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The Creation of a Family-Like Work Environment through Team Building

Family-like environments in the work setting help employees perform at their best. They produce emotionally safe and secure settings for people to work together for the success of the organization.

Some years ago I was asked to consult with a team of nurses on one hospital floor. A year prior to bringing me in the hospital had reorganized and combined two groups of nurses. Unfortunately these nurses still operated as two separate entities: members of the original groups hung out together, complained about each other, and did not appropriately share responsibility for patient care on the floor.

When I met with the group the nurses explained that they had a long history with their respective original groups and that they had not been happy about the combining. There was nothing specific, just us and them. The unit manager was flabbergasted by the behavior of the nurses.

In the process of a larger team meeting the nurses agreed that they were less effective operating as two teams on the unit. In fact they were at a loss to explain the failure to come together. With my help they were able to see the external forces that subtlety kept them apart (three shifts, no deliberate plan to join them, a busy schedule, and other factors). All of them understood that it had taken years to gain the original trust and friendship with one another.

Agreeing that continuing as two teams was not right, the group decided it was time to come together. I expressed my confidence that, with deliberate forethought, they could make a plan that would work. Indeed, the ideas began immediately landing on my flip chart. They arranged for meals together on all three shifts so that team members could talk and share histories. The unit manager suggested and found resources for a video about the unit (“Our Team on 3D”). There were other ideas, and most importantly, there was a commitment.

Over the next several months I heard of their success pulling together. The unit manage reported that the team improved their sharing of responsibilities, reduced arguments, and generally showed much more happiness at work. She felt patient care had improved significantly. I also knew because they gave my name to other nursing units in the hospital and I could literally visit to see their success.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Emotional Safety and the Creation of a Family-Like Work Environment

July 21, 2011 1 comment

You have been hearing me talk about emotional safety and security in the work environment as critical to getting the best performance from your employees. Well, one key element to this process is the building of a family-like work environment. What is this? It is the process of creating a workplace where people feel at home; where they are attached to the organization and want to make it succeed.

When we first put our new book, The People Side of Business, out for comment we had a colleague and good friend, Skip, complain about this notion. “I keep telling people in business that the workplace is NOT a family. It is about performance and the mission of the organization.” Well, we actually agreed. The workplace IS about performance and mission. But the best performance comes from people who feel secure in their jobs and where there is a family-like system of caring for employees.

People feel most comfortable in a work culture where they are in concert with the prevailing values. When they “believe” in what their organization stands for, they will contribute fully. When employees believe that the company wants the best for them (as well as the organization), they push themselves to meet goals.

There is just no escaping the fact that humans bring a family lens to groups in which they participate. They see peers as siblings and supervisors as parent figures. Employees want exacting sibling fairness (with rules, pay scales, and overall treatment), and complete support and encouragement from their supervisors (with fair evaluations, individual attention, and personal recognition).

One of the reasons that leaders can have such power is that we humans are wired to look for someone to give us direction. Leadership is not just about visionary acumen, but about people connection such that others will follow. It is our natural instinct to want, respect and appreciate parent figures.

Now, while there are great advantages to understanding family phenomena in the work environment, there are also easy mines to step on. In my coming posts I’ll discuss the implications of the family lens, ways to achieve the family-like atmosphere, and the great value in teaming.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Common Problems that Ruin Emotional Safety and Security at Work

There are common managerial problems that ruin emotional safety and security in the workplace. Here are some examples of things I have seen and heard from employees.

1)Bad attitudes: “My boss is chronically annoyed.” This is how one employee described his boss. He assumed it was because work production was not up to par and he was worried that the blame would eventually be pinned on his tail.

2)Dangers in the physical environment: “They didn’t bother to contain the dust from the construction down the hall; they don’t care about our health.” A worker explained that despite her expressed concerns there was an unwillingness to make sure her area was safe. The episode left her assuming no one cared about her as a person.

3)Judgmental management: “My manager reminds me regularly that I am their difficult employee.” Struggling to improve and succeed, this person kept hearing judgments that effectively told her she would never succeed.

4)Dishonest or disingenuous behaviors: “These people asked for my feedback, but I saw Sally get in trouble when she complained.” All too often management says that things are open and that feedback is desired. Well, not always.

5)Lack of commitment to employee success. “They’ve let me know I am replaceable.” An employee complained about an unnecessary process. The answer she heard was that they could find someone who didn’t mind their processes. She’ll never contribute again.

6)Negativity about employees or others: “I heard my manager talking to another about how she disliked Sally.” From this employee’s point of view it could just as well be her next time the managers chose to be negative about someone. It left her uncomfortable. She even wondered if she should inform her friend Sally.

7)Preoccupation with rules or ways of acting unrelated to outcomes: “There are a bunch of stupid rules here about lunch times, dress, and behavior that have nothing to do with doing my job.” Sometimes management wants to control, thinking that the controls matter. Usually there is too much control.

8)Not appreciating success, because it is expected. “We’ve been pushing and pushing to get things done by the deadline. Will this ever end?” Especially when there is growth, too often more and more is expected. When it is not acknowledged people lose the willingness to continue pushing hard.

There are many ways to ruin the environment that makes it safe and secure for workers to operate at their best. Most of the time the problematic behavior is inadvertent. This can only be prevented by having a clear commitment and vision to creating a healthy, emotionally safe work environment.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Keys to Creating Emotional Safety and Security

June 22, 2011 1 comment

Maximizing the capabilities of your employees requires the creation of an emotionally safe and secure environment. Here are some tips to building that kind of environment.

1) Be personally warm and accepting of your staff. You need to accept them even if you don’t always like them. You care because they are there and they will make your organization successful (or not!).

2) Assure physical safety and a relative degree of comfort. They don’t need a posh environment to feel secure, but they do need bathrooms, heat, and water to work comfortably.

3) Drive out fear of rejection (my take on Deming). Personal judgments are poison to security. No one is a jerk, asshole, or idiot, and no one is stupid, insecure, or ridiculous. People may have problems and quirks, but you are not their judge. Besides, you have them too.

4) Be honest and straightforward. Your staff doesn’t need to waste brain energy figuring out if you mean something different than you say.

5) Have a commitment to your employees and their success. After all, their success is yours. So you are in it together with them.

6) Have a positive attitude. It helps people feel like there is something good ahead. Negative attitudes cause people to worry about the impending doom. It also creates a positive atmosphere which invites creativity and commitment.

7) Be oriented to outcomes. You want your employees and the company to succeed. Consequently the most important goal is to get the business work done right and done well. An outcome orientation also allows corrections to be focused on what is needed for the business, not what is wrong with the employee. And, when things do go wrong, or errors are made, you can review with a mind to the proper outcome.

8 ) Measure success and celebrate it. People need to know that they are mastering their work and that it matters. Be clear about the benefits of worker efforts and reward it. The reward may be monetary, but it must always be personal. This means you tell your employee that they did a great job, and that you/the company appreciates it.
You can do this. It’s actually a pleasure. And it matters a lot.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Emotional Safety and Security in the Workplace

People work at their best when they feel emotionally safe and secure. They focus their energy on solving problems, and not on their worries that they could be rejected. Secure employees are also happier and more satisfied employees.

Emotional safety can only occur after physical safety is assured. Physical safety is more than just protection from job hazards; it is also about workplace intolerance for interpersonal intimidation or violence.

People report feeling secure when they know what they are doing, and when they believe their supervisor also views them as competent in their job. The emotional safety comes from the sense that they will not be in trouble because they are unlikely to screw up.

So, people who have been around and have had good reviews tend to feel safe. Additionally, when employees have been handed opportunities to lead and operate independently, there is evidence that the system appreciates and accepts them. Longer term employees tend to feel safer and more secure.

So, how do you get newer employees to that place of safety? First, you welcome them. The process indicates that they are valued. Second, you define their job role and expectations. And third, you review regularly how their performance matches with expectations. Fourth, when they do well, you reward them, perhaps monetarily, but certainly personally.

The real trick comes when there are mistakes or failures. Employees (usually) worry about mistakes and their consequences. The sooner one actually occurs, the better. An episode of an error becomes the opportunity to clarify how you will deal with the person when things go wrong. Most people hate making mistakes and anticipate a rejecting response. When you review with the employee what happened and how it happened, in a nonjudgmental manner, they are relieved.

This is the process that sets up the proper risk-taking approach by the employee. It establishes the tone for the employee’s future effort to come up with new ideas and creatively solve problems. The employee says to himself, “Okay, now I know how creative I can be and what the consequences will be if I screw up.”

Creating emotional safety and security is not difficult if the culture of the organization cares to do it. The process is not about spending money, but about a commitment to the well-being of staff. Oh yes, and it is also about improving the bottom line.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

Safety and Security in the Workplace

When I wrote about safety and security in the workplace last September 10, I didn’t realize it would be the subject most searched to find our blog. Clearly leaders and managers want to know how to create safety and security for themselves and their employees in the workplace.

Creating a safe workplace is definitely not about having police officers roaming the shop floor. Safety and security happens fundamentally because someone running the show actually cares enough to make it that way. The most important aspect of leadership in this regard is that they care.

When leadership cares they make sure that dangerous or threatening people are not working in the organization. Threats to safety and security are simply not to be tolerated; not from coworkers and not from management. This is established through workplace rules and policies.

Workers generally don’t feel threatened by rules, especially those established for their safety. The policies and procedures, what we call structure, are there to provide a framework for achieving. With a framework in place, leadership and management can focus on care and support.

This care and support has people feel like they are important and integral to the success of the organization. Nurturance creates a feeling of security which allows people to work at their best. Without the fear of rejection (of losing their job) people can settle in and bring their best problem-solving to their job.

The essential fuel to power employees is the nurturance provided by the organization. The nurturance is provided through interactions that indicate that the company values its people; that they are listened to, encouraged, and offered guidance. No one talks down to them or criticizes them personally.

There are two people that workers look to for the sense of caring and security. They look to their immediate supervisor and to the overall leader of the organization. The immediate supervisor is the translator, or messenger, of the company. The CEO is the company.

When workers see that these people care, they feel safe and secure. More about this in my coming posts.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Being an Accepting Leader

Easier said than done. That’s the reaction I sometimes get when talking with leaders and managers. Working with people can be difficult and frustrating. People make mistakes, get irrational, and need things that seem unrelated to the mission of the business.

So where do you find the acceptance, the caring, the ‘love’? For me, it’s all in the heart. We need to remember that one person is not better than another. We are all born human and all have similar struggles with the human condition. Be careful not to judge, you have not walked in the other’s shoes.

“Fine,” I’ll hear, “but do I have to accept the times when people screw up?” My response is absolutely not. You accept the person, not necessarily their behavior. You would like to see each employee succeed and you are committed to helping them achieve high performance for their own personal success and for the good of the organization. This is why your messages about mistakes will be about the performance and not about the nature of the person.

Your goal is not to be a saint either. You can get annoyed, frustrated, or upset with people. Your emotional reaction can show that they matter and that what they do matters to the business. Your upset is because the business goals are being thwarted, not because they are idiots. And this is what you need to have clear in your heart and in your actions. So if you have been short or cross with someone you have to go back and let them know that you didn’t mean it personally.

If you are a manager and leader, you are probably oriented to outcomes: you want to achieve the mission of your organization. Remember, it is your attachment to those goals that gets you frustrated with people. Part of your growth as a leader is to be committed to the mission and to finding the best ways for people to achieve it. You don’t want to turn into HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who had to eliminate the spaceship crew because he believed they threatened the mission.

People are much easier to accept when you have a full toolkit for working with them. Learn the six principles; it will work for you and for those you lead.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.DeMaioPsychology.com

Acceptance – The Key to Managing and Leading People

Too often business managers and leaders look to workplace programs to create healthy and productive employees. The great ones know something that is foundational and more natural. You can’t build a dynamic employee culture unless you ACCEPT people. So easy to say, but what does it mean?

Great leaders and managers appreciate people and accept that they are human: that they can be irrational and emotional. People aren’t machines and don’t work like them. They don’t just do the assignment as it is asked and sometimes they like to do things their own way. It is almost impossible to lead people if you don’t like them and the way they operate.

Employees read acceptance from their leaders. They look to the smile on your face when you interact with them. The smile conveys that they are appreciated and that they matter to you. The absence of some form of positive affirmation can easily be read as rejection, disinterest, or bad intent. This is what makes the ‘meet and greet’ aspect of leadership so important.

Expressing an interest in employees, both professionally and personally, conveys that you care. People always light up when someone higher up asks them about their job. The simplest question, like, “how is it going?” can really make someone’s day. The sense is that they matter if the boss asks. And if they matter, then they are more likely to give a damn about the work and the company.

A critical piece to the process is that people believe they are wanted, and that they are not being rejected. Fears of rejection haunt even the most stable and solid personalities. Peoples’ brains are wired to look for rejection since avoiding it (developmentally) was a survival skill.

Personal affirmations are incredibly powerful. People remember if their boss noticed and mentioned something they did well. It builds connection and loyalty to the mission.

Remember, as a leader, you want to leave nothing about acceptance/rejection to the imagination of the employee. Some are too prone to expecting rejection or disapproval. You must counter this actively through your interaction (and workplace programs) to build a solid foundation of trust and good will.

People ultimately work for you, not just the mission of the organization. Your personal acceptance makes all the difference.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

www.demaiopsychology.com

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

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