A Matter of Fairness

MinimumOnce again, the discussion on raising the minimum wage has heated up again; those opposed argue that the economy will be crushed under the weight of its own folly. It has been claimed that raising the minimum wage would have a negative effect on employment and at a time when the unemployment rate continues to linger around 8 percent. Employers, particularly small business employers would resist hiring additional workers or even reduce their workforce outright. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, when asked what would happen if employees were paid “a lot more”, cautioned:

“Well, jobs are a great thing. You have to be a bit careful: If you raise the minimum wage, you’re encouraging labor substitution and you’re going to go buy machines and automate things — or cause jobs to appear outside of that jurisdiction. And so within certain limits, you know, it does cause job destruction. If you really start pushing it, then you’re just making a huge trade-off.”

The headline of the comment was, Bill Gates: Raising Minimum Wage Can Destroy Jobs. Ironically, the tag underneath the image of Gates read: THE WEALTH DIVIDE – THE RICH GET RICHER.

 

The minimum wage was last increased in 2009 to $7.25 per hour or just over $15,000 a year for a worker who is lucky enough to get paid for all 52 weeks of the year. Over the last 20 years, workers have been rendered powerless as worker rights have diminished and income disparities have grown dramatically. While the wealth of the top1percent has ballooned to over 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, the bottom 50 percent has plummeted to a jaw dropping 1.1 percent; and that was in 2010.  To be clear, there has never been any accurate statistical correlation drawn between a moderate raise of the minimum wage and a drop in employment. Let me say it another way; there is no proof that raising the minimum wage judiciously will decrease jobs; there is only rhetoric, assumption and false analogies. In fact, the Department of Labor, as well as a joint study by Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin reports that the last two increases had an insignificant effect on employment.

 Greed

What is reality is that raising the wages of workers is the single greatest economic stimulus to the American economy. Higher wages means that workers will have a higher stake in the health and welfare of the American economy. Even a $.90 increase in the minimum wage buys 7 months of groceries, a year of healthcare costs, 9 months of utility bills or full year’s tuition at a local 2-year college. So why do proponents raise such a fuss, it’s simple, business owners, and investors fear a reduction in profits. Anything that reduces or threatens the sacred shareholder percentage is damned as intolerable. A sad truth is that 63 percent minimum wage workers are adults over the age of 20, many of whom account for 51 of their household’s income; these are not the burger-flipping teens of urban myth. Raising the minimum wage is not only a sound investment in America’s most precious resource; it is plainly the right thing to do.

 

 

~ Richard

 

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Owning the Interview Process

The interviewI have always found that interviewing for a new job to be one of the more stressful processes I’ve gone through in life, so much so, that have often been tempted to remain at a position longer than is beneficial. The feeling of starting over, learning how to navigate a new business culture and the thought of leaving the comfort of familiarity can be worrisome for anyone. On the other hand, I tend to be a good interviewee; I am because I’ve learned to overcome my feelings of stress and nervousness and channel those emotions into a sense of enthusiasm for meeting a new challenge. Through trial and correction, I have discovered some successful ways for job candidates to walk into almost any interview feeling prepared and confident.

 

No one can tell you exactly what will happen during an interview process, every organization develops their own style and every manager has their own preferences. In general, most hiring managers are looking for candidates who are qualified to perform the duties required and mesh quickly into that organization’s culture. It is that second need which separates the hirees from the also-rans. There may dozens or even hundreds of people in your area who have similar skills and education as you, so the better you are at demonstrating to the interviewer how you’ll connect with that organization’s principles and structure, the more you will stand out and the more memorable you will become.  

 

Research and connect

Any HR professional worth their certifications will tell that it is critical to your hiring success to learn about an organization before you interview. What you are looking for is, who that organization says they are and what they are trying to accomplish. Use whatever tools you have in your arsenal, the internet is convenient, but any personal contact you have that you can talk with will trump anything you find on a corporate website, just be wary of using proprietary information and absorbing personal bias. Organizations that have a web presence will always have a section that says “About Us”, so learn about their history, their products and services, their mission and their executive management team. Don’t be shy about investigating their social media footprint either; they won’t be when they are looking at you. What you should take note of is what’s out there that is relatable to your own skills and interests and can be highlighted during your interview. Effectively connecting yourself to that organization’s interests and culture during the interview is the primary purpose for research and it makes it easier for recruiters and hiring managers to “see” you working there.

 

Be responsive not animated

Hiring managers tend to enjoy an interview more if the candidate is upbeat and responds appropriately to questions. Those who follow the interview playbook will always leave room for candidates to expand on answers so there is no need to be overly chatty and so animated that you look like you need sedation. The types of questions you’ll be asked will follow a familiar pattern from interview to interview, so get comfortable with them, but DO NOT become so rehearsed with your responses that you come off as unnatural or canned – it requires practice and there’s no way around it. Author and employment expert, Alison Doyle has a great article on interview questions at About.com that should help you prepare for the types of question you can anticipate.

 

Be in control – don’t take control

Hiring managers have sat through more interviews than you could possible go through in your career, so avoid thinking you can win them over by dominating the conversation. At the same time, you want to demonstrate genuine interest in the organization and the specific position. The absolute best way to do so is to ask questions. If you have not been given the opportunity to ask questions during the interview, near the end is where you can let your interviewer know you have some questions; this is where all the research you’ve done will pay off. Candidates should use this time to learn more specifics about their initial responsibilities, the corporate culture, expectations and special projects. Don’t waste the responses by not, briefly, connecting your strengths to the answers. This is your pre-close.

 

Ask to be hired

You would think that the fact that you showed up for the interview would be indication enough that you want the job, but something as simple as asking for the job is often over-looked, but can strike a chord with even the most hardened HR manager. If nothing else, it should at least get you to a second interview. Try the following examples and make them your own:

  1. “Based on our conversation, I believe I have much to offer your company and that the company has a great deal to offer me. Have I given you enough information to make a decision?”
  2. “I’m certain this is the right place for me. What can I do to convince you I’m the right person for the position?”
  3. “I’m sincerely interested in this position, what is the next step to move forward?”
  4. This position seems to be a perfect match for my skills and experience, I’d really like to work with you and your team.”

Asking for the job is a delicate matter; it should be handled in the most respectful way. You do not want to blow your chances by appearing too pushy or arrogant. You should be completely genuine and don’t leave your enthusiasm at home. This is your close.

 

 

~ Richard

Business and the Great Society

On January 4, 1965, in Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union Address he stated …. ”we begin a new quest for union. We seek the unity of LBJman with the world that he has built—with the knowledge that can save or destroy him—with the cities which can stimulate or stifle him—with the wealth and the machines which can enrich or menace his spirit. We seek to establish a harmony between man and society which will allow each of us to enlarge the meaning of his life and all of us to elevate the quality of our civilization.” As America contemplates the fifty-year legacy of Johnson’s “Great Society”, it is worthwhile to consider the role of business, if any, in the “War on Poverty.”

During the ongoing debates, blogs and commentaries over the success or failure of Johnson’s programs, there is a gushing tendency to present incalculable numbers of people living in poverty. Somehow, in the political rhetoric espousing differing philosophies and agendas, what seems to be lost is the question where we collectively ask, Why is it the world’s wealthiest nation cannot feed, house and educate all of its citizens? If there are those who believe that government should not be in the business of social welfare, then they must also agree that business is not the answer either. Business does however, have a duty to be a responsible co-member of society. What gives some people the most difficulty in assessing the value of the Johnson’s social programs is the moral assumption that any system that provides the basic necessities of survival on a routine basis will lead to a systemic dependency that deteriorates the will for self-determination.

As evidence of this phenomenon critics point to is the raw numbers of those seem trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. On the other hand, to focus solely on poverty rates when assessing the results of the Great Society’s initiatives is to ignore what was at the heart of Johnson’s plan – to create economic opportunity for all of America’s residents; to break down the walls and impediments to gaining full access to the opportunities this society has to offer. Johnson never intended that government should be the solitary provider of social support for America’s poor. Consider the types of programs proposed, which were designed to provide better schools, better healthcare, better living conditions, as well as better training for better job opportunities, it is clear that monetary handouts were not the goal. All of the programs initiated were designed to bolster those at the bottom of the economic spectrum or to combat decades of cultural and economic disparity.

From a business perspective, the day-to-day objectives of growing a concern notwithstanding, a visionary approach to economic development in the United States should be viewed, by business, as being in its own interests. Local, small businesses provide more than goods and services; they offer jobs, something which gives people a greater sense of community than any government-funded program could every provide. Poverty and economic instability are the enemies of business as well as governments. Yet, less than two percent of Fortune 500 companies take a pro-active approach to poverty, most are reactive and more than a few take no action what-so-ever. Since the term globalization came into vogue, the reality of the working poor has come along as well. These are the groups of people who, no matter how many hours they work, cannot raise their economic status above the poverty level. Lax or nonexistent working standards around the world have led to a situation whereby more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, live on $2.50 or less a day. This is not only a morally intolerable situation it is wholly unsustainable as well. The good news is that business can take a lead role in addressing the issues of inequality and poverty. To become an organization that is pro-active in its sense of social responsibility, try these approaches:

–          Go beyond legal compliance; actively engage your employees and community on issues of responsibility.

–          Think in terms of societal responsibility, not just social responsiveness.

–          Have a triple E standard of behavior (Ethics, Equity & Effectiveness).

–          Communicate in-out, out-in, up-down, down-up.

–          Do the right things right.

–          Do well by doing good.

–          Discard the pyramid model of business growth

Businesses who increase revenues and profits become job creators and as employment grows, the economy broadens; goods and services are more accessible, better schools are built, living conditions improve, people are less reliant on government intervention and America comes closer to that Great Society.

~ Richard

Overcoming the “Holiday Brain” at Work

Holiday shoppingSometime during the height of the fall season, my mind becomes less focused on the routine tasks that accompany my job and increasingly wanders toward the holiday season. I thought I was the only one who experienced this phenomenon until my co-workers began excusing their lack of concentration as a symptom of “Holiday Brain Syndrome.” The mass revelation seemed to break down a silent wall we had all been hiding behind and allowed us to find mutual solace in the esoteric explanation of our temporary lack of productivity. With that, the doors of distraction flung open even wider; internet shopping excursions and the constant chatter of holiday plans abounded throughout offices. The nonstop reminders of holidays from Halloween to New Years Day did not help and the many mini celebrations at work only reinforced the feeling that anything but work is in vogue. For organizational leaders, finding the right tone in addressing the distractions of the holiday season and keeping employees productive while avoiding resentment and dissention among them is a challenging balance. What are some ways you can keep your employees performing at a high level without sacrificing their humanity?

 

For a small number of companies, a drop in productivity during the holiday season is not only acceptable but a welcome relief from the ordinary hustle and bustle of corporate life. For most however, increased productivity and effort is critical to remaining competitive. It is the time when companies have their last and best hope for having a profitable year. It is during this time of year, in such a supercharged environment when the work – life balance can become skewed and the lack of either can lead to additional emotional stressors. There are some underlying factors to consider when assessing your corporate policy regarding the holiday season. In 2010 Mercer, the global HR consulting firm, ranked 39 industrialized countries ahead of the U.S. in terms of how much vacation time is allotted. As a country, the United States does not mandate time off for workers, even for national holidays, so it is up to each organization to provide “time off” for employees. It is quite possible that employees who feel they are not allotted enough vacation time become less shy about stealing away chunks of time at the office in order to find the balance in their lives they require to feel whole. Also of note, according to online job search company Indeed, online job searches increase significantly between November and January.

 

The holiday season is more than a time to celebrate; it is also a time when people reflect; that reflection often leads to people considering how fulfilled and satisfied they are at work. Here are some practical ways to keep your employees working at peak efficiency during the holiday season and stick around for the next year:

  •  Embrace the reality of the season

There are gifts to buy, people to spend time with and meals to be prepared and eaten. Each of these activities require time that goes beyond the moment itself and if your employees cannot get time off for them, they will bleed them into their business hours. Try offering your employees small periods of time and resources to plan the time they will have off. This will leave them with fewer distractions when engaged with company business.

  • Offer more time off during less hectic seasons

Your employees are every bit as practical and realistic as you are, so if you provide them with a clear understanding of how why business succeed and how they are an integral part of that success, they will be more inclined measure their time off demands in line with business needs.

 

  • Give meaning to what they do

For people to feel fulfilled in today’s environment, their jobs have to mean more than the product or service provided, but rather the difference they make in the lives of those who seek out those products and services. Take the opportunity, now more than ever, to remind employees of the differences they make. Feel free to use real world examples and testimonials.

  • Consider hiring temporary workers

Well-trained, well-placed temps can provide more opportunities for your permanent workers to be with their families. In addition, it can be an opportunity for your business operations to be seen through fresh, undiluted eyes. This can be a valuable tool when recruiting due to growth or attrition and a great laboratory for testing the validity of your corporate culture.

  • Doing more in less time

Try ampping up the incentives for teams or workers who can come up with time saving ideas that do not sacrifice quality or productivity. The goal should be to provide more time off for more people. Be careful though limiting the scope to a small number of individuals will only create jealousy and resentment. So if this cannot be accomplished on a large enough scale, find incentives that are more practical.

  • Manage the managers

According to a 2007 Florida State University study, 40% of employees feel that they work for “bad bosses” not bad companies. Mid-level managers and supervisions are caught in between meeting executive demands and maintaining motivation for workers. Provide your managers with the tools, training and incentives that will build trust among employees and growth in the bottom line. Take some of the pressure off your managers by acknowledging, accepting and broadcasting your responsibility for the difficult compromises that have to be made.

  • Create a fun environment

Along with the other items that have been mentioned, the holidays are also an opportunity to show thankfulness, kindness and generosity. Full-time employees spend more than a third of their lives at work or commuting to and from, so why not have a work environment where people actually enjoy being a part.

Productivity does not have to drop during the holidays in fact, you can use this time as your organization’s Super Bowl. Your company gears up all year for this busy time so embrace the holidays and keep your employees brain in the game.

 

~ Richard

Duct Tape Management

Toban Black - Flickr Photostream

Toban Black – Flickr Photostream

Since its original use during World War II to protect ammunition cases, duct tape has become a common stable in nearly every home or garage around the world. People love things that have a variety of uses. Duct tape is primarily used as an emergency repair tool, but you can find a variety of Web sites, which tout its decorative and craft-making abilities as well. I love using duct tape and my home is never without at least one roll; I know however, that whatever I use duct tape on will eventually need to be replaced. Using duct tape to seal a leaky hose or hem your pants gives you a temporary feeling of accomplishment and allows you to go forward for a while, but it does nothing to correct the underlying problem. The good feeling you have is temporary at best. 

When it comes to managing people, the same is true; temporary fixes are just that, temporary. The problem some organizations run up against is the need to keep moving in a fast-paced, competitive environment. It is so much easier to apply a quick fix, which looks good esthetically and buys everyone a little time. Everyone moves on and the issue is masked over until the next application of adhesive fabric needs to be lain.

The Root of the Problem

Getting to the root cause of an issue is the most difficult, yet important step an organization can take if it truly desires a fix. It involves:

  • Asking tough questions – What is happening? When is it happening? Why is it happening? Who is affected?
  • Being open to criticism – No one likes to be wrong and we like it even less when we are told we are, but sometimes the problems within an organization begin with you or other leaders within your organization. Either way, by acknowledging responsibility, the organization can move away from blame placement and on to finding solutions.
  • Be understanding of the limitations of others – This perhaps something you don’t hear very much in a business context, but the point here is that we are talking about repairing human interactions and relationships, not leaky hoses. Again, focus on assigning solutions, not blame.

The  goal is to identify the size, scope and severity of the problem and hopefully, you have already created the kind of workplace communication environment in which employees feel comfortable bringing issues up to the attention of management; if not, now is an excellent opportunity to get that going. You will also want to know what steps have been taken in the past and what impact they have had. This will save time by not repeating failed steps and narrow the focus on finding solutions.

Finding Solutions that Last

Once you have done the necessary analysis of the problem, don’t settle for short-term, shortsighted fixes. It may seem that this approach will take much too long, but consider how much time and revenue has been spent on revisiting or ignoring reoccurring problems. Get as many of those affect by the problem involved in the solution process. This will keep everyone engaged and give them each a stake in a positive outcome. Whatever solutions are offered should be able to pass the following criteria:

  • Is it flexible? – Whether or not you agree that corporations are to be treated like people in the eyes of the law, in truth, corporations must be changeable and have a “persona” in which the public identifies. Therefore, your solution(s) must be able to grow with your business and be true to your company’s image.
  • Is it fair? – Fairness may not be the appropriate word, but sometimes solutions do more harm than good; striving to do more good than harm should be the goal.
  • Is it sustainable – Use the duct tape analogy; if your solution can hold up to the stresses and demands of time then it is certainly worth exploring.

Finding long-term solutions to problems is well worth the effort in time because the outcomes will allow your organization to move on to bigger and profitable projects. In addition, the communications and problem-solving skills that will be honed will help sustain your business for years to come.

Celebrate Successes

The opportunities to create “good feelings” with employees and customers by resolving nagging problems are endless. One should never miss the chance to say, “We did this together!” As you may have heard repeatedly, effective communication is not static and in everyone’s busy life, it is all too easy to overlook or forget the little successes we have each day. If your organization has worked through a serious issue to come up with a solution that meets the basic criteria described above, then sincere congratulations and occasional reminders are the foundations of generating enthusiasm for meeting future challenges.

~ Richard

A Tale of Two Offices

ReceptionistsThe past year has been one in which I’ve had to spend an abnormally high amount of time in doctor’s offices. After avoiding the commitment for years, I even selected a primary care physician; it is something that healthcare insurers and providers are exceedingly fond of asking about.  Until recently, I had no real context to compare the behavior of the people who greet you at the front desk, ensure that you have paid what you owe and schedule your inevitable next appointment. Now that I have reluctantly been given that context I began considering how communication skills at the front desk could influence the perception one has about their medical provider.

The primary care physician I selected is a pleasant, robust woman, perhaps in her late thirties or early forties. She is one of the doctors who share a practice with my wife’s primary doctor and I became comfortable right away. During my initial visit, I found her to be extremely thorough and refreshingly direct without being condescending or rude. Unfortunately, I found the staff at the front desk not quite as inviting. Upon my first visit, I noticed there were three to four employees at the front desk and the same number of people waiting in the lobby to be seen. It was early and not very busy. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I had such an odd emotional reaction to that front desk staff.

After my visit with the doctor and I was about to schedule that inevitable follow up, I waited while another patient scheduled hers. I notice the interaction between the two and it felt….cold. I mentally chalked it up to some unpleasantness from the other patient that I had not witnessed so when it was my turn, I made a point of smiling, I even made some random humorous comment, which should have elicited some response, but I got nothing…..crickets….just a look that implored me to get on with it please. At the time, I didn’t give the incident anymore thought because frankly, I was more focused on my health.

In between medical doctor visits, I needed to make an appointment with a dentist, because one of my wisdom teeth became impacted. I decided to try a new dentist and after an initial exam, that dentist had to refer me to a specialist, it was in that specialist’s office that I found the most striking difference in how patients could treated at the front desk. It is a smaller office, with only two people at the front desk on a regular basis, after one visit I was on a first name basis with both. Even if it hadn’t been a situation in which they had time to chat with me, I still believe they would have greeted me with a welcoming smile and sincere warmth. I left with a feeling of confidence in their professionalism, even though the procedure I was going to undertake would be painful and unpleasant.

My second visit to my primary’s office only confirmed my suspicions from before; it’s not that anyone was rude, it was just cold, indifferent and mechanical and as much as I like my doctor, I am considering changing. From what I know, some doctors manage their offices themselves and others hire someone else to do it for them. In either case, this was a glaring example how the face of a business is not in the boardroom or the backroom. The face of any organization, no matter what size, is in those who greet the customer every day and no matter how great you are or how great your product is, your customers will eventually tire of poor relations with your upfront staff. If you put the right “face” on your business, your customers will better tolerate a little pain on occasion.

~ Richard

Communicating Goals

Comm goals

I can’t think of a single organization that does not have specific tasks to complete, even teams or groups within the organization will have things that must be done within a defined timeframe. The achievement of these tasks is how success is measured, they are goals, and they become the very purpose of an organization’s existence. Setting and communicating goals should be considered as much art as it is science and the bolder the goal, the more creativity will need to be employed. When you consider the goals you have set for you organization, how involved is your team in initiating and implementing those goals. Who are the team members and what knowledge do they bring to the team?

 

In my business experience, the more routine the tasks, the poorer the communication of goals become. For example, in a call centers, service centers and production lines, managers often post or announce goals, which are understood only at the executive level. The word comes down that a thousand calls need to made or ten thousand rivets need to be produced. The goal hangs like a cloud over the heads of team members, but there’s no communication about the purpose, benefit or reasoning for the goal.  Team members grumble and grouse over the additional work because they do not feel invested in the outcome. If your service or production has consistently rated fair to poor, then perhaps it is time to rethink how your goals are being communicated. The goal of every business is to grow and expand, increase revenue or to boost investor value, but do these goals align with the needs of your employees. Beyond the monetary value of a business, the reason nearly every concern comes into existence is because they are supplying a product or serving a need. Do the needs and benefits of your employees grow and expand in proportion with company profits; if not, then they are not invested in the company’s success. It is true that employees want to keep their jobs and they will do whatever is reasonably required to do so, but that need does not rise to the level of commitment required to be exceptional.

 

If your service or production lines do not rate as exceptional, then begin by assessing the goals you have in place. Do they meet the following basic standards?

Are they realistic?

You may want to double sales or production by the end of the year but you don’t have the personnel and tools in place to make that happen. You don’t have the budget or the market share is unattainable.

Are the relevant?

Consider the vision of why the business began operation and how well your goals align with that vision. If your goals do not produce better results for your customers or employees, then what’s the point?

Do they encourage growth?

Goals are useless if they do not promote learning, improvement and growth; it is the experience of pursuing a goal that inspires teams to pursue the next one with enthusiasm. Ask any person or group that has achieved something great which is more lasting, reaching a milestone or the journey towards it.

 

The next step is to start looking critically at who the goals setters are; is it just you or a small group who think just as you do? The voice in your head may be your most trusted advisor, just make sure you have enough exposed yourself to a sufficiently broad range of information. If you rely on a team, keep in mind that diversity of experience is just as important as any other type of diversity.

 

Once you have your goals in place and you are ready to impose them on your staff, STOP; this is now the most critical part of communicating goals for others. Ask yourself what’s in it for “them.” The “them” is the team members who will be grinding away at achieving those goals. What input have they had in setting those goals, have you considered or even asked for feedback from previous missions? When it comes to setting goals failure IS an option, it’s how we learn. Including your team members’ opinions in the discussion of goals is an easy way of gaining their buy in. It’s harder to walk away from a goal you believe you’ve had a hand in setting. If you decide to offer an incentive for reaching a goal, make sure it is one that is meaningful to the team. Do not punish your teams for not reaching a goal, remember this is a learning process and if they are invested in the goal, the failure will be punishment enough. Your task will be to refocus and re-energize your team, that’s what leaders do.

 

~ Richard

 

Gender Communications; is work different?

Gender CommI was having a conversation with a co-worker last week and the topic shifted to the differences in communication styles of women and men.  The issue was her irritation with her significant other over an implied slight, which could have been avoided had he used a different or (in her mind) better communication tactics. At the very least, she felt he should have been more cognizant of hers. Later that evening, I recounted our chat in my head and two things occurred to me; first, the innate characteristics in the ways in which each gender communicates is a frequent point of contention in relationships and second, those characteristics are rarely included in business communications training. My goal here is to encourage business leaders and managers to break down some of the communication challenges, which are born of gender differences.

Fifty years ago, it was less common for women to be working alongside men and when they did, there was palpable resistance to them being there. At the same time, business communication was decidedly one-sided and most definitely top-heavy; the vagaries of human existence were not topics discussed during board meetings in those days. Even today, despite the fact that a massive amount has been written on the subject, gender communication in a business context is rarely explored by companies. To get a sense of how common gender communication differences are try this experiment for yourself, begin a series of conversations with co-workers or acquaintances regarding how different men and women are in their communication habits; how many begin to nod in agreement before you even complete your thoughts? Don’t they instinctively seem to understand where you’re coming from? So, if almost everyone understands, or at least can relate to this communication reality then why do organizations typically avoid its impact on business communications? To begin with, the subject is fraught emotional baggage from unpleasant personal experiences. I have known several female coworkers and friends who have lost jobs or never offered them because they were perceived (mostly by men) as “too emotional” or having “problematic” communication skills. Secondly, to acknowledge any gender differences in communication could potentially leave an organization open to allegations of bias and stereotyping.

Today, gender communication differences are wrapped in something called soft skills. Soft skills are actually a collection of a variety of skills or habits, which illustrate our relationships and interactions with others. These habits include how we communicate, present, lead, interview, persuade, manage and so on; they also include how we manage our stress, our emotions, our level of patience and how self-aware we are. You can learn more about these skills at Career Coach Lei Han’s Ask a Wharton MBA Web site. For those of you who are confusing soft skills as having something to do with gender, remember I stated that gender differences are “wrapped” in soft skills and therefore not gender specific. This is an important distinction because the biggest hurdle leaders will have to overcome when beginning this discussion with employees is stereotyping. Much of why so many people seem well versed in gender differences is based gender stereotyping and gender bias. Recent scientific studies have revealed one thing we have assumed all along, that there are real differences in the way the male and female brain develops, and is used. There is no debate over with is better, there are advantages on both sides and yes, disadvantages on both as well.

What leaders should be focusing on is how to combine the talents of both by understanding what the practical differences are. For example, women tend to focus on creating solutions that incorporate the group, while men tend to be more task-oriented and work better in isolation. The chart below offers some additional examples of gender differences, which can be useful in managing the talents of your staff:

Area

Men

Women

Information

Process information internally   and dispenses it to demonstrate expertise

Share information as a way to   build relationships

Listening

Tend to listen primarily for information relevant to   the task at hand

Tend to be more interested in understanding the speaker’s   experience and underlying messages

Decision making

Tend to operate unilaterally,   focus on long-term results and see greater significance on the decision   affect on the competitive environment

Seeks input and consensus, more   comfortable taking suggestions and consider how decisions affect the team

Sources: Simma Lieberman & Associates / Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates

When it comes to conflict resolution, there is no data that proves that one gender is better than the other at coming up with satisfactory conclusions. In fact, when it comes to any these tendencies, they are no more than generalities, which can be influenced by culture, life experience age and a host of other factors.

Leaders and managers should strive to be aware that differences do exist, but not exclusive of other dynamics and that assuming certain inherent traits based solely on gender can lead to misunderstandings, gender stereotyping, poor employee morale and wasting of personnel talent.

~ Richard

Where’s the why?

“Because I said so” was a common response to several of my childhood inquiries regarding why I could not have or do what I wanted. My parents had their reasons, but saw no advantage, or simply had too little time to provide answers. From their perspective, it was enough to say that it must be done and to question why was to question their authority. I did not consciously perceive that I was in the midst over a power struggle; But why I just wanted to get my way. But there was a struggle and I was operating at a physical and intellectual deficit. I had no real say in the matter, it simply would have been nice to understand their reasoning; however, it was culturally and innately difficult for them to communicate in any other way.  What I did not understand, until I became a parental figure myself, is that responding that way, while expedient, can often leave the one with less power with feelings of resentment. When this approach is used by managers and leaders of organizations, those same resentful feelings will again surface and lead to less than ideal working conditions.

It’s not that organizations set out to treat their employees like children (hopefully), but that is often how their communications come across. Business communications come at the speed of light, data flies across computer screen in the blink of an eye. Organizations at every level demand flexibility and adaptation to rapid changes. Employees are expected absorb information quickly and perform with strict adherence to whatever policy has been put forth.  Angry girlOn the surface, most employees respond remarkably well to directives they may neither fully understand or completely agree with, but underneath, they become actions without commitment to, or the understanding of, the goals of the organization.  Organizations and managers who ignore or gloss over “the why” run the risk of creating a culture of suspicion and misinformation, because if answers are not provided, then your people will come up with their own.

Explaining the whys of an organization’s decisions, long-range and short-range goals, does need weaken or undermine the power and authority of its leaders, quite the opposite actually. When your staff understands the logic behind a project or task, it gives them a greater sense of the role that they play. Employees have no trouble figuring out the “big picture” of profits and gains; they get the need to lower costs and increase revenues. What is all too often less clear is how what they are doing at any given moment, fits into those needs. For instance, nearly every customer service professional I’ve read or talked to say that there are some basic do’s when it comes to customer service:

  •       Greet customers quickly and warmly
  •       Determine what is needed or expected
  •       Pay attention to the customer and listen actively
  •       Empower employees
  •       Let them hear or see you smile
  •       Have great employee morale

If these are tenets you believe in, then there is a reason why they are important; as a leader you already understand the value of getting these things right….all the time, but do your employees know, do they care? It’s simply not enough to tell them it’s their job;  Brainit’s your job to explain why their role in raising the level of service maintains and enriches their job. However, I caution you, don’t try and sell them on something that does not exist, if their role is worthless to you, they will know it instinctively, regardless of what you say. Be honest, because if you do not value your employee’s roles, then your company is already moving into decline.

Explaining why shows confidence in your leadership, as well as in the difficult decisions you make. Explaining why allows employees get behind new projects and initiatives at an emotional level; this is the all-important buy-in that companies are looking for and teams are talking about. According to Gallup’s latest “State of the American Workplace” report, 70 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” of “actively disengaged” at their workplace. These numbers indicate that employees are feeling little or no connection or investment in their work. If you are thinking that telling employees the why is too simplistic an answer, you are correct; but it is an important part of overall employee satisfaction that includes other factors such as matching the right people to the right tasks, discovering career needs and want, and encouraging growth.

Giving your employees the why is not a magic pill that will get your people engaged and motivated, but it will give them a reason to do so.

~ Richard

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WORKING IN BOXES

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I have always found it odd that some managers strongly suggest that their employees do not stray too far away from their assigned duties. To do so would invite a variety of repercussions, up to and including termination. I once worked for one company that created a culture in which communication between departments was so restrictive that employees could receive a curt talking to if they did not follow the proper channels. What were those proper channels? Because there was, a military style hierarchy set in place one always had to observe the chain of command. Even bringing up an issue to a manager within the same department, but not your direct manager could land you on a virtual list of potential troublemakers. This seems antithetical to the current business ideal of “thinking outside the box.”

In many organizations, almost every department relies on each other for information or support in order to bring a final product or service to customers. Restricting communication between departments to only senior managers is not only counter-productive; it can lead to a literal stagnation of ideas. In these types of confined management structures, the only ideas that ever permeate the inner sanctum are those that already exist. I’m NOT suggesting some communication free-for-all where no protocols exist and anyone can reach out to anyone…. Or am I, rarely have my best ideas occurred to me during a scheduled meeting, and judging by the number of people who mentally wander away during meetings, the same could be said for many others. So why not break down a few barriers and at least provide some opportunity for department staff, at every level, to learn from each other.

The benefits of that level of open communication are that it provides employees a sense of shared decision-making and allows them a greater understanding of their role in the organizations success. In addition, business needs change quickly and many companies view contraction as a way to spur growth. Having teams of staff members who are at least comfortable within the confines of departments other than their own, will allow greater flexibility when change inevitably comes. By keeping employees boxed up within their own departments, you deny them the opportunity for personal growth; in addition, you deny the organization the benefits of fresh ideas and alternative perspectives.

~ Richard

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