Monday Mornings with Madison

Monthly Archives:
March 2015

Handling Difficult People – Part 1

According to Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” If employees are the lifeblood of a company, then customers are its food and water…. the basic nutrition without which a company cannot exist. But digesting those nutrients is not always easy. Companies often struggle with how to handle ‘difficult’ clients. What is the right protocol for handling the most hard-to-please clientele? After all, the adage says that the customer is always right. If so, then how should a company handle those most challenging clients? Should a company kowtow to an ill-tempered client, even if it is at the expense of the morale and respect of the staff? Should a firm go the extra mile to please a fractious client even when that extra care means the transaction is no longer profitable to the company? Does it make sense for a business to indulge the over-the-top demands of an exasperating client if it is going to overwhelm the business and cause it to neglect the needs of the rest of the clients?

Is there an invisible line that, when crossed, means the client is no longer right? If so, where is that line? How will the rank and file employees of a business know where that line is? When it comes to handling challenging clients, companies do best when they communicate clear rules of engagement that protect the dignity and respect of both clients and employees, provide extensive training on how to handle difficult situations, and encourage staff to have genuine compassion for the needs of others. Even so, when all else fails, there may be times when a business should put the needs of the company and staff ahead of the tough client and just say no or say goodbye.
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Is a Workaholic the Best Hire?

Some say that it is better to work smarter, not harder. That makes it sound like old-fashioned hard work is just that… passe. That is, however, hardly the case. The most successful people are usually deemed the most “hard-working”. And by hard working, they mean people who work many long, arduous hours. In fact, they lead the pack of notorious workaholics. Consider this list published by BusinessInsider in 2012. Howard Schultz, Starbucks coffee mogul, works 13 hour days, 7 days a week. Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur, worked seven years without a single vacation. Jeffrey Immelt, GE CEO, regularly puts in 100-hour work weeks. If that seems excessive, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, used to regularly put in 130-hour work weeks while at Google, in part by sleeping under her desk. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, works practically 365 days a year and commonly has staff meetings on Sundays. Indra Nooyi, Pepsi CEO, works 13-hour days while raising two daughters. Ryan Seacrest, radio and TV show host, carries what is considered a preposterous workload. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan and Renault CEO, spends 48 solid hours per month in the air and flies over 150,000 miles for work every year.

In a culture that prizes work ethic, overachievement, and financial success, people who are ‘addicted to work’ are seen by employers, colleagues, and customers alike as smart and ambitious go-getters. These chronic hard-workers have morphed into something else… workaholics. And this is often a label worn like a badge of honor. Employers see this ultra-focused work ethic as a positive, not negative. So is that what employers really want in their next hire? Should every employment ad say “Workaholic Wanted”?
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Is Less More When It Comes to Office Space?

There has been a growing trend of businesses cutting back on the amount of work space allocated per person. Sharing offices has become more common. Cubicles are getting tinier. And open shared space with a number of desks or work stations in one open area – once considered so cutting-edge — has become ubiquitous. Employees are being packed into ever-smaller spaces. There have been a few tech firms in the San Francisco Bay Area that have gotten to worker densities of up to seven workers per 1,000 square feet of space or 142 SF per employee. The average just a decade ago was four workers per 1,000 square feet. As the Russian adage says, they are packed so tight that there is no room for an apple to fall.

Last week, we looked at how smaller work spaces are impacting employee productivity. The evidence — at least in some occupations such as computer programming (which, like many jobs, benefits from quiet and concentration) — shows that cramped, busy, noisy offices can have a negative impact on productivity. In one study, programmers working in quiet, private offices were up to 10 times more productive than equally talented programmers in office environments that were busy, crowded and noisy. If small work spaces can affect productivity, what impact might smaller work spaces have on creativity and innovation. Whereas once upon a time, open shared office space was heralded as a springboard for collaboration, managers are reconsidering the evidence. Continue reading

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Is Less More When It Comes to Office Space?

Office design has been evolving over the last few years. Once upon a time, all managers and executives had offices with walls, doors, desks and furniture. Space was abundant and a deluxe office was a standard perk of working at most any successful company. Clerical, secretarial and support staff also had individual work areas such as cubicles or separated from other desks by partitions, cabinets and space.

However, with the advent of technology coupled with the increase in population density and the skyrocketing cost of office space, business owners have been increasingly forced to make more of every bit of space. Architects are tasked with being ever more creative in the use of space. According to Corenet Global, a commercial real estate association, the average amount of space per office worker in North America dropped to 176 square feet in 2012, from 225 in 2010; a decrease of over 20%. Employees are being packed into increasingly smaller work areas. The question is how these smaller office environments are impacting productivity. Does this trend in design work? Continue reading

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Do We Still Need To Dress For Success?

Past studies have repeatedly shown that people judge companies, in part, by the outward appearance of its employees. Likewise, employers evaluate employees, in part, on their ‘professionalism’ which includes appearance. Over the years, research has validated that there is a bias in favor of well-dressed, well-groomed, good-looking people. Indeed, for decades if not centuries, it has been widely understood that the visual aesthetic presented to others through appearance and apparel matters.

However, while business attire has been the de facto norm in corporate America for centuries, the hard-and-fast rules about corporate dress seem to be shifting. Younger generations now feel that a person should only be judged by their inner qualities, not their outward appearance. They argue that such things as casual clothing, tattoos, piercings, and unusual hair color don’t matter as long as an employee is intelligent, talented, skilled, and hard-working. They also think that how a person looks on the outside (hygiene, attire, appearance) won’t influence how that person is perceived by others. They ascribe to the wisdom that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that one cannot tell a person’s character by his appearance.

That raises many questions about whether appearance still matters. Does employee business attire really matter for a company’s success? And does attire impact an individual’s success? In today’s changing work landscape, what constitutes professional versus unprofessional attire and appearance? Is there still a clear line between what is and isn’t deemed ‘professional appearance’? In today’s individualistic, casual culture, does the phrase ‘dress for success’ still have meaning?
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