Friday, December 28, 2012

MGM Seeks to Inspire Employees by Letting Them Put on a Show

I love to stay in hotels. I let the wet towels stay on the floor, I don't make my bed and I ignore the overflowing trash cans.
That's because I know that a wonderful maid will clean up my mess, and not give me any grief about it. The concierge will direct me to a great restaurant and the guy at the door will hail me a cab. 
To me, staying in a hotel is like getting a license to be a princess, if only a temporary one.

Photo: MGM's Jim Murren

I know that I'm always nice to the staff (my mama raised me right), but sometimes people aren't nice to them. Hotel staff put up with a lot of crap from hungover guests, cranky children and people that were not raised right. That's why it was nice to do this story about MGM Resorts International, where those nice people who treat me so well are not taken for granted. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USA Today....

Keith Dotson is entertainment supervisor at New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and a normal day at work includes dealing with the box office and making sure ushers and ticket agents are operating like a well-oiled machine.
But his true passion is music, and those who have heard Dotson sing agree he has a remarkable talent.

However, this isn’t a story about how Dotson wins a national singing contest and leaves behind his job with New York-New York.
Instead, it’s a story of how one company, MGM Resorts International, values Dotson and other employees so much for the jobs they do every day that they found a way to celebrate those efforts as only Las Vegas can.
MGM recently put millions of dollars into a production called "Inspiring Our World," designed to recognize, motivate and engage its 62,000 workers around the goal of providing the best experience possible to guests.
Jim Murren, MGM chief executive and chairman, gave workers like Dotson who labor behind the scenes of hotels such as the Bellagio, CityCenter and Mandalay Bay an assignment: Put on a show.
"We sort of had this eureka moment about six months ago, where we said, ‘We’re an entertainment company.’ Why don’t we use entertainment to get our message out in a fun, practical way?" Murren says.
So Murren gave employees the money — "I didn’t give them a budget," he says — to put on a show that would drive home the company’s commitment to diversity, excellence and teamwork.
"The only directive I gave them was that they should do it at the level of excellence that our guests expect," he says.
So employees began writing the script, designing stage settings, having auditions and directing a show that ran about an hour and a half and played several times to various employee audiences.

"It’s been beyond anything we ever imagined," Dotson says. "We just keep saying, ‘This is huge.’ "
But more important, Dotson says that working on the show and its message changed his life "and I will take this message with me wherever I go."
"It’s all about how we can inspire our world every day of our life," he says. "I’ve been with this company for 10 years, and this experience makes me feel so valued as one of their employees."
Murren would be happy to hear Dotson’s description since that was one of his goals when he initiated the project. Another was to just celebrate the "happy story of recovery," he says.
"Las Vegas went through some very dark times in 2009 and 2010. Unemployment was skyrocketing, and people were losing their homes and their cars. But our employees didn’t give up. They kept their personal experiences and troubles at home. I made a commitment at that time that if I could ever repay them for what they did, I would," Murren says.
Murren, who started out on Wall Street, says he still uses that business acumen to keep MGM competitive but also knows the No. 1 reason his hotels will continue to thrive is because of his workers.
"They are our most valuable asset," he says. "I learned pretty early on that it’s the employees who make everything happen. In our business, people vote with their feet. If they don’t have a fantastic experience, they go somewhere else. "

Murren uses employee surveys, personal visits with workers on site and employee feedback to gauge if the company is keeping workers satisfied and committed. The company has taken on other initiatives designed to show its commitment to workers, such as revamping employee dining options to offer healthier choices.
While some initiatives are expensive, Murren says he believes the payout will come when engaged employees work together as a team and put all their efforts into helping guests have an excellent experience.

"I know that I’ve met many people doing this show that I didn’t know before," Dotson says. "Now we all call, ‘Good morning!’ when we see one another and there is just such a positive energy. We all know we’ve been through tough times, and while we don’t know everyone’s story, we’ve come together.
"I think this company has shown that they value us as individuals and as a team," says Dotson, who performed "I Know Where I’ve Been" from "Hairspray." "And that not an easy thing to do."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More Workers with Autism Entering Workplace

Autism is a subject that often promotes a great deal of debate. The causes. The solutions.
Employers are now entering that discussion, as they will be seeing more job applicants with autism spectrum disorder. It's an issue I looked at in my latest Gannett/USA Today column....

An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States have autism spectrum disorder, so chances are you may be affected by autism in some way.
Your own child, a relative or even a friend may be dealing with the disorder.

But chances are good you soon may start to deal with autism in the workplace. The most visible generation with autism is getting ready to graduate from high school and will be looking for jobs, says Scott Standifer, a University of Missouri researcher who studies employment issues affecting adults with autism.
Some employers such as Walgreens, AMC Theatres and TIAA-CREF already are making efforts to hire and train autistic employees, finding such workers to be dependable and hardworking, Standifer says. These employers are making employment inclusive and don’t isolate autistic workers or give them only limited tasks.
The companies are trying to level the playing field for applicants along the autism spectrum, he says. AMC Theaters learned that asking abstract questions often can be troublesome for autistic applicants.
"An abstract interview question might ask someone if they found $50, what would they do with it? So, someone with autism might say, ‘I put it in my pocket,’ " Standifer says. "But the key is that you have to show them what they should do with that money — such as give it to the manager — and then they will do it."
It’s more effective to focus on showing autistic applicants what duties would be involved with a job and if they believe themselves capable performing those duties.
During interviews and on the job, one of the greatest challenges for those along the autism spectrum is reading social cues.
Job applicants who are told to answer questions honestly may be so blunt that they are considered rude or somehow socially unacceptable. When asked, "What brings you to the interview?" someone with autism might answer, "My truck."
That’s why social-skills training and more detailed explanations of workplace culture can be helpful to those with autism, he says.

Jobs in noisy, hectic environments; positions with a lot of unstructured social contact with the public; and tasks with little or no routine often are not good fits for those with autism.
However, those with autism are adept at noticing deviations in patterns, so jobs in quality control and computer applications are a good fit, Standifer says. Walgreens’ performance data finds that those with autism and other disabilities who work at company distribution centers performed as well as other workers, had lower turnover and required only minimal, inexpensive accommodations.
"The great thing about those with autism is that when they do a job, they’re very focused," Standifer says. "They’re going to do what they’re told, every time. They’re not going to stand around socializing instead of working. They often receive very high marks on performance evaluations."
If your child has autism, get him or her some structured work or volunteer-related experience before high school graduation, Standifer says. Vocational rehabilitation counselors can meet with a school’s special education teams to ensure time to make changes or transitions, which can often be more difficult for those with autism.
While researchers have done many studies on children with autism, they have little data on autistic workers.
State vocational rehabilitation agencies are starting to make important strides in providing services for autism, he says. National autism advocacy groups and researchers are beginning to include adult issues such as employment in their studies.
Many employers — with leaders who often have been touched personally by someone with autism — are much more willing to take a look at hiring such worker

"I’m excited," Standifer says. "I think a lot of cool things are happening."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Spiked Eggnog May Be Just What Your Career Needs

Are there visions of sugar plums dancing in your head? Thinking about settling down for a long winter’s nap? Trying to figure out where you’re going to find seven lords a-leaping?
It’s not unusual for many of your thoughts this time of year to be about the holidays and the millions of things you have to do before Santa miraculously stuffs himself down the chimney. Holiday craziness can certainly put a crimp in your productivity around the office this time of year, but don’t start to panic that you’re not getting enough done because you’re so distracted.
In fact, let yourself be distracted.
Go to a production of “The Nutcracker” instead of sending emails one night. Download your favorite holiday music and listen to it at work. Offer to organize the office potluck and personally visit other departments to invite colleagues.
You may think all these things are time-wasters, and you’re only going to get further behind in your job. Not so. They’re really all activities that can boost your value and productivity in the long run, and make you happier and less stressed.
What could be a better holiday gift than that?
Don’t turn down the wassail
Research has shown that multi-tasking doesn’t work. But that doesn’t stop us from zipping around on Facebook while sending a text and jotting down notes for an upcoming meeting. Those activities frazzle our brains and lead to unfocused thoughts and unproductive days.
But new input, such as making a gingerbread house or attending a holiday concert, can jumpstart our brains.  New activities spark more creative thoughts, and conversations with people at a neighborhood holiday get-together may trigger new ideas or solutions to (read the rest here)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bullying Continues to Infect the Workplace

Do you know anyone who has not been bullied? I sure don't. 
Even people I know who are bullies have told me about physical or emotional abuse they've experienced in their lives, which is often what led to them becoming bullies.  They simply mimicked the behavior they were being shown.
I've written about workplace bullying many times over the years, and I wish I could say that it seems to be a thing of the past. But it's not. Read this latest column I did for Gannett/USA Today....

In the documentary "Bully," filmmakers followed the lives of five students who were bullied on a daily basis.
Many people identified with the kids who were taunted and called names by school peers, and the film often evoked unpleasant memories for adults who recalled being bullied at school.

Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t end on the playground,"Bully" producer and writer Cynthia Lowen, says.
Many adults are victims of bullying bosses or co-workers. And, just like in school, many peers stand by and watch it happen without intervening.
"There needs to be a lot more education about this issue in the workplace," she says. "We can’t just put zero-tolerance policies in place — in school or the workplace — without having a comprehensive understanding about bullying."

For example, many people may believe that only the bullying target is made to suffer, but a recent government study of bullying in Swedish workplaces shows that that bullying also harmed witnesses. Specifically, women who were witnesses to the bullying saw an increase of about 33 percent in clinical depression while male witnesses experienced about a 16 percent increase.
"Bystanders and the whole organization are involved in the process of bullying behavior, and, in turn, intervention programs should be focused on the whole workplace system," researchers from Sweden’s Institute of Environmental Medicine say .
Lowen says most of us as children tried bullying. Those who felt badly about their behavior stopped.
But children who had success as bullies, such as getting what they wanted when they bullied someone else, continue their bullying throughout their childhoods and eventually into the workplace, she says.
"But in the workplace, the stakes are much higher, especially if the person doing the bullying is the boss," she says. "If the person is in power, it may mean that you’re not included in email or you lose out on a job or promotion."

A recent CareerBuilder survey finds that 35 percent of workers say they have been bullied at work, an increase from the 27 percent reported last year. Nearly half of those workers say their bosses are the ones doing the bullying, and the most common forms of bullying were being falsely blamed for mistakes or ignored.
Lowen is the author of a new book with Cindy Miller called The Essential Guide to Bullying: Prevention and Intervention (ALPHA, $15.95). Lowen says they try to offer several suggestions on how to deal with workplace bullying, such as:
• Teaching conflict resolution. Employees should be trained on how to give appropriate negative feedback and be respectful.
Inappropriate behavior should be confronted and dealt with immediately.
• Knowing what it looks like. Employees should be encouraged to talk about bullying behavior in the workplace.
While it may not be the taunts and shoves associated with schoolyard bullying, the put-downs and deliberate isolation of an employee are indications of bullying behavior that should be identified and stopped.
• Emphasizing individual strengths. Sometimes those lowest on the career ladder in the workplace are the targets of bullies.

But if all employees are allowed to develop their skills and shown respect for their contributions, they’re more likely to be self-confident and not become the target.
Those who are bullying targets often are so miserable that they quit their jobs or are forced to leave because they’ve developed physical ailments related to the stress of being bullied and can no longer work, reports the Workplace Bullying Institute. The problem is especially acute for single working parents, it says.

Lowen says she herself was the victim of some bullying in school although not to the degree that the children in her film received.
"I think we’re just beginning to understand how pervasive bullying really is," she says, "and that it can follow us from school into the workplace."

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Resolve Conflict with a Co-Worker

One of the most stressful situations to face in the workplace is a conflict with a co-worker. Whether it’s a long-standing feud that you can’t even recall how it began or a recent spat that has made work tense and miserable for you, not getting along in a civil manner with colleagues is often painful.
You may wrestle with how to resolve the conflict. Or, maybe you consider not doing a thing – it wasn’t your fault, after all! The other person needs to apologize, you think.
But while you wage an internal debate about what to do, the situation may only get worse. Your conflict may make other colleagues feel as if they’re being forced to choose sides, or your boss may become irritated you can’t get along with others. The result is that an unresolved conflict can hurt your career, not to mention the tension that can bring on physical ailments such as headaches and sleepless nights.

Steps to Resolve Conflict with a Colleague

There are several steps you can take to try and resolve the conflict or at least keep it from wrecking your career. Consider:
  • Communicating like a grown up. No hiding behind email or texts. Emails and texts can be misinterpreted and certainly don’t convey sincerity or instill trust. Meet with the person privately in a face-to-face conversation.
  • Not expecting miracles.  Even if you get some issues out in the open, your negative feelings aren’t going to disappear overnight and that may be true for the other person as well. The old adage about time healing all wounds should be heeded – give yourself time to get past the experience.
  • Finding the value. You may believe the only thing you have gotten from (read the rest here)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Could Your Name Prompt Hiring Bias?

I've written a lot about how to craft emails that get the attention of key people, but I was taken aback when I learned of a study that says it could be your name that determines whether you get a response or not. Read this latest column I did for Gannett/USA Today....

Could someone named Jamal have more difficulty getting help from a mentor or attention from a higher-up than someone named Brad?
That’s a question that Katherine Milkman, assistant professor of operations and information management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, explored in a study. She says her own experience applying as one of the few female doctoral students in the computer science and economics departments at Harvard University helped inspire her interest in the subject.
The results from her study of more than 6,500 professors at 260 top universities were disheartening, Milkman says, because it was clear that professors often didn’t respond quickly — or at all — to minority students and women with names that revealed their ethnicity and gender compared to a student whose name sounded as if he were a white male.
The only time minority or female students did receive speedy responses from professors was when students cited an immediate deadline in a request, she says.
“When the person had to make a last-minute decision, in that moment the person was more focused on getting the task done and responded right away,” she says.
But if a professor had a week or more to respond to a request, the response time really lagged for minorities and women, she says.
She also notes that some minority groups that experienced “wildly severe discrimination” were Asians and Indians.
Milkman says that minorities and women seeking jobs or perhaps a promotion or big project need to make sure that decision-makers understand their qualifications, they play up their references, and “you leave as little question to your abilities as possible.”
She also suggests trying to close the distance between an applicant and the decision-makers or gatekeepers as much as possible. Use social networking tools such as Facebook or Twitter to become more connected to hiring managers or key personnel. Or bring up the fact that you live in the same neighborhood or city as a way to close the distance with a key person.
“Any distance for a minority is bad,” Milkman says. “Any way you can find to become closer can be helpful.”
Organizations also can learn key lessons from the study, Milkman says.
A company may have a diversity program in place, but it won’t be effective in eliminating bias if all the gateways and gatekeepers aren’t educated about prejudices.
In the case of the professors, they probably were not thinking that their response time indicated bias. But once they are told they must have rules in place to deal with all mentor requests the same way, they can decide whether they will respond to all — or none — of the requests. That eliminates any chance of hidden biases creeping into their decision-making and adversely affecting a student’s ability to succeed, she says.
“We just need to educate about all the pathway moments,” she says. “Organizations have to be attentive and don’t just let people rule by their gut. We have to make sure that rules are race and gender blind.”
Milkman’s research backs up a 2004 study that found white applicants received a 50 percent higher callback rate for job interviews compared to identical black job applicants when resumes indicated an applicant’s race and gender.
While that study identified bias in entry-level jobs, Milkman says her research shows that bias takes place even at higher education levels.

So what can be learned from such information for the workplace today?