A Question of Culture – bullying or just banter?

indexFor us here in the UK we have been reading and discussing an incident on a television program “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, where a contestant was believed to verbally bullied another member of the group. Now in his defence the person doing the alleged bullying stated it was just banter and that it was accepted between both parties that it was just that a bit of fun. However, the watching audience saw the incident differently. The cry of “bully” and abuse rang around the corridors of the media for at least 36 hours until another minor incident subsumed the short attention span. Though the incident raised an issue in the contemporary workplace between groups and individuals of what does constitutes abuse & bullying and what is just consigned to being banter. What is the cut off point between verbal jousting and causing offence? Hopefully exploring this cultural issue can shed some light on the moral maze we all seem to encounter at work and within organisations.

Having experienced may different working environments banter and joking can be fun, reduce stress and raise morale within the group but it can be difficult to recognise when harmless fun becomes bullying, victimisation or even discrimination. Personal jokes and banter, friendly insults and quips are often how we interact in the workplace, at social gatherings or when we meet up with our friends and family. Sometimes closer friendships and the degree of familiarity allow for insults or name calling to be exchanged, with lasting effects of feelings or upset. Clearly everyone is comfortable and shares the laughter and enjoyment.

The darker side of the banter questions can happen when a person is singled out to be the butt of repeated personal attention and cutting comments and then the banter can become harmful to the person concerned. It is clearly no longer fun and the line between banter and bullying or discrimination has been crossed. However, what is the tipping point pushing banter over into abuse and discrimination and subsequent personal isolation and upset.

It is difficult for employees to know and comprehend when the line is about to be crossed and have the confidence to tell colleagues that enough is enough.  Factory life (mainly male dominated) can be tough for the thin skinned. Sometimes personal differences will be highlighted with a nick name or term that describes the person that clearly identifies them to the group. Its usually not overly complementary so can be hard to come to terms with. Usually the shift team are bonded as a group and the ribald banter is part and parcel of your working life.  This environment is similar to male dominated dressing rooms in sport, it is this culture that the alleged celebrity bully comes from. Perhaps then exhibits a different tolerance to the banter than other groups?  There is a hierarchy and men occupy roles within the group. The banter is part of the motivation and bonding process to suggest although we can have some fun at each others expense we are a team. Its easy to make some lazy hypothesis to suggest its men that allow banter, experience in female dominated environments suggests otherwise.  The banter is there but in a different more subtle form. Perhaps more passive aggressive, less obvious but nevertheless still present within the group. Of course this is a generalisation and there always exceptions to the rule.

So In principle the bullying or banter question is about context and culture within the group and the organisation. When cultures collide i.e. a factory or dressing room toward families sitting in their armchairs at home & media hacks, then perceptions on the interaction change.  We formally accept different rules and expectations within different environments. Psychologically called attributions. A attribution is the process by which individuals explain the causes of behavior and events. So home life is different than being at work, out with friends or in the dressing room. Behaviour and language adapt to the different environment and cultural expectations. I am sure you speak to your friends differently to your line manager to your family? So the term bully is very difficult to define or attribute from a distance unless we understand that the people concerned consent to the interaction rule of engagement.

Tbe bullying and banter question is a moral maze. Measuring it by external standards through a politically correct lens will no doubt always veer toward bullying as these robust interactions do not appear polite or appropriate from a distance.  However we may need to take time to understand the different cultures we exist within and what rules apply and to whom before we make snap judgements. Understanding how we attribute events and behaviours with different groups will no doubt help us look behind the smoke and mirrors of society, social interactions and groups. Bulling cannot be tolerated but where do we draw the line for wholesome and group bonding banter? A question for us all to cogitate.

 

4 Ways to Make Workplace Training Stick

TrimagesSo I have had a winge about the lack of evaluation and assessment of workplace learning, so lets be more positive and look at a few great ways to make your training stick. Needless to say, employees & everyone else in your business will start to see why training takes place, be involved with the learning plans & objectives and best of all save training your budget. Most of all learning engages people and as a result could improve their productivity.

So here we go a few quick and easy steps to get measuring training at work.

  1. Proper training needs & skills gap analysis. If there is no needs or skills gap analysis, there is no understanding who needs training or development. A discussion with all the stakeholders involved and a plan to help the individuals development, what the return on investment looks like and to make targeted decisions for the best way forward. Staff team training needs should be reviewed as part of the performance and development review process via the one-to-one meetings and annual appraisal.
  2. Measure learning before pre & post training. Assessment of what learner knew about the topic before and after the training is a great place to start. Beware that the results can be inflated by 6 times if not careful. Happy sheets after training are also very limited due to various reason. Some may be the warm glow of a nice lunch! So factor in effective measures of training transfer and ultimately the proposed return on investment.
  3. Transferring learning to work. In order to ensure your training has been effective, you need to do more than evaluate and assess. We need to take post-training time to help trainees transfer their new skills and knowledge to the workplace and to make these behavioural changes stick. You may need to help employees overcome certain obstacles to applying training to the job. Perhaps coaching & mentoring will help make the transfer of training knowledge stick. Certainly line managers taking an active interest on how the training is being applied to the workplace.
  4. Putting It All Together. Investing in people is a very wise decision for every organisation. Training makes better employees & people, better people make better companies. Try to keep in mind training is much more than a one off event. As methods and technologies need to keep changing with the way the organisation works. Companies that stay competitive invest in their employees by turning them into lifelong learners, whilst being engaged and the most valuable resource you have in your business.

This is a whistle stop tour of just a few effective methods of evaluating your training and assessing the people being trained. Indeed the importance of training employees both new and experienced cannot be overemphasised. Manager and supervisor training and development is equally important as orienting new employees in order to promote workplace safety, productivity, and satisfaction. So lastly here are a few more points to bear in mind to help your organisation make training the centre of your operations for staff and ultimately a more profitable future for your business.

  • Make training & coaching a top priority at all levels of the organisation.
  • Develop a training/coaching programs that meets needs and is customised to your company and its employees.
  • Choose the correct training models for your training needs.
  • Evaluate training at every level.
  • Assist trainees as they transfer learned skills and behaviour into their work.

Work Place Psycho(babble)(madeup)ology

images (33)Love it or hate it psychology in the workplace has an impact on all or working lives. From applying for a job and taking a psychometric test, an interview that is semi structured or structured toward having to attend an assessment centre etc. When you attend a training/L&D programme hopefully your learning transfer is measured and an assessment will be conducted over time to ensure a good return on investment for the business. Research & models of leadership, management,groups/team function, H&S, HR, culture, behaviour etc etc, Notwithstanding the burgeoning area of coaching psychology that helps numerous people in and out of the workplace daily. Now I could go on and discuss every area that work psychology gets its sticky little fingers into, but this will probably start the collective yawn that work place psychology can evoke.

Psychology has physics envy, there I have said it. An ex-colleague and good chum who is a physicist & statistician takes a dim view of this adolescent science of psychology. Our conversations go like this – psychology is madeupology and just a load of psychobabble that doesn’t make any sense. After all you do is confirm the bleeding obvious, its all common sense! I won’t go into my reply as it is unprintable. So why does psychology have this problem and sometimes negative perception in the workplace? Why is it some businesses and individual see us as just confirming what they already know or perhaps think they know.

Well firstly the thing about common sense it ain’t that common. We generally see the world though a perceptual lens that suits our beliefs and values. Therefore it may be that psychology at work is of little value due to the seemly obvious nature of the results. However, without all the research behind the theories and models of the workplace and facets within the organisation, how can we ever confirm the bleeding obvious as it stays as perceived common sense? This is where the issues exists as a lack of understanding of the years of work on theory and modelling on so many different areas of the workplace that sometimes it just gets overlooked as business white noise. Perhaps then its down to us to make psychology more understandable and more applicable to everyone’s working life? Something I believe should be the case.

To use psychology in the workplace is a valuable tool that is excluded at the detriment of any organisation. Many guru’s are employed to cast upon the masses their pet understanding of how things work with people and groups. Thing is it is just one person’s one eyed view without any commitment to ongoing development of their subject, organisation or clients. Though I do understand you pays your money your takes your choice with all things. However, without any background in the subject apart for a nice certificate and a great chat up line where is the substance of the offering?

So as a geeky psychologist who cares about the profession, I see physics envy is a positive thing as it make us work harder to find answers to the big organisational questions. We are all psychologists, we love people watching and making broad generalisations about groups and their views. So why not find out about the science of the bleeding obvious and how uncommon common sense actually is. Its not that bad you know and we might be able to make some sense of how you and your organisation ticks.

A Leadership Question – formal or informal?

images (32)I am sure you have seen LinkedIn and other social media platforms awash with articles on leadership and becoming a better leader. How many articles and promotions do we see “10 ways to become a great leader” or “Essential Leadership Training” etc, along with countless banal quotes from eminent business characters. You have all seen them I am sure. Now if I was a cynic there could good reason for this in terms of leaders & managers may well have a resources to pay for management consultants fees? As I am not a cynic I am sure that this is not the case. However, most of the leaders we hear and read about are those with formal power, influence and position. What about those who have no formal power in an organisation or a group, what is it that draws people to them? What is it that perhaps creates a more authentic sense of leadership and vision for the followers?

Needless to say, a person can influence others, and in this sense be a leader. Others look to them for ‘leads’ and follow their direction or probably more importantly their behaviours (health and safety is a good example). I am sure we have often seen someone have a negative influence on behaviour within a group/team when they flout rules or reject authority. Similarly a person can have a positive influence by being clearly supportive of an initiative and engaged in a process – particularly where their involvement is discretionary. In many cases, it is the informal leaders that will be the strongest influencers of behaviour within a group as their influence is more direct, closer to the group and constant.

Informal leaders have capabilities that more formal leaders do not, simply because they do not hold a position of designated authority. They can suggest things to other team members that could not be said by a person in an official management role. Their ability to influence is different, since informal leaders are often perceived differently than formal leaders. The informal leader who might take on this task is respected, perhaps trusted, based on his/her performance and relationships with the others within the group. While the formal leader is more likely to be in a leadership role due to his formal authority and power.

So what do we make of the informal leader? Dean Pielstick at North Arizona University published a fascinating paper a few years ago “Formal & Informal Leading: A Comparative Analysis” where his findings suggested that informal leaders are higher levels of leading than formal leaders overall but notably in vision, communicating, relationships, community, guidance and character. All of the vitalcomponents of authentic leadership. Informal leaders seem to have more fun are personable and treat co-workers with more respect. The informal leader is less likely to use coercion or have a need for power and perhaps more importantly less likely to use fear. Although this study is not without its faults the finding suggest informal leaders are more authentic that may well provide a lesson for more formal leaders.

This topic is much under researched perhaps for the cynical reason noted above. Though we may need to pay more attention to informal leaders and identify their qualities. Perhaps it is a more pure sense of authentic leadership as they have no formal power within the organisation? This may then fuel the need to strip away titles and trappings of power to provide the organisation a more transparent form of leadership that the group engage with fully. Therefore inverting the organisational pyramid with the leader & leadership team no longer sitting at the pointy end at the top but facilitating the organisation to function without barriers. Food for though at least.

Drop me a line or call today to find out more of how to nurture your informal leaders or leadership style .

 

References

CD Pielstick – Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 2000 – jlo.sagepub.com

 

Appraisals what are they good for – absolutely everything!

download (7)How many people have a good performance appraisal experience, however many line managers feel that they are just a “HR box ticking” episode (bah humbug), or more to the point how many people actually have appraisals at work?

Having recently spent some time reviewing an organisations appraisal process, it became clear that there is no one size fits all formula. In fact, making sense of the weight of conflicting models and theory from psychology for conducting appraisals, it is akin to herding very excitable cats high on industrial strength catnip. Indeed the Internet is awash with confusing “do this do that” that just adds to the confusion. However, if arranged properly performance appraisals can become a source of business focus, proper job design, improved communication, employee motivation, build confidence, self-esteem and can be seen as a huge learning and development opportunity for all concerned.

Social & work psychology has a lot to say about appraising people at work and how people make judgements about others. Research shows that we are highly subjective and very often biased in our judgements. In some cases we can draw seriously invalid conclusions about motives and actions of people based on our own sometimes skewed view of the world. This is primarily due to our habit of utilising “cognitive shortcuts or cognitive heuristics” to help us manage and make some sense of our increasingly complex surroundings. Sadly, this may explain our tendency to stereotype and frame our prejudices of others, that can lead to significant problems assessing people at work and other walks of life.

So back to the performance appraisal process and how to potentially make it more of an objective, more about evidence and less subjective. To clarify, appraisals are to improve performance for the organisation, a team and the individual. So here are a few pointers that may be helpful to both appraisers and appraisees that may add a little more science to the whole business.

High performance appraisal cultures endeavour to

  • add clarity about objectives and goals for the business and individuals
  • provide continuous feedback on performance
  • provide recognition of performance
  • support personal development of individuals within the business.

Adopting an objective goal orientated approach can provide

  • a deeper understanding of the job or role
  • a focus upon the real business needs
  • improved communication

Focussing upon goals, Key Result Areas (KRA’s) and using objective measures of performance (perhaps a well designed and evidenced based psychometric test or 360 feedback) will provide a framework to remove the subjectivity of the appraisal process for both appraiser and appraiser. As a result, there is a focus upon ratings of performances that are clear and transparent and not about personality or subjectivity. Consultation with staff teams, coaching and interpersonal skills training for line managers and a leadership team that talks up the system will ensure that systems support changing the culture of appraisals from a pain to a pleasure & an opportunity.