We are all familiar with the character Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol. This character is depicted, as a surly, cold-hearted businessman who hates Christmas, spends his life hoarding his wealth and forces his employees to work long, grueling hours for little pay. Scrooge is basically everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to a manager. However, as we learn more about Scrooge through his journey with the ghosts of Christmas past, we find that he actually is a victim of circumstance. His childhood experiences, misfortune in love, and depression overcome him, not allowing him to re-frame his perspective to understand how he, as a manager, needs to communicate with his employees.
In communications, this is called understanding your frame of reference, or how individuals assess information. This can be based upon an individuals education, background, personal values, experiences, cultural differences and more, having a large influence on how information flows from or to us. The greater the overlap in frame of reference between two people, or the greater the similarities in individual’s backgrounds, the higher the likelihood that communication will be successful.
In the case of Scrooge, due to his lack of willingness to open up to his employees and allow them to understand his background, employees as well as others, simply assume that he is crotchety and cold-hearted. Therefore, any message that he sends to an intended audience will misconstrued, and may be dismissed due to the disrespect that the intended receiver may have for the sender. However, if the intended receiver of the message understands Scrooge’s background, they may be more willing to understand his situation and receive the message without the attachment of bias.
So, what can be done to fix these communication issues?
In order to fix this communication barrier, managers must do a bit of re-framing. Meaning that as leaders, we must seek to look at things in a different way and seek to understand the other person’s frame of reference. The following can assist with this process:
- Take the time to get to know your employees. Learn their personalities and interact with them regularly so that you not only build a trusting relationship with them, but you also learn how they communicate. Doing this will help to improve the likelihood of successful communication.
- Let your employees learn about you. Communication is a two-way street, unless, of course, you want to talk to yourself. Managers need to ensure that they share their best practices for communicating, including their favorite way to deliver messages and feedback. Allowing for face-to-face time to get to know each others personalities is key as well, as this is the time that you will learn how to interpret each others non-verbal cues.
- When communicating to the outside public, know your audience. Do your research. Learn about the background of your intended audience and speak to that. Although you can’t get to know everyone you are speaking to at a conference, classroom or otherwise, you can speak to their general experiences and speak to them through that perspective.
My advice to you is, don’t be a Scrooge. Teach yourself to look at things from a different perspective; learn your audience and communicate in a clear, concise manner, giving feedback as necessary to improve internal and external communication within your organization.
What are some of techniques or methods that you use to help improve communication?
A few months ago I was on the hunt for a job, a task that I’m sure many of you are familiar with. It’s not easy. After a few months of searching you begin to wonder if there is something on your resume that is glaring up at companies and holding them back from hiring you…and you ask yourself, what could be the problem?
I am a Navy Reservist, so for a while I thought that my reserve status was holding companies back from hiring me. Maybe they had seen a military movie and thought I’d be screaming my head off at employees like a drill sergeant or maybe they immediately associate a service member with deployment. But then I thought to myself, that’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t they want to hire me? Sure, there is a chance that I could deploy. But if I am put on orders for deployment, I would be enhancing my skills in a professional field, a field that they would be hiring me in.
It made me question whether or not employers see the value in hiring and employing service members. So, I put together a list of five attributes that a service member brings to your organization:
1) Leadership skills
Service members are bred to become leaders. We are instilled to accept responsibility for getting things done, manage cross-functional team communication and promote a culture of hard work by setting the example.
2) Work well under pressure
Military training assists members to flourish when working under pressure. A key trait necessary for working in high-stress career fields in the civilian world.
3) Attention to detail
If you miss one tiny detail during a mission, you are putting lives at risk. The military workplace puts service members into scenarios where they are challenged to pay attention to every detail. Making a conscious effort to understand causes instead of just the effects translates well into the corporate world, because details that fall through the cracks can cost a company time and money.
We work in teams. That’s just what we do. Never leave a man behind. Veterans instill a sense of team pride and cohesiveness. Teamwork builds trust and trust builds speed. Working together, we are able to achieve organizational goals and success faster.
5) Great work ethic
Military members have an incredible work ethic, and make personal sacrifices to accomplish the mission. We don’t let the team down. We get our jobs done, and we do it well, regardless of the organizational demands.
While there are other traits that could be mentioned, this short list is great to keep in mind when hiring and employing a Veteran because they all have the potential to promote a culture of teamwork and growth.
So now I ask you, what benefits has your organization seen in hiring veterans and service members? Let us know your feedback.
For more information about employers who have benefited from hiring veterans or if you are a veteran seeking employment go to the ESGR website.
Good question. Let’s start with a very brief definition of Employee Assessments. Employee Assessments are products that evaluate employee behavior, typically by asking respondents to answer questions about how they perceive themselves at work. There are several very effective products available on the market today, both in paper and online formats.
Now…why bother? Can’t we just assign employees the work and expect them to get it done? Sure, you could try that. Another idea is to discover more about the behavior styles of your individual employees, and maximize the positive behavior traits of each individual employee.
For example, say you have an employee named Sally. Sally works in your finance department. Say that Sally exemplifies the classic introverted personality style. Sally appears painfully shy, is often soft-spoken, and prefers to work solo rather than in a team environment. She is a number cruncher, a paperwork guru, and a powerhouse auditor.
Now, let’s pretend the City Council has requested an oral presentation of the recently completed fiscal audit. Did I also mention that City Council meetings are televised and broadcast over and over again on the City TV channel! Would Sally be your first choice in conducting that presentation?
I’d guess not.
Sure, Sally knows the material inside and out, she was involved in every aspect of the audit and knows the findings, but is that the only consideration in deciding who should present the findings? Would Sally even WANT to do that presentation? Would she freeze like a deer in the headlights in front of the dais? Would she embarrass herself? The department? How would the Council Members perceive the audit itself if the presenter of the material isn’t able to clearly and concisely articulate the findings? Can’t you see Sally up there, stammering and red-faced, uncomfortable and sweating under the lights and the cameras? Not a good look.
Another idea would be to capitalize on Sally’s expertise more effectively by having her prepare the presentation to the Council. She could write the talking points. She could prepare handouts and documentation to support the findings. She could also spend time discussing the audit report with the selected presenter beforehand so that the presenter is fully versed in the material. Sally could play a vital role in the presentation while being behind the scenes.
Spending time to learn about your employees and their behavior styles gives you the opportunity to learn what their comfort zones are. It allows the employees to learn more about themselves, more about their co-workers, more about how they interact with each other. Assessing employee behavior also provides a common language for all employees to speak, teaches respectful ways to communicate with each other. Assessing employee behavior styles also gives leaders a clear understanding of how they can better plan work assignments.
Assessing employee behavior can lead to increased employee retention, improved relationships, and an overall more successful work group. All of these things open up the lines of communication between you and each of your employees and that’s ALWAYS a good thing!
Participants of the upcoming Parks and Recreation Leadership Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can learn more about Assessments during my session “Understanding Personality Styles”. Now…who’s ready to go on camera?
Member Collaboration Manager, Central & SE Texas Region
Like many American’s I am pretty much obsessed with the confident television phenomenon that is Scandal’s Olivia Pope. As a communication’s professional, it’s hard for me to not want to be her. She’s confident, she’s smart, and she’s basically everything that you would want in a crisis management professional. So instead of ranting about how great the show is, I’ve opted for informing you on some of the things that I’ve learned from Scandal that directly translate to real-life communications situations.
- Never Tell a Lie
This is probably the most important one, especially for government employees. In government as well as the business world, it is vital that you maintain transparency with your public. The days where “no comment” would suffice are no longer here. “No comment” has warped from a way to avoid responding to a topic to a term that evokes wrongdoing and gives your public the impression that you are hiding something. So, don’t ever use that. Instead, stick with the truth. Don’t make anything up, don’t stretch the truth, simply state the facts that you do know. And if you don’t know how to answer a question, it’s perfectly OK to respond to someone by telling them that you will get back to them. But, let me emphasize that you MUST get back to them. You can’t leave them hanging.
- Always Have A Backup Plan
Another important thing that Olivia Pope does is that she develops multiple plans. It is vital for organizations to formulate crisis plans so that they are prepared to respond to just about any scenario that they may come across. If your organization does not already have a crisis plan in place, say something. Lead your organization in the development of a plan, the creation of a crisis team, and acquire or reach out to obtain the necessary resources that are necessary in implementing something of this magnitude. It is far easier to respond to a crisis when there are already steps outlined on how to respond. If you have no plan in place, you are relying on your reactions and emotions to formulate a plan at the last-minute, and this has the potential to add to the crisis rather than help to solve it.
- Confidence is Key
I feel like that phrase is strong enough to use on its own, however I will elaborate a bit so you see where I’m coming from. In a crisis scenario it is vital that you choose a confident spokesperson to respond to the community about what is not only happening, but also what is being done to solve the problem at hand. The spokesperson needs to not only believe what they are saying, but they need to be empathetic with their audience, letting them know that the situation is being handled and that there is nothing to worry about. Sometimes all it takes is a little confidence to reassure the public that they are in good hands. There’s nothing worse than having an unconfident spokesperson, as their lack in confidence in themselves translates to the community as untrustworthy and creates panic and worry in a crisis scenario. Both things that you do not want proliferate.
- No One Is Perfect
Always remember, no one is perfect. Not even Olivia Pope or Mary Poppins (who was only practically perfect). We all have our faults and we all make bad decisions every once in a while. It’s how you respond to these bad choices that makes you a good leader.
- Be a Gladiator
Finally, this is my favorite take-away from Scandal, “be a gladiator.” Get out there and be a leader. If you see something wrong within your organization or if you have an idea on how to improve something, be a gladiator and take the necessary steps to lead your organization down the right path.
Have you had a team member that was reluctant to move forward with a new program or plan? And it wasn’t the normal naysayer or the daily dissenter – it was your loyal, dedicated team member. Maybe it was even the one person on your staff who is always on board and supportive.
In the excitement of new initiatives, we can assume that the problem is with those who don’t share our enthusiasm. We can easily think, “What is wrong with him? Why isn’t she running with this? Why don’t they see the benefits?” We’re tempted to explain again all of the reasons why ours is such a phenomenal plan.
Even when we’ve done our due diligence, sometimes we still get ahead of ourselves or miss an important detail. A loyal supporter who is slow to embrace the change may have insight we need to hear. Yet many employees don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with their leaders. They may question their own hesitation, fear being wrong, and say nothing. But they just can’t seem to get on board.
Perhaps like some of you, I’ve occasionally focused more on convincing than listening. In one particular situation, one of my team members who was typically very supportive and positive, was hesitant about a contractor we had hired. I thought we needed the outside perspective and additional resources the contractor provided. Eventually my employee took over the project with much better results than we experienced with the contractor. I would have been wise to fully explore his hesitation much sooner.
If we are met with reluctance, what are some options for us as the leader of the team or organization?
We can remain confident that we are on track and move forward without complete buy in. An employee with less experience may not be able to conceptualize the end result. For some people, the pieces begin to fit together when the puzzle is partially completed. For others, change is difficult. Even positive changes require time for them to adjust. Pacing the implementation of the new initiative may be the solution.
Or we can probe a little deeper into the resistance. We can ask more questions with a genuine desire to understand, and a willingness to hear sincere objections. We will need to make it a safe conversation for the employee who doesn’t like disagreeing or fears disappointing us. We can assure the employee that we welcome input, and we will listen and carefully consider his or her opinions and objections.
One aspect of crisis prevention is to keep asking at every step along the way, “What could possibly go wrong? What are we missing? What could backfire?” Dreamers and visionaries often see only what could go right. That’s the wonderful balance of a diverse team! We need the idealist, the realist, the “jump in and get it done” people as well as the “let’s wait and evaluate” team members.
It can be a very wise investment to keep humbly asking the right questions to get to the source of reluctance. What we learn could be a gift that allows us to sidestep a land mine, readjust our timeline, or tweak the plan so we are on the very best path for success!
Executive Search Manager
We’ve all heard the phrase, “it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch,” and while much of the time this can ring true in an office environment, it really doesn’t have to.
If you have someone in your office that you feel has a “negative” attitude toward work, this is a huge red flag for you as a leader to look around and make sure that all of your employees are satisfied with their positions and the work environment. Chances are, the negativity or frustration is affecting more than one person. This is where relationship building comes in and the importance of actually getting to know your employees. Not just their names, but actually who they are.
Let me give you an example. Many moons ago I worked as a retail manager. While in this position I was transferred to a new store, a store that already had their own culture and employees who were used to a certain management style. Let’s just say that the change in management did not go over well with employees, because after all, adding someone new into the mix, especially a newly promoted manager, can be a hard thing to adjust to. Instead of letting the defiant attitudes get me down, what did I do? I got to know my employees. I learned about who they were, what they liked to do for fun outside of work, and most importantly what their aspirations were for their careers. I listened.
What I learned from all of that is that, like customers, frustrated employees simply want to be heard. They want to build that rapport with their managers so that they can go to them with any issue they may be facing, because they then know that their manager will look out for them and get things done. So while you must listen, you also must show that you follow through with your promises. Never make promises you can’t keep. This is what makes a good leader.
So here’s a list of some suggestions for how to become a better leader and cut out office negativity:
- Get to know your employees and build a lasting rapport with them.
- Listen to them. This is where that open door policy that everyone talks about comes in.
- Show them that you are a doer not a don’ter, because the minute you promise something to an employee and don’t follow through, you lose their trust.
- Finally, ensure that you are treating your employees as well as you treat your customers.
In my opinion, dedicating yourself to these steps will help to cut out any negativity that may invade the workplace. Treating your employees as well, if not better, than how you treat your customers will give them the motivation to succeed, contributing positively the organization’s goals.
That’s just my two cents. What are your thoughts?
Do you need to have all the boxes checked in order to promote?
The answer is easy, no, you do not.
Last month, I wrapped up my Master of Public Administration degree and in my studies I approached the topic of diversity in local government, and more specifically, how to inspire women to take on leadership positions in government. What I found out was interesting…
You may already be aware that women comprise over half of the United States population, but what you may not know is that, according to ICMA, “by 2006, women earned 59 percent of MPA degrees while the proportion of men had declined to just more than 40 percent.” So if women make up more than half of the population and are earning more MPA degrees than men, why isn’t local, or federal government for that matter, representative of this part of the population in leadership positions?
After researching this topic to death, and spending multiple all-nighters chugging coffee, I finally found a reason that made sense. It’s not that women don’t want to take on leadership positions in government, it’s that they believe that before they can promote they must have all the boxes checked. This differs with men, who tend to apply for a position when they have a little over half of the boxes checked. I know, it may sound silly, but I can definitely relate to this. I have stopped myself from applying for many jobs because, after reading the job description, I thought that I didn’t meet all of the standards that the position was asking for. But the thing is, you don’t have to meet all of the standards, you just have to be willing to learn.
I have read this over and over, and believe wholeheartedly, that government leadership should be representative of the people with whom they serve. It is because of this that I think that government’s should be taking the necessary steps to achieve diversity and to encourage the growth and development of ALL staff members. Now, whether you achieve this through the establishment of a mentor program (inside or outside your organization), coaching, or by encouraging your employees to pursue further education or training, is up to you, but sometimes it helps to give your employees a little push and remind them that you are an advocate for their career development. Who knows, that little push could lead your employees on the path to the next presidency.
What are your thoughts?
The wind that famously sweeps down the plain can quickly become a violent vortex leveling everything in its path … homes, schools, entire communities. Oklahoma local government leaders are experts on storm recovery.
A couple of years ago when I was the Executive Director for the City Management Association of Oklahoma, I wanted to host an informational panel discussion at one of our quarterly meetings and invite managers who had been through the worst of the storms to participate. Other conferences focused on the administrative or technical aspects of storm recovery. I wanted to hear about the leadership skills that these managers drew on to restore the confidence of their community and heal its spirit after such devastation.
Our panel included managers who had been through severe weather events that left death and extreme destruction in their wake. This experienced panel had walked through the fire and some of their shoes were still charred when we met.
First we asked how they dealt with their own stress. One manager shared that he couldn’t always turn to his normal support system because his spouse and family were also experiencing the shock of what happened to the community. He received encouragement and support from the members of his Sunday school class. A young manager admitted that he would do some things differently – he worked too many hours, forgot to eat at times, and used alcohol for stress relief. He was honest in sharing that the ways he dealt with the tremendous pressures were not always healthy for him or his family.
We asked which leadership skill was most critical to them in the hours and days after the devastating destruction. Every manager on the panel agreed on the one leadership skill that helped him best serve his suffering city.
When I was attending college, one of my part-time jobs was working at a day care. (Stay with me, I promise this is relevant.) One afternoon while I was working, a little boy fell and hit his face. When I lifted him up, his lip was bleeding and I panicked. I grabbed him and ran through the day care calling for the manager. She calmly set him on a counter and asked to see his lip. Then she told him that it looked like the kind of injury that could be helped by a Popsicle. He stopped crying, took the cold treat, and went back to play. Then the day care manager said something I have never forgotten, “Claudia, they are looking to us to see how serious the situation is. When we stay calm, it helps them be confident that things are under control.”
Even in such critical circumstances, the same leadership skill helped these local government leaders reassure their battered communities. They shared that they always spoke calmly, and with confidence in their staff and their community. Every time they were asked to speak at a press conference, in an interview, in an internal or external meeting, they assured their hurting communities that they would recover.
Did they always “feel” calm? Were they always confident of the future? They admitted there were times they were frustrated, weary and overwhelmed. But they also instinctively knew one key leadership principle would have a positive and healing impact at the point of their city’s greatest need – when leaders express confidence, they instill it in others.
In every instance, the communities represented by these managers pulled together, rebuilt and recovered. Their cities are proof of the principle.
Executive Search Manager
Photo by Mike Mezeul II Photography
Five Questions to Help You Determine the Right Path
No leadership competency is more critical than recruiting, assessing and developing current and future leaders. And while decisions regarding how to fill vacancies impact quality of operational management – they also profoundly affect employee engagement and motivation, organizational culture, and ultimately mission success. Failure to carefully choose who fills a vacancy as well as how the vacancy is filled – can profoundly impact the leader’s credibility. Any time a vacancy occurs, it is not just those who are drawn to the prospect of being promoted into the vacancy who have a stake in the process… everyone who could be affected by the ripples of someone receiving the promotion feel a stake in the outcome – especially those who will work for whoever fills the vacancy!
In an ideal world, you would always have a strong pool of internal candidates to choose from but that is not always the case… and determining whether to simply promote from within or to open up an external recruitment process can be challenging.
Do We Have an Adequate Pool to Promote from Within?
The following questions will assist the leader in evaluating whether to promote from within, or to conduct an external recruitment.
- Do you have internal prospects with the essential technical qualifications to do the job? Too many organizations confuse essential and ideal, and as a result miss out on promoting exceptional candidates.
- Do those internal prospects who meet the essential technical qualifications have a track record of success in their current position? Some people make success happen and others are along for the ride. Know the difference.
- Have those internal prospects, who meet the technical qualifications and have a track record of success, completed leadership development programs to prepare themselves for promotion? Look for employees who are investing in their own growth even if internal development programs are not offered.
- Do those internal prospects, who meet the technical qualifications, have a track record of success and have they completed preparatory leadership programs while maintaining a reputation for a positive attitude and great teamwork among their current employees, peers and supervisors? Unpleasant people who are promoted become unpleasant bosses.
- Are those internal prospects who meet all of the above standards philosophically aligned with the organization’s stated mission, vision and values and do they have a reputation for walking the talk? Nothing damages credibility more than “do as I say not as I do” leadership.
These questions form a bit of a funnel, moving from the easiest criteria for evaluation, to the more challenging (but still critical). Proceeding through each of the five questions, it is likely the number of prospects still considered viable diminishes. In an ideal situation, you can answer all five questions affirmatively for at least three prospects. If so, an internal recruitment process only should be adequate. However, still opening up the process organization wide ensures everyone has a fair opportunity to compete, and that someone who has great potential has not gone unnoticed.
Remember, these questions are not designed to determine who to hire… they merely help determine whether adequate options exist internally to avoid an external recruitment process. Hiring decisions are almost always much better if options are available to contrast and compare to.
If you cannot answer in the affirmative on all five questions for at least three internal prospects, it is likely that an external recruitment process is appropriate.