Friday, February 17, 2012

My daughter and the Four balloons

A month has passed since my daughter's first birthday. I tend to get a little sentimental here... Seems just like yesterday that all of her would fit in to my hands.
Anyhow, getting back to the point...

The other day, my father gave my daughter 4 balloons. Now the details about the balloons are important...so read on...
4 Balloons
The balloons were connected by simple transparent tape. How did that happen? Yes, you are right... they were some of the balloons left from my daughter’s birthday. Since these balloons had been taped to the wall and stair etc. Now finally the 4 balloons were loosely connected by the little pieces of tape.

As my daughter was presented the balloons, she burst with joy and started cackling and raised her hands towards the balloons. Moments later, “finally” the balloons were in her hands and she was as excited as the sky on the 4th of July (I figure only in the states ;)).

Now, an interesting development took place, one of the balloons came loose from the tape and bounced off on an almost 45 degree angle. My daughter looked at that one balloon and quickly let go of the 3 she had in her right hand and started to walk towards the one stray balloon that was quickly getting farther from her. Yes, she let go of the 3 in her hand to follow the one that that was getting away… apparently she thought (I presume) that it was going to get lost.

Anyhow, what happened after that is a different story. But, I learnt something from this.

This simple childish act of my 1 year old daughter, which may be classified as an inherent human trait (not learnt from the environment at this stage) is something which follows us humans all thru our life!

Look at it… everything in our life may be wonderful and then one thing goes wrong...and we let go of all the other things (the 3 balloons) and lose sleep over that one thing that is going wrong (the single stray balloon) all the while the majority of our life is not that bad, and in pursuit of that one stray balloon we give up the joy of 
the 3 balloons!!

I have decided now, that whenever something goes wrong in my life, I shall look at that event as the single “lost” balloon and not let go of the 3 I have in hand. Let’s reason with this… Is it fair to forsake the 3 in hand for one that is getting away...is that cost acceptable? How often have we realized this cost years later? Is it not better to rationalize it before we come to the realization that we could have handled the other things better while trying to manage the difficulties in life too?

Of course, needless to say, the balloons are the things that are happening in our life, the tape is the events and relations holding the things together and my little daughter is life… well she is my life J

I hope that everyone who reads this is able to find the 3 balloons in their life and not let go of them at the very first sight of one troubled balloon.  ;)

Enough of balloons… My thoughts for the day and I wish everyone a very joyous and relaxing weekend!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Handling Office Politics


Political Tug of war
Office politics is just like the lottery.  Dreaming about winning doesn't get you anywhere - there's no payoff if you don't buy a ticket. But YOU have to play if you want to win. 

However, unlike the lottery, there are consequences if you decide not to play.

Game Plan

Not everything in life in black and white and unfortunately, office politics can't be reduced to this level of simplicity either. 
Office politics is a complex stew of power, ambition, control and ego.  Winning, if there is such a thing, requires continuous attention to who's important/not important at any given moment and strategically aligning with the right 
faction(s). Mistakes can be fatal to a career. 

It's easy to see how many people decide it's smarter to sit on the sidelines.  Swim with these sharks?  No thanks, it's much safer not to get involved.  Or so you'd think ... but you'd be wrong.

Opt out, and the best you can hope for is to be completely ignored.  This might be good for your psyche, but it's tough on your career.  Promotions or good assignments won't be coming your way, but a layoff might, if one's in the offing.  All too often, quiet = expendable

If you choose not to play, be sure you don't criticize those who do, or the game itself.  You'll be labeled a loose cannon or a troublemaker.  You'll also be a target for skilled political players who may decide to use you to further their own agendas.  It's easy to identify the person who doesn't want to join in as the malcontent who's responsible for badmouthing unpopular decisions.

Well, says you, I'm not being negative, I'm just saying that things should be based on merit - the quality of your work, not who you kiss up to.  I agree - in principal:
It sounds great, but I've never seen a company where there wasn't some element of politics at work.

This is Unfair

Right.  What's your point?  The culture of each workplace evolves over time, largely in reaction to the example that's set at the top.  Unless you're the new CEO, your ability to unilaterally create change is very, very limited.  You can continue to resist, but it's going to be a lot less painful if you adapt.

You'll be most effective if you can deal with things the way they are, not the way you think they should be.  No one can take your principles away from you, but they can take away your position.  It's really your choice, and I hope it never comes to that. The best strategy is to modify your view of office politics.  Rather than seeing it as a hotbed of useless gossip, intrigue, brown-nosing, or backstabbing, try to recast it in a positive light.  Think of the political game as a means for you to spread your own gospel through positive example.

One of the few absolute rules of office culture is that it's not enough just to do a great job. You've also got to communicate your abilities and successes to the right people, and you've got to do it via the "right way", which is going to be dictated by the company's cultural norms.  Observation is the key.

Open Your Eyes and Ears; Keep Your Mouth Shut

A key mistake in office politics is accepting information without independent verification.  There are a couple of ways this happens.  One is that people look at an org chart and take it at face value.  In the work environment, there's both a formal and informal hierarchy.  There are people on the chart with position and authority who are incapable of exercising it, and conversely, there are people that may not even appear on the chart who manage to run everything.  Your job is to figure out who's who, and cultivate good relationships accordingly.  That won't happen if you step away from your desk only to use the bathroom.

Listen
The second mistake people often make is to align themselves with one faction too early, or too closely.  When you start a new job, it's tempting to latch onto a person or small group fast. Understandable - it gets you over being green and helps assimilate you to the new environment.  The danger is that you may inadvertently align with the wrong group, and you won't know until it's too late.  Better to be friendly towards everybody and get the full range of opinions.  If you don't favor one faction over another, you'll be able to array all of the different points of view and validate their legitimacy against your own observations. 

Spend less time talking, and more time listening.  This is a wonderful technique that has several distinct benefits.  First, you minimize the opportunity to say anything stupid or ill-advised that can come back and haunt you later. 
Second, people who like to talk think highly of people who listen. They project competence onto you because you let them do what they need to do.  They'll speak well of you later, even though your view of these conversations is that they're a good opportunity to plan what you're going to do for lunch. 

The third benefit of doing more listening than talking is that your silence, especially your continued silence, is liable to make other people a bit uneasy.  People who are edgy tend to chatter more than they should. (Think how job candidates might babble to fill up a silence during an interview.) Sometimes, that chatter includes information that wasn't intended to be revealed.  All the better for you.

Rules of the Game

There's one rule in office politics that can trump all the other rules: never make your boss look bad.  Most bad bosses are capable of accomplishing this all on their own.  They don't need your help and you don't need to get dragged down with them.  Create a situation where your boss is seen in a negative light and you'll be the one who pays the price in the short run. 

The other rules of office politics are less about the politics and more about you and your behavior. This list isn't all-inclusive, and strict adherence doesn't guarantee success.  But, it's better than nothing:
1.     Figure out what you want and plot your strategy accordingly.
2.     Be a part of multiple networks, not just one.
3.     Communicate with your networks often, and in the ways that work best.
4.     Judge behavior in the organizational context, not against some idealized standard.
5.     Watch other people at work and identify successful behaviors that you can model
6.     Don't pass along questionable judgments or spread rumors
7.     Look for win/win ways to resolve conflicts, but never leave them unresolved.

More

Despite all this, there really is one way out of the office politics maze.  Work for yourself and work alone.  You'll still need to interact with clients and customers, but those politics are for another column entirely. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Some types of difficult co-workers

Now that we have some idea about managing difficult people at work, lets proceed to identify some types... so to say, lets assign them a category and make our approach more targeted.

I have come across a variety of difficult people in my career, and others I have read about :). At times, being fairly honest, I may have been a difficult co-worker myself. My "real" friends used some of the measures discussed below in changing my outlook and making me in to a more professional person. The reason my I have highlighted 'real' is: Only the people who cared about me combined with a positive outlook towards organizational / departmental harmony wished to do something to handle the issues instead of simply making an issue out of every little thing I did and having me replaced.

Lets begin:

The Crabby Coworker

You know the type - they come in to work in the morning( or evening /night depending on your line of business) , don't say hi, won't even make eye contact with you or crack a smile. 
While we do not all have to be best friends at work, it is pretty awkward when you can't interact with these people the way you would with a normal person who will at least say hello. What to do:
  • Try to find some common ground:There's got to be something - anything - that you have in common with this person and if you're able to find it, you just might be able to crack them. Maybe you and him/her watch 'Humsafar' ;)  - you could ask them what they thought of last night's episode! Maybe you both have kids starting school this year - ask how that's working out. The point is to find something to get that person talking so he/she feels like you're both on the same side. They still might not pass any salutation to you, but you might get a glimmer or a smile every once in a while that can lighten the tension.
  • Ask if something's wrong: When people are grumpy to the extreme, there is usually something wrong on a personal level. If you're not afraid to have your head bitten off, ask if something is indeed wrong and if there's anything you can do to help (only if you mean it...thou, I have had instances where the other person knew that I was genuinely concerned, but they still couldn't resist punching my teeth out ( just an idiom)). This might be a brave approach depending on who you're dealing with but can once again help open the lines of communication and might lead to a smile down the road. Maybe the person just needs to feel that they are not alone.
  • Don't take it personally: Chances are that if you find this coworker cranky and difficult to work around.....realize that some people are just like that no matter what you do and try not to let it bring you down.

Agent Coworker (009) (Ahem ahem ... informer extraordinaire)

One fine day, you are called into your manager's office because you were tattled on by your very own 009 ... and that too for something that doesn't really matter anyway. 009's are really like spies because they are very good at slyly discovering every little tiny mistake you have ever made at work and then going and telling on you, thus making them look good and you look bad. ( BTW, the 009 is an increment to 007, with a licence to chugli-fy)
Is there anything you can do? Yes:
  • Make sure they like you: It might make you sick to your stomach to try to be work friends with this person but if you can do it, it is in your best interest. :( And honestly I don't like writing this, just as much as you don't like reading it. This is especially true if you have to work closely around the person and know that they will always be "watching you." There's a chance that if this person feels a friendly vibe between the two of you, they might move onto another target who hasn't made that effort to be friends. Since nobody likes a tattle, they don't usually have many friends. Use this to your advantage.
  • Be on your best behavior: Sure, if you know the tattletale is sniffing around, just carry out your work according to the books and to the highest code. If you do everything absolutely perfectly, there won't be anything to tell on. Plus, try not to go overboard trying to share your impression of how the boss forgets what he was talking about, or the way the director smokes etc etc. Its better that you do your comedy in the privacy of your own personal friends. 
  • Avoid, avoid, avoid: If you really don't have to associate with this person, don't. It's as simple as that.

The Know-it-All Coworker

Nobody knows everything but don't tell your know-it-all coworker that! 
Mr. Know It All
What's tricky about these people is that they're hard to reason with because they carry on as if the only ideas that are "right" or "the best way" are their own. It's especially difficult when this type of coworker is your supervisor who gets to call some of the shots that affect the quality of your job and eventually your day. What if you come up with a better way of doing something that could benefit your whole department? 
Here's what to do:
  • Make them think that your idea is really their idea No, you're not gonna get credit if you take this approach but if you can get past that and are just looking for end results, this method works pretty well. You might say something like "Remember your abc idea? (which is actually YOUR idea) I think that will work well for us because of xyz." You'll probably only want to try this for ideas that are only slightly different from theirs and not a paradigm shift otherwise your know-it-all coworker could catch on (but you might be surprised - people who think they know everything and are unwilling to budge are often not that sharp).
  • Show your evidence. Prove it. : Even the most knowing of all know-it-all coworkers may find it hard to hold onto their ideas if you can provide all kinds of evidence to show that another idea or another way may be better. Tread lightly on this one and make sure that your battle is worth it.

The Lazy Coworker

Lazy worker
There is nothing more frustrating than doing all the work while your lazy coworker(s) sits around and does nothing. Ideally, someone in charge will see the light and your lazy coworker friends will eventually get fired but we all know that it's nearly impossible to fire someone these days so don't count on it. Apparently some people think that HR should not fire, but should rather counsel and counsel again...and once again...etc...... So while the counselling is going on...you may want to try these instead:
  • Suck it up: Yes, you work and your lazy coworkers don't but one approach is just to acknowledge that fact and move on. In other words, as they say, "do your work and go home."
  • Don't pick up the slack for the lazy one: You might find yourself taking on extra duties that were initially meant for your lazy coworker without even realizing it. Stop doing that! Once the workload starts to pile up and you resist the urge to dive in and finish it off, even your coworker may take notice of the backlog and pitch in to help. And if they don't, say...
  • "Help me! I'm overwhelmed! There is work to be done here!": Sadly, you might have to spell it out to your lazy coworker just like that. Lazy coworkers are not all bad people but sometimes they are oblivious to the fact that there is work to be done so you really just might have to tell them.
To forgive is to release resentment, hatred, bitterness and desires for revenge...We choose not to hate such people, even though we hate what he or she did.

Always remember that when you forgive:
  • You don't literally forget about the existence of the offense, and you don't have to ignore the fact that it did cause you pain and hurt. 
  • It doesn't mean you approve of the offense or allow it to happen again. 
  • You don't have to become friends with that person or trust them to show that you really forgave them. 
  • Trust is something that takes a long time to earn, not something given as a token of forgiveness. 
Learn to forgive and move on... We live on a small planet and work in even smaller industries let alone offices.... We all have to share it.... Move on and work towards cooperation or at least co-existence.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Managing difficult people at work

Difficult people present no problem if 

  • we pass or meet them 
  • on the street
  • in the supermarket 
  • in a building lobby
  • in the parking , etc

Nevertheless, when we have to work with them difficult people can become major irritants.

It seems that some people are just born to be difficult. We have all worked with them and most of us dislike them. Difficult people are easy to recognize--they show up late, leave early, don't turn their work in on time and have an excuse for every failing - bottom line, its never their fault.... Hmm..heard that somewhere?

Wait, there's more. These difficult people harass you and others, ask too many self-explanatory questions, neglect details, distract you and repeatedly challenge you and others for no other reason than to "appear" important. Even worse, when they interact with customers, vendors and people lower than them in the corporate hierarchy, they can be grouchy, impolite, condescending, uninformed, misleading, inappropriate or simply wrong. -- Do you know anyone like this?

Naturally, no one wants to work with difficult people. When dealing with problematic employees, productivity decreases, frustrations rise, morale goes down and customers and vendors get upset.


Now, lets see how we can handle such people:


But I try my best
1. Don't ignore the problem. Assuming that the employee provides value to the company and possesses redeeming qualities, there are ways to deal with difficult employees. Most often, managers will simply ignore problematic staffers. Managers who live by this rule hope the problem will just go away; that these people will somehow turn themselves around or stop being troublesome. Ignoring the situation is the wrong solution to what could likely become a progressive problem.

2. Intervene as soon as possible. It is important to take action as soon as the negative behavior pattern becomes evident--when left untouched, this problem will only escalate.

Occasionally, the difficult employee has no idea that his behavior is a problem or that others react negatively to his actions. This is because most people tend to put up with the annoying behavior and "go along to get along." At the same time, some employees just consider it a "job frustration." Just like some managers, employees want to be liked by colleagues and subordinates and are therefore reluctant to speak up when a problem arises.

Ultimately, it is the manager's responsibility to take the appropriate action to correct the problem. Whether the concern exists due to the employee's lack of knowledge of the issue, lack of feedback or projecting the difficulty onto someone else, the manager has the responsibility of addressing and turning around the predicament. The manager needs to gather information from employees to discern the extent of the problem and personally observe the employee interacting with customers or vendors.

3. Research the problem personally. Armed with accurate data and examples, the manager needs to then take this person into a conference room or office--away from others--and calmly address the issue. To begin, the manager needs to ask the employee if he is aware of any ongoing issues to determine if the difficult person is aware of the problems.

If the employee is "unaware," the manager needs to describe the unacceptable behavior. The employee might interrupt to disagree or deny the existence of any issues. Nevertheless, the manager needs to continue by giving clear examples of the unwanted behavior.

The manager also needs to allow the employee to respond to the allegations. If the difficult employee refuses to believe that the allegations exist despite the evidence, the most the manager can hope for is an intellectual acceptance of the possibility that a problem exists.

4. Help the problematic employee to get back on track. Once the employee begins to understand that these negative behaviors are real and experienced by others in the organization, the manager or someone from human resources should begin to coach the difficult employee in displaying more acceptable and appropriate behaviors. The employee needs time and practice in "trying on" new, more suitable behaviors. HR and/or the manager need to provide specific feedback to this employee on the success or failure of his efforts in minimizing the negative actions and implementing ones that are more positive.

5. If all else fails, termination may be necessary. If the employee continues to deny his inappropriate behavior and refuses to try to improve the situation, the manager needs to place this person on the fast track towards termination. Often this involves recording a series of well-documented verbal and then written feedback about the behavior. Strictly following company protocol, there should be a period for the employee to address the questionable behavior. If this trial period does not result in improved behavior, then the employee needs to be terminated.

Most employees will recognize the negative behavior and will at least attempt to turn it around. This is especially true during tough economic times when unemployment is high and finding a new job is difficult. In any case, the manager needs to follow company guidelines in recognizing the unacceptable behavior, providing direct feedback, providing input to try to turn it around and ultimately taking action in a timely manner.

Not doing so is a disservice to the problematic employee, other employees and the success of the organization.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Some top reasons WHY HR is often misunderstood

Some top reasons WHY HR is often misunderstood –Take 1 J
Readers, I absolutely don’t pretend to speak for every HR department worldwide, but the HR professionals that I know are committed to both their employees and their company. They avoid causing employees pain intentionally. Here are some top reasons why employees might perceive the situation differently. These are the reasons why I feel I have observed non-Human Resource professionals having a list of depressing and so to say “HR horror stories”.
·         The HR staff person is caught daily in a balancing act between the role of employee advocate and the role of company business partner and advocate. And, no, the employee doesn’t often see or understand that the HR person is playing two roles. They gauge the HR person by their affect on the employee’s need.

    • As an example, the employee wants HR to make an exception for him; the employee doesn’t realize that an exception for him begins to set a precedent for how the company must treat other employees – employees who may be less deserving of an exception.


·         All information about employees is confidential. Even when the HR staff person handles an issue, whether the issue involved disciplinary measures or just a conversation, the steps taken and the outcomes are confidential. An HR employee can tell the complaining employee that the issue was addressed. Because of employee confidentiality, they cannot reveal more. This can leave the complaining employee believing their issue was not addressed. (The outcome of a formal, written complaint, as in sexual harassment charges, is generally disclosed.)
Blame it all


·         HR staff members need documented evidence that a problem exists. Witnesses are helpful, too, as is more than one employee experiencing the same problem. It is difficult to take action based on one employee’s word, especially if the other party denies the problem.


·         What an employee may see as unreasonable behavior on the part of a manager or another employee, HR may find within acceptable bounds of organizational behavior and expectations. The employees may have a personality or work style conflict. The boss may supervise an independent employee more closely than desired. HR can talk with all parties, but often, no one is wrong.


·         When an employee doesn’t like her job or work goals or experiences a conflict with her supervisor’s management style, HR can’t always find the employee a new job. Additionally, because of the cost of employee on boarding and training, the organization is likely to have policies about how often an employee can change positions. Indeed, proving yourself in the current job is the fastest path to a coveted new job.


·         HR doesn’t know about the promises you say your manager made to you about a raise, a promotion, special time off, or a rewarding assignment, unless the promise was documented in your performance development plan. You are welcome to complain to HR if you have addressed the issue with your manager. But, the end story is likely your word against the manager’s word. Is it possible you misunderstood your manager? If not be wary about promises made – when he has demonstrated he doesn’t keep his promises. Work with HR on an internal transfer.


·         HR is not always in charge of making the decision. In fact, the decision you don't like may have been made by their boss or the company president. Good, company-oriented HR people won't blame other managers publicly for decisions with which they may disagree. And, they won't bad-mouth the decisions of their boss or other company managers, so you may never know where the decision was made.
So, an unresponsive, unhelpful HR office that avoids helping employees with their problems is not always the case. (Though I know from my experience that such organizations do exist, let's hope they are on the path to change- Inshallah). There are legitimate reasons why HR cannot fulfill every employee's wishes.
If the HR staff listens, communicates actively, and informs the employee why a decision is made or an action not taken, employees are much less likely to write asking how to solve their HR horror stories.
This information may help our fellow HR professionals better address the “misunderstanding” by employees.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thinking of moving to HR?

Are you interested in working in human resources but fear you lack the experience? 

Many job seekers in this field are concerned about making this type of move. My advice would be not be afraid to apply and give it your best shot. There is definitely room for growth in this profession and we are always looking for individuals with the natural competence to excel. HR is not about a degree (MS/MBA/BBA) in HR. Theoretical knowledge of HR can be gained from any source. It is the application that we learn on the way. And mostly it is the attitude that helps us achieve professional excellence. With only a degree and no aptitude for the relevant profession...any field would look bleak.

While technical skills can be learnt , such skills as good judgement and attitude are crucial for being a good professional.


HR Essential Skills

When I consider hiring an HR Executive, I am not looking for a person with knowledge of C&B or the Law...I am always more than happy to teach them everything I know if they are willing to learn. What I look for in them are:

  1. Hardworking
  2. Customer Service Ethics
  3. Reliability
  4. Good judgement calls
  5. Discretion
  6. Diplomacy
  7. People person ( Relationship management)
  8. Excellent listening skills
  9. Good communication skills
  10. Adaptability and flexibility

HR is the custodian of secrets...so to speak and as such before anything else, the right candidate for a HR position must be trustworthy and absolutely discrete. HR tends to have most information prior to anyone else finding out.
Adaptability and understanding of the political setup of the organization is an important part as HR must be aware, however must not unnecessary involve itself in the politics.

HR Certification

While certification is not necessary, it is available through various institutes in Pakistan. I myself am certified from PIQC , and I teach there as well now. The certification covers several areas, including:

— Management practices.
— General employment practices.
— Recruitment and Selection.(R&S)
— Human resources development.
— Compensation and benefits. (C&B)
— Employee and labor relations.
— Health, safety and security.

Why get certified when you can learn all you need to know on the job? For many, taking a certification test is a personal decision. I did it to understand the Pakistani market, since all modules were facilitated by different industry veterans and thus the diversified exposure and a chance to network.

So, the final word is, do try if you feel you have the intangible skill-set to succeed in HR.

Good Luck.