How to Intervene When an Executive Starts Acting Like a Victim

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We Jamaicans take many of our cues from leaders. This is never truer than when a leader acts like a victim, blaming everyone else for sub-par results. Eventually, employees join the blame game, actively avoiding responsibility before fingers turn on them. Things worsen to the point where only an intervention can save the company from ruin.

In a recent meeting with a CEO, I listened as he blamed his colleagues and staff for the predicament his organization was in. He had a long list of factual observations. Their actions were saddening, and I had no reason to doubt his veracity.

However, when I suggested that, from my prior experience in many client firms, “The fish stinks the worst at the head” he visibly bristled. Dismissing my suggestion, he doubled down, adding further stories to prove that I was incorrect: he was the victim. The others needed to have their heads examined.

What made the situation maddening were the facts: he had risen to the top after 30+ years. Also, profits were a thing of the past: for the prior decade, the company had barely broken even. Yet, in his mind, he had nothing to do with its poor performance.

As a manager, what can you do to prevent this kind of terrible end-result? How can you make sure it never happens in your organization?

Pay Attention to Hard-to-See Angles

Companies slip into having a culture of complaints gradually. Complaining, normally a rare habit, becomes a team sport played by a critical mass of staff. When you find that valuable meeting time is being spent in old, familiar gripes which never reach resolution, be suspicious.

Start by appreciating that a single complaint is quite different from a culture of complaining. The first requires action, perhaps produced by a fruitful discussion. The latter requires an intervention by someone who understands the peculiarities of dysfunctional corporate cultures. They tend to be bad in many of the same ways.

The intervenor must explain to managers that the behavior is like an addictive drug which carries both a short-term benefit and a long-term cost.

The benefit derives from an avoidance of responsibility. Complainers paint themselves as the weak, helpless recipients of injustice. In the eyes of the CEO mentioned earlier, he had nothing to do with the state of affairs and was permanently innocent of any blame or fault.

As complainers perpetuate this frame of mind, they exact a terrible price. Their feigned weakness renders them inactive. Lacking creativity, they lose their capacity to implement real solutions to problems. They turn themselves into bystanders.

When the complainer happens to be the CEO, it turns the corporation into a battlefield between him and the rest of his company. It’s no surprise that poor results ensue because the behavior is also highly contagious. When employees compete with each other for the right to be seen as the biggest victim, everyone ends up hating their jobs.

These are hard-to-see angles, so few distinguish persistent complaining for what it really is—the start of real trouble.

 

Resist the Temptation to Withdraw

However, seeing the true problem isn’t enough. If you have joined a team which already has a complaining culture, it’s only human to hide out; to make sure you are far away from the gripers-in-chief. If you get caught in a situation where you can’t escape their presence, you go completely silent.

Obviously, this won’t work in the end. In fact, it is a sly mirror-image of the same refusal to accept responsibility.

Instead, fixing the problem calls for the very opposite. When colleagues refuse to assume ownership, the most helpful action is not to retreat, but to expand. Only those who choose to step up and take greater responsibility have a chance of making a difference.

Managers who do so empower themselves. Without waiting for someone to give them permission, they make a private decision to act which is likely to produce noticeable, public results.

Get Help from Others

One of the end results might be a group intervention conducted with the complainers. In this kind of carefully managed confrontation, each person plays a predetermined role in a group discussion designed to call a stop to the behavior. It’s a last ditch, high-stakes effort: oftentimes, an outsider is included to prepare the team or even play the part of referee.

What makes the risk worthwhile is the possibility of succeeding.  In the very worst situations, it’s the best the team can do, and it’s better than cowering in fear. In the end, it benefits everyone concerned and can pull the company out of a bad spot.

There’s no guarantee whatsoever, but a top executive who stops being a victim can make a tremendous difference to the health of the bottom-line and the company’s culture.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

Don’t write off stupid employees – here’s how they can deliver smart outcomes

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Are you stuck with employees who don’t have what it takes to make necessary improvements to the way work is done? If so, avoid the mistake of believing they can’t improve your company’s processes. Here’s why.
As you analyze your operations, you may already recognize there are processes which need to be dramatically improved. If high unit costs, poor customer service, long lead times and bad quality are some of the problems you face daily, consider these to be signs confirming the need for an urgent change.
But as you survey the situation, your heart sinks. Your staff appears to be unable to implement even the most obvious improvements. They are happy to repeat the same broken processes each day, producing identical, poor results.
In response, you may be tempted to take a shortcut, by following the three steps of Method A:
1. 1. Find an expert to define better processes, preferably automated.
2. 2. Train people how to use the new process.
3. 3. Measure the results.
It looks simple and commonsensical. By itself, it’s hard to imagine any other approach. But there is another, Method B:
1. 1. Select a team of in-process employees to improve the process.
2. 2. Heavily facilitate their improvement efforts.
3. 3. Measure the results.
By comparison, the second approach looks to be more difficult, and take longer. Yet, it’s the better method to follow under the following three conditions.
#1 – When current knowledge is lacking
Most local companies don’t have documented processes. This leads to an inevitable gap between the way a process is supposed to work and the way it actually functions. To survive, staff members develop shortcuts and workarounds, then pass them from one person to another by word-of-mouth.
Outside experts cannot understand these nuances by conducting a few informational interviews. Their attempts fail because an unmanaged process falls apart in unpredictable ways. Some of these failures are rare, with remedies known only to a few insiders. While sitting in an interview, they forget to mention these errors, blinded by their unconscious competence.
 
To make things worse, in people-intensive processes, knowledge is widely distributed. Discovering the true nature of a process’ performance has to be a group activity where knowledge is combined and documented in real time. Usually, such sessions raise a host of surprising issues. Together, these reasons support Method B.
Reason #2 – You may require more buy-in than you think
Implementers of automation often believe in Method A due to its simplicity. However, they overlook the fact that there must be a time of overlap and transition between old and new processes. During this period, which is required to keep the business running, staff must undertake behavior changes.
However, if they see the new process as “The Enemy”, a foreign object to be expelled at all costs, prepare yourself for passive-resistance.
In extreme cases where the new process cuts jobs, be ready for sabotage. Critical information is withheld as mistakes multiply, causing the overlap to drag on. By the end, if the transition ever takes place, the savings are minimal, the pain maximal.
Once again, Method B is the remedy.
Reason #3 – Future improvements require people
Often, when the new system is implemented, project leaders walk away, thinking their job is done. Unfortunately, the effort has just started.
Ideally, the future should be filled with further improvements. But there’s no such thing as a process which improves itself – it involves people reexamining it to make additional changes. When outsiders are the ones who decide what must be tackled (Method A,) it leaves insiders without the skills to make additional upgrades.
Therefore, the dominant rule is: include people executing the process early and often. But there is an exception.
When the underlying process to be improved is short and simple, like boiling an egg, Method A works. However, with a complex process which cannot easily be automated, like making a soufflé, only Method B succeeds.
Sometimes, leaders create problems for themselves by arguing that they have complex processes, but they are staffed by “stupid” people. Craving Method A, they say “employees cannot be trusted” because they either “won’t take ownership” or “lack the skills”.
This is a grave mistake. Often, from the heights of the executive suite, every process looks simple. If your company has little history of process management, it’s safe to assume there is hidden complexity, and therefore a high risk involved. You must use Method B, giving employees the tools and expertise needed. This includes team-building activities so that together, they can function far better than they can working separately. This is why a team of “stupid” employees can outperform smart individuals acting separately.
Including employees is more challenging in the short term, but it hews far closer to reality. In most cases, it’s the best approach to implement the lasting change your organization needs.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.
 
 

Why leaders need to develop productive superpowers

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Recently another negative report came out confirming the continued decline of Jamaica’s productivity. In a recent speech, IDB official Therese Turner-Jones understated that “firms in Jamaica are not particularly efficient” and “private sector workers are as inefficient as the Government.”

As a business leader, this is a song whose tune is probably familiar. But it is frustrating, because as far as you know, you are working as hard as you can. However, it’s obviously not enough because there is considerable empirical evidence that we are almost as far as we can be from being the Usain Bolts of productivity in the world.

To state the obvious: closing the gap means doing things differently from ways we have ever done before

It won’t be easy. There are only a handful of local companies who treat their operations like finely tuned machines. They are vigilant: always looking for first indicators of an incipient problem. In addition, their leaders treat their own individual systems in the same way. Seeking to be as personally effective as possible, they perform like Formula One Drivers.

Why We Need a Change of Mind

Culturally, we prefer to favour the underdog. Just listen to us re-tell the story of the “likkle guy on his push-cart” flying down Mount Diablo past a “big man in a Benz”, skating on just two wheels the whole way. However, this propensity to “big up” the unsophisticated shouldn’t be taken too far. Lewis Hamilton, multiple Formula One Champion, didn’t become a winner by luck. He spent years perfecting his craft and mastering his equipment, continuing to develop his skills every day.

During a 100 mile per hour race, he has learned to track a tremendous number of changing variables using sophisticated instruments. Off-track, he’s trying to find ways to save a few grams here and there, or cut wind resistance with the slightest of alterations.

Too many of our executives settle for much less in their personal productivity, as if they are push-cart men or women. They run late, forget commitments, allow their email to pile up and let their lives drift dangerously out of balance. In other words, their employees view them as cautionary tales rather than role models. While they may dress the part, speak well or have the house and car which befit their status, they don’t view personal productivity in the same vein.

It’s optional.

In this respect, our local executives are satisfied being moderately better than the worst employees. They fail to hold themselves to a high personal standard; instead they are happy to barely beat a low social standard.

However, the best executives view their personal productivity as an extension of their company’s operations. As a result, they tackle it with high effort and rigour, developing two superpowers along the way.

Superpower #1—Detect Early Warning Signs of Trouble

The most productive leaders have a kind of “spidey-sense”: the ability Spiderman has to sense trouble before it occurs. In like manner, they can detect the moment when their personal system first starts to fail.

For example, if you had this skill, you would be able to see when it’s time to upgrade your technique for managing email. All it would take is the disappearance of one or two messages into the proverbial cracks; long before an actual complaint is received.

This ability to detect early warning signs of trouble is rare, much in the way Hamilton has the kind of foresight other drivers cannot even imagine. It gives him an edge in a close race.

In a tough economy, companies need leaders who demonstrate these abilities while actively teaching them to others.

Superpower #2 – Develop Diagnostic Skills

Once a problem is detected that’s just a start. Few take the next step: discovering why the issue exists in the first place.

For example, the challenge of email overwhelm is hardly solved by purchasing an expensive smartphone. In fact, it often makes the situation worse. The person with weak diagnostic skills would commit this error without understanding why.

The few who have developed superpowers waste little time scouring the internet, talking to friends or polling their colleagues. Instead, they know how to scrutinize their current practices and tools. If you have ever watched an episode of “House,” the television show about a doctor with fantastic diagnostic expertise, you may understand. These skills are hard to develop, but they save tremendous amounts of time and energy, enabling someone to make precise interventions.

When Jamaican executives start behaving like Formula One Drivers, we may produce role models with superpowers. Rather than Parliamentarians who are perpetually late, or CEO’s whose lives are unhealthy and unbalanced, we would live to see something new: leaders who take their personal productivity as seriously as their most recent haircut, watch or shopping trip to Miami.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, contact columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170521/francis-wade-why-leaders-need-develop-productive-superpowers

The Cure for Listless Employees

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It’s remarkable how quickly a new employee, once excited by the job, becomes just as ordinary as others who have been in the company for years. As a leader, what difference can you make before the rot sets in? In this article I share one practice suggested by psychologists which works.
 
Managers shake their heads in bewilderment. There’s a disappointment they feel when they realize that a fresh new hire, in whom they have invested a modicum of hope, has lost his way. All of a sudden, when compared to his listless colleagues, he is just as disengaged and lackluster. What happened?
 
There’s usually more than a single cause, but an employee can benefit from learning how to remain resilient. As a supervisor, you can fill the gap with the right lessons. If you intervene early and equip him with the skills and awareness he needs, you can help him keep his optimism intact.
 
Consider one powerful practice which has emerged from the research of Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile. In an effort to distinguish the elements which make for a great day on the job, she discovered that people’s satisfaction and productivity are strongly tied to the belief that they are making progress. She noted that if you can help them notice their positive movement towards their goals and stay present to it, they are more satisfied.
 
However, the average manager is quite unaware of this finding, often acting in a careless, if not reckless way. Here are a few things he/she fails to do which are quite damaging, but can be easily remedied.
 
 
1. Train Employees to Wake Up
New employees eventually adapt the cynical mindset of those around them. They divide the week into two phases with respect to their time: “mine”, which I experience on weekends, holidays and vacations, and “theirs” which consists of every working weekday. It leads them to act as if “A bad day on my own time is better than a good day on their time.” Before long, this mantra becomes their modus operandus.
 
A more useful focus would be to look for progress towards meaningful goals. When taught this lesson, employees can instantly recite their daily accomplishments on demand. For example, The Ritz Carlton is famous for including acknowledgements in its daily mandatory huddles. Keeping your achievements top of mind becomes a habit in this environment.
 
Employees also must learn that humans have a lopsided reaction to failure and success. According to the research, a setback has a greater impact than a win, when measured in emotional terms. This remarkable fact can be used to train employees to be extra-vigilant during moments when their results are poor.
 
However, managers who don’t know the importance of these elements leave employees to discover them by chance. The result is predictable: they don’t have a clue which leads them into a deep sense of resignation.
 
 
2. Teach Employees to Practice Daily Accomplishments
The few managers who try to wake employees up sometimes overuse trite clichés or sermons. These put people to sleep. There’s a more effective alternative: uncover the physical activities which guarantee results.
 
For example, instead of telling employees to “focus on the positive” it’s far better to give them a diary on the first day of the job, along with specific questions to answer each day which help them capture their progress. Don’t stop there. Also set up one-on-one meetings in which the first order of business is a report on their most recent accomplishments.
 
3. Stop Making Unforced Errors
Most managers have given little thought to the above two actions, but they still make mistakes which dent employee enthusiasm. They share casual stories, jokes and anecdotes which don’t help: they end up robbing and undermining employees of any sense of progress. The same happens when an employee’s work is reassigned, her ideas are dismissed or when her attempts to improve the way she does the job are rebuffed.
 
These minor, daily occurrences don’t register as important events for most managers, but they burden employees. When the manager is the cause of the damage to an employee’s progress, the wound is double-deep and likely to scar the psyche of even the most motivated employee. Over time, a negative track record is built which drives out high performers who can get jobs elsewhere. When they leave they explain “I’m getting more money” when in fact, they just want to feel as if they are not wasting their careers.
 
Managers need to more disciplined, and less cavalier, about their utterances and actions so that they don’t create unintended setbacks. The best are aware of these dynamics and use them as leverage to achieve results, starting with the very first day on the job.
 
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.
 
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170507/francis-wade-cure-listless-employees

Why You Shouldn’t “Try to Do It Now, Before You Forget”

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Why is it that when you are overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it’s hard to escape this unwanted feeling? Sometimes it’s caused by unconscious habits such as the phrase many Jamaicans utter when we are under pressure at work: “Let me Do It Now Before I Forget.” While this practice comes from a good place, there’s a big drawback.

Recently, psychologists discovered that we don’t trust our future selves. It’s the version of you which is supposed to get things done later, the one to whom you delegate incomplete tasks. Where did this sentiment originate?

A first thought might be that your parents taught you this mistrust. After all, they were the ones who insisted that you pick up your socks NOW, because you could not be trusted to do so later, on your own. What you may not realize is that hidden behind their words was a subtle, negative message.

Today, your mind (or your boss) has taken over their judgmental tone. It has examined your past performance and decided that you are unreliable. So, it screams at you to do stuff now, to prevent it from joining a bungle of other promises you failed to fulfill. Although it’s a shrill, guilt-filled reminder of your mistakes, it justifies its existence because there are times when it has saved you from disaster.

Unfortunately, you won’t achieve high productivity and peace of mind with this voice shrieking in your ear. Here is the reason why, and how you can surpass it.

Why You Can’t Do Everything Now

When you were young you learned that it was better not to put things off: doing it now was the only way to guarantee peace of mind. Unfortunately, this conclusion is false.

It’s impossible to do everything now, unless you happen to be a pre-teen with few responsibilities and a strong backup network of parents, teachers and friends. It’s a habit which doesn’t scale – it falls apart when this network disappears or your work becomes too complex.

For most people this happens by their late teens. Like them, you became interested in completing projects which have a span of several months, encompassing lots of tasks. Insisting that you do everything right away became a bit like trying to study for every exam now – impossible.

As an adult, telling yourself to “Do something now before you forget” is actually an admission of failure. It implies that your own methods cannot be trusted, so you must resort to extreme measures.

Some falsely believe that this tactic is mandatory because they have a poor memory. Others blame it on a lack of character or a personality defect. Certainly when we are in a position of power and force someone else to “Do It Now” we are finding fault – it’s something they could fix if they wanted.

Maybe we have it all wrong and it’s not a matter of guilt. Here are some better options which are based strictly on behaviors.

Trust in Your Future Self Part 1 – Small Wins

Research by the Mayo Clinic in the area of fitness shows that people limit themselves with their focus on positive or negative self-talk. A better approach is to make a shift in focus towards habits, practices and tools: visible behaviors. Self-talk rarely works. Contrary to popular opinion, our mind responds more favorably to a regular pattern of behavior than it does affirmations.

Set up a long list of small actions and accomplish them one by one. Over time, your mind’s judgement will follow.

Trust in Your Future Self Part 2 – Keep Finding a Match

Ultimately, as you progress in your career, you want to prevent the kind of failures which cause you to lose trust in your future self. The only way to do so is to ensure that there’s a match between the volume of tasks you are trying to manage and your techniques. Whenever there’s a mismatch, you will make things worse.

This means that you must pay close attention to two things. First, early warning signs of trouble inform you of potential problems, showing you when it’s time to make improvements in your task management methods. Second, you should know what your next upgrade to your habits, practices and tools consists of long before you need it. Both these pieces of knowledge come from a sound diagnosis of your current time management skills.

Most people don’t have this kind of insight – they stumble around in the dark hoping for the best. However, if you follow these steps you don’t ever find yourself lost in overwhelming feelings, unable to find a way out. You’ll be able to do what it takes to correct the situation, freeing yourself from a need to do everything now, because you will be someone who never forgets: a reliable colleague.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170423/francis-wade-why-you-shouldnt-try-do-it-now-you-forget

 

 

How to eradicate the pain of broken promises from your company

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Are you the kind of business-person who sometimes keeps your word and sometimes doesn’t? What difference does it make to your company?

A few years ago, a client advised me that he had a policy of not paying for weekend work. Unfortunately, I had already worked on Saturday and Sunday at his last-minute request. To make matters worse, he conveyed this news over the phone when I called to ask “Why is this cheque less than I expect?”

While it’s easy to paint him as a villain in this story, the fact is that there are many business-people who have a loose relationship with their word. To some extent, we all do. When push comes to shove, and things become inconvenient or awkward, we abandon our original intentions. In that moment, we justify our actions to ourselves: they make perfect sense. Unfortunately, they create problems for others.

Most of the time, we cannot see this impact. But we should take note. Every organization depends on a network of employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders who are tied to each other by an invisible web of promises.

In great companies, there is a strong relationship between making and keeping promises. Employees see the interaction as one which is sacred, engaging the honour of both parties. Fulfilling promises is critical to the firm’s success, so everyone treats them as important, existing only in black and white terms.

By contrast, weak companies operate like the client I mentioned. Promises are wholly contingent on circumstances; only a poor signal of intent, which often changes. Often, no one is sure when a reliable promise has actually been made.

How can you use these two extremes as an inspiration and a warning to move your company in the right direction?

— Teach Everyone a New Discipline

Recently my firm undertook a study of Jamaicans moving to live and work in Trinidad. One of the surprises our subjects discovered is that promises aren’t viewed as seriously as they expected in the twin-island republic.

This is a practical difference which has everyday implications. For example, when we lead transformation programs, one principle people remember is that of “integrity” which can be taken to mean “doing what you said you would do.” As you may imagine, teaching this principle effectively means varying the way we deliver it from one country to the next, and between companies.

For example, in Jamaica, we want our colleagues to act more like Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, but for ourselves, we still crave the freedom to get away with Bredda Anansi tricks. While this point of view is inherited, it reflects a failure to see the big picture: companies thrive when people make a supreme effort to stick to their word, regardless of the situation. matters. When they stick to their word when no-one is watching, with others who are powerless, on even small issues, it’s no minor matter.

It’s important because anyone who makes a promise puts herself in a battle against life’s circumstances. The random nature of our world resists this person’s commitment. It also militates against organizations who dare articulate a clear vision.

This is why a certain resilience around promises must be taught in companies – it cannot be taken for granted, and it doesn’t come for free.

— Learn techniques to prevent promises from disappearing

But making an effort to keep one’s promises isn’t enough. In this technology-driven time with lots of distractions, it’s also become more difficult to remember all the promises you make. Now, you need far more than your memory – you must use external devices if you hope to avoid falling behind. Furthermore, the more you progress up the corporate ladder, the more promises you are expected to be able to make and keep. Mastering promise management is a requirement.

Fortunately, the tools required to become skillful are to be found on the average smartphone or laptop. (Paper can also be used, but it has its shortcomings.)

Most companies leave employees to develop these skills and learn to use these tools in an ad hoc manner, leading to haphazard results. Then, promises aren’t kept because the skills to do so aren’t taught. This can be corrected via training or coaching.

— Open up and reveal hidden promises

The few companies who master the above steps soon realize they are not enough. Hidden in the culture of each company are unwritten, unspoken expectations which are every bit as powerful as explicit promises.

For example, every organization has invisible expectations around the speed of email replies. Making these standards transparent would save employees from the trial and error process they usually have to navigate.

Companies who get people to forge a strong relationship to their word can thrive when others fail. Sometimes it’s a direct way to produce a breakthrough in performance that meets everyone’s aspirations.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170409/francis-wade-erasing-pain-broken-company-promises

How to Get your Employees Over Their Boredom

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To managers and older colleagues, new, Millennial employees seem to be permanently stuck in a state of disinterest. Afflicted with short attention spans they appear to be unable to summon the drive and motivation of prior generations. If this observation is in any way accurate, what should managers do to engage their hearts and minds?

One solution I explored in prior articles is the ways managers can gamify the work experience, challenging staff to use their best skills. In this article, let’s look at the flip side – what does the employee need to do even if their environment remains unchanged?

As a modern manager, you may start by acknowledging a fact: for most young employees, their nine to five job is the most boring, restrictive part of their lives. While it occupies the most hours of the week, it’s seen by many as a tax they are forced to pay in order to meet their financial obligations. Instead, the time to come alive is on weekends and other days off, when they can be creative and foster key relationships.

In other words, they leave their best selves at the door each weekday morning and reclaim it when they leave the office in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs is not unusual. I have worked with senior executives who quietly admit they hate their jobs. It’s merely a sacrifice they make to cling on to other things they value in their lives. When this attitude can be found everywhere in a company from top to bottom, a real problem exists few are equipped to solve. Here are some ways to deal with it.

  1. Commit to Drive Out Fear

Dr. W.E. Deming, the quality guru who espoused this mantra, is probably turning in his grave. Today, most workplaces use fear as a weapon to keep people in line. The worst use overt actions. Periodically, they fire someone without warning, ensuring it happens in plain view of others, preferably using armed escorts.

Most firms just ignore the topic of fear altogether, more intent on creating wage-slaves they can easily control. As a result, people at all levels walk around afraid of the unknown, sometimes creating their own “evidence” especially when none can be actually observed. Over time, they dullen their senses just to cope, converting acute anxiety into chronic dis-ease. Before too long, the halls are filled with the walking dead.

The irony is that the best employees have no fear. They are either independently wealthy, actively keep other options open or have achieved a state of inner enlightenment which makes them immune. They are not afraid to take risks, but willingly and regularly challenge the status-quo, acting as if they have nothing to lose.

The very best companies develop an enlightened courage: the power to act in the face of fears. Either by demonstration, instruction or coaching, they provide the means for employees at all levels to be strong.

 

  1. Teach Attention Management

One way to develop this strength is to make a game of it. Employees can be taught how to play with highly productive flow-like states. Even when there’s little fun to be experienced, these moments can enable employees to produce their best work.

However, most don’t know how to gamify their work on their own. They simply respond to the daily arrival of email messages from other people. Without an agenda for themselves or their function, they reserve their brains for simple problem-solving. Not even a promotion interests them.

It’s a mode of work which offers little satisfaction, and an endless supply of boredom.

However, these new skills can be taught. An employee can be shown how to enter an ultra-productive, gamified state and also how to schedule time to achieve it regularly. He can plan his day so that high productivity sprints become a regular feature rather than a matter of chance. In this scenario, everyone wins.

  1. Bolster Mood Management

However, winning means more than being proactive. It also requires the kind of transformation in which employees manage their inner state. Over time, their unwanted feelings are not a show-stopper, just something important to notice. By expanding their ability to respond, they can make more enlightened choices.

In other words, rather than surrender to boredom they learn how to see it in the moment and actively bypass it in healthy ways.

Ultimately, companies which take engagement seriously won’t waste time trying to make employees happy, or prevent dissatisfaction. Instead, they teach employees to manage themselves and their boredom; to use it as an internal indicator of inappropriate engagement. Instead of letting them wallow, they provide the means for employees to develop themselves so they can be enlightened and therefore have a choice.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170326/francis-wade-managing-employee-boredom

 

 

 

Holding on to Long-Distance Relationships

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As a person who has lived and worked overseas, it’s hard for me not to compare: there is a big difference between the way local and foreign professionals maintain business relationships. My conclusion? To keep up with modern demands we Jamaicans must change our practices. Here’s how.

A colleague from overseas once led a few courses in Kingston. She received a few complaints—it appeared as if she were in a rush, trying to push people to act immediately. She agreed with the criticism—”The way I see it,” she said, “my time is limited.” We discovered that this view was at odds with that of her participants who expected her to be in their lives forever. In their minds, the interaction was the first of many. Not the last.

This clash of worldviews gets repeated every day. When we pay attention to each one we can illuminate the ways in which we under-perform the rest of the world, and why.

One reason begins with the fact that we live on a small island with no visible neighbours. Furthermore, the citizens of the closest countries are culturally distant, speaking languages we don’t understand. We only notice them when their boats float up on our shores in a navigational error.

The overall effect is that we are relatively isolated, under little pressure to communicate with others who are different. In our relationships both domestic and foreign, we relax, taking things easy. It’s an attitude beloved by our tourists, but it in business it holds us back.

One way we limit ourselves lies in our tendency to treat Jamaicans who are “off the island” as if they are on Mars—so far away they cannot possibly be reached for anything but life-or-death emergencies. This contrasts with the wider world, where forming and maintaining business relationships isn’t a casual affair. Instead, it’s a deliberate, conscious strategy executed in three parts.

Step 1—Make yourself available

The obvious first step in the internet age is to ensure you are visible online with an updated profile on Linkedin. A few years ago, this was optional. Today, it’s a requirement, yet I find that out of ten local business-people I interact with, two have active accounts and only one bothers to keep it timely, relevant, and interesting

Those who claim to be modern professionals but don’t have an account are fooling themselves. Instead of looking to an international standard they are probably busy following their friends. That’s hardly a proper comparison: collectively, it leaves us far outside the mainstream, islanders who couldn’t care less how the world sees us.

Step 2—Reach out

Many professionals who are serious do much more than create a profile; they use it as a showcase for their best work.

No idea where to start? Write an article with the following title: “The Top 3 Secrets People Who Want to Do My Job Well Need to Know Before Starting.” Once the draft is done, customise the heading to suit your profession.

Then, share it with your friends after doing the necessary grammar and spell checks. When they give it a green light, post the article on Linkedin. I’m not making this up… it’s very close to the process I followed for about five years before becoming a paid columnist for the Gleaner.

You may not aspire to that level, but it doesn’t matter. Creating content is a professional obligation if you have any commitment to your career’s future. It’s the modern way to gain the notice of the best people in your field, anywhere in the world. After all, it’s how you got to know them… via their content. As thought-leaders, they actually may enjoy hearing your perspective and so might many others.

Step 3—Invest time to stay in touch

I regret not following this advice earlier—foolishly, I lost track of colleagues from my early business years. Today, you simply shouldn’t allow this to happen. The resources you need to maintain career-long relationships are all at your fingertips and you must spend time learning how to use them.

Once you do so, use our geographical advantage. Jamaica’s stature in the world is strong. When someone tries to link with you from the other side of the globe, appreciate the asymmetry: you may never have heard of their country, but yours has a positive reputation.

Use it to your benefit. Be bold in reaching out to persons whose work you admire, no matter how “big” they seem to be.

Someone who is planning to migrate may immediately see the value of these three steps, but don’t wait until then. To thrive in the larger world of business now, build a global reputation plus a network that will last your entire career. They could be essential elements to your future success.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170312/francis-wade-holding-long-distance-business-relationships

 

 

Why managerial restraint is so important in protecting employee productivity

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Why managerial restraint is so important in protecting employee productivity

When should managers restrain themselves from taking advantage of employee fears? Since the days of slavery, those in power have faced the temptation to use workers’ anxiety as a way to get work done. These recessionary times are no exception, but today this behaviour comes at a cost: a possible drop in employee productivity.

While our economy is showing some welcome signs of life, few believe that employment will improve in the short-term. As a result, over several hard years, employees have become pliable: more likely to follow orders.

Unfortunately, this situation also hurts managers. Robbed of critical feedback needed to do their jobs effectively, they make simple mistakes that add up, reducing the company’s productivity. Here are three everyday examples.

  1. Grabbing personal time from employees via smartphone.

A growing number of managers have figured out a tricky shortcut. Giving you, their employee, the gift of a smartphone is seen as an investment with a hefty ROI. The logic is simple. As a senior HR manager explained to me: “When the company gives you a smartphone the ‘obvious’ expectation is that you must make yourself available at all times to answer it.”

While the policy she described wasn’t written anywhere, as its unlikely victim you would quickly come to realize that your new gift comes with strings. Now, you are expected to carry the device with you, answering it on weekends, vacations, sick days and overtime hours… at home, in church, during parties and even while you are lying in bed. Like many behaviours of this kind, you may not be able to see the problem by yourself. In extreme cases, it may take a spouse or friend to point out the obvious: “You have become a modern-day slave to a 24-7 obligation.”

When I make this observation to executives, it’s usually impossible to find someone who is willing to take responsibility for the problem even though it’s not irreversible. Managers have a powerful weapon in their arsenal—restraint. With mindful behaviour, they can turn the tide. When they go further and advocate proper policies, they can make a difference for everyone, preventing the worst from happening… such as a bitter war waged by email which breaks out one Sunday morning at 5:00am.

 

  1. Forcing employees to respond to email quickly.

This particular problem starts slowly. A manager expresses annoyance because you, her employee, has not responded to a message in her Inbox in a timely manner. She demands better performance. Unfortunately, your answer is to develop the new habit of checking email up to 15 times per hour, just in case.

This has an immediate effect – your manager is happier, especially when other employees follow suit in  order to avoid her wrath. But it’s a pyrrhic victory. After a while, you and your colleagues develop a worst-practice that’s hard to shake: multi-tasking.

The manager who is aware of these repercussions learns to restrain her annoyance. She adopts a best practice: refusing to use email for urgent communications. Instead, she reserves time-sensitive conversations for two-way channels, such as in-person meetings, phone conversations or Whatsapp.

The best managers understand that without this practice, it’s easy for one annoyed manager to set off a contagion of time-wasting. Once again, the only way to turn back the tide on this dangerous expectation is to implement explicit written policies that protect everyone.

 

  1. Insisting on lowering walls to watch employees and cut costs.

A top executive once told me that she ensures that staff has low cubicle walls so that she can “keep an eye on them.” It’s a popular technique used by managers in environments of low trust, even when workers have multiple university degrees. The root causes are never truly explored. Instead, they are justified by comparing the out-of-pocket expense of low versus high walls. When a recession is raging, any reason to cut a cost becomes a good one.

Unfortunately, there’s a high price to pay. Recent research shows that open office plans destroy productivity by offering up a slew of visual and audible distractions. They prevent employees from entering the flow state where their best work is done. Instead they are forced into “Continuous Partial Attention” where one distraction interrupts the other, leading to a host of unfinished tasks.

Frustrated employees learn that the only way to do good work is to come in early and leave late, or give up weekends, holidays and even sick days to work from home. Ultimately, low cubicle walls represent a “shortcut which draws blood”—a long-term obstacle to high productivity and engagement.

It’s all too easy for the clueless manager to operate in the dark, inflicting these three behaviours on a fearful staff. Fortunately, neither restraint nor explicit policies are expensive remedies, but they do require a level of enlightenment that is far too rare in the 21st century Jamaican workplace.

 

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170226/francis-wade-managerial-restraint-important-protect-employee-productivity

Why developing personal habits is more important than intelligence or force

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Why developing personal habits is more important than intelligence or force

Why is there such a gap between average and high performing employees? While there’s no simple solution, recent research suggests that your company may be looking in some of the wrong places for answers.

The difference between the best and worst companies is huge, according to The Economist: the top 25% of companies are a full 40% more productive than their counterparts. It’s not luck – they have learned how to inculcate repetitive behaviours.

Most of us don’t relate to habits this way. We are surprised by their power and unaware of their origin. Generally, we refer to them as negative practices we want to get rid of, but cannot.

This popular but limited understanding blocks us from a higher realm. For high performers, habits are actually a creative enabler.

Unfortunately, habit-building is not a part of our schools’ curriculum. Instead, we are encouraged to get results by being smart, or forceful.

The Limits of Being Smart

As Jamaicans, we have a propensity to “big up” intelligent people who establish a track record of academic success in GSAT, CAPE and university exams. Typically, we encourage them to enter established professions such as law, medicine, accounting or engineering.

However, if you have ever sat waiting in a doctor’s, dentist’s or lawyer’s office wondering how they manage to keep any of their customers, you may know why intelligence is not enough. It’s necessary, but not sufficient to run these tiny, one-person business ventures.

As a tool, being smart doesn’t scale very well. A small company which fails to develop the habits required for good customer service or time management is one which needs more than book smarts. It requires a very different approach.

The Limits of Using Force

We Jamaicans have a love-hate affair with the use of force. Strongman leaders ranging from Bustamante to Dons gain our admiration when they intimidate others into action. We want more.

However, when we are on the receiving end of forceful treatment, we complain about injustice and resist. This makes force a double-edged sword. Even though a few bosses bully their way to success, it’s always short lived. Over time, they develop a well-earned reputation for abuse which repels good people.

The fact is, force only works with those who are fearful so like smart-ness, it’s only effective in a few narrow situations – it just doesn’t scale.

What Works – Habit Creation

A habit is defined as an action which is performed without conscious effort. It’s a cognitive freebie which is triggered by something in our physical environment or by a specific event.

Unfortunately, the skill of developing positive habits and practices so that they drive business processes isn’t taught. We certainly are never shown how to develop them consciously. The lack of this knowledge hamstrings your company in several ways.

  1. Underestimating the slow, steady approach to learning and training

When you don’t understand the power of habits, you rely too much on smarts and force, believing that a sudden flash of brilliance or a single decisive action are remedies to complex business problems. They are just “shortcuts which draw blood.”

Even most training has the same fault. We are impatient, putting faith in a solitary day of instruction, while studies show that a behaviour change which starts in the classroom is just the beginning. A full 60% is driven by what happens after the class, rather than during it.

  1. Not uncovering key behaviours

In my work with companies I am often surprised to learn how little effort is spent to decode the keys to their success. As a result, managers are blind to places where their idiosyncratic actions lead to unique, positive results.

By not deciphering their hidden code, they dishonour it; the first step towards losing it altogether. Over time, unexplained, preventable failure sets in.

  1. Not showing employees how to teach themselves new habits

Perhaps the biggest failing of all is that companies don’t instruct employees how to pick up and learn new behaviours, then turn them into habits. Instead, this skill, which benefits every single area of corporate life, is left to chance.

When you teach employees the mechanics of habit-creation, they learn how to baseline their current behaviours. This baseline becomes a starting point for developing higher-level skills. Then, habit development is far more than a matter of luck – it’s a conscious act which, when repeated, sets employees up for success.

Over time, an organisation filled with such people outperforms its peers who are looking for short-term improvements. There’s no need to outmuscle or outsmart the also-rans. Instead, focus your attention on specific behaviours which can be turned into habits. Collectively, they represent a unique source of sustainable competitive advantage.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.