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Put-in Peggy.

Put-in Peggy

Put-in Peggy

When a group of people set off on a river raft expedition, the initial launch site is called the “put in.”   Recently, my husband brought together a group of 16 people, a year’s worth of planning, hundreds of travel miles and countless logistics to begin an epic raft trip through the Grand Canyon.   At the put-in, he was met by the assigned park ranger named Peggy.   Our friend Peggy carried a clipboard and an overzealous want of authority.   Peggy’s mantra was: “No…   What is the question?”

Park Ranger Peggy was doing her job.   She needed to check all of the boxes on the sheets on her clip board to make sure this group of people met the requirements of setting off through the national Grand Canyon treasure.    Peggy knew she had authority to make or break this trip, and made sure the group knew that too. She held the investment of money, time and coordination of 16 people in her hands.

How often in the workplace, or in life, have you encountered a Peggy?   I’ve experienced this many times with vendors, at the DMV and with the cable companies.   The scenario is this:   I need to get something done and the person (gatekeeper) can only operate according to script, follow every rule to the “t”, cannot see the forest through the trees and is not the least bit interested in solving any hiccups…and a little drunk with authority.     For me, this scenario is maddening.   Instantly I can feel my blood pressure rise and find it easy to move to a defensive posture.   And I consider myself a professional that deals with people and behaviors regularly.   Imagine how difficult this can be for our kids at home that do not yet have the tools to successfully manage situations with “box checkers” in authority?

Thinking about the experience with Put-in Peggy gives an opportunity to cover some tips when a situation arises with someone who holds authority over the situation, refuses to communicate logically and cannot see beyond the boxes they need to check.   It is critical to future success to have these tools to guide through such situations.   They are inevitable.

  • Breathe: Take a deep breath and even tune out a little if you have to.   Sometimes the opening statements given by the person are required and the person saying the words just needs to get them out.   Listen patiently and tell yourself that you can take on this challenge and win by winning-over.
  • Read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: This is the handbook to dealing with people in the workplace and in life. I think it should be required reading in high school. People can be the best part of a job…and the worst.   Arm yourself with education.   This human interaction blueprint is timeless; first published in 1936.
    • Lessons:
      • You can only get someone to do something if they want to do it.
      • You can’t win an argument.
      • And how to get cooperation.
  • Ask questions: By engaging the person to offer their own expertise, the conversation can switch from a dictative one to an interactive one.   A better outcome will result.
  • Admit fault: Be willing to throw yourself under the bus a little.   This can ease any power struggles and allow the person continued authority but without any threat.

Learning to handle these situations calmly and smoothly can be a challenge but the long-term payoff is worth the extra efforts.   Ultimately the winner is you.

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First day toolkit.

start-new-jobI have worked with a lot of people on their first day on the job.   I have had a few first-days over the years myself.   The first day can be nerve-wracking, confusing and a bit overwhelming.   There are a lot of names, rules and general information pieces to remember.   Recall not just your first day on the job, but your first day on your FIRST job.

Parents are a good source of expertise regarding the first day.   Here are some things to teach your kids about their first day so they don’t turn into the type of worker that has a lot of “first days” and never seems to get how it all works.

Basic housekeeping information:     Talk to your kids about gathering the information they need ahead of time.   They may not think to ask about where to park (if they drive), if they need to bring a lunch, or which particular person they should check in with.   The whole process is foreign and it is important to gather some of the basic, logistical pieces of information that will make them less confused.   Here are a few more things worth discussing:

  • Does the company have a cell phone policy?   Talk to them about putting their phone away at work.
  • What is the dress code?   Tell them start out conservative until they learn the real environment.
  • Get there early.   Many people don’t factor in traffic, accidents or other delays.
  • Get some rest.   New jobs are exciting.   And it is not the time to stay up late or skip breakfast the next day.   Just like you talk to your kids about the proper approach to school testing, do the same for their first job.

A little anthropology:   Anthropology is the study of humanity.   This includes culture.   Each workplace has its own culture and behaviors of the humans that work there.   This can be one of the trickiest parts of fitting in at a new job.   Conversations with your kids about how to slowly join a new culture are valuable and sadly, often missed.   Many people, even seasoned workers, don’t understand how to ease into a new culture without quickly upsetting or even offending those that are already there.   Here are some ideas of how to do this:

  • Observe the workers first.   Listen more than you talk.   Take your time before you offer opinions or comments.
  • Look for unspoken rules or traditions.   These subtleties can make a team cohesive, but they won’t be written in print.   They are little things like using only company logo’d coffee mugs or not making a mess of the newspaper in the kitchen.   Being a bull in a china shop on your first day will not win over the longer term employees.
  • Avoid cliques, gossip and office politics.   Seasoned employees might like to quickly recruit new employees to their agendas.   Educate on how to be watchful of such ploys and recommend staying clear and avoiding commitments right out of the shoot.
  • Don’t EVER bad mouth the company or a previous employer…or anyone.   The world is small in this regard and you never know who might know someone else or who you might offend.   Keep opinions to yourself.

Safety: Many jobs are not in an office and job sites can have safety concerns.   This is one area where is it ok to speak up, ask questions and voice safety concerns. Many first time workers don’t understand safety protocols.   The good news is that most employers are very safety conscious.   However, it doesn’t hurt to talk about on-the-job safety.   Make sure your kids understand that if they do get hurt, they have the right to report it and cannot be adversely affected for reporting an injury.

Discussions that cover these topics at home will give your kids a huge advantage when they move into the working world.   Questions will come up and parents are wonderful resources.   Start the conversations.

Wait your turn.

Wait your turn.

Wait your turn.

Vacation means standing in line.   Lines form at the airport, car rental, hotel check in, the ice cream stand and the water slide at the pool.   Everywhere we travel, we stand in line and wait our turn.   Fortunately kids have this societal norm down pat.   From a very young age they  learn to stand in line and not unfairly jump ahead of those that are waiting before them. In fact, when someone does try to jump ahead, those in line feel slighted and carefully watch for the reasons of the shortcut.   The group dynamic taking place is powerful and no one wants to feel they have had to wait longer than rightfully so.

Think about this in terms of the workplace and waiting in line for a promotion, more responsibility or different title.   Repeatedly I read that the next generation of workers doesn’t put the weight into a title or promotion that the Gen Xers or Boomers have historically.    Yet, the next generation also seems to not want to wait in line for their turn.   Many Millennials that are college grads feel entitled to start their careers in a management role.   No conceptualization for those that have worked for years and have experience and institutional knowledge.   What will the Gen Zs that are still at home expect when they get to the workplace?     This dichotomy is interesting because the very children that were raised to understand how to consistently wait their turn, have no desire to do so when they get to the workplace.

Millennials were raised with a lot of attention and praise and feel they have an abundance of value on day one on the job.    With that dynamic, what can parents and professionals that are in the middle of our careers say to them to guide a more realistic path that educates on the realities of a new career, instead of unrealistic expectations?   A few thoughts:

  • Your boss will not be like a parent:   Yes, parents tell their kids how great they are.   And, have we gone too far by rewarding them for every-single-thing they do?   Real life means some level of failure and/or disappointment.   Talk to kids about how a boss would view their actions.   That may help level-set their expectations of the workplace.
  • Access:   Technology means that kids can short cut the answer to any question.   All they have to do is look it up online.   What does a CEO make?   Google it.   What are the best jobs?   Google the answer.   Other generations didn’t know this until they ventured out on their own and learned the answers.   Now the “answers” are instantly accessible; and not all that realistic.   Be another powerful voice to your kids and talk about how the workplace works and don’t let their only resource be online searches.
  • Experience:   Impatience is a trait in an age of instant gratification.   There are ways to combat this at home by not supplying every need, instantly.   A new game or new toy might mean working for it with some chores and earning it over time.   The more easily things are given, the less they are appreciated. Communicate your own experiences of times when the years you have worked have paid off in a situation that you would not have handled well when you were in your 20s.   I have many examples of instances when experience got me through a contentious meeting, not education.
  • Connectivity:   I do love that I can text or contact my kids at most any moment throughout the day.   And, the same is true that they can reach me.   This is how it works now and I don’t see it changing.   At the same time, is this creating an unrealistic type of communication?   If an employee contacts me with every small question and expects an answer almost immediately, I find myself completely frustrated.   They are not considering that I cannot always respond right away or that I would expect them to research an answer before they simply ask.   It would be great for my kids to learn to “think” about how to find an answer and wait an appropriate amount of time for a response. When possible and appropriate,  have your kids figure out things on their own.

Millennials and Gen Z have many wonderful qualities that they are bringing, and will bring to the workplace.   Education from home that speaks to the values of waiting in line for their turn will help mitigate the sting of unrealistic expectations of them walking into a first job as the CEO.   Education on the values of gaining all levels of experience and honoring each step will serve them well.

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