December 09, 2009

Do your part to eliminate midnight sun

We had a day off work today. It was a blizzard. (That's a snow drift outside those doors.)

One of my colleagues went to work anyway. He took photos, explained he could get in only one door and wrote in an email:
Very lonely here, but the lights were on!

Midnight sun, lighting throughout the night, in office buildings does not respect the planet.

One small thing office workers can do
Adopt a policy that whoever is the last one to leave a room or a building should turn off the lights if they’re not motion sensitive. Post reminder signs near doors or light switches.

The U.S. Department of Energy has many tips to help Americans save energy. Check out the office energy checklist .

No one should come in from a blizzard to find a completely lighted building and no one there.

November 12, 2009

“Not fond of social media, but it looks like I have to do it”

That’s a paraphrased quote from an evaluation. There’s an attitude in that quote.

The good news is the person has recognized change. Sometimes we don’t surface from the day to day work to see changes in tools and culture.

It helps me to think of it this way: Would I want to be on unemployment compensation forever? Would I want my children to always be ages one, three and five? Would I want a yard full of leaves all the time? All those things have happened; only the leaves are current.

How we respond
How have the tools in your job changed? The clients, the economy? Have you changed with them? Those who are stuck as if always at one age or season make work difficult for others. If I insisted on writing for the Web the same way I learned to write for newspapers, I would not be helping my employer or learning anything new. And more important, I would not be writing the way today’s public scans text on the Web.

If I didn’t listen to the people who embrace social media, would I be helping my organization stay viable? The questions should not be ‘what am I comfortable doing?’ or ‘what do I personally know and like?’

What will delight the client?
What do people want to know and how do they want the information? Those are the right questions.

That’s civility—thinking of others rather than being oblivious to or resisting change.

August 04, 2009

Staying on the critical path

The critical path is the most direct route that can be plotted from an employee’s work to the consumer. Staying on the path influences profitability and value. You have to know your company’s goals and connect to them by reducing costs, increasing revenue or increasing value. The closer you work to the critical path, the more value you have as a worker.

This is one of the best business books I’ve read.
The critical path is a theme throughout How to be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed by Robert E. Kelley. Kelley is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s business school. The book is the culmination of 10 years of research.

Let me give you two examples
Yesterday a colleague from another university asked if she should have an editor copy edit every contraction out of an article, which is what the author, a university expert wanted. Would that work add value? I can’t imagine it would. It reminds me of a quote about perspective, looking at the big picture. “Workers who dig a hole, burrow down and get more and more fascinated by less and less are the workers who never break out of the ‘average’ worker rank. For too many people, ten years of work experience is merely the first year’s experience repeated ten times…there is no leap to the perspective ability.”

Several of us attended a one-day writing workshop in June. We asked the presenter if we could photocopy her handouts to share. She considered that outreach and granted permission. Rather than simply pass on these writing tips, we held a lunch and learn to explain what we learned at the seminar plus pass on the handouts. Was that on the critical path? I think so because it hopefully provided inspiration, fresh perspective, some quick-start ideas for writing.

After reading this book, I now ask: Is this work on the critical path? Is it of value to my organization? Does it cut costs or increase revenue in some way? Will customers benefit?

That’s working for the well-being of your organization, being true to your employer or maybe it’s volunteer work. I call that civility because you’re working for the good of the community and being brutally honest about your work.

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

May 27, 2009

People trust what they can see. People trust competence.

That’s the conclusion of a Sunday Des Moines Register editorial ‘Iowa governments have work to do on trust’.

Stephen L. Carter writes in his book ‘Civility: Manner, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy’---“Civility has two parts: generosity, even when it is costly, and trust, even when there is risk.”

We tend to extend trust until we find reasons not to trust. When we’re fearful, in these days about the economy, about our own future, it’s difficult to maintain trust when we don’t know what decisions are being made and sense governments aren’t solving problems.

Whom can we trust?
The Register editorial asks for openness and displays of competence to rebuild confidence.

Last month a United Press International story had this headline and lead: ‘Poll: Most trust Obama's economic actions PRINCETON, N.J., April 13 (UPI) -- More than two-thirds of Americans asked expressed at least a fair amount of confidence in President Barack Obama's economic decisions, a Gallup poll indicated.’

Obama is in the headlines. He addresses the nation. He holds press conferences. He consults with many. He is operating in the open, telling us what he thinks and when he changes his thinking. There’s a barrage of communication. His communication skills and innate humility instill confidence.

The Register is right in advocating for openness and competence. Those qualities earn back the trust we’ve lost.

We lose in every way when we lose trust, Jan. 9, 2008

Des Moines Register editorial, May 24, 2009

United Press International, April 13, 2009 article

March 25, 2009

Stewardship in the workplace

A whole lot of the anger today in the United States is directed toward those who have mismanaged money. Toward people who felt they were entitled to bonuses, to special expense accounts or to high pay.

A good outcome of the economic recession is the management of resources is being scrutinized and challenged. Mismanagement is not respectful of the people who provided the money, whether taxpayers or individuals who trusted others to practice good stewardship.

Stewardship……..I think of that word in conjunction with land or a faith-based organization. But the word applies equally well to how we manage resources in our workplaces.

Stewardship from Merriam-Webster online
1: the office, duties, and obligations of a steward
2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care

A steward can be
3: a fiscal agent
5: one who actively directs affairs: manager

Stewardship in the workplace questions
Am I productive working towards goals that will help the organization (or dithering about in irrelevant tasks)?
Are the expenses I submit honest and in compliance with company policy?
If I want professional improvement, can I get it from books or other economical methods?
Am I able to elicit creativity and passion from my fellow workers so we create better products and services than one person alone could create?

Americans are asking for a new level of accountability
Being a good steward of work resources is a form of civility, being good citizens with what is entrusted to us and what we’re paid to do.

What other stewardship questions do you think of?

Entitlement in the workplace (Jan. 29, 2008)

December 18, 2008

Wants vs. needs in the workplace

We spend our lives pursuing happiness.

Much of the news this holiday season is how to survive …and thrive…without spending a great deal of money. For some, that’s a new concept. For others, it’s a return to former experiences, perhaps in childhood or the college years.

It forces us to think about wants vs. needs. It makes us talk to one another.

Do we all need…
the latest computer, a laptop and a desktop, two screens, every computer program imaginable, a fancy company cell phone? Does that play to our strengths or just make us feel inadequate that we can’t do 10 different roles well? Does it contribute to a dilemma of trying to prioritize what part of our job is most critical? Do we really know how our work fits into the big overall work of the organization?

Do we constantly need the latest training that somehow will make everything right and more efficient in the workplace? If only we had this new database, this new process, this new position---we could be more efficient, produce more.

The recession may just force collaboration and open discussions.
The economic recession is not a bad thing if it forces serious conversations instead of rushing out to purchase, to create a new position, to develop a new program. How can we live well with what we have? How can we redefine positions? Of all that training we’ve had, what makes sense to implement? Are there gaps we can fill with what we have?

It takes civility to respect one another and engage in some very open conversations that begin with facts available to all. It’s time for brainstorming, examining how what we know will help, examining where each person’s passion and strengths lie. The successful in this recession will develop better, more respectful working relationships.

It takes a vision that everyone can see.
When we don’t understand how some training applies to our jobs, how some position fits, how some equipment can be used—that’s a waste of resources due to a lack of communication.

Often if we get our wants, we are unhappier than if we had only what we needed. People are resourceful and creative if they’re included in the conversations of determining goals and solutions. When we focus on the needs of everyone, have big open conversations and do the very best we can, we’ll probably find happiness. It works in our personal lives and in our work lives.

December 09, 2008

Redesigning the organization for today’s economy

A recession economy forces organizations to examine habits and organizational structure. Habits of greed, of paternalism, of incivility towards others in the workplace. To endure this recession well is to imagine and create new habits and values, efficient processes and innovative work structures. Organizations can not afford to waste anyone’s talents. The wealth is hidden in people, the greatest asset of any organization.

It is a time demanding innovation
It is a time to realign staff so they are invigorated, productivity is increased and the productivity has value to clients, customers and society.

Everyone needs and wants to contribute to a better organization, one with open communication and transparency, with massive creativity. People inherently want to provide value but they have to believe in what they’re doing and they have to be a part of the process. They need to discover and use their strengths. Value is in meaningful collaborative work and respectful relationships, living well with those in our workplaces.

It takes a true leader
to help the organization uncover its current values (not the ones written in organizational statements) and set goals that work in a new economy where pettiness, inflated egos and overconsumption simply don’t fit. That leader who can set a new organizational order and uncover talents would have these traits at minimum:

• Self-confidence—can listen attentively to others and consider their opinions, doesn’t feel threatened, doesn’t have to have the final word

• Curiosity—wants to know more, wants to learn, enjoys challenging others to see what they’ll imagine

• Eye for talent—observing, thinking about the potential in others that they may not realize

• Even temperament that invites collaboration---that can maneuver through the tantrums and the passions knowing that a group of people come up with better and more creative ideas and solutions than one person alone

• Ability to communicate effectively---in person, in emails, on the phone, in the midst of chaos and calm

Umair Haque in an Oct. 21 Harvard Business blog post, Why Traditional Recession Tactics Are Doomed To Fail This Time, writes
“Tomorrow's sources of advantage aren't like yesterday's. They're not built on being able to exploit, dominate, or coerce more strongly than others—they don't result from being harder, better, faster, stronger. They're about exactly the opposite: being softer, better able to fail, having the ability to be slower, gaining the capacity for tolerance and difference. Ultimately, they are about a true advantage—one that accrues not just to the corporation, at the expense of people, society, or the environment; but one that accrues to all.”

In another post, How to Build a Next-Gen Business Now, Haque writes
“Here are just a few of the most radical new organizational and management techniques today’s revolutionaries are already utilizing: open-source production, peer production, viral distribution, radical experimentation, connected consumption, and co-creation.” (He has links for each of these techniques.)

When the power, creativity and talents of people in an organization are unleashed…when there’s true civility and a bit of guidance……..organizations can be redefined for new production and value.

What do you think? What would you add?

October 27, 2008

How are you surviving the national election debate in your workplace?

Several weeks ago an eXtension ( colleague ended his online meeting by encouraging everyone to vote. Several attending responded they didn’t know how they would vote. The leader of the meeting obviously knew how he was going to vote, but was very civil---didn’t get baited into talking about the candidates.

Way back in early January, P.M. Forni who is one of the leading voices on civility today, provided tips on dealing with talk about national politics in the workplace.
Casting a Vote for Workplace Civility in 2008: How to keep your cool during political discussions at work

Do Vote next Tuesday (if you haven’t already)!

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 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 Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

December 06, 2007

A customer’s complaint may be the best gift you’ll ever receive

The most common thing to do is to ignore customer complaints or argue about them. Follow these 10 steps instead.

1. Thank the customer.
Instead of focusing on a solution, start by thanking the customer for telling you about his problem. His complaint is a GIFT. He's giving you valuable information. He's giving you a free consulting service, telling you how you can improve. He's even giving you a chance to correct his problem so he can keep doing business with you.

2. Explain your appreciation.
Explain how the complaint will help you improve your service. Say something like, "I'm glad to hear about this because it tells me we need to streamline our shipping procedures."

3. Listen to the customer's story and complaint.

Your customer wants to tell her story. Ask questions to determine the scope of the problem. Repeat the information to make sure you understand what the customer perceives as the problem. You may be tempted to skip the long or emotional story. Don't do it. If you don't listen, she'll find dozens of other people who will. You can't afford that kind of negative publicity.

4. Refrain from argument.
Your customer may be angry and say things that are unfair or untrue. But when he's upset, he wants you to listen ... not tell him why he's wrong. If you let the customer tell his story and express his emotions, there's a better chance he'll calm down and listen.

5. Show you're sorry.
Let the customer know you're sorry there is a problem. As the editors of "The Customer Services Rep's Emergency Survival Guide" say, "You are not admitting error, but simply letting the customer know you regret the situation, no matter what the reason is or where the fault lies."

6. Exhibit some empathy.
Once you've calmed the customer, let him know you understand how he must feel. Say something like, "That must have been so disappointing for you. I can see how that defective part made it impossible for you to finish your work."

7. Find out what the customer wants.
Ask your customer what will meet his needs. At times, customers only want to let you know something happened and how they were inconvenienced. They don't necessarily want anything special from you. But if your customer wants something more, find out what it is. Don't guess. ASK.

8. Explain what you can do.
Do it immediately. If you have to involve someone with more authority, get that person involved. Tell your customer you're going to do whatever you can to make things right. There's ALWAYS something you can do. Your customer knows that. Don't say, "There's nothing I can do." Don't get into an explanation of why you can't do something. It will only add fuel to the customer's anger.

9. Take action.
Once a resolution has been decided upon, set a course of action that is agreeable to your customer. Be specific as to who will do what by when.

10. Check back with the customer.
If you really want to stand out in your customer's mind, check back to make sure he was satisfied with how his problem was handled. And thank your customer for giving you the chance to make things right.

Pick the steps you most need to improve. Write those steps on a card and put the card next to your telephone. The next time a customer calls to complain, look at the card to remind yourself to practice those steps.

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 Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.

July 30, 2007

Do you have annoying habits that are labeled uncivil by your coworkers?

When I read the comments posted to my last entry, I thought about having a talk with my coffee mug. To tell it to stay home in my cubicle or the break room, so I could not be slurping coffee in front of someone’s cubicle. (I’m pretty sure the mug can still attend meetings if I don’t slurp.) It helps me be more civil if I understand what annoys others.

One of those serendipitous things
The day there were comments about discourteous worker habits on my post, I found this piece on annoyances in the workplace--personal conversations, loud talkers, speaker phones, messy break rooms, potent-smelling food, computer noises, cell phone rings…

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,

Cubicle etiquette,

What is proper Office Cubicle etiquette?

Employees Test Defenses Against Office Pests, The Wall Street Journal Online,

Office cubicle cartoons,

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
“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.

Resources 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,
It’s OK to Micromanage…Sometimes,
The Eight Rules of Management, Rule #2: Don’t Micromanage,!rule2.html
Why Boards Micro-Manage and How to Get them to Stop,

April 08, 2007

Root cause of conflict is often ambiguity

We may blame others when the problem isn’t people at all. It’s the vagueness, the uncertainty, the ambiguity in projects. In the haste to do a project, we jump to suggesting end products without a clear understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish—the goals. We don’t establish who is responsible for what—the roles.

Build and communicate clear goals and roles

80% of your time determining the goals and roles and
20% of your time on procedures.
The process should be really easy to map if you have clear goals and roles.

Everyone working on a project needs to understand why these are the goals. I think sometimes the project leader understands the goals and their basis but he or she doesn’t communicate them clearly and maybe not at all. Often times we who work on the project don't ask the right questions to get to the goals and their basis.

The role part is treacherous. I’ve seen project outlines that list just about everyone in the office. If my role is not clear, if I can’t define my role, I have no desire to work on that project because I foresee dissention and confusion. Either I’ll be blamed for taking on too much or I’ll be blamed for not doing enough.

Ask questions, lots of questions
Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood. Act as a facilitator to clarify and understand the roles and goals. In addition to the goals of the project, we need to understand the real goals of others working on the project. Good responses and questions are ‘Oh, aha, I see’ to keep someone talking. ‘What are your goals in this project? What should we do differently? How’s it going? What do we need to do to fix that?’

In ‘Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster’ author Bill Jensen charts the reasons for complexity uncovered by the study, Search for a Simpler Way. The question is What makes work so complex? Sixteen of Fortune’s 25 Most Admired Companies were polled; they did not have ‘unclear goals and objectives’ in their top 10 reasons for work being complex. 32 companies surveyed out of Business Week’s Top 75 S&P Performers had ‘unclear goals and objectives’ as number 8 on their list. The total universe for the study had ‘unclear goals and objectives’ as the number 2 reason for complex work.

Keep the goals and the roles at the forefront

I find even with established goals and roles, when projects stretch out over time, in between other projects…we forget what the goals and roles are. We’re distracted and venture out on some branch that isn’t relevant. It wastes time. Frustration sets in. Not to say we shouldn’t rethink goals and roles at times, but the changes should be conscious decisions. Keep the goals and roles at the front of that folder, put them at the top of documents, include them in e-mails to others about the project.

It comes down to this

Determine the goals and roles.
Do a stellar (outstanding) job of communicating them.

“Work complexity is the result of our worst intellectual habits. We’re not structuring goals, communication, information, and knowledge so that a diverse workforce can use them to make decisions.” --Bill Jensen, author of ‘Simplicity: the New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster’

This post is based on notes from a presentation at the March 30, 2004 Professional Development Day, the notes I wished for (and now belatedly found) when I wrote Roles and Responsibilities,

February 20, 2007

Roles and responsibilities

How important are they? Supremely important.

Several years ago I heard a speaker at professional development day talk about how you had to devote a lot of time to defining roles and responsibilities. It’s one of those few things remembered years after a conference. I wish I could remember more. Anyone still have notes you could share?

“Productive knowledge work is all about how we use each other’s time and attention as we try to get stuff done. Your worst competitor is day-to-day confusion—the time it takes everyone to figure out what to do and what not to do.”
--Bill Jensen, author of “Simplicity: the New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster”

Why is defining roles and responsibilities so hard today?
I suspect it’s a long list and much comes down to ‘change’.
Changing technology redefines what workers do, what machines do.
Downsizing eliminates jobs so others need to pick up more work.
Reorganization, mergers, leadership changes and changing and fluid reporting lines redefine the work group.
New goals such as recruiting students and economic development emerge.

And finally, in a rushed world, the changed and evolving roles and responsibilities are not communicated to those affected.

Tension and frustration build when workers lack clarity in roles and responsibilities.
Instead of working on results for the organization, workers are stuck with who is doing what, who answers to whom?

It takes time to define roles and responsibilities but without that definition there is lots of activity and we become enslaved by busy work. There is frustration all around. It’s easy for incivility to take over.

I think this is one reason I like project management so much. Roles and responsibilities are defined for a project. The work is divided and allocated. Several people are not unknowingly doing the same thing or competing to do the same thing. You have different responsibilities in different projects which is invigorating. You get to try something different, learn something new. It increases flexibility and enriches your work life, important elements of job satisfaction in this knowledge economy.

Defining roles and responsibilities gives workers authority.
It supports people working together because they can see what component is their responsibility, who is doing other work, how it all fits together.

I’ve been through a year of change. I’m energized by my new roles and responsibilities but I’m still asking the questions, working to define the responsibilities. I think the days of static responsibilities are gone so we have to work on defining them day after day.

It’s like an orchestra; not everyone can be first chair trumpet. It’s like a family; not everyone is responsible for paying the utility bills. If you don’t know your role and responsibilities, keep asking questions to define them.

Not terribly related:
I found this blog by a project manager in Sarasota, Florida through searching for ‘roles and responsibilities’. He frequently touches on civility, although he doesn’t name it civility.