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May 30, 2007

Could you use improvisational techniques for workplace discussions?

In ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, author Malcolm Gladwell has a section on improvisational theater. In acting, the goal may be a 30 minute performance in which the players agree they have to accept everything that happens to them. They have no net, no script, no plot. They practice to become better listeners, to follow what another has said and done, to keep a good pace without suppressing action. After performances, they critique one another and how the audience reacted.

It seems to me those would be interesting techniques in the workplace.

My goal is to advocate for workplace meetings and discussions that employ constructive debate focused on finding the ideas or solutions which are most likely to succeed. Take away the ownership and defense of ideas, the remarks that seem to be personal attacks, the predetermined outcome.

Neither improvisational theater nor constructive debate is totally random. Actors come to the stage with personal knowledge and experience. So it is for workplace discussions. People need to feel their opinions and ideas are valued, that they are contributing or getting information. They need to feel their time is well-spent, that there is progress. They need to feel they belong.

I find real value in group thinking, that often the best ideas surface when you have a team of people with various roles come together to define work, tackle projects or find solutions. There could be improvisational-type ground rules such as you follow up on the ideas of others; you focus on ideas, not personalities. Everyone plays a part, large or small. There can be debates, being responsive more than reactive. It is taking the ego out of the discussions and letting free thinking shine.

Gladwell writes about improvisation: You create the conditions for successful spontaneity, the framework for fluid, effortless, spur-of-the moment dialog. For meetings, I think the framework includes an agenda, a meeting leader who seeks ideas of all, who is not intent upon forcing his or her ideas upon the group, who controls the meeting to keep one or two people from domination, who keeps the meeting focused and moving toward resolution.

Gladwell writes about spontaneity---not thinking about something a long time, not having to write about it, but ‘being in the moment’. I think we’d find some neat solutions and enjoy real buy-in to projects begun this way.

P.S. I plan to submit a civility in the workplace workshop for this fall’s annual extension conference. This idea of constructive debate is my idea at present. What do you think would be a good focus for a civility workshop at annual conference? It doesn’t matter if you will attend or not. I’m just looking for good ideas.

“Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so is he.”
Publilius Syrus, Latin writer of maxims, improviser (1st century BC)

May 22, 2007

Those cubicles

We who remember 1980 probably remember Les Nessman, the radio station news director in the television situation comedy WKRP in Cincinnati. Les worked in a big room with several other employees. Les believed he should have his own private office, so he put masking tape on the floor around his desk to mark his walls. He insisted people knock at an imaginary door and wait for permission to enter.

Twenty some years later we empathize because we have cubicles that are promoted as fostering creativity and opening communication (and also cost less and take less space than private offices).

Our differences
How much noise one can ignore varies person to person. Some tell me talking on the telephone is intimidating when they realize others hear the conversation. Some people resort to e-mail because it’s a quiet communication when the telephone may be the better method. Civility is not easy in cubicles.

Respect other people’s space. There is not an open-door policy just because there is no door. Respect the workspace and privacy of others.
Don’t talk loudly…in person, on the phone. Use a conference room for teamwork or if you have visitors. No speaker phones.
Food with odors, strong perfumes and colognes probably bother others.

Resolve problems if you live in a cube
Talk to those who are creating problems for you. Be pleasant about the situation. The offender is probably not aware she is creating a problem for you. If one of your neighbors complains to you, be sensitive, apologize and work to correct the situation.

The first three links have rules for cubicles. The fourth is an article on the gadgets people will try to survive in cubicles. And finally, cartoons provide relief.

Cubicle etiquette, http://www.bremercommunications.com/Cubicle_Etiquette.htm

Cubicle etiquette, http://www.newschool.edu/admin/team/res_article2.html

What is proper Office Cubicle etiquette? http://beginnersguide.com/office-equipment/office-cubicles/what-is-proper-office-cubicle-etiquette.php

Employees Test Defenses Against Office Pests, The Wall Street Journal Online, http://www.careerjournal.com/columnists/cubicleculture/20021011-cubicle.html

Office cubicle cartoons, http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/o/office_cubicle.asp

May 18, 2007

The very difficult people who are more trouble than they are worth

Bob Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, first saw the no asshole rule in action at Stanford in the 1980s. He wrote about it for Harvard Business Review’s breakthrough ideas in 2004. His book ‘The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t’ was published in February 2007.

The rule is simply to not hire or if they are in your workplace drive them out or reform those who infuriate, demean and damage their peers, superiors, underlings and at times, clients and customers. Sutton calculates toxic people cost more than they are worth.

At places that are the most vehement and effective at enforcing the rule, “employee performance” and “treatment of others” aren’t separate things. Even if people do other things well (even extraordinarily well) but routinely demean others, they are classified as incompetent. A business or organization should respond immediately if any individual degrades another, regardless of position.

The effect of one toxic person is incredible
Toxic people tend to breed by hiring people like themselves and by turning perfectly nice people into, at least at times, toxic people.

“Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue.” Sutton explains: If you work in a good environment where you are treated with respect, you can be passionate, committed and identify with the organization. But if you are oppressed and humiliated, it is folly to be engaged at work. To survive with your health and self esteem, you need to feel and practice indifference and emotional detachment. Caring and passion are out. If you work around toxic people, you may have to disengage to survive or get out.

This is a huge cost to a workplace…to have people who are not engaged and often fear the next tirade. Ordinary people who are passionate and committed will produce more than one brilliant toxic person surrounded by paralyzed coworkers.

Bob Sutton The Working Life blog at Harvard Business Online, http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/sutton/2007/05/arse_test_83644_people_so_far_1.html
Guy Kawaski posts the employee rules of engagement one company requires, http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/02/arse_the_asshho.html

“The greatest honor of a man is in doing good to his fellow men, not in destroying them.”
Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President, author of the Declaration of Independence (1743-1826)

May 14, 2007

Répondez s'il-vous-plaît, R.S.V.P.

French that translates to ‘respond please’. The Rev. Donald McCullough in ‘Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another’ says in some jest…"the number of people who respond seems to have declined to the last 2.6 percent of the population who are still in psychotherapy because they can’t escape the domineering influence of mothers who pounded manners and a lot of other things into them."

When you receive an invitation to a meeting, a reception or some other event, look for that RSVP. I admit guilt; at times I overlook it. When there is an RSVP, we often set the invitation aside and think we’ll check that date and time later to see if it fits into our calendar of life. McCullough believes the real problem is not procrastination, but results from the heart of discourtesy..self-centeredness. Maybe something more interesting will come up for that time slot so we should keep our options open.

Today I received an online invitation through a social planning Web site. The invitation was for a special meeting at an upcoming conference. What I find interesting about these invitations is the RSVP. Those invited can see who has replied they will attend (and their comments), who will not (and their comments), sometimes there is a ‘maybes’ section and always……the e-mail addresses of those who don’t respond.

This invitation came through Evite.com, http://www.evite.com/, a social-planning Web site for creating, sending and managing online invitations. Launched in 1998, Evite.com is a free, advertisement-supported service. There are other comparable sites.

With such online invitations, the whole world is watching….well, those invited anyway and they all know if you were respectful and did RSVP.

More about RSVP
About: The Meaning of R.S.V.P., http://entertaining.about.com/cs/etiquette/qt/tip122500.htm
HowStuffWorks, What does R.S.V.P. mean? http://people.howstuffworks.com/question450.htm

“Always do right -- this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”
-- Samuel Clemens, better known by the pen name Mark Twain, American humorist, satirist, writer and lecturer. (1835 - 1910)

May 09, 2007

Sexual harassment is illegal and uncivil

Society changes and so does what is acceptable. Media and government surveys estimate the percentage of women being sexually harassed in the U.S. workplace at 40% to 60%. While the majority of sexual harassment complaints come from women, the number of complaints filed by men is increasing. In 2004, more than 15% of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints were filed by men.

Define sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is the inappropriate sexualization of an otherwise non-sexual relationship. The severity of the harassment is determined to a large extent by the impact it has on the victim.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome or unwanted attention of a sexual nature that causes discomfort, humiliation, offense or distress, and / or interferes with the job. It includes a range of behavior from mild transgressions and annoyances to serious abuses. It is not honoring professional boundaries.

Sexual harassment is a form of abuse and bullying. Sexual harassment is not about sex. Harassment usually relates to intimidation, exploitation and power.

"It was just a joke" is no excuse. It is the consequences, not the intentions that count. Sexual harassment can be verbal by sexist, crude or suggestive remarks, through casual touching or open advances, to the extremes of coercion or blackmail if the harasser has the power to threaten. It does not include a relationship between two consenting adults.

Sexual harassment affects workplace performance of the individual harassed. A study on the effects on work teams shows unwanted sexual attention was associated with increased team conflict and diminished group cohesion which resulted in inferior financial performance. Combating sexual harassment makes good business sense.

There’s a loss of trust in environments similar to where the harassment occurred and a loss of trust in the types of people that occupy similar positions as the harasser or their colleagues.

From the ISU Campus Climate Assessment Project Final Report November 2004
“I routinely have women students come to my office asking for advice about how to deal with flirtatious male professors or professors who use sexist language in class...”
From the summary--
Notably, over half of participants who identify as a woman or as lesbian, gay, or bisexual fear for their personal safety due to their membership in their respective constituent groups… the majority of respondents who report being the victim of a bias-related incident are women, LGBT, and/or a person of color. While these finding are not remarkable when compared to similar investigations, they are notable, if not alarming, in that they point to a lack of civility towards these constituent groups.
Surveys returned: 1001 students, 582 faculty, 265 staff, and 52 administrators (1000 women; 907 men)

Things you can do if you are harassed
Politely, but firmly, confront the individual doing the harassing. State that the actions/conduct are unwelcome and request that the person cease the unwanted actions.

Document the details: include dates, times, places, and description of each incident of harassment. Include who might have witnessed it, whom you spoke to about it, and what you may have done about it if anything. Read the policy and complaint processes from the original post on sexual harassment, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2006/09/guest_post_about_sexual_harass.html.

More reading
The Wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment, has many reference links.

Sexual Harassment Support, nonprofit organization
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/SHworkplace.html
Effects of Sexual Harassment on the Victim, http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/effects.html

Effects on workplace teams, news release from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, http://qnc.queensu.ca/story_loader.php?id=42b98262192e9

Know Your Rights: Sexual Harassment At Work, Equal Rights and Economic Opportunities for Women and Girls, http://www.equalrights.org/publications/kyr/shwork.asp
Equal Rights Advocates, Inc. is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.

May 07, 2007

Sexual harassment tops civility blog stats

After a civility workshop last fall, a woman asked me to write about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Now seven months later, I’ve completed my annual performance review. I am always interested in reactions and perceptions, any measurements that help me understand audience interest. So what metrics, data did I have for this blog? (Metrics are quantitative measures of performance or production.) As of this writing, number of posts—38, number of comments—46. I asked the extension computer Web log expert if he would generate a statistics report for March. He is the kind of coworker we all want; he pulled reports for all 2007.

Civility blog visits for Jan.-April 2007

Top seven posts
Sept. 19 Guest Post about Sexual Harassment—232
Oct. 12 When did you last receive a hand-written note?—95
Jan. 18 Difficult people……again----88
Feb. 13 Values to love---86
Jan. 30 I want an agenda—78
Feb. 20 Roles and responsibilities—75
Feb. 3 Sticks and stones—74

Many factors would affect these totals---how long up, enticing headline or not, category, internal links to the post, how intriguing a message did I send with the notification of the post, day of week posted, time of day….

I can’t ignore the number of visits to the sexual harassment post. A coworker suggested it might be high because people searched on the word ‘sex’. I checked. The words sex and sexual do not appear in the search phrases or words for this blog. From the stats, I suspect someone cited the post in January.

So the two posts from 2006 that seem to endure are on sexual harassment and on hand-written notes. I’m paying attention. I will write about sexual harassment. I’ll do something on the niceties, the etiquette-type things one can do in the workplace. I welcome ideas on what you want me to write so do use the comment section to let me know.

I work as a reporter on these posts, searching for authoritative information from books, the Web and from people who have expertise in the areas. My performance goal for this blog for the coming year is to continue to be a credible and competent source of information, to capture your interest, and to stimulate discussions and changes to improve operations and relationships.

I write this blog to try to help us all have better, more civil days. It is the small daily happenings that make life spectacular.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”-- Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and Baptist minister (1929 – 1968)

May 03, 2007

If a dog was your teacher

From Alan Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip newsletter May 1 on managing stress, preventing burnout and keeping a healthy work-life balance.

He says to remind yourself you’ll never be finished with all your work. And you have to be okay with that.

Change your pace. Refrain from going full speed 24/7. And refrain from taking it too easy for too long. Either one of them will give you additional stress. But pace yourself as well. If a dog was your teacher, you would know how to keep things in balance. You would learn the following.

* You would run to greet your loved ones when they came home.
* You would accept every chance you get to go for a joyride.
* You would allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
* You would let others know when they've invaded your territory.
* You would take naps.
* You would run, romp, and play daily.
* You would avoid biting when a simple growl would do.
* You would lie in the grass on warm days.
* You would drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree on hot days.
* You would dance around and wag your entire body when you were happy.
* You would delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
* You would eat with gusto and enthusiasm... and stop when you've had enough.
* You would be loyal, never pretending to be something you weren't. And
* You would dig until you found whatever it is you wanted.

Training for Peak Performance, motivational keynotes and seminars by Alan Zimmerman of Prior Lake, Minnesota,

May 01, 2007

Micromanagement (command and control) vs. microemployees

“Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile.”
Stephen R. Covey, American author (1932- )

Dilbert, of course, has a take on this.
“Micromanagement is part attitude and part action.
Attitude: Tell yourself that every one of your employees is dumber than a Yugo full of anvils. They need your help!
Action: Pitch in to give your employees helpful guidance on every little thing they do, from paragraph indentation to complex microchip design theory.

“Micromanagement can also be applied to technical decisions. Let’s say, for example, your employee has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. And let’s say that you almost graduated from Ernie’s College-o-Rama with a degree in art history. You can use your superior education, combined with your impenetrable logic to find and correct the mistakes of your worthless employee, this demonstrating your value.”
Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook as told to Scott Adams, 1996, section 2.22

Collaboration over Command and Control
From an April 3 article on gantthead.com
“Knowledge workers need work environments where experimentation is rewarded, people are encouraged to pursue their interest and shared leadership is the preferred model.

“Command-and-control organizations are in fact toxic to knowledge workers. They stifle creativity….They demotivate workers….people will either leave or have the passion and creativity squashed out of them until they become unproductive drones who rarely create exceptional value.”

The opposite is microemployees

Microemployees don’t try to make decisions but run to their leaders to ask question after question. No solutions, just questions. It could be a person new to a job or to a responsibility and the person has not had the needed orientation, training, education or experience.

Today’s workplace should not be a one-way path
Each person is different. Different competencies, different levels of adventuresome spirit (early adapters maybe), different experiences, different levels of self-confidence. Whether you’re a team leader, a team member, a manager or an employee, it pays to observe and respect how others function best and work with people in the mode that is comfortable for them. In all cases, there needs to be open communication. Room for opinions, suggestions and questions. Asking that one question that is the most civil of all, ‘What do you think?’

I don’t want to be micromanaged nor do I want to be a microemployee, but I may need different levels of guidance on different projects. If I work with a microemployee, I may need to help that person get some more training or mentor him to build his confidence. If I see micromanagement, I see a lack of respect of the knowledge… the formal education, continuing education and experience… of the workers. A very real dichotomy if you work at an educational institution.


www.gantthead.com is for IT project managers; don’t let that scare you. I find many articles that work for me, the IT illiterate. Good business articles, good project management articles. You do need to sign in (no cost) to get to the articles…well worth it. The article cited is really, really good, http://www.gantthead.com/content/articles/235799.cfm
It’s OK to Micromanage…Sometimes, http://www.2-speed.com/2006/12/its-ok-to-micromanage-sometimes/
The Eight Rules of Management, Rule #2: Don’t Micromanage, http://www.refresher.com/!rule2.html
Why Boards Micro-Manage and How to Get them to Stop, http://www.help4nonprofits.com/NP_Bd_MicroManage_Art.htm