Third-World Office

Paper Towels.jpeg

So hooray for paper towels. 


A good workspace is definitely conducive to productivity and morale. 


That means cleanliness, open collaborative spaces, quiet work areas/offices, ample supplies, and obviously good technology. 


I’ve been in world-class institutions in terms of their mission, but that were third-world in terms of their work conditions. 


In one place, the bathroom toilets kept getting clogged with paper towels, so they got rid of them altogether, which forced the employees to use toilet seat covers for hand towels–yes, believe it!


Of course, at least we had running water, but there was also often flooding in the cubicle areas and the windows were nailed shut–high-tech security, not. 


In another place, in the private sector, I remember a new CFO coming in and being so cheap that he actually got rid of the milk and creamer from people’s coffee. 


Talking about pennywise and dollar foolish. 


Don’t these institutions get that the way you treat people impacts the way they respond to their work.


How can we be the Superpower of the planet and can’t provide decent, normal work conditions to our workers. 


It goes without saying that treating people with respect, dignity, and value should be happening all the time, but doesn’t.


We’re not even talking six-figure bonuses and stock options either–just treat people like human beings and not indentured slaves or cattle. 


Wake up America–you’re people are worth working plumbing, paper towels, and some milk and creamer for their coffees and really a heck of a lot more than that. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Whose Throat Do You Choke

Head.jpeg

So this was an interesting term that I heard about getting people to take responsibility for their actions.


“Whose throat do I choke for this?”


Sounds a little severe, no?


I think this is partially an adverse reaction to “analysis paralysis” and “death by committee” — where no decisions can ever get made. 


And organizations where lack of accountability runs rampant and it’s more about finger pointing at each other, rather than owning up to your responsibilities, decisions, and actions.


So with dysfunctional  organizations, the pendulum swings aimlessly being no accountability and the ultimate chopping block. 


But choking off the life blood of our human capital certainly isn’t conducive to innovation, exploration, and discovery or to productivity, employee morale and retention.


So when it’s simple human error with our best effort and no bad intentions, how about we say a simple “Who done it this time,” do a post-action, figure out the valuable lessons learned, and resolve how we do better going forward. 


No throats or heads necessary (most of time). 🙂


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Appreciating Employees @ Holiday Time

happy-employees

So before the holidays, like Thanksgiving, many nice organizations try to do a little something for their employees and let them go home a little early.

It’s a small something that let’s people know they are appreciated, and on top of it, they get to “beat the traffic.”

I heard from someone that one organization was stopping this long time practice, saying that only the very head(s) of the chain of command, could do this for the people…but they didn’t.

Sort of “penny wise and dollar foolish” to take away that little spot-on giving to one’s staff. 

It’s goodwill, appreciation, and kindness that is especially appropriate before the holidays for hardworking and good people. 

One manager told me how their people especially looked forward to this little gesture, and often came to asking about it with such joy.

So the manager told me that they just said before holiday times, “I’m not looking what time you leave today.”

To me that sounded like genuine leadership, where people are not just treated as “human resources,” but instead “human capital”—something to invest in and not just something to use `willy nilly. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Standing Down

Stand Down.jpeg

So there is a funny term used in government, which is to “Stand down.”


Basically, it comes from the military where it has traditionally been used to denote relaxing (or “at ease”) after a prior state of alert or readiness.


Since then it has become more broadly adopted to mean abruptly ceasing activity–and usually even all further discussion–on something. 


For example, if someone is working on a project, task, or issue, but you want them to completely halt all activities on this, you may tell them to stand down.


This happens when something, usually significant, has changed or the activity has become OBE (another military term for Overcome By Events).


Basically, something has unexpectedly transpired and the strategy and orders have now changed (maybe a complete 180). 


Often, someone up the chain has put the kabbash on whatever it was.


Either way, you go from a full-on sprint to a complete halt and you might as well stand on your head for all anyone cares, because the run to the finish line, on this matter at least, is over now. 


Standing down is very different from standing up–but you aren’t sitting down either. 


Sitting would imply doing nothing at all, while standing down implies you do something else instead–like move on in the meantime to your next order of priority business. 


Still standing down, because of it’s abruptness and completeness is a big deal–and when everything and everyone was prior in motion like a moving freight train–and someone now stands in front of it and yells “All stop!”–the rest of the train cars, all the way to caboose, can essentially ram right up into the butt of the engine causing a real mess of things (productivity-wise and from a morale perspective). 


So now everyone untangle yourself and “calm the h*ll down”–there’s a new sheriff in town or new way ahead and you better get your standing down under control and stop doing whatever it is you were doing, okay there sonny boy? 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Government By Decision

What Is Your Decision?

I saw this bumper sticker on a pole in Washington, D.C.

It says “Puppet for President 2012” and I don’t know whether this was referring to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or whoever.

But it did make a statement about the perceived ability of government to lead and perhaps that someone is “pulling the strings.”

Governance is the act of administering, managing and of course implies leadership and decision-making.

Yet what is driving the American people crazy is that our government seems for all intensive purposes broken, almost paralyzed.

Current reading are of political stalemate, problems that are too big and complex and the compromises too painful after years of excess, where indecision reigns supreme, and with that the popularity of government is at all time lows–10% for Congress and 36% for the President.

Here’s a basic example written about today in the Wall Street Journal: despite a drop in first class mail over the last decade (thanks to email and texting) from 100 billion to fewer than 70 billion pieces of first class mail and cumulative losses from 2006 to March 2013 of $41 billion, we still can’t decide whether to cut Saturday mail delivery that could save over $3 billion a year alone.

Other examples of government indecision are almost too numerous to name:

– Should we intervene in Syria’s civil war that has taken more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions?

– When should we take action against Iranian nuclear facilities that violate nuclear non-proliferation and threaten world peace?

– How should we handle militant Islamic and Al Qaeda threats that don’t seem to dissipate?

– What do we do about the mounting federal deficit with a national debt approaching $17 trillion that is still rising about $2 billion a day!

– With fiscal cliffs, debt ceiling, sequestrations, and cuts to the U.S. credit rating, can we find our way forward?

– What should we do to get people back to work with an employment level of 58.6%, still around the lowest in the last 30 years?

– How do we reign in entitlement spending that needy people depend on, but where nearly half (49%) of Americans households today receive transfer payments, and entitlement spending has risen to $2.3 trillion annually and now are over 60% of entire federal outlays.

– How do we improve morale of the U.S. middle-class when only 33% think their children will be better off than their parents?

– What should we do about so many hanging issues out there–immigration reform, spiraling health care costs, improving our education system, balancing surveillance and privacy, and much more?

However, the ultimate question really is whether no decision is better than a decision?

With no decision, the problems continue to escalate until they sort of magically go away on their own (they are “overcome by events”) or more ominously, they reach epic crisis proportions.

With a decision to act, we may make good decisions that positively impact the situation or we may make bad decisions that have a negative impact, but even with a bad decision, we can monitor the effects and course-correct until we show true improvement.

Decisions often mean winners and losers–and no one wants to lose anything–and there are lobbyists and special interest groups–and no one wants to be voted out of office…so what do we do?

Oh no, I can’t decide!

The reality is that we will will have to make hard decisions or they will be made for us–we will either be the masters of our own fate of the slaves of our indecision.

We can take back control and fix what is broken or wallow in despair and disrepair.

We can act now or kick the can down the road and have much more painful decisions later.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Changing Organizational Fear To Firepower

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Senator Chuck Grassley posted a video of the Acting Director of the ATF sternly warning employees that “if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences.”

But as Senator Grassley has pointed out in the video’s description–“the essence of whistle-blowing is reporting problems outside of an employees chain of command.” In other words, reporting problems to external oversight authorities like Congress is an important and protected action in exposing shortcomings and addressing potentially serious issues.

The Congressional Research Service provides an overview of The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) of 1989–basically, as I understand it, WPA protects federal whistleblowers who report gross agency misconduct (e.g. mismanagement, waste, and abuse) and prohibits threatening or taking retaliatory personnel action.  Moreover, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) was introduced in 2009 to broaden the protections to, I believe, more violations except minor or inadvertent, but this has not yet been passed.  Further, the Office of Special Counsel investigates whistleblower complaints.

Unfortunately, as pointed out in The American Thinker, employees have taken the message as “a warning to keep their mouths shut,” especially after agents exposed the Fast and Furious failed gun-running operation to Congress in 2011.

An agent quoted in The Washington Guardian states: “The message was unmistakable. Keep your head down and the only way you can report wrongdoing is by going to your chain of command. It was chilling, Orwellian and intimidating. What are you supposed to do if your chain of command is the one you think is involved in the wrongdoing? That was why OSC and IGs were created.”

President Obama’s Transition Website states more clearly how whistleblowers should be viewed and treated: “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.”

Whether one works in the government or the private sector, actions that are taken as bullying is problematic, not only from the perspective of morale but also in terms of productivity, as pointed out in an article in SelfGrowth called Leadership: Are You a Bully Leader?

“Bully leadership is sharp, authoritative, angry, and feels uncomfortable to those in contact with it…the bully leader bark out orders, threatens consequences and use strong, harsh statements…” as many have clearly come away from with this video.

In a dysfunctional organization where employees are bullied and threatened, the results are devastating to employees and to the vital mission they serve:

Stifling productivity–employees do not give their all–they “do what needs to be done and that is all. They don’t go above and beyond,” so productivity declines precipitously.

Stomping out ideas–since the bully leader “needs to be the one with the great ideas,” employees don’t share their input–they know to keep it to themselves.

Squashing effectiveness–bully leaders want to control everything and “lack trust in other people,” the result is a negative (and perhaps even a hostile) work environment where motivation, quality, and effectiveness are decimated.

It leads me to wonder, can those who lead by fear become more inspiring figures who empower employees and engender communication, trust, and fairness?

Obviously, changing a dysfunctional organizational culture is probably one of the hardest things to do, because the most fundamental everyday norms and “values” that the organization runs on must be overhauled.

However, it can be done, if top leadership on down is sincere and committed to change. The goals should include things like effective collaboration, delegation, empowerment, and recognition and reward.

Fear and intimidation have no place in the workplace, and all employees should be valued and respected, period.
We should encourage employees to speak out sincerely when there are issues that cannot be resolved through normal channels.
In the end, the most positive change will be when we strive to build a workplace where employees can focus on serving the mission rather than worrying about being afraid.

This post shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on any one organization, but rather a way forward for all organizations that seek to raise the bar on performance and morale.

I know that the people of ATF are highly principled and committed, because I worked there (in IT, of course) and am proud to recall their tremendous efforts.
(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

 

Don’t Let Them Fling It Onto You

Covered_in_it

So this guy has a job where he is at the front of a line of people passing buckets of sh*t to the next guy in the line.

A stranger comes along and asks him what he is doing–“what is your job?”

The man passing the buckets replies, “I am a manager.”

The stranger looks askew and quite puzzled, he asks, “What makes you think you’re a manager?”

The man at the front of the line answers “because I don’t take no sh*t from anybody!” 🙂

And so it goes, we work on “the line” whether passing buckets or pushing papers, and someone in the front thinks they are the boss or superior–and as someone from the military once told me, “I don’t take sh*t. I give sh*t!”

Unfortunately, for those of us who humbly go to work to do our jobs, the prevalence of workplace bullies–who push their weight around can make our (work) life very unpleasant and unproductive.

A Zogby poll in 2007 found that 49% of workers had experienced or witnessed workplace bullying–and this included all sorts of harassment such as verbal abuse, sabotaging someones job, and abusing their authority.

Workplace bullying is being called a “silent epidemic” with a full 37% or 54 million workers in the U.S. having suffered at the hands of a workplace bully.

The results, of course, can be devastating not only for the person’s job, but often they (45%) suffer adverse psychological and physical health impacts.

Further, as we know, when people suffer, their families usually suffer along with them, so the ultimate impact in terms of the number of people affected is disproportional to those those who experience bullying firsthand.

Aside from the people impact of bullying, the organization and its mission suffers in terms of elevated absenteeism, decreased morale, lower productivity, and stunted innovation.

This is why aside from the basic humanitarian aspects, an organization should be extremely watchful for and weed out bullies in the workplace.

However, when bullies, are front and center in the leadership ranks of the organization, the problem is all the greater, because others lower in the hierarchy, but also at senior levels may be hesitant to address the issue.

They are scared to confront the bully as perhaps they should be given the bully’s threatening posture and deeds.

But the answer is not to get personal, but rather to make it objective–know the laws and policies that protect you, document the events, identify any witnesses, discuss with organization representatives charged with investigating possible wrong-doing, and seek legal counsel, where appropriate.

Probably, the most important thing is to be clear that like the manager at the front of the line, you do not accept sh*t from anyone–that you and your family’s health and well-being deserve at least that much.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to EverJean)