Tips to make meetings more productive
Have you ever had the feeling that you are wasting time while attending a meeting with your teammates and/or your boss? You are in the meeting, but are you thinking about other things? Can these sensations be avoided by making meetings more efficient? We try to explain how.
According to team building and leadership specialists, one of the essential issues is to be clear about why you are calling a meeting. Sometimes, we have the feeling that we are in that room, simply because you have been told to or because it’s on the calendar, without a defined objective.
Nowadays, and after everything that has happened in the last year, there are also those who distinguish between the organisation of face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings, given that the latter are not always easy to control, either because everyone is talking at the same time or because the attendees’ connections start to fail.
But in any case, the essential guidelines are the same:
- Before convening a meeting, whether it is face-to-face or virtual, we must be clear about the objective: What do we want to achieve? Is it really necessary?
- If possible, it should be planned with enough time to inform the interested parties, so that they can prepare for the meeting as well as the convenor, and so that the time is used to the maximum. Similarly, if necessary, it is advisable to provide attendees with the necessary documentation.
- The invitation should only reach the essential people. There is no point in having 20 people attending if only 5 are really interested and/or affected. For the company, time is money, and it is not productive to have a lot of people as forced spectators.
- Calculating the duration of the meeting is also important to avoid it taking longer than necessary, and obviously you have to be punctual in order to keep to the timetable. When calculating the duration of the meeting, we must think about setting aside time for requests and questions that can be asked at the end of the meeting.
- The space where the meeting is held, in the case of face-to-face meetings, must be adequate for the number of people convened, and must have all the technological and analogue tools necessary to clearly set out all the issues to be discussed.
- Once in the meeting, we have to assign the “role” that each of the attendees has to assume, if the interventions have to be marked. What is clear is that there must be a moderator, who will usually be the convenor, to avoid diluting the objective for which we are meeting.
- For a correct development, before starting, the moderator must read the agenda in order to be clear about the issues to be discussed or resolved, and make clear the reason for the meeting. From this point onwards, he or she must ensure that the time allocated to each of the topics and speakers is respected, so that the established timetable is adhered to and everyone can make their points.
- Once all the scheduled interventions have been completed, it is time for Q&A, in order to polish the topics dealt with, resolve any doubts that may have arisen, and decide whether any new contributions should be made before ending the session.
- In the closing session, it is important to define the conclusions drawn, as well as the solutions to the problems that have arisen during the meeting, and the deadlines for carrying out the actions to be undertaken.
- Finally, it is important to draw up a summary or a record of the minutes that includes everything that has been presented, interventions, conclusions, and even details the decisions that have been taken and the actions that must be carried out from now on.
The achievement of all these premises should guarantee effective and efficient internal meetings, meetings with suppliers and meetings with clients, so that we do not end up with a feeling of wasted time. It is especially important to make the most of time in order to achieve productivity and efficiency objectives that generate the economic benefits necessary for the survival of an organisation, thus guaranteeing the professional and personal stability of all those involved.
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The impact of the pandemic on Catalan companies4 min read
The pandemic has done great harm to Catalan companies
COVID-19 has brought about changes in our lives, and no one knows if we will return to the previous normal; maybe this will be the new normal. Whatever it is, we have reinvented ourselves and got used to teleworking, the hybrid format, and avoiding social contact.
We spoke to four Catalan companies to find out how they have adapted to the pandemic.
- Before the pandemic, had you teleworked?
- How was the communication and relationship among the staff during the pandemic?
- Did you have to look for alternative methods, such as online teamwork platforms?
- How are you living it now? Have you returned to the offices or are you doing a hybrid format?
Luis Rodríguez, Marketing and Sales Director | Bella Aurora
- No. We mostly work in the office with some flexibility to be able to work from home at specific times, such as family situations or personal arrangements, but very sporadically.
- Very well, there was a lot of constant communication and a lot of team feeling. People turned to help with the situation, and this allowed us to continue the activity with very little impact. Although the relationship at first cost a little more due to the lack of direct contact, we sought complementary reasons and ways to compensate for this lack of face-to-face contact.
- The first thing that was done was to provide all the people who did not have it with portable computer equipment and remote connections to work from home. We had already started using some computer tools for remote collaborative work, and with the pandemic we will speed up their use. We mostly use Microsoft applications and in particular we use Teams and Planner very intensely.
- We have not returned yet, because the situation is not yet fully resolved. We plan to return in early September, when we hope we can all be vaccinated.
Gina Solé, Marketing Manager | Storytel Spain
- Before the pandemic, I teleworked at very specific times. If one day you are not feeling well, or you have an appointment with the doctor, for example. But there has never been total flexibility.
- In my case, I joined Storytel in November 2020 and until two weeks ago, I didn’t meet the team in person! It was a weird mix, we knew each other, but at the same time it was weird to see our full bodies. Pandemic communication is reduced to many (perhaps too many) video calls.
- Yes, we looked for a way to be able to organize all the projects we have on the table and weekly 1-to-1 meetings.
- So far we have not returned. There is free choice to go to the office whenever you want, but Storytel is very aware of the current situation in all the countries where it is present, and we are all teleworking. In addition, they have already implemented a super-flexible post-pandemic telework strategy. Which I find great.
Almudena Cara, People Manager | Buff
- Yes, we had Home Office policy for a year and a half, one day a week for all people who had to travel more than 30 km or had to work on projects. Precisely in February, we had conducted an assessment survey of both people working from home and their managers to expand groups and days improving aspects.
- Internal communication became an indispensable element to be able to manage the situation. In the first weeks of the pandemic, communication was almost daily via email and Intranet. At all times, people knew in what situation we were and how we should act. We also intensify the use of the Intranet to give voice to all people in the company by sharing both operational messages (focused on the safety and health of workers), strategic messages (sales evolution and company situation), and messages with more human content. We launched a series of personal interviews called “A day confined with…” where a person from the team told us about how they lived their day to day, recommended activities to do in confinement, books… We even celebrated from the news of a pregnancy to a birth, as well as celebrating St. George’s Day with a Jordi and a Jordina. There was a lot of emotional support to help adjust the work at home for those people who had not experienced it so far: it was not the same to telework by personal choice as by forced obligation, as was the case.
- Yes, we started using Teams. All meetings, both internal and external, were held online. In this sense, we had no barriers to be able to continue developing our daily activity. Everyone at home had the same equipment we had in the offices (dual screens, elevators, keyboards, helmets, and laptops), making it easy to stay connected at all times.
- We currently continue to telework, with the possibility of coming one day a week for those who want it, without exceeding a maximum occupancy that we have established while we are in COVID-19 situation. During this period, we took the opportunity to review the telework policy that we had by extending its application to all office people and establishing a hybrid model of 3 days home and 2 in the offices. This model is fully flexible, with a common schedule of 6 hours (from 10 to 16) and the rest flexible, individually manageable. The holding of hybrid meetings has been extended, for which we have equipped different company rooms with systems that provide us with the possibility of holding a face-to-face meeting of more than one person with people in other locations. We are also working on a project to reformulate the offices to promote collaborative work and hot desking, making the offices disappear and prioritizing open spaces of different uses for the moment when we can return with the usual frequency.
Neus Rodríguez, Hospital Medical Visitor | Laboratoris Rovi
- No, we had never done telework.
- Well, adapting to the medium full-tilt. We adapted the communication within the company very quickly. What was and is more complicated are the meetings in hospitals with doctors. We had to look for and think about options that had never been implemented before.
- Yes, we use Teams and Zoom to be able to hold team meetings.
- In my case, I’m doing hybrid format, that is, half face-to-face and half telework. In the case of Catalonia, medical visits are only allowed in private hospitals.
The pandemic has forced many businesses to rethink their work model. Several companies are now thinking more about the holistic wellbeing of their employees, where their happiness and physical wellbeing is as important as their income. This has created a new position within businesses: the Wellness Manager.
Looking back at this past 2020, we can take stock of the burnout suffered by workers in the healthcare sector. This event has made large organisations realise the need to create a figure within businesses beyond the human resources director, an expert profile in the well-being of their staff, as Colleen Reilly explains in Forbes magazine. As Dr. Jonathan Ripp, director of wellness at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explains to Forbes, this profile has grown on a large scale in many companies this past 2020, and believes that it may be a very common professional profile in the next ten years from now, especially in large companies.
Beyond the human resources department: the welfare manager
And what is the task of a welfare manager? Well, according to Reilly herself, it has to be a person who supports the human resources director of the company, to work together and strategically with the same common goal: to generate well-being for their workers. A few days ago, Amazon went further and posted a news item with its new wellness tool for workers: a relaxation cabin called Amazen. The news caused so much criticism on the net that, hours later, Amazon deleted the news, and now it is only available in other news media, such as Euronews. Perhaps Amazon wanted to go further but too fast in terms of advances for the wellbeing of its workers, we will focus on explaining what are the skills of a wellbeing manager.
Businesses promote wellness culture
Colleen Reilly analyses this figure as a profile responsible for having a culture and an ethic of well-being within the entire organisation, with the skills to know how to integrate both professional well-being, physical well-being and not forgetting to highlight the financial well-being of each of the workers. It also has to be a person with a high strategic and business vision, a visionary, influential, empathetic person, with knowledge of workers’ experiences and, above all, collaborative. This figure is beginning to bear fruit, and specifically David Tomás has been the first person to be recognised as the first director of happiness in our country, with the promotion of people’s well-being.
Do you feel like looking for new professional challenges? What do you think about trying your hand at managing people’s wellbeing? Times are changing and businesses are adapting their working environments to their employees. And we ask ourselves: How soon will you see this new profile called wellness manager in our work organisation?
Women hold only 34% of managerial positions in Spain. An insufficient number that has brought to light a new leadership, in female key, which breaks and weakens more and more social barriers.
Spain establishes, by law, that people of the same sex should not exceed 60% in private management positions. It seeks what, in the words of the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill, would be a “perfect equality that does not admit power and privilege for some or incapacity for others”. In practice, however, the figure is blurred and this purpose remains a challenge. Since women entered universities in 1910, they have encountered the paradox that, despite having the same education, they cannot access the same positions.
A working life marked for generations by male bosses and which, little by little, as the figures show, opens the door to the other half of society. And while the difficulty of accessing certain positions remains, family life reconciliation remains a challenge and the pay gap a reality, more and more women are taking the reins of their professional lives and, therefore, of their life. Female leadership brings to light this revolutionary spirit which, far from the patterns hitherto marked, claims that power can also be conscious, transformative, and sustainable.
Entrepreneurship and sorority: leadership takes new forms
Talking about female leadership is often talking about entrepreneurship. The observatory conducted by the company Extraordinaria in 2020 found that 58% of entrepreneur women did it out of necessity. This figure can make us think of circumstances such as the difficulty of promoting within companies, the impact of family life reconciliation or motherhood on working life, or the exclusion from the market that many women of a certain age suffer. The causes are many, and the answer is clear: if they cannot follow the path marked by society, they will make their own path.
This is the case of Gemma Fillol, who has shown from her experience that entrepreneurship becomes leadership. She is currently the CEO of Extraordinaria, the entrepreneurship and feminine leadership network that connects more than 50,000 women in Spain. Based on the figures in the study, she points out that “women work for different reasons than men. In fact, one of the main fears of entrepreneur women is not billing but not being able to handle everything. In the end, it is the here and the now that moves us. At Extraordinaria we observe what these behaviours are and how we can help them. How to create sorority”.
Society remains deeply unequal and Fillol claims access to the same opportunities and rights “from the most absolute difference, because the difference is enriching”. According to her, one tries to lead from a feminine point of view, but the system is masculine, and this causes the clash of these two worlds, two ways of acting and seeing the world. This is why many women who access high positions do so from these male patterns that have traditionally been associated with power.
What are the keys to female leadership?
More cooperation and less competition. More teamwork and less hierarchy. More empathy, collaboration, and intuition, and less passivity, control, and impulsiveness. Many authors have described the characteristics of this leadership, and precisely this need to transform concepts that until now we associated with power: it is the first step to understand that female leadership is not only about a woman assuming a position, but a woman who wants to provide a new vision of working, communicating, and even understanding the company and its goals.
As Fillol points out, “we seek not only to create sustainable businesses economically, but also in the human sphere. Making a social impact, changing the status quo. The purpose is very clear, companies are being built from somewhere else and this is very revolutionary. The capital is not the most important thing, and the Covid-19 crisis has shown that the companies that have survived are the ones that have made an effort in activating empathy and active listening”.
Precisely this feminine vision in terms of decisive sensitivity and empathy was referred to by ECB President Christine Lagarde in 2008, when she said that “if it had been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers, the world would look different”.
From exclusive leadership to participatory leadership
“Resilience, the ability to emerge stronger from an impact, is a characteristic of leadership”, and this is precisely the key for the leaders of the future. Move away from the image of power and possession, and link themselves to contribution and cooperation. A leadership that goes from being within the reach of a few to becoming popular: “For me, a leader is a responsible person committed to their success and the impact they want to leave in this world”.
True female leadership is what generates a positive impact, not just from senior positions, but across the board. From the bottom to the top. As Gemma Fillol concludes, “we all make an impact. Activism can be practised from as close aspects as the children’s school, the stores where you shop, or who you vote for. We should all be conscious people, question everything, and be committed to our deepest longings and the imprint we want to leave on the world. We should all be leaders”.
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Whether it is because of the COVID-19 pandemic or the fact that they are reinventing themselves in terms of customer relationship services, banks are revolutionising this year, turning banking as we know it upside down. Apart from the 10 trends that can change in the banking industry this year according to expert Alan McIntyre, let’s go back to the beginnings of banking in Catalonia, because to understand the revolution, it is interesting to understand the beginnings of banking in our country.
Due to our current frenetic lifestyle, we often forget the moment when the most important changes happen: we take it as a fact that life has always been as we know it or as we make it work. In the case of banks, the first Catalan bank in the Middle Ages, called Taula de canvi de Barcelona, consisted of a few wood boards on the street where money was counted, banking operations were carried out, and payments were also made. From this table of change, created in 1401 thanks to the Consell de Cent in Barcelona and considered the first public bank in Europe, the banking world has spun many times. But why do we talk about history at 11Onze? Well, simply because, to understand the world today, we have to understand the beginning of things, and if Catalonia made a change in the banking relationship after the plague of 1348, why not make a banking revolution in the relationship with new customers, which has also been transformed following the 2020 pandemic?
But what does revolution mean? The dictionary defines revolution as “a total, radical change.” To make this change real, the revolutionary gaze focuses on people’s needs. We need to adapt to the new way of living in society, in which we are using less and less cash, therefore the customer no longer looks for an ATM at every corner, nor do they want to go to their branch. The client wants good care that is fast and is carried out through a good web operating system. In short, a bank that adapts to their lifestyle. Therefore, as a bank, we want to focus the revolution on adapting to the needs of each citizen, giving all the information they need to make the best financial decisions. In fact, we want the customer to choose us because we really do provide solutions to their needs.
Expert Alan McIntyre of the technology services consulting company Accenture has drawn, in Accenture’s webpage, his annual list of the 10 trends most likely to affect the banking industry in 2021.
The first trend on the McIntyre banking revolution list tells us that we must go for it with all possible resources, otherwise we should not even attempt to start a project; this trend can relate much to the context of change that society needs right now, following the 2020 pandemic, when many sectors have been forced to regenerate or die. The second McIntyre trend is this new normality, which was so widely talked about in the media last year. We link it with the banking world as a new standardization of traditional banking to future banking. McIntyre’s third trend is defined as the new era of banking applications, where banks will stop interacting with customers as they have done so far, and will be more than banking services within their apps, offering new opportunities to customers. Fourthly in this famous banking list we have the tendency towards radical transparency in a bank, where all the information that the customer needs is shared. Here we find an added value: the customer has the power to think for themselves with the information they receive from their bank, which gives them the opportunity to decide by themselves what to do with their money and how. McIntyre’s fifth tendency reminds us that you must be acknowledged not as being the best in something, but as the only one to make change in the banking world possible, be the innovator. Sixthly, McIntyre points out that cash will no longer be the main point of operations, attaching greater importance to a world that we already have internalised, that of digital payments. As a seventh trend, he says that banking is embarking on sustainability for a world that acknowledges the macroeconomic consequences of climate change. McIntyre’s eighth trend is defined as uncertainty in American regulations after the 2021 election period, which may have a direct impact on international economic efforts. Ninthly, we find the importance of the digital regulator and, as McIntyre’s last trend, we find that digital banking environments will become much more open and secure, leaving behind the archaic and closed environments typical of the worn-out banking world.
We must wait and see how these McIntyre trends come true. In the meantime, we must see the path every bank takes in this banking revolution, and to what extent this change in the relationship with new customers is made.
From the outside, the manager of a company may appear to be an omnipotent figure. The one who has more experience and who knows how to coordinate and manage different problematic situations for the same company, but who cannot always make safe and correct decisions. He or she may fail or be confused and not quite know what to do. However, one of these options has been punished more than the other
In the business world, it is often said that it is better to be wrong than confused. Put like that, we might all agree, but the problem with such arguments is that they are often made by managers who prefer to defend their mistakes by saying that it is better to be found out over time that they were not right, and by emphasising that being confused is much worse than being wrong. But in business, much worse than confusion (which in many cases and temporarily may be necessary and unavoidable), is the determination to stay in the wrong for too long and not wanting to see reason to get out of it. Justifying the error is much worse than the confusion, and also does not make us evolve in the rationality that we need so much. And it may happen that we have employees who are tired of repeating arguments that cry out to heaven and that would allow us to get out of the chaos (confusion), and out of the error, at the same time.
- Moving from error to personal evolution
Defending that I have every right to be wrong and that it is all right if I am wrong is a truism. And to defend it stubbornly enters the realm of the most absurd irrationality. In the short term, it can be argued that I would rather believe in something, and come to the conclusion that it makes no sense, than live in confusion without having any formed opinion because I lack information. But living in error should be an accidental matter, a transitory state while I gather more information to see if I have to continue in the same error, or if I can change my state and evolve towards a better truth. The problem is that many managers, especially those who have been successful and believe that success has been theirs alone, would rather be comfortably wrong than go through a period of inner turmoil, sharing with others and accepting new things.
As individuals, and even more so if we impact on others, we should want to pursue options that bring us as close as possible to the truth. Accepting that it will never be achieved, but trying. We have to keep in mind that it is very likely that in the short term we will find ourselves in the wrong situation, but if we are really interested in understanding what is around us, we should not want to establish our residence for too long. The mistake should become an experimentation. We try out options that seem reasonable to us and see as a team if they work for us. If they don’t, that’s fine, we move on to other options. Error and confusion should be transitory.
In improving rationality, both error and confusion have their mission. But error should not be preferred over confusion. Walking towards authenticity and managerial maturity is not done by prioritising error over confusion, but by seeing in each case whether one is confused or mistaken. And trusting others, because in a team it is easier to overcome confusion and unnecessary mistakes.
- Making mistakes is also a necessary factor
It should also be kept in mind that decision-making in companies is often based on finding options and giving arguments for and against them. Most often, the decision-maker has his or her own preferences, based on his or her professional background, life experience and also on subjective questions that may have more or less rational support. It is necessary that one knows oneself and knows what preferences one has and what they are based on, seeing the advantages and disadvantages of following them. This implies a certain process of professional maturation based on doing, failing and starting again. Knowing the pros and cons will sometimes lead to a change of mind, but at others it will only make us aware that our preferred option must be faced realistically. This decision process, with options and knowing our preferences, what they are based on, examining the strengths and weaknesses they have, is the most complete decision making process.
We must strive to resolve confusions, but above all without being stranded in our right to be wrong: it has been shown that managers are hardly ever denied this right. While sometimes these same managers deny any experimentation to their employees. Whether they create mistakes or not. Managers should encourage experimentation, giving their people (and themselves) the confidence to accept error, but without over-entertaining. Without dawdling too much – being confused is not the worst thing, being knowingly wrong for too long is!
We have heard many times that management salaries are above what is reasonable and fair. That, in fact, the differences between the highest and lowest paid in a company cannot be infinite. And in fact they should be very finite and limited. It is unreasonable to think that in a company there has to be someone who has infinitely more responsibility than the rest of the workers. But if we look at reality, we see that we accept the opposite. And is that a good thing?
If we look at companies that have gone bankrupt mainly because of the irresponsible actions of a few, we see that in general they cannot be made to pay back what they have taken, or repair what they have damaged. In some cases certain liabilities can be criminally prosecuted, but these are minimal, as excessive greed or greed does not appear to be a criminal offence in the criminal code. In fact, being greedy (but calling it ambitious), is behaviour that is quite generally encouraged in companies.
But it is not always the case that the negligent manager is driven by greed when he or she engages in behaviour that can lead to disaster. And often these behaviours and decisions of people in charge of high-risk situations cannot be detected in time to avoid undesirable consequences. We could find recent cases, such as those where the economic future of people with retirement savings is at risk (bank failures) or even more important, those cases where human lives could be lost (for example the recent case of the train accident that we have in mind these days).
- More control, fewer problems?
We wonder how it can be that such important matters are sometimes left in the hands of a single person, and that the negligence of a single person (due to excessive greed or possible carelessness) can be the sole cause of an unavoidable misfortune. These cases make us think about how the situation could be resolved in order to avoid such dire consequences. Could controls be put in place that would make it possible to avoid these consequences? And what should these controls be? But more importantly, does it make sense that certain decisions, actions and behaviours are in the hands of a few managers? Is this the most effective way to exercise control in order to avoid what is not wanted at all?
It seems clear that in a system where those who have responsibility are rewarded too generously, and made responsible and infallible, it is not good for anyone. In the long term, not even for the manager himself, although in the short term it may seem so. It creates a false aspirational, pyramid-like motivation, where everyone wants to get to the top. But when they get there they must be infallible: zero defects and no chance of failure. In case he has no bad faith it can end very badly, if the consequences of his action or omission are disastrous. And despite acting in bad faith, if he measures the consequences of the action well, and they are not punishable, he can wipe out the welfare of many people and go unpunished. And incorporating formal controls is not feasible since creating controls that can foresee everything is not possible. So how can we do it? It seems that one way would be to foster a culture of co-responsibility. We can all be greedy, but if we all have to reach a goal together, and we have to support each other, the temptations are lessened. In the same way, human errors are compensated for, because it is possible for one person to be negligent or overconfident, but for all of us to be so at the same time, it seems more complicated. The pressure is reduced, checking on each other makes us more cautious, and also, and very importantly, we have to share the credit when things go well. This helps us to realise that one person alone will not get as far as a well-knit team.
- Sharing to tap people’s potential
Organisations work best when people give their best and do so motivated beyond the salary they receive or the status they get at work. And they do their work without following the fine print of their employment contract, and therefore have an involvement that goes beyond their contractual obligations.
In times of difficulty, companies can succeed if workers have internal motivations that make them go beyond their obligations, providing that quality that cannot be measured, but which is key to creating a work climate that facilitates collaboration and where work can bring satisfaction to everyone. It seems utopian to say this, but it is clear to many employers that their companies work when people are valued in the workplace and can fulfil themselves professionally. And therefore, they actively encourage this atmosphere of trust where employees are willing to contribute that extra that is neither financially remunerated nor specified in an employment contract.
Solidarity has a spontaneous and voluntary nature. Encouraging it should be based on the recognition that the worker does it because he/she wants to, and that it has merit precisely because he/she does it that way. What is spontaneous on the part of the worker can be recognised. But it must be by recognising its spontaneous nature, never through an incentive associated with the fulfilment of an objective. This must be kept in mind so as not to lose that special quality that requires genuine recognition, without forcing it to be there.
When we are young, reinforcing what we do well is considered basic, and all parents try to do this with their children. But as we grow older, we enter a society and companies where praise is sometimes viewed with a certain distance and suspicion. Why have we created this unhealthy link between praise and insincerity?
“What does he want from me, who praises me so much? Surely he wants something. We seem to have created a divorce between two words: praise and sincerity. If I tell you ” you’re useless” I am sincere, but if I tell you that you have done very well, you look at me with a suspicious face. Looked at this way, how can we turn the tables? A universal truth (or almost universal, there are always tastes for everything), is that we like to be praised. Another universal truth is that we like sincerity more than hypocrisy. Another empirical finding is that praise creates in the person who receives it the feeling that everything can be better. It makes them believe in themselves, it makes them feel optimistic. But what about companies, can it be used in the same way?
- Praise as work that boosts productivity
I would like to focus on some studies that have shown strong results, finding that praise makes workers happier and more productive. What a novelty! We already knew this. The problem is that we link it with hypocrisy. As a result of this organisational finding, some companies advise managers to tell workers how good they are. Imagine a case where after praising everyone left and right, we send a certain group of workers a cold e-mail, telling them that we are firing them. How does this tie in with the previous praise? Is this the way to fire those we value? Even if downsizing is justified, someone who is truly valued surely deserves to be treated differently. This employee and those who remain, after this experience, will take praise differently. In fact, promoting short-term business prescriptions, such as wanting to make workers happy and produce more by giving them praise, just because, not because they deserve it, is bound up in hypocrisy. And it reinforces the idea that when people say nice things to me it is because they want something from me.
More important than discussing the merits of praise “yes” or praise “no”, it would be good to enter into a long-term productivity debate: praise how and praise when. The fact that good words proliferate regardless of whether they are given or not, exacerbates the problem that those who say them are generally seen as hypocrites. And it takes us away from the real well-being that comes from receiving praise. It only brings us little joy in the short term, but if, when the time comes, the facts show us that it was all false, we will become sarcastic and distrustful of those good words we so desperately needed.
- Praise does not equal “losing authority”.
When someone is given a position of responsibility for the first time and in case they have people under them, the question arises as to how they can get people to take them seriously and involve them in the project. Some choose to think that they are very bona fide, and therefore that you will have to show an artificial and tough stance towards your subordinates. Others choose to be the opposite, to let the worker do whatever he wants and to be a “good-natured” head. What both options hide is a lack of experience, a lack of acceptance and maturity of how we are and how we handle the fact of commanding and being commanded. Leading teams of people requires personal discipline and having deepened and wanting to continue deepening one’s self-knowledge and empathy towards others. And this implies knowing how to value the quality of your team and when to recognise good work.
To achieve a good climate and motivated workers, companies need to promote praise, but for non-instrumental reasons. Especially now, when many people who have a job are afraid of losing it, and can lose it, even if they don’t deserve it. Behind the praise, above and below, there should be sincerity and authenticity. And how is that done? By linking this praise to concrete, verifiable things. And not contradict it with facts that mistreat workers. And complement it with other facts that support it.
Being human means needing to receive good news from those around us, about our qualities and results, and to notice that these people really believe in us. That they do not merely want to instrumentalise us, selected to make us just another tool as a means to achieve their objectives. We would all gain and learn from an attitude that is closer to our human nature, which is so necessary to encourage in the era of social networks.
The value of things lies in the right balance between two extremes that are usually more similar than we think: trust and distrust. This fact becomes very important in regard to the first term, trust, as it is a basic quality in human relations. Taking into account this complicated tandem, where does the entrepreneur stand?
- Distrustful business leaders
Those that management theories nurture as selfish beings who only seek their own personal gain. Normally, employers who have been educated in this tradition end up thinking that workers have the opposite interests to their own (to work as little as possible), when they want them to do just the opposite (to work as much as possible, maximize productivity with the minimum cost). And what does the worker think? For the employer to get all the credit, I do enough. And he deserves it, for having bad thoughts about me. And I won’t go on, we all know how the story goes.
At this point, the employer becomes obsessed with controlling the selfish worker, and having tried all possible control systems, he ends up seeing that there is none that guarantees this control. Conclusion: the intelligent employer will end up seeing that the theory of absolute control based on distrust is irrational. And quite useless too. Because it is not based on what people are like. People need to trust and be trusted. And trust is based on what the other person is like: on their professional competence, their desire to do things well (integrity) and their ability to act for interests that are not exclusively their own (despite losing in the short term). Thus, to always start from a position of mistrust shows a complete lack of judgement. We are taking for granted a theory that is neither valid nor practical, and that is unfair to the worker and the employer. The other person is not always as I see him/her, and I have to learn to see him/her as he/she is.
- Confident employers
Now we go to the other extreme, confident employers. Those who want “a better place”. They suffer from the syndrome of blind trust, which they justify in a shallow way, to make themselves feel good. Telling employees what we don’t like is difficult and the superficial good feeling vanishes mercilessly. But even if it is hard to say what you don’t like, it is the way to make the relationship real. This is how trust, so necessary to make things work, becomes real. And only genuine trust generates positive consequences. I can’t trust a manifestly incompetent person, and I have to tell them so. So he can improve while allowing those who do well to be treated according to how well they do well. There is nothing more unbearable than a boss who treats everyone the same, whether they are trying to do well or not. Dealing with such a manager is a torture I do not wish on anyone.
- Treat each other differently
Therefore, to follow a theory that does not work is to have no judgement. It clashes with the reality that in relationships between people, trust is necessary. We need others (their experience, integrity and good intentions towards us). However, to blindly trust everyone is to have no judgement in assessing the relationship: it creates unfairness and makes no one better. People should treat each other differently, depending on what they do and how they do it. The extremes touch each other because they generate very similar consequences and are based on our resignation as managers to learn to have judgement: to get wet (with the option of being wrong and having to rectify) and not to get carried away by our short-term reactions (whether it is the good vibe of “everyone is good” or the bad vibe of “everyone is lazy”). We have to train our judgement to avoid extremes.
Sometimes it is not easy to find the terms “ethics” and “business” together. It is popularly believed that the essence of one eliminates the other and in this we justify the lack of a network of companies that are truly committed to guaranteeing conditions, but society has changed and needs the working environment to change as well. A paradigm shift where company dynamics put in place fairer structures for all, for example, could be one of the ways to change the working environment
When we talk about ethics in business, we basically concentrate on the ethical “choice” between possible options for a concrete and defined problem. We like to think that when faced with a problem, there are several options, and we can rank them from very unethical to very unethical. Therefore, it all boils down to using ethical criteria, ranking the options, and choosing the most ethical of the possible options. Thinking that this is possible and trying to deal with business ethics in this way gives us peace of mind, but it is a false security. It implicitly leads to the conclusion that all problems have ethical and unethical solutions, and that the simple fact of choosing the right decision criteria will lead us unequivocally to choose options from the group of ethical solutions.
- Ethics as an isolated subject
The worst thing comes when we want to do business’ ethics training thinking this way, then the mess can be monumental, as well as the frustration afterwards. And if we look at most business training, ethics is a simple “little pill” that is given outside the core subjects, as if the manager can separate the decisions that need “ethics” from those that do not. In highly technical decisions, this may be possible, but in most decisions the ethical part is inseparable from the unethical part.
But in management training there is a tendency towards a curious specialisation. Ethics courses are held separately and many managers believe that they will receive the basic prescriptions that will enable them to make ethical choices from a range of possible options. The very fact of taking a business ethics course leads to the simple thought that there is an ethical painting page that automatically transforms solutions into ethical solutions. The manager may think that in this specialised training he or she will learn to paint any decision in a rosy colour. In reality it is the way one approaches the problem and the justification behind it, if the options are exhaustive, that the real ethics lie.
- Working on empathy also with employees
Thus, ethics is not only to be found in any given choice between several options, but also in the very definition of the existing business problem. And also in which options we consider as a possible solution to the specific problem. For example, let us imagine that we have considered that we have two options: to dismiss or not to dismiss an employee. What we should do is to take a step back and look at what we want to dismiss. We define the problem and we see we have a member of staff who is always late. But we have to go one step further and find out why he is late, and somehow do something to compensate for his lateness. Also the implications of the fact that he is late: does it hurt anyone, does it affect the smooth running of the company? And once the problem has been defined, we should look at the possible options to solve it (not simply to fire or not to fire). It does not seem that dismissal is the only option. A change of working hours, a reprimand, a warning that being late affects productivity, and a long list of other options could also be considered.
It seems quite clear that the ethical component of managerial action is crucial to the whole process: how we define the problem, what possible solutions we propose, and how we choose the most appropriate one. Ethics cannot be reductionist and go straight to the choice. But it must also be transversal and permeate all business management disciplines. Reducing ethics to a mere ethical choice strips the manager’s task bare. It makes the manager less complete and his or her task is not shown in all its importance. It dwarfs him or her and also dwarfs the result of good management: the common good in capital letters.