Sunday, September 4, 2011

Setting a New Supervisor Up for Success

I find it fascinating how often employees are promoted from a front line position to a supervisory role, and we magically expect that they will hit the ground running. How could a new supervisor possibly know how to transition from being a "doer" to a facilitator, negotiator and delegate?

The early days of becoming a new supervisor can be very intimidating and downright scary. Employees are looking to them for information or advice, and in most cases, they don't have any idea of what is expected. As a manager, one of the best tools to get your new supervisor off and running is a detailed checklist. This checklist should include things they need to know (and do) on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Getting your new leader into a solid routine of key areas they need to focus on will pay dividends in the end. Not only will you be able to gauge how well they are able to stick to the priorities you have established through the checklist, but you can then focus more of your time providing information and guidance on other leadership related topics.
As a department manager, going through the process of putting this tool together will help reinforce key focus areas and risks within your operation. As time consuming as this exercise will be upfront, it will help ensure proper oversight of tasks and activities in your environment.

Daily Checklist
This checklist needs to drive oversight of very detailed areas of the business. Highlight all of the key tasks and activities done by the department and what the new leader should be reviewing to ensure the timeliness, accuracy and quality of the work being produced. Not only will this keep the new leader on the right track, but it will help them grow their knowledge of the area they are supervising.

Weekly and Monthly Checklists
These checklists should focus on required reporting, projects, audits, etc. You can also build proactive leadership related items into the list such as employee one-on-ones, writing performance reviews, creating documentation for the department, etc.

One final piece of advice.... Resist the temptation to turn this tool into some type of mandatory reporting requirement. The magic of it is to see how well the new supervisor uses it to drive results.

Do the right thing by setting your new supervisors on a path to success. Frequent, open and honest dialogue about expectations, along with their progress on the goals you have set will help solidify your working relationship. This tool is a key step to get the ball rolling.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Power Mongers In the Workplace

I have heard from several readers about the negative impact that power mongers have had on your places of work. I thought we would look at a number of scenarios that seem to bring out the ‘power beast’ in people and what to do about it.

The Know-it-All- Most of us have had the interesting challenge of working with the infamous ‘know-it-all’. This is the employee who has a gift for knowing the minute details of every process and procedure done in the department. Their knowledge makes them the obvious ‘go to person’, but the minute you go to them for information or advice, you quickly understand why they typically sit alone in the company lunch room. These employees often hold their knowledge at bay, and the price you will need to pay for the information is a small piece of your self esteem. These employees walk around with an air of superiority and are highly skilled in talking down to their co-workers and supervisors. Somewhere along their life journey, they came to believe that information equates to power. Unfortunately, once they end up realizing that the information does not actually create any real power, they often act out in a rude and arrogant superior manner in order to give the impression of superiority. These characters can be extremely detrimental to the cohesiveness of a team. As the leader, you need to address this behavior head-on and have an open and honest discussion. I suggest you discuss the following:

  • Your definition of team work
  • What you expect from each member of the team with regards to contributing to a collaborative and cohesive work team
  • The perception of the team with regard to their lack of team focus (give specific examples)
  • Inform them of your commitment to providing them with feedback each and every time you see them doing anything that detracts from a cohesive team environment
  • Explain the consequences for continued unacceptable behavior
The Dreaded Promotion- One of the most common events that turn people into power mongering lunatics is the dreaded promotion. I am not sure what it is about this situation that makes some people lose their minds, but the consequences can be devastating to a work place. Let’s think about how strange it all is. An employee works hard and shows what they are capable of, the employee gets rewarded for the results of their efforts by receiving a promotion, the employee’s career implodes because the promotion goes to their head and they start treating direct reports and co-workers like in a rude and demeaning manner. It is completely illogical, but it happens all the time. As the leader, it is important you stay tuned in to your newly promoted employee to ensure you are not seeing any signs of the power game being played. If you do, then meet with the employee and lay it out on the table. Include examples of their behavior and the impact it is having on the team

The Training Nazi- What is it about giving an employee the responsibility of training a new comer that can turn them into a complete lunatic? I have seen many cases where seemingly normal, well adjusted, solid performers turn into Attila the Hun when presented with the opportunity to train a new employee. Being in a position where the trainer has all the information and the new comer must rely on them for their early success, seems to be some weird aphrodisiac to some people. They begin to act in a rude and bossy manner and often overstep their bounds in the type of training and feedback they give to new hires. As the leader, it is critical that you stay in tune with how your trainer is doing. If you witness or are made aware of any issues, you must address them head-on. Remember, the trainer is often the employee’s key link to their new organization. You need someone who is an exceptional role model, not someone who needs a high dose of Prozac!!

The Prima Donna Project Manager-Similar to the training Nazi, the minute you give someone the responsibility of managing a project, you better be prepared to monitor their behavior. Some employees are natural team builders who seem to have a knack for bringing a group of people together to achieve a common goal. Others take the opportunity to push: push their own agenda, push people around, push people to the point of anger and subsequently push people out of the group. All of this creates a strong probability that the project will be in danger of falling far short of expectation. As the leader, make sure you periodically solicit feedback from project team members, as well as making unannounced visits to project meetings. Often times the body language along will tell you more than words ever will. If issues exist, take the bull by the horns and lay it out on the table for your project manager. If needed, begin taking a stronger hand in the leadership of the project.

Those Terrible Titles- This category absolutely fascinates me. I have seen time and time again where a company makes an organizational change that equates to nothing more than a title change for a group of employees. There is no promotion, no increase in responsibility, no increase in pay, just a change in title. Nonetheless, there is always a group of individuals that take this as a license to start treating their co-workers like doo doo. Add the term ‘lead’ or ‘senior’ to a title and some people just go insane. As the leader, it is important that you clearly communicate these types of organizational changes in a clear and concise manner. If the title change did not include any significantly new responsibilities, then make sure the employees impacted are fully aware of the scope of their role. It may also be a great reinforcement to announce the changes to the entire team and make sure to include the fact that despite any title changes, roles and responsibilities are the same. Also inform the team that there are no changes to their reporting structure and all team members still report directly to you. This may put the kibosh on anyone trying to send out any information to the contrary. Then, stay close to your team and listen for any drama that may be brewing.

It is absolutely amazing when you sit back and consider all of the things that can negatively impact a work environment. Unfortunately, this type of drama occurs each and every day in the work place and all it does is detract for your team’s ability to focus on their key responsibilities. Employees who have some innate need to try and influence their work place through their use of power and intimidation need to be immediately dealt with. You need to have an effective face-to-face conversation with them about the perception they are creating as well as the negative impact their behavior is having on the team. Make sure to make it perfectly clear the type of behavior you expect from everyone on your team and the consequences for failing to meet those expectations. It will go a long

Friday, July 16, 2010

Communication in the Workplace- Meetings, Meetings and More Meetings

So far, we have reviewed the importance of face-to -face communication, and the benefits and risks of the various types of written communication. Now let’s review everyone’s favorite topic…meetings! I have attended more than my fair share of meetings in my career. Everything from one-on-ones with my boss to weekly staff meetings, management brainstorming sessions, annual kick- off meetings, quarterly business updates, meetings about disaster recovery, meetings announcing mergers and acquisitions, town hall meetings and meetings to plan everything from training classes to workplace celebrations. I have even had the ‘privilege’ of attending the meeting that informed me that my job, and the jobs of 900 others, had been eliminated. I’ve attended meetings that were facilitated in person, through conference calls, via video conference and through web meeting services. There seems to be a bazillion reasons to have a meeting and increasingly creative ways to host them.

Unfortunately, meetings have gotten a bad rap in the work world, and this is disappointing. Although there are leaders out there that seem to want to hold a meeting every time an employee gets a paper cut, effective meetings are an important method of communication when properly facilitated. Not only are meetings a great way to share critical information and encourage the sharing of ideas, but they are a great way to encourage socialization of a team. The better everyone gets to know each other and see how their peers think and work, the more cohesively the team will work together. Whether the meeting is with company vice presidents, or the crew that works in the mailroom, effective working relationships are critical to every company.

Let’s review some of the most common types of meetings that supervisors will attend and facilitate, along with the important elements of each:

Ah yes, the dreaded staff meeting. Many people roll their eyes and sigh heavily when they hear the term. I believe when this type of meeting is facilitated correctly, it is one of the most effective communication vehicles for leadership and front line teams. The elements of an effective staff meeting are as follows:

Frequency- The frequency of staff meetings should be based on the employee’s role in their organization.

  • Senior/Middle Managers- Most commonly, you will find that senior/middle managers typically participate in some type of weekly meeting in an effort to ensure all the leaders within a division, region or district are on the same page. It is a great opportunity to review the successes and concerns of key initiatives. It is also the time to review any cross-functional issues, as well as new programs that are rolling out to the organization. The senior manager can then determine how to best communicate to their respective teams.
  • Supervisors- Weekly staff meetings can also be extremely effective for the supervisory ranks to ensure crucial information is disseminated to them and their teams in a timely manner.
  • Front Line Employees- Staff meetings with the front line team are important to create a culture of strong communication and cohesiveness. Barring any unusual circumstances (new roll out, merger, acquisition, etc) a monthly staff meeting should suffice.
Length- One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make when it comes to staff meetings is not holding them on a regularly scheduled basis. This leads to a build-up of required communication and when the meeting finally occurs, it drags on for an extreme length of time. It is my experience that once a meeting goes beyond the two hour mark, attendees’ attention spans begin to drop. After six hours, the attentiveness of the participants plummets to the point that most are not retaining much of what is being covered. In my opinion, this is why meetings get such a bad rap. Scheduling a standard meeting time, and committing to a maximum meeting time, helps keep meetings a tool for effective communication. If there is only enough information to hold a 20 minute session, then a 20 minute meeting it is.

Content- I strongly suggest preparing a standard ‘high-level’ agenda for your staff meetings. That way participants will become accustomed to the topics that will be covered each meeting and can prepare information needed to have a valuable discussion on each topic. Make sure to cover key elements in most business environments like productivity, quality, service, profitability, new business/sales updates, new program roll-outs, etc

Setting Strong Ground Rules- All leaders need to set strong ground rules for their staff meetings. Everything from materials that need to be brought to the meetings, to the level of participation expected from participants and even how disagreements should be handled must be clearly defined for all attendees.

Leaders must remember that they can spend half their work life in meetings, but if they do not update their teams in a timely, accurate and thorough manner on the various topics reviewed in the meeting, it is all just a giant waste of time. Worse yet, the lack of information will erode the effectiveness of the team.

Supervisors/managers should expect to be invited to meetings from time to time that deal with highly sensitive or confidential information. Although it is absolutely critical that you share whatever information you can with your employees, when that information is deemed confidential, you are bound by an ethical obligation to keep it to yourself until you are officially allowed to share. Although many leaders think they have employees or co-workers they can trust, understand the risk you are running if you violate confidentially and your confidant opens their mouth and shares it with their inner circle. And keep in mind, EVERYONE in the workplace has their own inner circle. Just remember, once the cat is officially out of the bag, it can most likely be traced right back to you. So know the real risks before you open your mouth!!

Beyond violating confidentiality, the other risk you run is fueling the rumor mill, and we all know the problems that can cause. You will quickly erode your employees’ confidence and trust if you are seen as someone who moonlights as the town crier.

Other meetings you will likely attend may involve discussions or brainstorming sessions on potential changes to your organizational structure or various process/procedural changes. Sharing information with team members about possible changes will just create unneeded stress, speculation and chaos. Remember, many employees do not like change, so sharing potential changes contributes nothing positive for your work environment.

One-on-one meetings with your employees improve communication, and are a critical part of their development. The frequency of these meetings is often based on the employee’s role in the organization. Many managers have one-on-ones with their direct reports on a weekly basis. Supervisors may have a one-on-one session with each of their employees on a monthly or quarterly basis. These types of meetings should be used for the following:

• Following-up on any projects the employee is involved with

• Checking for understanding of any new processes, procedures or programs that recently rolled out

• Gaining an understanding of how the employee is feeling about their work environment

• Conducting career planning or development discussions

Brainstorming sessions are a great tool for instilling a sense of buy-in and accountability with your front line employees. Most companies roll-out new goals and expectations on an annual basis. Whether for that reason, or to just challenge your team to take a process to the next level, bringing your team together to brainstorm ideas builds enthusiasm and commitment; it can also fosters true team environment. Ground rules for brainstorming include the following:

• Make it a fun and enthusiastic meeting

• Create an environment where all employees are encouraged to participate

• Acknowledgement and encouragement for those who are participating in the session

• Ensure that everyone understands that there are no dumb ideas. The more ideas that are thrown out to the group, the more ideas spring forth

• Address any negativity that may arise

• Document every idea that is brought forward

• Work with the team to narrow down the ideas that have the best chance of making a positive impact on the environment and meeting the new goal or objective

After the brainstorming session has narrowed down viable options, schedule follow-up meetings to begin hammering out the details.

You can’t necessarily do much about the meetings you will have to attend that go on for 16 hours regarding the most mundane and uninteresting topics imaginable. What you can do however, is make sure that the meetings you are planning and facilitating achieve the goals and meet the expectations of your employees.

Keep in mind that communication is the cornerstone of your success as a leader. You must be strategic about how your approach each element of the communication you will use with your team. I highly suggest you periodically initiate a little survey with your team to find out whether your communication skills (face-to-face, written, meetings, etc) are effectively supporting their needs. Be open to the results and try modifying your style if needed based on their recommendations.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ensuring the Use of Effective Written Communication in the Workplace

Written communication comprises a significant percentage of communication in today’s workplace. Although emails, BlackBerry messages and instant messaging can certainly expedite and simplify communication to large groups, there are risks that come with this type of mass media. I have seen countless cases where written communication is misunderstood by an employee and subsequent issues created negative financial or customer impact. Remember, there is a tremendous advantage to being able to analyze the body language and facial expressions of your audience; therefore it is important for leaders to choose their method of communication wisely.

Email is one of the most commonly used methods of communication in today’s workplace. It is a quick and easy way to share information, ask a question, schedule a meeting, etc. Unfortunately, many leaders have begun to use email as a replacement for verbal communication. These days it seems so much easier to just crank out a quick email rather than getting off our butts to go and have an actual discussion with one of our employees. We would rather send a written notification instead of actually picking up the phone to have a human interaction with a co-worker. Are we unknowingly trying to avoid developing relationships in the workplace? Do we just believe the written word saves time, or perhaps we have just become that lazy? No matter what we attribute it to, overusing email in the workplace is downright discourteous and can be extremely detrimental to the work environment.

There is tremendous upside to email when it is used in an effective manner. Emails are appropriate for large scale company communication, especially related to policies, procedures, programs, etc. It can also be very effective in businesses that operate 24/7, where leaders are scheduled on various shifts. But even under these circumstances, follow-up discussions are critical to ensure your team members have a solid understanding of the information contained in the email.

Email becomes an issue when it is used as a substitution for true interpersonal communication. Sitting in your office and sending an email to your team who sits twenty five feet from your door is just plain silly. If you must send a mass communication or forward important information on to your team, at least have the decency to follow-up with some face-to-face interaction where you can check for understanding. If you team is does not reside in your location, then pick up the phone and have a follow-up discussion.

Leaders need to set strong expectations for their employees that all communication, both verbal and written, is expected to be kept professional at all times. It is a good idea to periodically review your company’s electronic media policies with your employees. There are several concerning scenarios related to company email that I have seen reoccurring in the workplace. Leaders must realize that these situations can create significant risk for your employee and the organization:

The Cowards Favorite Weapon- I have seen far too many situations where leaders use email to blast their employees when they are angry over an alleged issue. Unfortunately, more often than not, they don’t have all the facts before they launch into an all out written attack of the unsuspecting employee. This type of behavior is completely disrespectful and inappropriate in any work environment. The absolute last thing that email should be used for is taking a whack at an employee. In keeping with the running theme of creating a respectful work environment, leaders need to have a verbal discussion with the employee to gain an understanding of all the facts before attempting to take any type of corrective action. If the facts demonstrate that an issue exists and needs to be addressed, then the leader should sit down with the employee and take proper corrective action. Employees at any level of an organization that are being subjected to this type of disrespectful treatment should escalate the behavior to a member of their leadership or HR team.

Look Before You Click- We have all heard the horror stories of an employee crafting a snarky email but inadvertently sending it to the person they are talking about. The situation is even worse when the employee accidentally sends it to their boss. Employees need to continually be reminded of the expectation that they are responsible for contributing to an environment of positive and respectful communication. The more frequent the message, the better your chances for avoiding issues.

• It is No Joking Matter- Although most employees are aware of their company’s electronic media policy, forwarding inappropriate emails to others inside and outside the company seems to be a common issue in workplace these days. Emails containing profanity, jokes and/ or pictures of a sexual or racial nature violate most company’s policies related to respect, harassment or discrimination. As the leader of the team, you must escalate any issues that you become aware of.

• The Phantom Emailer- I have been involved in several cases where employees have gone to a co-workers desk and sent an inappropriate email to a fellow co-worker, all under the guise of a joke. Unfortunately, the employee who receives the email often times does not understand it is a joke and escalates the issue. Employees must understand that all emails containing inappropriate content (typically of a sexual or racial nature) violate company policy and are typically dealt with in a swift and strict manner.

• Welcome to Subpoena Land- It is not uncommon to hear stories in the news about company emails surfacing during an investigation that corroborate the allegations. Employees need to be aware that everything they send in an email can be easily accessed and subpoenaed in any type of legal matter affecting the company.

This type of communication is effective for asking a quick question of a colleague or providing a quick update on the status of a situation. Unfortunately, it is becoming more common for entire work conversations to take place through this medium. As with email communication, it is important not to overuse this type of communication or allow it to become a substitute for verbal communication. It is also important to remember that with all types of written communication, your company can, and will monitor your activities. Some companies even flag all correspondence that contains any words and/or references that appear to be of an inappropriate nature. Disciplinary action can occur when too many offenses begin to stack up.

As the supervisor/manager of a team, it is critical that you set a strong standard of conduct for your employees. First and foremost, you must lead by example and ensure that your written communication is consistently prepared in a professional and respectful manner. Frequently remind your team of the importance of complying with corporate policies related to all electronic media, and address any issues that arise which detract from the culture you are working to create. Your efforts will result in a more effective and cohesive work team.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Communication- The Literal Cornerstone of Your Success

I have heard it a bazillion times since first becoming a supervisor… “Communication sucks around this place” or “well if someone would have told me, we wouldn’t have this problem.” It seems to me that miscommunication is used as the excuse for the majority of problems that occur in the workplace. I find it rather fascinating that employees and managers alike throw the term ‘miscommunication’ around in such a casual manner. Considering how detrimental miscommunication can be, leaders need to start making clear and concise communication their top priority.

Beyond the quality and productivity issues that miscommunication creates, it is the sheer havoc it wreaks on your team that is so detrimental. Employees do not want to redo their work because you failed to articulate a process change. They do not want to look foolish in front of a customer because they were not aware of a new program that rolled out weeks ago. Worse yet, employees should not have to deal with a leader’s anger or frustration when things don’t go as planned, all because of miscommunication. Poor communication can create significant negative monetary and reputational consequences for your organization. Whether your company ends up taking a loss over a mishap in an operational process, or a customer is negatively impacted due to a missed deadline or misunderstood agreement, the consequences can be staggering.

The other factor involved with miscommunication is the toll it takes on the morale in your department. As we covered in an earlier blog, human beings are creatures of comfort. And in order to feel comfortable in the work environment, employees must feel as if we have some sense of understanding and control over their surroundings. Therefore, unless information is confidential, keeping your employees in the dark is a colossal mistake. My goal with regard to communication has always been to OVER COMMMUNICATE! I would rather have my employees roll their eyes at me and say “we know…you have told us three times” than have to explain to my employees and my boss that there was a ‘miscommunication’.

One of my favorite sayings is “in the absence of communication, people just make crap up!” Profound, I know, but it’s true. Poor communication just serves to fuel the rumor mill. Any leader who has had the unfortunate experience of coming into a new work environment that is strongly influenced by the rumor mill knows how difficult it can be to get control of the reins. Employees get comfortable living in the drama created by the gossip mongers and are not always very trusting of their leader. Open, honest and proactive communication must become a key focus for all leaders at every level of an organization.

Over the course of this week we will review the various types of communication that are commonly used in the workplace. Each has an appropriate time, place and recommended audience but is often misused. We will look at the benefits of and pitfalls of each type of communication.

Spending frequent face-to-face time with your employees is the most effective form of communication to be used with a team of front line employees. It is the most personal of all interactions and has the potential to send the strongest message that you are invested in your team and are interested in what your employees have to say. The beauty of face-to-face communication is that you not only have the benefit of listening to the employees’ verbal cues, but you have an opportunity to watch their body language and facial expressions as well. This usually says a whole lot more than the words coming out of their mouths. Face-to-face communication is especially effective when you ask open ended questions regarding how the employee feels about changes that are happening, or when you ask them to share information with you about a problem that has occurred. You will often be surprised at how strong of a message non-verbal cues can give.

I have worked with many leaders over the years who actually avoided any significant face-to-face contact with their employees because they didn’t want to deal with the potential issues or drama that may have been uncovered in the conversation. They found it easier to just leave a voicemail, or send an email to an employee who sat a mere 50 feet away from them. If avoiding interactions with your employees is part of your ‘style’, then you are in the wrong line of work. The more frequent and in-depth your interactions are with your employees, the more you will uncover. In the beginning, this will undoubtedly create more work as you may find more issues brewing that you were not initially aware of. But over time, you will begin to stay ahead of the issues. You will be able to deal with the real issues from their inception, and squash any rumors as they occur. Once this happens, you will begin to feel more in control and will have the ability to start creating the environment you are striving for.

There are countless reasons to communicate with your employees in a face-to-face manner. Below are several situations where you want to ensure you have that personal level of communication

• Recognizing a Job Well Done- I have seen supervisors/managers send emails to employees to thank or congratulate them on a job well done. Although this might be necessary if you want to CC your boss and others to make them aware of the employee’s accomplishment, the email cannot be a replacement for a personal visit. The best scenario is to personally thank the employee for their accomplishment, and send a follow-up email to the boss. You can then CC the employee if you would like. Don’t minimize your employee’s accomplishment by using email for such an important event.

• Catching an Employee Doing the Right Thing- If you happen to witness an employee doing an outstanding job with a customer, a new process, etc. it is your duty as a leader to approach them in a timely manner and share your feedback. That is one of the most impactful ways to reinforce positive workplace behaviors.

• Do Over’s- There are times when an interaction with an employee does not go the way you intended or does not end on a positive note. In these situations, you should loop back around and have a subsequent conversation with the employee. If there was anything in the conversation that you need to apologize for, make sure you do so. Demonstrating this level of commitment to creating positive relationships with your team members will definitely be rewarded in the end.

• The Roll-Out of a New Process- Many supervisors have found themselves in the boss’s office trying to explain their way out of a process, procedural or service failure. This is extremely common after the roll-out of a new process, procedure or program. Inevitably, ‘miscommunication’ is identified as the culprit. Unfortunately, the real reason for the failure is most often that the leader did not take the necessary time to effectively communicate all of the pertinent information regarding the change. If at all possible, face-to-face communication is preferable when it comes to rolling-out a new process, procedure or program. The leader has a better opportunity to ensure the message is being clearly articulated and can monitor the facial expressions and body language of team members to ensure a solid level of understanding.

One key risk associated in face-to-face communication is how effectively you handle yourself during the interaction. Communicaiton with your team members should be as unique and varied as the number of employees that report to you. So keep in mind who you are speaking to and modify your delivery to ensure you have the intended impact. 

The following are other critical elements related to effective face-to-face communication:

• Keep it Professional- Remember You are Representing Your Company- All too often supervisors/managers get too friendly or casual in their interactions with their employees. Cussing or using inappropriate references or jokes is inappropriate in the workplace. You are working to maintain a respectful relationship with your team members, so don’t minimize your role by trying to talk to your employees like they are your drinking buddies. You also need to ensure that you are not sharing any confidential information. This can only put end up putting you in a compromising situation down the line.

• Broadway, Here You Come- Remember, when talking to your employees you might as well consider yourself to be on stage. Being aware of your body language and facial expressions is absolutely critical to ensuring an effective interaction. Employees can drop a bombshell on you at any moment, so maintaining a calm and unemotional composure is important to preserving your credibility. You must remember that you never know if what you’re being told is completely accurate. Even the most reliable employee is going to tell their story from their own personal vantage point, so reacting emotionally in any way is not appropriate. Do not act shocked or disappointed at what you are being told. Do not roll your eyes or give off any other signals through your body language that indicate how you are feeling about the information. Show the employee you are interested in what they have to say, and take notes on what you are told. Finally, make sure to refrain from judgment until you have had a chance to thoroughly investigate the situation or allegation. Charging head first into an allegation has left many a leader looking foolish, so look before you leap.

• Keep All Speculations to Yourself- Don’t share your speculations with your employees. Even if you tell the employee that you are just speculating about upcoming changes, many will take the information as factual and assume you know more than you can officially say. The next thing you know is the rumor mill is once again in high gear. If you are wrong about your speculation, you run the chance of diminishing your credibility.

• No Hypothetical’s Please- I once had a boss once that was famous for having ‘off the record” conversations with his employees. He would discuss potential job changes or promotions he was contemplating, and would share with the employee where he felt they may fit in the scheme of things. My boss would say he was just checking for the employee’s interest level in future advancement opportunities. The employee would leave the conversation hearing that their promotion was in the works. They had already begun speculating on their huge impending increase and were considering how to spend their giant new windfall. In the meantime, my boss was on to his next greatest idea and was setting the next employee up for colossal disappointment. I was the unfortunate one who was left trying to smooth things over with the trail of hurt and disappointed employees. Lesson learned…NEVER have hypothetical career discussions with an employee unless you are ready to make an offer and put your money (literally) where your mouth is.

The amount of time you spend in face-to-face communication with each of your employees will be directly reflected in the quality, productivity and customer service produced by your entire team. The more time you spend soliciting the team’s feedback, the more proactive you can be about addressing the team’s issues and concerns. The more clear and concise the information and feedback your team receives from you, the more cohesive of an environment you will create. The more cohesive the environment, the greater the trust level your employees will have in you. Sounds like a win all the way around!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Common Mistakes Leaders Make in the Workplace

The following are common transgressions made by supervisors/managers in the workplace. These behaviors will erode your credibility and create significant mistrust in your team. Having a strong sense of self awareness is critical to every leader’s success. If you recognize yourself participating in any of these behaviors, take the initiative to immediately change your course of action. Take some time to review the expectations of your leadership role and analyze your relationships and interactions with your team.

UTILIZING THE SAME EMPLOYEES FOR KEY PROJECTS- There are leaders who consistently use the same employees for key projects and special assignments. This is extremely detrimental to the health of your team, as it does not allow all of your employees to grow. It can also create the perception of favoritism within the team. I have seen situations where the perceived ‘favored’ employees begin treating other team members poorly. People don’t stay where they are not wanted. Employees who feel expendable will undoubtedly seek employment elsewhere and you will be stuck dealing with unneeded turnover. Your job is to create a strong team environment where employees can flourish. Challenging each employee with unique stretch assignments will not only help them grow in their role, but it will create a stronger skill set and prepare them future opportunities. Employees that feel you are invested in their success, and have created an even playing field where all can succeed, will reward your commitment with increased loyalty to you, the team and the organization.

THROWING YOUR EMPLOYEES UNDER THE BUS- There are times when an employee will make an significant error in their work that has negative consequences to the department, division or organization. You need to understand that as the leader of the team, you are ultimately accountable for all of the successes and failures that occur within your team. Playing the blame game by pointing fingers not only demonstrates a lack of integrity, but sends a strong message that you do not possess an understanding of the accountability required of all leaders. You boss will be smart enough to know that you did not personally make the error, so pointing fingers accomplishes nothing other than minimizing your credibility. You need to assess the situation that occurred and present the facts to your boss including what steps YOU are taking to mitigate the risk of future issues. Include any oversight you will have in the process.

FAILING TO LEAD BY EXAMPLE- There is nothing more frustrating to employees than working for a boss who leads by the “do as I say, not as I do” method of management. You know the type of boss I am referring to, the one who writes their employees up for tardiness, but has not made it into work on time for the past year. Leaders, who constantly talk about integrity, but continue to try and lie their way out of issues and problems occurring in the work place. Those who talk a big game about standing up for what is right, but wouldn’t know courageous leadership if it was staring them in the face. We all have our strengths and areas of development need, but a true leader needs to have enough self awareness to understand that they are leading through the example they are setting each and every day.

LEADING BY POWER AND INTIMIDATION- There are far too many leaders in this world whose reign has more to do with power than serving the employees they have the privilege of leading. This type of mindset is extremely harmful to the workplace, and inevitably will end up in the age old battle of good versus evil. Employees will only tolerate so much negativity, cruelty, bullying and fear before they will ban together in an effort to oust the intimidator. It is my experience that the power of the people always wins, so if you are more interested in power than the responsibilities of true leadership, look out because you are on a short track to a career change.

SHARING CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION WITH AN EMPLOYEE ABOUT ONE OF THEIR PEERS- Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for leaders to share confidential information with a team member about a fellow employee who is struggling with a performance or conduct issue. Although initially it may make the employee feel like they are a part of your inner circle, it won’t take long for the employee to start wondering who you may be talking to about them. You have a boss and supervisory peers who you can discuss these types of confidential issues with. DO NOT talk to your employees about their peers!

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BEING FRIENDS WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES- It drives me absolutely bonkers when I hear about supervisors/managers ‘hanging out’ with their employees. One of the big drawbacks to being in a leadership role is the isolation that can occur. Your social circle must immediately transition from those who may have been your fellow co-workers, to your new peer group of supervisors or managers. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to break social ties with those whom you were once friends with, but trust me; there is nothing positive that can come from socializing with members of your team. Whether trying to socialize in the workplace or outside, this is a practice that is very dangerous and will inevitably have negative consequences for you and your team. Not only does this behavior set you up for accusations of favoritism, but it compromises your ability to effectively deal with any issues that may arise with your ‘friends’. Keep in mind that life and relationships can change with every breath we take, and a once cohesive relationship with a ‘friend’ can turn sour in short order. Imagine the complications of trying to address a performance or conduct issue with someone who has less than warm and fuzzy feelings about you. You can bet that any negative thing you ever said related to the work environment or employees on your team will be broadcast for all to hear. Don’t compromise yourself by digging your heals in on this issue. There can serious career consequences for those leaders who do not heed this advice.

Making the decision to become a leader is not one that should be taken lightly. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility and sacrifice that goes with the role, not to mention the accountability factor which dictates that you are responsible for everything that happens with your employees. If you are currently in a leadership role, and see yourself in any of these scenarios above, it is time to make a commitment to change your ways. If you are not interested in modifying your leadership behavior, then clearly the role is not for you. Employees deserve the opportunity to report to a courageous leader who personifies kindness, honesty and integrity. The question is….are you the right person for the job?

Friday, July 9, 2010

New Hire Assimilation and Training-The Final Phase

The final elements for ensuring effective assimilation and training involve your commitment to following-up on and providing feedback to your new hire. Let’s face it, why go through all the work of preparing assimilation and training plans if you are not going to follow-up to ensure its effectiveness?

A significant level of involvement with your new employee is absolutely critical for their success. Frequent interactions allow the employee the opportunity to get to know you and what makes you tick. It is very frustrating when an employee feels uncomfortable around the boss, as if they have to tip toe around because they don’t understand you. Frequent discussions also help you gain valuable insights into your new employee as well.

The Daily Fly-By
While your employee is in training, it is important to stop by their work area several times a day to check in. Ask questions to gain an understanding of their overall comfort level in the department and the progress they are making on their training. Keep the conversation fairly social and informal, but ask specific questions about how their training is going.

It is also a good idea to try to spark general discussions with other employees in the department. This can help pull the new hire into the team and encourage stronger socialization in the team. Remember, your job is to create a cohesive team environment. Sometimes this happens on its own, but most often it needs some orchestration from the leader.

The Weekly Meeting
Whenever you have a new employee join the team, it is critical that you formally meet with them hire at least once a week for the first month or so. Consider the following when preparing for the meeting:

• Meet with the trainer and get their assessment on how the training is going

• Also ask the trainer for their assessment on other factors like the employees ability to integrate with the team, ability to take constructive feedback, communication skills, adaptability, etc.

Try to keep the meeting with your new employee scheduled for the same time and day each week. That will help the employee by allowing them to plan for the discussion. Suggestions for facilitating the meeting:

• Make sure you have the training plan in front of you

• Have the feedback from the trainer available so you can incorporate it into the feedback you will be giving

• Thank the employee for joining you

• Ask how the employee feels their training is going

• Review the specific topics from the week’s curriculum and ask the employee about their comfort level with each

• Feel free to ask specific questions about the various topics to check for a solid understanding on the part of the trainee

• Reiterate anything you feel is important about the processes they are learning

• Ask about how things are going with the trainer. Make sure the new hire feels they are able to easily communicate with their trainer

• Reiterate any policies or procedures that need to be reviewed

• Review any company communication that has come out over the previous week. Remember, your new hire does not have the history that is often necessary to thoroughly understand large scale corporate communications.

Make sure you are honest with the employee about how you feel their training is progressing. Recognize their positive results, as well as advise them on any concerns you may have. Getting the employee in the habit of hearing your frequent feedback lets them know you are a straight shooter. It will help them get over any fears they may have about meeting with ‘the boss’, and may also deter the employee from pulling any silliness down the road.

Frequent interaction with your newly hired employees is critical to creating the type of work environment you are striving for. Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to your employee typically translates into their unwavering loyalty and commitment. In turn, you should reap the rewards when your boss recognizes your ability to minimize unwanted turnover and ensure that high quality work is consistently produced in your team.

Effective assimilation and training are the absolute foundation for the successful leadership of your team. Although it will take significant time and effort to prepare your plan, it will certainly reap dividends in the end.