When everything is urgent

If you work in an environment whereimage - urgent_canstockphoto16177668 everything is urgent, it will definitely be most urgent to maintain focus on real priorities and critical organizational goals.  If transparency and meaningful communication about mission central goals are lacking, an organization can be in peril of collapsing across critical activities, risking implosion and loss of organizational significance.

What to do

To gain clarity, it will be necessary to sift through all the many urgent matters and consider the impact and fallout of not getting certain things done today, as compared to later this week, next week, next month, next quarter, or perhaps never.  These considerations will include looking at all the factors and conditions contributing to the appearance of urgency for any matter.  It may include challenging some of those factors and conditions, and it may include challenging assumptions and declarations from others, including superiors.  The most critical and most urgent priority is to engage in these critical discussions to analyze what is really urgent  and to organize around those imperatives.  In high tension environments, this should not be just a first priority, but the foremost priority.

Maintaining focus

Drawing on all your leadership skills will be necessary to initiate and lead this type of inquiry.  It is to be expected that any initiative that may disrupt organizational habits and established patterns of activity will not necessarily be met with enthusiasm.  Initial support by colleagues may, therefore, be feigned and short-lived.  Unspoken words can be,  “This too shall pass!”   Planned disruption is never really welcome, particularly when  change could be the result.  It is the role of the leader, none-the-less, to create order, inform and communicate and to take the lead.    

Triage every day

image - diagnosis_canstockphoto10013066Factors and conditions may change rapidly due to all manner of external and internal events, so a triage approach can provide a clear view of what particular changes may pose in terms of new risks and/or new actions required.  Further, research indicates that updates communicated directly and regularly from managers carries extra weight and importance in the minds of the recipients.  It is never a good plan to allow information  to simply cascade from level to level leaving it open to possible misinterpretation.  This can erode trust and cause worry.  When, however, people can see their role in the greater organizational picture, leadership trust and confidence grows.

An effective triage approach will clearly establish what is really urgent at any given time while demonstrating that leadership is open and constant.  As a result, trust is enhanced, loyalty bonds grow stronger, and environmental tension is reduced.



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Informed or In the Dark?

image_communicationCommunication is often pointed to as the one area of organizational functioning that, if improved, will dramatically elevate trust levels and overall performance.  Why is this?

Fundamentally, it is about respect and discretionary effort.  Most employees are eager to do the work they were hired to do.  If, time after time, they find themselves in the dark on matters that affect them and their performance, they will soon become discouraged.   Further, it is demeaning to learn about important matters through an informal network of people who are insiders and get to know things first.  Moreover, if information is derived from gossip, it could be completely wrong, causing unintended worry or concern.  Turning this around is vital.

Stepping stones to there

 Are you communicating broadly across a variety of mediums?       Stepping stones provide a safe passage through deep water

Do you know the preferred methods of communication among employees?

Does your communication policy reflect emerging challenges?

Who is accountable to ensure that the message is actually received as intended and when intended?

Do you have feedback loops and methods to measure impact?

Does leadership model the communication values?

What can you expect?

image_meeting sharingThere is an abundance of research to confirm that transparent and consistent communication increases trust at all levels.  Further, when information is communicated from one’s immediate supervisor, it is appreciated and valued even more. People feel they count and that their efforts are appreciated. In other words, they feel valued which translates directly into feelings of belonging and inclusion, all vital to increased discretionary effort. This discretionary effort and a loyal, engaged workforce will keep you and your organization a step ahead across performance indicators. A communication audit is a great way to make sure you receive all the advantages of a well-informed, loyal workforce who are ready to scale tall buildings to achieve organizational goals. This would be enviable in today’s work environment. Have you tried improving your communication? Did you get the results you were looking for?

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Social Intelligence Matters

Social Intelligence (SI) is a term that scientists have been using a lot recently.  It refers to the parts of our intelligence that help humans relate to other people.  Several kinds of abilities are lumped together as being part of SI.  It includes the ability to recognize feelings in yourself and other people, to understand what’s going on in a social situation, and to connect with others.  It includes knowing how to talk with people you know and don’t know, knowing how to interact both verbally and non-verbally, and to size up the best way to respond to a person in a new situation.  It also includes attitudes that help people do well, such as empathy and compassion for others.

Four Main Skills

What scientists are learning about the social part of human minds is continuing to evolve but, basically, there are four main groups of skills, or skill sets, that capture most of the SI discoveries.  They are:

1.  Knowing yourself

When you start with yourself, it is simply easier to know others.  Knowing what kind of person you are and your feelings and responses increases your awareness of what is happening with others.  You will recognize responses and behaviours and will be less inclined to overreact in situations; people may simply need a bit of space and understanding.

2.  Being sensitive to others

Tuning in to others is the second skill of the socially intelligent.  We tune in to people more than we are consciously aware of.  We watch their actions, listen to their words, and read their facial expressions and the tones of their voices.  Research in neuro-imaging techniques  shows that we often match the emotions of others and even the thoughts of others.

3.  Making connections

Connecting is more than communicating with words.  Underneath this is your tone of voice, the way you move, your eye contact, even your appearance and hygiene.  The wrong word, intensity of eye contact, or a dismissive remark in an e-mail can, inadvertently, cause tension.

4.  Caring

As a species, we are actually hard-wired to care.  Research shows that humans do want the best for each other; we have a deeply ingrained need for connection and also to respond to distress in others.  We survived and thrived because we took care of each other, sharing knowledge, food, shelter and other resources.  Caring produces a powerful survival advantage.

How is SI different from EI?

In the day-to-day work world, no intelligence is more important than the interpersonal.  If you don’t have social intelligence, you are destined to make poor choices.  SI is distinctive from academic abilities and a key factor in what helps people do well in the practical aspects of life.  One highly valued practical intelligence, for example, is that of picking up on tacit messages, a critical intelligence for managers to manage effectively.  EI, Daniel Goleman explains, concerns itself with “…abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” (Goleman, 1997).  Knowing one’s own emotions and learning to manage them (EI) is crucial to developing the Social Intelligence (SI) competency of establishing and maintaining effective relationships with others.

Business Case for SI

There is no shortage of evidence to confirm that people who know and manage their own feelings well, and who read and deal with other people’s feelings, are at an advantage in life.  Goleman (1997) asserts that EI skills can be learned and that people with well developed emotional skills are more likely to be content and effective in their own lives.  Further, they will possess the social intelligence (SI) competencies necessary to establish and maintain productive relationships with others.  Don’t overlook the benefits that can be derived from helping employees understand and develop their EI and their SI skills.

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The Psychological Contract: The human investment

A recent post at Glassdoor Blog remembers Harry Levinson, Progressive Workplace Psychologist.   Levinson had a deep appreciation of the nature of the workplace.   He understood the great psychological significance of work in people’s lives.  Levinson, with colleagues Price, Munden, Mandl and Solley wrote Men, Management, and Mental Health in 1962, introducing the concept of the psychological contract.


“… Levinson explained how the psychological contract shapes the expectations of employees and the organizations they work for.  Levinson’s notion of a psychological contract encompassed an acknowledgement of conscious and unconscious human needs and desires that employees invest in their relationship with the organization and its leadership.  He argued that unless management is psychologically aware of these manifest and latent dimensions of worker motivation, it is highly unlikely that employees will feel adequately nurtured by their employers.  This oversight of course can lead to demoralization and poor performance.” [1]  

The importance of this conceptual tool for managers cannot be underestimated.  Applying the psychological contract requires continual dialogue to articulate and explore mutual needs and expectations, both conscious and unconscious.  Levinson’s stress on an individual’s emotional investment in the workplace provides a deeper understanding of the dynamics between individual and organization.

Extensive field work by Levinson and his colleagues resulted in countless hours spent with workers, observing, participating, interviewing and eventually understanding and documenting the crucial role of work groups and their leaders in organizations.  The work revealed informal and affectionate bonds between workers and their supervisors which helped to explain effective, physically safe and emotional healthy, management performance in the workplace.  Difficulties of supervision were also observed such as management-by-guilt.  Levinson helped managers understand the human compassion inherent in, and the necessity of, providing subordinates with unambiguous, direct, and honest feedback in performance evaluation.  He began to focus on leadership’s role in mentoring and educating workers.

Management’s primary failure

“Levinson, in the Executive (1968, 1981), argues that one of management’s primary failures is their unawareness of the depth and dimensions of human needs of employees and that they must become more knowledgeable about what motivates them.  He offers three primary human drives to pay attention to:  ministration, maturation, and mastery.  Ministration takes into account needs for gratification, closeness, support, protection, and guidance.  Maturation needs comprise fostering creativity, originality, self-control, and reality testing.  Mastery needs encompass the demands for ambitious striving, realistic achievement, rivalry with affection, and consolidation.” [2]

With these human needs in mind, executives were able to engage in more thoughtful and reflective dialogues with their workers and establish management systems responsive to individual potential and desire for advancement.   Needless to say, in today’s economy with constant re-engineering and downsizing, human needs and the psychological contract present greater gaps to acknowledge and overcome.   Looking carefully at these gaps through the lens of Ministration, Maturation and Mastery can help to contemplate and communicate about what is possible in today’s workplace.

[1] Diamond, M. (2003) Organizational & Social Dynamics 3(1): 1-18

[2] Ibid

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Getting a Grip

You want results, and you are not getting them.  You try everything…but you just end up dragging people “kicking and screaming” to do the things you think they should be doing.  They resist, and roadblocks surface where you least expect them.  You ask yourself, “Why are they not enthusiastic?”   Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Lay of the Land

First of all, people are eager to take on responsibilities.  That is what they were hired to do.  They expect  to contribute and want the opportunity to achieve and be recognized.  Yet, despite their willingness, they often find themselves disillusioned and discouraged.  Why is that?  Does anyone think to ask?

Additionally, I am inevitably impressed with the good will and insight articulated by client employees about their work and their commitment to organizational objectives.   Negotiating the distance between this obvious willingness and noticeable results is really not that difficult.  It does take sincere intent, honest discussion and intense collaboration.

Navigating the Terrain

As a leader, the big picture is always present, and it may seem that the complexities and challenges facing an organization strictly rest within the purview of management.  If your organizational structure has leadership painted into a corner, it is a lonely and isolating place. Further, with the constant pace of change, insular activities will lead very quickly to irrelevancy, if not extinction.

If you are becoming irrelevant, silver bullets and quick fixes won’t work.  Antidotes are few.   Avoiding this requires getting ahead of the curve and staying ahead of it every day. It requires a laser emphasis on collaboration, alliances and partnerships, both internal and external to the organization.  Survival in the current economic climate, quite simply, demands it.

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Civility is More than Good Manners

Defining Civility

It may be easier to define civility by first considering what incivility looks like, since it is these behaviors that are obvious and problematic.  Generally, incivility consists of  personal attacks, rudeness, disrespectful comments, and aggressive behaviors that disrupt work and lead to unproductive stress and conflict. Humans make mistakes, so a few minor incidents may not be a concern; however, a pattern of incivility is disruptive and unacceptable.  A single act of extreme incivility, however, as in cases of verbal abuse, profanity or a threat against another, should warrant severe consequences.


Incivility, no doubt a by-product of increased pressures and stress levels in today’s workplaces, is a real and growing concern.  Unchecked, incivility will become a normalized behavior in today’s stressful workplaces – a recipe for disaster.  It is also risky to assume that people will adapt to increased levels of incivility. Most people can manage increased work pressures in the short-term; however, relentless stress combined with workplace incivility sets the stage for employee exhaustion, burnout and possible  long-term disability.  Employers who identify these risks and practice due diligence can substantially decrease the most harmful impacts.

Do it Now

Provide the opportunity to discuss incivility to examine specific situations and to agree on what civility means to different people in different contexts.  Further, seek to establish agreement on appropriate responses to all acts of incivility, creating a benchmark for the future.  These foundational understandings and agreements become the underpinnings of the desired culture – one that is defined by core values of respect and civility.  Further, the remedies or actions agreed to can become the “terms of engagement” for new hires and an ongoing performance measure for all employees.

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Three Rs of doing more with less

The first months of a new year is an opportune time to cultivate and harness new energy – out with the old, in with the new!  It is a natural time to recalibrate.  It is the right time to zero in on how systems, processes, functions and habits are helping or inhibiting your progress or that of your organization.  In the current climate of doing more with less, new approaches are needed.  First of all, a change of perspective is required.   Less can be more if you do three things: Realign, Redesign and Refocus.


Dust off your Vision, Mission and Values Statements to take a hard look at whether or not you are achieving who you (or your organization) wants to be in the world, or are mandated to be.   Are there events/actions that are distracting you?  Is there a departure from your purpose?  If you are not where you want to be or need to be, take the time to refocus and revamp your foundational blueprint.  Ensure that your governance model contains the executive limitations necessary for progress and accountability.


Emerging organizational designs will be built on business models that utilize widely available knowledge as well as knowledge contained in communities of individuals and/or firms focused on a particular technology or subject.   Research shows that new collaborative designs or commons are emerging from the traditional designs of U-form, M-form, Matrix and Multi-firm Networks.  A collaborative commons design is less dependent on hierarchy since all actors (individuals, firms, governments) are guided by protocols for their collaborative activities for mutual benefit.


Take time to consider the rise and fall of organizations and proud institutions.  Think about the events, both large and small, that served to derail or destroy them.  Hindsight and crisis control is not where you want to be, and saying sorry should never be your plan.  Further, if your culture does not allow worst case scenario discussions to surface,  you are leaving yourself (and your organization) open to crisis, scandal, or even extinction.  It’s just a matter of time.

A shift in perspective to a less is more approach and planning with the 3 Rs of Realign, Redesign, and Refocus, will ensure a future that is more certain.  Are you moving in this direction?  If not, how will you actually achieve more with less?

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2011 Favourite posts

Two posts for 2011 were tracking closely for the top spot.  In first place was  As Welcome as the Flowers in Spring, which describes a positive and respectful workplace experience with images of spring and fall flowers.  This became the most viewed.

A close second was Cultivating Positive Emotionsalso focusing on positive workplace relationships with images of camaraderie.

Following in third place was Career Safety Net , which offers suggestions for career planning and enhanced productivity.

As I plan for 2012, I am reflecting on these posts and the themes that appear to resonate, such as positivity, hope, security, predictability and good will.  I am aware that my perceptions lean toward positivity, so these themes are flowing from my view of the world.   I am hopeful, however,  that some of the themes I suggest are true and  inspire change and positive actions as a new year begins.  Do these themes resonate with you?  Why?

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Keep Calm and Carry On

I think it would be fair to assume that you have the occasional day when you feel that the sky is falling in.  Global events and the world financial markets are creating anxiousness and a sense of helplessness.  Where can we look for reassurance?

An effective tonic

In 1939 on the eve of war, the British Government’s Ministry of Information produced three posters, one of which was “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  Two and a half million copies of this poster were printed for distribution, only in the event of an imminent German invasion.  Fortunately, they were not distributed, but the discovery of an old poster has resulted in unexpected resonance.  Tens of thousand of copies have been sold, along with mugs, T-shirts, and tea towels.  The message, it seems, is an effective tonic for modern anxieties, as it was for those who endured the Blitz.

A reassuring message

With the uncharted waters of the economic downturn, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan has come into its own since the autumn of 2008.  The poster has come to represent our current predicament with even the BBC asking the question, “Is this the greatest motivational poster ever?”  So, in an age of recession and information overload, words of comfort and wisdom can be found in the “Keep Calm and Carry On” book of quotations.  Covering quotations of both Calm and Carry On, they capture the spirit and brevity of the first, reassuring instruction.

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Why are you meeting?

Different goals require different types of meetings, and different styles of communication.   To ensure your meeting is an effective use of everyone’s time and is highly productive, the first step is to be clear on the meeting purpose and the protocols that apply.

Five meeting types

Generally, meetings are categorized as informational, problem solving, brainstorming, performance review or strategic. Eric Douglas in Straight Talk describes the types and the   protocols that apply to each.

Informational:  The purpose is to exchange information and reach agreements.  For protocols, both an agenda and minutes are optional.  Most meetings are actually informational in nature.  Beware, however, of any discussion that leads to problem-solving without adequate inquiry or input.

Problem Solving:  The purpose is to define solutions to problems and reach agreements.  Protocols require an agenda and minutes.  These meetings require active input from multiple points of view and active participation of all relevant players.

Brainstorming:  The purpose is to define objectives, generate options, and reach agreements.  Protocols require an agenda and minutes.  Although related to problem-solving, brainstorming considers things that will happen or could happen.  Problem-solving addresses only things that have already happened.

Performance Review:  The purpose is to review individual or group performance and reach agreements.  This is a special type of meeting with a protocol for both an agenda and minutes.  All the data is compiled in advance so that the meeting can be spent comparing relevant perspectives, both praiseworthy and not.

Strategic:  The purpose is to define issues, describe scenarios, set goals and reach agreements.  Protocols require an agenda, ground rules, and minutes.  This type of meeting requires the interplay of various perspectives about the consequences of actions on the future of the organization.  In a strategic conversation, every perspective has value.

Ground rules

Meetings with ground rules have a high success rate and can be thought of as “guardrails” that keep conversations on track and safely home.  Setting ground rules requires discussion and agreement of the proposed rules at the outset of the meeting.  The ground rules are designed around aspects of communication such as agreement on the meaning of words, a focus on issues and not people, inquiry into views and reasoning and putting all issues on the table.

The rules will be broken

Expect to have ground rules broken as we are typically more comfortable advocating our positions than defending them.  The process also requires simultaneous monitoring to determine if there is missing data or assumptions that need to be clarified.  The idea here is to engage in a process for the benefit of the group that builds understanding rather than limiting it.  Over time and with practice, people will come to regard the ground rules as key success factors of successful communication and principles of conduct rather than rules.

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