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    Entries in work (231)


    Employee of the Week - '75 Stingray Edition

    I am not a huge car guy, (some close friends might know that recently I flirted with purchasing a sweet white 2003 Ford Crown Victoria because I thought it would be fun to cruise the freeway and have everyone I approached from behind think I was actually a State Trooper, but I digress), but I found this recent story about the intersection of car culture and employee recognition and rewards pretty fun.

    In Michigan, home of the American auto industry, a chimney sweeping and cleaning company named Doctor Flue has put a new spin on the traditional 'Employee of the Week/Month' certificate or plaque on the office wall and replaced it with, get this, use of a 1975 Corvetter Stingray that the selected employee will have use of for the week of their recognition.

    Additionally, the Stingray has been fitted with a custom car wrap in the Doctor Flue corporate colors, and has a vanity licence plate that reads 'My Week.' So as the employee of the week rides down the road showing off the '75 'Vette he or she will help spread the corporate message and brand, and also to help promote Doctor Flue as a fun and rewarding place to work. 

    I don't want to make too much of this story, I did think it was kind of interesting and fun and that is why I decided to post about it on the blog today. But it does give us another reminder of what should be pretty obvious and apparent but often is not - that many of the time-honored and traditional ways that our organizations try and recognize and reward employees could benefit from a fresh dose of creativity and new thinking.

    Getting a mention and a kudo in the company 'all-hands' meeting or having your name etched onto a plaque that hangs on the wall in the corporate lobby is nice. It's even pretty cool. And lots of companies still do those kinds of things.

    Cruising down the road for a week in a custom 1975 Corvette Stingray with 'My Week' on the tag is much, much cooler. You'd spend the entire week talking to people about the car, where you work, how you came to get use of the car, etc.  You'd probably be really proud of both where you work and what you specifically accomplished to garner the recognition and reward. No one drives around town waving their 'Employee of the Month' certificate out of the window.

    And that is pretty cool.

    Happy Wednesday.


    Every environment has too much information to process

    Most of the folks reading this will probably agree to both of the following statements:

    1. I am a frequent multi-tasker.

    2. I think I am pretty good at multi-tasking.

    Because we pretty much have to be, right?

    There is always too much going on, too much work to do, too many family and personal commitments (I bet someone is reading this post right now on their smartphone while 'watching' one of their kids play soccer or in a dance rehearsal), too many things to read, too many social networks that need attention - you get the idea.

    And the truth of it is that in just about every situation we encounter (save for any time spent in long-term solitary confinement), we are always juggling, choosing, focusing on some, and trying to eliminate other messages and stimuli in our environment. Think about the simple, everyday act of driving a car for example. You are simultaneously monitoring road conditions, gauges on the car's dash, the weather, traffic signals, other drivers, pedestrians, those idiots on their bicycles that give you dirty looks when they're the ones who are the menace, and more. 

    And some of you have become so good at it that you can add applying makeup or carrying on a Twitter chat (not recommended), while behind the wheel.

    But I think the driving example is a perfect illustration of how we trick ourselves into thinking we are actually much, much better at multi-tasking that we really are. We get deluded into thinking we are good at it, or we simply accept the fact as a given that we have to be good at it, and continue onward in fruitless quest to be great, (or at least pretty good), at everything at all times.

    And now there is new research that suggests that not only are we not as good at multi-tasking as we think we are, that prolonged multi-tasking actually makes us worse at multi-tasking itself - kind of a counter-intuitive spin on 'practice makes perfect.'

    Check this excerpt from the Priceonomics blog - a look at some recent Stanford University research into multi-tasking and it's effect on task completion and task juggling.

    People generally recognize that multitasking involves a trade-off - we attend to more things but our performance at each suffers. But in their study “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” Professors Ophira, Nass, and Wagner of Stanford ask whether chronic multitasking affects your concentration when not explicitly multitasking. In effect, they ask whether multitasking is a trait and not just a state.

    To do so, they recruited Stanford students who they identified as either heavy or light “media multitaskers” based on a survey that asked how often they used multiple streams of information (such as texting, YouTube, music, instant messaging, and email) at the same time. They then put them through a series of tests that looked at how they process information.

    People generally get better at activities they do often. But that may not be true of multitasking. Since heavy multitaskers often switch between research and emails or Facebook chats and work, we'd expect them to outperform the light multitaskers at switching back and forth between the two tasks. But they actually performed worse as their delta was higher than that of the light multitaskers.

    The professors conclude that frequent multitaskers seem to “have greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant stimuli from their environment, [be] less likely to ignore irrelevant representations in memory, and are less effective in suppressing the activation of irrelevant task sets (task-switching).” More colloquially, the multitaskers were more easily distracted from a single task and worse at switching between tasks.

    Let that sink in - we get worse and worse at multitasking the more we do it.

    If the conclusions from this study are at all accurate, then that does not bode too well for those of us that have conditioned ourselves to be constantly hopping from one thing to the next. And technology, it seems to me, isn't really helping in this regard. Rather than trying to exploit technology to make things simpler, more clear-cut, and maybe more efficient, I think most of us are simply using it to consume more, interact more, do more, and attempt to be (virtually) in five places at once.

    So let's re-visit the two statements that led off this post and re-word them a little.

    1. I am a frequent multi-tasker. (ok that one will probably still be valid for a while)

    2. I think I am pretty good terrible at multi-tasking, and the more I do it the worse I get.

    What tips or ideas do you have to combat the seemingly overwhelming urge to multi-task?


    Red eye flights, skinny jeans, and being tough enough to work here

    Disclaimer: It is a total coincidence that I have the second post about Ford Motor Company in as many weeks. I am not on the Ford payroll. In fact, I have a Chevy truck. So there.

    Mission statements, culture maps, or an articulation of the 'vision' or purpose of an organization - these are all fairly common in organizations and often mocked or at least ignored. Usually they are either so vague and obvious that they are meaningless - 'We strive to delight our customers every day', or are so specific and drawn-out that they read like marketing brochure copy - 'Our goal is to be the top-rated supplier of industrial fasteners, ties, and aluminum sprockets to the machine, engine, and turbine sub-assembly markets that we compete in around the world.'

    So when you come across a mission statement or a list of operating principles that actually doesn't suck, and doesn't take itself too seriously, (I think a pre-requisite for 'not sucking') that are a part of an organization's DNA it is fairly noteworthy or at least interesting.

    So the connection back to Ford, (and once more for clarity, I am a Chevy guy), is this piece from Forbes - Are You Manly Enough to Own a Ford Truck?, that provides a glimpse into some of the unique rules/expectations/operating principles that are apparently a part of the makeup of not just people who buy Ford trucks, but as you will see from some of the items on the list, also the people that work at Ford building the trucks.

    Here are a few selections from the list - and I'll have some comments after the break:

    • Raw meat is acceptable team food.  Raw fish is not.
    • Roller luggage is expressly forbidden, except for golf bags.
    • Earplugs are not permitted at NASCAR races or National Hot Rod Association events.
    • No whining!
    • Airport trams and moving sidewalks are off-limits in order to promote team conditioning.
    • No wimpy cell phone ring tones.
    • Jackets or ponchos are acceptable rain gear. Umbrellas are not.
    • True BFT Truck Team members wear real jeans, not skinny jeans.
    • For flights departing at 7 a.m. or later, an office appearance is expected prior to departure. Red-eye flights are expected to maximize productivity.
    • There are no “travel days.”


    A pretty cool list, if not totally serious, but it does go quite a bit further than most standard mission statements or organizational philosophy statements do to better describe the type of people that will actually be likely to succeed, (or at least get along), in the group.

    I like the list because it is descriptive, specific, and funny. The kinds of traits that we often find lacking in most corporate-speak that passes for HR and organizational communication. Are these 'real' rules for working on the Ford Trucks team? Are they actually used in hiring and retention discussions?

    I don't know for sure, but that doesn't make them less cool, and it doesn't stop any of us from thinking about our version of a similar list of philosophies, expected behaviors, and personality types of the people that we want to work with and that will succeed.

    Have a great week everyone!


    Getting reacquainted with the nightmare that is commuting 

    I have to admit in the last few years I have become incredibly spoiled. Since 2010 or so, for the most part I have been a 'work at home' person, (when not on the road at really tough duty places like Las Vegas, Chicago, or the San Francisco area). I have not had to deal (much) with what the below chart shows, that about 95% of the rest of the American working population put up each day with the commute to and from their workplaces.

    Here's the chart I am talking about (hat tip to the NPR Planet Money blog), and I'll have some comments after the break...

    Source - US Census Bureau

    Notable in the Census Bureau stats on commuting is the decline over the last 50 or so years in the percentage of workers that work at home and the percentage that are using public transportation. The Census folks think that the  'work at home' dip over that time horizon is mostly due to the dramatic decrease in family farmers, (who mostly worked and lived on their own farms). The drop in public transport is chalked up to the rise of the suburban lifestyle which combined to put people farther away from the traditional pockets of employment in the city centers, and are simply not served with as many, or any, public transport options.

    Regardless of where you reside across the spectrum of commuting options, it seems to me that one thing is almost universally true - most of us loathe, dread, and hate our commutes.

    I thought to post about this today for two reasons, one, I had seen the NPR piece yesterday and found it interesting, and two, I've had to leave my cushy basement home office each of the last three mornings to take my son to a summer camp/program this week.  So instead of my usual groggy stumble down one flight of stairs to the coffee pot, followed by a slightly less groggy stumble down a second set of stairs to the office, I've had to join the other 84% or so of folks out on the road each morning, dealing with traffic, (admittedly not much), traffic lights, and everyone who is not as accomplished a driver as me, (everyone).

    And I have been reminded how horrible commuting is, even when it is 'good' by national standards, (the camp location is about 9 miles away, probably 20-25 minutes each way).

    What's the point of all this? 

    I guess to share the stats in the chart above as they were kind of interesting and surprising. Sometimes we 'work at home' folks socialize and collaborate with so many other work at home folks that we get deluded into thinking way more people also work at home than actually do. If you are working at home, even in 2013, you're the outlier.

    And second, to think about some ways we can make life a little better for the 84% in their cars, alone each day. Whether it's flexible starting/ending times to get people out of rush hour a little more, the chance to skip the road all together once a week or so and join us weirdos that work at home, or even some kind of little perk like onsite car washes, oil changes, tire rotations - that kind of thing. It seems to me that 84% of your workforce is likely starting the workday ticked off about something that happened on the road on the way in. That can't be good for those 8:00AM staff meetings.

    Commuting is horrible, even when it is easy, and even when you don't have to do it all that often.

    I could not imagine going back to that grind every day. 

    What can/are you doing to make your commute a little more bearable? Hit me up in the comments.


    More proof that lots of us are horrible people who haven't grown up

    The things we did at the age of 12 or 14 or even 18, while potentially cringe-worthy when thinking back on them, we like to think are safely left in the past and can be chalked up to and rationalized away by some combination of youth, peer pressure, insecurity, and simply not knowing better. We all did dumb or cruel or even borderline criminal things at some point. But most of us, we think, have left that nonsense behind as we've grown up, become educated, pursued our careers, and maybe even had kids of our own, (who surely, won't make the same mistakes we did).

    And I think that is mostly true. Even if you were a part of the 'cool kids' group in school and made fun of or hassled, or even just ignored the 'non-cool' kids, ('cool' and 'non-cool' being completely elusive and situational concepts, but I am sure you know which group you were a part of), you've moved on. Because the things or attributes that defined 'cool' and 'non-cool' when you were 15 are certainly not really relevant or meaningful in the adult world, and particularly in the workplace.  How someone dresses, their hobbies, even their physical attractiveness - all pretty important things in the social order in high school - don't really factor in to the day-to-day at work. Or at least they shouldn't.Ready-to-wear, Stuart Davis 1955

    But perhaps they still do, in more ways than we care to think about, and in ways we'd prefer to ignore. 

    Check the details from a recent study on the influence of attractiveness on what is termed as 'Counterproductive workplace behaviors' by professors at Michigan State and Notre Dame:

    People who are considered unattractive are more likely to be belittled and bullied in the workplace, according to a first-of-its-kind study led by a Michigan State University business scholar.

    “Frankly, it’s an ugly finding,” said Brent Scott, associate professor of management and lead investigator on the study. “Although we like to think we’re professional and mature in the workplace, it can be just like high school in many ways.

    ”While plenty of research has found that attractive students tend to be more popular in school, the study is the first to link attractiveness to cruelty in the workplace. The results appear in the research journal Human Performance.

    The study surveyed a group of workers at a health care facility about their experiences with counterproductive workplace behaviors like being made fun of, being treated cruelly, or having hurtful things said about them. Then a set of unrelated people evaluated the worker's 'attractiveness' on a sliding scale. Mashing up the data the researchers found that "the unattractive workers were treated much more harshly than attractive employees even when other key factors were taken into account, including age, gender and how long they had worked at the health care facility."

    Not all jobs are fun. Most jobs are not all that noble. Not many jobs pay as well as we'd like. That's life and that's work. And there isn't much we can to to make a cashier job at the Walmart all that more appealing.

    But every job, or rather every person that shows up to work, deserves an environment where they won't be subject to the kinds of cruel treatment that more and more we are not even tolerating from teenagers or kids.

    Take ten minutes this week at your shop - once you get past the transactions and documents and emails and all the stuff that seems to keep coming at you in relentless waves - and think about this one point - if people in your organization are being treated poorly at work simply because of the way they look, you can be sure it didn't suddenly start when they came to work for you.

    No, it is a pretty safe bet they have been picked on, pushed around, and belittled for a long, long time. Maybe even their entire lives. Maybe they thought, or hoped, that once they 'grew up' that the jerks would grow up too, or at least they wouldn't have to be forced to deal with them.

    Maybe they thought or hoped that 'going to work', while no picnic all the time, would at least be somewhere safe or maybe even pleasant.

    Is it 'your' job to protect or at least stand up for these people?

    Yes it is. It is all of our jobs.