Archive for December, 2011

A Satisfying Communication Sandwich

December 30, 2011 1 comment

The guiding premise for communications in the workplace is that they are aimed at implementing the six people principles. That is, the purpose is to provide support and structure for the employees. Communication must be intended to nurture, build a family-like environment, and offer opportunities for growth. It also should reinforce the structure needed to accomplish the work; not just defining policies and procedures, but clarifying outcomes.

The communication process might be thought of as a sandwich. The bread on both sides is supportive, with the center filling or meat being structure. Here’s how it looks. The communications between manager and employee should generally start with a greeting or a check in, or some sort of personal connection. At a minimum there is a “hello”, or a “how are things”, or a “nice to see you.” It might include an “I’d like to cover these topics, do you have something?” These comments make a personal connection that optimizes human receptivity for the discussion about the tasks of work.

The center of the sandwich is the meat of the conversation. “Let’s look at these technical processes together,” or “I need some changes to the report you gave me.” This part of the conversation is the business at hand. It is focused on what needs to happen for the organization to succeed.

Not to squeeze the metaphor too hard, but the bread is always personal, and the meat is generally impersonal. When going over the business at hand, you are never judgmental or derogatory about the person. It is all focused on the needs of the business. You are not critical of the person, but you may express the need for the work product to change.

The communication interaction or meeting closes with some form of personal connection. It can be as simple as “great” or “good luck” or “nice talking with you.” One of the best examples of this type of ending occurred weekly on Hill Street Blues, a show about the work of an inner city police precinct. At the end of every assignment meeting, before sending his men into duty, the Sergeant would invoke, “Hey, let’s be careful out there!” Now, there’s a meeting end that communicates the importance of its members.

Great leaders know how to put these sandwiches together. Buon appetito!

Tom DeMaio, PhD

Communication and Structure in the Workplace

December 23, 2011 1 comment

The six principles of the people side of business do not specifically include a section on communication. I have been asked where it fits. The six principles are the keys to managing and leading in the workplace. A critical component to implementing the principles is effective communication. It is a vehicle for conveying the support people need and it must be structured to be an ongoing benefit.

Our first four principles (acceptance, nurturance, family, and growth) require that management and leadership convey – on a regular basis – that employees matter, need to be cared for, and are offered opportunities for development. You convey support through your words and actions. For example, support is conveyed in every interaction between supervisor and employee. It happens when the employee is asked, “How are you today?” It happens when a supervisor takes an interest in the latest ideas an employee has for solving a problem. These are communications that must occur continually through the work process.

Communication is also needed for administrative functions, for implementing the fifth principle, structure. The employees need to know the policies and procedures, the goals, the rules and strategies of the organization. This keeps everyone in the loop and moving in the same direction.

When communication is not steady, humans have a tendency to get worried and uncomfortable. They wonder why they are being left out of the loop or if they are going to be rejected in some way. One might say that humans have a natural “paranoia” about things being wrong when there is not regular communication to refute the feeling.

Most of the places I have consulted pay too little attention to the need for and subtleties of regular communication. This is understandable since many of the communication processes (like staff meetings, e-mail blasts, or supervisory interactions) take valuable time, can be boring, or result in negative experiences.

Consequently, in my consulting, I always recommend a careful look at the communication process in the organization. The guiding premise is that the communications are aimed at implementing the six principles. Communication is not there because it is the right thing to do, but to have purpose. Implementation of the six principles requires that the communication process be structured in the sense that the meetings or interactions have clear function and regularity. More on this to come.

Thomas J. DeMaio, PhD

Structure in the Workplace: Focusing on Work Outcomes

December 9, 2011 2 comments

Employers intuitively and practically understand the need for structure in the workplace. Structure provides the roles, rules, and plans to achieve the outcomes desired by a business or organization. Too often, however, the structure becomes a control mechanism instead of a guide for individual and organizational success. When this occurs, structure becomes counterproductive and an impediment to creative problem-solving.

People need structure as a guidepost for their efforts in the workplace. They need a framework for operating in relation to one another and toward organizational goals. The key to operating a useful, healthy structure is in not letting the structure take over and ruling what people do. Structure works best when it focuses more on defining work outcomes instead of work behaviors. Workers want to understand how their work product contributes to organizational success, not every detail of how they are supposed to make that contribution. This focus on the outcome is how structure can exist while still allowing employees an opportunity for autonomy and mastery in their work. The focus on outcomes can help workers maintain the creativity and flexibility needed to master their jobs, find efficiencies, and be part of the team.

I saw structure become a problem when I was consulting to a group home system. The system had built an elaborate set of procedures and rules for the staff and the troubled kids. If the kids broke enough of the rules, there were clear sanctions and they were eventually removed from the home. While the system was there to work with “troubled kids,” over time the rules took over and the kids failed at an alarming rate. The director was clear: “We have a set of rules that need to be followed.” Unfortunately those rules became more important than the creative challenge of helping kids adjust, heal, and become productive members of the community.

Don’t get me wrong. The rules were needed. But they got in the way of real success. The enforcement of the rules became the project.

In the work environment, people can use the structure to help them produce products or provide organizational service in an efficient manner. But when the rules become more important than the actual product, then it is time to revisit the rules.

Tom DeMaio, PhD