Hey Managers: Listen Up

I’ve been lucky. Over the years much of my time has been spent talking to managers and business owners, secure in the knowledge that my voice was being heard. Admittedly, I’ve encountered managers who didn’t listen to a word I said; they were too busy trying to impress me with their own business acumen or, worse yet, just loved the sound of their own voice. However, seven times out of ten, the managers I’ve worked with have been eager to hear my suggestions; they genuinely want to improve their business and they’re willing to consider new ways of doing so, even if it means pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone.

The years I spent consulting were rewarding, but after 15 years, I decided to make a change. I began working on a communications degree — majoring in journalism — while continuing to consult during the summer months.

No sooner had my spring classes ended, then I was invited by a friend of mine to meet with him and his two managers. They wanted to discuss a new business venture they were working on. I agreed and we set up a meeting. A few days later I found myself sitting in the president’s corner office, taking in the impressive view the city’s river pathways and the mountains beyond. After exchanging pleasantries and lamenting the cloudy, rainy weather, the four of us – my colleague, the president and the vice-president – sat down around a small circular table to discuss the situation. My colleague sat silently beside me while management outlined their goals for the new venture.

After taking some notes and asking some questions, I felt the time was right to start making suggestions and outlining a course of action. The president had suggested a number of great ideas; however, there was one particular idea that could potentially cause serious problems in the future it was implemented. As tactfully as possible, I pointed out the potential pitfalls of the president’s idea and suggested an alternative course of action. Next, I referenced other well-known organizations that had successfully used a similar approach. Finally, I outlined the benefits of my approach and the risks of ignoring it. Having made my case, it was now up to management to make a decision. They made it quickly. The president said, “You’ve made some good points. I think your ideas fit with the direction we want to go”. Awesome. They would implement my suggestion.

We wrapped up a few minor details, discussed next steps and then concluded the meeting. My colleague walked me out of the office and accompanied me down to the lobby on the main floor where we said goodbye.

As I walked back to my car, which was parked a few blocks away, I thought about how well the meeting had gone. When they spoke, I listened, and when I spoke they reciprocated. It was an exchange of ideas amongst equals with the purpose of solving problems. I found myself motivated. These managers had respected my opinions and now I wanted to prove my worth. I wanted to prove that their trust was well placed.

Unfortunately, not all managers take the time to listen and truly consider the ideas proposed by their employees.  In other cases, managers pay lip service to employees by asking for suggestions but then ignoring their replies. Because of this, many employees simply stop sharing their opinions. A recent study conducted in 2011 and published by the Journal of Business Ethics, suggests not listening to employees also tends to increase conflict in the workplace. According to the study, “disgruntled employees took out their frustrations on co-workers because they feared losing their jobs or experiencing other reprisals if they challenged their managers.”

The disadvantages of shutting out employees, and ignoring their suggestions can damage, and even destroy morale in the workplace. In a competitive economy, businesses cannot afford to have unhappy, unproductive employees.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Employees whose managers paid attention were more likely to offer input and got along better with one another, thereby improving the organization’s morale and functioning as a whole.

Employee engagement consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have gathered empirical evidence supporting the concept that happy workers are more productive. In their new book All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results, Gostick and Elton make a convincing case. They looked at data from over 700 companies and found the ones that were most successful had employees that were “engaged, enabled and energized” – something the authors refer to as E+E+E.

Engaged, enabled and energized was exactly how I felt after my meeting. Knowing that my ideas are heard and considered — and occasionally implemented – keeps me motivated and enthusiastic about my job.  As the research indicates, happy employees are more productive. Admittedly, listening to employees is just one of the many factors involved in keeping employees happy, but it might just be the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to do so. That’s advice worth listening to.

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Wedding, Willing and Able: A Guide for Novice Wedding Photographers

It’s more than a hobby – better to call it an obsession. Not only are you passionate about photography, you’re talented too. In fact, you’ve spent the last six months impressing your friends with artistic photos of ornamental orchids, snow-covered spruce trees and that rambunctious baby gorilla at the zoo. Now your best friend Sherry has asked you to put your brand new Canon EOS 60D to use at her wedding this spring.  She has even offered to pay you $500.00. Thinking this fair, you’ve agreed, despite the fact that you have no experience taking wedding photos. You’re a bit apprehensive, but don’t fret. I know what you’re going through. I made so many mistakes during my first wedding assignment I vowed never to do another. In the years that followed, however, I gave weddings another chance. Since then, I’ve photographed dozens of weddings and during that time I’ve learned many useful lessons. A few simple strategies make all the difference between success and failure. If you want to take amazing photos while avoiding common pitfalls, just follow these simple rules.

Be prepared for a long day of work. A typical wedding assignment will include: photographing the bridal party as they prepare, the arrival of guests before the ceremony, and the actual ceremony. Afterwards, you may be asked to stay for the reception, which can last well into the night. Believe me, if you try to do this in formal shoes, your feet will feel like lead weights by the end of the day, so wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  I recommend black Nike trainers. They’ll keep your feet comfortable and won’t look out of place with dress pants. My photographer friend Derrick summed it up nicely: “Shooting a wedding is like running a marathon. You‘ve got to pace yourself and keep your energy up if you expect to make it to the finish line.” With so much to keep track of, it’s easy to forget about eating. If you do, your stomach will let you know about it. Avoid a gastronomic gaffe by snacking on high-energy foods such as protein bars, granola bars or trail mix.  God forbid your stomach gurgles audibly in the hushed silence before the bride says, “I do.” In addition, it’s important to keep hydrated. Packing heavy camera equipment will cause you to sweat and dehydrate, so bring bottled water (or better yet Gatorade) and drink regularly. By being physically prepared you can more readily focus on your primary task: taking great photos.

Get up close and personal. Famous photographer Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Don’t be afraid to cozy up to your subject. You might obscure the view of the guests who are trying to snap a photo, but remember: you’re getting paid to get the big shots. If you have to block the view of the audience to capture that magical moment when the bride and groom kiss, so be it. Do whatever it takes. When it’s impossible to be in close proximity, use a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm, as it will allow you to zoom in from across the room. By being close, you’ll improve the creative quality and intimacy of your images.

Finally, don’t forget to manage expectations. When the wedding is over, Sherry and her new husband Greg will be itching to see the photos. They’re sure to exclaim, “I can only imagine the photos you get with that amazing camera of yours!” as if it’s all about the camera. You may indeed have some excellent images, but never let on. Downplay their expectations by saying, “The lighting was very difficult, but hopefully we got a few really nice ones.” Once expectations are lowered, your friends will be that much more astounded and amazed by the number of winning shots you captured despite the odds being stacked against you.

Being a first-time wedding photographer is not easy, but if you follow these simple rules, you and your clients will be pleased with the results. When Sherry and Greg finally see the photos of their first kiss, or the moment he slipped the ring on her finger, they will know they made the right decision hiring you and lavish you with praise. Within a few weeks your phone will be ringing off the hook as referrals come pouring in. Engaged couples will be lining up to have you shoot their wedding. They will say, “Sherry and Greg can’t stop talking about how happy they are with your photos. Would you be interested in doing our wedding this autumn?” Being in high demand, your rates will naturally increase over time. Many top wedding photographers charge as much as $4,500 for the day. With your newfound capital you’ll be able to afford that shiny new lens you saw at The Camera Store. And when you print your new business cards, don’t be afraid to add the word ‘professional’ to your title. You’ve earned it.