CXO

Toxic Work: Revitalizing your career

In this excerpt from Toxic Work, author Barbara Bailey Reinhold provides insight into how managers and executives can keep employees focused and energized.




Stage 4 alert—Micromending
“Organizations that stifle leadership from employees are no longer winning.”—John Kotter

Individual workers are not the only people who have something at stake in the career-revitalization curve. Managers need to be concerned also. It’s costly enough for organizations to lose once-competent individuals, in whom many training dollars have already been invested, and to hire and train someone new. But sometimes entire teams can sink into a numbing Stage 4 malaise, with devastating consequences for the health and effectiveness of the group.

Terms like reengineering and work-redesign appear constantly in the pages of magazine articles and management books. Increasingly, companies are making it their business to develop programs for serving both the worker and the bottom line. But most of the award-winning programs touted by the media require large, system-wide changes. In board meetings all across the nation, many are discussed, but few are ever chosen for implementation. The inescapable fact is this: most of you will be working someplace else or will be retired before your organization is retooled in a way that really addresses employee needs. For that reason, the strategies I’m suggesting are micro rather than macro, small changes and fine-tunings that you can suggest now in your immediate work unit. Each of them has proven its ability to bring relief to the pain many of you might be feeling about your work. This might be a good time for you and your boss to have a “positive conspiracy” conversation about changing the Stage 4 state of mind in your unit, by introducing one or more of the following seven career-revitalization strategies.
At our discretion, in this excerpt we have chosen Step 2, Step 6, and Step 7 to best illustrate the ways that CIOs can help bring employees out of Stage 4 malaise.If you’d like to learn more about improving your employees’ attitudes while saving your company money, read our interview with Toxic Work’s author, Barbara Bailey Reinhold. If you're interested in buying a copy of the book, click here
Teaming (Step 2)
Another worker-friendly strategy is teaming. You could be experiencing bursts of energy and creativity by converting some individual tasks to team efforts. On the surface, deploying several people in the place of one may seem inefficient, but people who divide up their jobs are then freed up for other projects. They are also energized, not only for that job but for others.

Teams, of course, have to learn team skills and practice them. They have to listen to each other to keep communication about what is expected of each person clear at all times. Teams are also fertile ground for organizations learning to do “systems thinking,” unraveling the twisted knots of a messy problem back to their core sources. Different perspectives, shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect, will always get a better result than Lone Ranger approaches. According to Fortune magazine, more than half of America’s large corporations are experimenting with self-managed teams. That’s a productivity trend that you and your organization would do well to learn to ride.

Strategic support groups (Step 6)
These informally constituted groups (maximum number in a group is ten) are much neglected tools for taking care of yourself, for knowing when you’re falling into a Stage 4 mindset, and for growing in your career. They are priceless forums for discussing new ideas, solving problems, and sharing feedback. If you haven’t been in one, you have been missing a terrific opportunity. Honest, insightful feedback about how you’re doing in your job and how you’re perceived may be the best gift anybody can give you. Strategic support groups are an invaluable form of peer coaching, but they are not to be taken lightly. You should form or join one only if you’re willing to make a commitment of loyalty and confidentiality to each member. These few basic rules can make your group maximally helpful:
Meet regularly at a mutually acceptable time and place. Protect that time jealously!Keep a three-to-one ratio of strategizing to complaining. (A little kvetching goes a long way.) You might want to practice some of Seligman’s ABCDE disputation from Chapter 4 if anybody seems to be turning the negativity on herself or himself.If you’re in the same organization, support each other’s achievements or points of view whenever appropriate in meetings, conferences, or informal conversations. Send congratulatory memos with copies to the “right” people when one of your group does something important for the organization.Commit to giving feedback and other relevant information to your support group associates within twenty-four hours of hearing about it. This one is tough to do, but it is essential.Have homework readings to discuss and follow-up tasks for each member to complete and report back on at the next session. This one is particularly important if one of your goals is helping one or more people in the group make a career change.
Four female middle managers in a consumer products firm arrived in my office one day, saying they wanted to convert their group from a support group, “where all we do is moan,“ to a more problem-solving mode. The strategic support group ground rules were all they needed to get started. The three-to-one guideline got them on track right away. They checked back in periodically to let me know that they had enlarged the group to seven, and that all seven of them were feeling less stressed because they had begun to see real results on the job.

“Remembering to spread good news about each other has been the most important change for me," one group member said. “Not for me,” said another. “It was that feedback rule—what a difference it’s made in helping me to face and learn from my mistakes.”

More supervision (Step 7)
“What, are you crazy?” a work group once asked when I suggested they ask their boss for more specific coaching and supervision. The fact is, though, that when managers are actively coaching you, sharing what they know, and encouraging you to set performance goals and sharpen your skills, it’s very invigorating. There are several processes involved in good coaching—which is very different from the toxic gatekeeping that many managers seem to be doing.

The first step is for managers to establish a positive relationship with employees, based on a clear understanding of each one’s strengths. This means a commitment to perceiving and valuing their particular abilities, even when some workers’ styles are antithetical to the supervisor’s. It also means understanding that the stylistic weaknesses workers bring to the job are usually excesses of their strengths. The enthusiastic, spontaneous idea-generator type worker will probably not be as organized and good at follow-through. On the other hand, the conscientious, organized, detail-oriented worker will very likely not turn ideas on their heads often enough to stay competitive. When they’re both working collaboratively on the same team, however, both the front end and back end will be covered.

In the coaching process, after relationship-building comes shared goal-setting, to help you improve in the areas in which you’re underdeveloped. The literature of motivation is very clear on this point: learners of all kinds need to believe in and develop goals themselves in order to excel.

The third step is pointing out examples for the worker to emulate. Sometimes they are the coach’s own skills, sometimes those of other people. Additional training is also usually indicated—a workshop in time management, a creativity seminar, a writing course, or a series of computer trainings, for instance.

The final step to the process, then, is follow-through. You make progress on the goals, and your supervisor stays involved to monitor and reward your progress. As a result, you back out of Stage 4, and your unit benefits.
We’d like to know how you revitalize your staff if they’re suffering from workplace malaise. Post a comment below, or drop us a note.



Stage 4 alert—Micromending
“Organizations that stifle leadership from employees are no longer winning.”—John Kotter

Individual workers are not the only people who have something at stake in the career-revitalization curve. Managers need to be concerned also. It’s costly enough for organizations to lose once-competent individuals, in whom many training dollars have already been invested, and to hire and train someone new. But sometimes entire teams can sink into a numbing Stage 4 malaise, with devastating consequences for the health and effectiveness of the group.

Terms like reengineering and work-redesign appear constantly in the pages of magazine articles and management books. Increasingly, companies are making it their business to develop programs for serving both the worker and the bottom line. But most of the award-winning programs touted by the media require large, system-wide changes. In board meetings all across the nation, many are discussed, but few are ever chosen for implementation. The inescapable fact is this: most of you will be working someplace else or will be retired before your organization is retooled in a way that really addresses employee needs. For that reason, the strategies I’m suggesting are micro rather than macro, small changes and fine-tunings that you can suggest now in your immediate work unit. Each of them has proven its ability to bring relief to the pain many of you might be feeling about your work. This might be a good time for you and your boss to have a “positive conspiracy” conversation about changing the Stage 4 state of mind in your unit, by introducing one or more of the following seven career-revitalization strategies.
At our discretion, in this excerpt we have chosen Step 2, Step 6, and Step 7 to best illustrate the ways that CIOs can help bring employees out of Stage 4 malaise.If you’d like to learn more about improving your employees’ attitudes while saving your company money, read our interview with Toxic Work’s author, Barbara Bailey Reinhold. If you're interested in buying a copy of the book, click here
Teaming (Step 2)
Another worker-friendly strategy is teaming. You could be experiencing bursts of energy and creativity by converting some individual tasks to team efforts. On the surface, deploying several people in the place of one may seem inefficient, but people who divide up their jobs are then freed up for other projects. They are also energized, not only for that job but for others.

Teams, of course, have to learn team skills and practice them. They have to listen to each other to keep communication about what is expected of each person clear at all times. Teams are also fertile ground for organizations learning to do “systems thinking,” unraveling the twisted knots of a messy problem back to their core sources. Different perspectives, shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect, will always get a better result than Lone Ranger approaches. According to Fortune magazine, more than half of America’s large corporations are experimenting with self-managed teams. That’s a productivity trend that you and your organization would do well to learn to ride.

Strategic support groups (Step 6)
These informally constituted groups (maximum number in a group is ten) are much neglected tools for taking care of yourself, for knowing when you’re falling into a Stage 4 mindset, and for growing in your career. They are priceless forums for discussing new ideas, solving problems, and sharing feedback. If you haven’t been in one, you have been missing a terrific opportunity. Honest, insightful feedback about how you’re doing in your job and how you’re perceived may be the best gift anybody can give you. Strategic support groups are an invaluable form of peer coaching, but they are not to be taken lightly. You should form or join one only if you’re willing to make a commitment of loyalty and confidentiality to each member. These few basic rules can make your group maximally helpful:
Meet regularly at a mutually acceptable time and place. Protect that time jealously!Keep a three-to-one ratio of strategizing to complaining. (A little kvetching goes a long way.) You might want to practice some of Seligman’s ABCDE disputation from Chapter 4 if anybody seems to be turning the negativity on herself or himself.If you’re in the same organization, support each other’s achievements or points of view whenever appropriate in meetings, conferences, or informal conversations. Send congratulatory memos with copies to the “right” people when one of your group does something important for the organization.Commit to giving feedback and other relevant information to your support group associates within twenty-four hours of hearing about it. This one is tough to do, but it is essential.Have homework readings to discuss and follow-up tasks for each member to complete and report back on at the next session. This one is particularly important if one of your goals is helping one or more people in the group make a career change.
Four female middle managers in a consumer products firm arrived in my office one day, saying they wanted to convert their group from a support group, “where all we do is moan,“ to a more problem-solving mode. The strategic support group ground rules were all they needed to get started. The three-to-one guideline got them on track right away. They checked back in periodically to let me know that they had enlarged the group to seven, and that all seven of them were feeling less stressed because they had begun to see real results on the job.

“Remembering to spread good news about each other has been the most important change for me," one group member said. “Not for me,” said another. “It was that feedback rule—what a difference it’s made in helping me to face and learn from my mistakes.”

More supervision (Step 7)
“What, are you crazy?” a work group once asked when I suggested they ask their boss for more specific coaching and supervision. The fact is, though, that when managers are actively coaching you, sharing what they know, and encouraging you to set performance goals and sharpen your skills, it’s very invigorating. There are several processes involved in good coaching—which is very different from the toxic gatekeeping that many managers seem to be doing.

The first step is for managers to establish a positive relationship with employees, based on a clear understanding of each one’s strengths. This means a commitment to perceiving and valuing their particular abilities, even when some workers’ styles are antithetical to the supervisor’s. It also means understanding that the stylistic weaknesses workers bring to the job are usually excesses of their strengths. The enthusiastic, spontaneous idea-generator type worker will probably not be as organized and good at follow-through. On the other hand, the conscientious, organized, detail-oriented worker will very likely not turn ideas on their heads often enough to stay competitive. When they’re both working collaboratively on the same team, however, both the front end and back end will be covered.

In the coaching process, after relationship-building comes shared goal-setting, to help you improve in the areas in which you’re underdeveloped. The literature of motivation is very clear on this point: learners of all kinds need to believe in and develop goals themselves in order to excel.

The third step is pointing out examples for the worker to emulate. Sometimes they are the coach’s own skills, sometimes those of other people. Additional training is also usually indicated—a workshop in time management, a creativity seminar, a writing course, or a series of computer trainings, for instance.

The final step to the process, then, is follow-through. You make progress on the goals, and your supervisor stays involved to monitor and reward your progress. As a result, you back out of Stage 4, and your unit benefits.
We’d like to know how you revitalize your staff if they’re suffering from workplace malaise. Post a comment below, or drop us a note.

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