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Friday, August 29, 2008

Are You a Jerk?

Are you a jerk at work? Do you treat people badly, yelling and screaming at them? Do you often think that because you are the boss you don't have to follow the same rules?

In the August 25 issue of Business Week, Robert Sutton of Stanford writes that, "...although some people act badly wherever they go, all of us are capable of turning into demeaning creeps under the wrong conditions." It is a sad truth, isn't it.

However, what he finds in the research is that some of this behavior is acquired by aping those around us. If we regularly see our peers treating others shabbily, and flying off the handle far to frequently, we begin to participate in the "socialization process." In other words, we observe the behavior to be normal and take it as our own.

Sutton continues that the research shows this is typical for all people, however, it can be defeated. Try not to work for companies that are full of jerks and bullies. If you didn't know they were jerks and bullies when you started, but know now, leave immediately.

Now let's suppose you are in a position of authority. Guess what? You are more likely to turn into a jerk yourself. From the article:

A growing body of research—notably by professors Dachner Keltner at University of California, Berkeley, Deborah Gruenfeld at Stanford, and their students—documents that three things happen when people are put in positions of power:

1. They focus more on satisfying their own needs;
2. They focus less on the needs of their underlings;
3. They act like "the rules" others are expected to follow don't apply to them.

Don't despair, their is hope! Sutton recommends having advisers and mentors to bounce things off of, as well as for them to let you know if you are behaving badly. Listening to those your trust to be open and honest can straighten you out in jiffy! Humorously, he closes the article by stating that teenage children can also help CEOs in particular be less jerkish, because "...challenge their power and question their judgment." Hear hear!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Managing Fear During a Layoff

You have had a strange feeling that something isn't right. While things seem to be doing OK in your business, they aren't their best. All of the sudden, senior management has gotten very quiet.

Then BANG! Two or three folks you know send emails that they have a short amount of time to find jobs in the company or they are out.

What happened? Am I next? What is going on? These are very real concerns and serious questions. If you hear about folks having been laid off, there is at least some chance that there will be more firings in the future.

The way to handle these feelings and realities is based on the amount of control you can bring to the situation. Aside from doing your best to make the business successful, try to have a positive attitude. Additionally, make sure that you have taken precautions in the event that you are next. Update your resume. Make sure your profiles on social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. are up to date. Verify both your business and personal networks are up to date. In short, manage your sphere of control and influence.

In most cases, the decisions about who stays and who goes aren't personal. They certainly may feel that way, but usually aren't. If you are able to keep your job, be happy and diligent. Also, be willing to help those who lost their job. It is a small world and kindness goes a long way. If you do lose your job, try to see the opportunity in change. If possible, maybe it is a good time to go back to school. It also could be time to start that business or write that book you have dreamed about.

Life is hard, unfair, and often brutish, but you don't have to be. Optimism and a positive attitude can make difficult situations bearable. If your business is cutting their work force, be proactive and know your options. Like the motto of the Boy Scouts, "Be Prepared!"

Friday, August 8, 2008

How to Turn Down an Applicant

You have finally found the perfect match for that open position. They have the right skills, education and experience. So how do you handle the candidates who just didn't make it? Nobody likes to deliver bad news, but the delay can be very painful for the ones not selected.

As I have written in my other articles, common sense and courtesy are great guides to difficult decisions, as well is the golden rule, "Treat others as you would like to be treated." Interviewees have invested time and emotion and are hoping for the best. When they are turned down, it isn't easy for them or you.

Once you have made your selection, promptly reply to the successful candidate. For the unsuccessful candidates, a prompt reply allows for closure. Where possible, email or call as soon as you can. Provide feedback that is helpful, e.g. consider more education, dress more appropriately, improve your resume. These types of positive feedback not only reduce the sting of rejection, but also empower the candidate to improve.

Finally, if the unsuccessful candidates show potential, keep up with them. Consider using LinkedIn or Facebook, or some other kind of social networking tool. That rejected candidate today might be the perfect candidate tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Emotions and Purpose

In my previous post, "Its Employee Review Time," I wrote about the need to honest and thorough feedback to employees, helping them to further their success.

Like many other occasions in business, employee review time can be very emotional. What is my manager going to say? What am I going to say in response? Am I going to get a raise? Questions such as these shouldn't be asked, IF the manager has been providing feedback throughout the year.

In the July 28 issue of Business Week, Jack and Suzy Welch address how to handle emotions in the workplace. They mention that getting a handle on negative emotions and dysfunctional behavior is critical.

From the article, "All it takes is an active commitment to remove uncertainty from your company and to instill a purpose-oriented approach to inspiration."

Most managers would agree that removing all uncertainty is impossible. Rather, managers can remove certain elements of uncertainty. For example, regular feedback removes the uncertainty of where an employee stands in their managers' mind. Additionally, statements about the business, like Jack Stack's Open-Book Management, give employees all of the relevant facts about the business. In good times, but especially bad, their is relief in knowing.

Managers should also provide purpose. When employees have a clear purpose, whether via a mission or vision statement, they are able create their schedules and fix their minds on a defined goal. The goal helps to reduce uncertainty and provides a rally point.

Does this sound an awful lot like common sense? You bet. Dealing with emotions and uncertainty are things managers do everyday, most of the time using common sense. Open and honest communication is the key to good management, an empowered workforce, and a successful company.

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