Category Archives: Leadership skills

political correctness

When did political correctness become incorrect?

And when did respect become political correctness?

Have you ever noticed how people apologise for political correctness or pour scorn on it as somehow  it’s something we have to justify. We frequently hear sentences starting with “I know this is politically incorrect but…..”  They then go on to say something mildly or even extremely offensive.

Others say that they are simply tired of it and feel it inhibitis their right to express themselves freely. They say they “loathe obsessive political correctness.” The reality is that political correctness was politically imposed on us because as individuals and groups we fail to treat all people with respect and dignity they deserve of our accord. We seem to need outside guidelines to be respectful.

Political correctness is defined as:

the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

What is happening is that certain layers of our communities look back to a time when they didn’t have to think before they spoke or took action without reflecting on the potential negative impact on others. It might have been at a time when as a dominant group, their life view was the one that prevailed and they could share opinions and use language that was racist, sexist, homophobic, or held prejudicial views against a specific group which was offensive in its nature. We see it now on social media in an extreme form and amongst some leaders who are offensive and abusive. They share their biases and prejudices openly about specific demographics  with few, if any, repercussions.

Incivility on the rise

According to research from Christine Porath of Georgetown University incivility is on the rise. There has been an increase of 13% since 1998. She also notes that 66% of these instances of incivility occurred between a manager and an employee. Incivility impacts employee engagement with all the downsides. Two-thirds of those employees who experienced incivility, “intentionally give less to their organization as the result. 25% take it out on the customer.” More than 50% of employee don’t report  incivility for fear of repercussions.

The reality is that most organisations don’t realise that their culture might be toxic until their employee engagement survey gives bad news. Most managers would be horrified to find they would be considered to be a toxic boss. 

How does workplace incivility manifest itself?

Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.”

Here is a check list of areas where incivility and lack of respect can appear in the workplace:

  • rudeness – this is complex and can be difficult to define precisely because cross cultural differences have to be factored in as well as personal levels of tolerance and bias. It can be conveyed in writing, verbally and through body language.
  • unfairness  – playing favorites, inconsistent treatment of colleagues, facilitating gossip, withholding information, exclusion
  • poor time keeping – late for meetings or missing deadlines. It implies that you think you are more important than everyone else.
  • distracted or not giving full attention. Smart phone usage is rampant in this group. See above.
  • interrupting
  • talking over someone
  • dismissing a colleague’s view-point
  • name calling
  • attacking the person not the argument
  • adopting an either/or position rather than also/and
  • use of bad language
  • jokes and banter with racist, sexist or comments that belittle a person or a demographic
  • invading someone’s personal space
  • emoting – yelling, slamming doors, throwing things
  • lack of courtesy and good manners. No please or thank yous.
  • bullying  – this can be verbal, physical or emotional. The result is the employee feels psychologically unsafe in the workplace and is likely to be disengaged with all that implies for business success.
  • Exhibiting bias in a way that favours one demographic over an other

Impact on business of incivility

The impact on employee engagement of a lack of political correctness and increased incivility is significant.

  • Increased employee turnover
  • A high level of employee grievances and complaints.
  • Absenteesim and sick leave increased
  • Increased customer complaints
  • Drop in productivity
  • Conflict caused by miscommunication
  • Disconnect with leadership
  • Resistance to change
  • Reduced collaboration
  • Reduced innovation
  • Low levels of accountabilty

The very same managers who will think they are thoughtful and decent people will tick many of those boxes you see above. So next time you have negative feedback from your team, or the employee engagement survey gives a lower than expected rating, it’s think long and hard about our own behaviour and whether we are uncivil at a very basic level. Leadership language and behaviour matters and political correctness helps keep us on track. It’s about being mindful of others.

Now might be a good to to apply some political correctness if it doesn’t come naturally and spontaneously.

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toxic boss

7 tips to avoid being a toxic boss

Last week I wrote a post “5 ways to avoid a toxic workplace culture.” This took a macro view of workplace culture. I have been asked by many readers to give practical tips to avoid being or becoming a toxic boss.

There is an old adage that says people leave bosses not organisations so all managers are responsible to some degree for employee engagement. But it can be easy for a leader to slip into becoming a toxic boss under pressure from an unrelenting  corporate world especially if no training is given. It is the seemingly unimportant, imperceptible daily actions which can have the greatest impact on employee engagement.

Dealing with adversity and ambiguity

External factors such as sector, financial or senior leadership crises occur, but it is how the boss responds in these circumstances that counts. I have worked with countless individuals who have been laid off and even when they are firing people,  they still respect good bosses. Without exception the best leaders are the ones that can sustain employee engagement despite ambiguity and adversity, even when they are making redundancies.

Many very well known and established businesses have pockets where individual bosses do not know how to manage their teams and create a toxic atmosphere. On an every-day level it’s the first line supervisor who has the greatest impact on employee motivation and commitment. Lack of employee engagement has a significant impact on the bottom line and with 81% of employees reported to be potentially open for a move and the cost in terms of innovation, customer service, creativity, mental well-being and overall productivity is high.

The toxic boss

Individual managers are rarely held accountable for employee engagement unless there is a crisis in their department or division. If the manager is responsible for generating revenue the fact that his/her employees show signs of demotivation is frequently overlooked. This also applies to more serious cases of sexism, harassment, bullying and unethical practises. Sometimes leaders and shareholders just want results with no questions asked. They are less concerned with the how until there are issues. A high percentage of the career transition coaching I do is rooted in poor leadership and lack of employee engagement, although they may not be the visible presenting issues. All of these negatively impact any employer brand.

Greatest asset

Business success might have nothing to do with a great corporate culture but about market conditions. The real test is what happens when business is challenging.  It is the same leaders who say that their employees are their greatest asset, but their behaviour is not consistent with their so-called mission or values statement.

Highly engaged and motivated employees should be any organisations greatest assets. But very often they get the least attention. At one time the people part of the business was even designated “human capital” which sounds more like “human cattle.”

Old school managerial style

There are many managers in post who subscribe to what would be considered a more old school style of management. This is a “command and control” approach rather than influence and persuade. It’s not necessarily always older generations who subscribe to this philosophy either. As millennials dominate the workforce they are looking for a more inclusive leadership style which is about transparency, flexibility and influence. Good barometers are not just in your employee engagement survey but comments placed on social proofing sites when people have left. These are frequently dismissed as the rantings of disgruntled ex-employees, but  if there is a consistent theme then it’s worth paying attention to the message.

Many pundits also dismiss the exit interview. These can add value if done correctly and there is transparency. Many employees are reluctant to be open for fear of reprisals and poor references looping back to the point about transparency. If fear replaces respect then any manager is in trouble.

7 tips to avoid being a toxic boss

Many managers have no idea that they have moved into the toxic zone where they are alienating their employees and not engaging them. In tri-partite discussions there are some who take a hard-line “this is how I am .. get over it” but others are genuinely shocked, upset even and open to change. Here are some simple every day  tips to bring that change about.

  1. Walk the talk – all leaders should embody their message and do as they want others to do. This means engaging regularly with your team and not sitting in an ivory tower sending out directional emails. You need to be out there seeing what goes on and being visible.
  2. Exhibit empathy – this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything your employees say or do, but if they have a problem or a concern try to walk in their shoes and experience a situation from their point of view. It’s also about respecting their boundaries in terms of time and communication.
  3. Listen and be inquisitive – the most motivating bosses are the ones that listen and communicate openly and transparently. If a topic is not for discussion for any reason you can say that and let them know that as soon as you can you will involve them. Find out what is going on for them. Be up front that you may not always be able to act on what they want but you will always be willing to listen. Understanding your employees and being open with them is key to motivation. They won’t be open with you if you are closed with them.
  4. Be ethical – conduct yourself with integrity and with the values you subscribe to. Don’t play favourites and always be neutral and just. In an era where there seems to be a pronounced absence of leadership values it’s important to align yourself with values that employees trust and respect.
  5. Give responsibilities – empowerment and accountability are great motivators. Make sure your team have the proper skills and tools to do their jobs properly. Give credit, thanks and recognition when it is due and support them all the way even if the team comes under scrutiny.  All of these practises lead to increase confidence which benefits the employer and enhances the employer brand. This is the time when there is an I in team. Above all do not micro-manage. This is a consistent reported characteristic of a toxic boss and one of the single most damaging management flaws. It implies lack of trust, and is stifling and demotivating.
  6. Develop their careers – offer training and personal development opportunities. Sponsor and mentor as appropriate. Promote them where possible and give constructive feedback when their career goals are not being met. If promotion isn’t realistically feasible maintain their personal development and learning. Long serving solid employees offer as much value as the whizz kid hot shot.
  7. Create a team charter – one of the simplest ways of empowering any team is to agree guidelines on the things that are important to them, communicating goals and agreeing norms and values. This could be about communication style, the way meetings are run, dress code or protocols for the resolution of disagreements and conflict. An inclusive management style will have an immediate impact on employee engagement.

A strong highly motivated team will be more creative, productive and committed to the organisational mission. Make sure that you are on the right side of the line to avoid being a toxic boss.

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toxic workplace cultures

5 ways to avoid toxic workplace cultures

Very often those leading or working in toxic workplace cultures are unable to see things how they really are. Bad habits and behaviours are so deeply ingrained that the individuals involved no longer notice. Or if they do, they make excuses “That’s how he/ she is” or “that’s the way we do things here.” 

Then there is a crisis or a disruptive event that exposes a way of working for what it really is.  It might be a significant error of judgment with extensive fallout bringing a demand for third party accountability. We saw this in a multitude of recent scandals: the President’s Club, Oxfam, Miramax and the Starbucks racism exposure. It might be a solitary whistle blower who has finally had enough or their conscience is tested.  Chris Wylie’s exposure of Cambridge Analytica comes to mind. Or it could be a class action where a group of aggrieved employees campaign together to highlight systemic injustice as we saw with the female employees at Nike. 

Everyday issues too

We need to shine a light to ask how  organisations get to a place where in extreme cases implosion is just a question of time leading to an external investigation and reckoning. This is not just about the at times illegal and the ethically dubious. The normalisation of deviance manifests itself beyond the big issues, to every day workplace practises that we are all involved in. Many of us take them for granted. It can be creating a culture of overwork, promoting the domination of one group at the expense of another, allowing a negative communication style to predominate, and accepting the unacceptable, all contribute to the creation and embedding of toxic workplace cultures.

Organisational impact

The impact on organisations is substantial.  Cultural toxicity impacts employee engagement, productivity, creativity, retention and exaggerates churn. Lack of engagement costs 1% of payroll in the U.S and absenteeism from work in the EU is estimated at 2.5% of GDP across 27 member states, or 6% of working time. Mental health issues are at an all-time high and research from Gary Hamel of the London Business School suggests that 63% of the global workforce are not engaged in the workplace and 81% are open for a move. All of these elements will be reflected in the bottom line and employer brand. Starbucks closed 8000 coffee shops for half a day to carry out unconscious  racial bias training – at what cost? The President’s Club closed totally. A Volkswagen executive has been jailed for his role in the cover up of research data on diesel emissions. Harvey Weinstein has been charged with rape.

5 ways to avoid toxic workplace cultures

What can leaders do to make sure their workplaces are healthy and sustainable and don’t slide into toxic workplace cultures?

#1 Create a genuine mission statement 

Corporate values can be a bit of a grey area which don’t seem to be applied on a daily basis. Saying one thing but doing another is the way toxic workplace cultures take hold. It’s important for leaders to define their core values and then walk the talk and not simply pay lip service. Make sure these values are publicly displayed and everyone knows what they are and are signed up for them. Include them on the web site and in onboarding protocols.

#2 Understanding little things make a difference  

Toxic workplace cultures frequently start with what seem like insignificant but expedient short cuts. Bad practises and corner cutting are oftentimes rooted in the little things. Turning a blind eye once sets a precedent, which unchecked will mushroom into a practise or a norm. This can be allowing the big sales generator some lea way with complaints about sexism, the raging of a senior manager to go unchallenged or “flexibility” on expenses.

#3 Don’t make excuses

At the root of all defences are the claims that whatever happens is in the interests of the business. It is necessary to maintain market share, to stay ahead of the competition, increase margins and sales or cut costs. All those excuses foster toxic workplace cultures. Like Topsy they also grow exponentially until there are clusters of bad practises, which rarely exist in isolation.

#4 Have pristine processes

If organisations genuinely want to prevent toxic workplace cultures they have to set up pristine processes that everyone trusts for open, respectful and respected communication.  It is vital to create an inclusive environment where employees can call out issues that are bothering before they escalate, without fear of reprisals. This also means having fail safe protocols for the more serious stuff, so that everyone knows that anything reported will be dealt with in a neutral and effective way.

#5 Carry out an audit 

It’s very hard to make an objective assessment of any culture where we play a central role or are deeply committed to. So carrying out an evaluation by an external provider in the way that company accounts are audited will only add value.  An objective assessment may flag up some hidden messages which will divert a crisis before it becomes one.

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Losing your team

7 tells you’re on the brink of losing your team

The stats on the level of engagement in all organizations come out overwhelmingly against the boss. 66% seems to be a standard figure for disengaged employees, so let’s work around that. It starts with the top employee who can bail fastest and more easily than the others. Then it trickles downwards, so that means losing your team will be the next step.

The top performer’s departure can blind side you. They are the best for a reason. Part of that is they are tapped into the market and bring their best selves to every situation. Very often their exit will be discreet and sudden. You can rightly be shocked, although some would say that even that might indicate that you are not in touch as you might be. But for the others, there are a multitude of tells that let you know you are losing your team, they are restless and out there testing the market. This might be as active candidates, or actively passive candidates, driving traffic to themselves and raising their visibility.

Whether you have your head in the sand or the clouds, unless you get on the ball, it will trickle down the ranks, until eventually you will be stuck with a team that will not be top calibre.

Multiple departures is a sign that you have a cultural issue which needs addressing urgently. Becoming tuned into the tell tale signs that you are on the brink of losing your team can help you take pre-emptive action.

So how do you know you are losing your team?

  1. LinkedIn not Facebook activity: Lots of it. Maybe a professional head shot or a pimped profile that’s been written with a career coach or by a resume writer. There will be some sensible updates going out on matters relating to your sector, not “likes” of a mate’s posts or selfies. The smart ones will do this on an on-going basis, but most don’t. So this is tell number one for sure. They will connect with recruiters or contacts in other companies and will have forgotten to adjust their privacy settings. Some companies try to limit social media usage, thinking that is the solution to employee retention. But creating a firewall around your employees, isn’t going to stop them leaving. You have to make them want to stay.
  2. Improved professional image: gone is the faintly rumpled shirt or nondescript trousers which have had only passing contact with an iron. Suddenly the workplace outfits are going up a notch with some statement jewellery and jackets on hangers, instead of a puffa anorak on the back of the chair. Shirts are crisp and starched. Shoes polished and make-up touched up. She is dressed to impress and warning tell… it’s not for you.
  3. Looking for metrics: watch out for a deeper interest in budgets, KPIs, targets and numbers, as he embeds his activities with metrics using the Be FABulous approach to prepare his USP or elevator pitch or soundbites.
  4. Loss of interest in next year: Interest in next years’ activity will fall off.  When there is barely a murmur about the bonus situation or summer party, you know you are in trouble. Your employees have opted out of even medium term thinking. Maybe you will see some passive aggressive behaviour, not meeting deadlines or poor time keeping. These are not necessarily signs that your disengaged employee is checking out the job search market.  This is even worse news – they are so demotivated they can’t or won’t be able to leave.
  5.  Networking: Instead of piling down to the pub, your team will be heading for after work professional drinks and events, clutching newly ordered business cards to pass around the room.
  6. Mysterious calls: taken in lowered voices in hallways or spare conference rooms. They are probably head hunters and recruiters
  7. Absenteeism: You will see an increase in requests for a few hours off, only one day’s vacation or recuperated overtime. The unscrupulous will take sick days.

If you see any or all of these tells, you should wake up and acknowledge you are losing your team. Don’t leave it until you have a high number of open vacancies to understand that you need to do something and fast.

 

 

 

lead by example

Leadership language – why political correctness matters

I am a huge tennis fan as many of you know,  but was disappointed to turn on my television yesterday to see John Inverdale commentating on the Davis Cup match Italy versus Great Britain.  Inverdale ignited a furore last year after the  Wimbledon final  when he suggested to an audience of millions, that because the new champion Marion Bartoli “was never going to be a looker,”  tennis would have been one of her few options as a way forward. She was the one holding the trophy of course and despite some rapid back tracking, he was left with some serious egg on his face and reportedly facing the B.B.C. axe.  However, it would appear he is still doing his job despite all the brouhaha. What message does this send out?

The power of  leadership language

Unconscious bias, whether related  to gender, race, appearance or age, is considered to be one of the most significant “known unknowns” in our cultures today, simply because it is so difficult to measure.  One area where is it very self-evident in language usage. Our leaders whether male or female play a pivotal role in the gender balance and diversity policies of our organisations and wider cultures. It’s therefore important that public figures in whatever domain, lead by example. Their behaviour and language choice will be a key component in influencing public thinking and viewpoints to overcome subconscious bias which can exist in all of us.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Albert Schweitzer

Ilene Lang CEO of catalyst talks about benevolent sexism saying  “these benevolent stereotypes hurt women because they maintain inequality. Whether she’s the “little lady” or the “woman behind the man” or the soothing creature who exists simply to make men nicer, woman’s “natural” goodness becomes a rationale for why she should be protected from activities and occupations that require stereotypically “macho” qualities.”

In the workplace, all sexism and any sort of stereotyping whether, unintentional, overt, hostile or benevolent, acts as a barrier to prevent women and others fully contributing. The perpetuation of outdated views about women’s role and place in our current society is a strong factor.

Recruitment processes

In talent management where executive search and coaching contribute to the same degree the example of leaders is vital. After all it’s hard for women be” what they can’t see, read and hear.”  Having open, bias free recruitment processes is a significant driver to achieving the appointment of the best candidates,  whether male or female. It is surely the only way forward and therefore important that all leaders in the search and recruitment field play a role to achieve this.

I am constantly hearing about illegal questioning of women about their family circumstances a direct reflection of unconscious bias. All women want children and are therefore flight and engagement risks, right?  I heard only yesterday how Salma an advertising executive was quizzed about how she would cope with a job and her five month baby. She suggested to the interviewer that the line of questioning was as appropriate as her asking him about his sex life. She was offered the job and turned it down.  Not everyone is unconcerned about jeopardising their job search options. Another contact, a woman with no children in her early 50s, (in the full throes of the menopause to boot) was also asked about her family situation. The interviewer had no idea of her personal background and any extenuating circumstances. She should have registered a complaint, but she didn’t.

The recruitment process is the first experience a candidate has of an employer brand and is vital that everyone involved is correctly trained in today’s legal requirements and expectations which involves being politically correct, defined by Merriman Webster as:

conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated 

Political correctness 

In a recent exchange on Twitter, Greg Savage took me to task for my own ” political correctness” when I queried a post title “Suck it up princess. This as good as it gets”.  I asked him quite mildly to be fair “Why not prince?” He responded thus:

tweet6

Political correctness actually plays an important role. Yes, it can be tiresome to have to focus on changing our speech patterns which will  go on to impact our subsequent thought and action patterns. It means we indeed have to think and let go of our old ways.  This role and adherence to “political correctness” has finally succeeded in outlawing words  like “nigger”, “Paki” and ” faggot”  and a host of other pejorative terms that used to be in the daily common vernacular of most cultures.  These words are now considered to be socially unacceptable and rarely heard in professional circles, or at least the ones I move in.

Language shapes how we feel and react. It’s a key pillar in the culture of change. The number of new words making the Oxford English dictionary every year is phenomenal.  As we embrace the new, so we also easily let go of the old.  It might take a while but people are pretty adaptable in this regard I find.

However the process also needs strong leadership. And leaders, especially those representing their organisation externally, whether in the hiring process any other way, or anyone at all in the public eye do have to ” watch their language.” All of this contributes to unconscious bias.

What do you think – does  leadership language  matter?

April 12th Addendum

In the interests of transparency following comments from Greg Savage (see below), please see the  full Twitter thread. gregsavage4

 

The Guru Factor: Where are the women?

The Guru Factor

Something’s got to give
Earlier this year, somewhat bewildered by our leaders and their actions (or lack thereof) over the previous few years, I wrote a post “Playing without the Queens“. In it I expressed surprise at the notable lack of public reaction as bankers and financial service leaders decimatad our global economies, while the populace merely “whimpered ” from the sidelines. Our medieval forebears would certainly have revolted and literally broken the “banca” in protest. However, only a few months later in the Middle East and North Africa populations took to their streets and now in the U.K. certain sections of the community are doing the same. Unfortunately, I am still just as bewildered.

Change required
In London there is currently a period of crisis management, but I feel sure that before the door has closed on the broom cupboards, the blame game will undoubtedly start. For me there is one overriding message. Tony Robbins words echo loudly

” If you do what you always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. Something has to change.

We have seen in recent years “Masters of the Universe ” bankers such as Fabulous Fabrice Tourre in their designer suits, caught, through negligence/ dishonesty/ incompetence or a combination of all three, vandalising global economies to the tune of …billions, getting off pretty much free and easy, with barely a dent to their 7 figure bonuses. According to Sky News the bank bail out will cost the average British tax payer £3500. This week, yobs in hoodies from Hackney, will almost certainly receive custodial sentences for vandalising shops, nicking trainers and mobile phones to the tune of… hundreds. Political figures will take the moral high ground and preach to us, while many, only last year, were even tacitly, part of massive expense scams. Organisations are struggling to keep up with, and adapt, to changes outside the workplace. Unemployment amongst young people is reaching all time highs in many developed economies. Whole countries are bankrupt.

Lost in thought?
Courtesy of Lee Carey I came across this organisation  The Thinkers 50. The 2011 Thinkers 50 will be unveiled on November 14 in London at the first ever Thinkers 50 Summit. Now as you know I’m not crazy about the composition of think tanks in general, but in 2009 there were only 3 women on the list and one of those was part of an INSEAD duo.

There is a reason we say “lost in thought”

This ” definitive global ranking of management thinkers is published every two years. The 2009 winner was CK Prahalad. The ranking is based on voting at the Thinkers 50 website and input from a team of advisers led by Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove. The Thinkers 50 has ten established criteria by which thinkers are evaluated – originality of ideas; practicality of ideas; presentation style; written communication; loyalty of followers; business sense; international outlook; rigor of research; impact of ideas and the elusive guru factor

No women
The words elusive guru factor caught my eye and surreal images of Simon Cowell type “guru factor judges” and ” guru factor auditions” came into my mind. However, I also wonder if this is the time to stop thinking and start doing. There is a reason for the phrase ” lost in thought”. But mainly we need to do both differently. People clearly want change. Women are not only visibly absent from the financial services leadership group that caused many of the underlying problems, but also from the “thinking” list that was issued when it was all going on. Draw your own conclusions, but it’s not rocket science!

If as one definition of guru is a ” recognised leader in a field”, perhaps we need look no further than a modern-day leader such as the courageous, elderly woman in Hackney who confronted London looters, maybe not in the language of the board room ( be warned, very strong if you do watch) but at least there is a badly needed underlying morality.

What is your career sine? New take on career strategy

What is your career sine?

Career ladder or lattice?
Our society is evolving at a phenomenal pace. Technology has brought about changes that even 15 years ago we could only have dreamed about.

New trends
Think tanks are predicting labour shortages in key sectors, pension plans and a default retirement age are likely to be pipedreams for the next generation. Many will have to work until the age of 70.

Family structures are changing and with almost 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the nuclear family is disappearing as the cornerstone of our industrial culture. The number of highly educated women in the workforce is at its highest level. Whether quotas are voluntary or enforced, there will be an increasing number of professional women at senior levels. With the rise of single parent households and expected extended longevity, pursuing a career will no longer be a question of choice for most women, but a case of economic necessity.

Men are now expected, and want, to play a stronger role in childcare, while single parent fathers with joint custody agreements are no longer as free to assume traditional roles and commit to their careers in terms of availability and mobility.

Burnt out executives are opting for mid-career gap years while they are still healthy.

Gen Y have a different expectations to their parents about what they want from corporate life. Research indicates that they may have as many as 10 different jobs before the age of 40. Large numbers are heading home to Mum and Dad, as the post college traditional rite of passage to start their own lives becomes unaffordable, creating a new group of “Boomerang Kids “. It has been suggested that Millenials might not be fully independent of their parents until their late 20s. With a working life that might end at 70, that still gives a career spanning 40 years.

Work and life are morphing into a single continuum as hi-tech communication allows us to blend the two spheres. Work is no longer another place, or even a fixed and regular time. Now, work is what we do, when we need to, or even when we want to.

Life long learning has become a necessary part of an ongoing process to stay current in our ever-changing world, rather than a night of relaxation in classes to learn a spot of DIY or holiday level language skills, after a hard day at the office.

Job hopping will cease to be a pejorative term associated with an inconsistent and unreliable work ethic, but renamed multi-direction career strategy.

In short, society is changing and the work force has shifting requirements. But is the workplace and our current leadership keeping up fast enough? I do wonder.

New Approach
I was interested to read research and a new approach to career strategy from Deloitte called Mass Career Customisation. They maintain that ” The end of traditional career paths and work patterns is upon us.” And I would agree. Anyone who is tapped into this sector has been aware of this for a while and this might seem to be stating the obvious. But issues assume a different complexion with a big multi national consulting organisation behind them, rather than a few bewildered bloggers at ground zero, scratching their heads in collective wonderment. Not only is there is a name to what we are seeing but there is a solution – also with a name!

What many of us have been observing is that we are entering an era where core elements such as workload allocation, employment location and roles are being reviewed by both employers and potential candidates in trade-off situations. Key to the Deloitte MCC philosophy is the credo that individual priorities change over time and that ” multiple views of success are affirmed through recognition of results and value created … contribution levels ebb and flow along with personal life stages

The end of career ladder?
So are we seeing as the Deloitte approach suggests the end of the traditional vertical career ladder but an ” undulating journey of climbs lateral moves and planned descents” which they call a career lattice? I think so.

I was involved in a recent executive search where the wife of a leading candidate was employed in a senior role tied to a specific geographic location, which made family relocation impossible. Maybe even 3 years ago, his candidacy would have been ruled out as untenable. Today the question is ” We value and need this skill set. How can we make this situation work?”

Companies which are prepared to bring this flexibility of thinking and demonstrate empathy with the driving forces in today’s workplace, which alone would indicate that they are in tune with the shifts in society’s culture in general, will find themselves I believe, one step ahead of the game.

Check out your own career sine. Click here to complete the Deloitte MCC interactive test.

What have you learned?

Trapped! Women and the smiling myth

 

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a post “10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers“. It sparked some heated discussion. The 10 ways were lifted somewhat unceremoniously by Citibank’s Diversity Department, from the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel (sales of 27 million) and converted into dubious “bumper sticker” phrases to support women in the organisation (+/- 330.000 employees globally).

One seemed to attract more attention and curiosity than the others – women seemingly sabotage their careers by smiling inappropriately. This I thought merited closer inspection, because that’s a helluva lot of women believing they smile at the wrong time in the workplace. But what constitutes inappropriate? Where does this smiling myth originate?

Some basics
A spontaneous smile is defined as ” a facial expression formed by flexing those muscles most notably near both ends of the mouth. The smile can also be found around the eyes ..” known as the Duchenne Smile. A smile is deep within our primate nature. It depicts positive social relationships and confirms anthropologically that no harm is intended. Combined with eye contact a smile is perceived to be the sign of a confident person, but most importantly, it suggests energy and vibrancy to the recipient. How can that be damaging?

Some research
According to Daniel McNeill, author of The Face: A Natural History, women are genetically built to smile in order to bond with infants. “Smiling is innate and appears in infants almost from birth….The first smiles appear two to twelve hours after birth and seem void of content. Infants simply issue them, and they help parents bond.”

Although women apparently smile more than men, this statistic changes when other variables are factored in: culture, ethnicity, age, or when people think they are being observed, according to the study funded by the National Science Foundation.

It would be interesting for social psychologists and anthropologists to look at these data because the wide cultural, ethnic and other differences suggest that the sex difference is not something that is hard-wired,” said Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology at Yale and senior author of the study published the journal psychological Bulletin. ” This is not a function of being male or female. Each culture overlays men and women with rules about appropriate behavior for men and women”

Minimal differences
The cultural variables were also interesting, with women in the United States and Canada smiling more than in other parts of the world, (England and Australia) African-American men and women smile equally, while there is indeed a gender difference amongst American Caucasians. They also noted that when occupying similar work, power and social roles, the gender differences in the rate of smiling disappears or is minimal. Here, LaFrance surmises that the sex differences are overridden by smile norms for the position one is in, rather than by gender.

Perceptions
As they rise up the career ladder, the rate at which women smile therefore is line with their male counterparts. This is why Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and any other senior professional woman would conduct themselves correctly! The converse then should presumably apply and men working in service roles should be motivated to crank up their own smile levels a notch or two. Speaking from personal experience, I would suggest some French waiters or male railway personnel (Platform 5, East Croydon to London Victoria) might be a good target market for any future books on the appropriateness of the male smile.

Assigned roles
Research also shows that the facial expressions of men when stressed become fearful and angry, while the incidence with women is less. So in male dominated stressful business environments are we just conditioned to expect this type of reaction from our leaders than anything else? Do we simply expect our leaders to look fierce? Perhaps this is the reason why according to Management Today trust in CEOS increases when a woman is in charge in difficult times.

Imprecise vocabulary
What sort of situations would therefore merit accusations of smiling inappropriately, or is it simply poor word choice? Delivering bad or sensitive news with a wide grin perhaps? Smiling when anxious, more accurately called grimacing. A sarcastic smile – known as a smirk? As women are recognised as having superior qualities of empathy, then the same research would suggest that they are actually less likely to react inappropriately. LaFrance says women are more likely to smile to defuse tension doing what she calls “emotion work” – but as creativity tends to go out of the window when tension exists why is this negative?

Trap 1 of the smiling myth
Perhaps the smiling quotient (and herein lies the first trap) is related to the fact that women have traditionally carried out service functions and men have been assigned ” warrior” roles. Their smiles are therefore perceived (no matter what they are achieving) as being an indication of deference , and therefore self sabotaging, in leadership roles. This myth is now even being perpetuated by women themselves.

Trap 2 of the smiling myth
What is even more worrying that countless women now believe that in order to succeed they must modify a key and instinctive part of their behaviour to conform to male norms over and above what they do naturally as their careers progress up the male hierarchy. That will lead to that age-old fall back of course, the second gender trap: accusations of PMS in the corner office.

What do you think?

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10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

Citibank’s career advice for women! ( updated September 15th 2010)

My good friend Silvana Delatte sent me this link from Business Insider about a laminated sheet supposedly issued by the HR department of Citibank on how women sabotage their careers. If this is not a spoof (which I suspect it might be) then it makes interesting, if not incredible (as in unbelievable) reading.

Nowhere does it mention doing a bad job, so perhaps good performance isn’t necessary to advance a career in Citibank! This list would be infinitely less risible if the almost all male board had not been part of a group of testosterone driven mis- managers which brought global economies grinding to a halt. The subsequent government bail out was at great cost to the tax payer and impacted the lives of millions. Perhaps some of that money could be used to invest in constructive gender based management training, clearly sorely needed. I can make any number of excellent recommendations, so please contact me Citibank!

So let’s look at this list and analyse it!

  •  Women tend to speak softly – you are not heard. Anyone speaking softly isn’t heard, especially in the company of people who talk too much and don’t listen! Good managers listen! Being heard is also not about the volume of the voice but the pitch. Women could be advised to reduce the pitch of their voices by half a semi-tone.
  •  Women groom in public – it emphasizes your femininity, de-emphasizes your capability: Grooming in public is a no no – for anyone. That’s why companies have bathrooms!
  • Women sit demurely – the power position when seated at a table is forearms resting on a table and resting forward. Good posture in business meetings accompanied by positive body language and facial expressions, indicating engagement is a given. Nowhere, even in AskMen, have I seen any suggestions that leaning forward and appearing aggressive is a bonus.

Are you sabotaging your career? Look at the career coaching programmes! 

  • Speak last in meetings – early speakers are seen as more assertive and knowledgeable than late speakers. Thinking before speaking and measured contribution is never to be under estimated. This is probably because the people who are making this judgement are poor listeners and have the attention span of pre-schoolers.
  • Women ask permission – children are taught to ask permission. Men don’t ask permission, they inform. I actually agree with this one. However polite deference is not to be confused with approval seeking and definitely preferable to arrogant bamboozling.
  •  Apologize – women apologize for the smallest error which erodes your self-confidence. Men tend to move into problem solving mode. I agree with this one too. Women apologise for even the smallest thing even if it’s not their fault or there is nothing to apologise for.  But having said that for many the word “sorry” is missing from their vocabulary. Problem solving is not the same as admitting a mistake and dealing with it. Problem solving can be aka covering up. and /or reactive management.
  •  Women tend to smile inappropriately when delivering a message, therefore you are not getting taken seriously Well I did some quick research on this little gem and would be interested to see the metrics on that. Women do smile more than men, mainly to soften situations that is true. Smiling would only be inappropriate when delivering extremely bad news. I seriously doubt if a woman would do that unless she really disliked the person. Then she might well do.
  •  Play fair – women tend to be more naive. A women might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished. So is the message here ladies, playing dirty is fine? May I suggest that stretching the rules was what got Citibank into its little pickle. There is surely no substitute for professional integrity. Besides the activities of the mascara mafia have been well documented. Women can and do play dirty, but target mainly other women.
  •  Being invisible – women tend to operate behind the scenes and end up handing credit over to the competitor. This is a fair point – women have to stop waiting for recognition and step up and get out of the support roles. But then whoever is stealing their thunder should have a little more professional integrity (see above). Good managers recognise and reward.
  • Offer a limp handshake – one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick. Agree with this too except this isn’t an arm wrestling contest. I would suggest that firm contact would be infinitely preferable to “one good pump” which implies a potential dislocated shoulder.

So ladies, what advice would you give the gentlemen of Citibank?

Apart from ” Do try not to bankrupt anyone today, darling.”

Written with a smile! Please see also follow up post “Trapped! Women and the Smiling Myth

September 15th 2010 -Update! An interesting post came across my screen today, which now makes some sense of the aforementioned problem-causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel says that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context  and she tries to set the record straight in her post .

I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Condensed to bumper-sticker style homilies these points seem dated and Lois was right, taken at face value they don’t make a lot of sense, so they need to be evaluated in context, which I will certainly do. On her own admission the title including the term “nice” was forced upon her by her publisher. Some of the most successful people ( corner office holders) I know have been simply all around “nice” ( male and female).

That sheet certainly aroused a good discussion!

Career reflection: Could you get your own job?

What would happen if you had to apply for your own job?
In the past year I have been conscious of, and written extensively about, the pace of change in my particular field which seems to be greater than ever before. It’s hard to keep up!  Every time I learn something new, I have to get to grips with something  even newer. I cannot imagine I am alone in this position! I also coach people in transition in various professions and sectors and advise them always of the need to stay up dated in their fields. But what about  people not looking for jobs or directly at risk in any way? Could you get your own job if you had to apply for it?

Could they successfully apply for their own jobs?

Could you?

One of the cruellest spin offs of any organisational re-structuring is that sometimes employees are invited to re-apply for their own jobs. This happens frequently when they have been in post for many years and have considerable seniority and experience. But does this mean that they are necessarily the best candidate for the job as it exists now in the current environment and climate? Regrettably not always.

There are a number of counter arguments to this thesis.

Organisational responsibility

Many will say it’s the  responsibility of the organisation to ensure than their employees are trained and up to date in any developments in their field and are performing to the best of their abilities. To  some extent this could be true.

Any switched-on company committed to employee development  will do this, seeing  peak employee performance and talent management  as  intrinsic to bottom line success. But in times of economic stringency and turbulence,  when training budgets have been slashed, updating employees and keeping them up to speed may not be their top priority. This is set against a background of quite often incomplete, inadequate,and irregular performance appraisal which limits meaningful feedback from any manager to his/her reports. Essentially many employees have no real idea of how they are actually doing, or where their strengths and weaknesses lie on the ideal candidate spectrum.

Avoid complacency

Many of you will also say that it’s no way to live, or work, in a state of permanent insecurity always worrying about someone coming in to take over your job. That’s also true. But complacency isn’t a good state either. One of the things we have all learned in this current economic crisis is that there are no certainties in life. So perhaps it would be foolish to sit and wait for someone else to take responsibility for your career and ultimately your life. Many people who are moved sideways, demoted, have promotion disappointments or who get fired,  very often don’t see it coming. Many of us are wedded to our tried and trusted ways of operating. Even though we might acknowledge a need to do things differently at one level (mainly intellectual), we still struggle to implement  practical change. It doesn’t matter if it’s C-suite level of Fortune 500 companies  or middle managers in SMEs, taking that step to honestly and brutally self appraise is never easy.

It’s also not just about the arrogance of captains of industry such as Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, or the senior executives of General Motors or Lehman Brothers who failed miserably to understand the limitations of their own performance, until of course it was too late. It’s important for us all to consciously examine our own roles in relation to the market and be aware and take care of any short fall.

So start asking yourself the following questions:

  •  How qualified am I for this position, not necessarily always  in  terms of educational certificates, but in experience?
  • Is my knowledge current?
  • What improvements could/should I make to may own skill set and performance to achieve better results?
  • What other changes would I make ?
  • What is my mission statement?
  • Can my contribution be measured?
  • Do I look for, process and act on constructive feedback?
  • What value do I add?
  • Do I know my own worth? Do my bosses, peers, and reports?
  • Who could replace me?

So… would you hire …you?

Could you get your own job?