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September 24, 2009

Know where you are headed…particularly in a recession

Yesterday I left work to go to yoga class…and turned the wrong way onto Stange Road. A habit, I make a left turn to go home. I needed to make a right turn to go downtown. I knew where I was headed but momentarily forgot.

That happens at workplaces
Companies and organizations forget where they are headed or worse, don’t know. Lethargy can permeate the organization that lacks goals and clear vision. Insert a strategic inflection point such as a recession and watch the stress build. It erupts in disagreements, unkind words and rumors…a great uncertainty.

In ‘Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Company,’ Andrew Grove of Intel Corporation writes, “A strategic inflection point is when something is changing in a big way, when something is different, yet when you’re so busy trying to survive that the significance of the change only becomes clear in retrospect. The ability to recognize the winds have shifted and to take appropriate action is crucial.”

If you work for an organization that doesn’t know where it’s headed, you need to think about where you are headed.
• Ask your boss how you can best help the organization.
• Figure out how to get along with coworkers and help them.
• Step out of the current fog to look at what you accomplished before this strategic inflection point, what others have done in similar situations so you can try to produce more or better work, be more innovative. Learn from history but don’t be attached to it emotionally.

Grove says your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor. You have one employee—yourself. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills, your knowledge and the timing of your moves.

Take a right turn
Grove: Timing means acting when not everything is known. When you’re caught in the turbulence of a strategic inflection point, the sad fact is that instinct and judgment are all you’ve got to guide you.

I think now is the time to build up your company of one, particularly if you work in a paralyzed organization or company. Learn new skills. Seek out information and ideas of what others are doing. And then you can more clearly think about whether you want to stay in your current job after the recession or be poised to seek something new. It will keep you energized and out of the office strife of incivilities.


Andrew S. Grove is currently Senior Advisor at Intel Corporation.
His book ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ is one of eight in the strategy section of the book ‘The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.’

September 17, 2009

Need your ideas: How has the recession changed the workplace and civility in the workplace?

I agreed to talk at an October conference for Iowa State University Extension office assistants. I think the workplace has changed dramatically since I agreed to talk about phone etiquette, use of cell phones and other civility topics.

What are the pressing topics of civility in the workplace this fall?
These are some thoughts to get you in the mood.
1. Are you more or less informed than before the recession?
2. Has trust increased or decreased?
3. Are you required to be more or less accountable about your schedule or what you’ve produced?
4. Can you be creative and innovative?
5. Are we all in this together or is this a time when people promote themselves?
6. Do you feel like you’re on your organization’s critical path? (Staying on the critical path)
7. Do you view your job differently?
8. Has your job changed and do you understand your responsibilities?
9. Is workplace harassment a byproduct of the recession?

I need your ideas for topics about civility in the workplace … fall 2009 pertinent. Please send reactions and suggestions.

September 15, 2009

Be slow to be offended

Wednesday one of my daughters flew in from Seattle for a job interview in northeast Iowa. That made us a family of three sharing two vehicles for several days. She wanted to use my van Thursday for errands and to meet a friend for lunch. Wednesday evening I told her she could drive me to work but that I had a 9 a.m. meeting so I needed to be on time.

She was still on Pacific Time and had dealt with a canceled flight on her way to Iowa, so I wasn’t surprised that she was still asleep when I was ready to go to work. I drove to work. At 9 a.m., my cubemates made no move to go to our meeting. I asked why. We were notified yesterday we don’t need to attend, they said. One suggested I knew because I responded to the cancellation email. I asked her to look at the email and see if I was a recipient or had responded; I wasn’t and didn’t.

Being offended is often an initial reaction
Should my daughter be offended because I didn’t wake her up?
Should I be offended because I didn’t receive the email canceling the meeting?
Should my daughter be offended because she had an unexpected 5-hour layover in Denver?
Should I be offended because one of my coworkers thought I knew our meeting was canceled?

We were probably offended in varying degrees. The crucial question is what did we do? Being offended can lead to anger triggered by stress, frustration, fear, annoyance, resentment or unrealistic expectations.

Be slow to be offended with these steps:
Build a sense of self-worth
You are more easily offended when you feel insecure. Listen attentively to advice, complaints and criticism rather than looking for someone to blame.
Look for the intent
When you feel offended, think about the other person’s intentions. Frequently, you’ll discover the actions were an oversight or offered in an effort to help.
Respond slowly with reconciliation rather than revenge
It is easy to react quickly to offenses. The conversation can escalate from one caustic remark to another. Civility doesn’t mean you put up with rude behavior. You may want to tell the offender how the action made you feel. You don’t need to escalate the situation by involving other people.

Judge each situation carefully
Everyone feels offended at times, but not dealing effectively with your feelings can create relationship problems at work and with family and friends. Is a response necessary?

When you let emotions dictate a hasty response, you relinquish control of yourself and of the situation. Be slow to be offended.

September 09, 2009

End of garden season invokes comparison to civility

Monday morning I went to my community garden plot to cut herbs to dry. I drove back home thinking---I need to write notes for next year. My thinking transitioned to—do I/we do that at work?

Are we candid about what worked and what didn’t? Do we take time to evaluate? Do we listen to what others say?
The oregano wasn’t pungent. A 4-H gardening judge always told my children: stress the Mediterranean herbs to get strong flavors. I had horse manure tilled into my plot this year. The growing conditions were too fertile.

Are the growing conditions right at work? Do we get the training, equipment and information we need?

Do we pay attention to those who need help?
The marjoram wasn’t where my plan said it was supposed to be. There was no marjoram anywhere.

The English thyme, basil and flat-leaf parsley were terrific.

All herbs don’t flourish in a one-condition environment. People don’t either.
In ‘Work Naked: Eight Essential Principles for Peak Performance in the Virtual Workplace,’ author Cynthia Froggatt stresses that one size does not fit all for peak performance. It's a book that makes me think about my assumptions. (I'll post more about the book another time.)

Froggatt stresses knowledge workers often reach out of the current setting to think about problems or suggest solutions. Do you compare disparate things or get inspiration for work from hobbies, events, family and friends?

September 03, 2009

The charismatic person is other-directed, empathetic

Because I am intrigued by how charisma and civility intertwine, I’ve searched for more on charisma. Some of the things I especially like in the two articles I’m citing --

Think before you speak. Reduce the fluff and filler material in your daily communications. Try to make every word count, and think about how you're going to phrase something before you open your mouth. If you don't have something important to say, remain silent. With continuous effort, the right words will come to you more easily. It may seem surprising but limiting the amount you talk will make what you have to say more interesting.

Your listening skill...Rarely taught and infrequently practiced, listening is nonetheless a key to communicating and making others feel special in your presence.

Tony Alessandra, author of ‘Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism that Leads to Success’, writes “A person who develops his or her charisma is likely to do well in all aspects of life. That's because, on several different levels, they better connect with people. By definition, the charismatic person is more other-directed, more empathic.” From his column ‘Why Charisma Matters

wikiHow has an article on ‘How to Be Charismatic’

Psychology Today’s definition
Charisma is the ability to attract, charm and influence the people around you. Charisma is often said to be a mysterious ineffable quality you either have or you don't, but it's actually easy to break down many of the factors that make someone charismatic: confidence, exuberance, and optimism, as well as a ready smile, expressive body language, and a friendly and passionate voice.

I’ll close out charisma and civility with this thought.
The opposite of charismatic (repulsive)
It’s those who can turn any conversation into one about themselves. In today’s society where people share intimate details on cell phones in public places and type their movements into social media on the Web, where’s the charisma?

September 01, 2009

Caring in a meaningful way is a mark of civility, perhaps even charisma

The phone calls, hundreds…thousands of them to constituents. The encouragement to people he met on the streets, to his staff that might have been having personal struggles. These were efforts that took a great deal of time. That’s what impressed me over the weekend as the nation honored Senator Ted Kennedy. Seemingly much of this was done without the senator seeking to impress anyone. He was a person showing care for other humans and empathy with their situations.

As I tried to decide what to write about this week, I looked through some recent notes. One was on charisma. Was Ted Kennedy charismatic?

Here’s what Wikipedia says about charisma
The word charisma (Greek "kharisma," meaning "gift," "of/from/favored by God/the divine") refers to a trait found in persons whose personalities are characterized by a personal charm and magnetism (attractiveness), along with innate and powerfully sophisticated abilities of interpersonal communication and persuasion. One who is charismatic is said to be capable of using their personal being, rather than just speech or logic alone, to interface with other human beings in a personal and direct manner, and effectively communicate an argument or concept to them.

I think a great deal of charisma focuses on caring about others, being inclusive, listening, asking questions and not seeking personal attention but furthering specific ideas. Many of those traits apply to civility when the ideas work for the public good.

Several years ago a British psychology professor led a study that concluded charismatic people have an infectious personality. The good news is Professor Richard Wiseman estimates charisma is half innate and half learned. The BBC News Magazine article about his study published a list on how to be more charismatic.

Whatever his faults and mistakes, Ted Kennedy seemed to be genuine and humble in his caring for others. Perhaps he was charismatic. His time spent reaching out to others was a mark of civility.