Rumor Mill: Don’t let the office tabloids spin out of control

Office gossip is going to happen no matter what you do as a boss. Cliques form, people chat, opinions are formed. This is all totally fine office procedure. However, when rumors about office politics and policies start swirling, then it can be a major problem. Getting ahead of the spin, controlling the information, and more importantly, limiting the misinformation is one of the most important and least accomplished roles of a manager that I have witnessed.

Aamodt (2007) compares informal organizational communication to the grapevine communication of the Civil War, when lines of distorted telegraphs were hung on lines resembling a grapevine.  The grapevine in today’s sense provides employees with organizational information, entertainment, and power (Aamodt, 2007).  Whether one person receives the information at a time or a few people pass the information to a few others and they pass it on to a few people, informal communication can spread quickly.

Research has shown that much of the information passed along the grapevine contains some truth to it (Aamodt, 2007).  However, some truth and all of the truth are two different things.  Hearing misinformation can greatly alter the perceptions of the listener (Aamodt, 2007).  Between misinformation and rumors through informal communication that change the organization’s functioning, it is wise for the employer to keep an ear in the grapevine.

I do not agree with completely regulating the grapevine, however.  It is important for communication to exist between team members (Aamodt, 2007).  Communication can increase efficiency and teamwork (Salanova, Agut, & Peiro, 2005).  Regulating communication then can hinder the performance of workgroups.  However, if a manager, whom Aamodt (2007) mentions are the main contributors to the grapevine, hears major inconsistencies that may alter the functioning of the organization it is important that the manager clears the air and enhances communication. Without doing so will create an environment of fear, resentment, and panic.

I worked with a manager who refused to do this. He was new and started making changes left and right at a business that was established and had always resisted making any changes in the past. People started panicking that their jobs might be the next changes to be made. I informed him of the panic that was rampant and poisoning the employees but he did not care. Morale went down, performance went down, and a lot of people left.

I have consulted with a few managers who have been gun shy about what they should and should not disseminate. My advice: TELL THEM ANYTHING THAT DIRECTLY AFFECT THEM!!!! I can’t emphasize this enough! Any changes and new policies and new procedures should be told to everyone. People fear change and if you can explain to them what and why these things are happening then they will feel as if they’re a part of it, will not jump to conclusions, will have a chance to express their concerns and frustrations, etc etc. There is no good reason I can think of or that I have read that would lead me to suggest not explaining new direction.

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2007) Industrial/organizational psychology. An applied approach. (5th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Salanova, M., Agut, S., & Peiro, J.M. (2005). Linking organizational resources and work engagement to employee performance and customer loyalty: The mediation of service climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1217-1227.

Managers and parents: Why being a boss isn’t much different than being a parent

As I consulted for a local charter school a few months ago I was discussing different leadership techniques with the principal. He was wondering why he was having so much trouble getting everyone in line, to listen and respect his authority, to follow his direction, etc etc. He was having a difficult time with this which was posing problems for the entire school as everyone was off doing their own thing and didn’t really have a specific direction to go. So I ask what he was doing to get people to follow his lead. To get people to respect him. To get people to listen. To get people to know what they’re supposed to be doing. He responded by basically saying he let them figure it out for themselves. Hmmm. Not good.

 

Why would people listen to you if you’ve never expressed your desire to lead? Why would they trust you if you haven’t demonstrated you should be trusted or followed? He understood his lax style of leadership was the root cause of a lack of direction for the school and the teachers. He explained he did not want to come across as “mean” or “bossy” and so he never really did much to establish his leadership. This is something I run into a lot in managers. They compensate for not wanting to rule with an iron fist by being weak and acting like a doormat. When I explained that this would be a really bad way to parent his kids he understood.

 

There are many reasons why “management styles” and “parenting styles” have the same categories. “Authoritarian,” “Authoritative,” and “Permissive.” There isn’t much difference in how you should parent and how you should manage. In both cases you are expected to set up rules, regulations, boundaries, expectations, and let the child/employee explore how to get there. When mistakes are made, you help them to correct them. But there is a a great medium ground between being permissive and authoritarian.

Being a “permissive” parent is like being Deena Lohan or Lynne Spears. You set no ground rules, let the employee/child figure things out on their own and offer no guidance when things go awry. You want to be their friend more than their boss/parent. You are however, not there to hang out and be buddy-buddy with them. Your job is to lead and direct. To set rules and discipline when necessary. Without this direction, the employee/child will become maladjusted, immature, and entitled.

An “authoritarian” parent is kind of like an Ike Turner or Michael Lohan (understand why Lindsay is so screwed up). They rule with the aforementioned iron fist. It’s their way or the highway. They are strict and punishing when the rigid demands aren’t met. This leads to children/employees who are gun-shy, mistrustful, and apprehensive to make any decision for fear that they’ll get their heads bitten off.

The nice balance of these two is having and “authoritative” boss/parent. This is Ward Cleaver. This is someone who allows you to make mistakes and figure things out on their own but will rein you in when those mistakes are made and help you re-correct your path. Expectations are laid out, rules are established, but some leeway is given for you to figure out how to get there. Being a good boss or a parent should be the same. Give some direction, lay out to your employees/kids what you want from them, how to behave what the laws of the land are, but allow room for growth and exploration for your kids/employees.

Dr. House and Problem Solving

My dissertation topic is about problem solving and how we can help to improve it in non-native speakers. But how do we do that? How does one become a better problem solver? The article that sparked my curiosity about this issue was one titled “Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail” (Nutt, 1999). Really? More than half? I reached out to Mr. Nutt about this, read parts of his book about this and his investigation into what companies do to solve problems. Basically, it turns out that they go with the first thing that comes to their head and then go with it, never to investigate again.

Well, there’s a problem in and of itself. Where’s the brainstorming? The analysis? The follow up? When I watch “House”, as I do religiously, I notice that there’s a reason he’s the best diagnostician (ie problem solver) in the medical field (and yes I know he’s not real…but he is based on Sherlock Holmes). He sits with his team, looks at symptoms, looks at possible causes, brainstorms with his people about what could and could not be the root cause of the sickness, and then reanalyzes once they come to a conclusion.

There is no “put a bandaid on it and send them packing.” For anyone who has ever seen “House” knows, there would be a lot of dead bodies right outside the hospital door in Princeton, NJ. They always think they got it right and then everything goes horribly wrong soon after. Without fail. Now, instead of throwing in the towel, they now have more information to analyze. They usually find that they are curing symptoms and not problems.

Further analysis after a problem is assumed to be solved will always turn out more and better information for an organization. This is an opportunity to learn about what is and is not strong in your structure. What can and needs to be done to improve a process. Take the time to brainstorm, use your team to parse out what is wrong. Making knee-jerk decisions will only serve to send the patient away to be found dead later. That is not effective to anyone or the business. A problem is not solved quickly, nor is the project over until you follow up to make sure the disease is cured and the symptoms are not just masked.

 

Reference

Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Academy, 13(4), 75-90. (AN 2570556).

 

Rick Santorum and his one-sided approach

Rick Santorum said a while ago that when/if he’s elected he would not make the mistake that this President has made and surround himself with too many different points of view. He would want to encircle the oval office with like-minded people to solve the country’s problems. Now, whatever your political leanings are aside, this is a terrible terrible idea. Having a bunch of people looking at the problem in the same way is going to get you the same result as looking at it with 1 pair of eyes.

 

Living in California, it is difficult for me to even imagine living or working with people who are not part of a different culture than I am.  Even working in a predominantly white area, there are plenty of other cultures in the area.  There can be many benefits to this as well as some difficulties.  Larson (2007) found that the more heterogeneous a group, the better problem solvers they will be.  Adler and Gunderson (2008) claim that more than 100,000 high-technology, free-market firms are operating outside their own home country.

 

The benefits of a multicultural team can be many.  Earley and Erez (1997) explain that different skill sets, beliefs, values, experiences, and resources will be made available in a multicultural group.  The limitation on group think is a great benefit to a multicultural team as well (Adler & Gunderson, 2007).  The differences in backgrounds and experiences will contribute to more and better ideas, which can lead to more alternatives, but can also contribute to confusion (Adler & Gunderson, 2007).  And we’ve seen what detriments can become of group think: Bay of Pigs, the Challenger, the 2nd Iraq War, and the list goes on and on.

 

Being able to bring many different view points to the table is a benefit to an organization. You get different perspectives, different values, and different strategies. What’s the point of having 5 people with the same skill-set? Do you see any successful football teams that have 2 running backs do the same thing, or WRs with the same value? No. Because having two of the same person is a waste of your time and money. Surround yourself with ideas you don’t have so that you don’t miss anything. Close that window of weakness by getting different sides of the story. If not for your own personal benefit, do it for the organization.

 

References

 

Adler, N. & Gunderson, A. (2008). International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (5th Ed.). Cincinnati, OH, US: Southwestern.

 

Early, P., & Erez, M. (eds) (1997). New Perspectives on International Industrial Organizational Psychology. San Francisco, CA, US: Pfeiffer.

 

Larson, J.R. (2007). Deep diversity and strong synergy: Modeling the impact of variability in members’ problem-solving strategies on group problem-solving performance. Small Group Research, 38, 413-436. DOI: 10.1177/1046496407301972.

Change Agents

Managers can and should be change agents, but they, in my experience, rarely are. Robbins and Judge (2010) define a change agent as a manager or non-manager in an organization who act as catalysts to change a behavior or activity. In my experience, many managers do not do what they are supposed to do: manage. They do not fix what is broken or change any policies that may be out of date or flawed. Perhaps it is because many managers operate under the fear of making mistakes through change. According to Nutt (1999), identifying a problem can prompt defensiveness, so the energy that could be used to identify the problem and make a change is used for protecting themselves. If we know a problem exists but cannot define what it is, then no resolution can be made and no changes can enhance the organization.

So what is it we can do to become a change agent? Knowing that there is a defensiveness to change and towards your protection can be used to then make changes. If you are aware that you may be protecting yourself instead of truly leading you can bypass this reflex and do yourself and your business a service by stepping up and making that change. Gather information and people’s input on what the issue may be. Do your due diligence and fix the problem by analyzing and brain storming further problems, possible solutions, and symptoms of what you are trying to fix.

 

References

Nutt, P. C. (1999). Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Academy of Management Academy, 13(4), 75-90. (AN 2570556).

Robbins, S. & Judge, T. (2009). Organizational behavior, (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

The Peter Principle and its impact on trust and the team

Everyone who has ever worked has probably witnessed the Peter Principle at work. This is where someone is hired and placed, or promoted passed their level of competence. As I am sure we can all attest, this is not a fun thing to have to deal with (assuming it is not you who has been PP’d).

There is a lot to be said about trust in a supervisor. If you don’t trust that the person who supervises you, makes decisions that directly affect you, understand the direction they are leading your department/team/business then you won’t feel confident in following them. You will feel apprehensive and doubting.

Friedlander (1970) found that trust helped the formation of group development and facilitates the ease to which a person can assimilate.  Being able to trust that the group is doing the right thing will allow ease of training.  By modifying our expectations and self-handicapping we can modify the impact from failure’s effect on our self-esteem.  By setting lower goals and expectations for ourselves, we allow ourselves to accomplish less or not strive so as to not completely damage our self-worth (Seli, Dembo, & Crocker, 2009).  Trust allows us to feel better and therefore be allowed to effectively be trained.

Yukl (2006) explains that high levels of cooperation and trust will ensure a team in carrying out its mission.  Keeping these values high will keep the team members helping each other, sharing information, and working together better in stressful situations (Yukl, 2006).  It is therefore important for the leader to foster better teamwork and communication to keep the flow of information moving and the team functioning at its highest capacity. But if you don’t trust the leader why would you follow them? Why would this make a stressful situation not as stressful?

The Peter Principle does not end up just placing an incompetent person in one role in the organization. This person ends up infecting the entire culture of trust and productivity of the company. It infects the well-being of departments, output, and teamwork. It is incredibly important then for those that hire and place people in jobs do their homework to make sure they are getting the right person to help make those decisions, foster trust, and enhance their organization.

 

References

Friedlander, F. (1970). The primacy of trust as a facilitator of further group accomplishment. Journal of Applied Behavior Science, 6(4), 387-400. DOI: 10.1177/002188637000600401

Seli, H., Dembo, M.H., & Crocker, S (2009). Self in self-worth protection: The relationship of possible selves and self-protective strategies. College Student Journal, 43(3). 832-842.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Cross culture organizations and management

Leadership across cultures is becoming a much more important part of today’s workplace.  Understanding communication, motivation, and other issues that differ cross culturally will help to make a better leader.  Lopes (2006) found that motivation across cultures should not be generalized as they vary too much.  There are things that are shared, but are very basic principles.  Work goals, work centrality, and societal norms were all issues that predicted motivation across cultures (Peterson & Ruiz-Quintanilla, 2003).  Being able to understand the different norms of the cultures a manager works with will increase the organization’s productivity.

There is also the issue of communication in organizations with different cultures.  Being culturally sensitive will increase the attentiveness and output of the employee (Sizoo, 2006).  Despite belief to treat people as if “color blind” where the manager treats everyone the same, this can be detrimental to the group (Brown, Pryzwansky, & Schulte, 2006).  It sets a precedent of ignoring the different cultural norms of the individuals of the group.  Humor has even been found to be of great managerial significance cross-culturally (Kalliny, Cruthirds, & Minor, 2006).  Using humor deemed inappropriate by another culture can impact their perceptions of the manager’s skills and personality.

Based on the many cultures we must encounter and work with today, I do not believe there is a single best leadership style.  I think one that is knowledgeable and patient enough to want to lead all the different types of backgrounds will have better luck, but there are many ways of going about this.  For a leader to have success in an organization, it is important to be culturally sensitive and want to learn about the culture of the organization.

References

Brown, D., Pryzwansky, W., & Schulte, A.C. (2006). Psychological consultation: Introduction to theory and practice (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Kalliny, M., Cruthirds, K.W., & Minor, M.S. (2006). Differences between American, Egyptian and Lebanese humor styles: Implications for international management. International Journal of Cross Culture Management, 6(1), 121-134. DOI: 10.1177/1470595806062354.

Lopes, T.P. (2006). Career development of foreign-born workers: Where is the career motivation research? Human Resource Development Review, 5(4), 478-493. DOI:10.1177/1534484306293925.

Peterson, M.F., & Ruiz-Quintanilla, S.A. (2003). Cultural socialization as a source of intrinsic work motivation. Group & Organizational Management, 28(2), 188-216. DOI: 10.1177/1059601103251228.