Do you have to be liked at work?

As a manager writing this and possibly as managers reading this, your answer to this question may be no. As a young person or graduate in their first role, the answer may just be the opposite. As for people who need to be needed, or need to be liked, I think we can guess what they would opt for.

But is it necessary to be liked at work? I think maybe only sociopaths and psychopaths are comfortable not being liked. That probably puts me closer to that end of the spectrum than I prefer.

Could it be I say that, because no-one likes me? (I don’t think that is the case, but you never can be sure can you?). Traditionally, HR people don’t fall into the category of people to like at work. We seem to be the department that people are scared of. The ones who wave the rule book, the ones who keep everyone in place.  (If anyone can tell me how we break that cycle, I’d be eternally grateful.)

I much prefer to be respected at work than liked. Liked is something I save for my friends and hopefully my family. Working in HR has taught me there will always be times when we need to appear as the enforcers of rules. Mostly that is because we are (or should be) about the needs of the business. The needs of the business dictate that you must perform well at what you do and must not perpetuate bad behaviour. That’s why they call it work. I would rather be known and respected as someone who has the guts to make a difficult decision or have a difficult conversation, than someone who has no credibility because they find these situations too difficult. I have been both intensely disliked and extremely well respected for the same decision. I have been respected by people who don’t like me – and I choose the respect every time.

I did a straw poll before writing this post asking the question of being liked at work and a few people mentioned that being liked can make your way in the office smoother. It is much easier when people co-operate with you because they like you. It means you are more likely to get a quick response or a little favour that makes your job easier or your day more pleasant. But why should this rely on being liked?

Are we, as adults, not evolved enough to make this happen regardless of whether we like someone or not? I worked for over 3 years for a man I disliked intensely. I didn’t respect him, but I respected the position he held; the one that managed me. Ultimately that meant, I reported to him and I did what he asked of me. Again, another definition of work. I’m not sure whether he liked me or not, I dare say he didn’t, as I challenged him in many ways – but we managed to get our respective jobs done in a way that complemented what we wanted to achieve in the business.

I do admit that some of the best relationships in my life have come out of meeting people I have worked with, including my wonderful un-marriage. Some friendships I have which have passed the test of time are with people I once worked with.  Most of those friends were colleagues, some worked for me and one was my boss.

I have a rule not to be friends with anyone I manage directly at work. Why? Trust me, it’s not because I am mean and nasty…. (There is a theme developing though). It is that I learned that it is much harder to manage someone you are friends with than someone you don’t know that well personally. In a work environment, we need objectivity. Making friends with and liking people who report to you, makes all of that subjective. When it comes to managing the poor performance of a friend, there is no greater ground fraught with large unexploded landmines. Not only will the business relationship be put under pressure, the friendship probably won’t last.

By the same token, managing people who are your friends or people you do like, may create an environment of complacency. If you are liked by your boss, do you really need to try that hard?

Like most people, I have worked in all kinds of organisations, some where the people are mostly friendly and some where the word friendly has never been uttered. The friendly workplaces can quite easily translate into situations that reflect family dynamics. People learn about basic concepts of fairness, equity and resource allocation in their families, and these are crucial issues in the workplace. These basic concepts in families may be very different from the ones we find ourselves in at work. Familiarity in a workplace can cause as many conflicts as family situations do.

It takes a mature person to see past the likes and dislikes of our managers or our teams and just see the forest through the trees. If we can compartmentalise the relationships in the office and keep focused on the outcomes we will be measured on, maybe we will have more time and energy to pursue relationships that are lasting outside of the work environment.

Do People Resist Change?

Or is it change thrust upon them that they resist? This is one of my favourite topics to understand and convey, so I surprised myself when I realised I hadn’t written about it yet.

One of my new favourite mantras is “I am that which is constant” which just serves to remind me to get back to my core, despite what is going on around me. In a world full of change, I am the only constant. The me I know and trust. I used to think that I was unusual because I enjoy change. Then I realised that people change many things about themselves all the time. We create change in ourselves throughout our lives. We change our marital status, our professional status, our educational status (as Facebook reminds us!). We move, have babies, take on sporting challenges, get a promotion or even get sick parents, partners or children – it’s all change. Some of it is our choice and some is thrust upon us. What makes us accept the changes we decided upon and resist the ones we don’t?

I have been in many professional situations where managing resistance to change was the thing I spent most of my day doing – until I realised I was doing it all wrong! It can be exhausting if you think about it in a negative way – like “resisting change”. When you master it, and think positively about how to work with people to achieve the same outcome, regardless of the process – it becomes the most rewarding thing.

As leaders, we must do what is best for the business, it’s our job. Does it really matter what journey we take to achieve it? If we propose the outcome then work together to create the solution, resistance to change is minimalised. Sometimes it takes a while for people to be clear that they don’t like the change. We all need time to think things through, so if offered some time to digest, it’s easier to swallow.

There are of course business decisions made where not only the outcome is determined, but the process is too. These are the most unfortunate of experiences, because people are affected the most; resistance is at its highest and the results might be achieved but at the cost of people’s happiness, faith in the company and enormous stress levels on all sides. I’m not naïve and I have been involved in many business decisions where the people were going to suffer, regardless of how we created the solution! These are terrible situations to be in, but as an HR Professional and Leader, these are the jobs we do.  We must either find a way or make one, as Hannibal said. (True, he was leading elephants through the desert, but some days that’s how it feels!)

Enforced change hits people personally. When we deal with resistance to change, it all stems from personal values. People may not like the proposed change because it impacts them directly in a negative way. In a personal situation, change can be managed more easily. We can speak out and talk about what we don’t like. In a professional situation, this can be interpreted as resistance.

I encourage people to speak out about the changes they don’t like, in a constructive way. I also encourage them to propose an alternative solution. If we provide people with a reason to change and the chance to come up with their own solution, this ‘resistance’ can be addressed. It’s important to make clear that although we invite a solution, if it doesn’t ultimately meet the needs of the business, we will have to keep working until we find one that does!

Resistance takes many forms: individual or organised, active or passive, aggressive or timid, overt or covert.

People can be clever about the way they resist change, or their actions can be subconscious. It just means we have to be on our game. We have to understand why the resistance is there, what are the personal issues for the people involved and how do we address them. We need empathy for why people don’t want to change. It may be that they have never had to before (it’s possible!); or they don’t agree with the way the business is changing and the direction it is headed in.

Ultimately it’s about choice.

The thing is that sometimes the direction might not be right, sometimes business has to do things people don’t like. At the point of discourse though, it is our choice to decide if we agree and go with it or if we don’t. So either bow out if you don’t like the change, or find a way to make it work for you.

I could bang on about the ways people resist change and tell you some wonderful stories – but, this is about how to deal with it, in the way I try to and from my own experience. Change needs to be based on inspired collaboration. We need to find the common ground between different needs and motivators. We need to address both the positives and negatives of changing and of not changing. Once we communicate all of those things and take the time and personal interest to understand why people are resisting, we will have a much better understanding of not only our goal, but hopefully of what drives the people who work for us.

Have you got the guts to have the tough conversations?

It has been a year now since I had any staff to manage. If you listen closely, you can hear the angels sing. Whilst I did enjoy it and all the challenges it threw my way, it was nothing short of the most difficult thing I ever did. I chose not to have children, so I managed people instead. God works in mysterious ways.

It is true that I will have stories to dine out on for the rest of my days.

Anyone who knows me lived this example of managing poor performance, painstakingly! One of my staff used to take the company car to drive to the shop to get coffee for everyone (of course he walked around the building and took orders before he left). He returned, delivered said coffees, chatting to all along the way, then took time to drink his own coffee and eventually got back to work. He thought this took 15 minutes; his tea break. In fact it took 40 minutes, on a good day. He conveniently forgot that he traded off that tea break when he signed the last Enterprise Agreement giving him a 13% pay increase over three years. Not entirely his fault, no one had the guts to tell him that he couldn’t do that anymore.

If you are let get away with something for long enough, it can become the norm.

This very same guy did a less than sterling performance for 27 years. He was an absolute under-achiever of the highest order. When challenged on his work ethic, his work contribution and his general performance, he quite rightly produced his HR file and showed me that no one had ever challenged him on this before. That meant it must be me, the new Bossy Bitch who had a problem with him and the way he worked.

Well hidden potential

That was without doubt one of the toughest challenges of my career. It took me a year of setting targets, measuring performance, reviewing targets, adjusting targets, sending him on more learning and development than was good for him and basically devising every strategy I could find to get him to reach his potential. He had the most well hidden potential of anyone I had ever met.

Lots of very tough conversations and nine months later, he was dismissed for his consistent abysmal performance, including mistakes costing the company thousands of dollars, ruining our reputation and creating ill will amongst his colleagues (unlike anything I have ever seen.) Dismissing someone in a Government run institution was a tough gig, I give you the drum!

Your staff may just thank you for it.

There are thousands of employees out there just like him. It is tough having to have conversations with people about the way they work, or rather the way they don’t work. I doubt to this day that he thanks me for it, but I have had other staff who have. I have had people return to thank me after I have made them redundant, cancel their contract or just plain old tell them off for bad behaviour. Some of them gloat, and that is OK. Some realise it is the best thing they could have done, or could have had happen to them. To leave an environment that doesn’t stretch you or your creativity and is a lovely deep, well grooved rut can be a liberating experience, regardless of how it happens.

It is never a pleasant job to have to tell someone that they are going to lose theirs. People are human at the core of all that shockingly poor performance. They have lives to lead and children to feed, husbands, wives and parents to entertain and ignore just like the rest of us. Pity they don’t think of them when taking their employer for granted.

I have had to have tough conversations, not just about performance, but about stealing, bullying, racism, sexism and inappropriate swearing. I have had to tell someone it is not appropriate to call the company you work for a euphemism for a female body part. I have had direct and uncomfortable chats with people about bad body odour, inappropriate clothing, smoking in a non-smoking flammable confined space; coming in late, leaving early, excessive private phone calls – you name it. Were any of them nice, NO! Not for me and especially not for the staff concerned.

However, every single one of them knew exactly where they stood after those conversations.

To refuse to tell a person that they are under-performing, is not only poor management practice, it is poor leadership. It’s unfair and in fact, it’s just plain old bad human skills. Most of us just want to do a good job. Some of us think we do, and some of us know it, even though we aren’t always told (when will people get that? Can you just say “thank you for your work”, or “You’re doing a good job”. Is it really that hard!!?). I digress…..and OK, yes I was channelling a few of my previous bosses just then, sorry.

If you don’t provide feedback to people, good or bad, they will keep doing what they have always done, whether it is right or wrong. Having the tough conversations can drive you mad if you are not prepared and if you don’t have the skills to do it well and to protect yourself in the process.

Six tips for having the tough conversation

  1. If you witness the bad behaviour, ask the person into your office. Nicely, quietly and privately.
  2. If you don’t see it for yourself, then ask them to come and see you. Ask them for their version of the story. Perhaps: “I heard something unpleasant about xyz….can you tell me what happened?”
  3. Whatever the situation, start the discussion immediately. Do not make small talk or make them feel like they are going to be having a friendly chat with you. This is business and it is serious.
  4. Address the issue. “I just noticed {or I heard} that you did……(insert appropriate disaster here). I wonder why that happened, can you tell me about it please?”
  5. Give them enough time to provide you with an answer. Let’s be honest here, no excuse is acceptable when someone has used bad behaviour in an office, so the next tip is not negotiable!
  6. Say this, clearly, precisely and succinctly. “I just want to make it clear to you that that type of behaviour is not acceptable here in this office, nor in this business. Do you understand?”

Then stop talking.

My experience is that people listen, tell the truth and respond. They are usually embarrassed to be called on bad behaviour and who isn’t? Ask them if they are clear on it. Never underestimate the power of repeating your point, over and over again if you have to. If they start to give an excuse, remind them in the nicest possible way that they are adults; that they have a responsibility to work well with others and to just do their job.

If there are serious reasons why their job can’t be done, they can be discussed later. Make a note of them, then make another time to review workload, or do whatever you have to do to support them (yep, crap behaviour still requires support…much like parenting!). But make those two meetings separate so they are clear on the performance message, and that they are also clear on who is the leader.

The “…how dare you?” tantrum

Seriously, if ever anyone says those words to me, I walk away. They may as well ask me if I know who they are. As a manager I recover from my shock and then take the person in question for a very strict, very sotto voce conversation (strange phenomenon that, the angrier I get the softer my voice!)  I have had staff attempt to throw a tantrum after they have left my office. I followed them and suggested that they go for a walk, or take a break or go work the guillotine (OK, that was a dream, I was in printing!). Keep your resolve and make sure they are aware that you will not accept that behaviour under any circumstances.

Livestock in your living room?
Livestock in your living room?

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I have been known as the Feedback Queen all my life. I love it. I have learned to accept it and I give both positive and negative feedback graciously. It is difficult to manage people because they are people. Some will hate your guts till the cows come home (but what are you doing with livestock in your living room?) and some will adore you for it.

I know some of you reading this will be wondering if I worked in a prison, or even dealt with small children and farm animals. Not so, just an environment where staff had been let do what they wanted; one with no authority, no leadership and certainly no one there who had the guts to have tough conversations.

Social Media will make you review your website. Oh and your business. Ready?

In my short experience in this game, one thing I know is true – so true in fact that it may just be basic and awfully boring to some of you! If that is you, it’s OK to leave now, this is meant for all the newbies.

When I spend some time with a client, learning about their business, their customers and their values, we then get onto their website. I deal with small business, they are mostly concerned about their own little place, not what the rest of the whole world thinks!

The Little Place
"..just concerned about our own little place"

They watch me have the same experience their customers have when they go to the website. Sometimes they stand back, arms folded and gloat over their wonderful work. Most times they look on, cringing ever so slightly. Mostly, I find that the website could be a little prettier. Actually, never mind just pretty, some of them could be a little more user friendly, possibly designed in this decade and with a bit more of a welcoming spirit about them.

What happens when your customers land on your web page? Do you give them an experience, or do you give them information? This is 2009 we want the experience thanks.

If I want contact information about your business, I can go to the Yellow Pages (but please don’t send me there!) It might be that your information is not up to date, that your website doesn’t reflect what you are telling your Social Media person, or that it doesn’t really reflect who you are anymore. I tend to find when submitting proposals to clients, that the lead time for consulting is quite long. Usually long enough for them to fix their website, so they can work on getting people there.

When you start engaging and conversing with customers, suppliers or anyone that hasn’t previously heard of you,what they find on your site is static. So static it is so far out of date that you would be embarrassed if someone came up to you at a party and said that they saw your website and “I didn’t think you did that anymore”, or didn’t I see on your website that you had won that big account for ..(insert out of date and large company name here)”. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. I think part of the reason is that websites used to be really expensive to create. People think that they still are. Of course some of them if they were created long ago, will take either thousands of pounds to rectify, or thousands to make something new.

Let’s face it, you can no longer just hope to go with the website you created when your business was starting out, or the website you just had to have that was created with no money and just looks plain ugly, is completely dysfunctional and sends your customers screaming to your competitors. Sorry to share the news folks, but if your website looks like crap, Social Media won’t help you! As part of your “we had better have a social media consultant” budget, you may need to consider these other things:

  1. Is there money in that budget for a revamp, upgrade or total demolition and rebuild of your current website?
  2. What do you actually want your website and your social media campaign/strategy to do?
  3. Does it reflect your business, branding, customers, members, suppliers etc? Do you want it to?
  4. Are you doing SEO and link building? Do you need to – do you want to?
  5. What other online marketing strategies are you engaging in and do each one of your consultants know what the other one is doing?

Be prepared for change.

Yes, your website probably will change, unless it is already great and you are into this whole SEO/SEM digital marketing space. Well done you. You are the minority I can assure you. It is interesting when I go to industry events that are run and include mostly industry people, they don’t really realise that industries like hairdressers, dry cleaners, child care centres and stationers are not into any of these SEO/SEM antics!

I digress…I was talking about being prepared for change. I’m not just talking about changes to your website, but changes to your whole business. Once you start engaging with your customers (that is “listening and talking” to them by the way), they will start providing solutions or suggestions to your customer service problems, your structural or strategic issues. Nothing is off limits with social media. To be honest, I love that I can now have an input to any organisation on what MY opinion is. Personally, I never really needed Social Media for that. Of course they listen to me……….

Your business may well change. That was…your business may well change.

The way you deal with your staff, your customers, your suppliers could change. That will mean that people feel empowered to contribute to your business. This is not like telling someone how to parent their own children (boy, isn’t that a tough lesson to learn!?). As a consumer, you have the right to contribute your thoughts to your suppliers, partners and the businesses you frequent daily. They of course have the right to ignore you and do more often than not; at their peril. We all have the right to choose who we do business with, who our customers are and to say no sometimes to clients.

It is like getting a job. Don’t just be grateful that you got one, no matter how long it took you and how desperate you were. Think about what you can contribute, by all means, and make it a damn good contribution too, none of this turn up and be absent thank you! Contribute as if you were a valued member of staff. Then you can discuss with your employer just what they are bringing to the table. Your employment contract, like the contracts you have with your clients should be about relationships and should be about values – yours and theirs. If they don’t match, don’t go there. The stress mis-matched values costs you is far too great, even for the holy dollar, pound or yen.

That was me digressing again. Sorry!

I tell my customers and my prospects that one of the goals of Social Media is to drive integration with customers and share information. In this day and age, whilst we think it doesn’t always mean that, it means we will be driving traffic to your website. Are you ready to expose yourself like that?

I don’t do website modifications btw. I know some people I would refer you to, but part of my remit is not making people spend more money if they don’t have to. I don’t work like that.

It may sound to some that I am working on doing myself out of a job! This is about sharing information with people who are thinking about jumping head first into a Social Media campaign or strategy. I talk about whole of business strategy, not just a campaign. That means that you need to think about what your whole of business is saying, who you are saying it to, and how you are saying it.

Social media is not the panacea of all ills. It will create change for you, your business and your website. Are you ready for that?

Building Relationships in Business

I was recently invited to attend a Business Networking function. I wasn’t completely in love with the idea of trekking to North London, but thought – you know, I’m starting my own business, I can meet people, rhubarb, rhubarb….

I was just managing to successfully talk myself out of being cross about the long trek, when I learned that the “interesting” workshop I had signed up for, wasn’t going to be a workshop at all, it was now the Keynote speech, starting at 7.40pm. Watch check: 3.30pm, this could be a long evening!

They did give me two drinks vouchers and as I am only human, I stayed.

I signed up for the first workshop (or rather man standing at front of room sprouting death by PowerPoint). It didn’t start all that well; firstly the presenter was late, then the audio didn’t work. The PowerPoint slides had been set up for another version so they jumped all over the screen. Very professional so far. I couldn’t actually see the screen, because the sunshine was coming in through the windows……. apart from that, I was impressed that I was about to learn all about “Winning Business in a Recession, Sales and Networking” from a presenter who looked roughly 12 years old.  At this point I am feeling quite self-righteous and congratulating myself for staying!

The wine was helping.

Once ‘Youthful Presenter’ (YP) managed to get the audio working, I was kind of looking forward to something promising. The workshop was going to teach me how to build my business, how to create a USP (unique selling proposition) and ultimately make me a mega-successful business woman.  I was all ears!

Then I felt the strangest urge, almost physical. I was thrust back into 1984! I know I put that wine down somewhere…

Then YP started sharing information that not only had I heard a few hundred times before, but it annoyed me all those years ago, when I heard it first and was actually working in sales. I should have spotted it straight away when he asked the question “Who here is in sales?”  Of course the answer should have been everyone….so lost points to those who thought they were in business!

I won’t bore you with the details, because it got more and more corny; people buy benefits not products or services, turn to the next person and in 5 words or less tell them what it is you do……

Oh, where did I put that glass???

I’m still working really hard not to be negative or get annoyed. I got out of sales because of this. You see, I don’t really fit in flogging stuff to people who don’t need it. I have these pesky things called values and oddly, I believe in sustainable business relationships.

I just don’t get the hard sell. I never have, and I hope I never will. Most people are smarter than that. I have no desire to participate in “Speed Networking” or “Time for Action” sessions where I have to tell the next person all about my business in two minutes.

Oh…was that me snoring, sorry!

I thought I would pass.  I answered all the questions the right way; yes I have a business, yes I want it to be successful, yes I would like to roam the world with no financial worries and buy small children like Madonna (OK, maybe not the last one).

I just believe there are other ways to do it.

In sales for some very large multi-national organisations, people bought stuff from me. Me. Yes, the big company names helped and some would argue made it very easy, but it was me. I left organisations and people moved with me.

As a Manager and HR Manager, I was always thrilled when I got the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives. I was responsible for having a positive affect on another human being – WOW!! That is still one of the best natural highs I can get! I used to get that feeling when I sold something to a customer I knew needed it.

So, I guess I failed this course.

My USP was me. Yes, it was the fact that I provide a “whole of business social media strategy for my clients”. But anyone can do that. It’s all over the internet. Google it and see what you find. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to plagiarise anything and pretend you know what you are talking about, then pretend you mean it.

Social Media is no different to real communication with real people. Say what you think, what you mean. Do it politely, do it with grace and share information that makes people trust that you know what you are talking about. It can be hard to build relationships with people in business, so make sure you learn how to be good at it. Yes, some of that is innate. Personality is innate, as a grumpy beautician told me the other day when she was tearing the hairs and skin right off me, grumbling all the time that the new young girls just don’t seem to have the ability to engage with their clients. Clearly not as much as she did, wax, hairs and bad attitude in hand.

Everything we do is about relationships. Even the daily transaction in your local shop. Be the person that smiles, says hello, makes their day. You never know what your sharing can bring. Get to know your customers and their business. What makes them work? What are their objectives for the business? How can Social Media help? Remember it is just another tool in your arsenal for communication. Open communication builds relationships. Relationships build strong customer bases and more sales.

Nothing else could possibly matter when you are in a business based on your reputation. Isn’t that all of us??