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The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-the power of compliment

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

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Business Articles

The Only Constant is Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

[bctt tweet=”To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. ” username=””]

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear—fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees—all of them—get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

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Business Articles

Dealing with Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Change happens. And the rate of change seems to be accelerating. We experience change at home, at work, and in our community. Change happens in our country and around the world.

When considering change, there are three general truths: change is opposed, change is loss, and change is mourned:[bctt tweet=”We might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change.” username=””]

Change is opposed

Change represents a deviation from the status quo, from what can be expected, regardless if it is good or bad. Change represents moving from the known to the unknown. Therefore, it is normal that people will oppose change and resist it to whatever degree they can. This might mean clinging to the old ways, lobbying against the change, or rebelling by acting out, offering resistance, or passive-aggressive behavior.

Change is loss

All change means giving up something—even if it is something bad. Many people view change as a “zero-sum-game,” which implies that there are winners and losers. When things change, they assume that someone else must have won and therefore they have lost. This assumption is natural when the change that is taking place was not their idea.

Change is mourned

When something is lost, that loss is lamented and grieved. Sometimes the loss is perceived (it didn’t happen) or potential (it might happen), whereas other times it is real and tangible (it did happen). Regardless, the emotional reaction to that loss is mourning. Just as there are steps to grieving (be it five, seven, or ten), mourning the loss wrought by change will progressively proceed down a similar path.

However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Change can be accepted if it is understood, occurs in small increments, and is within the control of those affected by it. This trio of suggestions may not offer much relief when we’re confronted with global or national upheaval that is foisted upon us, because those situations are not within our control, nor do they generally occur in small doses—though we can seek to understand them. But this advice is helpful when responding to changes in our personal lives, like children marrying and moving on, or work situations, such as layoffs, job cuts, restructuring, office closings, and wage freezes or pay cuts.

In these circumstances, we can make a reasonable and successful effort to accept and even embrace change:

Change that is understood

We can best accept and deal with change if we understand it. That doesn’t mean we need to agree with the reasons for the change, merely that we comprehend why the decision for change was made.

Change in small increments

Change made over time and in small doses has a much better chance of acceptance and becomes more manageable. This gives time for a change to sink in and adjust mentally and emotionally as the change transpires.

Change within control of those affected by it

Whenever people can experience some degree of control over a change, they are more likely to handle it positively. Providing options is significant, as is allowing people to have a degree of input into the change.

A final consideration is directed at those who make decisions for change. Yes, it will be opposed, viewed as loss, and mourned, but you can take steps to greatly minimize those responses by communicating the reasons necessitating the change, making the change in small increments over time, and providing as much control as possible to those who will be most affected by it.

In the end, we might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change. That is how to succeed at dealing with change.

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Business Articles

Five Tips for Successful Delegation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Many years ago, as a first-time manager, I was green with much to learn. Management looked easy from the outside. I assured myself that, when given the opportunity to lead, I’d never make the same blunders I witnessed.

Yes, I would direct my future staff with enlightenment, never forgetting the negative examples I witnessed over the years. Quite simply, I pledged to do a better job as a manager. It was a commendable yet lofty goal; one I found much easier to say than do.

One day I walked down the hall with my boss, a man I respected, yet feared; loved, but occasionally detested. Publicly I defended him, yet privately his inexplicable demands and thoughtless pronouncements confounded me. He was the source of countless frustrations while offering little praise or encouragement. He had just given me yet one more assignment, a task I didn’t have time for.

I protested, insisting I already had too much on my plate. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Just delegate it.” I mentally reviewed the capabilities of my charges. Although a group of able young technologists, none were ready for a project of this magnitude or to meet my boss’s high standards.

“But there is no one I can delegate it to.”

“Do you want to know the secret of delegation?” There was a twinkle in his eye.

I moved closer, expecting the secret of managerial nirvana. I nodded.

“It’s simple. Just look for your busiest guy and give the project to him!”

I was dumbfounded at his “insight.” I said nothing, and he continued.

“You see, the busiest guy is the guy who gets things done; that’s always who you want to delegate to.”

Seething, I kept quiet. I flashed a comprehending look, a respectful nod, and a faint smile. His dissemination of knowledge now complete, he strode down the hallway to his next victim, while I ducted into my office and closed the door.

His words angered me on multiple levels. First, I had yet another project to do. Second, his advice was illogical and unfair; delegating to the busiest employee would only serve to make him or her more busy, setting them up to be the leading candidate for the next project. Lastly, I realized that as the busiest of those under his command, I was his “go to guy.”

There had to be a better way. It took a while, some research, and lots of trial and error, but I eventually understood the art of delegating. Delegation is something all managers need to do. Unfortunately it’s often hard. Many who attempt it are unhappy with the results, often accepting sub-par outcomes or giving up. Sadly, successful delegation requires an initial investment of time, often more time than for you to do the work yourself.

If that’s the case, why bother? Quite simply because once you teach your employees how to receive and complete delegated tasks, you can realize a huge savings of time as you empower them, allowing them to grow as individuals and to contribute to your organization’s success. As such, delegation is well worth the extra effort to do it right. A five-step procedure paves the way to successful delegation.

1) Select the Right People: A person who has proven themselves in small things can handle more responsibilities and enjoy greater latitude. However, until they prove their ability to effectively handle assignments, the scope of their tasks must remain small. For example, if they can’t arrive at work on time, is there any reason to assume they can accomplish something more challenging?

To give unproven employees a chance to substantiate themselves, start with small assignments such as sorting mail, stuffing envelopes, making copies, or simply arriving to work on time. Next, they can graduate to processing UPS shipments or placing an office supply order (you select the items and quantities, they call it in).

Each time they successfully complete a delegated assignment, reward them with additional responsibilities; each time they fail to complete a task, confront them. All employees should be trained to handle basic delegated projects. If they can’t, why are you still employing them. Some employees will advance to assignments of medium difficulty, while a few superstars can work independently. Therefore, match the task to the employee.

2) Ensure They Have the Proper Tools and Knowledge to Do the Job: If the work requires a computer, is one available? If it requires a program, do they know how to use it? Consider whether they have the background knowledge to complete the task. It’s easy to oversimplify a project or assume key details are common knowledge. Often, an employee needs instruction or training before they can successfully complete an assignment. Not only must you ensure you’ve given them this information but also to provide it in the ideal format for them. Some people learn best in written form, others need a demonstration, and some need to do it; occasionally a combination is appropriate. Regardless, asking an employee to start a project without the proper resources is setting them up to fail.

3) Give Them a Clear Timetable: Saying a project is “urgent” means different things to different people. Saying “when you have time” is open to misinterpretation. When giving a deadline, you cannot be too specific. Examples include, “I require your written overview on my desk every Monday by 5 p.m.,” or “I need your preliminary work by the end of the day on Thursday, the twelfth.”

4) Hold Them Accountable: Follow-up must be consistent and expected; let them know you’ll check on their progress. Assure them you’re available for questions. If they do unsatisfactory work or miss a deadline, there must be a reaction. This could be merely asking them to explain what happened. Perhaps, despite your best efforts, instructions were incomplete or training was insufficient; then shoulder the blame and correct the oversight. Sometimes, managers need to communicate the ramifications, such as, “Because you did not complete this on time, we lost the client, which will cost us X hundred dollars.” If you correctly follow step one, only in rare cases will disciplinary action be needed.

5) As They Prove Themselves in Small Things, Give Them Bigger Assignments: Now you can begin to phase out of the “accountability” step. Yes, accountability is still required, but it gradually becomes ancillary to delegation, instead of integral.

If you consistently follow these steps, all employees will become better at responding to delegation; some employees will even advance to the point of self-determination, where they take the initiative to do what needs to be done. That is delegation at its finest.

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Business Articles

Our Actions Are Nothing to Sneeze About

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A few years ago, I had a strange realization. It began when I sneezed. My sneeze sounded just like my dad’s. Not that there’s anything wrong or strange about how he sneezes, just that it’s distinctive. At first, I chalked this up to heredity. But why did it take four decades for me to become aware of this similarity? A look at how other family members sneezed, didn’t support a genetic connection. Indeed, everyone else has a unique sneeze.

Since then, I’ve become aware of other mannerisms my dad and I share. My conclusion is this is not a byproduct of genes but environment. More succinctly, as I spend more time with my father, I become more like him. If this went no further than physical idiosyncrasies, this would be a trivial observation. But there are more valuable characteristics I learned from Dad over the years. A good, strong work ethic is a prime example. Dad never told me to work hard, he merely did so, and I emulated his example. Other traits include integrity, honesty, caution, sound decision-making, carefulness with what I say, and an analytical prowess.

If I unknowingly learned these things by being around my dad, what sort of things do those who spend time with me pick up? While I hope they absorb good and positive traits, I fear they could also acquire some less admirable tendencies as well. Each time a child, friend, employee, or client treats me in a less than ideal way, I ask myself, “Did they pick this up from me? Are they mirroring what they see me do?”

Children: When parents see things in their children they don’t like, they often do some soul searching and ask, “Where did they learn this?” and “What did I do wrong?” Although, children have many spheres of influence, parents are a key source. The saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” is usually true. Words can influence and direct, but actions are the prime training tools. Actions that match words, send a strong and consistent message.

Customers: I’ve seen this same principle carry over to the work place as well, to both employees and clients. First, consider clients. Every business has a few difficult clients – the kind everyone wishes would just go away. But if a company has all difficult clients, some tough introspection is warranted. Quite simply, one should wonder, “Are my bad clients merely treating me the way I treat them?” I once saw this dramatically demonstrated through an acquisition, where the prior owners were less than honorable in their client interactions. Dealing with their client base was quite a challenge. It took several years to get those clients to stop yelling at managers, cursing staff, and challenging every bill. But who is to blame them? They were simply responding as they had been taught, matching how the former owner treated them.

Staff: From the employee aspect, I’ve seen this occur on several levels. First, witnessing how a shift supervisor destroyed the effectiveness of the employees on her shift. Her staff became lazy, took long breaks, and lost all loyalty towards the company. The worst offenders were fired and replacements hired and trained; yet, they quickly fell into the same mode. Eventually the supervisor was investigated, revealing the reality that her position of authority was too much for her to handle. She had become lazy, took long breaks, and had no respect for the company. Her charges were merely emulating the negative characteristics of their supervisor. A new supervisor was brought in, and things slowly turned around.

More dramatically, I have seen this happen in an entire office. It seemed that a good employee couldn’t be found in the entire city. Each new hire turned out to be a liar, a manipulator, and a denigrator of company policy and procedure. Alas, after endlessly turning over staff, the manager was scrutinized. Ultimately, her true colors were revealed: she was a compulsive liar, shamelessly manipulated her staff, and had open contempt for company expectations. This manager was let go, and suddenly good employees could be found. Though it took years to negate her damaging example, the office slowly began to function as it should.

Lastly, is a situation where a company owner lamented his terrible employees. His staff falsified time cards, stole company supplies and assets, lodged complaints, and filed lawsuits on a seemingly continuous basis. The owner was perplexed at why this was happening, but to even a casual outsider the cause was clear. The owner underreported income on his tax return, cheated employees out of their rightful pay, and threatened to sue everyone who caused him consternation.

True, not all children, friends, clients, and employees are perfect, but when a consistent trend of unacceptable behavior is evident within the entire group, it might be time to look at one’s own actions as a possible cause. After all, our actions are nothing to sneeze about.