Productive communication

Effective communication plays such an important part in working life and a solid skill to develop for greater success at getting your point across, expressing your opinions, and leading yourself and teams.

What I’m keen to explore though is a deeper step into effective communication: productive communication. It’s great that people can understand what you’re saying, but is it productive? Is it progressive? Is it helpful?

Effective communication needs to be productive; it needs to have a purpose; it needs to have a point for it to be necessary.

Of course, effective communication can also be productive; Leadership Choice lists 4 productive benefits of effective communication, for example mitigating conflict and workplace tension. They explain that whether tension is derived from misunderstanding, not understanding how others communicate, or feeling that emotional needs are being disregarded,:

‘[…] Regardless of the conflict, communication is usually an underlying factor.’

Researching into effective communication, you’ll find somewhere that explains that there are 4 main components to it.

Sorry, 5 components.

No, 6 components.

Wait, 8 over here.

Or are there 9 to be on the safe side?

Whatever the number, there doesn’t seem to be anything about the usefulness and purpose of the communication within these. Adhere to the 4, 5, etc. components and you will no doubt be an effective communicator, and I’m not here to pooh-pooh them. But what’s the point if you don’t have a point?

Your communication needs to have a purpose and intention. If you want to be an effective and productive communicator, check out a really helpful post I read on productive communication which includes these two significant elements within its 10 tips on being strategic about productive communication.

Know your point. Know your intention. Know the outcome or product of your communication.

Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

No dramas – Resilience at work

There’s a lot of stuff out there on building resilience which suggests it’s an arduous step-by-step process of laying down the foundations before you can even begin to feel the benefits.

I much prefer the concept and practice of maintaining resilience. What is a simple language shift means that my perspective has shifted to my existing resilience and I just need to take the reins and follow it through.

I’ve read an excellent piece by Barry Winbolt – trainer, coach and psychotherapist – on resilience in the workplace, explaining that this is an active, not passive process. This means it requires ongoing effort and conscious decisions.

The article includes an eloquent quote from Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s book Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you (American Management Association, 2005) about the attitudes that come with resilience:

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.”

What challenges are you avoiding or struggling with? Identify these challenges and, as Winbolt says, “develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills”.

Free agents

“It is generally recognised that humans have a need to experience themselves as free agents, and are not just entities to an ordered environment”. Eugene McKenna wrote this back in 1994 in a beast of a book I’m reading ‘Business Psychology and Organisational Behaviour’ (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd, 1994), and it’s interesting to see this rally for individualism in the workplace was still in swing 24 years ago.

I’m giddy with a specific pivoting word in this quote which almost goes modestly unnoticed – “just”. It suggests we need to be free agents and “are not just entities to an ordered environment”.

To some organisations “free agents” would spark absolute horror. This quote however notices that an ordered environment is still needed to facilitate this freedom, which sounds oxymoronic but makes sense if you see the order as warranted and well-thought out parameters.

We do need to let the workforce make more decisions and have freedom in how they work, within the safety net of pragmatic and nurturing order which we as people still need.

The most important question to ask in an interview

Ah, the interview. The one hour or so that compacts years of experience, future years of ambition, and only your best qualities on show while hiding your quirks that the interviewers just aren’t ready for yet. 

It’s a big ask for such a short amount of time. You have one shot for a first impression, one shot to make the right impression, and one chance to articulate your suitability in a concise way that covers all the good bits of your career and personality.

You can understand why some companies opt for the multiple setting interview: half hour phone interview, two hour group activity, one hour hypothetical case study/role play (who to chuck out of a hot air balloon is a fav’), and one hour face to face interview.

Although this draws out the painful experience of an interview, it at least provides more time for you to be able to demonstrate a number of soft- and people-skills while knowing you have another chance or two to really shine.

But what if you only have the traditional format of a one hour interview?

You have a lot to cover in such a short time; how do you know you can cover everything while also begin to understand what the panel think about you?

Before I get to the one question you need to ask at an interview (y’know, just for a bit of suspense), there are the usual pointers that you need to cover throughout the interview:

“I’ve nothing to wear!” – something that fits well and is comfortable but formal. Interviews are worrying enough as they are without having to worry about how your stomach looks in a particular shirt, for example.

Arrival – arrive waaaay too early. It’ll settle your nerves knowing you’ve arrived with ample time.

Intro – just go in for the hand shake, without hesitation; no awkward ‘right hand in, right hand out’ scenario, just be the one to make that decision of shaking hands.

The job spec – learn it inside out and make sure you can answer each of their requirements, even if you don’t meet them 100%. Tell them that and what you can already do to balance this. Keep a copy of this in front of you during the interview.

Your CV – bring this with you and highlight the good bits as prompts.

Your responses (STAR) – that is: what was the Situation you want to talk about that demonstrates your answer; the Tasks you identified to address it; the Action you took; and the Results that followed. Might be worth adding the potential negative consequences had you not reacted in the way you did.

Your questions – lots of questions about the company (using the information you already found out about them online as an opener to a question), about the team you’d be working with, and my favourite, what the interviewers like the most and least about working there.

And of course, THE BIG QUESTION

Capital letters for this one, it’s that important.

Everyone I have shared this question with have fed back to me how well it served them and their interview. And for every time I have used it myself, I have slept better that night.

I thought of this question following a job rejection about 5 or 6 years ago, a devastating blow at the time. The job sounded really interesting and could’ve been the first step to a promising career.

A couple of days after the interview, the interviewer rang me up and told me the bad news – I didn’t get it. She kindly met up with me to provide more detailed feedback:

Interviewer: “You did really, really well…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…you have really good experience…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…and your CV is really well put together…”

Me: “Thanks, I followed this awesome advice!

Interviewer: “…In the end, it was down to you and one other person…”

Me, to myself: REALLY not helping

Interviewer: “…and we decided to go with the other candidate.”

On a personal note – I would like each and every one of you to go out and spread the word so that one day, all interviewers can know that telling rejected candidates that “it was between you and someone else” is the least helpful piece of feedback. Just stop. It comes across as eeny-meanie-miney-mo-esque.

Anyhoo, when I asked the interviewer what made her decide the other person over me, she said that as it was so close she had to look at what one of us could do that the other couldn’t, and as the other candidate knew how to make and use Excel macros, they picked him.

“….but I can do macros”, I said, “you never asked me, nor was it listed in the job spec”.

She apologised profusely but admitted the deed was done, the offer letter was out and that was that.

And it was at that point I promised myself that I would ask the one Big Question at the end of each interview that I want to share with you:

“At this point of the interview, are there any concerns you might have that I can address now?”

It’s as simple as that, but it’s an effective question that provides you the opportunity to iron out any niggles they might have, that could potentially be the make-or-break decision maker.

Had I have asked that question, they would have asked “Yes, as a matter of fact, you haven’t mentioned if you can do macros – can you?”

Of course retrospectively I’m glad I never got the job as I wouldn’t have got to a position I’m in now.

I used the question in an interview a year or so afterwards, and there was indeed a niggle the interviewer had that they weren’t going to bring up but decided to, seeing as I had given them some sort of permission. Their concern, left unaddressed, was potentially a deal breaker, but from asking this question, I was able to put their mind at rest with some reassurance.

I got the job – perhaps not solely from asking that question but I thought about how different it may have turned out if I didn’t ask that question, and if it would have been a close call between me and one other person.

Side note: it was that very job that introduced me to the world of HR and literally changed my working life. There you have it folks, not just The Big Question, a life changing question!

I thoroughly recommend asking this simple question at the end of the interview. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking it, make a joke out of asking such ‘a cheeky question’.

Asking this will also help you sleep better at night following the interview. It really is a dreadful time between interview and hearing the outcome so although it won’t remove 100% of the worry, it will take the edge off of it.

If you’re looking for more tips on interviews, have a look at the great advice Clear Cut Selection provide on their blog. They also offer one-to-one interview mock and coaching sessions tailored to your needs. Not an affiliate, just pointing readers to awesome content.

Good luck with your interview(s) and don’t forget to ask this question!

 

 

6 signs of toxic and healthy work cultures

A work culture can be crudely defined as ‘the way things are done around here’. It can be considered as an entity of its own, the collective subsequence of the workforce, policies, practice and management. Despite best efforts, it’s something that cannot be tamed or controlled, but organisations can certainly focus their energy on the individual elements that direct it. It’s also an important part of working life and has a very direct influence on job satisfaction.

For example, you could have the best job in the world but if the culture is toxic, the job itself isn’t enough to keep you there, or at least happy. Often companies neglect the significance and impact a culture has on their staff and scratch their heads at their appalling attrition rates.

Being aware of this, and beginning to identify the sort of work culture you can flourish in, will add to your efforts to reaching job satisfaction. When it comes to this particular element of job satisfaction, it’s important to consider the consequences of a work culture to your life outside of work, for example, a culture that encourages late nighters and regular weekend work might not work well with keeping a family, working on a side hustle, or studying a course.

As I touched on in this post about the secret behind ‘the perfect career’, the work culture is a particularly important element for those who find job satisfaction by fitting in with their lifestyle and contentment rather than the actual role itself.

Or for those who consider themselves as ‘multipotentialites’ (which I talked about in this post), a work culture that encourages entre/intrapreneurialship and has a strong focus on training and learning new skills will play a strong contribution to job satisfaction.

So with this in mind, below I list 6 signs each of toxic and healthy work cultures.

  1. Recruitment

Toxic – From the beginning of the process, the job description is ambiguous, over-generalised and rife with spelling mistakes. Communication during the interview and onboarding processes is flaky and unprofessional. Rocking up to work on your first day, you’re given a desk, a computer and told to get on with it; no induction, no introductions, no first day training. These signs suggest that the culture isn’t professional, and it likes to cut corners at the cost of quality. The lack of communication suggests that they don’t invest in the employee experience before they’ve even started the role and could come across that they just don’t care. This can also be a sign that the company has experienced high attrition rates as the process is one that doesn’t have a long impact on new starters as they’ll soon be out of the door any way!

Healthy – From the beginning of the process, the job description details everything about the job and what is expected of the successful candidate. The pay respectfully reflects the nature and level of the role, as well as the qualifications needed for it. Communication is led with consistently, constantly and with integrity. A formal induction program is ready for you on day one (if not before) and you’re introduced to everyone in the office. You’re walked through the upcoming training and all of your new starter objectives. This culture is one of professionalism and respect and shows that they value their workforce.

  1. HR Policies

Toxic – HR policies and procedures are either very short or excessively long. They also focus only on how management should use them and to control staff. Heavy policies that deal with attendance, disciplinary and grievance matters are rigid, strict, unreasonable, and restricts or altogether forbids professional flexibility or judgement. Or very little measures are in place to protect staff from bullying and harassment, manage poor performance before disciplinary action is instigated or to assist staff who are experiencing physical or mental health problems.

Healthy – HR policies and procedures provide enough information that is transparent for employees and their managers that have equal and proportionate weight in terms of assisting employees and managers. All policies provide a clear structure for managers to align their professional judgement to individual circumstances, while providing appropriate flexibility. They also have the right sort of measures in place to ensure staff are protected, assisted and supported while giving managers a guide to work alongside when implementing remedial action.

  1. Work-life Balance

Toxic – Leaving on time is discouraged as putting in extra unpaid hours is expected of you; sometimes you’re expected to be able to take calls or step in at a minute’s notice on your days off. Flexible working applications are refused as standard without assessing each case appropriately. The process of applying for annual leave is tedious and doesn’t feel like an entitlement but a privilege; some leave might also be denied for multiple months, showing extremely poor workforce planning. Leaving work unexpectedly for emergencies to do with dependants is either not allowed or something begrudgingly granted with a consequence of being made to feel guilty upon your return.

Healthy – Managers practically push you out the door if they suspect you working longer than they should and respect your time outside of work. Flexible working is dealt with sensibly, compassionately and pragmatically, and arrangements are reviewed regularly to make sure it’s still fit for purpose for the individual. Annual leave is worked out fairly amongst the team and within sensible time frames. Emergencies are dealt with realistically as there is a strong working family culture and understand unforeseen things do actually happen in real life. When you return to work after the emergency, your manager and colleagues are genuinely concerned. Temporary working patterns are offered to accommodate any further disruptions.

  1. Learning and Development

Toxic – Professional development and learning is an afterthought and is considered an add-on rather than something that needs investment or strategic planning. Even with little learning and development opportunities offered by the organisation, self-directed learning is scoffed at and you’re reminded by management that it won’t get you anywhere within the company. Skill gap analysis isn’t conducted leading to a severe skill shortfall, and self-assessment and learning objective setting are alien concepts.

Healthy – There is investment and strategic forethought in learning and development, on both an individual and company-wide basis. There is an intrapreneurial spirit that encourages everyone to fully utilise the full spectrum of their skills and interests. Self-directed learning is encouraged and taking time out to study can be a form of a flexible working arrangement. Skills are regularly assessed and very rarely are skill shortfalls detrimental to business-as-usual activities.

  1. Staff Engagement

Toxic – Company values are forced upon staff without exemplary behaviour demonstrated by management. Feedback is rarely asked for, but when it is, any constructive feedback from staff is considered negative and therefore dismissed. Employees have very little influence on policies, procedures or processes even when they have ideas on improving costs and efficiency. Team and individual meetings are tick-box exercises with little or no value to either the manager or individual. There is a strong focus on penalising those who get things wrong but little or no emphasis on lessons learned or celebrating successes.

Healthy – Core values are demonstrated by managers and senior managers throughout the whole organisation and every action from the organisation is evidently aligned to these core values. Internal communications are for the benefit of staff to provide useable information and requesting thoughts and feedback. Employees have a strong influence on how policies, procedures and processes are shaped and can be involved in projects or stretch assignments that implement these changes. Team and individual meetings are very useful and benefit everyone involved. They’re used as a safe opportunity to share views, concerns and successes, and any failures are used as an opportunity to learn lessons.

  1. Management

Toxic – Management favour organisational inertia over progress because ‘this is how it’s always been done’. Efforts are focussed in fire-fighting and keeping business-as-usual items ticking over without any focus on the future or putting in developmental plans. Line managers use their position to shirk responsibility, duties and to exert their power. As a line manager they also feel they can do no wrong and don’t require any training as they know everything already. Management lack any forward thinking in terms of succession and workforce planning which has an overall negative impact on organisational performance, attendance and staff morale. Hostile and toxic environments are left to fester.

Healthy – Management pay attention to what’s on the horizon and make sure their efforts on current activity are future proof and may lead to future opportunities. Line managers use their position to coach and mentor their teams and actively keep involved in their team’s work. Line managers have management-specific objectives and keep their training up to date. Succession and workforce planning is an integral part of business-as-usual and is a need-to-have, not a like-to-have. Early intervention is a key part in nipping any hostility in the bud and management actively play a part in promoting and supporting a healthy work culture.

These are just a few signs to look out for in toxic and healthy work cultures, the effects of which are detrimental to your work life and job satisfaction. During your search for a career or job that provide job satisfaction, you might find it hard to judge the work culture in organisations or sectors you know very little about. Even if you were to read up on the legal sector, you might hear stories of late nights, micro-management, heavy workloads and tedious hourly rate calculations, which might be completely untrue for a number of firms.

Your perfect work culture

Using the first point above on recruitment will be evident from the point of reading the job description, as well as any proactive phone enquiries. But in the meantime, you can use these signs to begin to think about the work culture you want to work in. In the absence of knowing what career you want to do, you can start thinking about what culture you want to be in, the one that allows you to work with the least stress, the most flexibility or the emphasis on continuous career progression.

This is the third of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about professional motivation and how it can help you towards job satisfaction.