Archive for October, 2012

Most of us have at spent time in the doghouse. Its usually after we’ve blown it or underperformed in someway. While the analogy is often applied to marriage, doghouses are just as common in workplaces around the globe. This is a problem because nothing good comes from keeping a doghouse at your workplace; it’s a place of punishment and isolation. However, ask managers if they keep a doghouse and most, if not all, will tell you they don’t.  But if nobody does, then why can most employees recount at least one story of feeling like they have been spent some time there.

Doghouses are tricky things because sometimes they are the result of a manager who is punishing an employee, while at other times they are figments of the employee’s imagination. Even if they are the later, there is a lot you can do as a manager to make your workplace doghouse free. When it comes to eliminating doghouses, clarity and closure are the keys.

Here are six steps to eliminating doghouses at your workplace.

When an employee has made a mistake or underperformed:
1. Manage your emotions.
Even if you are extremely angry with your employee, there still needs to be control. Anger clouds our judgement and weakens our self control, leaving us open to saying something, which may be extremely damaging. In the end your goal is to promote effective behavior in the workplace. Walking around angry will not help you do this. If you are really angry about the mistake an employee has made, avoid giving feedback until you have cooled off.

2. Address them quickly.
Remember as a kid when you did something wrong and your mom threatened you with, “Wait until your father gets home.” Waiting to get in trouble is agonizing. When an employee makes a mistake or underperforms, it’s important that you as a manager deal with it quickly.

3. Always be specific.
Outline exactly what they did (behavior or action) and stay away from character judgements.  For example, if Mary messed up the order with a big client, then outline exactly what she did wrong. If Bill told a joke at the team meeting that was insensitive then outline the specific problem behavior, (telling an insensitive joke) instead of making a judgement about his personal character (you’re insensitive).

4. Link their behavior or action to a larger consequence.
Sometimes managers think they need to be angry with an employee for a period of time to help them ‘get it.’ But most employees will ‘get it’ if you connect it to a bigger ‘why.’ Instead of being angry at Mary all week, help her see the consequences, or potential consequences of her mistake. “Mary, the customer said they had considered going to our competition because of your mistake. We cannot afford to lose a client this large. If we did we would not have enough revenue to continue without severe cutbacks.” Unless Mary is  an uncaring and unengaged employee (in which case she should not be dealing with your largest customer) she is going to ‘get it.’ Her manager will not need to go around the rest of the week still angry at her. Help your employees connect real-world consequences to their actions.

5. Be specific about what you want them to do next.
This is an important step because people naturally want to do something to right their wrong. “Mary, I want you to make a checklist of everything you need to do before you ship an order to a client. I want you to finish that by the end of the day and give it to me.” This gives Mary something to do which will not only help her, but will also protect her and the company from making the same mistake again. It actually helps improve your organization.

6. Close the loop.
The final step may be the most important. When an employee makes a mistake they can feel a great deal of insecurity. Insecurity will not help your employees work at their highest level. Since most of their insecurity will relate to their perceptions of how you feel about them, you want to find ways to communicate your belief. There are many ways to do this but the most obvious is to treat them like you would on any other day. Be friendly, respectful and professional. Another great way to close the loop is to give them positive feedback on something they have done well. Whatever you asked them to do in step five should provide a great opportunity to communicate belief. “Mary, you have done a great job with this checklist. I can’t think of anything to add. If you use this with every customer order, you will be delivering world class service. In fact, I think we should make copies and give one of these to everyone on the team. This will be a great resource to make our team better.”

The hardest part of keeping your workplace doghouse free is managing your own emotions. You may have followed the six steps above but still feel angry with Mary because of her mistake. This is part of the challenge of leadership and why you need to have other outlets in your life to deal with stress and anger. In the end, you are paid to produce results and the bulk of those results are produced by your people. Therefore you want to do everything in your power to help them be as successful as you need them to be. When employees feel like they are in the doghouse, they will never perform optimally.

Tips for recognizing your employees
Singer Anita Ward was the first to immortalize the words, “You can ring my bell.” While I don’t think she was singing about staff recognition, two companies I visited recently have taken the lyrics to heart. Recognizing an employee’s good work is essential, but you don’t always have to be the one to do it. Finding ways for either the customer or another employee to provide feedback can do a lot to boost someone’s mood at work. But if you want your others to reward your employees then you have to go about it the right way.

A few weeks ago I stopped by a local Starbucks for coffee. While I waited for them to fix my Grande Decaf, I noticed this sign accompanied by a small bell which you can see in the picture at the top of this article. The instructions were clear; ring if  you experienced great service. Being an introvert, I tend to avoid doing things that draw attention, so the thought of actually ringing the bell created a subtle anxiety within me. I generally don’t ring bells in public, but, while I waited, I kept glancing down at the bell and it’s tiny sign. I realized that if I didn’t ring the bell, I was in effect saying that I didn’t receive great service, which up to this point I had.  How could I resist? The drive to encourage the Starbucks staff began to outweigh my need to remain invisible (something introverts like.) So before I left the store, I did it.  The small “ding” cut through the hissing of cappuccino machines, and caused one of the baristas to turn around, smile, and say “thanks.”  He seemed like he genuinely appreciated the gesture, and much to my surprise, ringing the bell made me feel good too. It was an easy way to practice gratitude.

A couple of weeks later I was in Home Depot and as I was about to leave the store I saw a really big bell. It was like the Starbucks bell on steroids. This makes sense as Home Depot is a big place, and if the guy over in plumbing is going to hear the sound of the “Great Service” bell, then it’s going to have to be big—really big. The problem, at least for me, was threefold.

Home Depot's Bell

First of all, ringing a bell that big means drawing a lot of attention. So unless I’m fresh from a Tony Robbins seminar, I’m simply not going to do it.

Secondly, if the person who gave me great service is a quarter-of-a-mile away in the lumber department, then I doubt they are even going to hear it, and even if they do,  will they know it was meant for them?

Lastly, the bell was hard to ring. How do I know? Because I had an extroverted 11-year old daughter running errands with me. She couldn’t help but want to ring it. Looking at the bell with a big grin she asked if she could, which I happily encouraged her to go for it. But when she tried, she couldn’t get it to make a sound. Turns out it’s one of those bells that you have to shake the rope from side to side in order to get it to work; something she had not yet encountered in her short time on this planet.

I guess we could have gone to the customer service desk to complain about the “Great Customer Service” bell, but that would have been weird. Besides, its hard to knock Home Depot on this one because after all, the idea of providing an opportunity for customers to give positive feedback to employees is a good one. So kudos to both Starbucks and Home Depot for trying.

Rewarding and recognizing staff is important and whenever you can solicit this type of feedback from your customers it can have a powerful effect on an employee’s morale at work. Here are a couple of tips if you want to create an avenue for others to recognize your staff.

1. Make it easy.
The Starbucks bell worked because it was right in front of me, and simple to operate. The Home Depot bell took more effort. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s easy for the customer. Most people are not willing to expend a lot of time or energy to express appreciation to your staff.

2. Make it personal.
The Starbucks bell worked because there was a direct connection between the bell and the barista. At Home Depot I think this connection was lost. The cashiers who were closest to the bell would have benefitted most, but for those at the back of the store, the ambiguity of whether the bell was for them or not would have dampened the impact. In Home Depot’s case, instead of a bell, they could maybe try having a large whiteboard that says, “Did one of our employees give you great service today? If so let them know here:” This at least gives someone a chance to write, “The guy in lighting rocks!” and later in the day when the guy in lighting walks past the whiteboard he can at least see the message.

3. Go and get it yourself.
If most of your employees do not engage with customers you can still gather recognition from within your company and pass it on to an employee. For instance, if Mary from your finance department regularly interacts with the good folks over in operations, then give them a quick call and ask if they have any feedback for Mary. Anything positive can then be passed on to her. When you call Mary into your office to tell her that you just got off the phone with Brad who was raving about her professionalism she will be both encouraged, and motivated to repeat the performance.

This week’s manager challenge
Remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. While it’s essential to recognize your staff, you don’t always have to be the one to do it. See if you can find a way this week to get someone other than yourself to reward or recognize one of your employees.

Let us know what you plan to do in the comments below.


Leading takes a lot of energy and if you need some extra these days, then try recommitting to some of your big goals and dreams. The reason? They are a significant source of personal motivation.

Of course, I am not talking about tiny goals here. I’m talking about BIG Goals. You know, the one’s that inspire you, get your heart racing, and cause an ache deep down inside. The challenge with BIG goals, however, is that they are, well, big; and that is a problem because big goals are rarely easy. But, if you remain stubborn enough to chip away at your BIG goals, you slowly make progress, and this progress is a source of inspiration.

More than a decade ago I remember going into a book store and wondering what it would be like to see your own book on the shelves. I figured it was akin to a musician hearing their song on the radio for the first time. “That would be cool!” I thought. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it ever went.

Fast forward 10 years. Last week I walked down to my local Barnes and Noble and made my way over to the Business/Management section. To be honest, I did not expect to find anything with my name on it. After all, my book was not supposed to be out until October 1st, but when I scanned through the alphabet and arrived at the “R” section, there it was! In fact, I had to do a double take. It was one of those, “No way” moments. I even walked away and returned a second time in case I had been imagining it. But, there it was again!

I ended up lingering in the store about 10 minutes just reflecting on the journey and taking photos. Yes, I took photos. Does that make me some kind of author nerd? Probably. The whole time I kept checking over my shoulder to see if any B&N staff were watching me. “Who’s the wierdo over in the Management section!”
Writing a book was one of those BIG goals. I’m sure you have a couple of goals just like that. You know, the ones you dream of doing one day, but find it hard to get there. Well I’ve put together a couple of tips for you that helped me go from “Wouldn’t it be cool,” to “I can’t believe I did that…”.

1. Start (even if you are not ready.)
One of the ways we procrastinate is to tell ourselves that we do not have everything we need. This is simply an excuse to stay where we are. I kept putting off writing my book thinking I needed more time, more information, better writing skills etc. Whatever your BIG goal is just get started.

2. Do not let your weaknesses hold you back.
I would not include writing as one of my talents. I’m not sure what happened during 6th grade grammar class but it seems like I was not paying attention. I am paying the price for it now. Anyone who knows their grammar can read some of my blog posts and find multiple errors. I do try, and I am getting better, but it is going to be a while.  (Feel free to email me my mistakes) I used to have my mother proof all of my blog posts, but that’s getting a bit much to ask so I do the best I can.

3. Get help.
I needed help in order to write a book. My mother and brother both proofed and edited my original manuscript. Without them, I could not have done this. Also, my wife and friends were sources of encouragement for me. BIG goals usually require more from us than we possess. Find out what you need and don’t be afraid to ask for help. What I have found repeatedly is that most people don’t mind helping you pursue something that is important to you.

4. Restart after you quit.
I worked on my book feverishly at first but then got too busy. After a couple of months away from it, I had to restart. This happened at least two times. Don’t be discouraged if one of your BIG goals is on hold. Simply get back to it without beating yourself up for it. The important thing is to get working again.

5. Break it down into small chunks.
There were days I would turn on my computer and think, “I will never finish this book.” The size of the project overwhelmed me. It was on those days I had to say to myself, “You don’t have to write a book today. You only have to write a few pages.” It was this kind of self talk that kept me going at times. Whatever your BIG goal is, don’t let the size of it discourage you. Keep your focus on what small step you need to take today and be happy with that. It’s strange that we don’t value the tiny steps, when its the culmination of them that lead us to great things.

6. Celebrate Progress.
While it is easy to celebrate the finished product, be sure to celebrate along the way when you reach certain milestones. Whether its a chapter written, five pounds lost, $1,000 of debt payed off, or your plane ticket purchased for your trip to Nepal, it’s important to reward yourself for progress. This helps make the long journey bearable.

7. Share the moment with those you love the most.
The day my box of books arrived, I decided not to open them until my family was home. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for their parents to wake up so I could open presents. That night we all gathered around the box as a family and opened it up. It was a special moment for me. It was also cool to see the kids so excited. I hope that somewhere deep inside it inspired them. The picture under the article headline was taken that night.

So whatever your BIG goals are, get back to them. Don’t let them get crowded out by excuses or life’s busyness. Life is too short not to try and make the most out of it, and you are more amazing then you give yourself credit for. Don’t stop believing in yourself, and remember, working on something that matters is a source of motivation on its own. And, like I said, leaders need all of the motivation they can get their hands on.

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