Start Today

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John Maxwell recently posted a fantastic short piece on LinkedIn about how starting is the great separator.  This quote really got me thinking:

“Successful people don’t wait for everything to be perfect to move forward.”

Why aren’t we making a change today toward greater success in work and life?

  • As much as I know I have what it takes to start my own business, it’s not the right time to take a financial risk. I have two kids in college, after all.
  • There’s an opening on the management team and I know I could really make a difference, but I don’t agree with the current strategic direction of leadership.  I’ll go for that promotion as soon as the current CEO retires.
  • I am a new parent of twins, and I want better work-life balance, but I’m afraid to appear less than committed to my career. I’ll just suck it up and keep working extra hours until the big project is over next year.
  • I want to focus on my health and quality of life, but my job is pretty demanding. In two years, I’ll be able to retire, so then I’ll make it my priority.

Success is never guaranteed, even if we wait until the stars are aligned to make our moves.

Imagine if we just focus on starting:

  • I’ll start by networking and building my brand, and even moonlighting on the side if my current company allows it. That way I don’t have to give up financial security while I begin to build my business and explore how I’d like my future to look.
  • A mentor in leadership in another area of the company will help me learn more about the basis for the company’s strategic direction, and I can seek feedback on my ideas while building an internal network that can support me in my career aspirations.
  • I’m going to focus on networking to begin to identify a new position that better fits my long-term work-life balance goals. I’m great at what I do, and I know there is a job out there with a team that offers the right blend of flexibility and challenge.
  • I’m going to look at what wellness programs my employer offers and schedule time in my day to make myself a priority before I focus on work. If I truly feel like I can’t make it fit, I’ll consider talking to my manager about a phased retirement that lets me have more flexibility in my exit plan.

First steps. That’s all we need to focus on. In Maxwell’s piece, he likens it to holding a lantern in the dark, and all we need to see is our next step. We don’t need to see the entire path from the beginning. Let’s get out our lanterns and get started!


Photo credit: timetoewill via Foter.com

 

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Performance Ratings Disappear

Photo by Kelly Marinelli
The latest trend in performance management seems to be to dispense with performance ratings, which I wholeheartedly support!  What a silly, time-wasting process, looking back at the end of the year at goals we set over 12 months ago that may not even be relevant anymore, spending hours on documenting things we’ve already done and receiving a number from our managers, and wondering why we got glowing reviews all year long, just to receive a middling review, or worse, to hear about improvements we need to make for the first time at the year-end review.  Yuck!
So…if we don’t have ratings, then how will the powers that be decide how much money all of us will get at bonus time?  Oh no!
Maybe instead of checking in once per year at the end, to rehash stale projects that have lost their pizzazz, managers could meet up with their team members on a regular basis and actually capture all of that good stuff we are all producing on an ongoing basis throughout the year.
But if the numbers go away, we will need to be careful in communicating performance results (not ratings) so that employees don’t just feel that now they’ve lost the only anchor they ever had in a tumultuous process.
Managers, take heed!  Be confident in the process that you have engaged in throughout the year.  Develop relationships with your team members so they trust you and know where they stand all the time, not just when end of year rolls around.

For more information, visit Solve HR, Inc.

 

Happy + Work?

How do you view your career?  Is your job a means to an end, so you can enjoy the financial security to finance your dreams when you’re not at work?  Or do you derive a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from your work that enhances your overall happiness?

Photo credit: careesma_group / Foter / CC BY-NC

The Conference Board studies worker happiness in the U.S., and in 2014, the percentage of employees who were happy at work was a surprising 48.1%.  That’s up .04% from 2013, and up from a low point of 42.6% in 2010.  Whether happiness is the same as engagement I will leave for another discussion, as well as ultimately how employee happiness affects business results.  It’s no mystery that happiness at work affects our overall quality of life as employees.

So if you’re one of those employees who is in the 51.9% of unhappy workers, how do you make it better?  Enjoying our coworkers and developing relationships with them can generate satisfaction that can counteract other negatives that depress us about our jobs.  That feeling that someone else truly understands what you’re going through and has the same goals you do can make for powerful positive feelings that keep us from changing jobs, even when other circumstances may lead us to think about doing that.

Tim Leberecht, writing for Psychology Today, agrees that socializing with coworkers can help increase happiness at work.  He also suggests a few other tips, such as surrounding yourself with visual cues for goals, and engaging in walking meetings where possible.  The “where possible” is my addition, because when you work in an environment like I do, on a high floor of a downtown office building, there aren’t many opportunities to walk in a peaceful, natural environment.  A walking meeting would involve a lot of distractions on a busy street, and it’s really not practical.  A standing meeting is a variation I engage in all the time, because when anyone comes for an impromptu discussion at my desk, I am already standing.  I find that it’s a great way for all of us to feel invigorated and present in our discussion, instead of noticing how tired we are when sitting, and slouching in our chairs.

But, let’s be real:  something like a walking or standing meeting is not going to overcome strong feelings of dissatisfaction about your job.  Even great coworkers and strong relationships won’t keep you in a job where other issues of fit aren’t working.  Some jobs are high burnout, and it’s important to recognize that change is inevitable and healthy, as long as you have thought through your goals and needs and what direction you want to take.

I recommend making a simple list.  Are you happy at work?  Write down all of the things you love about your job and your day at work.  Maybe some of them are a short commute, or how your day flies by when you are engaged in that state of “flow” while you’re working.  Or your best friend is your cube neighbor, and your manager gives you great opportunities to learn and grow.

Not happy?  Take a candid look at why not.  Are you making too little money when compared with the work you are doing and its value in the market?  Consider whether it’s actually the money, or the feeling of being disrespected or taken advantage of by being paid too little compared to your expectations, that is the real problem. Maybe it’s time to talk to your manager about a raise, or look for a new position.

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”
Milton Berle

But when it comes to being purely motivated by money, Ron Friedman, a social psychologist and author of “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace” states that time is more precious than money, and focusing on how we spend our time, which can’t be manufactured, is what really generates happiness.  I would add to that sentiment that once sufficient money is there to create security and attain basic needs, time becomes precious.

Recently, I took on a new and broader challenge within my current HR department.  I am leaving a tight-knight group that performs a critical job for the HR team and the company…and I’ve received great opportunities to learn and grow there.  Why did I leave?  I reached the limit of what I could do in the position.  There was no path for further advancement and there were no new opportunities for learning available.  Luckily, there’s a new path for me within the company, so I can stay and continue to build on the learning I’ve developed about how we do business.  From where I sit, it looks like a win-win.

For more information, visit Solve HR, Inc.

Rookie Manager Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Take a deep breath, and enjoy the moment.  You got that promotion or new job, and you are a newly minted manager.  You’re ready to go, and bursting with ideas about how to make your new team a huge success.

Photo credit: Ryan Holst / Foter / CC BY

But watch out–it’s a jungle out there.  If you don’t keep your eyes open to the pitfalls ahead, you can end up sinking slowly into a puddle of quicksand while your direct reports either run away into the trees and leave you to your fate, or ignore you until you disappear.

Here are five newbie errors and how to fix them.  Take heed, and you and your team will be swinging from the vines and enjoying the view above the forest canopy in no time.

1.  Overload the “yes” employee.   It’s so great how happy your new team is to help you.  Well, maybe it’s not the whole team.  Some of them actively avoid new responsibilities, and make it clear how busy they are at every turn.  Others simply don’t offer.  But there’s that one employee who always says “yes” to every duty, no matter how undesirable.  He’s so agreeable that you have quickly found it’s easiest just to go to him with every new problem, no matter how annoying.

But now his workload is out of balance and he doesn’t get as many opportunities to do interesting work, because you have given him everything that no one else really wants to do.  It’s easy to think that he’s just a great employee and he doesn’t mind taking care of things for you.  But if he’s that great for you, he’s probably a hot prospect for other employers too.

“I had a fantastic office manager, and she was so helpful and agreeable, taking things off my plate,” my friend, who owns a small business, told me recently.  “It became a habit to make her my “go to” for every problem that came up, whether it made sense for her to handle it or not, because she solved it right away, and did it with a smile.”

But my friend didn’t notice how much the workload had increased, and how many extra hours her office manager was putting in.  And her employee wasn’t the type to complain, or to be direct in discussing her concerns.  “One day, she put in her notice, telling me she had found a more rewarding and challenging position.  I was kicking myself, because I could have involved her more in the strategic planning for the business, and she would have had opportunities to grow.  Instead, in two weeks she was gone.  Since then, I haven’t found anyone as good at the job as she was.  I wish I’d been more in touch with what was going on.”

Takeaway:  Don’t take advantage of your employees.  There’s always some work that no one wants to do, so spread it around among your team members.  If an employee isn’t complaining, that doesn’t mean he’s happy.  And employees always have a choice–it’s whether to work for us or for someone else.

2. Do what I say, not what I do (or allow).  Jenna is a longtime employee who is used to having a flexible work schedule, and working from home when it’s convenient.  The prior manager had already delivered the message that employees must be in the office during certain times, and that work from home is the exception, not the norm, and must be approved in advance.

Even though you reiterated this message when you took over your team, Jenna continues to work from home when she wants to, without clearing it with you.  You’ve mentioned the policy again in team meetings, and you have casually mentioned to your employees, including Jenna, that “work from home is frowned upon because our customers need us to be available in the office.”  But you haven’t reprimanded Jenna.  She’s an experienced employee, and you’ve been relying on her to help you with some of the things you are still learning about the team. She often sends emails directly to the team herself, telling them that she’ll be working from home or will be in late, without even checking with you.

Ben, who is also an asset to your team, has noticed this.  He is a high performer, and has two children under the age of five, and a spouse who also works full time.  It would be convenient for him to work from home sometimes too, especially since he needs to take his kids to appointments from time to time.  He doesn’t ask to work from home, because he is getting the impression from you that it’s not allowed.  But he’s also noticed how Jenna is given a level of flexibility that’s denied other employees, and he’s starting to feel resentment and disengage from his work.

Denied?  You never said Ben couldn’t work from home.  He didn’t even ask!  But Ben’s conclusion that the rules are for everyone but Jenna is based on your actions.  You tell everyone that core hours are required and that work from home is subject to prior approval and should be the exception, not the norm.  But your team can see that Jenna is exempt from those rules.

Takeaway:  If you (or your leaders) are going to have strict rules about how employees do their work, then clearly communicate them, and enforce them fairly and equally.

3.  Hand down decrees from upper management like they are law, and refuse to discuss them.  Recently, there have been some cost cutting pressures coming from your leadership.  There isn’t really anything you can do to change the plans that have been set forth for your team, and you’ve been tasked with delivering a message that you know no one wants to hear.

You tell the team “there will be no additional approvals to attend conferences or events for the remainder of the year.”  When Eusebio asks you about the annual conference for compensation professionals you have already approved, that’s coming up in eight weeks, you tell him that it will be cancelled.

Eusebio sputters, “I’ve already told my kids we’ll be planning a vacation at the end of the conference, since it’s in Orlando this year.  Are you saying I have to tell my kids they’re not going to Disneyworld?”

Lynnae tells you that she will be unable to get recertification credits for her designation if she’s not allowed to attend the HR conference this fall.  And they have a whole series of sessions about the same benefits administration problem that’s the focus of a high-visibility project your team has been working on for the past six months.

Your answer is that this is just what we have to do, because our leaders have given us this directive, and our job as a team is to be positive and to remain results-oriented and not to take it personally.  You tell Eusebio, Lynnae and the rest of your team that if they’re committed to the company, they will be creative about coming up with solutions to deal with the situation.  That’s what we’re expected to do as professionals.

The meeting ends, and your team has just received the message that their leadership doesn’t understand their needs, and you are certainly not going to listen to them or challenge the authority above you to help them understand why straight cost-cutting could be short-sighted.

Takeaway:  Your message to your team was good.  We do have to be flexible and adjust to changes, even if we don’t agree.  But you missed one critical task.  Instead of being a brick wall of positivity, you need to listen, listen, listen.  And then formulate a plan for putting together facts and recommendations from your team to share with your leaders.  It may not change the directive, but it can help leadership understand the needs of your team and help your team learn that you support them and are willing to go to bat for them.

4.  Put off solving problems you don’t think are critical.  Jack is an administrative assistant for your professional firm.  He does a pretty good job, but doesn’t hit it out of the park–he had come highly recommended by a personal friend of the owner.  He has been working for the firm for four years, and when he was hired, management agreed to match the somewhat high pay rate he had previously been receiving working for the federal government.

Recently, the firm hired Marie, who is managing the operations for two of the firm’s offices.  She had been working from home part time and raising her kids for the past ten years, so this is her first full-time job in many years.  She accepted an offer identical to Jack’s salary, although it was low for the work she would be doing.  The firm’s owner felt that if she wasn’t a skilled negotiator, that wasn’t his problem.  As Marie’s new manager, you had noticed the imbalance in the salaries, but put it on the back burner, since you have so many other fires to put out right now.  You figure you will address it at annual review time, coming up in March.

She worked without incident for six months before tax time rolled around.  As part of Marie’s duties, she assists in preparing the W-2 forms for the employees in the two locations she supervises.  Imagine her shock when she realizes that her pay rate is identical to Jack, the slacker administrative assistant in the East office.  Her face flushes as she recalls all of the extra time she’s put in, and how she’s approached the operations of the firm as if they’d been her own business.

Her trust is damaged, and she feels taken advantage of by the firm, but instead of talking to you, her brand new manager, she quietly begins looking for a new job.

Takeaway:  A problem that doesn’t seem critical to you may actually be front and center for your team members.  Pay is one of the clearest ways employees see how they are valued by the company.  If you see a problem, address it.  You don’t have to wait until annual review time to do it, either.

5.  Ignore imbalances in workload among your team members.  You manage a team of people who share the volume of work that comes in over time.  They use a system that you’re not familiar with, and it doesn’t spit out metrics in an easily readable fashion.  Plus, a lot of the work they do varies in complexity, so even if you counted the number of matters they handle, some of them take drastically more time to resolve.  In other words, it’s not a simple matter to find out if everyone has a fair, balanced workload.

Tegan has lots of cases on his plate.  He is a hard worker, and never complains about how much he has to do.  He just uses his energy to get things done.  You’ve noticed that Stacey, however, complains that she has too much work to do.  The last time she mentioned an uptick in her workload, Tegan offered to help her.  You jumped at this easy solution, and it’s worked out okay for the past six months.  You’ve noticed Tegan is working more hours, but all of the work is getting done, so there’s no problem, right?

Recently, one of your other team members, Jed, gave notice he is leaving to take a sabbatical to travel the world for the next year.  While you are all excited for him, Jed’s work now has to be distributed to all of the other employees on the team.  The only fair way to do this, you think, is to divide it up equally, so you do that.  Tegan begins to fall behind, so you talk to him about focusing on the most important tasks, and help him find ways to be more efficient.  Stacey is complaining more than ever.  You haven’t even had time to get the posting up to replace Jed, and your manager has just told you that due to budget constraints, you will not be able to hire another team member.  Meanwhile, the work is mostly getting done, and you’re still too busy to really dive into the system to figure out who is doing what and how much.

Tegan stops by your office to ask for help, so you call a team meeting.  You encourage Tegan to talk about what’s going on, and what he needs.  Then you wait for your team members to pitch in and help him.  No one offers, because they are all overwhelmed.  You don’t direct the distribution of the work, because you don’t fully understand what’s there and how much time it’s supposed to take to do it.

Meanwhile, Tegan becomes more frustrated and falls further behind.  He doesn’t see the point in working extra to get caught up, because he won’t be able to sustain it.  Your team is now out to protect themselves from each other, because they know you won’t step in to lead the way.

Takeaway:    You can’t afford not to find out what your team is working on as soon as possible after you become their manager.  Use what tools are available, and meet with your team members one on one as well as in a team setting, to gather the information you need, and then direct the distribution of the workload if imbalances exist, and hold team members accountable for their productivity.

While it’s true that it’s a jungle out there, if you remain open to new experiences, you will grow from your adventures in management!

For more information, visit Solve HR, Inc.

Stop Measuring Engagement and Create it!

Kevin Kruse, author of “Employee Engagement 2.0,” writes in Forbes that the way to measure engagement isn’t to look for happiness or satisfaction, but to find those employees who truly care about the company’s mission, and take action to further the success of the company even when no one else is paying attention.  They are “emotionally committed.”

Photo credit: mnadi / Foter / CC BY-NC

We’ve all taken those employee engagement surveys at work, right?  The ones that ask about our levels of satisfaction with our jobs, and what we think about our management.  At best, these surveys give employees a chance to anonymously give feedback in a constructive way, and management and HR will take the opportunity to truly and openly evaluate the results and make needed changes.  At worst, they are time-wasting rubber stamps from employees who have so little trust they don’t even give true answers.  These surveys don’t tell us anything about whether our employees are emotionally committed and willing to go the extra mile for the company’s success.

At one employer of mine, employee engagement survey completion was required.  Once results were reported, the departmental groupings were so small that even though the vendor had combined some teams, it was still obvious who was dissatisfied.  Instead of taking that to heart and working on solving the identified problems, the teams were subjected to meetings with directors, who quizzed them about what, specifically they weren’t happy about.  In other words, the employee engagement survey was used to identify who was complaining, and then target them for interrogation.

Another example from a colleague involved a highly dysfunctional department with a low level of trust in management.  When employee engagement results came back as disappointing (surprise!), the department was gathered together at a big meeting, where the individual contributors were tasked with solving the problem themselves and reporting back to management.  This strategy may have been very effective with a high-functioning team, but in this department, it sent the message that management wasn’t willing to own the problem along with the rest of the department, and participate in creating solutions.

As Tony Schwartz, co-author of “The Power of Full Engagement” recently wrote in The New York Times, “What companies really need to measure is not how engaged their employees are, but rather how consistently energized they feel.”  Imagine a workplace where we take the time and resources that were previously used on sterile surveys, and actually communicate with one another.  Managers can display vulnerability and honesty, and true appreciation for the work their employees do.  Coaching and performance improvement comes from a place of true aligned goals and a vision for success that’s shared by team members.

Bottom Line:  engagement isn’t a simple matter.  It’s intertwined with culture and communication in a way that can’t be measured by a survey.  Let’s stop pretending that we can pay lip service to engagement and check a box.

For more information, visit Solve HR, Inc.

5 Tips for Handling Employee Medical Issues

I get a lot of calls from managers telling me that an employee who used to have stellar, or even just acceptable performance, now is having trouble.  She’s told her manager that she’s dealing with diabetes, (or MS, depression, migraines, you name it!) and this is affecting her ability to work.  It’s probably also making her miss work intermittently too, which can negatively affect coworkers and the business.

Photo credit: Lee Royal / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Many employees are just as confused as management about why they can’t perform or how medical problems might be affecting their work.  Here are five tips for approaching a sticky problem involving employee medical issues:

  1. Get HR involved.  You are a manager, and your expertise is helping employees do their jobs the best way possible.  You can deliver that message, coach, follow up and hold people accountable, but if there is another issue involved that isn’t appropriate for you to discuss with your employee, you need backup from your company’s absence management or reasonable accommodation experts.  They will talk with the employee to find out what assistance may be needed, and whether it’s reasonable for the company to provide it.  If you don’t have this function in your company, choose an experienced consultant to guide you through this process.
  2. Offer FMLA leave.  If your employee is missing work, even on an intermittent basis, be sure the employee has been offered the opportunity to request FMLA leave and/or state leaves.  Depending on the number of employees at your work location, your company may be responsible for offering the opportunity to apply for FMLA leave.  Leave requests may be handled in-house or by an external vendor.
  3. Don’t ask personal medical questions.  Your employee may feel comfortable sharing every gory detail of medical interventions and illnesses.  This is your employee’s right, but you should never ask questions unless they relate to the employee’s ability to do the work.  For example, it’s okay to ask “What do you need so you can do your job?” but not “Do you have a slipped disk?  We have a whole pallet of 75 lb. boxes that need unloading.”
  4. Be flexible.  If an employee needs a temporary alteration in his job duties, and it’s easy to do that, then make it happen.  Many managers worry that if they allow a temporary accommodation, it will just tempt others to use excuses to avoid work.  Often, simply making sure there’s documentation of the medical need eliminates the issue of copycat requests.  If a doctor’s note is required, then most people who request help will really need it.
  5. Don’t Broadcast.  There’s no need to explain to your other employees what’s going on with the situation.  If others ask, simply respond that you have it handled, and that you guarantee the nosy employee the same privacy as the employee who needs help.  Other employees are not entitled to an explanation, but if their help is needed, show genuine appreciation and reward them for pitching in.

For more information, visit Solve HR, Inc.