Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Corporate Home-Office

Although ad agencies have been using the work environment to promote creativity for years, other business sectors have yet to catch on. Dress-down policies have slowly been creeping through the barrage of grey suits. So there’s hope.
Creating a home away from home work environment has obvious affects on morale. Stocking up a kitchen, offering a selection of ‘current’ magazine subscriptions, a few books, a comfy couch, some desk lamps and a lick of paint, all cost relatively little to introduce and maintain yet do wonders for creating an atmosphere offering a sense of energy and support, yet still making an employee feel relaxed and settled.
The long term benefits include staff retention and overall job satisfaction. Employees are far less likely to think of the company as insensitive and lacking of care. Salaries and benefits are less likely to be judged (providing they are competitive). Additionally, the company becomes more appealing to new recruits.
Medium term affects offer improvements in communication, less sensitivity on the subjects of over-time (time away from home/family), and a reduction in stress levels. The number of sick-days will reduce in positive, thriving atmospheres where employees feel welcome. Naturally, maintenance and consideration for changing trends (d├ęcor, tastes, keeping the fridges well stocked) keep long and medium term benefits on the high side.
Short term benefits will relate to team-building, recognition/reward and entertainment.
Some things to consider: Don’t go overboard. The environment must still be conducive to getting ‘the job done’. Although initially, some novelty may have an adverse affect on productivity, this will quickly wear off providing the changes are not continually distractive. Go for clean modern simplicity with soothing tones, over brash, bright or cluttered where everything is loud. Consider the broad range of personalities that make up your workforce.
To complete the effect, involve employees in the exercise of making the environment feel more personal. A good way to do this is to offer a small annual budget to each employee to redecorate their ‘space’. This could be set against a theme to support the company brand or messages you wish for the different departments to reflect. Invite employee families to visit their loved-ones at work. A spouse, partner or child who knows where and what their significant others do during a day and feels they have access to them during office hours are less likely to apply outside pressures. It’s good to remember that every time an employee works overtime for you, it’s time taken away from their families.
Employees are more able to complete the blur between home-life and work-life when they can feel at home in the office.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Analogy: Communication

You've been in a hurry all morning. You have a meeting planned for the afternoon. You'll need to take the train to get there. By the skin of your teeth you make it in time to catch the train. Ahh, but it's late.
Scenario 1:
5 minutes pass. No train. There is no one else on the plaform. You begin to panic. I'm going to be late. You phone to alert the person you are meeting. They ask 'how late'. You haven't a clue. There is too much at stake, you have to get to the meeting. You assure them you'll get there as soon as you can. 10 minutes pass. Still nothing.
In this scenario your mind is racing through all the various possibilities: Why is it late? Is it ever going to arrive? Maybe it's been canceled? How will I get there? When will I get there? How will this affect the meeting? And so on. It's possible that you will be upset with the train company, it's staff, the system.
Scenario 2:
5 minutes pass. No train. There is no one else on the platform. An announcement comes over the tannoy. Your train is going to be late.
In this scenario, you have at the very least been informed that the train is in fact on it's way. You are still left wondering why and when, as well as how this will affect your meeting. But so much else has been cleared up for you. Although you may still cling on to some bitterness towards the company.
Scenario 3:
5 minutes pass. No train. In this scenario, the announcement informs you why the train is late. It's getting better. In this scenario you can empathise with the problem being experienced and may even be thankful for the inconvenience, after-all one of the coaches could have experienced a problem injuring it's passengers. It could have been your coach.
Scenario 4:
On arrival, and every 5 minutes thereafter, the announcement informs you why the train is late, and provides you with an update of when it is likely to arrive or how far they are with the problem.
We can keep adding to these scenarios. If we know the exact time to expect arrival then that stands you in good stead for planning the rest of your day. If we apply reward or incentive on top (reduction in ticket price, free coffee, offer of alternate transport), the situation improves even further.
Sometimes we are unable to offer the answer, but we can still communicate. For whatever reason we've learnt that "no news is good news" is true for any situation. Not knowing the answer is less desirable than having it, but not communicating anything at all is worse.
Promote communication, whatever it may be. Learn to accept that you may not get the answer you want. After all, with the information you do get, it's better than what you were left thinking without it.
"No news is good news, any news is better!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

When Rewards Go Wrong

Can you offer your employees a reward and have it taken badly? I’ve recently witnessed this. What went wrong?

During the heat of a ‘go-live’ installation of a difficult system upgrade a director felt humbled by all the commitment being shown by the implementation team. As a kind gesture, the director offered a trip to the team to a popular entertainment park. A welcome incentive as morale had already been a little frayed during the latter months of the project.

The implementation did not go well. In fact, truth-be-told, it is still proving to be problematic. The director has since gained composure and in the midst of fending off stakeholders and concerned management has attempted to fulfil his promise. In place of simplicity, the trip was ladened with options and conditions. The reward was no longer genuine and was to become insincere. The trip was delayed. To date: indefinitely.

What went wrong? What should have happened?

The moment was lost and the reward was watered down. If the director had prepared, working on skill and not emotion, he could have had invitations printed and ready to offer. The offer would be concrete and with the onset of emotion, the presentation of the reward, genuine.

A reward should not be complicated and should never be conditional. Treat a reward like cash. Once you hand over the praise, you’ve handed over the cash. If it’s a gift such as a trip to an entertainment park, consider that employees have lives outside of the company; in particular, employees have families. Alternatively, if it is felt that the reward should be focused on team building, then keep it within working hours. If this can potentially strike a jealous cord with spouses and spawn or holds employees back after hours (and away from the dinner table), then do consider a peace-offering for being greedy with their loved ones. After all, personal stresses reflect in the workplace and impact on fellow team members, it’s not surprising that this works visa versa.

Don’t expect anything in return for a reward. You reward for when something has already been done. Be prepared: Know who you are rewarding, what you are rewarding them for and consider their lives outside of the company. Keep the reward and details simple, book it or buy it now. When the time comes, offer the reward with sincerity. The result… is very rewarding!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Keeping Shtum!

Have you ever wondered whether information is 'so' important that by letting other people know would be so detrimental to your self or your company? There is an art with senior management, especially those with share-holders to answer to. It's all about 'keeping shtum'.

What usually happens is human. Our brains cannot contain information without passing it on. We'd forget it if we didn't. It's psychological. You have to hear the words come out of your own mouth in order for you to retain it. Bizarre to think about. We have to let it out to keep it in. But until we have put it in to our own words, we can't be sure that we have understood it and know what to do with it.

Directors can do this with each other, and can therefore be quite good at keeping shtum. Yet directors talk to more people than just themselves. They have to talk to, at the very least, senior management. Successful directors communicate with the entire company. But what happens next is a demonstration of ego. Taking on the role of director, knowing something that others do not, we would have to communicate it. It's almost as if knowledge was like a powerful gas - try to retain too much of it, add too much to the container, we'd, it, would explode!

There are ways of communicating what we know. Consciously and sub-consciously. Unfortunately for us humans, we can't do the one, without the other. It's in the way we look, the way we write, in the way we act and the way we say things.

My message to you could be: "I value you as a member of the team." Consciously, I know this is the message I should be giving to you. Sub-consciously I'm leaking what psychologists call 'Tells'. A quick look away during the moment as I'm saying this to you, a slight tremor in the voice, the amount of emphasis I put on certain words could give it all away. I'm not telling the truth. I don't value you. I don't recognise a team.

Psychologist and Author Peter Collett (of recent Big Brother fame as their resident psychologist), details in his book 'The Book of Tells' those tells that even the most respected figures give away. George W, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair. Political figure heads that must communicate to large audiences (to us all) and yet keep some important truths to themselves. They can't.

So how does this affect us in the business place. Naturally, if we believe we are bad communicators, we try not to communicate. We hide. If we believe we are good communicators, we stand on metaphorical soap boxes. In-between, we blend, we find our click, a social niche, and remain. We share our truths and untruths to those we know will not question our honesty.

Socially, finding our click is supportive. Professionally, this is exclusive. In business, we are thrown together to support one another's job roles. This isn't a social click, yet professionally, we label this a 'team'. To become a team, we will need to break down the boundaries of one another's resistance to being honest. This can often take a long time, and require specialist attention. Once it's there, it's amazing. It's as if it were a social click.

Unfortunately, even if we get it right in one part of the business, unless the company is dedicated to communication and team building, it's rarely the same in the rest of the business. You may have many 'teams', but rarely, one 'team'.

We can create these teams ourselves. We can also attempt creating 'one team' for the entire company. Yet when a company employs a hierarchy that wishes to support secrecy, it's a virtual impossibility to get the Directors or Senior Managers on board.

The most successful companies are quite open. They have hierarchies, this is not the problem. Yet these hierarchies have chosen to openly communicate decisions between the levels. This is often known as 'transparency'. No secrets need to be kept. There's nobody to keep it secret from. Big mergers and acquisitions are communicated long before they happen. Ruling out someone picking up on the tells and beginning to rumour-monger. How this is communicated is often subjected to the level of detail required to keep a team informed, but none-the-less, it quells any possible misinterpretations and keeps everyone in the picture.

Keeping shtum is unhealthy. In order for us to believe what we know, we have to share it. If we hide, when we're expected to be visible, then those around you, whether trained in reading tells or instinctively picking them up (as we do), they'll know. Without communicating, they'll expect the worst. After all, why would you want to keep something 'good' from anyone? You'd want everyone to know, surely? Without successful communication rumours will brew, and that's the point that morale begins to latch on, going down for the ride.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Bob Nelson: Lead by Example

Bob Nelson has a great way of getting his message across: By example!

I've purchased 3 of his books to date and they all follow the same format. He canvases companies all over the World (though mainly the States, after all, isn't that the World?), and collates their practices in to short snippets of inspiration. His style makes it easy to read through the pages and pages of successful ways that so many companies use to boost and maintain morale. It quickly gives you hope that there are companies out there that are great to work for, and one day, heeding to these examples, your company will be one of those places too.

Type 'Bob Nelson' in to any search engine and you'll find examples of his work, although the best place is from the horses mouth (sorry Bob):

If you have any good ideas (in practice or not) of ways to improve morale at work, or have any valuable sources for such ideas, please send them to me. I will gladly review them and post them here for you all to see.

Who's To Boost Morale?

In a recent communication forum held at my place of work, we were asked to investigate a noticeable lack of morale in our respective business areas. I sent out a quick questionnaire to all those that I represent at these forums to ask for their thoughts.

What I came to realize is morale can be repaired by more than just 'managers'. As employees I think it's easy for us to forget that managers are equally just employees. At some point, they were like you or I. The reason they are managers today, is probably less to do with their management skills and more to do with the jobs they did well before they were promoted.

My constituents include HOD's and other senior bod’s. The lack in morale has affected them too.

So how do you start improving morale if morale is the one thing that's affecting those we expect to be dealing with it? Well? Why don't we do something about? Yep. Us: The run-of-the-mill employee?

My target, for myself, is to communicate with my seniors about morale issues (Awareness), to offer support in communicating there thoughts to my colleagues (Support), to empathize with the difficulties they are facing (Empathy), and to reward them with hopefully improving morale, which goes along to making them look good (Reward).

What are you going to do today to help improve morale at your workplace?

What is morale?

How strange that the one thing that drives a company the most is the one thing most companies don't drive... "Morale". Morale is often believed to be all to do with 'reward' and it's no wonder company directors are so dismissive of improving it. Better morale suggests better reward, and reward suggests 'money'. No company wants to see their hard earned profits go to something as frivolous and immeasurable as improving morale.

I've been looking into 'morale', on and off, for years. I've fallen victim to it's lows and have experienced the occasional high. I too have had to play the motivator of many. Dealing with my own morale issues is hard, but dealing with many other morale issues is a LOT harder. Morale teeters between a good day and a bad day. The undercurrent of long term morale is what tips the balance.

Do you want to know what morale is really about? It's not money. It's 'Recognition'. Recognizing that someone is valuable. Sure, you could do that with money. But how many people do you know that say that they never earn enough. We live in a society that encourages us to live beyond our means. We will never earn enough.

A colleague lent me her book titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulgham. Written some time ago now, but yet still so relevant and true. Mr Fulgham describes, in one of his short stories, a love-hate relationship between himself and the (now late) Mother Teresa. For someone who had nothing and expected nothing in return, she made the best for everyone around her.

It's not money. It's recognition. How do you recognize someone?

Communicate. Wow! You would not believe how hard that is for mostly all of us. Where did we go so wrong? We have the latest in communications all around us: Email; Telephones; Mobile Phones; Postal Service; Couriers; Satellite Television; Blogs... And yet we still don't know how to 'communicate'!

Morale is normally high when everything is going 'just right'. When people come in to work, enjoy their job, go home feeling like they accomplished something, and are welcome home. Everything is just right.

What set's off morale on a downward slope?

Something inevitably goes wrong. Whilst morale is high, we tend to deal with it by happily going about fixing whatever it was that went wrong. If it's a short fix. A small problem. We deal with it effortlessly with ease.

So it's not when things go wrong? Or is it? No. It's when we stop communicating. It's when something goes wrong (or generally, when it's about to (we're all pretty intuitive to what upsets the balance of our happiness)), and we hold back communication.

Managers get blamed for this part of the problem. Why? Because that's what managers do. They communicate. They delegate. They manage. Yet when something goes wrong, they have a choice. They have the power to continue to communicate, delegate and manage. Or, they can choose to 'take control'. Roll-up there sleeves and muck-in.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Managers are where they are today, for being able to do the job of mucking-in. Usually for being the best at mucking-in. Yet, it does not necessarily mean they are good at being 'managers'.

A good manager shouldn't be mucking-in. However tempting. And however encouraged. That's not there job. It's yours. As an employee you are expected to do a job. If something goes wrong within your reemit of work, then you are the best person for the job. Not your manager. It is your managers job to continue to communicate, delegate and manage.

But what should a manager be communicating?

To you, the problem solver: Support. Empathy.

To your fellow colleagues who may be impacted by whatever it is that has gone wrong: Awareness. Support. Empathy.

An even better manager will also add to the recognition by the use of reward: Rewarding a problem solver for their efforts, and rewarding the inflicted for their patience.

A word of warning to managers. Rewarding without communicating (i.e. Awareness, Support, Empathy) and whilst 'taking control', will not be well received. Sure. You may feel it's the right thing to do, and it may be a genuine heart-felt gesture, it unfortunately does not get received that way.

Morale is all to do with recognition. Recognition that a person is valuable. Recognition is achieved through management. Management is achieved by communicating, delegating and managing. Communication is achieved by keeping everyone aware, offering a feeling of support and empathizing with everyone the problems they are experiencing.

Oh, and reward is always nice, but is little to do with morale and more to do with adding value to the lives of the people that work so hard at making managers look good at their jobs.