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?

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

Are you working hard enough? (Trick question)

Consider these two situations:

A: You’re at work.

  1. You’re slogging through your usual 10-hour day answering phone calls and emails, trolling through paperwork, rushing to meetings… Are you working hard?
  2. You’ve been in your ‘flow zone’ for two hours of total, productive concentration. You feel energised and knock off early for a walk in the fresh air. Are you working hard?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to 1, you’re kidding yourself.

B. A joiner comes to re-hang a sliding door that sticks and is difficult to move.

  1. He gives it a tap and a whack and it’s in perfect working order. Be honest: Do you feel a bit cheated when you hand him his fee?
  2. The joiner toils and grunts and seems to work quite hard for quite a while before the door is in perfect working order. Do you feel his fee is worth it when you pay him?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to both 1 and 2 in situation B, you’ve fallen for the ‘labour illusion‘.

This same illusion leads people to answer ‘Yes’ to question 1 and ‘No’ to question 2 in situation A. We tend to equate effort, be it long hours or grunts, with hard work. But generally, what really counts is results, not time spent or sweat. The ‘labour illusion.’

When you apply the ‘labour illusion’ to your own work, you kid yourself that long hours and ‘busy’ (but non-productive) work are ‘real work’ and that you’re working hard.

And whether you’re a customer or a team leader, when someone else is working on your behalf, you probably like to see them putting in some effort. Most people prefer the ‘hard-working’ joiner to the expert, experienced joiner who completes a job quickly and proficiently. Many bosses would be rather miffed at a team member knocking off early, even though their work is done or they just cracked a difficult problem or made a break-through innovation. The ‘labour illusion.’ (Maybe that’s what’s at the core of toxic work cultures where you’re not committed and working hard enough when you go home on time?)

Even when the hours you or your team members put in are easier to measure than actual results, don’t let the ‘labour illusion’ fool you. It isn’t how tired you or they are at the end of the day that counts. Results count. (Of course, we aren’t talking about people learning a new job, here. That takes time and effort and results aren’t great straight away.)

Understanding the ‘labour illusion’ helps you to concentrate on what’s important, to do your best and to work as hard as you need to, in order to get the results. It teaches you to not kid yourself that busy work and long hours earn results.

 

 

How to avoid the most common communication mistakes

Last Friday, I posted twice. In the second post, Do you make any of these common writing mistakes? we reviewed four common mistakes people make when writing. Here are some other common communication mistakes of the non-written kind and how to avoid them.

The first is cowardice. Cowardice may mean taking the easy way out and delivering bad news by email rather than in person, or it might be avoiding difficult conversations. Think about the best way to deliver bad news so you can deliver it sensitively. That usually means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and thinking about how they will hear your words. It doesn’t mean not telling the truth, but it does mean telling the truth with tact. And, almost always, in person.

When the bad news entails negative feedback, which I prefer to call constructive information or corrective information (the latter being a bit stronger and more directive), the art of providing clear, actionable information is important in our personal as well as our professional lives. So think through what you want to say and practice a bit first, even if only in your head.

Even when the news isn’t bad, you often need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you want to provide some information or instructions or ask a favour, for instance, you’re going to have a better result when you think about it from the other person’s perspective. What does she already know and think about the issue? How can he use the information you’re providing? What’s currently going on in her life? What tack is most likely to motivate him? And so on.

When good communicators have the same message or request for four different people, they invariably give it in four different ways, each tailored to the individual they’re speaking with. Everyone has different needs, life experiences and backgrounds which you can take into account to communicate more successfully.

Another mistake is not being clear about your own motives. What’s your real purpose in communicating? What assumptions are you basing your communication on? What action do you hope for from the other person? When you realise you’re about to communicate based on frustration or anger, for instance, you know it’s time to zip your lips.

Bottom line: Effective communication is about thinking through how best to put your message across, and that means using your empathy and emotional intelligence.

How to be a peak performer

When I was heavily into designing and leading management training programs for lots of organisations around Australia and New Zealand, I got to know thousands of managers. It became pretty clear that the star performers all shared similar attitudes and mindsets towards their jobs and life in general. And I developed a theory about the ways their minds worked.

I took my theory to a cross section of these organisations who agreed to identify their peak performers objectively, based on their results, and I interviewed them individually and in small groups to pick their brains about how they thought. The goal was to train other managers to think and behave like the peak performers so that they, too, could become ‘stars’.

As expected, we found that the peak performers all shared remarkably similar ways of looking at the world. Here are the highlights, in no particular order because they’re all inter-linked.

  • Peak performers have high standards and expect the best for themselves, from themselves and from those around them. That attitude reminds me of a sign that hung in every classroom of my high school: Mediocrity is a choice — so is excellence. Peak performers opt for excellence and don’t settle for second best. Why should they?
  • Those high standards mean they set challenging goals and keep moving towards them.
  • Their high standards also mean that they constantly strive to improve themselves, the way they work and the results they’re getting. Peak performers are always looking for different and better ways. One way they do that is by reviewing the day’s events and selecting one to pick apart — what went well, what could have gone better, how can I do even better next time? Then, when they come across a similar situation, they can put their improvement plan into practice. (Find out more about that here.)
  • This leads to another characteristic of peak performers: they take responsibility. They work out what they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. They don’t sit back and wait for the magic to happen; they get out there and do something in a proactive way. And when things don’t go as well as they’d hoped, they don’t blame circumstances, the economy, the weather, other people or anything else. They take a look at what happened and figure out what they can do to make things better.
  • Peak performers deal with mistakes differently than ‘also-rans’, too. When peak performers make a mistake, they don’t deny they’ve made a mistake, bury it, blame someone else or make excuses. Nothing changes when you do that. Peak performers see the mistake as a practice shot, move on and try something different. Soichera Honda famously said that success is 99% failure, which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes a good point.
  • Peak performers focus their efforts where they’ll count. No one can fix the weather or the economy but when an El Ninio is predicted, peak performing farmers might plant crops that don’t need as much water, put in a more efficient watering system or build a grey water irrigation facility. When the economy goes south, peak performing sales people might figure out ways to sell more to existing customers, pick up new customers or help develop new and improved offerings.
  • Linked with that is focusing not on their difficulties and the obstacles in their path but on what they can do to circumvent them jump over them or work their way through them. They can do this because they keep their eyes on the goal, not what’s getting in their way.
  • Finally, peak performers communicate and work effectively with others. The world of work is changing dramatically and important as this ability has always been, it is becoming ever-more important as work is becoming increasingly team-based and temporary. This means managers (and team members) need to be able to work well with a wide range of people in different situations and work out quickly what specifically they need to do in order to add value.

How many of those mindsets do you share? What about your team members? What can you do to help them adopt those ways of thinking and acting so that you have an entire team of peak performers?

How to build a work team you can be proud of

‘You don’t win silver; you lose gold.’

Do you remember that controversial ad campaign from the 1996 Olympics summer games? (Before that, the phrase appeared in the 1988 rock ballad, Sweet Victory, by David Glen Eisley.)

The statement implies that there can be only one winner and everyone else is a loser. That’s a pretty destructive frame of mind and begs the question: How can you build a cooperative yet high-performing team culture in a sporty, competitive country?

First and foremost, you can have a clear and strong team purpose statement that explains how the team’s success contributes to the organisation and benefits its customers (whether those customers are internal or external). Your team purpose statement channels peoples’ attention and energies into activities that add maximum value.

Make sure everyone knows how the team as a whole, and how they individually, can measure success. Then support the team purpose with clear expectations about how people are to behave towards each other, their customers and suppliers.

Second, you can make sure that every team member knows how every other team member’s work contributes to the team’s success. This allows them to pass on helpful information and pitch in to help each other when necessary. You can cross-skill team members to facilitate this.

Linked to this, you can organise informal opportunities for team members get to know each other as people. This strengthens the bonds between them and builds empathy and shared values, helping them identify with the team and with each other.

Third, when you assign work, think about who is temperamentally suited to the work and interested in doing it or learning to do it. Give people variety in their work and as much control over how they do it as operations and technology allow and make sure they have access to the resources they need to do their jobs, including tools and equipment and enough time and information. Make sure the work systems smooth people’s progress and performance without providing unnecessary repetition, backtracking, waiting or effort. Train them when you need to and let them build their experience and confidence.

Finally, there is the all-important ‘You’ — the team leader-manager. Set high standards and hold high expectations of your team. When all of the above is in place, they won’t let you down.

Even an individual sport is a team event, with so many people helping, coaching and supporting the athlete. Even in teams where one or two individuals are more visible than the others because of the roles they perform, without the back-up of the entire team, they couldn’t succeed at their tasks. When one person wins gold, silver or bronze, lots of others win it with them.

Are you at risk of losing your best team members?

Paul (let’s call him) works in the finance sector. Not so long ago, he was very disillusioned with his job. Not his actual work, which he enjoyed thoroughly, but with his new boss who, to put it bluntly, was a bully. Team morale crashed, cordial working relationships took a dive, job satisfaction plummeted.

We caught up the other day and I asked him how his work was going. ‘Great!’ he said. Seeing my surprise, he explained that he had a new boss. The bullying boss had been moved to another state where, he said, the number of internally advertised vacancies had soared.

‘It’s amazing’, he said, ‘how one person can spoil the enjoyment and job satisfaction for thousands. I could earn lots more money elsewhere. In fact, I nearly took another position when the poisonous boss was around but I held off because I genuinely care about the bank and my customers. Now I wouldn’t even consider moving. I enjoy the people I work with, I respect and like my new manager and I have the opportunity to develop and mentor others, which I find hugely satisfying.’

Over the years, I’ve had many people on training programs who have stated they’ve been offered more money to work for the competition but have turned down the opportunity for similar reasons. They enjoy their work and workmates. They respect their boss. They feel invested in their organisation.

Treating people with respect. Coaching them and providing them with development opportunities. Assigning work they enjoy and feel pride in doing well. Building a strong team people want to be part of and making sure people feel proud of their organisation. These basic people management activities become even more critical when you’re in an industry with high employee turnover and when you depend on the contributions of individuals for the whole team’s success.

Yet, basic as they are, those vital people management activities can all too easily be neglected when you’re under pressure, tangled in continual problems and crises, and have a ‘to do’ list as long as roll of toilet paper.

That’s what reminders on your calendar are for. Diarise the basics. Chat informally with every team member daily. Catch up weekly or fortnightly with everyone to chat about how their jobs are going. Talk about important organisational achievements and events. Share a coffee and share a laugh.

It’s the simple things that count the most. Do you do enough of the ‘simple things’?