Three views of workplace relations

What is your attitude to workplace relations? What is it based on? Whatever it is and whatever it’s based on, it colours how you think about the workplace and even how you approach your own job.

There are three ways to think about workplace relations and most of your attitudes towards the workplace and your work stem from one of them. The three ways are called the unitarist, the radical and the pluralist views.

The unitarist view says employers and employees share the same basic goals – working together to create wealth, or value. This means that the workplace is essentially a harmonious place and any conflict that occasionally pops up will be short-lived and easily dealt with because employers and employees pretty much want the same thing.

The radical view is pretty much the opposite. It sees conflict between employers and employees as inevitable because they have, will always have, different needs and goals. That’s the way the system is set up: employers always want to contain costs, including wages costs, while employees always want higher wages.

The pluralist view also sees conflict as natural because management and workers have different needs and goals. But the good news is that these differences can be managed and contained by rules and regulations and we can all get along pretty well together when we put in a bit of effort and good will.

The particular view that rings most true for you directs your whole approach to the workplace and to your own job, whether you’re an employer or an employee. So which is it for you? Does it match the reality of your current workplace? Is it in accord with its culture and values? Is it helping you be the best manager you can be?

How to encourage accountability

Who were the people in your life that made a positive difference to the person you are today? When you think about the positive influences in your life, chances are many of them held high expectations that may even have seemed tough at the time: the parent who made sure you practiced the piano even when you didn’t want to; the boss who gave you one challenging assignment after another and expected nothing less than your best.

I believe that one of the kindest things we can do for people is to set high standards, expect the best and hold them accountable for meeting them. Here’s how to hold someone accountable.

First, discuss the outcome you’re after. Outcomes are better than a series of tasks because with a series of tasks, people can do the bare minimum, but that doesn’t wash with outcomes. Be clear about how you’ll measure success, too. When the outcome is big or distant, agree milestones and how often you want a progress report.

Make behavioural expectations clear, too. Whether it’s turning up to meetings on time and fully prepared or providing short and incisive, not rambling, reports, do yourself, the team member and your whole team a favour by setting high standards and making them clear. (If you haven’t, it isn’t too late – explain precisely what you expect from now on.)

When people aren’t coming up to scratch, find out why.

  • Do they have the resources (time, information, etc.) they need? When they don’t, provide them.
  • Do they have the skills and experience they need? When they don’t, teach them and coach them.
  • Have you asked a creative, broad brush type of person to do something better suited to a detailed, analytical dotter-of-i’s and crosser-of-t’s? Assign work to the right person.
  • Do they understand that meeting your expectations is important? Explain the big picture (how what you’re asking fits into the organisation’s vision or business plan). Let people know you’re serious by acknowledging their progress and showing appreciation when they meet your standards. When you don’t do do that, they think you don’t really care about them being met. Or when you let people get away with letting you down sometimes, they think you’re being unfair when you do enforce them. (And they would have a point.)

Making people accountable makes a positive difference to them, your team and your own career (because when someone in your team lets you down, you look bad, too.)

Increasing people’s commitment

When people feel committed to achieving results, they work whole-heartedly and do their best. Low or no commitment yields the bare minimum that comes from half-hearted effort.

Here are the important To Dos to increase people’s commitment:

  1. Paint the ‘big picture’ so they can share your vision.
  2. Help them see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and involve them in helping you work out how to get there. (These first two To Dos are known as ‘engaging people’ in the jargon.)
  3. Match the work needed to reach the goal suits their skill set and personal inclinations.
  4. Next, ‘energise’ them. How does achieving the goal help others? (I posted about this 2 weeks ago.)
  5. Provide the resources – the time, effort, information, etc. – they need to achieve the goal; without this, they’ll feel like they’re beating their head against a brink wall – a sure way to sap the energy you’ve summoned.
  6. Show your appreciation for their contributions. Make it clear you prize what they’re doing because it’s helping to bring that light at the end of the tunnel ever-closer.

So there we have it, a simple enough formula that you can put to work tomorrow to bring out the best in your team:

Engage – Match – Energise – Provide – Prize

Dealing with setbacks and stuff ups

On any given day, do one or two, ok maybe a dozen things go not quite as you’d hoped? And do you ever make a mistake? Things happen and no one ever does everything perfectly. It’s how you handle it that counts.

When something goes wrong, accept it. It is what it is. Reframe it positively,  look for the humour and and see what you can do to make the situation better.

When you make a mistake, on the outside, own up. Apologise when necessary, and fix it. Obvious enough, really. But that isn’t the end of it. What you do on the inside is important, too.

Here are four ‘don’ts’ (and these apply to things going awry, too):

  1. Don’t get angry with yourself (or anyone else).
  2. Don’t make it bigger than it is; a mistake doesn’t make you a horrible, useless person and it probably won’t ruin your life for all eternity.
  3. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen.
  4. Don’t mope.

And here are three ‘do’s’:

  1. Put it in perspective.
  2. Figure out what you need to do better, or need to learn in order to do better.
  3. Don’t repeat your mistake.

That’s how to learn from experience. And you know what they say about experience: It’s something you don’t get until just after you need it.

The truth is, we need to make lots of mistakes in order to get really good at just about anything. In fact, it’s a far better mindset to think not of mistakes but of ‘learning experiences’ or ‘life lessons’. That’s the recipe for getting better, and better, and better.

It’s also the recipe for handling mistakes well on the inside. When you can do that, you automatically handle them well on the outside. You don’t say: ‘I’m so stupid, I blew it yet again!’ You say: ‘I could have done it better and here’s how I’ll approach it from now on.’

Mistakes, learning opportunities, mishaps and misadventure–they’re all grist for the mill to be taken in your stride.

Finding meaning in work

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when you can find meaning in work, you’re happier and more satisfied with your job. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, either, that people who work in the non-profit sector find it easier than employees in other sectors to find meaning in their work and are therefore happier and more satisfied with their jobs. (If it is a surprise check out this study.)

Helping others is motivating. And the good news is that you don’t have to work for a not-for-profit to help people. But often, you need a boss that helps you see the connection between what you’re doing and how it helps others.

Professor Adam Grant from Wharton did a cool study in which one group of fundraisers soliciting contributions to a university read two essays by scholarship students about how the scholarship made a difference to their lives; the other group of fundraisers read two essays by former fundraiser about how that job helped them in their own careers. Guess which group collected more money? Correct. The first group collected significantly more money.

Another study, also by Adam Grant, found that actually meeting the beneficiaries of their work can increase motivation and job satisfaction even more.

The question is, then: How can you help the people in your work team link their efforts with the good of others? And let’s get personal: How does what you do at work help other people?

Which kind of boss are you?

Here I sit, typing awkwardly, nursing a smashed up collarbone held together by a steel bar and 11 pins. (Broken bones hurt a lot, by the way.) Even so, here I sit, doing my work thing.

How many people who work for you carry on, doing their work thing, when they’re uncomfortable, physically or psychologically? Maybe one has a kid at home who is a source of concern, another’s relationship is faltering, one has a cold or ‘flu coming on, another is irritated by colleague but is too polite to confront the problem and one has painful arthritis.

When you’re aware of the ‘whole person’, you can establish a strong and effective working relationship and help them be as productive as they can be. When people are just so many ‘pairs of hands’, it’s a different story.

Ah, but is getting to know the whole person worth the effort, when many employees readily move from one job to another and when others are contract and part-time employees?  Common sense says so, since the way you treat people day-to-day establishes the culture, which sets the pace for productivity.

And it goes deeper than that. How you treat people after they leave is important, too. Some organisations act as if departed employees never existed at all. That sends a strong message.

And then there are the organisations that make sure people leave on good terms. Some even treat former employees like alumni, staying in touch and even inviting them back for part-time or contract work or to mentor current employees. Former employees of organisations like these become ambassadors. They speak highly of their old organisation, building its reputation in the marketplace and strengthening its customer base.

Even when your organisation isn’t that sort of organisation, you can be that sort of boss. The organisation may reap some undeserved benefit, but you’ll reap a lot of deserved benefit: a happier, more productive work team and a strong professional network to stand you in good stead when you need it, to name but two.

Which kind of boss are you?

Breed success with great expectations

Here are two important questions:

  1. Do you expect the best for yourself, from yourself and from everyone around you?
  2. When you have a setback, do you blame yourself and let it ruin the rest of your day, or do you ‘take it on the chin’ and figure it’s only temporary?

You probably know that you generally get what you expect. There are all sorts of reasons for this and most of them are in your subconscious. Your subconscious is great at fining a way to make what you expect to happen, happen. When it can’t, it makes sure that you interpret what does happen in a way that is in line with your expectations. And you’re probably familiar with how your subconscious totally ignores information that doesn’t fit in with your expectations and how it lets in information that does fit and even, appears to fit. The mind does a great job of making sure you’re ‘right’. It’s supposed to.

So if you’re always ‘right’ even when you’re wrong, you may as well set yourself up for success. That’s why Set high standards and expect the best is a great motto to follow.

People who expect the best, from themselves, for themselves and from the people around them, generally get the best. Here is another motto, this one from Henry Cotton, much-loved principal of my high school way back when: Mediocrity is a choice. So is excellence.

Expecting excellence does two other things. It inspires you to achieve your goals. And it helps you deal with disappointments and setbacks. When you expect the best, you can see obstacles and mistakes as abnormal and temporary – no need to blame yourself for them. You can ‘take them on the chin’ and move on.

So the thought for the week (and the rest of your life) is: Set high standards and expect the best. Or: Mediocrity is a choice. So is excellence. Take your pick.