Appreciating Co-Workers


May the 16th isn’t, “Co-worker Appreciation Day”. Come to think of it I don’t know that there is such a day, although if there is I’m confident someone will point it out to me. Good thing actually in my opinion; I mean do we really need a day to remind us to appreciate the good in those we work alongside throughout the year?

Maybe the answer to that question is yes. I mean we have a day for Administrative Professionals called Secretaries’ day in some jurisdictions. That’s often when the various Supervisors in organizations get the Administrative team members out for lunch in our organization and an email goes out reminding us all to show some gratitude for the support we receive.

Seems to me that real gratitude should come from people without reminding or prompting, and it should come throughout the year not just on a specific day on a calendar. However, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it’s a day of celebration and I’m certainly not going to suggest we abolish any of these. Some people do need a reminder to say thanks, whether it’s for a parent or those in the workplace.

I wonder though if we do enough of a good job thanking those we work with for being the people they are; for making our own workplaces more enjoyable places to work. Our co-workers do make our places of employment more enjoyable don’t they? If you can’t think of anyone where you work who deserves a word of thanks, could be its high time you moved on. Good co-workers are first and foremost good people and good people are a treasure to surround yourself by.

It’s these people who ask how your day is going, who mean it when they say you seem different from your normal self and ask if there’s anything wrong or something they can do. These are the ones that celebrate your birthday, tell you to go easy on the days you’re not at your best, and cover for you as best they can when you’re away. If you’re lucky, you come back after vacations to find less work on your plate than you might have otherwise accumulated.

Your co-workers are the ones who support you and compliment you on the quality of work you do. Count yourself fortunate if you share your personal workspace with someone who you see as integral to influencing the kind of worker you’ve become. They might mentor you officially or not, but the way they go about their business surely rubs off on you to a lesser or greater degree. When it’s them on their holiday, doesn’t your work area miss them? Isn’t there a big part of you that truly hopes that they are really enjoying their time no matter what it is they are doing? You know how much they put in when at work and so you wish them sunshine, good weather, lots of reasons to smile and laugh. Most of all you hope they come back feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and you’re one of the first to ask how they enjoyed the time off.

If you haven’t really given much thought to the one who shares your space, just imagine walking in and learning they or you will be relocating to another part of the building. Even if you enjoy change and the idea of working in close proximity with someone new is appealing, hopefully part of you acknowledges the good times you’ve shared together and is grateful for those moments.

In my case, I’ve shared my two-person office with the same person for 10 years now. Wow! 10 years! I’m very appreciative of him and know the positive impact we have on each other’s performance. Even when we swing our chairs around and talk of our families, sports news, plans for the weekend or vacation plans, it’s all productive time. It might not seem productive of course to others, but building and nurturing a relationship with someone you spend this much time with has to improve your working relationship tremendously.

The time will eventually come when one or both of us moves on, either to another place in the office we work at or to another site completely. While the change will be good and the new office mate welcomed, the relationship we have together will never be truly replicated. I’m grateful in the here and now and I know he is too; and that’s significant to note.

The others I work with, be they on my team, at reception, my Supervisor, those on other teams of course are all important too. If I were building my, ‘dream team’, I’d count many of these people among those I want on board. Of course it’s not that every single person has to be a, ‘best buddy’ or a close working associate. I imagine I’m not on every single co-worker’s list if they assembled their dream team either. That would be unreasonable to expect. However, what is important is that each person get their due of credit for what they do contribute.

Consider thanking those you work with not just for a day but each day. What might you point out that you appreciate in your co-workers. Could be the word of thanks you pass on is just what they needed to hear. These people you work alongside make your workplace what it is.

What’s Your Working Philosophy?


How you approach the relationship you have with the people you serve reveals your broader philosophy.  So how does the philosophy you’ve adopted fit with: the organization you work for, other team members and most importantly your target audience? Some employees never reflect on their own working philosophy, which is problematic when it comes to finding the right organizational fit.

When you can articulate a working philosophy, you’ll find it extremely beneficial. It governs how you view the people you serve in terms of whether you call them clients, customers, end-users, people or recipients and guides your decisions. You’ll also interact with these people from a consistent perspective when it comes to planning and delivering service. Do you for example include people you are designing services for in the planning process or do you plan without them in a silo?

Imagine yourself seated at a table designing some program which you’d like to roll out to your target population. You and those assembled want to design this program to respond to the needs of your target audience; it’s got to be attractive, the benefits real, affordable, easy to access, and be perceived as being of value. It also has to be cost-effective and make use of available resources. Now looking around, who else do you see seated around the table?

Most of us will visualize our teammates, perhaps someone in a Management role (which if you included as part of your team good for you!). Did you stop at this point or did you see one or more chairs occupied by the people who are representative of your target audience? If you didn’t see any of these people seated at the table, then your working philosophy is that you and your collective group know your audience well enough that you can plan for them in their absence. If you included them seated at the table in your visualization, then your working philosophy uses a partnership approach, where their voices are heard first-hand, and in addition to their input, they act as checks and balances right from the start.

So if not at this initial starting point, at what stage if any do you include the target population in the planning before the service or program is rolled out in its final form? Some people who work in organizations don’t actually include the client, customer, end-user – the people – in the process whatsoever. There is no partnership; there are no test groups, no sample audience. The program is rolled out seemingly with a, “we know what’s best for you” attitude. Guess right and the people flock to the service or program. Guess wrong, and the people stay away in droves, or the numbers don’t justify the service or program and you’re left wondering why these people seemingly don’t appreciate the value of what you are offering them.

Now imagine some chairs around the table are indeed occupied by the audience your service or program is going to target. So whether they are job seekers and you’re a team of Employment Counsellors and Workshop Facilitators, or they’re bank customers and you’re a team of Investment professionals, how would your conversations change with your target audience sitting right beside you?

One thing you might notice is that some of the assumptions you use as starting places would be challenged. You might take it as a given that your meeting to discuss this new service or program would start at 9:00 a.m. sharp. After all, that’s half an hour or a full hour after you and your fellow employees start your work day. Your target audience however, say a youth population of 17 – 24 year olds, would better attend the meeting if it were at 10:00 a.m.; their bodies work on different time clocks then older adults. So right off the bat, you just learned something and you haven’t even got to the table yet. Your initial assumption about an agreeable meeting time is flawed, so what other assumptions will you make that don’t respond to your target audience? Maybe your target population could also benefit from a working breakfast of bagels and jam?

The importance of having a personal working philosophy can also make your place on the team a harmonious or trying experience. Have different working philosophies from your peers and you might ponder, “Why don’t my team members invest themselves as much as I do?” vs. “I don’t do anything outside my job description” or “I’m the professional with 5 years’ experience so I know what’s best for them” vs. “I’ve never lived your unique experience so teach me.”

Getting into a team discussion about personal and team philosophy isn’t very sexy. Some will roll their eyes and you can observe them mentally disengage from conversations. They aren’t interested in what they may perceive as frivolous, obvious, or maybe they feel the objective is to force everyone on the team to conform to a single perspective. When you work with people on a daily basis, there can be great value in knowing and sharing your personal philosophies, based on what each person has experienced and learned and holds as valued. These insights can help each member understand others points of views, and how these align or are at odds with the organizations philosophy and delivery of service.

Working philosophies are not static either; they evolve over time as we interact with others.

So what’s your working philosophy?

 

Invisibility Can Be Isolating


Ever been away ill for a day or two, and upon your return one person remarks that it’s good to have you back, but those around you turn and say, “Oh were you away? I didn’t notice.” Worse yet, you’re gone for a couple of weeks vacation and you get the same comment upon your return? That’s not a good sign.

Or how about a situation where you put in a great deal of effort on a project which turns out to be a success, but when the boss is handing out his or her thanks to the team, everyone seems to get thanked except for you? Again, it’s a good indication that you’re being overlooked.

Now this is quite different from the person who comes in daily, performs their work well but doesn’t need the accolades and constant positive stroking that others do. In my own workplace I’ve got a fantastic colleague who performs her job consistently well, and she shuns the spotlight, but her contributions never go unnoticed and she gets thanked often, but with less fanfare than others. So this isn’t what I’m referring to in this post.

No, this is the kind of person who gets overlooked, thought of as an afterthought, often forgotten. Another example would be when you share a birthday with a co-worker and there’s an email that goes out encouraging everyone to wish them a happy birthday, but you are omitted. Then some time later a second email comes out apologizing for having forgotten you, and it’s like you’ve become an afterthought. How do you feel?

Well like any other situation, you’ll react differently depending on who you are and what your needs are. Some people really don’t want any attention or fuss at all. However, I’ve found those same people do get emotionally affected if they are passed over for promotions. And little things can sting such as being left out unintentionally when everyone else is carpooling to go to some training event.

And this is the real danger; even though you are surrounded by people all day, you can still feel incredibly isolated and alone. Some people want to fit in, be included in some circles, but they just never seem to connect. Oh others can be very polite to them, but they just never seem to be, ‘one of the boys’ at work, and they just feel on the outside of all the ‘in’ gatherings.

Okay so suppose this was you I’m describing. The first thing that you’d have to decide is whether you want to bring about a change. How important or desirable is it for you to become more noticed, acknowledged and remembered at work? If your decision is that it’s really not an issue, ask yourself is that just you retreating to your usual safety zone of invisibility or is it you really being entirely satisfied with the way things are? If you are entirely happy that way, that is perfectly well and don’t change a thing. However, if it’s a change you seek – however small or great, here’s some thoughts…..

First of all, any change has to start with you. Change doesn’t mean you have to go from invisible to the extreme other end of the scale and become the company spokesperson, employee of the year, or Miss Popularity. I’m guessing you don’t want that anyhow. So recognizing it starts with you, make it a point of starting a conversation with someone one on one; with someone you feel closest to. It need not be a major production, and could be just a conversation starter such as talking about a politician in the news, an upcoming big movie release, or a local sports team’s plight.

If you listen well, and I suspect you do, you can pick up what is of interest to other people. Engaging others in conversation is easier when you are discussing things they are interested in. And don’t do an entire research project on their interest area before you work up the nerve to engage in conversation! Sometimes it is sufficient just to say, “I don’t know much about (whatever the subject is), tell me a little about it.” The degree of success you obtain in your first attempts isn’t really that important, but the effort is.

All that chit-chatting and social interaction that goes on that you may wish you could engage in but feel awkward trying really does have a point. Those seemingly time-wasting conversations about past weekend activities, kids sports teams, medical issues or home renovations are really examples of relationship building activities. By building trust, and nurturing these relationships, people are always more at ease working together on projects, and seek out co-workers for inclusion rather than exclusion.

Yes of all the super powers to have, you don’t want to really be Invisibility Woman, or Captain Invisible.

I understand that the quieter person, who seeks the sidelines as their place of comfort is more than entitled to continue to lead that life if that’s the life they sincerely desire. Again I want to make that point crystal clear. There’s nothing wrong at all with that person or their choices if they thrive and are happiest there. But if you desire change, a little more recognition and inclusion, know that it really does have to start with you. And the only one who truly knows how difficult it can be is you. Why not start today to bring about the change you want to see?

Discussion Groups On Linkedin…Why Join At All?


One of the best features of Linkedin in my opinion is the opportunity to join Groups. It’s right there on one of the tabs near the top of your page. Hover over that tab and you’ll see a drop down menu appear that tells you what groups you belong to, what groups might be suggested for you based on your profile, and you can even create your own group if you find there is a need.

But why join a group at all in the first place? Like all groups in either your day-to-day experience or in the on-line world, people join groups for a variety of reasons. Some people join with the intent of engaging in discussion with their peers around the globe to gain insights into new ways of looking at issues, gain perspective on other practices, or perhaps validate their existing mode of doing things. These people are likely to be prominently known to others in their groups, and can often shape the direction that groups move in.

For others however, the rationale for inclusion in groups is less obvious. Why? Well their contribution to the group may be akin to the person who always shows up to the group meeting but never utters a word. Now in a real-life group setting, I for one know that when I encounter these people, I like to extend an opportunity for them to contribute either by asking their opinion, or perhaps going up to them in private before, during or after a meeting to introduce myself and feel them out on things. However, last night I wondered as I was checking out the statistics of a group I belong to, why it is that with a membership approaching 4,000, I only ever actually recall active participation in discussions from 15 people. Those 15 people are shaping the vast majority of the discussion and the focus of the group because the rest are silent. Are they reading but not contributing? Are they even checking in to discussions period?

We all learn in different ways, and some learn from active engagement in discussion, be it initiating, responding, re-engagement etc. However, there are obviously many who also learn from passive participation whereby they read articles, internalize the data, form an internal response, and move on without contributing in print or voice to ideas presented. My own reaction to this is one of disappointment and here’s why. While anyone reading a discussion thread may form an opinion based on their reaction to the discussion, perhaps even become enlightened or gain in knowledge, the opportunity for others to learn in-turn from another thinker is lost without engagement.

Imagine the scene whereby you stood in a room and started a conversation with someone. Far from being exclusive, others stopped and listened to the discussion. Soon four people were exchanging thoughts and ideas, and nine people stood in the same proximity but only listened and never opened their mouths, never made a non-verbal gesture such as a nod or a smile, just stood there. Wouldn’t you think that odd? Wouldn’t you reach out to them and introduce yourself and say, “Oh hi, we were just discussing such-and-such, what are your thoughts?”

Far from a reprimand of any kind, (for that is not my intent), I just wonder about the purpose in being a part of a group is because the participation in groups is entirely voluntary. Those that never contribute may not have found the group of benefit, but then why not remove themselves as you would in a conversation to which you find no interest? Excuse yourself and walk over to another group of people and see what is being talked about.

In the past week, I’ve chatted with people in Australia, Africa, the U.S., here in Canada and that is such a wonderful thing that only a decade or two ago would have been not possible. In my opinion, the value and use of this medium is still largely untapped, and I believe one day others will look back and realize that in 2013, people had this extremely powerful tool available to them but underutilized it – and I include myself in that number.

Group discussion and participation is but one tool in a toolbox that is at our collective disposal. Like any tool, we have the choice of using it or not, pulling it out frequently or seldom, and it may go in and out of favour too. If we’ve had a negative experience in group discussions, we may backtrack and withdraw for a time. If we receive positive feedback, we may accelerate our participation.

I write and share these thoughts in an effort to gauge the opinions of others both active and non-active. As in any other discussion, we all benefit when we use the principle of inclusion to hear from all the voices; not just those who speak the most often and the loudest.