Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Password please...."

There’s lots of noise these days about prospective employers asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords during interviews.  Expect an escalation of these sorts of privacy issues in the future, because the stakes are high and the social contracts that bound employers and employees in the past are extinct. Folks are going to be lining-up on privacy issues in the workplace in smash-mouth fashion, like opposing NFL offensive and defensive lines.

Hint to prospective employees: If a potential employer asks you for a Facebook password or for other information that is very close to ‘the line’ during the hiring process, you can expect the same behavior and attitude to continue once you are an employee. 

One objective in a job interview is to determine the ‘fit’ of the candidate to the company and the job.  Determining that fit is a two-way street.  The candidate must also decide if the company is right for them.  If you feel uncomfortable being asked for your password, refuse to give it.  And if that ends the interview, then so be it.  There is no fit.  Better to make this determination early on than years later, when you realize you’ve given a piece of your life to a soul-killing company in exchange for ‘a living.’ 

When enough great job applicants say ‘no thanks’ to companies that are trust-busting in the opening stages of the employer/employee relationship, those companies will stop saying, “password please” during interviews.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where's the (roast) beef?

My friend Dave Munger is known to be a smart, gentle and reasonable guy. Recently, he was stupefied by an event at his local deli. When he asked for 0.6 lbs. of roast beef, he received a confused stare back from the attendant.  After a bit of silence, Dave pointed to the digital scale and told her that she simply needed to put meat on it until it read 0.6.  “But people usually just ask for a ½ lb. or a ¼ lb.,” she replied. My friend, by his own description, foolishly persisted.  “A ½ lb. is 0.5, right?  So just keep putting meat on until it reads 0.6.” 

She dutifully loaded the meat on the scale, “That isn’t even going to get you one slice, sir.” He saw that the scale read 0.08 and thought, “These folks work with a decimal scale all day long and still have no understanding of how the decimal system actually works.”

At first glance, this appears to be just another story of shoddy customer service. But it is also a human story, if you put yourself in the shoes of the person behind the counter. Working with a digital scale you don’t understand results in one embarrassing customer interaction after another. Now that’s what I call soul-killing work.

As a supervisor, manager or leader, your job is to identify and draw out the good that is in most every person.  Do you believe that people actually want to fail?  Do you believe that they want to feel embarrassment in front of a customer? Or do you believe that they really want to do a good job and deliver value to their teammates and customers? 

If you agree that most people have the desire to do well, then you’ll make the personal commitment to invest in them and in their success.  It might be as easy as following up on Dave’s insight. In this case, a rudimentary exercise in the basics of the decimal system might just unlock more potential in someone than you could imagine.  You might ensoul someone by improving their skills and lowering the number of hard customer interactions they face daily.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How to sail faster than the wind

Imagine that you and the other members of your team are in a sailboat and you want to sail as fast as possible to a finish line downwind. The best strategy would be to set your sails to catch the wind, allowing it to simply push you straight downwind to the destination, right? Traveling as fast as the wind itself seems like a pretty smart plan.

But the smartest sailors will be celebrating their arrival long before you do and in a world of competition, that could mean trouble for you. What do they know that you don’t know? In her Tedx Talk, communication guru Nancy Duarte explained it this way, “You have to actually capture the resistance coming against you when you sail, but if you do it just right, your ship will actually sail faster than the wind itself.” But, how? By actually setting two asymmetrical sails at small angles against the apparent wind.

So what is the big idea here?

We constantly address life as a series of ‘either/or’ choices, when in reality ‘both/and’ solutions may harness more power and get us to the goal on time.  Some examples of seeming opposites that can be set as paired sails?
  • Ambition and Humility
  • Results and Relationships
  • Strength and Vulnerability
  • Endurance and Speed
  • Permanence and Transience
  • Your Idea and My Idea
  • Service and Price
  • Price and Quality
  • Visionary and Operational
  • Creative and Disciplined

Give up the either/or thinking and start finding ways to set two sails at once.  Your whole team is in the boat and they’ll win the race or lose it together.  Start linking seemingly opposing things and you just might find a faster way to the finish line!  And won’t it be sweet to have your celebration in full swing when your competition arrives at the finish line after you? 

(You can view Nancy Duarte's Tedx Talk where she uses her concept of sailing faster than the wind to explain how great communicators create transformative presentations below or at the link in the body of this blog).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Unconscionable Workload Costs Banks $25 Billion

If you think the problem of workload is simply a matter of life balance, think again.  Reports from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Inspector General  that accompany this week’s filing of the $25 Billion settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servers show that some executives are willing to commit gross ethical failures in order to get their jobs done.  In this case, that work was mortgage foreclosure and modification.

According to a Charlotte Observer article the failures were stunning.
  • “Employees confirmed they routinely signed documents without checking their accuracy.”
  •  “One notary at the bank reported workload going from 60 to 200 documents per day to more than 20,000.” 
  •  “Another employee described signing 18-inch stacks of documents at a time.”
  • “A manager’s notes revealed that benchmarks for signing documents were about 50 per hour.”
  • “One was hired as vice president of loan documentation after working at a pizza restaurant and as a bank teller and wasn’t given training.”
  • “Wells employees told upper level management that they couldn’t handle the workload.  Management, in turn, shortened the turnaround time for document signatures, forcing employees to sign more per day.”
  • “A mid-level manager at Wells told HUD inspectors that she started a two-week study in her department to see how much time it would take if her employee fully reviewed documents before signing them.  The documents piled up, and when her bosses got wind of it, they ordered her to stop.”
  • “Both banks hindered its (HUD) investigation by being reluctant to make employees available for interviews.”
  • “Bank of America also did not fully comply with subpoenas, and when the bank did allow inspectors to interview employees, Bank of America had attorneys present who directed employees not to answer certain questions.”

Some customers undoubtedly lost their homes unfairly. Workers deceptively put their names on documents they never reviewed. Managers  built and managed the machinations of the process. Executives set the strategy and then turned deaf ears to reports from their employees of the soul-killing that was occurring. 

Can one $25 billion fine ever redeem one of those souls?  The problem with a purely financial penalty is that although it can be used for some amount of restitution, it never fully removes the blemish it leaves on a heart.  

A penalty that is purely financial also lacks the kind of accountability that is created when someone or some persons that are responsible for legal infractions face legal consequences.  When that happens, the persons who were wronged receive validation of their suffering far beyond the validation created by a fine on a corporation.  What a pity that validation of this sort won't happen in a $25 billion settlement.

And who really is going to pay that $25 Billion?  It won't be the execs and it won't be managers and it won't be the shareholders and it won't be the employees.  It will be the consumer.  How many $5 ATM charges does it take to recover $25 Billion on a bottom-line?

What is the cost of your workload?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Get It Done Even When You Are Exhausted

It’s 4:45PM and your boss has just given you this news: the company has landed an important new account and the onboarding process must happen in double time in order to lock out the competition’s response.  “We should be glad, you know. New customers are tough to come by these days. The Sales team is depending on us.  And besides, this is job security for all of us, right?”  This is the encouragement you hear as you sit there feeling the emotions drain out of your body right on to the floor.

You know what you have to do.  So do it. Take the project off of your boss’s desk.  Make a commitment to get it done. Walk your exhausted body out the door.

Fact is, your company’s business has been strengthening for a year now and while workloads have been increasing (and fatigue as well), resources to get the increasing work done are frozen. You’re already anticipating the chorus of groans from your team when you break the news to them in the morning.

A thousand anxious thoughts are running through your head at that moment, but this isn’t the right time to discuss any of them.  First of all, everything your boss said about new customers, the sales team, and job security are true.  Secondly, people are emotionally drained at the end of the day so difficult discussions and conflicts are likely to go sideways and be much less productive.

Here, from the safety of your own desk, take time to journal all of your swirling thoughts. By doing this, you can come back fresh tomorrow and get your job done.

I’m not arguing that you sweep the issue of work overload under the rug or that you avoid an uncomfortable and necessary conversation.  I am suggesting that you need two successes.  Everyone needs the customer onboarded in a timely manner. And everyone needs the issue of workplace fatigue addressed.  You need time to gather your thoughts and arguments before you can succeed in the conversation with your boss about workplace fatigue.  Then, when you have that conversation your arguments will carry the benefits that accrued to the kind of team player who gets things done.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Everyone needs a story

A friend of mine, Todd Hahn, used to say that every night at bedtime his son would say, “Daddy, tell me that story you told me last night again!” There was only one story his son wanted to hear and he never grew tired of it.  So, of course, my friend told the story over and over and over. Once, he observed, “My son never says, “Daddy, tell me the Pythagorean Theorem.” Why? Because people need Story. While we might make decisions from facts, it’s Story and emotion that move us to take action.

Managers are skeptical of discussing relational and emotional aspects at work.  And that is exactly why so many strategies fail and many managers along with them.  Maybe strategy wins heads but it rarely moves hearts.  Managers focus too much on what is comfortable for them, but ineffective in getting results.  They focus on things like compensation plans, organizational clarity, 360 reviews, talent alignment, rote training and Balanced Scorecards. And while their thinking is well-organized and true, no one is moved by any of it. No one ever said to a CEO, “Please tell us about the Balanced Scorecard one more time, I find the subject so motivating!” 

When are people moved to press a strategy forward on their own initiative?  When they are inspired by it.  When they see their place in it.  When they realize it as an epic journey of a group of people of which they are a part.  When they become nervous knowing there’s a real chance of failure.  When they see an opportunity to build lasting relationships amongst their teammates. When they are want to give their life to it.

Inspire.  See.  Realize.  Become.  Build. Give.  When hearts are captured by a story, people are moved to action.

Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Authenticity is critical because everyone can smell fake a mile away. You must tell a story that is honest and in a way that is transparent and vulnerable.  If your storytelling is a bit rusty but you desire to motivate, there are lots of ways to hone your skills. Pick up a book like The Power of Story by Jim Loehr, or Noel Tichy’s Leadership Engine, or anything by Patrick Lencioni and learn from a master.

How will you know you have arrived as a storyteller?  When your people tell you that you have moved them emotionally and you see them taking action and see them repeating the story because it has become their own.