Everyone’s got one…

July 27, 2009

… a client who thinks that their need is more important than your effort.

Sure, client needs are important. Delivering quality, expertise, convenience, customized service, turnkey solutions, great products — that’s bread and butter for most companies. But especially in tough times, it’s easy for people to forget that we aren’t here to serve each other’s needs: we’re here in an exchange of value for value, and meeting needs is the primary way that humans make that kind of exchange. My work for your money. My money for your product. My love for your love. My financial support for the services your nonprofit provides to a community I care about. And so on.

Whatever the specifics, in order to be sustainable, our relationship has to be based on mutual acknowledgment of the value. This video makes the point brilliantly. Have a laugh; spot your own “I’m so special” client in this mix; and then please make sure you’re not ever one of these clients for someone else.
 

 
And here’s a notion: what if instead of clients and vendors, we think of managers and employees? Please, make sure that as a manager you’re not placing your “I’m so special” needs above the value of people’s work. Don’t ask them to give so you can take: instead, support them in creating and receiving value. Everyone wins that way.

Good leaders say…

April 15, 2009

  1. Please.
  2. Thank you.
  3. I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.
  4. What do you think?
  5. How can I help?
  6. You’re right.

    and, sometimes most importantly…
  7. I screwed up. I’m sorry.

Pull up a chair

April 1, 2009

Wow. What would happen if we all just started talking — and listening — at work?

I’ve been a part of initiatives similar in philosophy (although never using the Chair approach, which I think is brilliant), and they work. It can take a while to earn people’s trust — that they will not be punished for expressing their feelings, that their ideas will be heard, that they are part of a meaningful process as opposed to a feel-good experiment. When you do earn that trust, you get the enormous reward of people who are so engaged that they will make time in their work day to find you and tell you things they think you need to know, good and bad. How much is that worth to you?

Many thanks to Allison O’Neill for the article link. Sign up for Allison’s RSS feed — her posts always have something useful to say to any manager.

Be authentic

March 19, 2009

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s post about being smart with heart, here’s a thoughtful and useful article on why and how to be an authentic leader.

A fallout of working for, or being associated with, an inauthentic leader is that this person robs us of our own authenticity as we tread carefully around them. We focus on what keeps us safe in our jobs. In the process they don’t get the best out of us – they get our labor, but not our full engagement… Lack of authenticity in a leader carries a hefty price tag.
— Bruna Martinuzzi, from “The Talisman of Leadership”

You’ll find ideas about authenticity and transparency, and concrete suggestions for how to bring more authenticity into your own work experience. Remember, authenticity is a skill like any other. “Practicing” authenticity doesn’t make you a manipulator or a hypocrite — it makes you better at being truly authentic. It can be scary. It can make you vulnerable. And the results will certainly surprise you.

Smart includes heart

March 17, 2009

He saw that the people who push the wheelchairs were practicing medicine. — from the Boston Globe article “A Head with a Heart” by Kevin Cullen

Here’s what is possible when a leader is as focused on people as on “business” — when a leader understands that people are the business, and that we must support both in order to sustain both.

When we lead from values that include seeing how everyone contributes to the mission of the company, when we are willing to stand in front of eight thousand people or the two members of our start-up IT team and say Here’s what I’m thinking. What do you think? What are your ideas?… then what happened at Beth Israel Hospital can happen for us too.

Good management isn’t about leaving your heart at home. It’s about bringing it to work along with your brain, and reaching out with both to the people around you. Is that too fuzzy for you? Well, look at what happened at Beth Israel. Those folks are saving jobs, saving money, maybe saving lives because the person is charge was willing to look at the company with a curious heart as well as financial eyes.

(Thank you to Sarah for this link. If you find stories to share about being human at work, or have some of your own, please email me at keskridge at humansatwork dot com.)

See it, be it

March 9, 2009

As a follow-up to talking about the importance and power of focus, here’s a great article by Srinivasan Pillay on why and how visualization works — what happens in the brain, and in our lives, when we visualize.

Visualizing works. And it’s an enormously important skill for managers. It goes hand in hand with focus. As Pillay points out in the article, feeding your brain a “plan in a thousand words” is less successful than giving it a single, specific image. The real work is getting to that single image.

But that’s all it is — work. We can all do it. It’s a process. Most of us start with a jumble of ideas, feelings and thoughts that don’t really draw together into a coherent set of goals — that’s perfectly normal. Like anything else, it gets easier with regular repetition. We can teach ourselves to visualize focused goals, and we can figure out the right steps to take in pursuit of those goals. And along the way, we’re also fighting the paralysis of fear for ourselves and our teams, making our businesses more successful, and making our brains more healthy and our spirits more resilient.

Part of the science behind visualization that Pillay describes (see his second paragraph) is mirror neurons. You’ll find some exercises to help you and your team understand the power of mirror neurons in Session Two of the Humans At Work program. And at the end of Session One, you’ll find some questions you can ask yourself to begin visualizing the best manager you can be. You can make that a long-term visualization — or you can adapt the questions to consider how your “best manager” self would respond to your specific team or company situation right now.

And finally, here’s one of the article’s most important points for me:

Remember, a failure is not a final statement that you will not succeed. It is information that your vision has to be changed, refined or repeated.

In work, as in life, we do not have to be perfect the first time out in order to be successful. We just need to keep working on it.

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.

A different kind of business capital

December 3, 2008

This interview with economist John Helliwell in Rotman Magazine (the Rotman School of Management) reaffirms for me why it’s important that companies take a clear look at how they’re managing people, not just business:

The higher the degree of trust and willingness to share in a human-as-well-as-material respect across the organization, the better an enterprise will perform.
 
— Economist John Helliwell, speaking on the value of social capital in the workplace

If you’re a new manager, don’t be put off by the term social capital or the fact that the conversation ranges far beyond “strictly business” — read the interview for Helliwell’s insights into the direct connection between engaging with others (even when it takes work to bridge our differences) and positive impact on quality of life and business. What he’s talking about is the power of engaged relationships with the people around us: family, neighbors, and colleagues. When we connect in relationships that are based on helping, as opposed to controlling, each other, guess what? The community — whether it’s your village or your company — works better.

Managing is at its essence a network of individual relationships. Whether we manage well or poorly is a product of how we behave in those relationships. Every skill in the Humans At Work program is a behavior designed to help all your relationships at work be as clear, honest and productive as they can be: to build bridges across our differences so that we can all work together to achieve our common goals. That’s the essential definition of community, and these ideas of social capital as a driver of community success are important to every one of us.

So please, after you’ve read the interview, take some time to read more about Humans At Work. Download session details and find an idea that can help you at work, whether you’re a manager or not. These ideas are for everyone. Our workplace communities need managers — but the community is not for the manager, it’s for all of us. We can all benefit by making it stronger.

Get connected

November 24, 2008

I recently got my virtual hands on a copy of “The Connection Culture”, a manifesto by Michael Lee Stallard proposing that fostering a sense of connection among people at work has a direct impact on employee engagement, productivity, and business success.

One measure of connection is Gallup’s Q12 survey that asks questions such as whether people care about you at work, encourage your development, and seek and consider your opinion. …[T]he research showed that business units with higher Q12 scores — in other words, higher connection — experienced higher productivity, higher profitability, and higher customer satisfaction as well as lower employee turnover and fewer accidents.
 
— from The Connection Culture by Michael Lee Stallard

The connections Stallard describes have a powerful and profound impact on people and companies because they are how people behave with each other in ways that get the job done better. Management is behavior: all the good intentions or business acumen in the world won’t make a speck of difference in your company if people don’t behave in ways that help everyone work more effectively towards common goals. Managing humans well makes them feel more connected to their job, their team, their company and to themselves. That’s when you get people’s best ideas, best effort, and their most consistent results.

For those who are suspicious of “fuzzy stuff” at work, let me point out that Stallard is not advocating (as an HR friend of mine says wryly) “linking pinkies and singing Kumbaya.” You don’t have to sing, I promise. As a manager, what you have to do is make it possible for people to engage — with the work they do, and the people they do it with — in ways that keep everyone focused, effective and productive even in chaotic and frightening times.

In fact, I submit that it’s in such times — like now — that we most need to be engaged, to be connected with each other and our common goals rather than hunkered down in defensive silos. It’s by working together that we’ll find ways to move our businesses down this stretch of very rough road.