Sick of Doing the Same Things? Here’s What You Need to Do to Find More Challenging Work

Many of us to go through our careers without experiencing significant growth. Although we may receive merit increases and promotions, in reality, we never really evolve. Why? Praveen Suthrum, co-founder and president of NextServices (a healthcare technology firm), says it's because we never do anything different. Not because we can't, but because we don't make the time

In a LinkedIn article, Suthrum says, "In reality, we don't have 16 years of experience. We possibly have two years of experience repeated eight times." He goes on to explain, 

"If you find yourself doing exactly the same tasks from six months ago, you aren't delegating enough. Of course, some tasks will never fully go away. But ask yourself if you are actively seeking someone whom you can train, develop and hand-off something you've mastered. Move forward."

As a manager, if you never off-load some things, then you'll never create the margin to pursue growth opportunities.

It's easy to get wrapped up with work that's safe and familiar and to hoard tasks for the simple reason that we have always owned them. Here are a couple thoughts to motivate you to delegate. 

1. Help your team help you by delegating to others. 

It takes a lot of up-front effort to train others. The process of mentoring a back-up can be so time-consuming that many would rather overload themselves and run the risk off burn-out than teach someone else. It may not be convenient in the short term, but it's necessary for both you and your employee's development in the long run.

To grow as a leader, you'll need to scale your technical-self through your people. The day-to-day tasks that you're holding onto are what's keeping you from more challenging and strategic work.

In the process of investing in others, you'll develop the next generation of leadership that's ready to assume your position after you progress. 

 2. Delegating will improve your team's performance. 

Not only are we holding ourselves back by hoarding unnecessary work, but also our teams.

Each one of your employees has strengths and skills sets unique to them. Some are naturally predisposed to detail-oriented work, others are wired for analysis and research, and a few are probably creative.

When a manager uncovers their employee's unique work styles, they can deploy their people against projects and work that suits them. They can play to their employee's strengths and strategically delegate tasks they know they'll excel at. In the process, they'll increase their employee's engagement and enhance their team's productivity. 

As a manager, you're probably holding onto work that requires a myriad of different skills sets. Rather than attempting to tackle everything on your own, lean on your employees. Tasks that might take you hours to complete, could take minutes for those who enjoy the work, can focus on one thing at a time and have natural abilities in that area. 

Delegating is harder than it seems. For some, they've worked for years to acquire their current responsibilities. It's counterintuitive, but in order to pursue growth opportunities, you'll need to create bandwidth by handing off work that you've already mastered. 

The Ultimate Guide to Handling Office Bullies

When my daughter was in first grade, she came home complaining about a girl who bullied her. I went to the teacher and explained and asked that she keep an eye on the situation. A few days later the teacher reported that my daughter was mistaken--there was no bad behavior

Upon further questioning, the teacher admitted that she stood in the center of the playground during recess so she could keep an eye on everything. But, there had been no pushing or shoving, therefore, no bullying! I couldn't believe I needed to explain to a teacher that mean girls use words to torment others, not pushing and shoving. 

Even by the ripe old age of 7, this particular mean girl had learned how to behave around the "boss." Imagine how much more time the 35-year-old in your office has had to perfect her (or his) bullying craft! It's no wonder that bullying often goes unnoticed and uncorrected. Managers, like teachers, are busy putting out the fires they can easily see and the subtle torment goes by unobserved. And sometimes, managers are the bullies.

Preston Ni, at Psychology Today, identified five types of bullying adults face. They are:

  1. Physical bullying. This includes threat, intimidation, and harassment. Someone who keeps stepping forward to push you into a corner, physically or touches you inappropriately is a physical bully even if you're not "hurt."
  2. Tangible/material bullying. When the bully uses power or position (I'm your boss) to control the victim, this is tangible/material bullying.
  3. Verbal bullying. This can be anything from "teasing" to threats to gossip to sexist language. These bullies use their words to torment, even when they may not have any actual power over the victim.
  4. Passive-aggressive or covert bullying. Ni says this is infrequent but "in some ways it's the most insidious." He describes it as including "negative gossip, negative joking at someone's expense, sarcasm, condescending eye contact, facial expression or gestures, mimicking to ridicule, deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity, the invisible treatment, social exclusion, professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone's well-being, happiness, and success.
  5. Cyber bullying.  This can, of course, include other forms of bullying, just delivered electronically.

So, how do you stop this in your office? The steps are easy to pay homage to, but much more difficult to actually carry out.

Know your staff:

Granted, if the CEO or HR manager of a 300 person company can't know everyone well, there's no way one person can do this for a company with 1,000 or 10,000 people. But you know your direct reports and/or your area of responsibility. You may have seen Glennon Doyle's account of how teacher did this. She writes about her son's teacher who asks the students to submit a list of who they want to sit by each Friday. She then looks for patterns:

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn't even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase's teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or "exceptional citizens." Chase's teacher is looking for lonely children. She's looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She's identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class's social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she's pinning down- right away- who's being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

While this is a bit silly in the adult world, the concept is the same. What group goes to lunch together? Who sits alone? Who is copied on negative emails? Who avoids whom?

Knowing what the social dynamic is can help you to stop bullying before it takes hold.

Speak Up.

If you notice bad behavior, do something about it. If an employee comes to you to complain about a co-worker, listen. Bullying that isn't based on protected class (race, gender, religion, etc) isn't illegal, but it's just as damaging. 

Don't let bad behavior go unchecked because you're busy. How much busier will you be when your best performers leave because your office bully was intimidated by their performance.

Make Behavior Expectations Clear

If someone is bullying someone in your office--in whatever form--this is something for an official performance improvement plan. Yes, if the person doesn't meet the terms of the PIP, you let them go at the end of the 90 days, even outstanding performers.

Yes, lots of businesses let the stars do whatever they want, but it's not worth it. Bullies are often stealing praise that should belong to others, taking credit that they haven't earned. And, they drive good performers out. Fix or fire. No exceptions.

Set an Example

Do you play favorites? Intimidate and threaten? Do you talk about one of your employees' faults with a different employee? Do you betray confidences? Then you're part of the problem.

Leadership comes from the top down. If the boss can't be nice, no one else will be. If you reward bullying behavior, people will bully. If you put a stop to it, treat people fairly, and call out bullies, you'll reduce the drama.

Bullying doesn't have to invade your office if you don't want it to. You can put a stop to it.

How These Business Owners Are Dealing With Office Romances (Hint: It’s All About Your HR Policies)

It happens in so many workplaces -- two colleagues begin a romantic relationship. But a heightened awareness about sexual harassment means small business owners can get more anxious when employees start dating.

Many owners have consulted with employment attorneys or human resources professionals since the accusations against movie executive Harvey Weinstein in November. Some owners have created or updated their policies on dating and sexual harassment, and they're making sure staffers know the rules and to speak up if they feel harassed.

Bosses who in the past just watched with interest as a relationship blossomed are being proactive, telling couples that if the romance sours, both people are expected to behave appropriately. And some owners are even asking couples to sign statements acknowledging that their relationship is consensual.

Sammy Musovic has seen many romances -- and breakups -- at his three Manhattan restaurants. After the reports about Weinstein and others, Musovic consulted with an attorney to understand what his legal liability could be if an employee relationship led to harassment charges. He decided against changing his policy that allows dating, but he's keeping a closer eye on interactions between employees.

"When I know staffers are dating, I speak to each of them in private and just try to understand the situation," says Musovic, who owns Sojourn, Vero Bar and Selena Rosa.

A few years ago, a manager at one of his restaurants dated a hostess, and became jealous when he saw her chatting with customers.

"I told them, 'You guys have to stop this or someone's going to have to find another job,'" Musovic recalls. The manager quit. On another occasion, Musovic fired an employee who wrote unwanted love letters to a co-worker.

Jacqueline Breslin, an executive with HR provider TriNet, is fielding more questions from businesses that want to know how to handle employees dating. The first step is often to determine whether companies have policies on dating and sexual harassment; if not, they need to be written.

Dating policies should set expectations for staffers' behavior, such as that emotions should not be displayed at work. Policies must also address issues like relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Some owners might be tempted to ban employee relationships altogether. But people attracted to one another may still date on the sly. And strict policies can backfire -- talented employees may choose love over a job and leave.

Problems can also arise when employees want to date clients or vendors. Those relationships have the potential for conflicts-of-interest as well as harassment issues. Ashley Hunter's dating policy rules out relationships between her eight staffers and vendors of HM Risk Group, an insurance company based in Austin, Texas.

"If you're in a billion-dollar business, you can weather those problems, but I can't," she says.

Hunter is especially sensitive to issues around dating co-workers, having been in a romantic relationship with her chief financial officer for three years. He's worked at the company for nine months, and everyone at the company knows of their relationship.

One option for owners is to have dating staffers sign what's called a relationship contract, stating they're in a consensual relationship and that they've read and will abide by the company's written policy on sexual harassment.

Kate and Doug Hickey had two employees at Honolulu-based coffee grower Sunshower Farms -- a supervisor and subordinate -- who began a relationship in 2013. They had the couple sign a contract saying if the relationship ended and they couldn't work together comfortably, one would have to resign.

"We did this mainly to protect ourselves" in the event of a breakup, says Kate Hickey, who was an attorney and drafted the contract. The couple eventually married and moved away. If a similar situation arises again, Hickey says she would probably consult an attorney who has more expertise about sexual harassment and draft a "more detailed" contract.

Many bosses may not even be aware of a relationship until someone mentions it. HR professionals say an owner should approach the couple, discuss the situation, and if the company requires a relationship contract, have them sign it. More complicated is when an owner suspects there's an attraction or budding relationship -- when's the right time to step in? There's no one answer, but a boss should certainly talk to the employees when it's clear there's a romantic connection.

A greater concern is what to do if the romance ends. As long as there's no sign of a problem, the boss should respect everyone's privacy. But if one person keeps pursuing another, an owner needs to be on alert.

"The person who's repeatedly asking for an unwanted date needs to be told, 'This is against company policy and we don't tolerate this kind of harassment,'" says Michael Schmidt, an employment attorney with Cozen O'Connor in New York.

Even if unwanted contacts take place off the company's premises or on social media, a boss needs to intervene, Schmidt says. Businesses can be liable if they don't address potential harassment because employees might feel they're in a hostile working environment, Schmidt says.

Even business owners who have been part of workplace romances say they're warier now.

Marianne Bertuna was an intern and then an associate in Arthur Aidala's small New York law firm, starting in 1997. Aidala was attracted to her, but told himself, "This is a work person and nothing is going to happen." He married someone else.

Meanwhile, two attorneys who were dating joined the firm and eventually married. But now, Aidala says that if any employees start a relationship, he would tell them, "You need to proceed with caution because there are a lot of lives on the line here."

And Aidala himself? He got divorced, and he and Bertuna became a couple. In 2016, they got married.

--The Associated Press

Fired Google Engineer, James Damore, Loses His Claim of Unfair Termination

In August, Google fired engineer James Damore for an internal memo he wrote which questioned the role of biology in career choice. He wondered if the reason there were fewer women in tech than one might expect had more to do with innate differences between men and women than with discrimination, and, in fact, Google's drive to increase the number of women in the company led to discrimination against men.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected Damore's claim that he was fired for engaging in a protected "concerted activity." This is a specific term that refers to protections employees have to discuss their working conditions. It's what protects you from being fired for discussing your salary or complaining about your boss.  Damore argued that he was discussing working conditions and therefore, his termination was illegal.

The NLRB did find that parts of Damore's memo were protected, but that Google didn't fire him for the protected parts. The NLRB concluded that:

the Employer determined that certain portions of [Damore's] memorandum violated existing policies on harassment and discrimination...[T]he Employer terminated [Damore's] employment. 

What the NLRB didn't look at was if Damore's statements that women are "more prone to 'neuroticism,' resulting in women experiencing higher anxiety and exhibiting lower tolerance for stress" and that "men demonstrate greater variance in IQ than women" are actually true. While these are not the only concepts addressed by Damore, they are the ones the NLRB focused on.

Scientific American says "anxiety disorders are more common in women," and Psychology Today notes that men do have higher variability in many things, including IQ. Both publications are mainstream. So, if Damore's statements were not scientifically controversial, why shouldn't they be protected?

Employment Attorney Jon Hyman explained it as follows:

The Board concluded that while portions of Damore's memo might constitute protected concerted activity, Google fired him solely because of the unprotected portions of his memo--his discussion about the biological differences between the sexes, which "were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive" as to have violated Google's policies against harassment and discrimination.

In other words, companies are allowed to set their own policies and enforce them. Because Damore's statements caused disruption, Google had a reason to remove him from its payroll.

This does not mean that Damore's lawsuit is over. It's still going forward. He just does not have the backing of the NLRB, which weakens his overall case. While I predict that this case will ultimately settle behind closed doors, I hope that it does not. I'd like to continue to see this play out as it challenges the limits of what concerted activity in the workplace is.

Regardless of the outcome, it will be a valuable tool for businesses--especially those in California--to determine what is and what is not protected behavior in the workplace.

Tired of Shallow Work Relationships? Here Are 5 Ways to Build Camaraderie and Foster Community

I love meetings. I know it's not the norm. Like many, there was a time when an Outlook meeting notification used to change my entire attitude for the worse. What changed? I started contributing to the conversation. Before that, I was afraid to speak up. I was terrified that I might say something stupid and look incompetent. I operated under the belief that it was better to remain silent and seem inexperienced then to open my mouth and prove everyone right. Luckily, I've been blessed with managers who make me feel like my opinions, founded or unfounded, matter. This experience isn't unique to me. 

Gallup an American research-based, global management consulting company, found that just 3 in 10 workers strongly agree that at work, their opinions matter. They also found that by increasing the ratio to 6 in 10, organizations could realize a 27 percent reduction in turnover, a 40 percent reduction in safety incidents, and a 12 percent increase in productivity. 

A more recognizable term for this concept of "opinions matter" is psychological safety. Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor, who coined the term describes psychological safety as "a shared belief held by members of a team that the group is safe for interpersonal risk-taking." 

Since her research, psychological safety has become a driving force behind employee engagement and productivity. In fact, Google (through its internal research on effective teams) found psychological safety to be the most important trait of its high-performing teams. 

Cultivating an environment that encourages risk-taking doesn't happen overnight. For employees to let down their guard, you'll need to create stronger relationships with a feeling of security and camaraderie -- or in other words, a sense of community. 

Here are five leadership tips that can help you build better relationships and foster a sense of community inspired by Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life.

1. Speak the truth out of respect. 

Be honest. As a manager, it's critical that you relay feedback critical to your team's growth and development -- and encourage them to do the same. Although it's much easier to remain silent and avoid uncomfortable situations, it's a true act of respect is when you're honest with your team. Glossing over issues will only temporarily create a false sense of peace. 

Every manager needs to create a culture that encourages candor. Until you care enough to confront and resolve underlying issues, you'll never create a real sense of community. It's counterintuitive, but when conflict is handled appropriately, you'll grow closer as a team. 

2. Think of yourself less. 

Egotism is a quick way to destroy a community. If we're not careful, pridefulness can drive a wedge between us and others while simultaneously closing us off from vital feedback. But, if we can practice humility by being upfront about our weaknesses, being open to instruction, and being willing to share the spotlight, we will foster more meaningful and trusting relationships.

Anytime you serve others by putting their interests before your own, you inspire loyalty -- a critical component needed to uphold a healthy community. 

In the words of Rick Warren, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less."

3. Practice un-common courtesy. 

We all have team members that can be a little "difficult" to deal with. Different work styles cause friction, friction leads to waning patience, and thin patience leads to irritation. Although a team member may be a little "quirky," they're still an essential member of the team. 

And, if we're completely honest, we all have little idiosyncrasies that drive others crazy. Luckily, in the words of Warren, "community has nothing to do with compatibility." A community is formed when a higher purpose overshadows individual views and unifies members under a common goal. It's a managers responsibility to encourage authenticity by being considerate, respectful of differences, and patient with employees.

A community is formed when people feel safe enough to be themselves and do not fear the judgment of others. 

4. Maintain confidence. 

Only when employees feel safe and accepted, will they share their opinions. What may first seem like vent sessions, are actually a sign that you've created a safe environment where employees confide in you. However, make sure that you maintain a fine line between openness and hearsay. If there are any issues brought up in private, then make sure you address them while preserving confidentiality. What happens in the team needs to stay within the team. Also, don't let unresolved issues turn into bash-sessions or escalate into gossip. 

Inspire a sense of community by having your employee's backs while setting an example that rumors and slander won't be tolerated within the team.

5. Focus on frequency rather than intensity. 

Developing camaraderie and community takes times. You can't miss meetings and blow off team events. A community is built on confidence and the impression that to you, your team matters. The best way to show that something is important to you is to participate. Yes, this means meeting even when you don't feel like it. 

This paragraph from Warren's book sums up the ideal community, "We will share our true feelings (authenticity), encourage one another (mutuality), support each other (sympathy), admit our weaknesses (humility), respect our differences (courtesy), not gossip (confidentiality) and make the team a priority (frequency)."

3 Critical Things I Learned When I Worked For Wegmans

Fortune released their annual list of the Top 100 Companies to Work for yesterday. Salesforce took the number one spot, but I want to talk about the first runner up--Wegmans.  

Wegmans was my first "real" job out of graduate school. Prior to joining, I worked in temp jobs as I struggled to find a place that wanted to hire someone with a master's degree in political science. They gave me a chance. I only worked there for a year and a half, but during my time there, I learned a ton, and it relates directly to why Wegmans has been on the top 100 company list for 21 years. Here are three things I learned from Wegmans.

1. Understanding the Business is the Key to Success

I was an HR analyst. I ran numbers, I analyzed contracts and I made pay recommendations. That was my job. But I spent three weeks working in a store, on my feet, serving customers, stocking shelves, and running a cash register. The only department I didn't work in was the bakery and that was simply because I needed to get back to my primary job. (And perhaps, they rightly assumed that if they tried to have me decorate a cake, I'd drive away business.) 

This was not unusual. People in the corporate offices all took turns in the stores. During the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas corporate and regional office staff took turns working in the stores. All the senior leadership (at least when I worked there) had worked in leadership positions in the stores, as store manages or assistant managers. The result of all this? Everyone knew the business.

There weren't grand plans made to implement trendy things that would make employees' lives miserable, as so often happens in the retail world. Why? Because everyone sitting in the meetings knew what it was like to stand on their feet for 8 plus hours a day, doing difficult physical labor while dealing with customers. That understanding meant policies and programs that worked.

2. Pay the Best and You Get the Best

If you've ever shopped in a Wegmans, you've probably been blown over by not only their product selection but their customer service. And the employees are happy to work there (as evidenced by this annual award). 

When I worked for Wegmans, they were opening stores in a new region which meant new pay structures--because they understood that you can't just transfer pay from upstate New York to New Jersey. Part of my job was to find out the pay and benefits for other area grocery stores and ensure that Wegmans paid more and had better benefits. It wasn't enough to match market rates, they wanted to be better.

The result? Great employees who wanted to stick around.

3. Training and Education are Critical to Continued Success

Many of my co-workers in the corporate offices started work as teenagers, running a cash register, stocking shelves, or pushing carts. They attended college, partially paid for with scholarships provided by Wegmans, and continued their careers with the company. They promoted from within. 

When I worked there, the Chairman (Robert Wegman, who died in 2006) funded several private Catholic elementary schools in Rochester, NY, where the company is headquartered. I had the privilege of meeting with him, one on one, to report on the success of these schools. I asked why he did this, and he said that he saw failing public schools that weren't capable of producing the kind of people he needed to make his stores successful, so he decided to do something, and that was funding the private schools.  There was no requirement that the scholarship students one day work for Wegmans, but I'm sure many of them did.

Looking at how Wegmans continues to be profitable, have dedicated employees, and expand across the east coast, I'm pretty sure they follow these same principles. 

People ask me if it was such a great place to work, why I ever left. It's a good question and the answer is hidden in the first thing I learned--the importance of understanding the business. I was ambitious. I wanted career success, and to have that at Wegmans, I knew I needed to leave my cushy office job and work in a store. That meant nights and weekends, and I wasn't willing to do that. So, I left for a job in the pharmaceutical industry. Which means their system worked exactly correctly. The leadership wants to be there and loves the company. You can't say that about every company.

How to Manage a Difficult Team: 7 Ways to Talk Business, Not Emotion

As an advisor to entrepreneurs and new business owners, I've long observed that one of the toughest challenges is people change management in the team.

It's an area where you typically have little experience and training, and dealing with needed change is fraught with emotions on both sides. I have found that my years in a big company have paid huge dividends in this area.

For new business leaders who are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with people management, I try to offer an easy to understand process for dealing with situations where a team member or direct report needs to change.

I found some help in this regard in a new book, "Power Your Tribe," by Christine Comaford, who has been a business leadership and culture coach for the past 30 years.

Among other insights, she outlines a seven-step counseling process, called a feedback frame, for tough situations, which I will paraphrase here.  I believe it will facilitate both you and any team member communicating to get a shared positive understanding of the requirement for change and resolution:

1. First, before diving into specifics, set the stage.

As a manager or executive, your pent-up emotion makes it tempting to open with an attack, which immediately puts everyone on the defensive.

Instead, you should start with a summary of your goals and objectives for the role, and emphasize the need for a collaborative turnaround plan. 

2. State directly observed data examples and behavior.

Only then should you describe specific behaviors that must change, and provide your specific examples so the team member can "step into" the past scenarios.

Avoid any hearsay or anonymous sources, since these are likely not entirely accurate, and will provoke emotional debates. 

3. Quantify the impact on the project and other people.

Examples might include instances where the team member missed a deadline, causing the project to fall behind, or poor responses to a customer resulting in lost business.

These hurt the company, as well as the specific employee reputation. If not obvious, state the correction required. 

4. Ask for problem acknowledgment and playback.

You will make no progress until the team member agrees that there is a problem in their work or behavior, and the problem now must end.

If you don't have agreement yet, it's time to go back to step one. You need this common understanding before the employee will engage in finding a solution. 

5. Create a plan together for a specific time period.

I recommend a time period of 30 to 90 days where you agree to meet weekly to track progress. Make the plan very specific in terms of what you need to see and when you'll know the outcome is what you wanted.

Clearly state the consequences if the turnaround doesn't occur (lost job or demotion). 

6. Overtly check understanding at this stage.

Clearly communicate your conviction that a positive resolution is possible and desirable, which will make the consequence irrelevant.

Believe it or not, I find team members often still don't fully understand why they need to change, or why the specifics you ask for are important to the team and the business. 

7. Jointly celebrate small steps and milestones.

Launch the plan, and look for every opportunity to acknowledge and reward progress, rather than focus only on failures. Make sure that all concerned see the behavior change also. Verbal feedback should be supplemented by a written weekly summary to the employee, to prevent surprises later. 

If you think these steps are a lot of work, you are right, but it's the most important work you can do for your business, and well as for your team members. The health and success of your business is totally dependent on the health and productivity of your team.

Managing the product and the processes is only half your job as an entrepreneur, or less. The rest is building the team.

Obviously, this task is easier if you hire and nurture the right people, to minimize these situations in the first place. You need resilient teams in these turbulent times, so it is well worth your time to understand what it take to maintain a team with the emotional agility to adapt to market changes and customer feedback.

Of course, as the leader, it all starts with your own ability to change.