Are You There Success? It’s Me 2014!

How The Rut Was Dug…
2006: the year Twitter was launched, the year Western Union killed the telegram, the year NASA launched the first mission to Pluto (back then it was still a planet), and of course, the economy started to slow down. Then in December of 2007 the recession hit us full blown. Eight years ago, we saw the writing on the wall. We put our corporate growth initiatives into hibernation. We changed our focus from innovation to efficiency, from bolstering profits to protecting capital, and from proactive leadership to conservative management. We hunkered down, saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and coasted our way there.

So, now what? It’s 2014. Our economy is on the upswing, innovation in technology hasn’t slowed since 2006 and consumer confidence is 70% higher than it was at the start of this decade. We should be jumping up and down shouting “carpe diem.” Instead, we are trying to find the best shovel to get us out of our rut. Is it the technology shovel that will upgrade our tools and position our infrastructure for growth; is it the talent shovel that will bring us the brightest innovative minds? While the tools of change are important, it really starts in the collective minds of your leadership. So read on to get elevated.

Why Don’t Organizations Change?
Simply put: change is hard. It’s a long and often dirty process, and even the most informed change
initiatives are subject to the same variables that undermine less well-thought plans: people, technology, processes, money and the overarching culture of our organizations. It’s easy to see these variables as road blocks and avoid change as a result. The best way to overcome these obstacles is to change the way we think of them.

Outdated technology and tools: Over the last decade the recession rut kept many organizations from updating their infrastructure. Getting bogged down in the need to update MCIF, HRIS, and intranet systems will keep you from embarking on large scale change initiatives. While these tools are necessary and help create better programs, updates should not stop you from exploring change and making incremental progress. What’s certain is that these problems can’t continue to be the quiet elephant in the room. Contract an expert to examine your current capabilities, determine the gap between what you have and what you need, then create a plan and budget to get updated.

Sunken cost investments: From time to time, we all buy a bridge. We make investments in programs that look like the airplane to the future, and instead we take a ride on the Titanic. Don’t wait for the last life raft. Just jump ship. So now that you get the metaphor, let’s shoot straight. You spent too much time and money on a failed program; you teeter between frustration and the hope it will just magically click. The truth is, the longer you continue trying to make it work, the more time and money you are wasting. Accepting you are in a rut is the first step to getting out.

Bureaucracy: All that focus on efficiencies has really strengthened your operations. You have a new arsenal of forms, protocols and procedures all coveted by their creators. Strengthening controls is an important measure especially when your organization is subject to regulation and auditing, but have you gone too far? If the reins are too tight, you may stifle innovation. Sure, you need processes, protocols and procedures… but you also need passion! It’s a good time to unwind some of the red tape. Get your administrators on the next hot phrase in pop management text: “adaptive controls.”

Progressive Thoughts from Professional Thinkers
So now that we’ve countered some of your arguments against change, we’ll turn to the experts to discuss how you should reinvigorate your organization. Dan Mroz, PhD and organizational guru, is certain when he tells us, “there is no set formula for innovation,” but he does offer some fantastic suggestions. Hint: it’s all about people. 1) Create a learning environment: Learning encourages collaboration, idea generation and professional development – innovate by drawing out the best in your people and putting them in the right roles. 2) Consider your attitude: If your culture needs to be re-energized, examine the projected attitudes of your leaders. Do you truly encourage an open, honest and collaborative environment? 3) Celebrate small wins: employee recognition is more than just perks and bonuses. Celebrate your employees when they contribute to organizational knowledge. Mroz advises celebrating small wins because it creates an “organic sense of progress.”

Amplify the Message:
Uplift your organization by supporting the developmental needs of your employees.

If brainstorming meetings with your team turn up more roadblocks than possibilities, MIT scholar Clark Gilbert may suggest you need more “Energizers” among you. “Energizers see realistic possibilities; de-energizers see roadblocks.” Energizing your staff by creating a compelling vision for change. Take their minds off of past or current problems by presenting an inspiring possibility for the future. Do be certain that the goals of each member of your change teams are realistic. If it is overwhelming or difficult to execute due to resource issues, the discussions of possibilities will quickly turn back to roadblocks.

Amplify the Message:
Lead change efforts with a strong vision that is both inspiring and realistic.

Ultimately, it’s about recognizing when it’s time to change and taking steps to snap yourself and your organization out of a rut. The Recovering Leader recommends concrete action when you have accepted you are in a rut. Among his advice is the need to “face it” by discussing your organization’s complacency with an advisor who will give it to you straight. He also advises you tackle the “bigger enduring issues” first. Remember the top reasons organizations don’t change? Those reasons are things that can be, well, changed. Rank them in order of importance and knock them out of the way.

Politics in the Workplace

Every company is going to have a different culture as it relates to our nation’s politics… some companies may even encourage discussion from corporate management down to employees, others will hear political discussions only from the union headquarters down to members, and some companies will try to avoid the topic in any “official” capacity at all costs. No matter what the culture is at your organization, opinions can run very hot and the topic can evoke a lot of emotion. The desire to sway political opinion with employees and coworkers can be very tempting. If you feel compelled to discuss your favorite political candidate or initiative, here is some advice: 1) limit discussions to non-work time; 2) always respect the privacy of others; 3) understand and appreciate the diversity of your workplace; and 4) learn how to politely “agree to disagree.”  It would be very easy to advise, “don’t ever discuss politics in the workplace,” but that isn’t the reality. The subject comes up at the very least in casual conversation.

So, what if someone wants to know how you are going to vote? What if someone continues to discuss political beliefs that make you uncomfortable? How do you handle the coworker or boss that continually tries to get you involved in political discussion?  First of all, remember that it is your right to cast a private and independent ballot. Although politics can foster conversations about our differences and that is often a good thing, you don’t have to share your opinion with anyone. You don’t have to share how you will vote. Handling these conversations in a polite way is best. Use some diplomacy and tact. Below are some effective phrases (especially if said with a smile) to handle those inquiries that you may find intrusive:

• I don’t like to discuss politics
• My mom doesn’t even know how I vote
• My parents taught me to avoid the subjects of politics and religion
• My big focus is on getting my work done/this project/this meeting topic
• Sorry, I need to get back to work… no time for politics
• I’d rather not discuss politics on company time (offer to discuss at lunch or after work if you want to)
• I’m burned out on politics after all the television advertisements last night

Lunch Date or Free Consultation?

A recent CNN/Money article caught my eye this morning as it posed the question “Should you charge for lunch dates?” In addition to making me crave P. F. Chang’s (as it is the site of many of my lunch dates), it also made me think about the increasing level of complexity to business luncheon etiquette. From choosing appropriate environments and crowd-pleasing menus to the awkward tug of war about who picks up the check, there are already plenty of opportunities to wow or alienate a business contact over lunch. So how would you react if you requested a lunch with someone and in turn received a bill – and not just for your spinach salad, but for his or her time?!

Ji Hyun Lee provides a number of examples of people who do just that. Maybe Warren Buffet charging for a power-lunch and donating the proceeds to charity sounds reasonable and perhaps independent consultants providing you their services should add that lunch hour to their periodic billing. But if you drop an old colleague a line and ask them if you can pick their brain about a new project would you be comfortable with paying for more than coffee? Or, if you are the old colleague, would you seek compensation for 45 minutes of solicited advice?

Like most questions of etiquette, every situation may warrant a different answer. It is certainly thought provoking and adds to the complexity of this ever socially driven world. The next time you are planning a lunch date you might want to ask your appointment about more than food preferences.

Are Workplace Complaints Driving You Crazy?

Do you feel like your workforce is spending too much time whining? Consider this quote from Colin Powell:

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

Certainly, there are some employees that spend too much time focusing on the negative.  And, chances are if you have some of those constant complainers in your organization, they might be driving you crazy. But, think about this; if you’re not hearing complaints, you are not in the loop. So we suggest taking a strategic approach.

You are in a management role because you know how to get things done. So when an employee brings a problem to you, your first inclination may be to solve it. But, hold on… when you solve the problem, it isn’t doing you or the employee any good. Your first response should be along the lines of “how do you think we can solve this problem?”  By asking this question you are setting the stage for an exchange of ideas that will help you, the employee, and your organization. You don’t need to take their advice, but once the whiners know that you are going to ask for a solution they may consider their complaints in a different light. Plus, you might be presented with a solution you wouldn’t have thought of.