Is Your Cure Worse Than The Disease?

I remember a situation where a department head in a luxury hotel really botched the employee roster, resulting in a lot of service defects, upset guests, upset employees and unnecessary costs. The department head’s supervisor (the Food and Beverage Director) was chewed out by the General Manager. The Food and Beverage Director’s response was to declare that henceforth she would review all rosters from all food and beverage departments before they became final.

Have you witnessed this type of over-response before? One person makes one mistake and the boss implements a new policy designed to ensure that that kind of mistake never happens again. This solution created a lot of extra work for the Food and Beverage Director, it slowed things down considerably, and it sent a clear message that the department heads were not trusted to make a proper roster.

Way too often a supervisor responds to a mistake by exercising more control, thus moving in the direction of micromanagement. If you do this too frequently, as time goes on you’ll become overwhelmed in your efforts to control everything – and mistakes will occur anyway.

Additional control mechanisms drive up costs and slow things down. If things are done right in the first place, control mechanisms add no value. When you’re thinking about implementing a new control mechanism in response to a mistake, consider the costs as well as the benefits. Take your emotion out of the equation. Consult with colleagues to get some outside perspective about whether it’s good business decision or an over-response.

People will make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that we should be complacent, but implementing additional control mechanisms is rarely the best answer. Don’t implement a cure that’s worse than the disease.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

 

Are You Tired Of Being A Defendant?

This post is for readers in the United States of America. As everyone knows, we’re a very litigious society, and litigation is not only expensive, but also it’s time consuming, and it fosters a great deal of negativity. You want to avoid it even when you can win. In my experience, much work-related litigation can be avoided. Here are some tips to help you do just that.

Do

  1. Build close, positive relationships with employees. This is the single most impactful thing you can do to avoid litigation. People who have close, positive relationships are likely to work through problems without resorting to legal remedies.
  2. Build trust with employees. As you know, trust is the cornerstone of every good relationship. But it’s important enough to merit a separate place on this list.
  3. Operate at a high level of transparency.
  4. Do what you believe to be morally and ethically right. Don’t make decisions or take actions unless you’d be pleased to defend them publicly.
  5. Faithfully enliven the standards you’ve established.
  6. If someone has been treated unfairly (it happens occasionally), own it, apologize, and fix it.

Don’t

Don’t try to get away with things. This is the number one reason employers become defendants. Some executive or department head wants to do something that’s not in accordance with established regulations or laws, or with a contract (union contract, employment contract – whatever), or with the articulated values of the organization.

You know what I’m talking about. Someone wants to ensure a male gets a certain job. Someone wants to fire an employee, but she hasn’t built the proper case. Someone wants to avoid honoring a commitment to an employee or to a customer. I’m sure you can add to this list.

Efforts to avoid litigation in these types of cases include hiding information, creating plausible – but untrue – explanations for actions, or relying on fear of retaliation.

The best way to avoid litigation is to honor your contractual obligations, honor your commitments, obey applicable laws, and enliven your organization’s values. It’s part of acting morally and ethically.

If you do the first item on the “Do” list and don’t do the only item on the “Don’t” list. You’ll reduce the number of times you wear the title, “Defendant”.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Can You Control Humor In The Workplace?

I recently encountered a person who’s researching policies to ensure that humor in the workplace remains civil. I’m a major proponent of humor in life, and there’s plenty of research verifying the health benefits of humor and laughter. It’s no surprise, then, that there are curmudgeons out there who want to control it. To read a Mayo Clinic article on the health benefits of humor click here. It’s a blessing to have people in the workplace who laugh easily and who like to make others laugh.

Of course we want workplaces where people treat each other in a civil manner. But the cultural value of treating each other civilly applies to all behavior, not just humor. An organization does not accomplish this by policies. Think about how you teach your children about civil behavior. What do you do when your child loudly proclaims, “Mommy! Look at how fat that man is!” You correct, you teach, and at times you punish.

Like many other cultural values, what’s considered “civil” varies from culture to culture, and that definition is constantly evolving. I remember when “Ms.” became the preferred form address for females in the USA. The old forms of address became uncivil — darned near overnight. No formal policy was enacted, but women made it clear, through relentless correction, that they found the old language offensive.

It seems to me that when problems of uncivil behavior persist it’s because the senior leaders in an organization condone or actively promote those behaviors. It’s commitment to the principle, not the written policy that matters. For instance, many organizations have written policies against sexual harassment, but tragically we see too often that senior leaders condone such behavior — in some cases even punishing the victim for reporting it!

If senior leadership sincerely wants to discourage uncivil behavior (whether or not it involves humor), they know very well how to do that. And so do you. You make it clear that behavior is unacceptable. You correct, you teach. You insist an apology is in order. You implement appropriate discipline if the person repeats that kind of behavior.

On this issue we need more leadership, not more policies.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Can We Bring Back Good Faith Collaboration?

As I write this post on July 9, 2016, the USA is in the midst of bitter, extreme political partisanship. Our society at this moment is polarized. This post is not about that, but what’s going on in businesses and other organizations, it seems to me, reflects this larger societal trend. “Compromise” has become a dirty word. There are too many “us and them” mentalities, too many fear-based behaviors, too much demonizing of “them”, or him, or her, and too many adversarial relationships. It’s unhealthy and it’s very costly. People are out of focus. They’re diverting a huge amount of productive time to unproductive behaviors.

As usual, I don’t think I have the answer, but this is a classic situation in which the struggle to find answers — the struggle itself — creates immense value. We must not shrink from this challenge. Without the struggle, answers will not emerge.

I also believe that despite this general trend, there exist positive deviants – situations in which leaders have found a way to move beyond these unhealthy trends. Identifying and studying what they’re doing will help others find solutions that work for them. I hope readers post some best practices that could be helpful to others.

One typical manifestation of this adversarial, “us and them” mentality is the point of view that I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s up to them to change. Let’s let that thinking go. Start from the premise that you can make changes in your behavior that will improve the situation. As a leader, demonstrate the courage to take the first step.

The results you’re getting now are based on the ways you’re doing things now. If you want about the same results going forward, keep doing things the same way. If you want significantly better results, ask, “What can I do differently to improve this situation?”

Here are a few recommendations for your consideration.

As Steven R. Covey taught:

  • First listen to understand. Then be understood.
  • Find a win/win solution. Win/win or no deal.

If you begin by truly understanding someone else’s perspective and motives, it becomes easier to find a win/win solution. Even so, a solution might not come easily. But stay committed to that outcome.

Win/win requires good faith collaboration. Good faith collaboration requires a mindset that some of “their” ideas are better than mine.

Why not start with the intent to find what you can appreciate about “their” ideas? Why not show “them” true respect by soliciting their input about your ideas?

It’s entirely possible to engage in passionate debate without demonizing the other person. One can engage in passionate debate while still acknowledging that the other person has some good ideas. If your intent is win/win, and if you engage in good faith collaboration, passionate debate can lead to superior decisions.

Begin with your own intent and your own behavior. Influence others in your organization through your example.

Thanks for reading. As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Create A Culture Of Feedback?

A client recently asked me, “How do we create a culture of feedback?” That question took me back to the following story.

I was the HR Director at a large conference hotel. We had a team of employees known as banquet housemen whose job was to clean, set-up and tear down the hotel’s many function rooms. It’s a very physical job which involves moving tables and chairs in and out of storage areas, setting rooms to precise specifications, and cleaning those rooms so that when you arrive for your meeting the room looks terrific down to the last detail. Banquet housemen, therefore, are deployed all over the hotel, and they work odd hours (so that you can dance until 1:00 AM at your awards banquet, and some other group can start their meeting in that very same room at 8:00 AM).

The banquet housemen team was suffering from low morale and high turnover. We tried several interventions/strategies to improve the situation, but nothing worked. It came to pass that the supervisor left, and we hired a guy named Frank to replace him. And Frank taught us something.

After about a week of assessing the situation, Frank created at short form performance evaluation. With a stack of these forms on a clip board, he’d randomly pop in to a room where a couple of housemen were working, he’d watch them work, and then he’d complete an evaluation on each person and hand it to them. He did this every single day.

The first 30 days, turnover was even worse. But within 60 days moral was very high and turnover went to almost nothing. The evaluations clarified his expectations and provided feedback so people knew the degree to which each person was meeting them. So creating a culture of feedback has the potential to bring about serious improvements.

These housemen needed the evaluations because there was no measurement system in place. A measurement system is the absolute best way to provide objective and helpful feedback. But for some jobs it’s difficult implement a practical measurement system. In those cases, frequent, candid feedback from a coach is very helpful.

These days, because almost everybody has a smart phone, it’s easier to get feedback from end users. In my story about the banquet housemen, today we could ask meeting attendees to answer one or two questions on their phones about the room set up. Or we could just ask the meeting planner. Or both. The point is we have options we didn’t have back when Frank was operating. These ratings would constitute measurements by which we could evaluate performance.

In my experience, when individuals or teams are given this kind of information, they make adjustments on their own. But there are plenty of times when the team doesn’t know what to do differently to improve their scores. That’s where the coach comes in. The right coach will … um … coach people as to what they should do. The measurement system will tell everyone whether it worked.

If you communicate clear expectations, implement a system to measure success, and provide frequent, candid feedback, you’ll establish a feedback system that works.

P.S. There’s one more very important thing. I once heard a client say, “Around here continuous improvement means constant criticism.” Feedback has to have some balance. Make sure you’re not just focusing on what’s wrong. Make sure you’re reviewing successes and high points, with the intent to figure out how to repeat those performances.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Is The Relationship Between Courage and Integrity?

Muhammad Ali, hero of the 20th century, died last night. If you’re too young to remember his story, I encourage you to read a couple of the many articles recapping his inspiring journey. As you will learn, his record-shattering accomplishments as a boxer are overshadowed by his impact as an agent for social change. Reflecting on what we can learn from Ali, in this post I discuss the relationship between integrity and courage.

In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.

When we think about integrity in this way, the relationship between integrity and courage is revealed. Courage involves the willingness to move forward despite the probable costs. When things get tough, when costs are high, living with strong integrity requires a great deal of courage.

This is but one lesson we can learn from the life of Muhammad Ali. The costs of maintaining his integrity were very high, but his courage never waivered. He bore those costs willingly. That’s why he became a hero.

Thanks for reading. As always I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Is It Really Better To Ask For Forgiveness…?

I’ve been hearing this way too often lately. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” It’s catchy. It sounds just enough like wisdom to pass for wisdom. But does it have any substance? Does it give us any moral guidance?

I hope no one believes it’s always better to ask for forgiveness. That would justify, for example, date rape in cases where consent was not clear. So let’s consider the statement, “It’s sometimes better to ask forgiveness…”

But this statement is fraught with questions. How do we know whether this situation is one of the sometimes where asking for forgiveness is better? What do we mean by better? Better for whom?

Here’s a headline from an article in today’s issue of my local newspaper: “Native site may delay $3.8B pipeline”. A Native American archeological site has been discovered during the construction of an oil pipeline. Delay costs a lot of money. Should the pipeline company bulldoze right through and then ask for forgiveness? (Assume the penalty would be a fine rather than an order to stop the pipeline completely.)

Your answer reveals something about your value system. In all cases, when you’re asking this question you’re in a situation where you’re contemplating doing something that you believe A) is deemed to be wrong (or at least questionable), or B) will not be well received by certain people. Then you do a cost/benefit analysis. Once I take this action, does the probable benefit outweigh the probable cost to me?

For instance, suppose you have an opportunity to close a very large sale, but the prospect wants a delivery date that the production and service people will view as completely out of the question. Do you call them to discuss it, or do you promise the delivery date and close the deal? You know they’ll be pissed off, but you know you won’t get fired. You’ll get your anatomy chewed and they’ll have to figure it out. Again, your decision reveals something about your value system.

It’s also important to understand that this decision does not take place in a vacuum. There’s always a context. How often do you make decisions where you choose to ask for forgiveness? Is this a truly rare situation, or are you constantly doing it? The more frequently you ask for forgiveness, the more likely your associates will realize you don’t care about them. You care about only what you want and what you can get away with.

I believe there are indeed times when it’s better to ask for forgiveness. Suppose, for instance, that your driver’s license is suspended and someone you’re with suffers a life-threatening injury. Do you drive them to the emergency room? Of course you do.

It seems to me that this issue boils down to a matter of frequency. You might be proud of boldly moving your agenda forward. But be careful; this is a slippery slope. If you too frequently act in ways that require forgiveness, people will know you don’t really care about them. They won’t trust you. They won’t respect you. In my opinion, that’s too high a price to pay. But, of course, that’s my value system.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg