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October 27, 2009

Work processes and culture reveal organization’s values

Software reflects an organization’s values. That was the title of a presentation last week by Jason Young from North Carolina State University and IT systems manager for eXtension. He said computer software comes with a code that establishes the rules you have to live by.

Think about software a bit. Who has permission to change code? Who has permission to edit the copy on a Web page? How difficult is it to get permission to do those things? The software and the answers to these questions tell you a great deal about an organization’s values. It may be controlling and hierarchal or it may be collaborative and open.

eXtension uses MediaWiki, the software of Wikipedia. That means anyone within a work group can edit. Everyone can see the history log of who made changes and when. eXtension staff meeting notes are posted on the wiki. Anyone in the Cooperative Extension System nationwide can read the notes. What is the culture? What are the values? It’s collaborative, open and honest communication.

Two value examples from about.com
1. If you value integrity and you experience a quality problem in your manufacturing process, you honestly inform your customer of the exact nature of the problem. You discuss your actions to eliminate the problem, and the anticipated delivery time the customer can expect. If integrity is not a fundamental value, you may make excuses and mislead the customer.

2. If you value equality and a sense of family, you will wipe out the physical trappings of power, status, and inequality such as executive parking places and offices that grow larger by a foot with every promotion.

More about values
Traditional 20th-Century Organization: A Machine-Like Entity vs. The Values-Based Organization: A Living, Breathing Community

Proof of values
Anyone can say they have specific values in their organization, but the proof is in the processes and the culture. That’s integrity—stating what you believe, telling others that is what you believe and acting it out.

Do you have examples of values displayed in work processes and cultures?

October 15, 2009

Rethink two work practices to respect the earth

Type in italics is from reports of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
1. Marketing
Those of us in marketing are the wonderful folks who send calendars and address return labels to your mail box, stuff display racks with brochures and give away premium items.

Within an organization, it is important to identify the departments or functions that will act as change initiators, implementers, and resistors. Survey respondents identify accounting, finance, and marketing as often less supportive of program implementation than other departments.

The things we print—If we need to print messages and information, can we edit the copy, reduce the graphics and color to use less paper and altogether convey a more socially responsible message? As more people have Internet access, they search for information on the Web. What ranks high in search? Well written content. People are impatient so they don’t want to struggle through pdfs and graphics. They want the information in the first several paragraphs.

The premiums we give away—Just last week I handed out pens, magnetic clips and pads of sticky notes. Recently I’ve read we should be using ink refills rather than so many plastic pens. Distributing one of those three premiums would have been a step toward being socially responsible.

2. Telecommuting
We try to compartmentalize our lives into 8+ hours in the office as work time and the rest is personal time.

In ‘Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World’ (2009), Bob Johansen writes about the skill of dilemma flipping: ability to turn dilemmas—which, unlike problems, cannot be solved—into advantages and opportunities. “..a dilemma: the balance of work and private life is impossible to achieve, at least in my experience. This is not a problem that can be solved. Rather, the intersection of the two is a territory that can only be navigated with assistance and intelligent choices.”

In the opening pages of ‘Work Naked: Eight Essential Principles for Peak Performance in the Virtual Workplace’ (2001) Cynthia Froggatt writes, “We’ve never fully made the transition from manual labor to knowledge-based working….we have created a complex system of visual cues to signify that (or give the impression that) someone is working. ‘The office’ is a stage where people ‘perform their work’ for others to SEE.”

Buildings account for 40 percent of global energy demand and nearly 37 percent of total CO2 emissions.

We start up our cars and drive through terrible weather to get to the office when we could get just as much work done (and often more) at home. We persist in assigning devoted space in office buildings to workers and demand they be at their desks 8 to 5.

Salient points
While the specific impetus for each company varies, three overarching drivers emerged from the survey: cost savings, social responsibility, and reputation. These drivers are linked by a common desire to ensure the long-term success of the organization. It should be noted, though, that as a company fulfills its goals in these areas and gains knowledge of the issue, the motivations then shift toward leveraging climate-related market changes for competitive advantage.

In sum, climate considerations are already altering the business environment in ways that are real and yet still fluid. The rules of the game are changing and companies ignore these changes at their peril.

Sustainable climate strategies cannot be an add-on to business as usual; they must be integrated with a company’s core business activities.

Pew Center reports
Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Getting Ahead of the Curve: Corporate Strategies That Address Climate Change, October 2006
Adapting to Climate Change: A Business Approach, April 2008

October 13, 2009

People out of the communication loop are fearful…particularly in tough times

Foster strong relationships by
showing respect
caring for others
being authentic

Relating to your boss
Be well prepared with notes.
Talk about “getting results.”
Understand and support your boss’ goals.
Ask what information your boss wants, the best way to present it.
Answer questions. Explain processes. You’re knowledgeable about your job.
Admit you don’t understand or are confused. Asking for help shows humility and a desire to learn.
Ask for meetings, for explanations.
Offer suggestions. Offer to help when you see a need.

Working relationships with co-workers
Be friendly and sincere.
Encourage ideas.
Ask shy people to contribute.
Know how to direct the conversation back to the topic.
Take issue with problems and ideas, not the people involved.

We all fear the unknown
Good relationships and communication help reduce stress and improve civility.

This was part of my presentation promoting civility in the workplace at the Iowa State University Extension Office Assistants Development Conference.

October 09, 2009

Be brief and clear in office emails

Trim sentences to 15-18 words.

"Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light."
--Joseph Pulitzer (in 34 words actually)

Tips for better writing
Focus on your audience.
Determine your purpose.
Connect with the reader.
Be brief, clear and accurate.
Make it easy to read.

What is the purpose of your email?
What do you want someone to
--know (information)
--feel (emotion)
--do (action)
after reading what you wrote?

Think: I am writing because I want ________________

Eliminate jargon, outdated phrases and clichés
Many of these are left-over from days of memos but creep into email messages:
If I can be of further assistance
Please don’t hesitate to call
Enclosed please find
Per your request
With regard to
Thank you in advance

Take the time to write brief and clear emails so you don’t have to explain further in follow-up emails. It will reduce your stress and that makes you more civil…with your customers, coworkers and supervisor.

(This was part of my presentation promoting civility in the workplace at the Iowa State University Extension Office Assistants Development Conference.)

October 07, 2009

10 core values and competencies to increase civility and job security

1. Be honest
You’re being paid to work, not to surf the Web, write personal emails, talk on the phone to friends and family.
Don’t take food that is not yours.

2. Have empathy
Know who benefits from your work and try to see things from their perspective.
Your boss may be stressed with new duties, fearful about the economy. Know your boss’ top priorities.
Customer may be as confused and unhappy with changes as you are. Try to look at the situation from their perspective.

3. Be curious
Ask how things are done, why they are done that way.
Seek new perspectives.

4. Be proactive
Defuse a bad situation.
Ask to meet with your boss to admit you can’t get all the work done or you are behind; that’s a huge relief to the boss.
Be professional with unhappy customers.

5. Think about interdependence
How will your actions affect other people?

6. Show initiative
How do you think you could be most helpful to the organization and your boss?
Can you exchange one task for another?
If you point out problems, suggest at least one possible solution.

7. Be positive
An employee with a bad attitude affects customers, coworkers and bosses.
New boss? Listen with an open mind to plans and how you can fit, help out, provide history when needed, set realistic not inflated goals of what you can do.

8. Think before you speak
Listen more than you talk. Very few people like constant jabber.
Don’t provide too much information, particularly personal information.

9. Show up on time
Be reliably prompt to work and to meetings.

10. Seek opportunity in the good times and tough times
Be strong and resilient.
Search the situation for something to learn or some other way to benefit.

This is part of my presentation today promoting civility in the workplace at the Iowa State University Extension Office Assistants Development Conference.

October 01, 2009

Meshing knowledge power and organizational power

Knowledge power
The computer engineer who is steeped in the latest technology possesses knowledge power. The receptionist who knows the questions clients most frequently ask possesses knowledge power.

Organizational power
The people who shuffle resources and set budgets possess organizational power.

In ‘Only the Paranoid Survive,’ Andrew Grove of Intel writes about how hard his company worked to break down the walls between those with knowledge power and those with organizational power. He says promoting constant collaboration between people with the two powers creates the best solutions in the interest of both.

In a time of crisis
Whether it’s new competition, rapid growth or deterioration, this meshing of knowledge and organizational power is important for survival. You are trying to define what the organization will be and what the organization will not be. You need to let chaos reign to explore alternatives.

That’s respect and civility from both sides—those with deep knowledge but narrow focus and those with a larger organizational perspective who can set a context.

An organization that has a culture that can deal with these two phases—debate (chaos reigns) and a determined march (chaos reigned in)—is a powerful, adaptive organization.

Such an organization has two attributes:
1. It tolerates and even encourages debate. These debates are vigorous, devoted to exploring issues, indifferent to rank and includes individuals of varied backgrounds.
2. It is capable of making and accepting clear decisions with the entire organization then supporting the decision.