Recognition as social lubricant

Photo by Shandi-Lee

The title of this post is taken from a post by Paul Hebert. Here is the gist:

… recognition is the lubricant for social interaction.  Making sure your employees have ways and methods of connecting and recognizing each other within and between organizational silos lubricates the interactions that must happen in order for innovation, engagement, and collaboration to occur.  It is very difficult to refuse a meeting or a conversation with someone who just recognized your work or highlighted how great you are in the company program or on the company intranet.  You can’t refuse a meeting if the person requesting it just gave you a big thumbs up in the Peer-2-Peer recognition program.

I have spending a major part of the last year reading, studying, thinking and writing about teamwork and collaboration. The more time I spend doing this, the more I realize that long-term successful team facilitation (read: great teamwork) is a journey into the path of most resistance. Teamwork is about interaction and relationships. Interaction and relationship causes friction. We are social beings and putting us with other people affects us and causes us to react. Emotions. Feelings. Thoughts. Urges.

Some of these reactions are positive. Joy. Meaning. Sense of progress. Some of them are negative. Tensions. Discomfort. Fear. Facilitating an effective team is about dealing with all of these issues and putting them on the table. This sounds simple, but it is usually the opposite of what we tend do, which is ignore, tip-toe around and hold back.

When done properly, going against the resistance, facilitating teamwork enables negative reactions to be dealt with in a safe environment and for positive reactions to be magnified in order to improve and sustain future interaction. While the fact that issues are suppressed and unattended will be familiar to many of us (even though they might not agree on the consequences of this habit), like in many other facets of life, taking deliberate time to deal with the positive is even more scarce, even though it has the potential to transform entire systems.

And this is where the quote above comes in. One of the most effective ways to use the positive not only as a leverage to more positive habits and interactions but also as a way to discuss the negative in a safe constructive environment, is recognition. Adopting mutual recognition habits can do wonders to the level of actual interaction between team members. As Hebert says, it might prove difficult for anyone who has just been recognized by a team member not to open up and expose himself to a more intense and difficult interaction.

Of course, I am not talking about a onetime event. Recognition has to be part of the habits and culture of team for it to truly work. What will happen if we take time each day (or each week) to recognize others in our team that for their unique contributions? What will happen if we start every meeting by recognizing what and more importantly who allowed us to reach this phase? What will happen if we recognize any mutual learning that occurs in our team or a regular basis? I suggest you try this magical lubricant and see its social effects yourself.

Elad

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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.

Elad

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Awareness

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 HBR.org, 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.

Elad

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

Gain segregation in management

Photo by Wikipedia

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In the last few weeks I have been studying about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky famous Prospect Theory. This theory has many applications and many interpretations. One of the most important of these interpretations is that losses loom larger than gains. Meaning, all else being equal losing something will hurt us more than winning the same amount (when I say amount it is not necessarily money. It could be joy, pain or anything that has value to us). If you look at the graph that represents this theory, you would notice how the graph is steep at the beginning in both directions, but steeper in the loss area.

One of the insights of this idea is that we need to aggregate pains but segregate gains. In other words, when we talk about gains, it is better to be closer to the zero point of the axis but in the case of loses it is better be as left as possible on the graph.

Imagine going to the dentist. You need to take a four-hour operation. Your dentist offers you to do it in two sessions of two hours or in one session of four hours. Prospect Theory suggests, maybe counter-intuitively, that it is better for you to have a 4 hour operation than a two hour one.

That got me thinking about how this idea is manifested in managerial environments.

Have you ever heard the advice to celebrate small victories? Prospect Theory suggests that this is very good advice. However, in many managerial setting we are so busy dealing with current issues that we forget to celebrate small successes. We wait to the end of the period and have a huge event celebrating the last year. However, celebrating frequently turns out to be a much better way to in recognizing people’s efforts. So, instead of giving them a week off at the end of the project, give them 5 days over the duration of the project, as a reward for good work. Instead of throwing a huge party that will cost you 100,000$ dollars at the end of the project, have ten parties with a cost of 10,000 every now and then. This approach also seems to coincide with Dan Pink’s advice in Drive, that rewards should follow a “now that” pattern instead of a “if then” pattern.

I know that these examples are to literal a translation of the theory and that in real life, things work a little differently. However, I do believe that by understanding the idea of gain segregation, we can make our efforts to engage and recognize employees much more effectively and allow them, without changing our cost structure or the total sum of what they are gaining, to enjoy more of what we are already giving them.

How do you think the ideas of loses aggregation and gains segregation play out in our managerial decisions?

Elad

Because you didn’t ask

Photo by Jared

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I was reading an article from the April 2001 issue of the Harvard Business review called Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators by James K. Sebenius when this paragraph caught my eye:

The story is told of the young Tip O’Neill, who later became the Speaker of the House, meeting an elderly constituent on the streets of his North Cambridge, Massachusetts, district. Surprised to learn that show was not planning to vote for him, O’Neill probed, “Haven’t you known me and my family all my life?” “Yes.” “Haven’t I cut your grass is summer and shoveled your walk in winter?” “Yes.” “Don’t you agree with all my policies and positions?” “Yes.” “Then why aren’t you going to vote for me?” “Because you didn’t ask me to.”

We tend to forget that so much in life is about perception. Each and every one of us sees life through very specific and very personal lenses. We can assume that we are doing everything for our teammates, employees, peers, and bosses. Heck, we might actually be doing everything. However, doing everything right is not enough. People are just more complicated than that. They are irrational. People are not thinking machines – they are feeling machines that think.

The real power of a manager lies in the simple things. A short talk here. An act of recognition there. The right question once a while. The trick is making it a habit, not an exception.

Elad

Because you didn’t ask

Photo by Jared

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I was reading an article from the April 2001 issue of the Harvard Business review called Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators by James K. Sebenius when this paragraph caught my eye:

The story is told of the young Tip O’Neill, who later became the Speaker of the House, meeting an elderly constituent on the streets of his North Cambridge, Massachusetts, district. Surprised to learn that show was not planning to vote for him, O’Neill probed, “Haven’t you known me and my family all my life?” “Yes.” “Haven’t I cut your grass is summer and shoveled your walk in winter?” “Yes.” “Don’t you agree with all my policies and positions?” “Yes.” “Then why aren’t you going to vote for me?” “Because you didn’t ask me to.”

We tend to forget that so much in life is about perception. Each and every one of us sees life through very specific and very personal lenses. We can assume that we are doing everything for our teammates, employees, peers, and bosses. Heck, we might actually be doing everything. However, doing everything right is not enough. People are just more complicated than that. They are irrational. People are not thinking machines – they are feeling machines that think.

The real power of a manager lies in the simple things. A short talk here. An act of recognition there. The right question once a while. The trick is making it a habit, not an exception.

Elad

Shorts: Cristóbal Conde on everything this blog is about

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I was reading an interview with Cristóbal Conde, president and C.E.O. of SunGard, in the New-York times (conducted by Adam Bryant) and for most of it, I felt like I was reading this blog. Here are some of my favorite quotes with links to my writing on the subject.

Managers no longer know more than their employees:

I think top-down organizations got started because the bosses either knew more or they had access to more information. None of that applies now. Everybody has access to identical amounts of information.

If you start micromanaging people, then the very best ones leave.

The importance of recognition:

… [R]ecognition from their peers is, I think, an extremely strong motivating factor, and something that is broadly unused in modern management.

There is a difference between management and leadership – too many managers are trying to “lead”:

I think too many bosses think that their job is to be the lead, and I don’t. By creating an atmosphere of collaboration, the people who are consistently right get a huge following, and their work product is talked about by people they’ve never met. It’s fascinating

Skill and experience is not as important as inherent talents and traits in hiring:

I care a lot less about the individual skills. I look for drive and a sense of somebody’s intellectual curiosity.

The importance of Thinking-time:

I tell my secretary, I need an hour and a half once a day where I can go somewhere that doesn’t have a PC or a phone, unless I choose to spend that hour and a half writing. But it’s not just managing e-mails and stuff like that. I need an hour and a half to think. And it could be anything.

Sometimes it gets cut short. But many topics or issues can only be dealt with in an uninterrupted format. I worry about our entry-level people — they’re bombarded with information, and they never get to think.

Elad

Changing the “reality of our work lives”

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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?

Elad