Sunday, 25 November 2012

Being Assertive

This month it has been my birthday. For the occasion a special friend bought me a wonderful present, a book: “The Rules of Work” by Richard Templar.
It was a pleasure reading it and I enjoyed reflecting on many concepts and suggestions (‘rules’ as the author writes) that are incorporated within the book. I am now very pleased to write a post on this.
In particular, the below marginalia are extracted from Rule 86 (‘Know how to handle other people’s anger’) and Rule 87 (‘Stand your ground’).
In Rule 86, R. Templar explains the concept of ‘TACTICAL ANGER’: “Tactical anger is used to make you do things you don’t want to. People lose temper to intimidate you. The worst thing you can do is to let them get away with it. If you do, they will keep doing it, to you and to others. You must stop them at once. Say: ‘I don’t like being shouted at/threatened/ intimidated/bullied/whatever, and I shall leave if you do not stop/calm down/put your fists down, whatever”.
The author also suggests that: “If they continue then just leave. Say nothing, just walk out of the room. Do this often enough and they will get the message”.
Rule 87 relates to Rule 86 and begins with:
No one is allowed to bully you, threaten you, shout at you, intimidate you, frighten you, tease you, victimise you or torment you in any way. You are an employee. If you are not doing your job properly, you should be taken to one side and have your mistakes pointed out calmly and rationally. Anything else is abuse.
You are allowed to refuse abuse. You are allowed, calmly and rationally, to tell them to stop at once or you are entitled to use the full weight of the law to get them stop (obviously, if someone says they will give you a slap if you pinch their hole puncher again, you can’t really expect the House of Lords to take up your case!).
You have to know when to stand your ground.
Standing your ground is about having standards, drawing a line in the sand and saying, “I will put up with this, but not this”, or “I will allow them to do this to me, but not this”.
Standing your ground is about being assertive.
If bullied, stick to the stuck record – ‘I don’t appreciate being treated like this. I don’t appreciate being treated like this. I don’t appreciate being treated like this’. Don’t lose your temper or they may feel they have won. Walk away”.
I think these topics are of extreme importance. In some respect, and with all my heart, I do hope that you did not, do not  and will never need to deal with these issues. Indeed, these are very delicate issues and unfortunately, we hear too often about them.
How wonderful and more productive would it be if all workplaces were full of kindness, warmth and consideration for other people feelings, emotions, voice and worth?!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

P. Roy Vagelos, Maverick – Lessons in Leadership and Communication

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing”
(Abraham Lincoln)   
This post is about a book I am reading at the moment and titled ‘Rethinking Reputation’ by Fraser P. Seitel and John Doorley.
I usually write about a book once I have finished reading it in its entire length. Today I make an exception.
The reason is because I have just read one chapter (titled ‘The Power of your personal and company brand’) that has made me reflect on one of the most important challenges that organisations face: having employees that have faith in their leaders, employees that believe their leaders truly live the values of the organisations. In fact, recently I have been thinking a lot about this particular topic.
The authors write about P. Roy Vagelos’s life and describe some leadership lessons that can be derived from his style, personality, approach and behavior. Under his leadership, the pharmaceutical company Merck became one of the world’s most admired companies.
Below are my marginalia extrapolated from that chapter:
From unremarkable beginnings, P. Roy Vagelos grew up to become a great scientist, to head one of the most successful companies ever, and to oversee the development of more important new medicines than any company introduced before or since. Along the way, he became a great communicator through the sheer quality of his character.
Roy Vagelos helped make lots of money for Merck, its shareholders and its employees. But that’s not all he did. Even though he knew the company could not make a profit on a medicine that could defeat devastating diseases (e.g. the Mectizan for defeating river blindness in Africa) he would encourage his scientists to proceed. Then, he would donate the medicine ‘anywhere it is needed for as long as necessary’ (Roy Vagelos: “There was no choice but to develop Mectizan and to donate it”).
Writer and editor John Byrne wrote about Roy Vagelos in the BusinessWeek in 1987 (that was the first appearance of Vagelos as a celebrity CEO). Byrne remembers that ‘Dr. Vagelos was an extraordinary leader, one of the finest and most admired corporate chieftains of his generation. What made him so remarkably effective in the job was his ability to relate to and engage with all of Merck’s employees, from scientists in the labs to the personal assistants behind office desks. During his stint as CEO, Merck was nothing less than an innovation machine, developing one blockbuster drug after another. Despite the company’s incredible success, Dr. Vagelos stayed true to his own very high values of integrity and authenticity”.
Roy Vagelos: I always believed in dedication, zeal. Once you believe in something, go for it…Sometimes, it is simply a matter of doing the right thing, which can sound self-righteous, but it’s true. I sometimes have a hard time understanding how so many leaders in government and industry say they faced these very difficult moral choices. I don’t know that I ever faced a difficult problem that wasn’t easily resolved in the end by asking, what is the right thing to do?
Talk with Roy Vagelos about reputation, and he will say it is all about performance and behavior. Reluctantly, he will consent to the proposition that communication is a factor…He believed in ‘transparency’ long before it was a buzzword.
Judy Lewent (Chief Financial Officer): He has a way of complimenting your work that is clearly genuine, and he can shoot you a look of disapproval that tells you are on the wrong track, without so much as one word. He is one of the best motivators I have ever known”.
And he often does that by telling stories. Roy Vangelos: “People, organisations, even countries, have long memoriesStories! Family history, company history – it is all important”.”
Below are some leadership lessons and principles that we can learn from Dr Vagelos way of leading, behaving and being:
·      Know who you are and what you stand for. Let it constantly be reflected in your performance, behavior and communication.
·      Communication should always be true to actual performance, behavior and what the organization stands for.
·      Once you find good people to work with, you have to simply trust them to do a good job.
·      Communication is the lifeblood of an organization. Don’t let sclerosis set in.
·      Good leaders must be good communicators.
·      People, organisations and even countries can have long memories.
I felt the need of reporting the story of Dr Vangelos as described and presented in ‘Rethink Reputation’ as I found it very powerful.
I believe that employees can have faith in their leaders – and they are very willing to do that - if they perceived that leaders truly genuinely live the values of the organization and got real evidence of that.
Leaders are followed if they are the very first engaged with the purpose of the company, never forget the importance of quality relationships and communication with their employees at all level (and understand how to build those relationships and communications), have strength of character, integrity and consistency in the way they perform, behave and communicate.
“You cannot accomplish anything without being able to motivate people above you, below you and on the side. Over the long term, you can only do that by the force of who you are and what you stand for”
(Roy Vagelos)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

CIPR Inside Internal Communications Conference: Putting Employees First

On 7th November I attended the CIPR Inside Internal Communications Conference: ‘Putting Employees First’ which was held at the Kia Oval Cricket Ground in London. The event was very interesting with many different speakers giving speeches on the latest about the subjects. I personally found some of those talks very interesting.
As always I wrote down notes about ideas and concepts that were said and that gave me some insight as well as help for the development of my thinking on the subject.
Below are my marginalia, notes that I took from the speeches of some speakers during the conference:
Max McKeown (Writer and Strategy, Leadership and Culture Guru):
“How can organisations shape a better future? How can organisations get to the ‘Paradise’?
Organisations are required to change, do things differently.
Inertia keep people doing the same things in the same ways although being wrong (thinking that next time is going to work).
We learn about the future from the past, from our experiences and we can learn or not learn from mistakes.
Do you learn from mistakes?
Even if you learn, you may not do things differently.
What do I need to forget?
Future is divergent (there are a lot of them); Past is convergent; Now: there is only one.
Long emergency’: we see something bad coming but we do not do anything about it.
How can organization get to face that?
PHASE 1: Recognize the need for adaptation
PHASE 2: Understand the adaptation required (this requires communication)
PHASE 3: Act and adapt

To get to the Paradise organisations need ‘to answer obvious questions with non-obvious answers’. It involves learning and communication between ‘doers’ and ‘thinkers’. If doers and thinkers do not work together the organization gets dysfunctional.
Ideas look good to the people who have them (‘my’ idea)...People often do not want to share their good ideas.
However, in organisations people need to ‘dance’ with others’ ideas…thinkers and doers, thinkers and doers, thinkers and doers…To think better together in order to do better together!”

Jenni Wheller (Internal Communications Manager, SSP UK)
“How do we inspire employees?

  • Make people feel to be loved

  • Take people with you at every step. Talk with them at every step and share everything with them

  • Be the expert to reassure everybody else

  • Talk their language (at every level), talk on their level of interest and engagement

  • Face-to-face communication

  • Integrated toolkit (use all the tools you have within an integrated approach)

  • Network inside the organization. It is about relationships. Engage with people from all departments

  • WHY? Tell people ‘Why’. THE GOLDEN CIRCLE: WHY, HOW, WHAT. Great leaders speak about the ‘Why’ first (not  the ‘What’). This is based on biology and relates to human brain. The ‘Why’ is made up by the limbic brain, the part of the brain which makes decisions, has no capacity for language but feelings. WHY the company does what it does? Why are we doing that? The key to inspiring people is to communicate the Why, make people understand it. People buy the ‘Why’ you do it (not the ‘What’)”

Rachel Miller (Internal Communication and Social Media Strategist)
How social media is changing internal communication
The three key ingredients for Social Media are SPEED, CLARITY and INFORMATION.

Social media is about ‘participation’ where the focus is on CONVERSATIONS (not on ownership: Who owns internal social media? It is cross-functional and should imply the representation of all areas of the business)
If social media is set up as a social platform to put together solutions to problems that is useful for the business. Social media is a way of having ‘conversations’. Give trust to employees (they will tell you if/when it works and if/when goes wrong)
The assessment of the readiness of the organizational culture for social media implementation is important. The level of maturity of the culture has to be strong enough otherwise it could be dangerous. Some organisations are still very hierarchical and it can take time, energy and efforts before using social media and seeing the benefit of it.
How to introduce Social Media in a corporate environment?
Take time to talk with your employees
Do your homework, take a deep breath and take the plunge. Just do it.
See how it works and use these tools in a way that is right for your organization.
Is there any evidence of the benefits of using Social Media?
Organisations that are using internal social media have a more open culture and the ability to work back on employees opinions.
Social media connect people and increase productivity.
During the day there were many other valuable contributions by researchers and practitioners of the discipline.
The conference was a remarkable way of showing the fascinating and challenging world of internal communications and employee engagement.
The more I research and study the subject the more I feel so attached to it. Indeed, this is for me a real passion that I would say comes from within, but also I can see logically and rationally the importance of focusing on it. The business world changes so fast and with it the way our organisations communicate internally and engage with their people. It is so remarkably important to develop our understanding of all of this if we want for our organisations and working lives to have a brighter and sustainable future.
I see the future of the discipline as vast, complex but so hugely fascinating! With that, my wish is to have as many useful marginalia as possible for you!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Designing an energy environment – A nest for innovation

Recently, I have moved to a new house (one month ago) and therefore I have had plenty of thinking about 'environment' and the power of having comfortable surrounding.
By extending this thinking to the workplace, I believe that, like our own home, the office structure and the organisational set-up where we work can help us enhance our personal energy or detract from it.
In 'You don't have to go home from work exhausted' Ann McGee-Cooper writes a whole interesting chapter in that respect ('Designing an energy environment- A nest for innovation'). 
The author writes that the work environment can actually be a catalyst for creative thinking and positive energy. “The best way to get an accurate assessment of your individual energy gains and drains is to observe your response to all aspect of your work place. By simply becoming aware of these reactions, you can discover which aspects of your current environment are working for you and which are working against you. The second step is to bring extra high-energy items into your office while reducing the number of energy drains factors”. 
The writer suggest some possible high-energy factors to consider such as:
- personal items included in the work area (photos, artwork, inspirational sayings, humourous items, reminders of past achievements, favorite vacations, indicators of outside interests);
- overall visual aesthetics (color of walls, decorations, style and condition of the furniture, existence of windows and the quality of the scenery outside)
- furniture (Is it comfortable and effective?);
- noise level
- health factors (air quality, lighting, temperature)
- atmosphere (What other settings does your office currently remind you of? What setting would you find appealing – a library nook? An high-tech research area? A creative workroom? A plant-filles sunroom?)
Managers and office policies that encourage individual expression in each employee's work site enhance employee morale and energy levels. Therefore, the author encourage the idea of allowing much more freedom for each employee to decorate and organise his or her own space. “The more personalised and comfortable it can be, the more you will enjoy living in it. It is truly your 'nest'”.
The author also reports the story of an entire company that opted to personalise its settings rather than stick with a conventional office d├ęcor (in fact, before that, the environment reflected the corporate taste but not that of the people who spent nine hours there each day). That was done as a way of boosting morale and increasing motivation during a period where the company were experiencing a sagging economy.
Employees were asked to shop for a 'toy' (something they wanted but didn't need and up to $10), bring those items into their work space and note whether the toy made any difference in the way they were feeling. Among the toys there were a yo-yo, a book of poems, a crystal prism, a kite, a teddy bear and a windup jumping frog. The author writes that initially there was some nervous laughther but it soon became genuine joy as people began to discover the power of play. “There was a noticeable new energy. Before long, people were getting acquainted with a new side of each other by viewing and playing with the toys. The fun of sharing childhood memories of games and other kind of play stimulated new topics of conversation and new feelings of warmth. The atmosphere lifted and instead of worrying about slowdowns the groups began to engage in creative problem solving.
Next the employees were encouraged either to rediscover a hobby or find a new one to enjoy. After exploring their ideas for a month, they were asked to bring some aspect of their interest to work with them. “Some each corner of this formerly cold building began to warm up with the personalities of the people who worked there”.
Within six months there were some noticeable changes: absenteeism and days out had dropped significantly, much higher energy and enthusiasm were present in all departments and the bottom line had even improved.
In conclusion, employees were encouraged to fill their work space with items that expressed each individual's interest and preference. Those items were harmonious with their self-image and work style, thus reducing stressors and stimulating extra energy.
If you are a top corporate leader”, writes Ann McGeen-Cooper, “you may feel very nurtured by your traditional corporate office (you are surrounded by awards, pictures and mementos of high points in your career) and easily overlook the message. But go some levels down in the organisation: standard settings are visual reminders that the worker is not special but one of the many.
If by starving the senses we starve the imagination and deplete the renewal of energy for ourselves and others, doesn't it make sense to empower and encourage our team members to create a nurturing environment for themselves?