Thursday, July 21, 2011

Feeling isolated in the workplace?

Upon the recommendation of one of his closest friends, John Andrews, one of the smartest traders on the Wall Street decided to quit CitiBank to join Morgan Stanley. A week into his new job, Andrews started to feel isolated. Of course, his friend did go to his office to welcome him. But, none of the other managing directors did not seem to bother to introduce themselves to him. Also, his request to have an assistant assigned to him went unheeded which worsened his sense of disappointment. He felt neglected. One month into the new job, he quitted Morgan Stanley to rejoin CitiBank, his former employer. In a telephone conversation with his friend, he did not mince his words in saying that joining Morgan Stanley was the worst career decision he had ever made.

Ambitious professionals like John Andrews often tend to feel isolated. Or at least that`s how they perceive. As long as they believe that they are on the outside looking in, they are naturally tempted to withdraw and ruminate about how they have been excluded and abandoned. No doubt, this`s a devastating feeling. In the case of Andrews, it assailed him with so much force that he decided to go back to his previous employer. 

Obviously, where organizations fail to implement continuous effective programs that improve the employees` sense of connectedness and belonging in, it is small wonder that they develop a false sense of isolation. Still, there are a few things one can do to restore the sense of connectedness before it all moves beyond the point of no return.

Do something before your sense of isolation deepens

In the case of most employees, this feeling of exclusion originates from some incident occurring early in their term with a company, team, or group. However, it won`t be healthy to leave it unsettled. Where one feels it is just an inconsequential remark, he needn`t be consumed by anxiety right from the beginning of his tenure. Where someone influential gets a negative impression, it is even more crucial for one to set the record straight early. Where one has made a mistake, he should know it so he can fix it and feel included again.

Step back and put things in perspective

It is also possible that one may be over-reacting and taking the perceived or real feedback too personally. Also it is important to discover whether one`s organization, particularly the CEO considers inclusion as a value. In most cases, it has been found that companies tend to follow their CEOs in this matter. Where the top executive models behaviours that make people feel empowered and connected to the corporate community, there is what is called an inclusionary organization. Unless the CEO has made inclusiveness a company value, most people in the organization feel more or less alienated.

Communicate with the isolating party clearly, concisely, and honestly

Well, it is not too easy to start these conversations whether you are a recent recruit or an old hand. In the case of high-need-for-achievement individuals, they constantly fear having their worst fears confirmed- that they are indeed on the outs with their boss or have fallen off the fast track. In most situations, the most effective solution is to express oneself honestly and clearly to the bosses. That will lay most of one`s doubts and fears to rest. Don`t go for a long-winded speech or get defensive. Just stick to the facts and state simply and clearly how you are feeling. Probably the bosses` reaction will almost always be a reassuring statement about your value as a member of the company and/or some helpful suggestions dissipating your feelings of isolation.

As they stand on the edge of a group, people ask these basic questions: Am I in or out? Am I a member of the club or not? Will I ever fit in here? The truth is that the majority of us feel like we are floating towards the outer edges of the circle a lot of the time. The challenge is admitting to our feelings of isolation and dealing with them before they start affecting our productivity, our relationships, and our sense of fulfillment. When it comes to isolation, obviously, our perceptions become reality, which we`ve got to realize above all.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Freedom & Knowledge Workers` Performance

Too many managers today are so obsessed with increasing productivity and guiding innovation that they virtually kill creativity and passion - the intrinsic motivation that keeps people deeply engaged in work - by refusing to give people autonomy. As a result, too many professionals with enormous talent, experience and drive to do meaningful work feel practically suffocated.

Let`s take an example. Sara, a marketing executive with an MBA, works as a product manager in a consumer appliances company. Her team is technically in charge of developing the next generation household appliances. Recently, they built a new electric kettle that consumed less power and had an ergonomic handle. Apparently, the product was an excellent innovation and deserved to be recognized as such. But, she found that the top management who included the Vice President-R&D was too skeptical. They had her change the product several times before they gave approval. She felt that they, the top management, kept all the important decisions to themselves and wavered wildly in those decisions seldom explaining and never consulting with the team. She also felt that their behaviour caused them to start, stop, and re-start etc sapping their creative energies.

When people have a say in what they do, they feel intrinsically motivated and acquire a sense of achievement when they progress in work. Also, when people have the freedom to decide how they accomplish a particular task or reach a particular goal, they become more creative. There is autonomy where people can make meaningful decisions and feel confident that those decisions will hold, that is excepting grave errors and dramatic shifts in conditions. Where management overrides their decisions for no fair reason, people will no longer feel motivated to make decisions, which seriously undermines progress. Work gets inordinately delayed if people are compelled to wait for approval irrespective of the scope and potential implications of a particular decision.

There is ample research evidence suggesting that the profound expertise of many knowledge workers went untapped and that their initial excitement about tackling challenging projects soon got evaporated. This resulted from those managers` persistent belief that to do a good job, they had to direct the work - tell people exactly what to do and how to do it, changing it as they alone saw fit. These managers failed to comprehend three things:
  1. Managers themselves almost never have the specific knowledge that well-trained, experienced professionals have about the work they are doing. Failing to make use of that knowledge is a terrible waste of resources. 
  2. Professionals become demoralized and lackadaisical if they don`t have the autonomy to at least co-direct the work they are doing.
  3. Organizations will see spectacular failures if their professionals become disengaged. Even if those professionals don't quit the organization for greener pastures, they're not performing at their best.
So, managers have to understand that it is counterproductive to ignore professionals` ideas and micromanage their projects, that they should be given specific, meaningful goals and be allowed to decide how to achieve those goals, that they are passionate about their expertise and creativity, that they deserve to be believed in and that if they are respected as professionals worthy of autonomy, they will perform even better.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It`s all about losing yourself in a job…

Flustered? Not to worry. It`s quite natural to feel confused when you find upon such a weird caption staring you in the face. Let me throw a bit of light on it.

Writes The New York Times Pundit, David Brooks, “College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities…. Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams… Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself…”

What Brooks says is nothing foreign to us. You must have been told umpteen times to pursue our heart`s passion or do a job that we are passionate about. Similarly, you must have imparted the same piece of advice to the younger people. Of course, you must have assumed the air of a tremendously successful man who has been pursuing his heart`s dreams all his life.

But, it`s not about what you can achieve for yourself. Rather, it`s about what value you can create as a member of a team in realizing the mission of your company. Even the most independent CEOs will say that the mission is bigger than the self.

As Brooks says you are called by a problem. Probably one that defies solution. You are hired to fix it. In all fairness, it may not be something you are passionate about. But if you are willing to make a serious commitment to solving that particular problem by drawing on your education, experience and maybe intuition, it defines your success and growth in the company.

If you lose yourself in your job finding a solution, striving for a cause, then you have the edge that helps you succeed in whatever job you do at almost any company.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Always avoid the acute angle

Most of us are such know-alls that we love to argue and drive our point home. While we are perfectly aware that it hurts so much to be contradicted and dismissed, we continue to embroil ourselves in arguments day in day out perhaps in the hope of savouring the (malicious) happiness of contradicting another person.

Generally, we have to remember, more often than not, what hurts us hurts others too. Or what we find unpleasant or painful is nearly so to others too most of the time. What I mean is if being defeated in an argument hurts us, it`s no less painful to others when they are at the loser`s end.

As a manager, it`s important for you to learn to use your debating skills sparingly, if at all.
Putting your foot down and keep asserting yourself all the time won`t win you many friends. In fact, it will make people regard you as an arrogant, self-opinionated asshole. Riding roughshod over others` emotions is as dangerous in your organization as it is at your home.

If you find yourself being dragged into a heated argument, try to extricate yourself from that situation. You need to learn that, as far as an argument is concerned, to yield is the next best strategy where avoidance doesn`t work.

I don`t advise you to remain tight-lipped where you know that you`re right. But if the other person keeps contradicting you in an argumentative spirit and you are tempted to counter him, you must be able to foresee the end of it, that is one of you is going to have to eat the crow, or to taste the bitter fruit of defeat. So just give in and avoid the confrontation.

Remember pride is the never failing vice of fools and that you can never win an argument. I say so because, if you lose the argument, you resent the other`s victory over you; if he or she loses it, they are going to resent yours too.

You are really stupid if you fail to realize that arguments can wreck interpersonal relationships. If you want to argue yourself to professional failure, the recipe is to get into as many arguments as possible with your superiors, peers as well as your subordinates. Got my point?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Never criticize anyone in public

Do you remember the last time you were criticized at a meeting with all your colleagues watching the scene? How did you take it? Did you swallow the bitter pill in silence? Or did you shoot back? Whatever was your visible reaction, as an ordinary human being, you would probably have resented it more or less.

Criticizing subordinates in public is a catastrophic mistake some dumb managers do. Not only does it fail to correct whatever is wrong, but it also lowers the morale of the criticized. Further, it`s one of the fool-proof ways to make enemies inside the organization. As the conflicts intensify, the all important concepts of team spirit and co-operation vanish into the thin air. The organization, as a whole, begins to lose in terms of productivity.

So when you notice two of your subordinates engaged forever in a small talk while others are at work, you may be tempted to put your powers and authority on display and give them a good piece of your mind in order to set a good example for others. But, don`t cave in to that temptation! To criticize them in public may be one great way to vent your spleen, but it will (it`s ‘will’ and not ‘may’) cause them to resent your portentous attitude and turn disloyal to you in no time.

So what you should do instead is to summon them-preferably one at a time-into your room and tell them softly how they were supposed to behave inside the office during the work-hours. Don`t just keep telling about their weak points-it`s, of course, ill-advised to point out their other weaknesses on this occasion. Tell them honestly the strong points you appreciate in them. Over-emphasizing their mistakes won`t convince them of their wrongdoing. Deliberate on what you should tell them and how you should tell it. Don`t just succumb your anger. Let them be convinced of their fault.

Remember every one of us-no matter how educated, how cultured and how powerful- is a damned fool at least five minutes a day and that wisdom consists in not exceeding that limit. If we were to record all our follies every day, each of us would have a massive volume of FTD(Fool Things I Do) by the time we reach our sixties, that`s, supposing we see out our fifties.

So make your point clear. But don`t be rude or arrogant. Let them save face. Yes, you should let them save face. That`s precisely why I warn you against faulting anyone in public.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sleep on your Grudges

How did you react the last time one of your superiors swore at you for a delay in the delivery of a project? It`s quite natural if you felt deep resentment towards whether he was right or not. And what did you do? Did you yell at him? Did you send a sharp email justifying your actions and criticizing his diatribe? Or did you kindly explain to him what had happened and told him that you alone was not to blame for the delay.

Maybe, you should have forgotten it then and there. Impossible? Not at all. Nothing remains the same forever. Neither anger nor resentment takes exception to this universal rule. If you had let it rest or slept on your grudge, you`d probably have woke up to a new dawn of understanding. Whether you call it understanding, empathy or emotional intelligence, it`s all the same at the heart.

What we have to understand is there is too much confusion out there in the world. In fact, ours is a planet with over six billion unique individuals with different attitudes, tastes and tempers. We all have our dreams, hopes, fears and frustrations. More relevant to our context, every one of us has our own insecurities. When something or someone poises a threat our interests-maybe it`s more perceived than real- we tend to feel angry about that.This is so because, inherently, people resist change.

So now you can understand while getting rebuked is certainly unpleasant, it is more important to put things in perspective and not to overreact. Most probably, it`s gonna blow over. So, why keep hugging a grudge?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Everybody likes a compliment

Do you feel happy when your superiors praise for your commitment to the job? Are you delighted when your friends admire your newly bought t-shirt? What makes you feel so great when your fiance/fiancee says you look great today? It`s simply because you love to be appreciated. We all love to get appreciation from our spouses to superiors to total strangers when we are aware that it`s honest.

But,just think for a second. Do you appreciate people as often as you criticize them? Are you a tough guy never ready praise those under you? Are you persisting in the belief that praising people will make them feel smug and keep them from achieving better?

It`s high time to shed your stupid pre-conceived beliefs about the adverse effects of appreciation. Praise does works. People love honest compliments. If you honestly appreciate people for what they do-no matter how insignificant it looks to you- it`s one of the easiest way for you to win their trust and loyalty.

If people like you, it`s really easy for you to get things done as a manger. So, the next time you find your office assistant neatly arranging your desk, tell him or her that they are doing a great job and you are happy about it. Don`t just utter it. Say it with a smile. Let them feel you mean it.
If you`re only used to giving them a curt nod, you may find it next to impossible to extoll their virtues. But just do it and see if they won`t do it better next time.

In the earlier post, I told you about the uselessness of criticism. Here, I have briefly talked about its opposite, ie appreciation. Do look forward to more on these on my next post.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do you love to criticize?

Are you a harsh critic, a cynic or a fault finder? As a manager, it`s essential for you to realize that criticism rarely works. Few people, if any, enjoy getting criticized. Why? Because our nature is not to believe that we are ever in the wrong. This`s why we always seek to justify our faults.

Criticism, as Dale Carnegie argues (and rightly so), is dangerous. It is dangerous, because it hurts our sense of pride. It wounds our self esteem. It insults our wisdom.

So, the next time you want to take your subordinate to the task over the clumsy file he has just handed you, stop right there and ask yourself, 'Do I really have to blame this fellow?' If it`s something you can set right easily, why blame him? Blame, anyway, is not going to fix it. Either your subordinate or you have to set it right, so why take the trouble to criticize?

Wait for my next blog post for more on this highly sensitive topic. Have a good day!

The Art of Diplomacy

Have you heard about Dale Carnegie, the illustrious philosopher who authored the best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People? In this enlightening book, there are two words he repeatedly stresses. Guess what? Yep, it`s tact and diplomacy. Yes, you`re perfectly right to think they mean the same.

For managers and for would-be managers, the single most important piece of advice I would like to give is ' learn, practise and master the art of tact'. If you are diplomatic, as a manager, it will be pretty easy for you to convince people.

Basically, every one of us wants to feel important. If anyone slights us or makes us feel less important than we are, we inherently tend to dislike that person. What a tactful person does is to make others feel important in every possible way. I`ll explain how this can happen in the next post.