Retooling And Realigning For Success


Change; it seems to be the word of the year where I work. In 2017 we were told as employees by management that change was coming. Not just change for the sake of change as so often happens in some workplaces, but real change to meet the needs of those we serve at present and those we will position ourselves to serve moving forward.

Now as you know, not everybody deals with change in the same way. This should come as no surprise for we all experience and react to any number of things in our own way. In fact, there is no, ‘right way’ to react to change. Yes, it’s true all employees have to eventually get on board with new procedures, processes and/or policies, but how a person experiences the adjustment between what they’ve done and what they’ll do moving forward is uniquely lived by that single person. Some get on board and find change easy while others take more time. Be too resistant to change or pull with all your might in an openly opposite direction and you could find yourself on the outside looking in.

In my work setting, we’ve recently had a change in Manager, we’ve two new Supervisors, we’ve had some people with two decades and more experience retire, and we’ve added new employees to fill the voids. We’ve also had our teams realigned, meaning some staff moved from one team to another; from one job to another. Our Administrative team is also going about doing their jobs differently too; sharing workloads more. There are staff changing physical offices, others stay where they are but their desks have been reconfigured for reasons of safety and service.  Oh but it doesn’t stop there. Our Resource Centre is getting a new flooring surface this year, and there’ll be a new staff desk better situated for service and safety as well. That’s a lot of change!

Now most important of all is a change in how we interact with those we serve. We are moving to a more holistic model of service; one where the recipients of service will be better served. Many years ago there was a time when the mantra of the day was to get people off social assistance as quick as possible. Whatever the shortest route to a job happened to be, that was the plan. It sounded good to the general tax base and politicians touted this as their way of reducing money paid out to those in receipt; saving tax payers dollars in the process.

It didn’t work; well, not well. Sure people got jobs and got off assistance in some cases. The problem? Without addressing other key issues and only focusing on their unemployment, people lost those jobs quickly and returned to receive social assistance, sometimes regressing significantly, making it far more difficult for them to get past the feelings of not being ready to work.

A return to looking at a person from a holistic point of view requires us to look at more than just their unemployed status. When you bring in daily living skills, problem-solving, job maintenance, mental health services, relationship-strengthening, networking, social and interpersonal skills and – well a longer list than I’ve got space for here – a person becomes better empowered and equipped to deal with many more of the issues which they will need to deal with moving forward.

And moving forward is what it’s all about. The real question becomes, “What is moving forward” with respect to this single person you’re working with? From their point of view, what’s going on and what goals if any, do they have for what they consider to be a better life? Sure for a lot of people the end goal is to get a job and become financially independent. Yeah, we’re all for that. However, for many people, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed before a job is actively sought out.

By way of example, two large barriers many people are presenting with these days are increasing mental health issues and one’s decision-making skills. Not surprisingly, the two are connected. The state of mental health a person experiences often determines their ability to make good decisions. Poor decisions that don’t result in the positive outcomes a person had hoped for reinforce feelings of failure, weakness and lead to hopelessness and further dependence. Good decisions on the other hand reinforce forward movement in a desired direction, spurring self-confidence and self-worth.

There’s infused energy in our workplace. People are setting up their offices, getting used to where others are now sitting, learning the way things are actually done in the new jobs they have. We’ve only just begun to glimpse what our collective futures will look like when it comes to who we serve and how. We will work more in partnerships with others; including our fellow employees and those outside our organization. Communication lines will be expanded and service more coordinated.

This is good news for those people we serve. Sure we were doing a good job before, and while many of us are on the move, I like to think we’re being better positioned as people to use the strengths we have, making us a collective body better positioned to serve our community at large.

Change; it’s a good thing and there’s more of it yet to come.

 

A Life Path Exercise


Here’s an interesting activity for you and those you work with to do, or it may be something that you’d like to introduce to an adult class you facilitate if you are a teacher or workshop leader. It has to do with depicting your path in life up to the present moment in time. It’s a good way to get to know others around you better and at the same time give you a visual representation of your own history; something very valuable as you’ll see.

How it goes is this: Each person participating is given a paper to write on that is large enough so that it can be posted on a wall for everyone to look at without having to use a magnifying glass. You’ll have to judge the size of paper based on the wall space you have and how many people are participating. Half a sheet of flip chart paper works nicely in most cases.

Each person begins by putting a dot on the page and labels that dot with the location of their birth; typically town or city and name of country. Where everyone started out in this world is in itself a good starting point for generating conversation. You could, if everyone agrees, add the year to the location.  What was going on in that part of the world when you were born is often very insightful. Everyone starts the same; with the first dot being their birth and ends with their final dot being the class everyone is presently taking or the company everyone is working at if it’s a workplace activity, although their positions will vary.

Moving out from the initial dot, each person now draws a line in any direction they wish (most will move from left to right in the western world you may find), and plots a second dot when they recall something memorable to note. It could be anything the person chooses to highlight and share with others including completing high school, moving somewhere new, losing a parent, meeting someone of great influence in their life; maybe even having a childhood illness of lasting significance.

The process continues with extending the line from the second dot to another one and so forth, noting significant moments like new jobs, volunteer roles, getting married, having children or grandchildren, losing jobs, life-defining moments they can recall, moving to new countries, taking the trip of a lifetime, buying a first home, education achievements, etc..

There are really only two guidelines when it comes to what to plot; it’s up to the person themselves to choose the events they wish to comfortably share and the other is that there should be a high degree of respect for what everyone sees on others lifelines. While some might reveal very little of their personal life and restrict themselves to a career path, others might open themselves up to a greater degree adding things like declaring their preferred gender for the first time, moments of great despair and failure etc.

You can see that the level to which a person shares their life journey is indicative of the relationship they feel they have with their audience. Groups that know each other well might reveal more or less than those who are less of a shared history together. This is the kind of activity that you could also do over not just 20 minutes but perhaps a week or more. Maybe people just sit and list on a regular piece of paper their own life events and then transfer these to the larger papers for viewing at a later date.

Now the interesting and most valuable part to this collective exercise is the conversations it generates and the shared or unique experiences people learn about each other. If you are facilitating this exercise in a class, you can draw attention to moments that took great courage, situations in which someone overcame great sadness or tragedy and of course celebrate those moments of great personal satisfaction and joy. It can be extremely uplifting and empowering to have one’s life experiences acknowledged, shared and celebrated.

It can be limited to just career moves as well which some might find safer and less invasive; but you only share what you want in any event. My advice would be to get some agreed upon parameters at the outset from those participating so everyone is okay with what they share and they should know who might look over their life path.

The benefit to this activity is that it can help people understand and appreciate others in ways they could not do otherwise. While one person might get to know another over time and over many conversations, this speeds up that ‘getting to know you better’ process and extends it outward beyond just the people we typically talk to about such things. A deeper understanding and empathy for co-workers, classmates etc. can come about that accelerates relationship building which then in turn can aid in shared projects, shared workspaces and interpersonal development.

A really good facilitator can also articulate and name the skills a person exhibited along their journey in life that they themselves may undervalue or think others will not find value in. It can also provide some good clues explaining why someone thinks, talks and behaves the way they do.

Is there an element of risk and trust in the sharing? Sure there is; there always is in most things worthwhile. Imagine the benefits.

Getting To Know A Co-Worker


You might be that person who hangs out after work with your co-workers; arranges Wings Nights, plays baseball or volleyball with some others and is generally the social bunny both at work and beyond. Like I say, you might be that person but I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not anti-social, I just like to separate my work life and my personal life, and the fact that I live in the Town of Lindsay but work 95 kilometres away in Oshawa Ontario makes hanging around after work to socialize more challenging. After all, I don’t want to arrive home with only an hour or two with my wife before hitting the sack and getting up to drive into work in the morning. My home life in my case takes priority.

At the office however I’m known as jovial, fun to be around, full of creativity, positive and use my interpersonal skills on a daily basis. If you find my self-description similar to your own, or if you want to know how to get to know your co-workers better within the confines of work hours, you might enjoy this read and try what I did just yesterday.

One of the new staff in my office is someone I’ve only known by name and face in the past when we’ve run into each other in training workshops we were involved in. Now that she’s here in our office on a full-time basis, I’ve been wanting to get to know her better and opportunity came  calling yesterday afternoon.

You see I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop which, unknown to me, she had approached her Supervisor for approval to attend. When she walked in ten minutes early, just the two of us were there and we started a quick conversation albeit about the topic of the workshop and her familiarity with the content or lack thereof. As the minutes rolled by, it became clear that for reasons unknown, no one else was showing up to this drop-in workshop.

Now normally that would be a huge disappointment for me, but the next 45 minutes would be the highlight of my day. I ran through my presentation for her quickly so she’d have a grasp of what the people we mutually serve normally hear so we could be consistent in our delivery and support each other as well as them.

Once completed, I seized upon the chance to move the conversation beyond the subject matter and more into a personal conversation designed to get to know one another better. The other option would have been for one of us to say, “Well I’ve got work to do; too bad no one showed up” and go our ways. All too often this happens. I’m telling you people, recognize these opportunities and jump all over them and get to know the people you work with. It was so much more productive than hanging out in a neighbourhood bar eating wings and trying to get into  multiple conversations with several people; well for me anyhow.

So what did we talk about that you might similarly talk about with your co-workers? Well it started with a question of mine (I know, big surprise there right?”) about why she made the move from Social Services Caseworker to Employment Consultant. I was thrilled with her motivation because it mirrored my own reasons a decade earlier. Like attracts like and surrounding oneself with others who think similarly to us is most often a good thing.

We talked what I call philosophy of service, and as much as I wanted to learn more about her thoughts and ideas, I took the time to share my service delivery thoughts and also how gratifying and privileged I feel to be in this role I find myself in. Here’s the real interesting thing that I’m sure you’ll acknowledge happens in conversations you have with others: the more we talked, the more the conversation deepened. We got past superficial surface stuff quickly and shared what we were passionate about.

I can tell you that by the end of our conversation I was thrilled to find a kindred spirit of sorts. She also expressed a future desire to join the team I’m currently on which would again transition her role to include workshop facilitation. This lead me to extend an offer of help, support and mentorship. After all, providing answers to her questions, general information and specifics about the most desired qualities to have on this team is good fodder for getting past a future interview and landing a job on the team.

What could have been a huge disappointment turned into a moment of magic. Well, not so much magic because anyone can do this; you can do this. We all have moments each day or several times a week when opportunities abound for dialogue and getting to know someone a little more intimately.

If your nervous or intimidated, breathe and start with, “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I’d like to get to know you a little better than I do if that’s okay.” Open with a couple of questions and you’ll find as they talk, you can stop stressing about your own comfort level and what to say next. Respond with genuine interest and share a little of yourself as appropriate.

When you know those you work with better, you can acknowledge others strengths and become stronger as a whole.

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?

 

Nurturing Relationships With Co-Workers


My neighbours immediately next door are in the middle of building a deck on the rear of their home and last night the last plank went on the deck. Now while there is still the railing to appear, it’s at least given them a solid surface to walk on for the moment.

My wife and I were out at a garden centre in the evening picking up some supplies when I mentioned I wanted to get them a plant as a kind of celebration because they’ve been wanting a deck for two years, and have also mentioned that they want some plants out back but have no idea where to start. So plant-in-hand, we returned and gave it to them last night. Well, the guy thanked me personally four times over the course of an hour as we were both outside doing chores; him with the deck, me with the lawn and fertilizer.

As I was cutting the lawn, I was thinking how that single act had made me feel good and so had the reaction on his part. He obviously felt really good too and said that we were very thoughtful. So it was a win-win, neighbour to neighbour relationship-building gesture that cost us about $22. Not bad.

Now in the workplace, what can you do to form and nurture positive working relationships with your co-workers? Well for starters, see the value in impromptu, short conversations that can establish you as friendly, interested and connected. Rather than seeing ‘chatting’ as unproductive and a waste of paid time, see it as keeping lines of communication open with those around you; especially with those with whom you will frequently interact and work with. Otherwise, when people hear your voice and see you coming, they’ll know beforehand you are only bringing them work and aren’t interested in them as a person, just as a co-worker. Taking a cursory interest in things that interest others; even just asking questions, can engage you in ways you may not immediately derive a benefit in, but it will come.

One of the things that I will share with you that my wife does is to make it a practice to go around each morning and just acknowledge her team members. A quick hello, an inquiry about last night, how are the kids, good to see you, it’s going to be a sunny day, etc. are all short comments that give the staff the impression that the Supervisor does care about them as a whole person, not just an employee. Done correctly this can serve the purpose of both ensuring folks are at work and on time but with an emphasis on really taking a personal interest in the people, and done incorrectly can just come across as micromanaging. Make sure your motives are right in greeting your co-workers and take a genuine interest in saying hello.

Be cautious about sharing all your problems all the time. Few people can tolerate someone who sucks the life right out of them. If you have some heavy news to share do it quickly and make sure not to consume an entire conversation. Just because you are down and feeling blue doesn’t mean others want to join you. Be honest and sincere, but do your best to also move the conversation along and perhaps back the people you are chatting with. What’s new with them?

If you have some training to go to, or a meeting off your regular work location, see if you can carpool. Carpooling is a good way to be with your co-workers but in a different situation. Maybe some tunes come on and you all start singing and realize the wonderful voice you didn’t know someone has, or you collectively agree that you can’t believe what some other driver just did. The conversations you’ll get onto can actually be very productive and you might resolve some issues that wouldn’t have come had you both been just sitting at a table trying to come up with some solutions.

Look for spontaneous opportunities to laugh. I work with roughly 50 people on a given day, and often several wear the same predominant colours in their clothing. So every now and then, an announcement goes out via email asking everyone wearing purple or some other colour to assemble for a quick picture. It’s a laugh, a quick photo, and then it gets put onto a drive where everyone can see the pictures. This is an example of some quick, spontaneous activity that gets people up and off their chairs, a short walk, a chance to smile or laugh, and feel connected. With digital photography, it’s free and then it’s back to your workstation perhaps a little more energized.

What relationship nurturing activities do you have where you work?