Workplace Astigmatism

For the last 10 years, I’ve boasted that my vision has not changed. I laugh at optometrists when I walk into their examination rooms because I know that the result is going to be the same…”Well Mr. Harris, everything is fine…no difference…here’s your prescription.” to which I say buttholishly, “I know! Told ya things are the same.”

eye-exam-checkupBecause of this status quo, I take eye exams for granted; only going when I actually need new glasses due to wear and tear…which is like every 5 years. I actually get tired of putting myself (and my money) out there to have my time wasted…until my visit a week ago.

This trip I entered confidently as I usually do, preparing my normal giggle and forming my mouth to say my usual know-it-all words, until Dr. Eyedude says, “Your right eye has changed. We’re going to switch your prescription and it may be a little drastic.”

When you think that nothing has changed, everything has

Not having had to look through “different” lenses for so long, I found myself being uncomfortable on my way home. The change was making my head hurt. Things were blurry. I didn’t like it. Was it because it was unexpected? Was it because something was different? Was it because it was unwelcomed? Maybe it was because I had gotten too comfortable. Too used to knowing what everything looked like and how everything was supposed to feel. The moment a new process was introduced, a new person was brought aboard, a new policy took effect…wait, am I describing your office or my eyes? Hmm? Maybe both.

As we get older, more experienced, more tenured, we must face the inevitable fact that things must and will change. Our vision, our surroundings, and the ways our businesses must operate all change. We can either roll with it, adjust or we can resist and remain in denial. That denial stems from the fact that we think things are fine just the way they are and we think that if we don’t acknowledge it, it’ll just go away.

Resistance to change can be costly

If I had paid regular attention, not been so arrogant and stubborn, maybe a drastic change could have been avoided or eased into. The gradual change would’ve helped me to make better adjustments. Being open to changes in the way our companies must do business will help our employees make better decisions as it relates to the new normals. Maybe they need regular examinations and consultation…I mean evaluations and one-on-ones…so that any issues can be identified early before they become problematic and cost us in the end.

What’s better? One or two? Two or three?

The next day, I could see things better. The headache had gone away. Those moments of temporary discomfort turned into my new, clearer reality. It took me getting broken down and taken out of my cocky comfort zone to realize that acceptance, flexibility and acknowledgement helped the headaches to go away and for things to seem clear again. I had to be humbled by the fact that I don’t know how bad things are until someone shows me something better, different, clearer.

Does your job give you “headaches”? Is it them or is it you refusing to adapt? 

Let’s not wait until it’s too late to let someone check us out. Let’s take some feedback and let it make us better. Let’s understand that us becoming more seasoned is when more changes need to occur…as opposed to things always having to change to our liking. Yielding to necessary adjustments may be blurry at first, but it can ultimately help you to see your vision more clearly in the end.

Recruit Different

Experience can sometimes kill our workplaces. Not because people can’t be taught new ways of doing things, but because old habits die hard. Sometimes they don’t die at all.

When hiring for our companies, we tend to gravitate towards those that have been there and done it, in hopes that they can hit the ground running and cut our training/acclimation time half. This can work to our benefit, but also to our detriment when we have to “unteach” many of the negative behaviors they may be bringing with them from their previous employer.

soft-skills-1 I am not aware of a training program that can teach people how not to be an ass. Nor have I seen an effective curriculum that can help employees be compassionate, have common sense or fairness. Unfortunately, these are traits that our prospectives must already possess or are willing and able to get better at.

This raises the question, are we better off finding developmental talent or should we continue to recruit candidates that have been around the block? I say that this depends on a few things:

  • Do we need employees that will be primarily used for transactional work or do they need a certain level of expertise and hands-on experience?
  • Can the skill set that we need be taught…and do we have the resources to help them get there?
  • Does the experienced person’s knowledge and know-how outweigh our need for fit?

Having worked in several customer service environments, I remember looking through resumes and the hiring managers would get excited to see someone that had worked in very similar environments as ours. Unfortunately for us, while the functions they performed were similar to the ones we would have them do, our service philosophies were starkly different.

On several occasions we would have to remind employees that in our environment, Customer Service meant more than just getting clients in and out, it was about relationship, patience and problem solving. It wasn’t until we started hiring a few people from outside of our industry that we realized that we needed a certain type of person as opposed to certain past jobs and experiences. It turned out that these inexperienced yet quality individuals could learn our products, systems and processes in time as long as they had a core desire to treat our clients the very way they needed to be treated.

interviewInstead of looking for the person that has the most book knowledge, maybe we should recruit based on the right attitude and their aptitude to learn as shown by there career progression. Truth is, most “work stuff” can really be taught to anyone off the street. Think about that for a second…

Times up.

Maybe instead of focusing on the candidate that has all of the letters behind their name, we turn our attention to those that have the demonstrated character traits that we want or need in our workplaces. Maybe we take a look at where they’re going instead of where they’ve been. Maybe we should place more value on career trajectory instead of lateral career decisions.

I may be totally off base. I may be all kinds of wrong…but isn’t it worth it to your organization and clients to try something different..especially if you keep striking out by hiring jerks that are rude to your public, mistreat their coworkers, aren’t willing to listen to or learn from management, and are stuck in their same old non-productive ways? Recruit different and see how it works out for you. If it doesn’t, it’s more likely because they aren’t invested in once on board. And if that’s the case, maybe the candidates aren’t the problem.

A P.I.P. Shouldn’t Be An R.I.P.

It’s so easy to say that employees should just go away when they’re not performing the way we want them to or responding to our management. The hard part is not actually getting them to change behavior, it’s actually admitting that we can do more to get them to where they should be.

image1PIPs or Performance Improvement Plans are often used by companies as the last ditched effort to shape up those “troubled” employees before we ship them out. Others use them as merely a coaching tool to get the attention of their people so that other forms of disciplinary action doesn’t have to be taken. I’ve seen PIPs in memo form, worksheets and templates, and I’ve even seen them delivered in emails. But regardless of how we format them, they should all have the same elements to be effective:

  • Clear areas that our employees need improve upon to remain a part of our teams
  • Challenging, yet achievable goals and deadlines for expected improvement
  • A plan of action for achievable said goals
  • Steps in which the manager can contribute and help the employee reach optimal performance
  • Fair and consistently applied actions that will occur if the desired performance isn’t met

We cannot use the word “Improvement” in the plan if we are not truly trying to achieve it. How we communicate during the delivery, and the words and tone used during the meeting should not feel like a death sentence or as if we are setting the employee up to fail.

There is no need to rehash the issues that we’ve had with the employee, but should focus on the behaviors that cause those issues that need to be altered or adjusted. Bringing up old stuff, especially if those incidents have caused negative conflict before, will surely turn your performance improvement meeting into a counter-productive blame session where no one is listening.

If we want our employees to listen, they must feel as if they are believed in, like they can make it and that they are being supported by members of management. Not only is this communicated in the document and meetings themselves, but by actually following up frequently to ensure that the necessary steps in the plan are being acted on.

So ultimately, a lot of the responsibility comes back to the manager. Not just delivering a document so that we can check a box, but managing our employees to yield the results that we need.

And isn’t that what management is all about? Not just supervising processes and expecting everyone to fall in line, but by providing resources and teaching people how to be successful in our systems.

Joe ClarkIf we want to get rid of someone, let’s just do it and move on to the next. Like Joe Clark said in the movie Lean On Me, “Don’t f#&% around with it…do it expeditiously!” But if we actually want them to get better, we must communicate it, make them believe it and show them how serious we are about them making it through the process.

Embrace the Unsexy Stuff

We all want to be able to say we changed the world from the inside out. That’s cool and that’s a great goal. But there are plenty of things in the world that need tweaking from the outside in as well. And unfortunately, those tasks aren’t sexy. They’re needed, but boring and/or tedious.

I have personally been in roles where I am depended on for things that are clearly outside of my area of expertise. I love gadgets, so people think that means I am an IT guy. I’m pretty good with a screwdriver and pliers, but that doesn’t mean I’m Facilities Management. I like to talk, but that doesn’t mean I’m a speaker or Master of Ceremonies. I’m dashingly handsome, but that doesn’t mean I want to model. I love cigars, but that doesn’t mean…yeah, I do know a lot about CigaHrs.

So I’m learning (and it’s a struggle) that maybe people are depending on us for these things because we’re trusted, because we know how to get stuff done, because if we don’t have the answer we’ll help in figuring it out or we have the right connections to solve it. And that’s a beautiful thing…I think.

It causes extra work. Every issue is critical and can’t wait. I’m realizing that the ability to be all things to all people is a talent in itself, and valuable in any setting, whether I see it that way at the time or not.

Getting Stuff Done may not be what’s listed on your degree, but the ability to do it will propel one far further than what they studied in school. Far beyond certifications. It’s all about talking a good game and backing it up. Or not talking at all because you’re too busy doing!

I-can-doSo I’m working on NOT complaining about being asked to do the unsexy stuff and I’m trying to change my mindset that if I know how to do both the Sexy AND Unsexy stuff, I’ll be indispensable… more than normal anyway, as no one in business is completely indispensable. Plus, that stuff still has to get done so who better to tackle it that me!

No task is beneath us, as they all prepare and elevate us to something greater.

A Big Ego

Your department in shambles?  Your employees lack enthusiasm?  Are they no longer offering any new ideas and seem to lack innovation?  Is your office full of bickering and finger-pointing?

One of the biggest mistakes made by managers is the thinking that the blame is all on the employee, questioning their drive, discipline and engagement. Quite possibly it has everything to do with something a manager directly did or didn’t do that has caused the employees to turn for the worst.

20140423-140708.jpgAn inflated managerial ego causes us to think that we can do no wrong. After all, I could not have made it to the top of the corporate food chain if I didn’t know what I was doing…if I didn’t know how to lead. When things are not changing, managers must first take a look at what they’re doing to encourage change or what they’re doing to block it.

No Autonomy
We can’t preach that we want our employees to think independently or decisively if we undercut on every decision they make. When given a task or project, it’s best for the manager to offer suggestions and tutelage, and if it still fails, we all have a learning experience and the motivation to make it better. The old “If you want it done right…” mindset makes employees feel as if their ideas are being dismissed. And why would they continue to be vocal knowing that their ideas and efforts are all for naught? Instead, let’s teach them how to succeed, and be sure to be available and approachable if they need assistance along the way.

Mixed Messages
Publicly saying one thing and then acting on something totally different is a sure way to turn employees off. Consistency from leadership is key to consistency in their shops and key in earning credibility with their crew. Rules and policies are in place to help manage this, but when employees make good decisions based on policy or past precedent and then managers come behind them and overturn it (sometimes as favors to other managers), the employee looks stupid and shaky. And when you have different rules for different people, there may as well be no rules at all.

Managerial CYA*
Part of being a leader is sometimes taking a figurative bucket for their people. When a division does well, it’s “we”. When something falls through a crack it’s “them”. Once employees have enough tire marks on them, they’ll do less to stand out and just enough to stay under the radar. The only thing being encouraged in this scenario is them being encouraged to stop trying to make a difference. When people stop trying to make a difference, we are stuck with the status quo.

20140423-140714.jpgIt’s the little things that make huge differences and it’s the little things that those in charge do that employees pay the closest attention to. Employees can tell when their managers don’t have their back, and more importantly they know if they’re being used or undervalued. Once these trusts are damaged, it’s very difficult to regain them.

Managerial ego must be set aside to save team cohesiveness and to boost productivity. When those that lead think that no one can do it better than them, they’ll find themselves forced to do it themselves.  Unfortunately for them, a prerequisite to being in charge is having someone willing to follow your lead.  When employees don’t believe in who they are supposed to follow, they’ll simply choose their own path…oftentimes right out of the door.

* CYA = Cover Your Ass

Does Your Performance Eval Stack Up?

Check out my latest post over at Performance I Create, where we are discussing everyone’s favorite time of the year, Performance Evaluation time! Here is a sample:

performance-evaluationIf you’ve ever dreaded delivering a Performance Evaluation or if employees would rather get a root canal than sit through their review, your evaluation may need to be updated. The only reason for a manager to dread the process is if they know the feedback will lead to push-back and conflict. Employees hate them because they are tired of hearing opinionated fluff.

Please click HERE to view the remainder of the article and please share!

Check out my post and those of my fellow contributors for relevant, in-your-face, performance altering insight at Performance I Create!