10 Conversations That Can Transform Your Workplace

I’ll bet there’s plenty of conversation in your workplace — about today’s tasks, about that rush order, about that sudden snag, about the project that should have been done yesterday. But do you and your colleagues ever step off the task treadmill and talk about the workplace itself? If you work full time until retirement age, you’re going to log at least 90,000 hours on the job. Doesn’t it make sense to spend a few of those hours teaming up with co-workers to figure out how to make the workplace better?

Sure it does, but that only sparks more questions: What exactly should you talk about? How do you keep the conversation from turning into a gripe session? Is there a way to make meaningful discoveries instead of talking on and on about the obvious?

That’s what this Top 10 list is all about. It gives you thought-provoking questions guaranteed to open up worthwhile conversation about your workplace. Share the list with colleagues, select the one or two questions that seem most relevant, then set aside some time to talk. There are no right or wrong answers, and you don’t need a full day for this. Just an hour or so of dialogue, with ears and minds wide open, will deepen everyone’s understanding and point the way to practical improvement.

  1. Mind-engaging work
    When was the last time you got so caught up in interesting work that you lost track of time? What were you doing? What was it — about the work itself, how you were going about it, its connection to a greater good — that made this such a wonderfully consuming activity?
  2. Seeing the fruits of your labor
    When you want to see the results of your work, what do you look at? How do you know that your effort is having a positive impact? If you could wave a wand and instantly create a more meaningful system for tracking results, what would it look like?
  3. Positive problems
    John W. Gardner observed, “We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” What is your biggest insoluble problem? What makes it so tough to tackle, and what is the great opportunity that lies within? How would you go about pursuing this opportunity if you divided the challenge into manageable steps?
  4. Meetings, meetings, and more meetings
    How many hours do you spend each week in meetings? How many of these hours are well spent, and how many are wasted? If you could redirect that unproductive time to worthwhile activity, what would you do?
  5. The voice of the customer
    When your customers talk about your organization behind your back, what do you think they say? Who has the highest praise, who is most critical, and why? Now think about your own immediate customers: When they talk about you personally (and you know they do!), what do they likely say?
  6. The community-individuality balance
    What gets greater emphasis in your workplace: teamwork and togetherness, or individuality and diversity? If it’s teamwork and togetherness, does the pursuit of unity prompt people to downplay their differences? If individuality and diversity are the main focus, does the workplace ever feel like a loose collection of conflicting styles and agendas? What can be done to maintain a good balance between unity and uniqueness?
  7. From passive complaints to positive action
    What is your biggest complaint about the workplace? Now, rephrase it in the form of a positive goal. Here’s an example: “I’m tired of busywork. I spend half my day crunching numbers that no one looks at.” Here’s the corresponding positive goal: “I’d like to spend my time on work that relates to our mission and affects our customers. If my number-crunching has real value, I’d like to know exactly how.” After defining the goal, think action: What can you and others do to make it happen?
  8. Giving and getting respect
    Johann von Goethe said, “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” What did Goethe mean, and how does this play itself out in your workplace? What could be done right now to make respect one of the workplace’s greatest strengths?
  9. Can we talk?
    Is there an elephant in your workplace — a big problem or concern that no one ever talks about? Something that’s well-known to all and in desperate need of dialogue? If so, why is the elephant so unacknowledged? What are the risks of talking about it? What are the potential benefits?
  10. Empowering yourself
    “If I had just a bit more authority at work, I would _____.” Fill in the blank with several actions you’d like to take right now to be more effective in your job. Then explore why you can’t. What’s holding you back? What is the one action you can get started on right now?

Tom Terez is a speaker, workshop leader, and author of “22 Keys to Creating a Meaningful Workplace.” His company, Next Level Workplace, helps organizations find smart ways to make the most of their most important resource. Contact: http://nextlevelworkplace.com/form/ or call (614) 571-9529.

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5 Tips for Effective Delegation

5 Tips for Effective Delegation

As a manager/supervisor, you just can’t do it all. To achieve effective results, you need to able to delegate projects and work to others. By effective delegation, you communicate to your employees that you have confidence in their ability to complete a job or project.

  1. Define the task and identify the outcome, not the process

    The process that works for you may not work for others. Maybe you’ve been doing a job one way, because that’s how you were taught 20 years ago. When delegating, describe the successful outcome and let the person to find their best way to completion. Who knows, you might learn something from them.

  2. Give enough authority to accomplish the task

    If the person receiving the task has to get approval at every or most step of the way, you might as well have done the job yourself. Turn the employee loose, with the resources to achieve the desired outcomes.

  3. Monitor the process, but allow people room to work

    Don’t micro-manage! (See tip 2.)

  4. Make yourself available for support or feedback

    Just because you’re not micro-managing doesn’t mean you disappear completely. Let the delagatee know that you are there to answer questions or to review milestones.

  5. Reward and recognize effort as well as results

    An employee who is trying a task for the first time, may not get the whole thing correct. Make sure you recognize and reward the effort expended and the steps done well. Then, the next time you delegate, they will be able to build on the successes of the earlier effort.

Plus: Don’t dump your garbage jobs on your employees. Delegation is not an excuse to get rid of the crap you don’t want to do. You employees will recognize that strategy and will not see it as a development opportunity.

Through effective delegation, you can expand the range of what you can accomplish, as well as developing the skills and strengths of the team you manage.

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Three Deadly Sins of Leadership

Some time ago a magazine writer asked me a probing question. She asked, “In your opinion and experience, what are the three most destructive things a leader can do to wreck an organization?” Actually, it’s a profound question with many possible significant answers. I considered both effective and ineffective leaders I had encountered in my business experience. I pondered what could be, in my opinion, the three worst things a leader could do. Although many different things came to mind, I settled on three attributes that I had personally observed, or been subjected to, as being most destructive from a strategic point of view. It was necessary to discount numerous tactical behaviors that may appear destructive at the moment, but in the large scheme pale by comparison to the more strategic negative behaviors.

A few of the leadership behaviors I considered before I gave my final answers included such things as poor communication skills, poor delegation skills, poor team building skills, too much tactical thinking, poor coaching skills, poor empowerment skills, and poor feedback skills. Any of these behaviors could be the three worst leadership behaviors, but I opted instead for things that I had personally observed as being highly destructive to not only people, but also to things, activities and processes.

My three answers were: 1) Personal Arrogance, 2) Inflexible Position, and 3) a belief in Self-Resolution. Inasmuch as these three attributes constitute a wide range of specific behaviors, permit me to describe each one in more detail.

1. Personal Arrogance. Another way to describe arrogance is pride. Although there are clearly good aspects of being proud, pride can also be a handicap to effective leadership. First, let’s look at the good side of pride. Leaders, managers and individual contributors can take pride in their job, an assignment, a task, or even a procedure. And such pride can be a motivator to perform well, thoroughly, and with a high degree of quality. So taking pride in one’s job can be a positive attribute for any worker.

But unfortunately, there is a negative side to personal pride that I call unhealthy pride. When a person uses pride to the determent of others, then it can be a destructive rather than positive trait. Ezra Taft Benson said, “The proud make [people] their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents or any other device against others.” In the words of C.S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next [person]. It is the comparison that makes [a person] proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition [or comparison] has gone, pride has gone.” So at the heart of unhealthy pride is judging oneself as superior to others.

The truth is that pride is often a liability that people often see in other people, long before they are willing to admit that it exists in themselves. This makes the proud unteachable, untouchable, and often unreachable when it comes to leadership development. Excessive pride in a leader can create executive isolation and insulation where lines of communication are disrupted at the most, or faulty at the least.

It is executive pride and the lack of personal humility that causes a leader to be convinced that his or her decisions are infallible and unchallengeable. Over time this creates in an organization a climate of fear, blind obedience and compartmentalization. Organizational compartmentalization occurs when workers feel most safe with their chin on their chest doing only what is necessary to keep from being disciplined or fired. There is in this dysfunctional climate no creativity, empowerment, risk taking, or free speech. Decision quality is, therefore, very poor. Chin on chest mentality negates the possibility of employees thinking or acting in a strategic manner.

2. Inflexible Position. I currently teach leadership development workshops for several clients. Within these courses is a module titled, “Flexible Leadership.” The primary learning point of the module is helping leaders understand that “one size does not fit all.” People are individuals and situations are situational. So when a leader approaches a situation in an organization he or she must demonstrate enough flexibility of position and ability to treat each person and situation differently. Rigid thinking and inflexible positions typically shut down lines of communication.

It’s surprising how many leaders become dogmatic with their personal opinions, preferences and biases and as a result struggle with flexibility and adaptability. This might relate to unhealthy personal pride, or it could be insecurity, or it might even be inexperience. Whatever the cause, holding fast to an opinion or belief in the face of unconsidered different courses of action seriously limits decision quality. We know from mountains of evidence that decision quality usually follows a path of divergent thinking, following by facilitated convergent thinking. Stated another way, the best idea usually follows many considered ideas. Conversely, the worst idea often follows a leader’s unwillingness to consider the ideas of others.

3. Problem Self-Resolution. Several years ago a large portion of my consulting practice was helping organizations implement a system of process improvement. While assisting literally hundreds of functional and cross-functional teams as they endeavored to create and modify organizational processes, I observed an all too often tendency of some leaders who were supposed to empower the teams. These ineffective sponsors of teams had a belief that if a problem was left alone long enough that it might spontaneously fix itself. Some of these leaders clearly lacked enough courage to confront broken processes and uncooperative employees. Others just didn’t want to upset the apple cart, so they would drag their heels in challenging and motivating teams.

Jack Welch said, “Leaders must face reality as it is and not as they may have constructed it.” The reality is that very few organizational process problems ever fix themselves to an effective level. Rather, most problems dealing with people and processes typically get worse over time, not better. Indeed, sometimes problems may go on vacation for a short time and give the appearance of being resolved, but a few weeks later they crop back up with even more steam.

Effective leaders must have the courage and ability to recognize problems when they occur, acknowledge that they need to be resolved, and work diligently to make them go away. Anything less than that will add fuel to the fire and the problems will grow into major disruptions.


I am unaware of what happened to the information I gave to the writer who asked for my list of the worst leader behaviors. Perhaps it ended up in a book, leadership development class, article, or trashcan, I don’t know. Nonetheless, the exercise of deciding on three negative attributes gave me an opportunity to consider not only good leader behaviors, but also the bad ones as well.

Perhaps the lesson in this article is to ask the following questions: “Am I guilty of any of these ineffective behaviors? Do I diligently create a climate for my followers that is open, honest, positive, motivating, and beneficial to both people and the organization? Am I willing to self-assess my effectiveness and make appropriate changes?” Give it some thought and tell me what you think.

Dr. Richard L. Williams is a business consultant specializing in leadership development, organizational development/diagnostics, performance coaching, quality improvement, and team development. If you would like to learn more about Leadership Development, contact Dr. Rick Williams or the CMOE team or contact us at 888-262-2499.

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33 Unwritten Rules of Management

These rules are credited to Bill Swanson. In a news story several years ago, it was revealed not all the rules are original. Whatever the source, they are useful aphorisms for life management.

The handbook has become an underground hit among senior executives and management thinkers. The Unwritten Rules of Management is part Ben Franklin and part Yogi Berra, with a dash of Confucius thrown in. Jack Welch says there’s something about both the man and his management style that makes the handbook a worthwhile read for any CEO. “It’s a neat little manual, and each of these rules makes sense,” Welch says. “It covers almost everything, and I like Swanson’s feet-on-the-ground approach.”

Here are the rules, written, but without any explanation. Make of them what you will.

  1. Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.
  2. It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.
  3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
  4. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what’s there, but few can see what isn’t there.
  5. Viewgraph rule: When something appears on a viewgraph (an overhead transparency), assume the world knows about it, and deal with it accordingly.
  6. Work for a boss with whom you are comfortable telling it like it is. Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
  7. Constantly review developments to make sure that the actual benefits are what they are supposed to be. Avoid Newton’s Law.
  8. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  9. Persistence or tenacity is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference. Don’t be known as a good starter but a poor finisher.
  10. In completing a project, don’t wait for others; go after them, and make sure it gets done.
  11. Confirm your instructions and the commitments of others in writing. Don’t assume it will get done!
  12. Don’t be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas.
  13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get it done.
  14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
  15. Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
  16. Don’t overlook the fact that you are working for a boss.
    • Keep him or her informed. Avoid surprises!
    • Whatever the boss wants takes top priority.
  17. Promises, schedules, and estimates are important instruments in a well-ordered business.
    • You must make promises. Don’t lean on the often-used phrase, “I can’t estimate it because it depends upon many uncertain factors.”
  18. Never direct a complaint to the top. A serious offense is to “cc” a person’s boss.
  19. When dealing with outsiders, remember that you represent the company. Be careful of your commitments.
  20. Cultivate the habit of “boiling matters down” to the simplest terms. An elevator speech is the best way.
  21. Don’t get excited in engineering emergencies. Keep your feet on the ground.
  22. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
  23. When making decisions, the pros are much easier to deal with than the cons. Your boss wants to see the cons also.
  24. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor.
  25. Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump.
  26. Treat the name of you company as if it were your own.
  27. Beg for the bad news.
  28. You remember 1/3 of what you read, 1/2 of what people tell you, but 100% of what you feel.
  29. You can’t polish a sneaker.
  30. When facing issues or problems that are becoming drawn-out, “short them to the ground.”
  31. When faced with decisions, try to look at them as if you were one level up in the organization. Your perspective will change quickly.
  32. A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person. (This rule never fails).
  33. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, an amateur built an ark that survived a flood while a large group of professionals built the Titanic.
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Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?: Hard-Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results

The foundation of our managers’ philosophy relies on one main, undeniable point: a manager’s number-one priority is to deliver results.”
– Denny F. Strigl

Are you delivering?

For managers, behavior is the real key to achievement. In order to stop struggling and start delivering, you need to close the gap between what you know and what you do. That’s been Denny Strigl’s method, and now it can be yours, too.

Among the most prominent architects of the wireless communications industry, the former Verizon Wireless president and CEO has had one of the most remarkable careers in modern business. In Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?, Strigl shares all the skills and techniques he used to build Verizon into one of the greatest growth companies in any industry. You’ll learn how to:

  • Create a corporate culture where trust, respect, and integrity flourish — and employees and customers alike are appropriately served
  • “Eliminate the fluff,” get focused, and stop wasting time on things that don’t matter
  • Address issues proactively before they become problems — even employee performance issues
  • Get past your “blind spots,” reinforce priorities consistently, and communicate with clarity
  • Master the Four Fundamentals of Management: growing revenue, getting new customers, keeping the customers you already have, and eliminating costs

Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?: Hard-Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results includes additional suggestions for bringing the best of your energy and passion into your work, helpful anedcotes from Strigl’s career, simple self-assessment questions, and even a look at how your business day as a successful manager should play out.

Whether you’re the CEO of a large corporation or run your own small business, the lessons from Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? are sure to come through — loud and clear.

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7 steps to managing conflict

Several years ago, when new to a position, I had a conflict with another employee. By strict interpretation of our policies, I was right in my actions, but I managed it very poorly. Shortly after that, the other employee resigned. It was a lack of experience on my part. I was more interested in being right than resolving conflict.

One of the lessons you learn early in life, conflict happens. Not everyone will agree with you all the time, or even some of the time. To be successful in life, you need to know how to manage conflict.

I’m not so glib as to expect there is some magic “7–step” solution that will automatically eliminate all your conflict. There are areas of disagreement –say personal beliefs– that may never be resolved. Some past actions, that have deeply affected your life, could require a therapeutic approach to resolve.

However, much of the day-to-day conflict you face can be managed with deliberate and clear communication. If you find conflict is getting in the way of your accomplishing what needs doing, try these steps:

Explain the situation as you see it

Invariably, conflict is about perception and understanding. Start by telling the other party your understanding of the situation.

Describe how it is affecting performance

Tell them how this conflict affects what need to be accomplished.

Ask them to explain their point of view

This can be difficult, but let the other party explain their point of view.

You may find that these first three steps provide enough clarity to resolve the conflict. If not, move on the the next four steps.

Agree on the problem

Reach agreement on the problem. You need a common understanding to develop a workable solution.

Explore and discuss possible solutions

Work together to develop a solution to the conflict. Both parties will stick with a solution they have had a role in developing.

Agree on what each person will do to solve the problem

Make sure you walk away from the session with a clear understanding of which party is responsible for what action.

Set a date for follow-up

Don’t leave it hanging. Get together to make sure things are on track. If the conflict is of a complex nature, you may need several follow-up milestones.

In the case of individuals in conflict, this process can work one-on-one. In more complex conflicts, or where groups of people are involved, a third-party facilitator might be needed.