Archive for February, 2011

Consequences of the “It’s Just My Job” Syndrome

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Are you one of those people who, when others thank you or pay you a compliment about your performance, reply, “It’s just my job?” Have you ever been on the receiving end of that assertion when you thanked someone who has helped you? Those who deflect people’s praise or acknowledgment short-change themselves as well as others.

Just as organizations cannot optimize their business results unless their employees are fully successful, individuals cannot optimize their lives unless they acknowledge and “own” their talents and the value they generate. After all, if you don’t believe you provide great value to others, why should anyone else believe it? I know a very conscientious handyman who does exceptional work yet consistently undercharges customers for both labor and materials. Why? He is afraid that people will not hire him because they think he charges too much. In fact, his rates are very low, and I know people who would love to hire someone with his talent and expertise at two or even three times his current rate.

What’s going on here? This individual, like too many others, does not acknowledge the value he provides. Unless he makes the first “sale” to himself – i.e., sees and honors the talents he uses to help others – he cannot communicate that value to potential customers. Similarly, those who brush off the admiration and thanks of people who experience their value essentially are denigrating their own talent and disrespecting those who benefit from it.

Public safety employees are notorious practitioners of the “It’s just my job” syndrome. Brushing off the public’s thanks for years now is having an unintended negative consequence: over time, people mistakenly have come to accept the assertion that performing law enforcement and fire service jobs really IS no big deal. As a result, during this time of exceptionally scarce resources, public safety agencies’ budgets are undergoing unprecedented cutbacks.

I’m not suggesting that close scrutiny of these agencies’ budgets is unwarranted or inappropriate. What I am saying is that after years of downplaying their value, public safety employees have their work cut out for them in terms of re-educating the public, and specifically those who allocate resources, about the complexity of their jobs, of the risks involved, and of the resources required to sustain the desired level of readiness.

The moral of this story: acknowledge the value you provide to others, and accept their gratitude. After all, if you downplay that value, how can others possibly appreciate it?

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Process and Outcomes: What’s REALLY Going on in Wisconsin

Monday, February 28th, 2011

There are two separate issues in the Wisconsin battle over public sector unionization: (1) the collective bargaining process, and (2) the outcomes of that process.

The outcomes of the collective bargaining process that are under discussion are the wages and benefits of public sector employees. The unions involved understand that economic conditions require painful cuts in pay and benefits. In fact, they agree that the status quo in unsustainable, and they have expressed their willingness to discuss the details. Their offer to negotiate those changes has been refused by Governor Walker.

Over the last few weeks people have cited numerous studies that either affirm or deny the statement that public sector employees are paid more (including benefits) than their counterparts in the private sector. Those on both sides cite statistics that seem to support their respective positions. Yet that public-private pay differential is not the issue here. The real issue is whether public sector employees in Wisconsin will continue to have a voice in discussions about their pay and benefits.

The process of collective bargaining requires the parties to discuss issues related to pay, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. It does NOT require the parties to agree on terms; it merely requires good faith discussion.

Although private sector regulations related to unionization are federal laws, public sector regulations are governed by state laws, which as you may expect, vary considerably. Wisconsin was the first state to agree to allow public sector employees to bargain collectively, so it is more than a little ironic that it is the first state to try to revoke those rights. Its law governing public sector unionization follows closely the findings of its federal counterpart, the National Labor Relations Act. Here is what the Wisconsin law currently says:

“It is the policy of this state, in order to preserve and promote the interests of the public, the employee and the employer alike, to encourage the practices and procedures of collective bargaining in state employment subject to the requirements of the public service and related laws, rules and policies governing state employment, by establishing standards of fair conduct in state employment relations and by providing a convenient, expeditious and impartial tribunal in which these interests may have their respective rights determined.”

In the name of reducing the state’s deficit, Governor Walker clearly is going beyond addressing the outcomes of previous negotiations (i.e., current pay and benefit levels); instead, he is intent upon abolishing the process of collective bargaining for public sector employees in Wisconsin. In short, the battle that has drawn demonstrators from across the country is not about whether the workers’ pay and benefits will change; it’s about whether those employees have a right to be part of the conversation that determines how their pay and benefits will change.

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Wanted: Courageous Leaders

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Organizations across the U.S., especially those in the public (government) sector, are struggling to overcome the obstacles and identify the opportunities presented in the aftermath of slashed budgets, plummeting revenues, and forced layoffs and furloughs. The challenge is to prioritize scarce resources so they can be allocated as effectively as possible to achieve the desired outcomes.

There are two critical success factors required to enable decision-makers to devise an effective process for allocating their organizations’ scarce resources in ways that will allow them to re-group successfully: (1) a clearly articulated “big picture” – i.e., an overall mission statement or vision – and (2) courageous leaders. Organizations that have not identified their big picture can be successful if they address that shortcoming, which can be done relatively easily; those that lack courageous leaders, however, are unlikely to be able to rise to the challenges that face them.

Courageous leaders are principled individuals who focus relentlessly on achieving the organization’s big picture, even if doing so results in their paying a personal price. For example, in an ideal world, politicians at all levels of government would do what they were elected to do – i.e., make the tough decisions that are in the best interests of their city, county, state, or country (e.g., a city council member would vote for the interests of the city rather than of his/her district or, more narrowly, a sub-group of that district). In reality, however, they inevitably find themselves in the position of having to choose between the greater good, and a more narrow set of interests, either their own (e.g., re-election) or others’ (e.g., a sub-set of the population). Courageous leaders are those who consistently choose the greater good, even when their actions and decisions may result in their paying a heavy personal price.

Being a courageous leader is difficult. The reality of a world of scarce resources is that decision-makers must be able to prioritize them in a transparent, fair, relatively objective way that serves the greater good. In the U.S., people often want to have their proverbial cake and eat it too – e.g., they want their leaders to maintain or improve levels of services or benefits without raising taxes or cutting pay. Thus decision-makers often must buck the tide of public opinion, which may include people who elected, appointed, or hired them to do that job in the first place. Especially for public officials, it also may mean having to resist peer pressure from their colleagues.

Courageous leaders are able to see the big picture and, importantly, what must be done to achieve it. They must address a multitude of diverse positions on complex issues. The public sector, for example, must serve people who have a myriad of conflicting interests and who all expect and need to be heard and served. Leaders in that sector are responsible for seeing to the needs of those who have nowhere else to turn, even when those needs consume resources for which other stakeholders believe there are more pressing uses.

In short, the role of courageous leader is one that is fraught with peril, as demonstrated by those who have been pushed aside for having stood their ground in focusing on the big picture. The greater danger, however, is the absence of courageous leadership in our organizations and our society.

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.