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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Working with your mouth open.

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My kids have a lot of bad habits like chewing with their mouth open, leaving messes, procrastinating and interrupting one another.   I also see many of these in the workplace.   In a leadership role, I am often the sounding board to employee complaints about their co-worker’s behavior.   Many of these annoying little traits are not done consciously, but rather an old behavior that carries over to the workplace without consideration of the effect on others.   As the saying goes, these little behaviors result in death by a thousand cuts…and a loss of a co-worker-friend or even a job.

All the parents I know coach their kids on good manners and behavior.   What if that coaching went one step further and relayed the results of these bad habits as adults in the workplace?

Here is a list of many common bad habits and what to do about them:

Sink:   After a long day at work, nothing bothers me more than coming home to kids (that have been home for 2 hours) that have left dishes in the sink.   How hard is it to put them in the dishwasher?   This same behavior happens at work.   For the 20+ years I have been in the workplace, dishes in the sink at work has been an issue.  Solution:  Set a policy and stick to it.   At home, dishes in the sink equals laps on the stairs.   At work, dishes in the sink means they get thrown away.   Each week kitchen duty is assigned to a person (or two) and they have ultimate authority to make dish- decisions.   When someone’s favorite coffee mug is trashed, it doesn’t seem to get left behind any longer.

Listening:   It is pointless for me to talk to the kids when they are on the computer.   We call it video-game-brain.   They are terrible listeners.   Sadly, the workplace has them too.   The non-verbal’s scream out loud when someone you are talking to is not listening. The first step to resolve this problem is to start internally and practice your own listening skills.   Pay attention.   Also, keep your messages brief.   Is not listening a result of tuning out messages that go on and on and repeat? Lastly, silence can be a great tool.   Stop talking and look at the person until eye contact is made.   Usually the message is clear with no further dialogue.

Junior high:   With two of my three kids through junior high, I have direct experience with whining, complaining, gossiping and eye rolling.   Little doses are tolerable, but continuous actions are impossible to ignore and have to be addressed.   Talk about it one on one with the person and make them aware of your observation.   Then move to a team based, or family based, discussion that such behaviors are not part of the culture and find more positive alternatives.   There are a lot of resources on this topic, such as this.

Social media games:   Employees will “friend” and “defriend” coworkers and use it as a tool of revenge. “Yes, I will offer you a “friend” request so when you make me upset I can have leverage to “defriend” you.”   This is one example of how social media is woven into work.   If you haven’t done so already, get a social media policy in place.   This is one aspect that must be included; the company’s expectations around social media platforms.   Also, make sure your kids at home understand the ramifications of the vast social network.   I have a previous blog article on that here.

Lying:   I had a child psychologist tell me that kids aren’t lying because they are morally corrupt, instead they are trying to take the easy way out and don’t have a tool chest to draw from to communicate.  Like saying they brushed their teeth when they didn’t, for example.  The workplace is full of little lies.   “Yes, I emailed him” – then quickly sends the email.   Lying runs the spectrum and the slope is difficult to discern in terms of acceptability.   This one ranks at the top for termination too.   Hold liars accountable across the board.

Manners:   This can be one of the more uncomfortable conversations to have at work.   Obsessive coughing, poor hygiene, bad table manners and showing up sick are all examples of behaviors that can truly alienate a person.   Kids can get away with many of these throughout their school career, but it is different in the workplace.   Leadership needs to drive a culture that quickly and consistently addresses these issues.

Empty:   Empty toilet paper rolls, empty paper trays, empty coffee pots and empty milk jugs.   When there’s no toilet paper at home, the kids yell.   What are employees supposed to do?   The tragedy of the commons:   When it is everyone’s job, it is no one’s job.   I would love to hear ideas on solving this one?

People at work, just like a family, have to find ways to co-exist together in defined spaces.   The best results come from awareness and open communication.   Good luck!

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Hashtag Workers

The hashtag generation.

The hashtag generation.

This year the Millennials will surpass the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation at over 75 million. According to a recent Deloitte Millennial Survey, Millennials, or Gen Y will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.  The census bureau defines the millennial generation as those born between 1982 – 2000.   They are currently 15 to 33 years old.   Until now, the Boomers were the largest generation at about 74 million (GenXers are a much smaller generation at about 65 million).   The biggest difference; the Millennials are diverse.   Approximately 44% are of a minority ethnicity or race and one in four speak a foreign language at home.   This group is also more educated with 22 percent having a college degree, compared to 16% in 1980.   Two thirds of this group are now in the workplace.   The rest are on their way.   If you are a business professional, and are not considering the demographic of the next generation workforce, then you are #behindthetimes or a #dinasourintheworkplace.

In the past month, I conducted a survey at my company regarding outdated policies.   The responses included requests for more casual days, flexible scheduling and better recycling bins.   All items indicative of the changing work environment.   Observations of the employment landscape prompts further discussion of these digital savvy, hashtag workers and it’s our job, as employers and parents, to understand, educate and embrace them.

In doing so, let us keep a few things in mind:

  • Be wary of labels. Perceptions across the generations vary.   What we think of as tech savvy, may not be to a Millennial.   What they think of as relationship building, may not be the same as a Boomer.     Millennials have the unfortunate reputation of being helicoptered, entitled and flaky.   Talk about these labels with your Millennials and gain direct perspective.   Getting on the same page is the first step.
  • Millennials grew up with technology.   They may have heard of a pound sign, but “#” is part of social media life.   Embrace it and move on.
  • They will be inherently better at technology, social media, social attitudes and optimism.   Use it to your advantage.
  • Ask them what motivates.   Don’t assume.
  • Get used to answering “why” questions.   This is a positive.   This can expose better ways of doing things.
  • Speak the language: BAE, YOLO, epic, really?, LMAO, haha, ttyl, swag, #, emoji’s, memes, etc.

Living and working in harmony is the goal.   By exploring information about this workforce, the gap can be bridged.   Here is a fun infographic (a tool Millennials love) that offers a 30,000 foot (Boomer term) view.

millenials-career-infographic

Twitter to term.

Last week the VP of Men’s Merchandising at JCrew had to lay off 175 workers.   He did several of the layoffs personally.   After a tough day, it is understandable to want to head out and grab a drink.   Alejandro Rhett did just that.   And more.   He partied with a few others that survived the layoffs and snapped selfies and added hashtags like:   #hungergames, #maytheoddsbeeverinyourfavor.  Someone that knew of the layoffs decided to forward his tasteless and inconsiderate posts and the rest is social media viral history.  This 31 year old VP had a huge lack of judgement and is learning his lesson the hard way.

Alejandro I

The kids I have at home, and most of their friends, could very easily make the same mistake in the future.   They have all grown up with devices, yet do not poses the capacity to truly understand the power of social media.   The developing workforce at home lives in the social media, more than you and me, and has loads of online experience.   But do they get the potential ramifications of pressing send/post/tweet?    The lessons need to start now and Alejandro is an example of what not to do.

Conveying social media responsibilities is difficult with kids because their worlds are small.   Their worlds consist of a home, school, and a limited social circle.   They have no real concept of the expansive world of Twitter, Instagram and iChat.      How can the impact of their actions be relayed in a message that resonates with youth?    Along with Mr.- JCrew- VP example, here are a few ideas:

  • Go where your kids go.   Most youth are not limited to Facebook like many adults.   They communicate through Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.   Explore their platforms of communication.
  • Explain the danger.   Parents do a great job of talking about safety in terms of seatbelts and strangers.   What about safety in the social media world?
  • Explain the embarrassment.   Illustrate a story that would expose them to their entire school or something in their world.   Would they still send that picture or text?
  • Show them.   Show them how to use social media responsibly.   Let them see your Facebook page, Twitter feeds and Instagram accounts.   If you can’t open them up to your children, then perhaps you need to consider your own actions.
  • Do a little bit of homework.   There are a ton of sources that help parents with this topic.

Two days after the story about Alejandro broke, he was fired from JCrew.   Hopefully he gained valuable humility and discretion.   This story will soon be buried in the news feed but every time a new employer does a Google search on Alejandro, this incident will appear.   I’m sure he is thinking the hashtags just weren’t worth it.

Alejandro II

Under the bus.

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I have had personal experience with colleagues that would throw me under the bus. And I am not proud to admit that I have done it too.     It feels awful, on both sides. When I have been thrown under the bus, I have been caught off guard and completely unprepared to defend myself.    I don’t operate in a state of explaining-everything-I-do and it is exhausting to feel like playing defense is a new line item on your job description.

I see this at home all of the time.   Three kids under one roof means one sibling will sacrifice another sibling for their own selfish reasons, the very definition of throwing someone under the bus.   Kids are brilliant at it and they keep their own arsenals of data to fire back at just the right moment.   If I ask the children who didn’t clean their dishes, one will answer with the fact that another left their socks in the backyard.   And then a third will chime in that another bought cookies with their lunch money.   And on and on…

No one wins in this situation and mostly people end up feeling bad.   The dilemma is how to address this, how to prevent it and provide an environment, both at work and at home, that does not tolerate running over people:

  • Culture: Are your actions supporting a culture that allows self-indulgence at the expense of others?   Are you responding to the kids when they manipulate stories and rat out their siblings?   If so, plan on the behavior continuing…in spades.   Leadership is hard and comes with drama.   Face it head on and have discussions that are on point.
  • Admit mistakes: It may seem counter-intuitive, but openly admitting mistakes builds credibility.   Do this in front of your children and they will be more likely to be authentic workers when they get a job.
  • Take one for the team: When an issue is small, like a client claiming you never sent that email, go ahead and agree.   Yes it stings a little when you know you did communicate, but is it worth damaging a relationship?   The person knows the truth too and will appreciate if you help them save face.
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Did your parent say this?   After my experience with a vindictive co-worker, I realized all I could do was work on myself.   I had to develop some of my own coping tools.   I got the help of a business coach and started to:
    • Limit communications to the facts.   No editorializing on email.
    • Stop feeding the situation.   Every time I was thrown under the bus, there would be zero response from me.   Think of it like training a dog.   Consistency.
    • Recognize contentious topics and head them off at the pass. This might mean cc’ing the appropriate people or out lining exactly what I have done on a project so there is no mystification.
    • Trust yourself.   Trust your boss.   Without exception, every time I have experienced time of strife, it eventually worked itself out.   It might mean a new, better job.   Or, the boss will eventually see the bad behavior and address it.   People that spend their efforts to throw others under the bus eventually work themselves out of an organization.   The same is true with kids.   They have powerful group dynamics and will tire of troublemakers. Reinforce doing the right thing, it pays off.

You can lead by example whether you have the title or not.   There is always another path to choose and under the wheels is the least desirable.

Always and Never

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Beware of “always” and “never.”   At home the kids say; “we always have tacos for dinner” and “we never have ice cream for dessert” and “you always say no.”   Does that sound realistic?   No.   There are very few things that fall into the “always” and “never” category.   Yet these words spill out of our mouths easily.    As a co-worker of mine recently pointed out, these are powerful words.   They slip into conversations without too much notice, yet completely change the weight of the message.

The purpose of these words is to emphasize a point.   In the workplace, these statements are taken as hyperbole, but should still be assessed.   The problem is the statements at work tend to get more difficult to manage than always having tacos for dinner.     Some common phrases I have heard at work are; “you never listen to me,”   “I’m always the last to know” and “I’m never told anything.”   Conversely, managers spout the same rhetoric with proclamations like “I will always support your decisions,” or “you will always have a job here.”

Is this really what people believe or is it an expression of feelings?   Rarely is it meant in the literal sense.   When kids say it, they have limited communication tools.   Adults may have limited tools too,  and it can be a sign of problems to come.   Both are conveying deeper messages and it’s our job to decode.

Take the “you never listen to me” example.   Could it possibly mean “I’m worried you don’t see my value?”   Would changing the filter and hearing a deeper expression alter your response?   The mindset to recalibrate the message takes practice and patience.   Responding with the same hyperbole will not resolve the conversation.   Instead focus on the potential real meaning to open a dialogue that will be mutually beneficial.

In the employment setting, such absolute statements can indicate a black/white thinker.   It could be a sign of someone who may not be mentally nimble or have the ability to expand their beliefs.   An interesting study on this topic can be found here and this might be something to watch for in an interview.

When confronted with an “always” or “never” statement, a couple of quick response guidelines are:

  • Stay neutral.   Such statements are attempts to elicit emotional responses.   Respond with facts or follow-up questions.
  • Don’t believe it.   Beliefs drive behavior.   Remind yourself that the words aren’t accurate and look beyond for further meaning.
  • Don’t get defensive and respond in kind.   If you find that this is impossible for you, try what is suggested next.

The two-part conversation is a handy tool.   If an appropriate and immediate response does not come to mind, create a second opportunity to chat.   Simply state that you heard the statement and wish to think about it and will follow-up at a time that is mutually convenient.   I can’t tell you how many times the value of gaining added time to edit a conversation has benefited me.   Responding to “feelings” with feelings rarely accomplishes anything constructive.

In closing, here is my favorite taco recipe that I always make:

http://paleogrubs.com/nacho-recipe

 

Sock management.

tumblr_inline_mxd57nJJ8r1s5ubmn[1]      I live in a home full of miss-matched socks.   There are five people and each person has at least 30 pairs of socks.   I find socks in the couch,  the backyard, backpacks,  the car….everywhere except in the hamper.   I constantly ask, demand and make consequences about the socks.   And no one listens.   Turns out the socks are inconsequential and my voice on this topic is just noise.

Similarly the workplace is full of “noise”.   Managers, supervisors, or any person in an authoritative type role has the ability to slip into the mode of micromanagement.   The need to control ones environment takes over common logic of letting the small things go and allowing people to conduct job duties in their own way.

First, is micro managing truly bad? And, why does this happen?   Finally, why don’t we see it when it is happening?

The answer is yes, people don’t like to be micromanaged.   Constant micromanagement leads to frustration, a stifled learning environment and complete lack of engagement. At home my kids will endure 20 seconds of hearing me versus perpetual sock duty. This happens in the office too.   Sometimes these tendencies can stem from previous experience at a job and thinking that my way is the best way.   Or, it can be the need to not let someone else fail, thinking it is a reflection on ourselves.   And the most common reason; control.     Micromanagement actions can sneak up on a person, especially moving through a career path of progressively more responsible positions.   It can be hard to let go of things we know we do well and move into the uncharted territory of the unknown.   This is why it is critical to recognize and understand how to manage the micromanagement both at work and at home.

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Here are a few tips:

  • Let people/kids make mistakes.   Making mistakes are a great way to learn.   Apply a few simple consequences and move on.
  • Give trust in order to receive trust.   Go ahead and trust people (and your kids).   They might surprise you.
  • Save the micro management for the moments you really need it.   A critical project.   Or the real dangers with kids like drugs and alcohol.
  • Let it go.   Really? I’m going to spend my energies on lecturing the kids about socks?
  • Focus on the bigger picture. What matters to the person?   I don’t care how a person manages their work process as long as the final project is done on time.   And no, I won’t lecture about socks, but I control the car keys when they want them.   This position removes the nit-picking and focuses on bigger goals that empower a person to achieve them in their own way.

Recall for a moment the boss you had somewhere along the line that micro managed you. It wasn’t much fun and you didn’t give your best work. Let’s raise to consciousness the mindset to empower our kids at home and teach them to be leaders, not micromanagers. They will do what they see.

Generation Z

Generation Z

I’m a Gen-Xer.   I am right in the middle (born 1964-1979) of the workforce.   There are Traditionalists (born before 1945) and Boomers (born 1946-63) ahead of me in the workplace and Generation Y (born 1980-2000) is behind me.   And I am raising what is now being called Generation Z (born early 2000s) at home.   Most of the Traditionalists are retired and the Boomers are retiring at 10,000 a day.   Generation Y is an even bigger demographic than the Boomers.   Truly I’m in the middle.   The middle of the generations and the middle of my career.

Sort of like a middle child, I often see Gen-Xers bridging the gaps between the traditions and values of the Boomers and the technology and tolerance of Gen Y.   It’s a great place to be and a lot of fun.    From here I think I have a pretty good vantage point.

For employers, Gen Z is still an undefined workforce that will be entering in the next 3 years.   How do employers plan and organize their companies to recruit and integrate the next generation?   Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The Zs are independent.   Helicopter parents got such a bad rap this past decade, parenting has moved to a more let-them-fail-on-their-own approach.   Thank God!
  • Zs are diverse!   A broad mix of ethnicities and family dynamics makes them tolerant and accepting.
  • They are curious and really good at technology.   These are the kids that grew up with ipods in their hands and nerds and geeks changing the world.   Think of the Steve Jobs and Elon Musks.
  • They have short attention spans.   If your company isn’t working on something exciting and relevant, it will be hard to recruit.   Start hanging around kids this age (high school) and figure out strategies that will be appealing.   Hint:   It won’t be base pay, health insurance and two weeks’ vacation.

On the flip side, if I could download my lessons from 20+ years of work experience into the Gen Zs I’m raising at home, here is what I would tell them:

  • You might hear an employer say that you have to “pay your dues”.   That means you need to accept doing grunt work for a couple of years until you get something called “experience” on your resume.
  • You think you will always be healthy, but go ahead and accept the company paid health insurance and pay the premium…you WILL need it someday.   And then you can get off of my plan.
  • Your employer may have outdated technology.   This is where you can shine and bridge a gap to the generations ahead of you.
  • It is your job to communicate.   Ask questions.   Don’t sit and wait to be told differently.
  • You may not feel any sense of loyalty and will be excited to jump from job to job and try a lot of new things (short attention span) but remember to always give notice and communicate professionally with your employer.

Some of these thoughts are basic and good reminders to convey at home.   And we need to listen too.   Gen Zs believe they can change the world…they just might. It will be fun to watch.

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