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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Miserable at work?

If you are feeling miserable at work or feel your job is ruining your life, you may be experiencing subtle bullying.  Bullies indulge in covert methods that take a heavy toll on an organization and its employees.  You may feel miserable and increasingly overwhelmed without knowing the cause.  The following signs will help you to look deeper into why you are feeling the way you do.

Your boss acts like a close friend

When your boss takes an interest in your hobbies or your family or goes out of his way to involve you in social activities after work, this may begin to feel uncomfortable.  You will be unaware of the subtle manipulation or underlying motives at play.  He offers camaraderie; he includes you in a team of like-minded co-workers; he gains your trust.  Then, when your boss begins to exert his dominance in more overt ways,  you will be unable to recognize the bullying tactics.  You will feel growing frustration, confusion, and anxiety to the point of discontent, if not desperation.

You are feeling confused at work

Your intuition is telling you something is wrong, but you’re not sure why.   You may feel manipulated but without clear evidence.  You may experience frustration as you find it difficult to grasp your role in the company.   You may have a sense of camaraderie with someone which is fulfilling one day and complex and confusing the next.  Something is amiss; you feel you cannot trust this person, but you aren’t sure why.

You have to keep your guard up

You are walking around on eggshells because you are wary of someone.  You find you are modifying your normal speech and actions so as to not leave yourself vulnerable to criticism.  You may find yourself avoiding someone in order to avoid conflict.  You pretend you have a good relationship but find yourself hiding your true feelings and pretending everything is fine, even in the face of a deteriorating relationship.  You may even be afraid to open your mouth because you fear he will overreact to something you say or do.  You may fear ridicule in front of your co-workers, or you worry that your job and career could be seriously damaged if you get on his bad side.

You are miserable at work

Frequent, covert bullying causes serious negative emotions and situations.  You may feel guilt or shame but not understand why, and you may feel enormous pressure to do things you don’t want to do.  Your thinking is dominated by fear of criticism, failure, embarrassment or humiliation.  Your performance drops; you don’t feel competent, and you find yourself doing things contrary to your best judgment.  You sacrifice your personal health and psychological well-being for the good of others or the company.

Your job is ruining your life

If you feel your job is ruining the rest of your life, you may be dealing with a bully.  You need to ask yourself a few questions.  Do you dread going to work?  Do you expect to be embarrassed and humiliated?  Are you worrying about the future of your career?  Do you feel perpetually drained?  Are you experiencing symptoms of stress?  Are you engaged in increasingly self-destructive behavior?  Are you too emotionally stressed to invest energy into a job search?

Finding a new job

If you are not able to identify a bully, and you are left with the frustrations, anxiety and stress, it is probably best to find a new job.  The workplace itself may be toxic if the culture is a blame/bullying culture.  If, however, the puzzle pieces fit together and you have clearly identified a bully, you will need to decide how to move forward with fighting back.  This needs to be carefully thought through, but it is the only way you can break a bullying cycle and regain control of your life.

Read the full article here.

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When you need to do more with less, delegating is critical

If you are reluctant to delegate, the time has come to change your management style.  Most work environments will be required to make do with current resources and, in many cases, will need to do more with less.  In a cost-cutting, make-do environment, stop doing and start delegating.  The silver lining is that you will allow employees to develop resilience, reduce turnover and improve productivity.

It works like this

Humans want and need to learn new things.   Delegating new tasks that stretch their abilities allows them to hone their decision making skills, adapt their approaches, deal with frustration (and perhaps failure) and, most importantly, develop resilience.  In many of my focus group discussions, the one thing that people want more of is the opportunity to take on new challenges.  They don’t want to be told they need to move to another branch, department or another organization.

What is your role

As a manager, your role is to ensure that your area of responsibility achieves its assigned organizational goals.  You are not able to do this alone.  If you are candid, you may admit to yourself that there are times when you could delegate but choose not to.  This may be because you do not wish to relinquish control or you fear that no one else can do something as well as you can.  Or, you may feel that to bring someone up to speed requires time and energy that you do not have to expend.  In fact, there may be structural reasons, such as high turnover, that will prevent effective delegation.  In any event, if you are not delegating, you will need to find ways to do so.

First things first

In your leadership role, the discussion starts with you.  You are where the rubber hits the road, and you will need to move decisively to discourage doom and gloom.  Your first steps must be to:

  1. Communicate candidly about what you know.
  2. Offer and ask for support.
  3. Openly create a plan of action to delegate and redistribute work.

You will find that taking decisive action to capture every skill available to you will allow you and your employees to face upcoming challenges with greater certainty and allow for unrealized potential, and perhaps even genius, to emerge.

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Where did our manners go?

Numerous workplace articles are raising the alarm about increased incivility in the workplace and pondering why this is so and worrying about the impact.  Moreover,  incivility is often covert and difficult to identify.   Undoubtedly, deconstructing incivility would be insightful, but is it really necessary?  An expectation of basic good manners might be a place to start.  The following goes beyond the music.

He didn’t say Thank You once

I came across a blog article by Peter O’Neil, in which he recounts concert events of  Paul Simon, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.  It is obvious he is a Paul Simon fan, as I am, but what he had to say about other performers was insightful.  He describes Van Morrison as “…a brilliant writer who played a flawless concert at the Ottawa Bluesfest…”, but that he  “…walked away completely dissatisfied because the guy was such a jerk.  He didn’t say thank-you once…”   It was the same with Bob Dylan at the same concert.  “Simon, in contrast, was cheerful, enthusiastic and a complete gentleman …at the Palais des Congres, smiling and engaging with us, showing his heartfelt appreciation, reaching out to shake hands and accepting notes and flowers, and coming back for two long encores.”

Brilliant but tortured souls?

In his blog article, Peter O’Neil suggests that Van Morrison and others exhibiting such behaviours are “brilliant but tortured souls.”  I would not be so quick to make this assumption but it seems clear, as compared with Paul Simon, there appears to be a generosity of spirit missing.  Or, was the rude behaviour linked to a belief that this type of conduct is what their fans expect of them.  They are stars after all.

Workplace expectations

Workplace Codes of Conduct can go a long way to bring out the best in an organization’s workforce.  There are both implicit and explicit sets of values that can be expressed, such as fairness, compassion, integrity and honesty.  Group dialogue and discussion are essential to seek agreement about what these values mean in the context of the work environment, along with what constitutes a breach of the code and what the consequences are, both for an individual and the organization.

Beyond the Code 

Presenting a Code of Conduct is not enough.  Ongoing actions include integrating a process to engage employees in developing their own scripts, practicing how to voice values,  sharing stories to gain feedback and peer coaching for support.   If incivility is increasing in your organization, and you do not yet have a Code of Conduct, it would be timely to get one in place.  If you have one, and it is not working for you, consider whether you have sufficient actions in place to engage employees and monitor results.

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From Conflict to Win/Win

When conflict occurs, it may be a high voltage moment, entirely unanticipated.  In reality, this is probably not the case as unresolved tensions will, inevitably, result in conflict.  It may even   be predictable since people are often in competition with each other for scarce resources and opportunities.  If you add to this personal agendas or covert actions, the situation could escalate into unexpected instability.

What to do?

It is hard to predict what the flash point might be when people are at odds with each other, but it is wise and prudent to not gloss things over and to seek early resolution.  The matter must be brought into the open for discussion.  If it can be resolved informally in dialogue, this is preferable.   This is, however, easier said than done since people get entrenched in their positions, and most people function from a win/lose mentality.  There is a winner and a loser.  While there is a place for this in truly competitive situations, such as sports, most of life is not a competition.  Mostly, in life, we depend on cooperation from others to get the results we want.

Getting to win/win

In a complaint process,  people most often have reasonable demands when the situation is fully explored.  First of all,  they want an opportunity to voice their concerns from their perspective; they want their feelings acknowledged and respected; and, sometimes, an apology is all they want.  An established process allows people to articulate their experience and perceived harm, receive a fair hearing and proceed toward resolution.

Why a process?

A process shifts the focus from the emotions involved to the facts of the situation and to the concrete steps leading to resolution.  People tend to have a dominant conflict style, which is helpful to understand; and, there will be multiple expectations to clarify throughout the process.  The necessary elements to resolution are:

  1. A neutral facilitator
  2. Agreement on the process
  3. Privacy and confidentiality
  4. Full exploration of issues
  5. Options for settlement
  6. Conclusion agreement

These are the elements of a flexible mediation process which can be stopped by either party if it is not working.  A win/win solution will require managing expectations and exploring all options, some of which may be new, but all of which provide a process to resolution that serves the interests of the parties and the organization.

If you do not have structured processes to prevent and alleviate tensions, learning about conflict styles is a good place to start.  People will learn about their own dominant conflict style, recognize conflict styles in others and learn appropriate responses.  This understanding is your first line of defence to easing tensions and preventing conflict.

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Fast Forward to Safety

My most viewed post in recent weeks has been the Career Safety Net.  This no doubt reflects feelings of insecurity in an uncertain economic climate which, at the same time, is quickly fueling a shift in labour market behaviour.

This shift is revealed in a bienniel Global Workplace Survey of employee attitudes and workplace trends.

TowersWatson_GWS2010  “…confirms that the recession has fundamentally altered the way U. S.  employees view their work and leaders today, while dramatically accelerating changes to the basic social contract that underpins employment here.   In stark contrast to earlier Global Workforce Studies, the 2010 results indicate that U.S. employees have dramatically lowered their career and retirement expectations for the foreseeable future. On-the-job advancement now takes a back seat to a growing desire for workplace security and stability — at the very point in time when traditional employment safety nets are eroding.”

Key Points

  1. Loyalty to a current employer is increasing as respondents seek more stability even when they do not like the work they do.  There is a margin of safety, it seems, in staying in a  culture they know rather than moving to a culture they don’t know, particularly where they would have no earned status or relationships.
  2. Employees plan to work longer.  Rather than retiring at 60 or 65, they plan to work well into their sixties.  The boomer wave will crest later than anticipated, so strategies for mentoring, knowledge transfer and succession will need to fall in line.
  3. Older employees expect to have managers who understand them and can work with them effectively.  Inter-generational communication will require more attention to temper and align the ambitions of millennials and prevent discrimination against older workers.  The desired qualities of leaders that respondents feel they need are:
  •  Is trustworthy: 79%
  •  Cares about the well being of others: 67%
  •  Encourages the development of talent in the organization: 56%
  •  Is highly visible to employees: 42%
  •  Manages financial performance successfully: 42%

Outside the Safety Net

With safety nets eroding, organizations must refine and escalate their abilities “…to enable employee self-reliance, fostering within each person the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to effectively manage their careers, their health and their financial future outside the safety net provided in the past.”   Employees, now seeking more stability, will embrace the ways in which they can add value to their current employers while improving their personal capacity to confront an uncertain road ahead.   This shift, if seized upon and managed carefully by employers, will successfully increase talent retention and employee discretionary effort.

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