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

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

How Can You Rapidly Fit In To A New Culture?

This is a question everyone must confront at some time, whether you’re a recent grad accepting your first career position or you’re a seasoned professional making a move after 20 years with the same company. What can you do to rapidly engage with the new culture? The following five principles will take you a long way toward success.

  1. Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture.
  2. Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Make your boss’ priorities your own.
  5. Cultivate positive relationships.

Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture. The single most important thing you can do to fit in involves knowing yourself and learning about the company before you even get a job offer.

 

During the recruitment and selection process, you must make a determination about the natural fit between your values and style and the company’s values and style. You should look for a situation that requires the least amount of change on your part. You’re in a good fit when your natural style just happens to be what works in the culture. The more you have to change to fit in, the more difficult it will be.

 

Invest the time to clarify what’s important to you, and what your natural style is. During the interview process ask questions that will help you make a determination about your natural fit with the culture.

 

Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude. I realize this appears to be a platitude, but it’s not. Positivity matters, and it’s visible on the surface. It’s one of the first things people notice about you, and first impressions matter a lot. Because positivity is contagious, you’ll have a positive impact on the workplace, which means you’ll be adding value right away.

 

Work hard. This is another apparent platitude. But once again it’s immensely important. Everyone appreciates hard work and it’s very visible. It increases the amount of value you’re adding. If you work hard and you have a positive attitude you’ll immediately earn a positive reputation in your new organization.

 

Make your boss’ priorities your own. I’m indebted to one of my mentors, Sigi Brauer, for this insight. This is about adding value. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Demonstrate a sense of urgency in moving forward those things that are important to your boss. Again, it’s extremely noticeable, and your boss will sincerely appreciate it.

 

Cultivate positive relationships. Unless you cultivate positive relationships, you won’t fit in rapidly, and you might not ever fit in at all. The topic of cultivating positive relationships has filled many books, so I’m just going to emphasize a few basics.

  • Build trust. Be open and honest. Deliver on your commitments. Act in accordance with the following principle, articulated by Jim Meehan: “I mean you no harm. I seek your greatest good.”
  • Get to know people, and invite them to know about you. Learn what’s important to them, both personally and professionally. Take the time to inquire about their weekend, their vacation, and their family.
  • Celebrate their successes and milestones, both personal and professional.
  • Find ways to be help them, to make a positive difference in their lives.
  • Ask them for help. This might appear counterintuitive at first, but it’s very effective. Find ways in which they can help you. This demonstrates that you see the value they can add. It’s a form of recognition. It actually causes them to like you more.

 

To summarize, if you do only these five things you’ll maximize your ability to fit in and achieve success in your new organization:

 

  1. Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture.
  2. Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Make your boss’ priorities your own.
  5. Cultivate positive relationships.

 

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

 

Larry Sternberg

What Do You Say About Others When They’re Absent?

It’s so easy to criticize, to find fault, to tear others down – in large and small ways. How often do groups of employees go out after work and complain about the boss, or about other employees? This kind of activity is widespread. For some reason it feels good. But it certainly cannot be characterized as constructive. It increases negativity in the organization and hurts the people being discussed. This kind of behavior is most certainly not harmless. It does not reflect well on those who engage in it. There’s a reason people would not want their remarks shared with the targets, or with anyone else for that matter.

By the way, have you thought about what happens when you’re not present? Bulletin: you’re not in some special category that makes you immune. How much time would you like them to spend tearing you down?

I invite you to join me. Let’s quit doing this, and let’s quit condoning it. We’ll all grow in the process.

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

Larry Sternberg

Is There An Alternative To The Employee Engagement Survey?

Employee surveys have been around for a long time. The current terminology is “employee engagement survey.” Years ago we called them “employee opinion surveys.” The goal of these surveys is to improve the organization.

The macro process is almost identical in every organization. First, the survey is administered, which involves a campaign from HR to maximize participation. A campaign is necessary because employees generally don’t look forward to participating. The results are analyzed and presented to the company. Managers and executives generally don’t look forward to this step. It’s often painful, but it’s considered necessary for improvement. Then, based on the results, strategies are initiated to improve the organization as measured by the next survey, and then the cycle repeats.

Lately, I’m reading more and more articles pointing out that all this activity isn’t resulting in measurable organizational improvement. This is analogous to the current trend questioning the value of annual performance evaluations. Many organizations are demonstrating the courage to quit doing traditional performance evaluations. Perhaps we should question the value of these very costly employee engagement surveys. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) presents an attractive alternative to the current engagement survey strategy.

Here is a quotation from the Appreciative Inquiry page in Wikipedia: “Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making and the creation of strategic change, particularly within companies and other organizations. It was developed at Case Western Reserve University‘s department of organizational behavior, starting with a 1987 article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva.”

Cooperrider and Srivastva recognized that the kinds of questions one asks control the kinds of answers one receives. Engagement survey questions typically focus on what’s wrong, asking employees to think about deficits, deficiencies and problems. This results in a certain snapshot of the culture, and not a very uplifting one. But is it an objective snapshot? What would happen, they wondered, if we asked a qualitatively different set of questions? What kind of snapshot would we get if we asked employees what’s right about the organization? What are our strengths? What are we proud of? What accounts for our most meaningful successes and high points?

Depending on the set of questions, you get two very different snapshots of the organization. To me, it doesn’t make sense to ask which is more accurate. They’re both accurate. To me, the important question is which is more helpful in bringing about meaningful improvement?

Vince Lombardi, legendary coach, answered that question years ago. He rejected the common wisdom that reviewing and analyzing unsuccessful plays was the best way to improve team performance. He realized that it was much more effective to analyze successful plays and think about how to create more of them. He was doing Appreciative Inquiry before there was a name for it.

The goal of this post is to make readers aware of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and to encourage investigation and learning about how the application of AI can contribute to individual and organizational improvement.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

 

Larry Sternberg

Why Should Employees Have To Pay Their Dues?

“Before he can become a [insert desired role here] he has to pay his dues, just like I did.” Have you heard this point of view? I’ve heard it my entire career. It’s high time to evolve our thinking, to leave this point of view behind.

The phraseology indicates that the dues-paying activities are a sort of penance — nothing more than a cost to the employee of pursuing a particular career goal. If a person isn’t willing to go through this experience they’re not worthy. They don’t want it enough. This reminds me of fraternity initiations.

Many valuable activities are unpleasant. When I was a law student, during class a professor would call on a student, who would stand to answer the professor’s questions. Trust me when I tell you this was no fun at all. It was a withering cross-examination. And I couldn’t see how it contributed to our learning. But it was universally accepted as a right of passage. So one day I asked Professor Gordon why he was doing this. He replied that judges would do this and worse in court, and our professors had three years to get us accustomed to performing with excellence when being treated this way in public.

That explanation made a lot of sense to me. There was a point to the activity. It wasn’t just a right of passage. We weren’t just learning the law; we were learning to be lawyers.

In many cases, a leader wants someone to pay their dues simply because the leader had to do that earlier in his career. That’s a terrible reason. If that’s your justification, break the cycle. Stop it.

If you’re requiring employees to pay their dues before progressing in their careers, I encourage you to answer the question, “Why is this a valuable investment of their time?” And please give a better answer than, “It builds character.” Life is full of character-building experiences. Nobody needs you to manufacture additional ones.

I’d like to distinguish mere “dues paying” activities from starting at the bottom and working one’s way up. Starting at the bottom can deliver great value in terms of learning, empathy and perspective. So I’m very much in favor of making people start at the bottom – if it’s for the right reasons.

If a required assignment is just a right of passage, get rid of it. Find a more valuable way to invest that person’s time. Let’s quit making people pay their dues.

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

Larry Sternberg

Want Your Company To Be A Great Place To Work?

Once again I had the privilege to attend the Great Places To Work conference. In this post I share some of the most meaningful points from various presentations. Please note that I did not have the opportunity to attend every presentation. These are not exact quotations, so this is my interpretation of what was said.

Peter Harrison, CEO, Snagajob

  • Invest the time and effort to bring in people who resonate with your mission, and then extend yourself to make sure they stay.
  • Referrals are still the most important recruiting source.
  • Don’t over engineer your values statements. Keep them brief and clear – easy to understand and enliven.

Michael C. Bush, CEO, Great Place To Work

  • People want to trust who they work for.
  • They want to be proud of the company they work for.
  • They want to enjoy the people they work with.
  • They want leaders who walk their talk.
  • They want to be treated with respect.
  • They want fairness – no preferential treatment.
  • They want a sense of camaraderie.
  • They want to be proud of the work they do.
  • Here are some things leaders do in companies that have built high trust cultures:
    • Thank people
    • Care about people
    • Speak to people
    • Listen to people
    • Inspire people
    • Trust people
  • People are motivated by the “why” of their work. They want to know the mission and vision.

Meaningful points from an excellent panel discussion

  • Culture must be the core of the company ethos.
  • Leaders must truly live the values.
  • It starts with who is selected. Build company values into the recruiting process.
  • Everybody owns the culture. Make it every employee’s responsibility to build the culture.
  • To reinforce your culture, share stories about instances where someone has enlivened one of the company’s values.
  • When considering promotions, think about whether the internal candidate lives the values.
  • If a person is not enlivening the company’s values, take action.
  • Companies must demonstrate that they have the agility to change when necessary.

Amy Bastuga, Vice President, Human Resources, Radio Flyer

  • One important purpose of orientation is to assimilate people into the culture.
  • There are no shortcuts to selecting the right person.
  • An open position is better than a bad match.
  • Every applicant for Radio Flyer receives a letter from the CEO explaining that one goal of the recruitment process is to ensure that the job with Radio Flyer will be the best job they’ve ever had.

Each presenter said much more than what I’ve shared in these few notes. These were points that resonated with me relative to the theme of this blog.

If you want to build a great place to work, I recommend you consider joining this movement. Check out their Website at http://www.greatplacetowork.com

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

Larry Sternberg