ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

8 Tips to Improve Employee Motivation, Morale and Involvement

1:  Make it personal

The most important tip I can offer you is to take the time to get to know each of your employees personally. People want to be recognized as individuals, not merely as part of a group. How you accomplish this will vary depending on the size of the organization you personally manage and whether people are in the same facility – state or country – as you.

Of course it is easiest if you manage less than a dozen people and they all sit within walking distance of your office. In that case, you can stop by in the morning and say “hello” and compliment them on something they are wearing (be careful it doesn’t cross the line) or ask a question about where they might have obtained a particular personal item on their desk or the poster on the wall. Of course you should also ask if there is anything they need from you. Over time, learn something about their personal lives – their families, kids, hobbies, birthday, etc. 

If you manage people that work out of their homes, or in other facilities within your state, bring them together for team meetings at least once a quarter – more if possible. Start those meetings with social time and end them with social time. Have business issues discussed – being sure to solicit their opinions – in the middle.

Unfortunately, if your people are all over the world, it’s going to be much harder. If at all possible, create an annual retreat bringing them all together. Even if you do this, or if this is not possible, spend some time on the telephone getting to know them individually.

2:  Communicate the value to society of the company and the work

Next in line of importance is for you to communicate to all your staff how important their work is to furthering the goals, values and the mission of the organization. Most employees want to feel as though their contribution is worthwhile, not just “busy-work.”

If your firm is in the business of doing something that is obviously valuable to society in some form or other, this will be an easier task for you. The further away the value appears to the average person, the more difficult this task will be for you. 

You might consider including some community service for your employees – such as participating in a walk-a-thon, a community-wide fundraising event, or as a group feeding the needy.

People need to feel good about what they are doing and the company in which they are doing it.

3:  The importance of customer service

It is your responsibility as a manager to assure that everyone understands that they are part of an organization – a large team – all of whom are responsible for achieving the overall goals of the business together. Silos need to be broken down as does the attitude that it is us against them. Encourage and reward positive internal (and external) customer service.

Where possible bring together people from different departments who have to interact with each other. I create mini-retreats of three or four hours during which people working in facilities near each other learn something personal about each other (hobbies, for example), what the other’s job really entails (walking in his shoes) and how what they do or don’t do impacts the other group.

If you are bringing people from far away – create two or three day retreats, but less frequently.

4:  Accountability and recognition

Each of us wants to be recognized for the work we do. Yes, we are usually part of a team – but as I’ve written before (and given speeches about) there is a ME in teams.  We are individuals working together. Atta-boys, awards, notices in the newsletter are all inexpensive ways you can recognize outstanding work. Don’t ruin this by making sure everyone becomes “employee of the month,” especially if it is undeserved.

Management by walking around is one of the ways you can be aware of what is being done and what isn’t being done to your satisfaction.

So, in order to be recognized, we need to have specific assignments and we need to be held accountable for the completion of these assignments in an exemplary manner.

Correct those behaviors, performance and comments that are inconsistent with the goals of the organization and the values you wish to instill.

5:  Create stretch goals and professional development

Although there are some people who prefer doing the same tasks day after day, week after week and year after year – most people get bored over time. They need to have their work varied.

So create stretch goals with them. What would they like to learn next? Can they be given higher levels of autonomy-responsibility? Should they be cross-trained so they can be promoted?

If your company can – work with your employees to create a plan for their career development which would be consistent with the succession plan needed by the firm. 

Offer opportunities for training – both internal and external.

6:  Coaching, mentoring, counseling

Whether a particular staff person needs to be coached to do better in their present job, or you see them as having potential for promotion, you might offer them one-on-one coaching, mentoring or counseling.  There is nothing better – but be careful that you pick someone competent to do the coaching, etc.

7:  Improve the working environment

Ok, I know you aren’t Google or Apple – but – you can make the environment in which you and your staff work more pleasant. Here are some ideas, some of which you may or may not be able to implement depending on your organization, funds, and rules.
  • Keep every area clean and well-lit.
  • Make sure the restrooms are serviced regularly – more often than you think.
  • Allow for personal decoration of cubicles and offices.
  • Have areas where people can join each other to brainstorm, problem-solve or just visit for a few minutes.
  • Provide the best in ergonomic seating as possible.
  • Provide the most effective technology for doing the job.
  • Treat to coffee/tea etc. during the day – have those in a break room.
  • And, of course, if you have the funds provide good meals.
8:  Listen and learn

Create frequent opportunities for employees to give you feedback. 

Good management is akin to good parenting. You are not their friend – but you should not be their enemy. There should be respect, courtesy, and a mutual desire to accomplish commonly accepted goals.

Good Luck!

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Assessing Employee Involvement and Motivation

Sometimes, especially in large bureaucratic organizations, people stagnate. They don’t feel as though the work they are doing is important and they don’t feel appreciated. This leads to just getting through the day, doing their work in a desultory manner.

In other cases, there is anger and resentment, which is kept under wraps, because the employees feeling that way don’t want to risk losing their jobs by telling management what bothers them. Thus, they become passive-aggressive, doing the work in a desultory manner.

Recently, I was consulting to a division of a company that was trying to integrate a new management team. The new managers had very different styles of operating than their predecessors and inadvertently made staff feel as though everything they had done in the past was wrong. Instead of embracing the new processes, the staff became passive-aggressive (some became outright aggressive) ignoring the new systems and continuing to do their work (you guessed it) in a desultory manner or not at all.

Other reasons employees are no longer motivated might be as simple as boredom, not feeling appreciated, not having enough to eat (yes!) or even too much to eat (in firms that have hot and cold gourmet food around all the time).

In some cases it is impossible – almost impossible – for a manager to reward an outstanding job by giving a bonus, a tangible present, or time off. Either government regulations or unions or both demand that everyone be compensated – treated equally (whatever that really means!).

So, let’s assume you can’t throw money at the problem. Let’s assume that you, as manager, have to find ways to make your employees motivated and engaged again.

Why bother, you ask?

Clearly once an employee (assuming you have hired correctly – but that’s another article) is re-energized and motivated, the quality of their work-product will improve as will their attitude of customer service both internally and externally.

I want to start my suggestions with the most obvious: Customer Service

Customer Service as a Diagnostic Tool

There is perhaps no clearer indication of whether an employee is feeling good about themselves and their work than how they treat others. 

Is their stock answer “not my job” or do they go out of their way to be helpful and supportive to those they serve – and those who serve them in the workplace? When you receive information from your internal customers that there is a lack of cooperation but only demands from your staff, you know your employees are unhappy. 

Let’s look at contracts and procurement of professional services in a government agency as an example.

There are internal customers who rarely need to procure something externally. Thus, they don’t remember, or have never used, the complicated processes required for the contracted services they seek. How the contract administration staff handles them is a litmus test of how this department feels about their jobs and about the company in which they work.

If they help the internal customer complete all the required forms in a friendly manner, you get one idea – but if they merely say “not my job – you are supposed to know where to find the information and fill out the forms,” you have a real attitude problem on your hands.

Let’s look, too, to one of the more standard complaints. IT against everyone else. Does your organization have an IT organization with members who think they are better than everyone else (“stupid user”), or do they recognize that they are a service organization to the rest of the departments?

You get the point! A significant way you can measure employee motivation and the way the employees in the organization work to support each other’s success, as well as the goals of the organization itself, is to create surveys and evaluations.

Surveys and Evaluations

Of course another way you can learn about how your employees feel is to ask them – you can ask them in one-on-ones, but most people will be to afraid to be honest. 

You stand a better chance of learning what really is bothering them if you create an employee satisfaction – dissatisfaction survey or have them do an evaluation of their supervisors, managers and peers (sometimes called a 360 degree evaluation).

Let’s suppose you ask them about their relationship to their management. You might suggest they answer all the questions on a scale of 1 – 5 (1 = poor, 5 = excellent), and here are some suggested questions to ask: Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your job effectively?
  • Do you feel that you are being asked to do work that fits your interests and skills?
  • Are you challenged with stretch goals so that you are able to continuously improve?
  • Is your supervisor/manager available to you when you need him/her?
  • When decisions are being made that involve the work you do, or you, are you a part of the conversation and does your opinion matter?
  • Do you enjoy coming to work each morning?
  • Is your relationship with your co-workers friendly and helpful?
  • Does your supervisor/manager let you know when you’ve done a good job (attaboys)?
  • Is the work you do part of what makes our company so valuable to the community?
  • Is your performance appraised regularly, and do you know what you are doing well, what you need improvement in, and your stretch goals?
  • Would you feel better about the work you are expected to do if______________(fill in the blank)?

Of course you need to read the answers carefully and create a plan of action for improvement where necessary.

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Audience Focused Business Plans

I’ve worked with several people needing to write business plans. Since their needs differ, and on-line business plans tend to be canned, there is sometimes confusion as to what to write, how much detail to go into, etc.

When teaching the Business Planning Seminar to MBA students I learned that when people create a new business they are enamored with their product or service – and thus want to emphasis the features and benefits of the product/service rather than focus on their actual target audience.

So, let me start by saying that there are multiple purposes for writing a business plan and each of these requires a somewhat different approach – although much of the same information.

1.     You need to start with a road map for yourself and your team. This is a basic business plan you develop to help you move forward. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t need all the fancy marketing words. It’s an internal document – and of course it changes as your business grows. It can be as short or as detailed as you need it to be – but it is the guide for you and your internal founding team.

2.     You are asking family and friends to support your idea by investing with you. Here you are making a combination business and emotional appeal. It is probably more the emotional appeal – about you and how hard you will work to make this dream come true – that that they care about and respond to – but they also want to see some sensible financial projections.

3.     You need a more formal business plan with financial projects for the bank when applying for a loan. The bank is primarily interested in two things:  Your ability to repay the loan and your equity, which might be your business assets – or even your home.

4.     You are starting a non-profit because your goals are to help your fellow man in some particular way. You are not planning to make a profit, to go public, etc. So, you cannot make any re-payment promises, or profit-sharing. Instead, you are promising to do something that others can donate to (donations, fund-raisers, grants) that will help humanity and appeal to their emotional interests as well. Thus what you focus on is the manner in which your services will “do good.”

5.     You are seeking early stage investors – or angels. These savvy people care less about your product/service than they do about your ability to execute on the promises you make. They want to know Who is your team – what are their prior successes and how well can they work together? They also want to know what’s in it for them if they invest with you. Do not spend most of your time excitedly sharing the wonderfulness of the new product/service you are developing. You need to “sell” that aspect, but quickly. Your primary focus needs to be answering the question: “What’s in it for me (the potential investor?)”

6.     You are attempting to sell your company. Now it is important to share the value the brain power of your group offers. Why not just steal your product? Why buy the company itself? Because, of course, your team and staff are smarter, cleverer and more creative together than if they would be split up. That’s your primary selling point. Yes, it is true that having some proprietary secret sauce helps too.

7.     The ultimate goal of too many people in my opinion: going public. Here scalability becomes the key to exciting venture capitalists. Can you scale up so you are selling millions and billions of people – and make money doing it?

As you can see, the focus changes when your target audience shifts. Your executive summary should be geared primarily to your targeted audience. Yes, you need the competitive analysis, the operations, the team, the marketing, the finances, etc…. but the emphasis is where you shift depending on your audience. 

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Breaking Down the Walls of Fear and Hate

Given what's going on in the world, this seemed a timely message.  

Years ago I produced a series of programs called Breaking Down the Walls of Fear and Hate which accompanied a display of photographs showing the atrocities in the Warsaw Ghetto. The snapshots had been taken by a German soldier on his birthday (how sick!) and eventually were found again and given to the Smithsonian Institute - which lent them out for programs such as the one I developed. 

We had over thirty speakers over seven weeks - and the series won the Human Relations Award that year. Among the seven panels was one featuring religious leaders of different religions, educators, holocaust survivors from different cultures, members of criminal justice and others. My discussion with each of them when inviting them to speak was to talk about how we could break down the walls - not build them up worse.

People have different points of view. Each is sure that their perspective is the only right and good one - but honorable people, highly educated and dedicated, can and do disagree with each other as to the right way to do something.

We need to learn to listen. Not to automatically disagree and attack back.

We need to be more careful before we lump all people of "a certain kind" as one and consider them the enemy. Yet, we also need to protect our country - it's a tightrope.

On a smaller level - when I work with clients who are dealing with horrible levels of conflict, I know that the things that go unsaid need to be said in order for them to be dealt with. I am reminded of the sign that was on the wall of Dr. Mike Schmidt with whom I worked when I started out as a therapist. It said:
The truth shall set you free But first it will make you feel miserable
For those who always plaster a smile on their face and only say the negative things they believe in a whisper behind their hand - I say wrong!  Nothing can change until and unless we talk about it.

In order to break down the walls of fear and hate we need to talk about what we believe, feel, have assumed and have been told. 

Talk, share, listen - and change.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

There is a ME in Teams

Personally, I cringe every time I hear the expression: “There is no I in teams”. 

It suggests that all the strategic planning, idea generation, implementation and troubleshooting are done by some vaguely anonymous group of people.

I think about a firing squad. It takes a dozen people to kill one person because that way no one can be held responsible.

I think about bizarre interview teams who are all in the room at the same time asking pre-designed questions (to be fair!) so that no one can be blamed if the wrong person is hired.

I think about communism under Mao – where everyone had to wear the same colorless jumpsuits so that no one would stand out.

I think about Ayn Rand’s book “Anthem” the futuristic story of people who had no names, but were given numbers instead – no individuality.

Ask yourself:
  • When you were a child and your mother forced you to share a favorite toy or game, what was your feeling?
  • When in High School how did you feel if someone you knew “stole” your boyfriend or girlfriend?
  • How did you feel when as part of a small study-group team you wound up doing much of the work, but had to share the credit with some of your more lazy classmates?
  • Ladies – what’s your reaction when you attend a very dressy function and discover someone else wearing the same dress or gown as you?
  • If you were the creator of a new app that became famous – how would you feel if you didn’t get the patent or royalties? 
Switch gears with me – think about sports and sports teams: 

Each player has an important role and when the team scores, the person or persons who made the play is given credit on the news. Yes, they all work together in harmony as a team, and in fact they each in their own way contribute to the success (or failure) of the game. However, one or two people actually made the touchdown, goal or home run.

How do you think a player would feel if he ran the entire field with the ball and the newscaster talked about someone else having made the goal?

Workplace is different?

Now, you are going to tell me it is different in the workplace. In the workplace the emphasis on teams assumes that everyone is equal – and equally responsible for the work-product.

I’ve seen facilitators interrupt a conversation flow to announce that X spoke for 5 minutes and now it was Y’s turn – when in fact the most important information was coming from X.

In our quest to be fair – we tend to step all over the brightest and most talented people. Instead, we need to respect and nourish each person’s unique talent and unique gift and work together to allow it to shine. That’s what happens in a winning sports team.

Let me tell you the story of the 20th Century Motor Factory
(Adapted from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged)

It had the reputation of being the best in the business. Its trademark stood for quality – excellence. That was one of many reasons it attracted the best and brightest of engineers and other staff. Unfortunately, some years after winning many awards for excellence the original founders died and their adult children (products of one our ultra-liberal universities) took over the business and created what they considered to be the best social experiment.

It was to compensate people based on their need – not on their ability. So, if the janitor had four children he received a higher rate of pay than the engineer who was single. When someone’s wife became pregnant, instead of rejoicing, all groaned since it meant less money in their pockets. The best and the brightest quit. The company failed.

Meritocracy works!

How do you create and maintain successful teams?
  • The most important element is the leader/facilitator and their ability to see level. It takes level to see level (Kung Fu – black belts)
  • The leader of the group controls how people interact and show respect for each other. (There really is no such thing as a leaderless group someone always assumes responsibility.)
  • Each member of the group needs to learn about each other – both some personal stuff and professional stuff – the object is for each of us to learn to respect the expertise of the other. In other words – Walk in his shoes.
  • Team needs to have a shared vision, mission and goals.
  • Each member needs to be held accountable for his/her role in meeting those goals.
  • Being “fair” is not as important as being true.
  • Being nice – “don’t say anything unless you have something nice to say” can destroy the effectiveness of an organization. People need to be able to “constructively criticize.”
  • People in the team – whether a board of directors, an executive team, or a work-team all need to learn how to make decisions that are based on some logical structure – not on favoritism and being loyal to your friend or boss.
  • Rewards and recognitions need to be carefully handled – not just given out to everyone willy-nilly.
So – let’s eliminate the phrase: “There is no I in team”Instead change it to:
“Working together we achieve far more than we could achieve alone”

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Motivation is the fuel that drives you – you have to think positively, know what you are going to do and why – and have the energy to do it.

Motivation isn’t permanent, it needs to be nourished daily – and you can never achieve happiness (which adds significantly to motivation) when you are not helping others.

Helping others makes you feel good – makes you feel better about yourself, which is highly motivating.

If that sounds circular – it is.

Others have said:
“It is attitude, not aptitude that determines altitude"
It’s how you see yourself – and how you see yourself in relation to others and to the tasks at hand

Someone said (I can’t recall where I read it):
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want”

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Quick Tips for New Leaders

Project Management

You need well executed projects to accomplish your goals. Clearly define and delegate.
  • Define the elements of the project and assign responsibility to those best able to manage and execute those elements.
  • Once assigning a task to someone – let them handle it. They should be accountable to you, but you should not rush in to micro-manage or to give others pieces of the project.
  • Respect the chain of command you have established.
  • Allow project leaders to pick your own team (committee) and manage them
  • Clarify team (committee) goals and deadlines – hold people accountable.
  • Always give positive recognition.

Meeting Management

Your time and everyone else’s is of incredible value. Invest it wisely.
  • Set and keep a time schedule.
  • As meeting manager (CEO or facilitator) be on time.
  • Have an agenda – and publish it – also have paper copies.
  • No surprises – everyone involved should know the purpose of the meeting.
  • If guests are invited, advise them in advance that they are guests and will be given the opportunity to speak when it is appropriate to the reason they are in attendance.
  • Nurture a climate that encourages people to express their own views – and to offer constructive disagreements and/or criticism.
  • Share the responsibility of the meeting with attendees by having them responsible for different aspects of the agenda.
  • Have a living agenda rather than a static one and allow others to input into the agenda before it is published.
  • Start and end on time – that shows respect for others

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Conflict in Today’s Workplace: Problems and Solutions

In a radio interview, I was asked if I thought there was more conflict in the workplace today than in the past. My reply was “Yes”. We have become more diverse, more complex, and more informal. These changes are wonderful, but they bring with them misunderstandings and conflict.

One of the most common assumptions we all make is that the other person sees the world exactly as we do – or at least almost exactly. This assumption leads to misunderstanding and conflict – especially in today’s diverse and global workforce.

Not only are there differences in country, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, but we have gender and age differences as well. There is wide variation in world-view, values, standards and beliefs about “this is the way it is”.

Some of the Causes

The Fundamental Differences of Ordering Information

Starting with the most fundamental: Internally, we order our world by sensation, perception, and abstraction. Sensation is the information received purely by the senses of sight, smell, touch, sound and kinesthetic. Perception is the manner in which we personally order our sensations and finally, abstractions is the higher order clustering of our perceptions. Values, ideas, creativity are all part of abstractions.

One would think that the differences lie solely in the area of abstraction. Not so. Differences start at the very start of sensations. Let me give you an example.

I am a redhead with very fair skin, light aqua eyes and lots of sensitivities because of it. I’ve even referred to these sensitivities as “the canary in the coal mine” in an article I wrote. Bright lights hurt my eyes much more quickly than they do for a brown eyed person. Loud noises make me jump. Going out in the sun for more than a few minutes turns me beet red and sometimes even hospitalizes me. I get my Vitamin D from the sun very quickly – whereas a brown skinned person needs to be out in the sun much longer to get the same amount of Vitamin D, and he/she doesn’t often burn so quickly.

So, there you have differences in how the same sensation is received by different people.  Now, when we receive this stimulus, we order it into perceptions: hard, soft, red, blue, quiet, loud, table, chair, good, bad, etc. Our prior experience, based on our environment, our DNA (yes, genetics plays a part as we are learning more and more) and how we were nurtured, taught, and raised in general.

What might seem right for me – such as holding my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right when cutting my meat and then switching them to eat (how inefficient!) whereas people from Europe do the opposite and people from Asia use chopsticks. As an American, I drive on one side of the road, but in London they drive on the other side.

Language is interesting as well.  Words that have “dirty” connotations in one country do not necessarily have the same connotation in another. One example is that the word “fag” refers to a cigarette in England.

Since there is variation in sensation and perception, our starting places are different. Now, language plays a role – a big role – in how we order these into abstractions. We adults operate primarily from our abstractions.

Quality, Timeliness, Ethics

These are high order abstractions and their meaning varies tremendously across different groups of people. For example:

Growing up in a middle class family, my expectations about quality are extreme. I want the seams matched on my clothing, the carpeting mitered correctly in the corners, and no typos in my documents. Someone coming from a very poor background might not even see the things I notice.

Wealthy women in El Paso, just across the border from Mexico have day-workers who come each day and return each night. During a Board of Directors’ training there, I was told that some of the women in the Synagogue wanted to know why their day-maids (who hardly spoke English) couldn’t substitute for them in their volunteer commitments.

In many Latin countries, time is fluid.  An American flying to keep a pre-arranged appointment can be told that the person she was meeting was unavailable because of a family event. Family comes first.

What we see as bribes, others see as necessary gifts in order to get business done.  What we might see as cheating, others see as team work and collaboration.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is a prime example of an abstraction of a cluster of behaviors that have different meaning to different people and leads to workplace conflict.

I conduct sexual harassment/discrimination and diversity training for many of my corporate and government clients. Among the exercises I use when training to understand these issues is a series of vignettes that my participants need to grade on a scale of 1 – 5, with 5 being the most severe and 1 the most benign.

Participants from India, for example, when given these vignettes, almost always grade each of the items as a 5 – or most severe. Americans show a range of answers to the same questions and Europeans sometimes laugh at some of them thinking they do not even rise to the level of being an appropriate vignette for the exercise.

In the Indian culture, you show respect – deep respect – for women. Therefore, you don’t tease them, touch them, comment on how they are dressed, groomed, or look in any way. In America, teasing – good natured ribbing – is very common among men and some of them have yet to realize it is far less common among women. Italians and French say “viva la difference” and love harmless flirting – which could get them fired in America.

Very religious people are offended by even the mildest of what we consider “dirty words” – or profanity. Women who dress very conservatively are shocked by women who wear low cut or revealing clothing.

So, when teaching avoidance of getting in trouble, those of us who teach these programs need to emphasize the importance of being extremely conservative in our professional workplace behavior.

Insults are in the ear of the receiver:

There are words and expressions that have emotionally charged connotations for a specific group of people. Often people from other groups use these words loosely, not recognizing the negative and sometimes quiet hostile and frightening connotations. The so-called “n” word because it is considered so insulting is the classic example. But, there are others as well.  “Jap” for someone of Japanese heritage, “Oriental” for people of Asian descent are just two of many examples. I’m Jewish. When someone talks about “jewing them down” meaning negotiating, I cringe. Native Americans don’t really like it when we talk about being “An Indian giver.”

So, although beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, insults are in the ears of the receiver. What I tell my clients is to realize this and to recognize that if someone is insulted by what they say, whether they agree it’s insulting and inappropriate or not, they should stop saying it – unless of course they really want to be insulting (and possibly fired from their job.)

Management and Collaboration Styles

In many countries of the world and in prior years here in the USA, the workplace consisted of a clear authoritarian structure and chain of command. The scarcity of jobs and the need to feed the family left many people passively submissive to any orders given them by their “boss.” Workers obeyed orders, kept their gripes and personal issues to themselves, and rarely defied authority.

Today, many of us are “knowledge workers”, with education, freedom, and opinions of our own. We need a more participative and persuasive form of management, not an authoritarian one. Yet, many of our managers are older and “old-style.” We have managers all over the world with different styles and workers all over the world with different expectations and experiences as to how they should be managed.

The games we play as children have an effect on how we manage and want to be managed. Girls play house and actress and roles are equal. Boys play sports where there is a clear structure and chain of command. Yes, this is changing today – but not totally. So, I’m offering a generalization (not a stereotype – which I will discuss next) in order to explain some of the misunderstandings and conflict common to today’s workplace.

Because of these early childhood experiences many women tend to be more collaborative than men. We like to talk things over. Men, less verbal and more action oriented are more likely to think things through in their heads and then offer a pronouncement of their decision. Some women bristle at this style, others learn to adapt. Men are also learning to adapt to our more egalitarian, collaborative and discussion-involved style.

A funny example: Prior to women being made partners in Law Firms, men knew their place. The junior associates, when invited into the staff meeting, were there to receive information, not offer it (as in children should be seen and not heard). The senior partners could discuss issues brought up by the managing partner. Others could not. Well, we women never learned those rules. When we came in, we thought we had an equal right to raise our opinions. In the beginning of the changes, heads rolled. Today, of course, there is an integration of men and women and diverse styles even in the law firms' staff meetings.

Generalizations, Stereotypes and Prejudice

OK, before I go any further and get into trouble, let’s make some distinctions. A generalization is a statistical average. “Most people” are … or do … etc. Height is a good example of this.  The generalization: Most American women are between 5’4” and 5’8”. Does that mean all women are? – NO. Does that mean someone smaller is not American? – Not necessarily. But the generalization helps clothing manufacturers.

The stereotype is to believe that all women must be between those numbers and that someone is not a woman if they are either taller or shorter. Finally, the prejudice is to pre-judge any woman before even meeting them, or measuring them.

Generational (and Cultural) Differences

People who believe you work hard in one company and value their job security above other things have a different attitude towards work than those who believe that they have many choices and only work in a company as long as they are “having fun” and “being appreciated.” Generation X, for example is said to want balance in life between work and home. Others are willing to work 14 hour days 7 days a week.

Distant Teams

We are often working with people we’ve never seen. They may be across the street, working at home in their pajamas, or across the world. Our contact with them is mostly by e-mail and none of us see the expressions on the faces of those with whom we interact. Misunderstandings because of e-mail are one of the leading causes of today’s workplace conflict.

Stress of the Many Hours at Work

It’s hard to remain pleasant when exhausted.  Here in Silicon Valley, and in its counter-parts in many other parts of the country – and the world – are working very long hours for months and years at a time. The adrenaline rush that allows for us to do extraordinary things in emergency situations burns out over repeated stressful events an times. We are depleted and react negatively from our perpetual state of exhaustion.

We may be working longer hours, but we really aren’t being more creative or productive.  We make more mistakes because of this state of exhaustion. Stress causes us to be less tolerant of others and to snap at small things.

The Tyranny of Pleasantness

Although this topic deserves an article all its own – maybe even a book – let me give a brief explanation here.  We work in groups and teams and decisions are not made by secret ballot. We try to reach consensus and have been admonished if we disagree more than mildly. “Tall poppies get cut down”; “Tall nails get hammered down.” This leads to us going along to get along. We don’t want to make waves. We don’t want to stand out as the person who holds up the decision – the unpopular one.  So, we go along to get along –and sometimes bad decisions result from us not arguing our opinions.

Understandng and Training

Since people of all genders, ages, cultures, styles, beliefs and expectations will continue to work together physically or virtually, we need to learn to understand each other better, and to have a shared set of workplace values and expectations.

So at the least we need:
  • A common culture – core values – with clearly defined behavioral expectations set out in policy manuals and reinforced by training, and by management training as well.
  • Diversity training that teaches us not just about food and dress differences, but how to really understand cognitive, communication, and cultural differences.
  • Acceptance and recognition of the differences, from conservative to liberal (and I mean more than just politically.)
  • More attempts to clear up disagreement through conflict resolution, rather than sanctions and punishment.

What Is Conflict Resolution?

Who Do You Believe?

The tendency is to believe the first person in your office – the one making the complaint. They touch our hearts and we rush to their defense. This can lead to all sorts of problems, because you then accuse the person being accused – and if you conduct an investigation you often do so with your assumption that you are looking for evidence to support the view of the complaining person.

I’ve seen many investigations – by seeming experts – who state that anyone who voices an opinion not supporting the allegations is either lying or denying. Evidence in support of the allegations is the only evidence considered valid – and the truth is often destroyed.

Neutral investigations are not merely whether an insider or outsider conducts it – it is a matter of assumption.  Neutrality means you don’t know the answer ahead of time. All information received is potentially valid, not just that supporting one point of view.

How do you handle it?

Many managers and HR reps think they need to be Judge and Jury when they receive a complaint. Quite often that is an inappropriate response. Even Solomon had difficulty resolving a dispute between two women each claiming to be the mother of a particular baby. Most of our workplace professionals are not trained to do investigations or neutral evaluations. If the charges are serious, they might need to bring in a conflict resolution expert. If the charges are mild, as most are – my recommendation is to bring the protagonists together and help them talk things over with mediation and if necessary, conciliation.

Policy, Procedures and Sanctions

Before I go into details of conflict resolution, let me set the stage by suggesting that all companies, no matter how large or small, have a set of policies and procedures with clearly defined sanctions for violations. I’d also suggest that the punishment fit the crime. Just as the criminal justice system recognizes the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, felony, etc., so too should policy makers in the workplace.

Zero tolerance as a strategy often backfires. There are well-known examples from the school room. A Kindergarten boy was expelled because he kissed a little girl on the cheek – they called it sexual harassment. A young boy was suspended because he accidentally brought his mother’s paring knife to school when he took her lunch bag instead of his own. Even though she called the school to explain – he was suspended for bringing a weapon. Then, most recently there was the school principal who wouldn’t let an ambulance onto the football field to pick up a badly injured player because she had been told not to let cars onto the football field.

On the other hand, we need to document even the mildest of infractions because we do want to be aware when there is an on-going pattern of misbehavior. The manner in which we document is critically important. Facts, not feelings are mandated. Quoting others directly (with their signature) is more reliable than paraphrasing. If venturing an opinion, it should be so stated, not entered as another fact. Finally, all documentation of this nature needs to be centrally located (HR is the place) and in a locked file.

Conflict Resolution – Alternate Dispute Resolution


Arbitration is a slightly less formal manner of adjudicating a dispute. The arbitrator receives evidence, listens to testimony, hears witnesses and renders a verdict. This is very much like a Judge in court. Indeed, many arbitrators are retired Judges. This is not the best strategy for HR or management in most companies.


Mediation, which is my favorite (although I do the others as well) is the process of bringing the parties together and helping them talk about their issues so that they can resolve them themselves. The mediator does not make the decision. She facilitates the process. Really good mediators allow the emotional content and context of the disagreement to emerge, knowing that the air must be cleared before rationality sets in leading to a healthy resolution. In mediation, you want the parties to be able to work together after the conflict is resolved. That’s one of the reasons it is the best strategy in the work place – except in egregious cases.


Conciliation is the process of the facilitator being a go-between between the parties. Usually the parties are in separate rooms and the facilitator acts as a translator going back and forth from one party or group to another. This might be helpful when the conflict is so harsh and you fear bringing the people together – or in large group disputes such as union v. management disputes. Generally speaking though, it’s not the most effective way of helping people resolve their differences. I must prefer mediation.


This might sound naive, but I firmly believe that most people want to do good – not bad. If they hurt each other, it’s usually due to lack of understanding or misunderstanding. Even if I am sometimes wrong about this, it’s the better assumption when conducting evaluations or investigations.

Yes, some people are evil. There are the bullies who take advantage of the more vulnerable – and that’s why we have created these workplace rules to protect those needing protection.

But, don’t let your own prejudices – such as people who complain are telling the truth, or men always sexually harass women – or even zero tolerance means throwing away common sense – get in the way of making rational, reasonable, and charitable decisions.

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Creative Thinking

I know this is one of my favorite topics. I’m writing about it today because of something that was in the papers. I recall reading that people confuse creativity with innovation.
Innovation is an end result of creative thinking; it could be a product, or the refinement of a process.

But, thinking creatively – thinking differently (or as Steve Jobs used to say: “different”) or to use the jargon “outside the box” takes a personality that is willing to take risks. Because it takes bravery to say or write something that isn’t the conventional and popular point of view on any subject in particular.

Creative thinking draws from a range of sides – professions – experience – etc.  It’s sometimes an amalgam of different puzzle pieces put together in a novel manner.

In addition to being risky because of being outside the norm, people who are creative thinkers have to be willing to be wrong. To fail. To try it (whatever it is) another way. Ultimately it looks so simple, often it is many many times of trial and error before the “right” solution presents itself.

Most solutions occur during “down time” – on the staircase, in the shower, taking a bath or exercising.  Those are times when the brain, not completely asleep, is at rest and thus has time to absorb all the data that’s been stuffed into it about the problem needing to be solved.
New ideas come about because of our needing to solve a personal problem, or observing something happening in the world. 

The key – be present – be aware – be conscious of what you are doing, how you are doing it, and what’s going on around you.

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Thursday, July 07, 2016

Goals and Premises

In order to understand the differences in points of view, we most often have to go back to the basics: 

What are the basic premises under which they are operating and what are the goals they are trying to achieve?

One story from my consulting practice:

I was shadowing the Chief Engineer in a transportation company one day, during my role as his mentor. He and I attended a meeting that was being led by an out of state consultant. Our roles were to listen – not to take over.

The out of state consultant was offering his conclusions as to where signal switches should be placed along the track for a new kind of train. He thought (for example) they should be placed at A, C L, and Q.  Another consultant (from a competing company) was saying, you are all wrong, they need to be placed at A, B D, F, and M. The two consultants went back and forth, “I’m right you’re wrong” without ever having reached an agreement.

As I listened I realized that their basic premises and eventual goals were different. The out of state consultant was suggesting switches that would enable the most speed. The local consultant knowing the terrain was suggesting switches that would create the most safety.

Each was right, given their basic premises and goals.

So, when we disagree with someone as to how they should do something, perhaps we ought to first learn what their premises are and what they want to accomplish.

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