Archive for May, 2009
Knocking Down Doors – Literally!
Keeping the lines of communication open in the workplace is critical – both metaphorically and literally, as illustrated by a national independent workplace study commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting, and released in March. Interestingly, in April, AOL’s new CEO, Tim Armstrong, took a significant symbolic step consistent with this study which made some headlines. He ordered that the locked glass doors which sealed off staffers from the executive suite in the company’s New York headquarters be removed. In doing so, he immediately earned the praise and respect of employees.
Armstrong’s gesture is also consistent with the theme of this blog and my upcoming book, Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant™(TOT). To employees, closed doors often suggest (intentionally or not) an unwillingness to communicate – or an exclusionary mindset. Especially during times of downsizing, they can instill unnecessary anxiety, hinder the free flow of information and impede interaction. In the end, they shut out more than people, but also morale and productivity.
Admittedly, AOL will be taking many other steps to bolster itself in the marketplace. But this micro version of taking down an “executive Berlin wall” was a great first step in bridging the communications gap.
Employees and employers alike can and should talk up this simple yet memorable move, because if nothing else, it says to a workforce: “we are a team,” as opposed to: “stay away.” Occasional privacy is understandable, but a non-stop blockade isn’t. Maybe in the latter case, an inexpensive alternative is to hand out free doorstops.
How to Deal With an Unpredictable Boss
Is the mood in your office more changeable than the weather? Are the people around you bright and sunny one minute and cowering under threatening storm clouds the next? If so, the problem may not be the coffee or bad feng shui of your office, but the effects of having an unpredictable or volatile boss.
As I recently mentioned to ABC News, it’s not enough to simply avoid Jekyll and Hyde bosses when they’re in “monster mode.” A more constructive tactic is to find out the underlying reasons for their less than agreeable behavior – and then manage your boss’s behavior.
Of course it’s possible that your boss’s personality changes are as random and inexplicable as those of a . . . toddler. If that’s the case, then you may have a classic Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT)™ suffering from childlike fear on your hands. If this is the case, you can take steps to navigate through the challenges of having a chameleon boss:
Become a 30-second detective. Before you scroll down in your head to “shut down,” examine the possible cause for his shift from 9:00am to Dr. Evil at 3:00; the triggers that might have occurred before the dark side emerged or any patterns to the moodiness? Is there a particular time of day or event – such as a regularly scheduled visit from the boss’s boss, or a staff meeting that sets offs the bad behavior?
Be a good listener. Many bosses that who suddenly stomp around angrily are interested in first venting before getting down to business. Listen first, then help your boss focus on the non-emotional side of the task at hand. Let them blow their top, but don’t endure abuse. If a bad pattern escalates, you may need to give your boss a “professional time out” and diplomatically leave the scene. However, if the issue becomes intolerable, it’s time to consider leaving the position.
Role model steady behavior. You can’t admonish your boss for his unpredictable “MO”, but you can lead the way indirectly by being even-keeled and modeling the voice of reason. Sometimes the contrasting style you create can result in embarrassment or even apology by a temperamental boss.
Lighten things up with levity. A moody boss may tend to see the glass as always half empty. Help improve her outlook by being positive and showing the lighter side of each situation as it arises. A little bit of well timed humor, or using what I call the levity lens™, can shine much needed light on a doom and gloom situation.
The next time you find yourself wondering whether the next encounter with your boss will be a stroll in the park or an encounter an insolent infant, take heart. You can become armed with the tools to gradually change the dynamics from the unexpected – to the more manageable, positive and expected.
Employee “Stress Tests”: Invest Now in Human Capital
The recent banking Stress Tests just revealed that an infusion of $74.6 billion in capital will be necessary for banks to withstand the recession. Shrewd managers might be well advised to follow suit with their employees and conduct a “stress test” of their own.
The goal? To similarly determine how their staff is withstanding the recession, the downsized workforce and the oversized workload. I can’t think of a better way to “invest” – only it’s investing in invaluable human – not banking capital.
Performing a “wellbeing audit” of employees is not a costly, timely or complex proposition. By proactively checking in with your team, keeping an “open door” policy, being a good listener, and letting the team know that it’s okay to make mistakes, you’re off to a very good start. A humanized workplace versus a sanitized workplace is a lot more enjoyable for everyone.
Recently, in the Society for Human Resource Management’s publication, SHRM Online, we explained why it makes good business sense to reach out to your team, especially during difficult times. The alternative is fear and mistrust – an environment that encourages what I call Terrible Office Tyrants™ (TOTs).
From a future recruiting standpoint, when we’re in recovery mode, every resume will become a valued commodity. Employees (and customers) have long memories, and in every industry there are key players that somehow make the field very small: good to remember if you’re in a recruiting capacity.
Imagine a workplace that becomes so “efficient” and de-humanized that you walk past the conference room and witness an apparition of robotic staff winding up with: “LOL”, “Well, IMHO…”, “K”. You walk down the hall, and a colleague apologetically bumps into you, gasping, “OMG!” (P.S. Did you read that as letters or three words?) Let’s hope for a more humanistic style of management before this happens!
National studies commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting suggest that the recession has created a lot of pent up tension from overworked staff – which will hopefully ratchet down soon. When the rebound occurs, employees will be sure to seek those environments that invest the most in collaboration and human capital. Will that be yours?
Calm Them Down . . . And Manage Up
Sometimes it’s hard to know which is preferable: staying in an untenable situation such as working for a Terrible Office Tyrant™ (TOT) or overbearing boss (see The Detroit News) – or starting over with record numbers of job-hungry candidates. Given today’s outsourced, downsized mindset, it’s more critical than ever to ensure that your own career goals are in sync with the dynamics of your workplace.
Whether you’re toiling away in a toxic workplace or knocking it out of the park every day in a supportive and emotionally rewarding company, how you react to your environment will largely determine your fate. As I pointed out recently on The Glass Hammer, a popular blog for female executives, the way you react to an aggressive manager will either temper the TOT-o-meter – or send it off the charts.
For starters, don’t take the bullying personally. It’s very possible that your blustering TOT™ might not be aware of the behavior on you or other employees. Bad or mediocre managers don’t necessarily set out to create a vicious, cruel workplace. Often they’re simply not very good at being bosses. They may even be preoccupied about their own jobs. If they are intentionally malicious as opposed to overly aggressive and attacking, that’s another matter that requires serious action. But assuming the first scenario, which is far more common – almost without exception, the best approach is to C.A.L.M. things down: Communicate frequently; Anticipate problems and solutions; use Levity to break up tension, and Manage up… often.
Even if outright bullying isn’t your challenge, you have an opportunity to maximize your value to the company and influence in the workplace. “Managing up” involves taking initiative to be a proactive problem solver, frequent communicator and collaborator, as well as a role model of high ethical standards; positive energy and to demonstrate calm under pressure. All of these attributes will help make you the master of your own career.
Every career has its setbacks during the ride, so don’t be hard on yourself for misjudgments along the way; without them, no one would learn. But by consistently managing up, especially with bullying TOTs, you will keep your valued career on track, not sidetracked.
Taking the High Road with Your Boss
Lately the stories about taking revenge on the boss have been getting surreal. You may have read about “boss-napping”, an arrest-worthy sequestering of bosses in France. Having to deal with a Terrible Office Tyrant™ (TOT), especially during tough times, might inspire much less severe responses, like a hidden smirk, or some of the antics recently described in the N.Y. Daily News. Instead, call a timeout. And before you consider shouting “That’s it, buddy” (or “sister!”) – go to your room, NOW!” – consider less career-limiting options.
Here are some techniques to tame your TOT and help keep the corporate schoolyard at bay:
Use humor: Look through a levity lens™ and view work from a distance, seeing its humorous side. That provides a greater sense of career management and control.
Empathize with your managers: Everyone is under more pressure these, which can skew perceptions and magnify less than ideal behavior. Seeing things from another perspective helps ratchets down stress.
Don’t boss-nap, consider taking a nap: Break away from the office politics on your lunch hour for a 20 minute nap in your car – or at least try sitting outside and relaxing quietly or meditating. “Power napping,” popularized in the 1990s, has proven to be one answer to an increased incidence workplace sleep deprivation, according to numerous health organizations. Stay well rested in general and keep in mind that your health comes first.
Remember when you were a kid and your mother said count to 10 when you got angry? Not all clichés have lost their meaning. If you can take the high road, you’ll model good behavior to your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT™). If your bad boss is untamable, and you’ve communicated and done all you can, then you can always take the highway.