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January 31, 2008

Renting farmland and civility

sugar loaf.jpg
Dateline: Woodbury County where the Loess Hills meet the Missouri bottom

One new owner of Iowa farmland shows how civility can affect business

Farmers are looking for more land to rent. A man’s mother died recently. When neighboring farmers inquired about renting the land that is now his, he turned away those who had not treated him civilly through the years. He thought all the way back to high school, some 40 years. And probably he thought of the few who came to his mother’s funeral. The farmland, though few acres, went to neighbors who had helped his mother. To neighbors who had treated him kindly.

My dad did the same thing years ago when he wanted a new renter. He thought back only several years. Who drove over with a blade on the tractor to plow the drive? Who arrived unannounced with food when my mom was ill? Who drove mom and dad to an appointment in Omaha? Only one couple passed the test and that’s who was allowed to rent dad’s land. Dad made sure my sister and I understood very clearly how he made that decision.

Civility impacts morale, retention rates, productivity and profit in the workplace
Most of us don’t work in an atmosphere where the impact of civility is quite as evident and such a direct line as renting farmland. But I have no doubt that the correlation exists. The culture of the organization and how we are treated by superiors affect our productivity. How we treat clients and customers determines how much business we get.

It’s somehow easier to see the correlation when we’re the customer upset by someone working in a store or in a call center and we vow not to do business with them anymore. So think about the direct correlation of civility and the workplace as you go about answering customer and client requests and work with all the people in your organization or business.

P.S. Photo taken from Sugar Loaf courtesy of Rich Pope.
My grandpa Dorrie Steinhoff was born in 1888 in a dug-out in Sugar Loaf. His parents, first generation Americans, had just moved to Iowa from Ohio. But that’s an entirely different story. Some day I could write about the civility of his dad who always killed a chicken to give the Native Americans on their spring and fall migrations along the trail at the edge of the Loess Hills.

P.P.S. Kelvin Leibold, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist, presents a session "The Dating Game--Acquiring Land to Rent" for beginning and experienced producers.

January 29, 2008

Entitlement in the workplace

On the Six Sigma site the alternate definition of entitlement is ‘A perceived "right to demand." Opposite of a gift, in that it is without appreciation. A "you owe me" obligation for which, I owe nothing in return.’

The original definition of entitlement was a right granted by law or contract, for example a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group.

Do you see attitudes of entitlement in your workplace?

I am entitled because…..
• I have this title.
• I have been at this job a long time.
• I’ve always had this responsibility.
• I worked extra hours.
• I have these degrees and experiences.

Never mind that the achievements don’t measure up to the sense of entitlement. Anyone can spend hours at work and not work efficiently or not contribute in a way an organization needs. Or not look at a problem in an unbiased manner. Or rest on old achievements. Or be the most vocal.

There’s little civility in the alternate definition of entitlement.

The sense of entitlement gets wrapped up in ego, in complacency. It’s not ethical. It’s not humble. It’s not honest.

I have felt entitled in the workplace. And then I’d get a jolt of reality when someone else was given assignments I thought should be mine or I wasn’t invited to a meeting. My believing I was entitled led to an attitude that didn’t help me and didn’t help my organization.

Look around to see how pervasive this attitude and take a look at yourself too. What we’re truly entitled to—a safe environment, a minimum wage—is far different from what we might think we are entitled to. Honestly.....I don’t think we’re entitled to much at all.

Think about it and let me know.

January 21, 2008

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. through his words

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often talked about components of civility. These are quotes of his I particularly like….dealing with love, self-esteem, respect, integrity, kindness and citizenship.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

“We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and Baptist minister (1929 – 1968)

January 17, 2008

Unpredictability evaporates loyalty

A four lane highway at 10 p.m. on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. A flash in front of the headlights, an impact and then tires crushing bones. My son steered the van onto the roadway shoulder and collapsed in tears. Have you been in a vehicle that hit a deer? That was three years ago. My son and I are still spooked and use predictability to avoid deer.

We know from experience and statistics when deer are likely to be near roadways. Road signs caution motorists about likely deer crossings even when we’re on unfamiliar roads. There’s change. With few predators, the deer increase. Stands of trees grow larger creating more cover for deer. We don’t like it but understand it. It’s predictable.

The workplace is like that. There’s change.
We have experience. Someone puts up road signs. To succeed, we must be able to predict the behavior of those around us. And we must be predictable to our coworkers.

But what if someone unloads train cars of rhinoceros and they come on the road at midday? We had no warning. How could we have imagined or predicted that? And then there are bears at evening rush hour. The unknowns are increasing. We humans like some excitement…but this is ridiculous.

It’s like the workplace with switching priorities, no signs, a lack of communication and undefined goals. When the rhinos and bears come out, we concentrate on protecting ourselves or leave to find a more predictable place.

I dreamed up the rhinos and bears scenario after reading 'Do Lunch or Be Lunch: the Power of Predictability in Creating Your Future' by Howard Stevenson, now professor emeritus at Harvard Business School.

Managers and organizations enhance their effectiveness by being more predictable.
Stevenson says, “People who manage others have a special obligation to act honestly, humanely and effectively—and that means acting predictably towards others. Individuals have control of their futures and organizations succeed. People are unwilling to embark on a journey when they don’t know where they are going or how they’ll get there. The company that thrives on unpredictability is inhumane and incompetent.”

He writes that companies invent their future by
• Building a strong culture where they imagine the future, making it believable to others and engaging the workers in the process,
• Staying attuned to the customers,
• Building technological expertise always looking ahead,
• Creating clear performance guidelines so people know what they’re rewarded for and what they’re punished for and
• Promoting employee involvement and empowerment.

I conclude it means buy-in, excellent communication, respect for and empowerment of people and civility in the workplace. It’s making a prediction for a better company or organization come true.

January 16, 2008

Change: attitude and behavior

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer, philosopher, educational reformer (1828-1910)

It's easy to point a finger at other people ... or institutions ... and point out what "they" should be doing. It's much more painful to look at ourselves and point out how we should change. Most people don't like change because it's uncomfortable. By its very definition, all change falls outside your comfort zone. So what can you do ... to change yourself ... in a positive productive way?

1. Take control of your attitude
Most people don't like change ... because it's so unpredictable. They want to have some control. You can always control your attitude. Take your job. You may be upset or disappointed about changes in your organization. How long should you let these feelings go on? One week, one month or one year?

W. Clement Stone, the president of Combined Insurance, said, "There is very little difference in people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative."

You can concentrate on what's going wrong and become preoccupied with the things that are aggravating or upsetting. Or you can choose to put your energy into making things better. You can choose to be positive, optimistic and enthusiastic.

2. Remind yourself how important change is
It's kind of like a workout. If you don't exercise your muscles, they tend to atrophy. And if you don't exercise a bit of risk or pursue a bit of change on a regular basis, your mind tends to weaken. After all, your mind was made for challenge. It's almost impossible to maintain the status quo. If you're not changing for the better, you're changing for the worse.

3. Commit yourself to some specific changes you want and need to make

Don't sit around waiting to see what will happen. Most people finish the calendar year no better off than they were at the start of the year because they never started ... anything.

There are only two things you can change
1) your attitude and 2) your behavior. When you change your attitudes, beliefs and self-image, you'll see changes in your behavior. You perform exactly as you see yourself.

Focus your change efforts on a few of your behaviors. When you change what you do ... you change who you are. If, for example, you end your habit of immediately going to the couch to watch TV after dinner and instead spend an hour reading books on a topic you want to know more about, and you do that for as few as 21 days in a row, you'll morph into a more knowledgeable person.

You can do that same sort of behavioral re-programming for anything ... better relationships ... a better career ... a healthier body. Focus on one thing at a time. And if you use those 21-day cycles, there are 17 things you can choose and improve in just one year. Choose wisely.

Commit yourself to one specific change you're willing to make and likely to do ... every day ... for the next 21 days.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

January 15, 2008

Management and information: the broken connection

"The cure for apathy is comprehension." --John Dos Passos, American novelist and artist (1896-1970)

Quite often vision, mission, plans and other ideas are announced with great fanfare to employees. The one doing the announcing believes this constitutes communication.

Why, then, do so few of these great plans come to fruition?
Why are they the object of ridicule in the cubicles?

There’s no buy in.

The employees
• weren’t involved in crafting the plan,
• don’t understand the benefits,
• don’t see how this vision or plan relates to their jobs.
Will it be a benefit to clients or customers or just more work?

Have can an organization make it easy or even possible for employees to buy in?
If it’s a new process, for instance, that will be used by a small group, the entire group should be involved in the crafting.

If it’s a plan for a large organization, have small group discussions when the new plan is announced. Discuss questions such as:
• What do I understand this to mean?
• Does this change the priority of my work?
• What can I, or my team, do to contribute to implementation?
Unexpected insights for management and the employees will come out of the discussions.

Buy-in = civility
It is respectful. It is inclusive. It is communication. Buy-in is the connection between management and information.

January 10, 2008

Civility on the bad days… with whom do you vent?

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable.
Big things, little things.
You’ll never be in perfect agreement with all the people in your workplace. You know you should manage your irritation. What if you’re having a really uncivil day?

Where do you go?
Certainly it must be someone
• who has earned your trust,
• who is a willing listener and
• with whom you can have an honest discussion and that means you may not hear exactly what you want to hear.

It may be a friend in your office, a workplace spouse, if you are sure of the confidence level. Some people plant rumors to see how quickly and where they’ll move to test the confidence level. If your office really is a dysfunctional workplace, venting to coworkers can only exacerbate the problem.

Spouses and partners may be helpful but tire of it all and tend to sympathize too much.

Look for a good confessor, a soul mate or wise counsel
Look for someone outside your box on the organizational chart or not in your org chart. Maybe you have a history of working together or mutual experiences. A good candidate is someone who is uninterested in how your office works and doesn’t have reason to judge the participants.

A good mentor may help. Another alternative is a trusted coffee buddy who listens and supports and isn’t afraid to tell you there may be other ways to look at the situation or that your vision is pretty distorted.

Talk through your problem, vent…….and let it go.

With whom do you vent on the bad days?

Study: 25% of Americans have no one to confide in, USA Today

Coauthor of this post: Bill Tysseling is Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. He was previously Director of Iowa State University Extension Continuing Education and Communication Services.

January 09, 2008

We lose in every way when we lose trust

Dave Horsager was the keynote speaker at the Iowa State University Extension Annual Conference on Oct. 10. He’s a Minnesotan, an illusionist and entrepreneur. He uses illusions to show how easy it is to be deceived.

Illusions and realities in the workplace
1. (illusion) A person can create success on his or her own. (reality) You need your coworkers and clients. Horsager says, “To think we can do anything significant on our own is egotistical and untrue.”
2. (illusion) Instant gratification is the goal. (reality) You need vision for what is ahead and the possibilities in that future.
3. You don’t need to learn any more. (reality) Horsager says, “All readers are not leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Successful people are humble and have a desire to keep learning.
4. You’re above the law. (reality) Integrity is critical. It’s doing what is right over what is easy.
5. A single person can’t make a difference. (reality) We all have significant opportunities to make a difference.
6. Technology will make things so much easier. (reality) We don’t work less with new technology.
7. It takes big things to make a big difference. (reality) It’s the little things compounded that make a big difference. You are the sum of your life’s decisions.

Four little things can make a big difference

1. Sincere care (of your team, your client)
Listen empathetically. It’s the best way to care. It is work.
Appreciate people. Show your appreciation. Write notes for specific things someone did. One of the top reasons employees leave jobs is they don’t feel appreciated.
Deliver what you say you will deliver. If you can’t, apologize immediately and correct the situation.
2. Steady courage
Take intelligent risks. If you fail, learn from the failure.
3. Sight clarity
Without vision, teams and organizations fail. When that optimistic possibility is shared, workers understand how it ties to their jobs. Vision motivates people. “The simplest way to have some vision is to first determine the best outcome. In other words, identify the desired end. Second, define a plan to get there. Third, create accountability. Finally, work the plan.”
4. Sound character
Integrity. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, said, “The quality of leaders is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”

Trust is built with two key components: integrity and respecting people

Horsager says when there’s trust in a workgroup, in an organization, you get productivity. Trust brings sustained success. Without trust, the organization loses sales, reputation, morale and valuable employees.

From ‘Speaking of Success: World Class Experts Share Their Secrets’, 2006 Insight Publishing and the Oct. 2007 presentation

Integrity is more than honesty

January 08, 2008

Laila has decided that she will not be crippled by resentment.

Mariam wouldn’t want it that way. What’s the sense? She would say with a smile both innocent and wise. What good is it, Laila jo? And so Laila has resigned herself to moving on. For her own sake, for Tariq’s, for her children’s. And for Mariam, who still visits Laila in her dreams, who is never more than a breath or two below her consciousness. Laila has moved on. Because in the end she knows that’s all she can do. That and hope.

I lost the privilege of your good graces
a long time ago and for that I only have myself to blame…(I) understand only when nothing can be undone. I hope you will credit me with knowing that your forgiveness is not for sale.
May you find the happiness, peace and acceptance that I did not give you.
Excerpt from Jalil’s letter to his daughter Mariam
All from ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

The book has neglect, abuse, subterfuge, hostility and outrage we don’t want to know about. The relationships, ah the relationships, are heartbreaking and heartwarming. I finished the book thinking……..how insignificant my problems in the workplace.

I think I can’t bear to start another book just now because I must mull over and savor the lessons of this one.

January 03, 2008

8 gifts of civility you can give this year

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day beginning the task anew.”
Saint Francis de Sales, French saint and bishop of Geneva (1567-1622)

You’ll not only give but receive using these gifts in the workplace and in your personal life.

1. The gift of listening
One of the greatest things you can do for another is actively listen. This means you really listen, no interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning your response, no multi-tasking, no jumping to conclusions. Think of the old adage you have one mouth and two ears; use them in that proportion. Listen.

2. The gift of acknowledgment
How many times do we ask for something or are just given something and do not acknowledge receipt? Acknowledge.

3. The gift of gratitude
Do you compliment others on work well done? Value their contributions? Write notes or express your thanks in person. Building up people builds organizational strength. Express your gratitude.

4. The gift of connection
People need to belong to thrive. Connectedness is a core requisite to learn, develop and interact. Look for opportunities to engage others in meaningful activities, have a voice, take responsibility for their actions and actively participate in civic discourse. Stay in touch with your network of personal friends and professional acquaintenances.

5. The gift of time
Volunteer to help others complete projects or respect their need for uninterrupted time. This gift is more valuable when you anticipate a request. Give time.

6. The gift of discipline
Confront reality. Instead of blaming others or denying that a problem exists, deal with facts. No complaining, no feeling sorry for yourself, no nasty comments, no screaming, no pessimistic predictions, no drama. Ask questions to learn and understand rather than questioning every action. Discipline yourself.

7. The gift of knowledge
Help others learn a new software program, suggest different ways to look at a problem, loan a book that you think will be helpful, mentor someone. People like challenges. You’ll probably learn too as you share knowledge.

8. The gift of excitement
Who can resist the person who is excited about searching for solutions rather than pointing out problems, who anticipates the future rather than focusing on the past and who is enthusiastic about what is going right rather than outlining what went wrong? Share the positive energy of excitement.

Laugh. Inspire. Enjoy.

What other gifts would you add?