Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Fun workplaces are productive workplaces

The research shows there is a direct correlation between fun in the workplace and employee productivity.  In fact, fun at work is also directly linked to increased morale, greater creativity and innovation, enhanced performance, higher commitment to the organization, and lower turnover.  So what is your workplace like?  Is it a fun, playful and productive environment … or not.  Participate in our online poll; it will take just a moment.  You can see up-to-date results right after you vote, and I’ll report the final results right here on my blog on September 15th.  Click on the link below.

Go to online poll

Choose your words carefully — it makes a difference

This video is just under six minutes long and it’s really worth the watch.  It was first presented at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and it went on to win the short story category.  Don’t let the fact that it’s in Spanish throw you off – it’s subtitled in English and there isn’t that much dialogue anyway.  To get you started, the first hand-written sign says “Ten compassion, estoy siego” which means “Have compassion, I am blind”.

The most powerful message I got from this video was that your choice of words matters.  And that’s a lesson worth paying attention to in your role as a leader.  Whether it’s asking one of your staff to meet a deadline, offering feedback to an employee about a negative behaviour you’d like him to change, or praising a team member for a job well done, your choice of words will make a difference.  It’s been my experience, over and over again, that what you say is just as important as how you say it.

What about you?  Have you observed situations where the right words helped get things done?  Or where the wrong choice of words just made things worse?

Working with an older experienced employee? Seek a “non-compete” agreement

Back in September last year, I told you about Martha, an older more experienced employee who’d been in my department for a very long time AND who unfortunately carried a huge chip on her shoulder.  My reason for telling you about Martha was because her experience was most likely under-utilized and under-appreciated.  But it’s these very employees that can be a valuable resource to you and your department IF you can find a way to capitalize on their strengths.  Since I first told you about Martha, I’ve offered you a couple of ideas to bring out the best in such employees – specifically acknowledge their experience, and use them as sounding boards for new initiatives.  Here’s another approach – seek a “non-compete” agreement.

Let the Marthas in your world know that you have no desire to compete with them.  If you’re fairly new to the department or organization, it’s unlikely that you will have the same in-depth knowledge that your older more experienced employees do, so what’s the point of pretending otherwise?  Instead, try the direct approach: “I acknowledge and value the breadth and depth of experience you bring to our department, and I’d like to collaborate, not compete, with you.  Can I count on you for that?”  Now don’s assume that you’re going to get a positive response right away (you won’t), but at least you’re engaging your Martha in a dialogue, and that’s a step in the right direction.

So … what do you think?  Have you tried this approach and has it worked?  Do you have an alternate suggestion?  Do share.

Problem employee driving you crazy? Ask yourself an important question before taking action.

In earlier posts, I’ve blogged about dealing with problem employees.  Specifically, I’ve highlighted the significance of determining whether your issue with your problem employee is one of performance, behaviour or attitude, and the importance of articulating the problem, clearly and succinctly, so that the employee “gets it”.

But before you ever raise the issue with the employee, you need to ask yourself a very important question – is it important?  Does what the employee is doing really matter to overall team performance and productivity.  Or is it just an irritant that drives you crazy but in the end has no negative effect on productivity or performance.  Ask yourself – what would happen if I took no action?  The unfortunate truth is that employees often say or do things that aggravate and infuriate us, but ultimately have no impact on team productivity or department performance.  If that’s true, then let it go!  Take a deep breath and ignore it.  If you are a manager or supervisor, you’ve got enough on your plate to deal with, without taking on issues that don’t have a negative impact on overall operations.  Only if it is truly important should you continue to move forward and raise the issue with your employee.

So … do you agree?

The piss-off factor. More stupid actions by short-sighted managers

Just a little over a month ago, I blogged about the piss-off factor – how short-sighted and small-minded managers do stupid things to discourage and turn off their employees.  Apparently it struck a chord with many of you because not only did a few of you comment right here on the blog, but I also received emails and phone calls from several of you on this subject.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the piss-off factor is alive and well in many organizations!

Just yesterday I got an update from the person who gave me the original story.  Same dork management team, still doing stupid things.  This time they held a “fun” afternoon event at a local eatery, ostensibly to thank employees for a job well done.  All the employees in the division were invited.  But the division also has a group of regular contract staff – people who are employed by an external contract firm but work nevertheless side-by-side on a daily basis with the regular employees in this area – and these staff were deliberately excluded.  Because they were not employees.  There is also a small group of IT professionals who are from another area of the company, but who support these regular employees on a daily and consistent basis.  They were also not invited.  The reason: once you start inviting people who are not employees of the department, where do you draw the line?  “It’s a slippery slope, and we can’t go there; far better to just limit it to the regular employees.  Otherwise, costs will just spiral out of control,” said one of the managers.

Seriously??  If you’re celebrating accomplishments, then doesn’t it make sense to invite all the people who had a hand in making success happen?  At the end of the day, it’s a small gesture in the big scheme of things – chances are that most of the “other” staff would just drop by briefly to have a quick drink and say hello – but it’s a gesture that goes a long way.  Perhaps more importantly, excluding these contract and IT staff from the event is a huge de-motivator.  If you want to make people work as if they are part of your team, then make them feel like they are part of your team!

What do you think?  Is it a “slippery slope” as one manager called it?  Or can I chalk this up to yet another (sigh!) example of the piss-off factor in action?

Curiosity is a key leadership skill

If you have a furry feline companion in your house, then you know how curious cats are.  They investigate every nook and cranny using all their senses – sight, sound, smell, hearing and touch.  They squeeze into tiny and seemingly-impossible spaces to explore every inch of their territory.  Whether it’s a misplaced toy, an overlooked morsel of food, or just an extra spot to catnap, they prowl for opportunity.  They go over old ground repeatedly, each time as if it were new again.

And so should you!  You are no doubt an authority in your business or area of expertise, but never lose your sense of inquisitiveness about what you already know so well.  Constantly look at your product or service with fresh eyes as if you were exploring it for the very first time.  Delve into long-forgotten corners and take on what appears to be unachievable.  Always seek out ways to fill your customers’ or internal clients’ shifting needs and look for ways to innovate within and outside your existing constraints and parameters.  Monitor what your clients or customers are complaining about as those often represent points of opportunity.  Maybe they grumble that it takes too long to get orders filled or perhaps they criticize your warranty process.  If you’ve heard complaints about lengthy wait-times or gripes about the lack of acceptable choices, then it may just be time to pay closer attention.  No matter what it is, take a second (and a third or fourth) look.  Curiosity never killed a cat; in fact, cats thrive on it.  And so will you and your business!

Business threats are growth opportunities

The best opportunities for growth in any organization are not only market-changing, but often a threat to your existing business.  Consider the story of the digital camera.

In 1975, Steve Sasson, an engineer at Kodak, invented the first digital camera which he cobbled together with pieces from a Super 8 movie camera and a digital voltmeter application, and assorted nickel cadmium batteries and circuit boards.  The prototype was then demonstrated to many internal Kodak audiences throughout 1976, and even though it elicited interest and curiosity, it never went any further, probably because of what it was called – “film-less photography”.  Even Sasson admits that this was an insensitive choice of demonstration title; remember, Kodak’s revenues came from selling film!  To its credit, Kodak recognized that it couldn’t ignore filmless photography forever and in the 1990’s invested substantial sums in development and eventually successfully brought digital photography to the market. But it sat on the idea for almost 20 years because it saw itself in the business of selling film.

So what are the threats to your existing business (or your department)?  Chances are that’s also where your greatest growth opportunities lie.  The odds are that someone inside your organization already has a great idea for how to grow your company, but are you listening to them?  As a leader, it’s up to you to figure out those opportunities before someone else does and one of the easiest ways to do just that – ask your people.  What are you doing to tap into the innovation that already exists in your business or your department?  Do tell.

Are you playing to win, or are you playing not to lose?

When you think about it, this question is quite a mouthful!  Let’s look at it in the vernacular of the sport of hockey (one of my favourite spectator activities – I am Canadian after all :D): are you going to play offence or are you going to play defence?

As a team, if all you do is play defence, you’ll never score a goal.  You can’t, because the net you have to score in is on the other end of the rink!  You’ll always be reacting to players from the other team.  Quite honestly, all you’ll be doing is trying to stay in the game, trying to stay alive, and the unfortunate part is that because you’re not taking control of the direction of the game, you will be playing defence forever (or at least until the buzzer goes signalling the end of the period or game).  At the back of your mind will always be the fear of “what if the other team scores?”  On the other hand, if the other team is playing offence, they’re going to gain confidence.  After all, they’re controlling the direction of the game, and others must react to their plays and manoeuvres.  Sooner or later, simply because they’re on the end of the ice where the net is, they’ll score goals!

And therein lies the difference.  Those who play to win are playing on a different end of the ice than those who play not to lose.  If you’re playing to win, you’re outside your zone, you’re in unfamiliar territory, you’re taking risks, you’re up against obstacles (other players) that get in your way.  But the singular advantage is that you can score goals that will allow you to win the game.  If you’re playing not to lose, you’re staying in secure and known surroundings where there are no difficulties or complications, and the going is easy.  But of course the most you can accomplish is status quo.

So which is it, are you playing to win, or are you playing not to lose?  Why?