Managing today's workplace is a lot different than back in your granddaddy's day. Offices aren't just receptacles for command-control tactics; the boss can't just run around barking orders (or pinch his secretary's butt, for that matter). And these days, the boss may well not be a "he."
Most importantly, it is vital to treat workers with respect to keep them happy, productive and, well, just to keep them.
Of course, finding the balance between a rigid boot-camp feel and a hippie-dippy do-it-whenever-you-feel-like-it vibe is tougher than it sounds, especially in a world where just about everyone has attention deficit disorder, thanks in no small part to our non-stop technology. People's minds jump around constantly, and many even texted their way through college classes—meaning they might have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time.
Neuroscience discoveries of the last two decades reveal why managing seems to have become more challenging in recent years, and offers some clues into how to use brain-science advances to create an energetic, innovation work atmosphere.
Edward M. Hallowell is a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and an expert in "using brain science to get the best from your people"—which happens to be the subtitle of his recent book, "Shine" (Harvard Business Review, 2011, $26.95).
Hallowell warns that, in many workplaces, the problem is not that people aren't working hard enough; often they are working too hard and in the wrong jobs—and their brains can't handle it. So they shut down. What good managers have to do is help them find a path to do the opposite: learn to work smarter and to enjoy it. To overcome what he calls your employees' "overloaded circuits"—that can lead to everything from negativity and apathy to frantic workaholism, all bad—Hallowell developed what he calls "five steps to peak performance." He warns that these steps need to come in order to be effective.
1. SELECT - The first step is to get the employee in the right job: something she is good at; likes to do; and something that adds value to your organization. Not one of those, but all three. This might mean moving employees around and changing their job descriptions to better match these criteria and help them work in what brain expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow"—meaning full focus on challenging activities. (See drhallowell.com for more advice on selecting well, including a job-fit scale.)
2. CONNECT - Once the employees are in the right job, they start to feel more connected and can perform at a higher level. At this point, they should be inspired and, thus, motivate others. Too many workplaces are disconnected with too much stress and mental overload (which makes people think they have too much work to do even if they don't).
3. PLAY - This is the fun one and the step too often left out of the workplace to our peril. As Hallowell writes, "[W]ithout play, peak performance is impossible." When he says play, Hallowell means "any activity that engages the imagination," thus leading to discoveries, innovation and happy employees. Thus, it could help your sales team to spend an afternoon putting together creative presentations for their clients. Or anyone can be more creative by drawing mind maps or even by color-coding their notes. After I read this book the first time, we started doing brain teasers at staff meetings, which he recommends. Fun, competitive, mind-opening. (Our first one was the "Monty Hall problem"; look it up in Wikipedia.)
4. GRAPPLE AND GROW - This is where the rubber meets the road. If you have the right people in the right jobs, they are connected to others at work and are having fun while working and creating, and are primed to grapple and grow—to work and make progress. Hallowell warns that you can't get to this step—where the work gets done—without the first three steps in place. Then workers will taste work success and then want to increase it at this stage. Note that work and progress must go together; all employees must have the mindset of constant growth. This is the stage where they should spend more of their time. Note that "grappling"—pushing through their comfort zones—is a vital and ongoing part of the job. The key is to work smart, not hard: what Hallowell calls C-state.
5. SHINE - Payoff time. Once your employee has mastered the first four stages, she's ready to really shine—and to be recognized. As a result, the employee will connect even more and engage in more of what Hallowell calls "moral behavior"—a desire to look out for others in the group and not just herself. (You could also call it loyalty.) That means they do the right and needed tasks without being asked or reminded, and aren't likely to make off with the office supplies. This is the most fun stage for manager and employee.
Taming the Email Monster
Dr. Hallowell advises companies to start an email policy that gets staff to:
• Limit the number of times they check it a day.
• Always consider whether the emails they're sending are worth their and their recipients' time.
• Consider whether delivering the message in person or by phone would be better.
• Never try to work out emotional issues in email.
Ways to Connect Employees
• Notice and acknowledge people.
• Engage in simple niceties to create the right emotional climate. It's the easiest way to transform a workplace.
• Encourage "human" moments every few hours.
• Get employees to recognize and deal with own stress.
• Discuss behavior, not the person.
• Bring lots of energy-giving light (real or artificial) into the workplace. No dark, energy-draining offices, please.
• Keep food and drink around as a symbol of nurturing.
• Have lots of impromptu gatherings.
• Encourage staffers to reach out to each other; studies show that having a best friend at work predicts superior work performance.
Playing at Work
• Ask open-ended questions; go around the table at a meeting and ask: "What is something great that happened to you last week?"
• Model a questioning attitude. It's OK to disagree, and for person disagreed with to disagree back. And so on.
• Plan a goofy day now and then, such as declaring a "bad dress day." Encourage costumes on Halloween.
• Make your workspace cool—and also conducive to creativity. Put white boards up or paint a wall with blackboard paint. Put art supplies in the conference room.
• Rearrange work space for collaboration, not isolation.
• Give staffers creative hours or even full days if you can. Make it rule they can't use technology during the time.
• Make work a game with prizes for certain milestones.
Grappling and Growing
• Watch for frustration and progress in employees' work; promote confidence and motivation. Help break logjams, redirect, set priorities, teach time management.
• Encourage and model grit. Have a never-say-die attitude. Teach toughness.
• Try not to manage by fear. Make threatening to fire someone your very last option, not first.
• Encourage them to cultivate C-state by slowing down or stopping when they start to feel stressed or frantic. They will spin their wheels in mud if they don't.
• Regularly talk to employees about how they are using time; help create better work conditions.
• Explain why new systems will help them.
• Allow people some space and flexibility to be themselves within the company's structure. It's a balance.
• Beware of screensuck: wasting time on computers or smart phones or even over-detailed spreadsheets.
• Teach that busyness is not smart work.
F-state = Bad
Fearful, frantic, frenzied, forgetful, frustrated, f___ed
C-state = Good
Cool, calm, collected, concentrated, convivial, cooperative, curious, creative, careful
Bring on C-state:
• Put up photographs of people, animals, stuff you love.
• Keep a joke book in your drawer or watch funny YouTube videos now and then.
• Engage in a quick burst of exercise like three minutes of pushups or office yoga. (Ideas at yogajournal.com)
• Be quiet for a few minutes. Clear your mind, mediate, pray. Take three deep breaths.
• Get outside briefly.
• Eat an energy bar or fruit, but don't drink much coffee.
• Do a puzzle for five minutes. Or a brain teaser.
• Ask for help when you need it.
• Set boundaries on email or when available to help with team projects. Schedule quiet, focused time.
• Never try to multi-task. Train yourself to focus on one task at a time so you can achieve a state of flow.
How to Praise and Recognize
• Praise effort, not just results. Cheerlead like mad during the process, not just afterward.
• Notice and call out details and small actions.
• Make folks look good in meetings and to your boss.
• Recognize them in person; email pales in comparison.
• Always acknowledge others: hello, goodnight, a smile.
• Give tons of positive feedback daily.
• Monitor progress of a project during its steps.
• Recognize the quiet and marginalized staffers, too.
Know the Type?!?
If you have employees engaging in these morale busters (for whole staff), tackle the problem before it's too late. (And if it's you, recognize it and, well, stop it.)
1. Martyr Mary or Marty: "Poor little me, look at all the work I have to do."
2. Debby or Donny Downer: "Now whhhyyyy do I have to plannnnnn? Waaaaa."
3. King or Queen Drama: "EVERYTHING is an EMERGENCY. WHAT are we going to DO?!?"
4. Procrastinatin' Penny or Perry: "Here it is; I'm off to the beach for the weekend; please check (finish) it for me over the weekend."
5. All-About-Me Alan or Alana: "I know you're on deadline, but I'd like a two-month sabbatical and a raise when I get back. Oh, and can I work from home?"
6. Blamin' Betty or Bobby: "It's not my fault. It's my boss' fault for taking mistakes too seriously. And my co-worker for not catchin' it. And, and ..."