Management Success Tip #185: The Non-Rocket Science Art of Listening

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You know how irritating it is when someone you’re talking to, usually a close friend or family member, is texting while you’re trying to get across something really important to you? Or maybe they’re not looking at you, but at something else? Or when they give you that blank stare as in “Whatever you’re saying it’s just so much blabla”?

Now with that close friend or family member, you have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” But when you are texting, looking at something or someone other than the person in front of you, or thinking about something totally unrelated which causes that blank stare, while your employee is trying to get across something really important to them—that employee does not have the freedom to say “Hey, listen up! This is important!” All your employee can do is stand there, feeling disrespected, dismissed and in general, devalued.

Not a great way to manage your peeps! Back in 1957, Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens wrote in a 1957 HBR article (yes, Harvard Business Review existed even waaaay back then); “It can be stated, with practically no qualification, that people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.” Nichols and Stevens studied thousands of students and hundreds of business people, and what they found was that most retained only 50% of what they had heard—immediately after they’d heard it! And only 25% some six months later.

What does listening involve? Basically, your attention. Your 100% attention on what the person is saying to you, on looking at them, preferably engaging good eye contact, and acknowledging that you are listening by either nodding your head from time to time or saying something like “Uh-huh.”

Not rocket science. But it does mean you can’t be formulating your response while they are talking, nor can you text, daydream, tune out or otherwise withdraw your attention from the individual in front of you.

Accord your employees the basic respect of really listening to them, and they will respect you in turn.

Management Success Tip #175: 3 Steps to Getting Employee-Resented Tasks Done: Give a Reason, Get Real, Give a Reward

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Into every manager’s life must fall those tasks you hate to inflict upon your team, yet must get done. Mainly because they’ve been inflicted on you by your higher-ups . . . or just because it’s that time of year.

It’s tempting to say to your team “Just do it!” and stuff your ears with cotton wads so you don’t hear their grumbling. It doesn’t work well with your kids, you should hardly be surprised that it doesn’t work well with your team either. Oh, they may do the task, but half-heartedly, not thoroughly, and with zero enthusiasm. Which disinterest may then bleed into other parts of their work, which is a shame, because they’re usually high-functioning.

There’s an easy 3-step fix: give them a reason, get real, give them a reward.

Give them a reason: “The image library has to be labeled and catalogued because it eats up far too much of our time to search haphazardly.” “Corporate year-end report must include our stats; if we don’t provide them, corporate will  send in an outside consultant to dig them up and that will mess with our work flow.”

Get real: “I don’t like having to do it either! I don’t like having to ask you to label and catalogue; it’s boring, mind-numbing and tedious. And yes, I’ll be taking on a chunk of it to do also. I’m not asking you to do something I won’t do.” “Yes, pulling the stats together is a real nuisance, but having an outsider poke around in our work is even more of a nuisance. Let’s get organized and get this done as painlessly and quickly as possible.”

Give them a reward: “When we’re done, I’m treating everyone to lunch/giving you all Friday afternoon off/tickets to the ball game/etc.” In a word, whatever works. Whatever pleases your team and is meaningful to them.

People respond to honesty and shared endeavor. And if you can find a way to kick in your sense of humor, so much the better.

Management Success Tip #170: Agree Upon Goals, Expectations and Standards for Maximum Employee Productivity and Company Success

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Your employees want to perform well. They want to be productive. Yes, they really do, despite the fact that it sometimes (often?) may not seem that way.

Or at least employees want to do well when they actually know what they’re supposed to be doing! Too often, managers assume that workers should know what they’re supposed to do, how to do it, how often, and by when (and you know what the informal definition of “assume” is). All this because the employees were told once or twice. Or it’s in the job description. Or worse–in the employee manual (updated every decade or so).

That’s mistreatment of a potentially great employee! Instead, take the time to set agreed-upon goals and expectations. Not just your goals, your expectations, but those you sat down with your employee and together, figured out the hows, whys, whats and wherefores thereof. Fancy talk for if you don’t spend the time to make sure you and your employee are on the same page with what is needed, it won’t happen.

Similarly, don’t leave your employees in the dark as to what are the standards set to earn a bonus or other reward. An employee may think he or she has done stellar work, and fully (and rightfully) expects some sort of recognition, only to find out that whatever-it-was had to be completed during the first quarter of the year to qualify for a bonus. Aargh! Major disappointment, unhappy employee–their performance tanks, no big surprise.

Clarify goals and standards. Discuss these with your employees. Write down whatever you’ve agreed on. Both your company and your employees will benefit tremendously.

Management Success Tip #166: Want Engaged Employees? Listen and Learn!

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If you really want to insult someone, simply turn your back to them as they are talking to you. Be aware though, you may end up getting pulled rudely back around and even hit for such an act of disrespect.

What you may not realize, is that when you’re texting or answering your phone when an employee is talking to you, you’re engaging in the same disrespectful behavior. You are psychologically turning your back on them. More subtly, if you’re not giving your employee your full attention with your eyes as well as your ears, you are also “turning your back.”

Nothing is more important than not only listening to your employees, but also making it clear to them, by your attention and body language, that you are hearing them. “Employees are almost always telling their bosses how they feel, what they want or what they are doing, but sometimes this falls on deaf ears,” says Piera Palazzolo. “Make sure you listen and hear what your employees are saying to you. This will make you more attentive and caring as a manager, and will also help you know what your team is doing and how you can help them accomplish their goals.”

Isn’t that what you want? To know how your team is doing, and how you can best assist them in accomplishing their goals? When you do that, you end up with engaged, motivated employees who truly care about the company and strive for work-excellence.

Be a better-than-good manager. Join the ranks of the best. Listen and learn!

Management Success Tip #161: Servant-Leader: Not Just a Concept, a Powerful Success Generator

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Your CEO is espousing the concept of “servant-leader” as the latest and greatest way to build a platform from which tremendous productivity and performance will soar. And indeed, the idea of “servant-leader” sounds inspiring, even awe-inspiring: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong… The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

But as you scramble to meet this quarter’s deadlines, goals and other obligations, find someplace on your desktop to park yet another project requiring immediate attention, and winnow through today’s endless emails, texts and voicemails, all you can say is “How the heck am I supposed to be a ‘servant-leader’ along with everything else on my plate?!”

One step at a time. And the first step is easy, it consists of asking yourself a few questions, such as “What are my employees happy about? What aren’t they happy about? What are their challenges? How can I better respond to those challenges?” You know more than you think you do about what works for your employees and what doesn’t. And if you’re not sure, invite anonymous comments, make it safe for employees to share their experiences – good and bad.

Then, solicit ideas about how you can respond to employee experiences: how to amp the positive, find solutions to the negative.

And there you have it. You are now a budding servant-leader. By putting your employees’ concerns front and center (serving), you make it possible for both your workers and your company to thrive (leading to success).

Management Success Tip #159: How to Be Nice And Tough AND Successful!

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Mr/Ms Tough Guy/Gal? Mr/Ms Nice Guy/Gal? Which should you be? Our society values “tough” above almost everything else – at least according to the media – yet today’s business uber-stars, from Richard Branson to Barrie Bergman claim that you don’t have to choose: tough and nice aren’t incompatible.

But how does that work? In real life, yours for example. In the real workplace. The one you work at, day in day out.

According to Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, co-authors of “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness,” two of the primary techniques are to listen to others, and to quit arguing your point.

Everyone has something of value to contribute. It may be a contribution of more or less worth, given the situation, but everyone deserves a respectful listen.

That’s where nice meets tough appropriately. The nice part is where you listen, genuinely, with respect, to your employee’s input. Where you listen for the value in what your employee has to say. And that you give his or her contribution the same consideration you give everyone else’s. The tough part is where you decide how to use the input, given all the other issues that must be considered.

Secondly, don’t argue your point. There’s a world of difference between stating your position, and arguing it. I conduct focus groups for attorneys (among other things) – it’s a great way pre-trial of uncovering issues, developing themes, and so forth. It fascinates me how some attorneys feel the need to argue with the mock jurors about the “verdict” they rendered, rather than respect the information gleaned from the group, and consider its value when shaping their case.

So it is with you. Listen, don’t argue. Take into account what you heard, and you will reap the enormous benefit of being both nice AND tough – all to your greater success.

Management Success Tip #156: A Better Way to Deliver Bad News: Deliver the Decision-Making Process

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Some managers are Scrooge-like in their glee at delivering bad news to employees, but that isn’t you. You wish there were some impersonal way to let your employees know that they’ve been demoted, or that raise isn’t going to happen, or they aren’t going to be part of the wonder-team, or whatever it is. But just like it’s extreme bad form to break up with someone via text, it’s utterly impossible for anyone other than your reluctant self to deliver said bad news. It’s in your job description.

Other than going British and adopting a stiff upper lip, what can you do?

Be transparent about the process by which the decision was made. People are generally more satisfied with the outcome, even when they don’t particularly like the outcome, when they believe that the outcome has been fairly arrived at. It’s what’s called “procedural fairness.” So explain how the decision was arrived at, who weighed in (if appropriate), what their considerations were, and what different factors came into play.

I think of it as “showing your long division.” Don’t just give your employee the result of the process, take them through the process itself. You don’t have to defend the process, or what went into the decision-making. Be factual, don’t take sides. Your objective is to describe the process, not argue any pros or cons.

Your employee may still not be thrilled at the news, but they will be at least reassured that the decision wasn’t arbitrary, and you will have a better way of delivering bad news than just stiffening your upper lip.