Motivating Employees

Sometimes the best solution to morale problems is just to fire all of the unhappy people.

Sometimes the best solution to morale problems is just to fire all of the unhappy people.

Once again, I have been reading questions on Linked In, and came across an interesting corporate culture. The end result of such a culture is well-reflected in the poster shown (courtesy of Despair Inc.).

The question asked how to motivate employees to pursue courses on their own time for use at the workplace when there was no money for training (but the courses were free) and no obvious means of encouraging employees to pursue the training. The author of the question wanted to know of alternatives to giving negative performance reviews at the end of each year.

To me, the fact that the author even considered using negative performance reviews as a means of encouraging behaviour shows a major problem with the corporate culture. First, this is essentially blackmailing your employees to do something. Rather than encourage them to do what is right, you are discouraging them from doing something which they may or may not want to do. The likely outcome from such a means of “encouragement” is either mass rebellion, with all employees refusing to take the training (and now on principle of defying management), or a mass exodus as employees leave to find greener pastures.

Second, performance reviews are held annually, which is not frequent enough to cause anyone to modify their behaviour. Some employees will attend a course the day before their review to avoid the negative repercussions of not attending, and then stop.

To motivate employees to do something, you need to use positive reinforcement (much like trying to encourage children to behave well). Additionally, you need to work as a team, with everyone on the team working toward a common goal (working for the paycheck does not count). Explain to the team why these courses are important. Get them to offer suggestions on how to integrate the content of the courses into the workplace. You need to make the employees WANT to take the courses.

When the Schedule Slips

I came across a question on Linked In today which raised an interesting question about managing schedules, and what happens when the schedule starts to slip. Anyone offering a service will encounter this situation at some point in time, and those who will succeed know in advance how they will handle this situation.

At the start of a project, the timelines look good, the schedules may be aggressive, and optimism is high. People enjoy a fresh start, and the work begins. However, as time goes on, the Project Manager realizes that the schedule was unrealistic, or perhaps something unexpected came up, and now the project is a month behind. Suddenly, the client is clamoring for status updates, and wants to know why the project is late.

As a Project Manager, what do you do?

In order to answer this question, the first step is to understand the various reasons why a schedule might slip, since that can affect how to resolve the issue.

  1. The initial schedule was never accurate. It was overly aggressive, and did not allow for unforeseen problems. As a general rule-of-thumb, there should be about a 20% allowance for unforeseen difficulties. Additionally, the people doing the work should be involved in creating the schedule, since they will be the ones expected to adhere to that schedule.
  2. The schedule was sufficiently conservative, but a delay from a third party held up progress. Once the third party delivers, the schedule will be back on track, although pushed out by the length of the delay. The third party could be a resource for either the vendor or the client.
  3. The schedule was sufficiently conservative, but changes to scope caused the schedule to break.
  4. The scope did not change, but the amount of work required for some portion of the project was not estimated correctly and this was only determined once the work began.

The first step in resolving a problem with the schedule is communication. The client should be informed:

  1. There has been a delay in the project, and what the new schedule is
  2. What caused the delay, and whether or not another delay for a similar reason can be expected during the remainder of the project

Once the client has been informed of the new schedule, the relationship with the client must be repaired. Depending on the nature of the delay and the ultimate cost to the client, how the relationship is repaired will vary.

If the cost to the client can be measured with a dollar value, then that cost should be, to some extent, reimbursed to the client if the vendor was the source of the delay. However, this situation is not that common as making such a measurement is fairly difficult, and may not be determinable until after the project is complete.

In most cases, offer the client some form of compensation for the delay, with the amount depending on the nature and severity of the delay. Clearly, a single day delay is not as severe as a month delay. However, if that single day means that the client misses an industry deadline, the severity is greatly increased.

One form of compensation that allows for an opportunity to repair the relationship fully is to offer a discount on future work. For example, if the vendor was supplying a website, they can offer a discount on future maintenance, for example, a 10% reduction in the hourly rate for the first 50 hours of maintenance.

What is clear, regardless of the nature of the delay, is that the relationship between the client and the vendor will need repair. What should not be done is to attempt to hide or deny the delay – the client will eventually find out, and then trust will be lost. By being honest about the schedule, and keeping open lines of communication, you can work with the client to bring the project to a successful close. Your practices in dealing with delays will assist in future goodwill, as clients tend to appreciate when vendors are honest about schedules, and take appropriate action to adhere to them.

Business and Karma – An Ethical Decision

Karma, according to Wikipedia, is “…the concept of action or deed… which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect”. A closely linked topic is that of the Golden Rule, one variation of which states:“avoid doing what you would blame others for doing” Thales and is commonly quoted as “Do to others as you would have done to yourself”.

In recent months, we have watched as dozens of people and companies have been charged with unethical behaviour in their business practices. This is a clear demonstration of bad karma –  a company steals money from its shareholders will eventually pay the price (although the shareholders themselves will likely not get their full investments back). On the other hand, companies which have maintained good business practices, along with providing clear information to the public, find themselves able to weather the economic storm, and many of these will survive.

Good karma in a business is not just how you treat your employees, or your shareholders, or your clients and customers. You must treat all of your associates with respect, with consideration. In hard times, you will need to rely on all of these people to help you, even at a cost to themselves.

As an example, I read this morning in the National Post that 800 British Airways employees will be working without pay for up to a month, and thousands of others have agreed to  pay cuts. While it can be argued that this behavior is self-serving in that it ensures that these employees will retain their jobs, the fact that the cuts were voluntary speaks loudly of the good karma British Airways has with its employees.

As an example of the reverse behaviour, here in Toronto there is a strike of the unionized municipal workers, including garbage collectors and daycare workers. Part of the issue which demonstrates the bad karma is the fact that city councillors have the option of a pay freeze (but it is not mandatory), while trying to enforce a freeze or cut on other city workers. While I personally don’t agree with the requests of the striking unions, their argument of unfair discrimination is valid. (It should be noted that several councillors did take the voluntary pay freeze.)

When dealing with employees, clients, and shareholders, it is necessary to look to the future. While at the moment it may be costly to ensure a postive relationship, when the times are tough, it can become necessary to ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. At this point, they will examine your past behaviour in great detail. If you, as a business owner or manager, were ethical and upfront with all interested parties in the past, you will find people willing to work with you in the hard times. On the other hand, if you were unethical in any manner in the past, you may be looking at spending some time in substandard federal housing.

The past can come back to bless you, or haunt you. Without a crystal ball to predict when the past will return, you’re better off erring on the side of caution and always being ethical and upfront with your actions.

What would you like me to write about

I’m currently looking for some topics to write about that would be of interest to people seeking career advice, small business owners, and general advice relating to business. What would you like to see written about?

Post Parnasa Fest Toronto II

Last night was the second round of Parnasa Fest in Toronto. While the turnout at the event could have been better (about 30 – 40 people came), it did teach me something new about small networking events.

At a small networking event, you will have the opportunity to speak to every person in the room. I now know how 30 people can help others, and how I can help them. In a larger group, I find that you get caught in a much smaller group of people with whom you talk at length, and don’t learn anything about the majority of the people in the room.

The second benefit to the evening was the ability to reconnect with several people whom I had met at the first Parnasa Fest, and speak to some of them for a little longer than I had before. This is one of the benefits to holding a series of events, as it provides the opportunity to really grow your network by establishing a relationship of sorts with people I would be unlikely to meet otherwise.

Parnasa Fest Toronto 2

The time and location of Parnasa Fest Toronto 2 has been confirmed – at Shaarei Shomayim in the Brotherhood Hall on Sunday, June 14, from 5:30 to 9:00. If you can come, please do! For more information and to RSVP, please go to our site: http://parnasafest.org/cities/toronto.

As well, we are looking for local sponsors for the event, and for recruiters and headhunters. Contact me directly if you are interested in participating!

Using LinkedIn Effectively

I have been asked by several people, and been recommended to several people, as a resource on how to use LinkedIn effectively. The reason for the questions is that people who are in my network see a flurry of activity coming from my account on a daily basis. While I would not claim to be an expert on all aspects of using LinkedIn, I am, however, familiar enough to give others some direction to getting their professional networking off to a good start.

Before I describe what I have done, and continue to do, to keep my account looked at, I feel obliged to provide a small warning. Networking at this level requires a fair amount of work, and the payoff can take many months to appear. It is hard to keep focused and to put in the work as time goes on. However, persistance does pay off after time.

When I signed up for my account, it took me several weeks to fill out my account information. Schools I went to, places I worked, building up my network to connect to people I know who also have accounts. I sent out masses of e-mails to people I know who were not on LinkedIn, and soon many of them created accounts as well.

The next step for me was to join a few groups with whom I share a common interest. I belong to a group relating to IT jobs, another group for my local community, and another for my local Chamber of Commerce. I read the discussions that are being discussed in the group and provide answers or responses on occassion.

Finally, I entered the world of answering questions. As of the writing of this article, I have answered 124 questions, including referrals to other people in my network. I have had 6 answers selected as the Best Answer, and 24 selected as Good Answers (the selection is done by the person who posted the question). By doing this, other people on LinkedIn with whom I am not directly connected can see what areas my expertise covers, and get a feel for my credibility. Answering questions takes a lot of time. On any given day, there are 100’s of questions asked, and reading through all of them can take over an hour a day, plus time spent providing answers where possible.

On any given day, I tend to spend in excess of 2 hours on LinkedIn, most of it answering questions. However, I also spend some time looking at updates from people in my network. That way, if someone in my network is looking for something which I can help with, I know right away.

LinkedIn is a way for you to publicly establish your credibility using your existing network. The more active you are on the site, the more other people outside your network will see you. That, in turn, will make them pay attention to you, by visiting your profile, visiting your personal site if you have linked to it, and getting in touch with you when they think they have an opportunity that you may be interested in. (I have been contacted by 4 people in the last month who found me through my activity on LinkedIn.)

Consistency and Competence

It’s been a little while since I’ve written. Today’s article is on two more quotes from Despair Inc.

Consistency: It’s only a virtue if you’re not a screwup. (link here)

Incompetence: When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there’s no end to what you can’t do. (link here)

Unfortunately, in many businesses, these two concepts go hand-in-hand. The basic problem that causes a vicious cycle of incompetence followed by consistency, followed by yet more incompetence, is the inability to acknowledge a problem. If a company cannot recognize where their strengths and weaknesses are, then they will inevitably fall into this trap.

The solution is simple to describe, although it can be quite difficult to implement. Businesses must face the sometimes hardh reality of their successes and failures, and look to improve. The only way this can happen is to recognize what the cause of the failure was, regardless of how contrary it may seem to the fundamental aspects of the business. Only when it has been determined that the true cause of failure was a lack of effort, but not a lack of quality or skill, should a company resort to doubling their efforts.

If you, as the owner of a business, can evaluate your successes and failures objectively, and change what needs to be changed regardless of the nature of that change, then you can avoid falling into the trap of incompetence and consistency.