Turning employees’ emotions to their/team’s strengths

The early morning breeze felt so soothing and rejuvenating that the day already seemed too positive and brighter to me until I saw Ritika [*name changed to ensure privacy] sitting with a gloomy face as soon as I entered my work area. I instantly felt that I could ‘choose’ between getting upset on seeing Ritika in sad mood and helping her revive her energy so that she’s happy. I opted for the latter, an obvious choice for me most of the time.

This scenario isn’t very new at the workplace. Ritika was just another person who couldn’t hide her emotions and that was showing off in her work now.

My good morning wish to Ritika did not elicit an exciting response as I had expected. She didn’t say much on my probing her about how she was feeling… I decided to come back to her in a few minutes sensing that she wanted to talk to somebody and share her feelings…

Ten minutes later I got up from my desk and invited Ritika to join me for coffee if she wanted to. She felt good with the offer as that meant a bit of break for her from work, which is what she needed at that time.

After normal talks with her about the day and the weather [I intentionally avoided any work-related discussions then], she started feeling bit relaxed and gave me a meek smile. That was quite unusual of Ritika as she’s known for her giggles at the workplace. It made me a bit worried about her and I said, “Today Ritika isn’t looking too nice!”. She seemed bit surprised at this statement of mine when she was expecting me to do some talks to pep her up.

I continued, “Today a nice smile is missing from Ritika’s face and she can tell me if I can help her in any way to bring it back. Even the team is missing her giggles today.” This made her smile a bit and I could see her feeling bit proud on hearing these remarks which showed that her giggles do help in creating a good work environment, which of course, was a big contribution from her. She felt important and comfortable at the same time. I decided not to ask her any questions but rather encourage her to speak herself, which is always a better thing to do if any team member is not feeling good about anything. On seeing that she was feeling bit relaxed now I said, “That was a nice coffee… Let’s get back to work now and you cheer up and have a great day!”… She suddenly stopped me and told that she wanted to discuss something…

I feel that such discussions should be encouraged with the team members. These help in gaining good insights into an employee’s mindset, what concerns him/her, what can be done to make him feel better, some fresh insights on the improvement areas in the workplace/work approach/managing strategies/organization etc. These also help build a good team environment and rapport with the team. But the first objective for any such discussion should be to help the person feel better and focus on work. However, at the same time, such discussions should not be done purely on judgmental basis but rather should be seen as a way to empower people to think, analyze and make their own decisions and also identify their strengths as a person/professional.

As a result, I invited Ritika to come to a lobby with me, which was a better place to discuss. She told me that she had been staying as a paying guest and sharing room with 4 other girls. She has been really nice to all of them, cooking food for them, cleaning the house and taking care of most of the daily chores – without seeking any help from the rest of them. The reason of her being upset was that she was not feeling well the previous night so couldn’t cook food. This annoyed all other girls and they ordered her to cook for them. Ritika felt bad at their reaction and also at their being so thankless to her, who had been taking care of most of their responsibilities at the house. She felt as if she was being treated as a servant…

Now this gave me insight into lot of interesting aspects about her strengths, for example: her willingness to help others, dedication and hard work, contribution to creating a good work environment with her sense of humor [as team was missing it that day!]… At the same time, I could see a few areas of improvement clearly, which if groomed further could make her a very good person and a good professional at the same time.

Again, the choice is ours – whether to take the later as her ‘weaknesses’ and deny her higher responsibilities all together OR putting her strengths to best use along with identify training needs for her/team and grooming her in turning her improvement areas to her strengths.

 I again opted for the latter as I’ve always strongly believed in the people power, which is just there to get unleashed and be put to a productive use. Here, we need to be extra careful and not make the person feel that he/she is being judged based on her discussions. We need to encourage that person and do our work at the back-end.

A very important thing came out during this discussion. Ritika was a great person and trying to give her best all the time but what she needed to understand the ‘ownership’ aspect of work – whether at home or in the job. I told her that it was great on her part to help out her room mates but at the same time she was setting wrong expectations for them and also letting them take her for granted. Her approach was making her a victim of their demands and also discouraging them from taking care of their own responsibilities at her expense. Moreover, she was losing on her self-respect.

She agreed to this and realized that she was doing a big mistake. After she understood the message clearly, she got up and said, “Now I know how to take care of this”. Next morning, she was beaming and instantly rushed to me on seeing me in the office. She said, “Thanks a lot! My roommates had tried to repeat the same thing today but I made it very clear to them that they have to do their share of tasks and also behave nicely to me. They got surprised at my reaction but it seems that they have got the message”. Although I felt that she was being bit too direct to them but was also happy that she got the message.

I felt very happy for Ritika and at the same time, I decided on the next step for the entire team – A small training on “RACI”: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed: A matrix to describe the roles and responsibilities of team/people to deliver a project or operate a process.

A small incident had helped me gain so many insights and of course, helping myself/my team also become a better person and a professional.

Key takeaways from this example that can be implemented at the professional level:

DOs:

1. Work as a TEAM. Sharing responsibilities and knowledge is good when required.

2. Keep the team environment and objective in mind.

3. Honestly perform your duties and responsibilities

4. Take ownership of tasks and also encourage others to perform the tasks assigned to them

5. Learn to delegate and empower others too to perform and grow. Build leaders.

DON’Ts:

1. Never encourage other team members to SHIRK their responsibilities when they are supposed to perform them.

2. Never lose on your self-respect by letting others take your goodness for granted. Take the right steps with dignity without being violent, abusive or aggressive.

3. Do not set wrong expectations.

4. Do not be too selfish or individualistic.

Chak De! – Use right experience at the right moment and place!

CHAK DE, the Bollywood flick imparted great lessons. The final hockey match made it very clear that using the right experience at the right moment can turn a losing game to a marvelous victory.

Here is a case in point, wherein proper experience mapping helped retain a highly experienced team member, who had already submitted his resignation letter.

The unexpected resignation letter from the senior most team member “John” [*name changed] left the management worried about the ongoing projects. John had good knowledge about these projects and there was no other team member with his level of experience. After hours of discussion with him, it was felt that John was adamant on leaving the organization. Thus, his resignation was accepted.

The worries of losing the good clients because of this led management to dig deeply into the matter and see what could be done to retain him. The time for this was very short, equivalent to notice period for John.After acceptance of the resignation letter, John didn’t speak much about his concerns so all the effort was to be done by the management.

Everything seemed to be right until a question from one of the managers took everyone to an entirely new tangent of thought process.

The question was “Was John’s experience being capitalized on? Did he feel that he was doing some value add to the team/project/himself and the organization“?

John had more than 5 years of experience.  However, he was given a role wherein his experience and existing knowledge couldn’t be used at all. He seemed to have no scope for further learning or doing a value add to the project/organization. The situation became very clear. After a deeper analysis, it was felt that although there was a good mix of people in the team, the job and skill set/experience mapping was not done properly. Wrong players were put at the wrong positions!

After lot of thought and effort, inter-project transitions were carried out [though not all at once, keeping projects’ interest in consideration]. More ownership was given to the senior members while also allowing space and opportunities to the junior members of the team.

Management called in John and offered him to take on a higher role. He was clearly explained the potential that it had for John’s learning and growth as well. Although little reluctant, John accepted it on the condition that he’ll work on that role for 2-3 weeks and if not satisfied, he’ll go ahead with his resignation. Those 2-3 weeks on the new role changed John’s mindset completely. Although he couldn’t use all of his experience in the new role, he had lot of scope for further learning, more ownership and responsibility.Now it has been 2 years that he’s still a part of that organization and taking care of bigger and better projects!

CHAK DE!  

For more lessons from CHAK DE, check out my other post on this blog:

http://preetangels.blogspot.com/2007/08/chak-de-lessons-for-life.html

Fix the ‘SYSTEM’ not the ‘PROBLEM’!

Higher attrition rate and low morale of any team is always a nightmare for the managers.

Following experience illustrates how just a small ‘twist’ in approaching an issue made a big difference! [This approach was actually implemented and it worked!]: [*Names changed to respect privacy]: Sherry had always been a victim of the so called ‘classes’ by her boss. She being senior in the team had lot of responsibilities and was also accountable for some of the key outputs and performance of two of her juniors.

It was not a rare sight to see her getting scolded by her boss in front of entire team. Lot of finger pointing was done by both without focusing much on finding the solution.

Sherry could often be seen taking too long breaks, not talking to anyone for days, with low energy levels. Ultimate impact was not just her own poor performance but also low performance of the members who were reporting to her. They complained of not getting enough help and time from Sherry when required.

Soon this became an issue with the team and the things were reported to the manager, who was not too oblivious to this situation. Manager felt that Sherry wasn’t paying any heed to his suggestions and warnings.

Just at the same time, a new team leader (TL) had joined the team. Manager discussed the issue with the new TL and TL took the onus to handle this concern.  One week was given to the TL to either solve the issue or be ready to give the Termination letter to Sherry.  It was ‘do’ or ‘let her die’ situation!

This is how TL handled the situation:

TL did some homework – gathered facts from the manager, indirect inputs from the team and observed Sherry during her work. The next best thing to happen was his building a good rapport with Sherry. She was undoubtedly very scared of new TL [assuming that she’ll be treated in the same way again]. A few coffee breaks with the new TL helped a lot. Within 2 days she was extremely comfortable talking to the TL.  It was felt that there are lot of things that were bothering Sherry [both on personal and professional fronts], which were impacting her concentration level and thus the performance. The worst part was that she was unable to speak it out with anyone and find the solution. Regular scolds from the manager had further deteriorated the situation.

 The building up of ‘initial comfort level’ with the new TL really eased the situation. A few regular sessions made Sherry share her concerns in detail. No doubt there were problems at her home front which were taking on her nerves, however, lack of encouragement, appreciation and recognition from the manager had a big blow on her morale.

Sherry’s listing out of the facts related to her achievements and good work convinced the new TL of the good potential she had. However, due to a wrong approach taken to fix the ‘problem’ marred the entire situation.

Next, the TL discussed the entire thing with the manager and the key point missing in the earlier approach was ‘NOT identifying any of the Sherry’s achievements’ and also there was no one with whom Sherry could discuss her concerns.

As expected, Sherry was seen in much better mood the very next day. Last few discussions had really helped her to free her mind of all the clutter and focus more on solution.

Besides this, few mails from the manager appreciating her work and recognition for her efforts in front of the entire team added to the much needed energy.

Sherry was back full of energy, new ideas, better performance, and more time for her juniors and positive attitude. A few tips from the TL really kicked her morale and she could look at her personal problems also with a new perspective.

The ultimate thing to happen was: Sherry got promoted within next 2 months just based on her performance!

Some key takeaways from this experience:

 1. Focus on the ‘system’ than the problem: System here was ‘approach to discuss the issues with employees’, and more focus on ‘complains’ was there.

2. Find out the ’cause’: Understand the ‘why’ behind the problem. Only then you can get to the right solution.

2. Do homework: Gather facts from all the parties involved, to have an unbiased perspective.

3. Don’t do re-work: Take inputs from various people on the approaches already tried and actions taken, which didn’t work. Don’t re-invent a non-rotating wheel.

4. Build the comfort level: Building comfort level and trust is very crucial for open communication. This doesn’t have to be done in too formal manner. Simple relaxing breaks also do the deal.

5. Start with positive feedback: Listen to all the parties involved and always start by giving the positive feedback to the other party. Complaining at the first instance [unless the mistake is a regular repetition] should be a No-No.

6. Find alternatives, discuss and evaluate: Take notes, think and work on various solutions that might work. Evaluate pros and cons of each on everyone involved while also looking at the bigger system, i.e., the impact on entire team and organization.

7. Decide next steps: There must be an action plan to be implemented.  In this case, it was to: Give Sherry and other team members a truly deserved recognition, Give responsibility with authority to build trust, Have regular 2-way feedback sessions.

8. Review and revise: Once the action plan is implemented, make sure to review the results and revise the approach if needed.

In a nutshell, Fix the SYSTEM and not the PROBLEM.

    

Random experiences during team management

Managing teams and working in groups has always been one of the best ways for me to learn and grow. Here are some interesting observations that I have made during past few years of handling teams. Few of these have helped me to a great extent in improving work environment, understanding team/individual and organization’s expectations, enhancing efficiency and productivity, besides team morale..  [I’ll take up the details on each of these experiences in my future posts]

– Some of the teams had been really wonderful, where members appreciate each other’s strengths and enjoy work. However, there are still a few everywhere who “DO NOT KNOW” how to enjoy the work. They ‘choose’ to crib and hence don’t give their best shot.

– It’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well [different business units and stakeholders within the organization] and look towards building strong relationships with them. The idea is while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. This helps the teams to get identified as a reservoir of energy and not just a department in some organization. Company meet and team’s day do help to an extent.. but interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.

– At times, we don’t have a choice for the kind of work and it’s being assigned to us, however, we can always make a choice of how to do that work.. Since not many know this, lack of energy & enthusiasm and sudden drifts in the willingness to work are visible among members.

– Giving real life examples, telling inspirational stories, does make 5% difference for a few days but again things are back to the same stage. The energy level vanishes soon because some people are concerned about their personal problems, some don’t feel happy with the work they are doing, some are not happy with the external customers they are working with and some have other concerns like salary, infrastructure, career path etc.. Mostly this happens when they have not seen the bigger picture of the industry, of the professional life and even the personal life.. They take decisions but not with a very high maturity level. Having a mentor or one-on-one sessions regularly helps to a major extent and results are reflected in terms of increased efficiency, good morale, pro-activeness among members.

– Every individual has IMMENSE FIRE hidden in himself/herself, however, it is very important for managers to identify that and ignite it before it loses its light and energy. The point is: it’s easy to let the good people go but extremely tough to retain that fire at right place.

– Some of the organizations I’ve worked with have amazing management committment towards its people. The formation of core groups in such organizations has been successful in setting the right example for everyone.

– Organizations do have strong Core values listed, however, the focus on implementation isn’t much, though exceptions are there. For example, Creativity as one of the core values looks wonderful on the hung plaque, however, if properly implemented can assist in turning people into organization’s assets.

– Teams need to be made aware of the importance of “attitude towards work”. Talking can help to an extent, however, making the teams visit places where people work with full energy and involving them in some interesting activity with those people can bring good changes. More you see is more you learn.


– Make the work fun, by starting small contests, like “idea of the month”, having a creativity board to allow free flow of thoughts, having an award system based on customer’s recommendation – these little things always help.

Shall continue sharing my learnings and experiences…

INTERNAL CUSTOMERS: Value the unidentified ones!

Much to the knowledge gained through reading organizational Vision and Mission statements, Corporate Strategies and Business Initiatives, our definition of Internal customers is restricted to the employees. The strategy sheets very proudly lay down next steps and highlight accomplishments related to employee performance and team growth.

Though the internal customers [still restricted to employees] are given some credit, there are these ‘unidentified’ internal customers everywhere. These are the people who’re using the services of another business/functional unit within the same organization. These are the members of another team, another division in the same company, who have a stake in the output of the other unit.

Let’s take an example of any IT company that has various business/functional units like Software development, Quality Assurance, Customer Support, Pre-sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Systems. Members of Quality assurance unit would be the internal customers for software development unit and vice versa; all the tech divisions have sales & marketing as their internal customers, it stands true otherwise as well.

Main focus has mostly been on achieving organizational and unit’s objectives. No doubt, HR does a great job managing personnel. However, when it comes to handling ‘internal conflicts’, the onus is quickly passed onto the Business Unit’s [Referred to as BU hereafter] head. Ironically, BU heads are always short of time when it comes to handling the so called ‘petty’ issues and targets and other objectives take the lead.

My one-on-one discussions with team members, other BU heads has mostly (though indirectly) indicated their conflicts and difference of opinions with other unit’s members. Quite a many of the projects get delayed or the quality gets impacted for the reasons like this [straight from various employees], which surely seem so trivial, but if ignored, have a huge negative impact overall:

  • The project manager of ‘abc’ team is so arrogant that we can’t approach him to get our queries answered. So we have to work with our own assumptions.
  • The quality delivered by this team is never good and we end up doing most of their job.
  • There is no response from the designer for 2 weeks now and our work is stuck.
  • Sales people always call at the wrong time, when we’re just off from work and with family.

Now, if we start understanding the reasons behind all the above statements, they may sound apt from the perspective of the ‘blamed’ department. However, what lacks is the consideration of viewpoint and objectives of other teams/departments involved. Ultimate result is low employee morale, project delays due to such conflicts, increasing communication gap and spoiled relations, none of which is productive to any organization’s health.

What is required here is:

  • Open communication from both the sides, this is the most important thing.
  • Conflict handling by the unit heads or empowering the appropriate team members to take charge of such conflicts.This works two-ways: Delegating with authority is a big motivation factor. Conflicts are handled on time.
  • Implementation of regular open house or meetings focusing on such issues. The involved parties should be encouraged to bring concerns with FACTS. Every such meeting must end up with  ‘NEXT STEP’ to be followed.
  • Regular one-one-one sessions or team meetings to review the situation after stipulated time period. Change the approach if required.The crux is that it’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well and look towards building stronger relationships with them. The idea is, while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. Company meets and team days do help to an extent, but more focused interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts relevant to this post.– Manpreet Juneja