What is recognition?

January 27, 2009

Some companies, and some managers, don’t embrace the idea of “recognition” — they find it artificial, or expensive, or it just takes too much time. Some companies treat recognition as if it were a maintenance chore like filling up the copy machine with paper, or changing the bottle at the water dispenser — something you do to keep things working.

Some companies think that a coffee cup or a t-shirt from the company store is “recognition.” Yep, just what your folks need to make them feel valued: a coffee cup that’s all about the company. No, no — recognition is never about the company: it’s about the people and the work they do. And so for recognition to be effective, it has to be real, and it has to be personal. Cookie cutter approaches and company swag do not send a personal message.

What does? A handwritten note that spells out what the person did and why it matters. A gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. A contribution to the charity that they volunteer for on the weekends. Buying them a cup of coffee at the latte stand and staying to chat while you both get caffeinated. The gift of your personal effort, your time, your attention to the details that make them an individual — that make them, in fact, the individual who just went above and beyond for your team and your business.

It’s not always convenient, but it is always worth it.

If you want to see the power of personal recognition in action, read about what it can mean when someone cheers you on at work — even if your work for the day is to throw passes or play defense in a high school football game.

I love this story. It makes me misty every time I read it. The power of human beings to make each other feel special… imagine how these kids felt on that bus trip home. We don’t have to be on the football field to do this for each other. We can do it in our offices and cubicles, on our factory floors, just by taking the time to recognize not only the work, but the humans behind it. You may be responding because of the work someone did — but when you respond, do so as one human being to another. And then imagine how they might feel on their bus trip home.

Want to engage me? Communicate

January 22, 2009

It’s a new day in the federal government. As this kickoff post of the new White House blog says, change has come.

Regardless of your political beliefs, I hope you’ll see that this post from the White House blog is a model of clarity and transparency. It uses plain language and a personal tone that lets me know someone on the other side sees the audience as human beings, not cookie cutter “citizens.” It’s a great starting point for creating a relationship that balances between individual communication and the need to deliver information to hundreds of millions of diverse people. That’s what companies need to do too. The size of the audience is not important: every organization has its own diversity, whether they are a company of ten or a country of 350 million.

The White House now has to deliver on the communication promises they’ve made — just like any manager. If they do, it will certainly make me feel more involved and connected as a citizen. More engaged.

Behavior is the heart of engagement, and communication is one of the essential behaviors. It’s often the first interaction we have with strangers, and it’s a defining factor in any relationship that lasts more than a minute. This is especially true of our relationship with, and as, managers. It matters that we communicate — there is no relationship without it, and without that relationship it’s mighty hard for people to get work done together. It matters what we communicate — people need complete, clear information to do their jobs. And it matters how we communicate — yelling at me at work simply guarantees that I’ll miss any meaningful content because I’ll be too busy covering my ears, literally or metaphorically.

If you want me to engage me, don’t corporate-speak me, don’t condescend, don’t bully me. Talk to me as if you actually want me to be engaged.

If you’re interested in learning more about communication skills for managers, take a look at the teaching notes for Session 2 and Session 3 of Humans At Work (or start with these descriptions of key session topics).

Start with behavior

January 21, 2009

In this brief post, Seth Godin neatly distills an essential component of relationship. He’s talking about online relationship, but he might as well be talking about the management relationship (or any other in life).

The component is behavior: the simple and fundamental truth that others’ perceptions of us are based on what we do.

Godin says: “The biggest takeaway for me is this: online interactions are largely expected to be intentional. On purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.”

This is a great statement, and I’m taking the liberty of applying it more widely. If you’re a manager, type this out somewhere and stick it to your wall:

Management actions are largely expected to be intentional. On purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.

Great managers may or may not have talent, incisive intelligence, extensive vocabulary, variety of experience, higher education or the right clothes. What great managers all have is the behavioral skills of great management. If you want to be a great manager, that’s where it starts.

A Leader’s Manifesto to be published

January 19, 2009

I’m delighted to announce that ChangeThis will publish A Leader’s Manifesto in PDF format, and will distribute it through their network, as well as host it for download. Anyone who wants to share the manifesto will be able to do so much more easily with the PDF.

I’ll keep you posted regarding the publication date.

I’m thankful to ChangeThis for providing this service. They rock. But they are publishing the manifesto because — and only because — of the support of people who voted at the ChangeThis site. A Leader’s Manifesto was the top vote-getter in this round of proposals, with 295 votes — a number that surprised and delighted me, given that most of the manifestos generated fewer than 100 votes, some fewer than 50. I am deeply grateful to all of you who blogged, tweeted and re-tweeted, emailed your friends, and took the time to vote yourselves. Thank you very much.

Find your bus

January 16, 2009

Apologies for the lack of posting. I’ve been juggling priorities — that’s a standard feature of business life. But what makes my blogging sporadic right now is not that it’s unimportant — it’s that I’m still finding my voice here. I can’t yet dash off a post quickly and confidently. I’m still practicing, still nailing down what this blog is for. What do I want to say here? What am I trying to do?

Those are questions that every blogger needs to answer. But — more to the point — they are questions that every manager needs to answer. Who are you in the management role? What do you want to be in the eyes of your team and your company? What are you trying to do?

If you’re not sure, then nothing you do will be as quick or confident as you’d like. So here’s where you should start when you’re working on improving your management skills. As my old mentor used to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any bus will get you there.” Meaning that without a goal in mind, actions can easily become random, and sometimes we end up somewhere we really don’t want to be. A clear vision of yourself as a manager, and clear values, aren’t “fuzzy stuff” — they are essential drivers on your management journey. The vision is your destination: what am I when I am a great manager? The values, and the behaviors that arise from them, are the bus that will get you there.

Take a look at the teaching notes for Session 1 of Humans At Work if you’re interested in doing some of this visualization and values clarification for yourself.

Start by telling your own stories of good and bad managers you’ve known:

  • What did the manager do that you thought was right or wrong, effective or destructive? The more specific you can get with this, the better. It’s not enough to decide that someone is a bad communicator (for example) — what specific actions did they take, or what specific words did they say, that you thought showed poor skills?
  • Why did they do it? What were they thinking or feeling? What were they reacting to, or trying to accomplish? Here’s where you move from the specific example to form some general values about good management behavior.
  • How can you put these values and behavior into action in your own daily work experience? Here’s a hint: you demonstrate values by behavior. Pick a behavior to practice, and then practice it.

Then tell yourself the story of you — as the greatest manager in the world. Answer these questions:

  • What do you believe?
  • How do you behave?
  • How do other people in the organization perceive you?

Now you know where you’re going. Your destination may alter as you learn and grow. That’s fine — the point is to be moving forward toward a specific idea of what you want to be. The story of you will lead you; the stories of others, good and bad, will be your signposts on the way.

In that spirit, if anyone has input into what you’d like to see from this blog, or examples of blogs you think I might want to take lessons from, please leave a comment. I appreciate any help you care to give.

Wide open

January 7, 2009

I believe that managing well is partly about being wide open — to input, ideas, joy, better choices, change. And in that spirit, it’s time to open the Humans At Work door wider.

I began by offering the Humans At Work program on a turnkey basis only to new managers. I’ve come to believe it’s better to make the turnkey option available to managers at every level of experience. I’ll be updating the website with this change over the next several days.

When I was putting the program together, I made the decision to focus my teaching services on new managers for a couple of key reasons. New managers get short shrift in the training corner of the corporate world, although they represent by far the biggest potential return on investment that any company can make — spend a few thousand dollars to teach someone best practices and good habits from the ground up, and save yourself tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in diminished productivity, loss of talented people, and failure to build the kind of teams that can stay strong and focused even in hard times. Honestly, especially in these financial times, this seems like a no-brainer to me: those companies who can afford it should be putting as many new managers through some kind of training as possible, with the explicit goal of getting the company’s work done more effectively and attracting and keeping the best people possible.

But recently someone said to me, “I’ve been a manager for years, and I still have to figure it all out myself. I want to do a good job and I don’t always know how. I would kill for someone to teach me these skills.”

And so I re-examined my assumptions about Humans At Work. Here’s what I realized: I was assuming that people who have been managing for a few years (or many years) would be less receptive to changing their habits; that I would have to “sell” them on the value of these behaviors, as opposed to simply presenting them as the given baseline. I put “sell” in quotes because I’m using its old-school negative meaning: talking (pushing, spinning, manipulating) someone into superficial consent. I’ve always seen that ultimately unproductive.

But what if, instead of assuming hostility and challenge, I assume that in fact most managers want to have as many skills as possible so they can manage better, get better results, feel more successful, and be happier in their own work experience? If I assume that, then I want to throw the door wide open to help.

So for those who’ve approached me, or who have wondered privately — thank you very much for your feedback, and yes, I think you’re right. I’ll happily talk with any organization about teaching the program to any of your managers. We’ll work together to figure out the right mix of participants based on your needs. The goal is, as always, to help your managers be the best they can be.

Happy New Year

January 1, 2009

I’ll be blogging again on a regular schedule starting next week, but want to wish a very happy 2009 to all of you.

I’m grateful for your presence here, your support of the program, your comments and feedback — and most especially for your belief that these ideas matter; and that perhaps we can make our world a little better, a little easier, and a little more connected by changing how we treat each other at work.

It’s a polite revolution, but a revolution nonetheless.

Happy 2009, and here’s to the change that’s in the wind.