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The following are three real-life letters from Dale Carnegie students to Michael Crom, the executive vice president of Dale Carnegie Training, as well as Crom’s responses. The actual names have been changed, but the answers provided by Crom are sure to help with any business’s day-to-day operations.
Lesson 1 — Putting the spark into an employee
Dear Carnegie Coach:
I was a young adult in the ‘60s so I can appreciate someone being mellow. But Trevor, a new employee in my department, takes mellowness to such an extreme that it is affecting the team’s morale. I manage the tax accounting department for a large international company. We have very seasoned professionals. Trevor’s credentials are good for someone in their mid-twenties, but people complain about him being too laid back. I know he is bright and cares about his work, but he doesn’t project that to the rest of the team. He gets his work done but there just doesn’t seem to be any spark in him. How can I make him project his enthusiasm? — Allan
The first thing you have to do is decide if you have a performance issue or a generational culture gap. You say he gets his work done, he cares about doing good work and he knows his job. Sounds like a pretty good employee to me. Of course, even if he’s doing his work, there could be problems with his mellowness. Is the team spending time complaining about Trevor when they should be discussing work issues? Is Trevor in danger of being passed over for promotions or better assignments because people feel he’s not “high-energy?” Does Trevor care about that?
I would sit down with Trevor on two occasions for very different conversations:
1. Conduct an “inner-view.”
While most employers do a good job at assessing their recruits’ skills and talents in an interview, we often leave it there and forget we are hiring the complete person. You need to get inside Trevor’s head to see what motivates him.
Ask questions such as:
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What is your favorite pastime?
- If you won the lottery, what would you do with your life?
- What was your favorite college course?
- Why did you go into accounting?
You get the idea. You’re trying to discover what will ignite the spark in Trevor’s heart while possibly gaining some insight into why he is so mellow.
I once did this with an employee who was downright boring; Fred never showed any excitement about anything, even though he was pursuing a doctorate in geography and had two beautiful children. I found out that when Fred was 10 years old, he was taken away from his mentally ill mother and raised in a series of foster homes. He was scared to show too much emotion because he equated emotionalism with mental illness. Following that, I could see the signs of his enthusiasm — the picture on his desk, the slight smile, etc. I just needed to see the world through his eyes.
2. Explain company politics.
Every company has its politics and Trevor may not know that he’s being cast in a bad light in the political arena. Explain to him how he’s perceived and what it might mean for his future. Emphasize that he doesn’t have to change his personality to keep his job; but that he might find work more fulfilling and his co-workers friendlier if he made a few cosmetic changes in his persona. Remember that if he doesn’t want to change, you can’t make him.
With the information gained from these conversations, you then can help your department run smoother. You can find projects that enthuse Trevor and you can communicate to the team how important Trevor’s role is. At the same time, Trevor will have accountability for his actions.
Lesson 2 — Avoiding the pitfalls of presentation
Dear Carnegie Coach:
I have just been promoted to editor at my well-known publishing company. My new role will require me to make numerous presentations to both upper management and external customers. I’ve taken a public speaking/presentations course in college but have never presented in the “corporate” world. How can I ensure that I do a great job and avoid mistakes? — Theresa
First, allow me to congratulate you on your new position which shows that you already have support from at least one person who believes you will do a great job in your new role — your boss. Now, to get to the presentation.
Since you’ve taken a public speaking course already, you know the basics: plan, prepare, practice and present. Below is some advice that will help you steer clear of mistakes speakers commonly make:
1. Know your topic. The worst mistake is trying to speak on a topic you don’t know enough about, or don’t care about. You need to know your subject thoroughly. And you must be enthusiastic about it.
2. Prepare as best you can by researching. Then, start thinking about professional and personal experiences of your own to tie to the topic. It’s easier to speak confidently from the personal perspective. It also helps increase rapport — and credibility — with your audience.
3. You should put your main points or ideas on 3x5 cards and build your talk from these concise notes, or an outline. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of reading to your audience, weakening the all-important human connection. There are occasions when writing a speech makes sense, particularly if there are policy or legal issues involved. Still, you want to write like you talk.
4. When rehearsing, remember to actually “speak the speech.” Just running through it mentally is not enough. Rehearse your speech alone, with others, or by using an audio or videotape. Better yet, do all three.
5. If you’re using visuals, be sure not to use too many. That can cause the visuals to become the message instead of the speakers and what they are saying.
6. Wrap it up with a productive question and answer session. Have a few questions ready in case the audience doesn’t respond. Start with, “A question I often hear is...” This primes the audience to jump in with their own questions.
7. And finally, know your audience. Who are they? What are their values? What’s important to them? Why did they invite you to speak?
Lesson 3 — How to motivate at-home workers
Dear Carnegie Coach:
I work for a large insurance company as the manager of actuarial services. A few months ago we gave our employees the option of working from home. Seven of my nine employees decided to try it and while the quantity of work is getting done, the quality is beginning to suffer. I can’t really pinpoint it but there seems to be less heart and spirit in the work. Any advice? — Joanne
You’ve encountered the biggest problem with the new flexible workplace: keeping a sense of community when people are isolated. Frequently we find that people who work at home are more productive, but sometimes their work seems to miss the big picture because they don’t have day-to-day contact with their co-workers. The sense of teamwork can fall apart and the employees sometimes begin to resent any intrusion into their very predictable days. Your job, as the department manager, is to keep this loose group of employees working together for common goals. Try some of these tactics:
1. Create a virtual water cooler. Call each person daily. These don’t have to be lengthy sessions but they should serve to keep everyone on the same page. Talk about anything important that happened the day before, including interesting non-work subjects, such as personnel news from other departments. This will help each employee feel as though he or she is still a part of the company.
2. Hold a weekly on-site meeting. Again, the less formal, the better. This is the time to create the team feeling. You need to point out how the various projects they’re working on interrelate to each other and to other projects in the company. Encourage your employees to call each other with questions by fielding questions at this meeting and pointing out who has expertise in the area.
3. Remember their personal lives. Think of a normal day at the office and you’ll notice that it’s much more than getting work done. People interact with each other as unique individuals. They discuss family, life and world events. Create opportunities to bond with each other just that by going out for lunch as a team for birthdays or going bowling when a deadline is met.
4. Create friendly competition. Take a cue from sales managers who have to create teams from people spread across the country. They rely on contests as well as weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly goals with individual and group awards. The prize is less meaningful than the friendly competition in motivating people to stay focused. In your case, you might divide the staff into teams who compete to get projects completed days before deadline.
5. Tell them they’re important. Reward absolutely every achievement with a phone call, a dozen cookies or a quick note of appreciation. Remind each person — constantly — how important he or she is to the company and to the department. Be specific about their contributions.
6. Keep the team alive to the company. Just as you try to keep your employees active members of the company, it’s important to make sure the company remembers the at-home workers. Mention achievements at meetings and post them on bulletin boards. Send memos that discuss your team’s contributions.
Michael Crom is the executive vice president of Dale Carnegie Training. If you have a question or need advice on a certain topic, please visit the Dale Carnegie website or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.