William Armstrong

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Dealing with feelings

The headline on a recent newspaper article said that many people want to sock a co-worker. Coupled with what appears to be an escalation in workplace violence, I admit I wasn’t too surprised.

According to the research, one employee in six said that in the past year, they had wanted to punch a co-worker. The numbers were even higher for people under age 35, especially those working in clerical, office and sales positions.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup organization, included 750 workers over the age of 18.

In a similar survey conducted one year ago, 42 percent said they were often “at least a little angry” at work. This year the number increased to 49 percent — nearly half of those polled.

The Marlin Co., which publishes and markets motivational, educational and safety materials, commissioned the study. Said Frank Kenna, the company’s president: “This is a serious problem for people who manage any of these people. Their ability to recognize and deal with anger and potentially violent behavior is absolutely critical.”

I remembered an incident about a year ago at an assembly plant. Someone had scheduled a group of people to meet with me at a time that was apparently too close to the shift change. Only one employee showed up — and he was angry. The first words out of his mouth were, “You don’t want to talk to me, dude. I hate this (expletive deleted) place!” Then he added, “Sometimes I want to get my gun and blow my (expletive deleted) supervisor away.”

I figured that since we were both being paid for the time, I was going to get him to talk. During the entire interview, he never looked at me once, and I remained “dude.”

But in the next few minutes, he revealed some interesting information. He said his supervisor often cussed him out and treated him like dirt. “Just like my old man,” he said. “He croaked a few years ago. Good riddance.

“He used to beat on me all the time when I was a kid,” he continued. “No matter how I tried, that old (expletive deleted) never gave me any credit for anything. He said I was a waste of good spit!”

Thinking it might be a good time to change the subject, I asked what he would like to do if he didn’t have to work. His response was quick.

“Oh, me and my buddy are gonna take our motorcycles and go out West. We’re going live in Arizona, New Mexico. Man, we’ll just ride all day long!”

Since I was somewhat familiar with the area, we talked about that part of the country. His anger faded as he talked about some of the places he had seen on his last visit. He became a different person, a person you could easily learn to like.

As he left, he stuck out his hand. “Nice talking to you, dude,” he said. As he reached the door, he turned slowly and added, “You know, this ain’t such a bad place to work. I’ve seen worse.”

The research presented in the article pointed out that 64 percent of those surveyed said that at least part of their frustration was because their equipment frequently malfunctioned. These same people expressed dissatisfaction because they felt their co-workers wasted an average of 75 minutes a day on computer games, personal calls and e-mail.

My advice to you, as leaders and managers, is this: Get to know your people. Show them they are important to you and to the organization.

My own research has shown that more than 50 to 60 percent of your people don’t need direct supervision if their equipment is functioning properly and they have a steady work flow.

By investing a little of your time getting to know your people and eliminating the root causes of their dissatisfaction, you’ll make significant improvements in reducing stress and improving performance. At the same time, you will greatly enhance the value of the person.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or via e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

The power of one

Here we are, not just facing a whole new year, but a whole new century. So what challenges will the new millennium bring? What problems? What opportunities? What lessons from the past can we use to our advantage in the new century?

There was a time early in this century when Congress actually considered closing the Patent Office. Many of the leaders of the time believed that everything that could be invented already had been. After all, didn’t we have the wireless and the telephone? And up in Detroit, a guy named Ford was saying that everyone soon would be able to buy a horseless carriage.

One thing is certain, though, at this point: The next century will be different. The advances in technology will continue — probably even more rapidly than in the recent past. If the past is any indicator, everything will change. Our markets will change. Our people will change. And all of that will necessitate changes in how we manage our businesses.

So, how do we prepare for all this change? Traditionally we prepare for the new year by making a list of resolutions. The list usually consists of good intentions. We plan to eat healthier foods, exercise more, and in general, make an effort to become better people. Occasionally we actually keep our resolutions, at least for a time.

The secret to improving the quality of life in the coming century begins with you. You are a leader, and you need to be the best you can be — in your workplace, in your home and in your community. If you are a good leader, you can improve the quality of life for the people around you. And it will improve exponentially in ever-widening circles. The positive influence you can generate will spread as others become energized.

One of the greatest gifts you, as a leader, can give to the people around you is gift of flexibility. Teach them that change is always with us — and that the rate of change is sure to escalate. Going from the horseless carriage to the computer chip will be nothing compared to the change we will face in the coming years.

Some change will be good for us, some will not. Regardless, as a nation, we need the ability to react quickly, to take advantage of the positive changes, and to avoid or eliminate the changes that pose a threat. Our greatest enemy will always be complacency. And fear.

But with complacency and fear comes decline. If we are to remain a vital society, we must continue to respond to change and use change to our advantage.

It begins with one person. As a leader, you are the one who can make the difference. You will be the one who will inspire others to keep the wheels of progress moving forward at an ever-increasing pace. You can inspire people to avoid complacency, and to see the opportunities that lie hidden in every change.

So add one more resolution to your list. As the pages of the calendar turn, resolve to share the gift of flexibility with those around you.

Remember that you represent the Power of One.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412)276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:47

Beyond first impressions

I was recently thinking about something I read a while back. I don’t recall the source, but the quote was, “You learn about life when you learn to love the people you don’t even like.”

There’s a great deal of wisdom in that little phrase, for all of us. Whether it’s in school, the workplace, or even the home, there are times when we are not certain how much we really care for the people around us. According to a quip from Reader’s Digest a few years back, a little boy wrote a letter to God.

He said. “Dear God, I can’t understand how you can love everyone in the whole world ... There are only five in my family, and I can’t do it!”

When I was starting out, many years ago, I worked with a large group of salesmen in a rather confined area. One fellow seemed to have a smart remark every time I said something. This went on for nearly a year. Finally I suggested we take our differences outside. I’m certainly not proud of my lack of maturity, but it was a long time ago.

The other fellow looked at me with what could best be described as shock. And I’ll never forget his next words: “But I just wanted to get your attention so we could be friends.”

Strange as it may seem, that little exchange has had an important impact on my life. When I form an instant dislike for another person, I make a sincere attempt to determine why I feel this way. What is it about this person that causes me to react to him or her so negatively?

In all honesty, after thinking about it for a time, if I do find something I don’t like, it probably isn’t that important. In most cases you may never see the person again. So why get bent out of shape over a perfect stranger?

On the other hand, if this is a co-worker, some effort should be made to discover a common ground that allows you to work together without this becoming an issue. If you’re managing someone you don’t like, that can be a serious problem.

When you accept the mantle of leadership, you must make a conscious effort to treat all of your people equally. Granted, this doesn’t always happen in the real world. We all are subject to some degree of prejudice, envy and personal bias. But in these difficult times, with the stress and the proclivity toward violence, people in management — in leadership positions — must make an extra effort to provide guidance and act as positive role models.

At least 20 percent of the people in any organization suffer from low self-esteem. They often feel unimportant. They don’t see their work as important. They feel left out. They are the people who hesitate to offer suggestions and ideas to improve performance.

And yet, in my experience, they often have a completely different perspective on the tasks they are performing, which can provide valuable insights for improving performance. The tendency often is to avoid them because they are not aggressively outgoing. They don’t readily speak up with their ideas.

Take a few moments to say hello. Show appreciation for their efforts. Solicit their suggestions.

I can’t honestly say I ever became a social buddy with the guy I mentioned, but I do run into him on occasion. And we do have a friendship of sorts, which we wouldn’t have had if first impressions had won out.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:41

Your desktop resort

A deadline is fast approaching; the pressure is mounting and the walls seem to be closing in. Maybe it’s a good time to take a vacation.

“That’s months away!” you scoff to yourself.

Not so. You may not realize it, but you have an opportunity to regroup and refresh right at your fingertips.

In an instant, you can be in the mountains, or at the shore, or at your favorite golf course. You can close your eyes for a few minutes and clear away the mental clutter. Then you can face the day, and any problems you may have, with a clear head and a fresh new approach.

“Garbage!” you say. “I’ve got an important job here. I can’t get swept up in the euphoria of some New-Age mumbo jumbo.”

Hold on a second. When your mind is tied in knots — when it’s cluttered with a lot of “stuff,” related to business or otherwise — you’re not at your peak efficiency. Too many random and unrelated thoughts have a tendency to slip into your decision-making process. You won’t process information effectively and you won’t make the best possible decisions, because you are short-circuiting one of your greatest resources: your intuition.

Intuition is the flow of insights, hunches, and premonitions that make up your internal guidance system. One writer refers to intuition as “the urgings of the spirit.”

Regardless of how you think of it, your intuition is a powerful resource. It acts as a filter to screen out trivia and give greater emphasis to the information that is of greater importance to you. Think about all of the times you’ve faced problems and your first thoughts turned out to be the best answer. In all probability, that was your intuition at work.

According to author Gary Zukav, intuition serves several purposes:

Intuition serves survival. It signals when danger is near. It tells you when you are facing abnormal risk and when you’re about to make a mistake. It could have been your intuition that told you not to buy that stock. Your intuition and your spouse were both right.

Intuition serves creativity. It provides new ideas and insights. It provides the suggestion that an idea which has never been tried before might work.

Intuition provides inspiration. It’s the sudden illumination that shines through the confusion — the sudden answer to a perplexing question.

So, rather than chase your tail around a problem until the last possible moment — and then make a slap-dash decision — visit your desktop resort. Take a minute or two to refresh yourself. Take several deep breaths. Let some fresh air in.

Recall a particularly enjoyable experience. Savor it. Gain a new perspective about the problem, your life, your family and your job.

Ah, yes — your job. OK, now is the time to go back and tackle that problem — with a fresh mind and a new approach. Put your intuition to work. Let your mind do its job. Allow it to recognize and consider all the options and present to you the best possible solution. Chances are, that problem won’t seem quite so insurmountable now.

And whatever you do, please don’t tell your travel agent about all the money that I saved you. Let’s keep the desktop resort as our little secret. William Armstrong, a management consultant for 31 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

A fond farewell

For nearly three years, it has been my pleasure to write this column and share a few pearls from my experiences. But life is full of surprises, and later this month, my wife, Margaret Tyndall, and I will be moving to the Big Apple.

So, I've been thinking about what I could say as an appropriate farewell to the city I have called home for 35 years. Certainly, regular readers will know how I feel about the importance of the special relationship between a manager and his or her people. It may sound a bit old-fashioned in today's business environment, but your people are still your greatest resource. Investments in developing your people will continue to pay dividends.

In several columns, I wrote about the importance of having a clearly defined vision or mission statement that can provide direction to people, one that creates a sense of community which allows your workers an opportunity to enjoy a sense of participation and personal growth from their working experiences.

I also have written about the importance of creating a working environment based on mutual trust, and how an organization can save money by establishing an atmosphere founded on values and principles rather than relying on rules and regulations. In his book "Trust," Francis Fukuyama points out that systems of formal rules and regulations have to be negotiated, agreed to, litigated and enforced. Monitoring rules and regulations can be costly and disruptive, while a sense of trust can add value to an organization.

Without a doubt, the column that resulted in the greatest number of phone calls and e-mail -- and speaking opportunities -- was the one entitled "Workplace Spirituality" (August 1999). It was gratifying to know that so many people recognize that there is a place for the Golden Rule in the workplace. I'm talking about spirituality, not religion, per se. People have a right to believe, or not to believe. They have a right to work without feeling compelled to accept another person's belief system.

But, in today's environment, with all the mistrust, anger and violence, an ever-increasing number of people are looking for a sense of purpose for their lives. It's apparent to me from my interactions in workshops and following speeches that people are looking for a way to make their lives more meaningful.

Since most people spend the majority of their time working, having a strong sense of purpose in their work can readily transfer to their personal lives. One way to help people grow through their work is to encourage a sense of commitment. I realize that, today, it's not uncommon for people to change jobs and even make complete career changes with alarming regularity. But where a strong sense of commitment to the job and to the organization exists, so does a greater sense of purpose.

W. H. Murray wrote: "Until one is committed, there is hesitancy ... the moment one commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred ... "

The commitment that builds within each organization ultimately will expand to the community at large. And the result will be a stronger and more viable Pittsburgh.Best wishes to you all. William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Until he leaves for New York City, he can be reached at (412) 276-7396.

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