Gossip has always been there. It’s as old as communication itself. And people gathering around a water cooler to shoot the breeze is a great way to create great teams. It forges connections, builds trust, provides a means of learning unwritten social norms and offers a way of comparing ourselves with others. Then again, office gossip and talking can create problems. When it’s bad and malicious, it can alienate people, cause morale problems and affect productivity.
Bonnie Rochman at Forbes says office gossip can build real camaraderie and creates trust. “From a manager’s perspective, water cooler chatter can also serve a useful social function by keeping employees in line. For example, if you know your boss will start a whisper campaign every time you show up late, you’re more likely to put your nose to the grindstone.”
But as the W2W network says, it can also be damaging. “Gossip has many adverse side effects on an organisation. It can increase conflict and decrease morale. It results in strained relationships. Gossip breaks down the trust level within the group, which results in employees second-guessing each other and ultimately running to the supervisor to clarify the directions or instructions, or to settle the differences that will arise. Gossip is the death of teamwork as the group breaks up into cliques and employees start refusing to work with others.”
Calvin Sun at Tech Republic says managers have to do several things to handle this. First, they have to set an example. If they are speculating idly or chatting with people about what’s going down, they shouldn’t be surprised if their subordinates are doing it. He says managers also have to be willing to talk to people and give them clear answers. Otherwise, they’ll gossip. He says managers also have to keep the communication lines open so that when a problem arises, staff are told about it. That’s better than them hearing about it on the grapevine. Managers are also advised not to shoot the messenger. If they take action against a staff member who raises a difficult issue, staff members will simply complain among themselves, causing a vicious circle of discontent and gossip. He says they should also confront the gossiper, deal with the issue and not the person and refuse to be drawn in. If you feel you can’t avoid the gossip and you can’t change the subject, at least try to verify the information you’re hearing. Ask about details about places and times. If people are complaining about something, see if you could get them to find a solution. And finally, don’t announce or make a big deal about what you’re doing. Above all, avoid being condescending or lecturing people about the evils of gossip.
Management experts say managers should communicate regularly with a consistent positive message, focusing on such topics as industry trends, organisational changes, new products, promotions, terminations and retirements. They should also make sure they are visible, accessible and approachable, acknowledge good performance and make sure everyone is working together rather than competing with one another.
There is no doubt that telecommuting makes for a more productive and challenging workplace. The challenge for managers: how do you manage the invisible? Telecommuters may not naturally know how to interact effectively across space and time. They need strong team skills such as setting goals and sharing responsibility for getting things done. And they need smart managers to make sure they can leverage their skills in a virtual working environment.
Victor Lipman at Forbes points out that the problem with telecommuting is not the telecommuting itself, it’s about management. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with telecommuting. It can be efficient, employee-friendly and environmentally preferable – a constructive morale booster for all. But it has to be managed …Human nature being what it is, if a person is working from home and hardly anyone is ever checking in on him or her, there’s a reasonable chance there will be, shall we say, less rigour in the operation.”
Management writer James Surowiecki at The New Yorker says telecommuting is a challenge for managers. “The fundamental point is that much of the value that gets created in a company comes from the ways in which workers teach and learn from each other,’’ Surowiecki says. “If telecommuters do less of that, the organisation will be weaker. On top of this, there’s evidence that telecommuting can make it hard to foster trust and solidarity.”
Nonetheless, telecommuting is now the big trend and managers have to develop strategies to deal with it. Time Magazine says managers need to have certain things in place. First, and most obviously, they have to select the right people for the job. These people have to meet performance standards, including the ability to work independently and productively with a high degree of accountability. Secondly, managers have to formulate a policy around for the expenses the company is willing to reimburse, such as broadband internet and phone service. If there are children at the workplace, they have to make sure that someone is providing care. There needs to be some kind of service for conference calling, screen sharing and video for meetings. There are a number of low-cost and even free options. And they have to make sure that corporate data is protected, particularly on laptops and mobile devices.
Marten Mickos, CEO of cloud software maker Eucalyptus Systems recommends having a “virtual water cooler” with Intranet chat rooms and bulletin boards. “Telecommuters don’t get that casual water-cooler contact, so it’s important to create it virtually,” Mickos says. “When you show your own human side as well, communication rises to a whole new level.” He returns the favour by sending an all-hands email about once a month, “just talking about things like what I’m reading these days and why it interests me, or mentioning milestone occasions in my family.”
It’s good for recruiting too. “Word gets around,’’ he says. “Establishing this culture has allowed us to recruit great talent, in spite of competition from Google and other huge companies nearby.”
Jessica Stillman at Gigaom says managers need to spend a lot of their time communicating with the telecommuters, constantly touching base. “Find the time to speak with your team about those all-important “how” questions: How are we making decisions? How do we give each other feedback? How do we want to deal with conflict and how do we want to bring it up?” She also says they have to know how to deal with conflict (as these things gets swept under the carpet more easily when people are working remotely) and how to deal with cross-cultural differences (a lot of telecommuting teams tend to be made up of people from different cultures). And finally, she says, it’s important to have a virtual open door policy.
Change leaders always seem to have innovative solutions to pressing problems. Passionate about changing the world and organisations, they want to make a difference. They are result-driven, goal-oriented and competitive. The best are also pragmatic, effective, and hands-on. They are flexible and work tirelessly and relentlessly to create the change they desire. They are the best managers of all.
John Katzenbach from the consulting firm McKinsey says great change leaders don’t actually come from the top. He says the real change leaders who affect how the majority of people perform come from the ranks of middle and frontline managers. “RCLs (Real Change Leaders) connect top management aspirations and strategic intent with fresh market insights and responsive workforce actions. They hunger for marketplace reality; denial is not in their vocabulary. Nor do they take anyone else’s word for that reality. They regularly talk with customers and find out at first-hand what competitors are up to. And they use this intelligence to energize the people who work around them.” Forbes contributor Erika Andersen says great change leaders build the right teams. She suggests managers should think about cultivating three types of helpers in their lives: wizards, well-wishers, and wild cards.
Wizards are seasoned experts with unique knowledge they can share (think mentors or outside consultants). Well-wishers are their support team, whether it’s a loving spouse or loyal colleagues at work. And wild cards, she says, are “people who you’re not sure if they’re going to eat you or help you.”
She says the best change leaders are self-aware. “What’s most important and foundational is an accurate self-assessment,’’ Andersen says. “Even OK leaders can get to be quite good if they’re self-aware.” ‘
She says change leaders also have to know how to balance their strength with vulnerability. They need to be strong but permeable, open to suggestion so they can bring people with them. “Unfortunately, a lot of new leaders think they have to suddenly have all the answers, always be right, and never let them see you sweat, but that’s BS – it doesn’t work, at least in the long run. Strength and inclusiveness are what really bring out other people.”
Arnold Anderson at the Houston Chronicle says the great change leaders are persuasive, thorough and confident. They have great communication skills to get their ideas across and they have to be unwavering in the execution of the change.
One of the world’s great management thinkers John Kotter says change leadership is completely different from change management. People shouldn’t get them mixed up. Change management is about trying to push things along, but it’s also trying to minimise disruptions by keeping things under control and trying to make sure change is done efficiently in the sense of they don’t go over budget.
“And change leadership is just fundamentally different—it’s an engine,’’ Kotter says. “It’s more about urgency. It’s more about masses of people who want to make something happen. It’s more about big visions. It’s more about empowering lots and lots of people. Change leadership has the potential to get things a little bit out of control.”
And unfortunately, he says, we tend to produce more change managers than change leaders. “Change leadership is going to be the big challenge in the future, and the fact that almost nobody is very good at it is—well, it’s obviously a big deal,’’ he says.
Exit interviews are an extremely important and useful tool for managers. Proper exit interviews are an excellent opportunity to learn about both the strengths and weaknesses of the manager and the organisation. They help managers understand how best to satisfy and retain employees. Unfortunately, managers at the time are so busy trying to find a replacement that doing the interviews themselves, or connecting with HR, is their last priority. How should exit interviews best be handled?
Specialists say it’s important for managers to make sure that staff understand you plan to ask questions to ultimately make improvements to the conditions within your workplace. Managers should explain the confidential nature of the exit interview process clearly. They should also make it clear that their feedback, however positive or negative, is valuable and highly appreciated. The employee should be given time to prepare and the interview should take place well before the employee’s last day. This provides an opportunity to reflect and review and potentially resolve issues, allowing both parties to separate on good terms. The employees should be treated with respect and dignity.
HR specialists say the exit interview should be a critical part of every workforce management strategy.
“Feedback, though illuminating, is not useful from just one exit interview. Only speaking with all departing employees will allow you to identify trends that point to chronic or systemic weaknesses in the company’s retention management. For this reason, it is important to design effective exit-interview protocols and administer them consistently.”
The National Federation of Independent Business in America has some standard questions that should be asked:
• How do you feel you were treated by your supervisor and your co-workers?
• How well do you believe your work was recognised and appreciated?
• Do you feel you were given adequate training and assistance in learning your job?
• Can you see opportunities for transfer or promotion within this business?
• How would you describe the morale of your fellow employees?
• How fairly was the workload distributed among you and your co-workers?
• What could be done to make this company a better place to work?
Ruth Mayhew at the Houston Chronicle says managers should not try to persuade the employee to provide a certain type of response.
“For open-ended questions, give the employee time to think about the response and record the response accurately,’’ Mayhew says. “Provide clarification whenever necessary. If the employee is leaving for personal or health-related reasons, do not pry. Stick to job-related questions about the employee’s experience with the company.
“Reiterate how the company uses information from exit interview questions when you ask about company leadership. Employees might hesitate to give less than favourable feedback about supervisors or managers for fear of retribution or concern that they won’t get a decent reference during a job search. Explain that information gathered during an exit interview is used in the most positive way to improve the company’s leadership.”
Flexible work requires a completely different style of management. How can you tell whether an employee is really working when you can’t see them? How do you measure performance if two people are sharing one job? Should employees on flexible work plans be evaluated in the same way as regular employees? All these are important questions.
Flexible work covers many different types of work. There’s working from home, working from the office but also from home at night, working compressed hours, working from an alternative work site, contract work or consulting, job sharing, part time work or casual work of various kinds.
But as Brian Amble says at Management Issues, managers no longer have a choice. Flexibility is here right now and the momentum towards more flexibility will increase as people try to balance work with busy lives.
He cites research initiated by Microsoft which found that increasing flexibility and mobility would make the physical office – a container in which information and knowledge is processed – a thing of the past. And poor management is likely to be exposed when flexible work is introduced.
“‘For years, managers have been used to managing people simply by watching over them,’ said Peter Thompson, director of the Future Work Forum and project leader for the report. ‘With the rise of flexible working, that style will have to change or else we face the prospect of managers holding back the tide of flexible working like a modern day King Canute.’”
Thompson goes on to say that communication, trust and objective setting are critical for managing remote workers, both now and in the future and that managers have to start measuring outputs rather than when the work is carried out.
A paper done by the Queensland branch of the Australian Institute of Management says that managers need to be trained to manage flexibility. They would need higher levels of organisation, better performance management techniques, top skills in negotiation and communication, the ability to handle complexity and a strategic ability to see the long term beneﬁts even if short term costs are looming large.
“Especially when implementing large-scale workplace ﬂexibility, managers will need skills in change management. In addition, managers may be under constraints when implementing ﬂexible work arrangements, and may need speciﬁc resources to implement ﬂexibility effectively,’’ the paper says. “It is important that managers have the skills to ensure that ﬂexible jobs deliver beneﬁts for both the employer and the employees: this means managers need to understand that not all employees have the ability, conﬁdence or power in the workplace to negotiate their work arrangements.”
According to a recent AIM VT survey, 57 per cent of workers said flexible work arrangements kept them at organisations and 54 per cent said inflexible work arrangements stopped women from taking on senior management positions.
Guidelines for managers created at Rice University in Texas says managers need to create a working plan with the employee working flexible hours. That document will have to spell out the hours and days that they work, the responsibilities that are shared, how contingencies will be handled and a timetable for reviewing the arrangements. With people working off-site, they need to ensure the site is appropriate, has all the necessary technology and has been checked over by the Human Resources Department. They also have to establish ground rules about child care. With job sharing, managers have to support the arrangement, anticipate a transition period when employees might need extra support in the beginning, respect the schedule, make sure others respect it and treat all job sharers equally.
Many managers eventually quit their jobs and to throw it all in and to branch out on their own as entrepreneurs. It’s a natural career path. But many are surprised at how tough it is, how much harder they have to work and how much stress it puts them under. So a lot of them end up abandoning those plans and going back to work as an employee manager. If you are planning to become an entrepreneur , the most important question to ask is whether you’re cut out for it.
Nicole Fallon at BusinessNews Daily gives us some warning signs to watch out for, signs that are telling you not to go there. These include not being comfortable with being uncomfortable, getting bored and frustrated easily, or being the type of person who likes to go in a new direction every 60 days, being uncomfortable with the idea of taking centre stage, not knowing how to handle the countless up and downs of the roller coaster life as an entrepreneur, being focused on complexity instead of simple solutions, refusing to embrace or not knowing how to go about marketing, getting easily winded by challenges and problems, refusing to take tough decisions or simply being in it for some quick cash.
“Entrepreneurs are optimistic and future oriented; they believe that success is possible and are willing to risk their resources in the pursuit of profit. They are fast moving and flexible, willing to change quickly when they get new information. Entrepreneurs are persistent and determined to succeed, because their own money and ego are at risk,’’ Tracy says.
“Entrepreneurs are skilled at selling against their competitors by creating perceptions of difference and uniqueness in their products and services. They continually seek ways to offer their products and services in such a way that they’re more attractive than anything else available.
“Entrepreneurs are capable of dealing effectively with the legal and governmental requirements of business. They’re creative and determined in satisfying regulations and acquiring the licenses necessary to do business. They are excellent problem solvers and are continually seeking solutions to the obstacles that inevitably arise.”
Tracy has a point but the problem with these descriptions is that they can describe just about any good manager. Being persistent, determined, good at creating points of difference and dealing with regulations should be part of their skill set. That could have zero impact on your ability to succeed as an entrepreneur.
According to Jessica Stillman at Inc.com it would be better to try it out first on a small scale and see if it works for you. She suggests getting some alone time in between classes or during lunch and brainstorming some business ideas. Then go out and get some feedback to see if it flies. Check out to see what other entrepreneurs in your field of interest are doing and talk to them. How do they build the business? Then finally, make a decision based on your research. That way you are not flying blind.
Do you think you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
Great teams don’t just happen. They are the result of a lot of work from team leaders and team members. Everyone there knows what makes teams work well and at the same time, acknowledge what’s important for individual team members while linking individual aspirations and goals to the remit of the organisation. The manager plays a critical role bringing all that together.
Glenn Llopis at Forbes says managers have to be very much aware of their own individual style and techniques. They have to constantly evaluate themselves and be critical about where they can improve, especially in areas that will benefit those whom they are a leading. They have to get to know the team and know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them. They should also clearly define everyone’s role and responsibility. This is not unlike team sport where everyone plays to a position. Everyone is allocated a role that fits in with their strengths and capabilities.
The managers should also be giving constant feedback. Doing it only when there’s a problem is counter-productive. It has to be proactive and just part of the natural dialogue. And finally, they have to acknowledge and reward and always celebrate the success stories that in many cases required tremendous effort, sacrifice and perseverance.
Writing in Psychology Today, Liane Davey, a Vice President of Knightsbridge Leadership Solutions, compares teams to machines. Just as machines take corn syrup, water, carbon dioxide, and artificial colouring and mix them into a delicious drink, great teams take diverse ideas, information and processes from all the different team members and mix them into new perspectives. That means all teams need diversity.
Just as sophisticated machines use filters to weed out ingredients not required in the end product, managers running teams should have the skill to figure out what not to do and what to do and look at the risks of different approaches and proceeding, or not proceeding, accordingly. And every team member is a cog in the machine. One person starts the idea moving and the added value of the next person gets it moving faster and faster.
The people at Fast Company say size is critical for every team. “What’s the secret to a great team? Think small. Ideally, your team should have 7 to 9 people. If you have more than 15 or 20, you’re dead:
The connections between team members are too hard to make… Size is the key. Have the smallest number of people possible on each team. Another rule: no delegates. You don’t want people who have to take the team’s ideas back to someone else to get authorisation. You want the decision makers.”
And the manager here plays a critical role. “The management challenge is to understand that the people who report to you may get most of their direction from another person or from several other people: their team leaders. And people can be on more than one team, of course. It’s the manager’s job to think about whether this person is being stretched too thin, or whether that person needs some special training.”
What’s the elevator pitch? It’s the green light for you to let loose about your amazing idea that’s going to change the world. Get it right, and everything will fall into place for you as a manager. But a delivery that fails to capture attention means your great idea is unlikely to see the light of day. So what are the secrets behind a great elevator pitch?
The Mind Tools site has a great step-by-step guide. First, and most obviously, is to identify your goal. What exactly do you want to achieve? Then, start your pitch by describing what you do, focusing on the problems that you solve and how you help people. If you can, add information or a statistic that shows the value in what you do. What sort of productivity improvement was there? How much did it improve sale? And then , comes the USP (Unique Selling Proposition), which identifies what makes the idea so valuable and rare. After that, it is a good idea to engage in a question, one that’s open-ended and can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no” answer. Do that, and your foot is in the door.
The people at Mind Tools also advise managers to practise it until they get it right. “Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Remember, how you say it is just as important as what you say. If you don’t practice, it’s likely that you’ll talk too fast, sound unnatural, or forget important elements of your pitch. Set a goal to practice your pitch regularly. The more you practice, the more natural your pitch will become. You want it to sound like a smooth conversation, not an aggressive sales pitch. Make sure that you’re aware of your body language as you talk, which conveys just as much information to the listener as your words do. Practise in front of a mirror or, better yet, in front of colleagues until the pitch feels natural.”
Alicia Ciccone at the Huffington Post reminds us that the pitch is about presenting the idea, it’s not about closing the deal, that comes later. Taking people from beginning to end will likely leave them overwhelmed with information, and generally uninterested. Also, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Someone has to do it. It’s not bragging if it’s true and relevant. Also, have multiple versions prepared.
Whether you’re at an event, an impromptu meeting or in a boardroom, you have to be able to modify your pitch to fit the environment and the audience. Another good idea is to capture it on video. These days, it can be done cheaply and shot from just about anywhere, thanks to user-friendly phone technology and programs like iMovie. It is something the other person can take away with them. And besides, it creates discipline that will force you to make your delivery razor sharp. Michael Schrage at the Harvard Business Review suggests you can even do it on your smart phone and then hand it around.
Other advice includes keeping it short, having a hook, pitching yourself and highlighting what you’ve done – the concrete accomplishments or skills – rather than some intangible concept or a future goal, keeping a lid on statistics and technical information, and practising it, including writing it all down.
Everyone wants to work in a creative environment, one that fosters innovation and encourages people to stretch themselves. But how do managers create that sort of workplace?
Michael Alter at Inc.com says managers have to first of all give employees leeway and responsibility.
“When your employees aren’t given any autonomy to make decisions on tough calls, the result can be staffers who are satisfied with the status quo. You’ll end up with a culture that’s a hindrance to innovation, rather than an enabler of it,’’ he says.
Barbara Armstrong at Forbes says there is no magic bullet. Much of it, she says, comes down to culture. Companies might try all sorts of initiatives, from open office plans to building an innovation lab, but they are wasting time and resources if they don’t have the right culture. It has to be embraced by top management as a priority.
Edward Goldman at Wired says companies avoid innovation when they only take risks that will ensure success. They have to be prepared to tolerate failure, that’s the nature of innovation.
“Support of failure does not mean that you need to build out a new reward system that provides monetary compensation for each failure, “Congratulations Bob that is your third failure this week, here is your bonus!” It means that you recognisze it, don’t spend time looking for who is at fault and penalisze everyone, but focus on what was learned from the failure and how to overcome it. How can you avoid it in the future and strive for better results?
This is one reason that small companies or newer companies can innovate faster in many cases. They do not have the time to search for all the guilty parties and punish them in their reviews, they have to continuously evolve and deliver quickly, which forces them to adapt and learn from these mistakes. They are also very focused on the goal and not always married to the path to deliver. This frees them from the constraints and allows for more dynamic approaches.”
Gwen Moran at Entrepeneur.com says extrinsic motivations like paying people cash or giving them some kind of reward doesn’t create as much incentive for innovation as allowing people to develop their ideas within the business framework. So what do managers have to do to get employees to think in innovative ways?
“First, work on trend-spotting,’’ Moran says. “Have them think through how the world is changing and where your business fits in those changes and over what period of time. Societal shifts in demographics, attitudes, and priorities are huge and can dramatically increase or decrease the demand for business. Your customers might be demanding faster service, more sustainable practices, or something else can really change how you deliver your products and services. What could you be doing now to develop solutions to those future changes? Stay aggressive and forward-looking as opposed to defensive and reactive.
“Encourage them to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and experience what the customer is experiencing making this purchase or engaging with your company. What are their concerns? How could it be made better? Those are opportunities for innovation.”
Restructuring these days is so common. Indeed, it’s unusual these days if you haven’t been made redundant at some stage of your career. It’s not an easy process for anyone to go through, and that includes the managers who have had the unenviable job of making people redundant. The most challenging part for managers is trying to rebuild morale after the cleanout.
Jannine Fraser, the managing director of outplacement firm Directioneering told me here that the most important thing to do is communicate with everyone after the departures, and to keep the exits dignified. Managers can’t do enough communicating in those sorts of situations, she says.
“This idea … is aimed at survival and growth and promoting an engaged workforce with the lowest possible disruption to business and reputation,’’ Fraser says. “It’s very easy to get caught in the detail of exits and forget what the longer-term purpose of the organisation and process is about.
“Ensuring dignified exits is fundamental because everyone is looking at it and wondering: ‘If it’s me next, how will it be for me?’”
Michael Comer at the Hayes Group says managers need to plan for this before the redundancies start. The need to plan how to help surviving employees adjust to organisational changes, they have to work out the communications required on why changes were necessary and how roles will change and they have to plan on how to improve morale after the “grieving” period.
Following the redundancies, they have to make sure they’re visible. The worst thing they can do is spend their time hiding in the office. They have to communicate with remaining staff extensively and they need to apply empathic listening.
“In today’s environment less than 50 per cent trust upper management (and rightfully so),’’ Comer writes. “However, most people trust their immediate manager. Because of this, the roles of manager and supervisor become more important to survival of the organisation. Managers must reinforce the trust factor since many survivors may feel emotionally disappointed. Once trust is lost it is almost impossible to regain…Our experience shows that effective managers understand what employees work for and know how to respond to their “wants”. There are instruments available that assist managers in understanding what motivates employees, but generally we say, “Ask them”. However, just understanding the “wants” is not enough. In a new downsized environment, the manager must create an atmosphere of motivation.”
Writing in the Sloan Management Review, Karen Mishra, a managing partner at AKM Consulting & Research, Gretchen Spreitzer, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Southern California, Graduate School of Business and Aneil Mishra, a visiting assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Michigan State University say that managers have to be trained to rebuild morale and obviously, the training has to take place beforehand.
“Training should explain how to communicate the downsizing announcement empathically and convincingly,’’ they write. “It should give the managers who execute the layoffs skills and practice in telling employees that they will lose their jobs. Managers, including the human resources manager, should be able to answer any questions. Sharing bad news with employees is never painless and is often accompanied by “terminator guilt.” These managers can become the scapegoats for a top management decision. Some laid-off workers will be unable to comprehend what is happening and will lash out at the messenger or become violent. But managers prepared to deal with their emotions and those of employees in advance can feel competent in executing this difficult task. Often these managers need counselling and support after they share the news with employees to deal with their own guilt and stress.”
Other suggestions include telling the people the truth and over-communicating and helping employees find other jobs.