Archive for September, 2012

Should you befriend your employees? The quick answer is no, but hear me out. Those of you who know me, also know that I believe managers need to care about their staff. In fact I devoted an entire chapter in my new book to this topic. But caring for your staff is different than trying to become friends with your staff.

Friendships are typically two-way relationships that have a certain amount of give and take. They also involve choice and in a good friendship, both parties usually care about each other to a certain extent. If they don’t the friendship will eventually fracture.

While you need to care about your employees, you should not expect that your employees are going to care about you. If you do, you are setting yourself up for a dysfunctional working relationship. Most employees will care about a good boss but this doesn’t automatically make them friends with you. While there are exceptions to this rule, here are some reasons why trying to befriend your employees is a bad idea.

1. You have authority.
Because of your position alone, it makes it difficult to carry on a traditional friendship. As a boss you carry a certain amount of influence in an employee’s life. Fire them and you turn their world upside down. Write them a bad performance review and they miss a bonus. Reprimand them and they may be stressing out about their job security. Your relationship is what I call “weighted,” and because of this it is very difficult to retain a natural friendship.

2. You have a job to do.
One of your roles as a manager is to hold your team to a certain standard in order to accomplish your goals. This almost always involves calling people higher at some point along the way, and this can put a strain on any relationship. This dynamic is expected in society between boss and employee, but is rarely found between two friends. If you are a close friend to an employee you may find it hard to challenge them when they underperform. This will hurt the team and the organization. They also may be offended when you do challenge them and this creates all kinds of unwanted office drama.

3. You can’t afford to show favoritism.
Even if you can have a close friendship with an employee, you probably cannot be good friends to all of your direct reports. When this happens it sets the stage for perceived favoritism. Even when you are trying your hardest to be fair, people still may accuse you of playing favorites. Befriending some of your staff can complicate matters here.

While befriending your staff is not a good idea, caring for them is. We don’t want to go back to the old days where the officers never mixed with the crew. That type of separation can breed resentment and does not lead to engaged employees. Your employees want to know that you care about them as people. Most of them are not expecting you to be their friend. As a manager, take regular time to show genuine interest in each of your direct reports. This is why it is a good habit to know something about your direct reports such as the name of their spouse, how many kids they have and maybe a hobby of theirs. When your employees feel you care, they are more willing to give you their trust.

A good boss-employee relationship will have many aspects of a good friendship, but as a boss you should never try and get your friendship needs met by your employees.

A few weeks ago week I was coaching someone for a speech they had to give. We were walking through his outline and making necessary adjustments to make the presentation tighter and flow more smoothly.

He decided to end his speech with a very emotional story. While this can be a good idea, it can also backfire if you are not careful. Emotion has the energy of a tidal wave; if you are going to summon it you had better make sure you are directing it. If not, it will channel its own course and it may not be the one you intended.

The story my friend wanted to tell was about a doctor named Janusz Korczak who decided to take over an orphanage in the ghettos of Warsaw during WWII. As the story goes, the time came when the children of the orphanage were marched to the train station to be taken to the gas chamber. The enemy soldiers recognized Korczak and gave him a chance to escape with his own life, but he refused. He apparently said, “These are children and one does not abandon children during a time like this.”
Janus Korczak and the children boarded the train and were never seen again. (I’m giving you the reader’s digest version).

The story is very powerful. It evokes a lot of emotion, at least it did in me. As I read through his script I felt a hot flash of anger regarding the evil men who did this. It even caused me to put down my friend’s script and get on my computer to look up some more information on the real events as history had recorded them. My friend’s reason for telling the story near the end of the speech was to inspire people about Dr, Korczak’s bravery and commitment to those less fortunate, but here I was googling the story and angry at the perprtrators. He had managed to rouse my emotion but because he did not contain it, I was running in a direction away from the core message of his speech.

In this case, it was not a difficult fix. I advised my friend to make sure he directed the audiences emotion after telling the story. The key here was not to have the audience focus on the atrocities or the perpetrators but rather on the bravery and commitment of a man who refused to let children suffer alone. My friend ended up adding one sentence which acknowledged how terrible the situation was but then directed  us to focus on the bravery of this man. It was all we needed.

So remember, stories that elicit emotions can be very powerful, but emotion is like a fire burning on a windy day; it can be very unpredictable. If you rouse it, make sure you direct it and channel it to serve your audience by reinforcing your key message.

Hanging out at Osceola Regional

On Sunday, my son lay face down on the cold ice of the hockey rink waiting for the ambulance to arrive. He had been checked from behind into the boards and immediately crumpled to the ice as pain exploded from his upper spine. The entire arena watched and waited with us for 25 agonizing minutes for paramedics to arrive. Scenes like this are every hockey parent’s nightmare, and today it was my kid.

The good news is that after a short ride to the hospital, a CT scan and some x-rays, no fractures on his spine were to be found and he ended up walking out of the hospital under his own power with a neck brace and some pain killers. I teased him that the neck brace will go over well with the teenage girls in his school. (He gave me permission to post these photos.)

The event was stressful enough but there was something that happened while he lay in pain on the ice that caught me off guard.  When the Dr. on the scene (one of the parents of another team) first told someone to call 911, my son, fighting back tears, asked us not to. His reasoning? He figured that would kill his chances of playing in the next day’s game.  Even though he was in too much pain to be even rolled over, he still wanted to play. Then, while we waited, he asked to speak to his coach who was standing on the ice nearby. The coach bent down and placed his ear near his helmet to hear my son and after a minute or so, got back up. I asked the coach, “What was that all about?”

In disbelief the coach replied, “He was asking me who I was going to put out for the power play.”
Despite his condition, he was not only worried about missing the next game, he still wanted to know the plan for the last two minutes of this one. Now that’s engagement!

Imagine for a moment Sally and Sara rushing opposite ways down the office hallway when they round the corner and collide. Sally goes headfirst into the photocopier and collapses in a heap on the floor. As the team gather around to help, they realize she is really hurt. Someone yells “Call 911.” to which Sally responds “No! Don’t call 911, because I don’t want to miss work tomorrow!”
Then she asks to speak with her manager, asking him what the plan is for the rest of the afternoon while she heads off for a CT scan at the emergency ward.

OK, a little unlikely I know, but the whole experience got me thinking on the long drive home from the hockey tournament. While we were in the car I asked my son, “Why did you not want to miss the final hockey game of the tournament, especially when you were in such bad pain? Is it because playing is so much fun, or do you feel like your team needs you, or do you just not want to miss out?”
Without looking at me, (due to the neck brace) he answered, “All of the above.” To him I think it was stupid question.

While its hard to compare a hockey game and your job, their are some powerful lessons here in regard to human motivation and engagement.

1. People like having fun.
When people have fun at work, a lot of good things happen. It improves their mood, creativity, communication and lowers their stress. While there will always be parts of our jobs we don’t like, having fun at work is a very powerful driver of engagement. If your team has not been having much fun at work lately, then its time to inject a little. Remember that the boss is often the ceiling for fun. If you are not having any, its unlikely that anyone else is.

What will you do today to make work a little more fun for someone?

2. People like feeling needed
Feeling needed is a powerful source of motivation. Deep inside,  all of us want to be valuable, and to be needed. This gives us feelings of purpose. Remember to help your employees see how and why they are needed. Compliment a talent or strength or simply remind them of how much they do for the team or project. Nobody get’s tired of hearing it.

Who can you remind today that your team needs them.

3. People don’t want to let down their team.
A strong team will inspire engagement. I have seen this many times in a work setting where people push themselves to come to work, even when not feeling well. They simply don’t want to let their team down.  As much as people want to contribute, they are also motivated on the flip side which is not wanting to disappoint their peers. Its really two sides of the same coin. One is approach motivation (wanting to contribute) while the other is avoidance motivation (not wanting to let anyone down.) As a manager make sure you are reminding people of how they contribute to the overall success of the team.

Who can you tell today what a great job they have done recently?

“So Sally,” says her manager. “How come you didn’t want to miss work after you’d been slammed into the photocopier? Was it because you have so much fun here, or do you feel like the team needs you or is it that you didn’t want to let anyone down?”

“All of the above… What a stupid question!”

“Glad to have you back Sally!”

Ready to go home.


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