Category Archives: Workplace Of Choice

Does Your Fun ‘n’ Funky Workplace Actually Make For Better Work?

slide at work

This article covers some workplaces that have gone for the fun and funky motif – perhaps some others have tried to, but in the superficial way where all the mini golf courses in corridors and Harry Potter secret doors and fireman poles cannot overcome the dull, uninspiring work infecting dulled, uninspired inhabitants.

Cosmetic efforts at dollying-up the physical environment or doing ‘David-Brent-From-The Office UK’ level of cringe-worthy activities is superficial, paternalistic and, at best, only effective in the short term.

“…one of the most important factors in engagement actually relates to internal employee happiness rather than external stimuli. This means, in the same way that buying children a lollipop will please them for a few minutes, ‘faux fun’ will have equally short-term benefits”.

A boss with a rubber chicken is probably embarrassing or at best diverting attention from problems that demand competent attention. Several real chickens would probably be more effective at boosting morale, although you’d rather have it be your turn to clean the microwave than clean up after Katy Pecky and Christina Eggalayer.

I MC’d a conference in Wellington a while ago. In the afternoon, we were taken on a waling tour of a couple of high-profile workplaces – TradeMe and Xero. Ostensibly, we were looking at the physical layout of the workplaces as they were famous / infamous for being Googly / Appley in their fun, modern, even futuristic designs. And, yes, on arrival it was very visibly overt and different. Walls lined with classic album covers, a five-story spiral slide in the centre of the building and even a choice of several boutique beers on tap in the staff canteen with sweeping harbour views for all.

But these places also walked the talk. It was not superficial; it was representative. One meeting room was a caravan parked in a large space. It was an old caravan fitted out with the mod cons of an office meeting room. But it was also one of the first items ever sold on their site. It meant something. It represented something. But it was also practical, flexible and had genuine functionality.

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Gift Giving At Work

gift

‘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:

  1. (Again), what are you trying to achieve?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. Some research indicates gifts that are remembered most fondly, and for longer, are experiences rather than things.
  6. Consider whether it’s best to gift publicly or privately. Might be a cultural thing too.
  7. 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.
  8. Nothing says, “I couldn’t be bothered” than a gift card regardless of the amount, unless it comes with a story.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Maintain relative gift budget equity.

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How Much Of A Values Overlap Is Needed Between Employers & Employees?

geese sunset

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.

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Workplace Culture: Cultural Evolution

Yogurt with spoon

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.

 

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(The Office) Space: The Final Frontier

office

People are not mice wandering through mazes in search and cheese and getting rewards for pushing levers. Having said that, employers can greatly influence the performance of their people by the physical environment they create and provide, both positively and negatively, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Law Professor Cass Sunstein and economist Richard Thaler coined the term ‘Choice Architecture’ in their book ‘Nudge.’ It describes how decisions are influenced by how the choices are presented in order to influence the outcome. While they didn’t literally mean architecture in the sense of the plans for a building, sometimes the physical layout of a location can strongly influence the decisions that are made there. Look around your workplace. Check out the next store you walk past. There is no neutral architecture. Even doing nothing influences the behaviour of others.

Research conducted in some American school cafeterias has showed that the location of the food on offer can impact consumption by food type 25%. If those fatty snack foods aren’t right in our faces, we do tend to buy less of them. How’s your willpower when passing those end-of-aisle ‘specials’ display at your supermarket? (Never shop when you’re hungry!) Are there impossible-to-ignore distractions at work right in your face?

My favourite example of influencing behaviour through simple environmental design is Aad Kieboom’s urinal fly. Kieboom was an economist yet was put in charge in the 1990s of directing the building expansion at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. I’m sure they did a lot of other marvellous things during their renovations but what really got the internet buzzing was their urinal fly.

Without getting into too much graphic detail, men are grossly inaccurate in bathrooms and there are costs associated with that – cleaning is one and possibly psychological scarring is another. By simply embedding the image of a fly within the porcelain of the urinals, they reduced spillage by 80% (Please do not seek out the individual researchers who measured that. I think they’d rather move on.) Maybe it’s the novelty factor? Maybe it’s a damning indictment of the male psyche? (They tried a simple black dot instead of a fly. It didn’t work.)

They wanted a behaviour change. Asking nicely and appealing to sensibilities and reason had failed. A cheap and simple bit of choice architecture drove a major behaviour change. Neat.

And if you don’t think it’s neat, think again the next time you push a door that’s supposed to be pulled then look up to see a sign that says ‘PULL’ in bold impossible to miss print. There’s a classic Gary Larson ‘Farside’ cartoon where this occurs. Unmissable, next to the door is a sign that says, ‘Midvale School For The Gifted.’

Signs are a typical tickbox solution. Someone thinks to themselves that they need to communicate something. They put up a sign. They tick a box and feel that communication has occurred. Nope. I’m sure the airport toilet people, society in general and mums everywhere communicated strongly that men shouldn’t urinate on the floor. Design achieved true communication. Message meaning received, understood and acted upon! How difficult is it to anticipate the door push / pull embarrassment occurring and to design a door that looks intuitively that it needs to be pushed or pulled? Put a sign up as well if it makes you feel better.

People often drove off from petrol stations without their car’s petrol cap. People walk away from ATMs without their card. These are called ‘Post-Completion Errors’, are entirely predictable and can be prevented or mitigated through physical design and choice architecture. What such errors happen in your workplace and how might a minor tweak to the physical environment positively affect behaviour?

We’ve covered individual behaviour being impacted by changes to the physical environment. What about group behaviour? Specifically, what about group interaction? You know how positive comment ratios, social interaction and frequent feedback stimulate internal motivation and productive group dynamics. Studies show that the number one factor in influencing those who collaborate effectively at work is physical proximity. This might be the single most obvious finding ever. We tend to work with, and hang with, those who are already around us. Frequent exposure to these people at our desk, over coffee or in the hallway over time generates ‘propinquity’ – an attraction born of familiarity. How does the physical set-up of your work encourage those that need to collaborate to do so?

I’ve visited workplaces with mini-golf courses in the corridors, little lounge areas in amongst the cubicles and scooters by the doorways to get about. Some have swiss balls for sitting on in meetings (possibly cos it makes meetings shorter?) Please write to my editor in support of my pitch to television networks for my reality TV show idea ‘Pimp My Office.’

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How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

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Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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Long Distance Employee Engagement

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In my career, I once managed teams in various locations and teams who also worked around the clock. It wasn’t far but it was far enough. This geographic and chronological distribution is quite a challenge to manage. Technology both offers some solutions and causes some problems. The management from a distance, be it time or space, requires planning and purposeful effort. This post has a neat list of 12 ideas about promoting employee engagement with remote employees that are well worth considering and / or trialling depending on your own long-distance situation.

Employee Engagement – Affected By Gossip?

gossip2

Gossip is a disease. This article makes several sensible correlations between the spread and effects of behind-backs-chitchat and that of actual disease. In both cases, it is better to catch it and cure it early. I’ll add my own 2-cents’ worth to the imagery – it’s far better to immunize beforehand than ever have to cure anything at all. Prevention better than cure said someone’s grandmother, I’m sure.

WikiHow has its 8-steps to solving office gossip, including such classics as “Know what gossip is” and “don’t participate in it yourself.”

This Forbes article does suggest that it’s really only ‘negative gossip’ you should crack down on while actively encouraging ‘positive gossip.’

The simplest solution would be not to employ people at all. If an organisation has 3 people, it’s going to have (at least) 3 separate gossip streams going at any one time. Best to employ robots. They don’t gossip and can be programmed to take the blame if things go south.

Holistic Thinking Around Employee Engagement

Terry Williams seriouscomedy laffic-graphic MATE www.terrywilliams.info

This is a great post in Forbes by Josh Bersin. I’m always flapping my gums about the futility of ‘tick-box’ engagement efforts like annual culture surveys and such. He’s actually distilled into a useful and succinct summary some practical holistic strategies.

I especially like and agree with his thinking on building an engaging environment.

On survey efforts etc, he writes:

“While this is a good thing to do, most companies now tell us that this process is not keeping up. It’s not detailed enough, it isn’t real-time, and it doesn’t consider  all the work related issues which drive employee commitment. A new breed of engagement tools vendors, models, books, and workshops has emerged – all focused on building what we call today’s  ‘Irresistible Organization.’ “

There’s some links to interesting new research on how the old axiom that ‘people leave bosses, not organisations’ may no longer be the case.

Survey results can be misleading. And funny:

  • The apocalypse – favoured by 4 out of 5 horsemen.
  • Research shows six out of seven dwarves aren’t Happy.

Intrapreneurship: The Key To Releasing Employee Engagement

intrapreneur

I’m writing a new book – this time about adding ten years to our lives. Part of that is having to pay for the extra years. Not that working is just about earning but wine doesn’t pay for itself. (Note to self: invent self-paying wine.) Engaged employees – engaged people – live longer, better lives.

So, for income, a sense of purpose and simply something to do, we’d like to keep working. You and me anyway – on our terms. I’ve been reading some interesting research on how those of us trucking on into our seventies and onwards in the workforce can’t rely on being perceived as hire-able in the traditional sense. Even now, over half the ‘workers’ above 65 are self employed. There are lots of reasons for that. Some reasonable reasons and some not so much.

Being self employed is tough and challenging and has no guarantees. You either dig that scene or you don’t. I do. I never thought I would.

To better tool ourselves up for a future with options, we need to bulk up the quantity and quality of our social and professional connections. That’s good for health, longevity and business. We could also prep for our potential launch into self employment by having a Brain-Based Boss who allowed, even encouraged, Intrapreneurship. ENtrepreneurs are those idealised risk-taking arse-kicking people who take new ideas and energy and try and implement and monetise them. The minority who survive are lauded as wealth and job creators for others. This is true although it is a gruesome attrition. So, INtrapreneurs would, in theory, take that same attitude and apply it in a job inside an existing company.

It’s a thing. There’s even a conference about it.

The poster child for Intrapreneurs is the inventor of post-it notes who was working for 3M at the time and they took the idea. Although, that guy, whose name I cannot remember, was just trying to keep his place in his choir’s hymnbooks. He was using company time and resources to do it. 3M might be cool and programme such time and efforts into their people’s jobs, not just allowing it after the fact but encouraging it hoping for that 1-in-a-1000 hit.

Employee engagement is helped significantly where there is an alignment between an employee’s personal goals and the goals of the organisation. (Not just saying that they do.)

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