HR Learner in Development

Posts Tagged ‘Change

Don't let this be you (giving or receiving end). Work towards better communication to improve productivity and value within the next year.

Going ahead into a new year gives rise to annual reflection and resolution.  For my blog, this means trying to stick to a more regimented schedule as many of you will notice, my posts are quite sporadic.  So I am taking up the Post a Week 2011 Campaign.  Call me out on it if you see me slipping!

In business, one of the most important reflections any boss or employee needs to make is that of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity.  How can you as an individual make changes in the upcoming year to improve your performance and your business? Employers of course will look at their employees and determine how to better lead their people.  But what happens if expectations are not being met?  I implore  boss and employee alike to take a hard look at what can be improved and when it might be time to move on.

The choice to fire is of course a difficult one.  Most employers will say that it is one of the hardest things they have to do in their job and or career.  Many in fact avoid firing due to the stress of putting someone else out, or they make excuses that there are workarounds to the short comings of an unproductive employee.  Yet as a whole, the working environment may be better off without those problem employees.

Some of the signs that an employ may be better off working elsewhere include:

  1. Lethargic Work Behaviors
  2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back
  3. Policy Violation(s)
  4. Continued inability to perform

I’ll go into each to discuss the impact on the business, what a boss can do, and what an employee can do to correct the negative situation before things go too far.

1. Lethargic Work Behaviors – This could be systematic of a number of work related or non-work related (sleep deprivation, illness, etc) circumstances, but it clearly has an impact on productivity.  Lethargy or a slow, tired dredge through the work day can most seriously be a sign of a disengagement; the employees lack of interest in what they are doing and why.  Managers must have a serious discussion with individuals who present these behaviors.  Maybe the employee has lost sight or never truly knew where they fit within the organization or why their role is important.  Managers need to remind these people of where they create value.  On the other hand, if the employee knows exactly how he or she fits into the organization and is unmotivated by it, a change is needed.  Whether that change happens within the organization or outside of it depends on the need of both organization and the employee.  If a supervisor comes to you saying that they have notice lethargic behaviors, try to ask them how long they expect certain tasks to take; your boss may have unrealistic expectations of what your job entails.  Work with your boss to set a plan of overcoming the hurdles of your everyday tasks.  What can be done differently on your end?  What can be done differently by the manager to help you accomplish your job responsibilities?

2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back – While many don’t realize,  a negative attitude is cancerous to an organization.  This issue really needs to be addressed least the negative attitude of the problem employee spills into the mindset of other workers.  This could be anything from back talk with a manager or supervisor which calls question to that supervisor’s legitimacy, to bashing a product, to being generally uncooperative. For a manager to not address these issues makes it acceptable both for that individual to continue those behaviors, but also makes it acceptable for others to do the same.  This creates a negative work environment, and engagement suffers  significantly.  Managers, take the time to speak to the problem employee and let them know that these attitudes should be corrected.  If you know you are one of these problem employees, ask yourself why.   Do you not respect the people or the work you are doing?  If not, consider other options.  Don’t risk being called out.  If there are no other options for you, seriously consider the alternative of being out of a job because of your behavior.  Can you afford it?  Don’t take it for granted that you will always get away with your poor attitude.  If at all possible, try to turn it around.  If you can’t speak to your supervisor about it directly, try turning to HR to get some suggestions on turning yourself into an employee you and your organization can be proud of.

3.  Policy Violation – The seriousness of a policy violation varies, but on every account, these violations should be handled equally across the board for all employees.  Some policy violations certainly create an imperative to fire instantly, after the violation has been confirmed.  Some examples include discovering ineligibility, violation of a harassment policy and breach of contractual agreements.  Other policy violations may be less severe.  If an employee breaks a certain one of these lesser policies, it is the responsibility of the supervisor or manager to let that employee know what was done and to punish accordingly.  There are some cases where an employee legitimately is unaware of the policy, so the manager must make sure that everyone is on the same page going forward.   On the employee end of the matter, be sure to read the policy manual (if it exists).  There may be an organization policy, area policy, and/or department policy.  Be sure to follow each and every one.  If they conflict be sure to bring it up with your manager.  If you recognize that you have violated a policy, be aware and don’t do it again!  This is one of the easiest ways to lose out on promotion, credibility, or your job.  Work with your manager on rebuilding trust.

4. Continued Inability to Perform – Legally, an employer would be wise to fire in this instance only if they have gone through clear and detectable steps towards working with the employee to correct problem behaviors. That being said, progressive discipline is generally the best route in most situations (baring the instant fire situations previously mentioned within policy guidelines).  In order for progressive discipline to work, it must be done for all situations for all employees, favored or problematic.  Progressive discipline is often set forth by the organization itself, but if not, the general gist is simple.  An employee does something wrong, the manager discusses it with the employee and takes note of date, instance, and what was said on both sides.  Some form of punishment may be put in place.  If an employee continues to do something wrong, the manager again discusses the issue with the employee and escalates the punishment, also bringing it to the attention of an additional set of ears and eyes, usually in Human Resources.  Again, the manager writes down what happened, when the discussion took place and what was said.  Finally, if the behavior continues, the manager would most likely have the grounds to fire as soon as the instance was properly confirmed.  The manager should always consult with Human Resources before making these termination decisions.   The number of instances most depends on a policy set in place by the organization, but if not, should be consistent with the needs of the organization.  If you are on the employee end of this, take every effort to turn things around early.  If you feel like you are being singled out, bring it to Human Resources, or if all else fails, a lawyer.  No one should feel like they are being treated differently for anything relating to race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, or retaliation.  For more information, consult the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) website.

One final situation of note is the instance of the loyal, previously star performer who has been promoted to a role he or she is unable to perform.  Please keep in mind that these individuals are an asset to your organization, but if they are not meeting the basic requirements of their new role, should be scaled back.  Manager, this must be done tactfully.  Employees who have been promoted have probably gotten used to the fact that they are going to hold on to that role for a long period of time.  Remind your employee of the job responsibilities, and refer to the job description.  Employee, try to not take offense, you should have seen this coming.  Either find a way to work with your manager to improve the skills you lack for your new role, or graciously accept that this current role is not for you.  I know there are many companies who will then manage the individual out of the organization, but again, you may be surprised to find this employee shine in another role entirely.

Firing should be a last resort, but if done properly could prove to be in the best interest of the organization, the supervisor, the team, and even the individual being let go.  Here’s to 2011, a year of clearer communication, a greater sense of purpose, higher levels of respect, and overall improvement.

Peak periods are the ideal times to discover inefficiencies and revitalize the way you do the same old tasks.

One of the easiest ways to spot inefficiencies is to analyze peak time transactions.  During the busiest time of the year, it is especially noticeable what processes take the most time and perhaps what wastes the most time.  It is during these periods of extra work when it is crucial to take a step back and try to think of ways in which to complete the work better.

This of course is easier said then done.  Work done in peak times are not often accompanied with many periods for innovative thought or development.  However, managers can lead this innovative thought by making it a priority for the team, and insuring time for experimentation.

While it may not be prudent to implement widespread experimentation during the peak period, small-scale experimentation may lead to a vital change which could impact speed and accuracy of peak time processes.

Therefore, managers should make it a priority to give their team members the room for experimentation. I read recently in the Harvard Business Review about the function of the boss as a human shield.  I agreed wholeheartedly with the article (“The Boss as Human Shield” by Robert I. Sutton, Sept. 2010).  By limiting the demands of both the manager and outside leadership, customer demands, and other departmental distractions, the manager is in a key position to insure that his or her people can focus and experiment on these side projects, which can surely lead to the improved functioning of the department/organization.

Depending on the function of the department, managers can limit interruptions by sending calls to voice mail, turning off internet or email receiving functions, offering to close access to the public early or open it late so that staff can work in peace, and a number of other options.

Of course, innovation in peak time can not be completely separated from peak time responsibilities. One strategy that I have found useful is to set aside a certain amount of time over the course of the week just to focus on the special project at hand. Seeing as people will likely not be able to brainstorm, experiment, and implement in a short period of time in one session, breaking it up in short bursts not only accomplishes gradual progress on a large project, but it also insures time for breaks, allowing the experimenters to come back to the project with fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, and potentially additional information about the problem that they may not have had before.

The busiest time of the year can be a time where people pound their heads against the wall, complaining about how lengthy, complicated, or stressful the overall tasks of the time can be, or it can be a time where people create strategies of ways to improve those tasks. In my humble opinion, encouraging the team to take those times as opportunities for improvement is definitely the path to take.

In putting a Rewards and Recognition system in place, pay special attention to how the system is playing out. Some of what you are doing may be working against your goal.

I have been reading a bit about Talent Management in a book called “Talent Management: Cases and Commentary,” edited by Eddie Blass and published by Palgrave Macmillan. I came across a passage that struck me as being both counter-intuitive and valuable.

I come from a department that has spent a great deal of time rethinking rewards and recognition, finding it something to strive for as a Division, following our strategic objectives.  However, rewarding talent can also have a dark side.  If the rewards structure is built in a way that pits people against eachother, negative cultures can emerge as follows:

1. Mercenary – Money comes before, and often at the expense of, teamwork

2. Networked – This culture is highly politicized and people know how to manipulate and backstab in order to compete internally

3. Performance – This culture is demanding, with no break for the employees who must always hit the right numbers for the bottom line

4. Communal – Everybody wants internal approval and no body wants to rock the boat making th decision process slow and innovation next to non-existant. 

5. Communication – There is little feedback and things may not be done as said.

The goal, therefore, is to find a framework that provides a proper amount of encouragement and support for people to work together towards the greater good of the group.  Above all, if you are trying to implement a successful rewards or recognition program, always remember to make the process transparent and fair so that people can understand the decisions, and perhaps strive to be in the favored group down the road.

While thinking about the culture of your organization may seem a no brainer, starting the conversation can be quite puzzling.

Culture, as dictionary.com puts it, is defined in part by  “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture”.  Every business, company, branch, department or any subsection of an organization has a culture of its own.  Thinking strategically, the organization’s culture should trump all other subgroups in a way that creates a coheisive culture for the whole.  Of course different branches or departments could have different ways of carrying out what needs to be done, as they should.  However, making a coheisive culture throughout is a bit more complicated.

But how is a company’s culture formed?  Following best practices, the culture should come out of the strategic plan for the organization.  If you don’t have a strategic plan, business plan, or other company goals, now would be the time to rethink your business strategies.  Take the time to understand your business and the needs of your clients. From there, you can determine what sort of people and what sort of behaviors fit within your organization.

Most of all, actions speak louder than goals. It’s great for a strategic plan to have lofty ideals of why the company was founded and where it’s headed.  It’s quite another for business leaders within the company to take some actions to bring those goals to fruition.

But honestly, does the strategic goal make sense?  I mean that in two ways.  First, does it set forth goals that fit with what your company is all about?  Does it address the needs of the organization and the services that it provides? It is important that these questions are asked not only once but on a continuous and routine basis, so that as the company’s need changes, so too will the goals change to fit it, along with the company practices. Second, do people know what the heck it’s trying to say. Strategic plans need to be clear, concise, and understandable to everyone.  Not only that, but the plan needs to be reachable by everyone.  Without theplans being widespread throughout the hieght and breadth of the company, there is no chance that the goals will actually be acheived in any manageable way.

So what kinds of actions need to take place to bring the strategic plan to life? These ideas can and should come from anyone who works in the company, but the final call falls to the leadership of the company. Just thinking, however, about all aspects of a business, the strategic plan should have a grasp on processes all throughout the organization.  The following is just a short list of the many which need to be closely tied to a company’s strategic plan:

Recruitment and Hiring Decisions

Retention Practices

Advertising and Marketing

Research and Development

Company Metrics

Promotion and Compensation Decisions

Learning and Development

Overall Policy Decisions

Of course I am missing many, but I hope to be able to touch upon many of these in future posts.  I have reviewed my Division’s strategic plan, framed it in work conversations, and analyzed it some more with additional reading on my own, and I wish to impart a little of what I have found.

Workplace conflict can have catostrophic consequences. Avoiding them can be done by analysing your interpersonal communication techniques.

 

I am posting below a critical incident report I have written as part of my training in an Interpersonal Communication class that I thought might bring some insight to others.  While I have not done an employee relations case or investigation, I can’t help but think that these would be some of the steps I would use to assess the situation and suggest action items for the future to resolve a dispute.  

Incident Description 

Nancy, Steven, Paul and Sylvia work together.  Within team meetings, they collaborate and respect each other’s opinions.  After work, they often unwind at a bar, joke with one another, and enjoy each other’s company without the pressures of their jobs.  Nancy works with Sylvia at the front desk whereas Steven and Paul have private offices.  One day, Steven, the Director of the department, signed his name on Nancy’s calendar, but Nancy used white out to erase his name.  A few days later when she was away from her desk, Steven noticed what had happened and joked with Paul about it.  To tease Nancy, he again signed his name to her calendar for the current month, and the four months following.  When Nancy returned, Sylvia told her what had happened and she became noticeably upset.  When Sylvia commented about it, Nancy went so far as to call Steven a jerk, and suggested that he must be trying to get her to quit.  When Steven heard that she had gotten upset, he said to Sylvia, “She didn’t have to be so OCD about it.  The calendar isn’t even technically her’s.” 

Analysis 

Nancy is clearly territorial about her space.  She prefers supplies and personal items at her desk a certain way and if someone challenges that order, she reacts negatively.  This extends of course to her desk calendar.  When Steven challenged that space, Nancy’s security seemed to have been threatened.  Additionally, Steven violated her space not once but twice.  Nancy was expecting him to understand that she was not pleased with him writing on her calendar after the initial exchange, when she used white out to make the calendar ‘clean’ again.  A drawback of this non-verbal communication was that the degree to how much the act of signing her calendar affected her did not come across in her behavior.  It seems as though Steven did not take the context into consideration when he decided to recreate the act again.  

Another aspect of this exchange is the issue of rank.  Nancy has a lower position than Steven.  Her responsibilities are to provide support to the department and to Steven directly.  In the past, Steven has expressed his desire to be viewed as a ‘team member’ as he views the term ‘boss’ in a negative light.  His objective, it seems, is to create a working culture which has a lower power distance.  This is clear even in how he invites us to all participate in after work fun.  One expression in the department has always been “We hang; we cool.”  However, Steven is providing mixed messages, as his actions speak louder than his words.  

In this scenario, the presence of the high power distance reality becomes apparent.   Steven feels that it is in his power to sign his name on Nancy’s calendar.  As he understands the office, Nancy’s space serves him, and he should be able to manipulate that space as needed.  However, the negative emotions that ensued because of his behavior actually impacted Nancy’s productivity a great deal for a period of time.  

It seems that Nancy is more comfortable in a low power distance scenario seeing as she is uncomfortable with her boss taking over her space.   At the same time, this points to her desire for a high level of uncertainty avoidance.  Again, she appreciates order and neatness in her area, and if a pen is not where it is supposed to be, she knows someone else has moved it.  Steven, however, feels that this level of uncertainty in the work environment is ill-advised.  In discussing the event, Steven mentioned that Nancy should learn how to better adapt to change.  His reasoning for signing Nancy’s calendar for the second time was that he was trying to help her get more comfortable with the idea that not everything in her office space is untouchable.  

Finally, when he realized how much the second occurrence had affected her, Steven jumped to conclusions and used a stereotype for Nancy’s behavior.  Because she wanted a degree of order he was unused to seeing, he verbally categorized her as maybe having an obsessive compulsive disorder.  

Teachable Moments/Insights 

After speaking with Steven about the event a bit more, it becomes clear that the intentions behind Steven’s actions were good. While he did want to make her slightly uncomfortable, Steven was trying to provide Nancy with a growth opportunity to get past her strict assumptions of her work environment.  He in no means intended for Nancy to get upset about the matter and he did apologize in the end after discovering that it did hurt her.     

But who is right and who is wrong in this situation?  Should Steven have been more respectful of Nancy’s space, or should Nancy be more open to change?  Overall, the lesson Steven was trying to impart could have been done differently, with greater tact, if it were done more openly and without an element of power. 

Continuing in the duality vein, an additional insight is how quickly something can go from innocent fun, to an environment of tension and blame, especially when it comes to labeling someone.   Because Steven persisted in writing on Nancy’s calendar, she called him a jerk.  Because Nancy was so defensive of her area, Steven said she might have OCD.  While the statement came out slightly in jest, the mere fact that he could accuse her of having a psychological disorder based on this occurrence seemed unfounded.  However, as tensions normalized, the labeling disappeared.  It stands to reason that each were protecting their self-concepts.  They were each labeling the other as an attempt to save face.  However, the reality of the situation was more complex than Steven being a jerk or Nancy being OCD. 

Additionally, it stands to reason that Sylvia  will more readily side with Nancy because she spends more time with her and is on her same level.  While Paul was unable to comment about the situation. 

Action Plan 

Going forward, several measures should be taken to avoid further conflicts. 

For one, the goal of having an open working environment free of the pressures of rank needs to be reassessed.  While some areas of the work are freely on the same level, such as creating departmental objectives and brainstorming future initiatives, others are more exclusively rank specific.  To some degree, this is to be expected, but these roles have been blurred over time.  For the department to function at a greater level, it is important for a more succinct system to be in place for communicating what is and what is not culturally acceptable within the department in terms of power distribution. 

Additionally, Nancy assumed that Steven would know not to try marking her calendar again due to the fact that she had removed it in the first place.  However, he did not use the context of his surroundings to reach that conclusion.  Going forward, communication should be made verbally and explicitly.  Assuming that Steven will know based on a look or a change in the environment is not enough, but he will respond to a conversation. 

I would not suggest Steven press the issue of training Nancy on becoming more comfortable with change in her environment.  The territoriality that occurs in the office environment is only natural for one who has been on the job a few weeks, let alone three years, as Nancy has been.  Everyone has their own unique way of operating with their environment, and Nancy has found a way that is successful to her.  At this point, to threaten that continuity, or to encourage her to change, is more of a hindrance to her productivity than an opportunity for growth.   There is also seemingly no need for this change in environment as the department is not in danger of being relocated. 

While this team has been working together for over two years, they are still learning about the expectations, assumptions, learning styles, and communication styles of each of the members.  All in all, it would benefit this team to take some time in meetings to discuss where they each stand on certain matters such as Geert Hofstede’s cultural value dimensions, how they use non-verbal communication, and how their self-concepts and perceptions play into their roles within the department, among other issues.  This understanding of interpersonal communication would provide them with the tools necessary to function at a higher level as a team.

The start of a blog is a new adventure for me.  I’ve never really done this before, so forgive my noob tendencies – I’m sure they will present themselves pretty frequently.  But the true purpose of delving into this world is for my own self-fulfillment.  I am a young professional, often getting too far ahead of myself, and I’d like a place to develop my professional voice, mindset, and overall share of thought.   My field?  Human Resources.  As a current Human Resources Assistant, I’m truely at the bottom of the barrel, but I know I am capable and can grow within the field.  My true interest lies in a mishmash of Training, Coaching, Talent Management, Change Management, and Organizational Development. 

Therefore, as I delve into learning more about the track that I am on, I hope that you, reader (if you exist) bare with me, pitch in when you want to give your two cents on a matter, and hopefully grow with me.  I hope to really bring some thought provoking ideas to this board, and I won’t stop until I have some solid information under my belt.  With the help of SHRM, ASTD, the Harvard Business Review, Professional Development courses and a massive library at my disposal, research is at my fingertips, and hopefully I can put something of what I learn to good use – if not for me, then for some reader out there without these resources.