Fulfill yourself

May 19, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about an interview with Greg Brenneman that I found not only rich in content, but a great example of modeling the behavior he’s talking about. I thought he made a lot of great points.

And perhaps I most especially appreciate his point that it’s not all about work.

I think it’s important to talk to people about how we’re in a fundamentally different world. Ask the question, “If compensation isn’t going to be the same for a while, where do you get your fulfillment in life?”
 
— Greg Brenneman, CCMP Capital

We’ve all got a different answer to this question. And when times are hard, when compensation isn’t just “not the same” but perhaps the difference between the mortgage payment and the foreclosure, I believe it’s important to remember to do things that fulfill us. Because fulfillment makes us strong.

When we feel fulfilled, we feel alive and active in our most essential self, the self that cannot simply be described by our title or job description. Feeling fulfilled means that we are full in all our best ways, and that fullness, that richness of self, creates within us enormous energy and stamina for the sometimes very hard things we have to do in order to survive.

If you’ve read about me, you may know that I’m a writer as well as a — well, whatever you’d call me when I’m here talking about being human at work. I generally don’t discuss my writing life in this space because I don’t want to confuse issues: this is not my personal blog, although I’m very personally invested in Humans At Work, and in all ideas about excellent management. But today I’d like to point you to a personal essay about the importance of staying connected with our deepest selves in trying times. At work, as everywhere else, we need to share our strength so that we can all be successful together: and strength is not about who works longest or hardest or has the most meetings: it’s about staying aligned and connected with ourselves so that we find the strength we need.

If you are a manager — if you are responsible for helping other people accomplish their work, so that they can pay their rent and feed their families — then do not neglect to replenish yourself. The first rule of airline safety is to get your own oxygen mask in place before you start helping other people with theirs: or, as the essay says, don’t forget to breathe.

Style is substance

May 18, 2009

I think everyone with a job of any kind should read this interview with Greg Brenneman. He distills some of the essential skills of planning, management, communication, engagement, authenticity, and interacting from our values at work. Sure, he’s talking about his experience at the CEO level, but the strategies and skills he highlights are those that any of us can, and should, be using in our jobs. These are all things that will make our work together better.

You’ll notice that Brenneman emphasizes simplicity and focus. When you read the interview, pay attention to his style as well as his words. He comes across as smart and succinct. That’s a marvelous combination in a leader — whenever you find such people, pay attention to how they do it, and notice the impact it has on those around them. When people realize that you’re consistently clear, authentic and on point in a few well-chosen words, they will always pay attention to what you say.

So many managers and leaders reveal their insecurity by needing to say everything in detail at least three times without checking whether the folks they are talking to actually need the repetition. It comes across as either patronizing, or as if you’re not that clear yourself on what you have to say. Be clear with yourself; then be clear with the people around you. That’s effective whether you’re a manager or not, no matter where you work.

More on ground rules

May 13, 2009

I’ve been thinking more about ground rules since my exchange with Bob Sutton about using them to help manage meetings. As Harold Shinsato points out in his comment on that post, “ground rules and team commitments need not only be restricted to meetings.” That’s absolutely true.

I believe strongly in team agreements as the foundation for team structure and culture. Done properly, specific agreements about behavior, process, and roles/responsibilities aren’t anal-retentive corporate fiddlefaddle. They are the tools that create a level playing field for everyone on the team, so that everyone can expect the same basic experience of being a team member. An effective, happy team becomes everyone’s right and everyone’s responsibility; and that’s when teamwork really takes off.

    I think every manager should facilitate Team Ground Rules. Like meeting ground rules, these are specific behaviors that everyone on the team helps define, and then agrees to. Together, the team creates a set of behavior guidelines that they believe will:

  • Make it easier for them to do their individual jobs
  • Make it easier to work together as a team.
    General team ground rules can cover a number of areas:

  • sharing information
  • communication
  • areas of authority or responsibility
  • commitments to training and development
  • handling mistakes
  • raising concerns
  • addressing interpersonal conflicts

Here’s an example of Team Ground Rules from a team I’ve been part of:

    Noise and Privacy

  • Avoid extended loud conversations at our desks.
  • Tell people if they are being too loud. Don’t stew about it.
  • Respect when someone says they are busy. Tell them what you want to discuss and ask when they are available to talk. You should both take responsibility for following up.
    Communication

  • Let each other know if something is bothering us.
          — Be polite and respectful.
          — Be direct.
          — No ultimatums.
          — Get a manager to facilitate the conversation if necessary.
          — Assume that we all have good intentions.
  • Stay approachable and open.
  • Keep helping each other. We all have different skills to share.
  • Let the team know when you are absent, and identify a proxy.
  • Share information about our priorities, responsibilities and workload.

Your team can decide on whatever ground rules you think will make it easier to work together. The point is that everyone agrees.

I also strongly recommend that you develop Manager Ground Rules that apply specifically to how managers on your team behave. It’s important that every team member feel confident that the team is managed consistently, whether you have multiple managers on the team or it’s just you. Again, the team works together to create these rules — they are not Handed Down From On High. It can be scary to give your team input into how you as a manager behave with them: but I guarantee there is no more powerful way to create a connected, supportive and successful team than to ask people how you can best manage them.

Here’s an example of Manager Ground Rules (again, from a team I managed, so I was bound by these rules along with other managers on the team):

    Working with team members

  • Hands-off attitude. Allow people to do their job in the way that works best for the individual except where necessary to meet team standards.
  • Delegate properly. Make sure people understand the work that is required, and then let them go.
    Resist the urge to do the work yourself.
  • Get involved in hands-on details only when you need to learn a new area of the business; to assist in problem-solving; to get information for a decision; or to provide training.
  • Balance between making suggestions and giving directions.
  • Know when people need help. Know when people need smaller goals and more manager involvement, and then when they are ready to go it alone.
    Communication

  • Share information consistently, especially information that team doesn’t have access to.
  • Overcommunicate at first and then pull back as requested.
  • Give context for information.
  • Communicate important information verbally as well as in writing.
  • No mutual mind-reading. Everyone has to communicate. Employees have to also take responsibility for the relationship and sharing information with the manager.
    Decision-making

  • Listen. Hear all details and information first before jumping in.
  • Be fair. Get all the information and perspectives you need to make a decision, then inform everyone of the decision.
  • Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Consider all input, even if you can’t give everyone the answer they want.
  • Explain decisions.

I devote an entire session of the Humans At Work curriculum to teaching managers how to define and create a variety of team agreements, including Team Ground Rules and Manager Ground Rules. You’ll also find examples of all agreements in the Tools and Materials document.

Ground rules

May 11, 2009

I left a comment the other day on Bob Sutton’s thoughtful post about what poorly-run meetings can indicate about the managers in charge. My comment was about Ground Rules, a very useful tool for meetings of all kinds.

Bob kindly took my comment and created a post around it. Please stop by his blog if you’re interested in ideas about Ground Rules; and please stay to read his other wide-ranging and excellent advice on creating better workplaces and better managers. I admire his work very much, and in fact have a notion to someday create a series of blog posts here that reflect on the items in his sidebar.

That’s how these ideas of new ways of working together will spread: as we all learn from each other, as we all become engaged in this great conversation about management, leadership, and being human in the midst of it all. So please, visit Bob’s blog and add your voice to the conversation; and come back to Humans At Work whenever you’d like to talk. There’s always a seat at this table. That is, in fact, one of my Ground Rules.

Snow job

May 10, 2009

Everyone who lives in Seattle knows that we can’t handle snow here. The weather people predict an inch of the cold stuff and bam, we’re all charging off to the grocery store to stockpile canned goods with thoughts of the Donner party dancing in our heads.

But occasionally, the snow really does come down. Last December, Seattle was paralyzed by a series of snowstorms that left 16 inches in my neighbor’s yard and proved impossible for the city’s transportation department to keep up with. I live at the bottom of a steep hill: if it weren’t for my neighbors and their enormous pickup truck, I’d have been living off canned white beans and instant pudding for a week. I was grateful for the community I live in, and chalked up the complete lack of plowing as one of those things.

It turns out that it was one of those management things. The entire process was badly handled, and then people in charge spent more energy spinning the results from “failure” to “adequate” than they had, perhaps, spent on the process itself.

And it gets better. It’s come to light recently that the manager in charge of street maintenance (with primary and direct responsibility for snow emergency response and removal) was promoted to that position after a $515,000 study verified that as a manager he was “viewed as unsafe, dictatorial, vindictive, unwilling to listen even … by credible, well-respected witnesses.”

That’s right. The City of Seattle spent $515,000 of taxpayer money to produce an 8,000 page report that detailed management incompetence specifically in the core skills of managing humans well. After reading this report, the manager’s boss promoted him into the street maintenance job because she wanted a tough manager in the job.

I’m shaking my head. When the going gets tough, the truly tough do not create chaos — they keep people pulled together and achieving results even through their business equivalent of 16 inches of snow. It drives me nuts that the city administration spent half a million dollars just to find out that one guy lacks skills — and then they promoted him. And he was unable to articulate a plan, set priorities, or motivate his team to be effective while the snow piled up and people’s health and well-being were imperiled. He’s responsible for that, and so is his boss, and so is her boss (that would be the Mayor).

Managing humans poorly does not just mean that you hurt their feelings; it means that you jeopardize their health and safety, and the ultimate survival of your business. It means your company is wasting money and wasting the skills of people who would be doing a good job if only their manager would help rather than hinder them.

The skills of good management matter. They are essential. They are what would have made our snow removal happen. And they would have cost the city of Seattle a lot less than $515,000 to get.