Give people ‘the finger’

We all like to think we’re in charge of our own behaviour but that isn’t always the case. The reason is – our brain. Our brain is filled with specialised circuits that do all sorts of things for us. Some of those circuits are called ‘mirror circuits’. The job of mirror circuits is called ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ and they prompt us to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviour in kind. These mirror circuits are located in the limbic cortex, our ‘Caveman Brain’.

Some mirror circuits give us empathy for others – we see someone looking sad and our mirror circuits fire off sadness, so we sort of know how they feel. Or we see someone laughing and happy and we smile and feel happy, too.

Our mirror circuits fire off when someone treats us kindly, too. We want to return that kindness. That’s why being nice spreads around to others, like dropping a little pebble in a puddle – the ripples spread.

And here’s the rub. Our mirror circuits fire off when someone is rude, too. Here’s an example. I don’t know about the drivers where you live but I do know about the drivers in Adelaide. Lots of them are pretty rude. For instance, when you pull over to let someone through on a narrow street or in a car park, 49 out of 50 of them don’t lift a finger to say ‘Thank you’.

On Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, every driver lifts a finger to say ‘Hello’ to everyone they pass, never mind to say ‘Thank you’. So when you drive around Kangaroo Island, it only takes a couple of cars going by and lifting the ‘Hello’ finger before you’re lifting the ‘Hello’ finger too. Mirror circuits. People are friendly and you want to be friendly back.

And in Adelaide, when you’ve pulled over to let another driver through and you don’t get the finger-lift ‘Thank you’, the temptation is after one or two times, not to do the finger-lift ‘Thank you’ to the next driver who pulls over for you. That’s the temptation, thanks to those mirror circuits in our Caveman Brain.

Now of course, you know what’s coming, don’t you. Sometimes, we need to over-ride those mirror circuits so that other people don’t dictate our behaviour when that behaviour is rude or anti-social in some other way. We want to use our ‘Thinking Brain’ to tell our ‘Caveman Brain’ to pull its head in, so to speak. That way, we can be pleasant and polite even when someone else isn’t.

And to my mind, that makes for a better place to live, to shop, to drive and to work. Because giving people ‘the finger’ is catching. So give people the ‘Thank you’ finger and the ‘Hello’ finger every chance you have. Niceness is catching and we all want to live and work in a nice place.

The gender pay gap that doesn’t go away

For every dollar Australian men earn, Australian women earn a whopping 83 cents – more than 20 per cent less than men. Why is that? Gee, could it be because men mostly set the salaries, do you think? And because it’s been that way for so long, it seems normal? Hmmm.
Of course, there is still extensive occupational segregation, with women clustered in lower-paid ‘women’s work’ jobs but that ‘reason’ doesn’t hold water. When we stack ‘women’s work’ up against ‘men’s work’ that requires similar education, experience, knowledge etc. etc. levels, the pay gap remains. We’re just paying women less than men for doing equivalent work.
Here’s a short (under 3 minutes) and very cute video that shows how capuchin monkeys feel about inequality of rewards for equal work. You will probably laugh out loud, so take care where and when you watch it!
Have you watched it? Good. Hands up if you would feel like rattling your cage if the person in the next cubicle earned more for doing the exact same or an equivalent job as you. Is that why a lot of organisations aren’t transparent about salaries and instruct staff not to discuss what they earn? Hmmm.
But it would pay Australian organisations, as well as the Australian economy, to divy up.
Business Insider examined the gender pay gap in relation to productivity over a 27-year period and found that the effect is negative; unequal pay, lower productivity. Organisations may save a bit of money but they lose more in terms of productivity. Halving the gender pay gap could increase productivity by 3% and eliminating the gap altogether would increase productivity by 5.7%.
It’s a no-brainer, really. When you pay fairly, it’s easier to attract and retain the people you need.
The arguments for social justice and pay equality have failed over nearly five decades. Maybe the argument for productivity and greater profits will do the trick.

Tips for new leaders Part II

Now that you’re no longer ‘one of the gang’, you may want to make a few verbal contracts with your former workmates to identify potential problems and how to avoid them. The goal is to agree ground rules for working together. Lead the conversation to cement your new relationship. If a team member/friend asks for special treatment, consider whether you’d provide it to other team members. When the answer is No, the answer is No. You will face difficult decisions and doing what is needed sometimes makes you unpopular.

Find a mentor to talk through difficulties with. Build support networks and ask for help when you need it (and offering plenty of help in return). Learn to work well with your new boss and agree your measures of success so you can spend your time working to priorities. That means you may not always be available to your team and sometimes you need to say ‘Sorry, I don’t have five minutes now. Can we catch up at 4 o’clock?’.

Maintain a ‘tidy’ workplace, one that operates safely at all times and respects people as individuals, for the contributions they make and for what makes them special. Not everyone has to love everyone but each team member should understand what the others do, value their contributions and treat each other with professional respect and common courtesy.

Make time to step back and reflect on how you’re going. Do this every day, perhaps as you sit on the train or have your morning cuppa. What are you doing that’s working well? What isn’t working so well? What can you do better? Should the ‘imposter syndrome’ strike, remember that you got the job because you deserve it.

Robert Frost wrote: Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on’. The same might be said of leadership. Build your own leadership model and add to it as you grow into the role and develop your skills in your own way. Adapt effective behaviours of other leaders but don’t copy them because it won’t look authentic; something that is perfectly natural for one leader can easily look fake and forced when copied by another leader. Your actions need to be true to yourself and in harmony with your own personal style.

Here are some concepts to apply in your own unique way:

  • Build employee engagement and motivation to drive productivity and customer loyalty.
  • Build pride in good performance and achievements.
  • Build a solid risk awareness and safety culture.
  • Lead by conversation, not dictation.
  • Make clear and role model the behaviours and attitudes you expect from your team.
  • Show that you appreciate people’s efforts.
  • Show that you expect members to learn and share what they’ve learned.

Leadership begins inside, with your mindsets and world views. More than anything, you need to think like a leader.

Leadership is a lifelong journey. So hang in there and you’ll catch on!

Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.

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.