Tuesday, November 27, 2012

One Less Bell to Answer

One of the toughest things to do is to dismiss an employee.  Even when the cause is based upon poor performance, attendance issues or insubordination, it can be a tough conversation.  It's likely that the person being terminated has financial and/or familial obligations that will be affected by this dismissal.  An HR professional and the manager involved often know about these obligations but must forge ahead with the right course of action.

What's even sadder is the sigh of relief that co-workers and management may make after this person's termination.  You can almost hear William Wallace yell, "Freedom" to those in the surrounding cubicles.  The frustration and annoyance that person brought will not be missed and the relief is palpable.  

In an exit interview, I would love to share with the terminated individual the relief that this dismissal is bringing so many others.  There will not have to be a team of people covering for you when you're not here.  There won't be a need to do your work for you due to your lack of drive to perform well.  No one will have to walk on egg shells because of your short temper and entitled attitude.  Obviously, these would be extremely tough points to bring up, and the timing would be like pouring salt on a wound.

So, think proactively.  Am I that person?  Am I the person who, although still working, acts like the terminated person described here?  Will anyone miss my contribution should I not be here any longer or are most counting the days until there's enough documentation to terminate me?

Sadly, the people who need to hear this message the most will read this blog and think of others for whom it applies.  The reality is that every person in each organization has a role in the health of the fabric of the company.  When there is a tear in that fabric, it does not affect just that area, but the entire piece.  Once a tear begins, the entire fabric is weakened at that point and it's usage expectancy is short.  Turnover is expensive and it's vital to address those areas of concern with those people who need help.

In the Fifth Dimension song "One Less Bell to Answer," Marilyn McCoo (of course I know who it is without performing a search) sings about her love that is now gone and shares all the reasons why it's good he's gone.  Yet, ultimately, she sings, "I should be happy, but all I do is cry."  I liken it to an employment relationship.  When someone is terminated, there are reasons to rejoice.  The aggravation is gone, the forced micro-managing can stop, but the reasons to cry are just as many.  The time wasted, the morale impacted, the money spent...all of this and more.

Companies need to address issues as a matter of constant performance review, not an annual report.  Coaching is constant.  Work the team daily.  If someone is not a fit, you'll know much sooner than later and can make those cuts without much pain.  Allowing a sore to fester is never the answer.

And if you're that employee who is the cause of grief and frustration, stop it.  You know better and can make better choices.  You're intelligent and capable; it's likely how you got the position in the first place.  Today is the day to make the decision to work towards healthy interaction, participation and production.  You can do this.  

The company needs your involvement; it's why you were hired.  Remember, people should want to answer the door when you ring, instead of being relieved when you leave the keys on the table on your way out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

You Don't Bring Me Flowers

Gratitude.  It's the week for it.  Thanksgiving gives us all an opportunity to reflect and express gratitude.  Often, we find this easy to do with our loved ones - family and friends.  Perhaps there's a co-worker who slips into that mix, but what about our companies?

It may be difficult to feel grateful, honestly.  You may barely have enough time to read this.  You're doing three jobs under the umbrella of "trying to do more with less."  You may look back over the last four or five years without a pay raise and wonder if it's all worth it.  I mean, where are your flowers?  Who's celebrating you?

You've been told, "You should be thankful that you even have a job!"  Unemployment is still incredibly high and it doesn't look to be getting any better any time soon.  So, just shut your yap and do your job, right?  Is that based on gratitude?  Doesn't that sound a bit demoralizing?

I think of my grandmother, who was a saint on earth, and her complete commitment to work.  She would often say how fortunate she was to even have a job.  She took a SEPTA bus (the public transportation system in Philadelphia) to work each day until she was 81 years old.  When she said the words, "I'm lucky to have a job," they weren't said because she drank the corporate Kool-Aid, but rather, the tone was convinced and soft. You heard her heart in the words.

You see, my grandmother was a teenager during the depression.  She began as a seamstress when she was a child and never stopped working.  The environments and the work changed, but she didn't stop working.  She had three children and went right back to work after delivery.  She didn't have FMLA or a temporary disability...she had a family and she needed to make ends meet.

I lived with my grandparents for seven years.  When I would come home from work and begin whining about customers, bosses and co-workers, she would start singing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."  Now, she only knew the first line of the chorus (the same as the title), but she would make up the rest of the words.  It was ridiculous.  I tried to teach her the right words a hundred times.  She didn't care.  That wasn't the point.

Gratitude is a decision.  My grandmother was a waitress for the last forty plus years of her life.  It was not glamorous.  She did not make a fortune.  She didn't make excuses, instead she made everyone who walked into the restaurant or cafeteria feel like he/she was the only customer in the place.  She took pride in what she did, not because of the money or the status, but because she felt it was the right thing to do.  And she was grateful for it.

As I sit back and think about our current employment situation and the corporate cultures that have been allowed to fester, I am saddened by our state of gratitude.  Whether we flip burgers or cook up mergers, we should be thankful for what we do.  It's not because the work is to define us, but instead, we should be defining the work.  My work should be an outlet for who I am.  When I work, I am reflecting my unique ability to contribute and to help others succeed.

With this attitude, I have stopped looking for work to "bring me flowers."  Instead, I bring them to work.  My gratitude should be palpable and infectious.  I should be the catalyst for change.  I don't want to sing the same old song with Neil and Barbra.  It's time for a different melody.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Give Me One Moment in Time

Remember your first "big boy" or "big girl" job?  Do you remember how excited you were the night before you started?  Do you remember the care you took in setting up your work area on the first day?  Do you remember how eager you were to take notes in order to understand everything you had to do?  Do you remember the smile that stayed on your face that entire day?

What happened to that moment in time?  Where is the enthusiasm?  What happened to that eager conscientiousness?  Has the company you work for sucked the life right out of you?

I remember working in education years ago.  I had great plans.  I reopened the school library, established an after-school homework "crew" for those at-risk and increased scores for national testing.  Unfortunately, the atmosphere I was in did not encourage its teachers.  Many of those would cry or express outrage each morning.  This is not the stuff of enthusiastic engagement.

So why?  Why does this happen in many companies?  The answer lies in a few places.  First, we have an unrealistic expectation of work.  When work is the goal, it is a let-down.  The work itself can garner some enthusiasm for a while, but it is temporal.  The lasting elements are found in how that work contributes to the larger mission.  When a company does a poor job in disseminating a consistent message of mission, it is quite easy for the work to seem unrelated.  As this happens, disappointment, frustration and blame set in.  Departments begin to look at other departments as the problem, as if it's because of "them" that your department isn't succeeding.  Our workplaces are to be filled with people who fulfill a vital part of the workflow process rather than the norm of workplaces filled with work done by workers.

Secondly, we forget to be leaders instead of followers.  In every department or cubicle, you are a leader.  You may not have a team reporting to you, but you at least have yourself to lead.  Often, we are too easily influenced by negativity at work.  Listen, I am a fan of "The Office."  Michael Scott is one of the best characters created on network television.  But think about actually working at Dunder-Mifflin.  Wouldn't you just hate it?  Wouldn't you just become another participant with Oscar, Dwight and Angela in commiserating about how awful it is to work there?  There are people reading this right now who live in that environment and have fallen into the bad habit of participating in negativity.  Be a leader in your conversations, in your self-discipline and in your career (rather than your job).

Thirdly, we hate those new people with all their enthusiastic rah-rah.  Many of us have worked in places where the establishment is so embittered that when new recruits arrive, the long-timers look them over like "lifers" in a prison movie.  The look is about how can I break you down?  How can I wipe that smile off your face?  This place stinks so don't think you'll be happy; be ready to be miserable like the rest of us.  Many have trained themselves to hate what they once had - excitement, pride in the work, passion to succeed for the sake of the company.  We've got to re-train ourselves and get back to what we know is right!

Make a choice today to be different.  This isn't about self-help; it's about corporate health.  Wouldn't you rather be motivated to get to work each day?  Wouldn't you want to enjoy your time at work?  Think about how many hours you spend at work.  Why not make it great?  And think about what the entire company will be like under such an influence. 

Choose a moment in time today to reclaim what you once were.  Don't allow anyone to decide for you how you should think about work.  If many are negative, then they've made that choice.  You don't have to.  

I love working with recent college graduates.  Their energy and desire to learn is palpable.  It energizes me and causes me to remember, with fondness, how much I wanted to tackle the world with my great ideas and enthusiasm.  You know what?  I can still tackle the world.  I might need some Advil, but I can still do it.