Favoritism in the Workplace

A common concern for well-meaning leaders is to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Let’s take a closer look at this. What exactly is favoritism? In its purest form, it is a preference of one person to the exclusion of all the others. In short, it’s a teacher’s pet. Only the leader need not be a teacher, it can be a boss or even a parent. As a foster parent, I have witnessed this latter relationship all too many times. Perhaps this is most apparent between just two siblings. Favoritism does nothing but spur feelings of resentment and a lack of will for much of the life of the disenfranchised.

Most of us would agree anyone who would show more love to one child over another is simply a bad parent. In fact, it’s not about love at all as true love is without strings attached. So why might a parent create such a dichotomy in the first place? In most situations I have observed, it appears to be due to the favorite sibling making life seemingly easier for the parent. Essentially it goes to the self-interest on part of the adult. As stated, it makes for bad parenting, but favoritism also goes for making a bad manager. A team may not be supervision’s children, though they do seek consideration, appreciation, and support just like children. Furthermore, employees deserve consideration, appreciation, and support.

In a large group, those of us who have experienced it first-hand will observe favoritism is generally more than one single person who has the approval of the leadership. In an organization, it’s a partiality toward those who are simply liked by the boss, while everyone else must suffer a bias to work harder, longer and without appreciation. In short, you are either in the club or you are out of the club. Merit, that is to say, appropriate recognition for a job well done doesn’t exist if you have been deemed unworthy for whatever political reason. Just like the slighted child, they will suffer feelings of resentment and a lack of will. This leads to low morale and a loss of production. A leader sets the overall tone of morale within a team and if that morale is low due to a lack of fairness, the boss has only him to blame.

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Millennials; Nature vs. Nurture

When I mention the Millennial Generation, Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers alike conjure thoughts of “Village of the Damned” or worse, twenty-something’s living in their parents bonus rooms. It’s a strong stereotype; the need for instant gratification, hover parents and texting across a table. I for one, would have been mortified had my parents contested a grade I made to my college professor or be given an award for no more effort than than standing (or sitting) in the right place. Those and $5 coffees are exactly the true stories we hear about the younger generation.

But is it a stereotype that is completely founded? In order to better understand them, we have to take a closer look at the other generations and how our culture has shifted over the past century. Or, is it even important for the rest of us to understand them at all?  Considering Millennials are moving up the food chain, more and more of them each year will be the ones who interview us for our next job if not the boss himself. They will be the leaders, politicians, administrators and those who make decisions for the rest of us once we are out of power. In short, we have to learn to play nice.

First, let’s address the glaring cliché of what a millennial is; someone late to work, rude, expectant, lazy and self-absorbed. However, we can apply that image to ANY generation when it is in its youth. Many times, young people just haven’t found what motivates them and so we hear stories of kids leeching off their parents. This could be due to the lack of experience, a good role-model or belief in themselves. We can all think back to our college days or when we started working and had high school friends still living with mom and dad, not having a direction for their lives. Eventually, many of these people got it together and finally took responsibility for their lives. Sadly, some did not, but that shouldn’t label an entire class of people. We must separate the age from the generation if we are to better understand them.

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So how did they get to where they are now? We first have to look at perhaps the best model of a “tough” society, the World War II Generation. Some call them the “silent generation”, Tom Brokaw called them the greatest generation and I tend to agree with him. These are people raised in the Depression and sent off to another continent to defeat the evils of Fascism and Imperialism. It fell to largely farm kids to fight the elite and defend Democracy. No doubt, their youth was vastly different from the experience of the average college student or young person today. When they returned home, they were grateful for a job and steady paycheck. So appreciative in fact, many worked forty years with the same company. Leaving one job for anther without just cause was viewed as a sort of betrayal. Being on the bottom rung of the company ladder, however, meant they could take pride in doing a good day’s work and putting food on the table for their families.

The Baby Boomers, however, wanted more than what their parents had. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s a natural progression. The bottom rung wouldn’t do for Boomers. At this time there was an explosion of college enrollment. Future employees wanted to be better equipped for their careers and ready for new, higher positions within the organization. As organization would typically promote from within, most of this generation would stay with a company for several decades.

Fast forward about twenty years, and Generation X came on the scene. They learned from the previous generation that loyalty to a company will not always be reciprocated. The good news was there were several other corporate ladders to climb within the same industry. If the young, upwardly mobile professionals wanted to get ahead, it meant they would have to make the leap every few years. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s a natural progression. This perhaps meant moving to another region of the country which led to a more integrated America.

That brings us to the young people of today we see in the workplace or who are perhaps still in college. The rungs of a Millennial corporate ladder look more like the slats of a of a roller coaster than anything upwardly mobile. They may work one place only for a few months and leave for a competitor that offers an industry certification with hands-on experience. A couple years later, intellectual tools in hand, move to an organization in a completely different field only to find everyone there is a “clone” of the company president. So, they join the Peace Corps or similar organization for a year in order to “give back to mankind”.  Then, still in their mid-twenties, they start work at their fourth corporation which is nothing at all like any of the previous jobs. They like it here and over time are promoted into management. Then a move is made to the original company because new leadership has changed the corporate culture there and it’s thought to be more rewarding work, even though it’s a pay cut. For most of us, it would be a wild ride! Again, there is nothing wrong with that, it’s a natural progression.

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Through the ages, Beatniks, Hippies and Yuppies got strange looks when it came to their clothes, hairstyle and mannerisms as typecasts for their era. Now, it’s the Hipsters turn! They seem to always be on their Smartphone to keep informed about current affairs, friends they have never met and the latest gadgets. Millennials are not any smarter than the other generations, though. Nor are any of us any smarter than mankind several millennia ago. What makes them stand out, is the technology at their disposal. That technology is everywhere, though most of us never have use for the majority of it. When I was in my twenties, I would approach my boss with a new idea only to have him tell me, “We tried that before and it doesn’t work”. NOW, a low-level employee may have an idea and created an app that will MAKE it work! For this point alone, we need not be dismissive of young people’s enthusiasm and ideas. Just because we couldn’t figure it out, doesn’t mean they can’t.

So, how do we keep Millennials in the organization? Well, just like any other generation, they seek satisfaction in their careers, though the focus of that satisfaction may be different. It will be NATURAL for them to set their sights on other opportunities elsewhere. For that, companies may need to NURTURE these growing corporate members in order to keep them around. Understand, I did not say coddle them. However, they do need to grow. This doesn’t necessarily mean UP. Millennials seek new tools such as accreditation and certifications or membership to an industry association. They also want to fully understand WHERE the company is going and how they fit into the overall plan. For this, leadership (that means the C- Suite, not middle management) will have to do a better job of telling their subordinates what the plans are for the immediate and long-range future. They also want to know the organization of which they are a part has a sense of community. If a charity event is corporately sponsored, Millennials will more than often volunteer their own time to help. So give them opportunities to really make a difference. For them, being part of a diverse crew where they regularly interact with others from different backgrounds is paramount.

Oddly, this sounds a lot like… teamwork. They want to be involved, so let them be. Add them to project management teams, ask their opinion of prototype products and new services. Let them know the specifics of their contribution to the business and you will keep them around longer and get more effort out of them. They will feel good (which is what they want) about coming to work. I still don’t know what an “emotional safe space” is, though.

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Mandatory Meetings!

Meetings in the business world are like cellphones and opioids. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. But is every formal get-together really necessary? Most people NOT presiding over one would say “no”. Maybe they have a point. When was the last time you heard a group of people leaving a conference room and collectively say; “Now, that was productive”. If anything, they rush back to their workstations to return missed calls and make up for the LOST time.

Don’t get me wrong, meetings have their usefulness. It is an opportunity for the boss to show his face and thereby get an instant read on where everyone on the team is with the latest project. It also shows the boss’ support of his subordinates. By maintaining the flow of information, management may prevent certain members from secluding themselves… and doing God knows what.  The team may discover mistakes being made and get the project back on track. Too, there is something to be said for synergy and collaboration.  It also provides much needed face time for building team camaraderie (psst… Millennials, that’s REALLY important). But these are perhaps the most grand ideals for having a meeting in the first place.

Here are some quick pointers on how to have a more effective meeting time:

Is it necessity or habit? If there is a “standing meeting”, perhaps Wednesdays mornings for the sales force, consider whether you really have to meet THIS week. If sales are good this quarter, keep your people in the field and OUT of the office. Actually, that applies to poor sales as well.

Select a time frame (like an appointment?) and stick to it. Keep a “huddle” to just that., short, sweet and to the point. If you call a meeting at 11:30 and lunch begins at Noon, you have exactly 30 minutes. Going over time and ordering everybody food is NOT OK. The occasional overage due to an unforeseen emergency will be forgiven. Make it a habit and your team will grow to resent you. After all you are not respecting their time or tSurvivedAnotherMeetinghe productivity they bring to the company during it.

It’s alright to have empty seats. Should everyone in the department be present for a meeting just because they are in the department? People not assigned to the latest projects and other specialist would much rather be doing their own work.  Veterans who have been “down that road before” should only be asked to attend due to the expertise they can provide or to understand how the work will be distributed.

I have a love/hate relationship with agendas. Granted, the boss is paying the employees so he or she gets to ramble on as long as they want. However, irritated and underutilized employees tend to find work elsewhere. It may seem too formal to have a list of topics but being too casual can pull the discussion down a rabbit trail. Before you know it, people are looking at their watches. Select the points you think most imperative to discuss and stick with it. Don’t keep it a surprise! Email copies of the agenda to all participants BEFORE the meeting so people will know what to expect… oh and to be prepared too.

Perhaps the most productive meetings I have attended are where the participants are independent contractors or volunteers rather than employees. And therein lies the rub. They WANT to be there. If you are calling a meeting, you need to ask yourself what the attendees will get out of it. If your people do not grow in some way or become more efficient, the meeting may not be necessary at all.

Over 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. Millions of business people have  read it and liken business to war itself. Personally, I do not like that analogy because at the end of the day, no one has died and hopefully, no property was destroyed. However, Sun Tzu did have a wonderful grasp of how groups are effected by leadership, be it good or bad. He stated an army (company or other group) did NOT exist for waging war (or simply to come to work each day). Rather, an army exists for VICTORY (productivity or increasing market share).  Holding meetings may seem like a very managerial thing to do, but is it a good use of everyone’s time when an email would have done just as well.

Blaine Little

 

The 8 Most Common Mistakes of New Managers

Recently, I was speaking to a group of business owners. It was a luncheon, and I was brought in as the guest speaker. The topic that day was on turning new managers into effective ones. It was a portion of my one day management seminar I conducted the month before. Entrepreneurs want to know how to get their management team up and running as quick as possible.

Almost as important as what to do, it to know what NOT to do. With so many people, procedures and other considerations in any organization, mistakes are sometimes made.  It is not enough for a leader to continue to develop his or her skills. The boss must also be mindful to avoid potential obstacles that could derail an otherwise positive environment.

1) Leading all members of a team in the same manner.

One size does not fit all when it comes to dealing with human beings. And if you’re in management, THAT is the job; dealing with human beings. Everyone responds different to the chief motivators of pain or pleasure. To uncover what motivates a person, a manager must first have an individual relationship with all members of the team.

2) Offensive, obnoxious, rude or abusive behavior.

Being offensive simply isn’t acceptable in the 21st century workplace. Truth is, it wasn’t acceptable in the 20th century or any other. Being loud or issuing threats will simply repel good employees. For those who are motivated by achieving pleasure and reward, this tactic provides neither.

3) Failing to show appreciation when it is deserved.

One thing that keeps good employees in place for years when perhaps the title wasn’t as glamorous or money wasn’t as good compared to somewhere else, is a sense of satisfaction. Simply Receiving a paycheck isn’t enough for someone to take pride in their work. Employees need validation from the boss.

4) An inability to gather or give information due to poor communication  skills.

If you don’t have a TEAM, you are not really a manager. You are a specialist. A siloed technician can get away with not speaking much or constructing emails in bullet points devoid of adjectives, a manger cannot. Issuing edicts like a monarch doesn’t work in the American culture. People need to know what, how and even why.

5) Not being a role model or leading by example.

It is not necessary for managers to DO everything alongside the rest of the team every day. However, it is necessary illustrate that the manager CAN. This is not only good for esprit de corps but it also allows the boss an opportunity to exhibit what the standard of work is to be.

6) Blurring the lines of management and being too friendly.

Managing friends and former co-workers is always tough. But if the position has shifted, so should the relationship. Notice, I did not say there is no relationship, it has simply transformed. Those who will call on the loyalties of “friends” in their new corporate rung will always fail. It better to establish what the new relationship is on the front end.

7) Being absent or otherwise detached from the organization.

A good boss has to be present in mind and body. Yes the mice will play, so it is imperative they physically see a manager. Though it is not just a matter of work ethic, but teams need to know they have the support of management. Support given from a distance may not be perceived as support at all. Morale, whether good or bad, stems from leadership.

8) Micro-managing; not delegating responsibilities or trusting the team.

I could go deep here, but the bottom line is: nobody likes a control freak! If the boss is hovering over the collective shoulder of the team, the team will essentially give up. Why should they try so hard if everything is to be critiqued and modified later? It also teaches employees to not engage their own ingenuity.

The relationship between employer and employee is just that, a relationship. As such, it must be cultivated by both parties. Proper interaction is a must to achieving organizational goals.

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