Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Zappos Wants Workers To Love Its Boss-less Workplace

You'd like to speak with a manager. But not at Zappos, where employees are being asked to either adapt to the company's boss-less work environment or take a...severance package. Um, this isn't an April Fool's Day joke, is it?

So Las Vegas-based Zappos has been experimenting with something it calls "holocracy," which eschews traditional management structure and replaces it with self-governing teams called "circles" that are supposed to spur innovation and lead (no pun intended) to better decisions.

Zappos is apparently imploring employees to adapt or, well, ponder leaving. According to an article in today's WAPO:

In a recent memo, which was first reported by Quartz on Thursday, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wrote that he is offering any exit strategy to any workers who aren't sold on the unconventional idea. If they are an employee in good standing and meet certain criteria, they can leave the online retailer and get at least three months' worth of severance.
So Zappos is willing to give the non-adapters in good standing an exit strategy with pay? That's nice, I guess. But what about the larger questions here: Do "boss-less" work teams really work? Are these trendy management strategies simply a big waste of time and resources? More importantly, has Mr. Hsieh ever watched an episode of Survivor?

Companies large and small need good team managers, for many reasons. For starters, who will step in to deal with the employees who like to take the credit but re-direct the blame? Who is going to discern good ideas from bad ideas, right turns from wrong turns, and keep the team motivated? Somebody has to step up to make the final decision. Autonomy on the job is nice, but the buck has to stop somewhere. When the buck stops, leadership starts.

Also -- and this is something we never talk about -- many employees have neither the personality nor the desire for leadership and are quite content to star in a supporting role at work. Hand them a task and they're off to the races, but they need some direction from a team leader. Workplaces need these employees, because they're the ones who get the work done.

Besides, if everyone on a work team wanted to be the alpha team lead, then nothing would get done and Richard Hatch wouldn't be a part of reality television history.

So call it a "holocracy" or whatever, but every "flat" team will eventually end up with a team lead of sorts to fill the leadership void. Okay, call me cynical, or simply someone who watches way too much reality television.*** But at least Honda is introducing the first car with built-in selfie cameras. Now that's progress, right?

*** In my case, The Amazing Race.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Goodbye, Girls: Technology Conference Boots "Booth Babes"

Bringing in very attractive people to hawk products has become a common sales tactic at conferences. Now one major technology conference has apparently decided it's time to say goodbye to the "booth babe." Oh no, now everyone will have to pay attention to the products!

Okay, let's call these very pretty people "promotional models" instead, which is the proper terminology from what I can gather? Anyway, Network World reports on an impending technology conference that no longer wants such an attractive distraction standing front and center on the conference floor.

It's a brave new world, technology conference attendees! You won't be able to sell products and sign deals on the power of unattainable pretty people anymore -- at least not at this particular conference? Think less sex appeal, more SQL server. Let's focus on the technology, people! Zzzzz...

Now the question is, will other major conferences -- in technology, automotive, the UFC, and other sectors -- eventually follow suit by requiring attractive "promotional models" to wear business suits instead of tight body suits, or whatever? I guess we'll see if it turns into a larger conference industry trend over the next few years.

In the meantime, you'd better pretty up your product lines, marketing teams! You know, just in case. Well, at least we'll always have conference swag, right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ahh-Choo! Finding Workplace Respect For Spring Allergies

Springtime is here, which means your allergy-prone co-worker is going to be sniffling, sneezing and wheezing all the way to quitting time. Oh, sniff, sniff.

Yes, allergy season is upon us, and it has real-world impacts on the workplace. One study estimated that nearly 7 million U.S. workdays are lost each year to hay fever allergies, because employees are either absent or present but less productive. Let's refer to the latter as "pollen-induced presenteeism."

The mind-blowing price tag amid all this springtime nose blowing? Employers can lose more than $600 million in annual productivity to seasonal allergies. That's nothing to sneeze at, is it?

Maybe you're lucky never to have folded like a deck chair in the face of pollen season. Sure, your nose is a little bit runny and your eyes were vaguely itchy the other day, but you're not sure if allergies were to blame. Maybe you simply had a stray eyelash in your eye, or a piece of dust? Whatever it is, Zyrtec is for other people.

Namely, it's for the co-worker sitting across from you today with watering eyes, a rough, red nose, a bonus-sized box of tissues, a raging sleep deficit, and a supply of 12-hour generic, over-the-counter allergy medication front and center on his desk.

You try to feel sympathetic as this co-worker updates you on the pollen count and says he slept a total of three hours last night because he couldn't stop sneezing. You try to be forgiving that he can't seem to sit through a status update meeting without wheezing. You hold down the fort while he empties his trash can full of used Kleenex. Again.

A few weeks into your co-worker's pollen party, however, you might feel like your patience is running a little bit thin. You can't quite understand how pollen could still be impacting your co-worker to this extent.

Now please stop for just a second to imagine how your sneezing, wheezing co-worker feels.

He feels like warmed-over dog poop all day long with a headache, muscle aches, dizziness, a stuffy nose, plugged ears and a non-contagious sore throat, in addition to feeling somewhat sedated due to allergy medication. Then he goes home and feels the same way all night long. For weeks on end. Perhaps even for months on end.

Along the way, he might even wonder quietly if a few of his pollen-proof co-workers think he's exaggerating his symptoms for dramatic effect.

No really, guys, I'm not kidding! I do feel this terrible all the time right now. It's worse than a bad cold, because at least when you have a bad cold everyone understands. My ears are totally plugged at work because all the sunflowers and chamomile plants you guys planted in the company organic working garden are blooming at once, and somebody keeps propping open the back door with a box fan to let in the fresh air, which means pollen comes floating right to my desk! Help me!!!

In all seriousness, poo-pooing a co-worker's springtime allergy symptoms is a workplace angle that we never talk about, which is exactly why I'm bringing it up. Springtime pollen allergies deserve more workplace respect as a real big drag, in more ways than one.

I've known a few people who get ahead of their work in the late winter, knowing full well that they will feel crummy as soon as the first daffodil blooms. Oh, but it's so pretty, isn't it? Let's all say it together: Spriiiiing!

Nearly three-fourths of asthma sufferers will have spring allergies. The pollen can trigger an allergic response. So if your co-worker has asthma, chances are good he or she will have pollen-related spring allergies, too.

In sum, the co-worker sitting across from you breathing through his mouth doesn't want your pollen-related pity, but he (or she) would love a daily half-dose of prescription-strength understanding in the short term. Pollen allergies are real, they impact some of us a lot more than others, and those who are laid low by them are going to feel absolutely ghastly for the next month or so. Luckily, it doesn't last forever for most of us. Cough.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Do! Companies Create Trendy Perks For Employees' Spouses

Do you ever feel married to your work? Well, now companies want your spouse to feel married to the work, too!

Recent studies (which I've blogged about) found that having a happy, supportive spouse is highly important to our overall work performance, and some companies are taking such findings to heart by creating trendy workplace perks around spousal participation.

An article in today's New York Post reports on employers who are busy incorporating employees' spouses into the company fold by offering brown-bag continuing education lunches, third parties that can answer pressing benefits questions, and opportunities to accompany spouses on all-expense-paid business trips, among other things.

These companies are finding that this type of spousal inclusion helps to create a happier, more loyal, and more harmonious workplace, especially these days when many employees can feel overworked and tethered to their work gadgets 24/7.

When a working spouse must work late or must bring work home, the other spouse invited to participate in various company perks is less likely to see the work as disruptive to family time because he or she feels more included in "our" company. The employee might feel less trepidation in taking on the work, too, knowing his or her spouse is going to be okay with it.

An excerpt from the article:

Klick Health CEO and "The Decoded Company" author Leerom Segal agrees with this holistic approach. The health agency recently flew employees and their significant others to its annual Town Hall meeting in Toronto — all-expenses paid. He says when employers provide perks and experiences to significant others, it’s a no-brainer motivator. "When the employer needs a little extra time or concentration, the employee is much more able to say, 'I have to work late tonight because I have this big project coming.' But if the spouse or partner feels recognized and valued, the workers are "far more likely to be supportive."

It turns out that the saying "happy wife, happy life" is true! (Sorry, I haven't had enough coffee to think of a "happy husband" equivalent.) Maybe we can expand it to "happy spouse, happy workhouse"? Eh, no. That sounds awkward. Let's just call it the "workplace marriage motivator."

Brown-bag lunches for spouses on various professional or "ask an expert" topics are a fantastic idea, sort of like auditing a college lecture. Of course, if the employee's spouse works full time as well, then these brown bag lunches might not work for his or her schedule. But it's the thought that counts, right?

Okay, I know what you're thinking. This "workplace marriage motivator" stuff is simply a creative way to wring even more out of employees who wear a wedding ring! Perhaps.

But if it works, it works, and there's a lot of work to do. So if a client brings his or her spouse to a future working dinner or far-flung business conference, then you'll know what's up.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Does Your Work Peer Treat You Like A Personal Assistant?

Your team has just worked out the time coordinates for an upcoming meeting, when a teammate asks you to remind him about it when the time comes. Let's talk about the calendar-averse work peer who treats you like a personal scheduling assistant!

Reading this story got me thinking about the employee who relies on other people's time management skills. While everyone else on the team takes personal responsibility for jotting down the time, this co-worker prefers to drop the responsibility of reminding him (or her) into somebody else's lap.

Would you drop me a text the morning of to remind me? Thanks.

It's one thing if the calendar-averse co-worker is your boss. In this case, it's an annoyance, but one you might be willing to put up with on the job.

(Hint: If you're spending more time running your boss's errands than doing your own work, it may be time for your boss to consider hiring a personal assistant.)

IS IT GOOD KARMA, OR SOMETHING MORE?

No matter how hard we try, we all forget details on occasion. We were distracted and didn't write it down. Hey, was the status update meeting moved to 1 or 2 p.m. today? You scratch my scheduler, and I'll scratch yours. Help a teammate out by providing the updated time coordinates, and good karma will come back to you when it's your turn to ask. (At least, I sure hope so.)

Maybe you've entered into a mutually-beneficial time alert arrangement with a valued work peer. He reminds you about a scheduling change, and in return you remind him that there will be cake in the break room today at 4 p.m. The constant reminders keep both of you on track, and benefit both sides equally. Plus, there's free cake at the end of the message. It's a win-win!

But a work peer who relies regularly on teammates to act as a human Google Calendar in the age of scheduling apps?

Hmm. Perhaps you've been singled out to time manage your work peer's day here and there, but you don't seem to be getting any time management benefits in return. You're not sure what to do when this work peer asks:

Hey, could you remind me to pick up the cake for my mom's birthday party when I leave today? Thanks.

Over time, these requests can begin to grate, not mention impact your own productivity since you're now time managing for two. How did you end up with the responsibility of time managing this work peer? Do you really want your co-worker's mother feeling sad that nobody remembered her birthday cake this year? What's going on here?

SOME TIPS FOR HOW TO DEAL WITH IT

It could be laziness, a disregard for the importance of writing things down, or a personal time management issue. Maybe your co-worker thinks you are fantastic at time management, and wants a piece of it. At worst, your co-worker's habit could be a way of claiming workplace superiority. It depends on the situation,** and the people involved. The question is, what can you do about it?

Being put in the awkward position of constantly reminding a work peer can feel like a heavy responsibility, particularly if the success of a project (or Mom's party...) depends on your willingness to act as a reminder. It's time to have a private talk with this work peer. You might say how it is distracting you from your own work, and how you'd feel terrible if something highly important on his or her "to do" list fell through the cracks. Then gently ask this co-worker to please stop asking for so many reminders.

Aim for polite, kind, but firm. Boundaries are your friend.

With any luck, this work peer will stop relying on your time management skills so much.

If the opportunity presents itself, you might recommend your favorite, highly-intuitive scheduling app. In some cases, this employee might not have learned how to use modern time management apps, and would prefer to kick it old school by using an old-fashioned desk calendar or leather-bound scheduler. That's fine; there's something quite nice, and oddly comforting, in putting pen to paper instead of pecking it out on a tiny keyboard and saving it. Whatever works.

In a pinch, you might buy this employee a scheduler you found on the clearance rack come Secret Santa time, or place a stack of Post-It Notes front and center.

Is it okay to go to management, or HR, with this very human time management problem? It's always best to work it out with the employee one-on-one privately if at all possible. If you've spoken with this co-worker about it and nothing changes, then it may be time to reconsider. You'll have to ponder how it would play out in your workplace, however, since every workplace is different. It may not be worth it. Can you move your desk to the other side of the room?

Ultimately, it's not your job to keep reminding a work peer of the things he or she should be writing down for future reference. It's a bad habit on your co-worker's part, and bad habits are meant to be broken. Please make a note of it.

**In the very worst case scenario, this co-worker may be exhibiting some memory problems, which is an entirely different post. For purposes of this post, however, we'll stick to work peers who simply can't be bothered to write anything down.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Panera Bread To Record Employees As They Work

Ah, Panera Bread. The go-to stop for mid-level leaders who lunch, laptop-toting self-employed types who wear headphones, and gabby, stay-at-home moms who need to get out of the house.

And, um, employees who are being secretly taped while they prepare orders to see how they might be screwing up.

St. Louis-based Panera Bread says that it will secretly tape employees working in one unnamed store location to discover ways to speed up service and to see where mistakes are being made. Ah, ah, ah -- you forgot the lettuce, and hold the mayo!

The St. Louis Business Journal reports that it will be similar to reviewing an athlete's performance on game film.

So let's rewind and go to the videotape! That Chipotle Chicken Panini Sandwich prepared last week was clearly out of bounds and we're calling a flagrant foul. Er, fowl.

I'm all for companies trying to increase reliability, work out the kinks in their processes and help employees improve, but I'm not sure what secretly taping employees at one store location will reveal. Can the lessons learned from a sample of one be spread system-wide like horseradish sauce slathered on a Steak and White Cheddar Panini Sandwich? I guess we'll find out.

Now I'm hungry, and the bigger question is whether other restaurant chains will follow suit in an industry where an estimated one in seven orders is prepared incorrectly. In the meantime, we'll take a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel to go.