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

Labels are for bins, not people – Repost

Labels let us know where the pens, paper or staples are in the supply room.  Labels save time.  Labels mean we don’t need to look in the bin, box or the jar.   Labels allow us to quickly scan and reject until we find the right label.  The label tells us everything we need to know.

That’s a great concept if the goal is to take a messy, unorganized desk or closet and turn it into a Martha Stewart approved oasis of calm organization.

Labels don’t work so well with people.

Slapping labels on customer or co-workers, based on external appearance or behaviours, does help us categorize them and our response to them.  Unfortunately, the problem with labelling people is we so very often get them wrong.

When we label the loud, angry man as aggressive and obnoxious, we don’t acknowledge the possibility that he may have just had a horrible, terrible day and that he’s reached the end of his rope. We resort to managing the label instead of seeing the person.

When we label young people as impatient and ‘wet behind the ears’, we don’t acknowledge their desire to help make positive change a reality.

When we label old people as stubborn and set in their ways, we lose the opportunity to learn from their experience.

When accountants become ‘number crunchers’ and sales professionals become ‘paid to golf’, the ability to connect and work together becomes exceedingly difficult.

When we label someone as strong and independent, we may assume they don’t need the same level of support as others.  We may miss the signs that show they are struggling and need some help.

Labeling employee as lazy or unmotivated takes away our responsibility to create a positive work environment, built on respect and recognition for their contribution.

Labeling managers or owners as demanding and uncaring takes away our responsibility to bring our A-game to work.

The one benefit to an unlabeled, unorganized closet is the sense of joy and satisfaction when a previously unknown or lost item is found.  I believe the same possibility holds true when we rip our labels off the people we interact with every day.

Ripping off the labels will make our life a little more chaotic and a little messier.  It means the easy answer or the neat solution may no longer work.  But I imagine that amongst the chaos, we may discover a treasure trove of undiscovered knowledge, possibilities and opportunities.

What do you think?

How Would You Describe Your Ideal Employee?

Super BusinessmenOn Tuesday, I had lunch with two friends.  Marilyn was serving our table. At one point, I completely lost the thread of our table conversation because I was watching her interact with another table. Marilyn was laughing so hard, she looked like she was going to cry.  So was the rest of the table.  Later when we turned down the chocolate cake suggestion, Marilyn’s response, with a completely deadpan look on her face, except for the twinkle in her eyes, was “Have the carrot cake then. It’s a vegetable.”

Marilyn was wonderful.  Would she have been for every restaurant?  Probably not. Some restaurants are more formal.  Friendly professionalism is always expected but off-the-cuff jokes and roars of laughter are not appreciated.  And it’s not just that Marilyn may not be a fit for that type of restaurant; that type of restaurant may not be a fit for Marilyn.

As employers, too often, we haven’t clearly defined who our ideal employee is.  Most of us know that attitude is much more important than experience. Skills can be taught; attitude not so much.  But it goes deeper than that. As in my example above, friendly professionalism looks different at different businesses. If you and your customers expect a more formal approach to service, someone like Marilyn may not be a good fit.

Take the time to think about your company culture, your customer’s expectations and then come up with three or four words or phrases to describe the person you believe will more easily integrate into your company and connect with your customer’s in a meaningful way.

These words and phrases can then be used during the recruitment and hiring process. There will be some people who automatically disqualify themselves from the process when they see or hear those words and that’s OK.  It’s better for them and for you to know up front they are not comfortable with the role. On the plus side, there will be some who eagerly jump in because you  have just described them.

Having a deep understanding of your ideal employee is necessary in order to recruit and hire people who will fit the culture. Hiring someone who isn’t the right fit isn’t good for your business, your team or the new hire. After all, it’s not about filling a role; it’s about filling a role with the right person.

What You Give is What You Get

“How you think about your customers is how you will treat them.”  This sentiment, expressed in Bob Farrell’s “Give ‘em the Pickle” video, refers to the attitude that guest service professionals have towards their customers.

This expression also applies to supervisor’s and manager’s attitude towards their employees.  There are too many supervisors who seem to think their employees are gossiping, lazy, time thieves. They watch employees like a hawk, waiting to pounce on any infraction of the long list of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” rules.  And when an employee finds a new transgression that has not yet been outlined in detail, a new policy is written and implemented “effective immediately” that penalizes all employees, including the majority who dutifully toe the line.

This type of mistrust, lack of respect and blanket punishment creates a culture of fear.  Creativity, enthusiasm and relationships die.  Mistrust, apathy and back-stabbing flourish.

Yes, there are some employees who are gossiping, lazy, time thieves, but they are in the minority.  The answer is to deal with those individuals, and to then continue to respect and value the honest, hard-working employees who contribute to an organizations success.

Supervisors and managers that assume the worst of their employees will get what they expect.  Supervisors and managers that assume the best of their employees will also get what they expect.  Expect the best, respect your team and reap the rewards.

Harsh words and poor reasoning never settle anything.  – Chinese Proverb