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Working People Need Support and Structure

Evidence for the people side of business exists in successful businesses. The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards program demonstrates that there are many businesses which not only take care of their employees, but also succeed at developing healthy, productive employees. Achieving a work culture that is positive and productive takes leadership and an awareness of the needs of employees.

Organizations are led by people who are usually experts in a technical area and/or have training in business. But there is a third requirement for organizational leadership, skill in the people side of business, which too many leaders lack or are less aware. Taking care of people – and providing adequate structure – is not often trained, is not easily quantified, and is as much art as science.

Consequently that third leg of running a business, the people side, is often short changed, handled “if possible”, and not made a focus of organizational structure. It is a terrible mistake because inadequate effort on this front too often leaves workers dissatisfied, unhappy, and less productive. Sometimes it leads to costly and dangerous mistakes. Think of hospital workers who have delivered the wrong drug, or air traffic controllers asleep at the job, or people in manufacturing being sloppy in assembly.

Learning the people side of business is not so easy in today’s busy work culture. Leaders and managers were not trained as psychologists or people specialists. In fact, most have no training at all. And if you try to get trained, the information is all over the map. Most books available to business people argue for one idea or the other. Drive, yes, that’s the issue. No, wait, accountability. How is anyone to pull it together into a sensible whole?

This is why we wrote The People Side of Business: Six Psychological Principles (to be published in July). The approach to employees needs to be comprehensive and balanced. Working people need to be accepted as emotional beings in need of encouragement and nurturance. They work best in a family-like environment, with the opportunity for growth and development. They also need structure and accountability to the mission and goals of the organization.

My coming posts will focus on more of the specifics needed to create a dynamic, high performance work culture.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

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Taking Care of Employees Works in a Law Firm

You know the stereotype of lawyers and law firms. They can be matter of fact and production oriented. How about a law firm that understands the people side of business and wins a Psychologically Healthy Workplace award? Well, at Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus (CGWG), they are matter of fact about taking care of their people, are winning work-life balance awards, and are very productive.

CGWG attorneys practice across three offices in Arkansas serving clients in industries in banking, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality. These attorneys pay attention to the bottom line, and they do it by making flexibility their strong suit.

Supporting a work-life balance is not typical in law firms. But at CGWG there are no billable hour requirements; in fact, hours are monitored for signs of excessive work. Employees are allowed to work modified schedules and telecommute when needed to accommodate their family life.

At CGWG there is a premium on employee involvement. With an open-door policy, self-managed groups, continuous improvement teams and multi-rater performance evaluations CGWG employees stay involved and engaged with the firm. Major decisions regarding benefits packages and other employee policies usually involve an open-floor discussion.

In the area of growth and development, CGWG sponsors learning opportunities by paying for seminars and professional conferences. The firm also understands the importance of custom tailored learning and development opportunities. For example, the firm helped an administrator earn a human resources certification and another manager became a Certified Legal Manager.

CGWG not only won a Healthy Workplace Award, it also won an Arkansas Business of the Year award. With a set of healthy workplace practices in place, the cost of health benefits at CGWG has remained stable since 2004.

The people side of business works in any business or organization. It is a matter of fact and production orientation. People are happier, healthier, and more productive. You can apply this to your organization.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

San Jorge Children’s Hospital is a Culture of Collaboration and Care

April 11, 2011 1 comment

As a full service hospital in Puerto Rico, San Jorge is as committed to the well-being and care of its employees as it is to its young patients. A 2011 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award winner, San Jorge understands that success in their business depends on paying careful attention to the people side of business. Like MITRE and the other companies receiving this award, San Jorge demonstrates both the program excellence and concomitant work benefits of taking care of (people) business.

San Jorge has an open door communications policy to encourage and facilitate staff interaction and involvement. Active communication is sought from employees through email, meetings, and other systems. Once each month the executive director holds Dialogue Day, where any employee can have a private meeting with him on any issue. Committees of staff and managers are created to implement new ideas generated by the open communication system.

Staff is encouraged to take advantage of a wide variety of training, not just in technical areas, but also in customer service and safety. In 2007 San Jorge implemented an employee mentoring program. Mentors are given special training and incentive pay while new employees receive personalized orientation in hospital procedures and practices.

The hospital offers several programs that enable employees to manage both their professional and personal lives. The Ten Month Work Program allows participating employees to take the summer months off to care for their families. The hospital also offers an onsite art summer camp and other family activities during school breaks.

San Jorge makes the extra effort to recognize employees for their contributions to the mission of the hospital. The system celebrates work milestones and an employee of the month. Employee awards include a cruise for two and other monetary rewards. Letters that praise employees for patient care are circulated to other staff.

Employees at San Jorge report high levels of satisfaction with their jobs. They also report a congruence of company values with their own. It makes for healthier, happier, and more productive employees. It is the result of a careful plan for the people side of business.

For more on the Psychologically Healthy Workplace, visit phwa.org.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Data Shows the Benefits of Creating a Healthy Workplace

Last week I spoke of the appallingly low levels of satisfaction (45%) reported by American workers. Of course, you will hear me say that paying attention to the people side of business can make a huge difference not only in worker satisfaction levels, but also in performance. Let me share some persuasive data with you.

Each year the American Psychological Association gives out awards for organizations that are psychologically healthy workplaces. The candidates for the awards are evaluated on their workplace practices for employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, work-life balance, and employee recognition. The categories map very nicely into our six psychological principles for the people side of business.

The companies that win the award show some interesting characteristics. For example, these workplaces had an employee turnover rate of just 11% compared with a 38% national average. There are just half as many employees reporting chronic work stress (18% vs. 36%). The number of employees intending to seek employment elsewhere is only 6% in the healthy workplaces compared with 32% in the average work environment. Finally, the employee satisfaction rate is an incredible 87%.

When your organization pays attention to the people side of business you don’t just get happier, healthier employees. You also get employees who stick around and aren’t looking for new jobs. You save money on hiring and training new employees. You save the costs of complaints and worker dissatisfaction. In short, your bottom line is greatly improved.

And this data doesn’t even begin to get to all the other consequences of a healthy workplace. We would maintain that the healthy workplaces are more creative environments, where product innovation and production are enhanced. These companies would likely have better quality control and customer satisfaction rates.

An organization just works a whole lot better when the people engine is well tuned. It is something that can be done…and it works! You can check out the psychologically healthy workplace awards program at phwa.org.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Worker Satisfaction and The People Side of Business

A 2010 Conference Board poll of 5000 households found that “only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987,” a long term downward trend that “could spell trouble for the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity.”

I don’t know about you, but this data is fairly stunning to me. You can blame it on a bad economy or a push for increased productivity. The long and short of it though is that American businesses don’t really know how to work with their employees. And it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s fundamental: people are the key to a business’s success. You simply can’t have a successful business when employees feel insecure, unappreciated, and unmotivated. Yet, that’s exactly what is occurring as businesses attempt to navigate these challenging economic times. Few leaders understand enough about the way people operate to be effective at engaging more than a fraction of their expertise or their passions at the exact moment when increases in productivity are most crucial.

In essence, these leaders are trying to use a very powerful but complicated tool without an owner’s manual—and the results can jeopardize their bottom line. What they need is a comprehensive framework for understanding and operating their most critical tool.

If you’ve been following this blog you have a glimpse of the six psychological principles necessary to lead and manage people. Getting the best out of your employees, and simultaneously engaging them in a satisfying manner, requires a complex of ideas joined together in a coherent whole.

The current publishing world fosters a “one idea” mentality in business books. Just like in Drive, many current titles in the field attempt to get out one idea that can be quickly and easily digested. Where would W. Edwards Deming be today with his incredible 14 points?

As I continue to review our principles I want to invite you to ask your questions about the people side of business through comments on the blog. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in the People Side of Business

March 17, 2011 2 comments

This past weekend I heard a talk by Daniel Pink, the author of Drive. What fun hearing a great writer present psychological research and pull it into a coherent idea. You see, Pink believes that businesses are caught in the grip of an outdated orthodoxy; that if you reward people you get increased output. He says that this is not always true.

Pink pointed out that the new research shows that “rewarding” tasks that have even a rudimentary cognitive component doesn’t improve performance and often decreases it. Hmm, this is not intuitive. In other words, more money offered for thinking well produces less performance. For example, when teachers were incentivized for improved teaching performance, there were no improvements in their work.

But, when people were given the time to think freely, without incentives or requirements, they were their most creative. For example, Australian software workers were give an afternoon to “do what they wanted” and see what ideas they had for their work. It turned out that the most useful and creative ideas in the company came out of that short creative period. No wonder Google offers its employees a significant percentage of their workweek for unstructured creative time.

Pink was clear about his position. Managers ought to get out of the management business and find ways to engage their employees. The keys to a successful company, at least one where there is thinking involved, are in employees gaining increased amounts of AUTONOMY, MASTERY, and PURPOSE.

Creating a high performance organization requires an understanding of a host of psychological principles. They work together. Pink has focused on a core idea that facilitates people working at their best.

Humans have this strange quirk where they do best when they can be creative; where they can do it with meaning and where they have a sense of control over their work product. Find a way to build it into your work environment and the rewards will come your way.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Leaders Appreciate Individual Differences and Embrace Healthy Diversity

Too often so many of us fall prey to bringing in people who are like-minded. Research bears this out; we hire people who look and think like ourselves. But, savvy leaders appreciate individual differences in the members of their team. In fact, they seek out healthy diversity.

These leaders know that people are unique individuals who want to be acknowledged as such. Each person wants to be recognized as special and valuable in their own right. And, they should be. They have different personalities and problem-solving approaches needed by the organization. People are not interchangeable.

One benefit of appreciating the differences is that leaders can tap the personal and technical skills necessary for each role. Bill Gates did this marvelously at Microsoft. When he located someone with talent he hired them… then found the right job for them. He wanted the best. Ultimately it is the quality of the people, in the right roles, that make a successful company.

If you follow this logic, you realize that embracing healthy diversity is a key to organizational high performance. You need people with different approaches, who can relate to a diverse consumer base, to solve the problems you face. What you don’t want is a team of people sitting around you who all have the same ideas. It may feel very affirming for you as the leader, but it gets you nowhere. You need others with diversity of ideas, perspectives, and approaches.

Leaders embrace healthy diversity because they know it is the right thing to do, and it is a winning formula. Physical diversity, of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference, also brings mental diversity. There is a greater opportunity for and acceptance of new ideas. Everyone benefits when there is diversity in the organizational team.

The “healthy” part comes when leadership fosters a culture where everyone participates in bringing their different personal identities and ideas, and where everyone comes together once decisions are made. This is another one of those tricky balancing acts. Everyone is unique, and yet everyone must end up pulling in the same direction.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Great Leadership Balances Support and Structure

Through my posts about the people side of business and about leadership you’ve probably noticed that our model stipulates the need for a balance of support and structure. Being able to nurture and support staff while simultaneously holding them accountable in a positive structure is no small trick. But it is precisely this balance that has people respond to leadership in a healthy manner.

Most people, whether in their leadership or parenting, tend to lean to one side of the support/structure continuum. You’ve seen those who are task masters and those who are softies. You may notice that you are more “by the numbers” or more relational. This tendency to lean a bit is natural. Great leaders work to hold the middle ground.

Often I’ve been asked how you can do both. The question will be phrased something like, “Doesn’t being supportive indicate that you won’t hold people accountable?” My simple answer is that this is not true at all.

In fact, perhaps paradoxically, support and structure are mutually enhancing. People who feel nurtured have an easier time taking difficult feedback. People respect structure and perform harder when they feel taken care of. The two components really do work together.

Your followers (employees, team members, kids) will scan you to see if you care. People read leaders carefully for their motivation, their concern, and their commitment to people, not just their technical knowledge of the business. The attitude inside the leader matters and you can’t fake it. If you genuinely balance support and structure, people will perceive it.

People are also very capable of reading many styles of caring. You could be a crusty old guy, but if you listen and are interested, people get it. You can be outgoing or more socially reticent. What matters most is what you have in your heart. Be your kind of caring leader, and make sure there is structure for success, and people will work hard for you.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

People Leaders are Positive and Constructive

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The best people leaders are positive and constructive through their interactions with others. People leaders believe in the capacity of their work teams to create successful outcomes for their organization. As a result, they encourage others and appreciate their efforts.

Positive leadership expresses a “can do” attitude. Leaders believe their employees will make something good happen. This is an optimistic perspective; one that is positive about possibilities for accomplishment. “Let’s make it happen, I know we can, we will succeed.” It is also a realistic awareness that only great work will pull off a challenging enterprise.

People leaders are constructive in that they believe people can learn, grow, and do what needs to be done. They are squarely behind their team. So when they see opportunities they participate as one of the team.

And when they do see something going wrong, they want it fixed. They want to learn from problems and do better. They are not personally critical, attacking or judgmental of others or themselves. It is all about objective problem-solving.

Leaders know how to let the organizational structure impersonally address problematic performance. So, through performance reviews, everyone is aware of how they are doing in meeting expectations. When the system of performance guidelines catches problems, then leaders can encourage and cheer on improvement.

Great leaders build structure so that high performance can occur. The structure both rewards successful performance and catches inadequate performance. Leaders are intuitively personal about backing the successes of their team members. They show excitement both for the person and the contribution to the organization. Of course, it also helps greatly if leaders can arrange material rewards in addition to the personal ones.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Leaders Build Structure for the People Side of Business

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

While the foundation of leadership for the people side of business is in the support provided, the key to leaders bringing others to achieve goals is in the structure they insist on building. Leaders make sure everyone keeps their eyes on the prize; that everyone works toward the desired outcomes of the organization.

There are several ways that leaders focus everyone on those outcomes. First, they insist that goals be carefully defined, for example by developing a strategic plan. Second, they build structural elements, like policies and procedures. These elements guide operations toward the determined goals. Third, they foster a culture that holds everyone accountable to achieving those goals.

Leaders work to have directional questions answered. They want people to think about where they are going and how they are going to get there, especially in creative and efficient ways. This strategic focus orients everyone to be thinking about the process of achieving outcomes. They don’t hand their staff a blueprint, but work closely with them to determine high performance outcomes. This kind of leadership conveys that achieving goals will take ongoing creative thinking.

Structural elements are clear rules and performance standards for all staff members and the business. This includes defining the rules of the game: the policies and procedures. With a guiding framework people understand how best to operate.

Additionally, building structure includes defining the outcomes for each person in the organization. Everyone has a purpose in terms of achieving some component of the organization’s success. Consequently everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and how they are contributing.

Finally, leaders build a culture that holds everyone accountable to the mission of the organization. It filters down through the organization that each person needs to perform well for the organization to come out on top. This is not a punitive system, but a measure of work success. Everyone is important.

Leadership that provides great support, and a counterbalance of structure, is the type most likely to maximize worker satisfaction while simultaneously producing great results.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com