Improvement All Around

By Malcolm Fleschner

A new year is here and that means it’s time to think about New Year’s resolutions. Sure, you could go with one of the more traditional goals – lose weight, increase your involvement with the church, spend more time with your spouse – but why set yourself up for failure yet again? Instead, how about resolving to improve your work environment, not only for yourself but also for the people who work under you?

Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette (, authors of the best-selling management guidebook Contented Cows Give Better Milk (Williford Communication, 2000), offer the following 10 tips for sprucing up the attitude around the office.

1. Say thanks.
This was a tough year for many people in the United States, as well as around the globe. If you know people in or connected to your department who gave selflessly to help Hurricane Katrina victims, let them know their contribution was appreciated. Likewise for everyone who’s served in the military in Afghanistan or Iraq. Regardless of your feelings on the war, these folks deserve to know that the people who have stayed home are aware of their sacrifices.

2. Perform on the spot evaluations.
Get up from your desk right now and go tell two people on your team how they’re doing. Start with a team member who isn’t performing up to the expectations you set during your last goal-setting session – you are conducting these, right?. Be honest, but also offer every level of support you can to help get the person back on track toward achieving the objectives. This task accomplished, move on to someone who’s going great guns and give that person a hearty dose of acknowledgement.

3. Ask your rookie how it is going.
Seek out an employee who’s been with the organization for less than 30 days. Tell him or her that you know things can be overwhelming when you start a new job and that important orientation concerns can fall by the wayside. Ask if there’s anything he or she needs – information, a piece of equipment, the combination to the restroom door, tips for how to navigate the company’s online benefits account – and then help him or her find it.

4. Say a word to the unwise.
In every organization there invariably are one or two team members who fail to pick up on some of the “unwritten rules” guiding workplace behavior. If there’s someone in your company who wears borderline inappropriate clothing to client meetings, lays on the perfume too thickly or maybe speaks a bit frankly about personal matters, take them aside and have a discreet chat about why altering their behavior might be a good idea.

5. Just do it.
Based on your last employee survey or even the office scuttlebutt, what’s the single greatest complaint people in your office talk about? Is there anything you can do about it? Ignore the bureaucracy, the task forces, the special Senate subcommittees and all the other obstacles preventing you from taking action and if there is something you can do right now to provide your employees with relief, do it.

6. Get input from others.
As you prepare to make your next big pronouncement from on high to everyone in the organization, stop and ask yourself: Do I really know what I’m talking about? If there are others around with more information, training or inherent ability, be sure to get their input first.

7. Switch seats.
The next time you’re flying with a team member on business and you (but only you) get upgraded to first class, go ahead and trade seats.

8. Cool your jets.
Do you ever lose your cool and let loose with a little too much anger when you’re chewing out an employee? If so, the next time this situation arises instead of blowing up take a moment to calm down, collect your thoughts and deliver them in regulated tones. Engage in a constructive discussion with the person about what went wrong. This way you’ll keep your blood pressure down and it’s more likely that your conversation will actually have a positive effect.

9. Walk this way. Have you ever sent an email to someone who works in the same building? Next time get out of your office and hoof it over to deliver the message in person.

10. Cut your losses.
Firing nonperformers is probably the most unpleasant part of managing people. That’s why this task so frequently is put off. Is there someone in your organization right now you know you should let go, but you’ve been procrastinating for months, perhaps even years? Do it now. It’s best for you, for the organization and, eventually, for the nonperforming employee who will get the chance to find a job more suited to his or her talents.