Category Archives: Team Building
I picked a survey online at random that supposes to know what the employee benefits are that are most appreciated by, you know, employees. According to that survey, the top five were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. If that’s accurate, that’s good to know, but of course being a survey, it’s aggregated and averaged and, at best, indicative. We talk a lot about ‘employee fit’ these days in building teams and driving employee engagement. Fit applies in a lot of situations and benefit offerings should be one of those. Just because you think something is an incentive for you doesn’t mean everyone, or possibly anyone, else does.
I, for example, would include in my top five, support for and contributions to, my personal and professional development. That might include directly paying for or subsidising training, as well as time off or time flexibility to attend lectures. That has always been and will always be major for me. If that previous survey is to be believed, I’m in the minority. I was coaching a senior manager recently. Afterwards, they negotiated a benefit with their employer that effectively set them on a low-risk path to being able to work on their own quite separate business whilst remaining employed – win:win. That is not a common benefit yet made a major positive difference for both parties.
I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s mailing list. He has a micro-podcast called ‘The PinkCast’. (At some point, I am going to work out how my boring name can be twisted into some kind of pun-based witty publication name. How about ‘Conspiracy Terry’? Yeah nah). In a recent episode of ‘The PinkCast’, Dan tackled one of the critical issues of the day – how best to choose what gift to give to people for Christmas. It seems most people imagine the best gift to give would be a uniquely tailored surprise that captures the essence of the person to whom you are giving it. It showed that most people thought that asking people what they wanted or, horror of horrors, giving them cash or vouchers would be perceived as lazy, insensitive and insulting. Perhaps surprisingly, when questioned further about the reality of having received novel, high-effort gifts, very few ever hit the mark. And, shock of shocks, in retrospect, most people most of the time would’ve preferred to have been given the gift of choice and flexibility via being asked what they wanted or the cash or vouchers.
Personally, I like to hedge my bets and try to use both techniques. The big swing for the ‘wow’ gift doesn’t pay off often but when it does, it knocks it out of the park. After watching the video, I reflected on my own gift receiving experiences. I could recall three over my moderately lengthy life that even the memory of still chokes me up a bit.
Let’s slide this gifting thinking back to our topic of employee benefits. They’re not gifts. They’re not entitlements. They’re part of a remuneration package with some elements possibly at risk. Not everyone is so high up the food chain, nor confident enough or special enough to negotiate an array of shiny benefits into their contract at the point of employment. Let’s go back to first principles – what is the point? What are we trying to achieve or support via the mechanism of whatever form of employee benefit? It’s that whole attraction, retention, engagement, loyalty, morale thing, right?
That top five from that original were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. On average, you’ll hit most people’s hot buttons most of the time with those. But how can we fashion into our processes some means of capturing outlying benefit possibilities? How might my own desire for personal development support as an employee benefit for me have been captured? As a young person starting out, even if a genuinely altruistic employer had asked me, I might not even have known myself at that stage.
How about a menu like at a restaurant? (And, by ‘restaurant’, I mean one with a drive-through). A simple-to-read-at-a-glance listing of the employee benefit options that most people choose in descending order of popularity. You could choose to combo some perhaps. You might cash in others. There might still be the option to make them your way off-menu.
Employees don’t know what they don’t know and neither do employers, so diminishing those blind spots around what particular individual employees value in a benefit would be valuable. Asking people is fine but not exhaustive. Asking individuals is better but not exhaustive. Having some flexibility at various points to review and introduce new offerings seems smart.
If you hire someone and tell them their pay is $20 an hour but in three months it’ll be $22.50, when you ask them when they want to start, don’t be surprised when they reply, “In three months”.
Video series: www.brainbasedboss.com
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
1 out of 5 people are difficult. Look at the 4 people around you. If it’s not them – it’s YOU!
OK, the 1 out of 5 statistic above is a joke. It might be true but that can said of 57% of all statistics. Tony Schwartz in his HBR blog writes that the difficulty in the dealing does indeed actually lie with YOU.
He makes some good points. It’s bad enough for you if you have to deal with someone you find difficult at work and you’re stuck with having to deal with them every working day. Schwartz stresses how much worse it is when that person is your boss. Firstly, it’s a natural stressor when you choose to believe you’ve lost control and / or are powerless. Both these situations will add to that. And, of course, when it’s your boss, you’ve got a dollop of fear thrown in for good (bad) measure. Baseline security fear, the powerful kind. (Thanks Maslow.)
Schwartz uses a very helpful ‘lens’ metaphor as a possible solution. There’s the lens of ‘realistic optimism’, the ‘reverse lens’ and the ‘long lens.’ The stress, the feelings of control and power and the fear are largely driven by how you choose to react to situations. So, choose to stop and look at it from some different perspectives. What are the facts and what am I telling myself about those facts? What is this other person feeling that is driving their behaviour? To what extent can I influence that? Ask some other questions about how this might play out and what can be learned and how important it is in the scheme of things.
So far, I’ve written from the angle of you having to deal directly with a difficult person of your own. If you’re reading this, you’re probably an experienced grown-up. You’re probably able to take care of yourself instinctively. But how can you help your people who perhaps aren’t as instinctively clued up?
I like Schwartz’s approach of using questions, only instead of asking yourself, you engage your team member in a private conversation. They may come to you with a problem in dealing with someone else in the workplace. You cannot realistically give them some miraculous piece of advice that will work every time. You do not want to create a relationship of dependence with you having to always step in and solve others’ interpersonal problems. But in engaging them with these questions, it’ll drive them to think, not just with this person they’re having difficulty dealing with today but in the future as well.
I read of a social experiment. Individuals were told they’d be working with a partner in a another room. Each would do one of two tasks, one of which was unpleasant. You got to choose who did what & your partner would never know. (Of course, there was no partner in the other room.) The researcher left for a few minutes while the subject decided. They had a coin in a sealed plastic bag in case they wanted to “decide fairly.” 90% of non-coin tossers gave the crappy job to their partner. Of those who tossed a coin, the crappy job was given to their partner…
The only variable that made the decider make fairer decisions = putting a mirror right in front of them.
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
Meta-cognition is a fancy term for thinking about how we think. We don’t often do it because we’re all so caught up in actually thinking or, more probably, doing stuff with as little thought as possible. (I might be judging myself on that point). The mindset and beliefs we have got us to this point and if this point is OK or better, there are risks in changing and challenging. But things won’t get better if you don’t.
In short, one answer is to deliberately surround yourself and seek out and expose yourself to information sources that you know will challenge you. I’m not suggesting you live in a perpetual state of stressful heightened awareness and self doubt but at the very least you gotta have someone who’ll call you out. Diversity is the broadest sense is even better. Source from beyond your bubble.
You won’t have time to think about everything, after-all that’s why you revert to confirmation bias to begin with, but perhaps approach conversations with an open mind. Don’t be so quick to judge.
Surround yourself with different types of people. Don’t label yourself. Be well-rounded and willing to hear different types of opinions on politics, religion, and life in general. This is a sign of intelligence not passivity.
It takes incredible mental strength to challenge your own deep-seated beliefs. Stand by your convictions, of course, but just realize some of that just may be rooted in confirmation bias. Be open. After-all. life is full of the gray stuff. We wish it were simple. This is right. That is wrong. It doesn’t always work that way. That’s why it’s good to be aware. Self-aware.
This article explains confirmation bias and some more thinking around addressing it.
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More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
I ran a couple of workshops this week on effective delegation with a law firm. I’ve also run these many times with many non-law firms. There’s a point after we agree on a definition of what delegation is, then discuss the potential benefits and differing objectives delegating might purposefully achieve if conducted effectively in a structured and tailored way. Right after that we tackle the reasons, justifiable or otherwise, why some people might choose not to delegate, or to do so ineffectively (whether or not those people were even consciously aware of why they were doing so).
Earlier, I’d sought from participants real-life stories from their own experience or observations of instances they considered to be effective and ineffective delegation. This week, as always, the vast majority of ineffective and unfortunate examples involved actions that could be encapsulated as ‘micro managing’.
We’ve all been there.
My own story was being lectured and berated on my sweeping technique in a building supply warehouse in which I worked in the mid 80s. I’m certainly over it but even in the retelling, I still get a hackle-raising sense of frustration in my blood. Others shared similar tales from their own back-stories.
One of the major reasons the groups self-identified behind people choosing to either not delegate or to pretty quickly start sticking their oar in again was to do with time and perspective.
If all you’re focused on is today and the ticking clock of a deadline, it may well be true that you can do it better and quicker yourself rather than delegating it. But if you’re focused on the big picture and the long game, you’re more open to realising and accepting that the point of delegating isn’t just about getting this piece of work done as soon as possible. It’s about getting many more pieces of work done again and again constantly. It’s a false economy to try and fool yourself that hanging onto tasks that could be done by others is effective leadership, simply because this one time you beat the buzzer. There are many more pieces of work than you are physically and mentally incapable of doing. It’s a simple capacity issue – if you’re focused beyond today. Delegating isn’t about flicking a task or two to the lowest-cost grunt able to competently do it, it’s about building capacity in your team in a planned, measured and deliberate way. Quite apart from getting stuff done, it exposes different people to your clients, builds trust, identified problems and mistakes early enough to rectify them, creates skills for succession planning and developing cover. If only one person can do a particular task and they get hit by a bus, or leave, or set up in competition, that’s a poorly managed risk.
Some people naturally have a time focus on the immediate short-term; others naturally look down the line a bit. The group had some ideas about how to not rely on nature, logical argument and luck to nudge the mindsets of those those now-fixated folk into the future a bit. One was around stories – not dissimilar to Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past and present. If micro-managing leaders can be exposed to leaders who used to be like them but saw the light, or that light they saw was the fire that burned them, them some lessons can be passed along forming organisational learning and memory. And everyone benefits, maybe not today but soon enough. And the sooner they start, the sooner it’ll happen.
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More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
‘Tis the reason for the season. Yes, I know it’s barely November and not even close to the actual season itself yet (unless you mean duck hunting) but the retail stores are already smashing us in the face and ears with things Christmassy. I was buying some birthday wrapping paper for my nephew’s science-based-parental-assistance-required birthday gift and thought, well, I’d better grab three five-metre rolls of Christmas rapping paper just in case. I was not alone.
Work presents several opportunities for giving gifts – sometimes amongst the team and sometimes from the organisation to the individuals or groups, within and / or outside the organisation. There’s the classic ‘Secret Santa’ and all its permutations. Names are drawn randomly and you get one gift for one specified person anonymously. I’m more focused in this article on leaders giving gifts to their team members. I’m not focussing on reward and recognition with a performance-reinforcing intention. I’m just looking at plain old gift-giving.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is to be purposeful, as in all things leadership. What’s is the point? What are you trying to achieve?The questions falling out of that will determine not only the nature of what you give but the way in which it’s given. This video clip summarises some content from a great book on influence by Robert Cialdini. The section on giving and how to give is very illuminating.
Objectives might include bolstering employee satisfaction, morale, loyalty, engagement, etc. Or maybe some leaders just want to have people think better of them driven by ego. Let’s be honest with ourselves.
My key points and questions around giving gifts at work (whether it’s Christmas or not) are:
- (Again), what are you trying to achieve?
- Target the gift to the person. Sure, everyone might appreciate a million bucks but a gift that connects to someone, or resonates emotionally, is more likely to engender genuine appreciation. If you get it right, it shows you listen, observe, remember and maybe even care. That’s hard to fake. On this topic too, try not to succumb to the temptation of just delegating it to your assistant. It’s OK to delegate the buying and wrapping legwork but the thinking needs to be yours.
- Add a meaningful and ‘keepable’ card that again is customised and encouraging, not just a generic ‘happy birthday’ message on a card. I walk through a lot of workplaces and it’s not uncommon to see a card or certificate stuck on a wall or workstation as an ongoing reminder (or evidence) of a respected and effective leader.
- I’m not suggesting you do the under-10 thing at home and physically make the gifts (unless you’re a master craftsman) but do you have to buy a thing?
- Some research indicates gifts that are remembered most fondly, and for longer, are experiences rather than things.
- Consider whether it’s best to gift publicly or privately. Might be a cultural thing too.
- If gifting publicly, consider whether it’s appropriate to tell a micro-story with each gifting as to why this gift is for this person. I’ve done this and seen this and it’s a great event experience if you get it right. Creates or connects to memories.
- Nothing says, “I couldn’t be bothered” than a gift card regardless of the amount, unless it comes with a story.
- Keep it appropriate. ‘Joke’ gifts or ‘hey-it’s-only-a-joke-mocking-gifts’, even if funny can be hurtful and counter productive. I once saw someone with some tooth issues given toothpaste as a ‘joke’ add-on to what was a decent gift. Just don’t.
- An option is to give a gift that has components that can be re-gifted or on-gifted. A basket o’ goodies once unwrapped can have those chocolate covered almonds passed forward to someone without a nut allergy. I have a nut allergy and every time someone gives me a gift that includes nuts, I thank them but the message is diminished as they clearly don’t know me or it was a generic off-the-shelf gift. Or they want to kill me. I once had a teammate gifted by our new boss a bottle of champagne oblivious to what everyone else at work knew – that the recipient was an alcoholic. That’s what I call ‘tickbox’ gifting. The giver rated champagne as a gift and a symbol but the message sent was that they did not care enough to know you at all.
- Make a list and update it throughout the year. Link significant events and achievements of each person to possible gift ideas. Think representative and meaning.
- Maintain relative gift budget equity.
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
There’s a lot to be said for working for an organisation where your personal values overlap significantly with the organisation’s. In the employee recruitment process, along with interviews, CVs, referees and behavioural profiling, I’d really appreciate a single, simple graphic: a venn diagram showing how much of a ‘values overlap’ the applicant has with the potential employer. The temptation would be to print it out in full colour. Out of respect for the planet and its future, please do not do this.
How do we know what a person’s values are or those of an organisation? Quite a lot of people and organisations might publically declare them to us and the world. Individuals can pop memes and inspirational posts up on social media in a hope that we will view them and extrapolate them to be lovers of sunrises, geese in migration, or, on Mondays, flocks of geese migrating across sunrises. Companies have professionals facilitate out of their leadership team a printed list of values that gets framed and hung pride of place in reception and the lunch room. I’m sure all these people and organisations are well-intentioned but reality is often incongruous with those stated intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, which still makes it infinitely superior to the intersection of Albany Highway and Oteha Valley Extention which seems to have been paved with 3 different sized ox carcasses, then a very thin and crumbly layer of off-brand asphalt.
Regardless, or irregardless, of what we say our values are, our behaviour betrays us. This is true of us and of organisations. There’s plenty of white collar fraudsters in prison who had accountability, excellence and integrity on the values statements of their business or professional association. Although, in fairness, the fact that they’re in prison does at least tick the ‘accountability’ box.
Venn diagrams and values posters aside, if you’re into observing reality, a good indicator of shared values are the growing range of corporate social responsibility projects going on. Some are well established and more about support and sponsorship. Funding a native parrot is great. Few employees or customers are going to tweet, “I hate Kakapos!!!” Nor should they, as three exclamation points are excessive and the plural of Kakapo is Kakapo not Kakapos. These types of corporate social responsibility efforts are passive for the vast majority of employees. The ones that may be a measure of some degree of values overlap and engagement are the ones that require overt activity from people on the ground. Some are well established and most worthy but do not require a lot of effort or cognitive contribution. Collecting coins in a bucket outside your work’s front door in exchange for colour-coded flowers or stickers for a good cause is admirable. Hoofing it into a steep muddy forest to plant carbon-offsetting treelings to save the world for our grandchildren is up the rankings a bit in my opinion.
If corporate social responsibility can be defined as a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the effects on environmental and social wellbeing, then we need to look at funding or support via inertia for the production and distribution of nukes, landmines and cigarettes. I’m not a fan of smoking but it is kind of shocking to see cigarettes third in a list that started with nukes and landmines. I guess if you added up the death, injury and misery, then cigarettes belong on the list. Someone recently sent me the findings of a study into the world’s deadliest animals. First was mosquitoes, then mankind itself, then snakes. Sixth was freshwater snails. That’s way more out of place than a list with smoking, nukes and landmines.
Collectively, we as consumers have more power than we realise. If we can leverage the power of the group to stop buying the products or services of a company that doesn’t agree with your views on marriage equality, then why can’t the talent in the employee marketplace exhibit that same influence by choosing to work with someone who does agree. A company cannot and should not ask an applicant their views on marriage equality or many other belief-based topics. Most applicants are not going to directly ask a recruiter or potential employer their official or personal views on such topics either. But, they might watch the news or so some internet searching and the organisation’s behaviour will betray its true values.
For an activity to learn more about your team’s values and internal ‘operating systems’, check out my one-page personal user-manual project at http://www.myusermanual.net
The term ‘silent majority’ is likely equally applicable to employers as it is to the voting public. Most people do not attend marches or sign online petitions. Most employers do not declare themselves to be pro or anti most things. But if you’re an employer who wants to attract the truly talented and those within that group with whom you share values, you’ve got to stand for something. Those potential employees are talented; they’re not psychic.
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
I recently spent a month in the United States. I did do a little bit of work over there but there’s a part of me dying to strongly imply that I was exposed to a mass of leading edge innovative thinking around leadership and employment. Truth be told, I was exposed to a lot of Disney characters, movie studio tour guides and Vegas street touts. Not that I didn’t learn a lot that I’ll touch on shortly.
Before today’s instant, albeit temporary, ubiquity provided by the internet, you had to go overseas to wherever the motherland of your industry was to pick up the new trends and terms and it always seemed like New Zealand was years behind. But we did lead the world in cultural cringing. Fashionistas had to go to Paris or Milan. (Although if they were from New Zealand, they were probably fashioniwis?) I presume currency traders had to go to Wall Street or a conference in the Cayman Islands. I’m not sure where employment gurus went. I do remember that it seemed critical that they go and come back. Maybe it was more about the journey and not the destination?
I will admit there have been many occasions where I’ve had sudden and sharp pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out) where I hear a term that everyone seems to be using and I didn’t immediately know what it meant. For example, some of you might have felt that about FOMO, which would have been an ironic example of FOMO in action. Many times I’ve heard “Remuneration and reward” pronounced as “renumeration and award.” This could be me mishearing, or the speaker mispronouncing. Either of those alternatives are logical and probably equally likely. Nevertheless, my default is usually a fleeting belief that there is a new HR term buzzing around and I’m late to the party. I’ll quickly rationalise and assign meaning. Renumeration sounds real enough. Sounds like you numerate something then do it again, possibly multiple times.
To numerate literally means to represent numbers with symbols. So, a corporate policy of renumeration might mean that you give out payslips and instead of having old fashioned numbers indicating quite specifically what people have been paid and what deductions have been deducted, you replace the numbers with graphics. So instead of “$800”, there is a picture of a non premium brand HD TV. People often resent the deductions from their pay, even though they may benefit in the long run from ACC, student loans, tax spent by the Government or their own retirement savings. You could boost morale and engagement by having people choose their own graphics for their own deductions. Liberals could have their taxes represented by a teacher or nurse. The other end of the political spectrum could choose whatever they think taxes might best be represented by – something like the ‘more gruel’ scene from Oliver Twist. That’d be kind of detailed. I’d suggest using a bigger font.
And if people didn’t like or understand their pay by the graphics, you could do it again with new symbols, thus putting the ‘re’ into ‘renumeration.’
Awards are way more obvious, obviously. There are the Grammy Awards and the Academy Awards, so these would be like those but in an employment context. People would be super motivated by those, just like singers and actors primarily do what they do seeking the eventual, subjective and uncertain approval of a small, detached group of judges out of touch and unrepresentative of themselves.
Some of you might be thinking to yourselves that you’re all good, as you already have an employee of the month or similar award. Stop thinking small. Ramp it up. Two words – red carpet. And glitter. OK – three words.
Of course, at some point I realise that I’ve misheard what’s been said and I’m not missing out on some new, flash in the pan technique from overseas and I don’t have to catch up to Trendy McTrenderson. I shudder to think of the pitfalls of employee reward systems based on the Academy Awards. Employees of the month are enough of a mixed bag as it is. If you’ve ever coached your kid’s sports team and had to endure the politics and repercussions of player of the day, you’ll know what I mean.
I’m not a big drinker or gambler but I did enjoy my first time in Vegas. I missed being at the scene of a police shooting by five minutes as I stopped enroute to the Bellagio fountain show to get some gummy worms. (“When in Rome,” as they say. Or, at least, when next door to Caesar’s Palace.) There were lots of self employed on the streets seeking reward and remuneration in their own way. There were multiple performers dressed as Elvis. This is what I learned – the plural of Elvis is Elvi!
There is no ideal model workplace culture and no single path to get there.
I’m writing a new book and am at the research stage. The most obvious visible behaviour for me at this stage is not writing. So much reading! The book will be about adding ten productive years to your life and a section will be about extending our healthy lifespan. As a result, I’m reading a lot of inherently contradictory information, much like we’re all lambasted with constantly. Eggs are good for you. Eggs are bad for you. Some bits of eggs are good for you and some bits are bad for you. Some eggs should face trial for war crimes. That sort of thing.
There is some absolute quackery about miracle cures for aging that, no doubt, someone will try and sell you in pill form very soon. Telling us that there is a restorative compound in red wine is useful. Finding out that we’d need to drink a bathtubfull a day to get enough of that compound is less helpful. I’d need to refer back to my notes but I may have read somewhere that our wine limit should be 2 glasses a day. Perhaps there is a market for glasses the size of bathtubs? That is definitely one bathtub where you’d want to utilize a non-slip bathmat. Perhaps several, for the footpath for your long walk home?
I’m keen to believe the probiotic yoghurt propaganda. (The theme of this month’s issue of Employment Today is, after all, culture.) In case you’ve missed the infomercials, here’s the downlow on the lowdown bugs in our guts. There are bugs in our guts. There are bugs all over our bodies. (And, no, I’m not talking about the imaginary ones you’ll hallucinate when you try to cut down on your two-bathtubs-a-day red wine habit.) There are bad bugs which is why we should wash our hands and good bugs which is why we should not smother ourselves inside and out with disinfectant drugs and chemicals. For decades as a society, we’ve been pointlessly amping up on anti-biotics for sniffles and viruses which is useless and increasingly diminishing the effect of antibiotics and breeding antibiotic-resistant hospital-loving superbugs. Antibiotics also fail to distinguish between good and bad bugs, killing both in a broad spectrum kind of way.
So, the sales pitch goes that this lifestyle, plus our sad, beige diets has led to imbalance in the gut bug world and a lot of our ailments can be attributed to this. Please buy our brand of probiotic yoghurt or pills. I’m prepared to partly accept this because I like yoghurt and I’m always a lot more open to new information when it in no way conflicts with my existing beliefs and behaviours. You know, like virtually everyone.
The thing I didn’t know about our gut bugs is that we don’t all have the same ones or the same mix. At some point in our early development, we get colonised and that type of bug is ours for life. It’s a bit like blood types with types A+ and O-. Some researchers are mooting that in the not-too-distant future, there will be probiotic cafes where you can get customised smoothies with the gut bug that’s right for you. I’m guessing that they’ll get the marketing department working on a better brand name than ‘gut bugs.’ (GB?) Knowing my own gut bug type is currently a level of self awareness that I have failed to achieve.
This might be the longest bow I’ve ever drawn, or the most tenuous of metaphors, but, in a way, isn’t workplace culture a bit like this?
So many books, blog posts, LinkedIn articles and conversations revolve around the premise that there is this mystical, magical and elusive one-right-way to generate a successful results-oriented, customer-focused, highly engaged workplace culture. Implicit is that there is one ideal model culture to which to aspire. There isn’t. It depends.
Like gut bugs, workplace cultures need to evolve. Like the probiotic cafes of the future, we need to know what workplace culture we want before we start any efforts to build one or improve one we got stuck with. And, we need to stop poisoning our workplace cultures, killing the good alongside the bad, with broad spectrum shotgun efforts.
How anyone thinks there can be a uniform and constant workplace culture is beyond me. Just driving around with your eyes open displays sharply that contemporary New Zealand is multi-cultural and increasingly so, in the more usual demographic sense of the term. Workplaces are reflecting diverse racial and national cultures and you can throw in age, attitude and other demarcations too. The point here is that there is no point – not a single point anyway. What’s needed is an openness amongst employers to diversity, coupled with an acceptance that the now and the future need a lot more personalised approaches to workplace culture than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Is there a red wine yoghurt? Asking for a friend.
Conflict conjures up images of stress and battles on the job but managed well, it can stimulate employee engagement and productivity.
Stanford’s Professor Robert Sutton undertook a massive study into organisations and the majority of them were displaying ineffective behaviours when it came to building and maintaining teams. The angle of his research worked backwards from those repeated ineffective behaviours to the leaders’ mindsets and preconceptions that drove them, over and over again. One of those mindsets was a belief that team harmony was crucial to success. It isn’t.
The theme of this month’s issue is conflict resolution. I’ve run the occasional training session around conflict resolution. Often, I’ll ask the group for the pro’s and cons of conflict in the workplace. The cons are obvious enough and people are adept at quickly amassing a swarm of negative thoughts. But if provoked a little, people can work up quite the list of advantages of well-managed conflict in the workplace. And this is what Sutton concluded about team harmony. At one extreme, constant battles are unhealthy and unproductive but at the other extreme, the illusion of constant peace and tranquillity need not be all fluffy bunnies and rose petals either. Often, that veneer of civility is a facade for repressed conflict and passive aggressive behaviour. Zero conflict is unrealistic and not very productive either.
The answer isn’t even halfway, its north of that. Conflict occurs as it will normally with reasonable people. The conflicts are resolved professionally and courteously but they have to occur because it is from those ashes that innovation arises. This is where new ideas occur, problems get solved and sacred cows are challenged. This zone is called ‘Productive Conflict.’ Are you wondering if your workplace is in Sutton’s magical zone of productive conflict? The litmus test is this – Can the lowest ranked, least paid or newest member of your team speak up and say anything, challenge anything to the boss without fear of consequence? If they can, that’s a sign of the state of productive conflict. If they can’t, it’s a sign of something else. And that’s not good.
Most hiring failures occur due to attitude. Some of those failures result in employees leaving. Most result in employees staying but in a disengaged state, doing no more than they have to because they have to with all the performance management workload that entails. There are a lot more dimensions to this thing called ‘attitude’ than just trying to hire those with a ‘good’ one rather than a ‘bad’ one. One attitude to search for and target with your structured behaviour-based interview questions and so forth is a non-avoiding and mature attitude towards conflict.
My kids aren’t perfect and neither is my parenting but we’re all in a good patch at the moment. We have our share of family conflict. My son has had a weekend job at our local Pak n Save the past ten months and got seriously great feedback from his performance review. My daughter went with me to a Warriors game, got to talking to a woman she’d never met and walked away with a job interview appointment for a summer job. The point I’m trying to make here to parents and people who have ever been a teenager that are also employing young people is that young people can chose their attitudes as easily as they can choose their body piercings and tattoos. And that includes their attitudes toward conflict.
I’ve spent the past couple of months delivering thirty presentations to six thousand business people around the country. I’ve shared a bunch of research and a few stories and case studies on team building. A lot of stories came back at me, many involving conflict. Most were realistic about it being a process, a tunnel with a light at the end, albeit with absolutely zero idea of how long the tunnel is.
There’s the old joke that goes like this:
During a visit to a mental asylum, a visitor asked the director how to determine whether or not a patient should be institutionalised. “Well,” said the director, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient, and ask him to empty the bathtub.” “Oh, I see,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the bucket because it is bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”
“No,” said the director, “a normal person would pull out the plug. Do you want the bed near the window?”
When people are presented with a situation as a problem with a number of solutions, then that’s how they see it. Conflict need not be a problem but it will be if that’s how you choose to see conflict.