Archive for April, 2010
Every diversity trainer I know presents some version of “dimensions of diversity” during an awareness class. That means they show some kind of list of diversity dimensions that include but go beyond the legally protected categories, thus making the point that diversity is not just about race and gender.
For me, it’s a favorite part of diversity awareness training because it lets everyone, including white males, know that they are included in the diversity initiative. Everyone is diverse in some way, whether it be because of their educational background, values and worldview, skills and abilities, or the way they were brought up. During my review of dimensions, we talk about everything from eating habits to time-consciousness, making a number of points about diversity as we go along:
1. We tend to overvalue some dimensions. For example, during a hiring initiative we think we must have someone from Harvard or Yale because that’s where our top managers have always come from; in the process of overvaluing a dimension, we unintentionally screen out worthy candidates and limit ourselves in the effort to find the best and brightest candidate out there. We need to learn to think (and recruit) outside the box.
2. We tend to use some dimensions as “shortcuts.” Sometimes these shortcuts can be useful, for instance when we assume it might be best to show up on time for a first meeting with a person with military background, but most of the time they lead to stereotyping. One employee is married with kids and the other is single, so we assume the single one doesn’t mind business travel and the married one does and we assign the new account to the single person. Sometimes it’s challenging to make the distinction between learning more about a dimension of diversity, and stereotyping. I always make the point that learning more about, say, the Muslim faith, for a Christian, is a matter of generating a starting point. Now that I know a little something about this religious dimension, I can get to know this person individually and find out what makes them different beyond their faith.
3. Lastly, that all dimensions of diversity can add value if we create the right environment, an environment where everyone can let their difference contribute to the success of our mission. Examples abound, especially in for-profit organizations; are you tapping your gay and lesbian employees for ideas on how to reach the GLBT marketplace? Are you asking your disabled employees how to market to disabled customers? Are you gaining insight into what kinds of products smokers buy from your smoking employees? The list goes on, and it is really no different in a public sector organization. The public they serve is still made up of all the same dimensions of diversity, and in order to serve them well, we need to mirror that diversity and let the organization learn from it.
I often get pushback from workshop participants who say that all these dimensions “shouldn’t” matter in the workplace. We should all be blind and treat everyone the same. I generally respond by making the point that we’re not all the same, and if we pretend we are, we miss out on valuable opportunities to understand and serve our customer base or public more effectively.
For those who do diversity training out there, what other lessons do you derive from your presentation of dimensions? What objections and questions do you tend to get, and what have you learned from it over the years?
Generally I update this blog twice a week; at the beginning of the week and at the end. This morning I sat for the longest time trying to come up with an idea to blog about and couldn’t. Then I started thinking about why, and the answer came to me: I had spent the last three days, since my last entry, driving across country to visit my family on the east coast. I had lots of time to think while I was driving, but no time for “input”; in other words, I couldn’t read and I didn’t talk to people. I didn’t lead any workshops. I didn’t interact with my mountain rescue team. I didn’t do any of the things that I normally derive my ideas from.
That made me think about why I blog. I don’t usually do it to share what I already know; or not just what I already know, anyway. I do it to work through what I just learned. The act of blogging is synonymous with the act of learning, for me. I make connections between previous knowledge and recent input, and as I write I gain a new perspective.
And that thought made me curious. For all you bloggers out there, why do you blog? Please share your story.
I’ll be back on Thursday with what I’ve learned this week!
The “E” word is empathy; apparently a dirty word in the world of justice. Dalia Lithwick, in a recent Newsweek column called Steven’s Real Legacy, decries the demonizing of the word by Republican politicians and commentators who claim that empathy means judging from the heart rather than from a strict interpretation of the law.
That’s too bad, Lithwick says, because “empathy isn’t emotional incontinence and it isn’t fudging the law to help the little guy. Empathy is the power to imagine a world outside your experience, and to map that understanding onto the law.”
It made me think about all the articles written lately about why we hate HR. I think lack of empathy is at the heart of this; so many HR people believe that in an effort to walk the tightrope between being management and representing employees, they must interpret policy very strictly in order to avoid any appearance of bias. The result is that they become policy-quoting bureaucrats that appear to have little sense of business practicality or individual employee needs. If only they could imagine an experience different than their own—the experience of an employee struggling to balance work and personal life, or of a manager struggling to make a financial target that she perceives to be in conflict with organizational policy—then perhaps HR would be a little more creative in finding workable solutions.
I am a former HR director myself, and I used to post Catbert the Evil HR Director cartoons on my office door in an effort to humanize myself. Eventually, I just left HR. I remember one of the pivotal events that led to my decision; the small financial services company I worked for was doing an umpteenth RIF, and senior leadership wanted me to handle all of the communications with affected employees. I pleaded with them to imagine what it would be like to be let go by HR instead of by one’s own supervisor, and thus be unable to ask questions specific to the many fears that go through a downsized employee’s mind–”Was it my performance? Did I do a good job? Would you recommend me elsewhere?” Senior leadership either could not imagine being in those particular pairs of shoes, or did not care. Eventually I came not to care either, and that’s when I knew I needed to leave.
What has been your experience with HR and empathy? Any stories to share?
Julia Baird, in a recent Newsweek column, reported some astonishing statistics from the Council on Contemporary Families that show that men are cheating less, spending more time with their families, and doing more housework than ever before. What caught my eye in particular was this: “Millennial fathers…spend an average of 4.3 hours per workday with their kids, which is almost double that of their counterparts in 1977. A Families and Work Institute report found that these young dads are actually now spending more time each day with children under 13 than mothers between the ages of 29 and 42 are with their own.”
In generational diversity classes across many different companies, industries and government agencies, I continue to hear this constant refrain of the Boomers: “Generation Y has no work ethic, no manners, no consideration for others.” No amount of reminding them that they are Gen Y’s parents seems to change their tune, nor does talking about Generation Y’s penchant for socially responsible work, work that contributes to a global mission. I’ve tried talking about how the Millenials work well in teams, how the concept of respectful behavior has changed over time, and how the tech-savviness of this generation can be harnessed and put to use mentoring older workers. Still, all I hear from Boomers is that these kids ain’t got no respect. When will we stop complaining and start recognizing that they are the future of our organizations? We won’t get what we want by trashing them.
It’s tempting to chalk all this up to the perpetual complaining of the old about the young that has been a fact of life for centuries. But when you see that passionate distaste that colors the conversation in class after class, you start looking for other means of argument. That Gen Y fathers are more focused on spending time with their children shouldn’t be a surprise to us, when you think about it; this is a generation that saw (or at least heard about) their parents once being more dedicated to work and career than to family. They don’t want to make the same mistakes.
The downside of the trend? Baird quotes a University of California law professor who says that 59 percent of employed fathers in dual-earner families said they suffered from work-family conflict, up from 35 percent in 1977. All the more reason why, instead of talking about the entitlement and laziness of the younger generation, we need to focus on creating programs and resources for work-life balance that are equally accessible to both genders as well as all age groups. And we need to manage by results, not by time spent in office chairs. And we need to recognize that there is a big difference between lack of work ethic and a recognition of what’s most important in life. The Millenials may be the first generation to truly have their priorities straight.
I’m reading The Dance of Change this week, an oldy but a goody from Peter Senge and others. Something that struck me as fascinating is what George Roth says about the U.S. Army’s use of after-action reviews (AAR’s):
“Starting with the ‘ground truth’ (the relatively objective record, gathered by computers and video cameras, about some recent training exercise or battle), teams of participants meet to come to a mutual understanding of the reasons why a particular campaign worked—or did not. The ability to lead a good after-action review has become a critical skill for leaders.”
Whenever I teach the “ladder of inference” model, which gives us a framework for understanding how people reach completely different conclusions out of the same set of observable data, I use the the language “as a video camera would catch it” to describe the “real” data at the bottom of the ladder. It’s meant to be strictly figurative. But apparently the military often does just that very thing. I can imagine that when soldiers emerge from a high tension situation with different interpretations of what actually happened, only something like a video image and a transcript of radio transmissions would help them understand how they got from the “real” to their own interpretations.
How fascinating–and useful– would it be if we could catch workplace interactions on video camera and analyze them later, when interpersonal problems and misunderstandings arose between colleagues? If we had a camera installed in the meeting room, with employees’ knowledge of course, and periodically used it to generate a learning conversation about a team’s interaction during routine meetings?
The other thought sparked by the Roth’s comments on AAR’s is that they are a critical tool for any organization that must operate in a command-and-control environment. The mountain rescue team I volunteer for is a prime example, as is any other emergency services organization. When the mission is critical and lives are potentially at stake, incident commanders don’t have time to ask for opinions and generate learning conversations; they must resort to direct, prescriptive language and deliver it quickly. But what ensures that we capture learning points later is the AAR, which we call simply a “debrief”. We ask “what went well?” and “what could we have done better?” and everyone gets to comment, regardless of their status in the group. We don’t have a video recording to look at, alas; but at least we have the prism of many different perspectives. And that, as we know, is critical for getting the whole picture.
What does your organization do to move from the “real” to the perceived, to have those critical learning conversations about what happened and why we each see it differently?
One of the high potential areas for unproductive conflict on your team can be found in the use of email.
Let’s start with what everyone already knows. A large percentage of communication is made up of vocal and physical behavior; in other words, tone of voice and body language (studies vary on this subject and there is some controversy, so let’s leave it at “very large” and not mess with numbers). On the phone, you’re missing the physical part; over email, you’re missing both the physical and the vocal. So it’s important, in any type of communication, to pick the right medium. Do emotions run high over this particular subject? Is someone likely to be angry, frustrated or resentful? Meet in person then. That’s too much emotion to be correctly interpreted through purely verbal communication.
Experts say that humor and sarcasm are the two emotions most frequently misunderstood over email. You can almost guarantee that the recipient of your email won’t read it the way you intended.
But with lack of vocal tone, even verbal communication (the actual words you choose) can be misunderstood. I heard a great example recently. One woman emailed another and said, “I owe you big girl”, referring to a favor the woman had done her. What she meant was, “I owe you big.” What the recipient heard was that she was fat. Since she happened to be a rather large woman, this was unfortunate.
Then there’s the issue of some people being email people and some people not. Some folks aren’t comfortable expressing themselves in writing, or find email very impersonal, or hate to type, or are slow at it. It’s important to get to know this about your teammates. Who is comfortable with email and who isn’t? Who prefers the phone? Who prefers a face-to-face meeting? Figure this out about each other, because the next time you’ve got a touchy subject to bring up with your teammate and you’re the one who stands to lose something, you don’t want to pick a communication medium that will make matters worse.
Then there’s the teammate who’s uncomfortable with confrontation and finds it easier to express frustration and anger over email than in person. Not only does this teammate let loose and say hurtful things she might not normally say in person, but there’s more potential for the emotion to be misinterpreted over email.
And then there are the conventions about follow-up and response. When someone sends an email that is meant to be purely informational, do you acknowledge it? Or just read and delete it, in the interest of not cluttering someone’s in-box with an email that just says “thanks”? When it is a request for response and you can’t respond right away, do you say so? Or wait until you have the information to respond completely? And who gets copied on what kinds of emails? Organizational culture often dictates these sort of things, and differences in the way they are handled can cause great resentment between team members due to differing perceptions of what constitutes respectful and disrespectful behavior.
As you’re working on your team norms, here are some points to consider regarding email:
1. Spell out criteria that will help teammates decide the most appropriate communication medium for a particular situation (email vs. phone vs. informal meeting vs. formal meeting) and include examples. What kinds of topics are so important that a formal meeting should be scheduled? What kinds of topics need the efficiency of email, and the ability to copy multiple people? What kinds of topics may lead to a long back-and-forth over email that is time-comsuming and unproductive, and would be better handled by a phone call?
2. Spell out some norms about responding to emails. Who gets copied on what? Do all emails get acknowledged, or do we have a norm that says “lack of response indicates assent”?
3. What constitutes inappropriate use of email? (e.g. blasting each other in frustration, tattling to the boss, and the obvious stuff like inappropriate/offensive/obscene humor.)
4. What are teammate’s specific individual communication preferences?
5. What are some response time guidelines, especially for external or customer emails? How long should it take us to respond to a request via email?
What do you have to add? What are your pet peeves about the use of email on your team, and what kinds of norms do you have (or should you have) to address them?
I facilitated a customer service workshop recently that reinforced something I’ve always believed: you can’t train for customer service orientation, you can only hire for it. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do customer service training; once you have the right people in place, giving them tools and techniques to work with is crucial. But if you’ve got the wrong people in place, you can’t fix that or even substantially improve it with training.
The class I taught was an “open enrollment” class, so in theory, anyone in the organization could have signed up. During the introductions, however, it became clear that most of them had not signed up on their own. Their supervisors had sent them.
How do I know they were the “wrong people” for the job? It certainly sounds like an arrogant thing to say based on a mere day’s interaction with them. But the discussion in that room always turned to the concept of the unreasonable customer. Customers didn’t read the directions, they didn’t listen, they didn’t use the FAQ, they didn’t go online and do what they were supposed to do. Then they got mad because the employees they called couldn’t or wouldn’t help them. The frustration in the room was palpable, and it was obvious that my participants were not looking for tools and techniques to help them meet their customers needs; they were looking for tools and techniques to make their customers go away. Some of them were even convinced that their customers had bad intentions; that they actually meant to make the customer service providers angry or frustrated.
At one point I gave instructions for an exercise and I noticed that no one was listening. They were starting in on the first part of the exercise instead of waiting to hear instructions for the second part. I’m used to that, and usually I break in during the exercise and repeat instructions for the second part of the activity because I know they were anxious to get started and didn’t listen the first time. I thought about ways that I might make a connection between what they were doing themselves at that moment, and what they seemed unable to understand or forgive in their customers. As hard as I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a way to make my point that wouldn’t put them on the defensive, and ultimately be ineffective or even counterproductive. I let it go.
Can trainees like this get anything at all out of a customer service workshop? Sure. Maybe a trick or two to calm an upset customer, or to manage one’s own stress. But the bottom line, I believe, is that these folks were in the wrong jobs. You simply can’t take a task-oriented person with a short fuse and turn them into a patient, caring “people person” by sending them to training.
What you can do is use the right selection processes and standards to hire people who love customer service and have the temperament to do it well, and then send them to training to learn some tricks of the trade. I’m convinced that this is a much better use of an organization’s time and money; if you want to bring in an outside consultant, bring them in to work with your hiring process first.
A couple months ago I blogged about how important structured learning experiences are for new employees; you can read it here. Throwing them into the frying pan and expecting them to learn “how we do things around here” on their own is the worst way to start off a new team member. Most new employees will be self-conscious and uncomfortable at best, and feel downright neglected and resentful at worst. Even on my volunteer mountain rescue team, where new teammates are unpaid and may have joined the team just for fun, and our mission is as clear and uncomplicated as “go climb that mountain and get the guy with the broken leg and bring him down here”, I have learned that a structured training program is critical to their success on the team.
For a newly promoted supervisor, a formal training program is even more important. Think about it; your new supervisor has a nearly overwhelming number of new responsibilities. She must learn how to recruit, interview, select, hire, train, coach, supervise, motivate, reward, discipline and terminate employees who used to be her peers. Then she must learn an endless list of company policies, government regulations and applicable legislation behind these new responsibilities, else risk getting herself and the company into all sorts of hot water. If the organization is unionized, she must learn about the collective bargaining agreement. There are affirmative action and/or diversity goals to become familiar with, EEO legislation to learn, pitfalls in the interviewing process, and requirements for performance documentation. Depending on the size of your organization, there may be many internal programs for people processes that must be studied. HR generalists may or may not be available to help, and to the extent they are, the supervisor still needs to know when to call them and when to handle something on her own.
We’re not talking about Leadership development with a capital “L” here. We’re just talking about the nuts and bolts of becoming a supervisor. If you don’t spend time putting together a formal, structured training program in human resource management for your new supervisors, you’ll pay the consequences in increased employee complaints and possibly even litigation, not to mention decreased employee performance and morale.
And yet as obvious as all this seems, I frequently see small to mid-sized companies expecting their new supervisors to learn on the job. Sure, they provide resources; a handbook here, a intranet site there, an assigned human resources specialist or maybe a short class or two. But no comprehensive, fully integrated workshop that gives the supervisors the big picture along with the tools and resources they need. And so supervisors pick up a few tidbits here and there and maybe learn some lessons the hard way, but they never make all the connections they need to make in order to understand how to be an effective supervisor. Don’t be one of those companies; set your new supervisors up for success right at the beginning.
Recently I read that 68.6% of the companies responding to a training survey reported that they had a high need for creativity training but did not offer it to their employees (source: “The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce”).
Certainly I think that creativity training, done well, can be a worthwhile undertaking. But let’s face it; companies struggling in the current economy are probably not going to see this as a top priority in the budgeting process. The good news is that you don’t have to do training to foster increased creativity on your team; there are other things you can do that cost little or nothing. I believe the most important thing you can do is get people out of their daily routines. Creativity is all about context; put people in new situations and new relationships, and they will tend to have new and different ideas. Here are some specific suggestions:
- Take your team on field trips relevant to your industry. If you’re in the hotel business, take them to lunch at a competitor’s hotel; if you’re in the insurance industry, send them out to pretend to be customers at another insurance company; if you’re in the beer business, take them for the famous tour at the Coors plant. You get the picture.
- Take the team on a field trip that is relevant to absolutely nothing. Then ask them what they learned.
- Encourage team members occasionally to change who they go to lunch with, who they go to for advice, and who they have their “water cooler” discussions with. Encourage them to socialize with the teammate who is most different from themselves.
- Change where everyone sits. I know, I know, this could cause chaos. Maybe you could just do it for a day.
- Cross train, and/or sponsor “do someone else’s job for a day”.
- Change task assignments so that people are working in different combinations and on different tasks.
- Change the meeting schedule and change the way you run meetings.
- Start meetings with crazy questions. “What if we did this? What if we stopped doing that?”
- Bring in a speaker from a completely different industry for an employee meeting. Ask the speaker to discuss best practices in his/her own industry, and then ask your team what they learned.
- Examine your team norms. Do they encourage people to say what they really think? Or do they encourage people to be “safe”?
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, always encourage and reward creativity, even when it does not turn out to be useful. As soon as you punish or ridicule a creative idea, you will begin creating a culture that discourages risk-taking and rewards conformity. Future opportunities will be destroyed.