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Blackberry Picking

Ah, summer...a time to spend lazy summer days by the water, paddling a canoe, and picking berries. Our July issue always puts me in mind of the topic of work-life balance, and the recent ubiquity of the Blackberry in the news has come again as a reminder that this summer the berries many of us will be picking will not be made into tasty pies.

Kate Moore, RPR
MQ Editor
The frenzied uptake of the Blackberry in the workplace has blurred the lines between work and home more than ever. Where we used to talk about the sad fact that now we could access emails from anywhere through our wireless-modem enabled laptops, now you can be on top of everything work related while you are walking down the street, out at a bar in the evening or at the family cottage. The obsessive need to check our email and respond quickly (something to which I plead guilty on occasion) has become so pervasive that some Federal Government departments have instituted "Blackberry Blackouts" between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am, and on weekends and holidays.

Interestingly, work-life balance is not the only thing we should be worried about. Many technology-related HR issues are further amplified with the advent of this new way of working. It appears that it is incumbent upon us to update our policies to include Blackberry use, both at and outside of work. As an example - your workplace probably has a policy with regard to sending inappropriate jokes over email. Do your employees understand that this extends to sending such jokes via work-issued Blackberry outside of work hours? It is not hard to envision how easy it would be to have a few drinks while out one night, and to decide to send less than appropriate text messages or emails to a colleague.

I think it is safe to say that the Blackberry is here to stay, and that its impact on our personal lives will continue to be felt. As HR professionals, however, it's important that we ensure that those who are asked to carry company-issued Blackberries understand the responsibility they undertake, and that when they are using it they are in the workplace, regardless of where they happen to be, whether at home, in a bar or at the cottage picking berries.

Making the Turn

What is needed to take an organization that may be struggling yet previously successful for decades and transform it back to its prosperous days?

It starts with the people, not only senior executives, but permeates throughout the entire organization, sometimes down to the people who are sweeping the floors. Take nothing and no one for granted. What do you need to know to make the turn successful and powerful? Here are some suggestions that can be applied in prosperous times as well.

Do as I Do…Set the Example

Robert D. Katz
Sounding Board
Associates Inc.
As a Chief Executive Officer, Restructuring, Financial or Operating Officer, it is incumbent upon you to set the tone at the top and lead by example. When on a project that requires my staff to stay late, sometimes through the night or into the following morning, I am always there to help, even when I may not have a lot to do, because I am waiting for a completed work product. In the interim, sometimes it is my job to order the pizza! It is critical and imperative to lead by example. Be there! People have long memories both good and bad, and they will remember that you were there to support their efforts.

It Starts from The Ground Up

Look at the first people to make an impression, probably your receptionist. If a customer walks in the door or calls, the first person who makes an impression and provides influence is the receptionist, usually not the highest paid employee. It is vital that people at all levels are trained and have as much pride as the founder. Remember how much the tone can change in your favour whenever you have an initial pleasant experience.

Find the Stars

There are always a group of employees who may be relatively quiet, and over the years may have been misinterpreted and perceived as “mid” or average performers. Take time to find and talk to them. There are most likely stars in this group. These may have been buried by previously entrenched management, who have had “dust” piled on them. Take time to clear the dust and shine up the jewels. It is easy to misinterpret quiet, unaggressive, non-political behaviour as disinterest. Don’t scratch the surface, dig deeper, you will be amazed at what you find!

Support your Employees’ Efforts!

Your team, generally speaking, is not looking for political correctness. They seek someone on whom they can count to provide leadership.

For example, I had a client whose cash flow was severely stretched. I was in a meeting when a vendor and its collection agency called, to whom my client owed over $4,000,000. I asked my assistant to take a message. A few minutes later, she came in practically in tears. When I asked what had happened, she indicated that the caller had been hostile with her and that they were still on the phone. I told my assistant to put the call through. Keep in mind that my client owed this vendor a significant sum, and it could jeopardize the flow of product and ultimately the company’s operations.

Before the vendor and their agents could speak, I insisted that they never address anyone at the company in that manner. The person was doing her job. The entire tone and tenor of following conversations changed. But as important, my assistant and others throughout the organization knew that the support was there.

Take Time to Say Thank You

We have all been in situations where we may have worked extremely hard for a prolonged period, nights, weekends etc. You finish the assignment and your boss immediately starts talking about the next one.

As busy as you are, never miss the chance to say thank you for a job well done. A simple thanks has more impact than you could imagine. Keep in mind that it is not about money, because an extra bonus once spent is usually forgotten. One of the things that I find that works well is to invite an employee to an elegant dinner with their significant other and bill the organization. I find group lunches to be less effective at times. People spend enough time with their co-workers. A dinner at a restaurant that they may not otherwise be able to go to leaves a lasting impression.

Even so, taking time to say thanks and acknowledging excellence is something that the majority of people forget to do.

Find a Way to Reward Excellence

People often ask when times are tough and cash and other resources are stretched, how can we afford pay raises or bonuses? This is a fair question. However, if you don’t find a way to reward your best and the brightest, they will go elsewhere. You have to reward excellence and recognize those who put forth efforts beyond the call of duty. So, regardless of how tight things are, in my forecasts, projections, budgets, etc, I include raises for excellent performance. That doesn’t mean everybody gets an increase. In tough times, if people know you have stretched for them, it usually has great impact.

Treat People Fairly and Honestly

When troubles hit, there tend to be more closed door meetings. Despite this, people tend to be informed and know what’s going on. Don’t hide! Most people can handle the truth, what they have a bigger trouble with is uncertainty and not knowing.

Also, certain people aren’t meant for the pressures that come with these sorts of situations and conditions. It is best to find out sooner then later. Most people do not perform well when they are constantly uncomfortable.

A Final Thought

In a turnaround and/or crisis situation, the highs are highest, the lows are the lowest and sometimes they change by the hour. No matter how big or small, technology- or systems- savvy or not, whether it’s a Fortune 500 company pumping out millions of units an hour or your local pizza shop pumping out dozens of pizzas daily, in most cases it is the people that make it go.

Treat employees fairly, honestly and provide adequate guidance and support. When you do, the sky is the limit . You will be amazed at the results.

Robert D. Katz, CTP, CPA, MBA, is Managing Director at Executive Sounding Board Associates Inc., a premiere turnaround, crisis and bankruptcy consulting firm. He can be reached at (215) 568-5788


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