The Death of Fun at Work

What is it with some managers?  Why do they hate fun?  Anytime they hear about a quick basketball game, game of cards, or anything that doesn’t contribute directly to the result the employees are hired for; they freak out.  Have they forgotten where they came from?  Have they lost perspective about how mundane work can get?

Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “I don’t let my people waste time.”  What I say is, I believe some time spent messing around and having fun is a good use of time.  Of course, many professions do not fit in with this theory, a surgeon probably doesn’t have time to stop a play a quick game of hearts, but we all know of those work environments where it is possible.

The key to this is good leadership.  But more than just good leadership, we have to evaluate the reasons these managers see only a waste of time.  They are not concerned about morale; they are not concerned for their people’s lives; they seem only to be concerned with completing work.  But not just work getting done but being done perfectly.  These managers find it so easy to tear apart anything.  Have a problem employee take a few steps in a positive direction? Nope, they will remind you of the times they made mistakes.  Even when they do good, there are usually times when they have made mistakes and these managers will remember.

It becomes such a pain for other managers to fight against the “fun-less” managers that we do avoid the fight far more often than we would probably admit.  There is plenty of evidence to support the position that happy employees do better and more work.  And fun at work is one way to make employees happy.  Fun at work is not the priority.  High-quality performance, efficient processes, discipline, accountability are all much more important than fun at work.  But when these things are happening, when you have a good work environment, it’s time to throw the football or break out the jump rope and have fun.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a great way to change these managers.  Most of the time, they will continue to be a negative influence on the organization’s people until they either quit or retire.  They can be great operationally and still hurt the organization because they are poor leaders.  My tactic is to be relentless with progress.  I never stop my message and consistently come up with ways to try to push them in the direction of fun.  Little by little without them even realizing, they will change.  Small steps, which are barely even perceptible, will make a huge difference over time.  Yes, this is hard, but in the end, it is worth it to your people.

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They Quit…but Never Leave!

He is the guy that does just enough not to get fired.  Perhaps he used to be motivated, maybe even a top performer at one point in time.  But now he just can’t be bothered.  He rarely has ideas and is usually only passionate about not changing (anything) and making sure he is not inconvenienced with the job.  Mostly, they have quit without leaving the job.  How do managers deal with these people?  What kinds of things can you do to help bring them back?  Or perhaps get them actually to leave?

Engage and inspire them.  A leader needs to understand their people.  What drives them and makes them want to work hard?  It sounds like standard advice, but to be honest, you probably don’t have the capacity to understand and engage all of your people on an individual level enough to engage and inspire them.  What you do have time for is some of them.  The focus should be on your high performers and those you feel you can move into the high performing category.  Those people like the guy described above should not be the main priority.  As the leader/manager, you should be removing obstacles from your team.  It is in this capacity that you will need to deal with the poor performers.

Accountability is key.  Opportunity is also key.  Mostly we describe opportunity as the opportunity for success, but there is an equal chance for failure at every opportunity.  When an employee has quit, we need to engage and see if we can get them back on the team and performing at a high level.  If you can’t, give them opportunities.  Then hold them accountable when they don’t perform to the standard. You have to give them a final chance to show what they can do.  This, of course, assumes that you have effectively communicated to them about their performance and what the standard is.

What if you don’t have the authority to fire?  This certainly complicates things, but only means you now have to convince the person or persons who have firing authority to take action.  This is normally pretty simple.  Document the performance along with any failures to meet standards, and before long the HR department or other supervisors/managers will have to take action.  A big point to include when dealing with this situation is that having employees like this can be detrimental to the culture of the organization, especially if these employees are charismatic and influential.

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Is Your Professional Development Program Working?

Professional development, like many other topics in organizational management, seems like an easy one.  Just pick the topics you want and have people that are good at them develop a class and teach it.  Easy enough, right?  Well, mostly professional development programs are not effective.  They lack direction, vision, and most of all they are only focused on in chunks.

An excellent professional development program should hit a few key areas.

  1. A deliberate approach to the development of the employees. If you are taking the time to invest in your people, you should take the time to decide what attributes are going to contribute to the goals of the organization or reinforce the behaviors the organization deems valuable.
  2. Evaluate the program. Take time to observe the professional development courses being taught.
  3. Refine the courses and ensure they support the organization’s vision. If you don’t write down the organizational vision, it is easy just to assume you are making decisions that support your decision.  But the opposite is usually true.  If your vision is to create “experts” at whatever job your organization does, but you also create policies that are designed to keep your people from making fundamental decisions, your policies are not supporting your vision of creating experts.  Experts do not need policies to keep from making mistakes with basic functions.  And beginners need room to make mistakes so they can learn from them and the experts.

If your people find your topics boring and there is little support for these professional development events, perhaps you have failed to show they are important.  Also, it is possible they are not interested in these areas because the organization does not value the topics.  They are probably not focused on when looking at performance appraisals or top-performer awards.  If the organization does not value the topics you are trying to develop, the people of the organization will not value the professional development.

Attitude is everything.  Most of a successful professional development program is about the attitude of the people involved.  Having people with a positive attitude and showing enthusiasm about professional development is easier said than done.  But there are ways to create this environment.  The first few classes should have a hand-picked audience.  The audience should be the employees with the best attitude.  By picking those with the best attitude, they will spread the word after the seminar that the material was worth it and they learned something.  At this point, you will have momentum, and you can continue to build off of this success.

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Don’t Abuse the Easy Button!

To an organization and especially to the organization’s leader, a manager is an easy button.  But even though a manager can solve the problem, assigning them tasks meant for others is not the right answer.  In every organization, there are going to be problems that require leaders, management, and supervisors.  The hard part is knowing what the problem is and the right people to put on it.

In an organization I used to be in was having an uptick in accidents.  Mostly damage to equipment, which can be expensive if not addressed.  Many attempts were made to fix this issue with only marginal success.  Because the problem continued, a senior C-suite executive decided to assign the entry level managers “over-watch duty.”  This meant a manager would watch the processes that were having the majority of the costly accidents to ensure all process and protocols were followed.  The additional task of the managers would add about an hour’s worth of work to their schedules each day.  Additionally, they could not dictate where this time would take place as it was spread out throughout their day.

More recently, I heard about another organization that is compliance issues.  These compliance issues are not critical, but there were a few related to safety, which is always serious.  Again, a senior C-suite executive has decided the managers need to build a schedule to have a manager walking around observing processes 24/7.

What these executives have failed to see is that although they are solving the immediate problem, they are losing so much in other areas.  Not only does this tactic destroy trust, but morale, motivation, commitment and other things suffer as well.  And that does not even take into account the work the manager is supposed to be doing that either goes undone, is delayed, or is completed late.  Many managers ended up spending more than an hour after work making up for all the interruptions or the time they weren’t working on their tasks but were “playing big brother” to the people they have charged with actually doing the work.

The issues these organizations faced are not uncommon.  The solution to the problem created a Band-Aid fix but failed to address the root-cause.  The supervisors were not doing what they should have been doing.  There were problems with accountability, training, and discipline.  Unfortunately, these problems still exist because they were never identified and corrected.

The proper response to these issues is to focus on the supervisors.  They need to feel important and worthy.  Micro-managing them has the opposite effect.  All aspects of the supervisors should be evaluated.  From hiring practices and promotion to training, all of these play a fundamental role to how the organization functions.  Supervisors are critical to the success of every organization because they translate directions from managers into tangible tasks for the other employees to work on.  A strong emphasis needs to be placed on their training, so they know what to do.  They need clear guidance on what is expected of them, and they need to be held accountable.  Give them room to make mistakes.  This is going to cost the organization money, but it is money well spent to have unforgettable lessons taught to the supervisor in a real-life setting.

Managers are the easy button, but using an easy button can cause long-lasting damage to the long-term health of the organization.

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You Don’t Need More People!

Far too often I hear the complaint, “We don’t have enough people!” It’s used as an excuse to explain why things aren’t completed correctly or when they aren’t done at all. Unfortunately, many managers believe they need more people because the work they require their people to do is not getting done. It’s a logical argument, but they automatically default to blaming “personnel levels” without much thought to other areas and certainly without self-reflection. This excuse removes them and their people’s capabilities from the equation. This is the “checkers” level of management. One should strive to achieve the “chess” level of management. See an excellent article on this subject here.

The real challenges:

Poor prioritization – Do your people know what the highest priorities are? I have worked in so many organizations that do not prioritize the tasks their people are supposed to complete. This causes major problems. I have rarely seen them prioritize between administrative, operational, or developmental tasks. The problem with this is that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Personnel development gets the same priority as updating an office memo. What ends up happening is managers prioritize only the things that will get them in trouble with the boss. Which leaves much to be desired in many areas. The solution is to be deliberate about the priorities of the organization. If you don’t want people guessing, you must make it clear where the focus should be.

Poor Leadership – The leadership of the organization is charged with providing vision and inspiration to achieve goals. If the leadership has failed to provide clear goals, how can there be inspired employees? There needs to be deliberate communication among the leaders of the organization to address both the vision and inspiration. Without vision and inspiration, you have managers. Managers are great, but without leaders, the organization will struggle with change, innovation, and motivation.

No creativity – Your team needs to be creative when problem-solving. When things aren’t getting done, or when they are done poorly, there is an underlying issue. It could be training, it could be discipline, it could be equipment, it could be technology, and it could be a lack of people. The point is to utilize your people as best as possible. If you are only filling personnel gaps with random people without regard to their skills or how they complement the rest of the team, you will lose.

The moral of the story is to address low workforce levels only after looking at the other possibilities first. Hiring more people into an already mediocre organization only continues the mediocrity.

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