Managing Workplace Distractions

One of the greatest challenges a boss has in maintaining productivity is controlling workplace distractions. These come in many varieties: the chatty employee; drop-in visits; a major news event; office politics; workplace events; etc. Technology has increased distractions by enabling instantaneous transmission of information and communications.

In a national survey by Workplace Options, 42 percent of workers are extending their workdays by coming in early or staying late in order to avoid distractions. It is estimated that American businesses lose around $650 billion a year through workplace distractions, according to Jonathan Spira, chief analyst of consulting firm Basex, who authored a report called “The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity.” And according to the Workplace Options survey, it’s evident why: more than half of those polled (53 percent) report that distractions in the workplace impact their productivity.

So what can you do as a boss? Try to find the balance between keeping your staff focused and allowing some distractions. People do need a mental break every now and then and a brief distraction can provide the necessary respite. Let your staff know that you are flexible but also expect them to accomplish the work at hand. Being visible is a good way to discourage those who tend to want to chat or surf the internet. Be aware of who the “distracters” tend to be, and shield your staff from them.

As for trying to manage your staff’s technological distractions (e.g. internet access), implement a social media or an internet usage policy, and if you have IT capabilities, consider software that limits access to certain sites.

For more information on managing workplace distraction, note the following:

Tips for Minimizing Workplace Distractions

Managing Workplace Distractions (Wall Street Journal blog)

8 Ways To Eliminate Distractions When Working On A Computer (Productivitybits.com)

Seven Tips to Get Rid of Workplace Distractions (Small Business Administration)

Simple Ways to Handle Workplace Distractions (Suite101)

Cubicle Etiquette 101 (Examiner.com)

Technological Distractions in the Workplace

Blackberries, iPhones and Androids: Do SmartPhones Belong in Meetings? (CBS MoneyWatch)

Defeat digital distractions (PC World)

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Kool-Aid for Middle Management

Have you ever been accused by an unhappy employee of “drinking the Kool-Aid”? (Refers to blindly accepting a belief.)  A friend at a company which was recently acquired by a Fortune 100 company told me that one of his staff said that to him because he was supportive of corporate decisions. As a new manager, he is struggling with building a relationship with his staff, some of whom are displeased with the overall direction of the company.  

He has discovered what is probably the toughest part of being in middle management.

Middle managers have to connect the vision and objectives of executives with those employees who actually perform the work. Many executives tend to like things done promptly and in a manner they understand, but often don’t have a full appreciation of the work required or the people who have to do it. Middle managers have to motivate line supervisors and individual contributors who most often don’t understand the “vision” (which is often vague) or how their hard work will contribute to meeting business objectives.

A Wharton School blog, Why Middle Managers May Be the Most Important People in Your Company contends that they have a greater impact on company performance than other employees. It quotes Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick that middle managers have a tough job managing a finite set of resources, and because they can’t control everyone’s actions, they can easily frustrate those around them who don’t want to change.

A difficult, unappreciated role of a middle manager is to navigate through the system: that constantly changing sea of organizational dynamics, egos, employee relations, company culture, policies, etc. that can make the job so complicated and sometimes exasperating. 

So how can you as a middle manager be successful? By being technically competent, surrounded with talent that is additive to the team’s capabilities. Understand why senior management makes certain decisions; you may disagree, and it’s ok to respectfully voice it, as long as you are still supportive. And truly understand and empathize with your staff’s concerns.

It won’t be easy, but work to gain the trust of your staff as well as executives. Trust is constantly tested, and once lost by either side, it is nearly impossible to regain. As a middle manager, you become a communications conduit between the executives and your team(s). By understanding where each group is coming from you can ensure an effective relationship between them.

Further reading:

  1. Middle Management Excellence (Harvard Business School)

2.  The End of the Middle Manager (Harvard Business Review)

 3. View reader comments on the book The Truth About Middle Managers: Who They Are, How They Work, Why They Matter (Amazon)

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The Unconscious Mind and Annoying People

I just returned from a conference in Atlanta that brought together top experts in the areas of business and people management. Highlighted by a keynote address by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, there was a ton of useful information to improve one’s management skills. I couldn’t attend all the SHRM sessions, but I thought I’d report on a couple.

Dr. Kimberly Alyn presented Building Better Teams, based on a simple model that divides our behavioral styles into four character types, where one dominates. This behavioral preference (“Type”) is inherited from one of our parents, and while it cannot be changed, we can monitor our actions and adapt them in order to work better with others. When we deal with people of other types, it can be naturally annoying.

I recommend viewing her presentation (the web site is safe): How to Deal with Annoying People, and determine your type and those of your team members. Check your preferences on slides 3-4. The more checks in a column indicate your behavioral preference, and the chart on page 5 shows your type. Do the same with people with whom you interact (including spouses). Then read what can make you annoying and how to manage it when dealing with other types.

Do you think you are biased? Of course you are, we all are, and that was the theme of The Unconscious Organization: How the Unconscious Mind Dominates Our Organizational Decisions and What We Can Do About It. Essentially, we see the world through our personal filters developed over the years by cultural experiences. That is why we tend to hire in our likeness and why we hear what we want to hear (selective attention). My favorite quote from the presentation: ““Normal” is a self and culturally defined reality.” Here’s a White Paper on the subject, Exploring Unconscious Bias.

The most controversial subject was on compensation, a topic many companies are grappling with, post- Great Recession.   I didn’t attend the session but heard and read about it, Replace merit pay with variable pay. Presented by a compensation consultant, the premise is that merit increases are being replaced by variable pay programs that target individual performance and paid in lump sum. From a business perspective, maintaining a relatively consistent salary base is advantageous, but it is a major paradigm shift for most employees who are accustomed to yearly incremental increases.  

If you’d like more information, contact me or visit SHRM.

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How am I doing?

If you were a typical student in grade school, chances are that you experienced some level of anxiety when report cards were being issued. There was always that one class with that one teacher who was difficult, unfair, didn’t get it, or whatever label we affixed to make us feel better about the grade that was lower than what we wanted. No one typically likes being “graded”.

Those past emotions have helped to make many employees uneasy about receiving feedback, especially from their bosses. And similarly, they make bosses apprehensive about giving their staffs feedback.

EVERYONE has something in their behavioral style or demeanor that may negatively impact others. Most often, we are not able to recognize our own shortcomings and how they affect others.

As a boss, you have an obligation to assess how well you are managing your team and how you are perceived by them, your superiors, your peers, and even external parties like customers,  vendors and contractors. There are tools that can facilitate this, most notably a 360 degree survey, but these can be very time consuming in the aggregate, as all parties involved are asked to take a typically 15-45 minute on-line survey (sometimes a “soft” 360 is performed in-person by a consultant which is even more time-consuming, and expensive).

You can save a lot of time and money by asking three simple questions from trusted individuals in each of the above groups:

1.      What should I keep doing? (What’s working)

2.      What should I start doing? (What will improve things)

3.      What should I stop doing? (What’s not working)

If you are able to present these questions in an open, non-confrontational manner, the information can be very valuable. But, that’s the easy part. The tough part is being able to accept the feedback in a constructive manner. There’s this thing called “Ego” that sometimes gets in the way. So does insecurity.

Receiving constructive feedback should be like looking in a mirror – it’s YOU in the reflection. What you see, with all the blemishes and imperfections, is it. And the mirror is projecting an image that is affected by its attributes (e.g. tinted, perhaps a small crack, some glass imperfections, etc.).

Understand that the person providing feedback sees you through their personal filters. There is always some bias. It is their PERCEPTION of your style and behavior.

When receiving feedback, never take it personally and react defensively or in a way that may make the other person regret that s/he provided feedback, or you will not be receiving candid input in the future. And ALWAYS thank the individual for being candid and for bravely sharing their thoughts.

Work on feedback topics that are expressed by multiple parties. When more than one person identifies the same issue (e.g. that you micromanage) accept that this perception has merit, and look for ways to address it. Changing behaviors is not easy.

If you are truly dedicated to self-improvement, continue to ask, “How am I doing” from those who provided the feedback. They will appreciate and respect that you are taking action.

Feedback is a gift; treat it as such and you will become a better person and a better boss. 

Further reading:

“How am I Doing?” The one question that can change all of your relationships.  By the co-founder of the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand, Jack Canfield.

Self-assessment Tool – On-line Johari Window. A free interactive tool for soliciting feedback on your personality traits.

 Questions to ask your subordinates: bossdepot blog.

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Welcome to bossdepot.com

bossdepot.com aims to assist anyone with the challenge of managing people. By becoming a better boss you will more effectively run any type of business or organization. This website is a one-stop shop for management information and resources.  It is written and organized for speedy research, providing very brief “must know” information for topics relating to all bosses.  Then if you need more detail, there are links to other websites that have been evaluated for brevity, relevancy and accuracy.

Just use the Search tool to find your topic, or visit the Quick Find page. There are also tags that link to related bossdepot subjects located under the post.

bossdepot.com also provides personal assessment resources to help you focus on developing your management skills and to assess your strengths & weaknesses – click on the Self-Assessment Tools page for more information.

About the links: the web research works under this framework:

  • multiple search engines are used;
  • the information is from a credible source;
  • the data is presented in a concise fashion and applies to a broad range of business environments;
  • they typically do not require registration or product purchases;
  • the information is accurate and relevant, even though the date may be several years old;
  • provides a global perspective – it can generally apply anywhere (although the focus is on U.S.);
  • no pop-ups (constant challenge).

You are encouraged to provide feedback on the information that is posted, especially if you find other links that provide valuable information. Just click on “comment” at the bottom of the post. And feel free to ask questions or offer your own experiences.

If you like what you read on our site, subscribe and receive short biweekly blogs on relevant topics.

Bossdepot.com does not obtain revenue from websites used as sources of information.

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Unions (Organized Labor)

Unions represent a third-party to the employer-employee relationship. A union will represent its members when dealing with management. Adding this additional layer of decision-making in a company is the main reason most CEOs and Human Resources professionals don’t like unions.

Depending on the industry, a good boss needs to understand organized labor regulations and how to effectively and legally engage workers who are trying to organize or are actual members. While only 12% of the U.S. workforce is unionized, the number has been expected to increase under the Obama Administration, especially when the Employee Free Choice Act was being pushed. Preventing unions from organizing or attempting to get rid of one is called ‘union busting’.

  1. How labor unions work (HowStuffWorks).
  2. History and current labor unions in the US (Wikipedia).
  3. Defines labor union, and workplace rights (National Labor Relations Board).
  4. Employee Free Choice Act (Wikipedia).
  5. Preventing unions from organizing at your company (Business Library).
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Accounting and Finance

Regardless of the responsibilities or title, every boss should have a basic understanding of Accounting & Finance.  In general, accounting looks at the business operations from the present on back, while Finance works with that information and projects into the future.

The best bosses understand how the company makes money, what it costs to make it, and how the operations s/he manages directly impacts profitability. A company’s accounting and finance senior managers are the best  sources for such information. This type of data should be shared with team members so everyone knows how they contribute to the bottom line.

  1. Accounting basics (allBusiness).
  2. Basic finance and accounting videos (this link is to the first of seven videos – YouTube).
  3. Corporate finance (Wikipedia).
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Diversity Management

A team whose members all think alike will struggle with innovation and ‘outside the box’ thinking. Building a team of diverse members (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) can ensure that a particular challenge is examined from multiple perspectives. The downside to a diverse team is the possible increase in conflict (see Conflict Resolution) and slower speed to decision-making. However, it is generally accepted among organizational experts that diverse groups make better decisions.

A good boss has to be comfortable with managing individuals from all sides of life. That requires maturity, diplomacy, and cultural sensitivity, and the ability to get others on the team to be likewise. Since this is not easy or possible with some individuals, when forming a team look to hire open-minded employees who have these attributes

  1. Basic information on diversity management (BusinessLibrary).
  2. Creating a strategic diversity management plan (SHRM).
  3. How to increase workplace diversity (WSJ).
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Change Management

Change management is a very difficult skill to master as a boss, because it runs counter to human nature (people prefer the status quo).  Change naturally creates tension because of the uncertainty of its outcome. Bosses need to be patient while managing change and understand that some team members will be stressed, while others are energized. As can be expected, older people, in general tend to be more reluctant to change. Change will not happen unless there is consensus that it is needed.

  1. Defines change management, what is necessary to accomplish the change, and the “ADKAR” model (Tech-FAQ).
  2. For more comprehensive information on change, visit: Changing Minds.
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Delegating

The better your delegation skills, the more work you will get accomplished. To be an effective delegator, start with understanding the basics.  Delegating involves understanding the dynamics between both your ability and desire to delegate, and an understanding of the capabilities of your subordinates. 

  1. Understanding basic delegation skills.
  2. Additional resources on delegation.
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