Monthly Archives: January 2009

Time for a Paycut?

Here’s an article from CNN Money Same Job, Less Pay that talks about ways that companies are saving money and jobs by cutting staff salaries to weather the economic turmoil.

This is an interesting proposition. When it comes to layoffs the pain involved depends upon how lean your company is running. If you continually work to eliminate your worst performers it can be extremely difficult to identify candidates to layoff. When you have a group of solid contributors how do you identify who to cut? As a manager I would much rather not have to make that choice, although I have had a bit of experience doing just that during the dot-com bust. The company I worked for cut staff repeatedly over a number of years. At the end of it, there were only top performers left.

What I like about this article is that it provides a way to reduce costs and keep key personnel in preparation for the upturn. What it touches on a little bit is the fact that there will be some people in your company who can’t afford the pay cut. They will have to look for a new job. If your top performers are among that set of people, they will be the ones that will have the most impact on your business – and they are also the ones that are most likely to be able to find new jobs when times are tough.

Switzerland

There’s a huge difference between really being a neutral party and politicking and trying to appease everyone. In one case you garner the respect of all involved, in the other, there definitely will come a time when things will blow up in your face. This article from Business Week on politics in the office is a good read about staying above the fray: Resisting the Pull of Office Politics

Be Switzerland….
switzerland

I think that trying to please everyone usually starts when you find yourself agreeing with people in settings when your brain is screaming “NO!!! That’s so screwed up! What are you an idiot??!!!”  Maybe this person is your boss – or someone who has authority over you in some way – that makes it even harder. Maybe you’ll throw in a little placation too. Heck, and once you’re there – if they are ranting about someone else it is always easy to make some snide comments and have fun at someone else’s expense. Someone who isn’t there to defend themselves. Besides, it is easier to agree than to argue.  Anyway, it’s harmless. Right? Wrong. Well, next thing you know, you find yourself having a more similar conversations, maybe with people with the opposite viewpoint. The poison is spreading to other people. The team is splitting into multiple factions. There is no empathy between the different sides.

Politics start before high school. You’d think that as we grow up that we’d learn that this isn’t a game worth playing. Sadly, even people who should be older and wiser fall prey to this.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect, everyone wants it. Everyone deserves it. Just because someone doesn’t have as much money as you do, as much status in their role at work, or even as nice clothes doesn’t mean that they are less deserving than you are. Many times it means quite the opposite. There are a lot of hard working genuine people in the world. They have a lot of dignity, and they treat others with kindness.

The crew on our boat this past week were the quiet hardworking folks. Our captain and the first mate always kept the boat and the zodiak on course. The cabin steward kept the place clean, made up our beds, always had coffee and food served perfectly (he even folded the napkins just so!) and was ready with a joke. The engineer fixed everything with a smile. And the cook. Oh man, Eddie wasn’t just a cook, he was a chef – the food he prepared was superb. He was professionally trained in Columbia. He used to own a restaurant but gave it up because he couldn’t find good help long term. He decided to cook on a boat.

Eddie also is diabetic, that’s a hard sentence for a chef to bear. So is my husband. Apparently blood glucose testing meters and strips are not the norm in Ecuador and he noticed we brought one and asked to be tested. To make a long story short, after a week of talking to Eddie through a translator, and through pantomime communication and lots of testing we made a close friend. It makes me smile just thinking about him wishing me a good morning and asking me how I was doing. Midway through the trip my husband gave Eddie his spare blood glucose meter and enough testing strips to last him over a month. He educated Eddie in how to test his glucose and about keeping his blood sugar stable.

As for the rest of the crew, for Christmas we packed some chocolate treats to share. I made sure to share them first with the crew before the other passengers. These guys were working over the holidays. They weren’t on vacation like the rest of us. Feliz Navidad. As the week progressed, we pulled out more “American” snacks – and always put them out for the crew first.

All of this didn’t seem like much to me. We could easily afford it. It was the right thing to do. Neither one of us expected anything in return.

Some of our vacationing shipmates seemed to think otherwise. Instead of connecting with they crew they barked orders at them. “Get me coffee!”. “We didn’t like dinner – we want beans and rice tomorrow”. Where was the “please” or “por favor”? Where was the “thank you/gracias”? It wasn’t forthcoming. Our guide made a point of pointing this out to them. It fell on deaf ears. For some people on our trip, our crew was relegated to the role of the invisible servant.

At the end of the trip, the crew presented me with a Club Deportivo El Nacional Team jersey. I was floored. I wasn’t expecting anything in return. All of the crew had the same jersey. I have some terrific photos of me with some of them all dressed alike. The funny thing is that these same folks who treated the crew like servants kept asking why they gave me the jersey. I suspect that they thought they would get one too. It was obvious to me – clear as the nose on your face.
dekao044_l1

My question for you: how do you treat your office manager, your secretary, your support personnel? Do you bark orders at them? Do you really appreciate what they do? Do you try to connect with them? If not – why not? What could it hurt? I am sure that it would help.

Teamwork

To me, teamwork means looking out for one another. It means taking up the slack when someone is falling behind. It means helping to make sure that everyone will make the deadline. It means compassion. It also means the drive to be successful.

I guess I have always felt that marriage is one of the greatest example of how good teamwork can really make a difference. One couple on our trip was a sterling example of this. They would switch a backpack between them while hiking to lighten the load. They would jovially help each other getting on their wetsuits. They would always look out for one another, making sure they had enough water for our treks, worrying about hats and sunscreen etc. It was really sweet to see. What made it even more remarkable was the fact that they had been married for 25 years and were still so caring. I ever heard any complaining or bickering aside for some very kind hearted joking. Team work at its absolute best. They accepted each others faults and compensated for them.

The other couple on the trip was the opposite. Holy cow. The first night at dinner when asked about the low lights and highlights of their trip so far, the husband said that his low light was his wife’s complaining. He said this to a bunch of strangers. What was he thinking? He also went on about how they were “sort of married” (I later found out for nearly 10 years) because she didn’t take his last name. How can that be “sort of”? What kind of statement was that? When she fell behind on the trail, he left her and didn’t even look back. When he was her snorkeling “buddy” he would swim off and let her fend for herself. She ended up spending most of the snorkeling time in the zodiak boat because she was afraid of the sharks in the water. They each packed their own packs and water for the day. There was no sharing or camaraderie. Later on during the trip he talked about how he “took her in” when she had problems with her apartment and she had nothing. It was as though she was a pet, not a partner. I guess he should have adopted a different puppy with the way things seemed to be going. He was also very controlling – he always had to tell her what to do. If she was late he yelled for her rather than doing what he could to help her. It was really embarrassing to watch.

I’ve seen this type of behavior at work too. There are people who are part of the same team who do everything they can to position themselves for success at the expense of everyone else. They point to others for blame. “It wasn’t my fault we didn’t make the milestone – my deliverable was ready on time.” They refuse to provide the aid that is necessary for the entire team to be successful. This is crap. A good team is like a good marriage. People are there for you when you need them, and you are there for them.

A really great team knows how to capitalize on the best skills of the people involved and how to compensate for their shortcomings. Through peer coaching and mentoring the team can provide a safe environment for junior members to learn and improve their skills.

Personal Space

funny-dog-pictures-personal-space

I think that we’ve all had that not-so-pleasant funny feeling when someone we don’t know very well invades our personal space. This is definitely a cultural phenomenon. People from the United States typically desire a much larger personal space bubble than individuals from other countries. As a woman in business I am seriously tuned into the implications of people getting too close to me. Personally, I do not like it. Like many people I perceive it to either be a challenge to my authority or an attempt at a come-on. I especially do not like it when people I don’t know really well try to touch me beyond a business only handshake. Once you’re my friend, it’s ok, but if you are a stranger or a coworker, I prefer an airspace bubble around me.

That said, I don’t do the personal space dance. It takes a lot to make me back away when someone invades my personal space. I do my best to be “larger” and take up more room. I’m sure my facial expressions and body language make it clear I’m not happy though. Sometimes I even ask the person to give me more room. I used to back away and the two step that ensued was pretty funny. Take a step away and the personal space invader crowds closer. Repeat.

Ask yourself – are you oblivious to the personal space of others? If you always seem to be bumping into people during your regular daily activities (I’m not talking standing room only subways or buses here!) you probably are. Have you ever run into a sharp elbow after you’ve bumped someone multiple times? Do you think it is perfectly ok to walk up and stand right in front of someone to get a better view of what they were studying? Does it always seem like you are pursuing someone when you are trying to have a conversation with them? Don’t be this person. It isn’t about what you are comfortable with. It is all about reading your partner and understanding what level of closeness they can tolerate with you.

Adaptability

Do you adapt well to changing or uncomfortable circumstances? Really? Are you sure? I’m not convinced. It’s a skill that not everyone has. In fact, I would say that most people are pretty change averse. Personally I am not. I itch for change. My husband says that I like to change things and try the unfamiliar just for the sake of the experience, not because of any other reason.

On my trip one couple was truly unable to cope with difficult circumstances. They inconvenienced many people in the process of trying to get comfortable, and they felt entitled to do so. This was done under the guise of “taking care of myself first” and it was done without any regard to how it impacted anyone else. It was clear that they expected their little bubble of USA standard of living comfort to follow them regardless of where they were in the world.

First off – let me tell you a little bit about the cabin that my husband and I shared during the trip. It was one of the smallest berths on the boat. We were expecting a full sized bed in it. When we got there, we found two smaller than twin bed bunks that were at different heights with a wooden board between them. They were at different heights because the bunks were located directly over one of the two big diesel engines that powered the boat from island to island over night. By directly, I mean that there was a hatch that we could open and we could see the engine. When the wind wasn’t right, diesel exhaust fumes came in through our very small open windows when the engines were running. There was no a/c (expected) so the windows had to remain open. There was only enough floor space in the cabin proper for one of us to stand if the other wasn’t in the bathroom. The shower was a hand held and the process of using it involved sitting on the toilet. This was no problem for us. This was the trip of a lifetime and we found that the vibration of the diesel engine helped lull us to sleep after a long hard day. The beds were extremely comfortable as well – regardless of their size. The open window in the roof of our cabin gave us a view of some of the most spectacular starry skies I have ever seen. There was no light pollution to speak of and the sight was amazing. I am truly thankful for the experience we had, and I don’t think that it would have been anywhere near the same in a big boat with a big suite with a/c and the light pollution of a cruise ship.

Flash to their experience. They had one of the best and largest cabins on the boat. It was on the front of the boat, far from the diesel engine noise and vibration at the back. They had a long corridor in their cabin – they even had drawers. (yes! Drawers!! we had 3 small cabinets) They had a shower in a separate room (!!) from the toilet and sink. They had numerous large windows. They had a double bed! They also had the diesel generator sitting above their room. It ran from 6am – noon and from 4 – 9pm. Yes, that wasn’t great, but it wasn’t running at night. They only spent 2 nights in their room. The first night the diesel fumes were too bad. They complained and complained the next day until our poor guide traded beds with them. They didn’t trade rooms with him however, just beds. His room didn’t have a shower – he showered in the space with the rest of the crew. Unacceptable. Besides, it would have been too much work to pack up their belongings and move them to the other room. Because of this they would have the crew of the boat WAKE HIM UP so they could get their things in the morning. I guess they felt the customer always should get what they want. On the last night, they decided to sleep in their room because they needed to pack to get ready to leave the boat the next morning. That night we had the roughest open water crossing of the trip. My husband was still on deck around midnight that night and what he saw appalled him. The guide’s cabin was midship so it had less roll. The husband came out, complained of feeling sea sick and woke up the guide, kicking him out of the cabin so he and his wife could sleep there. Horrible. Absolutely horrible. What were these people thinking? Why was their sleep and experience so much more important than that of the person who guided us all week? I guess they had to take care of themselves.

The really sad part is that during the week the wife kept talking about how she was able to easily adapt to tough circumstances. HA! She didn’t adapt, she whined until someone got sick of listening to her and made their experience worse to end the complaining. During the week we kept pointing out that she was not adapting, and finally the last night I really let loose with both barrels. I still don’t think that she had a clue.

Exhibit this kind behavior at work and you will make a lot of enemies. The benefit of the team is more important than the benefit of you as an individual. You need to be able to positively adapt to difficult and extenuating circumstances without a lot of drama. If you believe this simple thing and live it, you will always have supporters in your camp.

Now I ask you this:

When new processes or other changes are rolled out at work what do you do? Do you pick them right up and make sure that they get implemented as quickly and efficiently as possible? Or do you roll your eyes and commiserate with your pals about how management just doesn’t get it and that this is another initiative that is bound to fail?

What do you do when you are given the opportunity for a skill stretching assignment? Do you jump right in and learn as much as you can? Or do you avoid the work – sticking to what you know best and remaining in your comfort zone?

Only the adaptable will survive. Make sure you are one of them.

A Social Experiment

What happens when you put 7 strangers (3 couples, 1 single) on a small boat with 6 crew members for a week? You get an eye-opening look into how well people can adapt to new situations and how they treat others. I’ve always been an observer of human behavior and sometimes how people act really amazes me. The funny thing is that people seem to behave better when they are at work than when they are supposed to be relaxing on vacation.  I wonder if my perception is flawed, but I’ve seen some really terrible behavior on vacations, this one included. Maybe it is because people let their guard down. Maybe its because people have idealized fantasies about what they expect their vacation to be and the reality cannot compare. I dunno.

In some ways the work environment is very similar. When you started a new job how did you figure out who you could trust? How well do you adapt to changing circumstances? Was everyone treated with respect? Have you ever “flipped the bozo bit” on someone?