Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No "Blamestorming" Allowed

When was the last time you held a brainstorming session . . . a REAL brainstorming. Most people who hold group brainstorming do it wrong. “Huh”, you say? “All it is is throwing out ideas and weeding them out.” That’s pretty much true. However, most people go at it the wrong way. It's not the appropriate time for blame or criticism.

All comments on participant's ideas should be held until the end! Brainstorming is allowing participants to put out their ideas with no pressure to hold them back. Here’s what a good group session should look like:
  • The facilitator presents the problem and gives further explanation if needed.
  • The facilitator sets a time limit and asks the group for their ideas.
  • All participants present their ideas, and the person documenting records them.
  • Participants may elaborate on their ideas to ensure clarity.
  • When time is up, the facilitator organizes the ideas based on the topic goal.
  • Categorize ideas.
  • Review the whole list to ensure that everyone understands the ideas.
  • Remove duplicate ideas and obviously unfeasible solutions.
  • THEN discuss.

If you want a more effective group brainstorming session – don’t make the boss the facilitator. In fact, don’t even let him in the room. That’s a sure way of intimidating your more timid participants.

The biggest reason group discussions don’t work is because participants feel too much pressure or are intimidated. Research at the University of Texas (Arlington) and Texas A&M University have found that traditional brainstorming is not as effective as other techniques because of social pressure – the fear of looking foolish among peers and superiors, or even being afraid of saying something that will offend someone.

The next time you want to brainstorm, try the individual approach. Most of the research performed shows us that people working by themselves will come up with more ideas than when they’re in a group. They just don’t have that group pressure. Individually, they can be more relaxed and take a little more time to think or maybe get ideas elsewhere, like books or the Internet.

Brainstorming IS a very effective technique of producing new ideas and solutions, IF you perform it properly. So next time you think of brainstorming, take a few minutes to plan it out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Motivation Starts With Recognition

I recently read a good article from Successful Promotions magazine called, “How Mickey Makes Magic”. It discusses how some companies will cut back on their employee recognition programs when times get tough. What a mistake. Just think about it. What happens to your employees when you take away motivation? What happens to their service? What happens to retention?

In 2004 Disney World was hit by three major hurricanes within about five weeks (once during Labor Day weekend) and this year has seen a drop in revenue due to the economy. Yet even in hard times they realize, “you don’t mess with employee recognition programs.”

“Disney’s theme parks and hotels have the lowest staff turnover rates in the travel industry.” That’s made possible, in part, by keeping cast-members engaged. They’re not the highest paid people around so it’s got to be something more. You may think that they have some big elaborate program for recognition but they really don’t. Most of it is very simple and things most companies could also do.

One of the tools that Disney uses is the “Recognize Everyday Magic” kit. The kit consists of simple sticky notes, thank-you cards and praise cards that managers give out to cast-members when they find them “doing something right.” Every manager gets one of these kits.

Managers are also encouraged to come up with their own types of recognition. Some managers have designed their own pins to carry around in their pockets and hand out as they see someone doing something right with a comment like, “Thanks for making a difference.” Pins really don’t cost that much to produce – maybe a couple of dollars a piece, give or take depending on the style.

Another very simple idea is to let everyone know when you implement suggestions that employee’s have made. Disney has a newsletter entitled, “You Said … We Listened.” This is a quarterly newsletter that lists “ideas generated by employees that resulted in changes.” Let others know that you really do listen.

A very important thing to remember with any recognition program is that recognition is NOT a yearly check-off. Good behavior should be reinforced immediately. So don’t look for your annual Christmas party to show your only thanks.

These are just a few things that you can do that have been proven successful by one company. Take a few minutes and think about what you can do. Maybe even get suggestions from your employees. There’s a simple type of recognition right there. What better motivation then to let your employee’s get involved in decisions?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What CAN You Change?

In many organizations, especially those under heavy regulation (banking, healthcare, etc), you just don’t have a lot of opportunity for change. For a gung ho leader, that can make a tough job even more though, not to mention more stressful.

There are actually some things that you CAN change in your environment to decrease your stress. The thing is, you’ve probably thought about some of them already, but just haven’t gotten around to implementing them. Now is the time. It’s on your mind. You have some time (you’re reading this, aren’t you). So Do It.

Learn to Have Some Fun. Business is business, but it doesn’t have to be all spit and polish all the time. Release that inner humor. Smile. Talk at the water cooler about what happened last night on “Two and a Half Men.”

Learn to Say NO. Remember this? – “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” When you’re plate is already stuffed, you just have to respectfully say no. It's better to do fewer things well than to do more things half-a**ed.

You’ve got to Manage Your Own Schedule. Too often supervisors get so caught up in managing others that they forget that they need managing also. Don’t leave it up to your boss, do it yourself. Get a planner, PDA (my personal favorite), or a desk calendar (do they still sell these?). Record every meeting and event as soon as you find out about it. Do a little triage. Is it a meeting you actually NEED to go to?

Be Optimistic. It’s human nature to pick out the negative. Be conscious of that and look for the good in everything that you do AND everyone that you meet. People have good qualities. Look for that first. You’ll feel so much better about yourself, your staff and co-workers, and your job. Attitude reflects attitude.

You can’t change everything, but you can recognize the things that you CAN change and work on them. You may not be able to change the regulations, but you can always change yourself.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So You Think You Have Ethics . . .

Well? Do you? You probably think you do. We all do. Most leaders do know the difference between right and wrong, but a lot of them talk it more than they walk it. Some just don’t care.

As a supervisor, you’re a leader and you’re expected to set an example for your staff – and other leaders. You’re in a position that you’re being constantly watched. When others see you behaving unethically, you’re sending a loud message to your co-workers that ethics doesn’t matter to you. And guess what. It won’t matter to them either.

If you don’t exhibit the following personal qualities and behaviors, you have some work to do:

  • Honesty

  • Integrity

  • Impartiality

  • Fairness

  • Loyalty

  • Dedication

  • Responsiblity

  • Accountablity
Most organizations have a written company code of ethics policy. Have you ever read it? The "code" should be able to convey to others that you value ethical behavior and that it guides the way you and your employees do business. But it’s not worth squat unless it’s shared (discussed) with your employees more than in their first day of work, as is usually the case. I’ve seen a number of organizations pass off ethics “training” as giving employees a piece of paper to sign once a year. Really? That is NOT enough. How many people do you think really read it?

According to Trainingscape, there are six keys to making better ethical choices:
E – Evaluate circumstances through the appropriate filters
(culture, policies, laws, relationships, etc) .
T – Treat people and issues fairly within the established boundaries. Fair doesn’t always mean equal.
H – Hesitate before making critical decisions.
I – Inform those affected of the standard/decision that has been set/made.
C – Create an environment of consistency for yourself and your working group.
S – Seek counsel when you have any doubt
(but from those who are honest and who you respect).

You may have a Code of Ethics, but if you don’t live it from day to day, what’s the use?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hire Personality

You’ve seen it before, and you’ll see it again. You hire the guy with the most experience and education and he turns out to be a jerk. You hope (pray) that once he gets to work he has good customer service skills and he gets along with his new co-workers. Oops. You’ve just wasted a whole bunch of time and ticked off a lot of people because that little voice that was talking to you really did make sense after all.

Sometimes you have to take a closer look at the situation and head a bit off the beaten path. Use your gut instinct. That’s what it’s there for. If you need to take a little more time to train someone else that doesn’t have as much experience but has a great personality, do it. These are the people that are looking outside the box – top, bottom, and sides. They WANT to work for you.

Take a look at a couple of successful examples. In 1984 Michael Eisner became Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Prior to that, he had been President of Paramount Pictures. He was pretty darn successful at what he did but was passed up for the top job because they felt he was “too childlike”. Paramount’s loss was Disney’s gain. The first decade of Eisner’s reign (prior to the internal frays) blew Paramount away.

Not being a big Internet shopper, I first learned of Zappos on The Apprentice. What I learned of this very successful Internet shoe (and now much more) company made me go “wow”. Zappos' hiring policy stands in favor of personality rather than job experience. CEO Tony Hsieh says that, “One of our core values is to be humble. So if there is someone who is really talented, and we know they will make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line, but they are really egotistical, then we won’t hire them.”

The idea is to keep the stress level down, not to increase it. Supervisors shouldn’t have to be always looking over staff’s shoulders and your customers shouldn't have to suffer. Go for the people who are going to be most advantageous to you, without you having to baby sit and continuously watch them. Everything from teamwork to customer service will benefit.