Monday, October 26, 2015

Focus on making your employees happy

Recently, I recalled a kind thing that a boss once said, and I was stuck by the intense joy and smile it brought to my face today, eight years later.

For 14 years, I worked two part-time jobs: one as a Life & Career Coach and one as a software technical writer. During that time, I'd gradually reduced my tech-writing hours as I transitioned to my new career.

When my Life & Career Coaching clients consider working two jobs, I share my experiences. One of the Pros of my computer job involved holding onto benefits, which included pension savings. One of the Cons is that my managers frequently had to justify my presence to newly hired administrators (Why are we paying that high salary to the guy who isn't here every day?). My bosses often said, Just trust us, leave him alone, until the new hires could feel reassured by the quality of my work.

During the first half of 2007, I took a leave of absence because of a herniated disk in my back and the resulting surgery. At the same time, my start-up company had significantly increased its staffing and HR policies in anticipation of a corporate buy-out. As a result, after my surgery, I returned to many new faces, some new rules, and a more formal work environment.

Sometime during first few weeks back, one of the newly hired Bean Counters sent an email and asked me to verify my weekly hours. Given my hectic re-entry and the intensity of trying to get back up to speed with my work, I didn't give the question as much thought as I should have. I thought it would be easier to come in just two days a week instead of trying to squeeze in another half day, so I answered "16" (two eight-hour days). 

Well, in the day or two after answering, I began to see form letters informing me that my benefits were being cut. Without bothering to wander 20 yards down the Cube Farm to talk to me, the Bean Counter simply began hacking away. After exchanging a few emails with him, it became clear that this was all happening because I'd dipped below 20 hours a week.  


Factoring in my 401K and insurances, I was instantly on board with coming into work for that extra half day. So, I sent an email to my manager, he sent a note to the Bean Counter and to me about reinstating my 20-hour work week, and he prefaced everything by saying, Let's make Gerry happy.

To this day, that line makes me smile. Let's make Gerry happy! At that time, it also made me want to work very, very hard for him. It would be a few more weeks before I was recovered enough from surgery to be able to work significant overtime, but I was ready to "show him some love" by doing some excellent work.

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Notice that my manager didn't explicitly focus on compensation, problem solving, resolving an "issue," facilitating better communication, motivating me, reciting policy, or performance coaching. Instead, he briefly-yet-powerfully invoked corporate culture, reminding us that—as we worked really hardwe should also "have each other's back" emotionally, caring about whether we were happy. It's about taking a little bit of time to generate that feeling in your exchanges with a coworker.

When I first became a supervisor, I received a week of management training, and I still remember several points made during that week. When discussing how to reward employees' performance, the instructor emphasized that different approaches make different people happy. Some like the latest new hardware gadget, yet that would be meaningless to other people. Some like the office with the window. Some love a small accommodation for child care. Still others are about the raises or the formal title. Or maybe it's about being placed on a particular project team and being able to do a certain kind of work.

Part of excellent management is understanding that motivation and making someone happy intersect, but they aren't the same thing. Motivation is about a manager generating employee performance; creating joy is about rewarding performance in a way that fosters SELF motivation.

When I was a manager, one of the biggest "bang for the buck" rewards programs involved me doing some detective work about an employee's tastes, writing a Thank You card for a very specific bit of good performance, and popping a $25 gift certificate for a product or service that that person would enjoy into the card: music for a music fan, a movie gift certificate if she liked films, a bookstore gift card for others. 

That really made people smile! But you have to take some time to get to know them to know how to create that moment.

My tech-writing manager knew how to do that, and I smile about it to this day. Thank you, Dave!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Are we failing to see what's there?

I do some meditative exercises while I work out on the elliptical machine at the gym. Generally, I try to stay mindfully in touch with how my body is feeling instead of distracting myself by watching TV, listening to music, or losing myself in thought. 

These past few weeks, I had a few interesting experiences I'd like to share.

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One of my meditative exercises involves visually scanning the room and noticing details: colors of the paint, cobwebs in one corner near the ceiling, charts, text on the machines, exit signs, what's currently on the screen of the three TVs across from me on the wall, other people working out in the room.

Perhaps the most important part of the exercise is to feel content noticing small, sensual details without giving in to a desire for more entertainment. Just breathe, sweat, move, and feel. Simply look and see. Just hear the sounds of the machines. Focus on, accept, and appreciate only those things.

When glancing around the room, I often notice announcements written on a whiteboard hanging high on the wall. I like to notice the different colors of dry markers used to write the messages, and the board often includes drawings and decorations. 

On this particular day, they had removed the whiteboard, probably to change the announcement. As I glanced about the room, I noticed feeling frustrated when my eyesight would land on the blank wall where the sign used to be, and I quickly looked elsewhere for something more interesting. I really missed that whiteboard!

It must have taken me the better part of an hour before I realized that, in my irritation about what WASN'T hanging on the wall, I was failing to notice what WAS there. In frustration, my eyes had been skipping over it without really taking it in. 

So, I returned my attention to the blank space on the wall. I noticed the two wooden supports into which the whiteboard slides. I saw smudge marks normally covered by the board, some shadows, and different shades of color on the painted wall. Once I relaxed and focused on that area of the wall, I actually found enough detail to occupy myself for a minute, which is a long time for a mindfulness exercise.

*          *          *
Another day at the gym: same exercise, but the whiteboard was up, displaying several announcements. During most of the hour I spent on the elliptical, my eyes moved across the contents of the whiteboard several times, and I thought I'd reasonably captured its content. There were various colors of lettering, some paper leaves decorating one corner, some squiggles and asterisks and underlining for emphasis.

OK, I've got it!

When my eyes would return to the board, I'd briefly notice the same set of characteristics: the colors, the leaves, the decorative squiggles and underlines. However, toward the end of the hour, as I glanced at the familiar whiteboard once again, I was startled to notice something new. For one line of words, the writer had drawn a small square where any lines in the letters intersected. The effect was like seeing rivets on the letters. Nice.

At this point, the distinctive decoration really seemed to pop. I wondered how I'd missed it the first, ohhh, twenty times I'd scanned the board!

*          *          *

On the one hand, these examples are trivial. They were just mental exercises. On the other hand, my failure to notice small details made me wonder what bigger things I might be missing in my life.

As it was with the missing whiteboard, my awareness might lapse because life isn't giving me what I expect, my mind so attached to what I think should be there that I fail to see what's right in front of me. Or I might miss details because I've convinced myself that I've gotten it all, and there's nothing left to notice or learn. Or maybe I'm just moving too fast to absorb details, or perhaps I'm distracted by other thoughts and agendas.

Could I be missing important details in my marriage? My job? The way I treat other people?

I'm reminded of the mindfulness concept of being present. How present are you being in your own life? What are you missing?