Archive for June, 2011

A tested approach for building good team relationships

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Closing the gap successfully.

Reflect for a moment: have you ever seen a situation where a simple disagreement between people has flared up into a bitter dispute?

If you’re like most people, your answer is probably “YES!”, and you’ll have seen this often! In a personal context, these disputes can lead to ill-feeling and feuding that lasts a lifetime. In a professional one, they can sabotage your team’s mission, or can split good teams apart.

This is why you need to manage these situations within your team. You need to defuse the negative effects of conflict before they damage your team, at the same time that you learn from and correct the underlying causes of conflict.

The problem with this is that it’s easy to believe that others are at fault where relationships turn bad, and to ignore the problems that we ourselves may be causing. This is why, while we each have the right to present our own viewpoint, we need to be equally receptive and respectful to the views of others as well.

The CONNECT Model is an elegant tool for dealing with this problem. Developed by Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson in their book, When Teams Work Best, it’s a proven approach for building and sustaining healthy relationships between the members of a team.

This approach is used to improve relationships between two members of a team, and has been tested and used by more than 5000 people in about fifteen different organizations. Before we start explaining the CONNECT Model, a small word of caution: the conversations that emerge when you use the tool may sound a little weird, and you might feel uncomfortable about using it (in practice, you may want to follow these steps informally). However, rest assured, you’ll find that this is a powerful and useful relationship improvement tool!

To improve a sour relationship, follow these steps:

  1. Commit to the Relationship: This is where the people experiencing relationship difficulties commit to one-another to talk about how they will improve the relationship between them.
    Here, you would invite the other person to talk using the CONNECT approach. Assuming some level of goodwill, the other person should agree to take part in the conversation – this gives a measure of commitment from both sides to improve the relationship. When you are both ready to talk, explain to one-another why you think it is important to give the relationship a try, what is it worth to each of you, and why you are both willing to put effort into it.
  2. Optimize Safety: Next, create a feeling of safety for each other. Tell each other, in so many words, that you will do your best to not put each other on the defensive, and that you will make an effort to be more open to understanding and appreciating each other’s views. You might feel a little awkward in talking to each other in this manner, but once safety is established, the rest of the process becomes easier to manage.
  3. Narrow Down to One Issue: Now that the stage is set, you can identify the real issue that brought you to loggerheads with each other. Remember, you should conduct this discussion in the same manner as you would conduct conversations in a meeting. Communicate on an adult level, treat each other with respect, give out all of the necessary information, seek participation from each other, and so on. Also, remember to use a lot of “we” instead of “I” in your conversation: this will reiterate the fact that you are both in this discussion because you are part of a team, and team’s interest should not suffer because the two of you are not on the best of terms with one another.
  4. Neutralize Defensiveness: In your preparation for the conversation, try to come up with a list of words, phrases, or comments, which could put the other person on the defensive. Avoid these when you talk. Also, when you begin the conversation, ask the other person if any of your actions or words in the past have upset him or her, and avoid these when you talk. In the same way, explain to the other person how his or her behaviors have put you on the defensive in the past. The idea here is that you should both avoid doing and saying things that upset the other person, so that you can discuss the issue as constructively as possible.
  5. Explain and Echo: Also in your preparation, think carefully about what you think caused the problem. Then, when you reach this stage, explain to the other person your observations, say how you felt about this, and describe any long-term impact that may result, or may have resulted. Once you have explained this, ask the other person to “echo” what you have just said, which means that he or she needs to rephrase what you just stated from his or her understanding. Once the other person has done this, ask for his or her perspective on the issue, and echo this perspective yourself. This will help you both understand one another’s viewpoint while, at the same time, promoting mutual understanding.
  6. Change One Behavior Each: Now that you have both understand one another, it’s time for action. Discuss how you want to move forward with things now. What improvements are required? Choose one of these each, put your egos aside, and work to resolve these for the interest of your team.
  7. Track It: Once you’ve made commitments, it’s time to honor them, and this step is focused on tracking the commitments. Set a future date to meet with one another to discuss how things are going, and see if you can improve things still further.

By going through this exercise, you’ll find that this effort has helped:

  • Bring rationality to the situation: Since this approach asks participants to be well prepared for the CONNECT conversation, it gives people the time and space they need to think calmly about the situation.
  • Bring issues out into the open: CONNECT helps you bring emotive issues out into clear sight in a controlled way, so that these can be addressed.
  • Promote team spirit and mutual accountability: As team members resolve issues that previously disrupted their working relationship, this helps you improve the team climate.

Next time you run into a serious conflict, whether at work or at home, try using CONNECT. It’s a great way of helping people to be happier – and of boosting teamwork at the same time!

Using Time Effectively, Not Just Efficiently

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It’s urgent, but is it really important?

We’ve all been there: The project is due for today’s meeting and we are only three quarters done. Our anxiety is at its peak, we can’t concentrate, everything is a distraction, and then, finally, we blow!

Time stressors are some of the most pervasive sources of pressure and stress in the workplace, and they happen as a result of having too much to do in too little time.

With this kind of pressure all too common, effective time management is an absolute necessity. You probably use a day-planner and to-do list to manage your time. These tools are certainly helpful, but they don’t allow you to drill down to one of the most essential elements of good time management: distinguishing between what is important and what is urgent.

Great time management means being effective as well as efficient. Managing time effectively, and achieving the things that you want to achieve, means spending your time on things that are important and not just urgent. To do this, and to minimize the stress of having too many tight deadlines, you need to distinguish clearly between what is urgent and what is important:

  • Important activities have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals.
  • Urgent activities demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals, or with an uncomfortable problem or situation that needs to be resolved.

Urgent activities are often the ones we concentrate on. These are the “squeaky wheels that get the grease.” They demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

The Urgent/Important Matrix is a useful tool for thinking about this.

The idea of measuring and combining these two competing elements in a matrix has been attributed to both former US President Eisenhower and Dr Stephen Covey.Eisenhower’s quote, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important,” sums up the concept of the matrix perfectly. This so-called “Eisenhower Principle” is said to be how Eisenhower organized his tasks. As a result, the matrix is sometimes called the Eisenhower Matrix.

Covey brought the idea into the mainstream and gave it the name “The Urgent/Important Matrix” in his 1994 business classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

How to Use the Tool:

The Urgent/Important Matrix is a powerful way of thinking about priorities. Using it helps you overcome the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities, so that you can keep enough time clear to focus on what’s really important. This is the way you move from “firefighting”, into a position where you can grow your business and your career.

The matrix is drawn as shown in figure 1, with dimensions of Importance and Urgency.

The steps below help you use the matrix to prioritize your activities:

  1. Firstly, list all of the activities and projects you feel you have to do. Try to include everything that takes up your time at work, however unimportant. (If you manage your time using an Action Program, you’ll already have done this.)
  2. Next, assign importance to each of the activities – you can do this on, say, a scale of 1 to 5: Remember, this is a measure of how important the activity is in helping you meet your goals and objectives. Try not to worry about urgency at this stage, as this helps get to the true importance.
  3. Once you have assigned importance to each activity, evaluate the urgency of each activity. As you do this, you can plot the listed items on the matrix according to the assigned importance and urgency.
  4. Now study the matrix using the guidelines below, and schedule your work according to your priorities.
Figure 2: Strategies for Different Quadrants of the MatrixUrgent and Important (“Critical Activities”):
There are two distinct types of urgent and important activities: Ones that you could not foresee, and others that you have left to the last minute.

You can avoid the latter by planning ahead and avoiding procrastination.

Issues and crises, on the other hand, cannot always be foreseen or avoided. Here, the best approach is to leave some time in your schedule to handle these. Also, if a major crisis arises, some other activity may have to be rescheduled.

If this happens, identify which of you urgent-important activities could have been foreseen and think about how you could schedule similar activities ahead of time, so they do not become urgent.

Urgent and Not Important (“Interruptions”):
Urgent but not important activities can be a constant source of interruption. They stop you achieving your goals and completing your work. Ask yourself whether these tasks can be rescheduled, or whether someone else could do them.

A common source of such interruptions is from other people coming into your office. Sometimes it’s appropriate to say “No” to people, or encourage them to solve the problem themselves. Alternatively, try allocating time when you are available, so that people only interrupt you at certain times (a good way of doing this is to schedule a regular meeting so that all issues can be dealt with at the same time). By doing this, the flow of work on your important activities will be less disrupted.

Not Urgent, but Important (“Important Goals”):
These are the activities that you can plan ahead for to achieve your goals and complete your work. Make sure that you have plenty of time to achieve these, so that they do not become urgent. And remember to leave enough time in your schedule to deal with unforeseen problems. This will maximize your chances of keeping on schedule, and help you avoid the stress of work becoming more urgent that necessary.

Not Urgent and Not Important (“Distractions”):
These activities are just a distraction, and should be avoided if possible. Some can simply be ignored. Others are activities that other people want you to do, but they do not contribute to your own desired outcomes. Again, say “No” politely and firmly where this is appropriate.

If people see you are clear about your objectives and boundaries, they will often not ask you to do “not important” activities in future.

Key Points

The Urgent/Important Matrix helps you look at your task list, and quickly identify the activities you should focus on. By prioritizing using the Matrix, you can deal with truly urgent issues, at the same time that you keep on working towards your goals.

Overcoming Resistance to Change

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Can people see that the alternative would be better?

Traditionally, “change projects” have often been driven by technology implementations or upgrades, with business processes and working practices being changed to fit in with the new system.

In today’s turbulent economy, however, change is just as likely to be driven by something else: a long-established competitor unexpectedly going bust, for example, or your bank calling in a loan, or a layer of middle management being made redundant.

Whatever the situation, when change looms on the horizon, chances are that you’ll hear things like:

“I can’t believe that restructuring the sales force is really going to increase sales.”

“Upgrading the system is such a disruption. I just don’t see why we need to go through all that work.”

“Our current system isn’t great, but what’s so wonderful about the new one? How will that be any better?”

“I know that Corascon going under should be good news for us, but I can’t work out what I should be doing about it.”

With comments like these flying around, how will you get everyone to agree with the changes you have in mind? After all, you can’t do this without them!

This is where Beckhard and Harris’s Change Equation can help. In this article, we’ll look at this equation, and see how you can use it to roll out successful change in the future.

Explaining the Change Equation

Richard Beckhard and Rubin Harris first published their change equation in 1977 in “Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change”, and it’s still useful today. It states that for change to happen successfully, the following statement must be true:

Dissatisfaction x Desirability x Practicality > Resistance to Change

This seems to be a simple statement, but it’s surprisingly powerful when used to structure a case for change. Let’s define each element, and look at why you need it:

  • Dissatisfaction: Your team has to feel dissatisfied with the current situation before a successful change can take place. Without dissatisfaction, no one will likely feel very motivated to change.Dissatisfaction could include competition pressures (“We’re losing market share”) or workplace pressures (“Our sales processing software is crashing at least once a week”). Dissatisfaction can be any factor that makes people uncomfortable with the current situation.
  • Desirability: The proposed solution must be attractive, and people need to understand what it is. If your team doesn’t have a clear vision of what things will be like after the change, and why things will be better, then they probably won’t be willing to work to deliver it. The clearer and more detailed you make this vision, the more likely it is that your team will want to agree with the change and move forward.
  • Practicality: Your team must be convinced that the change is realistic and executable.
  • Resistance to change: Resistance to change includes people’s beliefs in the limits of the change (“A new system won’t fit with our unusual business process”), stubbornness toward any change (“I don’t want to have to learn how to use a new system”), and general inertia or lack of interest at the beginning.

And because there’s a multiplicative relationship between Dissatisfaction, Desirability and Practicality, if one element is missing, that variable will have a value of zero – meaning that this whole side of the equation will equal zero.

How to Use the Tool

Beckhard and Harris’s change equation is most useful as a checklist in the planning and communication stages of a major change. When you’re planning your change process, consider each variable to make sure your team (a) feels dissatisfied with the current situation and (b) believes the future state is both desirable and practical.

Consider the sales processing system we touched on earlier, which is crashing regularly. Right now, the system might crash only once a week – this is inconvenient, but it’s not painful. So overall, your team may be reluctant to go through the all the work involved in an upgrade.

When you use the equation, you see that the number of crashes doesn’t cause the team members to be dissatisfied enough to make the change. It’s your job to give them a clear vision of what their lives would be like if they don’t make the upgrade.

For example, let them know that even though the system currently crashes only once a week, it will eventually start crashing every day – and then multiple times every day. When that happens, the team will get behind on their work, and they’ll have to stay late to get it finished. A picture like this will probably increase their dissatisfaction with the current system. (Of course, it’s always possible that they’re satisfied with the existing approach, that the change doesn’t deliver sufficient benefits, or that the plan isn’t practical – in this case you need to revisit the case for change!)

Also, make sure you share enough details about the technical aspects of the change to help people understand how things will be better. Suppose the new system, in addition to fixing the current problems, also has the capacity to handle 500 times more transactions simultaneously. If people don’t know this, they may not be convinced of the desirability of the upgrade!

And finally, be clear about what you, and your team, will need to do to make the change from the current state to the desirable new state. In particular, identify first steps that will help you increase people’s confidence in the practicality of the proposed change.

Key Points

Implementing change is no small task. But using Beckhard and Harris’s change equation during the planning process is a quick but effective way of ensuring that your team understands why change is necessary, why your proposed “to be” state will be better, and what they need to do about it now! When all of this is in place, you will greatly improve the likelihood that your change will be successful.

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Now, get my blog news from your phone itself while you Travel.

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Or

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Application Name: Maaruthi
Note: Your Android phone might block this software installation initially.
Hint: Enable “Unknown Sources” – Allow install of non-Market applications.
Happy browsing 🙂

Fixing Unbalanced Processes

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Where’s the bottleneck in your area?

Consider this scenario: You own a trucking company, and you’ve recently had problems in the delivery process for one of your clients. The loading at their factory goes smoothly, but once your trucks arrive at the client’s warehouse, efficiency seems to fall apart. The trucks typically wait six to eight hours before workers unload the cargo. Every minute that your trucks are parked and waiting costs your company revenue.

You investigate to find out why the trucks are forced to wait, and you discover something surprising: The reason they wait is because no one notifies the warehouse in advance of their arrival. As a result, when a truck arrives, the forklift that’s needed for unloading is often being used for another task. So your truck has to wait until the forklift is free.

Now you begin to wonder why the warehouse isn’t notified, as it should be, that trucks are on their way. You investigate more and learn that the person who used to call the warehouse left the company a few months ago, and the task wasn’t reassigned. So you delegate the phone call to another team member, and you persuade the warehouse to purchase a second forklift – and your problem is solved.

This bottleneck was pretty easy to fix. But have you ever discovered a bottleneck in your business processes? These can be harder to resolve, mostly because they’re harder to identify.

What Is a Bottleneck?

A bottleneck in a process occurs when input comes in faster than the next step can use it to create output. The term compares assets (information, materials, products, man-hours) with water. When water is poured out of a bottle, it has to pass through the bottle’s neck, or opening. The wider the bottle’s neck, the more water (input/assets) you can pour out. The smaller, or narrower, the bottle’s neck, the less you can pour out – and you end up with a back-up, or “bottleneck.”

There are two main types of bottlenecks:

  1. Short-term bottlenecks – These are caused by temporary problems. A good example is when key team members become ill or go on vacation. No one else is qualified to take over their projects, which causes a backlog in their work until they return.
  2. Long-term bottlenecks – These occur all the time. An example would be when a company’s month-end reporting process is routinely delayed because someone has to complete a series of time-consuming tasks – and he can’t even start until he has the final month-end figures.

Identifying and fixing bottlenecks is important. They can cause a lot of problems in terms of lost revenue, dissatisfied customers, wasted time, poor-quality products or services, and high stress in team members.

How to Identify Bottlenecks

Identifying bottlenecks in manufacturing is usually pretty easy. On an assembly line, you can see when products pile up at a certain point. In business processes, however, they can often be harder to find.

Start with yourself. Is there a routine or situation that regularly causes stress in your day? These frustrations can actually be a significant indicator that a bottleneck may exist.

For example, imagine that you’re responsible for reviewing a report that another team member creates each week. Once you’re done, you give it to another team member, who has to post the report on your company’s intranet. Due to your workload, however, the report often sits on your desk for hours – so the next person down the line sometimes has to stay later at the end of the day to post it on time. This causes a lot of stress for you as well as your colleague. In this scenario, you’re the bottleneck.

Here are some other signs of bottlenecks:

  • Long wait times – For example, your work is delayed because you’re waiting for a product, a report, or more information. Or materials spend time waiting between steps of a business or manufacturing process.
  • Backlogged work – There’s too much work piled up at one end, and not enough at the other end.
  • High stress levels.

Two groups of tools are useful in helping you identify bottlenecks:

1. Flow Charts:
Use a flow chart to help you identify where bottlenecks are occurring. Flow charts break down a system by detailing every step in the process in an easy-to-follow diagrammatic flow. Once you map out a process, it’s much easier to see where there might be a problem. Sit down and identify each step that your process needs to take to function well.

For example, in the trucking scenario we mentioned earlier, a flow chart might look like this:

  • Step 1 – Goods are manufactured at the factory.
  • Step 2 – Goods are loaded onto the truck.
  • Step 3 – The warehouse is notified about the truck’s arrival time.
  • Step 4 – The warehouse schedules a forklift for the expected arrival time.
  • Step 5 – The truck arrives at the warehouse, and unloading starts.
Tip:
Where bottlenecks seem to be occurring at interfaces between groups of people, Swim Lane Diagrams can help you map out the situation clearly. An alternative approach which explicitly brings time into the analysis is Value Stream Mapping.

In this case, the delay occurred because Steps 3 and 4 were missing, and this led to a long wait between Steps 2 and 5. Creating the flow chart before investigating the problem would have helped you quickly see where your process broke down.

2. The Five Whys Technique:
The Five Whys technique can also help you identify how to unblock your bottleneck.

To start, identify the problem you want to address. Then, working backward, ask yourself why this problem is occurring. Keep asking yourself “Why?” at each step, until you reach the root cause.

Consider our trucking example again. Go back to the beginning, and imagine that you have no idea why the trucks are delayed.

Trucks are forced to wait for hours at the warehouse.

Why?

Because the forklift isn’t ready to unload the trucks when they arrive.

Why isn’t the forklift ready?

Because there’s only one forklift, and it’s used for other things. The warehouse doesn’t know the trucks are arriving, so the forklift isn’t scheduled to unload cargo.

Why doesn’t the warehouse know the trucks are coming?

Because no one has called to tell them.

Why has no one called the warehouse?

Because the team member whose job was to call the warehouse left months ago, and no one else was assigned to make the calls.

Tip:
The “Five Whys” help you zero in on a problem quickly, but sometimes this is at the expense of a thorough analysis. For more complex problems, consider using Cause & Effect Analysis or Root Cause Analysis.

And there’s the solution. You’ve identified the root cause: a missing team member. The easy fix is to delegate the task to someone else.

By working backward and identifying the root cause, you can clearly see what you need to change to fix the problem.

How to Unblock Bottlenecks

You have two options for unblocking your bottleneck:

  1. Increase the efficiency of the bottleneck step.
  2. Decrease input to the bottleneck step.

In our trucking example, the clear solution was to increase efficiency by notifying the warehouse. How you might increase efficiency in other situations will depend greatly on the nature of the process concerned, but here are some general ideas:

  • Ensure that whatever is being fed into the bottleneck is free of defects. By doing this, you ensure that you’re not wasting the valuable bottleneck resource by using it to process material that will later be discarded.
  • Remove activities from the bottleneck process that could be done by other people or machinery.
  • Assign the most productive team members and technology to the bottleneck process.
  • Add capacity in the bottleneck process.

For more on how to increase the efficiency of processes, see article on Kaizen: Gaining the Full Benefits of Continuous Improvement.

The other option, decreasing input, may sound silly at first. But if one part of a process has the potential to produce more output than you ultimately need (or can manage), it’s an appropriate response. You may have a situation where you keep increasing the amount of work-in-progress inventory immediately after a step that’s working too efficiently.

For example, speed cameras can “catch” a large number of drivers who exceed the speed limit. However, each speed violation has to be processed, and this incurs a cost. The cameras can catch far more drivers than the processing departments can handle. So, many cameras are programmed to identify only those drivers who go a certain amount over the speed limit, or to operate only at certain times of day or certain days of the week. As a result, the number of inputs to the system is reduced to the level that it can process.

Key Points

Bottlenecks can cause major problems for any company, and identifying their root causes is critical. Look for the typical signs of bottlenecks – such as backlogged work, waiting (by people, materials, or paperwork), and high stress relating to a task or process. To make sure you identify the root cause (and not just one of the effects), use a Flow Chart, the Five Whys technique, or one of the other techniques recommended.

Apply This to Your Life: Are there bottlenecks in any of your processes at work? Do you produce things that sit in a colleague’s inbox for hours or days before they’re processed, or do things sit in your inbox for days because you’re too busy?

Think about this and, for each bottleneck situation, identify who – or what – the bottleneck is. Is it you, or someone else, or even an automatic process?

Then determine if the process would flow better if inputs to the bottleneck step were reduced, or if efficiency were increased. That done, make changes appropriately!

Found more images on Drawing Room designs.

Really cool

I found these pictures when browsing different sites.

Really nice ones!

Asserting Yourself While Maintaining Relationships

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Offer an alternative to a straight “No”.

The word “negotiation” conjures up images of high-pressure situations, where people have a lot to lose if they get things wrong.

In fact, you probably negotiate several times each day. You do it at home and at work for all sorts of things, from deciding what to make for dinner, to settling on terms for a job promotion. Because of this, you are a negotiator, even if you don’t think of yourself as one!

But how well do you negotiate? Do you know how to recognize situations where negotiating is appropriate? And do you understand the elements of an effective negotiation?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the fundamentals of negotiating successfully, so that you can meet your needs without causing conflict when you do have to say “no”.

Negotiating Basics

Negotiation is simply the act of reaching agreement as to how you’ll move forwards. It’s the process of communicating back and forth, and finally having all parties agree to a solution.

There are many ways to arrive at this agreement. Some people view negotiation as a game they have to win. They use “hard” negotiation tactics, and this often leaves one party very satisfied and the other side with no choice but to agree. The problem with this approach is that the relationship between the two parties is often permanently damaged. The person asking for something may receive it, but the second person probably feels taken advantage of and, perhaps, angry and resentful. If it wasn’t really a willing “yes,” the second person is unlikely to complete the work quickly, or with a positive attitude.

The opposite approach is to accommodate. This is when one party yields his or her position and original goal, simply agreeing to what the other person wants. This “soft” tactic is often the result of wanting to keep relationships friendly. The end result, however, is that this person doesn’t get what’s needed, and he or she loses control to the other person.

Negotiations that aim for mutually satisfying outcomes are often best. These are sometimes called collaborative, integrative, or principled negotiations. The techniques used to conduct these help negotiators find a solution that shows high concern for the needs of both sides. The result is a win-win solution: rather than one side giving up a “position,” the focus is on finding a new position where everyone is happy and is satisfied.

In the book “Getting to Yes,” based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury outline four parameters for principled negotiation:

  1. Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Generate a variety of possibilities before making a decision.
  4. Define objective standards as the criteria for making the decision.

If you use these elements as the basis of your negotiation, you’ll be more able to find creative solutions to the problems you’re trying to solve.

Assertiveness and Negotiation

To use the principles of principled negotiation, you must be assertive. Forget the idea that negotiation means giving something up. Instead, this new process frees you to get what you need.

So, when your boss asks you to be on another committee, and you don’t really have the time, you don’t have to say “yes” or “no.” Instead, approach the situation as an opportunity to negotiate.

Does the new committee offer career development opportunities that fit with your long-term objectives? If yes, perhaps you can give up another assignment in exchange, or maybe you can negotiate hiring an assistant so that you can reduce your workload. This might even be the time to renegotiate your job description and redefine your roles and responsibilities within the organization!

See articles on assertiveness and managing your boundaries for a full discussion of these topics, and for tips on how to communicate more assertively.

Whatever the situation, if you view negotiation as a collaboration, you say “yes” to the other person by respecting his or her needs – at the same time that you give yourself the opportunity to say “no” to the task itself.

When to Say “No” to the Task

Not all requests should be negotiated. Sometimes when your boss asks you to do something, you need to say “no”.

Here are some key questions to ask before saying “no” to a task:

  • Do I have time to do it?
  • Am I the right person for the task?
    • Is someone else best suited to the job?
  • Does this request fit with my goals and objectives?

If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you may be best off saying “no”. (There’s more on how to do this below!)

On the other hand, it’s usually unprofessional to say “no” to a task just because you don’t want to do it, you don’t understand how to do it, it will take a long time, or it’s messy and complex.

How to Say “Yes” to the Person but “No” to the Task

If your answer to the task request is “no,” then figure out how to say “yes” to the person at the same time. To do this, make sure that you explain your justification, so that it’s clear that you’re only saying “no” to this particular task – and possibly only on this occasion. If the other person understands why you’ve said “no”, they are less likely to be left with the impression that you’re simply being unhelpful. However, you may also have to be firm about how you say “no”.

As we’ve discussed, saying “yes to the person and no to the task” may also mean negotiating different arrangements to accommodate the request in a different way.

To say “yes” to the person, first answer three main questions:

  1. What does this person really need?
    • Find areas of flexibility.
    • Determine priorities.
  2. How else can this person’s need be met?
    • Find a different frame of reference or approach to the problem.
    • Look for time and resource alternatives.
  3. How can I support this person to have the need met?
    • Define the larger goal.
    • Look for common interests and needs.

High levels of trust and good communication are essential to this process. Although there’s no guarantee that trust will lead to a good solution, mistrust will almost certainly harm collaboration. People who don’t trust each other tend to be defensive, and this often leads people to look for ‘hidden agendas’ or withhold information.

When people trust each other, they’re more likely to communicate their needs accurately. When they share information about what they want, what they need, and why they need it, this can lead people to cooperate to look for a joint solution. And when you work in an environment of respect and trust, it’s much easier to reach agreement without compromising your needs in the process.

Examples
Saying “yes” to the person but “no” to the task generally involves a conversation, rather than just a one-sentence response. However, here are some examples of how you can do so in simple situations.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that analysis this week. Can I do it for you next Tuesday after month end is complete?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t take on doing this analysis on a regular basis because Alex wants me to prioritize development work. But I know Jane is working on developing her Excel skills. Would you like me to show her how to extract the data so she can take this on?”

“I could do that analysis, but I wondered what information you actually want from it. If it’s the conversion rate from the advertising campaign, would one of the measures in the report that Marketing send round give you what you need?”

Key Points

We all negotiate, and we do so regularly. And even though the extents of our negotiations vary, one principle remains the same: when both parties win, the outcome is often better. Whether someone asks you for a favor, or you need to agree on terms for a contract or project, you must collaborate to achieve a win-win solution.

When you collaborate, you consider everyone’s needs. Therefore, even if you have to say “no” to something, you’re still concerned about finding a way to get the other person’s needs met, and this allows you to say “yes” to the person. Integration and collaboration are keys to this process. So, the next time you have to negotiate, look for a way to meet everyone’s needs, rather than leave one side with little or nothing.



Turning Negative Back to Positive

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Engaged team members make a valuable contribution.


“Excuse me, I’m the new program office administrator, and I need to book a hotel for a meeting. Could you help me with that?” you ask another administrator.

“Uh, just go on the intranet,” replies your colleague, who then turns back to the person sitting next to her and resumes her conversation about her weekend plans.

“Okay…” you might reply uncomfortably, even though you’ve already spent half an hour trying to find the right web page.

Sound familiar? You’ve just encountered a “disengaged” employee. If you had a workforce full of disengaged employees, how devastating would that be to your business?

Disengaged people exist in all types of businesses, across all industries. You can spot them by their indifferent, blasé attitudes. They don’t care about the company, they probably don’t like their jobs, and they send negative signals everywhere they go.

Disengaged people are like poison – they don’t perform their own jobs well, they drive customers away, and they have a bad influence on your other staff. Yet few people start off disengaged. It’s typically a process that happens over time, as employee and employer expectations grow further and further apart.

What Is an Engaged Team Member?

Fortunately, you can re-engage members of your team and build back their pride and commitment. But you’ll need to make a continuous effort and a strong investment in positive human capital management techniques.

The first step is to understand what an engaged team member looks like: Engaged people go above and beyond their job descriptions to get things done. They’re committed to the organization’s success, and they’re willing to do what’s necessary to reach goals.

It’s important to understand that while many “average” employees are not quite fully engaged, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re completely disengaged. However, these average employees need re-engagement as well.

To reach a level of full engagement, you must build a people-focused workplace – one that recognizes that your people genuinely are your most important resource.

Re-engaging People

To achieve this, you need to meet people’s expectations and provide a great work environment. There are several key management practices that are fundamental to this process. By providing these workplace conditions and continuously reinforcing their practice throughout the company, you can re-engage people who have fallen out of step with your purpose and vision.

We can divide re-engagement approaches into four areas:

  1. Fact-Finding – Activities that help you (a) understand disengagement and your current situation and (b) monitor your situation on an ongoing basis.

  2. Establishing an Environment for Engagement – Activities that help engagement flourish.
  3. Hygiene Factors – Activities that help avoid de-motivation by managing people’s stress, putting people in the right jobs, and providing feedback.

  4. Motivators – Practices that help increase motivation and engagement.

Not all ideas will apply to all situations however, as a whole, these are the conditions and practices that will help you build people’s engagement. We’ll now look at each of these in detail.

1. Fact-finding

  • Ask yourself when you ever felt unenthused and unengaged. This is a good place to start your re-engagement process. When you understand the sorts of things that caused you to disconnect with your company in the past, you may gain some insight into what members of your team are feeling right now.

  • Talk to your people about their expectations and issues. Having clear expectations is a fundamental factor in re-engaging people. If people feel that they’ve been treated unfairly or have not been provided with the employment conditions they expected, you need to know. Once discrepancies are found, work toward a resolution as soon as possible. This lets people know that you care and you take their needs seriously.

    And ask them about the situations and issues that may be upsetting them. Push beyond the issues that are immediately obvious – the problem may lie with issues that are entrenched and systematic, and that the person thinks are just part of the way things are.

    This step is particularly important when you become the new manager of a group of people who are already disengaged. Resist the temptation to blame the former manager – instead, focus on moving forward from where you are now, based on what you find out from talking to your new people.

  • Schedule regular “one-on-ones” with members of your team. Talk with individual team members about what they believe is expected of them, and then clarify and make modifications as necessary. When you keep communication open, you can often avoid potential conflicts and misunderstandings that can grow worse and lead to major problems.

  • Survey employee engagement on a regular basis. With any kind of change process, it’s usually a good idea to regularly ask your people questions related to their dedication and commitment to the company. Use the issues you’ve identified as a starting point, and construct a questionnaire to discover what you’re doing well and where there’s room for improvement. Use the results to begin a re-engagement plan that will help you build a stronger and more devoted workforce.

2. Establishing an Environment for Engagement

  • Be honest and forthright about your own role in people’s disengagement. A little humility goes a long way toward re-engaging someone. What if your management practices have contradicted any of the above points? What if you’ve been weaker in your commitment recently, and you’ve contributed to the current situation? Admit it, apologize for your actions, and construct a solid plan to move forward. This is a great way to start rebuilding your team’s trust and show how supporting one another can make huge differences for everyone. By demonstrating your commitment to your people, they will likely respond with a renewed commitment to you and the business.

  • Practice participative management. People usually want to participate and be involved. They want and need to feel that they matter and that their contributions are valued. To engage them, provide lots of opportunities for them to be involved with decisions. It’s also important that people feel able to voice their ideas and raise issues – without judgment or fear of punishment. To re-engage people, help them feel confident that you’ll welcome their contributions and that you’ll really listen to what they say.

  • Be a model for commitment to the organization. When employees believe their boss and senior management are committed to the company, that can provide proof that the company is indeed worth committing to. If you have doubts or express negativity toward the business, you can’t expect members of your team to be totally dedicated and engaged. They take their cues from you, and they’ll react to your opinions and actions.

3. Hygiene Factors

  • Identify and manage stress and burnout. Overworked employees can have a difficult time engaging. They simply have too many competing needs, the greatest of which is their own survival. If you want engaged people, develop a genuine concern for their health and welfare. By using regular one-on-ones and staying connected to members of your team, you should be able to keep on top of their workload and stress factors. Do what you can to alleviate their stress by using the tools on Stress Management pages, and refer your people for assistance as necessary.

  • Put people in the right jobs. As you get to know members of your team through regular contact and feedback, think about ways to capitalize on their unique strengths and talents. Rather than focusing on a specific smaller problem or disciplining someone, look at the bigger picture: Does the person fit the job? You may need to regroup which tasks go with which jobs, or allow people to rotate jobs in order to enrich their learning opportunities. Work with members of your team to meet your company’s needs. When people know you’re dedicated to their success, they will, in turn, dedicate themselves to your success.

  • Provide fair and regular feedback. Most people respond incredibly well to praise and recognition. For effective employee engagement, this can be difficult if you restrict yourself to a formal program or yearly performance appraisals. Make a conscious effort to observe when people are doing things right, and show them every day that they’re appreciated. When you need to provide corrective feedback, make sure it’s timely, and centered on a specific task.

For more on hygiene factors and motivators, see article on Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory.

4. Motivators

  • Provide growth opportunities. A big factor in employee engagement is building long-term commitment. This is important because it retains knowledge within the company and reduces turnover. Provide incentive for people to stay long term by discovering their talents and figuring out ways to use those talents within the organization.

This can be a powerful method of re-engagement. However, be careful that you don’t try to re-engage someone by promising too much. Be genuine in your offers – otherwise, you can do much more damage to your reputation and to the person’s welfare in the long run.

  • Help people understand the big picture. Too often, people don’t understand what’s going on in the organization outside of the small world around their own jobs. When that happens, it’s easy for them to become disconnected and disillusioned. Make sure that members of your team know the company’s vision and strategy. They need to recognize the roles they play in the organization’s success. To do this, keep people well informed, and make sure they stay focused on the big picture.

  • Align personal and organizational goals. Make sure that people’s goals are tied to departmental and company goals (this is related to understanding the big picture). A key part of engaging people is ensuring that the company’s success matters to them. If you can link personal success and accomplishment to overall company goals, then you provide the basis for an engaged workplace.

Tip:
If you’ve done all you can to engage someone, and they are still not engaged, you may need to take disciplinary action, either to emphasize the need for change or to remove someone who is blocking the team’s progress. If you don’t, you risk jeopardizing your whole team’s progress. This is not an option to take lightly, so talk to your HR department as a first step.

Key Points

Employee engagement is a critical factor in a company’s success. When you have people who are committed to your business, they’ll stay with you long term and they’ll work very hard to make the organization a success. It’s extremely important, therefore, that you actively re-engage people who are disconnected with the company and that you work to build and maintain an engaged team. The keys to employee engagement are great management practices, including strong teams and a firm sense that what your people do on a daily basis matters to their boss and to the business as a whole.

The bottom line is that people need to feel wanted. Show them how much they’re needed and why. Be honest and trustworthy – and acknowledge, with everything you do, that your people truly are the company’s most valuable resource.


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