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July 28, 2008

On leadership

Whether you need to inspire a work force of 20, an army of thousands, or guide a nation of millions through a tumultuous cultural and political upheaval, you will require the ability to lead. There's a difference between leading and managing. Here are some leadership lessons that are worth passing on. We've given you the highlights, you can click the links for further elaboration.

Nelson Mandela's Eight Lessons of Leadership
1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it's inspiring others to move beyond it
2. Lead from the front — but don't leave your base behind
3. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front
4. Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport
5. Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer
6. Appearances matter — and remember to smile
7. Nothing is black or white
8. Quitting is leading too

Colin Powell - Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer
1. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
2. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
3. Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.
4. Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
5. Never neglect details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
6. You don't know what you can get away with until you try.
7. Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.
8. Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
9. Organization charts and hence titles count for next to nothing.
10. Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.
11. Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team's mission.
12. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
13. Powell's Rules for Picking People"—Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.
14. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
15. Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired." Part II: "Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
16. The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
17. Have fun in your command. Don't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it. Spend time with your families. Corollary: Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.
18. Command is lonely.

Warren Bennis, from his book "On Becoming a Leader" on the difference between managers and leaders

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

July 22, 2008

Bullying at work

One of my new favorites in the HR blog world is HR Blunders. While it's unlikely any of the savvy readers of this blog would find themselves appearing on the pages of a story there, it makes for some interesting reading. In browsing some back issues, I came upon a post about bullying lawsuits that cited a recent survey putting the number of working adults who experience workplace bullying at 37%. That’s roughly about 54 million people.

Finding that statistic a bit surprising, I dug up more on the original Zogby survey on workplace bullying, which was conducted among more than 7,000 working US adults in 2007. Of the 37% who reported being bullied at work, 72% identified the bullies as bosses. Bullying is about 4 times more prevalent than illegal forms of "harassment." And the number one way that the bullying was stopped? The victims lost their jobs: 40% left voluntarily, 24% were terminated or driven out, and 13% transferred out of the department. Only 23% reported that there were any consequences for the harasser. Wow!

While there are a number of sources citing huge costs associated with bullying, it's hard to know how those estimates were derived or how accurate they are. Nevertheless, it is clear the costs to businesses are high. Certainly, turnover is costly and employment practices litigation is a cost that we all dread. But there are also many associated costs that are more difficult to quantify, such as stress related disease, disability, workers compensation claims, and damage to the organization’s reputation.

We periodically have a supervisor or coworker referred to us for counseling after incidents of inappropriate behavior, such as anger or gender-based harassment. An informal survey of our counselors tells me that addressing bulling through such interventions can be a very effective way of changing that behavior. Our chances of success increase dramatically if the referral is handled well at the start, and the highest rehabilitation success rate occurs when management and the EAP work together.

Kathleen Jahnke, our Clinical Director, makes the following suggestion for making such a referral to an EAP:

  • Prepare for the meeting. Call and talk to a counselor in advance to help you formulate your strategy for the meeting.
  • Stick to the facts. Focus on the inappropriate behavior that has been reported or observed.
  • Avoid trying to diagnose the problem or suggest the person needs counseling.
  • Advise the employee that the EAP will assist them with the tools they need to help them resolve their workplace issue.
  • Make your expectations for workplace behavior clear and outline the consequences for failure to meet the requirements.

July 18, 2008

Several states adopting four day work weeks to provide fuel cost relief

In response to high fuel costs, a number of states are offering their employees optional four-day work weeks consisting of four 10-hour workdays. While most initiatives are voluntary programs, at least one state - Utah - has made the four-day week mandatory for state workers so that government offices can be closed on Fridays. Workers who provide essential services will not be affected, but the measure will impact about 17,000 employees. Because about 1,000 buildings will be shut down on Fridays, the state expects the measure will save about $3 million.

Other states and municipalities have taken measures designed to offer employees some relief:

"Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) announced two weeks ago that her office was considering work-schedule alternatives to help commuters save fuel. And New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) has ordered each state agency to adopt a policy for telecommuting and alternate work schedules by Sept. 1.
High gasoline prices led Kentucky and South Carolina to offer compressed workweeks to a handful of its state employees this summer. A smattering of other states — Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Vermont among them — are considering expanding existing programs to more state agencies."

Not all private businesses could afford to shut down for one day; for many, it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. But some companies are enacting staggered four-day work plans, allowing some workers to have Friday off and others to have Monday off. With such arrangements, the extended work days may actually increase the service time available for customers.

Still other companies are looking to expand telecommuting or work from home arrangements. Bank of America just announced the launch of a voluntary telecommuting program for eligible employees. And one of our readers recently brought to our attention the concept of Third Place Thursdays - identifying one day of the work week (in this example, Thursdays) when employees can work from a "third place" - which is not necessarily the office or a home. The idea being that technology affords connectivity and access from almost any location.

Study finds four day week enhances morale, increases productivity
At least one recent study suggests that a compressed schedule may lead to an increase in job satisfaction, morale, and productivity. Professors at Brigham Young University studied the experience of the city of Spanish Fork, which adopted a four-day work week for city services in 2003 to reduce costs and to make public services more accessible to citizens by extending weekday work hours. The researchers surveyed city employees and residents to assess satisfaction, and found that 60 percent of employees reported higher productivity and 60 percent of residents reported improved citizen access.

Pros and cons
There are many advantages to a compressed week. In addition to the most obvious one of reducing gas expenditures by 20%, employees also see a 20% reduction in commuting time. And by commuting earlier and later on the other four days, employees may find that traffic is less congested during those off-peak hours. With a consolidated schedule, workers gain an entire day off, allowing more quality time for family and non-work pursuits. Some workers say that they use Fridays for errands and housework, and preserve their weekends for family time and leisure.

However, not everyone is in favor of a four-day week. Extended hours may be disruptive to child care arrangements. A compressed schedule may also be disruptive to employees who are engaged in a variety of other activities, such as taking night classes, juggling a part-time job, coaching a Little League team, or acting in community theater. It can be much more difficult to juggle daily life tasks on days with a longer work schedule. Safety proponents also point to the potential for increased risk, particularly for those with dangerous, stressful, or tedious jobs.

Pro or con, there is no doubt but that more public and private organizations are rapidly moving to alternate work arrangements, at least as a short-term measure to address soaring fuel prices. This will provide a good opportunity for researchers to study the positive and negative effects of alternative work schedules.

July 11, 2008

Five links for Friday

Five quick links to some useful web tools. OK, well mostly useful - one is just to make you laugh.

Dictionary of Occupational Titles - alphabetical index to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles as supplied electronically by the US Department of Labor.

Everybody's Legal Glossary - plain-English definitions for hundreds of legal terms, from the common to the bizarre, brought to you by NOLO, a legal publishing firm.

Seat Guru - if your job requires business travel, you will appreciate this site that offers actual layouts of planes so you can preview your seat and flight amenities. You can also access the airline's info and policies about check-in, baggage, and traveling with infants and pets.

Video tutorial on how to use RSS readers - if you read several blogs a week, a more efficient way to do it is to subscribe to an RSS reader. This brief video tutorial will teach you what you need to know. Also see Frank Roche's great post from KnowHR on What Everybody in HR Ought to Know About Blogs and How to Read them Fast.

7 Funny Newspaper Job Wanted Ads - or how NOT to write a job ad.

July 10, 2008

Informed medical consumer or cyberchondriac?

Are you a cyberchondriac? According to a Harris Poll, you are if you are one of the 160 million Americans that uses the Web to search for health care information. While we are happy to learn of so many informed consumers, we think that the term cyberchondriac is bit of a misnomer given that it is a neologism coined from the words "cyber" and "hypochondriac." It's probably unfair to categorize most health care searchers as hypochondriacs - by and large, most of these people would be better called "informed medical consumers."

With Web access, people can find research and information about health matters and medical conditions. Information about medication and its side effects is readily available. Support groups and message boards allow people with rare or life-threatening conditions to interact with others. Is there a downside to having so much information readily available to all? Some doctors might say yes. As the old saying goes, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." People who are not trained experts may misinterpret complicated medical data. Plus, not all online sources are accurate or reputable, and consumers can be careless about separating the wheat from the chaff.

Disease mongering
There's also the phenomena of disease mongering, or " ... the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments." As direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising became more prevalent, consumers were hit with any number of frightening conditions they had never previously heard of, from restless legs to toenail fungus. The power of suggestion can be strong, as any marketer will attest. While disease mongering is not exactly a new phenomena - witness the traveling medicine shows of the last century - television and the Web have given messages a broader reach. Years ago, we worried about our breath and whether we had dandruff. That seems almost quaint now as we are encouraged to tend to the state of our esophagus and determine whether or not our bowels are irritable.

The real thing
But what of the real cyberchodndriacs? There's quite a continuum between the average person who Googles for some medical information and the person for whom it is an obsession, and at the far end of the spectrum there are some very troubled people. The word "cyber" can be distracting, it's really just the 21st century wired version of the hypochondriac that has been an archetype for most of recorded history. The information-at-your-fingertips access that the Web affords simply allows the hypochondriac to obsess a little more.

Ongoing, chronic complaints about health may indeed be a signal of an undiagnosed medical condition. But, often, preoccupation with health and illness is a red flag for depression, anxiety, or phobia. Hypochondria is not actually about the physical but the mental and can be a very debilitating problem, which has been described as not feeling safe in your own body. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, hypochondriacs may be convinced that they have a serious illness. The good news is that it is a condition that can be successfully treated with therapy.

The Mayo Clinic has some great resources on hypochondria. The list the common symptoms of hypochondria as:

  • Excessive fear or anxiety about having a particular disease or condition
  • Worry that minor symptoms mean you have a serious illness
  • Seeking repeated medical exams or consultations
  • "Doctor shopping," or frequently switching doctors
  • Frustration with doctors or medical care
  • Strained social relationships
  • Obsessive health research
  • Emotional distress
  • Frequent checking of your body for problems, such as lumps or sores
  • Frequent checking of vital signs, such as pulse or blood pressure
  • Inability to be reassured by good medical exams
  • Thinking you have a disease after reading or hearing about it
  • Avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious, such as being in a hospital

HR managers and line supervisors really don't have to be concerned about discerning who in the work force is a bit of a fanatic Googler and who is a hypochondriac. The real barometer is performance and any performance changes or inhibitors. When an employee's life problems begin affecting performance, that's when an EAP can be most effective.

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