Archive for February, 2008

What Do You Think About Email Free Days?

February 29, 2008

I’ve been reading a lot lately about organizations that have implemented email free days. It’s got me thinking about my fairly recent but avid attachment to my Blackberry (see earlier post) and about another post a while back about humanizing the workplace. In the latter, I had referenced a talk by Tod Maffin who spoke about the impact of technology on people and organizations from a social and ‘human’ perspective.

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(Photo courtesy of Sage on Flickr)

As I wrote in an earlier post work isn’t going to get any less busy – rather, we’re going to have to learn new habits to cope. Malcolm Gladwell has been quoted as saying (Globe and Mail article): “I’m quite prepared for the possibility that the next revolution is not going to come from a machine…..it’s going to come from creating a more thoughtful work force and giving people the opportunity to be thoughtful.”  

Given that, I think the idea of an email-free day is an interesting possibility to help develop those habits of reflection and working a little differently now and again. What about you? What do you think?

Would an email free day…

-Offer an opportunity for more meaningful reflection?

-Encourage people to communicate differently and better  (i.e. like actually pick up the phone and talk now and again!)?

-Bring more ‘humanity’ to workplaces and/or specifically to your personal work experience?

– Lessen the distraction factor and reduce that frazzle factor?….recognizing that while there’s a whole lot of meaningful and important use of email there’s also a whole lot that we can live with out.

I suspect that for me it would take some time to self-manage my own email habits and mindset to get a real benefit out of an email free day. I have my own long list of “yeah buts”. For one, I work independently vs with one particular organization; Another ‘yeah but’ is that part of my biz is within realm of communications, I can’t imagine turning off for a whole work day. I also have clients who work in PR and well…..I suspect they’d say a whole day each week seems real unreasonable for their biz. 

Still….something there to consider, don’t you think? If a whole day each week isn’t feasible, what about an email-free hour or two or three or four……? Or what other possibilities can there be to pause….?

In any case, whether this idea is the right thing to do or not….and/or whatever it looks like (full day, just hours or something different all together) I do applaud those companies who are trying to find ways to help humanize their culture.

To a TGIM worklife…..with or without email!

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Ask the Coach: What to Do With a Poor Performer…

February 18, 2008

Here’s one of my latest “Ask a Coach” columns published in CA Source, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) online newsletter. If you have a question of your own, please send it to me — see Coaches Corner for options on how to connect.

 Q. I’m in a difficult situation. I hired a fellow about a year ago who came with excellent referrals and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the role. He (let’s call him “John”) seemed to have all the technical skills for the job and for the first six months was doing great. His work was good quality and he seemed to be getting on well with the team and was gaining their respect. Then things changed. For the past six months his work has become increasingly sloppy. He’s been late on a few too many occasions and just not on the ball in many respects. On several occasions I have communicated to him – often through email — that he needs to shape up. He needs to bring his work and behaviour back up to standard. I’m at the point of not knowing what to do. I don’t really want to let him go but if things don’t change, I may have to. How do I handle this?

A. I understand how disappointing it can be when an employee doesn’t seem to be living up to their potential or worse, is underperforming. While I also understand that quality work and dependability are important, I wouldn’t give up on him too quickly. He has shown in his first six months that he is capable of performing at that standard, and so I wonder if something has changed in his personal situation that is impacting his work. I encourage you to explore that further before making any concrete decisions.

In addition to being accountable for the quality of work (in your department), a big part of a leader’s role is about managing, developing and supporting the people who work for them. Rather than judging John’s work in isolation, a more productive place for you to start would be to try to understand what’s going on with John — i.e., what’s underneath and influencing this shift in his behaviour. With that understanding, you’ll have a better sense of what to do next either in terms of supporting him and/or making other decisions.

There are probably many ways to go about this. Here are a few thoughts:

Focus on the person, not just the work and start with an appreciative stance of John and his potential
In considering the situation, make sure you are reflecting on John as a person and not just on his current performance. Remind yourself of his attributes and character before he started to slip. Sometimes things happen outside within lives that unfortunately do impact our performance at work (e.g., a marital issue, health problems).

Employers that attract, retain and engage top talent find ways to be supportive of their people during tough moments. If you can understand John’s situation more fully, you might have a broader range of possibility to work with as you deal with the performance issues.

Have a conversation with John directly
Email isn’t the best way to communicate at this point. I’d recommend you have a direct conversation with John, ideally in person. It will allow for a more productive exchange. Acknowledge respectfully that there continues to be an issue with his work but focus the conversation more towards gaining an understanding rather than further admonishment — i.e., ask questions that illicit understanding about his situation and emotional mindset.

Establish Trust come from a place of empathy and inquiry rather than judgment
If John is to open up about any issues, he needs to feel safe in the conversation (and overall relationship) to disclose.  Empathy is an important attribute in leaders. While he may not disclose the minute details of his situation (nor is he obligated to), it is important that he feel safe to share at a high level what he is going through (if that is the issue). The kinds of questions you ask — your tone and your listening — will be very important in this conversation.

Communicate from an appreciative stance of who John is and his potential
If John is going through a tough time, it might be helpful for you to remind him of his strengths and character when he is at his best. From there, perhaps the two of you can work out what he needs to get back to that place. Focusing exclusively on what’s wrong can be very demoralizing.

Tread sensitively, respectfully and honestly
Whatever John’s situation is, it is important to handle this sensitively and respectfully. It’s also important to be upfront and honest if there are implications related to his employability. Balancing all this will take skill — and might be an important time to test your leadership communications ability.

Consider who else can support this situation
Depending on what transpires from your preliminary conversations, you may need to enlist the support of others in your organization. For instance, HR may be able to provide guidance, counsel and additional support (e.g., EAP programs).

Ask yourself: what kind of leader do you want to be right now
The exact steps you take can’t be predicted until you know more. But the most important question you can ask yourself at this stage is: What kind of leader do I want to be right now? What parts of your own character strengths do you want to bring to this situation? If you found yourself in a situation like John’s, how would you want to be treated?

I’m confident that if you bring yourself fully to the situation, in both heart and intellect, you will handle this situation well. Good luck to you both.

 —

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Superbowl Lessons for Today’s Leaders

February 1, 2008

Worth noting… an interesting article in today’s Globe and Mail Careers section about the “perfect coach”.  In light of Superbowl Sunday, Brian Christmas wrote a feature about Bill Belichick’s success coaching the New England Patriots.  I confess, I’m not an avid football fan but I love the article because it explored many of the traits in Belichick’s successful leadership that are relevant to leaders of all kinds in today’s workplaces.

Christmas interviewed experts who gave credit to Belichick for: drawing the players to his vision and keeping them focused week in and out; finding the right players to fit the various team roles; mentoring the talent; paying attention to detail while empowering team members to think on their own; having a solid competitive strategy; communicating  clearly and giving feedback constructively (not personalizing)….and more.

One of the last quotes in the article really stood out for me. Professior John Phelan, an adjunct professor in Organizational Behavior at Queen’s University School of Business spoke about Belichick’s approach to empowering his team “From an employee’s perspective, that shifts them from a compliance to a commitment.”

The leadership team at Tribute Communities will love reading that one. “Commitment – Not Compliance” was one of the key guiding principles behind its employee engagement initiative (which earned the Prism award from International Coach Federation — read more here).

Another quote worth repeating: Chris Shultz, a football commentator for TSN said  that it appears Mr. Belichick understands that “there’s football players, and there’s people who play football,”……implying that the coach focuses on the latter….i.e. coaching the person not the ‘label’.

Coaching people as people….another theme and guiding principle that I distinguish regularly with many of my clients who are leaders and have responsibility for supporting and developing others.

Accountants aren’t just accountants. PR professionals aren’t just PR professionals. Construction folks aren’t just construction folks.

A good coach recognizes they don’t coach people’s roles or titles. We coach who they are in the context of their work. There’s a difference.

A big difference.

We are all more than the widgets we build or professions we represent.

Leaders who recognize this will be more effective at empowering, inspiring, challenging and growing their people.

Questions for Reflection:

What do you notice from some of your team sports observations and/or participation? What lessons can you draw for  your own leadership? What leaders do you think stand out and why? When you support others in  your team do you think of them as whole and unique individuals — or see them more narrowly – strictly through the lense of their ‘job description’ ?

Food for thought….perhaps after all the tailgating this weekend has subsided.

To a TGIM worklife and to leaders who get it right!