ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, December 20, 2010

Diamond's to You: December 2010Newsletter

Newsletter December, 2010

Happy Holidays:
I love December – the cold crisp air and people on a mission to see how much stuff they can buy – and the lights – and the decorations – and what I remember and love the most was in the past – friends came home from College and from the Armed Services. Since many of my readers will be on holiday for the last two weeks of the month, I thought I’d send my December newsletter – and holiday wishes – out a little earlier than usual.

Publisher, Editor, Author I never realized before that it had to be said, but one of my readers asked me if I wrote the articles. YES, I write all of them unless otherwise stated. I am also the editor (unfortunately – ‘cause sometimes I miss typos) and publisher – with the help of Constant Contact, who distributes them for me.

Canary in the Coal Mine
I think I am her. I seem to notice things long before others do, and sometimes get people upset with me because of it. Let me share al couple of examples.
1: A few years ago, while visiting friends during the holidays, I noticed a smell coming from their big beautiful and white flocked Christmas tree. I commented on it, and they hadn’t noticed the smell at all and didn’t know what I was talking about. It was so bad, my eyes started tearing and I had to leave. The next day, they were both ill. There were toxic fumes coming from the tree.
2: Have you ever noticed how some people suck the energy from you? Well, I am usually the one who notices it first – and others will say, “How could you not like that very kind man/woman?” Later, they learn.
3: Al, who was an acquaintance of mine, and a close friend of two friends of mine, was in trouble. I befriended him and helped him out in many ways, over a period of weeks, being involved with him daily during that period of time. He became progressively more nasty and demanding and finally I severed all relations with him. Our mutual friends thought I was being horrible. Last week they informed me that they had severed relations with him for very similar reasons. He was a user – and a demander – and very ungrateful.

Why am I telling you this? For good reason.

There is often someone in the workplace who notices and complains before others do. He or she is usually ignored on the grounds that they are the only one who noticed “it”. Later, others start to notice as well. If management understood that there are “canaries in the coal mine” and paid attention to what this person had noticed, they might have been able to fix the problem before it was noticeable by others and a significant “dis-satisfier” in the workplace.

Those were personal examples I shared, because I suspect we’ve all had similar experiences. But, let me also suggest to you that my noticing things early – like the canary in the coal mine – might be one of the reasons why I am so successful in identifying and fixing workplace problems. A few short examples:
1: A group of women were taking frequent breaks. This was getting worse and worse and after several “coaching sessions” HR was ready to suggest firing them. The CEO brought me in and asked me to look into the situation. I met the women in their work-space. Lo and behold. They were in a windowless area and people from the warehouse had filled the walls with boxes. The women were becoming claustrophobic. We removed the boxes, purchased and hung some large posters of seascapes and mountain scenes and the problem was resolved.
2: The sales office of an international company was having difficulty with some of the women who were in constant conflict with each other. The Senior Vice-President of HR had been brought out from the corporate offices in Boston, but he could not resolve the problem. I was hired. I noticed a few things. A) The office manager was the only person these women claimed to like. They showered her with compliments, and criticized each other freely. B) She distributed work piece meal, not ever giving anyone the entire job or empowering them – thus keeping her own importance, and C) She designed her cubicle so that she was taking up most of the window space in a long narrow room with only one front window. What I realized was that she was playing Queen Bee and alienating every one of the women from each other by telling each of them that someone else was saying bad things about them. She also was whittling away at loyalty to the company, self-esteem and productivity by hanging onto the work and sharing it in a way that made her more necessary and important. We had a moving crew come in over the weekend and re-arrange the space so that she now had more square feet, but less window. We also re-arranged some of the cubicles to maximize the ability of the inside sales and customer service women to work closely together. She understood without words that we were aware of her behaviors and left the firm. The others were glad and friendliness, goodwill and productivity ensued.
3: The Vice-President of a boutique semi-conductor firm was making himself important by telling everyone that the CEO was manic-depressive and difficult to work with. He, Mr. VP offered to be the go-between. In this manner, he was elevating his own importance, and demeaning that of the CEO. The way that I noticed this was somewhat unusual. I was interviewing the executive staff to find the right person to lead the process of “going public”, which I was facilitating for them. In my interviews, I often went out to lunch or dinner with one of the executives. Mr. VP met me in the very tiny lobby of a restaurant and as he handed me his business card he said, “I won.” His meaning was that he offered his card before I could even dig mine out of my purse. That was my first clue. Others came along during dinner as he shared his sense of self-importance with me. So, I repeat – the canary in the coal mine might seem like she’s complaining – but she might also be the most effective eyes, ears, and smell you have in your organization. Pay attention.

Minutes of the Association
When consulting to associations who have either property managers or paid executive directors, I often notice that the paid staff members are the ones who take minutes, and the members of the board of the association defer to them. This makes the board members dependent on the items that the paid staff person thought were important. There is also always the possibility of bias – especially with property managers of HOAs. What is placed in the minutes (or not placed that should be) significantly affects the future of the organization, because people rely on the decisions that had been previously recorded in the minutes. I strongly suggest that at least one board member take minutes in addition to those taken by paid staff. That way there is a check and balance. When I served as President of my HOA board years ago, we nominated a board member to be “historian” and it was her responsibility to record all decisions and their rationale in a book we designated for that purpose. We had a check and balance in that manner. Speaking of checks and balances….

Who signs the checks?
I’ve known of a HOA board that was so lazy (or naïve?) that they not only had their property manager pay the bills, but also sign the checks. They never bothered to look, trusting completely that all would be handled. The board members abrogated responsibility. Are you surprised to learn that when this board made the decision to change property managers, the one that had been signing the check, signed a bunch of checks for expenses not previously know about by the board members.

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