Why write an article of this nature when most businesses are closed due to COVID-19. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on your workplace culture practices and make suggestions to change the way you approach your organization and the people within it.
Brian Kristofek once said, “Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and great company.”
The success of your company or organization depends largely upon your ability to develop a positive company culture.
How you develop or adjust policies, procedures, and processes to meet the needs of a rapidly changing future has a profound impact on the atmosphere, values, structure, and morale of people within your organization.
So what can you do to foster a positive company culture? Well that is what The Workplace Culture video found in FORTIS MEMBERSHIP is all about.
This 30-minute video covers a wide range of topics that will assist you in developing a positive culture among your team and within your workplace. The following are five suggestions from that video.
1. Assess Your Current Culture
Assessing your company culture is easy when you are just starting out. After all, culture starts with the very first person you hire. You begin setting your company culture right away by setting out the type of person and values that suites you and your company.
However what happens when your company is already well established? What do you do then? How do you maintain and improve your existing company or organizational culture? Basically you will need to reassess and define your company culture if you want to see some improvements.
Here are some simple steps to understand, change and improve your existing culture.
a) Evaluate your on-boarding process. If your hiring and training methods are antiquated consider transitioning into more personalized, open and participatory processes.
b) Determine whether the leadership is fluid and agile. Your organization will have difficulty moving forward if your leadership team is static and resistant to change.
c) Review your organization’s recognition and rewards program. Give employees several options on how they want to be recognized and rewarded.
d) Assess the interaction among team members and the interaction among teams. The goal is to establish relations that will pave the way for effective collaboration.
2. Know and identify the values that underpin your business operations.
If you don’t do this it won’t be easy to identify what you want your company culture to look like. Some questions you should ask yourself when uncovering your company values are:
3. Institutionalize the culture
After you have identified the kind of culture you want and need, commit the policies and processes to reinforce the new culture. Make sure these policies and processors are scalable so that they can meet growth and change. You can do this by engaging a number of employees in the hiring process, essentially involving them in determining if a new hire is a good fit with the culture. Other things you can do are:
4. Build Trust
The foundation to every company success is employee trust. It is unfortunate that a lot of major companies have high levels of alienation and distrust among leaders and employees. Communication issues are often the culprit in this regard. The foundation to building strong trust within an organization is always good communication. Make sure you:
5. Reduce Micromanagement.
Micromanagement holds employees back. In smaller organizations bureaucracy and micromanagement can almost be eliminated. The barriers between management and owner in smaller organizations can be encouraged. A flat organizational model can work when there is a close connection between managers and employees. Bureaucracy is reduced when there is direct access to the leadership team or business owner. Make everyone feel that they belong and that they are capable of handling and finishing their own work. When employees own their own work they feel valued and have a sense of belonging.
Thank you for Reading,
PS. If you are a member of FORTIS MEMBERSHIP go to Masterclasses and Training. The video "Workplace Culture" is under the heading LEADERMANAGER. if you are not a member consider joining HERE.
There are several essential skills and habits you need in order to work well with others. It’s important that you develop proper habits early on in your work or career, as they do help you improve your relationships with your follow teammates, supervisors or managers. They also may be the sauce that gives you the opportunity to move into a leadership position. Essential skills and habits are extremely important in the workplace these days because of the number of people looking for work. If you don’t have them you can be sure others do.
Many of these habits may seem obvious to you but they are not so for everyone else they wouldn’t have to be listed. To be sure these five essential habits are not the only ones you need to exceed, but they give you a good place to begin. These suggested five are really easy to put into practice so there’s no reason to get excited thinking that you have to change your entire way of life.
If you look at essential skills separately, they don’t add up to much, but taken together they could mean the difference between keeping your job or getting fired. And very few people I know want that to happen to them
It’s always important to take responsibility for what you do, especially if something goes wrong, and things can go wrong very quickly. No one is perfect. Often people think they are perfect, but the reality is they are not. We all make mistakes. The best approach when you make a mistake is not to claim that it wasn’t your fault. Own up to the mistake and don’t pass the buck. That way you will be telling the truth and owning up to the fact that you were in control of the situation
When you take responsibility you will notice to important things: One, your co-workers will likely be more willing to help you correct the problem and thus help you to succeed. Number two, your co-workers will be more comfortable around you, as they will recognize your honesty and that you don’t get into the blame game.
Keep Your Mind Open
George know he was absolutely correct, but he kept an open mind. You see George was in a team leadership position and he knew that by keeping an open mind he gave his team members an opportunity to try something different and still succeed. You see when you come across as a know it all you don’t leave room for alternate ideas. And when you come across as a know it all you put others on the defensive and its downhill from there.
Practicing a bit of humility and concern about finding the right answer for every situation and problem, is more important than soothing one’s ego. You see there is more than one way to solve a problem and others just may have a different problem-solving process than you. Teamwork does have the potential to come up with alternative ideas much faster than working alone. And because the ideas and solutions have gone through several filters and perspectives the resolutions have a greater chance of being successful.
Honor Your Commitments
Those that succeed in life complete their tasks and projects in a timely manner even when the unexpected puts barriers in front of them. They learn to rise above the challenges, find a work-around or seek help so that they can honor their commitments. They also plan their projects well in advance, building in time to resolve the unexpected. It’s much better to give yourself more time to finish what you are working on, rather than underestimating the time to complete your assignment. This way you don’t have to be anxious about not meeting deadlines and disappointing your colleagues or your employer.
Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Set your personal bar high, but not so high that you can’t accomplish what you have set out to accomplish. And follow up on commitments you have made to ensure that to ensure that your team leader and team members are satisfied with the result. This accomplishes two things. First it strengthens workplace relationships, and second you get needed feedback on your work giving you the opportunity to learn and grow as a person and colleague.
Turn Off Your Phone
It’s safe to say that almost everyone in the workplace has a cell phone these days. If you work in a large office – or even a small office – and your phone is not necessary for work, turn it off. Build in self-discipline so that you don’t check the incoming message when you are talking with someone, turn off the phone in meetings, keep your personal stuff separate from your work stuff, and deal with your personal stuff on your own time. Keep to these four habits and you will not be seen as rude by your team members and others, and you will continue to build positive relationships with all those in your workplace
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
One way to fall out of favor with your teammates is to steal their ideas and suggestions and spread them to others as if it were you who came up with them. The word” steal” may seem a little harsh here but think about it. When you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it’s called “stealing.” Well maybe that applies to ideas and suggestions as well. It’s is sign that you are working well with others when you give credit where credit is due. Your co-workers will come to respect you for it as they see you as an honest co-worker.
When you share credit when credit is due, you will build your reputation as someone who is unselfish and not someone who is out to sabotage everyone else in attempt to get ahead. Even if you get away with it without your co-workers complaining don’t waste your time celebrating or thinking that you have ‘pulled the proverbial “wool’ over their eyes”. In the long run truth usually prevails and in the end you may become isolated as your co-workers will guard what they say to you. They will begin to see you as someone who can’t be trusted with their ideas. And this is not conducive to you building healthy relationships.
You may wish to consider becoming a member of FORTIS for further ways to grow your relationships with others whether that be in the workplace or elsewhere. Want to find out more. Click here: FORTIS MEMBERSHIP
Abundant thinking is a form of positive thinking. It is about creating a mindset of positive values that allow you to perceive your life as one of abundance, not one of deficit. It teaches you to flip over your mental attitude from negative to positive and appreciate how much you have in your life to be grateful for.
However, it doesn’t suggest that our gratitude should cause us to stop striving for more and just accept our lot in life. Rather, it teaches quite the opposite: that by acknowledging how abundant our lives are already, our minds will embrace the concept that the good things in life are potentially unlimited.
Abundant comes from the Latin word “abundare” meaning abounding. It means to be richly supplied; to be plentiful. Just as the word abundant means plentiful so are the synonyms describing it. I counted over 30 of them including copious, ample, profuse, rich, lavish, large, generous, and bountiful. This means that we should have no fear of asking for more because we can be confident in its delivery. Abundance is a store that never runs out of its goods.
Abundant thinking is a philosophical approach to life. It isn’t just concerned with money, although there is a strong financial aspect that can be applied. Where money is the issue, it is viewed as a tool or a way to achieve a better quality of life– not just the material aspects, but most crucially the freedom to spend time doing the things that matter with the people that matter.
Similarly, being someone who is rich may not relate to money at all. It can even negate the willful drive for extra finances, especially where that works against the more important aspects of life, such as love and family. We all know of rich, unhappy people. We read about them every day in the news that flash across our telephones or pop up on our computers and we see them on the television; people who have a clear abundance of finances but do not feel satisfied or fulfilled. .
Abundant thinking is all about changing how you view your personal circumstances so that you can change how you view the world at large. It is realizing that you have been the cause of your sadness and struggle in life through your focus on what you don’t have, rather than on what you do have.
Here are some questions to ponder: How does the concept of abundance play out in the way you approach your work? How much of your attitude towards your work relates to your own negative thinking? Can you view things differently by turning your mental attitude towards more positive outcomes? Do you, through your negativism, feed into a toxic workplace culture?
Thank you for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
A team leader who strengthens the level of trust with his or her team is one who is skillful and effective. I think it is also true that a team leader who lacks trust with team members will have a difficult time, if not an impossible one, improving and expanding a trustful environment.
It’s not critical that team members like their leader, but they have to trust him or her. If not, she won’t be able to lead them and as a result members' motivation will wane and fall.
There is an old axiom that truth and trust go together. You could be honest for years, but one lie can destroy the trust you have built during all those years and no doubt that regaining that trust is very difficult. I liken it to breaking a glass window. A glass window works beautifully as long as it isn’t shattered. When it is shattered it is extremely difficult to patch up and most often needs to be replaced. So too, when a team leader loses the trust of his team he often needs to be replaced.
Team leaders have to be honest. Don’t say “I don’t know” when you do know. Be straight and say exactly what is on your mind. Of course you want to do that in a respectful way. When you say, ‘No” mean it. Again say it respectfully. There are certain times in the workplace when a ‘no’ is the appropriate response. The leader may not be popular during those time, but in the long run his truthful response is better than if he tried to fudge an answer or to lie about it.
In line with truth and trust is the willingness to accept criticism from both team members and colleagues. Sometimes it’s hard to accept comments – especially negative ones – but in order to lead effectively you will have to accept both negative as well as positive feedback. The key here is to listen to other ideas and suggestions without being defensive. In this way you encourage open discussion and engagement. Non-defensive listening doesn’t mean non-decision. Decisions need to made based on facts and these often come from critical criticism.
Show, as in demonstrate, is one of the hallmarks for trust. Saying “I trust you,” is important but not enough. Demonstrate trust by clarifying roles and responsibilities, communicating clearly and providing training, information and doing what you say you will do.
Another demonstration of building trust is recognizing a ‘job well done.’ Don’t be afraid to show appreciation when someone works hard and finishes an assignment successfully. Communicate your praise directly but don’t mix the praise with a negative ‘but’ – keep it simple and honest – and keep the negative comments for a private setting.
Building trust in the workplace is quite simple: Be truthful, say what you mean respectfully, be integral with what you say and what you do and be an example for others through consistent action. Building trust is all about carrying out the values of honesty and truthfulness and reflecting in your behaviour what you expect others to do. If you don’t do this expect trust to disappear and cynicism and negativism to grow in your workplace.
Thank you for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie.
A note before reading. Workplace shadows can reflect both positive and negative characteristics. Shadows used in this article reflect the darker or negative aspects found within workplaces. Read the other articles on the shadow: ‘The role of LeaderManagers in removing the shadow,’ and ‘Bringing Light To Our Own Shadow'.
All organizations and institutions be they business, not-for-profit, or religious, cast shadows. The shadow reflects the darker side of the organization. This article focuses on those darker shadows that exist in the workplace – those things that get in the workers way by stopping or slowing them down from doing good work. They cause serious vexing and discontent in the workplace.
Here are four of those things:
1. Poor communication. Communication is the grease that lubricates the systems and processes within any organization. It is one of the necessary nutrients that nurture relationships between colleagues, across boundaries and at all levels within any given company and institution. Sad but true, many leaders within an organization keep people in the dark. They don’t share needed information, encourage collaborative effort or cross boundary communication. One of the constant complaints I received during my work with organizations related to poor communications. I heard people say: “People don’t communicate here,” or “I’m not sure what I’m suppose to do. Nobody tells me anything,” or “We know changes are coming, but we don’t know how they will affect us. We’re kept in the dark.”
Poor communication causes anxiety, in-fighting, fear, discontent, relational difficulties, and sometimes public outcry. The poorer the communication the darker the shadow becomes, until employees start walking away or the quality of their work suffers.
2. Limited Engagement. Poor communication within the workplace often brings limited engagement. Workers, who complain that they don’t know what to do or are kept in the dark, are complaining not only about poor communication but also about their lack of engagement within the organization. Engagement brings light to the shadow. Disengagement fosters discontent. What does the disengagement shadow look like?
3. Lack of mutually established objectives. Concomitant with the lack of engagement and poor communication comes poor performance. Poor performance often is a result of not knowing what is expected and when that expectation is due. What frustrates workers is not that objective are set, but that they are set without their involvement. They are given to them and then told to achieve them. This is an easy way to encourage complaining in the workplace and a lack of performance because there is no ownership for the objective.
Another factor that causes frustration is when the objectives are not attainable or realistic. We live in a time where changes and shifting priorities occur rapidly. So setting timelines for the objectives that are too far into the future may not be realistic for today’s realities. In short order the objectives become obsolete and workers then wonder why they were set in the first place, and the shadow begins to darken.
4. Poor wages. There is a growing discrepancy between the wages of leadership teams and workers, especially within large corporations. It is hard for workers, and people in general, to understand the wide gap between highly paid CEOs, Vice Presidents and others within the leadership team and those on the ground floor.
Why do employees want higher wages? It’s simple. They want to care for their families, put food on the table and buy houses to make a home. My experience with business owners and their leadership teams is that they often have two complaints: taxes are too high, and they can’t afford to pay higher minimum wages. Yet, I see these same people driving big cars, owning cottages at the lake, living in large houses, and vacationing in exotic resorts. I also hear them say the highways need to be fixed, health services need to be improved, education costs are too high, and welfare programs are being abused. What is wrong with this picture?
The shadow produces a toxic environment, and unfortunately when workers criticize or complain about the darker side of the organization leaders grumble about the workers. Here’s the deal, just because workers criticize doesn’t mean they don’t like their work. What they seek is a more pleasant workplace where people get along, they want to understand the big “Why” of the company so that they can commit to it and they seek processes that allow for green tape rather than red tape.
When the shadow becomes too dark, workers walk with their feet to other places of employment. This is a recipe for high turn-over rates and in turn, higher costs; or, it results in workers organizing for higher wages, better working conditions, and improved workplace cultures.
Does your organization or place of business have a looming shadow? What do you think will happen when the shadow becomes too dark in your workplace?
Thanks for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie
You may have read several interesting articles about the difficulty some managers have with Millennials. They say Millennials lack focus, discipline and communication skills. They give several reasons for this and often suggest it relates to essential skills (some call these soft skills) not taught in their early school years (see : Trevor Muir)
Here’s my take:
Frankly, I wonder whether the problem is with the new batch of workers we call the Millennials, or with the managers who have difficulty adjusting to the new challenges they present. I also have difficulty placing people in 25-year chunks as if all people who were born during those years act in the same way. I don’t think they do but there does seem to be a few common traits among those born in each generation. So my advice is don’t lump all young people in the same category but treat them as individuals with strengths and weaknesses in the same way we treat others who have strengths and weaknesses.
Given the above rider here are some suggestions that may help you relate to Millennials and everyone else in the workforce:
Engage Workers in Strategic Thinking. Help people understand the big company picture through small group discussions. Give them meaningful issues to resolve that relate to the vision of the company. This means you don’t tell them what you want to hear but listen to their suggestions for improvement. By taking the time to paint the big picture, not in some esoteric frame but in real practical terms, will help people link their everyday work to the overall vision. If people don’t see the link between what they do and why they should do it, they won’t become fully engaged in your company.
Shift Your Power Structure. If you operate from a command and control, hierarchical structure, you will have difficulty with most workers these days. This will be a harder adjustment for the leader/manager than the worker. The leader/manager needs to understand that his power comes through others and not through his own ego, or some hierarchical structure. There are still too many mangers and leaders who want to do things there way, as if there is only one way to do them. Often managers diminish employee morale and weaken long-term results when they consistently operate from a command and control stance. When leaders find ways to shift appropriate power, and hence decision-making, to the lowest level within an organization they will achieve a more efficient and satisfied organization.
Develop Face-to-Face Essential Skills Learning. Many companies are moving to a more technological approach to staff development. As a result several training and development firms are developing more and more on-line courses for those in the workplace. Companies have bought into this method, not because it is always the best teaching method, but because it is a cheaper alternative to face-to-face learning, can be accessed at any time including after hours, and allows leaders and managers to easily check off staff training from their list. However, this may be a short-sighted approach particularly when it comes to essential skill development.
Essential skills are those which are often considered soft skills such as influencing, communication, time management, decision-making and critical thinking. My experience is that these skills are best learned through face-to-face teaching methods. Take communication for example. We don’t need to teach young people how to use social media or email. They already know how to use them, probably better than most managers. What we need to teach them is how to communicate effectively using the social technological medium, but more importantly how to communicate face-to-face using techniques that are designed to improve skills for listening, paraphrasing, understanding non-verbal language, questioning, dealing with different personalities and profiles and customer service. These skills are best learned through face-to-face facilitation methods. By the way they are also skills that many managers and leaders have told me young people lack.
Improve Self-Discipline Techniques. Self-discipline is best taught from a young age, but frequently it isn’t. Consequently young people entering the workforce are required to learn the skill, often the hard way. Many leader/managers find their employees have too many distractions at their fingertips – literally, their fingers pound the keyboards on their computers and Smart phones.
Self-discipline is an individual skill, but managers can suggest a couple of strategies to help improve self-discipline:
Manage Self-Accountability. This is another skill that should be taught early in life, where parents need to take corrective action when they hear excuses, or when children place blame on others and shift responsibility for their poor behavior onto others. If you find the lack of accountability is an issue for an individual, try this five-point approach.
Thanks for Reading,
Richard P. Fontanie MSW
See also my article on Leadermanagers encourage self-directed, accountable and an engaged workforce here:
According to an article in the New York Times, by Olga Mecking we are caught up in a busyness trap and one way out of it is to do ‘nothing.’ She points out the Dutch call this ‘niksen’ Her article is here ‘Niksen’ suggests we put away all distractions, such as telephone, emails, television and everything we do with our minds. It is completely emptying oneself and doing nothing. Contrary to popular believe she claims that doing nothing is not a waste of time but frees us up to daydream, which I think still puts my mind at work. However, I do like the idea of daydreaming as it allows us to conjure up new ideas and frees our mind to do creative thinking. I find completely zoning out in ‘niksen’ format is difficult for me, although may have its place for some.
Unfortunately daydreaming has had a bad rap. Our early childhood schooling (at least mine) frowned upon daydreaming as a waste of time. Day dreaming was also often frowned upon at home and the negative aspects of daydreaming has crept into the workplace. In the workplace I have heard supervisors say, “Stop your daydreaming and get back to work.” Or sarcastically ask, “What are you doing, daydreaming?” The inference here is that daydreaming isn’t productive. It doesn’t lead to anything worthwhile or is a form of laziness. It’s as if someone is telling us, “Get on with what we’re paying you for and we’re not paying for your lazy daydreaming.”
Here is my take on this for what it is worth.
Daydreaming in and of itself is not laziness but a prelude to creative ideas and gives us space to become more productive. It allows the mind to wander from the tasks at hand and gives it a rest, which in turn becomes an important requirement for ideas to generate or refreshes us so that we can focus on the next task. From my perspective daydreaming is not ‘doing nothing’ or ‘niksen’ but allows our minds to wander in weird and wonderful places where creativity resides. It is a form of what I call ‘mental spacelessness’ which allows us to see things differently using creative inventiveness.
Now in order to daydream we do need to set some time apart and give ourselves permission to do just that. Because we have pushed messaging which downplays daydreaming we need to tackle it in the same way we do when we learn or relearn anything. We need to focus on the positive aspects of daydreaming as a form of creative thought engineering. And, we need to allow for some daydreaming to take place in the workplace.
However, if on-the-job safety becomes a factor, we need to be very cautious about daydreaming. The thought of daydreaming while driving, climbing, sawing, banging nails, lifting heavy objects, and such scares the heck out of me. In these instances, the supervisor or manager has every right to bring someone out of their reverie.
What we can do
Take Daydream Breaks: Give yourself permission to take daydream breaks. Look out the window, sit back and relax and free your mind of thought, stare at an object without trying to define it. It’s a bit ironic that we have to give ourselves permission to daydream, yet many engineers, artists and entrepreneurs have gone on to achieve great things because they have allowed themselves to daydream. Larry Niven once said, “Everything starts as somebody’s daydream,” and Deepak Chopra pens, “Daydream, imagine and reflect. It’s the source of infinite creativity.”
Reorganize your space. Redesign your physical space to lend itself to ‘mental spacelessness.’ Turn off the TV, put down the tablet, put away the SMART phone, put comfortable chairs in the office, turn away from your computer, add plants and flowers to the office, move a chair to allow you to look outside, or add scenic paintings to your walls. The point here is that sometimes we need to change our decor in order to change our thinking. Yes, this is about changing the way we have allowed ourselves to think which in turns affects the way we behave. The old dictum applies, “Change your thinking changes your behavior.” In this instance we are giving ourselves permission to daydream so that we can become more productive.
Break away from your space: Another technique is to break away from your space. Go for a walk in the park and let the surrounding embrace you without you thinking about what it is you are doing. Sit on a park bench, a patio, or stop along the highway and soak in a sunset, a farmer cultivating his land, or birds and critters flitting about. Lay on the grass and look up at the sky, whether that be watching the clouds during the day or the stars at night. Perhaps some of us can remember when we were kids and were struck by the various cloud formations or the flickering stars and the bright moon at night. It was during those times that our creative juices were heightened, and we saw all kinds of things in those clouds – puppies, ice cream cones and happy faces – and were struck by the vastness of the expanding universe and the smallness of the self.
Daydreaming takes us away from busyness, gives your minds a break and kick starts our creative juices. And that is OK because it just may allow the breakthrough we were seeking or the dream that sends us on a path toward greater personal or business rewards.
Thank you for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie MSW
Read how my colleague Sherry Knight from Dimension 11 responds to the question, "Does family have a place at work?" Read more of her posts here.
You may be thinking, "Dumb question!" And if you are a Baby Boomer (or heaven forbid, a Traditionalist) you are probably right. Those two eras spent much time separating work from family. You did not bring your family problems to work and hopefully, you didn’t take your work problems home.
It’s 2019 – today we have the Millennials already in the work force and the Gen Z just entering the work force. This is a whole new dynamic. These are the latch-key kids! They spent time without mom at home preparing cookies and milk as they walked through the door – instead they were off to after school babysitters or daycares. They would much rather have had mom or dad at home to greet them and yet, for most families, that is just not feasible.
Jenn, of the Gen Y generation, is a single mom – her kids mean the world to her and yet she does not have the capacity to stay home with her 3 youngsters. So, she does the next best thing – each child has a cell phone so they can call her with their fears, their excitement and their questions at any time. As she raised her children, they recognized they could count on mom to be available whenever they needed her by phone.
These Millennial children have grown up recognizing, yes, perhaps demanding, their offspring have the opportunity to connect with their parents. That means, cell phones, iPads and even being on site or having mom or dad leave work to look after their needs.
So, why do I bring this up – the simple reason is, as a work place, if you choose to continue in the decades old manner you will have staff leave your employ. Employees today, especially parents, demand a different approach. Some work from home and thus have an easier time shifting from work to family as the need arises. Some work from a physical work place and will leave whenever a child is in need.
Right or wrong? Neither, just consider whether or not you want staff! The world has changed – in many cases it is an employees’ world – there are too many jobs and not enough people to fill them. Thus, you may want to accept that work and family meld today – only, of course, if you want to keep those Millennials and Gen Z’s on your payroll.
Oh yes, I hear all about the lazy, self centred Millennials – yes, some are – and so were some of the Gen Y’s, the Boomers and the Traditionalists. Yet, many aren’t – they just realize there is a need to live a more balanced life. To connect work and family so both are blessed with the energy of a mom or dad who does his or her best to ensure the best for everyone.
How do you do this:
Want to go a step further? Get rid of the 3 week holiday and allow people to take whatever holidays they need. They just might surprise you when they have that opportunity to impact their family and their work based on personal needs. May some disappoint you – yes! And yet, many others will appreciate the chance to lead a more family balanced life. Family and work do indeed go together.
Sherry Knight points out ways to replace negative thoughts in the workplace with positive ones. Read more here
Being Kind is another way to go beyond the ordinary in business, at work and in our everyday relationships with others. This article is another in the series The Inspirational Workplace. If you wish to explore further background articles drawn from the web than click on Link + Number identified throughout this article.
What is it about kindness that has so many perplexed regarding how it is expressed in the workplace? Kindness is a simple act that doesn’t take much skill – we can just do it. Yet, we can get sloppy about how we practice it, for instance we often: forget to hold a door open for another, smile, say a thank you, pick up something off the floor, leave the washroom or common work room untidy, or forget to put our hand over our mouth when we cough. All simple acts of unkindness that are noticed but go unchecked.
There is also a more darker side of unkindness which brews inside our world of work, that of bullying and harassment - those repeated acts that are intended to intimidate, offend, isolate, pester, belittle, degrade or humiliate a person or a group of people. Such acts can cause increased absenteeism, turnover, costs, accidents and stress; and at the same time reduce productivity, motivation, morale, and customer service. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help when we have a leader in the US White House who is prone to belittling, degrading and humiliating people and groups of people. He is not a role model for those who are trying to develop a positive culture for the workplace. (Link 1 Link 2 )
We can find a solution to both the simple acts of unkindness and the more darker side of unkindness. Let’s start with the premise that there is good in all of us, and if we focus our attention on simple acts of kindness then the more darker side of unkindness won’t be tolerated by us or by others in the workplace.
Kindness plays on our emotions
There is considerable research that shows acts of kindness result in reduced stress, anxiety and depression, while it helps others become calm, relaxed, happier and healthier. Simple and consistent acts of kindness set off a host of bodily chemical reactions. They stimulate the production of serotonin (the chemical that heals our wounds, calms us down, and makes us happy); It releases endorphin (the brain’s natural painkiller); cortisol (the stress hormone); and, oxytocin (lowers blood pressure).(Link 3 ; Link 4 )
Kindness and the bottom line
There is also considerable research that shows acts of kindness improve both the bottom line and workplace morale.
Simply put, kindness leads to happiness, and happiness in the workplace improves productivity. Economists have carried out several experiments to test the idea that employees who are happy, work harder. In the laboratory, they found happiness made people about 12% more productive. (Link 5) Those companies that have built their brand on kindness, have also achieved high levels of success both from a financial and a work culture perspective. (Link 6)
Kindness is more than just a business trend. For a growing number of companies, it is a fundamental strategy that benefits the customer, everyone in the organization and the financial condition of the company. (Link 7)
One would think that with all the positive qualities of kindness, we would just naturally act with kindness. In fairness, we do. However, we can do better.
Kindness Starts with Us
It’s up to each of us to take ownership for kindly acts no matter what role we play within an organization. Basically, this reverses the behaviours identified in the first paragraphs of this article. It’s about being considerate of others in such a way that we offer a helping hand whenever needed; or, whenever we see something out of place we make it right.
Once we get it right with ourselves we can begin spreading kindness to others. It is not uncommon that when one shows kindness to another, the other begins to add kindness to his or her behaviour.
A simple act of kindness becomes a springboard for others to act. If you have ever been around someone who is genuinely kind, you know the person causes you to take note and reflect on your own kindness behaviour. Why is that? Because the act makes us feel good, appreciated, and yes loved. And, we find, it doesn’t take much to pass on the act. It’s all about the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated. A bit of kindness soon transforms into big bundles of kindness. At its core, kindness is showing appreciation for the other and in turn feeling good about it.
Develop A Culture of Kindness
For kindness to become a brand for an organization, it must become ingrained within the psyche of that organization. A positive organizational culture begins with positive values promoted and nurtured by the owners and leader/manager team. When kindness is promoted as a purposeful act and isn’t considered as a “warm and fuzzy” experience, it becomes a genuine dynamic that brings people together in a positive way, improves customer relations, and has real financial returns.
One of the factors leading to a breakdown in organizational culture occurs when a value has been clearly stated but leader/managers fail to apply consequences when it is contravened. So once a value like kindness is contravened with no consequence, people begin to feel that the value has little importance and gives them permission to disregard it. Scepticism and cynicism follow. On the flip side, an organizational culture is positively strengthened when people are encouraged and commended for living the value.
Along with the promotion and practice of the “kindness value”, is hiring people who validate kindness in their own lives. However, just by hiring people who view kindness as a value doesn’t cut it of itself. Value driven leadership is required.
A culture of kindness doesn’t start by accident. It can be started by anyone, but it must be cultivated and strengthened through personal actions of the leadership team. Together, individually and collectively, they bring the organization to understand kindness as a core value. (Link 8 Link 9 )
Organizations that value kindness find that it becomes contagious. As internal kindness takes hold, people begin to outreach to the wider community in a way that adds worth to that community. An old saying goes something like this: “how people treat those less fortunate in their community is indicative of the strength of the community.”
It is not hard to find companies and organizations heeding the call for help. Think about those companies who free up volunteer time for their employees, promote drives for food banks, support shelters for the homeless, contribute to Habitat for Humanity, and provide marathons in support of health research. These acts, and much more, are common acts of kindness that build up a wholesome community. But foundational to all of them is the value of kindness promoted and supported by the leadership, management team, or owner of businesses; and by extension all those within the organization who make it happen.
Become a spark
Each of us in the workplace can become a spark for kindness. We just need to start. A spark of kindness can grow into a raging fire of kindness. Acts of kindness can become contagious and they will gradually be recognized as a value both inside and outside the organization. It will become the raging fire it is meant to be when the leadership team models the behaviour, and everyone makes it part of the corporate DNA. It all starts with a spark and you can be that spark.
"A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves." -- Amelia Earhart
Author: Richard Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Note: Another good article on kindness found on the globeandmail.com and the following books are good reads .
What is the "soft stuff" we must deal with in an organization?
The "soft stuff" is the stuff we don’t see on the surface. It lurks behind the scenes but, it's the fuel that keeps organizations going. You see, organizations are made up of people and people do and say things that are not readily visible. People think and have habits, skills, emotions, beliefs, values, attributes and attitudes. All of these people characteristics make up the "soft stuff".
Another area where "soft stuff" lurks is in the vision, mission and values that drive the company, as well as in the systems and processes a company has to get the work done. These are often referred to as “that’s how we do things around here,” and show up as major contributors to the company’s culture.
Companies often produce or sell "hard stuff". They make or sell such things as machinery, vehicles, computers, bottled water, groceries, construction material, and office supplies. These are considered “hard” because they are made up of hard materials and appear “real” to people. Inside the business employees work with computers, office equipment and supplies, telephones, vehicles and other mechanical devices which are also considered “hard.”
Let's put it another way. I am writing this article with a computer. It is a piece of machinery with a keyboard, monitor, hard drive, mouse and many other components. These are the hard things. The computer doesn't work, however without two things. Someone to make it work and something inside it to allow it to produce the letters, visuals, files and such on the monitor. On the inside we have the software. It’s invisible and made up of numerical equations and programming language that tells the computer what to do and when to do it. I don’t see all that “soft” stuff. What I do see is the images on my screen. When my computer breaks down, I take it to a computer repair shop. They fix the hard stuff. When my software has a glitch, I refer it to the software company and the people there fix the soft stuff.
The analogy also applies to businesses, although I like another analogy. That of an iceberg. On the surface we see the visible hard stuff but underneath lies all the soft stuff that gives life to the business. And, like the iceberg there is more that lies beneath the surface then floats on top. What lies beneath is deeper, sometimes more difficult to fathom, but is absolutely fundamental to keeping the iceberg afloat. It's the soft stuff that keeps the business afloat. Without people functioning at peak performance, effective systems and processes and a healthy culture, companies are doomed to breakdown and in some cases fail completely. They go the way of the melting iceberg.
None of the "hard stuff" that is manufactured, sold or worked on, works without people. And, although people make or sell hard products the people themselves interact and relate in ways that exhibit the “soft stuff.” The "soft stuff " becomes everyone's business in the organization. But it is the manager's responsibility to encourage the development of "soft stuff" and remove barriers to let the "soft stuff" flow. "Soft stuff" becomes the manager/leader's product – it becomes their "hard stuff." And it’s often this stuff that gets in the way of a well-functioning business. That's why we often hear the phrase from managers, "I really like my job, if it wasn’t for the people issues I have to deal with." Basically what they are saying is "this soft stuff is really hard."
When things go awry in companies there are usually two major reasons. First, there is “hard stuff” failure such as equipment and vehicle breakdown, or there is "soft stuff" failure caused by people, systems or process breakdown. The first can easily be fixed or replaced in a timely fashion; the second is usually “harder” to fix and takes more time. That’s why many people refer to the “soft stuff” as their “real hard stuff.”
Questions to Answer
How is your "soft stuff" working in your business? Are communications open and clear? Do people work effectively in teams? Are roles, responsibilities well thought out? Do you have a clear vision and set of values that give people a sense a purpose? How are decisions made - collaboratively or top down? Do you have high turn-over rates which are symptomatic of a toxic organizational culture? Are you satisfied with how people relate to each other and your customers? All of these questions get to your "soft stuff." If you have issues in any "soft" areas, fix them before they become "hard wired," within your organization.
How is your "soft stuff" working with your colleagues? Do you communicate non-defensively with them? Do you listen empathetically to them? Do you collaborate effectively with your team members? Do you value integrity, compassion, and kindness in the workplace? Do you engage with others peacefully? Do you work at building trust with colleagues and customers? Do you respect other's point of view?
Is your "soft stuff" hardwired? Do you maintain a high level of ethics? Do you consistently act on your values? Are you calm in times of stress? Do you manage anger well? Do you extend a helping hand when not asked? Do you relate to others with honesty and integrity? Are you vengeful or forgiving? Are you highly self-motivated, or do you expect others to motivate you?
Most of the articles on Fontanie|Magazine are about the "soft stuff." This is by design. We hope they help people in business, at work and throughout their lives become better equipped to deal with the "soft stuff" that is so important for them and others; and, just maybe some of that "soft stuff" won't be so hard.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Leadership is often linked to a position within an organization. The trouble with this notion is that we can sit and wait for the leader to act, rather than taking a leadership role ourselves. A leadership attribute which can be viewed as outside of a position, but important for anyone who aspires to become a leader, is one of interpersonal influence. Positive interpersonal influence is something we can assign to ourselves in our dealings with others. In short, when we take the initiative to build strong interpersonal relationships within the workplace we begin to act as leaders. Three prized principles underpin our ability to influence in a positive way include: simplicity, humbleness and authentic service. These are also fundamental principles underlying the qualities so widely discussed in the literature regarding Servant Leadership.
Simplicity: Simplicity is about making the complex understandable in a way that is genuine and without pretence. They say a mark of a genius is one who boils down that which is complicated and makes it simple for us to understand. The genius of Einstein was his ability to take the concept of relativity and express it in a simple formula. The genius of Job was to simplify digital devices so that everyone can use them. The genius of great spiritual leaders is to reduce religious complexity to something as simple as love, forgiveness and compassion.
So how can we use the principle of simplicity in the workplace? Here are three suggestions:
Humility: Simplicity begs for humility. We can be boastful and arrogant about how simple we have made or explained things, or we can do so in a way that keeps our self-inflating ego in check. The principle of humility embodies an unpretentious way of presenting ourselves with quiet confidence. In a way, humility has less to do with confidence then it has to do with reducing a sense of being self-righteous. Most humble people I know are confident and can express themselves without bragging or exuding self-conceit.
Sometimes we don’t want to act humbly because we are afraid others may perceive us as weak or vulnerable. Yet, precisely by admitting our weakness and showing our vulnerability we are acting with strength and courage.
There are many ways in which we can express the principle of humility in the workplace. Here are three:
Authentic Service: The term service is used to denote everything from a religious ceremony to a fee for completed work. I use the term here as an action of helping or doing work for someone. It means providing, rendering or giving something to someone. To provide service should be the real stuff around which our work revolves such as helping our customers, colleagues and those who pay us.
The key to service is not so much about what we do but more about how we do it - it is more about our attitude. Certainly this is not to down play the substance of what we do as the actual work we do is critically important. It is about how we approach that work. We can approach it with authenticity, optimism, helpfulness, and kindness. Or, we can approach it mechanically devoid of feeling - as something we “have to do” in order to get a paycheque.
Here are Three easy actions we can do to improve our service to others:
Once we recognize and accept that we benefit immensely by striving for simplicity, humility and service, our attitude towards others change.
Author: Richard Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Work, for many is drudgery and has little meaning. They go to work with a heavy heart because they receive little satisfaction from it, However, there is one exception - they get paid. Perhaps you have heard these statements:
"I work here because the money is good."
"I put in my time so the company owes me."
"I work from paycheque to paycheque."
"I don’t like what I do but the pay is good."
Money becomes the end, not the means to the end. There doesn't appears to be a higher purpose. Work becomes hard for them, not in a physical sense, but in an emotional sense. It becomes an emotional energy drain and plays havoc on one's mind, body and spirit. It becomes sheer drudgery.
It needn't be like this. Not that work isn't difficult or emotionally draining. Work still can be that way. It can be physically draining. Lifting heavy objects day in and day out is physically draining; helping people solve their problems on a daily basis is emotionally draining.
So how do we move the dial so that work has meaning and personal purpose? So that work goes beyond drudgery?
Two intertwined dynamics are required. One is organizational leadership and the other is personal fit. Organizational leadership clarifies vision, mission and values; personal fit brings a meshing of personal purpose and values with the organization. Let's take an example.
A former associate of mine once worked with a fertilizer company. The fertilizer was of the smelly manure kind, not the clean-cut potash kind. Employees were not enamoured with their work, in fact they expressed a heartfelt dislike for it. My colleague brought the company through a re-visioning process. He engaged the leadership team in developing a meaningful vision for the company and in turn engaged everyone in finding deeper meaning in their work - other than shovelling "sh*t" day in and day out.
The leadership team and employees came to realize that what they were about was important for the growth of food. They were providing fertilizer "to feed the hungry." They discovered "why" they were in the fertilizer business – to feed the hungry.
This awakening from what was apparently drudgery to a renewed purpose initiated greater opportunities. New values began to emerge that called upon personal and corporate compassion and outreach which were expressed in behaviour and action: employees began volunteering to the local food bank, the company promoted and employees became engaged in developing community gardens (using their fertilizer, of course) and contributing to improved farming practices within developing countries.
Everyone within the organization found a renewed sense of purpose. It did not take away the "smell" and the shovelling of manure but it gave a new meaning to "why" they were doing it. The process required leadership, personal fit and commitment. Leadership spurred the visioning process, personal fit meshed personal values with company values and commitment drove behavioural change.
This example summarizes the issue and results pertaining to part of the process. It doesn't give the full picture. Certainly, a shift in thinking (a renewed vision and values) initiates the behavioural change, but the transformation doesn't occur over night.
The process takes time, energy, resilience and perseverance. Leaders require patience as cultural change occurs over time and not in an instant flash. They need to continually talk and walk the vision, mission and values and become role models for others. As one CEO said, it is often a two-step dance - "two steps forward and one step back, resilience is the name of the game." It's a nudge to the future, not a giant step.
The process also requires ownership, responsibility and accountability among employees. A sense of ownership for their actions and a shift in thinking towards possibilities. Ownership for the fit they have with their work - that their work is more than a paycheque; that they need to go deep within themselves to find their sense of purpose and connect it with the vision and values of the organization; and, if the fit isn't there, to seek employment elsewhere.
Work doesn’t become "drudgery" when you enjoy what you do and it fits with your sense of purpose and values. For many in that fertilizer plant, knowing that what they did – shoveling manure - helped feed the hungry, gave them a renewed sense of purpose. From this beginning, they went on to do greater things for themselves and their community through compassionate outreach.
Is your work, "drudgery"? Or do you find higher meaning in what you do? If not, what can you do about it? If you are in a leadership position, what can you do to open new horizons and help your colleagues find new meaning in what they do?
Integrity is often identified as one of the core values of many businesses and organizations. The challenge for those in the organization is "what do we mean by integrity?" It is often easily identified and glibly said, but do people in the organization understand what it means.
Integrity has a multi-dimensional aspect to it. We often attach the word integrity to many functions within the workplace and life: moral integrity, data integrity, personal integrity, market integrity, corporate integrity, philosophical integrity, mathematical integrity, medical integrity and so on.
When we use integrity as a corporate value, we usually mean that the word applies to everyone and all functions within the organization. Hence, the organization deems it appropriate that people deal with each other and customers with integrity, that the data is collected and screened with integrity, and that it markets itself to its various stakeholders with integrity.
Values however, are acted out through behaviors. We know that people have integrity if they exhibit the qualities of integrity. When we think of behavior and use the word integrity we expect the person to : act consistently, exhibit moral character, adhere to ethical principles, and project the qualities of honesty, truthfulness, accuracy and authenticity.
Let's lift two key phrases from this list of behaviors.
Consistency of Action: Consistency is about sameness. That one acts the same regardless of the situation. We often hear the phrase: "He says what he means and means what he says." This person consistently shows that his behavior reflects what he means, and people recognize it to be so. Think about John, however, who shifts and changes to accommodate his different mood swings. How do we relate to John because he "runs hot and cold" and we don't know from one situation to another how he will react? John becomes a relational stumbling block and his colleagues are constantly on guard. John is acting consistently but in a way that weakens his relationships with others. John tarnishes his integrity by the way he acts with others.
Consistency of action is a choice we make. We can choose to be obstructionist or not. We can choose to leave one situation where we may be frustrated or angry and enter another where we put our frustration and angst aside and deal with the new situation without negativism or rancour. We can choose to act positively or negatively.
Soundness of moral character and ethical principles. Moral character relates to a sense of doing things right for self and others. It is based on the natural principles of "treating others as one would want to be treated," and as such relate to the positive virtues by which we live such as: honesty, empathy, patience, kindness, gratitude, justice and courage.
Ethical principles are based on moral behavior or principles of morality and usually pertain to right and wrong behavior. Professions often have ethical principles by which those in the profession must abide. A workplace may have a Code of Conduct which outlines employee and employer expectations and responsibilities. Many of the expectations within a workplace code of conduct are based on moral and ethical considerations. Both professional code of ethics and a workplace code of conduct identify the consequences of a breach of the code.
We begin to press the edges of integrity when we start to stretch and test the lines of a professional or workplace code. Certainly, one acts without integrity when the lines are clearly crossed such as committing acts of fraud, stealing large amounts of money or lying about a grossly negligent act. But what about the little things that gradually erode integrity in the workplace such as:
Once again, our integrity is determined by the choices we make. This time it is about how we want to live our life within the bounds of moral character and ethical principles.
Integrity comes from the Latin word 'integer' which means whole and complete. To act with integrity then reflects a sense of 'wholeness' and consistency of character. Therefore, to be a person of integrity our behaviors, words, actions and outcomes should positively reflect who we are.
Others will know if we are acting with integrity because they will see the connection between what we say, do and act as one with us in all situations. There is only one 'me' and that 'me' if I am to act with integrity must be the same 'me' whether at work, home or at play. We become authentic when we consistently reflect our wholeness to others through what we call integrity.
Does this mean we must act with integrity ALL the time? The short answer is 'yes but not necessarily' because we do mess up from time to time. The key here lies in our intention. When we mess up the integral thing to do is recognize and correct the mess-up as quickly as possible. We take responsibility and become accountable for what we say and do and how we act. Clearly it is not our intention to act without integrity; our intention is to act with integrity but sometimes because of emotion, lack of sleep, or caught in a 'frazzled state' we let our guard down and may say, do or act inappropriately. When this happens, we should immediately take corrective action. We may eat a little ‘humble pie’ in the process, but it is the 'right' thing to do if we want to keep our integrity intact.
Here are seven considerations for you.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie. MSW, FCMC
For a five-minute take on integrity, listen to So-Young Kang here.
All the organizations I worked with grouped work around teams. Some of those teams had two members, others had six or more. Many teams worked well, some of them operated at peak performance. Others didn't fare well at all.
For many years I had a print hanging in my office that depicts a jazz combo with the caption "Synergy". Good jazz has synergy so too has good teamwork. Jazz players know when to take the lead and when to recede. They don't overwhelm each other, they complement each other. When team members work together like jazz musicians weaving in and out of the movements and swinging back and forth in syncopation and synergy then we have good teamwork.
In addition, jazz music also has structure and form. The structure is made up of the repeating forms that make up the music, such as notes, phrases and bars. This structure along with form brings life to jazz and allows it to have its beautiful elasticity, movement and swing.
Like cool jazz, a successful team also requires structure and form. Over the years I have found that a team's structure is made up of eight building blocks (in music terms the forms that make up the structure), each propelling it to higher levels of team performance. They are:
Are these the only building blocks that lead to highly successful teamwork? Not necessarily. Jazz composers write several excellent jazz pieces, each one with different sounds and movements, but the overall structure remains the same - it's what allows us to call the music jazz. So too, we can add another movement or building block to our piece, or we can substitute one building block for another, for example we could add "Clarifying Team Processes" instead of "Systematizing Processes;" or, "Managing Meetings" instead of "Making effective team decisions." The eight blocks I have chosen as foundational to successful teamwork is not a definitive number. However, if team leaders engage team members in cementing these eight blocks together, they will find that the members of the team will work with greater focus, synergy, collaboration and trust.
What to do: Are your team members working together like a jazz combo? Is it time to revitalize your team? Review the eight building blocks with your team members and ask them which one requires more work. Put swing and a bit of renewed life, symbolized by the renewal of Spring, back into your team.
Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC, From the Fontanie Learning Solutions Archives
Image: ambro at Freedigitalphoto.net