Wow! You’re Saying That Was Wrong?

In the United States we’re experiencing a dramatic shift in our values. As numerous commentators have observed, sexual harassment that has been tolerated for many, many years is no longer being tolerated. Consequently, for very good reasons numerous organizations are implementing training programs about sexual harassment. The subject of the post is: Do we really think that the root cause of sexual harassment is lack of education about what harassment is or whether it’s acceptable behavior?

Sexual harassment is a specific instance of someone misusing his power to mistreat another individual simply because he can get away with it. When a man invites a women to his hotel room to discuss business and then parades around the room naked and demands sex – do we really believe that he mistakenly thinks this is morally acceptable behavior?

The men accused of sexual harassment often deny they did it. But they never defend themselves with the following type of response: (Slaps his forehead)“I didn’t know that forcing a woman to have sex against her will was wrong!” Or, “Wow! You’re telling me that exposing myself is wrong? Who knew?!”

Of course they know it’s wrong. That’s why they go to great lengths to cover it up.

The education people need in this area must begin with toddlers. Don’t hit. Don’t bite. Don’t mistreat others because you’re bigger and stronger than they are.

The men who do this know it’s wrong. There will always be people who think they can get away with it. The education they need is that women are now more likely to speak out. And organizations are less likely to tolerate it. The risk of being punished has just gone up dramatically. I’m hopeful that the deterrent effect of probable punishment will reduce the frequency of sexual harassment.

This is a lesson that’s more likely to be learned the hard way, rather than from a seminar.

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

Larry Sternberg

 

Larry Sternberg

Where Work/Life Balance Meets the Ebb and Flow of Relationships

This post is written jointly by me and Dr. Kim Turnage, my friend and co-author of the book, “Managing to Make a Difference”.

Justin*, a CEO of a small business, recently shared his frustration about the reduced availability of operations manager, Marian,* who had just given birth to a child. Justin routinely works long hours in a 24/7 business, and, until now, he has enjoyed partnering with someone who runs as hard and fast as he does. For nearly a decade, Marian has been that business partner for Justin, and she has performed with excellence in her role. She loves her work and is committed to maintaining her high level of performance. The recent birth of Marian’s child (for which Justin is very happy, by the way) changes not only Marian’s life, but Justin’s as well.

*These are not their real names.

Kim happened to be talking with Marian and Justin together when this topic came up. It clearly touched a nerve for both of them. Justin was half apologetic, half frustrated in his description of the situation. As Kim asked a few clarifying questions, Marian was harder to read. Initially stoic, she was smiling through tears by the time Kim finished advising them on this matter. It went something like this:

It’s important for both of you to keep in mind that what you’re experiencing now is 100% temporary. Caring for an infant is time consuming and physically demanding right now for Marian. Justin, she has been an exceptional partner to you for many years, and you need the expertise she brings to your business. She loves her work, and she needs you to work with her to accommodate her needs temporarily. Are there other people in the organization who can backfill for some of her responsibilities for a time? What other accommodations can you make temporarily?

For how long?

Well, in just a few months, she’s going to be more well-rested because this baby will be sleeping through the night and she will too. Within less than a year, she will have achieved her breastfeeding goal and won’t need to take breaks at work to pump anymore. Within 5 years, this child will be in school. Five years is only half the time the two of you have been working together so far! This is really temporary.

You can both achieve your goals if you can keep communicating and working together on how to get both of your needs met. You have a solid relationship to build from, and both of you love working together. Marian’s need for extra time will certainly ebb and flow, but much of her flexibility can return. The two of you have an excellent partnership, and surely you’re smart enough to figure out how that partnership can continue to thrive, even though Marian’s life circumstances are changing.

In any close relationship, professional or personal, major life events in one person’s life affect the other person as well. Issues of work/life balance intersect with relationship issues quite conspicuously when it comes to parenting, and this is an area where embracing the ebb and flow of relationships becomes mandatory. But too often, people focus on formal, contractual elements instead of treating this as a relationship issue.

The reality is that women often pay higher penalties than men do for parenting. Despite the advances our society has made in equity for men and women in the workplace, the U.S is one of the only countries in the industrialized world that does not have laws requiring employers to provide paid maternity leave. As much as women and men may strive to parent equally, the reality is that if any paid leave is afforded by company policies, it is generally afforded to mothers and not to fathers. Mothers are typically the ones who take a “time out” to care for newborns. (That ‘typically’ turns to ‘always’ for single mothers.) And those time outs are almost never free. Even when they are allowed by company policy, they can detract from a woman’s ability to advance in her career. And women who choose to take leave or adjust work commitments in order to accommodate childbearing and child rearing are often penalized and judged harshly – sometimes most harshly by other women who have made different choices.

Can’t you just hear the “contract” language in that section you just read? Words like equity, penalty, laws, requiring, policy. Work/life issues often raise questions about whether people are getting what they deserve. They can quickly devolve into tit for tat, quid pro quo kinds of analysis. There’s an assumption that the way things are “now” is the way they will always be, and there’s a tendency to take a black and white, all or none position. But those are fallacies that don’t serve anyone well.

Let’s go back to Justin and Marian for a moment. Let’s say Justin decides he just won’t make any compromises. So he lets Marian go and hires someone new. How long will it take before that person gets up to speed? Remember he’s been working with Marian for almost a decade. Also, how can he be sure he’ll find someone who will be as good as or better than Marian? Given that her situation is temporary and that she’s still highly committed to her job, isn’t it worth making some accommodations and waiting for her to come fully back online?

Every relationship has an ebb and flow. Work relationships are no exception. At times more is asked from one person than from the other. Honoring the relationship sometimes involves accepting an additional burden with an open heart. But any additional burden is likely to be only temporary because that’s how ‘ebb and flow’ works. And when relationships are strong, partners should make the assumption that the accommodations will be worth the cost.

How Much Can Training Accomplish?

I was invited to give a presentation for a very large, prominent software company at a conference of help desk managers from all over the world, and the topic of the conference was, “Creating a Better Customer Experience”. Different presenters focused on different ways to achieve this important outcome. Some, for instance, focused on how to reduce wait time by optimizing certain processes. The focus of my presentation was the impact of hiring the right kind of people.

The organizer of this conference had verbatim feedback from satisfied customers displayed around the room on large posters. Every participant could read several of these comments from wherever they sat. I read these posters as I prepared to deliver my remarks, and something struck me. Every single positive customer comment emphasized character traits. For instance, “Jorge was so patient in walking me through what I needed to do.” “Shirley really knows her stuff. But more importantly she was kind and understanding. She didn’t talk down to me.” “Amith did more than solve my technical problem. His sense of humor helped me get rid of my frustration. It was actually a fun conversation.”

You can give the exact same musical score to ten different singers. Some will deliver a simply dreadful experience. Some will do okay. But maybe one will create a performance so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes. The score alone cannot create an excellent experience for the listener. It depends on who’s singing. Talent matters.

When it comes to customer-facing employees, you can give them all the same training, the same information and the same support systems. But it’s character traits like empathy, patience, positivity and compassion that create an excellent experience for the customer. You can teach people to use your computer system, but you cannot teach them to be patient or positive. Those traits (and the others I mentioned) you must hire.

Would you like to verify this from your own experience? Think of the best customer-facing employee you’ve ever worked with. What made them so good? Take a couple of minutes and jot down a brief list of reasons why they were so good. When you’re done, read on.

Is your list mostly made up of things like positive attitude, good work ethic, good team player, liked to learn, etc.? You didn’t train those into the person. They were that way when you hired them. That’s what I’m talking about.

If you want to create a better customer experience, hire better people.

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

Larry Sternberg

What If Your Boss Does Not Invest Time Mentoring You?

If your boss does not invest time in mentoring you, you must take charge of your own success and development. Begin by articulating a vision for your future. Be clear about your values, commitments, passions, goals and aspirations. Don’t merely think about these things. Write them down. The discipline of expressing these ideas in writing is challenging, and it can be frustrating, but it leads to clarity. That foundation then acts as your true north, providing you with a basis for making sound decisions and having high quality conversations with people who can contribute to your success.

Once you have this foundation, use it to seek input from others. If your boss is unavailable, identify other people whose advice might be helpful. Start by asking them for a brief meeting to get their input, perhaps at a nearby coffee shop. Give them your foundation document, and come prepared with a few questions. For instance, ask them what books they’d recommend. Take notes on what they say. Write a brief thank you note, mentioning at least one specific piece of advice.

Depending on your learning style, identify courses, seminars or books that can help you add to your professional knowledge. Join at least one professional association relevant to your career goals. Subscribe to a couple of publications relevant to your career.

Even if your boss is not going to be your mentor, you want to have a great relationship with him and you want his support. Make sure you know what your boss’s goals are, then make your boss’s priorities your own. Clarify his expectations of you and make sure you exceed those expectations.

Finally, I recognize that reporting to a boss who makes time to mentor you might be very important for you. If so, and if you’re not getting this from your boss, you should consider finding a new boss. This might involve seeking a transfer within your current organization, or it might require you to move to a new organization.

The proactive steps mentioned above will empower you to take charge of your own success and development.

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

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Cultivate a People-First Culture?

The decision to cultivate a people-first culture is a strategic decision rather than a project. Because it is not a project, you will never be done. You will always improve and refine the way you implement your people-first culture. If you’re thinking about embarking on this journey, I hope you’ll find this post helpful.

Phase One – Articulate your vision

First, let’s recognize that there is not one correct definition of what it means to be a “people-first” culture. Therefore each organization must define what it means for that organization. If you don’t start there, how will you and your employees know what you’re building toward? Second, let’s recognize that having a people-first culture is not an either/or situation. It’s a matter of degree. A culture can become more and more people-first over time.

Here are some questions that will help you decide what “people-first” means to your organization:

  1. Who are the people you’re thinking about? Employees? Customers? Suppliers? Job applicants? Community members? All of these groups?
  2. For each of the groups you care to include in your thinking, what would their experience with your organization be like? What would be happening and not happening? For instance, what would it be like to be an employee? Or what would it be like to be a customer?
  3. If your culture were becoming more and more of a people-first culture (as you visualize it in your business), how would you know it? What benefits do you expect to see? How will you measure or assess your progress?
  4. Are there some areas in which our organization already takes a people-first approach? What are they? What are the benefits for your organization? What has enabled the people-first approach in those areas? What can you learn from those successes about how to expand this to other areas?

Answering those questions is not easy, and therefore might well take some time. But if you’re thinking about becoming a more people-first culture, the time invested here will pay dividends for years to come. If you do not invest the time required for phase one, you are unlikely to succeed.

Phase Two – Identify areas of focus and action steps

  1. Once you’ve articulated your people-first vision, ask, “What are one or two areas of low-hanging fruit, areas in which we can create some quick progress?” Then create action plans for each identified area.
  2. Benchmark other organizations to discover people-first practices you can bring into your culture.

Phase Three – Institutionalize people-first

  1. Include people-first as the most important element in your management performance evaluations and compensation reviews (otherwise, it’s not… um, first).
  2. Collect and share stories about successes and high points related to your people-first strategy.
  3. Recognize and reward all employees who contribute to making continuous progress on the people-first initiative.
  4. Over time (possibly a lot of time), review all policies, procedures and practices to ensure they exemplify your people-first culture. You don’t have to eat this elephant in one bite. Just continue to make steady progress.
  5. Implement a selection process that helps you identify candidates who are a natural fit for your people-first culture.
  6. Part company with employees who are not a fit for your new culture, most particularly leaders and managers who do not fit.

The amount of time it takes to make substantial progress will vary greatly depending on a company’s size, the state of its current culture, and other factors. The journey will be different for every organization. As I said at the beginning of this post, cultivating a people-first culture is a strategic decision rather than a project. It’s a fundamental stance, based on your value system. If you make this part of your “true north”, I believe you will make your organization healthier and healthier over time.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts or experience with building a people-first culture.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Adjust to a New Boss?

From time to time in your career you’ll confront the challenge of adjusting to a new boss. In many cases, this will be a situation you did not seek. Suddenly, you find yourself forced into a new relationship in which the other person (your new boss) has considerably more power than you do. Here are some tips for adjusting to a new boss.

  1. Don’t pre-judge.

Give this person a fair chance. That’s what you want, right? You don’t want your boss to prejudge you, so why should you prejudge her? Ignore whatever you might have heard and base your thinking on your own direct experience with her.

  1. Get to know each other.

Spend some time getting to know each other. An excellent way to get started is to use the Focus On You activity that you can download from the Website Managetomakedadifference.com

  1. Listen, listen and listen.

Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

  1. Be positive.

This should go without saying, but sadly it does not. Demonstrate optimism about the future. Don’t focus on what’s wrong.

  1. Avoid gossip.

Don’t say negative things about others.

  1. Be supportive.

Make it clear that you are committed to helping your new boss be successful. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. You can help her avoid stepping on land mines, and you can share your inside knowledge to help her succeed.

  1. Make you boss’s priorities your own.

Find out what your boss’s expectations are, what her goals are and what she wants to focus on. Get on board with those priorities.

 

Thanks for reading. I’m sure you have additional tips to adjust to a new boss. I’d love to hear them.

Larry Sternberg

Managing Seasonal Employees

Many businesses experience extreme seasonality. Resorts, sports venues and retail businesses immediately come to mind. Every year they must staff up for the busy season, and lay off for the offseason. I have worked in several seasonal businesses, both as an employee and as a leader. The purpose of this post is to explore the question, in managing seasonal employees, what adjustments should managers make?

One important aspect of this situation is the mutual understanding that the job ends when the busy season ends. This forces both the employee and the employer to decide whether they want to work together again. If a seasonal employee did not have a great work experience, she will almost certainly look for a job with another employer next season. On the other side of the coin, if the employer was not satisfied with the employee’s performance, it simply won’t extend a job offer next season. No written warnings, no performance plan, no hassle.

Although there’s a built-in opportunity to part company forever, it’s also easier for both parties if the employee returns every season. For the employer, the costs of recruiting, hiring and training are reduced. And for the employee, he or she doesn’t have to invest any time applying for jobs with other employers. So there’s an incentive for both parties to make this an ongoing, though seasonal, relationship.

This incentive for a relationship that continues from one season to the next leads to an interesting conclusion. Managers should manage seasonal employees the same way they manage “permanent” employees. They should develop close relationships with their people, and they should foster close relationships among employees. They should make people’s jobs engaging and fun. They should make sure that each of their employees is in the right fit for his strengths. Most importantly, they should truly care about each and every person who reports to them.

One additional difference between a seasonal and a permanent job is the prospect for promotion. Seasonal employees might see opportunities to become supervisors, but that’s about it. Unless they become permanent employees, seasonal people are not going to become department heads or vice presidents. But a great manager can still help them learn and grow and prepare to advance in their chosen careers.

If a manager is willing to teach, any seasonal employee can learn a lot about being a great team player, solving problems, taking care of customers, demonstrating initiative, improving morale and being an informal leader. An exceptional manager can help each employee make individual learning and growth one of her goals for the season.

So, even though this is a seasonal job, a caring, committed manager can make a positive difference in her employee’s lives.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Marilyn Buresh for suggesting this topic. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg