HR Learner in Development

Posts Tagged ‘Motivation

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.

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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.

I suggested a while back to take several steps in career development to encourage career growth and satisfaction. A note of caution is that too much focus on developing your career, or any other activity, could have a propensity to be self-destructive, even if it is what you most wanted or loved from your job.Whether you work in a field which requires a large emotional capacity, large intellectual capacity, or large physical capacity, the body and mind can easily be overtaxed if you do not allow it the proper rest.  This is even clear over the course of a work day or work week – you will feel drained by a demanding time.  To avoid this, you can do several things:  

1.  Eat well  

2.  Get plenty of sleep – During sleep, the body has a chance to re-energize and the mind can organize everything you have learned  

3.  Take mini-breaks – During the course of the day, if your work environment allows it, rest your mind by thinking of something non-work related, even if that means having a fun conversation with a co-worker.  Take a coffee break, go for  a walk, do whatever you need to do to break the constant flow of work thoughts.  Believe it or not, you will return to work more energized and more on your game than if you had been focused on the work all day long.   

4. Use your vacation and personal days – For goodness sakes, please!  If this is a benefit within your company, use it.  Get away from the “But my role is vital,” or “Things will just pile up while I’m away” thinking.  Believe me I’ve heard it.  And I’ve also heard, from the same people, that taking that day away or that week away, unplugged, was re-energizing and made them more efficient upon their return.   

All in all, know your limits.  If it is a busy time in your life, adding more to the mix will not necessarily help you.  Keep this in mind as you add development activities to your routine.  Striking the proper balance will get you far.

The importance of feedback can not be understated.  Occasional check ins  are necessary for getting on the same page about successes and areas of growth.  I don’t say ‘areas of growth’ as a mistake; the term weakness is avoided on purpose.

The danger of feedback lies in the negative.  The presence of too many negatives drives the appraised to disheartedness and defensiveness, anger and resentment, often resulting in less productive work, missed days, and disengagement, on the extreme end.  Even just a few negatives can bring a relatively positive conversation to the ground.  Done well, however, it can  be motivating.

Therefore it is vital for those giving the feedback to truely understand the art of it.  They need to understand it as a tool for re-establishing expectations and goals, a method of providing praise to successes and support to the challenges.  Framing, attitude, and timing are key.  They

Even done right, negatives are powerful.  If you delivery feedback:

  1. Know the job that you are evaluating well.  Proper preparations should be taken in reviewing a job description and other like documents. 
  2. Discuss positive performance first.  Statistically speaking, the person will remain in a self-affirming mood when going into some of the more touchy subjects.
  3. State observations, and focus on specific incidences of specific behaviors.  There is nothing worse than vague feedback – there is nowhere to go from there, and a feeling of confusion or even resentment can come out of it.
  4. Provide enough time for the employee to defend him or herself, or talk about his or her present concerns.  If need be, use similar techniques for interviews in this meeting.  Wait for answers, and rephrase questions or suggestions if the person is not responsive.
  5. Set goals together, that you both agree on, that would benefit the growth of the individual and the department by extension 
  6. Finally, don’t just let this be the last conversation.  If specific actionable goals were discussed, check back in to see how things are progressing.

If you are being appraised:

  1. Don’t take the appraisal personally.  The appraisal is intended to bring everyone back to the same page. 
  2. Don’t make snap judgements.  Allow the information to sink in a little.  It’s easy to get emotionally defensive of the work that you do, so it may take some reflection to acknowledge the truth in the feedback.
  3. If you have to, vent about it, but not to your boss or co-workers.  Venting to your boss is dangerous for you.  Bringing your negative emotions to your co-workers can possible poisin the work environment.  Present your thoughts to your non-work relations, and ask them to support you and give you suggestions as to better the situation.
  4. If you don’t understand where something is coming from, ask.  Get specifics, and get suggestions how to be more effective in what is being asked of you.
  5. Take a negative feedback session as a wake up call, and a call for growth.   Frankly, if it’s important enough, if  change does not occur your reputation and your job could be on the line so a serious look at these.  So what behaviors do you need to implement or abandon?  Do any of your workplace attitudes need readjusting? 
  6.  If there is someone who is excelling in an area where you are struggling, ask for suggestions. 

I was reading an article in the January-February 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review called “What Really Motivates Workers,” by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer when it struck me:  I know expressly what they mean when they say that progress is a motivator that has a force to be reckoned with.

How motivating must it have been for the early pioneers of America to see previously non-existing cities to be connected by previously non-existing railroads? Probably as de-motivating as the struggle it took to get there.

My team members just recently went through the information gathering stages of a new Rewards and Recognitions program for my Division as a means to inch closer to the strategic plans of the Division.  I unfortunately could not be involved due to scheduling issues.  Their research of the current literature has been showing them the importance of these goals, stressing the unlikely positive power of day-to-day recognition.  The research shows, in short, that it is motivating and fulfilling to know that one’s work is being recognized by the group, a superior or a co-worker.

However, Amabile and Kramer make a case for the “power of progress”.   They note that progress had the most noticable impact on mood and motivation over any other event during the course of the day.   Simply put, they write that supervisors can encourage motivation through progress by setting reasonable goals, providing the resources to complete these tasks, protecting employees from irrelevant demands, and allowing enough time.  The inverse indicates blocks to progress – indecisiveness, holding up resources, changing goals, and a short time limit. 

This research seems to correlate with my own experience with creating reports.  Now, part of the nature of my job is operating under certain time constraints.  Therefore, the perception of time in the following examples remains constant, where tight deadlines create the impression that small roadblocks are large setbacks. 

One week I was tasked with creating a report for my supervisor.  He told me to have it completed asap.  He told me what he wanted verbally, and then he ran off to a meeting.  I therefore was working under a tight timeframe, with unclear guidelines, and I had to wait on other people to get a clear picture of the scope of the project.  It was both frustrating and de-motivating when, after I had spent a good deal of time on it, was told that one aspect had been an inaccurate account due to information I was never given.  In the end, I had to stay late to get it up to standard.

On the other hand, I was also tasked with creating a report for an employee in another department which needed to be ready for a meeting she was having with the Dean, ie head honcho of the Division.  Information was requested through email.  I thought I had all the information I needed when I told my supervisor what I was spending my time on.  When he found out, he was upset that I had been given a report of this magnitude with very little resources.  He decided he would get clarification for the report, and while that resulted in me having to rework what I had done, it also meant I had him working with me, collaboratively, to reach a solution that worked.  He was able to provide me the right resources, protect me from the unwieldy demands of someone who I was not working directly under, and he was even able to push the deadline back  a little bit because he was aware of what the report would be used for. 

All in all, I felt much more motivated in the second instance, even though both reports required reworking and edits.  The elements of information sharing and collaboration really made a huge difference in the end result.  It made me more able, and more willing, to do similar reports.  The dread that followed the first instance melted away with the second. 

So if you are in a supervisory role, be aware of not just what you assign, but how you assign it and how you follow-up.  Make sure that the task is:

  1. Clear
  2. Supported
  3. Relevant
  4. Within reasonable time constraints

Positive experiences should follow.  When it does, be sure to recognize milestone worthy progress.  Recognition and progress combine to create a wonderful motivational trophy to carry into the future.