Archive for January, 2007

A Lesson from Grief

Posted on January 25, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

My dad died on January 15. Fortunately, my mom and dad had planned for this situation, so the arrangmenets they had made were easy for us to carry out. This helped tremendously because my mom was so shaken by my dad’s death.

On January 16, my mom, my sisters, and I visited the mortuary where they had made arrangments. The funeral director assured my mom the process would be easy since they’d done the preplanning. When choosing the day for the memorial service, the director suggested February 3 to give time for the paperwork to process and my dad’s wishes to be carried out.

I’ve learned a lot through this process. One of the things I’ve learned is that the doctor has to, by law (in California), sign the cause of death paperwork within 15 hours of death. The other thing I’ve learned is that without this paperwork the mortuary cannot proceed with the family’s wishes regarding the remains.

It’s now January 25, and as of yesterday the funeral director had not received the paperwork from the doctor. That’s 10 days after my dad died.

My mom, who is figuring out how to live on her own after 65 years of marriage, has called the funeral director several times in the last 10 days to find out when the obituary will be published (this, too, must wait until the paperwork is signed by the doctor). She received no response from the director other than “We’re still waiting to hear from the doctor.”

My mom and I stopped by the mortuary offices yesterday. To our surprise, the office was empty, the signs were down, and a note was taped to the door saying they had moved their offices across town. Gulp. We’d had no notice of this impending move, so we became skeptical about the reason and anxious about the disposition of my dad’s remains.

We followed the directions to the new offices. Thankfully, they were there and open. I asked one of the assistants to update me on the process on my dad. I reminded her of the date of his death and told her what my mom had relayed to me about her calls to them. The assistant said she would check with the doctor’s office. Since I remained standing there, she said she’d do it while I waited.

As it turned out, the doctor’s office never received the paperwork from the mortuary because the mortuary had faxed it to the wrong number. Long pause.

The assistant said she would fax the paperwork right over and call me within the hour. It’s now the next day and I haven’t heard a word.

Here’s the lesson: if you don’t hear back from someone on a time-sensitive issue, assume they didn’t receive the message. Either send the message again or call to find out if they received it. Had the assistant at the mortuary simply made a follow-up call as the 15-hour window began to close, this issue would have been resolved, my mom would have been left with the closure she so earnestly seeks, and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

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President Bush and I fight a similar battle

Posted on January 24, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

Tonight in President Bush’s State of the Union address he talked about measuring the success of our fight against terrorism by what does NOT happen. I resonate with that sort of measurement because in my business of improving the communication skills of staff and managers, the results of my work are often difficult to measure. After all, as my clients employ the strategies they learn in my program the results they experience are: less resistance to change, greater cooperation from their staff, increased productivity, better relationships among staff and clients, fewer missed deadlines, better results because of better communication. The list goes on.

When clients ask me about the results they’ll receive from my programs, I tell them those results are immeasurable–not because I’m trying to impress them with the extent of the possibilities but because it’s difficult–impossible?–to measure the things that don’t happen because we’re improving our communication skills.

Imagine this scenario: your boss asks you what return on investment you’ve received as a result of attending one of my communication programs based on understanding your coworkers. In the program, you learned about the attitudes and values that drive your behaviors and the behaviors of others. Now that you understand those attitudes and values, you’ve learned to tailor your communication to appeal to the communication style of your staff and coworkers. Since you’ve been doing that, you notice that deadlines are being met and you are getting quicker buy in to the projects you involve them in.

Do you say to your supervisor that you’ve learned to control your delivery? Do you tell your supervisor that you are taking time to get to know your staff? Do you tell your supervisor that you are taking responsibility for the results you’re getting? Maybe. But can you measure the number of conflicts you haven’t had? Can you measure the amount of stress you are not experiencing? Can you measure the number of deadlines that haven’t been missed?

Just like President Bush’s point of not being able to count the number of terrorist attacks that haven’t happened, I have difficulty counting the number of bad communication events my clients haven’t experienced. What I can measure is the number of repeat clients I have and the value they tell me they get from my programs. I’ll take that kind of measurement any day!

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Your Values are Showing!

Posted on January 22, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

Thanks to Cathy Brewster and the folks at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) for inviting me to be part of their January 2007 Professional Development Days.

My program, “Improving Your Leadership Fitness,” focused on understanding the six values and attitudes that drive us in our decision making. We spent a terrific 90 minutes going over the groundwork for values research and then learning the unique characteristics of each value. Then we practiced applying what we’d learned to various individuals in the workplace and their response to situations we presented.

The program was fun–primarily because the TMCC staff in the room were very interested in improving their effectiveness with their peers, coworkers, and supervisors. The program was important because the participants gained some real understanding of people they work with and learned why they have certain types of conflicts with the same people over and over. They also understood why they just clicked with some people right off the bat!

Kudos to all the TMCC staff–especially to Cathy and Queency for their help in arranging the program and making it a smashing success!

To learn more about the values research and this program, click on the Assessments and Benchmarking tab. Then send me your questions. I’ll be thrilled to answer them!

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Grammar, Punctuation, and Correctness

Posted on January 13, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development, Technical writing |

Ahhh, a day well spent! What’s more fun than spending an entire day focusing on grammar usage, punctuation, and correctness is writing? Spending that day with officers from local law enforcement agencies!

A big shout-out to Beverly Walker of the Regional Public Safety Training Center (RPSTC) for working diligently in 2005 to bring my program, Report Writing Essentials, to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and RPSTC. Since the first running of that program, Beverly has been keeping the class full for each session. You go, Bev!

Just last week, our program was filled with officers from Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Reno Police Department, Sparks Police Department, and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. Every participant was there for one reason: to improve the reports they write in the course of their jobs.

We focused on the areas that will help them be more successful with their reports: including sufficient detail in the right order with clear, concise, and correct writing so that the people who read the reports will have all the information they need to take appropriate action.

I’m so proud of the officers in each and every one of my courses. They are hard-working, dedicated, professionals with a heart for the work they do and for our community. Thanks so much to each and every one of you for making Washoe County a better place to live!

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Getting Emotional: Handling Conflict at Work

Posted on January 8, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

When you think of “getting emotional,” what types of emotion come to mind? Is getting emotional a bad thing? What about at work?

I’ve been asked to write a how-to article about neutralizing emotions during a conflict at work. As I’m preparing to write this article, I have to ask: why is emotion during a conflict a bad thing? I don’t think it is. I think what matters more is how one handles that emotion. Some people say it’s a matter of acting like an adult. What does that mean? If I were to ask the next 50 people I ran across in the course of doing business whether they act like adults at work, I suspect they would all say “yes.” So acting like an adult isn’t the answer.

If we were to operate under the premise that showing emotion at work is a bad thing, that would mean we couldn’t express joy or enthusiasm or delight or disappointment or sadness–or any other emotion. We couldn’t smile or frown. If we couldn’t express emotion we’d be frustrated every day, which would itself lead to a display of emotion whether we liked it or not!

So I’m back to the idea that it’s not that we shouldn’t get emotional at work; rather it’s how we handle that emotion that can make or break our success. Uncontrolled displays of emotion at inappropriate times are what will hurt us career-wise. Angry outbursts, slamming fists, screaming fits–all of those are pretty much deal breakers when it comes to that next promotion. Likewise, giggling–a nervous response for many people–at inappropriate times is equally damaging to our credibility and professionalism.

Handling emotion is difficult; it requires a self-awareness of our responses in situations, a recognition of the triggers for those responses, an acknowledgement that some of our responses may be inappropriate, and an ability and willingness to develop control systems and alternatives for those emotions.

Usually emotional responses occur when we take something personally, like criticism about a project we’ve been working on or comments made by a coworker about our work. If we take these sorts of comments personally, our natural response is to protect ourselves. That protection may come out as an angry or defensive retort, or it may come out as a counter-attack. When that happens, our emotions have gotten away from us and taken control of us. Once those words are out of our mouths, we can never take them back and the damage–whatever it might be–is done.

I teach my clients a process to ensure we don’t say things we’ll later regret. That process looks like this:

First, breathe. Take a deep breath in order to help diffuse the adrenalin that is coursing through your body and initiating your fight-or-flight response. Breathing might seem like a silly first-step, but breathing deeply and evenly is essential to controlling your initial response.There’s another benefit to breathing: while you are breathing, you cannot say something you will later regret. So the deep breath allows you time to think and choose the response you want to give rather than blurting something you really didn’t want to say.

Second, ask questions. As a way to continue to buy yourself some time to get your emotions under control, ask questions to help you gain clarity in the situation. It may be that the answers to the questions help you understand the reason for the other person’s attack. Understanding their reasons may help you gain awareness of a situation you really should pay attention to.

Third, move. Move the focus of the situation, conflict, or attack off of you personally and onto your position. Clients who practice this third step report a much improved ability to handle conflict at work. For instance, if one of your coworkers attacks your performance on a project your initial response might be to take it as an attack on you personally. However, if you move the focus of the attack off of yourself personally onto your position or job title, the situation may be dealt with objectively–because it’s no longer a personal attack; it’s a criticism of your position.

Let me give you an example: Joe is the marketing manager for a small retail clothing store. His coworker, Steve, is the finance director for the store. Joe made a decision to start placing ads for the store in one of the local magazines. Steve said to Joe, “You shouldn’t have chosen that magazine. You made a bad choice with that one.” Joe’s initial response to Steve’s criticism might be to defend his choice. In doing so, Joe might display defensiveness, anger, and perhaps mount a counter attack on Steve’s performance of his own job. All of these responses have the potential to damage Joe’s future work not only with Steve but with the company, too.

But Joe has taken my class and employs the three steps above. First he takes a deep breath to get control of his emotions and buy time to think. Then he asks Steve some questions: what does Steve know about the magazine that makes it a bad choice? What, in Steve’s opinion, would have been a better choice? Finally, he shifts Steve’s attack from himself personally onto his position at the company: for instance, rather than use “I” or “me” when when asking Steve the questions, Joe might say “In your opinion, what choice should the marketing manager have made?” or “How do you see the ideal marketing manager handling this sort of decision making?”

With this sort of wording, Joe is taking the criticism off of himself personally and placing it onto his job title. Doing so provides a subtle shift in the conversation. Steve may not notice the shift right away, but if Joe keeps directing the conversation to his position title rather than keeping it on himself he will be able to choose the emotion he wants to display rather than responding with emotion he may later regret.

Try the three-step process of breathing, asking, and moving next time you are in a conflict at work. I’d love to hear your results!

Your comments please: was this article useful? Your comments will help me as I work with my clients in the future!

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Dangerous Email

Posted on January 7, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development, Technical writing |

I had an experience with email yesterday that reminded me of the dangers of email–especially in a professional setting. The crux of it is that I’d been coordinating an event with several people. The event involved some who were experienced with the requirements of the event and some who were new to the event. To make sure each person was on the same page regarding meeting time, location, transportation, equipment and materials required, etc. I’d sent emails to the group as well as made phone calls to ensure the items were understood and to field any questions the group might have. All was going well.
Then yesterday I received an email from one of the participants, I’ll call her Mary, saying that another of the participants, I’ll call him Jim, had changed his mind about the transportation he was going to use to get from Point A to Point B. No reason was given for the change in plans. As a result of that email, I began to wonder whether this change in plans was indicative of a problem behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of; if it was to what extent, and did anything need to be done to resolve it.

After pondering an approach for several minutes, an email arrived from Jim. His email explained the situation very differently: the change in transportation plans was not his idea; it was actually a suggestion from one of Mary’s teammates to which Jim agreed.

What’s my point with this story? Is it that I’m a control freak and got twisted because the team didn’t just agree with my plan and move forward? Okay, some people do call me a control freak; but in reality the point is simply this: email does not convey the full story. It is inherently limited in what it can convey because it cannot convey tone of voice; it cannot convey facial expression; it cannot see and respond to the facial expressions of the recipient–facial expressions that might convey a lack of understanding, questioning, disappointment, etc.

While the events related here are rather minor, I saw them as emblematic of how relying on email–something nearly everyone does in today’s communication environment–is not only ill advised, it is a dangerously inadequate tool. Yes, it’s convenient; but sheer convenience doesn’t make things healthy. Consider fast foods and prepackaged meals–a diet based on these has a tendency to lead to unhealthy bodies. And that’s my point with a heavy reliance on email–a communication diet based on email leads to unhealthy relationships because of the potential for miscommunication and the undermining of relationship.

You can still use email to get the job done, but add some face-to-face conversations to the mix. Call people on the phone in addition to emailing them. Reduce the dependence on email and increase the use of other vehicles of communicating. This will help build relationships with the people on your team and give them a sense that you know them as individuals rather than just faceless workers. It’s the relationships we have with others in our personal and work environments that creates our ability to get the job done. Without the relationships, they–and we–are just names in an inbox mixed in with all the other names and junk mail we get.

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Talent Shortage: Tightening Budgets Require Smart Hiring

Posted on January 4, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development, Staff selection |

The tightening labor market is forcing companies to be smarter in their hiring processes. Getting the right person into the right job is more important now than ever before. Why? Because according to firms that study labor-market trends, there is a shortage of qualified individuals to fill those vacant jobs–and hiring the wrong person for the job is expensive.

In the most recent issue of Workforce, the article “An Ever-Changing Workforce Management Landscape” discusses trends in the labor field. In that article, Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXroads, a recruiting technology consulting firm, says:

The talent shortage, together with a tightening labor market, is forcing organizations to be more accountable for their recruiting dollars and more aggressive about finding top people. As recruiters emphasize “active sourcing,” tapping into as many avenues as possible to find strong candidates, corporate executives are demanding evidence that their work is paying off.

The pressure to find the right person for the job makes the human resources’ department job challenging, especially when the company is growing quickly and roles and responsibilities are shifting.

Too frequently job descriptions are written to encompass the idealized view of the job, not the reality of what it takes to do the job. Likewise, advertisements placed for talent for those jobs include appropriate key words to fit the job description–without taking into account what sort of behaviors and attitudes the job will reward. There is hope: job benchmarking is a method of determining exactly what is required of the job.

Benchmarking a job is a process through which stakeholders in the position (those who have held the job previously, perform it well now, and supervise that position) identify the key accountabilities required by the job. The key accountabilities are then used to determine the behaviors and attitudes the job rewards. In other words, we determine what the job needs to be performed optimally rather than looking at just the tasks that will be performed by the person holding that job. The result: an objective view of what’s required in the performance of the job.

Too frequently, staff selection is based on a compiled list of what would be nice to have in the job in terms of skills, ability, and knowledge. When candidates go through the interview process, often their appearance, tone of voice, professional demeanor, and ability to speak well under pressure gives a skewed perception of their actual ability or fit for the job. I’ve heard some HR directors say that even though the person didn’t look so great on paper, he or she was really nice in the interview. And that was the basis for the hiring decision. Yikes.

Benchmarking lessens the influence of the person personally and focuses the hiring choice on actual suitability to the requirements of the position. That might seem a bit cold and give the impression that candidates are reduced to numbers rather than who they are as people. But too many companies are reeling from bad hiring decisions because subjective data was used in the hiring process. Developing a job benchmark, using it to write a job description and advertisement, and then using it to screen candidates is proven to increase retention and satisfaction–both for candidates and their employers.

Would you like to find out more about how benchmarking jobs in your company can improve your hiring and retention? Click on the Assessments and Benchmark link to the right and the Benchmark link above to read a bit more about the process; then contact me for more information. I’ll be happy to help!

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“Customers Come First” is more than just a slogan; it’s a culture

Posted on January 2, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development, Staff selection |

The excerpt below comes from an article in and reinforces the importance of recognizing employees for their efforts–not only because of the effort made but also because of the long-range impact of that recognition:

Express carrier company DHL has a recognition program designed to reinforce customer service. The “Finding Their Heroes” program uses performance, service and on-the-spot awards to recognize extraordinary customer service. A trainer in one of DHL’s hubs was recognized after he sprinted to an ice cream store for ice when a package containing a blood sample was getting too warm as it was being delayed in customs.

“They [DHL] understand that you can’t just put a poster on the wall that says, ‘Customers Come First.’ The only way they’re going to develop that is by recognizing those behaviors,” Gostick says.

When managers understand the significance of recognizing employees for the quality of their work and their efforts on the company’s behalf–rather than just recognizing when something goes wrong, they build a strong foundation for employee motivation and commitment. The consistent recognition that is a part of a company’s culture–and not just a poster on the wall–is what makes the words on that poster reality. After all, if employees do not feel valued and appreciated for their efforts they are more likely to pass that feeling along to your customers. That’s a risk you do not want to take!

How does a company develop and foster this commitment to valuing not only customers but also employees? It has to do with an understanding in top management that your company is in business because of the people who work there, not in spite of them. It comes from realizing that customers–you and me included–do business with people and products they like. For example, if two products are comparable but the service you get when you are shopping for those products are markedly different, you will choose the product from the business that values and respects you as a person.

Likewise, employees work harder and with greater commitment for managers who value and respect their efforts and input to the success of the company.

But recognition of employees and their contribution isn’t all it takes. Creating a culture of appreciation requires that the message of appreciation be constantly and repeatedly communicated in the organization. Talking about it isn’t enough, though. That message must be reinforced through actions at the highest level with an expectation that similar action will be taken at the lowest level. The constant reinforcement through words and action is critical to changing the culture. Without that constant reinforcement over time, the message will be just another in a long line of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do management.

Don’t expect rapid, overnight shifts in the culture in your organization just because you or someone else in the organization expressed appreciation to your staff one time. If that sort of appreciation is new in your company, employees will regard it skeptically at first. They won’t trust that this new thing will stick around, and they may even attempt to push some buttons to test it. Your commitment to changing the culture–regardless of how tough the going gets–is what will change that culture. Learn from DHL’s experience, and stay the course.

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“Dear John” Letters at Work

Posted on January 2, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Technical writing |

“Is it okay to address an email or letter to ‘Dear John’?” When I heard this question from a client recently, I was flummoxed. Why is this question being asked, I wondered. But then the client explained: “When I have to write to someone named John, I feel weird addressing him as ‘Dear John’ because it’s like writing a break-up letter.” Okay, now I get it!

Yes, it is rather funny to write Dear John when you think about it in terms of a Dear-John letter. Nonetheless, the guy’s name is John; so what can you do? In our informal culture today–and especially in an email–you could always write “Hi John” rather than Dear John. or perhaps just start with “John,” and leave the Dear off. Either way would be appropriate. Another option? Just enjoy the chuckle.

Along the same vein, another client in the same meeting said, “I feel the same way when I have to write to someone named Jean (or Gene). It’s weird writing ‘Hi Jean.'” Okay, this one is MUCH funnier when said out loud. Say “Hi Jean” out loud. What do you hear? Hygiene! Yes, that does sound odd. To solve this you could write “Hello, Jean” or “Dear Jean” and the problem would be solved.

However, it’s always okay just to enjoy a private chuckle and move on rather than try to finagle your way around writing a “Dear John” or a “Hygiene” letter. Besides, we need more humor in the workplace.

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Rose Bowl Gossip

Posted on January 2, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

While listening to the Michigan vs. USC Rose Bowl game tonight, I heard one of the announcers say, “There’s been talk about [Quarterback Mark] Sanchez and a woman. But nothing was proven, so it’s not worth mentioning.”

What? Let me see if I got this straight: the announcer alludes to a scandal (I’m assuming it’s a scandal because the media rarely mentions things that are positive) between Sanchez and a woman … but then says it’s not worth mentioning. So, why did he mention it? Sounds like intentional titillation to me.

Here’s my question for you: is what the announcer said a) reporting information for the consumer’s use, or b) gossip? If you need help deciding what the answer is, read my article “Gossip at Work” under the Articles tab.

So, why am I talking about the Rose Bowl on this blog? Because the announcer for this game provided a perfect example of what happens at work. Too frequently, someone’s personal situation is brought up in conversation with co-workers when a) the person isn’t there to defend himself, and b) it has no business getting brought up in the first place because it is irrelevant to the business at hand.

As a manager or leader in your organization, the people who work for you will follow you for one reason only: they respect you. But respect does not come cheap; you must earn it. And you earn that respect daily by the way you conduct yourself–in conversation, in how you manage your time, in how you conduct meetings, etc. When a manager has a reputation for gossiping about others, that manager loses the respect of not only their staff but their peers as well.

Gossip is deadly to your credibility at work. Take the time to read the article, “Gossip at Work,” and apply the strategies I suggest there for getting yourself out of situations where you run the risk of getting involved.

Got an example of how gossip has hurt you at work?

Send me a comment. I’d like to hear what happened and how you handled it.

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