What is your unhappy employee telling you?

August 7, 2008

Recently I had coffee with a friend I’ve worked with for more than five years — long enough to know when something’s up. So we found ourselves some comfy chairs in a quiet corner and I said, simply: “Spill it.”

That’s all she needed and she was off, telling me one sad, disheartening story after another about trying to work with her new manager. I could fill a lot of space trying to explain all the frustrating details that are keeping my friend awake nights. But funny enough, this unhappy employee’s rants organized themselves neatly into three tips that could benefit any manager:

Do you know what kind of work your team does? I am constantly surprised at how often managers aren’t very familiar with their team’s daily work. That may fly for your first 30 days. After that, it’s negligence, pure and simple. You must have a working knowledge of what your team does, if for no other reason than to understand the challenges your team faces every day.

Are you accessible to your team? If you’re a manager, your greatest responsibility is enabling your team to do its work. If you are never around, how can you answer questions, approve decisions, remove obstacles, redirect, etc.? You’re in charge of your calendar, right? Schedule yourself some “butt-in-seat” time and make sure your team knows when it is. They’ll thank you for it.

What are you doing when you DO make an appearance? Maybe this has happened to you: Your boss is unavailable all week, and then when she shows up on the floor, she’s barking orders or making unrealistic promises to her own supervisors. All you can think is: you’re not helping!! When you can spare time with your employees face-to-face, experiment with shifting your priorities. It’s not really about what they can do for you. If you’ve cleared time, if you’ve committed to being accessible, it’s actually about what you can do for them. How can you help? How can you simplify (not complicate)?

My friend’s problems would be solved if her manager gave a little more thought to these three points. My guess is we could all find a happier place at work if more managers took these to heart. What do you think?


How to reveal your personality?

August 4, 2008
Revealing your personality is the key.

Revealing your personality is the key.

For the past three posts I’ve been talking about why you should reveal your personality when you talk with your constituents. Check out the reasons here, here and here. So now we’ve got the reasons down… we know why it makes good business sense. Let’s come up with ideas for exactly HOW to inject a little personality into your communications. To get us started:

  • Do your friends have a “typical you” story about you? Something that demonstrates how or why you are the way you are? For instance, my parents like to tell people that my first grade teacher called me a “little Hitler.” No, this is not really about facial hair… it’s more about the fact that I was a know-it-all bossy-pants who tried to run everything during playtime. (Well, and all the time really.) Sometimes I tell this story when my bossiness tries to rear its ugly head. It’s like a warning and a cry for help all in one: I’m about to get all dictatorial, but knowing I’m like that, help me reign it in, will ya? My point (I do have one): Learn how to tell that story about you well enough that you could rattle it right off, because it makes you human and shows you have enough of a sense of humor that you can poke a little fun at yourself.
  • What does your spouse (or maybe your assistant?) tease you about? Are you always losing your keys? Do you practice your backswing when you think no one’s watching? Did they catch you humming a Barry Manilow tune? Whatever it is, sharing it with people is similar to the story-sharing above. It helps people relate to you as a person and not just as “my manager” or “the CEO.”

What other ideas do you have? Managers and leaders, what are you doing to reveal your personality at work?


Shut up and listen.

July 3, 2008

I’m reviewing notes from the IABC International Conference in New York June 22-25. One speaker had her roomful of strangers pair up and tell a vivid, two-minute story about our childhood. It could be about anything, but it had to be descriptive enough for the other person to have a real vision of the circumstances.

My partner told a rich tale of shopping every Sunday afternoon with her grandmother, walking the mall together, getting treats — she even remembered to describe her scent (a little talcum powder, a little Aqua Net and sometimes a dash of Icy Hot). The lush detail got me thinking about my own grandmothers. I started formulating my own story to share before I even realized it.

“Not the point,” I had to remind myself. I had to keep chomping on my tongue to allow her the time and freedom to speak without interrupting or interrogating or otherwise getting in the way. When I focused on listening to her, we connected. There was common ground. And the images she left in my brain sparked memories I might not have accessed if I’d been formulating my answer instead of actively listening. The point of the exercise is clear: we have only one mouth and two ears, which might mean we should listen twice as much as we talk.


Stick out.

July 2, 2008

I’m reading Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Bet you’d learn something from it if you haven’t already read it. An early passage already has me thinking about how we’re communicating [big corporate initiative, henceforth known as “the thing”] to employees. The Heath boys present six principles that make ideas “sticky” (or “memorable” if you prefer):

“Let’s take the CEO who announces to her staff that they must strive to ‘maximize shareholder value.’
 
“Is this idea simple? Yes, in the sense that it’s short, but it lacks the useful simplicity of a proverb. Is it unexpected? No. Concrete? Not at all. Credible? Only in the sense that it’s coming from the mouth of the CEO. Emotional? Um, no. A story? No.
 
“Contrast the “maximize shareholder value” idea with John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 call to “put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.” Simple? Yes. Unexpected? Yes. Concrete? Amazingly so. Credible? The goal seemed like science fiction, but the source was credible. Emotional? Yes. Story? In miniature.
 
“Had John F. Kennedy been a CEO, he would have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.” Fortunately, JFK was more intuitive than a modern-day CEO; he knew that opaque, abstract missions don’t captivate and inspire people*… It was a brilliant and beautiful idea — a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.” (*emphasis added by soulmagnet75 for dramatic effect)

Here’s soulmagnet75 again to editorialize: It seems to me what we’re trying to do anywhere in corporate America is “captivate and inspire people.” That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about “employee engagement.” So far, what I’ve heard about “the thing” at my company isn’t sticking with me. If we were to apply more of these Heath principles of sticky ideas, could we be more successful? We’re getting into the story, we’re attempting to get at the emotional, I think, with a new idea that will spotlight individual employees. What I’m missing is that simple, concrete expression: From the earth to the moon and back. Where are we going? We’ll have to be careful about avoiding overused analogies about “getting on the bus” and “reaching for the stars,” but isn’t there something? Isn’t there some way to say this more effectively so employees actually care?