Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Election is Over: Reconnecting Red and Blue Employees in the Workplace

The Presidential election may be over but the negative affects of a long and divisive campaign season on workplaces have only just begun. Tensions are running high. Things have been said in anger that can’t be easily forgotten. Respect between colleagues has been diminished. Like the nation itself, it’s time now for companies to begin the healing process to reconnect their red employees with their blue employees.

If there is political animosity in your organization, set a goal to have all rifts healed by inauguration date January 20, 2009.

Here are some tips:
  1. Make sure that all campaign paraphernalia has been removed from each employee’s workspace and all common areas.
  2. Ask employees not to debate their political differences any further and be prepared to deal with disciplinary issues on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Keep employees busy and focused on both individual and departmental goals and the work effort required to reach those goals.
  4. Discuss the importance of coming together as a team and conduct team building exercises if necessary.
  5. Have an executive communication (via corporate-wide meeting, teleconference or email from the CEO) describing a shared vision of the future with employees working and winning together.
  6. Reinforce the common bonds between employees with activities that both blue and red employees can participate in together such as charitable events, sports, etc.
  7. Provide mentoring and peer networking opportunities to help build bridges between employees of diverse backgrounds.
  8. If not already in place, create new policies that limit political debate and political signs, buttons and t-shirts on the work premises.
To borrow from the President Elect, the road ahead may be long and the climb may be steep but if everyone works together we will get there. Yes we can.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It Hurts to Think - So We Don't

When we were kids, I used to tease my sister for saying that she didn't like to think. She used to say that it "hurt her brain." It turns out that she was right. New brain research shows that some of the brain waves produced when the prefrontal cortex is "thinking" are the same ones that are produced when you plunge your hand into a bucket of ice cold water!

Then how do we think all day without being in constant pain? Evidently we don't.

According to training and now persuasion expert Russell H. Granger in his very interesting book The 7 Triggers to Yes, we leave most of the daily decisions to the more primitive brain structure, our old friend the amygdala. The amygdala is one of the simpler brain structures, fully developed at birth and long considered the emotional area of the brain. The amygdala does not do any heavy lifting in terms of weighing facts and applying logic but it does surprisingly make many decisions for us. Says Granger, "People use the emotional parts of the brain to make what they believe to be rational decisions."

Why? Because it hurts! The brain has to work hard to think logically. Scientists claim that the brain consumes 300 percent more caloric energy when engaged in cognitive thinking then when in the automatic mode. (hmmm.....)

Granger's book teaches us that if information comes into the brain with certain conditions that he calls "triggers," the amygdala will make and act upon decisions without ever involving the complex thinking area of the brain. That way, we avoid the pain and energy drain of complex thinking.

Here's my analogy. The amygdala (Amy) is like our own personal receptionist who has been with our company (Brain Corp.) for years. Amy, played by a Jennifer Tilly like character, can handle most requests that come in herself. She doesn't like to bother the prefrontal cortex, The Executive, because he, played by...errr...Bill Gates... will create all kinds of pain for everyone while solving the problem. Sometimes Amy oversteps her boundaries and makes decisions on things that would have been better decided upon by The Executive but Amy wants to spare the company the pain.

For those seeking to persuade, there are certain conditions under which Amy feels comfortable making the decision herself. If the information is presented by a respected authority and/or by a trusted friend, she will generally not bother The Executive. If the information is presented in the form of a comparison with one answer appearing much better than another, Amy is free to act on her own. If the information appeals to her hopes and dreams or helps her avoid something that she fears, that is (literally) a "no-brainer." If the request is for something that is consistent with things she has done in the past, she will be comfortable to act without asking for evaluation and logic from The Executive.

This kind of thinking, or non-thinking as the case may be, takes place in every one of us. It is not gender-based; I only used the term she/her to match the name Amy for amygdala. We all have an amygdala making decisions for us all day every day without consulting the complex thinking portion of our brains. We respond quickly and automatically most of the time. Says Granger, "All people most of the time, and most people all of the time, are in the automatic mode."
People use the emotional parts of their brains to make what they consider rational decisions. Emotional context helps you make the best choice, often in a split second --long before the rational centers of the brain are activated. Therefore we must learn to primarily address our requests to the emotional parts of the brain rather than to the brain's rational centers.
The book is very interesting and informative. It explains both how and why the brain functions under certain conditions plus describes in detail how you can apply various triggers to easily persuade people to agree to your point of view or sale pitch. It is also a good reminder for all of us to be aware of our own decision making process. If we seek to make wise decisions on important issues, we should take the extra time and accompanying brain-pain to use the thinking part of the brain. Not only will we have smarter outcomes, we may burn up some extra calories in the process!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What Happens When a Luddite Becomes a Tech Entrepreneur? Great Software.

I was wondering last night, as I began to "tweet" for the first time, how a semi-luddite like myself could successfully lead a technology company like Nobscot Corporation.

I don't use a cell phone. I don't like to talk to people on the phone when I'm not in work mode and when I am in work mode I like to be at my desk concentrating not at the grocery store.

I have an old T-Mobile Sidekick that I bring with me when I travel but as my colleague Raquel likes to tease me I barely know how to use it. (Though I must say that the user interface is incredibly intuitive and the os seems rock solid.)

I set up a Facebook page for the Mentor-me-Meg campaign but I don't post anything on it and I stopped accepting new friend requests after 15. I don't want my life to be that open, I don't have time to fuss with keeping it up-to-date, I don't want any vampire bites.

MySpace makes me dizzy.

LinkedIn initially did not impress me because I kept asking - "Now what?" Today, though, I think they did a nice job of turning it into something useful. (Here is a link to my profile.)

Reddit, Digg and other news aggregators would eat up all my time if I were to read all the interesting links that are posted. I like to focus on my work and when I'm not working I like to think about or brainstorm ideas for work. When I'm not working or thinking about working I like to read fiction and watch dvds and walk on the beach. Who has time for all this technology??

So you have to wonder - How do I run a tech company?

It dawned on me that maybe it's my luddite tendencies which make me shun technology that is unnecessary, ill-conceived, cool but time sucking (or potentially dangerous in the case of cell phones) that allow me to develop technology that is simple, useful and does the job that needs doing.

One of the things I like best about Nobscot and Mentor Scout is that the software helps solve specific Human Resources problems (how do you figure out why high performers are leaving? How do you match mentors and mentees in a large mentoring program?) and does so with no more/no less than what you need, want and expect it to do. Maybe we need more semi-luddites in the Industry.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Top 5 Worst Human Resources Practices for Surviving the Bad Economy

Right now we are seeing companies take drastic moves to survive the bad economy. I am probably going to shock a few people by suggesting that some best practices may turn out to be your worst nightmares.

1) Early Retirement. Early retirement is often touted as the panacea for reducing payroll. You allow those nearing retirement to leave with a generous package and reduce your payroll by a significant amount. Unfortunately, in practice things rarely work out as you envision. What happens if your best employees accept the package, take jobs at your competitor and your mediocre seniors say, "No thanks?" I have seen that situation play out and it takes a number of years for a company to recover from this mistake. Luckily for me, I've been at the competitor company who picked up the top talent that "retired" from across the street.

2) Voluntary Severance. This has the same consequences as early retirement only the mistake is more pervasive. With voluntary retirement you can rationalize that the employees will be retiring soon anyways. The performance loss will be limited. With voluntary severance you risk losing large numbers of your best employees (and you pay them for that pleasure!) In an economic downturn, you need your best employees to help you survive. After your voluntary severance when you survey the damage and begin to rebuild you may find that you don't have the necessary troops. You've lost the battle and the war.

3) Hiring Freeze. A hiring freeze is just plain dumb. What are you going to do when key people leave key positions? Similar to retirement and voluntary severance, a hiring freeze takes away your control on the quality of your staff. In bad economic times, it's even more critical that you have great employees doing great jobs.

There is nothing more de-motivational than a hiring freeze. Think about the panic that will be evoked every time someone leaves. In most cases, the 40 hours of work that a departing employee leaves behind doesn't just evaporate. There will also be "exceptions" (read by employees as special treatment) for managers with high influence or critical positions to fill. This destroys any bit of camaraderie that might exist between managers, between departments and between staff. Instead, implement a "hiring scrutiny." Review each position to see if there is a better way to streamline the workflow. Restructure where you can, hire where you must. Which is what you should be doing anyways, isn't it?

4) Not Terminating Dead Wood FIRST. Companies often use "layoffs" in order to terminate the proverbial dead wood - problem employees that have been allowed to stay due to wimpy management. It need not take a RIF for managers to do their job. You do not need to provide outplacement and severance to poor performers. During a previous economic downturn when I was Staffing Manager at a company of about 2000 employees, before we undertook a RIF we conducted a comprehensive review of employee performance. Did we discover many employees who had been on probation and performance improvement plans that had failed to improve? If I may borrow this phrase, "You betcha."

5) Not Being Creative. Get your HR team together for a brainstorming session. What kind of program(s) can you create that will reduce payroll while still maintaining productivity? How about offering 30 hour work weeks? Some form of job sharing? I don't know what the answers will be but I do know that you will be able to come up with some winners.

The bottom line is this: Manage out poor performers, consider creative ideas in scheduling or other areas, and then RIF if you must. Conduct a controlled RIF where you determine which positions stay and which are cut and then select the best employees to fill the remaining positions. Be careful your selections are non-discriminatory, provide appropriate severance and outplacement assistance (which can often be done in-house by your recruiters) and then focus on your survivors.

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