Do Features Trump Attitudes in Workplace Mobility?

chairMy son is winding down his baseball season.  Baseball at the 11U level can be energizing, invigorating, heart-breaking and flat out tiring.  As a parent, you trek far and wide with a car load of 11 year old boys all talking a mile a minute.  They talk about the team they are about to face, the latest Pokemon cards traded or the most recent conquest in Call of Duty.  It’s a dusty, dirty, sweaty mess of boys and I love every second of it.

One of the reasons I enjoy it is that I have the perfect folding chair.  Now stay with me for a moment…I know that little league baseball, folding chairs and business may not seem to have a direct link, but I believe they do.  You see, I spend a lot of time watching games and sitting, so the chair is important.  Not only is it a place to put my body, it’s turned into a whole functional experience that is fully accessorized for each occasion.

The chair I have is from Gander Mountain and it is more than a chair and the traditional cup holder.  In fact, it has a full cooler that drops down and loads of pockets so that I can stock it with drinks, snacks and all my electronic gadgets.  It’s also mobile so that I don’t have to be relegated to the bleachers at the game, I can take my light-weight chair and move it based on the environmental conditions.  I can get the best view, avoid or seek sun and most importantly, choose who to sit near.  The truth is that I usually sit somewhere near home base and often, by the same people.

Imagine if we had that flexibility at work with our work environment.  It’s not a novel concept.  In fact, organizations have been trying to find the best way to offer mobile furniture options and configurations for over 15 years.  While some are successful, many are not.  It’s not because the furniture doesn’t have the right features or ease of movement, it’s because even though employees ask for mobility, once they settle in, they really don’t want to move.  We become tied to the people and location where we perform the act of work, whatever that is.  We tend to rely on the people around us to say hello every morning, to discuss the same tired stories, and to eat our lunch or take our breaks at the same time too.

So is the issue lack of organizations offering flexibility and mobility or is it the fear of the people?  What if we assume it’s the latter?  How does that change your approach when you think of the workplace in the future?  What changes would you put in place to truly encourage greater partnership, collaboration and movement within your organization?  How would you move the people with the “right” skills around the organization most effectively?

It turns out that all the features, options and mobile workspaces won’t change the attitudes of your workforce.  You have to start at the core….when you hire.  You have to bring people into the organization who embrace a spirit of work flowing through the organization rather than being “owned” by specific departments or divisions.

How does this look in your workplace?  Do you have a truly collaborative and innovative workplace?  If so, share it in the comments.  If not, why do you think it’s not that way and can it adapt to the changes in work styles that are coming in the next 5 years?  If change can’t happen, will you just wind up with fancy folding chairs that don’t help the overall future of work?

Do You, or Your Company, Screw Up Meetings?

no_meetings_funny_office_saying_sticker-r8f98b046a5c14c4eb859a1553d1b3360_v9waf_8byvr_512A friend recently shared a funny video about conference calls and what they would look like if they were in person.  It’s made the social media rounds, but was still good for a laugh one more time.  It got me thinking about meetings… specificaly conference calls, since I work from home.  I pulled up my calendar and just looking at 2015, it appears I spend anywhere between 10- 50% of my week sitting in some type of meeting.

Like many jobs, the meeting has turned into the commonly accepted way of disemminating information as well as a way to bring people together.  The issue is that it has become the most irrelevant mode of communication for many reasons.  Here are just a few:

  • Employees don’t have time to get their other work done.  I don’t know about you, but when I am stilling in a meeting or on a call, there is no way I can do anything else.  I sit there the whole time thinking about all the other work I need to be doing, especially if I’m one of the people in the meeting who doesn’t really need to be there.  This leads me to…
  • The wrong people are invited.  How many meetings are you asked to attend and when you walk out (or hang up) you’re thinking “Why was I just in that for an hour?”  All the time!  Meeting organizers need to think long and hard about who is invited.  As a rule of thumb, if you don’t plan on the person making a verbal contribution to a decision, don’t invite them to the call.  Find another routine way to send information for those who need to know, but don’t need to make the decision.
  • The meeting takes too long.  I was listening to a show about the TED talk recently and they said that TED landed on the 18 minute presentation because it’s about how long an adult can remain focused without drifting to thoughts of something else.  Seems about right when I think of my own attention span at a meeting.  Try this….make your next meeting 18 minutes.  Your colleagues will thank you and be much happier to attend any future meetings you organize.
  • Speaking of time….it doesn’t end when it’s over.  One of my biggest pet peeves in work life is that meetings are scheduled for an hour.  Often, even if the agenda has been gone through, people still hang in there and add more.  We’re all adults here.  If you tell me we’re going to talk about these four things and we finish, end the meeting.  Employees have 20 other things on their plate they can go back and work on.  Don’t drag out what isn’t necessary.  If this means that one meeting is 18 minutes and the next is 31, great.  At least you won’t be keeping everyone the full hour.  I used to have a boss that would say he was “gifting” the time back to us.  I love that and always walked out with a smile on my face.
  • Distractors ruin the moment.  This is a BIG no-no in my book.  If you’re leading the meeting and a person (or two) derail the meeting with nonsense, stop them.  It’s disrespectful to everyone to let that happen.  We’re not all here for fun and chit-chat, it’s work.
  • Late people interrupt the flow.  This is a related cousin of the last one.  If you’re arriving within 2 minutes of the start time, ok.  Anything after that, just don’t come.  You disturb the flow of the conversation and distract everyone.  ESPECIALLY on conference calls…”DING!” Trish has now entered the call.

When I worked at PwC, I had a good policy that if I attended a meeting and I was clearly not needed, I’d discretely get up and leave.  After making it known to colleagues not to invite me if I wasn’t needed, I had fewer meetings to attend.  The ones I attended, I was able to weigh in and add my ideas.  The rest….well, somehow the company still ran without me in them.  It all worked out.

What are your tactics for managing through the meeting madness?  Share them in the comments.

How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Your Work

*From the dusty archives…

A little over a week ago, I was starting to get sick.  With springtime comes allergies so, like most people, I attributed my early symptoms to that.  By day two though, I knew I really had something brewing.  My main signal was sitting at my desk at work and suddenly feeling like I could fall asleep.  I felt like George from Seinfeld when he decided he needed a nap at work and created a spot under his desk where he could sleep.  I contemplated asking someone to come pick me up and drive me home, but instead, I drank a Coke and felt energized enough to drive myself.

Looking back, I know that day at work was not my most productive.  I was trying my best to stay completely focused but the illness and drowsiness impacted my ability to stay focused and accomplish all I needed to do.  Now, we all know that this happens to everyone.  We get sick.  What I am thinking about today is how many people who have long-term sleep issues come to work drowsy every day?  What impact does that have on their productivity?  Are they in positions that put others at risk? 

In a recent article highlighting the National Sleep Foundation’s 2012 Sleep In America poll, “about one-fourth of train operators (26%) and pilots (23%) admit that sleepiness has affected their job performance at least once a week, compared to about one in six non-transportation workers (17%).

Perhaps more disturbingly, a significant number say that sleepiness has caused safety problems on the job. One in five pilots (20%) admit that they have made a serious error and one in six train operators (18%) and truck drivers (14%) say that they have had a “near miss” due to sleepiness.  Sleepiness has also played a role in car accidents commuting to and from work. Pilots and train operators are significantly more likely than non-transportation workers (6% each, compared to 1%) to say that they have been involved in a car accident due to sleepiness while commuting.”

Statistics like these are somewhat jarring but honestly, not completely surprising.  While many of us do not have transportation related jobs, drowsiness can still have a significant negative impact on work productivity and our results.

As a leader, have you noticed that drowsiness has had an impact on your performance or the performance of your team?  What signs have you seen that drowsy workers in a corporate setting are impacting productivity?  Share in the comments.

HR Happy Hour #201: Putting the Fun Into Analytics

A few weeks ago, Steve and I had the opportunity to record a HR Happy Hour episode with Mike Psenka, SVP of Workforce Solutions at Equifax and Edward Pertwee, Strategic Workforce Consultant at BT.  We had just conducted a panel discussion on how to leverage data and analytics for HR and organizational success.

Mike and Ed both shared some excellent examples, (both in the panel and in the HR Happy Hour podcast), of how, where, and to what effect data and analytics are making an impact in workforce planning, compliance, and to improve business results. There are some amazingly powerful applications for using data in a wide variety of contexts – where to locate company facilities, the effect of demographic shifts on performance, and how long commute times impact engagement and satisfaction.

Additionally, Steve defended Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, I told Steve that the number ‘201’ should not be said as ‘two hundred and one’, and we learned that a husband should never question the strength and intensity of his wife’s labor contractions.

You can listen to the show on the show page here, and using the widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).

Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio

As always, you can listen to the current and all the past shows from the archive on the show page here, on our HR Happy Hour website, and by subscribing to the show in podcast form on iTunes, or for Android devices using Stitcher Radio (or your favorite podcast app). Just search the iTunes store or your podcast app for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to add the show to your subscriptions.

This was a really fun show with some fantastic guests and I hope you enjoy listening!

4 Things to Do Today to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

We can all use a little ongoing development.  There are certain skills that few people can master and never think about improving.  One of those skills is the art of negotiation.  I admit, there are people who seem to ooze confidence when it comes to wheeling-and-dealing to achieve the result they want.  However, for the majority, being able to negotiate a quality resolution is sporadic at best.

When thinking about negotiating, you could be facing a multi-million dollar deal on the table, a choice between vendors on a specific service or type of software, buying a home, or something as simple as managing your workload.  Negotiation, like any skill, is something you can improve over time as you continue to practice.  And, it’s not about winning or getting everything you want and ensuring the other person does not.  When done well, it’s about skillfully and creatively arriving at a solution that both parties can walk away from with dignity and a level of satisfaction.

According to an article in Psychology Today, by a factor of 2.5, more women than men feel a “great deal of apprehension” about negotiating, reports economist Linda Babcock, of Carnegie Mellon. Women go to great lengths to avoid the bargaining process—paying almost $1,400 more to avoid negotiating the price of a car. (That may explain why 63 percent of those who buy cars made by Saturn, a company that promises a no-haggle price, are women.) But “failing to negotiate her salary just once will cost a woman $500,000 over the course of her career,” she says.  Statistics like those are reason enough to prove that by being a strong, confident negotiator, you can receive more value over time in your interactions.

There are 4 ways to improve your negotiation skills:

  1. Know What You Want vs What You Need– One mistake we make is to believe that what we want is what we are negotiating for.  This should not be the case.  In order to be most successful, you need to focus time on determining exactly what you need.  For example, I recently participated in a negotiation exercise where another person and I had to negotiate for an orange.  We could not share with each other why we wanted the orange.  In my case, I needed the orange zest for something.  The other person needed the orange juice.  But, without proper negotiation, we fell into the ease that most people would of just dividing the orange in half.  That solution did not really give us what we needed.  We both wanted the whole orange.  We each needed only a part.  Dividing it in half was not the most successful outcome.  Had we been allowed to communicate our needs, we could have arrived at the solution that I would take the rind and she would take the inside of the orange.  Then, each person would have had exactly what we needed.
  2. Arm Yourself With Information- Taking time to research that company you want to work for, the interest rates and terms of a mortgage option or the goals of the department head that you are fighting with over resources will be time well spent.  The more you can learn about the needs of the other side, the better off you will be at creatively arriving at the best solution.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Honest-   A good example of honesty paying off comes when negotiating workload.  Many employees today get their work from multiple sources; a supervisor, other colleagues, company leaders, clients, vendors, volunteers…the list goes on and on.  After sifting through what needs to be done, being able to approach certain people and squarely addressing and negotiating different deadlines and deliverables will be key to better managing your work.  Be honest about the various pulls on your time and ask them what aspects of the request are flexible.  Start negotiating there.
  4. Build Relationships- In the end, being able to negotiate a situation with someone will ideally build a stronger relationship with that person.  By showing respect and understanding for the other person’s needs, that person will likely want to keep the relationship going.

Those are a few ways I have been able to have more successful negotiations.  What am I missing?  What techniques do you use?  Be sure to share them in the comments.

Cringeworthy Feedback: How to Take it and How to Dish it Out

Whiplash-37013_5Feedback can hurt.

I’ve seen it hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my career.  I’ve received the painful “gift” of feedback from well-intentioned but unduly harsh bosses.  I’ve watched as bright, creative souls were pounded day after day, year after year by tyrant supervisors.  It is appalling.  And if you’re in HR, it’s likely that you’ve given these types of leaders training at some point on how to give more constructive feedback.

You see, for some reason it seems that people either avoid giving feedback and tell other people when someone is doing poorly (in their opinion) or they fly off the handle and use hurtful, unconstructive words that are not meant to motivate, but to belittle and destroy.

Or are they?

I just watched the movie Whiplash and first, let me tell you, no~ EMPLORE you, to watch the movie if you haven’t.  As someone who tries to watch as many Oscar-nominated films before the Academy Awards, this particular film did not make it to a theater near me in time.  If it had, I would have been furious watching Birdman win for Best Picture knowing that the GEM that is Whiplash was overlooked.

Watch the movie.

Ok, back to the story.  As I watched the movie about an over zealous conductor and his harsh training and feedback for one of his studio drummers, I realized that sometimes, there is a reason feedback needs to hurt.  I started wondering if we’re getting too soft in this era of giving every child a trophy for participation and every employee the “warm fuzzy” feeling just because we think if we don’t, they will bash us on Glassdoor or on social media.  It’s like being led by fear.

The truth is that sometimes, people need harsh feedback.  Sometimes, for feedback to take hold and inspire the person to change, we need to make an impression.  It is a fine line to walk between being helpful and being too brutal.  So, what do you do if your boss is a tyrant when it comes to feedback?

  • Take a deep breath and determine the motive.  Some people are just mean for the sake of being mean.   If that’s the case, RUN.  If not, move on to the next step.
  • Is this out of character?  If your boss is usually constructive and sporadically gives harsh feedback that you can somehow determine is well intentioned, it could be for your own good.  Grit your teeth and bear it.  Try to look past the delivery and cling to the underlying message to understand what you can do to improve.
  • What’s the boss’ motive?  Is their boss riding their ass?  Are they taking the blame for something you did?  Try to figure out why the feedback is harsh.  You may need to take a break for the boss to calm down, then ask for a meeting another time to discuss specific ways you could have performed better.

 

Now, what if YOU are known as the tyrant?  

Well, first you need to decide if you just like being that way or if there is a real reason.  If you enjoy verbally torturing people, get used to the fact that you’ll likely always have high turnover because many people will not put up with your crap.  If you are only harsh situationally, you’re probably ok.  Make sure you’re not violating any workplace policies or breaking any laws (of course). As long as you’re not, then try to use harsher feedback only when absolutely necessary to make your point and to get the recipient to make a change.

Have you worked for a boss that gave feedback that was harsh?  Are you that boss?  Tell me about your experience in the comments. 

Do Your Leader’s Expectations Limit Your Team?

bad leaderI recently listened to an episode of the podcast This American Life that caused me to see the world differently.  In the episode ‘Batman”, Daniel Kish was highlighted.  If you’re not familiar with Daniel’s story, I encourage you to listen to the episode or learn more here.  Basically, Daniel was born blind.  He intuitively began exploring the world by clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth.  This type of echolocation somehow allows him to navigate his surroundings without the use of a cane or other assistive device.  Because it is similar to the ways bats navigate, he was called Batman.
In the episode, one thing Daniel shared really stood out.  Society limits blind people with our expectations.  We don’t expect that they will be able to navigate easily, ride a bike, play sports, etc.  If a blind child is subjected to growing in this type of environment, it’s possible it can actually limit the child’s potential.  Daniel stressed being supportive of people, regardless of what our preconceived notions and expectations are.
I started thinking about how this plays out in the workplace.  It raises the question do your leader’s expectations or preconceived notions limit your team?
 
This question is not meant to incite leaders everywhere.  I pose it as a way to ponder whether or not we are limiting our team performance.  Consider the following:
  • If a leader creates a goal for a team, team member or project and provides some or all of the steps to reach the goal (a.k.a. micro-managing), are they limiting the performance of the team?
  • Are leaders so entrenched in certain approaches that they are not providing environments where employees are encouraged to be creative, innovative and able to come up with new processes to achieve business goals?
  • If your supervisor does not see the real skills of the team, can it hinder the success even though each member is giving their all?
What is your experience?  Have you seen this play out in your workplace?  Please share in the comments if you’ve seen it or even better, if you’ve seen how it is corrected.

Christmas Re-Gifting: Good Idea or Torture?

*From the dusty archives…

The Frowl- photo courtesy of Chris Frede (@HR_Buoy)

The Frowl- photo courtesy of Chris Frede (@HR_Buoy)

Well, we’re full on in the gift giving season and I’m wondering about re-gifting.  I don’t do it BUT, I have received several presents over the years that still sit in the closet, unopened.  Maybe I should give them to someone else.

Let’s see, I have:

  • Several strange ornaments
  • Some nice binoculars.  These are cool, but I really haven’t found anything I need to see that close up.
  • A puzzle of New York City.  I like to travel to NYC, not make puzzles of the skyline.
  • A bible.  Ok, I already have a bible.  Don’t know why someone thought I’d need a new one.  The old one does ok and quite honestly, the only one I read is the Children’s version anymore.
  • Movies like The Money Pit, Major League, and Batman Dark Knight. I’m fairly certain those should be given away.

So, you see, I could really give some great gifts to my family and friends and not have to brave the stores.  At my last job, we all re-gifted one hideous gift.  It was called the Frowl.  It was a pottery piece that looked like a cross between a frog and an owl.  It was either some odd candle holder or a toothbrush holder.  We figured that out because it had holes in the belly.  Each person who received it couldn’t wait to pass it on to someone else at the next holiday or milestone.

What do you think about re-gifting?  Do you do it?  What’s the WORST gift you’ve ever re-gifted or received that you think was re-gifted to you?  Share in the comments!