Awareness (2)

Yesterday I wrote about awareness and how it is important for managers to be aware of their surroundings in order to to reach a human connection. Then I encountered the next two quotes:

Whoever knows essentially his own nature, can know also that of other men and can penetrate into the nature of beings. He can collaborate in the transformation and the progress of Heaven and earth (Confucian teaching).

How can the soul, which misunderstands itself, have a sure idea of other creatures? (Seneca).

Exactly what I said. Just shorter and more to the point.




Photo by Metro Centric

In the last few weeks I have been taking classes in positive psychology and practical philosophy. Both disciplines have a lot in common but the main thing is the idea of awareness and noticing out surroundings. The basic idea is kind of ironic. Only by truly being aware of the now and truly feeling it, you can achieve long-term goals of a sustainable happier life.

If you watch the amazing clip above, you will learn many things about human behavior. One of the most interesting pieces of information in it is that while American people complain that they don’t have enough time for themselves, for their families and their friends because there are swamped at worked, when asked what they will do with an extra day a week, they answer – will work more. Talking about being aware and not noticing what we are doing to ourselves.

When you think about, this tension, between long-term goals and short-term, almost hedonic, needs is a tension that is found in all facets of business and management life. How often do you stop to reflect and ask yourself – what am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? How can I make sure I recharge myself so I can keep up this crazy race in the long run? I am sure the answer is – not much. Life is to hectic, work to demanding, costumers want things yesterday.

Now think about your employees, peers, teammates? When is the last time you stopped and noticed them? Spent some time really getting to know them? Thought about their lives and what drives them? Thought about how to make their lives easier so they can survive the long run? Besides the fact that socializing and informal communication was found to be an important antecedent of creativity, innovation and team effectiveness, there are much simpler reason to be aware of your employees.

Grant McCracken asked, on, a few days ago: Do You Know What Your Employees Are Watching? While McCracken suggested that we can learn about trends in the economy from employees TV habits, I think the question is important on a much more individual and personal levels. Are you aware that your employee loves to watch that dance show, because he always dreamt of being a dancer or even taking a dancing course? What will happen if instead of giving him a standardized bonus next time, you would be able to buy him a dance class for the same amount of money? What if you suddenly notice that all your employees are into Glee… will that enable you to create a contest between teams in your department that will boost morale?

Opportunities to make a difference are out there all the time. the question is, are you aware enough to notice them and utilize them for long-term benefits.


Correction: In the post I talk about a clip, which I forgot to include. Here it is:

Are you a happiness machine?


This is a subject I wrote about before but that I am only starting to realize its true importance. Unpredictability of rewards.

Watch the movie above. How do you feel? Putting all the cynicism aside, just seeing people this happy is contagious. Indeed positivity is contagious. And really, who doesn’t want his workplace, school or even home to be this happy? I know I do. And no, I am not advocating bringing a Coca-Cola vending machine or even giving people around you expensive gifts. I am talking about noticing people around you and doing something about it. One of the side effects of the prevalent system of Carrot and Sticks, is that people almost don’t expect anything surprising anymore. It is so easy to surprise them. And what does that have to do with management? A lot, as Tanveer Naseer writes in the original post where I first saw this ad:

So instead of having another typical team meeting, secretly plan to end it early and surprise everyone by bringing out cocktail platters and giving your employees time to just relax and enjoy their work environment. Or announce an impromptu hockey game in the office parking lot – with a request for spectators needed to cheer the game on. The point is it doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate to plan – the only objective is to break up the routine and offer something to motivate your employees and raise team spirit.

And I will take it another step further and make it simpler. Notice and make sure the people around you know that they are noticed:

And the same happens to us when we see an employee doing good work. We assume that the fact that we saw him and know what he did means that he knows that we saw him and knows what he did. What is the solution? Taking the opposite assumption. We need to assume that our employees never know that we noticed them. Then make it a priority to let them know that we did. Let’s overcome the curse of knowledge and starting noticing people.

And also see here.

You know the saying – “I feel like you take me for granted”.

It is known because it is true – how many people around you do you take for granted every day? How many employees who are doing exactly what is expected of them are you ignoring? What will happen if you show them, in a simple way, how much you appreciate them? What will happen if you recognize their contribution? What will happen if you give them consistent feedback, all the time?

Tom Peters constantly writes about this and asks all of us: who did you take to lunch today? Every lunch is an opportunity to connect, with a costumer or an employee or in this case – recognize. How many thank-you notes have you written this week? How many people did you send flowers too?

And Dan Pink writes in his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, about the same thing – “if-then” rewards are bad motivators. We should move to “now that” rewards:

In other words, where “if-then” rewards are a mistake, shift to “now that” rewards – as in “Now that you’ve finished the poster and it turned out so well, I’d like to celebrate by talking you out to lunch”.

As Deci and his colleagues explain, “If tangible rewards are given unexpectedly to people after they have finished the task, the rewards are less likely to be experienced as the reason for doing the task and are thus less likely to be detrimental to intrinsic motivation”

Let’s take this idea one step further – “now that … let me surprise you! Let me make you happy! Let me do something unpredictable and unexpected”.

It is so easy to create the feeling we see above, yet it so hard. As I wrote a few months ago:

We know that predictable rewards are not as effective as unpredictable rewards, but still, most companies and managers stick to a schedule of predictable rewards. Why? Well, my guess is that it is just easier. As a manager, I don’t need to think and worry about my employees all the time. Does it really matter if I do in once every quarter for an hour or if I do it 30 times over the quarter for 2 minutes each time? But, the fact that it is easier does not mean that it is right (like most conventional wisdoms). We know nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort.

Are you becoming a happiness machine? It is about time you become one…


Initial thoughts after Seth Godin’s #Linchpin launch presentation


Today I attended Seth Godin’s launch of his new book – Linchpin. I am in the process of reading the book and I guess I will write about it a lot in the next few days/weeks, but for the mean time, I just wanted to share some quotes from the presentation that especially resonated with me. Many times during the presentation and going through the book I felt that many of the things I write about in this blog are explained by Godin (better of course, it is, after all, Seth Godin).

Should managers transform employees into Artists?

One of the main themes Godin talks about is the idea of Art. Not art in the meaning we all think about, but Art as anything creative, new, that changes the world and connects people. And one of the main things about artists is, as Godin put it today’s presentation is that they do their work without rules or manuals. This resonated with me as in the last few weeks I have been advocating here that managers should stop trying to create rules (also see here) with the original post being inspired, but Godin himself.

In his talk today Godin showed me another aspect of the same idea. If managers stop trying to create rules they will help take away some of excuses employees make against being remarkable and help them become … Linchpins (I urge you to look for the dictionary definition or better yet, buy the book). We need more workers who are artists. Godin points a finger to each and every one of us to take up the cause and become an artist (or Linchpins or Geniuses). I point my finger to managers. If there is one person who can help your employees become a Linchpin it is you. So why don’t you start by stopping with the rules. As Godin said today:

If you can write down what you do I can find someone else to do it cheaper.

How do you make sure your employees can not be replaced by someone cheaper? What will happen if you help them transform into something indispensable?

Don’t ignore them if they fit in, better yet – don’t let them fit in

Another saying that deeply resonated with me in today’s presentation was this sentence:

The reason they want you to fit in is that then they can ignore you!

Now Godin meant this sentence to say that you should not fit in. You should try to become indispensable, a Linchpin. It made me think of something else. This is what I wrote a while back about how managers ignore those who are doing OK:

Managers concentrate on trying to “help” the struggling workers. Those who under perform. They think to themselves, hey – that guy who is doing OK doesn’t need me, he is doing OK. So they ignore him and work with the struggling guy. How does that make that make the “OK guy” feel? What is the message that this kind of behaviour sends to him? How does this affect his perception?

What is the problem with this scenario? Not only is the “OK guy” not being recognized, he is also doing OK. OK is not enough. A manager’s job is to make him excel. Average, is not enough. Helping employees excel starts by noticing and letting our employees know that we noticed. This is the basic elements of employee engagement and employee recognition.

Godin got it just right. We ignore those who fit the mold. We let them stay in their mediocrity and put our efforts somewhere else. If you are a cog doing its job, I, the manager, can ignore you. I want peace and quiet. And when employees only get management attention when they are out of line, they start doing everything they can to not be noticed by management – that means no risks, not extraordinary thing. Mediocrity. Management failure.


Changing the “reality of our work lives”

Photo by mangpages


Peter Bergman writes in the HBR Blog about: When Your Voicemails and Emails Go Unanswered, What Should You Do? He describes a situation where a professional does an interview for a project and then hears silence.  He reaches out with a few calls and e-mails but hears nothing. And then the doubts come in:

This is not an isolated situation; I hear some version of this story at least once a week. One person reaches out to another with no response and they interpret the silence negatively.

This is Bergman’s analysis of the situation:

That’s the reality of our work lives these days. We all get more emails than we can answer immediately. So we triage. We deal with the crisis and then, when time opens a little — maybe on a plane ride or a weekend break — we catch up with the less urgent ones.

I have to admit that I’ve been in Alex’s shoes many times and I’ve made the mistake of sending multiple messages to the unresponsive person. But as I thought about Anthony’s email I realized something: not a single one of those multiple follow ups worked. Sure the people might have called me back eventually, but I never — not once — got the work.

Bergman then goes to prescribe good advice about how to deal with this situation from the candidates side. One, elevate the follow up to a crisis email; Two, recognize that it’s not a crisis; Finally, manage your own emotions. And while the situation Bergman describes is real and the advice practical, I could not help but cringe.

Am I the only who sees something wrong in “the reality of our work lives”? Am I the only one who thinks the silence, which is interpreted negatively should be broken? Shouldn’t it be different? And I am not talking about the candidate. I am talking about the guy who wants to hire him, but still does not give him an answer or a simple update – “we don’t know yet, I will get back to you in a few days”. Is it really that hard to give the candidate an update? Yes, we are busy, but there are so many automated means to do these things or delegate them to others that the excuse: “that’s the reality” just does not hold it for me.

I think this represents a bigger issue. When Bergman asks the potential boss, why hasn’t he returned to the candidate, look carefully at his answer:

I called Sam who happened to be a client of mine and asked about the meeting. “It went very well,” Sam told me, “I like Alex a lot. A good fit for the project.”

So why the unreturned emails and messages? “I haven’t gotten back to Alex,” Sam told me, “Because we don’t have financial approval yet. As soon as I get it, I’ll call.”

We know how hard it is for people to deal with uncertainty, but somehow people fail to recognize that need in others.  And silence is the fuel of uncertainty. As Bergman himself wrote just a few days ago:

Silence isn’t the absence of communication. It’s the nightmare of communication, fueling our negative fantasies

Sam has the knowledge. He can clear some of Alex’s uncertainty, but he does not. It is difficult for him to understand how it feels to be Alex. He is suffering from the curse of knowledge. This is the same process that happens to managers who fail to notice and recognize their employees:

And the same happens to us when we see an employee doing good work. We assume that the fact that we saw him and know what he did means that he knows that we saw him and knows what he did. What is the solution? Taking the opposite assumption. We need to assume that our employees never know that we noticed them. Then make it a priority to let them know that we did. Let’s overcome the curse of knowledge and starting noticing people.

In a world where the only way to succeed is to be truly unique, I refuse to accept the reality as an excuse for not noticing people. It is not only rude but also wrong. It is the right way to be an average, good enough manager. the worst kind. What will happen if you will be different and try to change the world of the reality of work lives?


The difference between downstream and upstream feedback

Photo by Jonas B


I wrote in the past about the difficulties of giving positive feedback and praise . I do believe that positive feedback and noticing employees are very important concepts that are not practiced enough. There a tendency to deal only with the negative (hopefully, constructive) feedback, neglecting the discussion of what went well and how can we improve and leverage from our strengths.

However, this is especially true for downstream feedback. That is to say, as a manager or team member giving feedback to your employees or peers. When we talk about the upstream feedback, feedback coming from the employees up to the manager, the tendency is to focus on the good things, while many of the bad things disappear. I came across this paragraph in Guy Kawasaki’s book, Reality Check:

Good news. The competition, customers, governments and schmexperts (shmucks + experts) constantly assault a company. Because of this barrage, good news is attractive – like an addictive, illegal, and dangerous drug. It makes you crave more good news, and you refuse to communicate bad news up the chain of command. Ultimately, it may even make you refuse to hear bad news at all. How many commanders-in-chief of armies has this phenomenon brought down over the course of history?

Now, while Kawasaki’s quote focuses on bad news in general, it is just as valid for negative (constructive) feedback coming up from employees. How many employees do you know will conscientiously, wholeheartedly, criticize their manager? Or even tell him when he is wrong or mistreating someone or missing a crucial fact? Not enough. Not because they don’t think about it or talk about it behind the managers back or feel frustrated about it. Because of culture and the action of the manager when somebody does it and of course, conventional wisdom.

As managers we need to be aware of that fact. The problem is that the minute we become managers, we fall prey to the toxic tandem. We actually know and understand less about our employees the higher we are. So while dealing with downstream feedback, we need to focus on the emphasizing the positive sides and focusing on strengths, when dealing with the upstream side, we need to demand employees to come up and tell us we are wrong, what we are missing and how we can improve. And it is important to encourage, notice, and recognize it when it happens as well as to take in with humility.

The employees could be wrong. They might not see the entire picture or understand what you as a manger understand. They might get the facts wrong. However, I can guarantee one thing. You will understand their feelings better and while we can argue with facts, we cannot argue with individual feelings. And we cannot deal with feelings, until they are out there and we recognized them.

What do you get out of the upstream of information coming from your employees? Is it only praises and good news?


The curse of knowledge and recognition

4012182601_79e0d6300bPhoto by stars.alive

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of noticing employees. One of the things I emphasized is the importance of not only noticing people, but actually letting them know that you noticed:

In order to be really unpredictable but also create an effective response to our rewards, we need to notice our employees.  And it is not enough to notice, it is also important to let them that you notice. Most business people will tell you that marketing is all about perception. The qualities of your product are not as important as how people perceive you r product. I think we should employ similar thinking to our employees. Noticing our employees is important but making sure that they know we are noticing them is just as important.

(And today I got some empirical evidence to back that up).

After writing this I kept on thinking about why do some managers notice their employees but don’t tell them that they noticed them. The answer came to me today while I was reading a chapter from Guy Kawasaki‘s book Reality Check called: The Sticking Point, where Kawasaki interviews Chip and Dan Heath, the writers of the book: Made to Stick. In the interview they mention a term I described in this blog before called the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge basically means that we have problems explaining things because we already know them, which make it hard for us to imagine how someone who does not know what we know sees it. This means we need to actively seek where our assumptions about the knowledge of other people are wrong.

And the same happens to us when we see an employee doing good work. We assume that the fact that we saw him and know what he did means that he knows that we saw him and knows what he did. What is the solution? Taking the opposite assumption. We need to assume that our employees never know that we noticed them. Then make it a priority to let them know that we did. Let’s overcome the curse of knowledge and starting noticing people.


Did he notice me? On perceptions, noticing, management and education


Photo by takomabibelot

I am constantly amazed how my interest subjects are overlapping. I wrote in this blog a few times about how I find management lessons in reading epic fantasy. Another subject that correlates with my interest in managing people is the subject of education. Lately, I started following an interesting blog dealing with education by Angela Maiers. Yesterday she wrote a post called: “Two powerful words: I notice” about the importance of noticing students in the classroom. In the post she referred to a quote from the movie Shall We Dance uttered by Susan Sarandon character, Beverly Clark:

We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.

And I think this approach is not only important in marriage or as a teacher in the classroom but also as a manager of people. I am a passionate person and usually I do my job as best as I can. And I know from my own experience that there is a high correlation between whether I felt noticed and my motivation. Actually, over the years I discovered how much I yearn for recognition and how frustrated I feel when I am not noticed. In my e-book, I described this story:

After 8 months of internship, my boss took me to lunch, and offered me to stay at that firm as a full time lawyer once I pass the bar exam. I told him that what troubles me is that I did not get any feedback. I only learned by trial and error and a little by watching what others do, and not by direct feedback. I said I would like that to change if I was to stay. He was genuinely surprised. He said to me: “Well, if I were not happy with you, you would have already known”. When I think about it, I still can’t quite grasp that reaction. But it really stands for how people usually feel. If there is nothing wrong, there is no need to say anything. Frightening!

While I know it is dangerous to extrapolate from my own experience to a general rule, I found that while not everybody feels the same, many people do. When I teach motivation in the Israeli Air-Force I talk about the expectancy theory of motivation by Victor Vroom.  One of the main concepts in this theory is that there needs to be a clear connection between the effort people put in and the optional reward. According to the theory, one question people ask themselves before they act is “will somebody notice what I do?”. The theory is not straightforward but when I talk about this part and ask for an example, almost all the students in the class have one. Too many of us go unnoticed.

Just yesterday I wrote about the unpredictability of rewards and its importance.  In order to be really unpredictable but also create an effective response to our rewards, we need to notice our employees.  And it is not enough to notice, it is also important to let them that you notice. Most business people will tell you that marketing is all about perception. The qualities of your product are not as important as how people perceive you r product. I think we should employ similar thinking to our employees. Noticing our employees is important but making sure that they know we are noticing them is just as important.