Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Who Should Confront Coworker Problems?

ducks-fighting1When an employee is rude and unpleasant to a coworker, who should confront  it–the coworker or the manager?

The answer to that question can be found through a few other questions:

1. Does the coworker lack the authority to require different behavior? If he or she can’t require courtesy, it may ultimately be up to the manager to require it.

2. Has this employee acted discourteously often before? If so, having a coworker confront the behavior probably won’t make a difference.

3. Is there a chance the rude employee might do similar things to other coworkers at another time? If so, the manager certainly should want to stop it.

4. Might the behavior affect the willingness of others to want to work with that employee or ask for assistance in the future? The workplace is the supervisor or manager’s responsibility.

5. If the employee used a similar tone or acted in a similar way with clients, would that be a problem? If it would be, the manager or supervisor should be very concerned about that potential.

If the answer to any of those is “Yes”, the manager should investigate. If the behavior was inappropriate the employee should be told so, why it was inappropriate, and what should have happened instead.  Then, the manager should ask for a commitment from the employee to act differently in the future.  There probably is a need for longer-term observation and development about effective behavior.

You or someone you know? You may know supervisors who push coworker disputes back onto the complaining employee. They probably justify their actions by saying that employees need to learn to deal with their own conflicts. 

The problem with that approach is, some employees do not have the confidence or skill to deal with personal conflicts effectively. So, while one employee may stand up and stop the rude behavior, others are distracted and upset and avoid working around the rude person.  Even employees who are willing to confront the behavior may do so by responding in a similar manner, which makes things miserable for everyone–and doesn’t keep the behavior from happening again.

Think about this as well: If an employee can’t be trusted to be consistently courteous and helpful to team members, how can they be trusted to be courteous and helpful to those outside your team?

Fulfill your role as a supervisor, manager and leader:  If you become aware of rude, discourteous, unpleasant, insensitive, or inappropriate behavior in your workplace, use it as a chance to develop people and the team. Talk to the employee who acted unpleasantly and find out what was behind the behavior. Make sure the employee knows it can’t happen again and knows what he or she should do instead. Then, bring the team back together by keeping them focused on work and by commending the good work that is being done.

You will find much less bickering and upset when everyone knows you expect people to behave courteously, professionally and in a way that encourages cooperation and effectiveness–and that you will deal with it immediately if you become aware of a problem.

A bonus question to add to the five above:

6. Who is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness and well-being of the workplace–employees or the manager? You know the answer to that one!

October 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 4 comments

One More Time: Avoid Embarrassing People In CCed Emails

Think Before You CC

This may seem to be my One Tune Topic for the last few months, but it seems that it cannot be emphasized enough. Consider these snippets from emails, all which were copied to several people (some not even part of the organizations involved.)

•”If you don’t have the skill to do it, at least send it to someone who knows how to do their job and stop wasting my time.”

•”Your email makes no sense at all. Rewrite please.”

•”I have tried to resolve this situation amicably only to face your nastiness time after time.”

•”I reviewed the work of you and your committee and frankly am amazed that you would consider this to be the quality I expected, especially from someone who is supposedly trained to do this kind of thing. If this is an example of your work, we need to be talking about getting you some additional training. There is no way I could list the problems in one email, so apparently I will have to take the time to meet and work on this with you. I’m available Friday afternoon but after that will be gone for two weeks, so let me know if you can meet then.”

•”Re: Your request to attend the conference. No.”

I’ve changed some details in those emails to protect the organization and those who sent the examples to me, but they are all essentially real. How would you like to be CCed on those? How would you like to be the recipients? How does it present the sender? Will any of them improve things?

What If Nothing Else Is Working?

In one of the examples above I was blind copied but several others were obviously copied. I immediately called the sender to register my dismay. She said, “Well, nothing else has worked and I figured if I embarrassed her maybe she would finally do something.”

Do you think that will happen? Even if it does, will the damage ever go away completely?

If the performance or behavior of an employee you supervise concerns you, talk to the employee directly by phone or in a personal email. No employee I’ve ever met develops a more positive approach to work as the result of being chided in a message that is copied to others. If the thing that concerns you is something that others need to be reminded of as well, handle it with a training approach for all, after you have dealt with the other employee personally.

If a coworker is the source of frustration or anger, talk to your manager or supervisor and be factual about what is concerning you. If you CC your manager in an unpleasant email you may find that both the employee and the manager resent your method of informing. That doesn’t mean you should ignore problems, it just means you should be direct not sneaky.

If you have something unpleasant or discomfiting to say to anyone, say it to them alone. Don’t wait until you are in an email “room” and bring it up. Have you noticed how brave or tough people can be when they are showing off for others!

“Look what a tough leader I am?” “Look how direct I am.” “See how I tell people where I stand?” “Notice that I don’t take anything from anyone?” “See how saintly I am compared to that other person?”  Those are the underlying messages conveyed by unneeded CCs. 

If you receive an awkward, embarrassing or inappropriate copied email, let the recipient know you would prefer to not be included on such things. If those who CC were told it was unnecessary or uncomfortable they would be far less likely to preen over their rough and ready approach. If you are a manager, stop such copying when you see it happening. If you are a subordinate, consider doing what one employee told me about: He wrote back directly to the manager and said, “I don’t think I was supposed to be included in that correspondence, but I want you to know that I have deleted it and won’t say anything about it.”

Whatever you do, don’t even inadvertently encourage the kind of rudeness that is the hallmark of unnecessary CCs or BCs.

The bottom line: There is a time for putting your concerns or frustrations in writing. Not all unpleasant mail is inappropriate. However, when you intend to correct someone or negatively critique their performance or behavior, think, think and think again before copying others. There may be rare times when it is needed, but most often, it is not. You and your reputation and effectiveness will be diminished in proportion to how many people you CC unnecessarily.

August 1st, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Asking For Employee Input And Actually Using It

A supervisor shared his experience: “I would like to ask employees their thoughts about problems or just about work issues, but it comes back to haunt me every time! Sometimes their ideas are so lacking in reality that I can’t help but get irritated. Worse is when I get five ideas from five different people and all of them complain because I didn’t take their advice!”

It sounds as though that supervisor could use some new methods for how he asks for input from employees and how he uses it.

Asking for input the right way.

  • Pick the right time. Don’t expect the most effective input when someone is just walking in the door or getting ready to leave or if they are very busy. Consider scheduling the time.
  • Ask for thoughts or ideas, not for advice. Advice comes with an expectation that you will take it or reject it. Thoughts or ideas are simply expressions of opinions to add to someone else’s thought processes.
  • Ask for thoughts not rants. Sometimes a general “what do you think” is OK, but try to focus the remarks of the employee toward the information you are seeking. Don’t reward people who are known for arguing or getting angry, by implying you like that behavior. Not, “Greg, if anyone can find the flaw in this you surely can.” Or, “Lisa, let me know what you hate about this idea.”
  • Give people time to think about it. Most of us can quickly produce a half-baked idea. However, have you noticed that your best thoughts come after a conversation? Give people a chance to cogitate about the subject in which you want their input–even if only for a few minutes. Email or call ahead. Or, do as Captain Rudy Phannenstiel used to do with me: “I’ve got to make a phone call but I’ll be done in about fifteen minutes. Be thinking about this and I’ll get back to you.” He always did and I had ideas ready! (Surprise, huh?)
  • Let them know how you’ll use their thoughts. Make it clear that you’re getting several ideas and want theirs as well. Or, perhaps you just want to hear someones philosophy about a topic–say that too. Don’t promise that all ideas will be used or that you’ll make a choice based on suggestions. Just listen.

Responding to input and using it.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say you’re better off not asking for input at all than asking for it but not acknowledging it–but that’s near to the truth most of the time. Your response to input and how you use it are key issues that can make getting input a positive or negative experience.

  • Whether you agree or disagree, acknowledge that you listened and heard. A few simple statements can let people know that you have listened and heard. “That’s good for me to know.” “That’s a viewpoint I need to hear.” “This gives me something to consider.” “Interesting way to look at it. Thanks.” “Hmm. I’ll add that to the opinions I’ve gotten from other people. Thanks.”
  • Emphasize positive aspects of the conversation. “I was wondering what you thought about it, so thanks for letting me know.” “I’ve asked several people and I wanted to be sure to ask you.” “I think of all of you as the best resources I can have.” “I’m lucky to have someone with your background here.”
  • Make notes so you can remember. A month from now or next year, it will be good to have a few reminders about ideas you’ve received or the opinions of employees or others. Take the time to send yourself an email or make a file folder, if you asked for thoughts about something significant.
  • Follow up, even if very casually. If you frequently ask for input you don’t need to send a thank you note each time you listen to an employee. However, you can certainly make the effort to say a quick thanks. “Thanks again for your thoughts today.” If someones ideas were a large part of your deliberation or if you used their ideas or suggestions, put it in writing.
  • When possible, reflect employee input on performance evaluations. Use your notes to remind you and them that you value their contributions. A few sentences is enough, unless the input was extremely valuable. “In this reporting period Cheryl was a helpful resource about several key issues. Among them….”

The bottom line: Look for chances to ask people with whom you work for their thoughts, opinions, experiences, concerns, observations, ideas–and now and then, perhaps, advice. Make it a positive process for you and for them. It’s a great way to strengthen relationships, learn more about others and gain insights you need for effectiveness.

July 26th, 2011 Posted by | Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Correcting Work Problems With Precision

Two Big Questions About
Performance or Behavior Problems At Work

When a supervisor or manager becomes aware of an error in performance or behavior the first two questions to consider are these:

1. What was done wrong? 

2. Who did it the wrong way?

Before you cringe at those tough questions, consider how crucial they are for ensuring precision about correcting problem performance and behavior at work. Without that initial analysis of a problem supervisors can make mistakes that create huge levels of resentment and frustration–and work problems can continue for years. (As they often do!)

What Was Done Wrong?

A precise statement about the behavior or performance error will help keep the focus on the primary concern. Secondary issues may be disclosed and may be part of solving larger problems. However, the problem that started it all should be corrected immediately with direction or assistance from the supervisor or manager. Or, the employee should make a clear committment about his or her plans to ensure the error never happens again.

Who Did It The Wrong Way?

Supervisors should discover precisely who didn’t turn in their widget budget, what shift most often loses widget folders, what is the average experience of those who have failed to tighten the widget bolt, who was late to the widget meeting and who hung up on the person calling about widgets. That information will ensure precision about how to focus retraining or corrective actions and how to prevent future problems. 

Being precise about responsiblity will also prevent scattergun correction in which all employees are retrained or lectured for what only one person did incorrectly. If a supervisor or manager is concerned that one error is just the tip of an iceberg, it would be appropriate to discuss a process or program with everyone. But those discussions should not imply that everyone has done something wrong–especially when they know precisely who did!  

The bottom line: There are many other questions to ask and answer on the way to correcting performance or behavior problems at work. But, thinking back over your career, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for your managers and supervisors to have been more precise about what was done wrong and who did it–and what they were going to do about it?

July 19th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 3 comments

Employee Input Has Value–But Should Be Evaluated Carefully

The most effective managers and supervisors actively seek employee ideas and opinions on a regular basis, not just when big decisions are being made. Those who are regularly doing a task may have excellent ideas for how the task can be done more efficiently or effectively. Nevertheless, it is important for managers and supervisors as well as employees to remember that ideas and opinions should be used as part of decision-making–not used in place of well thought-out decisions by managers and supervisors. 

New supervisors and managers: The idea of carefully evaluating employee input is especially crucial for new supervisors and managers. They may be anxious to build rapport with their new staff or team but do not yet have a grasp of the big picture. As a new manager don’t act too quickly in your effort to gain acceptance. Wait until you understand the totality of work and the ramifications of the ideas you are hearing.   

Ideas for one person or group may have a negative effect on others. A new form, method or process that will work very well for John or Janet may create tremendous burdens for everyone else. In addition to listening to employees, managers should communicate with other managers before making decisions that have a larger impact. Then, explain the issues as a way to help the employee learn to see the bigger picture, even if he or she still has a preference.

•Employees do not usually have the level of knowledge about larger issues that managers have–or should have.  When the Denver Police Department was planning for World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II, two officers with a lot of tenure thought it was very funny that I was looking at information on Porta-Potties. In response I asked them how many portable toilets they thought we would need for 500,000 people, how many were in the state of Colorado and what it would take to get enough here in time. After they looked at the information and realized what a challenge it would be, one of them said, “That’s the trouble with our mayor, he says yes to everything. He should have said we didn’t want World Youth Day here because it’s so much work for the city.”

•Employees ideas may be purposely or inadvertently self-serving.  Most employee suggestions don’t mention a downside or potential problem. If you’re the manager or supervisor you need to be thinking of those. When employees have suggestions about issues with which you’re not completely familiar, ask them to provide you with the things that could go wrong and how those could be avoided. Then, get other input before deciding.

A manager of a large group commented that almost all the improvement suggestions he received involved what employees thought they could stop doing for customers, what safety procedures they could eliminate or what rule was no longer needed. He said after five years he had only received two or three ideas for how employees could provide better service or be more efficient in their use of resources. His example may not be typical–but it isn’t unusual either. I think that phenomena is called human nature.

•If there are bad results, it is most likely the implementing manager or supervisor who will be held responsible, not the employees who made the suggestion.  It’s inevitable that some decisions will not work out well. Usually those are fixable and work moves on. However, managers and supervisors should have better reasons for their decisions than, “Bill and Gloria said it was the best way to do it.” Ideas should be welcomed and carefully reviewed, not welcomed and implemented without review. 

Some of the most serious or tragic errors I have heard about–or made myself–were the result of decisions based primarily on the clamoring input of staff or group members. Often they are so close to the work they see no other options–and there are nearly always options. That is why, whether we’re talking about work, government, the military, a surgical team, a family or anything else, checks and balances and unbiased input are needed.

A good rule: If you think to yourself: I’m approving this against my better judgment, use your better judgment and don’t approve it, at least not right then.

When you’re the employee with a suggestion or opinion: Make it your goal to gain the knowledge, skills and insights needed to give valuable input. Do self-evaluation of your ideas to ensure they reflect the needs of the organization and its customers and clients. Also remember that the person to whom you’re making the suggestion may respect you, like you and want to encourage you–but still have reasons for not adopting or supporting your ideas. That’s not a slight to you, just a reality of work.

The bottom line: It is a laudable concept to seek the input and ideas of employees. However,  the responsibility of managers and supervisors is to listen, evaluate and make final decisions, based on many criteria and considerations.

In the picture above, Patton was listening to a soldier–a trait for which he was well known. He was sincerely interested in the thoughts of soldiers in the field. However, you can bet he didn’t suggest a military strategy to General Eisenhower by saying, “Private Smith said the guys all want to attack from this direction because it will save time. I would hate for them to think we don’t value their input, so let’s do it their way.”

May 23rd, 2011 Posted by | Assessment Centers and Interviews, Law Enforcement Related, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Is Your Boss Not Interested In What You Have To Say?

Do you feel ignored when you talk to your supervisor or manager?

It’s frustrating to try to share an idea or opinion with a manager and feel that he or she is only half listening or not really listening at all. Here are some reasons supervisors and managers may seem unapproachable, disinterested or unimpressed.

1. Your manager is unapproachable, disinterested or unimpressed. (I thought I might as well get that one out of the way, first thing.) The truth is that some managers are self-absorbed, excessively focused on their own work, or don’t want to give anyone the impression they could learn something from someone else.  You may never get the attention of that person. However, I’ve known several people like that who listened and remembered–and were even gratifyingly complimentary, months later. Don’t give up. At the very least, it keeps you in practice for discussing your thoughts with others who are more receptive.

2. You take too long to get to the point. Some employees make every conversation a long, dramatic story with too many unnecessary details. Just as business letters, reports and emails benefit from a summary first paragraph, so do business conversations. When time is limited and you have a lot to say, see if you can boil it down to the essentials to present first. Then, if you sense your audience is zoning out, you at least have presented the essence of your thoughts. Follow up with an email or a document attachment, with the full information.

3. Your timing is off.  An effective supervisor or manager shouldn’t have a “good time” or “bad time” for employees to talk to him or her. But, if that’s the way it is with your boss, that’s the way it is. Most people don’t like to be hit with big news the moment they arrive or as they’re walking out the door. Consider setting up a time that works best and remembering that time for the future.

4. You often have a hidden agenda. Few people can resist the urge to push a personal agenda when they get face time with the manager. Most managers resent being manipulated in that way or they find it irritating. Avoid using the time to take a shot at a rival, report petty wrongdoing or self-congratulate excessively.

5. You’ve said it all before.  If you have a favorite topic you may find that it’s the only thing you talk to your manager about. That may especially be true if you’re trying to get managerial permission to expand your work, buy new items or start a new program. Unless you have brand new information, you probably won’t be well-received if you harp on it time after time.

6. You don’t have credibility. Ouch! That hurts! But it may be true.  A number of things may contribute to the situation: The quantity and quality of your work, your reputation, what you have said about your manager or others, your history with the manager or even your appearance if it is unkempt or inappropriate. Credibility takes time and effort to develop, but it is required if you want people to listen when you talk.

7.  They’re listening, they just don’t show it. I often advise supervisors and managers to turn away from their computers, stop looking at their phones and give employees full eye contact and attention. Nearly always someone will assure me that he or she “multi-tasks” and is able to listen and process mentally while doing other things. Even if that is true, it looks rude. However, it may be good news for you, if you think your supervisor isn’t paying attention while he or she is doing something else.

The bottom line: There is no effective way to tell a boss that he or she should pay closer attention to what you’re saying. Your best approach is to consider the circumstances and see if you can change those in some way. Make use of written material–still using the idea of brief and concise. The important thing is to keep the communication channels open, even when you don’t think you should have to make the effort. If you intend to be in your job for awhile, it’s important to be a full participant. That means being able to talk to people at all levels comfortably, appropriately, using good judgment about timing, topic and personal presentation.

May 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Playing Favorites as a Manager

Who Are The Favorites At Your Work? 

President Lyndon Johnson’s comment applies to the way some managers treat employees:

“There are no favorites in my office. I treat everyone with the same general inconsideration.”

Most other managers have to work at not seeming to favor one or two employees over others. Sometimes there are no favored employees but there are employees who are definitely out of favor and that is even more of a challenge.

What makes favorites?

  • Some people are just more pleasant to be around than others. These employees are often favorites with employees at all levels.
  • When the employee and the manager have things in common outside of work, there is a tendency to gravitate to that employee for conversation.
  • If a supervisor or manager has had a long and positive history with one or two employees there tends to be a connection and loyalty.
  • Some employees have proven themselves to be more dependable, trustworthy and skillful than others, so it’s logical for the manager to seek their thoughts first.
  • Some employees have ingratiated themselves to managers by being a source of information about employees or by saying what the manager wants to hear. Sometimes there are inappropriate personal relationships.

Even if every employee is equally competent and pleasant and there are no nefarious circumstances, a supervisor or manager will probably have an affinity for one or two employees over others because of shared work experiences, similar communication styles or for some other reason. (The same thing applies to coworkers.)

How is it shown? Usually it’s very obvious who the favorites are at work. Sometimes its not a cause for conflict, but carried to extreme it nearly always is. That’s why supervisors and managers need to avoid the actions that send that message:

  • Frequent lunches or breaks with the favored employee and rarely with anyone else.
  • More conversations, laughing and personal talk.
  • Spending time together away from work.
  • The favored person is often seen in the boss’s office, apparently only chatting or talking about non-work issues. 
  • The favored person seems to have more influence and is given rewards in assignments, working conditions or other perks.
  • When the favorite makes a mistake the manager accepts excuses more easily than he or she would from others.

What is the result? The more someone is treated as a favorite and someone else is not, the more likely it is that the individuals involved will do things to reinforce the manger’s feelings. There are other negative results as well:

  • It becomes a source of gossip and speculation, which detracts from the focus on work.
  • Sometime the favored person is rejected by coworkers.
  • Sometimes the unfavored person is pushed out even more by coworkers because they sense the weakened situation.
  • The favored employee often is able to get by with things that others would not.
  • If an employee feels rejected or pushed out by the manager, it can cause anger, frustration or depression. It can create stress and lead to many emotional, health and work problems. Any existing problems will probably get worse.
  • It weakens the reputation and leadership of the manager or supervisor to be seen as playing favorites.

How can a manager or supervisor avoid the appearance of favoritism?

  • Be purposeful about communications at work.  Ensure that you have a mix of conversations with everyone. Don’t make it all fun with one employee and all unpleasant work topics with another.
  • Rotate through all employees for going to coffee or lunch or taking them along to meetings. Go with two employees at a time if you can’t bring yourself to spend half an hour alone with Greg the Griper.
  • Watch the non-verbal communication. If you smile at Laura every time you see her, but keep walking when you see Karen, it will be noticed. If you defer to Bob in meetings but usually read your notes when Bill is talking, that will be noticed too.
  • Ask for another opinion when making decisions that you know might appear to be for a favored employee or long-time friend or against a non-favored person. Seeking another opinion is a documentable action that can be very helpful if there are questions about your decision.

The bottom line: Every workplace is different, so what indicates favoritism in one may not be the same as in another. How to avoid it and fix it may vary as well. The point is to not let your bias toward or against any employee or group of employees be obvious.

You may not feel the same way about all employees; you may have very good reasons for having more positive feelings about one than another; you may not be able to conceal your personal preferences completely. But, it’s wrong and harmful to the workplace to give the impression that you have your own personal caste sytem.

March 25th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 5 comments

Secretary–Administrative Assistant–Administrative Professional–Whatever, Show Appreciation.

No, it’s not Administrative Professionals Day (that is on April 27th in 2011). But, the work of an “admin” goes on…and on…and on, every day.  I’m not suggesting you run out today and buy flowers, a plant, or take the AA in your office to lunch–although those are good ideas. Instead, I’m suggesting that everyone who works in a workplace with AAs, secretaries, clerks or other administrative functions, should be aware of the quantity of work being done, sensitive to the hassles, frustrations and irritations that are often part of that work, and should take overt action to include administrative specialists as a respected part of the team.

Times have certainly changed since this supposedly genuine advertisement, which appears to be from the early 1960s. (I don’t usually trust these unless I have taken them from the magazine myself, but this one seems to be real.  If you have information about it, let me know. I can verify that it reflects some of the thinking of the era.) For many employees (usually females) the general philosophy still continues, along with a  much lower salary than for those who rely on them for a wide range of work. Those AAs don’t need patronizing sympathy or to be told they’re Wonder Woman. Nor do they need new titles (Managing Associate of Administrative Technology). What would mean more to them is a salary that reflects the importance of their roles and respectful treatment by coworkers at all levels.

It Works Both Ways

It is also true that there are some administrative assistants who seem to have taken on the authority of their bosses and reflect it poorly. So, if they work for someone who has the organizational clout to give orders, they do as well, only in disruptive or unhelpful ways. Most of us know someone in an AA role who is avoided and tip-toed around even though she’s unpleasant, because she works for someone high up. That’s as wrong as going to the other extreme and should be handled as we would any habitually discourteous behavior. (Just be sure you’re equally quick to halt the behavior of those who are discourteous to the AA.)

Administrative Staff Are Part Of The Team

*Show some sensitivity and empathy about how and when you ask for assistance or assign work. The fact that you’ve procrastinated isn’t a reason for the AA to stay late or miss a break or lunch.

*It’s irritating and offensive to repeatedly toss something on someones desk as you breeze out the door for an early and long lunch time or when you’re going home early but they have to stay to keep the office open. Think about timing and tone of voice as well as your overall demeanor when you require assistance.  

*Don’t let anyone be rude to coworkers who don’t have the same organizational standing as they do. Most AAs tend to feel they can’t speak up or push back, no matter how rude someone is to them. Those that do can be labeled as difficult to deal with. (See It Works Both Ways, above.) Don’t just sympathize about it, say something if you have the status to do so or at least encourage the AA to talk to her own manager about it–or talk to him or her yourself.  

*Be respectful about what is expected of AAs in your office, especially when other employees could just as well be doing the work. For example, not all administrative staff members want to put up holiday decorations. That’s almost certainly not part of a job description and not the best use of time.  In some offices AAs are expected to get all of their work done while still preparing birthday parties, promotion ceremonies and similar functions, without any significant assistance. You be the one who assists or gets others to help you. Better yet, do it all without the AA for a change and let her enjoy the function.

*Avoid the 1960-and-before-approach that the AA’s job is to make the life of others easy, especially about manual labor, domestic type activities or unpleasant chores.  For example, a middle-manager purposely took time off while his office was being re-carpeted and repainted and left the AA a long list of instructions for taking everything down and moving it out, then having it all put back exactly right when he returned. Because of the painter’s schedules the AA had to get child care and come in on the weekend to make it perfect before the manager walked in the door on Monday morning.  I realize that task could be considered part of her work, but doggone it, that’s just not right!  

*When the administrative employee is likely to have insight about various aspect of work, include her or him in your conversations about it. At least ask and listen. Often administrative people have a much bigger picture than others, because they see it from a variety of perspectives.

The bottom line is to think about your administrative team as an integral part of the larger team. Think of individuals as strong contributors in many ways that can benefit effectiveness. Don’t diminish that by reducing their status, even inadvertently and even now and then.

Nice idea, but horrible poetry!

March 19th, 2011 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 11 comments

Socks And People That Make You Miserable

You can’t knit people to fit your wants, needs and plans for them–but you don’t have to accept socks that don’t fit well or that make you miserable, either.

This could be about accepting people, identifying the challenges of similarities and differences between us and them or just about the fact that we’re all a mixed bag. We aren’t what we want to be most of the time and we wouldn’t know how to make the perfect person for us–at work, as a supervisor or manager, in personal relationships or business contacts–even if we had the raw components and were given Cosmic power to do it. We think we do, but we probably don’t.

Given that fact, we have to accept the other facts: No one is the right kind of person for us all the time. No one says, does and responds the best way all the time. Even the best people can disappoint you and even the worst people can positively surprise you. The key to surviving and thriving is to know when to accept, when to shrug off, when to forgive, when to adamantly complain, when to re-train, when to warn of consequences, when to sanction formally and when to exit them or exit yourself.

One thing is for sure: Although we can insist upon some changes and make them happen if we have enough authority or influence (come to work on time, don’t gossip about coworkers, get your work done in a one day turn-around, don’t use that language, don’t treat me in that way again, flush, etc.), only the individual can change his or her mind and basic character and approach to life–and often that is not very successful.

If you want to know how difficult it will be for you to change someone, try changing yourself. If you want to know how difficult it will be for the other guy to change himself or learn new habits, try changing yourself or learning new habits. Translate your fifteen pound weight gain over a lifetime–the one you can’t seem to get rid of now because you eat too much and don’t exercise enough–into some of the habits and behaviors of the employee who doesn’t get work done on time or does poor quality work, creates conflicts in the office or gets repeated complaints from customers. Do you think he or she will change unless the penalities are so great there is no choice?

Decide

Decision times are tough. But once you’ve made the decision, keeping at it is all it takes. In my classes about working with challenging employees I often have each participant talk to their desk partners about the most challenging employee with which they are dealing. They are supposed to end that conversation by saying, “Here is what I am doing about it when I get back to work.” Invariably some participants laugh through that part as though they know it’s impossible and it’s a joke to even consider it.  It becomes obvious that one or two want tips and techniques that don’t require them to do anything overt about the employee’s behavior or performance. Sadly, they will require everyone else to put up with a problem employee in order to avoid the discomfort of doing something about it. So, who is the biggest challenge in that situation?

The bottom line: Ask for changes when you can. Insist upon them when it is possible. If you are a coworker, document your complaints,  go to the right person about them and ask for an investigation with the goal of change;  if you are a supervisor provide assistance, encourage and support, correct and encourage again. But, if those things aren’t at least starting to work after a reasonable amount of time for the situation (sometimes that’s a brief amount of time, sometimes a longer amount) you will need to do something that might make the other person uncomfortable, resentful or very angry. You may have to unravel his life and work, to use the sock analogy, to get the change that is required.  That is when it’s time for the Davy Crockett advice: Be sure you’re right, then go ahead. 

March 6th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 9 comments

Is There An Acceptable Excuse For Bad Work?

Unacceptable  Excuses

* “I know I said I’d remove your ruptured appendix today. But, with the holidays and taking some time off and things like that, I’ve been really, really busy. So, it looks like you’re going to need to give me a couple of weeks extension on that job. OK?” 

* “Herman felt really bad about not fixing your brakes, what with you having the accident and getting the broken neck and pelvis and all of that. Just between you and me, I think he’s having some problems at home right now, so you know how that goes.”

* “Yeah, I know you were overcharged $32.75 on your groceries. But, I think you’re overlooking all the times you’ve been charged the right amount.”

* “I know, I know, Mildred shouldn’t have gotten so busy that she forgot to issue your paycheck again this week. But, she said you really frowned at her when you asked her about it. So, it sounds like no one is blameless in this situation.”

Don’t you get tired of hearing excuses for
late work, bad work and no work? 

You don’t want to hear excuses when it comes to being a customer, client or patient.You sure don’t want to be blamed for problems! What you want is the work you paid for, done in a respectful way. That is what everyone wants, whether they are an internal or external customer. Some ways to ensure it:

*Don’t even consider the option of not doing work well and on time. If you are a manager, never let employees think it will be OK to do substandard work or to miss deadlines. If training is needed, work loads adjusted, time managed better or resources provided, that’s something you should work with employees about. But, the final work product should be done correctly by someone.

*Don’t let there be problems with your work. If you see problems developing, do something to fix them well before the deadline. Learn the knowledge and skills needed to do your job right, on time and in a way that builds good relationships with others.

*If you are responsible for the work of others, have an attitude of expectation that work will be done right.You can do that in a pleasant, professional and friendly way. Isn’t that what we think of leaders doing?

*Question a bit, to find out exactly what prevented work from being done correctly and on time. Don’t accept vague, non-specific excuses without finding out the facts. Then, work with the employee to develop the solution for next time and ensure it is implemented.

*Investigate when you are told that some other person or group caused the delay or the mistakes. Find out for sure what happened. If there were problems caused by others, do something to keep your employees from having to deal with that again–or help them learn to work through it.  However, don’t let them develop the habit of blaming, to get off the hook themselves.

*Don’t lower standards of performance and behavior. Do not, in the name of being understanding, allow poor work or late work to be acceptable, just so long as the employee has a reason or an excuse.  That’s not being unreasonably harsh. It’s what you’d want at the factory that made your car, the pharmacy where you get your prescription, the person who provides care for your children or the restaurant that prepares your food.

Make excellent work and effective communications the norm–not a surprise. Make excuses an unacceptable alternative for yourself and others.

“Oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.”
Shakespeare, in King John.

January 19th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 11 comments

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