Tag Archives: Managing

Knowing Is Half The Battle

Trolling across the pages of BusinessWeek, I came across an interesting article about the surprisingly high turnover many nonprofits encounter and the “leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

“Earlier this year, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece that noted how poorly most nonprofits manage their volunteers. As a result, more than a third of the 60 million-plus Americans who donate their time and talents one year don’t do so the next—not only at the organization where they’d signed up, but at any nonprofit at all. Some call this “the leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

There are a host of reasons for this pullback, according to the analysis, including nonprofits inadequately recognizing the contributions of their volunteers and a lack of training among volunteers and their managers.

But Robert Grimm, director of research and policy development at the Corporation for National and Community Service and one of the authors of the article, believes there’s a more fundamental issue to grapple with: It isn’t so much that volunteers have nightmarish experiences at nonprofits, he says; it’s that they have “bland” ones.”

This certainly sounded familiar to me and I’m sure it sounds familiar to many of those in for-profit organizations as well. Who hasn’t experienced being “inadequately recognized for their contributions” and noticed a “lack of training among workers and their managers?”

Gone are the days where most companies hired the best and brightest kids out of school and groomed them through training and mentoring for corporate positions. Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Gone are the days where organizations treated human capital as human. More often than not, modern workers are being treated as interchangeable cogs in a machine rather than creative, innovative thinkers with potential who are essential to the growth and prosperity of a business.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on how small companies are luring big-company talent neatly underscored this mindset:

“In March, Jack Rabbit Collection LLC, a three-person handbag and leather-accessories maker in Los Angeles, was able to snag a large rival’s design-development executive after that person was laid off.

Founder Mollie Culligan says the new hire, who has connections to tanneries and vendors, has helped the label reduce per-unit costs 20%.

Plus, Ms. Culligan doesn’t have to spend as much time mentoring and can instead concentrate on her design work.

“Before, I had to train people myself and really dump so much energy into inexperienced people who didn’t really add value,” she says.”

Why is training and mentoring seen as so much of a burden for employers?

I see scores of job ads searching for that elusive person with the exact, unique set of skills who can “hit the ground running” with little to no guidance. What person will honestly be able to have 100% of the skills and knowledge to function with no on-boarding whatsoever? I’ve watched first hand how management has hired talented people with a great background from outside the industry who end up floundering and eventually leaving because they simply do not understand the specific business model of this company and therefore could not be successful at their work. No one bothered to explain it to them when they started and even if the new hire was motivated enough to ask someone, chances are that person didn’t know either.

It is ridiculous for companies to invest nothing in their employees up front (in terms of knowledge and guidance, not salary and benefits) but expect a maximum return. Viewing workers as dynamic individuals with unique skills, motivators and potential rather than a vessel for tangible skills is the key to better worker engagement and sustained company growth.   

The moral of the story is this:

  • Empowering employees to make decisions and generate ideas helps the business.
  • Employees cannot formulate informed decisions or ideas without a minimum amount of knowledge about the company and its goals.
  • Determining a set level of basic knowledge and disseminating that your employees on the first day, week or month of hire will not only increase the likelihood of their job satisfaction (because they feel empowered and informed) but will improve your bottom line due to the creativity and productivity of your team.

As GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”


The 7 Deadly Sins of Management

We all know managers make mistakes once and a while (they’re not perfect, you know) but some errors are much bigger and more serious than others. Here is my list of the seven most egregious blunders that managers make:

1. Discounting the Little Things. Perks such as fresh donuts in the kitchen, cards on birthdays or even fancy lotion in the bathroom brand a company’s image into the minds of its employees. Showing employees that a company cares about their well-being sets the tone for how they will treat the business in return.

2. Hogging the Glory. A recent study found that 37% of business workers said their bosses didn’t give credit where credit was due. Rewarding someone for a job well done is a key component of achievement. In order to have employees who persistently want to excel at their jobs, it is important to recognize their continual accomplishments.

3. Embracing Bureaucracy. A certain amount of formal process is required to run any organization successfully, but bogging employees down in a mountain of paperwork anytime they need to make a decision doesn’t help anyone be more productive. A manager should trust employees to make their own decisions. If they weren’t capable, they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

4. Ignoring the Obvious. I do think that leaders need to stay positive in order to keep people motivated. However, if optimism comes at the expense of the truth, the company and its employees, I don’t think it’s worth it. If profits are down, turnover is rising and the competition is closing in, it’s better to come clean with rather than trying to play things down. People want to follow leaders that they trust and they can’t trust someone who doesn’t tell them the whole story.

5. Not Listening. Giving employees a real voice not only helps employees feel valued but it also benefits the company’s bottom line. Shutting people out shuts out new ideas as well. Employees need an outlet to express their opinions and ideas. Employees want to see their business succeed, and can be a priceless resource of information and advice.

6. Encouraging Hierarchies. Artificially ranking employees fosters a competitive culture within a team. Some say competition is a way to make people more productive. I feel it does the opposite. Time and energy will be wasted trying to win over a manager’s approval instead of working toward satisfying a customer and building market share.

7. Working Politics Instead of People. A manager can choose to manage up or manage down. Whatever approach they choose will affect how they relate to other employees. By focusing efforts upwards, a manager neglects the very people critical to his/her success. A manager can only be as successful as those (s)he manages.
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                A Plea to Baby Boomers: Please Stop Bashing My Generation

                It seems that everywhere I look, I see some article or blog post about “Gen-Y” or “Millennials” (Am I the only person who thinks that name sounds silly?) in the workplace. There are heaps and heaps of articles about generation Y: what they want, what their goals are, how to recruit them and make them happy. There are also many, many posts from managers describing how bratty Millennials can be. As a member of what could effectively be labeled “The Dreaded Generation,” I have definitely seen examples of bad behavior but at the same time I am resentful that my generation is earning such a bad reputation.

                The adjectives “greedy,” “entitled,” and “know-it-all” seem to come up frequently when it comes to labeling members of Generation Y. The general consensus seems to be that Millennials are a product of a spoiled upbringing by helicopter parents in an on-demand, instant-gratification culture. Their sense of entitlement comes from being handed everything by authority figures, and their exaggerated bank of knowledge from being over-educated. I definitely agree that this could be true for a lot of people, regardless of what generation they were born into.

                However, I have a different theory as to why Generation Y seems to be the most spoiled, overindulged and arrogant of all the generations that came before them:

                They are immature.

                And what’s more?

                They’ll grow out of it.

                Greediness, a sense of entitlement and overconfidence are all symptoms of immaturity and lack of experience.

                It’s great that young people today are optimistic about their futures and want to accomplish everything they can in work as well as life. I think the problem stems from wanting everything at once, right away, without a clear plan on how to get it. That is the nature of youth. Conflict arises between older generations who are insulted by a perceived lack of respect and younger generations who are frustrated that they aren’t accomplishing their goals. I think that both parties can be happy by finding the middle ground.

                My Advice to Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Beyond

                What Millennials need from you is compassion and more importantly, guidance. Younger workers want more from life than a steady paycheck and the corner office. They might come into your office demanding flex-time, recognition or continuing education. Know that lots of workers, not just members of Gen Y, want these things.

                If you’re a manager, instead of balking at the impertinence of such demands from someone who is only 7 months into their career, use these perks to motivate your employees. Impress upon the Millennials that if they can get from point A to point B, proving themselves along the way, that they can have more vacation time, promotions or whatever else they desire. It’s important to emphasize that perks must be earned and then outline the steps they can to take to deserve them.

                By mentoring Millennials instead of alienating them, you will not only help someone find more happiness professionally and personally but you’ll be helping the bottom line by retaining productive and tech-savvy workers with years of contributions ahead of them.

                My Advice to Generation Y

                Even if you decide to run your own company, you will at some point, have to play by someone else’s rules. You’ll attract more flies with honey than by trying to catch them one by one in a jar and demand that they give you flexible hours.

                The greatest asset of youth is that people are willing to teach you. Soak up all the information you can about your industry while you have none of the responsibility for failure. Sure you may be fetching coffee and making Xeroxes but you also have the opportunity to learn about the hottest new technology or stock. That information is valuable and you can use it later when you decide to change jobs or start your own business.

                The biggest favor you can do for yourself at work is practice humility. What you don’t know will always outweigh what you do. Your goal should be to continuously try to flip that ratio while showing the higher-ups that you are worthy of reward and praise. Remember that a college degree is not a golden ticket to success, hard work is.

                Working Together

                If more managers could be just a little more understanding of the follies of youth and if more Millennials could be just a little more patient when trying to accomplish their goals I think we might just be able to take a few steps towards closing that generational gap.

                The Biggest Mistake I’ve Made as a Manager

                biggest-mistake-as-a-manager.jpgIn my first full year of leading a team, I’ve had my fair share of ups, downs, lefts and rights. My transition from worker-bee to boss-lady hasn’t been the smoothest. After taking some time to reflect on my journey, I reached a “Eureka!” moment about management. I’m going to share it with all of you in hopes that it will help you reach your own “Eureka” moment a little sooner.

                After a year of flailing under the harsh glare of the management spotlight, I realized that my problem was shockingly simple. The biggest mistake I was making as a manger was:

                I assumed that everyone else was as good an employee as I was.

                My high school biology teacher used to say that “to assume is to make an ass out of you and me.” I assumed that since I was a good employee everyone else must be one too. I just couldn’t understand why some people would turn in projects riddled with typos or come unprepared to meetings. Where was their sense of pride in their work? Didn’t they feel satisfaction in a job well done?

                For example, a friend of mine works for a large game testing company where the turnover is extremely high and the qualifications for employment are very low. People there are being terminated on a regular basis. In one instance, an employee was let go for bringing a pornographic DVD to the office and watching it on his work computer. Another employee was fired for sleeping on the job and in his “exit interview” started screaming at the HR rep to show him where exactly in his contract it said he couldn’t nap at his desk. The rep pointed the “at will” clause in the contract and sent him on his way.

                While I realize that it’s impossible to create a policy that will account for all unacceptable work behaviors, I do think that, as a manager, people look to you to set expectations and lead by example. You may be thinking that anyone with some common sense would know how to act appropriately at the office (Bringing porn to work? Really?) but the reality is that everyone’s definition of “appropriate” is different.

                That is why these are the most important things you can do as a manager to make sure your team is happy, healthy and productive:

                • Set expectations of behavior early – this could include office hours, dress code, etc.
                • Create and communicate deliverables – set firm deadlines for projects and enforce them.
                • Give praise for meeting expectations – this could be as simple as saying “great work!” Discourage poor performance – follow-up when someone fails to meet expectations and address any issues right away.
                • Be willing to listen – sometimes expectations can be too high for some people. Solicit feedback and consider adjusting if necessary.

                But what if you already do all these things and your employees still don’t perform? By establishing a minimum level of performance, your employees can either choose to float to the surface or sink to the bottom. If you have a sinker weighing you down, it might be time for that person to consider finding another pond to swim in.

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