Posted by & filed under Communication.

Over the last few years, there has been much debate over what is the most effective design for office workspaces. Some organizations advocate more traditional, individualized spaces: cubicles or private offices, with separate conference rooms for meetings. Others, including Google, have moved toward a more open layout– shared workspaces, fewer walls and more places designed for collaboration.

There are arguments for both ends of the spectrum; more privacy aids productivity and keeps distractions at a minimum, and more shared space makes an organization less hierarchical and more cooperative. There is no one model that works for every office, so it’s important to experiment with your workspaces to find a design that serves the needs of your team.

1. Build around an average week.

What does a week in the life of your office look like? What tasks does each person perform? Are there a lot of group-based projects, or do employees mostly work individually? Toward which spaces do people naturally gravitate? Over the course of a full work week, ask your team to take notes on their observations about the design of your office. What works, and what would improve productivity?

For example, if you often hold big brainstorming meetings, you might jot down that it would be helpful to have a room with white boards on each of the walls. If you have trouble concentrating on technical projects, you might note that there should be quiet, solitary workspaces people can close the door and escape when necessary.

2. Make space for collaboration.

Even if a full open-plan workspace isn’t right for your office, it is essential to create comfortable places for groups to work. Consider different areas for various types of team projects: large tables in common areas for impromptu brainstorms or meetings, small nooks with easy-to-rearrange furniture for smaller groups, large rooms for big staff gatherings. Keep pens, paper, highlighters and other helpful materials handy; WhiteyBoard is a movable, adhesive, affordable alternative to large fixed white boards (and an asset to team planning).

3. Pay attention to the details.

Look for small, gradual ways to increase productivity and collaboration through your workspaces. Lower cubicle walls so it is easier to see and communicate with nearby colleagues (while still having some separation). Utilize natural light where you can, and swap out harsh fluorescent lighting for sunlight-simulating bulbs. Paint walls colors other than white or gray to create a more welcoming atmosphere. Try holding standing meetings in a room with no chairs so updates are focused and efficient.

How is your office arranged? What changes have you made to increase productivity or collaboration?  Do you subscribe to a professional development newsletter?

Get more helpful tips by signing up for the monthly Employee Development Systems, Inc. newsletter.

Posted by & filed under Behavioral Assessment.

Professional growth is, by its very nature, not a static process. You won’t be successful just by sitting around waiting for positive change to happen. To become a better leader, a stronger manager and a more valuable employee, you must take the initiative to challenge yourself continuously. This means you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and set concrete goals to maximize your professional development and benefit your organization.

But where should you start? Taking the first step is often the hardest part of taking on a challenge. Start with these five simple tips and you’ll be on your way in no time.

1. Start small and grow.
If you have ever made a list of big, ambitious goals, you probably know that it can seem overwhelming at first. In fact, many people are so intimidated by this phase that they stop before even taking any action. To avoid this situation, start with one, small, manageable goal. For example, if your overall professional development objective is to strengthen your public speaking and presentation skills, start by joining a local Toastmasters group or signing up for a communications course. Once you complete this first action, you will be proud of your achievement and confident enough to move on to a slightly bigger project.

2. Be specific.
It is difficult to pursue goals that are too general or unfocused; zero in on what exactly you want to achieve, and be specific. For example, instead of saying, “I’d like to improve my sales for this quarter,” say, “I want to increase my sales by 10 percent by the end of this quarter.” Once you have defined your intention, you know what your measure of success will be, and you can start to take action.

3. Be realistic.
You should be ambitious, but be careful not to set your professional development aspirations so high that they become unrealistic. Think about what you can feasibly achieve with the time and resources you have, and be open to adjusting your plans if necessary. It is much better to scale back on your original vision and achieve your goal then to abandon your project altogether.

4. Keep yourself accountable.
You know yourself better than anyone else; what do you need to follow through with your plans? Find a system that works for you, whether that’s setting monthly deadlines for yourself or asking a colleague to check in with you on specific tasks. Make a performance development plan to keep you on track.

5. Stick with it.
Don’t allow yourself to give up on your goals for growth and success. Write yourself an encouraging letter to read during challenging times or meet with a network of friends or co-workers so you can support each other in your individual endeavors.

How do you stay focused in your professional development journey? What tips can you share with others?

Learn more about the EDSI Challenging the Status Quo for Continuous Improvement course.

Photo credit

Posted by & filed under Accountability.

When problems arise at work, an unpleasant situation can quickly escalate into a serious conflict if colleagues start to blame one another. Tempers flare, fingers point and in the end, nothing is resolved.

As a leader in your organization, it is important for you to create a culture of personal accountability through your own actions, words and expectations. The “blame game” is a lose-lose situation that hinders communication, damages relationships and harms productivity. Put a stop to it within your team by practicing what you preach.

1. Don’t make it personal.
The quickest way to derail a conversation is to use accusations, passive-aggressive statements or outright personal attacks against someone else. That person will immediately become defensive and your message will fall on deaf ears.

Instead of opening with an accusatory statement such as, “We got into this mess because you…,” start by asking questions about the current situation. What happened? What went wrong? What could have been done differently? Give the person a chance to explain his side of the story before you jump to conclusions. Practice active listening skills and encourage him to accept personal accountability for his decisions in a non-hostile environment, while taking into account any other factors in the situation.

2. Stay on topic.
Stick to the problem at hand, not generalizations (“You always do this…”) or past events (“This is just like the time you…”). Focus on the facts, and don’t get distracted by unnecessary details or past grievances.

3. Accept responsibility.
It is convenient to pick a scapegoat and blame him for everything that has gone wrong, but fault rarely rests with a single individual. Look internally and ask yourself some tough questions as well. What could you have done to prevent this problem? Was there a lack of leadership, management or training? Be honest and admit your own mistakes. Showing personal accountability through your actions is far more powerful than simply through your words.

4. Look for solutions and move forward.
Discuss what actions can be taken to avoid future problems and fix the current situation. Again, stay focused on specifics, avoid personal attacks and be prepared to suggest solutions instead of simply criticizing or complaining. Look to the future and end the conversation on a positive note.

How do you prevent the blame game in your organization? What ways do you create a culture of personal accountability?

Read more about the EDSI Leading With Credibility course.

Photo credit

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

As most busy and over-worked people can tell you, sleep is often the first priority to get cut when life becomes hectic. You may think you can survive on five or six (or fewer) hours of sleep per night, but research shows that sleep deprivation can not only cause short-term and long-term health problems, it can also harm your work performance.

When you are exhausted on the job, your focus, memory and judgment suffer, and you are not able to do your best work. A good night’s sleep is not a luxury but a necessity to ensure you keep yourself in tip-top health and maximize your productivity.

An anonymous, web-based survey by pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis asked 4,200 workers at four health care, transportation and manufacturing companies about their sleep habits. Participants responded that they require an average of 7.6 hours of sleep per night but got only 6.4 hours. Around 10 percent said they had insomnia, while the remaining respondents were split (45 percent in each category) between having some trouble sleeping and being good sleepers. The results demonstrated that workers who experienced insomnia or other sleep problems had much lower work performance and productivity.

From the Harvard Business Review blog:

Writing in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the researchers estimated that lost productivity due to poor sleep cost $3,156 per employee with insomnia and averaged about $2,500 for those with less severe sleep problems. Across the four companies, sleep-related reductions in productivity cost $54 million a year. This doesn’t include the cost of absenteeism–those with insomnia missed work an extra five days a year compared to good sleepers.

Research has found that sleep has numerous effects on a person’s health and productivity:

  • Sleep plays a significant role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, attention and judgment.
  • Sleep-deprivation makes it difficult for a person to focus and receive information.
  • Without adequate sleep, neurons aren’t able to coordinate properly and it is more difficult to remember previously learned information.
  • Judgment and decision-making becomes impaired with lack of sleep.
  • People who are consistently sleep-deprived are at greater risk for long-term health problems and chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety and even lower life expectancy.

Sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, but it is often sadly overlooked. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? Do you feel your work productivity suffers when you are sleep-deprived?

Learn more about Increasing Personal Effectiveness on the job.

Posted by & filed under Employee Development, Leadership.

Seeing a project through from start to finish, usually while facing challenges such as budget limitations and time constraints, is both an art and a science. A skilled project manager is able to stay on a tight schedule, manage people and tasks smoothly and be flexible enough to make last-minute changes, all without losing sight of the ultimate project goals.

Don’t panic if this juggling act seems overwhelming; take a deep breath and follow these basic project management tips to make everything work like clockwork.

1. Create an initial project plan.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of proper project planning. As the old adage goes, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” Before you jump into a new project, take the time to map out a work plan with the following information:

  • Overview: What is the project? What background information is necessary to understand it?
  • Scope/goals and objectives: : What is the size of the project? What are the deliverables? What are the overarching goals and objectives?
  • Resources needed: What people do you need to complete this project? What materials, equipment or other special resources do you require?
  • Roles: Of the people you need for the project, what role does each person play? Who is in charge of each piece? To whom does each person report?
  • Timeline: What is the deadline for this project? How much time do you anticipate each step will take?
  • Budget: How much money do you have to complete this project? Is this budget reasonable to achieve the scope, goals and objectives you outlined above? If not, what are possible solutions?
  • Questions and action steps: What additional information or support do you need? What are the first action steps that you can take?

This project plan will no doubt go through many revisions, but mapping it out from the beginning is essential (all the project management tips in the world won’t help you if you don’t have a solid plan).

2. Assemble your project team.
Using your project plan as a guide, gather your team together and assign roles and responsibilities. Make sure each person knows exactly what he or she is in charge of, and answer any questions that arise. Get feedback from team members on your initial plan, and take their suggestions into account as you move forward. People with diverse skill sets are likely to bring a different perspective from your own to the project plan and can add their own project management tips in their area of expertise.

3. Set milestones.
Break your larger plan into smaller steps, each attached to a deadline and incorporated into your overall timeline. Delegate these tasks to team members, set up regular check-ins and trust your team to take care of their responsibilities.

4. Adjust your plan as necessary.
Your plan is an excellent starting point, but most projects evolve and change along the way, and you will have to be prepared to be flexible at times. For example, if you lose part of your funding, you may have to scale back the scope of the project and think of creative solutions to save money.

Learn more about how to manage team roles and responsibilities.

Posted by & filed under Employee Development, Leadership.

Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh is known for his unorthodox, yet effective, approach to running a successful business. Building a positive and supportive corporate culture has been his number one priority at Zappos, and he hasn’t been shy about emphasizing the importance of employee happiness in delivering excellent customer service, maintaining employee retention and making profits.

His theory seems to be working. In 2009, Zappos made Fortune magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For” list, and the company was aquired by Amazon.com in a deal valued at $1.2 billion on the day of closing. In 2010, Hsieh published the best-selling book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose:

But not everyone agrees with Hsieh that happiness is the key to employee retention and profits. In a recent blog post for Businessweek, CEO of HCL Technologies Vineet Nayar compared his own philosophy to that of Hsieh, stating that passion, not happiness, is what is most important.

Zappos.com Chief Executive Tony Hsieh wrote Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose (Business Plus, 2010) to emphasize the importance of employee happiness as a driver of business results. Tony holds that employee passion is a key to employee happiness.

Conversely, I have publicly stated that I’m not terribly concerned with employee happiness, but with employee passion. In my own book, Employees First, Customers Second (Harvard Business Press, 2010), I argue that management must do everything possible to empower and support workers who create the most value for the company.

Nayar went on to explain employee retentionthe “Employees First, Customers Second” initiative that is the cornerstone of his company. Employees are empowered to take on more responsibility, and they use 360-degree feedback to evaluate managers who influence their work.

Our EFCS initiative is not about making employees happy or comfortable. The goal is engagement, not satisfaction. Employees feel passionate because they know that management understands the importance of their role, respects them, and makes it easier for them to accomplish their work.

Nayar noted that Zappos and HCL are different types of businesses, and though they have different philosophies and approaches, they are both working toward the same goal.

What do you think? Is employee happiness more important than employee passion in creating an effective corporate culture, or vice versa? Or is there a more essential component that both Hsieh and Nayar are missing? Add your thoughts to the comments.

Learn more about EDSI’s team building resources.

Posted by & filed under Employee Development.

As 2011 begins and employees and managers alike return to work with renewed energy, it is an opportune time to refocus your efforts on organizational goals and priorities.

Before you get too deep in your long to-do list of projects and proposals and budgets for the new year, remember that employee learning and development should rank at the top of your list. Explore the wide variety of learning opportunities, from conflict resolution to assertive communications courses. It is wise to invest time, energy and funding into programs that foster the skills of emerging leaders and motivate them to use their knowledge to enrich the organization.

Why Workplace Learning and Development is Important

1. It keeps employees engaged.

Be honest; have you ever been bored by your job, past or present, day after day, hour after hour? Chances are, without new knowledge development opportunities, some of your employees have felt this way before. Boredom can make the work day seem interminably long and can create dissatisfied and restless employees. Learning new skills and developing them on the job increases employee engagement and makes work more interesting and enjoyable.

2. It keeps key talent within the organization.

Not devoting enough attention to talent management is a big problem in organizations from Fortune 500 corporations to small nonprofits. Providing learning and development opportunities for your employees demonstrates that you value each of them for their talents and contributions. At performance reviews, ask people what skills they are interested in developing and find ways to help them reach their goals. Seek out educational courses or resources that will benefit your whole team, and devote time to them. Show employees that you are motivated to help them be successful within the organization, and they will be more satisfied with their work and more likely to stay.

3. It provides new opportunities.

Sometimes within the course of employee learning and development, you discover new information that can improve how your organization operates. If your sales team takes a computer training course, you may learn a better way to organize your account data. If a key member of your team is dissatisfied with her current position but takes a management class that sparks her interest, you may be able to adjust her job responsibilities to suit her needs better.

Continuous education is beneficial to everyone in an organization — in what ways do you plan to encourage learning and development this year?

Find out more information about the EDSI Increasing Personal Effectiveness course.

Posted by & filed under Corporate Culture, Employee Development, Leadership.

Are those in top leadership positions doing enough to retain their key employees as the economy starts to improve? Veteran management adviser and author Ram Charan doesn’t think so.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Charan outlined the mistakes executives of major US companies are making by not investing the time and energy necessary for talent development:

Among Fortune 500 CEOs, the intent to put people as a key item is high. But in actual practice, the percentage really doing a thorough job is less than 25%.

You also should be looking five years ahead. So if 30% of your revenues are going to come from emerging markets and you’re getting 10% today, what are people’s experiences in emerging markets? Are you giving them the opportunity to grow?

Charan stated in no uncertain terms that organizational leaders who do not make talent development a priority will lose valuable employees and suffer financially in the long run. Leaders who can’t find time in their busy schedules to evaluate their team members’ performance, address ways to develop talent and make changes where necessary will find themselves with a serious employee retention problem. In that case, what do leaders need to do to make positive change?

Talent Management Problems & Solutions

Problem: Leaders aren’t held accountable for cultivating talent.

Solution: In a fast-paced world, it’s easy for tasks to get lost in the shuffle. Don’t let talent management be one of them. The people within your organization are the most important part of how you do business, and if you want your enterprise to succeed, you need to be committed to helping your people grow. Make talent development a concrete part of every manager’s job, with specific goals, tasks and measures of evaluation just like any other responsibility. Hold leaders accountable for this piece of their job, and challenge them to improve their own performance in this area.

Problem: Performance assessments aren’t as thorough as they need to be.

Solution: Charan hit the nail on the head when he said, “I want quarterly reviews of people the way they do quarterly reviews of numbers.” Performance assessments should be specific, honest and forward-focused, helping leaders identify key team members and how to help them grow within the organization. Managers should ask the right questions to pinpoint what these employees need to stay engaged in and committed to their work. These reviews should also help leaders determine employees who might not be a good fit or policies that need to be altered.

Problem: Talent development doesn’t hold the place of importance that it should.

Solution: To some in top leadership positions, managing talent may fall low on the list of priorities because it isn’t as important as the bottom line. Again, the people in your organization are just as important as the numbers. The two are intertwined, and leaders should be rewarded for mentoring and developing talent as well as for increasing profits or traditional outcomes.

What ways do you encourage talent development in your organization?

Learn more about EDSI’s Challenging the Status Quo for Continuous Improvement course.

Posted by & filed under Actively Engaged Workers, Career Development, Corporate Culture.

Year after year, some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions revolve around improving one’s health: losing weight, eating better, exercising more, quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol or sugar or caffeine. We always start the year with renewed enthusiasm and determination to change our bad habits and be healthier, but after a few weeks or months, it is easy to lose motivation and fall back into our old ways.

Break the cycle for this New Year’s resolutions, and make 2011 a year of positive change. Start a wellness plan in your organization that is energizing and fun for employees, and use teamwork (and maybe a little friendly competition) to stay on track and social collaboration for motivation. The payoff will be substantial for everyone involved — healthy, focused, productive employees.

1. Find power in numbers.

It is easy to give up on healthy resolutions when you are the only person invested in them. It becomes much more difficult when a whole group of people is working for a common goal. Set out to achieve goals as a team– whether it’s losing a collective amount of weight or logging a certain number of steps per week or training together for a 5K. You are able to support each other when times get tough (and use guilt and peer pressure for good if necessary).

2. Get rid of the junk food.

Nothing derails a good wellness plan like bad eating habits. During the work day, it is tempting to grab a quick burger and fries for lunch or a bag of potato chips from the vending machine for an afternoon snack. Make an effort to make your own lunch and pack snacks from home in advance, and encourage other employees to do the same.

Create a welcoming environment in the employee lounge or lunch area with comfortable seating, bookcases and tables. Consider setting aside a small budget to buy fresh fruit and healthy snacks and drinks for the office. Reevaluate the contents of the vending machine, and lobby to stock it with healthier options such as granola bars and mixed nuts instead of candy bars and chips.  Subscribe to a blog that offers social media tips on wellness.

3. Make it a contest.

Sometimes we need a little push to stay interested in our own health and fitness. Start an organization-wide competition as part of your wellness plan and continue it over the course of several months. Hold fitness challenges, healthy recipe contests or other creative activities employees will be excited about.

Some organizations even hold competitions in the style of the television show, “The Biggest Loser,” where participants compete for money or prizes. One inexpensive method is to require each participant to pay an entry fee, usually between $20 and $50, and weight loss winners in the male and female categories will split the money at the end of the contest. (Participants should consult a doctor before starting this kind of program.)

Have you implemented a wellness plan in your organization? Share your comments below.

Learn more about how team building can strengthen your workplace.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

October is National Work and Family Month , an education campaign led by WorldatWork and Alliance for Work-Life Progress to encourage employers to support initiatives that create a healthy balance between work and home life.

Employees from varied professions and industries struggle to meet the needs of both their jobs and their families, a challenge that can cause stress and dissatisfaction. In a 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute , 59 percent of fathers (up from 35 percent in 1977) and 45 percent of mothers (up from 41 percent in 1977) in dual-income families report having work and family conflicts.

Employee development programs need to address the challenges of stress and satisfaction.

What used to be considered a “women’s issue” is now being recognized as a problem for working men and women alike. Working parents want to succeed in their jobs, but they also value the flexibility to take time off to be with their children. National Work and Family Month emphasizes that organizations can improve both the quality of life and the productivity of their employees by exploring workplace flexibility—from occasional telecommuting and a condensed work week to a wellness program and a team volunteer activity.

In a speech  earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama advocated improving the work-life balance for working families. She said she understood from personal experience “trying to do a good job at both — and always feeling like you’re not quite living up to either — and trying not to pit one against the other, really trying to balance.”

Obama said when she was an executive, she found employees who were given more flexibility were more productive.

“I found that as I’ve managed staff, the more flexibility and opportunities that I gave them to be good parents, the more commitment that they made to working with me, the less likely they were to leave because they wouldn’t find the same sort of situation somewhere else,” Obama said. “So this isn’t just about family balance. This is about making work places stronger and more effective, and keeping and attracting the most qualified people.”

Read more about some of the creative ideas  your organization can implement for National Work and Family Month for Increasing personal effectiveness  in the workplace.