In a two-part series on The Tougher Workplace, Los Angeles Times reporter Alana Semuels takes a look at how the recession has negatively impacted working conditions for both hourly and salaried employees.
One of the main themes of her story is that businesses are asking employees to work harder without providing the kinds of rewards—financial and psychological—that were once routine. As Semuels explains, “Employers figure that if some people quit, there are plenty of others looking for jobs.”
Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, who was quoted in the story, agrees. He says, “Wages are stagnant, jobs are less secure, work is more intense — it’s a much tougher world.”
For example, Semuels quotes Matt Taibi of Providence, Rhode Island, who routinely works twelve-hour days as a driver for UPS. “There’s more and more push toward doing more with less workers,” says Taibi. “There are more stops, more packages, more pickups. What’s happening is that we’re stretched to our limits and beyond.”
All workers are being impacted
Semuels reports that salaried workers are also experiencing the harsher work environment. While an over-forty-hour work week has routinely been a part of salaried positions, workers often enjoyed a measure of autonomy in their schedules.
That’s increasingly rare, says David Tayar, who spent a decade on salary as an associate attorney at a Manhattan law firm. He says that the demands of his job grew so much in that time, he eventually felt that he could never take a break.
When he started, Tayar says, “I checked my voice mail every few hours. Today, lawyers must check their BlackBerrys every few minutes — and be prepared to cancel a dinner, a weekend trip, or a vacation at a moment’s notice.” Tayar says he took just one day of vacation in a five-year stretch.
“You could never totally relax — you could be called at any time, unless you were officially on vacation,” Tayar says. “And even if you were, there were times when you would be called in to work.”
In defense of the common tactic of reducing headcount, cutting costs, and driving higher levels of productivity, Tim Meyer, an executive with private equity firm Gores Group of Los Angeles, explains, “Sometimes you have to make dramatic changes to save the jobs that you can.”
But it’s come at a cost, says HR Specialist Donna Prewoznik . “The relationship between employers and employees has changed,” she says. “Employees haven’t had raises. They’re tired. Their hours are reduced. They feel a little bit betrayed.”
What’s your experience doing more with less in today’s work environment? Share your comments below—or check out the hundreds that have been posted online in response to Semuels’ article. You can read more by checking out The Tougher Workplace series here.
For those of us who work at home or remotely, or even in an office, it’s a great time to refocus on what we do—consciously or subconsciously—that looks like work but often isn’t.
Here are three ways that people pretend to work.
Our egos tell us that it is critical to stay fully informed on any project that has the potential to even slightly impact us. Even though meetings are largely ineffective, attending lots of them keeps you very busy. When you attend lots of meetings your calendar stays full—and yet you accomplish very little. This is perhaps the best way to pretend to work without really working.
Be hyper-responsive on emails and phone calls
Don’t read or think too much about each email, just respond quickly. In fact, responding to emails while passively attending a meeting can ensure that neither activity is truly productive. When you keep your email up all day and respond immediately, you can feel a great sense of “pretend” accomplishment. Since sending emails results in receiving more emails, you can honestly say, “I got 150+ emails today. I am exhausted!” This is probably very true.
Focus on speed and quantity, not quality, of communication
The accepted best practice around emails is this: If the third email hasn’t clarified the issue—pick up the phone. Ignoring this rule means you can have long strings of emails that show activity without really accomplishing work. Make sure you have an email trail that recaps every action taken. This ensures that you can always justify your lack of productivity by pointing to a flaw in someone else’s email.
Have you been caught by any of these strategies? Although I don’t know anyone who deliberately uses these strategies to avoid work, I suspect we have all had extremely busy days when we questioned our productivity and accomplishments.
Just in case you want to be very productive (which you do), here are some tips:
- Carefully choose which meetings, and how much of each meeting, you will attend.
- Focus on the quality of your communication, including reflecting or researching before you respond.
- Let others know your priority to set aside times for focused concentration, professional development, process improvement, and idea generation. Let people know when you will and won’t be available to respond quickly.
Using these strategies will require less energy, less activity, and fewer emails, and therefore will result in higher productivity.
Well, okay … you can still pretend to be tired, even if you‘re not!
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.
In their latest post for Fast Company online, management experts Scott and Ken Blanchard share that, “One of the big mistakes we see among otherwise promising managers is the self-limiting belief that they have to choose between results and people, or between their own goals and the goals of others. We often hear these people say, ‘I’m not into relationships. I just like to get things done.’”
“Cutting yourself off, or choosing not to focus on the people side of the equation, can—and will—be a problem that will impact your development as a leader.”
Have you inadvertently cut yourself off from your people? Many leaders have. It’s usually because of time pressures, or a single-minded focus on results—but sometimes it’s also a conscious choice to create “professional distance” that allows you the emotional room to make tough choices.
That’s a mistake say the Blanchards. “The best working relationships are partnerships. For leaders, this means maintaining a focus on results along with high levels of demonstrated caring.”
They go on to caution that, “The relationship foundation has to be in place first. It’s only when leaders and managers take the time to build the foundation that they earn the permission to be aggressive in asking people to produce results. The best managers combine high support with high levels of focus, urgency, and criticality. As a result, they get more things done, more quickly, than managers who do not have this double skill base.”
Don’t limit yourself—or others
Don’t limit yourself, or others, by focusing on just one half of the leadership equation. You don’t have to choose. In this case you can have it all. Create strong relationships focused on jointly achieving results. To read the complete article—including some tips on getting started—be sure to check out Getting Your Team Emotionally Engaged Is Half The Leadership Battle. Here’s How To Do It
Performance expert John Hester identifies four common mistakes that managers make when they set goals for employees in the latest issue of Ignite! The negative result is poor or misaligned performance, accountability issues, blame and resentment—not to mention countless hours spent reviewing tasks and redoing work.
Wondering if you might be making some of these common mistakes in your own goal setting with employees? Here’s what Hester warns against.
- Goals are not realistic. Stretch goals are great, but if they are out of reach they become demotivating and can even cause some employees to engage in unethical behavior to achieve them. In addition to making sure a goal is attainable, goals should be monitored and adjusted as needed during the year.
- Setting too many goals. When employees have too many goals they can easily lose track of what is important and spend time on the ones they “want” to do or that are easier to accomplish whether or not they are the highest priority.
- Setting goals and then walking away. Goal setting is the beginning of the process, not an end in itself. Once goals are set, managers need to meet regularly to provide support and direction to help employees achieve their goals.
- Setting a “how” goal instead of a “what” goal. Goals should indicate “what” is to be accomplished—the end in mind—not “how” it should be accomplished.
3 Ways to Improve Goal Setting
For managers looking to make their goal setting and performance planning more effective, Hester recommends focusing on three key areas.
Approach goal-setting as a partnership. Recognize that performance planning is not something that you should do alone. This is something to be done in partnership with your team member. It’s a collaborative process. So the manager needs to know what the employee’s key areas of responsibility are, what is expected in the role, and what they want to see in terms of performance. The key is to have that discussion with the employee.
Make sure the goal is SMART (or SMMART). Anytime you set a goal, objective, or an assignment, you need to make sure that it meets the simple SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Hester also believes that there should be a second “M” in the SMART acronym to account for employee Motivation. This means the manager needs to additionally ask, “What is it about this goal that is motivating? What difference does it make in the organization, or to the team, or to the individual employee?”
Diagnose competence and commitment levels. Finally, managers need to consider an employee’s individual competence and commitment level for a task. It’s a common mistake to assume that because a person is a veteran employee, they will be experienced at any new task that might be set before them. This is often incorrect. It’s important that a manager find out about experience with a specific task and then partner with the employee to determine what they need in terms of direction and support to be successful with this particular assignment.
To learn more about Hester’s advice for improved goal setting and performance with your people, be sure to check out the article Goal Setting Needs to Be a Partnership. Also be sure to check out Hester’s January 23 webinar on Performance Planning: 5 ways to set your people up for success—it’s free courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.
What is one thing that you do better than anyone else? For some people, that may be easier to answer than others. If I asked Usain Bolt that question, I’m pretty sure he’d say that he can run faster than anyone on the planet. For most of us though, the question would prove to be quite a stumper. Try answering it for yourself. It’s not so easy, is it?
Granted, out of 7 billion people in the world, the odds of you being the absolute best at a particular something or other is pretty remote. But the point of the question is more general. What is it that you do really well? Probably better than most people you know? Knowing the answer to that question can help unlock levels of job satisfaction and engagement that you didn’t know existed.
Here are three steps you can take to understand the unique value you bring to your work and how you can stand out from the crowd.
1. Identify your strengths. Sounds pretty basic, huh? Well, it is pretty basic, but believe it or not, many people don’t have a good understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, or personality traits that help or hinder their success. Assessments such as the DISC, MBTI, Strengths Finder, or Marcus Buckingham’s newest StandOut survey can give you insight into what motivates you or how your personality preferences shape the way you perceive work experiences and “show up” to other people.
2. Understand the type of work or circumstances that best leverage your strengths and personality traits. One of my first “real” jobs was working for a popular Southern California fast food chain. I lasted one shift. The reason? My supervisor drilled into me the importance of following all the rules to the letter and corrected me whenever I deviated from them, yet he would go into the back of the kitchen and smoke a cigarette whenever he wanted (clearly in violation of the rules). I knew that I would never be happy working for a boss who didn’t display integrity in his actions. For me to be at my best, I need to be surrounded by people who have honorable values and strive to live up to those values.
One way to identify situations where you’ll thrive is to make a list of all the times where you’ve felt “in the flow” – those instances where you’ve been so absorbed in your work that you’ve lost track of time. What are the commonalities among those experiences? It might take a little digging and analysis, but you can probably find some themes running through those experiences. Perhaps it’s the type of people you worked with. Or maybe there was an element of problem-solving involved. Maybe it was the opportunity for you to use certain skills, like writing, teaching, or public speaking. Whatever the theme may be, it’s a clue to what really engages you and prepares you to take step #3 below.
3. Intentionally seek your “sweet spot.” Your “sweet spot” is that place where you find fulfillment in your work. You have two basic choices when it comes to identifying your sweet spot. The first is to leave it up to chance. You can hope that you stumble upon the type of job that is a good match for your personality and skills. Not a good option. The second choice is to actively look for situations that are a good match for what you bring to the table. Take what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2 and apply it to your current situation. If you’re in a job that’s a complete mismatch for your personality and strengths, begin to put a plan together for how you can transition to something more in alignment with your natural gifts. If you’re in a job you like, but need a little more pizzazz in your work, map out new projects, tasks, or areas of responsibility that could benefit from the application of your strengths.
Discovering your strengths and learning how to use them in combination with your personality traits is an evolutionary journey. It doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes there is a lot of trial and error involved. However, taking a purposeful and introspective look into yourself and following these three steps can put you on the path toward finding a higher level of fulfillment and success in your work.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.
Why don’t employees do what they are supposed to do? Former Columbia Graduate School professor and consultant Ferdinand Fournies knows. Over the course of two decades, Fournies interviewed nearly 25,000 managers asking them why, in their experience, direct reports did not accomplish their work as assigned.
Here are the top reasons Fournies heard most often and which he described in his book, Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It. As you review the list, consider what you believe might be some of the root causes and solutions for each road block.
In Fournies’ experience, the root cause and solution in each case rests with the individual manager and employee. Fournies believes that managers can minimize the negative impact of each of these potential roadblocks by:
- Getting agreement that a problem exists
- Mutually discussing alternative solutions
- Mutually agreeing on action to be taken to solve the problem
- Following-up to ensure that agreed-upon action has been taken
- Reinforcing any achievement
Are your people doing what they are supposed to be doing?
What’s the level of purpose, alignment, and performance in your organization? Do people have a clear sense of where the organization is going and where their work fits in? Are they committed and passionate about the work? Are they performing at a high level? Take a look at the conversations and relationships happening at the manager-direct report level. If performance is not where it should be, chances are that one of these roadblocks in getting in the way.
PS: You can learn more about Ferdinand Fournies and his two books, Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To and What You Can Do About It, and Coaching for Improved Work Performance here at Amazon. Both books are highly recommended for your business bookshelf.
Most managers prefer to use a supportive leadership style that encourages direct reports to seek out their own solutions in accomplishing their tasks at work. But that style is only appropriate when the direct report has moderate to high levels of competence and mostly needs encouragement to develop the confidence to become self-sufficient. What about the other times when people are brand new to a task, disillusioned, or looking for new challenges? In these three cases, just being supportive will not provide people with the direction they need to succeed. In fact, just being supportive will often delay or frustrate performance.
The best managers learn how to tailor their management style to the needs of their employees. For example, if an employee is new to a task, a successful manager will use a highly directive style—clearly setting goals and deadlines. If an employee is struggling with a task, the manager will use equal measures of direction and support. If the employee is an expert at a task, a manager will use a delegating style on the current assignment and focus instead on coming up with new challenges and future growth projects.
Are your managers able to flex their style?
Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that leadership flexibility is a rare skill. In looking at the percentage of managers who can successfully use a Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating style as needed, Blanchard has found that 54 percent of leaders typically use only one leadership style, 25 percent use two leadership styles, 20 percent use three leadership styles, and only 1 percent use all four leadership styles.
Recommendations for managers
For managers looking to add some flexibility into the way they lead, here are four ways to get started:
- Create a written list of goals, and tasks for each direct report.
- Schedule a one-on-one meeting to identify current development levels for each task. What is the employee’s current level of competence and commitment?
- Come to agreement on the leadership style required of the manager. Does the direct report need direction, support, or a combination of the two?
- Check back at least every 90 days to see how things are going and if any changes are needed.
Don’t be a “one size fits all” manager
Leading people effectively requires adjusting your style to meet the needs of the situation. Learning to be flexible can be a challenge at first—especially if you have become accustomed to using a “one size fits all” approach. However, with a little training and some practice, you can learn how to accurately diagnose and flex your style to meet the needs of the people who report to you. And the best news is, even while you are learning, your people will notice the difference. Get started today!
Other recent articles you may be interested in:
Leadership development training is a smart, prudent investment that drives economic value and bottom line results. But if senior executives don’t care about development then—guess what—development will not be a priority in the company.
That’s what Scott Blanchard, principal and EVP with The Ken Blanchard Companies, found out the hard way when his company lost a critical long-term account. An ongoing contract was terminated overnight when a new senior leader removed the entire learning and development department.
In a new article for Ignite! on Making the Business Case for Developing Your People Blanchard shares how that experience drove him to explore why some organizations see and believe the tangible value of investments in training while others don’t. He also shares how it provided the impetus to build a business case that would satisfy even the most hard-nosed of executives.
Understanding employee development
Blanchard discusses how the key was showing the correlation between leadership practices and employee development. He combines research that shows how strategic and operational leadership impacts organizational vitality together with some personal experience he’s had in making presentations to senior executives. In those presentations, Blanchard asks senior leaders to consider a typical employee in their organization and the key goals or critical tasks they are asked to perform as a part of their jobs.
In most healthy growing organizations, people are highly accomplished at some aspects of their job, decent in others, disillusioned with a few aspects, and just getting started with the new tasks.
Blanchard asks the group of leaders to self assess where their own people are at with the various tasks they are responsible for. Once that’s completed, Blanchard puts together a group composite. The senior executives are surprised to see that the distribution is generally stacked up at the Disillusioned Learner or Capable, But Cautious, Performer levels. (See Figure One: Typical Task Development Levels.)
Typical Task Development Levels (Blanchard Ignite! Newsletter June 2012)
Blanchard goes on to explain that, “If you operate with 75% of your people at a Disillusioned Learner or only a Capable, But Cautious, Performer level, you are going to have very anemic financial performance and low levels of passion and engagement.
“This is exactly what we are seeing in today’s work environment. The result is an organization operating at 65 to 70% of potential. In our research into The High Cost of Doing Nothing, the impact of this untapped potential is costing the average organization over $1 million per year.”
Leverage development levels effectively
For senior leaders looking to develop their people more effectively, Blanchard has some recommendations.
- “When people start off as Enthusiastic Beginners it’s important that you grab a hold of their momentum and enthusiasm and prepare them for the inevitable Disillusioned Learner stage. It will come, so it’s important to acknowledge it, make it OK, and help people push through it.”
- “When you get to the Capable, but Cautious, Performer stage remember that you can’t stop there—that will only get you lackluster financial performance. Instead, push through to a place where employees become Self-Reliant Achievers.”
What’s the development level of the people in your organization?
The best companies invest in their employees, supervisors, and managers. They know that people are the key to bringing plans to life and creating a sustainable advantage for your organization. Take time to develop your people. It’s one of the best investments you can make!
To learn more, check out Making the Business Case for Developing Your People
In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, author Michael Gerber identifies that everything a leader does begins with a common understanding of his or her company’s prime objective. This includes a clear sense of what the company stands for and where it is going.
Scott Blanchard referred to this book and the importance of making sure everyone in your organization understands its prime objective as I interviewed him for an article that will be appearing in a leading business publication later this summer. Scott is an Executive Vice President with The Ken Blanchard Companies and the co-founder of Blanchard Certified, a cloud-based leadership development program.
During the interview I asked Scott about accountability and a leaders role in it. It’s an issue that comes up often, especially for new leaders. They find it difficult to hold people accountable for results and to call them on it.
Blanchard caught me by surprise when he suggested that accountability is often a by-product of an alignment issue. In his experience, accountability issues usually stem from an employee not truly understanding the role that they play in helping the organization achieve its prime objective. He explained that the best leaders are the ones that make an organization’s prime objective crystal clear and then make sure that everyone knows how their individual roles tie-in.
One of the tools that Blanchard likes to use is an impact map that creates a very powerful line-of-sight where people can understand the results they are being held accountable for, the behaviors that achieve those results, and how those results contribute to the success of the organization.
In Blanchard’s experience, accountability rears its head when people don’t have line-of-sight alignment and aren’t bought into the bigger picture.
As Blanchard explains, “We’ve been exploring extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation and what we’ve found is that holding people accountable pales in comparison to creating conditions in an organization where people are intrinsically motivated. You cannot crack the whip enough, or hold someone accountable enough, to achieve the kind of results you can if people understand the vision, care about it desperately, and see themselves as a part of it.
“Create that kind of alignment and you won’t have to worry about accountability. Instead, employees will start holding you accountable as a leader to clear the way and help them get things done.”
Accountability issues? Check alignment first
Cries for accountability are usually a clear indicator that things are out of alignment within an organization. Is accountability an issue in your organization? If so, double-check for alignment first.
When people understand where their organization is going—including the role they play in it—they step up, work less selfishly and they tend to make better business decisions on behalf of the company. That’s because they can see the impact of every decision and how it impacts overall results.
Alignment helps people attain a sense of accomplishment. That’s a foundational concept and a key aspect of a satisfying job and a satisfying life.
What’s your approach to accountability? In the organizations Blanchard works with that are outperforming competitors, they are not talking about accountability. In these organizations accountability comes naturally from inside each of their employee’s hearts and heads. You can do the same. Get the alignment right and you’ll get the accountability right. Start today! It’s good for the company and good for the individual.
If you pile enough on, anyone can be made to look foolish and incompetent. That’s the sad state of affairs many of us find ourselves in from time to time. Work piles up, deadlines are missed, quality suffers and then there are the consequences to deal with. What’s your reaction when faced with a situation like this? If you’re like me, the tendency is to hold on to all of the tasks, accomplish what I can on a daily basis and hope that no one asks about the others. Not a very good strategy for success.
There has to be a better way—right?
There is, and I’ll walk you through it. Grab your to-do list and we’ll walk through this together.
Prioritize your list.
Take out your to-do list and scan through it. If you don’t have a list and are just keeping it in your head, take some time to write it down. There’s only one thing worse than a long to-do list. That is a vague, anxiety producing bunch of ideas you’re trying to keep straight in your head. Get them out of your head and down on paper. I’ll wait for you.
Okay—let’s take a look at that list now. My list has 15 items on it. How many does yours have? Our first step is to prioritize the list by importance. Give each of your tasks a letter grade of A, B, or C depending on how important it is. We’ll try to get to everything on the list eventually, but let’s make sure that we focus on the important ones first.
I’m finished—are you? In my own case, prioritizing my list gave me 8 A’s, 2 B’s, and 5 C’s. I’m feeling a little better already—the eight A’s seem manageable and the five C’s really aren’t that important. How did your list shake-out?
Identify where you are at.
Now, take a second look at the A’s. Where would you say you are with each of these tasks? At Blanchard we use a model where you identify yourself at one of four development levels with a task depending on your commitment to getting it done and your ability to get it done.
- Enthusiastic Beginner—you’re excited about the task but don’t really understand how to get started.
- Disillusioned Learner—you understand the task and have some skills, but aren’t very excited about it at all.
- Capable, but Cautious Performer—you’ve got the skills to do this, but your commitment and confidence wavers sometimes.
- Self Reliant Achiever—you’ve done this task successfully in the past and you’re confident you can do it successfully again.
What’s your commitment and competence for each of the “A” tasks on your list? Are you just dragging your feet on a task because you’re not motivated, or do you really not know where to begin? Are there obstacles in the way that are outside of your control? Identifying where you are at with each task will help you with the final step.
Ask for help.
In some cases, you probably have everything you need to knock off a task. These are the tasks where you know what to do and you’re confident and committed to getting it done. The first step of Prioritizing probably helped surface these tasks on your list. You have everything you need so get those tasks done this week.
Some of the other tasks might have a trouble spot. Either you don’t know what to do, have some issues with it, or have encountered some obstacles that are keeping you from making progress. Talk to your manager about these. Discuss where you are at with these key tasks and enlist their help.
If it’s been a while since you talked, keep the conversation focused on where you are at with each of the goals and what you need in order to achieve them. Ask your manager to help you get what you need to succeed. Be specific and ask for either some direction on accomplishing the task if you don’t have the knowledge you need, some support if you are encountering obstacles, or some encouragement if you are not sure how this task matches up with departmental goals.
Tackle that to-do list. But don’t feel that you have to go it alone. Work is a group activity. No man is supposed to be an island. Prioritize your work, identify where you are at, and then ask for help when you need it. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to succeed. Get started today!