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Monthly Archives

August 2015

The first step in culture change: Ground rules exercise

By | Workplace bullying | No Comments

I travel around the world speaking on the topic of workplace bullying and I’m always asked one question: Where do I start?

The answer is with an exercise that will get the conversation going about workplace bullying, and more importantly, workplace civility.

During your next company-wide meeting break your attendees into groups of four and give them 15 minutes to answer this question: How would you like to be treated by your peers and managers?

If your company is too large or spread out to do company-wide meetings, or if you just don’t have them, you can always pass this exercise along to the department heads and let them run the exercise in their own teams. If you’re in California, you could also do this with managers and supervisors in the next sexual harassment training since you’ll already be on the topic of how to behave – and not behave – at work.

After 15 minutes ask each group to share their answers. As they call them out, write them on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper. Or you can type them out onto a Word document that is projected onto a screen. This is an important step in the exercise because they need to see that their desires and needs are similar. They will realize that they all want the same things. I’ve done this exercise many times in many organizations of all industries and sizes, and the list is always the same few items. We’re all humans and we all just want to be valued and we all just want to be treated with civility. Period.

Once you’ve completed the exercise, go back to your desk and group similar items together in order to make a more manageable list. I often just start making categories as I see them, and then move bullet points into the categories where it seems they fit. For example, you may notice a trend of bullet points that say, “acknowledge,” “praise,” “say thank you,” and “recognize others’ good work.” You can put those bullet points all into a category called, “Appreciation.” You may also notice there are several bullet points around communication, such as, “listen,” “use a civil tone of voice,” and “share information with everyone who needs it.” You might then create a category called, “Effective Communication.”

If you’d like an example, here’s a document created during a training with one of my clients. This is the document that was projected on the screen and filled in as groups shouted out their answers. In this case I ran five training sessions, and each session ended with this exercise. I just kept projecting the same document and adding to it. (A meeting attendee typed out the answers while I facilitated the collection.) From there, I created this document, which compiled the behaviors I collected into a set of three values and provided a description of what those three values meant. The descriptions come from the variety of answers I received in each of the three categories.

These two documents highlight the power of this exercise. I had four pages of behaviors and in the end was able to whittle them into three categories: respectful communication, trust, and teamwork. Realizing they all shared the same dream was powerful for them, and now they could come together and decide how to make it happen.

Now that you have whittled your own list down into something manageable you can use this consolidated list for all sorts of things. For starters you can put them in the healthy workplace policy. You’ll get buy-in for the policy because the behaviors the employees are being held accountable to came straight from them.

You’ll also be able to use your list of behaviors for a variety of other things such as a social vision statement, corporate values, performance management, lunch-n’-learns, rewards programs, and more.

Contact me if you need any help. I’m happy to help you figure out what to do with the ground rules gleaned from this exercise.

One example of using the ground rules to end workplace bullying involves one of my clients who worked with people with disabilities. Their mission was to help people with disabilities in their community participate in the community as much as they were able. They wanted people with disabilities to thrive – whatever that meant for each individual client given their disability.

They realized that workplace bullying was keeping their own organizational members from thriving in the community because they were unleashing unhappy people into the community at the end of each workday. After a training from me about workplace bullying and how to change the culture, we completed this exercise I am describing to you here in this post. Eventually they came up with the social vision, “A place to thrive” and revamped their corporate values to represent the behaviors that came out of this exercise.

Now employees could feel like they were thriving, and in turn could help clients thrive. Anyone who wasn’t on board with the new way of life and the new values either left on their own or was let go. Those that were let go were let go under the guise of being ill-fit with the culture. Since they were given a chance to demonstrate the values via performance improvement plans, the organization suffered no liability for unemployment insurance or wrongful termination. The organization had effectively tied together the vision, the values, and performance.

Ultimately, the best part about this program is that your actions will tell employees you are ready to listen to complaints about workplace bullying and incivility. Listening will get you the information you need to make a business case to your C-Suite for making change, and it will give you an idea of where to start.

Contact me if you need any help.


The Price of Being Nice

By | Civil & Healthy Workplaces, Leadership | No Comments

Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor and the author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” found that when people experience incivility for too long or too often, their immune systems suffer. Further, research is clear that incivility and workplace bullying causes damage to our health, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers. And, hormones called glucocorticoids are elevated during unpleasant interactions (and even when we replay those interactions later in our head) and this leads to increased appetite and obesity.

Christine Porath, a well known researcher in the “field” of incivility has asked hundreds of people via her research studies why they behave with incivility, and the answer was most often that they felt overloaded and therefore have no time to be nice.

It’s so interesting that people believe being nice takes time. Being nice doesn’t have to cost extra effort, it’s about changing the way you communicate in interactions that you will have anyway. You may as well make those interactions pleasant because if you don’t productivity goes down. According to Porath, most people tie disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to errors. In the medical field, 27% of her research respondents percent tied incivility to the death of a patient. That’s some error.

Interestingly, there’s a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. If a person is competent, he can’t be warm and nice. If he’s warm and nice, he can’t be competent. Think Steve Jobs. He was a well known asshole and clearly very competent. But Jobs likely succeeded in spite of being an asshole, not because he was an asshole.

So guess what? You can be both competent and nice. Competent leaders can certainly smile, say thank you, and demonstrate listening skills. Put your cell phone down when someone’s talking to you, and make eye contact with others when you pass them in the hallway. None of this takes extra time.

You can read more from Christine Porath in her article published in the New York Times.

The best methods to help internal communications in business

By | Civil & Healthy Workplaces | No Comments

Just as good communication between a business and a client is essential for success, so is good communication within a company. A company that communicates effectively is drawing on all its resources, resulting in increased profits and a happy workforce.

The advantages of good internal communications

When a company listens and responds to its staff there are several positive, knock-on effects. Firstly, the workforce feels valued rather than ignored. This will naturally improve their productivity, by improving their attitude to work. Secondly, by communicating with your staff, a company is able to educate its staff about the company goals and thereby move a step closer to achieving them. Once these goals have been communicated to the staff, your employees will be able to have better relationships with the company’s clients or customers.

There are several ways that a company can communicate better internally. Everyone sitting in front of a computer has access to emails, and these are quick and easy to write and send. However, they can also be impersonal, so do not send an email to communicate your thought if the recipient is sitting a stone’s throw away from you, unless there has to be a record of the communication.

If you need to communicate a message to several members of your staff, save time and make the act more personal by arranging a short meeting. Getting people together around a table means you need only make the announcement once, and that you can immediately answer any questions that may result. An alternative to meetings would be to use a company intranet that all members of staff can access.

Business conferences are a way for larger businesses to get together with other branches and affiliated companies. These can be very effective, not only in improving internal business communications, but also for making new contacts and learning new ways of doing things. This has been demonstrated by a former member of the House of Lords, who grew a successful business conference enterprise. Lord Laidlaw donates for scholarship students who will learn how businesses operate throughout the world and in different cultures, both of which are valuable for the future of business. At a business conference, your staff will have to talk and get to know one another, and that can only be good for working relationships.

Of course, there is always the telephone, that familiar device that sits on your desk and rings occasionally. While the workplace is probably not the best place to sit and have a long chat, a little human interaction can make the difference between a good and a bad day for an employee. A phone conversation can also make you appear a little more human to your employees and allow you to see them as something more than just another worker.

Always seek to encourage communication within your company for the benefit of your employees, so they can understand what you need from them, and for the benefit of your clients, who will appreciate being treated as individuals.

4 ways kindness can give you an edge

By | Civil & Healthy Workplaces | No Comments

If you’re an up and comer in the business world, it’s easy to look at someone like Steve Jobs- a well known jerk – and think that you too should act that way to be successful. Not so, my friend. Jobs may have been successful, but he’s the exception to the rule.

Michael Hyatt, a well known coach and former CEO of publisher Thomas Nelson, offers these four reasons kindness can be good for your career:

1. A bully thinks he knows the answers so he won’t get ahead. If you’re focused on winning at all costs you can’t stop and see that other people can and will help you win. If you’re focused on knowing all the answers you won’t create an environment for innovation. You have to open your mind, heart and ears to what the team can offer.

2. A bully hogs the spotlight and takes all the credit. If you’re focused on getting more credit from the higher-ups than your team or peers, then you’re hampering enthusiasm. Everyone needs praise and to feel valued. If you hog all the praise because you’re taking credit for other people’s ideas, then you’re hindering production. You have to acknowledge others when they do something right, and tell the higher ups if a great idea wasn’t your idea.

3. Workplace bullies micromanage and mistreat people. There’s a TON of evidence that empowerment, empathy and respect are what get results. Micromanagement just doesn’t work. Focus on trusting your peers and your team.

4. Workplace bullies don’t set clear expectations. If there’s no clear expectations then people can’t get their work done. Clarity is so, so, so valuable to success of individuals, teams and the company at large. Without it, the team will fail. Be sure your instructions for work assignments are clear, your expectations about performance are clear, and your goals are clear.