Etiquette for Office Cubicle Dwellers

Etiquette for Office Cubicle Dwellers

If you work in an open cubicle farm, you already know that a lack of privacy and frequent interruptions can cause cubicle dwellers to get on each others’ nerves. Here are some ground rules and etiquette tips to follow.

  • If you like to listen to music or the radio, keep the volume low or use headphones. Your neighbors may not work best with background music (or noise) and may not share your music preferences.
  • Don’t speak loudly. Avoid long, loud conversations—sometimes unrelated to work—with colleagues or on the phone. Step out of your cubicle into the hallway or an empty conference room. Don’t pursue conversations on sensitive topics—it is impossible to know who else is listening.
  • Avoid popping into others’ cubicles and parking yourself at an open seat. Don’t interpret an “open door” policy for a “no door” choice. Cubicles have made it easy to walk by someone, interrupt them, and start chatting. Don’t interrupt them if they seem busy. Prior to starting a conversation, take a second to ask them if now is a good time to talk. Remember that in the modern workplace, distractions kill productivity more than anything else.
  • Speak to people from the front. If someone’s sitting with their back to the entrance of their cubicle, don’t startle them. Instead, knock on the wall of their cubicle or take a moment to walk around to their front before talking to them.
  • Don’t look at others’ computer screens as you walk by their cubicles. Keep your glances out of other people’s space.
  • Workspace Cubicle Etiquette Don’t expect others to keep track of their neighbors. If you intend to seek out Anna but can’t find her at her cubicle, don’t expect James to know where Anna is because he’s right next door to her.
  • And, James may not want to have a chat with you while you wait for Anna. Don’t bother James. Leave a note for Anna and move on.
  • Don’t linger around someone’s cubicle if they are chatting with another person or on a phone call. Revisit at another time.
  • Don’t yell across cubicles. Walk over to the other’s location.
  • Never borrow items from other people in the office without letting them know. If they are away, leave a note on their table saying that you took the item and will return it as soon as possible.
  • Pay attention to personal hygiene and cubicle cleanliness. Don’t eat a smelly lunch. Don’t overuse perfumes. Don’t take off your shoes.
  • Personalize your workspace (it’s a sign of nesting) with framed pictures, area rugs, memorabilia, fresh flowers, a candy jar, and the like. Be discerning; don’t flaunt anything distracting, political, religious, unprofessional, or offensive.

Don’t Push Employees to Change

Don't Push Employees to Change One of managers’ most common complaints relates to their failure to persuade their employees to change.

Having high expectations of employees can lead to bitter disappointment. The frustration that comes from employees not wanting to change causes many managers to focus on their employees’ negative qualities. Such an attitude makes it easy to find errors in employee behavior, leading to more disappointment—even resentment.

Even when an employee wants to change, he often fails to because he is pulled in two directions: by a motivation to change and by a motivation to maintain the status quo. Since change is seldom as easy as we think it will be, the motivation to maintain the status quo often triumphs.

The real reason employees (and people in general) don’t change is that underneath each employee’s commitment to change, he has an underlying, even stronger commitment to something else, as identified his intrinsic motivation.

Employees Resistant to Change For instance, an employee who expresses a desire to earn a promotion may avoid tougher assignments on his current job because he may be anxious about not measuring up. This employee may not even be fully aware of his own opposition. Therefore, managers are best served by understanding what truly motivates (and limits) each employee—i.e. his elements of intrinsic motivation. Only then can managers, through coaching and feedback, impel the employee to change by channeling the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) through one of the employee’s elements of intrinsic motivation.

Idea for Impact: Trying to change people will result in frustration and futility. Employees may change for a short time, but unless they have a compelling reason for change, they will go back to their natural state. Managers must temper their expectations about changing employees. As the Buddha taught, one way to lessen disappointment in life is to learn to lower your expectations of others.

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Every manager should make employee retention a priority and regularly inquire, “How many of my star employees would leave my organization if they could?”

Employee turnover can be expensive. Managers must find and hire replacements, invest in training the new employees, and wait for them to get to up to speed—all while suffering productivity shortfalls during the transition. The more talented an employee, the higher the cost of replacing him/her.

Here’s what you need to do to keep your star employees around.

  1. Identify them. Find key attributes that distinguish top performers from average performers. Then rank your team against these attributes and identify those employees who are critical to your organization’s short- and long-term success.
  2. Perform salary and compensation research within your industry and offer an attractive-enough benefits package. Beyond a particular point, compensation loses much of its motivating power. Consider flexible work arrangements.
  3. Understand what your star employees value and help them realize their values and regard their work as meaningful, purposeful, and important. Often, the risk of losing employees because their personal values don’t correspond with the team’s values is far greater than the risk of losing them because of compensation.
  4. Get regular feedback from your star employees. Ask, “What can I do as your manager to make our organization a great place for you to work?” Let them tell you what they need and what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Adjust their assignments and their work conditions accordingly.
  5. Invest in training and development. Give star employees opportunities to develop their skills and increase their engagement and job security. Hold frequent and formal career discussions to determine employees’ goals and aspirations and coach them.
  6. Give your star employees the autonomy, authority, and resources to use their skills and do their jobs in their own way.
  7. Keep them challenged and engaged. Make work more exciting. Set aggressive, but realizable goals. Move your star employees around into positions in the company where they will face new challenges and develop critical skills. Employees would like to be challenged, appreciated, trusted, and see a path for career advancement.
  8. Appreciate and give honest feedback regularly. Make timely and informal feedback a habit. Don’t disregard employee performance until the annual review. Help employees feel confident about your organization’s future. Earn their trust.

How to Address Employees with Inappropriate Clothing

How to Address Employees with Inappropriate Clothing

Inappropriate dressing is one of those workplace concerns that is often ignored or forgotten until it becomes a problem. Revealing clothing can be an all-day distraction while a sloppy or untidy employee can project an unprofessional image about the entire company.

Some employees simply don’t get it when it comes to clothing choices for work. Inexperienced employees may walk into their offices wearing miniskirts, low rise jeans, baggy jeans that keep falling off the waist, baseball caps, spaghetti strap tops, low-cut blouses that expose the midriff, sandals, flip-flops, inappropriate tattoos, body piercings, or a three-day stubble.

Sadly, managers often avoid talking about inappropriate clothing because the highly sensitive and personal nature of those discussions makes them uncomfortable, especially when the offending employee is of the other gender.

Letting the problem fester makes the situation worse: each day the offending employee doesn’t hear an objection only reinforces his/her assumption that the clothing is appropriate and increases the prospect of a defensive reaction when a manager decides to finally address the issue.

How to Tell an Employee Who Is Dressed Inappropriately?

Dealing with unprofessional dress can be awkward, but it’s crucial to intervene directly, tactfully, and discretely.

  • Begin by having an official company policy on the expected work attire and making employees aware of it. Not only does a dress code set the standards for appropriate clothing, but it also provides a legal basis for addressing a problem without making it an issue of personal judgment. Given the modern-day relaxed rules concerning office attire, try to be specific as possible instead of using vague terms such as “business casual.” One best practice is to include pictures from dress stores for what is appropriate and what is not. Make sure the dress code is consistent with your company and industry’s culture and what your customers expect. Include policies regarding hygiene, personal grooming, tattoos, and piercings. Update the dress code to keep up with the latest professional, social, and fashion trends.
  • Inappropriate Dressing for Workplace Meet the offending employee discretely and ask, “Aaron, are you aware of our dress code?” Then, mention the specific instance of the problem, “Some of your clothes are a bit more provocative than appropriate for our workplace.” State facts and not judgments. Relate any rebuke to a business purpose, viz., the need for a professional workplace or dress-appropriateness in customer-facing roles. Ask the employee how he/she could rectify the matter. If necessary, remind that employees must accommodate the employer, not the other way around.
  • Be sensitive about religious, cultural, and gender-related aspects of office dressing. A male manager who needs to speak to a female employee (or vice versa) should consider having the problem subtly and discretely addressed through another female employee. Consider including another coworker in the conversation as a witness to prevent a discrimination claim. Seek guidance from human resources.
  • If the problem persists, try to converse again but have someone from human resources present.

Idea for Impact: A manager can forestall a great deal of employee problems by being proactive about setting expectations. Managers can and should create an appropriate work environment by defining hard boundaries on office etiquette, respectful interaction, and dress codes and then actively addressing concerns before they become problems.

How to Get Good Advice and Use It Effectively [What I’ve Been Reading]

How to Get Good Advice and Use It Effectively

Learning How to Take Advice Is Critical

To be effective in your job and personal life, you must be willing to identify your blind spots and recognize when and how to ask for advice. You must seek and implement useful insights from the right people and overcome any immediate defensiveness about your attitudes and behaviors.

Proverbs 15:22 suggests, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Effective advisers can bridge the gap between your vision of what you want to achieve and implementation of that vision.

'Taking Advice' by Dan Ciampa (ISBN 1591396689) There is extensive literature which offers guidance on giving advice (I particularly recommend Gerald M. Weinberg’s The Secrets of Consulting) and being an effective mentor. However, few resources address the equally important topic of using advisers wisely—particularly about when to solicit advice, how to seek trusted advisers, and how to best act upon their advice. Dan Ciampa’s excellent book Taking Advice fills this void.

“How Leaders Get Good Counsel and Use It Wisely”

Drawing from his vast experience as a leadership consultant, Ciampa provides a comprehensive framework for getting and using advice in Taking Advice. He identifies four elements of work and life where you’ll need advice:

  • strategic aspects
  • operational aspects
  • political aspects
  • personal aspects

Taking Advice’s most instructive element is the framework it provides for thinking through the kind of advice network you may need. Ciampa suggests that you deliberately build a “balanced advice network” which includes a mix of advisers from whom to seek the most effective advice. He identifies four types of advisers and details their specific roles and purposes:

  • the subject-matter experts who can offer you deep specialized/circumstantial knowledge
  • the experienced advisers who’ve previously faced similar circumstances or have been in similar positions
  • the partners who could engage in working relationships and operate up close or hash out ideas in greater detail for a longer duration
  • the sounding boards who proffer a ‘safe harbor’ where you can freely express your mind, discuss your insecurities, seek advice on personal challenges—all while feeling assured that they’ll honor confidentiality and ensure that your discussions remain private.

Providing practical examples, Ciampa describes three considerations for selecting the right advisers and forming strong relationships with them:

  • content: the adviser must possess the kind of expertise you’re looking for
  • competence: the adviser must have direct experience in your context
  • chemistry: the adviser must be compatible or sympathetic with the style and substance of your goals, targets, and mindsets

To derive the most help from advisers, Ciampa recommends techniques for productive advise-seeking:

  • Listen, understand, and accept feedback without becoming defensive
  • Seek advice as quickly as possible when facing challenges
  • Anticipate roadblocks and involve advisers in planning for contingencies
  • Avoid “yes-men” for advisers; do not bar opinions which may clash with or defy your own

Idea for Impact: Become a Good Advice-Seeker

Ciampa draws heavily from his leadership consulting experience and provides case studies of a few large companies’ senior leaders who, by virtue of their position, often feel insulated and isolated at the top. Nevertheless, his examples will benefit anyone seeking advice.

Recommendation: Read. Taking Advice offers important insights into a seemingly obvious dimension of leadership success, but one that’s often neglected, poorly understood, or taken for granted.

The comprehensive and practical framework discussed in Taking Advice will help you find the right kind of help from within and beyond your organization, get the most from your advisers, and deal effectively with emergent situations in your life and at work.

Don’t Reward A While Hoping for B

Effective Award Systems

We do what we are rewarded for doing. We are strongly motivated by the desire to maximize the positive consequences of our actions and minimize the negative consequences. Academics identify these aspects of behavioral psychology using the monikers “expectancy theory” and “operant conditioning.”

Flawed Reward Systems

Reward systems ought to commend positive behavior and punish negative behavior. But many organizations tend to reward one type of behavior when they really call or hope for another type of behavior. For instance,

  • A manager who wants his sales force to create long-term customer relationships mustn’t reward salespeople for new business from new customers, but for retaining customers and expanding sales to them.
  • A project manager focused on work quality shouldn’t reward a team for completing a project on time.
  • At institutions of higher learning, especially at prestigious universities, a professor’s primary responsibilities ought to be teaching and advising students. However, the academic rewards systems assert that the primary ways to achieve promotion and tenure are through successful research and publishing. Hence, given the constraints of time, a professor is likely to dedicate more time to research at the expense of quality teaching. Alas, mediocre teaching isn’t censured.
  • As I described in my article on “The Duplicity of Corporate Diversity Initiatives,” managers who extol the virtues of “valuing differences” stifle individuality and actively mold their employees to conform to the workplace’s existing culture and comply with the existing ways of doing things. Compliant, acquiescent employees who look the part are promoted over exceptional, questioning employees who bring truly different perspectives to the table.

“On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B”

In 1975, Prof. Steven Kerr wrote a famous article titled, “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B” that’s become a management classic. Over the decades, this article has been widely admired for its relevance and insight. The article (the 1975 original is here and the 1995 update is here) provides many excellent examples of situations where the reward structure subtly (or sometimes blatantly) undermines the goal. The abstract reads,

Whether dealing with monkeys, rats, or human beings, it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded, and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded. The extent to which this occurs of course will depend on the perceived attractiveness of the rewards offered, but neither operant nor expectancy theorists would quarrel with the essence of this notion.

Nevertheless, numerous examples exist of reward systems that are fouled up in that the types of behavior rewarded are those which the rewarder is trying to discourage, while the behavior desired is not being rewarded at all.

Idea for Impact: “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”

Aligning Reward Systems If you see behavior in your organization that doesn’t seem right or doesn’t make sense, ask what the underlying reward system is encouraging. Chances are that the offending behavior makes sense to the individual doing it because of inefficiencies in your reward system.

Take stock of your reward systems. Effective systems should induce employees to pursue organizational goals by appealing to employees’ conviction (or intrinsic motivations) that they will personally benefit by doing so. To inspire employees, translate levers of extrinsic motivation at your disposal to intrinsic motivation as I elaborated in my previous article.

Idea for Impact: Make sure that you understand and clearly communicate expectations, and reward what you really want your employees to achieve. Don’t encourage a particular behavior while promoting an undesirable one through your rewards and praises.

If You Want to Create Positive Change, Instill Pride

Eliciting top performance in employees is the essence of management.

And one of the most effective ways to motivate employees is to instill a sense of pride.

If You Want to Create Positive Change, Instill Pride Very often, managers try to command and control by instilling a sense of shame or fear: managers use these emotions when they are either unwilling or unable to persuade employees to meet expectations. Sure, shame and fear get results, but they do so at a cost: employees not only behave irrationally when they’re afraid or put to shame, but also become stressed, lose self-confidence, and grow resentful towards the manager and the organization.

The best way to motivate positive change is to invoke pride; try, “Jeremy, I am disappointed with your performance [on this task]. Given how well you did [an excellent job] on [a previous assignment], I know you can do a lot better than this.” This technique conjures up in the employee a sense of pride about a great previous performance and invokes a sense of guilt about failing to excel as before.

Pride is the most prominent element of intrinsic motivation that can be levered effectively to instill change. Remember that extrinsic motivation is in itself pointless; people will change only if intrinsically motivated.

Idea for Impact: Whether you’re managing or parenting, if you want to penalize, instill shame or fear; if you want to create positive change, instill pride.

Extrinsic Motivation Couldn’t Change Even Einstein

“He that complies against his will is of his own opinion still,” wrote the English poet and satirist Samuel Butler (1613–1680) in Hudibras (Part iii. Canto iii. Line 547.)

Extrinsic Motivation Couldn't Change Einstein to Quit Smoking

Einstein Wouldn’t Quit Smoking

Consider the case of a rational person as great as Albert Einstein. Grandson Bernhard Caesar Einstein, himself a reputed physicist, recalled in 1998 that Grandpa Einstein’s two prized possessions were his violin and smoking pipe; his reliance on the latter “bordered on dependency.”

Despite deteriorating health, Albert Einstein couldn’t be motivated to quit smoking. His doctor tried but just couldn’t convince Einstein to give it up. To circumvent the doctor’s effort to stop him from smoking, Einstein would scour his neighborhood’s sidewalks to collect discarded cigarette butts to smoke in his pipe.

People Will Change Only if Intrinsically Motivated

People are who they are; they have their (intrinsic) motivations and will continue to live their way. Despite well-meaning intentions, you simply can’t change them or mold their minds into your way of thinking.

You may be frustrated by their reluctance to mend their ways, stop engaging in destructive behavior, or even realize that they’re throwing away their potential. But you just can’t force change down their throats if they aren’t intrinsically motivated. You can only express your opinions, offer help, and even persist. Beyond that, you can only hope they change. You can control your effort and create the conditions for success. Beyond that, the outcomes of your efforts to change are outside your span of control. Control your efforts, not the outcomes.

As I elaborated in a previous article, you will succeed in changing another person’s behavior only if you can translate the extrinsic motivation at your disposal to the elements of his/her intrinsic motivation.

Idea for Impact: Extrinsic motivation is pointless in itself

You can’t change people; they must want to change for themselves. In other words, they must be intrinsically motivated to change. Extrinsic motivation is, in itself, pointless.

To Inspire, Translate Extrinsic Motivation to Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation Does not Exist

Motivation can be activated and manipulated in another person with the effect of altering his/her behavior and achieving shared objectives.

In a previous article, I have elaborated that motivation is derived from incentives (or disincentives) that are founded either externally or internally, through extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivations arise from within—for example, doing a task for its own sake. In contrast, extrinsic motivations propel you to seek external rewards or avoid threatened punishments.

Extrinsic Motivation Doesn’t Exist

One could argue that extrinsic motivation doesn’t exist—that all human behavior is motivated by intrinsic needs alone. In support of this viewpoint, Professor Steven Reiss of Ohio State University observes, “Extrinsic motivation does not exist as a separate and distinct form of motivation” and elaborates,

When I do something to get something else, ultimately I am seeking something of intrinsic value to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I go to work to support my family, and I value my family intrinsically. Some seek wealth so others will respect them, and they value their status intrinsically. In a means-ends chain of behavior, the end is intrinsically motivating, and it is the source of motivation for the means. The motive for the means is the same as for the end; it is an error in logic to assume that means are motivated by a different kind of motivation (extrinsic motivation) than are ends (intrinsic motivation.)

Try to imagine a chain of purposive behaviors that do not ultimately lead to some intrinsically valued goal. You can’t do it because such a chain has nothing to motivate it and, thus, never occurs. All behavior is motivated by an intrinsically valued goal.

Only Intrinsic Motivation Exists

Extrinsic motivation is nothing but a trigger for intrinsic motivation. Suppose that I ask you to refrain from smoking for a week in return for a $100 cash reward. Originally, you do not intend to refrain from smoking for a week, even if you acknowledge that smoking is harmful. In other words, you have no intrinsic motivation to refrain from smoking for a week. Therefore, the $100 offer acts as an extrinsic motivator. Upon further analysis, recognize that even though the $100 appears to be an extrinsic motivator, it capitalizes on your intrinsic desire to take the $100 to perhaps enjoy an evening out, take a loved one to dinner, or buy yourself a present. The $100 thus acts on an element of your intrinsic motivation.

A Case Study: How Xiang Yu Motivated Troops during the Battle of Julu

Commander Xiang Yu Chu Dynasty In ancient China, during the Battle of Julu in 207 BCE, Commander Xiang Yu led 20,000 of his Chu Dynasty troops against the Qin Dynasty. Yu’s troops camped overnight on the banks of the Zhang River. When they woke up the next morning to prepare for their attacks, they were horrified to discover that the boats they had used to get there had been sunk. Not only that, but their cauldrons (cooking pots) had been crushed and all but three days’ worth of rations destroyed.

The Chu troops were infuriated when they learned that it was their commander, Yu, who had ordered the destruction of the boats, cauldrons, and supplies. Yu explained to his troops that this maneuver was to motivate them to mount a spirited attack on the enemies. They had no chance to retreat and were thus forced to achieve victory within three days. Otherwise, they would die trapped within the walls of an enemy city without supplies or any chance of escape. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Yu’s motivated troops defeated the 300,000-strong Qin army and scored a spectacular victory within three days.

Xiang Yu cleverly translated extrinsic motivational devices at his command (viz. lack of boats, cauldrons, and supplies) to instigate a powerful intrinsic motivator of survival and success in his troops.

Idea for Impact: To Motivate Another, Always Lever Elements of Intrinsic Motivation

When trying to motivate a person who lacks intrinsic motivation for a certain behavior, first understand what truly motivates that person—i.e. his/her other elements of intrinsic motivation. Then translate the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) at your disposal through one of the other’s elements of intrinsic motivation.

The Difference between Coaching and Feedback

Coaching vs. Feedback

Perhaps this is a matter of semantics; but in my leadership consulting, I help managers identify the following nuances between coaching and feedback.

In the following discussion, ‘feedback’ refers chiefly to corrective or “negative” feedback. Appreciative or “positive” feedback in the form of honest praises, approvals, and compliments are just as essential as corrective feedback. As I’ve written in previous articles, great managers communicate corrective feedback and appreciative feedback distinctly instead of interspersing them in the form of “feedback sandwiches.”

Differences between Coaching and Feedback

  • Coaching is preparative. Feedback is corrective.
  • Coaching focuses on possibilities. Feedback focuses on adjustment.
  • Coaching is about future behavior. Feedback is about past (and current) behavior.
  • Coaching is inquiry-oriented. Feedback is scrutiny-oriented.
  • Coaching stems from developmental needs. Feedback stems from judgmental needs.
  • Coaching is about assisting employees reach their goals for the future. Feedback is about helping employees understand what prevents them from reaching their current goals.
  • Coaching is about advocating optimal performance. Feedback is about reinforcing appropriate behavior.
  • Coaching is more about helping employees grow. Feedback is more about helping employees not fail. (Both coaching and feedback are about helping employees succeed.)
  • Coaching guides employees in the direction that suits them best. Feedback ensures that employees uphold espoused values and meet expectations.