Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #5 | Boundary Mistakes

“What are the boundary mistakes that supervisors make and how do you fix them?” That’s the question I left you with at the end of Episode # 4.

By: Ludo

A boundary is border or a limit. At work, boundaries are about acceptable behaviors that ensure:

  • Work gets done the right way
  • Individuals are treated with respect
  • Policies and practices are followed consistently
  • Employees conduct themselves courteously, professionally, and ethically
  • The work environment is safe

Boundary setting and implementation are the job of every supervisor. It’s how you create a work environment where each employee has the opportunity to shine.

All kinds of problems arise when supervisors falter on boundary setting. Here are some typical mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1: Boundary Abdication

The worst mistake is to abdicate your responsibility to establish and communicate clear boundaries.

When you don’t set boundaries, your employees will create their own and become self-supervising.

Consider this example:

A client of mine inherited a work group that had worked without behavioral boundaries for years. Several of her direct reports had previously repackaged their job duties to meet their own interests. They followed their own timetables for completing assignments, worked with whom they pleased and shunned others, and built allies in the company who believed they were following their supervisor’s lead. When my client implemented her boundaries, the workplace culture got on the right track in time.

A workplace without clear boundaries soon becomes dysfunctional.

Mistake 2: Moving Target Boundaries

 Boundaries need to be consistent to be effective.

Consider this:

Anita is about five minutes late for work every day because she has to drop her child off at day care. Her supervisor lets this go, believing that it represents his support of women with children.

Charlie works with Anita. He’s five minutes late a couple times a week because, when he goes out with his buddies, he has a hard time getting up the next morning. The supervisor says nothing to Charlie but eventually writes that Charlie’s “often late for work” on his performance review. Charlie complains to HR, knowing Anita had been given a pass.

At work, late is late. So the boundary needs to be punctuality for all, because punctuality is about dependability and having all employees available for work.

Anita needs to set her alarm earlier and so does Charlie. Their live style choices outside of work aren’t the issue. Their commitment to getting to work on time is.

Mistake 3: Access Boundaries

 A supervisor’s boundaries may turn to mush when certain employees feel like friends and it’s hard to say, “No,” to them.

If, as the supervisor, you’ve asked your employees to make an appointment with you when they have an idea to present or an issue to discuss, that means everyone. If your “friends” are allowed to pop into your office anytime, even just to joke around, while others are required to make an appointment, then it’s clear that your boundaries are for some but not all.

It doesn’t take much to create division, even clicks, in a work group. No-favorites boundaries help avoid that.

Mistake 4: Death-Grip Boundaries

 Some supervisors are so unnerved by the potential unpredictability of employees that they set boundaries so tight around every conceivable situation that they squeeze the motivation out of their employees. Fear of loss of control can create a death-grip.

Instead of boundaries, these supervisors create endless hard-and-fast rules that become barriers to initiative and innovation. These insecure supervisors put employees in a vise and, in time, negative fallout and poor results will show.

Aids not obstacles

Effective supervising means adapting to conditions. That’s what makes setting boundaries so difficult in a rapidly changing workplace.

Supervision is as much art as it is method. Good supervisors understand their employees as individuals and as a team, creating boundaries that are aids and not obstacles. Often that starts with getting a good read on who your employees are and what they need.

So how do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees? We’ll tackle that question in Episode #6.

 

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #4 | Setting Boundaries

“What do good supervisors do to set boundaries that minimize mistakes?” That’s the question I left you with after Episode #3.

We unwittingly set the stage for our supervisory mistakes. Setting boundaries helps us minimize them and avoid a chain of calamities.

Think respect.

Boundaries are essential for supervisors and employees, so they can work together at top effectiveness.

On the surface, you might think that setting behavioral boundaries is simply a control tactic, the way supervisors keep their thunderous employee hoards at bay or imprison workers in the darkness of dreary, nose-to-the-grindstone tasks. Not so, at least not in a healthy workplace.

Actually, boundaries, when well used, build mutual respect between supervisor and employees that help everyone avoid making senseless mistakes.

We go to work to exchange effort for reward. It’s the same for both supervisors and employees. We do our best work when we believe that we’re respected for who we are, what we bring, and how we execute the requirements of our job. We determine whether or not we’re being respected by the way we’re treated, individually and in comparison to others.

Respect begets respect, that’s an easy principle to live by.

We earn respect in many ways as supervisors. Most often it’s about the way we treat people: our courtesy, acknowledgement, fairness, and courage to name a few. The platform for building respect, however, is in setting boundaries.

Set unifying boundaries.

Boundaries are limits supervisors set around acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, so employees know what’s within or out of bounds. This makes it clear whether or not it’s acceptable to:

  • Refuse an assignment or ignore required processes and practices
  • Be late or absent from work without notifying the supervisor ahead of time
  • Disrupt the workplace with distracting behavior
  • Barge into the supervisor’s office to complain, make demands, or interrupt
  • Demonstrate insubordinate, rude, or uncooperative behavior
  • Engage with others in ways not appropriate to the company culture or society

The potential list of work place boundaries is unlimited and no supervisor can or should try to figure them all out in advance. You’ll know when you’ve failed to set a necessary boundary when an employee crosses it , you’re caught off guard, and/or there’s been a negative impact on your work group. Some work groups, because of their make up, operate on few articulated boundaries; others need many.

They key is to be honest with yourself about behaviors you absolutely won’ t tolerate as the supervisor. Start by thinking about supervisors you liked and visualize what they did and didn’t accept from their employees. Then reflect on things you’ve seen and heard coworkers do that you know were off base. Then put together your list.

The preparing is always easier than the doing. Always remember that boundaries aren’t just about what makes life easier for you, the supervisor. They’re set to make the workplace a positive, safe, and relatively stress free place for your employees and you.

Your boundaries are there to insure inclusiveness, no bullying, fairness across the board, consistency in enforcing company policies, and a climate of mutual respect. When you have good principles-based boundaries, you have the foundation for teamwork, collaboration, and initiative that builds a sense of value and self-worth in each of your employees.

Boundaries matter.

Boundaries ensure mutual respect among supervisor and coworkers, so everyone can succeed. There need to be standards around quality of work, goal achievement, courtesy and fair treatment, respect for differences, and ways of speaking to each other.

The boundary-setting mistakes supervisors make often mirror Goldilocks sitting at the three bear’s breakfast table, deciding which porridge bowl to eat–too hot, too cold, and just right. Getting the boundaries set right is the next step.

So what are the boundary mistakes that supervisors make and how do you fix them? We’ll tackle that in Episode # 5.

 

Engaging Employee Minds and Hearts | Marketing Tools for Nonprofits

It’s special to write a post inspired by the new book by my friend, Sybil Stershic, a champion of the key role employees play in the success of any organization. Sybil gives voice to the intimate connection between marketing effectiveness and the engagement of employees who deliver on the organization’s promises.

Her first book, Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care framed her message for business. This book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, aligns marketing strategies with employee engagement essentials tailored to the challenges faced by nonprofits. The book’s concise principles and guide format will help you frame a plan. It’s rare to have a marketing guide specific to the needs of nonprofits. Sybil has filled the void.

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It’s a downer when we murmur to ourselves at work, “My heart’s just not in it today.” It’s even worse when we realize we feel that way most days.

Explaining away malaise may be easier when we’re doing work that feels mechanical without an  “I’m making a difference” dimension.

What’s not so easy is feeling de-energized even when the work we’re doing, either paid or unpaid, fills an important human need in the community through a nonprofit organization.

I’ve been there myself. Years ago I worked for Head Start where my job included all of these duties: grant writing, coordinating volunteers and parent programs, supervising cooks and bus drivers, and schlepping government surplus food. Yes, there were many days when my mind knew how important the work was but my heart couldn’t overcome the weariness.

Nonprofit jobs are just as demanding today, maybe more so. Employees in nonprofits are the mission’s engine. Most aren’t there to get rich but to enrich. Nonprofit leaders need to recognize that their jobs include being in service to their employees.

The  essential link

Most nonprofit leaders face challenges to sustain their organizations, meaning they need to bring in the revenues that keep things going.

What too many leaders forget is that they need to invest considerable time and attention in their employees, the very people who are the real faces of the organization and the credible voices “marketing” the good work being done each day.

Sybil Stershic’s new book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, provides nonprofit leaders with a fresh and practical approach to marketing their organizations with an inside-out strategy.

She starts by reminding us that:

Proactively marketing your nonprofit enables you to:

  1. create an effective presence in the marketplace that helps differentiate you from competing organizations, and
  2. pursue your mission through positive relationships with your stakeholders (consumers, members, volunteers, donors, referral sources, influencers, etc.)

Then she quotes marketing professor Philip Kotler who posits that: “‘marketing is supposed to build up…share of mind  and share of heart for the organization.’”

Further defining this concept, Sybil writes that:

  • share of mind “is about creating and maintaining public awareness of your organization”
  • share of heart “is creating and maintaining an emotional bond with people who are important to your organization.”

Leadership is the mission within the mission in successful nonprofits. Executive directors and all others managing operations need to balance their marketing outward look with an internal one.

The employee as marketer

Taking employees for granted or inadvertently making them feel that way invites an organizational downward spiral. It’s like shooting yourself in your marketing foot.

Sybil reminds us that:

Engaged employees stay for what they give–they like their work and are able to contribute, whereas disengaged employees stay for what they get–a comfortable job, good salary, and decent job conditions. Who would you rather have work in your organization?

She makes this essential point:

An “inside-out marketing” approach enables you to take care of …internal stakeholders so they can take care of your external stakeholders….”

Many nonprofit leaders then ask: “How do I do that?”

Sybil’s answer is straight-forward:

To gain employee and volunteer commitment and facilitate their engagement with an organization, internal marketing strategy is based on what I call ‘The Three Rs Formula’:

  • Respect–ensure your staff members and volunteers have the necessary tools and support to do their work.
  • Recognition–catch them doing something right.
  • Reinforcement–continually support a mission-based, customer-focused culture.

She drives home her point writing:

The difference in how volunteers and employees are treated on a daily basis depends on the management style of the…people in charge. Are employees and volunteers recognized and respected for their roles in fulfilling the mission or are they considered disposable commodities?

Minds and hearts

Nonprofit employees are the faces and voices of the organization and its mission. They need to have their hearts and minds fully engaged to feel fulfilled.

Nonprofit leaders need to pay attention to what  employees need and listen when they provide  feedback, verbally or by their actions.

Marketing needs to be an organic function that starts with a strong internal message voiced by engaged employees. When the heart and mind work together, we can make big things happen.

Leading Employees Who Don’t See Things Your Way | Handling Disagreement

Leadership is no cakewalk. It takes guts, resilience, clear-headedness, and sensitivity. Okay, it takes lots more too. But the real challenge for leaders is their employees. 

Each one has their own set of expectations. They want their leader to create a work environment that suits them by solving problems, removing obstacles, resolving conflicts, ensuring fairness, and minimizing disruptions. 

The harsh reality is: Every employee can’t have exactly what s/he wants. 

Disagreement triggers 

Like it or not, business needs trump employee wants. That can be hard to swallow if employees don’t understand the big picture their leaders see.  After all, a leader’s first responsibility is to keep the business going so we can keep our jobs. 

Savvy leaders anticipate decisions that trigger employee disagreement and are quick to defuse it. 

There are all kinds of causes for those disagreements: 

  • Someone else was promoted and they don’t understand why.
  • A work process was changed without their input.
  • Work was outsourced, threatening their job security. 

Even though, you, as the leader, didn’t necessarily create these situations, you are expected to own them. Remember: you are the company’s agent even while you’re an employee in your own right. (Hey, no one said this role was easy!) 

Leaders need to identify signs of employee disagreement before they become flashpoints by being alert to: 

  • Non-verbals: No eye contact, silence, avoidance, negative body language
  • Verbal barbs: “I don’t think that’s fair” or “That’s not my job”
  • Actions: Work slow-downs, huddled groups venting, non-compliance 

Resistance to new policies/processes, reorganizations, or increased performance expectations notoriously starts small and then takes on a life of its own. 

It’s tempting to ignore what might appear to be trivial employee disagreements. But they provide value insights that every leader needs to take seriously and reposition. 

When employees don’t see things your way, they act in either an overt or covert way. Some employees will be upfront and open about their disagreements; others will lie low and stoke the disenchantment of others. The leader needs to understand the root cause of these disagreements and tackle them head on. 

Defusing pushback 

Leaders tend to look at disagreements as pushback against their authority, which often isn’t the case. Too often, they are tempted to push back harder, using their organizational clout to make sure employees keep doing things “their” way. That only works for a short while and often makes matters worse.  

There’s real risk in failing to address employee disagreements like: 

  • Declining morale and motivation
  • Reduction in productivity and quality
  • Inability to enact change successfully 

Leaders of all stripes need to moderate employee disagreements, resolve legitimate issues, build understanding, and keep lines of communication open. 

When employees disagree, they want to be heard. Sometimes this is all they need, an opportunity to go on record with their point of view. Other times, it’s the starting point for ongoing dialogue, helping the employee and the leader to resolve the disagreement. 

Here are basic steps for conversations with employees who don’t see things the leader’s way: 

  • Understand the employee’s issue and its source
  • Ask what the employee wants changed
  • Be clear about your position and what you are able to give (if anything)
  • Be prepared to explain your/the company’s rationale in words the employee will understand
  • Confront the employee about their resistance (if any), its impacts and consequences
  • Summarize what’s been discussed and state the next steps each will take 

The leader is not always right and the employee wrong. Effective leaders get important insights when employees disagree. 

Take the high road 

Disagreements are important for business growth; they constitute feedback. It’s the way disagreements are handled that separates great leaders from mediocre ones. 

Opening yourself to employee viewpoints and inviting them is key. Not every point of employee disagreement is valid or doable, but each should be heard and considered. 

Photo from stuant63 via Flickr

Breaking the Ice—A Priceless Communication Initiative

Getting conversations started can sometimes be a challenge. It’s mostly when we don’t: 

  • Know someone well
  • Don’t want to say the wrong thing
  • Feel intimidated or awestruck
  • Are feeling self-conscious 

Being willing and able to talk to people is the centerpiece of a successful career and profitable business. 

We need to develop the ability to talk to all kinds of people under wildly different circumstances in an effective way. 

It can be difficult to start conversations with a boss, coworker, or customer who isn’t particularly willing or interested in talking with you. That’s when you need to break the ice. 

Why bother? 

It would be easy to just blow off folks that don’t want to talk. We might think it’s their loss, when, in fact, it’s more likely ours. 

When we get people to talk to us, we learn things. Often what we learn is unexpected—an inside look, a new perspective, an opportunity, or a tip. 

This week I had errands to run, so I made the rounds. Since I live in the country, I patronize local businesses. At each stop, I made a point to start a casual conversation with whoever was at the counter. 

Here’s what happened:

At the feed mill, I chit-chatted with the clerk about how my horse had a breathing disorder exacerbated by the pollen. She owned horses too and told me about a new dustless bedding product which I then bought. (Learned something new

Then I went to the butcher shop. The butcher’s wife, Susan, who works the counter, is generally cold and standoffish. The customer before me was a native Italian who owned the local pizzeria. He purchased three spleens. (Yep, spleens!) When he left, I asked Susan what anyone would use a spleen for and she answered, “I don’t know and I don’t want to know!” We had a good laugh. (Warmer relationship

The next stop was the bank. While the teller was doing the paperwork, I asked what was new in the neighborhood. She explained how several local teenagers had been apprehended after a series of robberies. She gave me details on the sting that nabbed them, information that wasn’t in the paper. (Insider information

Multiplier effect 

Ice can refreeze, so our initiatives to keep the ice open need to be ongoing. 

Think of the people you work with who try to keep you at arms length or are uncomfortable sharing their knowledge, points of view, or personal side. 

You do yourself and others a huge favor by making it easy for them to talk to you. It’s how you build bonds. 

These conversations help you figure out what’s really going on around you. By being an ice breaker, you discover that you will: 

  • Build a broader base of relationships
  • See things from different sides
  • Get a heads up when you need it
  • Feel gratitude and appreciation for and from your coworkers 

Early in my corporate career, I worked in marketing where I needed to procure a truck and a 32-foot trailer outfitted with interactive displays. Working with the purchasing department required jumping through a lot of procedural hoops held by agents being chomped on by managers across the company.

To purchasing, my project was small potatoes and I was a nobody. Russ was the agent assigned to handle my purchase, and I suspected this wasn’t something he was keen on. I asked to meet with him, so I could better understand what he was up against and what I could do to make it easier for him. That ice-breaker conversation created in an ally I could count on for the rest of my career there.   

Take the time 

The avenue of least resistance can turn into the highway to nowhere. Everyone has something of value to say. We just need to take the time to break the ice that’s in their way and ours. Now flourish your ice picks! 

Photo from elefevre7 via Flickr

3 Problems Solved with a Little Respect | Managing Relationships

Pro athletes are famous for grumbling to the media about players or teams saying, “They don’t respect us.” The words become a kind of call to arms. Sports commentators run the clips repeatedly to stoke what promises to be pending conflict. Then we tune in. 

Disrespect happens to us too. We all bring our dignity to work and expect to be treated respectfully. When we aren’t, we get our backs up. 

Self-esteem sensitivity 

Feeling disrespected is about hurt self-esteem, affronts to self-worth, and lack of deference. It’s personal and can be deep. 

If your response is, “Oh, come on, now,” think of situations where you’ve been offended, intentionally or not, by someone at work. 

Your reaction will likely be more intense if the person who disrespected you: 

  • Had done it repeatedly
  • Was someone you trusted/confided in
  • Was your boss or higher
  • Should have known better
  • Was trying to undercut you

Our challenge is to defuse disrespect toward us while also avoiding disrespectful behaviors of our own. 

Respect disarms perceptions of disrespect 

Sometimes we find ourselves branded as disrespectful and need to use a little respect to solve the problem. Here are a few to consider: 

1. Your boss is insulted by your apparent disinterest in his/her project. 

Start showing respect by arriving early for project meetings, paying serious attention during discussions (which means staying off your mobile device and/or laptop), asking pertinent questions, and responding to requests. 

2. Your coworkers are frustrated because you routinely interrupt them. 

Not letting others speak may seem like you’re demeaning their ideas and considering yourself superior. Launch dialogue with your coworkers by asking questions. Validate what’s said and then add your ideas to the mix. Continue to engage everyone until a consensus is reached. 

3. Coworkers think you don’t like them. 

If you use a dismissive tone of voice, fail to acknowledge others, ignore their overtures, speak impolitely, or criticize openly, your coworkers will feel disrespected. Offering a greeting, engaging in casual conversation, being courteous, and recognizing achievement are ways to show your respect that build positive relationships. 

No respect…No progress 

Lack of respect is no trivial matter. Showing it establishes us as being both professional and desirable as a colleague. 

Signs of respect are in simple things like coming to work dressed appropriately, using polite speech, and showing regard for the leadership whether you agree with all their decisions or not. 

I remember being horrified when, at the senior VP’s staff meeting, one of his vice presidents assaulted him with searing language (including a string of ef-bombs) about a decision he’d made. The senior VP just sat there and took it, not succumbing to the provocation, but red-faced nonetheless. 

Even though the majority of the staff was also against the senior VP’s decision, that display of disrespect was so appalling that it shut down all discussion. 

That’s the consequence of disrespect. It becomes a barrier to progress. When we feel disrespected by someone, we can’t hear what they have to say. So we set up emotional roadblocks that are impenetrable. 

Win with respect 

Feeling respected as a human being, an employee, and a coworker can have a powerful positive effect on any relationship. Showing respect even when at odds keeps the door open and the opportunities for collaboration alive.

Respect doesn’t cost us anything. Actually, showing respect for others demonstrates the respect we have for ourselves. 

Acting respectfully is a behavior we control. It’s an asset to our personal brand and to our careers. It’s another winning career behavior. Try it. You’ll like it. :-)

Photo from Dyanna 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