Improving Performance

I had never seen the polls so crowded. As I gave my name to get a ballot, I noticed two strange-looking women with clipboards hovering over the table. They didn’t look like they belonged, and they were obviously paying attention.

I asked the woman who gave me the ballot who they were. She was noticeably embarrassed, and said in a barely audible voice, “checkers.” They smiled at me, as if they were in control, and I rolled my eyes. As I looked for an empty booth, I had a strong feeling which way any irregularities that came their way would be decided.

The reason these women looked so out of place was they were not dressed professionally. The pierced nose and other accoutrements revealed their agenda. I would think “checkers” should at least look objective. We all have feelings and preferences, but wearing them on our sleeves dramatically reduces the numbers of people we can credibly deal with.

Our country and our state are essentially divided. The presidential and gubernatorial campaigns were long and bitter, and it will be very difficult to reunite us for anything worthwhile. The politicians were surprised at something they’re calling the morality vote – large groups of people who really didn’t vote for one side or the other; they voted for traditional morality.

Their rejection of abortion, gay marriages and other controversial issues are not casual opinions but the response of deeply held beliefs. As a result, their feelings toward those who would advance such issues may not be kind. In fact, such issues are deep-seated on both sides and not likely to go away.

Most workplaces are amalgamations of people from different beliefs and cultures. Diversity can help us be more creative, but it doesn’t always help us work as a team. I have seen instances when people, even managers, would hardly speak with each other, but they didn’t mind speaking about each other, and it was seldom complimentary.

No doubt it’s difficult to work closely with someone who is constantly “in your face” with the antithesis of what you believe and value. The old maxim, “Never discuss religion or politics at work,” had a reason, and although we are all entitled to our own beliefs, relentlessly trying to display them can be offensive to others.

Of all the virtues, consideration for others is one of the most important. You don’t have to become like me, but please, if I’m not trying to continuously inundate you with my morality, please don’t inundate me with yours. If I spare you the details of my lifestyle, is it too much to expect the same?

This does not mean we should all become faceless, colorless automatons, hiding our uniqueness. It does mean we should spare others the details they might find offensive, especially when there is nothing to be gained from sharing.

Whether we think of the Patriots in the Super Bowl or the Red Sox in the World Series, teamwork made the difference. It is usually a part of superior performances, and winning customers in this competitive world requires increasingly better performances. Unfortunately, deeply held resentments are not the sort of things that can be removed by one of those “now hear this” memos or speeches.

A holiday campaign

On a beautiful day in April 1979, I started at Digital’s Salem facility. One of the engineers in our group was dying of cancer. He had been out for two years on long-term disability, and when that ran out, they put him back on the payroll. He never went without a paycheck or benefits as long as he lived.

I never met the man, but each of us worked a few extra hours a week to cover for him. I remember thinking this is the kind of place I’d like to work for the rest of my life. Indeed, I only left when they stopped being that kind of company.

Digital had a very diverse workforce, and we were taught to appreciate diversity. Sometimes it got in the way, but it often was beneficial. Even so, I believe it was such philanthropic efforts that united us. We may not have agreed on everything, but the company had a way of getting us to work together on the things on which we did agree. In the process, we usually noticed the “bad folks” weren’t so bad after all.

If your workplace is divided, even subtly, after this election, it’s something you may want to consider. People may not be openly hostile, but the jokes and innuendoes tell a lot.

Maybe what you need is a campaign of some sort – something everyone would want to support. In fact, it’s just the right time of year to get in the holiday spirit and support a worthwhile cause. The best thing is not just to get people to donate money or things, but to get them involved, working with each other, perhaps distributing food to those less fortunate or some other worthwhile cause.

What does that have to do with running a business? If your vision, mission statement, management team and other resources aren’t getting people to work effectively together, you need something more. Few things unite us better than working together to help others. Try it. You may find it does a lot more for you than the holiday party.

Happy holidays!

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States as well as in 12 nations in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 898-1871; fax 894-6539;;

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