"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Being Treated as a Person

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about his new job in a state government agency. His story provides a good example of the impact leaders can have on morale. (names and details have been eliminated to protect individual reputations)
“Today an older gentleman came into my office to introduce himself at the end of the day. He said ‘I just wanted to come in and say hello. So, how do you like it so far?’ I replied with a puzzled look on my face that I liked it rather well and these are nice people.

“He told me that morale was pretty low when he came here in the beginning of the year due to his predecessor. I looked even more puzzled until he said, ‘Oh, I'm The Secretary of State,’ to which I replied, 'oh, (gulp)... hi.'  I mean what do you say to the Secretary of State, right?
“I was impressed with his candor, the way he took time to just come in for ten minutes to get to know me, as he does all of the people who work there. He and I talked a little bit about what the governor is trying to do and I told him how impressed I was so far at the general attitude throughout the building. (Apparently it was not a fun place to be a year ago.)

“I have to admit that when someone as busy and important as this takes the time to come in and kibitz a few minutes with me, he wins my respect – because he shows me he respects me as a person. He was so down to earth. The way they should all be. I guess some people remember why they have a job and the people who put them there. Nice man.”

Whether or not the Secretary ever visits my friend again, those ten minutes he spent set the tone for my friend’s outlook and attitude about working there. Strong impressions are made during the first few weeks of a new employee’s arrival. The Secretary took the time to instill a sense of welcome, belonging and mutual respect, creating a foundation for ensuring a dedicated and engaged employee.

The morale in an organization can be positively or negatively effected by how the boss relates to people. The way a boss treats employees makes all the difference in a work environment. Too often top bosses, and even front-line supervisors, take their titles or themselves too seriously and treat workers like underlings. Mutual respect and recognition as a fellow human being are critical factors in the workplace. The lack of this human connection is frequently the root cause of serious morale problems.

My friend's story hints at what the organizational climate was like under the previous management. It sounds like the new leader understands his role as a “leader” and the importance of establishing a positive organizational CLIMATE.

Yes, I meant that in all caps. Organizational CLIMATE has been the core topic of several talks I’ve been asked to give recently. I’ll be blogging more about this in the near future, but here’s some homework for you.

Tell me: What’s your organizational CLIMATE like? What works, what doesn’t? Are people empowered or micromanaged? Recognized or abused? Email me at johnverricopro@gmail.com.

Maybe I’ll use your story as a case study.

Don’t worry. All information provided to me will be 100% confidential and I will only use the level of detail you allow me to.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Keep Trying New Things

Sharing this post here that I originally wrote for the National Association of Government Communicators blog "Adventures in Government Communications"

Keep Trying New Things

Reflections from NAGC President John Verrico

My earliest experiences as a Navy Journalist onboard USS BUTTE provided such a wealth of opportunity.  I was the sole public affairs professional on board, and there had not been another of my ilk for about 18 months prior to my arrival. I had to create my own job based upon what I learned at DINFOS (the Defense Information School) and try to do the best job I could. Since I was the only one in my profession, I had the opportunity to do it all, including two closed-circuit TV stations, two radio stations, the ship's newspaper and monthly  newsletter, daily evening newscast, press releases, response to media queries, speeches, photographs, video editing, ship tours and community relations. And I am sure I left something out.

That's me, c.1983, interrupted while recording a voice over.
It was busy, but awesome.

The problem with being the only one? No one to compare to, ask advice of, or even kvetch with. No one onboard really understood the specifics of my job. I had no one to tell me if I was doing things the right way or not, so I just kept trying new things.

How do I do a newscast? Hmmm. Let's get the AP and UPI feeds from the radio shack, along with the military message traffic, and pull some headlines out of them.  The TV room is too small to set up the camera for a live news show. I have a ton of 35mm slides and some slide film to make more. I'll do voice over slides! Maybe I can find an unused space and turn it into a studio. A little paint and a blanket as a curtain. Good to go. Manual typewriter to produce a small newspaper, duplicate with mimeograph and distribute on the mess decks. Too noisy to record voice-overs and radio shows during work hours. Wait till everyone's asleep and record the new Rock the Boat, Jazzin' Jay, or the Chief Push Time Machine show using borrowed cassette tapes from fellow crew members. Yeah. Had to get pretty creative sometimes. Thankfully, I had a technician who handled all the equipment maintenance and wiring issues, or I would have been doomed.

The thing was, nothing was impossible or not worth trying. And there were no preconceived notions of how to accomplish certain things, thus no barriers. Whether it was the right way or the wrong way, the easy way or the hard way, it didn't matter. All that mattered was coming up with an effective end product.

It was nearly 12 years before I finally worked with others in my profession. When I finally started being able to compare notes with others, I found there were plenty of things I could have done differently, better, or more efficiently, and the were plenty of slap-myself-in-the-forehead moments, too. Via the learning by trial and error method, I had done a fairly passable job after all, but imagine how much better though, had I had others to learn from, share with and compare to.

Looking back  from more than 30 years later, I realize that several good things came out of that period. Not only did I get to learn all those cool skills across the spectrum of communication disciplines, I also learned to really appreciate the concepts of teamwork and networking, and treasure the opportunities when we can learn from our peers. That's one of the things I love about NAGC - the ability to share, learn from, collaborate with and hang out with each other.

Nowadays, everyone has email and smartphones and ways to continuously stay in touch. I encourage you to use every tool at your disposal. Maybe I appreciate these things so much because I didn't have them back then.

I'll wrap this post up with this advice: Do not be afraid to try everything; network with other professionals whenever possible; and learn something new every day.