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July 30, 2009

Civility in organizations in tough times

We haven’t been through tough economic times like these for a very long time. It’s tough for leaders, for employees. No one can say with much certainty how best to deal with the challenges.

A current article in the Harvard Business Review compares the situation to a heart attack. First one must deal with the emergency phase. Then the patient needs to learn how to adapt.

The authors list two roads for the adaptive phase—hunker down or press ‘reset’
Hunker down involves short-term fixes such as tightened controls, across-the-board cuts and restructuring plans. “An organization that depends solely on its senior managers to deal with the challenges risks failure.”

Reset includes using the turbulence to build on and bring closure to the past. Change the key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization and redefine the work people do.

Civility is derived from the Latin civitas, meaning ‘city’ especially in the sense of civic community.

This is a time for community.

I’ve heard of hastily called meetings after restructuring announcements. The nay sayers say, but they have no answers to the questions and therefore nothing to meet about. I believe it’s a gathering of the community to grieve before it moves on to adapting. The fears and frustrations are voiced in the community rather than shuttled off to speculation around the water cooler.

It sets the stage for later brainstorming and filtering suggestions. Staff knows their feelings and ideas are welcome. Because, and I think this is the point of the quote about risking failure if senior managers act alone, the creative suggestions for the future are going to come from the community sharing ideas and knowledge. As people play their ideas off one another, some creative suggestions are going to emerge because the group will outlast the ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude and work for the organization’s life. This may be a life or death situation for the organization.

July 28, 2009

Networking helps provide knowledge to do more with less

Less, in this case, could be fewer people in your department, less money in the budget.

My favorite networks outside the workplace are
-- connections not associated with my job. They are the people with the same interests or hobbies and you may be in a club focused around that interest. They are the people you volunteer with. They are from structured groups such as a service organization or faith community. They are former classmates, previous coworkers and friends.
--professional colleagues across the country, around the world. They are the people you meet at meetings and conferences who work in jobs that somehow relate to yours.

Underlying these networks is the quest to keep learning
Education and experiences are quickly out-of-date in the knowledge economy. Lifelong learning is vital. It can be through online learning or conferences. It can be in reading trade publications or books. It can be in organizations not related to your work if you’re willing to think how you can apply their concepts or ideas.

In a 2006 list of ‘The top 10 biggest networking mistakes’ author Harvey Mackay lists
“8. It probably isn't just your network that's aging; it's you. Unless you make a genuine effort to keep updating your technical skills and knowledge, your network is shrinking.”

You need humility to admit all you don’t know. You need courtesy and respect to reach out to people in your networks. You need good listening skills, good communication skills. That’s civility.

Here’s another list of top networking mistakes
OfficeTeam, a temporary staffing service for administrative professionals, surveyed 613 of their employees in 2003 and found these top networking mistakes:
1. Not asking for help when it’s needed (37 percent)
2. Not keeping in touch with contacts (25 percent)
3. Not thanking people for their help (22 percent)
4. Burning bridges with past employers (13 percent)

Networking is essential in today’s workplace. Do you have additional ideas about good networks?

July 23, 2009

Public servants could try living by their wits

The July/August issue of Fast Company has a two-page spread that’s an edited transcript of four advertising agency men talking about creating their own products rather than promoting others’ products. They’re doing this…why else? Because business is slow.

In the process of creating products, they’ve learned lots about package design, distribution, finances and all those things entrepreneurs deal with.

Here are the two quotes that spurred this post:
You have to embrace collaboration. We did some package design that we thought was really cool, but our partner fancied a different scheme. We said, “Yeah, right, we’ll nail this; let’s book the research and wait for the glow.” We were so wrong it was unreal. Their stuff won by the greatest gap I’ve ever seen. We were so humbled.

… it’s your own money on the table. When it’s literally off the bottom line, the best idea must win. You have to be open to people being more expert than you, and that’s an alien concept to a lot of folks.

Note the civility---collaboration, humbled, open to people being more expert than you.

Not too long ago I heard an administrator refer to those who work on grant money as people who live by their wits. Wouldn’t it be interesting to let public servants run their work groups as if they were on grants? What research can you pull together to show what the public wants or values today? What is worth doing? How are you going to pay your salaries and provide value to the public? Define the service or product as you would need to do in a grant. For the next six months (duration of grant), you have this income from citizens.

You’d have to do research. You'd have to collaborate and communicate. Some new products or services would be winners; some wouldn’t but the workers would learn and be energized to show their value because their jobs depend on it. I think the production level would be far more than the structure of today produces. The workers would be happier because they’d be taking on new challenges and invested in what they create. It’s a whole lot of respect for one another and that’s civility in a nutshell.

Fast Company: More Creative Shops Are Commercializing Their Own Product Lines

July 21, 2009

Social networking vs. professional knowledge networking

Networks are about relationships. Social networking can include your interests and activities and gossip. Certainly it can be more but contrast it with knowledge networks.

Professional knowledge networking is knowing and being able to reach people who can help you find the knowledge you need to work smarter and faster. Robert E. Kelley in his book ‘How to be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed’ concludes the chapter on ‘Knowing Who Knows: Plugging into the Knowledge Network’ with this:
“Without networks, the stars know, they are on their own. And to be on your own in this mind-boggling knowledge economy is to be lost.”

This is one of the 100 best business books of all time and I’m fascinated by this chapter because it is a smart way to work efficiently and effectively. There’s a whole lot of civility in it. Let me tempt you with some questions:

Do you have relationships with people of different job talents and skills?

Do you know and readily admit what you don’t know?

Do you build on what has already been done or is known?

Do you know people you can go through to connect with a person who has the information you need?

Is the best networking done face to face, on the phone or online in a group?

Do you break networking rules such as being rude, being demanding and trying to contact experts without an introduction?

Kelley writes that knowledge networking works on a barter system.
You need to have a specialty area you’re willing to share or be a valued connector. You need to understand the cost and benefit of asking for someone’s time. You need to give long before you receive. He talks about the critical importance of small courtesies and considerations, of being a model of Victorian manners. “In an economy where knowledge is the stock-in-trade of so many businesses, there are no reputations worse than being pegged as an idea thief, as a pseudo-star who stands on stage and acts as if there were no supporting players, or as a taker who doesn’t reciprocate.”

The book was published in 1998. Kelley spent 10 years researching the characteristics of star performers. I encourage you to find a copy. Maybe I’ll do more posts on the book; I’m only 90 pages in.

http://www.kelleyideas.com/pages/biography.html His site has a survey which I didn’t realize when I decided to use questions for this post.

July 16, 2009

Secrets Not Worth Keeping

Isn’t that a great headline?

It was the title of an op-ed article in the Washington Post in Feb. 1989. The author of the editorial concluded that was the lesson of the Pentagon Papers experience. In her autobiography Personal History, Katherine Graham writes the Nixon administration’s reaction was one of paranoia and obsession with secrecy. She writes about a show of arrogance based on fear. Her position as publisher of the newspaper was the staff was trying to get information to citizens that they deserved to know.

Another companion line in her book is…. often the things you don’t do are as important as the things you do.

You can think about this statement today in economic hard times. If a family decides to reduce money spent for an activity, you probably talked about it and discussed how to cut expenses. There was a decision to not do something, you asked others for ideas and you shared that decision with those affected.

That thinking seems to be lost in some workplaces today. We know we need to cut budgets and there’s some superficial asking for ideas. I have been amazed at the stories from different departments on campus, from colleagues at other universities and from those working in business and industry. The mindset seems to be to keep the discussions and decision-making behind closed doors. Maybe it’s not behind closed doors; maybe it is simply a lack of communication. Maybe it is arrogance based on fear.

Regardless, it’s what is not being done---communication, open discussions—that is as important as the resulting actions. Workers don’t feel they’ve been treated with respect, with civility. Trust and commitment nosedive. We’re back to secrets not worth keeping.

July 14, 2009

Autry: Our organizational lives exist in relationships

How people behave and what they do in organizations depends on the leadership.

A servant leader
• Is caring
• Builds community
• Lets go of his or her ego
• Creates a place where people can share
• Pays attention
• Loves him or herself and others

The work bond is second only to the family bond
People need to find meaning in their work. Executives today are often obsessed with short-term results and efficiency which can be the opposite of effectiveness.

People find meaning in work by being valued
To be valued, people have to understand how to contribute and where they fit; that happens by understanding the organization’s
Vision—why are we here?
Mission—what do we do?
Values—how do we behave together?

Workers need workplace support, not fear
Honesty—to be told what we aren’t doing well, what we do well. “People keep secrets to assure power.” Live your values rather than trying to be a different person in different places. It’s not honest to have one personality at home and a different one at work.
Trust—you should be able to trust everyone in the workplace. If you don’t trust someone and you’re in managerial role, why does that person work for you?
Talk directly to people to establish honesty and trust. Deal with people one at a time. Be compassionate. And finally, reflect and meditate.

These are my notes from James A. Autry’s speech June 8 at the ACE/NETC conference in Des Moines. Autry is an author, poet, consultant and retired president of the magazine group of the Meredith Corporation. ACE and NETC are two professional organizations of primarily communications and information technology workers in land-grant universities.

June 11, An expert in servant leadership lives in Des Moines

Autry's Web site with links to his YouTube channel
Click on the books for an overview of each. I encourage you to find at least one Autry book and read it. If you live in central Iowa, his books often show up at used book sales in public libraries and other organizations. I buy extras and give them away.

July 09, 2009

What books have you read lately?

That was the title of a session at the conference I attended in June. Three people led it but just about every one of the 15 or so present was willing to talk about what they’d read recently. And as the session went on, people divulged their passion might be fantasy books or romance novels. There was a bonding as we admitted what we had on our bedside night stands. It was so much fun that a colleague and I submitted that topic for an upcoming conference.

So it was heartening to read an interview with the CEO of Delta Air Lines in the New York Times. (This was a link a friend sent me in late April and I found as I was cleaning out email yesterday, hence the time lag.) CEO Richard Anderson answers questions about what he looks for in job candidates. He asks people what are the last three or four books they’ve read and what they enjoyed about them. He says he’s looking for the human intangibles to gauge how people might fit the Delta culture. He’s looking for a person’s values, work ethic and communication skills. I’ll bet it doesn’t matter a great deal what you’ve read but how you answer the question.

So tell me, what books have you read lately?

I’ll start. I’m reading ‘The Painted Kiss’ by Elizabeth Hickey. It’s the author’s debut novel, about the artist Gustav Klimt and the woman whose name he uttered with his dying breath. (That’s what the dust jacket says.) I suppose you couldn’t even label it historic fiction but it’s an entertaining summer escape.

Last month I finished ‘Personal History’ by Katharine Graham. Fascinatingly good read for an autobiography. Long (625 pages). Graham’s father owned the Washington Post; she became publisher after her husband’s suicide. She was a woman in a man’s world during the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and some unbelievable union struggles. It’s on the list of the 100 best business books of all time. (I’m trying to read the individual books rather than the book about the 100 books, which I’m willing to admit is insane.)

A provocative book I read end of winter was ‘Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations’ by Clay Shirky. I have newfound respect for Wikipedia, understand how people Twitter to organize in political situations and even recognize the power law distribution when I see it.

The April 26 interview in the New York Times has way more insight that this bit I pulled out

It’s your turn to share what you’re reading….

July 07, 2009

What alienates engaged workers?

A Clemson University industrial-organizational psychology professor has some interesting research on engaged workers who invest themselves in superior job performance and those workers’ loyalty to their employer.

The researcher finds barriers for engaged workers’ peak performance may include
• Lack of budget and equipment support
• Access to important information
• Work overload
• Unclear objectives and goals
• Assigned tasks that don’t fit their training

In tough economic times, which of these barriers don’t cost money? That’s where smart companies and organizations should be hard at work. It’s civility in the workplace, respecting workers with good communication including involving them in discussions about working conditions.

The professor concludes companies should not expect to keep the most talented and energetic if they encounter barriers, even in tough times. When these workers find a chance to leave, they will.

For more interesting information, read the Clemson University news release ‘Engaged employees are good, but don’t count on commitment’ at http://www.clemson.edu/newsroom/articles/2009/may/BrittEngagedWorkers.php5.