In August 2015, I wrote a column for The Globe & Mail that addressed the “bruising” workplace culture at Amazon. Amazon’s culture was reported to be characterized by demanding hours and a gruelling pace, with no room for mistakes or missteps. Employees battered with unrelenting deadlines, constant criticism, heartless disregard for personal health and life circumstances, and zero boundaries between work and life – a system inherently designed to “burn and churn.” New recruits who can handle the relentless pressure tagged as future stars; the rest burn out and leave within a few years. But a workplace culture with zero or little regard for work life balance isn’t unique to Amazon, or for that matter, to North America.
The Japanese even have a word for it!
Apparently this malaise crosses international boundaries … all the way to Japan. So much so that the Japanese actually have a word for it – “karoshi”. Karoshi means “death from overwork”, and it’s a social problem prevalent in many corporations in Japan. Continue reading
Last week’s tip for being a more effective leader if some or all of your direct reports are off-site employees was to establish common working hours for at least a fraction of the day. In our continuing series, today’s idea is to set standards for responding to voice mail and email.
Set standards for response times to voice mail and email
One of the most common complaints voiced by off-site employees is that they feel like communication is more difficult as they lose touch with their peers. When you’re working virtually, maintaining connections is not as easy as just getting up and walking down the hall to confer with your colleagues. Which means that there is a much greater reliance on the telephone and on email. But there’s nothing worse to employees than when they leave a voice mail or send an email to someone in the department which then gets sucked up into the giant cyberspace abyss, never to be heard from again. Continue reading
On April 12, I blogged about the immediate aftermath of United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz’ (lack of) leadership. This following the upsetting video that surfaced the night of April 9th, showing the violent removal of a passenger from an aircraft. On April 19, I wrote a further commentary in my regular column for The Globe & Mail – Lessons from the United Airlines debacle (or how not to destroy your brand) – in which laid out five leadership lessons that any CEO should internalize so as not to find themselves in similar shaky situations in the future.
Is it too little, too late?
I still maintain that this unfortunate United Airlines incident is destined to become a textbook case of how a leader should not act in a state of crisis (particularly in the age of the Internet). But I am pleased to say that on April 27, Munoz also demonstrated how to do it right. United issued the results of their internal investigation as well as a public apology in major newspapers, individual apologies to the airline’s frequent flyers (I got an email) and a statement on their website. Granted, it may be the proverbial equivalent of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but in my opinion, late is better than never. Continue reading
In today’s blog post, I’m back once again with another tip on how to work more effectively as a leader of off-site employees. Last week’s advice was to be thoughtful about the communication medium you use. This week’s tip is to establish common work hours for at least a fraction of the day.
Establish a common core time when all staff are available to each other
Think about establishing common work hours for at least a fraction of the day. Granted, one of the great benefits for off-site employees is that they can work flexible schedules, but if you don’t establish at least a common core when everyone can be sure to reach one another, then collaboration can become very difficult. Continue reading
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. So said St. Augustine in the 4th century. And it’s a doctrine that I’ve taken to heart. Those of you who know me know that I love to travel. However, a recent travel experience taught me a lesson about the danger of becoming complacent, a lesson that applies to leadership as well, and something that I have talked about previously in the blog (see Nokia’s blunder).
Ironically, one of the most exciting things about world travel can also be the most trying … I speak of course about the lack of amenities in some developing parts of the globe that we simply take for granted in countries such as Canada and the United States. On a recent overseas trip, I spent a few days in a rural community in India where I was harshly reminded that some of what I consider to be the basic necessities of life are actually luxuries in other parts of the world. I am so used to twirling a tap to get water or flicking a switch to get electricity that I have come to expect these conveniences without even giving it a second thought. In fact, I have become so complacent in expecting these services, that it led me to make some very poor decisions.
Frozen in the tropics!
Before I left for India, I checked the daily temperatures – they ranged from 7 to 15 degrees Celsius (45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) – in the areas that I was traveling to. Thinking as a girl who’s spent most of her life in Canada (where we have central heating almost everywhere), I said to myself – “that’s pretty good weather”. And I packed accordingly. Continue reading
In our continuing series on how best to be an exceptional leader of remote employees, last week I blogged about the importance of getting to know them personally. Today’s tip: be thoughtful about the communication medium you use.
Think about the medium!
Depending on what you are trying to achieve, certain types of communication work better than others. As a general rule, the more direct and uncomplicated the situation, the written word can be more effective. And the more complex and thorny the situation, a verbal conversation becomes a necessity. Continue reading
Last week I blogged about how one should hire for attitude, not skills. My post prompted a few emails from readers, and it got me thinking not just about skills vs attitude, but about skills vs talent. What exactly is the difference between attitude and talent? For the definitive answer, I went to my dictionary.
Attitude vs talent
An attitude is a mental position, a feeling, or an emotion with regard to a fact or state.
A talent is a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude.
So, an attitude is a state of mind, a talent is an aptitude, so innate or a natural ability which is inborn.
Last week, when I talked about skills vs attitude, I said that skills were teachable and attitude isn’t, and I still stand behind that statement. When I compare talent to attitude though, talent, for the most part, is even more intrinsic than attitude. At least a person can choose to change their attitude; but talents are there from birth and so while they can be honed and enhanced, they cannot be acquired over time.
Skills vs talent
So it got me thinking about skills vs talent. According to my definitions, skills are teachable, but talents aren’t. Or wait a minute … are they? A leader’s job is to effect change in people, by creating an environment in which people will choose to change. If skills can be learned but talent is inherent, then as leaders, we should always assume that everything our employees are required to do are skills. Because this assumption allows our employees to believe that the changed behaviour can be learned. If we assume that the behaviours we desire are talents, then there is no room for people to learn.
This sounds circuitous, so let me explain why the skills vs talent notion is important. Continue reading
For the last two weeks, I’ve been posting about strategies to work more effectively with your remote employees. The ideas so far: set office hours and schedule weekly one-on-ones. Today’s tip sounds fairly simple, but don’t let the simplicity lead you to think it’s ineffective. In fact, just the opposite.
Get to know your remote employees at a personal level
Learn more about your remote employees. Make it a point to get to know your team members at a personal level, more than just in terms of the work they do. Learn more about their family, their hobbies, where they are from, where they want to go. Continue reading
When it comes to recruiting employees, I always say that I would much rather hire for attitude rather than for skills. You see, for the most part, skills are teachable … but a positive can-do attitude is either there or not. Now of course, I’m not suggesting that you completely ignore a required base-level of skills – if you need an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor, you obviously need someone who’s been accredited as such. But I am saying that, as a hiring manager, you will often face the situation where you’ve got two or three individuals who have similar educational certifications, and you’re wavering between them. One person may have more relevant work experience, but another has a more constructive and optimistic attitude. In this circumstance, always hire for attitude. Always pick the individual who has the upbeat outlook with the glass-is-half-full point of view. Here’s why.
Here’s why you should hire for attitude. Continue reading
Last week I started a new video series on leading a virtual team and my first tip was to set office hours, specific blocks of time in your calendar when your team members could call and expect to get your “live” on the phone. Today’s strategy to get the highest level of performance from your virtual team members is an expansion of last week’s idea.
Schedule weekly one-on-ones. Give each member of your virtual team one full hour every week on your calendar for a one-on-one discussion. Just you and the employee, either on the phone or on a video call. This one hour allows both you and your employee to cover a variety of topics,. You can really talk through issues that don’t get discussed simply because they don’t see you at the office every day.
And one very important thing: NEVER cancel a one-on-one. Continue reading