Monthly Archives: March 2015

What children teach us

We educate and teach our children according to our model. But what if once we turned the tables around and learned from them? Would we benefit from being a little bit more childlike––even at work?

“I want to go to the moon”. “And I’ll be a soccer star”. Children have visions. And mostly they try to proceed somehow even if these dreams seem to be unrealistic. Anyway, they make a difference. They deal with space and astronauts or keep practicing soccer at least for a while. But some remain doing this for a lifetime. We adults only see the obstacles, the ifs and buts. Isn’t there anything that’s been lost and that we can re-learn form children?

First of all it’s their impartiality. Children see the world with different eyes and often more comprehensive. For example, they sometimes draw faces as a combination of front and profile view like Pablo Picasso did. In their paintings they tell complete stories. In a rock or cloud formation or a structure on the wallpaper they identify whole faces or scenes. What would they “read” from an abstract painting?

Their impartiality makes children being digital natives. They cope very easily with the icons and menus of smartphones and tablets even if they still can not read or write. Children see no limits and are not afraid of making mistakes. Not yet. That’s the main reason why they learn faster and more intuitive. Children also constantly ask questions like “why is it colder on the mountain even though it’s closer to the sun?” If we asked us such seemingly simple questions again, how creative would our solutions and explanations be?

Speaking of creativity: children are artists. They constantly invent new things, do handicrafts or paint fictitious things. Items are not only used for what they had been produced for but put in playful new contexts and combined to completely new “products” for which they create purposes in their imagination. Thus, the TV remote control becomes a space ship and the ballpoint pen a torpedo that it fires. The few adults who make the impossible true become celebrated inventors. And by the way: The kids create new words, too. The laptop user is a laptopper and the car wash a “car bath”. Perhaps the most brilliant lyricists are children.

In any case, children are honest. Even strikingly honest and straightforward. “Oh, you have a thick mole” is nothing but a surprised conclusion. Only we take it as an insult. However, when kids tell us something really friendly, we often don’t take it serious. Maybe we simply shift our perceptions too radical when growing to adults.

Perhaps the most important thing we have largely forgotten since our childhood is laughter. Really forgotten? Yes, almost. Scientists have found out that an adult laughs an average of 15 to 20 times a day while a child laughs about 400 times. Guess who is happier?

Laughing more frequently would not only improve our mood and our working environment. It would also increase our power and performance. This, too, is a scientific consensus, not a joke.

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How to create better managers

The latest Gallup survey showed that German executives lack of leadership talent. However, weaknesses and potential can be uncovered by means of feedback.

The results of the Gallup survey among German workers was devastating––see blog spot from last week. In summarize: 70% do work to rule and 15% have mentally resigned. This is not due to a lack of work ethic as the study also proved. The most common reason which the respondents indicated for poor motivation in the workplace was dissatisfaction with the supervisor. They do not feel recognized, see no progression opportunities and are not involved in the decisions. Obviously managers and employees are not only separated by hierarchical levels but worlds. The chiefs and heads of department must be brought closer to the reality of their employees.

But how can managers get to know what the employees think about them? What makes them see if the employees consider them as competent and convincing? And where are the so-called “blind spots”, the discrepancies between the self-assessment of a manager and his external perception? To interview each and every employee in private would not only be time consuming. Hardly any honest opinion could be expected. Who dares to tell his boss the full truth?

So pragmatic solutions are required: business feedbacks. Tools for employee surveys to collect and analyze as many honest and constructive comments as possible with minimal effort. These business feedbacks are more than just exchange of views. They reveal which competences ans soft skills an executive has to improve.

One of these tools is the so-called 360-degree feedback. This standardized method has been used successfully for decades. It consists of online questionnaires on the topics of personality, sales expertise and leadership skills, which are filled in anonymously by employees. Each question about the superiors such as “is he cooperative and helpful” or “does he ask good questions” will be assessed by the staff with a grade. Finally, the results are presented as statistical averages.

The method involves not only employees but additional levels, too: bosses, top-managers, peers on the same hierarchical level as well as externals like customers or business partners. Last but not least the executive always fills in a self-assessment based on the very same questions which all the others have to answer. This completes the system and explains the term of 360 degrees.

As a result, the manager learns not only what his employees are satisfied or dissatisfied about and how different his self-assessment is. The opinion of the bosses and the unarticulated needs of customers can also be identified. In addition, not only supervisors but also employees can apply the feedback and can ask their colleagues, superiors and externals about their skills and competences. Many employees who had always underestimated themselves discovered unexpected opportunities by such a feedback.

In the end, no one should ever be left alone in the analysis. Rather, the results serve as approaches for coaching, training and retraining. Coaches know where to begin when weaknesses and strengths are clearly analyzed.

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Five million German workers have mentally resigned

The latest Gallup institute survey is alarming: 15% of all German workers have mentally resigned. Projecting these figures from the number of respondents onto the whole workforce, that means that five millions are willing to quit. And whose fault is it? For the most part the bosses’.

Earlier this week the new opinion research study “Gallup Engagement Index 2014” was published. The result is more frightening than ever. Only 15% of employees are highly motivated and fully committed at work. At the other end of the scale there are just as many––15%––so dissatisfied that they would like to immediately leave their boss nothing but their notice. No good omen for the bosses in times of skill shortages …

However, the vast majority of people do “work-to-rule”: 70% are dispassionate in their job and hardly feel tied to the company. In 2013, these were still 67%. Well, this large number of employees carry out their work fairly good but they don’t do their very best. The study estimates a 73-95 billion euros per year damage to the German economy resulting from these totally 85% indifferent to negative worker’s attitudes.

It is surprising that the vast majority of the 2,034 surveyed employees reveal a generally positive attitude to work. When asked whether they would even continue working if they had enough money and it really would not have to, 73% answered yes. And the number of those who feel unfairly paid is 43%––well less than half. So why is the dissatisfaction so overwhelmingly high?

For the first time, the Gallup study has included the issue of supervisors, too. Lo and behold, 50% of employees blamed their bosses for their lousy mood. What are they actually missing: They feel too little recognized and not emotionally regarded as a human. Also they see too little opportunities to advance. Above all, the supervisors don’t care about their opinions and simply do not involve them in any decision.

What the bosses miss and need is clear, too: Leadership talent. But why? Here the study results give the answer as well. More than half of all managers were promoted to their executive chair only due to their expertise and work experience. 47% are solely superiors because they were successful as workers in their former position, but without having had managerial responsibility there. So as chiefs they are actually unskilled.

In the selection of managers in Germany the factor leadership talent is still too much neglected. However, there are ways to elicit this. In my blog spot next week I want to introduce to you a feedback method that helps to identify capabilities and shortcomings of professionals and offers ideas and approaches to coaching and training programs.

At last, the Gallup study found out: The average superiors in Germany are 46 years old, have an average of ten years of management experience and … three quarters of them are male. In times of discussions about gender quotas this may be a motivation to think about breaking up rigid structures. And this does not only concern the men in the company’s management itself––but also the many potential female executives who often underestimate their abilities too much and show too little tendencies to “fight”.

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Sindelfingen is not Silicon Valley, but …

despite to the fundamental mentality and motivational differences to the Californian high-tech region (see article from last week) there is not only misery made in Germany. Not at all. Especially the dynamic forces of the German economy, the so-called SMEs in the small towns can be extremely attractive employers. The magic word for them is visions.

Everyone dreams of companies like Google, Facebook or Youtube! And if it’s on this side of the Atlantic, the desired addresses are Siemens, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche or Airbus––and of course the cities of Hamburg, Berlin or Munich as locations. So Müller’s Milk at Miltenberg has pretty bad prospects when it comes to winning the rare specialists for him.

However, the medium-sized companies need the skilled workers more than ever. These people’s expertise is the most important asset to succeed in their niche by global competition against the giants from overseas. It’s all the more surprising that many SMEs do not expand their range of apprenticeship training positions. Yet an apprenticeship with a real chance of an employment directly afterwards is one of the biggest incentives to attract and keep skilled workers of tomorrow. Instead, many employers still think that training places are expensive and absorb too much staff for assistance. “Many employers simply forget that each new employee must first learn the ropes, too” says Ute Hagen and explains: “Often the new colleagues need half a year to replace the predecessors in the job fully valid while earning four times as much as an apprentice who learns for two years”.

A competitive advantage that only small businesses have is the founder or owner as a person or the family: The personalized brand. The baby food pioneer Claus Hipp is one such example. Or the Haribo gummy bear inventor Hans Riegel. Everyone knows their stories in Germany. Let me rather introduce to you an industry insider story and take Carl Epple as an example. The printing ink manufacturer Epple from the small town of Neusäß in Bavaria is the inventor of the oil-free, pure organic offset ink. This company has been ecology leader in the printing industry for over 20 years. No question that Epple staff are proud of that and demonstrate it at each trade fair.

This type of employer branding shall not be used for marketing purposes only. The company and its executives have to breathe life into this every day. If it is possible to define the “dream of the entrepreneur” and to make it the vision of the future, it becomes tangible and a mission statement. This may be the ecological-ink-inventor of Neusäß who helps protecting the environment––or the wheelchair manufacturer from Duderstadt who gives people mobility.

Compared to large companies, another advantage for SMEs is indeed their smallness. In a trust a single worker is usually a tiny cog in the machine: He has no contact to the leadership, no reference to the visions––and is easily replaceable. In a small company everyone can play an important part and often work much more self-determined. Provided, of course, the management trust the employee and gives him the freedom. “The ability to operate freely and creatively leads to a self-perpetuating dynamic and enhances innovation. The US companies are the best examples for this”, as Ute Hagen points out.

In this country there may be less courage to great risks. There may be less sensational startups that rise rocketing to world monopolists such as Google. But German SMEs still have the best opportunities to compete. The visions that every SME can create and carry out are apprenticeships, employer branding, dreams, emotions, focus on corporate values and self-determined work possibilities.

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