How to Create a Scary Workplace

Vintage Metal Sign - Beware of Monsters - Vector EPS10.Over the years, I have met, worked with and worked for a lot of people. By far the majority of those people taught me, through their actions and words, what I can do to make work a better place.  These people:

  • Come to work each day with a fabulous, ‘let’s have a great day’ attitude
  • Look for potential in others and then make the time and provide the support required to nurture that potential
  • See the opportunity behind the challenge
  • Expect as much from themselves as they do from others
  • Take responsibility for failures or errors
  • Put team members in the limelight and acknowledge everyone’s role in success
  • Are accessible

Then there are the people who have instead taught me how to create a scary workplace, a workplace filled with hurt, mistrust, discontent and turmoil. Here are some surefire tactics these scary monsters used to create unhappiness, anxiety and even a little fear. They:

  • Come to work with a ‘let’s see who I can take down today’ attitude
  • Push and maneuver behind the scenes to ensure their favourite people succeeded at the expense of the entire team
  • Push and maneuver to get rid of people they perceive as unworthy or a potential threat
  • See challenges as an opportunity to bring someone down and raise themselves up
  • Don’t follow the same high standards they set for others
  • Blame others for failures or errors
  • Take all the credit for success
  • Hide behind closed doors, computer screens, voice mail or ‘too many meetings’
  • Expect results without sharing what the expectations are or providing adequate resources to be successful.
  • Keep changing the rules or the definition of success so success can’t be achieved
  • Discourage creativity or innovation with the phrase “that’s not the way I would do it” or better yet, discount the idea, then present it as their own

What has struck me about some of the people I’ve met who fall into the scary monster category is that many view themselves as action oriented, go-getters, not afraid to “say it like it is”, as someone strong prepared to make the hard choices. I’m not sure if they really are oblivious to the hurt, turmoil and discontent created by their words and actions, or if they are aware but simply don’t care.

Whether oblivious or uncaring, the damage caused by hurt, turmoil and discontent is real.

  • Hurt, turmoil and discontent don’t stay in the workplace. Unhappy, discontented employees share those feelings with friends, family and peers, potentially damaging the reputation of a company to potential high quality employees.
  • Employee turnover rises as people leave for a less stressful workplace
  • Employee morale and productivity continues to decline, leading to shoddier work and unhappy customers

Three Well-Meaning Feedback Phrases to Avoid

donthearyouEmployee feedback is important.  Just as important is how we provide that feedback. As managers, it is our role to build, support and encourage. Three well-meaning phrases I used to use and have eliminated are:

“If it was me, …”:  

“If it was me, I would have said …”.  “If it was me, I would have made …”.

The problem with “if it was me” is … it wasn’t you!  “If it was me” tends to be used in conversations when someone, somewhere did not act or speak in a manner approved by the speaker. “If it was me” doesn’t acknowledge:

  • Different view points, methodologies or perspectives
  • The other person’s experience or lack of experience
  • The possibility that perhaps it was you who failed by not providing adequate tools, training or resources
  • What the individual did right

“If it was me” slams the door on conversations that could provide valuable information and insight.  Instead of saying “if it was me”, try:

  • What worked well?
  • Is there something you could do differently that would result in a better outcome?
  • Why did you try that?
  • Is there a reason …?
  • Was there something about the situation that made you uncomfortable?
  • Is there something I can do to help you?

There is no one just like you.  Get past you and focus on them.

You’re doing a great job, but …

Generally one of two things happen when this phrase is used. The employee immediately forgets the great job part as soon as you say ‘but’ and starts holding their breath, waiting for the bad news, or they stop listening when they hear ‘you’re doing a great job’.

Instead of trying to combine the good and the constructive all in one sentence, focus on successes and criticism separately.  It’s not that you can’t share both successes and areas where improvement is required in one meeting; just don’t combine them in one sentence.

And please, don’t only share the good stuff in an effort to soften the blow of of constructive feedback. You don’t want your team members to cringe every time they hear ‘good job.’

Good job

What does good job mean?

Instead of saying “good job”, be specific about what your employee is doing well.  Did he or she manage an unhappy company with grace and skill? What in particular was done well? Focusing on and sharing highlights and specifics is so much more meaningful than an off the cuff ‘good job.’

You don’t need to go into a long laundry list of each and every thing that was done well. That comes across as pandering or condescending.  Look for and then share specific areas of success and tie it back to how it helps the employee, the team, the company or the customer.

These are three phrases I have learned to avoid or adapt. Are there some phrases you no longer use?  Why and how have you changed them to be more effective?

Why are your Customers Leaving?

Fotolio.com image

I had lunch with a friend this week.  Over the last six to nine months, she has cancelled or not renewed three memberships to business associations or networking clubs and one on-line marketing / business listing site.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a big believer in identifying your company’s customer touch points and then asking “What does my customer want, need and expect from me at this touch point?”  One very important touch point is your response when a customer decides he or she decides to no longer do business with you.

None of the four organizations gave her a hassle when she let them know she was cancelling or not renewing. That is a positive.  Unfortunately, not one of them asked her why she was leaving.  One organization, the one she had been most actively involved in for over two years, sent a generic form letter, not even addressed to her, expressing disappointment in her decision.  The others simply said nothing.

So I asked her why she left. One didn’t abide by their own code of conduct, one simply didn’t work from a timing perspective anymore, one had made political statements outside of her beliefs and one didn’t provide the results she was looking for.  All valid reasons.

Customers who have been with you for an extended period of time and then decide to leave can provide valuable insight. Take the time to ask them why they are leaving.  If you hear the same concern expressed over and over again, it’s an issue. Find a way to fix it. The organization that didn’t abide by their own code of conduct didn’t ask my friend why she left.  She told them anyway and she’s heard they have made significant positive change in that area from members in that group.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change. The reason “It’s not you, it’s me.” may very well be true.  It is very possible the product or service you offer is simply no longer a fit for your customer. There is also the possibility that the customer wasn’t the right fit to begin with. Exit interviews with departing customers can help you better define your target market, providing you the information you need to focus on the people who benefit the most from the product or service you offer.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” is about ensuring you don’t lose the opportunity to become even better at what you do.  It’s about demonstrating you value the opportunity you had to be of service and that you value the customer.

When talking about customer touch points, I also suggest looking for ways to exceed the customer’s expectation.  One final way to demonstrate that you are truly service minded, that your concern is for the customer first, is to provide the departing customer information on other companies that can meet their needs.  What a way to exceed a customer’s expectations and leave a positive last impression.

You Look Great … for Your Age

Bridge and the abyssYes, it’s true. I have reached that magical age where I am told I look great … for my age. I’m not sure that’s a compliment!  Compliment or not, that phrase brought to mind all the many judgments and assumptions we make about people based on age.

Here’s what I think about this whole generational divide. We make it bigger than it really is. Many of us forget that at one point, it was our generation that was going to ruin the world or save it, depending on which side of that divide a person was sitting on.

I was reading an article the other day on this very topic and the author said something along the lines of “as we get older, our adventure window starts to close and we view those with their windows wide open as suspect.”  Millennials don’t have the years of experience we have. Many have wide open adventure windows. They haven’t learned to back away from opportunity because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”  That’s a good thing, but slightly off putting for those of us who have.

Another author said “Why don’t we just view everyone as a person first?”  A great question! When we lump people into a category, we assume everyone in that category views the world around them the exact same way. That has never been true for any generation. In every generation, there are are leaders and followers. There are people who push boundaries and those who prefer to live well within the boundaries of the current norm.  It is the people who push, who question and who perhaps sometimes demand instead of ask, that create change.

We can all learn from each other.  And for those of us who’ve been around a little longer, I believe we have the obligation to create environments where open dialogue happens. Let’s not expect the young and the brash to already know the lessons it took us years to learn.

Let’s crack our adventure window open just a little wider and let’s not take those back-handed compliments personally.  Be patient with the eye-rolling and sometimes condescending attitudes the younger folks give us. After all, someday they will be on the receiving end of them and wondering just how quickly those darn kids are going to destroy all the good they created!

Are you too Smart for Your Own Good?

Young cute professor woman gesturing holding chalkA long time ago, people believed the sun revolved around the earth and that bloodletting was an effective way to treat a variety of ailments.  We now know none of those previous ‘truths’ are true.

Decisions are made based on what we know at the time.  Sometimes, poor decisions are made when all the facts or factors are not known. Sometimes, the opposite is true: For example:

  • When we know we’re not good enough or smart enough or rich enough or poor enough, we give up before we start.
  • Compassion dies and conflict flourishes when we use our knowledge to judge others who have chosen to live or act differently than what we know (believe) to be right.
  • When we know young people are lazy and old people have lost their usefulness, we lose the opportunity to see our world from a new perspective and perhaps, in the process, gain new insight and new ideas.

Many times, what we ‘know’ is nothing more than misconceptions, current societal expectations or even other’s truths we have taken on as our own. Just because something didn’t work once, doesn’t mean it will never work again. Just because it didn’t work for someone else, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. It takes courage to put aside what we know and ask:

  • Is that really true?
  • Is there a better way?

Knowledge is fluid.  Recognize, value and respect the knowledge, experience and wisdom you have, but don’t stop pushing against boundaries of that knowledge.

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This is a revised version of a blog posted way back in 2013.  I am working with a group of very dedicated people and as we continue to grow and improve, all of us have, at times, had to be reminded to open our minds and be willing to put aside what we know.