During the year I work with a number of organizations and I am a hungry reader, alert to new ideas. I periodically jot them down in my business journal and identify ways I might use them.
I have gone through page after page of my journal and selected several ideas for managers to practice in 2016. I know that not all of them will relate to every reader, but I hope you can find some nuggets to chew on.
• Have emails and instant messaging (and more) taken the place of “walking around?”
A few years ago, an experienced, but newly arrived college president began his new job. After a few months, at a regular staff meeting of those who reported to him, he said he had observed a regular flow of electronic communications within the building, but minimal face-to-face discussions.
His demeanor let it be known, even before his words did, that he believed direct human interaction should be more common and that everyone should reduce the mail, especially when walking down the hall would be good exercise, as well.
Some people are good at boiling a topic down to one paragraph; the recipient may not know any of the accompanying information about the matter. The communication process is more successful in face-to-face interaction whenever that is possible. Information-only electronic mail is useful; decisions are typically better when made largely via face-to-face discussions, even when arguments occur.
• What is your strategy for 2016, and how does it differ from 2015?
Whether or not your performance appraisal/review is due, each manager should start a new year with ideas about how to improve professionally and how to improve the department’s functioning — no, not merely a resolution.
How do you need to update yourself? Perhaps improve computer skills? Make yourself as smart as your smartphone and learn better how to use it to improve your performance? Take a language class to better relate to recently hired foreign speakers? Work on public speaking skills? Will you be seen as a better version of a manager than in 2015?
• When we allow the job to take precedence above our families, we are creating longer-term problems for ourselves. On occasion I have been asked to help a normally highly productive and successful manager who has gotten off-course. Quite often, after several discussions with the manager and related managers, the reason is found to be “family problems.” They may be marriage-related or child-related or finance-related or health-related.
Family counselors today are proposing an annual family forum where each person has an opportunity to speak to the issues that are problematic for them. The family then develops a plan for working through them in something of a systematic manner.
Larger companies often have an employee assistance program that may be able to help with the annual family checkup or to work on problems. Employees may be referred to professionals in the community for support.
Managers are less likely to work through in-house programs for fear of being highlighted for personal problems. The at-home process can be started simply by sitting with a spouse or partner — each writing down three things they would like the other to be doing — and beginning the conversation. These discussions can begin to reduce the stress from family sources and their impact on managerial performance.
• What matters most is that we meet the expectations of our children. They want a chance to soar and do better. You have read the same predictions as I about the current generation of high school graduates having fewer opportunities than those of yours and mine. So apply that to your own workplace: Your employees (whether direct reports or otherwise) hope for a chance to soar.
Most employees, and even line supervisors, indicate they are often bored with routinization. This likely is even more common in production, and possibly the mechanical trades. What opportunities are there for your employees to improve themselves and feel more positive about the future?
Real leaders are like traditional housewives; they prepare a shopping list over a period of days and rarely overlook items when shopping. At the beginning of your workday, do you have a list of your daily efforts? Do you have a list of changes you want to implement by July 1? By Dec. 31?
Such lists, on paper or on a computer, can help ensure that your goals are achieved. Every morning, my recently retired dean brought in a list of accomplishments that were needed that day. He also went further. Before the workday began he would visit each direct report and add to whatever list they had prepared.
The feeling is so good when you realize you have at least finished your list for the day. Otherwise you have to roll over the remaining items to tomorrow.
“If you see something, say something.” Yes, that is the slogan now at airports, train stations, subways and wherever large crowds may gather. Although it has no direct application to leadership or management, it does offer instructive counsel for everyone who is in a position of leadership. It has been described with this question in the typical text: When was the last time you saw someone do something right?
Good leaders always let co-workers know when they have excelled, believing that such feedback ensures that the good behavior will show again and again. Typical employees want to please the boss as long as they respect the supervisor’s behavior.
Do you have someone (one or more people) trained to do your job? It is becoming common in many companies to promote based first on qualifications and experience and secondly on whether the applicants have planned for their own replacements.
This requires that the manager be willing to delegate and train the potential replacement. Some managers are afraid to allow anyone else to be fully prepared; they worry too much that they are more likely to be replaced than promoted.
It takes time to develop a culture that would make everyone comfortable. However, those who are willing to take the risk are deemed more likely to succeed. Do you have someone ready to succeed you? Why not start the process?
Do black lives matter? Yes, that’s another national issue today — in the news and in many communities. Will the racial issue spread to the workplace? What examples of fodder for a racial fire in your workplace can be identified?
No, this is not just hypothetical; a leader anticipates problems and seeks to ensure that they do not materialize. Non-Caucasian employees may see such potential more than Caucasian employees and managers. Involve all segments of the workforce in looking at any examples of alleged discrimination.
What examples of gender inequities can you identify in your company? This subject is again raising its head in the press, and groups are being galvanized to study the inequities further; 2016 is, of course, an election year, and that makes it more likely to be raised. You should ask your HR department to perform an audit to see how you stack up. Gender discrimination may not be intentional, but it may still be occurring.
Every company needs an internal audit and to stand ready to defend its practices. None of us believes we are biased, but most of us are and the organization’s policies must help us avoid some natural tendencies.
A challenge: Select a couple of the tidbits that relate most closely to your workplace, your boss, your employees, your shortcomings, or yes, even your home life. Include them as important issues to study and reflect on during the next few months before spring arrives. Good luck in your reflections, and happy new year! Let me know whether I can be of help.
Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue.