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.