Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "Thank You" Culture

This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to those who have helped, worked hard, been thoughtful and considerate, stepped aside so others could succeed, were loyal and committed, motivated and so on.  Any sincere supervisor would feel compelled to say “thank you.”

Undoubtedly, more leaders say “thank you” during the holiday season than at any other time.  There are toasts, speeches of gratitude, hugs and lunches that celebrate the hard work of the past year.  There is no research I have discovered that validates my observations, but I'd bet the house that I am right. 

However, now comes a survey that says that not enough people say “thanks” in the office.  (I am going to assume that this does not apply to the holiday season.)  Only 10% of adults say “thanks” to a colleague every day, and just 7% express gratitude daily to a boss, says recent research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  If the question were,  “Do you frequently thank your colleagues for a job well done?” the percentage is higher (40%)…but still nowhere near a majority.  Does anyone say “thank you” and expresses gratitude every day?  It’s clear that intra-office gratitude is not what it should be.

In the same way that people don't smile naturally in offices, “thank you” is not on the tips of their tongues.  So what are we to do about this situation?  Managers have to think of the benefits of expressing appreciation; they are nuts if they don't.  Article after article has noted that employees who feel appreciated are more loyal and productive.  Supervisors must accept this as gospel.  They should be as conscious of saying “thank you” as they are of requesting that work be done on time...or on overtime.  They must see the paycheck as the quid pro quo; "thank you" is the icing on the cake.  Supervisors should also encourage, and even orchestrate, the frontline boss to say “thank you” to those at various levels.  I generally send birthday cards to all staffers and always write a note of thanks; it is something I genuinely like to do.  But I am not calling for gushing, phony appreciation.  I am calling for sincere appreciation expressed to those who are deserving. 

You either have a "thank you" culture or you do not have a very good one.  Every CEO  knows that.  Every CEO can set the tone.  Every CEO can buck surveys that show that the workplace ranks dead last among the places that people express gratitude.  Forty-nine percent of managers believe the "thank you" culture increases profit.  That should drive every CEO and manager responsible for the bottom line. 

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Managing Your Mood

A few years ago, at a Columbia Business School-hosted event, Warren Buffett was asked what he thought were the keys to success.  He named three – the first of which was consistency.  (Focus and staying positive were the other two).  Lets address the first one.

While being consistent in the quality of your work is fundamental, being consistent in your mood is equally important.   People in the workplace should not have to wonder whether or not they ought to approach you at this time or that, depending on the kind of mood you are in.  If you are prone to highs and lows during the business day, you need to work on reigning in such swings, so that you are constantly communicating the steady pace at which you operate.  That way people will sense your stability at all times, even in the face of crisis.  It encourages them to seek your counsel.

Of course, there are other benefits to a consistent, positive mood.  You can communicate with reason.  You think more clearly.  You are in control.  It builds confidence among those you work with.   You are happier with yourself because calmness creates a sense of balance, which is desirable to all parties involved.

Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that many people tend to get depressed during the holiday season for a variety of reasons:  unmet expectations among them.  But for those who work in offices, it is best if you can contain those holiday blues and sustain an upbeat — if not an even — presence.  When negativity creeps in, I find it is best to take an action, such as exercise.  It brings out the endorphins, which help bring you back to the upbeat professional mood that your associates and clients deserve.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

New Data on Smiling

Smile and the whole world smiles with you!  Weep and you weep alone.

We have all heard that adage countless times.  Nevertheless, as I walk through the corridors of business organizations, enter meetings that are about to begin, embark on various modes of transportation and even engage with the host or hostess in a restaurant, I rarely see people smiling.  Fortunately, they are not weeping either!  More likely, they are deep in thought…even frowning.

Maybe I see smiling more often if one employee is telling another to have a great vacation – or to enjoy the holiday weekend.  That said, it did make me think about the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and how we send off the people at Makovsky and what we convey to each other as we express good thoughts.  But even more broadly, what we as individuals communicate, wordlessly, in the business and professional world, as well as elsewhere.  My overall feeling is that we are just not consistently conscious of smiling and the benefits it brings to ourselves and others, otherwise we would do it more often.

So I was intrigued by a study —  “Grin and Bear It:  The Influence of ManipulatedFacial Expression on the Stress Response” — which found that forcing yourself to smile reduces stress.  According to two researchers at the University of Kansas,  the heart rates of people tested  recovering from stress were 7% slower, if they gripped a pair of chopsticks in their teeth in such a way as to force themselves to smile. 

All of this may sound a bit bizarre, but while the researchers acknowledge that “the generalizability of their findings is questionable given the artificiality of the setting,” they also contend that the study shows there are physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining a positive facial expression during stress.

Even without this study, common sense tells us that smiling at others invites them in. You will get more from them, if they feel good about the encounter.   Smiling fosters positivity.  Smiling reflects well on you.  It ignites others to return the smile, and thereby think positively also.  We are now on a positive keel.  De-stressed!  We are way up there!  Not at bottom.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

China Communicates - Part III

The  thoughts and memories keep coming.  They are evolving and lasting.  If you are an American, a trip to China does that to you.  Listening and observing, one is able to learn so much. This is my final installment in a series of observations based on what I felt, as the result of who we interacted with and what I heard, saw and read during a recent trip to China.

·         Traditionally, people felt sorry for families that had only daughters and no sons; many gave up their daughters for adoption.  Fortunately that attitude is changing.

·         One woman who was in her mid-40s told us the story of her parents, who never met until the day they married; then her father left for the army right after the wedding, and her mother did not hear from the father for over two years. She said this was typical among many families and was reflective of the esteem for men and the lack of such for women. The husband was the boss.

·         Girls are working harder than boys and doing better than boys in universities these days. Thus, they have less time to look for husbands.  So they are looking for external symbols of success before they go out with men, namely, the three “C”s: cars, condos and cash.

·         Three entities helped in the financial development of Hong Kong:  HSBC, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank.

·         Five hundred new cars are registered daily in Xian, a city of 33 million people, where the amazing terracotta soldiers were discovered. The city lives in a dark pollution cloud that is among the worst smog I have ever seen. There are varying degrees of smog in most other cities we visited, causing a haze as you peer into the distance---and spoiling most such photographs.

·         Cars are status symbols, and the Chinese put a disproportionate amount of money into them.

·         Huge, sophisticated, modern apartment buildings are springing up all over China … buildings that would not be out of place in New York or Dubai.  But if you look more closely at the window, you will often see laundry strung up to dry. The power infrastructure isn’t currently in place to handle electric dryers.  It is this clash between the old and the new that one notices in many areas of Chinese life.

·         A recent lead headline in the International Herald Tribune read:  “Educated Chinese MoveAbroad in Record Numbers.”  The latest statistics from 2010 show that over 500,000 Chinese emigrated to western countries that year — 87,000 came to the United States, and many went to Canada.  Those emigrating cite overwork (12- to 17-hour work days), government instability and corruption and that, too often, getting ahead means knowing someone high up in government rather than succeeding on your own ability.

China is the world’s second-largest economy, and it is apparent from all we saw. Millions of its people have been lifted out of poverty, according to a recent article in TheNew York Times but despite thousands of new businesses in China, the economy is increasingly dominated by large corporations — many of them state-run — and widespread corruption  has significantly eroded trust in all levels of government, increasing the gap between rich and poor and fostering social and political unrest.  While capitalism is responsible for much of the growth, can it sustain under the current system?

Sadly, there’s no indication from Communist party leaders about pursuing necessary reforms … especially changing “the party’s suffocating control of the political system, the courts, the news media, the military and civic life," according to the Times. This may be the biggest and most important challenge China faces:  taking its position in a world where self-determination is becoming the norm.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

China Communicates - Part II

More impressions from my recent trip to China — based largely on people I spoke with, what I heard and what I read:

Money.  The attitude in Chinese families is that money is a legacy that gets passed down from generation to generation.  Giving charity is not held in the same high esteem that it is here. Both Buffet and Gates visited China and urged rich people to help poor people through charitable donations.  Very little came of it.

Taxes.  Wealthy people don’t pay much in taxes “because they became rich through their connections with people in the government.  Taxation falls on others in society.”  Further, there is a 17% sales tax which hits the lower and middle class disproportionately.

Where the Wealth Is.  According to one person we met, the U.S. puts people first and the government second.  In China it is the reverse.  Thus, in China the government is wealthy rather than the people, because the government takes a role in almost every successful enterprise.

Average Salary.  The average income for a lower middle class family of four is about $10,000.  In the larger cities, such as Beijing, it may be double that.

Cars.  Nationally, 55% of people own foreign cars and 45% own Chinese-made cars.  In the larger cities, it’s 80% foreign and 20% Chinese. There are seven national brands of Chinese cars.  Ford does not have a good reputation:  it is known as Fix Or Repair Daily!  German cars are the most expensive.  People tend to like the Chevy.  Young people like the Honda Civic, the Nissan Infinity and the Lexus.  Every Japanese brand makes three tiers of cars: it sells the 3rd tier to China, the 2nd tier to Japan and the 1st tier to the U.S.

PART III (the final installment) will appear on Thursday!

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