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The People Side of Business and Worker Retention

According to a survey conducted this past month by the American Psychological Association, “Despite uncertainty in the job market, the top reasons working Americans say they stay with their current employers are work-life fit and enjoying what they do…” The report also notes that, “Fewer employees cited concrete reasons for remaining on the job, such as benefits, pay and a lack of other job opportunities.”

What does this mean? David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, the head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program who conducted the study, suggested that, “To engage the workforce and remain competitive, it’s no longer sufficient to focus solely on benefits. Today, top employers create an environment where employees feel connected to the organization and have a positive work experience that’s part of a rich, fulfilling life.”

Keeping employees, and getting their best performance, is consequently a function of understanding and approaching workers in concert with their psychological functioning. It requires an acceptance of what people need and derive from work. This framework of what people need and how they function is the six principles for the people side of business.

When employers pay attention to the needs of their employees, help them find the right fit in the company, and care about work/life balance they create an atmosphere where people not only feel connected, they take ownership of their work and the company mission. When employees want to stay, they are more likely to creatively solve problems, build the company, and participate in teams. They need less supervision and operate more autonomously. And, satisfied workers who stay save the incredible cost of new hires and their associated training needs and learning curve.

Attending to the people side of business is not just a nice thing to do for your employees; it is what creates the dynamism and performance of a successful company. The survey confirms it.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

http://www.DeMaioPsychology.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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