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You Don’t Have to Like Those You Manage

16 Oct

It’s yet another reorganization and, as the manager of the customer service department, you now have Marilyn reporting to you. It doesn’t take long before you secretly decide that you don’t like her. She has annoying habits that get under your skin. For instance, like most people, you hate to be interrupted and invariably, when speaking with her, she frequently, and unhesitatingly, boldly cuts you off in the middle of a sentence.. To make matters even worse, in meetings she has the habit of correcting you in front of others over the most trivial of items. She also anticipates what you are going to say before you have a chance to finish your sentence. She’ll say, “I get it,” when you believe she really doesn’t. Keeping this picture in mind, what do you need to do to motivate yourself to work with and develop this employee?

Let’s be honest, you need not think of yourself as the only manager who has had to come to terms with a situation like this. While it may take a lot of energy on your part, here are some tips to consider before you actually go into action and approach this type of employee.

Tip #1: Liking a Marilyn is not a prerequisite to dealing with a Marilyn

To begin with, even though you dislike this employee you must not be discouraged from managing her effectively. As a manager, no one ever postulated that you have to like the people who report to you. Your job and role as a leader is to work with them. If you have ever played competitive sports or acted in a play, you’ll easily recall how important it was to focus on the overall goal and to pull together, even if all the players didn’t like one another. It’s a similar situation here. Once you adopt this mental framework, you’re now ready to create an atmosphere of acceptance for criticism. That’s right! Once you realize that by using the proper application of criticism as a way of diminishing the behaviors that get in the way of the major goal of working effectively together, it is then that you are on your way to a successful working relationship. At this point, you are not pointing out Marilyn’s behaviors that annoy you. Instead you are investing time and energy to build a common understanding of how best to work together, so that future conflicts will be minimized and any criticisms delivered will be perceived as helpful.

Tip #2: Create an Atmosphere of Acceptance for Criticism.

Like most people, you might think that criticism of others is a sure way to invite conflict. But, the truth is that criticism, used properly, can be one of the best and most effective learning tools available to managers. It can actually enhance trust and respect in relationships. Most people fail at the effective use of criticism mainly because they do not first create the atmosphere in which it can thrive to everyone’s advantage. To establish an atmosphere of acceptance means taking some time to develop a clear understanding of how best to approach each other when criticism becomes necessary . What’s important to emphasize during your discussion with Marilyn is the role criticism plays at work and how it is linked to helping her to grow and develop. This is a valuable discussion to have because most employees have received little to no training on this subject. Furthermore, if your organization has painted over the word ‘criticism’ – like so many have – then like others in the workforce, Marilyn will be very confused and will need to understand this essential aspect of communication. To further encourage a two way exchange, find out if Marilyn has encountered bosses in the past who have engaged in candid conversations about her performance and what she can do better. By taking this broad approach you are positioning yourself to enter more easily into a discussion about how best to approach Marilyn with criticism. You should never have to guess about how best to approach her. During you exchange, the focus is to develop a common understanding of expectations. If you are wondering whether or not Marilyn would be able to engage in a conversation where she expresses her preferences for how best to be approached, fear not. It’s been my experience that every employee knows what turns them off and what turns them on. They just need to be asked. Millennials, in particular, are looking for feedback. What they are sensitive to is how it is delivered. It needs to be digestible.

Tip #3: Have a Marilyn’s Best Interests in Mind

It’s also essential for you to let Marilyn know you have her best interest in mind so she readily recognizes that the criticism is meant to be helpful. One way you can convey this is by making sure you always show value when delivering criticism. In order to show value, you need to link the criticism to what’s important to Marilyn or to her career goals. Let’s say in the six weeks that you’ve worked with Marilyn you’ve learned from talking to her that she places importance on being respected. Knowing that makes it possible for you to point out to Marilyn how her interruption of others sends the wrong message. More specifically, point out to Marilyn that interrupting others is not only rude but also conveys the notion that what she has to say is more important than what they have to say. It also communicates that she is not interested in listening to what the other person has to say, and that indirectly says she doesn’t respect them. Perhaps your reminded of the following expression, “I wouldn’t give you the time of day if I didn’t respect you.” So listening without interruption sends an indirect message of respect. Now, Marilyn will readily understand where you are coming from as opposed to concluding incorrectly that what you have to say to her is trivial or that you are picking on her.

By taking care to create an atmosphere for effective and acceptable criticism you are ready now to communicate with the Marilyn’s out there and turn them around from someone who is tough to work with to someone you can get along with and go forward. By putting these important tips to work you will immediately find that being open and transparent will be interpreted as helpful and that’s motivating, not only for Marilyn, but for everyone on your team who has to interact with Marilyn.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

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Whatever Happened to Executives “Following Up” with Direct Reports? (…and vice versa, for that matter)

18 Aug

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Not too many years ago it seemed like most supervisors and managers, as a matter of routine, regularly followed up with their direct reports on a one-on-one or one-on-group basis. As a common practice, weekly meetings were scheduled where the boss inquired about what was going on in their direct reports’ worlds – be it generally or on a task-specific basis. But lately, I’ve been noticing that in many organizations following up with reports or “checking in” is no longer the matter of routine that it was at one time. Nor, does it seem that it is even an expectation, let alone the rule, for that matter. Now, maybe this is a result of the increasing popularity of texting, instant messaging, or e-mailing. Or, it could be the evolving unspoken manners and business rules that are changing – like a new implied trust in employees to keep their bosses abreast regarding what is going on. Well, that’s what my clients are finding – especially at senior levels.

While you still can’t beat the regularly occurring “one-on-ones”, they seem to be erratic and never long enough. So, my clients have found it valuable to communicate from afar – like e-mail. However it’s done, besides passing along top deliverables for the upcoming week, my clients and I have found that it’s extremely valuable to note key interactions they have had throughout the previous week. The reports can be brief and informal or tedious and formal. It all depends on the most acceptable style preferred by those who are involved. Typically, these reports are no more than a page. Once made aware of the obviousness of the need to keep abreast regularly, I have found that most bosses at the executive level prefer brief weekly updates, in addition to the typical monthly reports. Interestingly, executives rarely say anything. However, quit sending the weekly report and the senior manager typically gets a note from the boss asking where the weekly update is!

It just so happens that my clients are very creative. For instance, some have developed their own one-page briefing report that summarizes their past week while providing a sneak preview of top deliverables for the coming week. Some have a color coding system to note progress made on the deliverables and they use the same color coding to rate the qualities of the interactions. A few have also incorporated an “ideas” and/or “potential barriers” section.

As I tell my clients, try this approach for 60 to 90 days and then be sure to ask the boss if he/she finds the weekly update to be of help and a good use of their time. During the discussion, you will pick up very valuable insights that will help you in your efforts to stay aligned, which is of utmost importance. Guaranteed! As a final tip, you should be aware that what bosses really like about these brief updates is that it helps to make sure that they are not caught by surprise! That, by the way, is an old rule that hasn’t changed – and most likely never will.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Perhaps It’s Time for Meaner Bosses

1 Jul

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Did you ever consider that, just maybe, the pendulum has swung too far in our efforts to create a softer and gentler work environment in an effort to show “mutual respect” between managers and their employees? Why do I ask this? A recent survey of an audience of HR professionals who are primarily based in Manhattan and neighboring states revealed that only 30% of the managers in their respective organizations hold their employees accountable for successes as well as failures on the job.

Pertinent to this disturbing new statistic, just recently, a consulting opportunity for me arose where the primary issue revolved around an increasing number of bosses in an accounting organization who weren’t staying on top of what their employees were doing or, for that matter, not doing! In other words, a lot of workers were not getting sufficiently complimented for what they did well, and many more were not being called on the carpet for failing to do what was expected of them. Quality of work seemed to be diminishing as indicated by an increasing number of client complaints. The company viewed the situation as a trend that desperately needed immediate managerial attention and one that seemed not so much a problem with the worker bees as it was with those who managed them.

It may be time to press the reset button for the boss/worker relationship and reexamine bosses’ roles within the scope of the advancing Millennial generation who are rapidly replacing the managerial hierarchy in many organizations. What’s urgently needed is to take a look at whether, and how, bosses are fulfilling their roles. For starters, are they meeting with their employees on a consistent basis and are those meetings truly productive? Next, after assigning tasks, are bosses keeping track of assignments and do they follow up with their employees to make sure that the work is being completed on time and with accuracy. Being a “good boss” isn’t just about being “nice”, although complimenting employees for a job well done is important because it shows gratitude and respect.

Bosses also need to say something when the work isn’t completed properly. That’s right – bosses need to invest time finding out what’s going on and what’s possibly interfering with the employee’s ability to get quality work done and to offer some guidance and tips along the way. Occasionally, these discussions may include criticism. To many, bosses who criticize are considered tough or even “mean” when, in reality, criticism that is given properly actually enhances the trust factor in relationships and employees come to know and respect the fact that bosses care.

How to properly give and receive criticism is something few in the new ranks of organizations have learned. But, it needs to be taught! The last I heard, the business environment is becoming more competitive – not less, as we become even more global. So, now more than ever, we need bosses to fulfill their roles and if that means that they need to be “meaner” – then, so be it!

 
Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

 

How to Avoid That Post Vacation Panic

22 Jun

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It’s that time of year when chances are, you are planning to take some time off to vacation with friends and family members. It’s that time to shake off the tensions and day-to-day problems of the workplace and frolic in the freedom of a temporary care-free life of fishing, swimming, tanning, or maybe just doing nothing.

But if you are anything like most of my clients, lurking in the back of your mind is the dreaded thought of returning to the workplace. You know what I’m talking about – it’s having to deal with the humungous number of emails and issues that need to be resolved, as well as the routine work pile-up. For some, just the anticipated thought of having to get back into work mode on your first day back is enough to wipe away the energized and relaxed feeling that you gained while on vacation.

Well, to help you retain that “vacation glow” and manage your stress positively on your first day back, consider putting into practice the following tips and insights:

  • Stay in control by utilizing the control that’s inherently yours. For instance, remind yourself that you are in control of the work and not the other way around. From there…
  • Build a “to-do list”. Findings from the seven-year Strategies for Enhancing Performance Study found that building to-do lists was among the top 3 most effective skills used by Northeast workers to enhance performance while simultaneously mitigating the negative effects of stress. After building your to-do list, decide what needs to be done by the end of the day and what can wait until the next day. Another option for those who like to go full speed ahead is to select a “close out time” that signifies when the workday ends.
  • If you feel that overwhelmed surge that’s likened to an electrical overload, remind yourself – unless you are a doctor, nurse, fireman, or police officer – that what you are working on is not a matter of life and death!
  • Make sure you keep your boss informed of what you are working on and what you are putting off. It’s not permission-seeking, rather it’s taking initiative to stay aligned with your boss.
  • Finally, optimize your energies when working on a task by practicing Bright’s Stay-in-the-Present Quick Charge. Quick Charges are easily implemented techniques designed to help users perform at their best when a difficult situation demands it. They are instantly effective—and even better, they are undetectable by anyone but the person using them. Practicing the Stay-in-the-Present Quick Charge involves being aware that allowing yourself to worry about past events is futile because there is nothing you can do to change them. You can only learn from them. At the same time, to become anxious about what might happen is a waste of energy because it hasn’t happened yet. Not to say that anticipation is not good. It is. But, it becomes simple worry when it’s not linked to a plan of action. So, instead, you should “stay in the present” and direct your energies toward what needs to be done at this very instant. The present moment is where you can and need to make a difference. While working on a task, resolve to yourself to keep your mind from roaming and causing you to get that panicky feeling that arises when allowing yourself to consider all the work that lies in front of you. By setting a very specific goal of what you want to accomplish with the particular task at hand, you’ll gain a sense of control.
Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Empowerment criteria

27 May

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Once again, we’ve been talking about empowering our employees. Last time, I mentioned that not every employee or team can be empowered where they are extended the trust and the necessary resources to execute on a particular task, project, or objective. How do managers assess the worthiness of an employee or team to extend that level of trust?

When conducting the National High Tech Management Study that led to my writing Gearing Up For the Fast Lane: New Tools for Management (Random House) in 1993, we uncovered specific characteristics by surveying over 1000 workers and interviewing 300 executives and HR professionals. These characteristics still endure and apply to all involved in the empowering organization:

  • An unrelenting willingness and ability for all to do what they say they will do
  • A commitment toward keeping higher-ups voluntarily informed
  • A welcoming and consistent atmosphere of availability both up and down the organization
  • A proactive attitude along with a willingness to admit errors and accept responsibility
  • A possession of good self-evaluation skills
  • An understanding to appropriately use money, time, space, personnel, and other resources
  • A potential or demonstrated expertise in the area of control that is under consideration

Managers need to be confident about their decisions and ready to tolerate mistakes by those they are empowering. Managers also need to be able to stay out of the way, especially when it comes to how the empowered employee or team goes about achieving the task or project. It’s also the manager who needs to be self-assured and confident enough to share the glory by giving due credit to those who did the work.

More than ever, activating empowerment in today’s times is an essential leadership skill – especially given those recognition- hungry Millennials who are in the workforce and who are desirous of being challenged and want to have opportunities where they have a part to play in the department’s and organization’s success.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Empowerment to the Workers!

26 May
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We’ve been talking about empowerment in a previous blog. Interestingly, empowerment as a management practice gained prominence in the early 80’s. It came about when organizations joined the trend toward flattening their departments’ top down structures of reporting. Empowerment differs from the process of simple delegation (which gives fairly specific task assignments), in that it allows more of a climate of passionate engagement and promotes decision-making among a wider span of control. It fosters an atmosphere where the lower level employee can bring their expertise, experience, and passion to a task or objective.

A good example to clarify where I am coming from with regard to the difference between delegation and empowerment is looking at a coach of a football team. The coach is delegating when he calls all the plays for the quarterback to execute. If the coach creates the climate in which the quarterback has the savvy and commitment to call as well as execute the plays, the coach has empowered the quarterback. A workplace example used in my last blog where the employee took the initiative to develop a software program to establish much needed metrics in a financial institution exemplifies empowerment that is well entrenched in an organization because the goals and activities originated with the employee. It allowed inventiveness and the origination of ideas and opportunities never considered by the boss.

When creating an environment of empowerment, the question often arises – who is the real star when it works well? Is it the employee, enabling boss, or organization? This is such a tough question to answer because empowerment requires relationships of mutual trust, respect, and good judgment.

If I had to make a choice as it regards today’s business environment, my choice would be the empowering manager. After all, the manager is still responsible for the outcome and pays the ultimate price of success or failure. The buck still stops with the boss. It’s the boss who creates the environment for employees to go beyond fulfilling their daily responsibilities and instead feel a part of the larger organization where they can think about ways to add greater value. Most importantly, it’s up to the boss to accurately assess the talent on his or her team. Not everyone can be empowered. The boss needs to accurately assess whether the employee or team demonstrates a worthiness of being empowered.

What do you think? How would you answer the question?

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

Empowering your employees

22 May

thHow do you know if you’ve empowered someone on your staff? Interestingly, it sounds like a simple question but answering it is not that easy because it’s all relative.

Take for example, one manager that I’ve just started to coach. She is shifting from running a centralized office to one that’s more decentralized. Over the past three years, this leader has been making virtually all of the decisions for the department. Because the department has grown substantially, she and her boss decided that it’s time to let others on her team make more of the decisions in an effort to be more efficient, while at the same time help to develop the next level of managers. In this case, just encouraging managers to make some decisions where they haven’t done so previously is an example of empowerment.

Empowering also entails having, for example, your management team making decisions on their own without seeking their boss’s approval. In this scenario, the managers rely on their own devices and expertise to see something through to completion. If successful, they will be rewarded in some way – and if they aren’t successful, they’re going to pay a consequence.

That’s how many of us think about empowerment. However, there is another aspect of empowerment that oftentimes isn’t talked about. That’s when an employee or direct report comes up with an idea that no one has thought of and pursues it. A great example of this occurred recently in the financial industry when an employee came up with a wonderful idea of how to establish certain metrics for a particular product line. No one in the organization had thought of this idea. Not only did this employee come up with the idea, the employee developed a robust plan and, in her spare time, developed the software design to collect and analyze the data. When the program was demonstrated in front of her boss and the boss’ boss, everyone was truly amazed. Not only was the program successful, the idea truly added value for the organization. In the end, the entire organization adopted the program. Now that’s empowerment!

Our story isn’t over. In our quest for understanding empowerment, the real question is who are the real heroes? As in the last example, is the hero the employee who developed this new internal software program or is the hero the boss for encouraging their employees to be innovative and take certain risks? Likewise, how do you determine who to empower? Let’s look at these two questions in my next blogs.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).
 
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