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Measurement: A Critical Aspect of Structure in the Workplace

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Creating a strong and vibrant organization requires a willingness and diligence to measure the work product. Every person’s effort needs to relate to the goals and success of the organization. Measure, measure, measure.

Obvious, right? Every business book talks about accountability to the outcomes of the organization. Oddly enough, my consulting experience indicates that it is a common weakness in many organizations. There are often measures of aspects of the work (like the cost), but not always the kinds of measurements that answer the real questions about whether the team is doing the right thing in the right way.

One reason for a failure to measure is avoidance related to fears underlying measurement. Workers are often worried that measurement will show a failure at performing their job. You know, kind of like getting a grade at school. Unfortunately grading systems in school tend to be used to rank kids rather than help them improve areas of study. Measurement doesn’t have to be about ranking or failure. It can be the greatest feedback for improving one’s work.

Another common reason for failing to measure is the misperception that it is a pain in the hind quarters. It can be seen as getting in the way of production. Measuring does take some energy to devise the systems and then to maintain them. The payoff is enormous.

Profit-making companies do measurement best. In the end they know if they are making a profit or not. This “end” measure spurs them on to look at efficiencies and at customer satisfaction. Non-profits, governmental offices, and educational institutions all need metrics. How well are we serving the public? Are we using public dollars efficiently? Are our faculty members productive in terms of research and teaching? These are hard questions to answer, but they require creative effort to quantify and determine success at goals. And, just about anything can be measured.

Now, measurement in itself is not accountability. Measurement is the necessary condition for accountability. It need not turn into grading employees. It is an essential way to know that people are succeeding at what they are trying to accomplish, and, in turn, having those accomplishments produce a successful organization. Like other aspects of structure, it also matters how you implement your measurement systems.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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Structuring Your Communications in the Workplace

January 9, 2012 1 comment

While the guiding premise for communications in the workplace is that they are aimed at implementing the six people principles, communications processes should be structured throughout the organization. Okay, that’s a mouthful, what do I mean?

Almost everywhere I have consulted we have examined the communication process in terms of how often it occurs and how it is structured. Staff meetings typically take place on a regular basis, be it weekly or monthly. Regularity is critical because it establishes predictability for processing work and managing interpersonal process. The meetings also have a standard flow or agenda that helps everyone move through the business at hand. Of course, this includes not just the actual technical business, but also the support elements of taking care of people.

As essential as the transaction of business is the provision of support to staff. It is this component generally not seen as critical to the ongoing well-functioning of the team. Meetings are an opportunity for management and leadership to check in with the team, build a sense of family, and cull for personal issues floating around. For example, too often there are rumors or hearsay that creep into the group. These need clarification, correction, or denial. Oddly enough, all work groups seem to spontaneously generate “emotional stuff” (worries, concerns, or feared consequences).

There are whole books written on conducting a useful and successful meeting. In short I encourage meetings to be brisk and move through needed topics. Meetings should generally start with a brief support message (as explained in my previous post on communication sandwiches). Next would be what I call the “administrivia” portion of the meeting. These are the announcements, informational details, and reminders; they are like condiments on the meat. It is better to get them out of the way as soon as possible. In the meat section of the meeting is the hard technical business (“how do we meet our quarterly goals” or “how do we refine this process”). Finally, the meeting concludes with support.

That final support section can (and often should) be extended, especially if the work business is accomplished quickly. “How is the team getting along?” “Does anyone have a concern about our teaming they’d like to bring up?” “We have a new team member, maybe we could hear from Julie about how she got here?” “Are there topics for our next meeting?”

Communications works best when they feel natural and not formulaic or scripted. When they happen regularly staff gets a chance to participate in developing the organization and to process any personal issues related to that work. Communications are the essential tool for building a work team that functions comfortably and with personal satisfaction.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Safety and Security in the Workplace through Structure

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Safety and security in the workplace is usually discussed in terms of the emotional support and protection provided to employees. But there is another component to safety and security often overlooked. People feel safer and more secure when there are clear rules and expectations for performance; that is, when there is a healthy structure.

Healthy structure is about clear rules, roles, rewards, and consequences. Work is a place where employees go to perform a job. They need to know what needs to be accomplished, and how their work integrates with the overall production of the organization. Without structure – think the boring stuff like policies and procedures – people will be hesitant, unsure, and worried about judgment of their work. Rules provide a framework for guiding a person’s sense of how to operate in the environment.

Without a definition of needed organizational outcomes, people have no way to feel successful, accomplished, or motivated for hard work. Goals provide the essential measure for workers to compare their performance and to know that they have done a good job.

One trick to having organizational structure succeed is to have employees participate in building, or modifying, their own structure. It keeps them from feeling controlled and managed in a very negative way. Participation also helps make the structure relevant and efficient for achieving employee outcomes. And, when workers participate, they are more likely to follow and enforce the structure in their small work group. It cuts down on refusals and rebellion, keeping people within safe and productive parameters.

Safety and security is achieved through communal buy-in of the structure. When workers agree that the fundamental structures, like pay policies and organizational procedures, are fair and reasonable, they will maintain a safe and secure work culture. The few people who behave counterproductively will be contained and corrected by the vast majority who respect the structure.

When I was consulting to a facility for troubled kids, a counselor was asked how he was so successful in getting the kids to listen to and obey him. Mickey replied, “You govern by the consent of the governed.” After we finished laughing, we agreed it was too true. Don’t forget, it is the same in your organization, and it makes for a safe and secure environment.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Talking about Work-Life Balance

So what do you do if your organization isn’t paying attention to the issue of work-life balance and you are working too many hours? This is a real predicament for so many employees, most of whom just endure the trap. After all, everyone needs their job. It puts the bacon on the table.

Remember, your employer may not realize or think they are taking advantage of you. It is just hard for managers to support a work-life balance if it is not driven by organizational leadership. Having people work longer hours does help the bottom line, especially in very difficult financial times. Longer hours makes scheduling complex staff teaming a bit easier, and it definitely helps with meeting deadlines. Managers get promoted and succeed if they get more done with fewer resources.

How do you talk about this subject without being a trouble-maker or risking your job?

• Don’t imply that the boss is intentionally treating you badly or using you. Actually you don’t know and it may just be a “work ethic” in the culture.
• Don’t threaten anything, like leaving or suing.
• Don’t demand, bully, or be defiant.

There are good ways to go about the discussion:

• Do explain that you are committed to the organization and want to succeed in it.
• Do be respectful.
• Do explain that you are having difficulty with the time required to work on the job.
• Do explain that you have personal or family obligations – without mentioning what they are. It is not appropriate for the organization to know or judge a valid use of your personal time. Whether you have an obligation to a family member or not, remember that you have one to yourself.
• Do ask if there is some way to accomplish your job in the time you are paid for.
• Do think about the response you get and say, “I will think about what you have said to me.”

If your employer is willing to work with you, thank them and work earnestly to solve the problem. If your employer is not willing to make a plan with you, tell them you feel that is unfortunate. Keep working hard (“I’ll do the best I can.”)…and start looking for that next job.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Work/Life Balance and Achieving Mastery

October 28, 2011 1 comment

Employees seek to achieve mastery at work. They want to master their jobs and feel a sense of accomplishment. It makes for happy, satisfied, and successful employees. Similarly, people want mastery in their personal and family lives. When people are not able to manage their personal lives they get funky: they are anxious, unhappy, and distracted from work.

Organizations are smart to pay attention to work/life balance issues. They need to be careful about taking advantage of their employees and pushing them to their limits, especially in a very lean economy. Far too often people will just go along with trying to meet the demands of their jobs…until they break. They break by getting tired, unhappy, and disgruntled. You may not know it until they leave for another job.

Some of the best employees are the ones who will surprise you and suddenly be gone. I recently consulted with one who wanted help conveying to her employer that she was struggling. As a parent with a young child, she was upset about the required travel, about the tasks piling up on her desk, and about the pushy atmosphere at the job.

We made a plan for her to tell the boss about her issues with travel. She was not refusing the travel, just hoping it would be slightly reduced. She explained that the erratic hours and workload were difficult for planning child care and family schedules. Her boss heard her, expressed his regrets and made comments about the pressures facing a company that had recently been sold.

Hearing that there was no concrete plan to help her manage, she began looking for another job. With her competence she found a new job that actually paid better and where the company expressed a commitment to employee time protection. When she submitted her resignation, her current employer acted surprised and offered to nearly match the new salary. Without hesitation she turned them down.

It is a common tale, part of the reason that employee satisfaction rates run about 45% in America. Work/life balance isn’t just a good thing to do, it is critical to maintaining employees in your organization. Encourage your employees to tell you how they are fairing with their work/life balance, or suffer a higher turnover rate. It is not really a choice.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Employee Growth and Development is Not Just about Training

Sometimes you hear an organization boast about how it fosters employee growth and development, “after all, we provide many training opportunities for our staff.” But is staff growth really about training? Let me suggest that it is much more about encouraging employees to take on new tasks, have autonomy, and succeed at the work before them.

You see, training is a about gaining new knowledge or skill. This is important and useful. But acquiring new learning requires application. People have to use this information on new tasks that are engaging and matter to the organization. Without an opportunity for application, the new learning is useless, or worse, a sham.

Employers that want their employees to grow try to give them tasks that are manageable steps toward the completion of a major goal. People want and need to succeed. This is what Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer focus on in The Progress Principle. “Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.”

Employee growth and development is about helping people achieve mastery. People want to feel like they are mastering something that is challenging and valuable. It leads to confidence, satisfaction, and a desire to do more. So when training applies to the task of the employee there is excitement and drive about its application.

Any parent knows this experience firsthand. Toddlers especially, but certainly all kids, want to solve problems. The phrases are “me do it,” or “I want to figure it out.” As a parent you realize that you have to take the time to let the child succeed (even if it takes much longer than just doing it yourself). The kids are elated when they succeed and usually want to do the task over and over. “Look, I did it,” is the proud end result. Our response is “yes, you can do it and you are competent.”

Our employees want the same thing. Give them something worthwhile to accomplish, then support them in feeling successful and competent. That’s growth and development.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com