factors.

Some employees only do their job because they have to. They obediently comply because they have been commanded to work. But compliance is not commitment.

Other workers do their duty by doing exactly what they are told. Still others do it for the money, the status or other rewards that come when one performs well.

But the best employees are those who love their job, love their colleagues, and love to fulfill their tasks because they know it is the right thing to do. They do it because of an inner resolve and a personal commitment. They do it because it is who they are.

Why Is It So Hard to Deliver Good Customer Service?

Delivering good customer service seems so simple. So why is it so hard for so many service providers to get it right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really tired of being treated so poorly by people who are supposed to be serving me. I’m not that demanding as a patron. I don’t need that much. I just want the basics of customer service. I want people to give me what they would expect if our roles were reversed.

This past week I was up in Canada working with a client company. I was staying at the “finest” hotel in the area. But they couldn’t even get the basics right. All I wanted was a clean, safe, quiet, comfortable, and fully-functional room. They missed on all five critical points.

I think guestroom attendants must clean the hotel rooms in the dark. That’s why they miss so much when they clean. This also would account for why they didn’t know that the light bulbs were burned out in the bathroom. Not a single light in the bathroom worked.

These same guestroom attendants also must not know people want to sleep in. I guess they assume everyone wants to get up early since they have to get up early. That’s why they stand in the hallway outside the hotel room and talk to each other in loud voices. I have no idea what they think the “do not disturb” sign on the door means.

But I really wasn’t sleeping anyway. In fact, I hadn’t been asleep all night. In order to save money (I assume) the builders of the hotel used only a single door between adjoining rooms. The thinness of the door allowed me to hear every word of the conversation of the people in the room next to me. They must have had a lot to say because they stayed up all night talking.

My next fun experience was in the shower. In another effort to save money the hotel didn’t provide bar soap in the room. Instead they had a soft soap dispenser in the shower. What a hassle! Do you know how many times you have to push the button on the dispenser in order to get enough soap to clean your entire body? Later that day I went to the store and purchased a bar of soap so I wouldn’t have to go through that experience again. I don't understand why I have to bring my own supplies to a quality hotel.

They also didn’t have a drain plug in the bathroom sink. Well, actually they did. It was one of those little rubber stoppers. I haven’t seen one of those rubber things since the 1800s. But it certainly works. The trick is unplugging the drain afterwards. I had to reach my hand into the dirty, scalding water to pull the plug. Not exactly what I consider to be a quality hotel experience.

As I left my room that first morning I noticed that the door to my room was open. Apparently the door did not close fully on it’s own. I hadn’t noticed. That meant the door was open the entire time while I “slept” that night, while I was in the shower, and while I was getting dressed. I’m glad no one came in and saw me in my unaware.

I think hotel owners and employees should be forced to spend several weeks living in their hotel so they can suffer what their guests suffer. Then they would see what I have to go through each week when I travel. Again, all I want is a clean, safe, quiet, comfortable, and fully-functional room. It can’t be that tough to get it right, can it?

The other day my wife and I went to a movie at the theater. It was a very suspenseful movie. Just at the most intense part of the movie near the end two theater employees in the projection room started a loud, lighthearted conversation. We could barely hear the movie over their laughter. When we complained to the manager she grilled us with the third degree. We had to be mistaken. There was no way we could have heard theater employees talking in the projection room. Then she went on to complain that other patrons had complained about the noise too. She never offered to investigate, never said she’d take any action, and never apologized.

Why did we even bother to tell her? Because we thought management would want to know so they could do something about it. But no one seems to care anymore.

I avoid using drive-up windows at fast food restaurants anymore. The odds of getting the wrong order are increasingly high.

I ordered a pizza delivered this past week. I didn’t notice until after the delivery person drove away that it was the wrong pizza. I wish I hadn’t tipped him so much.

I seldom ask clerks in stores technical questions about the merchandise. Most clerks have no idea about the products they are selling. It used to be that salespeople learned about their products and those of their competitors so they could help the patron make an informed decision before a purchase. But now, it seems, clerks only know how to ring up the sale on the cash register. Unfortunately, some don’t even know how to do that.

I wish when clerks asked if they could help you, they really could. I wish people in the hospitality industry would be hospitable. I wish service providers would provide service. I wish I didn’t have to wait for waiters. I wish I could trust that I would get good service wherever I go. I wish I had confidence when I patronized a business that it would be a good experience every time.

I would be such a loyal customer to a business that merely gives me what I want, how I want it, when I want it. I really don’t expect that much. I want my hot food hot, my cold food cold. I want what I ordered. I want things I buy to work. I want my bill to be accurate. I want a good night’s sleep in a hotel. Is this too much to ask?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Busting Two Management Myths: That You Must Be Consistent and Not Have Favorites

Those who say managers must be consistent and not have favorites are wrong!

In this article I intend to wax philosophic on several management issues. My management philosophies have been forged over the 35 years I’ve worked as a management consultant. I have to warn you that some of my management philosophies are contrary to popularly held beliefs by many noted business gurus.

For instance, the moment I heard it I disagreed with Abraham Maslow's thesis that people have an ascending "hierarchy of needs." From personal experience I’ve witnessed many people who sacrifice their lower “survival” needs for things that are much higher on Maslow's hierarchy. For example, countless employees have been fired because they couldn't control their ego, thereby jeopardizing their security and safety needs. Many artists have sacrificed the security of steady employment for the artistic freedom of self-actualization. Other people choose socialization over work, again showing basic survival is not necessarily as basic as Maslow suggests.

Another area where I disagree with the gurus is regarding the need to be continually learning. Notable thinkers encourage managers be up-to-date on the latest managerial practices. I, on the other hand, try to get managers to stop reading the plethora of many management books that are out there. I do this for two reasons.

First, I've seen too many managers who have yet to master the basic fundamentals of management. I'd rather have these managers develop a foundation of the old, tried-and-true principles than have them charge off after another novel management theory every time a new book comes out.

The second reason why I discourage managers from reading is along the same line. Some managers have a tendency to jump from one management fad to the next craze every time they read another book. They never stay in one place long enough to master a technique or principle. They never get good because they're constantly trying to get better. They become the promoter of many management philosophies, and the practitioner of none.

In this article I wish to put to bed forever two prevalent management philosophies that, I believe, are damaging myths in the workplace. You may find yourself initially disagreeing with what I espouse. But, if you will quietly ponder what I suggest, I think you may find yourself in support of what I propose.

The two management myths I wish to bust are: 1) the myth that managers must be consistent, and 2) the myth that managers should not have favorites.

Myth #1: Managers Must Be Consistent

Perhaps the most prevalent contrary position I take regarding management is that I firmly believe managers should be inconsistent rather than consistent in their managerial practices. I encourage this even though consistency from management is one of the most frequently stated qualities of the “ideal manager” by participants who attend my management training seminars.

When employees list the positive characteristics they want in a manager they almost always mention they desire a manager who is consistent and fair. On the flipside, favoritism is almost always listed as the most negative factor that employees despise in a manager.

Usually these comments stem from a common misconception of what consistency, fairness and favoritism mean. At first brush one might think employees want managers to treat everyone equally. When asked this very question employees quickly agree that equal treatment is what they mean by consistency and fairness. But when the concept is explored deeper, equal treatment really isn't what employees want. That's because, deep down, most people know that in some situations there is nothing more unjust than the equal treatment of unequals.

If being consistent actually did mean treating employees equally, then management would treat the poor performer exactly the same as the exemplary performer. If consistency means equality, then management should reward the lazy and indolent worker equally to the diligent and industrious laborer. Likewise management should respect those they do not trust as if they are trustworthy and respectable. Or, worse yet, treat workers they trust as if they are untrustworthy, and those they respect as if they are not respected.

The Declaration of Independence declares that "all men (and women) are created equal" and endowed "with certain unalienable rights." This is certainly true. All men were created equal and all should have certain rights by birth. But then something happens. After birth men become unequal. Differences arise as people travel divergent paths based upon their own ambitions, desires, beliefs and understanding. Some people do well in life while others do poorly. Some people progress while others remain dormant. Some people succeed where others fail. The choices people make and the actions they take throughout the course of their lives determine their position and status in society. People become unequal because they invest unequal amounts of energy and effort in their lives.

Similarly, all employees are equal the day they are hired. They are entitled to certain basic rights outlined in the core values and policies of the company. Every employee deserves to be treated with basic dignity and respect. But, it is what the employees do after they are hired that should determine how they are treated beyond the basic rights of employment. Each employee should be treated differently — I might even say inconsistently — based upon how he or she performs and behaves in the organization. Individual treatment of individuals and situational responses to situations is the only fair way to manage.

Deep down the majority of people want society to be a meritocracy, where merit is rewarded. We seek an environment where all can rise according to his or her talents. It is the American dream that, through one’s own hard work, the cream can rise to the top. The poet, Robert Frost said: “I don’t want to live in a homogenized world. I want the cream to rise.”

At the end of the day we wish to live in a world where those who do good thrive, while the not so good do not. We seek a world where the rewards of life come to those who work the hardest.

Those who profess and practice the equal treatment of all employees will soon find that all incentives to perform well, and all penalties for not performing, vanish. Where there is no incentive to excel, there is no excellence. Where there is no consequence for failure, people fail to perform. Equality often breeds mediocrity. The fact that the second and third string on a team must work hard to become first string, makes all strings on the team perform better. Performance only improves when there is a payoff for better performance. When everyone on a team receives a trophy, regardless of one’s effort, there is no need to strive for excellence.

Good managers who are honest or introspective know they shouldn't treat employees equally because employees are not equal. Some people have greater skills and talents than others. Some are wiser, more insightful, and capable of making profound decisions; while others are more limited in their scope of understanding. Some workers are fast, producing twice as much as their colleagues. Some are creative thinkers or great problem solvers, capable of designing next generation products for their employers. Some employees have more value than others because they accomplish more at less cost to the company. Therefore, those who do more deserve more, while those who do less deserve less.

Bad managers treat everyone the same, falsely believing all have the same worth. And in their consistency these managers are unfair and wrong.

Good managers know treating every employee with the same consistency can be grossly unfair because employees have different needs in similar situations. One employee, for example, may need great compassion from one's manager while grieving over the loss of a loved one. Another employee may desire just the opposite, wanting the manager to apply more pressure, forcing her to work harder in order to keep her mind off of her loss and grief. One employee may need constant communication and feedback from the manager, while another employee may work better with limited or no interaction with the boss. One worker may put family first and demand more free time, while another employee may be a workaholic and spend long hours at the office.

Bad managers believe they should treat everyone the same regardless of their situation. They believe what they do for one they must do for all, and what they cannot do for one they cannot do for another. And in their consistency these managers are unfair and wrong.

Myth #2: Managers Must Not Have Favorites

Good managers, who are honest or introspective, admit they have favorites. Good managers favor those who perform well. Good managers favor those they trust over those who work only when the manager is present. Good managers favor those who do their jobs to standard and disfavor those who willingly or spitefully perform poorly. Good managers unhesitatingly provide special favors to those who perform favorably because those favors are predicated upon good performance.

Bad managers wrongly believe that no one deserves special treatment, even if an employee performs extra specially. They believe there are no exceptions to the rules, even though an employee may be exceptional. They offer no favors, even when performance is favorable. And in their consistency these managers are unfair and wrong.

Of course there is a wrong form of favoritism which bad managers may exhibit that is driven by personal biases or interpersonal relationships. Any type of favoritism that is not based solely on performance is wrong. Good managers can separate their personal views of an employee from their professional assessment based upon the worker’s performance. Bad managers favor employees for reasons other than performance. It is this kind of favoritism that employees despise.

Good managers often are reluctant to admit they actually do have favorites and do treat people inconsistently, even though such favorable treatment may be subconscious. But I believe managers should consciously and deliberately treat people differently based upon their differences in performance. This is a fundamental management practice – where those who perform to standard are recognized and rewarded, while those who do not perform as expected are coached, counseled, disciplined and, sometimes, terminated.

I believe managers should shout from the rooftops that they will treat people inconsistently. Managers should make it obvious to everyone exactly why some people are treated better than others in the workplace. They should make it known that all employees can be the manager’s favorite if all perform favorably. They should clearly state that they will treat good performers one way and poor performers another. They should let it be known that those who are trustworthy will be trusted, those who are respectable will be respected, those who are supportive will be supported, and those who act dignified will be treated with dignity. Employees need to understand that the way they will be treated by their manager is a reflection of what they do and how they act at work.

It has been my experience in life that friendly people usually have friends. Those who love others are loved. Those who are kind receive kindness in return. That which one sows, one reaps. This is true in life, and should be true at work.

I have a special name for this reap and sow truism. I call it the "Life is a Mirror" principle. Life is a reflection of who one is and how one acts. What a person receives out of life is directly linked to what he or she gives. Grumpy people tend to see the world as a grumpy place. People with negative attitudes generally see the world in a negative light. Happy, optimistic people, on the other hand, usually see the world as upbeat and positive.

Sometimes managers need to remind employees that life is a mirror. Contrary to the Golden Rule of treating people as they want to be treated, managers should treat employees the way they deserve to be treated. Employees who perform and behave well ought to be treated well, while those who perform and behave poorly ought to be treated less well. The message to employees from good managers should be this: "If you like the way you’re treated at work, it’s because you deserve it. If you don't like the way you’re treated, then change your behavior. I'm just mirroring the way you act. I'm treating you the way you deserve to be treated based upon your actions and reactions at work. Life is good when you are good. When you do good and are good you’ll feel good."

Although the following ditty from John Gay’s Fables may be somewhat crude, it seems to reflect my philosophy:

“By all accounts, let’s not be cheated.
“An ass should like an ass be treated.”

Even reflective Human Resource professionals know real performance management practices are specifically designed to treat people differently. Good managers recognize and reward those who perform well and coach, counsel and discipline those who do not. It is wrong to treat people consistently in the workplace. It is wrong for us not to show favor to those who perform favorably. Hopefully, some day all managers will wake up and recognize the negative impact of perpetuating the two management myths discussed in this article. Some day managers will boldly proclaim their intention to be inconsistent and to have favorites.

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Mac McIntire is the president of Innovative Management Group, a Las Vegas-based training and consulting firm that helps companies define their strategic focus, align their internal effort, and gain the commitment of their workforce to achieve long-term profitability and growth. If you would like more information about how we can help your company, please contact us at 702-258-8334, e-mail to mac@imglv.com, or visit us on the web at www.imglv.com.

Ten Critical Elements of Effective Meetings

Meeting leaders can improve the effectiveness of their meetings with ten important meeting leading elements

Have you ever been in a lousy meeting — one that was a total waste of your time?

If you’re the typical business manager, the answer to this question is a resounding “YES!” In fact, the odds are you’ve been to more lousy meetings than you have productive ones.

Managers today spend more time in meetings than ever before. As computers have automated routine paper-pushing jobs, more workers are doing project-oriented work, which requires updates and collaboration. Other trends, such as the use of outsourced suppliers and consultants, leads to more coordination meetings between work groups.

Surveys at 3M revealed that the average manager reports spending one to one-and-a-half days in meetings per week. The survey showed that the managers judged over half of those meetings to be a waste of time.

Even though very few managers, and perhaps fewer companies, seem to do anything about it, the keys to holding effective meetings are relatively simple. There are ten essential components necessary to having productive meetings. Improvement in any of the ten areas will produce dramatic results in your meetings.

There are ten essential elements to effective meetings. These ten things determine whether or not productive results will be achieved in the meeting. Meeting leaders need to make sure these ten things are a part of every meeting.

Essential Elements of Effective Meetings

1. Goals and Results — meeting goals that are clear from the outset and are successfully achieved in the meeting.

2. Preparation — participants who are informed, prepared, and ready at the appointed meeting time.

3. Agendas — a flexible, workable, written outline that is followed in the right order and includes time frames and processes for each item.

4. Audience — the right people in attendance who have the authority to make decisions.

5. Participation — attentive listening, active interchange of ideas, and a balance of involvement.

6. Time Control — effective facilitation of the meeting so everyone stays on track and completes each topic in the allotted time.

7. Climate — an open and honest meeting climate that establishes trust and a fair exchange of ideas.

8. Public Record — a visual way to track the group’s discussion and decisions so all ideas are captured and preserved.

9. Process Awareness — participants who are conscious of both the tasks being accomplished and the processes used during the meeting so both can be improved upon in future meetings.

10. Closure — a meeting that results in decisions being made, actions assigned, loose ends tied up, and issues resolved.

Innovative Management Group offers training and facilitation services to executives, managers and cross-functional teams to help them conduct powerful, non-time-consuming, effective meetings that produce high quality results. We’ll show you how to implement these ten essential elements in every meeting in your organization.


Innovative Management Group offers a four-hour training course on "Effective Meeting Management" that teaches managers how to conduct productive meetings that achieve powerful results. For more information contact Mac McIntire at 702-258-8334 or email at mac@imglv.com