Take A Summer Vacation This Year

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by Jeff Wolf

How many times have you heard your boss tell you that? In fact, how many times have you told your employees that?

Come on, fess up. Either case is as rare as a drenching rain in the Sahara. Let’s face it. Too many bosses discourage employees from taking more than a day off or a weekend here and there. And even then they don’t discourage a barrage of phone calls from work and many will expect employees to check their email several times a day. A two-week getaway to the Far East? Not a chance.

Every year, the media reports on surveys showing that large chunks of U.S. workers don’t plan on taking all their vacation time. Why does this happen, when it’s part of a worker’s compensation package? Large percentages of workers wouldn’t pass on a company-sponsored life insurance plan, or forgo a paycheck for all of December, so why are so many people willingly (or perhaps not so willingly) giving their paid time off back to their employers?

Forbes Magazine contributor Kristi Hedges nails the explanation: “The idea of a skimpy vacation as a worthy sacrifice or badge of honor is culturally embedded. The U.S. is the only rich country to not have legally mandated paid vacation and holidays.” She goes on, “science tells us that this is a very bad idea. Increasingly, studies are showing that breaks of any kind are not only good for you; they can actually increase productivity and well-being.”

Long Vacations Benefit Both Company and Employee

To create a lasting change in their organization, and maybe even greater society at large, leaders must fully embrace the practical benefits of vacations. Good leaders will be more inclined to not only grant, but also encourage employees to take not just a couple of long weekends here and there-and maybe a week off in the summer-but longer vacation time. Employees come back from a full week (or two or three) of time off when they were able to truly disconnect from work energized and recharged, with better ideas, a fresh perspective, lower stress-levels, and genuine excitement to tackle work challenges that can become overwhelming without time to recharge. Truly effective leaders recognize the value of paid time off, and understand it’s key to a productive and engaged workforce.

Here are specific steps leaders can take to make sure this happens:

  • Issue specific company policies that encourage all employees of the organization to take all vacation days due them, and in any increments they prefer.
  • Be clear the time off must not interfere with mission critical work, but also be clear that one person’s week off shouldn’t incapacitate a well-run department, and that while every department has busier times on the calendar, it is normal and expected that departments will experience slower times periodically throughout the year.
  • Require that all managers and supervisors conduct short meetings with their employees explaining the vacation policy.
  • Ask employees for feedback regarding perceived problems with the vacation policy. Since many employees may feel constrained to speak up, use a suggestion box where they can offer suggestions or voice complaints.
  • Assure that all complaints and suggestions are answered by a third-party, such as Human Resources.
  • Follow-up yearly to make sure the new vacation policy is working.

As we head in to the height of the summer, when friends and family frequently plan reunions, couples get married, families with children have the freedom to travel, as leaders it’s our job to help facilitate these getaways. Your employees will thank you for it, and ultimately, your bottom line will thank you for it too.

Jeff Wolf is the author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness.

Contact us today to discuss how we may partner with you to develop your current and future leaders or to have Jeff Wolf speak at your next meeting, conference or convention: Michael Adams madams@wolfmotivation.com 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

 

Building an Optimal Team – Team Health

By Jeff Wolf –  Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All the competitive advantages – strategy, technology, finance, marketing – that we’ve pursued in the past are gone. The disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they have lost their power as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set your company apart. Why? Virtually every organization has access to the best thinking and practices on those topics. As information has become ubiquitous, it’s almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas.

However, one simple, reliable, and virtually free competitive advantage remains – team health. Healthy teams all but eliminate politics and confusion from their cultures. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else…and even more important.

Even the smartest team will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. But a healthy team will find a way to succeed. Without politics and confusion, it will become smarter and tap into all of the intelligence and talent it has.

Team health requires real work and discipline, maintained over time, and the courage to objectively confront problems hindering true team achievement. Leaders must confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their teams with honesty and persistence. Persistent leaders walk into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Four Disciplines

To get healthy, leaders need to take four simple, but difficult, steps:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Get the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running a team, department, or organization are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade down and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  1. Create clarity. Ensure that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around simple but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists and what the most important priority is for the next few months, and eliminate any gaps between them   Then people who work one, two, or three levels below have clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  1. Overcommunicate clarity. After the first two steps (behavioral and intellectual alignment), leaders can take the third step: over-communicating. Leaders of healthy organizations constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little.
  1. Reinforce clarity. Leaders use simple human systems to reinforce clarity in answering critical questions. They custom design any process that involves people from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making to support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

Healthy teams get better at meetings. Without making a few simple changes to the way meetings happen, a team will struggle to maintain its health. Healthy teams rarely fail. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered to design products, serve customers, solve problems, and help one another. Healthy teams recover from setbacks, attract the best people, and create exciting opportunities. People are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace when they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility: creating a culture of success.

Applying the principles of great performance is hard, but the effects of deliberate practice are cumulative. The more of a head start you get in developing people, the more difficult it will be for competitors to catch you.

–Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams: jeff@wolfmotivation.com, 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffWolfUSA

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Never Stop Developing People

How can managers and leaders develop the people who report directly to them so these direct reports can assume more responsibility?

  • To develop people to take on more responsibility, a leader must support and coach people so they can cultivate new skills and embrace opportunities for professional development and personal growth. Leaders must guide others to create their own development plans, not do it for them. People are more productive when they take ownership of their plans.
  • You have to set expectations, encourage people to achieve their goals, praise their success often, and ensure the flow of open communication. Leaders must challenge, probe, and ask questions to reach decision-making. Learn to ask open-ended questions such as: How does that work? What does that mean? If you do this, what do you think may happen? Why do you think it will work? What’s your next step? Which tools do you need? These questions teach people to become analytical and think more strategically. Lastly, you must empower people by giving them ownership, which shows your confidence in their abilities and enables them to succeed or fail on their own.
  • See that each employee is not just doing a job, but that his reach is also being stretched. Assign people to jobs in much the same way that sports coaches or music teachers choose exercises for their students, to push them just beyond their current capabilities and build the skills that are most important. About two-thirds of people’s development comes from carefully chosen job assignments and about one-third from mentoring coaching and classroom training. Put managers into stretch jobs that require them to learn and grow. For people trying to improve, making real decisions in real time is the central practice activity that produces growth. Your hardest experience – the stretches that most challenge you – are the most helpful.
  • Find ways to develop leaders in their jobs. You experience tension between your need to develop people by moving them through different jobs and you need to develop their expertise in certain domains by leaving them in jobs. A division has a tough time competing when the boss moves on every 18 to 24 months (a typical pattern). The challenge is to provide the growth benefits of new stretch assignments without moving people into new jobs so often.
  • Know the critical roles of teachers and constantly provide feedback. Great performance is built through activities designed specifically to improve particular skills. Teachers and coaches are helpful in designing those activities. Yet at most organizations, nobody is assigned the role of teacher or coach. Employees aren’t told which skills will be most helpful to them, nor how best to develop them. Top-performing organizations have explicit coaching and mentoring programs. Careful job assignments and other programs determine the direction of an employee’s development; mentors provide detailed advice on which subset of skills need attention immediately. And people receive frequent, rapid, and accurate feedback to improve performance.
  • Identify promising performers early. Working on people’s development early creates huge advantages, and yet in most companies, development programs are reserved for an elite group of executives who are several years into their careers. Developing future leaders early creates a competitive advantage that lasts for decades, as their pipelines of high achievers become bigger, better, and more reliable.
  • Develop people through inspiration, not authority. Deliberate practice activities are so demanding that no one can sustain them for long without strong motivation. The best leaders contribute to that motivation through a sense of mission. Identifying or even creating an inspiring sense of mission requires a journey deep into the corporate soul.
  • Invest time, money, and energy in developing people. People development is at the center of the CEO’s responsibilities. Indeed, the biggest investment may be the time of the CEO and other executives. As they see what the boss is focusing on, they become similarly devoted to developing people. Not that these companies rely solely on the power of example. Virtually all of them evaluate executives partly on how well they’re developing people, including themselves.

Jacket image, Seven Disciplines of a Leader by Jeff WolfMake leadership development part of the culture. At the best companies, developing leaders isn’t a program, it’s a way of life. For example, honest feedback has to be culturally acceptable; at many companies it isn’t. Devoting time to mentoring has to be accepted.

Adapted from Seven Disciplines of a Leader (Wiley) by Jeff Wolf.

For further information to grow your leaders contact us today at Wolf Management Consultants at (858) 638-8260.

Never Stop Developing People first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Is Work a Laughing Matter?

Perhaps you’ve noticed tomorrow is April Fool’s? With that in mind, the following is a guest post by Kit Goldman. Is Work a Laughing Matter? first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

It’s been said that laughter is a survival skill in the often intense atmosphere of the workplace.

Well, guess what? It actually is.

If you Google “health benefits of laughter”, you get 2,240,000 14,000,000+ results. The secret is out! Laughter is a great way to promote physical and mental health, key ingredients for a high performing workplace.

Laughter boosts the immune system, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles, prevents heart disease and lowers anxiety, among many other benefits.

Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. It signals acceptance, positive interaction and membership in a group. There are thousands of languages, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way. Babies can laugh long before they speak. Children born without sight and hearing have an inherent ability to laugh.

Laughter is uniquely, innately human – like each of us!

As long as the source of laughter is not offensive, hurtful, or at someone else’s expense, mirthful moments at work can foster harmony and teamwork. Laughter can also help reduce conflict. It’s a lot harder to argue and stay mad at someone when you’ve shared some healthy laughter!

Some people would like to give the gift of laughter, but are afraid to take the risk. A well known survey shows that for many, speaking in public is their number one fear in life. Death was number 2! As Seinfeld observed, “At a funeral most people would rather be in the coffin then giving the eulogy!”

So… if you’d like to improve your humor proficiency and confidence, ask yourself these questions:

  • In a seemingly serious situation, what nuggets of humor can I find?
  • When faced with a potentially difficult situation, could humor help? Could it lead to a better outcome?
  • Am I funnier than I think I am? Less funny? Who will give me an honest assessment of my sense of humor?
  • Could I start my next meeting or conversation with a funny story?
  • What are the humorous situations in my life that have taught me something?

Here are some tips for keeping laughter safe and appropriate for the workplace:

  • Never joke about co-workers’ sexuality. You see the headlines about Sexual harassment. Don’t become one!
  • Don’t joke about people’s appearance. That is an emotionally charged area.
  • Stay away from religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation.
  • Avoid joking about bodily functions.

Yes, yes, we are talking about keeping your humor politically correct in the workplace. This can be challenging if the atmosphere of your workplace is down-to-earth and “family-style”. However, we must resist the urge to approach the boundary of harassment for a laugh. It’s not worth it! You can achieve healthy humor that enriches and enhances your workplace without it. Stick with humor everyone can enjoy, support, relax with — goodhearted laughter that gives those great mental and physical perks!

So… what are some fairly safe “targets” for getting laughs?

  • Yourself! Your own flaws and quirks. Making lighthearted jokes about yourself puts people at ease and brings them closer to you. They can relate. Humility is charming!
  • Situations you all face, i.e. new regulations, how busy it is, the industry, difficult customers you all deal with (with no customers present, of course!)
  • Personal characteristics with low ego-involvement. Most of us are sensitive about appearance, but we’re less invested in other aspects of ourselves. For example, I don’t mind colleagues sharing laughter with me about my bad handwriting, my raucous laugh, or how grumpy I am when I get up at 5 a.m. for pilates and there’s no coffee going when I get there! They do it with affection for who I am, not with disdain or ridicule.

We’ve been using humor as a powerful training tool for 20+ years. We’ve learned that people are much more open to learn when we laugh together. Even the most resistant employees are engaged and enlightened once we get them to relax and laugh a little!

 

Building Better Management Teams

The following is a guest post by John Cotter. Building Better Management Teams first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Designing work for senior management teams starts by identifying the tasks that are unique to the top level of the organization. People accustomed to managing a particular function often think that the outputs of the group that they manage are the same as their own outputs. The challenge is to help them discover what the senior management team as a whole produces. This voyage of discovery starts by developing a shared understanding of how their business fits in the ever-evolving environment. By understanding the business context and the contributions of the management team to the success of the business, expectations evolve about what work is needed and who is best suited to accomplish it. Individual roles are then developed by negotiating these expectations.

Experience suggests the steps to use in developing senior management teams are as follows:

  • Share individual understandings of the current business context and agree about important trends, potential problems and emerging opportunities.
  • Review what the senior managing team currently produces and evaluate its relevance in relation to emerging business developments.
  • Identify any new outputs required from the senior management team to assure that the company will be successful in the future.
  • Examine the processes required to create these outputs and agree about how the management team should work together to support these processes.
  • Redesign and reassign the current roles and responsibilities of senior managers as needed.
  • Define new accountabilities and negotiate new performance and recognition agreements.
  • Provide the management team with the skills, information and guidelines they need to operate successfully.

Senior managers sometimes feel a little foolish creating operating guidelines about how they should work together as a team. Surely, they think, we’re all adults and have years of experience working in groups. That, of course, is the problem. Everyone has practiced dysfunctional behavior for years. Operating guidelines should be explicit, simple, clear and concise. Here are some typical examples:

  • Speak honestly. Make clear and direct requests. Be willing to surface issues or take positions that may result in conflict.
  • Anyone can disagree about anything with anyone, but no one can disagree without stating the reasons why.
  • Listen for peoples’ contributions, rather than editing with assessments, opinions or judgments.
  • Support each other. Operate from the point of view that, “we’re all in this together.”
    It’s not OK to win at someone else’s expense or at the expense of the company.
  • Support people in fulfilling their commitments and hold them accountable for results.
  • Show appreciation by giving, receiving and requesting acknowledgment from others.

Managing at senior levels today involves four fundamental tasks: first, monitoring and influencing the environment to develop new business opportunities: second, articulating, modeling and creating ownership for a vision of what the organization aims to accomplish in the future: third, attracting business leaders, matching them with the right assignments and holding them accountable for results: and fourth, investing, distributing and balancing resources across the organization’s portfolio of businesses.

These are all collective rather than individual tasks. If they’re to be managed effectively, learning acquired from enterprise-level teams needs to be transferred into the executive suite. As AT&T board member Charlie Brown said, “You can’t run the business from memory any more.”