Approaching redundancy with care

Some of you may have heard about Aviva’s recent faux pas when they accidentally sacked 1300 members of staff in 1 quick tap on the key board. A calamity for the HR department responsible for sending an email to 1300 people asking them to pack their bags and leave the building, when really it should have gone to just one person. Surely though, irrespective of the mistake of getting the audience wrong, is sacking by email really an acceptable way of letting staff go?

For anyone involved in Change Management, HR or Communications, the how and when of communicating redundancies often creates a high level of tension and discussion. The choices of who should communicate the message, how it should be communicated and when, always bring out different personal views and different cultural perspectives. Often those involved in making the decisions are influenced by either previous personal experiences or seeing what has worked or not worked in different organisations.

In all cases, I would encourage the decision makers to take a step back when thinking about the redundancy strategy. The decisions should be based on:

Being consistent with the Corporate values

Recognising that everyone who becomes and ex employee will be an advocate or an opponent and will build or damage your brand

Putting yourself in the shoes of those receiving the news

I am sure that if these 3 things are considered then the approach to communicating redundancy would change in many organisations. And more often than not the reasons for using short cuts (like sending an email) or impersonal and often fear based approaches would be shown up as being inconsiderate and unnecessary.

Whilst making people redundant is a difficult experience for all involved, I have seen it work well in organisations so people leave with their dignity intact. My hope is that more organisations will consider the big picture before getting in to a debate about the process.

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Eye to Eye on the dance floor

At some stage in our working lives I suspect everyone has been told about the importance of creating rapport with another person and has an awareness of at least some things that create or destroy rapport. The one thing that is commonly referred to is the need to have eye contact. The question is – what’s an appropriate level of eye contact?

Last week I found myself in a situation that was rather disconcerting. I was in a meeting with a man who stared. I think he’d been on a course where he was told to always maintain eye contact. The unfortunate thing was that his stare became more intense as his words and manner became more aggressive and personal. As the person on the receiving end of these behaviours it was totally unsettling to be in the same room as this man who obviously thought that eye contact and a smile meant he could say whatever he wanted and it would be OK. I found myself looking away from him, becoming agitated – I really wanted to escape.

Yes it’s important to have eye contact with someone if you want to establish a relationship. However, there is a balance between having eye contact and also moving your eyes away. Staring is not away of creating rapport – more often than not it creates discomfort for the person you are staring at.

Creating rapport is about connecting with another person, it’s about creating your very own dance together. This can be achieved by your body language, the expressions on your face, the tone of your voice, the language you use and your responsiveness to the person’s state.

Sometimes I find myself consciously thinking about the way my actions, my words, my level of eye contact are helping or hindering me build relationships; and at other times I forget to think about it. I hope that at these times it’s because I’m dancing the same dance on the same dance floor with the other person – step by step. For all of us I think the art of rapport comes when you know that the dance is happening. Part of the art is to also be aware and do something about it when you are attempting ballet and the other person is dancing the salsa.

Are you dancing?

Who would admit to having no integrity?

How many of you have come across organisations where one of the company values or leadership values is integrity?

And even if you haven’t explicitly seen this as a value, would you agree that it is often an unstated principle that people will act with integrity?

So how can it be that criticism often comes when the organisation or the leaders within it appear to lack integrity. Do people go out of their way to act without integrity or does conflict occur when one persons version of integrity is different to another?

A couple of definitions of integrity may help to answer this question…………

Integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions
or
The adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

With these definitions it seems that the interpretation of integrity is therefore dependent on each persons map of the world, their own values and their own moral compass. Therefore, when someone is seen to act without integrity, have they really or is it that our version of integrity doesn’t match theirs?

Let’s take as an example the recent actions of Greg Smith, the guy who distributed his view of the Goldman Sachs culture and leadership. Did he or did he not act with integrity? I suspect that some people would say that he absolutely did, that he was honest, truthful and accurate (see definition) whilst others may question his reasons for doing it and question his moral character.

When integrity is so often a characteristic that is highlighted as essential for leaders I question if this is realistic. Surely it means that we must all operate with the same version of what is right and wrong, the same version of what is morally acceptable, the same version of what honesty is.

I wonder therefore, when integrity is put up as a value or principle and when it is seen as an essential part of leadership what is actually meant? Obviously organisations want people to act within a moral framework that is appropriate for that particular organisation, does this need to be defined more clearly so people understand what integrity means in that particular environment? Is acting with integrity the same in every organisation or might it vary if say you work in the tobacco industry, the armed forces, social services, financial services or retail?

It seems that organisations need to dig deeper to interpret integrity more clearly. What thoughts do you have on whether or not integrity can vary and how it can be defined more clearly in different organisations?

Symbols that create a culture

Whenever I visit a prospective or new client I find myself looking around the place with my eyes wide open. I love sitting in reception areas, watching people – the way they interact with each other, with visitors, with the receptionist. I love looking at the environment and the symbols that begin to describe the culture of each organisation. And as I start my process of observations I wonder how much thought and effort each organisation puts in to these symbols. Let me explain what I mean………

In a series of visits to one client my understanding of their culture has grown, mainly through the symbols that I’ve observed.

First impressions at reception were of a bustling, professional, modern, people focused business. The triggers that created this impression for me were down to the welcome I received at the reception desk, observing the way workers greeted each other walking in to the building, the design of the reception area and the noise and smells coming from the cafe based just beyond the reception area. My first meeting was then held in a bright, modern room and as I walked through the office I noticed bright space, lots of photos, posters and objects that represented the work done by the people on that floor.

My impression of the culture, based on these symbols was of a modern, bustling and people focused business.

Several weeks later, with several visits to different parts of the office, I see symbols of the culture which are very contradictory.

The first contradiction, is the different environments that exist floor by floor, function by function. What I described on my first visit seems to be isolated to that particular area. In other parts of the business I see different desk lay outs – some looking as though they haven’t changed for 20 years and some being incredibly modern. What is coming through in the culture of the organisation is that all these different parts of the business, with their different working environments, work as separate entities. Whilst they are all sitting in the same building, working under the same corporate name there is nothing obvious that holds them together as one company.

Another symbol that has fascinated me in this and other offices, are the kitchens. First impression in this particular office is of a modern area with a space for people to meet and chat and prepare their food – it seemed to reinforce a people culture. On the first day, when I was going to spend some time in the business my client gave a cursory nod of the head as we walked past the kitchen and said “This is the kitchen if you need it” After I settled in to a desk (another symbol of the culture) I went to find a glass of water from the kitchen – only to find a kitchen with no glasses, no cups, no tea, no coffee and no utensils. I asked what this was about and was told that it’s meant to be environmentally better for people to bring their own things. And it would seem that visitors are meant to go thirsty.

My experience of the office layout and the kitchen environment began to create a perspective of the culture of this organisation. My point here is really about consciousness – are the leaders and decision makes conscious of the symbols that communicate? Are they making decisions based on the culture that they want to create or are the symbols contradictory to and therefore damaging other efforts to develop the organisations culture?

Making an Ass of U and Me

Do you ever have those AHA moments? Those moments when something becomes so obvious to you and you want to kick yourself for not realising it before hand. Do these moments come when you realise that you have made assumptions and may be the assumption is wrong – or does this just happen to me?

Over the last few weeks or so I’ve been registering some of the assumptions that I and those around me have made.

There was the occasion when I assumed that the person I was talking with would remember a conversation we’d had 3 years ago – it took me a while to realise they didn’t.

The time when I was pitching for some work and the potential client had assumed that I would do the work for an almost non-existent budget and I’d assumed they knew what the market rate would be.

And there have been numerous times at home where I’ve made decision based on assumptions about what would be OK for my partner only to realise later that a conversation would have been useful.

At some point after assumptions have been made, it’s dawned on me that assuming really is making an Ass of U and Me. The implications of this can be pretty intense with relationships suffering and time being wasted. When we make assumptions it tends to be due to laziness – laziness in our thinking and laziness in our communication.

It seems to me that a few simple techniques, once remembered will make a big difference and reduce the amount of time spent going up dark alleyways.

The techniques to embed are:

Ask yourself what assumptions you are making and whether or not they are reasonable – for instance, I assumed that the potential client would be paying market rates and should have checked this with them much earlier in our conversations than I did as we both invested considerable time in our discussions before we reached this point. It turned out that our assumptions didn’t match.

Ask questions to clarify, check and inform – I so easily could have asked the ex colleague whether or not they remembered us talking about on-boarding several years ago, before diving in to the conversation. This would have brought us to the same place at the start of the conversation.

Be clear about the assumptions you are making – it’s sometimes worth stating up front what assumptions you are making. If we go back to my communication mishap I made a number of assumptions and it would have been more productive to state some of these upfront to check if the group were OK with them.

What assumptions have you made that have got in the way, led to conversations stumbling or led to you and others going in different directions. I’m assuming we all do this or is it just me?