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The Third Domain of Organizational Excellence: The People Side of Business

A number of years ago Lee Hersch and I began working to coalesce the consulting ideas we regularly share with business people. We found that as psychologist consultants there were “fundamental” notions we kept repeating through each consultation process.

We also realized that we were talking about the third domain of organizational excellence. Almost everyone we worked with was a specialist in business and in their unique product or trade. Few of those same business people had trained in how to effectively manage and lead the key component of their business – their people.

So, we have constructed a kind of psychological primer for business people. It contains what we believe to be the six essential psychological principles needed to manage and lead. The principles are based on the notion of accepting the way humans are designed and building systems that work with that design. People need to be nurtured, tend to work from a family-like perspective, and should be encouraged to develop and grow. They also need limits, guiding rules, and rewards – structure – to produce at peak performance. Utilizing these principles requires that one manage with a balance of support and structure. Finally, managers and leaders must appreciate that there are differences among people in how they respond to support and structure.

To convey the principles in context, and to provide a case vignette, we constructed an engaging story about a new CEO. He realizes that there are personnel problems in his organization and must learn the six principles to solve them. The book is filled with work characters you see every day in your workplace.

The book is now available through Amazon and other fine retailers.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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Appreciating Individual Differences

Sounds odd, but not all employers appreciate individual differences among their workers. What do we mean by that? Well, too often employers want their workers to fit the mold, to do their jobs in a particular manner, and, well, to be interchangeable. On many levels this makes sense, especially if you want to deliver a product with consistency.

It is just that people at work are unique, quirky, and like to be thought of as special. It is the way people are. Consequently it only makes sense to accept this fact, embrace it, and honor individuality. Luckily, appreciating individual differences in your employees brings a host of rather positive consequences.

The People Side of Business, our book about understanding people in the workplace, proposes six psychological principles. The sixth of which is that Individuals are Different from One Another. Appreciating individual differences makes the implementation of all the other principles possible. One cannot truly accept and nurture people, build family and support growth, unless you like people the way as they were designed in their own unique way.

Nurturing employees depends on accepting individuality. You can’t just walk around saying you care for everyone interchangeably. People feel cared about because you recognize something in or about them. You have to see their uniqueness in some way. Then you can acknowledge “Betty”, the most special assistant in accounting, or “Sally”, who tries harder than everyone. People hate feeling like worker #283, who should produce reports that look the same as others.

People like to be recognized for something special about themselves. “Bob always has a spring in his step. We need that around here.” Otherwise they experience their work world as a place where they are not needed and where they don’t make a contribution.

When people feel appreciated for who they are, they are proud, more confident, and think more creatively. It takes nerve to express oneself through problem-solving on a team or through suggesting organizational changes. You want people to feel safe so they can fully contribute. Appreciating them in some special individual manner helps make that more possible.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Individual Differences-A Workplace Opportunity in Oz

As a psychologist/business consultant I get to see how most of us are more comfortable finding and working with people who are similar to ourselves. “Hey, he thinks like me!” It makes it all so easy. But it is the differences between us that can be a tremendous source of work pleasure and problem-solving dynamism.

Our social networks are populated with similar, like us, friends. You know: similar values, politics, hobbies, or work endeavors. But in the workplace it is a learned skill to appreciate and utilize the differentness in others.

A few years ago I was asked to consult with a service delivery team. They all had essentially the same job: they needed to supervise a group of employees providing probation services to teenagers. Problem was that they were very different people expected to perform alike. One supervisor was stricter about the rules for his workers and the kids they managed. One had a unique gift for understanding others and counseling them about problems. And the third of the group was considered slightly obsessive; he focused on the reports and procedures expected of his staff. These collective differences were driving the Director batty (and tending to have her favor the “counselor”).

Personally I thought I’d been placed on the set of the Wizard of Oz. Could these guys be the cowardly lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow? Well, real or not, I knew it took all three of those guys to get Dorothy to Oz.

I set out to build a true team of all four in the leadership group. With prompting, each committed to appreciating the perspective of the others, and each agreed to learn skills from the others. One supervisor shared his long history of what techniques worked with kids, including the need for strong structure (probation rules). The second supervisor focused on developing the supportive (counseling) skills needed by everyone in the organization. And the third supervisor kept everyone reminded of the technical requirements of the system for reports, planning, and organization.

Individual differences are essential in the workplace. They bring the variety of perspectives and skills needed to accomplish a complex work task. Learn to utilize these differences and you won’t find yourself in Oz anymore.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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

Worker Satisfaction and Employee Reward Systems

While I have been discussing communications in the workplace, I view communication as one of many aspects of structure. Communication is a vehicle for conveying support and structure to employees. The turn of a phrase or the wording of a memo can make huge difference in how employees perceive the attitude of their managers and leaders… and how the employees perform.

When it comes to reward systems the communication matters. You see, it is important that the rewards are seen as the success of great performance, not as a tool for enforcing performance. In work cultures where people work primarily for the reward (like in jobs that are fundamentally about the commission, for example) there is generally less loyalty to the company, less interest in the quality of the work product, and less personal satisfaction. People can switch from selling one product to another.

In companies that offer meaningful work and autonomy of work process people find intrinsic satisfaction from their effort. When people feel like they have some autonomy in accomplishing their work, they feel mastery for themselves, and increased loyalty to their company or organization. When that good commitment, effort and outcome occur, and it is celebrated with rewards, then workers feel even better about themselves and the job.

A year ago I wrote a post about the work of Daniel Pink, the author of Drive. He pointed out how, paradoxically, when cognitive tasks were rewarded, or incentivized, performance actually decreased. He noted that 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.

Humans need to feel autonomy and mastery. They also like to win and to succeed; to light up the score board. As managers and leaders we want to communicate to our employees that it is their job to figure out, creatively, how to move the ball down the field. We don’t incentivize exactly how they zig or zag. But we do jump up and down when they score. This is how we keep reward systems from detracting from autonomy and reducing performance.

So what you want to communicate in building a reward system is that the intention is not to control or micromanage your employees. Good performance is greatly appreciated, and the outcome (in terms of organizational goals) essential. Success brings the organization (and individuals) rewards. This delicate balance of “you can do it” and “the organization must achieve its goals” is the trick in presenting and implementing reward systems. In the People Side of Business, we call this the critical balance of support and structure.

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