Management Success Tip #180: What To Do When Your Boss’ Tirade Has Frozen Your Mental Assets

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Your department didn’t achieve this quarter’s quota, despite your best efforts and those of your team. Your boss thundered into your office, slammed the door, and proceeded to chew you out in loud unmistakable terms. You knew the entire department could hear him clearly through the thin walls, and tempted as you were to mumble “Could you please keep your voice down?” you were pretty sure your request would have the opposite effect.

As your boss charges back out of your office, you sit there, humiliated, embarrassed and utterly beside yourself. You have to come up with a plan, with some way to rally your by now distressed employees, but your brains have disappeared to some faaaar corner of your head, no thinking possible given your level of stress.

For there it is. You cannot function when stress has frozen your mental assets.

Here’s a way out.

The acronym RAIN, a technique originally developed by Michele McDonald, is a simple yet very effective way to handle stress. It helps you shift your perspective of whatever happened so that you can unfreeze your terrified mind and meet the current challenge.

  1. Recognition: Consciously pay attention to what is happening in your body, and what you feel like. For example, “My heart’s beating really fast and my stomach is in knots. I feel like an idiot.”
  2. Acceptance: Acknowledge that you are stressed. Don’t fight it. The quickest way to get your body and mind to relax past your stress, is to accept it as your current reality. It’s uncomfortable, possibly frightening, but it’s the body’s natural reaction to a threat, and not the end of the world.
  3. Investigation: Sort out what thoughts and emotions are present. What stories you are telling yourself about what just happened? Or the possible consequences? For example, “I’m humiliated. The whole department heard me get an earful. Everyone’s gonna think I’m stupid. A failure.”
  4. Non-identification: Now, the last and critically important step, is to realize that although you are having thoughts of being stupid, of being a failure, the thought does not equal the thing. “Right now I feel like I’m a failure” is very different from “I am a failure.” Separate the thought from the thing, and it becomes much more manageable.

Ah . . . much better now!

Management Success Tip #179: Let the Three Good Things Game Lift Your Work-Mood

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When things are going well, and your employees are all exceeding your expectations (except for Sam, but then, hey, “into every life” and all that), you’re in a great mood, flying high, life is good.

When things aren’t, you grind your teeth, your stomach is a mess, you can’t sleep the night through if you can even get to sleep in the first place, and you wonder why oh why did you ever accept that promotion to the supposedly magical land of manager-hood?

Time to play the “Three Good Things” game!

Research by Joyce E. Bono and Theresa M. Glomb shows that when people at work were asked to find three good things from their day and then write about them for about ten minutes that night, their stress was reduced, they had fewer mental and physical complaints, and they felt more positive about their work.

I don’t care how crappy a day it was, you can always find three things to be grateful for. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re still breathing. Hey, that’s a plus! Maybe it’s that most of your employees were where they were supposed to be, and on time, even if what they were doing wasn’t up to par. They showed up! That’s step one. Maybe it’s that you figured out what the problem was that was slowing up production. That’s going to be even more important in the weeks to come.

Not bad, altogether. And with the simple expedience of finding three positive things in your day, no matter how seemingly small, and why they mattered, your stress level diminished. Which means more room was freed up in your brain for creative thinking. Which means tomorrow is likely to be a more productive day.

Three things! When you’ve mastered three, go for four or five or ten. Your stress level will diminish accordingly, and your happiness factor most definitely increase.

Management Success Tip #173: Don’t Force Your Square Peg Employee into a Round Hole Job!

#173 Square peg round holeYou know the expression “square peg in a round hole”?  It’s usually used when we’re describing someone who just doesn’t fit in with something: like a very relaxed, mellow, easy-going fellow who’s joined the Armed Forces. Not likely to succeed! Unless somehow he forces his laid-back personality into the tight structure required by the military.

Well, all too often, managers can inadvertently “square peg round hole” an employee. By that I mean that at one time or another, the employee’s skill set and job matched up, but that over time, either the employee or the job changed, such that it isn’t a match any more.

Rather than determinedly try to seminar, coach, teach, partner-up and in general force your square peg employee into that round hole job, consider a different approach.

Take a moment, and evaluate your employee’s current strengths. What he/she brings to the workplace that is of great value. Now, how can you re-configure your employee’s responsibilities so that he/she is operating from those strengths? Because only when an employee is able to operate from their strengths a majority of the time, will they feel effective. And it’s only when we feel effective that we can actually be effective.

It’s in the best interests of your company and your employees, for them to be using their best skills.

Yes, it may take some juggling of responsibilities: perhaps the employee you’re working with can assume some responsibilities previously assigned to a different position, and vice versa. But the payoff in terms of increased productivity and improved performance will be worth it.

Should you allow your employee to only operate from their strengths? No. It’s healthy and stimulating to be challenged out of our comfort zone. We all need some impetus to reach and grow. However, spending too much time and effort out of one’s comfort zone eventually erodes self-confidence and with it, ability.

There’s a balance here, and a wise manager respects that. Evaluate your employee’s strengths, and proceed from there.

Management Success Tip #171: Fix Your Attitude Towards Your Employees Before You Try to Fix Poor Performance

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Pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your employees?

Pain-in-the-neck? Burdensome? Constant source of aggravation? Bunch of whiners? Lazy? Unmotivated?

Or: Pleasure to work with. Eager beavers. Full of good ideas. Helpful, cooperative.

Probably a mix of both. Hopefully with more of the “pleasure to work with” thoughts than the “pain-in-the-neck” variety.

But here’s the thing: people can sense what your attitude is towards them. And when you look at an employee and think “pain-in-the-neck,” that employee may not know precisely what you’re thinking, but he or she can indeed feel that they are somehow disapproved of. Which in turn greatly diminishes their desire to do a good job, or improve present performance.

Does this mean you have to like all your employees? Heavens, no! But it does mean that your focus on whatever you can appreciate, what you can value, about each and every one of your employees, will have significant impact on how they respond to you.

Make the effort to find one thing you can value about every single one of your employees. Then focus your attention more on that attribute, skill or quality, than on whatever it is you don’t appreciate.

You’ll find that even your “pain-in-the-neck” employees will begin to show improvement, and your “pleasure to work with” ones will positively shine.

Management Success Tip #165: Work From Home Programs: One Size Does Not Fit All

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There is an extensive body of case studies on individual firms that have adopted WFH (Work From Home) programs, and they tend to show large positive impacts, both in terms of increased productivity and decreased absenteeism.

Despite the clear evidence from such studies, WFH programs scare many managers half to death: What if you end up with a bunch of slackers? Or, if you don’t end up with slackers, what if you end up with work that doesn’t get completed, or done well enough? Or a majority of slackers with a few dedicated workers carrying the load of the whole department? Workers who will soon get burnt out, dispirited, and quit! What if the mice really do play when the cat’s away?

These worries kill most WFH programs before they ever get started. However, there is a way to find out if these dire prognostications are fact, or if all those studies have some truth to them . . . start small.

By that I mean, run an in-house experiment. Offer to those employees who are interested a two or four week trial of working from home. Preferably not during your company’s crunch time! That’s it. No big deal, just a couple of weeks or a month at most. Accumulate data on what gets done. Or doesn’t.

Review the work results at the end of the trial–preferably with everyone involved as well as the requisite higher-ups. Also review with your WFH employees what they thought of the plan. Did they like it? Not like it? Why? Why not? What could make it work better? You might discover that a more flexible “some days WFH, some days at the office” is the best solution for your company.

Once you’ve thoroughly debriefed both the plan itself and your employees’ reactions, if you’re pleased with the results–go for a longer trial period. If not, dump it. No harm, no foul.

You’ll never know if your fears are founded or unfounded unless you give WFH a try. Go for it! You have little to lose and much to gain.

Management Success Tip #157: Appear Confident During Crises without Channeling Your Inner Action Hero

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If managing employees was easy, business would practically run itself. Not! Management is usually about putting out fires with brief respites in between, which is why, as one of your colleagues says “They pay us the big bucks.” Yeah, right. You wish!

Meanwhile, sometimes the hardest thing to do while in the midst of putting out another of said fires, is to do so with confidence. Yes, you know what you’re doing – for the most part – but how well it will work, over the long haul as well as the short, etc., isn’t all that certain.

And yet, according to Georgina Stewart of Lead Change Group: “If you are not confident in yourself, the plan that you have formed or the actions that you are taking – how can you expect others to be confident in your ability? At the very least we ask that you appear calm, collected and confident at all times as causing others to panic on top of the situation you are already in will simply cause more stress and will burden you further.”

No, you don’t have to channel your inner Action-Hero, you just need to appear calm, collected and confident so as not to sow further panic in the ranks. And that is largely a matter of body language.

Stand straight, walk tall. Wipe the frown off your forehead, and as best you can, keep a neutral expression on your face. Think before you speak, and speak deliberately.

Here’s the thing: even as you adjust your body language for the benefit of your employees, science tells us that adopting such postures will help you feel more confident, and that, in and of itself, is worth the effort.

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.