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Michael H. Smith, Ph.D.
Oakland, CA
Michael H. Smith, Ph.D specializes in resolving organizational conflicts, building teams and coaching managers and directors
Recent Activity
Amy Chua had her 15 minutes of fame and I’m hesitant to give her another second. But the issues she raises in her distorted way about parenting are also relevant for organizations. My long time colleague, Julie King, a Bay Area expert in parenting, has weighed into the Chua controversy with her own take on the parenting issue. Julie states some key ideas about not only how to parent but why certain parenting styles produce better people. She critiques Chua’s use of blaming, shaming and punishment as misguided as well as ineffective. Parenting is directly connected to work issues. Bad... Continue reading
Although talking behind a co-worker’s back is standard fare in most organizations, most of us, if asked about it, would probably say that such behavior is unproductive. But thanks to WikiLeaks’ outing of US diplomatic cables and the December 13 issue of the New Yorker, “Special Oops Frenemies,” by Lizzie Widdicombe, we may now view this behavior in a different way. Diplomats as do most of us, says the author, play multiple roles in their lives. These roles, as do ours, require ”an extra slathering of false civilities that grease the wheels of all human dealings.” Things can go a... Continue reading
In my last post I noted that badly run meetings are a serious problem in today’s workplace and advocated four ways that could improve them. This post will continue with six additional methods to make your meetings more effective. 5. Appoint a recorder, timekeeper and facilitator. This was Doyle and Straus' unique contribution to meeting effectiveness. These three roles keep the meeting moving and on track. Appoint people to play these roles at each meeting. The roles can be rotated during the meeting if there is an important issue that the role players want to participate in. Have the recorder... Continue reading
It's been 28 years since Michael Doyle and David Straus wrote their groundbreaking book, How To Make Meetings Work (1976). Are you like many of my clients who gripe about numbing, deadening meetings? As one publication put it, "days, weeks, months, years of our lives are slipping away in stuffy, overcrowded conference rooms”. Little appears to be accomplished and no one seems to be able to do anything about it. Doyle and Straus claimed that there were 11 million meetings in the US every day in 1976. Doyle says that there are 25 million today and most of them don't... Continue reading
In Part 1, we go further into the second millennium and more and more people are spending a lot of time at work. As a result, they are dating, and falling in love with partners they’ve met at work. Yet, as research shows, workplace romance can be a rather tricky affair because these romances have both positive and negative effects on work performance. Part 2 will consider the implications of the research on job behavior and what to watch out for. Impact Given the kinds of potential risks and benefits noted above, if you are thinking about the possibility of... Continue reading
Romance in the workplace recently raised its complex head again last week. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that some employees (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_39/b4196073729941.htm) who know of a workplace affair are now claiming a hostile work environment under sexual harassment laws. In the past, employees might have been put off by an affair because of the impact of colleagues pairing have on teamwork. But they usually did nothing litigious. By claiming harassment, the story claims they are making themselves recession proof because of strong anti-retaliation laws. The story also reports that recent surveys show that more employees believe office romance can lead to conflicts than... Continue reading
Despite our hope that it won’t be so, after a few times around the block we all realize that bosses make mistakes. And sometimes they are big ones. One of the roles of a good employee is to help your boss not make mistakes in the first place. A second role is to help him/her recover from mistakes when he does make them. But doing that is a lot more complicated and risky then that it appears. How do you disagree with your boss and not damage the relationship and possibly even put your job at risk? Denene Brox, writing... Continue reading
"After 30 years of training, I'm increasingly convince that hiring is more important than training." - Dr. Stephen R. Covey In general, when I buy a business book, I look for a few things. It should have something new in it that I don't know and not just be a compilation of the same old stuff on a particular topic. (This is often difficult. See my posts on Coping With Information Overload: Learning Only What You Need.) The new ideas should also be relatively inexpensive for my clients to implement. I usually prefer a lot of little ideas to a... Continue reading
He was not being discriminatory. Rather, he was an "equal opportunity yeller;" his management style was to yell at everyone. His language and tone were abusive and his staff was threatening to quit. His superiors had known about this for a long time and finally told him that he had to change or he was gone. Continue reading
In Part One of Coping With Information Overload, I postulated that a lot of what passes for new knowledge today is largely old ideas that have been repackaged for segmented markets. I challenged you to find me a better book on time management than Alan Lakein's classic book, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life (1973). Now, let me challenge you to show me a book on conflict resolution that deals more comprehensively with the topic than Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury from the Harvard Project on Negotiation. The only books I've found that truly... Continue reading
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I've been thinking lately about what I've learned during my 35 year career as an organizational consultant. I've gained a lot from the practical interactions I've had with my clients on a daily basis. But when I think about the core techniques of my work, for example conflict resolution, manager education and training, time management and customer service, I've come to the somewhat startling revelation that there have been few advancements in the last 30 years. I've read endless books on these topics, but when I ask myself if I've discovered many new and useful techniques after so much reading,... Continue reading
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Changing toxic workplaces is a major part of my consulting practice. I see the “walking wounded,” both onsite and in my office, who regale me with stories of bosses who yell, insult and demean performance reviews that never happen or are done poorly, goals and values that are not clearly stated or ignored, physical working conditions that are awful, etc. Most of you can add your own story here. So what are some things that can be done to remedy these situations? The June 2010 issue of Inc. magazine has an interview with noted Stanford University organizational guru Jeffrey Pfeffer... Continue reading
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How would you answer the question in the title? If you answered, "My customers come first," you should read The Customer Comes Second, an important book on customer service written by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters (2002). I revisited this book recently and its ideas are still compelling. Rosenbluth, CEO of Rosenbluth Travel, argues that for your company to offer great service your employees must be taken care of first. Now his answer may seem counter-intuitive. He says it's somewhat controversial. But he's right. Think about it. If someone has a job in which they are underpaid, unappreciated and... Continue reading
We’ve all left uncomfortable and even angry situations and later thought: “I wish I had said X,” hopefully a stylish riposte to an unwanted or unwarranted remark. A story about Winston Churchill admirably illustrates the skill we wish we had at times. Seeing Churchill drunk at her social gathering, the host (allegedly Lady Astor) commented: “Mr. Churchill you are drunk, you are horribly drunk, you are exceedingly drunk.” Upon which Churchill replied: “Indeed, Madame. And you are ugly. Tomorrow, I shall be sober.” Such repartee might earn us style points and may even make us believe we’ve effectively ended the... Continue reading
In my last blog post, “Five Key Myths About Suicide,” I mentioned the importance of getting help for co-workers who may be in distress. In the May 9, 2010 New York Times staff writer Eilene Zimmerman wrote an article “Offering Help to a Troubled Colleague,” which offers important guidelines on how to successfully do this. Let me summarize a few important points. Don’t assume You Know What’s Wrong For example, alcohol on someone’s breath could result from a diabetic’s problem with blood sugar level or from a problem with prescription medication. The safest intervention is to focus on the workplace... Continue reading
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A suicide at work has devastating consequences and is the most difficult for employees to deal with because of many untrue beliefs.In a prior post, I covered Myths 1 and 2. I’ll now cover Myths 3, 4 and 5 and include things that you can do to help. Myth 3 "You can’t stop a person from killing himself if he really wants to do it." People may make numerous tries and each time they are stopped it may break the cycle and get them the help they need. It’s critical to do everything possible to divert them from their goal... Continue reading
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Recently, I was asked to assist an organization in recovering from an employee suicide. This particular suicide was quite traumatic and gruesome as it occurred at work and in a public area. Any death at the workplace is a traumatic event impacting the immediate workgroup and many other parts of the organization. Employees must deal with the personal, emotional and behavioral impact of the death and still remain somewhat focused and productive. Employees more readily accept and recover from co-worker deaths by accidents and illness and frame these events as largely out of anyone’s control, a tragic and often unavoidable... Continue reading
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While working with one of my clients recently, an interesting dilemma emerged. The client had many small branch offices that each operated like independent businesses. The senior managers were making efforts to standardize procedures and obtain some cost savings but there was a lot of resistance from the offices. I commented that the objections appeared to be more emotionally than financially and low trust seemed to be an issue. I then asked how often senior managers visited the branches and was not surprised by the sheepish responses of “almost never.” A recent survey reported some news that supports my case... Continue reading
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One of the core issues that you face as a manager/owner is that the people you supervise often don't do what you want them to do. This problem often confuses many managers because they don't really understand why it happens. So they often feel at a loss to remedy the problem and then it just gets worse. I recently revisited a fascinating book called Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed To Do-And What To do About It, by Ferdinand Fournies (1999). I had used the book in preparing material for a client on the best ways to conduct performance... Continue reading
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So far, I’ve focused on the individual’s experience of his or her own creative process. But in business, it is essential to make use of group creativity as well. The best book on group creativity that I have read in a long time is The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, the General Manager IDEO, the world’s leading product design firm that worked on the Apple mouse, the Polaroid I-Zone camera and the Palm. He tells the story of how they totally redesigned a grocery store shopping cart for ABC’s Nightline show in just one week. There are lots of... Continue reading
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In my last post, I discussed the Four Stages of Creativity. Let’s now continue with what to do when you get stuck. One of the mo st important aspects of the creative process is how to deal effectively with creative blocks or stuck places. A good book for dealing with this is James L. Adam’s Conceptual Blockbusting, which offers a number of practical solutions for overcoming blocks. I have found that blocks can be dealt with in a very direct way. For example, if you have a block, close your eyes and visualize it. You might see something like a... Continue reading
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In my last post, I mentioned that I intended to review and comment on books and ideas on creativity. It is important to emphasize that the purpose of creativity in business is to generate valuable new products and services. Creativity is not for its own sake but to meet perceived needs in the marketplace. But creativity is often viewed in the business community as something that is very nebulous and hard to grasp. Because many business people assume that it cannot be measured, they also believe that it cannot be valued properly as a business asset.John Kao's excellent book, Jamming,... Continue reading
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The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office. Robert Fros (Not the poet) Creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of a growing organization or business. A number of other organizations are trying to do what you do—except better, faster and cheaper. To keep up, you must be committed to innovation. Otherwise, your organization may not survive. Business magazines and books have recently produced a torrent of articles and special issues on innovation, mainly focusing on how to innovate businesses and the... Continue reading
Hearing "no" is difficult for most of us. We revert emotionally to early years when parents, teachers, older siblings and relatives said "no" frequently and ingrained in us that their "no’s" were perfectly acceptable (and that our "no’s" weren't). We learned from these experiences that “no’s” were imposed by others, usually authority figures, and that using a "no" to take care of our own needs was frowned upon. We didn’t learn how valuable a "no" could be or how to say it so it would be heard. As adult professionals at work, we want both to take care of ourselves... Continue reading