October 28, 2008

"We have an open door policy"

I was trying to get in touch with the HR manager at a particular company recently. I emailed the general email address stating why. I asked if I could please have their name, email and phone number. I received the following response:
Dear Allison, Unfortunately we are unable to assist you as the information you have asked for is sensitive and we are not able to share it outside of the organisation. I am sorry we are unable to assist you in this endeavour, however should you require assistance with another matter please feel free to contact us. Kind regards, Customer Care Representative

There is a time and place for this type of response I’m sure – i.e. if I was trying to sell them a vacuum cleaner or ‘enhancement’ pills. Luckily for me and them, I am not in those businesses! Yet the person I wanted to make contact with was ‘off limits’ and ‘untouchable’. Before I bothered pausing and letting out a sigh, I wandered my person over to google, and within a few seconds had the info I wanted and made contact.

Admittedly I DID want to email customer service back and bleat on about approachability and also tell them I’d had about 30 other companies respond with all the info I’d asked for without any drama. I wouldn’t have minded also slipping in the fact that I’d found the details in two seconds on google. But decided I’m far too grown up to do such ‘tongue poking’. I also thought this may invoke a response of “well why didn’t you do that in the first place?!” I knew the person on the end of the email was simply following instructions.

I was surprised that companies are still sending out this message of “you are not worthy enough” to gain contact with our managers. I of course know about email overload and spam, but plenty of other companies seem quite happy giving this “sensitive information outside the organisation”. They make their managers available to those who ask. I hope the companies that don’t aren’t the same ones that say “we are consumer driven”. If consumers aren’t allowed to talk to you, you are not consumer driven!

Many companies are still guilty of doing this internally. Not allowing staff to speak up about what and to who they want. Imagine giving the above email response to a staff member – how grossly unimportant they would feel. It may as well be rewritten as “since you are only a staff member you are not of enough significance to speak to the executives. Your ideas, thoughts or concerns are without consequence. Please go back to your desk”.

Open door policies have to be TRULY companywide to be successful. Companies that want to become disgustingly successful don’t keep anything ‘off limits’ – to consumers or staff. All cards on the table is the ticket. That’s why we have so many avenues to share: blogs, twitter, email, intranets, newsletters, meetings, instant messaging etc….. No secrets, no hierarchy’s just pure truth and fun!

October 24, 2008

Why no one is listening to the CEO

A person is told a song title and asked to tap its tune to another person who has to try and guess what it is. The tapper is asked beforehand if they think the person will be able to guess it from their tapping – almost all say yes. HOWEVER only one in forty people actually guess it correctly. Why is this? It is because when you are told the song title you instantly hear its tune in your head (unless of course you have an “I can't remember how that song goes” moment!). The person trying to guess cannot ‘hear’ anything. They can’t hear the background tune you can. So while the tapper thinks they’ll be able to communicate the song no trouble – they fail! Before this turns into a music lesson, let me explain how this applies in the workplace. Let’s say the CEO wants to make a huge announcement. He calls all the troops together and shares a new goal the company is now chasing. “We need to maximize shareholder value” he says with gusto. Huh? The CEO can hear the tune in his head, of what this means – how, why, when, its effects etc. The workers are going “what the hell does that mean?!” and “why would we want to do that?” There is no link between that statement and their daily roles and responsibilities. They walk out of the meeting scratching their heads, while the CEO is thinking “That went fantastic! Boy we are going to overhaul this company”. Needless to say the shareholder value doesn’t end up ‘maximized’.

So how do you ensure EVERYONE can hear the tune playing?
First, use language a four year old could understand. NOT because your staff are imbeciles but because why overcomplicate things?
Second, put yourself in their shoes. Should they actually care about your message? It is super important to you as CEO because if you achieve it you get a $500k bonus at the end of the year….. workers probably don’t!
Third, make the message come alive. Not by creating an even fancier powerpoint presentation but by putting it in black and white and finding an innovative way to make it exciting. You can’t keep it alive by distributing an internal memo or putting it on a gold plaque at the door.
Forth – demand questions. Let staff absolutely grill you if they have to. By tearing your message to shreds, it will become evident if it really has legs and will succeed.

October 22, 2008

When it’s the staff who are crap

The Boss Benchmark talks about how to be a fab boss, but what about when the staff aren’t up to scratch?! Employees that are in roles they don’t actually enjoy can be a drain on company finances, the culture and productivity. There is plenty a boss can do to fix that. The saying “people leave bosses – they don’t leave jobs” is very true. It seems the boss is a bigger influence on an employee’s happiness than the role itself. In workplaces that have a fantastic culture total fulfilment tends to not actually matter as much. Some people stay in roles for years simply because they enjoy the team and atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if the job is disgusting, boring or full of hassle. How do you create such a culture? Well, in tonnes of ways! 35 in The Boss Benchmark to be exact. A few of them are:

Remember your workers are human
They have lives outside work. There are plenty of things that can happen in workers personal lives that need attention during work time. It is about building trust. If you have your ear to the wall to check if that is “yet another personal call” you won’t be getting the best from your worker. Leniency when workers need it the most will be remembered and inspiration to work harder when they are back. A company that insisted EVERYTHING personal must be done outside work hours failed miserablely. Staff were totally unfocused (worrying about things) and also took many more sick days to get these things done. Workers are humans’ first, workers second – that’s why they didn’t hesitate taking tonnes of sick days. A bit of trust would have gone a long way at this company.

Don’t tolerate tension
It is not always the big stuff that causes the most tension – sometimes the little stuff is MORE detrimental if not addressed. In one workplace a couple of workers with bad attitudes ruined the productivity of the whole team. The other workers lost their motivation to work hard because management were allowing such low standards of behaviour to continue.

Stop whispers in the corridors
There is no room for secrets in a super successful company. If gossip is how workers at your company find out ‘what is really going on around here’ then something is very wrong. Few workers feel they are TRULY in the know about what is happening at their workplace. A really decent communication strategy makes gossip redundant.

Don’t avoid the yuck
Don’t look for the best things within your company – look for the most terrible. Then fix them. Constantly seeking out the weakest parts of the business then doing something about them is simple but genius. Too many people would rather ignore the yucky bits. I suppose that is the difference between any ol’ company and one with true ‘X factor’.

October 17, 2008

Life changing questions

Questions are powerful. They get your thinking on the right track. They bring to attention things you had not before considered. They open your eyes and help you start to consider new realities. Some great questions I read on a blog recently are:

*Is what you’re doing RIGHT NOW consistent with your #1 goal?
*If everybody did exactly what you said, what would the world look like?
*What personal skills have you not tapped into yet to build your business and/or add value to your customers?

The Boss Benchmark is also full of questions. It is the pondering of those questions that can help you become an amazing boss. Some from the book are:
*What is most important in your role as a boss?
*What is it about you that makes you really worthy of being looked up to?
*What do you need to improve on? Where are your skills lacking?
*Where do you rate on the kindness/courtesy scale when stressed?
*What are your values? What are your personal standards?
*Are you an asshole?
*How often do you stretch your ‘know it all’ muscles?
*What are the positive and negative stressful influences in your workplace?
*What small stuff should you be sweating?
*What questions do you really need to ask staff?
*What issues in your workplace are you trying to pretend don’t exist?
*How much gossip goes on at your workplace and why?
*In what areas are you hesitating to give staff responsibility and control? What is this costing you?

Take the time to ponder your answers to these questions, you may be shocked what you learn about yourself and how you can grow.

October 14, 2008

Steve Irwin: best boss in the world.

I adore Steve Irwin. I think that if we all had a bit of Steve in us the world would be a much better place. Anyone who isnt enjoying their job or hasn’t found their passion needs to just look at Steve to see what life can be like. I wish Steve opened a ‘boss school’ before he was taken from us too soon. He could teach bosses a thing or three. I have a mental list of people that I believe are totally authentic. Steve is at the top of that list. He was never hiding anything. He didn’t hold anything back. You never wondered if he was telling the truth. He was real. Such deep authenticy is not that common – which is why my list is quite a short one. If you want a 200% example of passion, drive, energy, fun, truth, excitement, action, great strategy, clairty and knowledge just look at Steve. Any boss that can also sport that list would be a fab one. An interviewer once asked Steve about his energy. He asked if he ever drinks coffee. Steve quickly answered “nah mate the top of my head would blow off”. Classic! Our work is supposed to get us as excited as Steve always was. If you are in the right role then it is possible. It is the bosses job to also get staff so pumped in their role they resemble Steve. I think when Steve was here we thought he was funny, intelligent and great to watch. Now that he is gone, I think we’ve realised SH*IT that guy is a genius. We need to live and think like him. Of all the people that have impacted our world and lives, I think he is the one that can change our world the most. Especially in our work.

To get more Steve into your life:
* Brainstorm what ‘being like Steve’ means to you.
* If Steve were the boss in your workplace, how would things be different?
* Think about your role and what about it makes you ‘Steveish’
* Forget all this doom and gloom crap and be positive - it is a choice.
* Imagine what it would be like if all your workers were like Steve (performance and profit would be through the roof) then figure out what it will take for you to make that happen.

Crikey! The world just became a much brighter place.

October 13, 2008

Is confidentiality negotiable?

A previous blog entry about when I started in the workforce reminded me of something I would rather have forgotten. But since it is not forgotten, I may as well share it! I was sixteen years old and working as a teller in a bank. I had been in the role only a few months but knew already it wasn’t what I was put on earth for. I liked the bank though. I wanted to know what else was available within it. I knew there had to be some cool department I had not heard of before in the big building in town. If not, perhaps I’d find my bliss amongst the even bigger offices in Auckland and Wellington. Unfortunately for me the only career advancement I was welcome to was the ‘normal’ progression from teller, to insurance/accounts/automatic payments to lending consultants. You had to follow the branch ‘steps’. I decided that if head office knew of my drive and passion they would surely want to utilise it. So I did what any sixteen year old thinking outside the box would do. I did a ‘project’. I call it that because that is how I embarrassingly remember it. I spent many a night at the family computer nutting up what was about a six page document. In it I introduced myself to the recruitment manager. I explained my ‘skills’, goals, ideas, and excitement about finding the right place for me within the bank. I explained that the branch network wasn’t for me and that I really wanted to know WHAT was out there, WHAT positions were available within this huge brand. Working in my own wee corner of the bank I had no knowledge of departments such as marketing, PR, credit control, sponsorship, learning and development etc. All I wanted was to be told what was out there – so I could ponder, see and dream about where I could head. I thought my special ‘project’ would knock their socks off. Especially the page that had “What I have to offer” written in a bubble in the middle and my personal qualities scattered around it looking all flash. I thought this was hugely innovative at the time…..give me a moment - I need to cringe in embarrassment! My cover letter to this had one clear request. Please don’t tell my manager I approached you. I was newish and I didn’t want them to know I was already looking for my out. Simple enough request I thought. People do it all the time when job seeking – confidentiality until the right moment. Anyway a week or so past and I was called to my supervisors office. In her hand she clutched at my special project. I was so embarrassed. I got the ‘career progression’ talk – load AP’s, sell insurance and then you lend. I felt a lot like a naughty school girl who had been told off by the principal. She wasn’t impressed with my project! She didn’t like that I’d approached recruitment instead of following the only, stiff, unappealing progression plan available to branch staff.

Needless to say the recruitment manager who I sent the project to didn’t adhere to my simple request of speaking to me only! She didn’t call, she didn’t email, she didn’t write. She just sent the whole thing to my boss and said ‘sort this out’. I was guttered. I was just as clueless as before the launch of my ‘innovative’ reaching out. No “well we have marketing, PR, IT….”. Not even a call to say “speak to your supervisor”. Just a readdressing of the project, which from that day on was kept in my HR file.

Anyway, my point and I do have one is this: how much weight do workers words have with you? If someone asks you to keep something quiet do you do it? Or do you (with complete disregard of their feelings and trust) do whatever you want? I didn’t know why she couldn’t have simply called to talk about it. I had clearly requested to keep my supervisor out of it. To this day it baffles me why she would SEND THE WHOLE DARN THING onto her. I felt so unimportant. Why was I so valueless that my simple (and common) request was ignored so blatantly? Can you identify with any of this waffle? Does it remind you of anything your staff want or need from you that you arent giving?

October 10, 2008

“People get to be people all the time”

More and more experts are starting to say work-life balance is no longer 'the thing'. We now need work-life intergration, as work and life should be in harmony.... therefore removing the need to 'balance' the two. Makes a lot of sense. Scott Ginsberg of http://www.hellomynameisscott.com/ commented recently on the question he is frequently asked at airports "travelling for work or pleasure?" To which he responds "both" or "no difference for me". Having your work be a natural and enjoyable extenstion of yourself is how it should be. We need to create workplaces where "people get to be people all the time". I've just finished a book written by two wonderful ladies who are taking on that mission! It is called "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it". Cali and Jody have created a framework called ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) which they have implimented in US Fortune 100 company Best Buy very very successfully. Staff are paid for work done, not hours worked. These women are fantastic and doing to the workplace what it called for years ago. I hope they conquer the world fast! I love how they think. They say millions and millions of objections have been thrown their way about ROWE but they have never had anyone disagree with the radical statement "adults deserve to be treated like adults". Damn right they do! ROWE requires trust, new thinking, commitment and open mindedness. Some people do get very anti this kind of movement, which I'd personally put down to fear or lazyness. Scared of what could happen, or too lazy to make it happen. They can't hide from the fact that this is where the future is taking us. We just need to tackle such workplace innovations (or revelations!) the same way you eat an Elephant. One bite at a time.

Cali and Jody believe it is not the bad boss or unfair break policy that makes people keep switching jobs. It is the very nature of how we work, which is flawed. These days we don’t have to wait until the store opens to buy something or watch TV when it airs or come down from Mt Everest to make a phone call. Yet at work we have given up all these freedoms. The nature of our workplaces force us to be slow and tradition bound at work. 20 years ago you had to go to the office because that is where the resources, phones and liquid paper was. This has been not the case for quite some time now.
A powerful insight for me from the book was "flexi time can make work suck more". As "Nothing can make you feel more out of control than to be given the illusion of control." There is a story of a worker who achieved flexible hours but: got stressed, questioned her own competence, had colleagues say sarcastically every time she was in the office "oh your here..." and being left out of decisions. It appears flexitime is not the answer! The workplace has outgrown it already.

ROWE also kills presenteeism (being in the building but not working) as slackers cannot hide in a ROWE. I highly recommend this book. It is the future of workplaces. It is powerful and fun. It is laden with fantastic real employee examples that illustrate what it is like in a ROWE.

October 7, 2008

Save the world…. one workplace at a time

I kept seeing the same issues popping up in workplaces. No matter the industry, product or team size. Three poignant points (well they seem to be the most poignant in the moment I write this) were:
*Hearing gazillons of workers complain about their boss being incompetent
*Knowing lots of bosses got into positions of power through promotion without properly learning how to lead
*Seeing that a lot of bosses are so busy doing the bosses work they forget to lead

I wasn’t sure if my learnings could really add value to bosses, but since I personally found my discoveries OVERWHELMINGLY interesting (!) I decided to pen them in the hope they would positively influence workplaces. I started writing, and two days later I was done. The guts of my lessons were on paper. I made certain not to shudder in fear that all I know took only two days to pen! I decided it was better to decide I was simply a genius, with killer writing skills! It did however take another 3 months to get the book edited and edited and edited, designed and finally printed. I am thrilled that awesome Kiwi Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi liked it enough to let me splatter his name all over the cover (and order 45 copies for his management team). Right now it’s a waiting game. I sit by my letterbox (aka computer) waiting to hear what all my readers think of The Boss Benchmark. Was it a waste of my two days? Is it inspiring? Did it open your eyes? Did it wake you up? Do you disagree with everything in it? Was it the best thing you’ve ever read and you are going to say so to every person you meet? Perhaps even stop strangers on the street?! Were you hugely disappointed? Did you love the real examples or were they a waste of space? TELL ME! I want to hear it all – especially the less than desirable comments because I DO take my own medicine and adore the ‘yucky bits’. They will help me make my next edition better.

After a few ‘storytelling’ posts to start my blog off, I intend to use it now to keep in touch with my readers, discuss the 35 points in The Boss Benchmark and discuss anything and everything else ‘workplace’ that can add value to you and your role as a modern/awesome/I’ve reached The Boss Benchmark boss. Now, let us don our Superman cape’s and save the world…. one workplace at a time!

October 6, 2008

Am opinionated...will question authority!

I knew I wanted to help businesses and some how, in my own little way, make the world a better place. After a few false starts I found my niche in staff surveying. I decided that making staff happier and bosses better through it was my little way of “changing the world”.
It was perfect because as a Gen Y I’ve always been opinionated and known that authority desperately NEEDS to be questioned – not because I am a brat, but because it is the questioning and discussing that drastically improves things. This attitude is not overwhelmingly popular, as there are plenty of old fashioned people and businesses who prefer things “like they used to be”. There is DEFINETLY a time and a place for ‘things as they used to be’ – I’d definitely prefer a delish old school cookie “like mama used to make” than those rubbery wee things Subway pass off as ‘cookies’! Business, workplaces and bosses however need a mix of old and new - the best of both worlds. I found that despite suffering high staff turnover, performance problems and the costs involved in these things, bosses still hesitated before doing a staff survey. I don’t know what they were scared of, but I did know what they were missing out on. Most staff surveys do not ask the right questions, nor are the answers interpreted correctly. In one case of the extreme I came across a survey that no matter how staff answered the questions, the responses came out glowing. Staff were bitterly, bitterly unhappy – yet the survey results boasted passion, engagement and commitment. More surprisingly it was run by an external professional survey company. I knew something was wrong. The right questions were not being asked and the staff not being understood. My surveys sent me in to bat for the ‘little guys’. I was on the staffs side – I knew no one else was. I also knew what it was like to feel powerless. Where the company isn’t interested in what you have to say, nor is the boss. I would go as far to say that not listening to your staff is the most ridiculous, stupid, toxic, mammoth mistake mediocre businesses are STILL making day after day. I loved batting for the staff, but I loved EVEN MORE the look on the bosses face when I presented them with insight. The results that told them all they have ever wanted and needed to know about what is going wrong and why. I think they found freedom in the results – they regretted ever being scared and wished they’d had this info in their hands years ago. I’ll explain how all I learnt doing surveying lead me to write my book The Boss Benchmark soon.

October 3, 2008

I am IN LOVE with workplaces

I don't know why I have not started a blog earlier. My book has given me proper reason to now, so I can keep in touch with my readers. I think I should have had one all along, would have really helped me with my book writing - being able to hear other peoples views on my beliefs about what 'being a great boss' entails. Anyway I'm here now! The first thing I want to say, and need to say is that I am in LOVE with workplaces! Why? I am not sure really! I started work in a bank at age 16... I was full of energy, excited about a paycheck, very eager to learn, happy about meeting all kinds of people (adults no less)! Being Gen Y I was sure I would make my mark and make it big (and very fast!) I was sure I'd find a role in the bank that made me so excited to get out of bed everyday and really make a difference (not too mention pay me a fortune). But then something happened. I looked around and realised nobody was passionate about what they were doing. People spent a lot of time wishing they were on their break, wishing it was home time, wishing it was the weekend, wishing their holiday would come around quicker. I was SHOCKED. (Oh the naivety!) I refused to let my career turn out like that, ESPECIALLY because I had at least another fifty years work ahead of me. So I did something about it. I got a book. Yep a book. It changed everything! It is called "The Work We Were Born To Do" by Nick Williams. It showed me it is possible to love what you do. It is possible to be so excited about your career you are up yoga-ed, showered, dressed and fed by 6am! That was seven years ago now! I will fill you in about what happened between the day I discovered that awesome book and today in my next entry...