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Thoughts on detaching from the system and being anti-racist

Stay with me because this might be a bit of a winding path:

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked his friends who are concerned about racism to be actively anti-racist. Not to just call out racist behavior, but to “examine the ways in which your own behavior contributes to the maintenance of racist thinking and behavior.”

I am guessing that this is going to confuse some people who have been operating under the assumption that calling out racist behavior/speech/etc IS being actively anti-racist. I’m also guessing that these same people (maybe you, because I know it was me not that long ago) are feeling tension about Colin Kaepernick’s protest–very much supporting him, but feeling a little friction about the relationship of protest at a public job, how race plays into it, how the national anthem represents America–and are also confused about how to effectively support #BlackLivesMatter and be actively anti-racist in daily life if you can’t quit your job to protest.

I think white people don’t know how to be anti-racist and don’t know the difference between being not racist and being anti-racist. And Black people and other people of color keep asking us to get our shit together to really be anti-racist, but we don’t know how. We can post a zillion articles. We cry every time another Black man or woman or child is murdered. We can make conscious efforts to broaden the opinions and sources we read and watch to include Black voices and to get out of the echo chamber. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for our Black friends and we don’t know why, and they’re totally right but we’re doing what we think is the best we can without asking for cookies, and everyone’s frustrated.

Here’s the end of the yarn to start pulling on and unraveling: Human rights activists are asking white people to be willing to give up the systems that privilege us and that harm people of color. That sounds too big to really understand–all forest, no trees–but let’s dive in, because understanding these systems and how they affect you and other people (Black, white, Latinx, everyone) in this country and around the world is the first step in figuring out if you can give them up. (Spoiler alert: They’re hurting you, too, and you can give them up.)

We’re living inside layered, intersecting systems that were created by humans at different points in history to encourage certain behavior and deter other behavior. And those systems look “normal” to us so we don’t really see them–we just move around in them every day, with varying degrees of difficulty. But they’re all false systems that have been created, influenced by whoever had or wanted power, and by whatever those people with power were afraid of.

The easiest example is how neighborhoods and cities are zoned and taxed. Most municipalities in the U.S. grew organically at the beginning, but as soon as city planning happened, neighborhoods were zoned and taxed deliberately to keep certain people in certain areas and others in other areas. If you grew up in a city with different ethnic enclaves (or even remnants of those enclaves), you know where the Polish neighborhood is and the German neighborhood and the Irish neighborhood are. You also know where the Black neighborhood is. That didn’t just happen. It was planned and local government decisions reinforced those zones. Different communities of people (usually divided by race and ethnicity, although we say it’s by economic level, not admitting that race and economic status are entwined) had different amounts of influence, and the ones with more resources, time, energy, and access got to protect their zones, while the ones who started out in the hole didn’t have time or energy or skills to prevent the decisions that keep hurting their neighborhoods.

I grew up in Toledo, OH, which has one of the largest groups of people of Hungarian descent in the country, and my great-grandparents were immigrants from Hungary. My grandfather grew up in the Hungarian neighborhood of  Toledo (which you know about if you ever watched the tv show M*A*S*H*, because the character Klinger always talked about Tony Packo’s restaurant, which is in the Hungarian neighborhood). Hungarians have some cultural tics that helped them become embedded in the community without ever really taking over, but they had just enough power that when the city wanted to slice their neighborhood in half by putting a major highway right down their main street, they pushed back and fought the placement of the road. Where did that road go? To another neighborhood, of people with less privilege than my Hungarian relatives had.

Where are the major highways in your city? What neighborhoods did they cut through and destroy? What people live there now, and what people lived there before those highways were built? Is there someplace in your area in which real estate prices are doubled when you cross a street? How did that happen? Who decided that houses in one neighborhood should cost twice as much as houses in another neighborhood? What happens to the tax bases (and along with that, the services the municipalities provide to citizens with their own money, such as fire fighting, law enforcement, schools, other infrastructure) of the two areas. How do resources stay in one community and not the other?

Zoning and decisions that are made about neighborhoods and communities have been used to harm Black people for hundreds of years. But I’ll argue that they aren’t helping you if you’re white, either. Thinking about my Hungarian ancestors: Why didn’t the city come up with a way to route the highway that did the least harm to all neighborhoods involved, or to harm the neighborhood that had the most resources and was therefore more resilient in the first place? Why did the Hungarian community have to rally and waste all that energy and their political capital on this highway issue, instead of using it to build something to make their neighborhood or the entire city stronger? How much energy and money and worry are YOU spending because of the pressures of living where you live? (Why do you live where you live, anyway? If you’re a parent, we know why. And that’s all tied to zoning and taxes and decisions that were made fifty years ago and continue to be made now. You’re supposed to be grateful about being up at night worrying about paying your mortgage, btw.)

Here’s another system that leaped to my attention the other day while I was watching tv: Credit and credit scores. Everyone in the U.S. who interacts with the banking system or who has ever bought anything without cash or a check has a credit score. And your credit score determines what rates you get when you take out a loan to buy anything like a house or car or even a mobile phone. For decades, citizens have been subject to the tyranny of these credit scores, but all they actually reflect is when and how you pay your bills. (With some weird finesse tossed in there, like never paying down your credit card balance all the way. If nothing else, that little quirk of the system exposes it as fabricated.) We’ve attached a moral value to having good credit, but John Wayne Gacy could have good credit if he pays his bills on time and the old lady down the street whose social security check gets stolen out of her mailbox could have horrible credit if she can’t pay a bill one month and then it balloons so she can’t catch up.

Since the recession, so many of us have gotten caught in some kind of credit problem, aided and abetted by bank and store and credit card policies of fines and penalties and ballooning interest rates so that if you fall behind one month it can take years to catch up. And the market has responded by detaching from the credit system just enough that they can still have customers. If you listen to local commercial radio in the car, especially country or hip-hop stations, you’ve heard commercials for car dealers who “finance any credit.” They have to, or else they wouldn’t have enough business, because so many people have non-perfect credit now. I’ve been watching this and wondering what was going to happen since the credit score system has lost its stranglehold on the public–we know that paying our bills is important, but we also know that getting behind and trying to catch up doesn’t mean we’re bad people any more than paying on time means we’re good people. And this secondary market is developing. What was going to happen next? (This is what nerds like me think about instead of reading suspense novels.)

And then it dropped, right in the middle of an episode of Fixer Upper: A commercial from one of the major credit reporting agencies (you tell me this isn’t a fabricated system dedicated to keeping certain groups privileged over others if there are THREE “credit reporting” companies) came on and it blew my mind. Soft focus, sweet inspiring music, and an image of an adorable baby learning to walk, with a voiceover (reassuring older male voice) telling us that building and maintaining our credit scores is “a skill.” This company is paying to run this ad to convince us that conforming to a system that actively ruins people’s lives and is less important now in the market is a necessary skill for being an adult in this country. The rhetoric is obvious and hilarious, except that people are going to believe it and feel bad about trying as hard as they can and still being trapped.

Does the credit system (as it exists now) help you? If your credit isn’t perfect, no, it doesn’t. And if your credit is perfect, it’s not helping you, either, because you’ve got enough stability that you’d be fine in whatever system existed instead.

Start thinking about these system around you. Are they helping you? Are they helping Black people and other people of color? Could you detach from them and be living a peaceful life if there was a more equitable replacement system? Here’s where I think some of us get hung up on the “detach from the racist systems” concept. I think we think that means that things would be flipped so Black people had privilege and white people would be disenfranchised, and who wants to be disenfranchised. But there are ways to structure systems that sustain and help everyone, in all areas of life, from our financial system to the way we structure work and work organizations to how we maintain peace in our communities to how we provide services to humans. They don’t look like the way things are run now. But I’m ready, because I have no emotional attachment to systems that aren’t built for the benefit of everyone.

Becoming aware and ready to detach from these systems isn’t being anti-racist, but it’s the foundational step to being ready to be anti-racist. And you’ll be shocked at how as soon as you start examining how things are structured around you and who they benefit, and understanding that you don’t owe your loyalty to any system, ways of thinking and acting and speaking that are actively anti-racist just start to make sense. Because being anti-racist is simply about respect and attention, and equal access.

 

I think I’m back?

Hi.

My uncle died six months ago next week, and I might be coming out of the grief/questioning chrysalis enough to actually have some coherent thoughts that are worth sharing. I’m observing a lot of workplace stupidity and frustration, and a lot of people trying to sort things out but not knowing exactly where to start. (I’m also witnessing a lot of people just taking this job and shoving it when it isn’t measuring up, and it makes me laugh delightedly every time.)

I am also witnessing people coming through stages and phases with their kids in a way that I’m not sure we were allowed to admit on the internet ten years ago. Doesn’t it feel like last decade we had to be cool and aloof and ironic, but now we’re allowed to be engrossed and earnest about our kids? That’s felt more obvious to me lately, that we might be coming into a post cool parent phase. I like it.

In other news, our uncle’s death and the seemingly endless tasks of sorting out his stuff have brother my brother and me closer. One of my cats has developed mega colon (it’s as much fun as it sounds). And in a few weeks the baby who started my blogging is starting high school.

OK, it’s time to get to work planning out a real post. I’m also going to start up again with my (bi) weekly-ish emails, so sign up on the right if you want the get those when I get struck by the urge to send them. (They’re mostly encouragement for being you in the midst of everything else.)

Buy the Parent Hacks book!

Asha Dornfest, who started the fantastic Parent Hacks website right around the time I started Ask Moxie, just published a book of the top 150ish hacks of the run of the website!

You should buy it. (At your local bookseller–they can order it for you if they don’t already have it–or here: http://www.amazon.com/Parent-Hacks-Genius-Shortcuts-Life/dp/0761184317  )

You know how sometimes hacks are just ways to spend more money so you don’t have to do as much work? These aren’t that. These are genuine “make your life easier by using some five-cent object you already have in your drawer or just doing something in reverse order” time- and effort-saving hacks that don’t assume you have unlimited funds or help. Some are for babies, some are for little kids, but a lot are for general family life. They cover a variety of situations and living configurations.

Here’s the thing I really super-like about this book, though (being useful should be enough, but that’s not my favorite part): It’s totally straightforward and helpful and good-natured. It’s not snarky or ironic. I know we’re all supposed to want to be ironic and not care and be cool, so everything written about being a parent is supposed to be detached and backhanded and uttered between sips of barrel-aged bourbon. But Asha is a real person who wouldn’t cut you at the playground for not having the cool shoes, and her book is the same way. Helpful, kind, and no subtext. Refreshing.

If I’m making suggestions, I’d say that a really fantastic one-two punch for a baby shower or new parent gift or anytime gift for a parent would be this Parent Hacks book and my You’re The Best Parent For Your Child book. Asha’s got the practical stuff covered, and I’ve got the emotional stuff covered. It’s a You Can Do It kit.

tl;dr version: Buy this book.

 

Pardon the interruption

My uncle died. He was never married and didn’t have kids, and I became his de facto next of kin over the last year or so of his life. He died way too early and I miss him.

My uncle was a really complicated man, but one thing was not complicated: He loved me and I loved him, without an agenda. An I always knew what he never figured out about himself, that he was enough, exactly as he was.

The logistical outcome of his death is that I’ve been focused on everything that needs doing. My brother and I are doing all the tasks involved in sorting out someone’s estate and the legal and financial stuff. The kids and I have moved into my uncle’s house to sort and donate and clean and redo it to sell it. I’ve been processing my grief by watching hours and hours of HGTV. And I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things I learned in the year I was 42 (it was one of those years that gives answers, after lots of years that asked questions) and from being with my uncle in the months before his death and giving him the best death I could.

There’s a project that’s going to come out of this. I’ll let you know when I know what it is.

When “just work it out” creates more trouble

I’ve been sick this week and have been lying down on the job with parenting my kids. I’ve been sleeping a lot in the evenings (or just zoning out on the couch while I try to drink fluids) and my kids have been doing the stuff they’re supposed to do (mostly), which is the benefit of having a teen and a tween instead of little kids who need to be directed. But one thing that’s been happening is that my older one has been mean to his younger brother and I haven’t been catching it and setting up any expectations for better behavior. They’ve been dealing with each other on their own, and it’s become a little lopsided.

Not coincidentally, I’ve been talking to clients and friends who are dealing with situations in which one employee is either bullying others or simply blocking action so no one can get anything else done. And management hasn’t been stepping in to censure or fire the problematic employee because they want everyone to “just work it out.”

IF ONE PERSON IS STONEWALLING OR BULLYING OTHERS, IN ANY SITUATION, AND YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE GROUP, YOU HAVE TO STEP IN.

There’s this fundamental misconception that people are just going to be able to work things out and be harmonious and work together, as siblings or coworkers. And that’s clearly Just Not True. First of all, not everyone wants things to work out or wants harmony. In every work-related situation I consulted on this week, the employee creating the blocks was doing so specifically to attempt to preserve power. And my teen is messing with his brother because he thinks it’s fun. The only people who want harmony in these situations are the people who can’t create it (because the other person is causing the problem) or the manager/parent (um, me) who isn’t stepping in. 

Second, allowing both parties in a dispute to just resolve it on an even playing field only makes sense in a situation in which both (or all parties) have the same intentions and weight of risk of the outcome of the dispute resolution process. Basically, we’re assuming there’s a free market of intentions and that all other things being equal, the logical course of action is going to make the most sense and everyone will agree with it. Insert your own joke about how Milton Friedman must never have met YOUR kids, because there’s no such thing as a free market of intentions in a conflict situation.

If we were in the same room, I’d talk with my hands or use M&Ms to show you how this all plays out, but we’re not, so let me just go back to Game Theory and use numbers to explain it: 

Let’s say that Person X is trying to hoard information about something I need to get done at work, and I can’t do my job effectively because she won’t tell me what she knows. So our boss tells us to go into the conference room and talk it out, ladies. Going into this conversation/confrontation, I’m 100% invested in this, because if I can’t get her to lay off the gatekeeping and just let the info come to me, I’m hosed. I can’t get my job done. At the same time, she’s just trying to stay in power and she knows there’s nothing I can do to her (because if there was our boss would already have told her to cut it out), so she comes in invested maybe 30% in this negotiation.

So I’m at 100% risk and she’s at 30% risk, before we even walk into the room. Now, as all good faith negotiations go, we each use a lot of “I statements” and we take turns with the talking stick and blah blah blah. THE ASSUMPTION IS THAT BOTH OF OUR POSITIONS AND FEELINGS ARE EQUALLY VALID. No one penalizes her for being a jerk who’s trying to screw with my ability to get my job done. No one gives me credit for just trying to come in and do my job well every day. We’re assumed to be equal. So then the solution we arrive at involves each of us compromising equally, 50/50. I give 50% and she gives 50%.

Now do the math: 

Me: 100% x 50% = 1.0 x 0.5 = 0.5 = 50%
Her: 30% x 50% = 0.3 x 0.5 = 0.15 = 15%

So I got penalized 50% FOR A SITUATION I DIDN’T EVEN CREATE and she got penalized 15% for deliberately messing with my job and life and ability to feed my children.

And I still don’t even completely have her out of my business, because we compromised.

You can go in and substitute any situation in which one person is harassing another person or blocking another person, about video games or chores or project metrics or who gets to ride in the front seat or program funding or face time with the CEO or meeting deadlines or anything that happens at home or work. This is why you can’t go into couples’ counseling with an abuser. This is why you can’t go into mediation with a vendor who has no legal repercussions for not fulfilling a contract. It’s all about risk and investment, and the problem of assuming that both parties get equal say and equal priority.

So, what does this all mean? It means that if you’re a parent, please please don’t do any of that “I don’t care who started it; I’m going to finish it” crap we grew up with that assumes a free market of intentions and ability to change a situation. Instead, if you notice that one of your kids is consistently the aggressor, make that a no-win situation for them (without involving the other kid, if possible) to guide them into better behavior toward their sibling.

And it means that if you’re a manager, step in. Don’t tell your employees to hash it out on their own. That’s lazy and cowardly, for one thing. You can be conflict-avoidant on your own time, but if you’re being paid to run a team, run the team. Spend some time and do some due diligence on what the underlying dynamics are so you can identify who’s doing the blocking. And then require better behavior of them. If they can’t stop, they need to move out of your team. You cannot sacrifice the entire team and your employees who are 100% invested because you’re afraid to fire someone who’s trying to hoard power or prevent the team or others from doing the best work.

Here’s a plug for my RISWS process for managers: It’s a low-stress, high-reward way to figure out what the flow is in your department so you can see this stuff coming and head it off before it becomes a big problem OR you can gather the evidence you need to be able to fire someone who is taking the whole department down. Anyone acting in good faith benefits from using this process and anyone who’s not acting in good faith gets flushed out.

If you are an employee in a department in which the manager won’t take any action to guide a bullying/blocking employee into better behavior: Ouch. I’m sorry. It’s not you. And you can’t fix this. And being kinder and nicer and more accommodating to the blocker is only going to make things worse (because they’ll gain even more power from that and less investment, while you now have even more investment). You could refer your manager to my RISWS process (because we spend time working on interpersonal dynamics in the department as I teach the manager the process) if you think they’d go for it. You could find another job someplace else (that’s probably the simplest thing to do, as long as you don’t carry any bad feelings about not having been able to fix the situation on your own). You could see if you can go over your manager’s head (DICEY, and I don’t recommend it unless you really have a direct line that won’t come back and bite you later). Whatever you decide to do, just know that it isn’t you. 

If you want to read more about Game Theory in a way that you don’t have to be a mathematician or strategist to understand, check out The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life by Dixit and Nalebuff.

Giving the benefit of the doubt

(I pulled the best of the emails I sent to subscribers from last year and posted them at https://storia.me/story/098239b0d5c7d000 so you can read them. If you missed them or have been thinking about subscribing but want to know what the emails are like, now you can see.)

The other morning my younger one, who is 10 1/2 now, was cuddling in bed with me, and he looked at me and whispered, “I just want to snuggle with you forever.”

It was the moment you think is never going to come when you’re dealing with a non-sleeping newborn or a recalcitrant preschooler. It was the moment that validated everything. And it was a continuation of the night before, when he said to me, “Mom, I like that you treat me like I know what I’m doing.” What a gift he gave me, to give me that feedback that I was saying the right things and with the right attitude to let him know I trust him and think he’s good enough.

People just want to be given the benefit of the doubt. And then they’ll do a good job, because they want to know what they’re doing.

That same day a friend told me she was looking for a new job, because she’d had her annual review and her boss had spent the entire review berating her. So she was walking, because she isn’t about to be treated that way. 

My first reaction was to be thrilled that she knew she could find something else, and wasn’t telling herself she had to stay and be treated like that. (Remember when I figured out that people weren’t stuck anymore so companies had to start getting their acts together?) And then my second reaction was to hope her boss didn’t have children, or was radically different at home than at work. Because anyone who thinks that berating another person who’s putting in a good faith effort is a legit way to manage people probably also thinks that berating kids is a legit way to parent.

My friend is going to move on to something better, and new people will cycle through the position with the ineffective boss. Those people will be unhappy and then will leave, and the company will never do as well as it should, but everything will basically be ok. But if the boss is treating their kids with the same lack of care and common sense, it will harm those kids for life.They can’t escape their family and that parent. And your parents voices are the voices you hear in your head forever, or until you’ve done some really extensive therapy. So berating a child has very real, long-lasting negative consequences.

If you are an employee and you are not being given the benefit of the doubt for good faith effort at work, find another job. Now is the time.

If you’re a kid and you’re not being given the benefit of the doubt by a parent, I am so sorry. You deserve to be treated like you have the capacity to make good decisions, even if you’ve made some mistakes. It gets better. Hang in there until you can leave. If you’re an adult child of someone who doesn’t give you the benefit of the doubt, know that it’s not normal or healthy, and you have a right (some would argue a duty) to put up some boundaries so you aren’t hurt anymore by your parent’s lack of faith.

If you are a manager or a parent and you find yourself berating an employee or child or withholding the benefit of the doubt, remember that this says way more about you than it does about them. It might mean that you’re overwhelmed with having to be in charge. It might mean that you’re out of resources. You might simply be reenacting what happened to you as a child or an employee. Take a little bit of time to figure out why your first reaction is anger at someone who is primarily trying to make you happy. Then figure out why you’re letting that first reaction dictate your behavior. (There are probably two distinct layers here. Tease them out so you really know what’s going on.) 

Then make a plan to fix whatever problem you’re having that is causing you to react in such a negative way. How can you give yourself enough space/confidence/energy/perspective/etc. to be able to use this as a moment to teach and to work with your child or employee to solve the problem? Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care is VITAL, in the workplace, too.

It’s possible that you’re going to have to do some intensive teaching and mentoring of your child or employee so they know what you need them to do. That’s good. Yes, it’s easier and faster to do it yourself. But the time you put into walking them through what to do so that they fully understand is going to pay off for both of you. If you have an employee who genuinely can’t do the work, find another place for them in your organization or somewhere else. If the employee doesn’t want to do the work, let them go with kindness and good wishes.

I’m not suggesting that you give everyone off the street the benefit of the doubt: Trust in God but lock your car. But the people who are on your team–your kids and your employees–deserve the benefit of the doubt from you, repeatedly and instinctively. If you can’t give that to them, that’s a problem you need to solve.

Is it your problem to solve?

Ellie Newman interviewed me for her radio show “That Got Me Thinking” on KDPI 88.5 FM out of Ketchum, Idaho. Listen to the interview on Ellie’s website here.

The interview is on the topic of change, and how we solve problems to create change. Which is, of course, what I’m always thinking about. The fantastic thing about this interview is that Ellie immediately got my focus on both parenting and managing people, and how they’re the same thing for me. I know it’s a big leap for a lot of people to switch back and forth from the work space in their brain to the parenting space in their brain, but that’s where I live all the time—those two zones—and Ellie didn’t bat an eye at my assumptions that they’re the same thing. There’s also a lot in the interview about my process of solving Flash Consultations, and the types of questions I get.

Last week was the first week back for most of us, to work and to school, and I think it was both a relief and a confirmation that there are real problems for a lot of us. A relief because being out of the regular schedule is stressful. Kids get very very stressed out by the combination of being out of the regular routine and not necessarily knowing what to expect next, and seeing people they don’t usually see while not seeing the people that they see every day in school. If they don’t like school, it can be hard to process the relief of not being there, plus there’s the negative anticipation of going back. If they like school, they may genuinely miss it, and they might feel at a loss without those activities and those people.

Adults are the same way for the same reasons, and there’s another huge layer of cultural expectation that we’re not supposed to want to be at work. (Think of the Powerball frenzy of the last week. Half a billion dollars would utterly ruin your life if you won it out of the blue, but everyone’s so conditioned to think we’re supposed to not want to work that people stood in line for hours to buy tickets to misery. 4 8 15 16 23 42.) But being at home (or “at home” if you were running around a lot or visiting people) has its own kind of stress and dislocation.

So getting back to the regular routine can be a big relief, despite the initial shock of having to get up early and put on pants to go somewhere. But then by day 3 or 4 of the week, all the old problems that were chewing at you before the break popped up again. And you have to confront the fact that a) they actually exist, b) they didn’t magically go away on their own, and c) you’re going to have to do something about them.

Problems such as: your child getting in trouble at school or your boss assuming the worst of you (same problem), your child or your employee getting entrenched in roles and resisting doing something that’s good for everyone just because they don’t want to feel like they have to (again, same problem), chronic miscommunication (with kids or coworkers), gaps in process that means no one’s responsible for something crucial (at home or at work), and generally just being tired of having so many complications to deal with and just wanting to do your work (everywhere). In the worst-case scenario, you really just don’t want to be there anymore.

All of this stuff, though, is just a problem to be solved step by step. Or maybe a few interlocking problems that you have to tease apart. If solving the problem is your responsibility, then you must solve it. And you can solve it. Just look for the most variable part of the problem, and start looking at why that aspect of the problem varies and what that means, and how you can figure out the motivations of the other people involved to change things.

How do you know if the problem is your responsibility? If you are the parent in a parent/child problem scenario, then it’s your responsibility. If you are the manager in a manager/employee scenario, then it’s your responsibility. None of this, “They’re acting childish so I don’t have to fix it” stuff. Step back out of your ego and look at the situation from a systems perspective and figure out where the block is and how to fix it in a way that lets everyone feel good about themselves and learn from the whole thing. That’s heroism (as well as good parenting and good management).

If you’re the child in a parent/child scenario or the employee in a manager/employee scenario, then you probably can’t solve this problem, just because you don’t have the right access or authority to. So think about how honest you can be with the person who can solve it, and ask them to solve it for both of you. Or, if you can’t be that honest, figure out if there’s a way to sidestep the problem so that you can still get the things done that you need to do, and be as free of stress about it as possible.

If this “Whose problem is it to solve?” perspective is interesting to you, check out the books Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott and Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon. Both of these books are super-useful for managers, whether or not you’re a parent, and a lot of the concepts in them have informed my managing process, RISWS

Status update, December 18

There’s some stuff we all need to remember today:

1. You can make it. This is a brutal time of year, with a grinding set of conflicting expectations. I don’t know whether it’s better to plant your feet and stand up no matter what comes at you, or take a breath and let your head go under and trust that you’ll float to the top in a minute, or hunker down low and crawl under the smoke level. You can assess your own situation and decide what you need to do to make it through the next two weeks.

2. Work has value. Your work has value, whether you’re paid for it or not. Whether it’s something job-ish or emotional work or some other kind of work. All the extra work you’re doing right now that you’re not getting paid for has value. I appreciate it.

3. If you’re having problems with boundaries and clarity at work, it’s the responsibility of the manager to fix it. This includes confusion around roles, performance, bonuses, metrics, etc. If your manager isn’t clear about this stuff and you’re being trapped, don’t take it on yourself. And if you are the manager and you see the confusion and feel the drift, put on your big kid underwear and make some decisions and have some conversations. You can do it.

4. Your deadline is not today. Even if your kids are done with school today, you still have to work for two more weeks. You will get a bunch of stuff done next week, and the week after that. Not everyone’s going to be working, but there will be enough co-workers and clients and customers who want to get some work done with you that stuff is still going to come together. You can close those sales or finish those projects or do whatever your job involves. You still have a lot of time.

5. “We are going to die. Let’s love honestly, courageously, non abusively, stankly before that happens.” –Kiese Laymon   

Courage.

(Go get a glass of water and drink it.)

Create a low-stress Christmas season for yourself

It’s back, and better than before! Get Christmased: Create the Christmas season that works for you and your family is a workbook that walks you through a process of figuring out what is meaningful about the Christmas season for you and what isn’t, and helps you make deliberate decisions about what to keep and what to toss during the holiday season.

Available in paperback for $9.99 (it’s taking 2-3 days to get to people in the US) or Kindle for $3.49 (instantaneous and you can read it on your phone with the free Kindle app). If you get the Kindle version, you’ll need a little notebook to write down your answers to all the questions in and sketch out your plans.

This is my labor of love, because I know how painful, confusing, and intense the Christmas season can be for so many of us, that I wanted to help us pull it apart a little and make some conscious choices that would help us instead of letting us keep feeling hurt.

Doing the workbook seems to help the most if you can get it done and planned before American Thanksgiving, so order now and then do it in snatches of time here and there while you’re waiting for your kids.

(Here’s the link to the Canadian Kindle version, for $4.59.)

 

A warning to employers

Oh, employers. The tide has just turned. After seven plus years of hearing and saying “in this economy” as an excuse for treating workers poorly and for employees to just take it because they’re scared of being unemployed, it’s no longer an employers’ market. The economy has improved enough that people aren’t afraid of leaving a job that doesn’t fit or that has bad management, because they know they can find another job. 

How do I know? Because I just said “What are they going to do, fire you?” to the third person in two days.

I am not a career counselor and I’m not on the employee side of What To Do At Work. I work with managers and upper management to help them create organizations and departments in which employees are engaged and happy and productive. But the other side of that is that I get to hear from a lot of employees what their managers are doing wrong. (And they’re doing so very many things wrong.)

[Side note: My 13-year-old is at his dad’s house today and he just texted me that he just watched the movie Office Space for the first time. I wanted to text back “Today you are a man” but thought that might confuse him. Later we can talk about how the movie is really not that different from the daily lived experience of a majority of people working in offices in the United States and the rest of the world. And why my whole mission is helping people not be Lumbergh.] 

Even a few months ago, when people were telling me about the random and disheartening things their managers did, they had a pervasive sense of sadness. Of realizing that there wasn’t anything they could do about it and they’d have to just suck it up if they wanted to stay and be able to pay their mortgages. People were being put on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) because their employers had reduced the number of jobs to reallocate roles so people were being asked to do too many things in ways that they couldn’t possibly succeed at, and then were being penalized for not being magical. Of course, when you’re on a PIP you’re scared and demoralized, so you’re not going to work any better (even if you are working harder), so there’s nothing useful or good about a PIP for anyone in the equation except from a documentation perspective that shifts all the risk from the organization to the individual. PIPs are all the negatives of capitalism without any of the positives, basically.

[Another side note: Every time I see “PIP” I think of Pip in Great Expectations, which makes me think of that scene in the old version of the movie in which Miss Havisham catches on fire in her wedding dress. My high school freshman English teacher, Mr. Oehlers, rewound and showed us that bursting-into-flames scene half a dozen times. (We loved it.) Little did I know then that it was the perfect metaphor for what happens when an organization gets so entrenched in structures and appearances that they stay mired in the past and can’t make good use of the real live people in front of them: flames.]

But now, people are getting mad about being treated poorly and are realizing that a PIP often means more about the organization’s problems than it does about them, and they’re poking their heads up and looking around and realizing that they are marketable workers. With skills and knowledge and flexibility and perspective. And that they can find a job that uses those skills and isn’t going to be as demoralizing as where they are now. So they’re looking, and not caring if they get fired while they look.

I was giving a recommendation for a friend to a potential employer last week. I knew my friend had been impressed with the organization during the interview process, so I figured I could be honest and go a little deeper with the company rep who called me. He and I ended up talking about two of the traits I think are most impressive about my friend–her sense of perspective and her loyalty to people and process. I knew he’d get it because those traits are values of the organization he hires for, and he did, and told me he was happy to hear it because it’s hard to know those things just from four or five interviews with a person. She got the job, and it was absolutely no choice to leave her current job, which sees her as an interchangeable cog with nothing special to offer. Her current job thought (until the moment she gave notice) that she was lucky to be there, even though they ran an organization that couldn’t deliver on the basics of being decent people, let alone put in the thought work about what kind of organization they are and what that means for their management or workflow process. They are never going to be able to keep good employees, because they don’t know or care who they are or who they employ.

When my friend and I were talking about how she spends her time in her last week at her old company, I said, “What are they going to do, fire you?” And then I had virtually identical conversations with two other people I know about how they can act while looking for an organization that values them so they can leave organizations that devalue them on the daily.

When I hear (or hear myself saying) something once, fine. Twice, I notice. Three times–there’s something going on and I should pay attention. And this is three times in two days of recognizing that being fired isn’t a threat anymore.

So, employers, managers, bosses, team leaders, anyone who needs people to help you do what you’re doing: You need to go a little deeper. Put in the deep work it’s going to require to see your people for who they are and what they actually have to offer your organization. Think about who you are as an organization and what you can be. Who do you need to fit that mission? (And if it’s not a mission, maybe you need to move on, too. Life’s too short to do work for bad systems.) Are those people sitting right in front of you, slowly withering or trying to get out?

If you have the wrong people working for you, fire them in a human, decent way that honors both of you. They will move on to something that fits them. (And maybe you know what that thing is and can help them make a connection.) And you now have the ability to hire the right person who fits in with your organization and your mission.

But know that it’s the employee’s market again. You decide who you hire, but if you can’t deliver on giving them a real reason to come in every morning that honors who they are, they’ll leave. The threat of being fired isn’t even remotely enough to keep them there, because they can find something else.

 

If you want to talk to me, lmk at magda at tilmorgroup dot com.