Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hard Messages - Letting Employees Go

Remember to SOFTEN the ax!I am working for a healthy and profitable company and have not had to deliver these hard messages. And I hope I do not need to deliver them anytime soon. But this week I saw good advice on

How to execute orders from head office to pare down the workforce as a means of reducing cost?

Because the reductions will be general in nature, the most common reaction of the local management is to deal with the problem in a general way as well – usually by sending emails or having mass meetings. However mass communications of a negative nature almost never work.

The following series of tips help to make firings and other hard messages more palatable, both to those staying and those leaving:

  • Keep it legal: be familiar with your company's rules of employment and relevant labor law.
  • LISTEN. Everyone knows this is key, but how good are you at empathizing? Are you sure you're giving the right level of feedback?
  • Do NOT fire on a Friday! Early in the week gives people time to sort out issues, have support from colleagues, and to not fall into despair over the weekend.
  • Similarly, earlier in the month is better, and after holidays, not before.
  • Keep it private. As an example of what not to do, one company actually held an off-site seminar and gave everyone an envelope: some with blue notes (keeping their jobs) and some with yellow (losing their jobs). They then held a "farewell dinner" afterwards, at the same location, for those leaving.
  • Except in extreme cases, there's no reason to have security accompany the person off the premises. Avoid humiliating the person.
  • Keep the meeting brief, and to the point, but allow your soon-to-be-former staff to vent, without you becoming defensive.
  • Losing a job is shocking news for most people, unless you've done the performance monitoring right all along. Some people will immediately go into denial and not even realize they're being terminated. You need to make it very clear that the decision has been made and is final.
  • Be open from the start of the conversation about your own feelings. If true, something like, "This is going to be a difficult is tough for me."
  • Avoid making any promises or phrases like, "I'm sure everything will work out all right."
  • Be prepared with what assistance your company is offering--counseling, interview coaching, or other outplacement help.
  • Remember, the person you fire will have an impact beyond him/herself. They can cause others to leave, or lower morale of those who remain, or they can become still positive spokespeople for your firm.
  • How they perceive you as a manager is how they will perceive your company.
The full article was published by Terrie Lloyd, an influencer on the foreign business community in Japan. It is based on advice from our mutual friend Andrew Silberman, whose company is my partner on our HR training needs. Two years ago Andrew and his team gave me the book that started this blog.

Thank you Andrew and Terrie. I hope I do not need this advice in large scale anytime soon. I decided to blog it anyway, because my blog exists ”to summarize and internalize the knowledge I need during my management career.” Even if I hate it, I am sure I will need it during the next 20 odd years of my career.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mind of an Innovator

Deep thinkingIt's been several weeks since my last post. I could say that I have been too busy lately, but actually I ran out of ideas (because of being ”too busy”). So it's time to think how

Innovation, problemsolving and learning employ the same iterative process—blending supposition, logic, creativity and reflection.

This post is based on Matthew E May's ChangeThis manifesto Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking. For more ideas and examples than fit this post, please read the manifesto.

Time frames and territories always change, so the central challenge is having the proper mind-set, discipline and tools at our disposal so that we’re able to combine “blink” and “think” strategies in an effort to create something new.

May provides methods to avoid 7 deadly sins of traditional thinking and to train our brains to think differently, allowing our inner innovator to flourish. First he’ll identify them, then provide a means by which they can be neutralized…for every problem, innovation, or challenge. They can be tamed!

1: Shortcutting (leaping to solutions)
Leaping to solutions in an instinctive way or intuitive way—i.e. the “blink” method of problemsolving— almost never leads to an elegant solution to a complex problem, because deeper, hidden causes don’t get addressed. Unfortunately, our brains are trained to perform mental shortcuts.

2: Blindspots
Blindspots are the umbrella term for assumptions, biases, mind-sets and reflexive thinking. Our brains do a lot of “filling in” for us. When our brains make their patterns based on our experience, we have to really focus to consciously break the pattern and “think different.” We don’t get to deeper problem solving until we run out of filling-in actions.

3: Not Invented Here (N. I .H.)
‘Not invented here’ means that blindspots are causing tunnel vision...or a lack of perspective. We adopt this mind-set unknowingly...shutting out another person’s or group’s idea immediately and without due consideration merely because they came up with it.

4: Satisficing
Ever wonder why some solutions lack inspiration, imagination, and originality? It’s because we don’t think as deeply or as broadly as we must to solve the problem. We tell ourselves the optimal solution is a luxury. We throw some resources at the problem and move on. Or tweak a previous solution and fit it to the current situation. We favor implementation over incubation.

5: Downgrading
Downgrading is the close cousin of satisficing, with a twist: a formal revision of the goal or situation. We fall short of the optimal or ideal solution, pick one that gets us most of the way there, then sell the upside and downplay the downside. We do it all the time, because no one wants to feel like they didn’t succeed.

6: Complicating
Why do we overthink? Why do we complicate? Why do we add cost? Most interestingly, why do we ALL do it so intuitively, naturally, and (here’s the killer) consistently? Answer: we’re hardwired that way. Our brains are designed to drive hoarding, storing, accumulating, collecting-type behavior. We are by nature “do more/add on” types.

7: Stifling
We do this naturally...stifle, dismiss, and second guess the ideas of others in favor of our own. Generally speaking, whenever I conduct problem-solving workshops, groups discuss the right answer, but it doesn’t get offered up as a solution. Because members second-guess, stifle, dismiss and even distrust their own genius.

Stifling is the deadliest of the sinful seven, because it is the most destructive. Had you happened upon the right answer in your contemplation, but dismissed it?

Taming the Traps

So how do you defeat, or at least neutralize, the seven deadly sins?

IDEA Loops. IDEA is an acronym for Investigate, Design, Execute, Adjust. It’s a codification of the human learning cycle...the one that starts disappearing around age 5, once we enter the formal school system. That’s when it becomes about the right answer and not the right question.
Our most powerful learning experiences generally occur in a four-phase cycle of (1) Questioning; (2) Solving; (3) Experimenting; (4) Reflecting.

Everything starts with a question, which triggers an investigation and information-gathering effort. How can I do that better? That leads to the definition of a problem to be analyzed and solved. The search for possible answers to your question entails generating ideas, solutions and corrective measures. By experimenting with one or more of the solutions, the most appropriate and effective is discovered. You then reflect on your experiments, observing your own thinking and actions. How well did that work? This in turn stimulates further questions, commencing the learning cycle again.

The beauty of IDEA Loops is that they can apply to all situations. Investigation, Design, Execution and Adjustment are the universal common denominators to successful innovation.

To read more about IDEA loops, or the whole process with examples, please check the Manifesto or get Matthew's book The Elegant Solution

Photo by oranje88