Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #6 | Misreading Employees

“How do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees?” That’s the questions I left you with at the end of Episode #5.

Supervisors tend to draw all kinds of conclusions about their employees based upon behaviors they see and words they hear from afar.

As a result, they run the risk of forming mistaken, often negative, perceptions that certain employees are:

  • A problem
  • Negative or difficult
  • Resistant or lazy
  • Weak links

In fact, those same employees may simply:

  • Misunderstand or misconstrue expectations
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Fear making mistakes, looking stupid, or having weak skills exposed
  • Feel unaccepted by or inferior to coworkers

Faulty perceptions, if allowed to continue, are a disservice to the employee, the team, and ultimately the supervisor.

Warning: Seeming is not reality.

The perceptions supervisors form about their employees are rarely a fully accurate picture.

Uncertainty about what affects employee attitudes and behaviors unnerves even the most experienced supervisor. Why? Because every employee is different.

The best way to get a correct first read on each of your employees is through face-to-face conversations on a whole range of subjects starting with whether or not he likes the job, how she thinks she’s performing, how accepted he feels by his peers, and what kind of support is needed from you.

Situational observations are a next approach. Now that you have a baseline read on your employees from those conversations, what you see in the course of work getting done will have a more accurate foundation.

When business direction, policy, or work group changes are announced or implemented, watch how your employees handle it. Do they act differently toward you or coworkers? Is their work output better or worse? Is their demeanor more positive, negative, or unchanged?

When you see unwanted changes in an employee, it’s time to follow up directly with him or her to understand the cause and redirect behavior.

By creating a comfort level for employees around sharing concerns and issues with you, you’ll get better information and make fewer perception mistakes.

Remain clear-eyed.

You don’t get a clear-eyed read on your employees by using yourself as the barometer. Everyone is not like you.

Just because you may not care that your manager rolls his eyes when he doesn’t like your new idea, don’t assume that’s how your employee, Glenda, will react when she sees your baby blues spin around in their sockets.

When your employees come to you with input, take them seriously and respond professionally. Avoid being glib, impatient, or dismissive at all costs.

Don’t misread busyness for productivity. Too many supervisors confuse employee activity as signs that the right work is getting done when it might not be.

No supervisor wants to get snowed by their employees. It’s a mistake to take what employees say about the status of their work or the intent of their behavior at face value.

When your employees are uncertain about performance expectations, boundaries, and professional conduct, they will fill in the blanks on their own.

Consequently, you need to have professional conversations with your employees about their productivity, work quality, and on-the-job behavior to form correct perceptions about them and to help them become successful.

Stay engaged.

Supervisors will avoid misreading employees by staying engaged through Skype video calls with employees in distant locations and through local in-person meetings. There’s no substitute for talking eyeball-to-eyeball.

This doesn’t mean you won’t fall into a misread or two, but that will be the exception and not the rule.

The impact and consequences of a misread can be significant. So every supervisor needs to be able to repair a wrong. Building a history of demonstrated respect can be essential to making things right.

So, how does a history of showing respect toward employees help a supervisor minimize the damage of employee perception mistakes? We’ll tackle that in Episode #7.

 

Feeling Left Out and Don’t Know Why? Turn Things Around. | Reaching Out

It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.

It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:

  • join a new work group
  • participate in a cross-functional meeting
  • attend an industry conference
  • go to our first company party
  • become part of a new project team

The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded  can drag us down and stall our careers.

The “why” of it

We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:

  • Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
  • Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
  • Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us

The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.

Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort  our colleagues feel because of our:

  • physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
  • sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
  • background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
  • career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
  • reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)

When  colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.

Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.

What to do.

Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.

It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.

The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded.  It happens when:

  • We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
  • No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
  • We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
  • There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.

Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.

Take the pledge.

Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.

Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.

Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.

We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:

  • Greet him warmly when your paths cross
  • Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
  • Talk with him about his work
  • Share news that she might have missed
  • Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
  • Commit to kindness

If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.

Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.

The Art of Making Your Point–Avoid Getting Lost in the Sauce | Smart Communicating

Take a listen. There’s a lot of “noise” out there. Words fly around indiscriminately. We phone, we write, we text, and we post. We’re yak, yak, yakking, almost non-stop.

Communication is a discipline that has potent impacts on our careers. What we say and how we say it is an indicator of our:

  • grasp of business issues and objectives
  • commitments and loyalty to the team
  • ability to see beyond our own self-interest

We may want to think that some things we write or say at work will be taken with a grain of salt, but that would be naive for employees and bosses alike.

What’s the point?

It’s easy to get lost in the onslaught of information, data, and voices that pierce the quiet we need for clear thinking. When we do, we allow ourselves to get distracted from what really matters in our work.

If you want to stand out as a real asset in your career, you’ll get serious about zeroing in on bottom line messages that convert confusion into clarity.

The biggest complaint that leaders have about managers and employees in their organizations is that they don’t have a big picture perspective that drives their performance.

Whether or not you have that perspective shows up in what you communicate and how.

Consider these two scenarios:

1.) As the boss, you regularly communicate to your work group how you continue to track data on group and individual output compared to industry and national norms, assessing how effective the team is in terms of corporate goals and achievement. (Wow, that’s a mouthful!)

The boss gives no clearly stated reason for crunching all these numbers. As a result his/her manager and employees are left to draw conclusions about the boss like s/he:

  • Is a control freak
  • Doesn’t have enough to do
  • Wants the “mystery” around this data to drive employee performance
  • Is using this analysis to avoid leading
  • Has a secret plan for the future

It isn’t unusual for supervisors who are more comfortable with data than people to believe that gathering hard data will give them answers to otherwise “soft” problems. So they allow themselves to get lost in that sauce.

2.) As an employee, you’re asked to explain to your boss or colleagues what took place at a project meeting you attended as the group’s representative. Your explanation is about agenda items, who was there, what certain individuals said, what you said (if anything), and when the next meeting will be.

This kind of summary is essentially a data dump where the details and not the point of the meeting are what’s communicated. The result is perceptions that label you as:

  • Lost in the details and boring
  • Unable or unwilling to identify what mattered
  • Lacking in summarizing skills
  • A weak team representative

If, instead, you are able to separate the wheat from the chaff at that meeting, it is a sign that you do the same when it comes to your work. That’s how you build your communications credibility.

Look past yourself

Too much time spent in the sauce can drown a career. That means, to improve your communications effectiveness, you need to avoid:

  • Getting caught up in the details for detail’s sake
  • Getting lost in the drama of workplace relationships
  • Keeping book on what others have said or done
  • Keeping score on who’s got a leg up on whom

Refocus yourself so you can see how your work makes a difference, no matter how big or small, by:

  • Explaining your work in terms of its impact on the company
  • Offering your ideas as ways to improve things
  • Telling your boss/employees/coworkers about concepts and processes you’ve learned that can help the team
  • Summarizing the input and feedback swirling around and suggest actionable next steps

At work we all need someone who can turn the clutter of words into a clarity of understanding we can act on. So avoid getting lost in the sauce. Instead become the strainer!

Photo from Marken Phreely via Flickr

Are Coworkers Crossing the Line? Check Your Boundaries.

Bosses have employee issues. Employees have boss issues. Coworkers have peer issues. Isn’t working together supposed to be easy? 

We often set ourselves up for the people problems we face. When we fail to set boundaries that keep out unwanted coworker behaviors, we pay a price. 

Ominous signs 

People problems generally sneak up on us. One day we realize we’re caught in a cycle we don’t like—one that’s interfering with our work. 

Typically, here’s what takes place: 

Unsolicited confiding: A coworker or employee shares a personal problem, a bit of gossip, a critical opinion, or a confidence. By listening and engaging in the conversation, we open a channel for more in the future that we really don’t want.

Uncontrolled access: The concept of the “open door” policy for bosses and willingness to “drop everything” to help a coworker sounds nice but is often counterproductive. Once we allow anyone to interrupt us anytime, we reward poor planning and devalue our own time.

Unwanted associations: We become friendly with a colleague who makes a great first impression. Later, we discover that s/he has a poor work history, a tendency to let us pull part of his/her weight, and is not well thought of. We need to create some distance.

Unanticipated involvement: We encounter coworkers and bosses who have strong views about what should and shouldn’t be taking place at work. Their perspectives have some logic on the surface but may be steeped in old resentments and personal interests. We’re asked or expected to “get on board” with them and support the “cause.” In time we discover that we don’t support their views and need to decouple. 

Making the break 

Experience is the best teacher for boundary setting. Once you realize you’re in a place you don’t want to be with coworkers, that’s the time to examine the boundaries you 1.) set and broke or 2.) never set in the first place. 

A workplace boundary establishes what you will and won’t allow. It says to your coworkers, “This is off limits,” “This is something I don’t do,” and “This is what I live by.” 

The time will come when you will need to (re)establish a boundary with someone who has crossed it. That’s not easy, but letting things go only make conditions worse. 

Here are some conversations that you might initiate designed to (re)set boundaries: 

Gossiping: “Several weeks ago, you told me about Joe’s marital problems and speculation about his involvement with his IT specialist. At first I got caught up in the details. Then I realized that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve decided to stay away from office gossip. It’s not what I want to do.”

Interruptions: “As much as I believe in being helpful and supportive, I’ve come to realize that constant interruptions are negatively affecting my ability to lead/perform well. Too often, I’m asked for answers because it’s easier than looking them up and learning them. So, I will set aside a specific hour each day when you are welcomed to bring your ideas and questions.”

Professionalism: “I’ve been concerned about the lack of courtesy at our meetings. In the past ,whether I was leading the meeting or simply participating, I too spoke out without being recognized, made sidebar remarks, and was focused on my BlackBerry instead of listening. From now on, I will stop that behavior and will request the same from my colleagues.”

Performance: “I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten sloppy about report deadlines because I can’t get the data I need from you (a coworker or colleague in another department). This seems to be a pattern throughout the organization, but it doesn’t do either of us any good to be seen in that negative light. Shall we commit to supporting each other so we can build a reputation of being on time?” 

Boundaries build your brand.  

Boundaries define who you are at work. They are the rules you set, making it easier for others to work with you. 

Without boundaries, we allow others to impose themselves on our daily work and impact our careers. With them, we regain control. 

Photo from kevindooley via Flickr