Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The (Im)Perfect Manager's Big Link Round Up!

Some of these will be old favorites, others will be new. All are interesting and have interesting components that apply to managing or being managed or thinking about communication (a major component of management).

A oldie but goody, Why You Need a Project Manager

The County Library. Seriously. I live in WA State, in King County. The King Country Library allows you to view materials online; they have an entire series related to tech and web work that you can look up and get immediate access to if you have a library card. Almost all libraries online have access to technical books, for free. Yes, you can always use Google, but some people prefer the structure of a book and the ease of a single index on a single topic to answer that one question that's been haunting them. This is a great resource for any employee who might need immediate help with SharePoint or .Net or how fly fishing works for a specific column requiring primary sources.

A visual Study Guide to Cognitive Biases: This stuff is GREAT! It basically gives shape to the currently known biases to standard every day thinking and clues about what to do if you encounter them.

The Talents of a Middle-Aged Brain discusses the difference in the way brains work between younger and older brains; you can extrapolate what will keep people with those brains enticed with their specific work and its an overall interesting read for your own ongoing brain health.

A visual Study Guide to Cognitive Biases: Cognitive biases are the reasons that information is processed differently individual to individual. In addition to knowing your own--and how that might affect data you are learning or teaching--its important to know how these biases can affect employees, co-workers, peers, and upper management. It basically gives shape to the currently known biases to standard every day thinking and clues about what to do if you encounter them.

Related, the You Are Not So Smart coverage of Confirmation Bias: On the whole, I find the You Are Not So Smart pages to be a bit on the stuck up side, despite the fact they frequently have really good information. They challenge the way you think, which can help you challenge the way other people think. Just, you know, try not to be obnoxious about it.

The Project Management Alliance Tips on giving presentations: most of this, like most communication lists of suggestions, are fairly easy to intuit on your own. Which is surprising, given the number of people (myself included) who often fail to follow simple rules. Oh, and there are all kinds of prescriptions for presentations (I've even done a whole Bonus Blog on it myself). The gist is, expose yourself to various methods of communicating through presentation, and then use the tips that work best for you for the best presentation.

Brain Images Show Actions Associated With Courage: From the article itself "Our results propose an account for brain processes and mechanisms supporting an intriguing aspect of human behavior, the ability to carry out a voluntary action opposite to that promoted by ongoing fear, namely courage." Not your normal management reading material, this article describes the experiment and the conclusions of how courage and fear work together in the body and suggest (in the last paragraph) methods of encouraging courage in individuals. Who wouldn't want that for their team?

A Neuroscientist Uncovers a Dark Secret: This is the first of the articles on the NPR site about a book called "The Psychopath Test." I found the articles and the book FASCINATING; they map out correlations between business behavior generally accepted to be good and effective to anti-social behavior often found in the 1 percent of the population that are psychopaths. Further, it explores the fact that powerful people--CEO's, Chairmen of Boards, basically successful business people--tend to score higher on the Psychopath test than the rest of society. It adds dimensions to looking at the people you work with, in terms of understanding what they might be looking to get out of interactions, but also to curb enthusiasm for the cut throat world of business and to concentrate (I say this very selfishly) on the tenants I espouse here, of building the people below you and at your level up, so that they will raise you up...and maybe protect you from the psychopaths out there.

Another from the PM Alliance, Being a Good Mentor: I like to read the
PM Alliance articles; not all of them are useful, but sometimes they have some real gems (other times they have things like "putting on a tie will make you seem more professional" which is sort of like listening to John Madden say "If he scores a touch down, they'll make some points." Um, duh). This is a pretty good one, especially if its the first time you are getting into the driver seat to mentor someone.

The exploration of group fusion in Would You Give Your Life For Your Group? provides insight to strongly associated groups and group dynamics. Not something you can immediately transfer to work ("Hey, team, would you throw yourself in front of a trolley for our team or Bob's team?"), but worth considering when contemplating group think and team building.

The Anosognosic's Dilemma: This is not just entertaining, but it also shows that competence is in the eye of the beholder. Even if the beholder isn't particularly paying attention. The basic concept is that many people over estimate their skills, and, because they don't have that skill level, are unable to understand why they fail at tasks where they assume they have the best skills possible; effectively, why they rationalize things when the simple answer to the problem is themselves. It's fascinating reading, and this is only part 1.

Finally, a revisit of the Monkey Business Illusion. The basic concept is that you can be so trapped in the weeds of a project, so close to it, that you miss things...like a giant monkey walking right through. Click to the old blog then click the video of the experiment itself. Even when you know the man in the monkey suit is coming through, you sometimes miss him.

This is just a sampling of reading materials I've had hanging about that I re-read or was getting ready to read. I read a lot. Psychology, communication, project management, management books and articles...they aren't my primary form of reading relaxation, but I try to keep up with them because as a manager the techniques you learn from someone else could some day be your own successful techniques. The wonder of the world is that it is constantly changing, that information is basically free to acquire, and research is being published constantly that can entertain you, as well as help make you and your team better at your respective jobs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Paper Tigers - Making the Decision to Help Move Difficult People

Sometimes doing your job is easy. You go to work. You send emails, you attend meetings. Sometimes its not. Sometimes its not easy because of Paper Tigers--basically, people who, on paper, can effectively cock block you (and possibly others) in getting your job done. In person, they range from sweet and kind to cunning and dictatorial to just plain incompetent and unaware.

Whatever their reasons, these Paper Tigers make work twice as hard to get through, as you work around them, or meet their weird requirements to work through them, or have to stop and back up when they suddenly unapprove a decision they'd approved the previous week.

There are lots of reasons people become Paper Tigers. Whatever the reason, however, they are the sorts that you either work them, or you work around them or you don't get anything done.

As far as I have seen, these folks become stumbling blocks on the road to getting things done for three possible reasons: 1) Insecurity 2) It is their nature be extremely detail oriented/try to do the best job possible, no matter if their definition matches yours or not, 3) They have an agenda.

Note: no Paper Tiger is limited to just one of these (they can have combos), and this probably doesn't cover every reason that someone might stumble across your path and stop you.

Insecurity (1) is a very loaded word. Some people are new to a role and trying to figure it out--this includes determining the reach of their own power, to trying to make sure other folks already in the game aren't taking advantage of them. Insecurity also encompasses people who are worried about their jobs or threatened by you and what you are trying to get done. A lot of people who are insecure don't admit that insecurity to themselves; it shows up as blustery, power-grabby, hand-in-every-pie behavior. These are the kind of Paper Tigers you are most likely to work around, as there's rarely any good reason for the behavior beyond making themselves feel better and, typically, that's not your job (or your team's job).

The nature of a person (2) can be influenced by agenda or insecurity, but there are honestly people out there set to do the best job possible because that's just how they are. It's how they've gotten where they are in life. These folks may be breaking up your rythm and blocking your ability to get things done, but you can see if this is truly a detail oriented/gifted worker by looking at the reasons you're blocked; if it's by-the-book work that stops you, then despite the fact it feels like they are riding the brakes on your project, they really are doing you a good turn in preventing you from getting in trouble in the future. Annoying as any other Paper Tiger, these are the best kind to have, and the least likely you'll want to work around.

Finally, a person with an agenda (3) can have one because he/she is insecure (and often does), but often it has nothing to do with you, the project, or their immediate feelings about the work. It's hard to fathom all the various agendas people have. Some are lazy, so they make you fill out that request form for EVERY LITTLE THING. Some are busy, and the way to reduce their work is make you fill out the request for for every little thing. Some want to help you, but have bosses that will penalize them--and you--if you don't fill out a request form for every little thing, and their agenda doesn't include being penalized for you or anyone else. Some people might want your job; oftentimes, they don't give a darn about you or your job, they want something completely outside of your sphere of influence, but stopping, halting, or otherwise slowing the progress of your work (or your team's work) helps them in some way to achieve this goal. These are the types of folks you who evenly can be worked around or worked with. If you can spot the goal they're trying to achieve and it's not against your own interests, it can make working with them a snap. Of course, if they are working against you (accidentally, incidentally, etc.), then working around them becomes your only option.

Now that we've looked at the types of Paper Tigers out there, let's look at some approaches for handling them.

Normally when you have a problem or an issue with someone, as adults we're taught that, instead of hitting people and/or taking their candy, we should use our words. Generally you find out about an issue in a meeting or via email or IM and then you talk to that person. This is really the conversation that will set the stage for further action (though you will have other conversations with this person).

If they are blocking because they are not comfortable or can't give a definitive answer beyond "I need more time," then their reasons for blockage are generally suspect to me. If they won't release a resource under their control or refuse to let the process move through a specific phase without further information, while I'm still suspicious, there's good reasons involved that should be tracked down and explored. If they won't release a resource under their control or refuse to let the process move forward for very specific reasons that those items don't map back to their agenda (which, I note, rarely will people say, "That not part of my agenda," so you're looking for trends in activities that give you the clue that this is not mapping to their agenda, say, of taking over the sales department), then you have a pretty good clue that the motivations are not necessarily perfect, but could be made to serve your needs if you can map things to their agenda.

How do you determine, for sure, what type of Tiger you're dealing with? The only one that can really, eventually, be sussed out is the Paper Tiger that is doing the best job they can. Over time, their actions, again and again, will map to an attention to detail and to get the job done, not just in a timely fashion, but right. Everyone else is a matter of asking questions, keeping track of their behavior, and trying to stay on their good side while you try to determine how to get what they want so they'll help you (or what you can do so you don't have to rely on their help). Basically, the answer to finding out what you're dealing with is time, patience, and observation.

In the meantime, standard protocol for dealing with a blocking person or issue is pretty much the same:

1) Talk to the person. Find out what the problem is.
2) Solve the problem.
3) Try to move forward
4) If blocked, talked to the person again.
5) Resolve that problem
6) Repeat until/unless you reach a point where you cannot solve the problem because it's been constructed in such a way as it is unsolvable.
7) Talk to the person about that.
8) If that doesn't resolve things, escalate (I've done some blog entries on escalation)

In the "solve the problem" portion of the instructions, one assumes the problem is solveable. For example, it's blocked because legal must review it. You get legal to review it. If it's blocked because "I need more time to review it" you're probably moving into step 6. If you successfully solve the problem to the satisfaction of the agenda seeker or detailed professional, additional blockages tend to not recur. If you successfully solve the problem for an insecure individual, you may have a much longer path to go unless you can find a way that solves the problem and makes them feel better about themselves and the work they are doing.

The point of this Paper Tiger discussion is that you WILL run into people that WILL block you. They might do it once or twice, but typically Paper Tigers repeat; same project or future ones. These are the folks that other people dread including in meetings. These are the people they never tell you about when you're being promoted to a manager, whether its a project manager or a people manager. But these folks exist. Knowing how and why they tick will give you insight into getting them to tick outside of your way. And sometimes, just sometimes, you can turn a Paper Tiger in a really productive member of your project/team/group by looking for their motivations and giving them what they need, so they'll help you get what you need.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Communication and Your Team

I talk about in my earlier onboarding post, that you need to let new hires in on all the methods of communication your team users: IM, shared drives or web sites, email aliases, meetings, etc.

See, teams are comprised of humans; humans do not respond consistently from human to human. Their backgrounds, the immediacy of a potentially bad roast beef sandwich, a stronger proclivity to visual learning...all kinds of stuff affect an individual human and their ability to be consistent in behavior with other humans. Some employees complain that they aren't even technically human until they've had their first cup of coffee in the day.

Somehow, the groupings of humans that comprise your team need to form some consistency in terms of communication that span all the differences and either mitigate those differences or utilize them. For example, for folks not actually fit for human consumption until after their first cup of coffee, either scheduling group meetings later in the morning, providing coffee at early meetings, or checking in with said non-human and putting a cuppa Joe in their hands (or delegate and have some other helpful soul work with you on this).

But aside from personal preference and humor in general, people on the team need to talk to each other and to you. They need to know what options are available besides shouting "Hey You" or dropping by your cube. They need to know whom they can talk to, for example, if their issue is with you personally, or if they need privacy to discuss and issue, or if it's just a matter of trying to find someone on the team who happens to know about the sepcifics of a certain kind of source control.

Often, a team is formed in one of two ways: 1) someone gets nominated to be a manager for a team already in existence or one that has members that are already chosen and may be adding more or 2) from scratch--no members but the manager have been hired and the manager has to fill out the team.

If you're starting from scratch, you can start with just making up the communication. Once you start getting more than two people on a team, however, you need to take into account preferred methods of working and communication as well as the good of the whole team, and derive ways to communicate and keep track of communications. This can be complicated, further, if your team is not co-located. In this case just yelling to someone else is really not an option (though you can certainly try it until other people in the office complain).

This means that, starting from scratch or inheriting a team or partial team, you'll probably do similar steps. These are my suggestions:

1) You must have an immediate method of communication
2) You must have a method of tracking/storing decisions and artifacts
3) 1&2, while possibly not the most favorite methods ever engaged by your entire team, should be accepted and agreed upon by the team (or they won't use them)
4) In addition to ways to communicate and store communication, you need group-agreed upon norms about communication...things like "not talking over each other" or "how to settle a dispute."

How you achieve this list is best determined by talking to your team. Most people, for example, are fine with email for instant communication, but some prefer instant messaging or walking over to other people/picking up the phone. You don't have to have one exclusive method for (1) above, but you should have only one for method for (2). This means that, whatever you and the team decide upon for instant communication, there's also a method for storing that communication and being able to search it and utilize it later.

I'm relatively loose about (2)--if there was a perfect storage and recovery system for team communications and artifacts, I'd be using it. Or have invented it and be on that tropical island I like to talk about. It depends on your team and people outside your team, as well; if you want to use, for example Sharepoint to store this information, and your company doesn't have it, that has to be worked out. If you want to use an internal share, and you're working with large files, you're not just affecting your own team.

As for (3) getting agreement from the team doesn't just mean having a meeting, telling them, and then asking if there are any questions or objections. If you have a vocal person, you might get an objection; otherwise, if they don't like it, they just won't use it. You need to talk to them about what they've used before at other places, what works for them, etc. For example, some software will allow you to check in documents and artifacts by emailing an alias; this might be a bit easier for some than copying and pasting to a shared drive.

Finally, developing norms (4)--I've talked a lot about it in earlier posts, so I'll hit the highlights here: if it's not normal to write down decisions, they won't get recorded. If it's normal to talk over each other so that not everyone is heard, you'll lose valuable experience you specifically hired for, and you'll get frustrated people who are less productive. You need the team to act as a team--not a group of people to whom you give orders--and they will create and police these norms themselves.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Don't Sue Me Stuff: The other Isms -- Race, Age, Religion

When you become a manager, it isn't terribly often that someone sits down and carefully explains all the liability and responsibility you've accepted in so doing. A lot of the time they assume you just know (especially if you've managed people before).

This series of articles isn't about everything that could possibly happen, and it's not legal advice in ANY way. It's just sort of a heads up about what you may have gotten yourself into.

Today's Topic: Isms - Race, Gender, Age, Religion

What happens when an employee tells you that he thinks the person you're considering to hire is too young and immature for the position? What about trying to hire for a 3 year gig and someone who is 64 years and totally qualified applies? What do you do when people start making stereotypical statements along race lines--such as the fact that white men have no athletic ability? Or folks assume the Jewish descendent in your team is better at math? What if you have folks who won't go to team lunches because their religion prohibits the consumption of most meat products? What if you have someone who is a die hard vegan spouting things like "murder" whenever one of your other team members takes a bite of a hamburger? What do you do when you have a strict observing Atheist and a strict observing alternative religion and the two conflict (ie: how do you react walking into the office to find the atheist explaining there is no god and that religion is a myth for clueless people to a person whose face is already purple because he is a devout follower of a religion)? How do you handle religious holidays both observed by your company and those that are not?

In previous blogs regarding not being sued, we've covered sexual harassment, gender issues, disability and medical issues. Often gender issues also fall under the "isms" section, but since they've had a place of honor already, we're just going to cover three other really big topics of potential doom and destruction in the workplace: Race, Age, and Religion.

Per Dictionary.com, Ageism is a noun defined as 1) discrimination against persons of a certain age group and 2) a tendency to regard older persons as debilitated, unworthy of attention, or unsuitable for employment.

I have been guilty, in the past, of walking out of an interview to talk to my boss and other teammates and saying, "He's pretty young." What I meant was "He's pretty green and lacks experience." The first statement could be used to sue me for not hiring the individual. The second is A-Okay. My boss quickly schooled me in such things, and so I give you the benefit of his wisdom here today: don't mention age or maturity in an assessment of personal growth regarding anyone. Not in reviews, not in interviews, and not in jokes.

You can say that someone's coding skills are immature, but you can't say their interpersonal skills are immature. Well, you can, but you should avoid it because that's shaky ground. Obviously it depends on where you work (state, county, country, etc.), but the safest route is to avoid discussion of age or age related ability completely. This also means you cannot ask about age in reviews, interviews, daily conversation. You can ask about experience, however. So, for example, "Johnny, were you alive when the Beatles were big?" is out of bounds, but "Johnny, when did you start project managing and what methodology did you use?" is okay.

This also means, as you may have picked up from my previous Don't Sue Me articles, that you need to watch the rest of the team. No jokes about whether or not the new guy is able to shave yet, for example. Also, no "grandpa" jokes or remarks about the Civil War being in operation during the youth of anyone. And yes, I've been there and had to stamp down on these and many, many more. When teams get cozy and comfortable with each other, they tease. Some teasing is fine and endearing and team building; some is sue-worthy and can actually break up the team building vibe they're trying to put out. Remember, hostile work environments are what people judge them to be, and that judgement can occur well after an innocent-seeming remark. Best to talk to the entire team and put some things off the table in terms of discussion.

This also addresses my concept above about a three year gig for a 64-year-old. What if it's a full time job and the 64-year-old is competing against people in their thirties and forties? A natural tendency is to look at the older person and wonder how long they'll stay in the work force, or how healthy they'll remain during their tenure with you, compared to the other folks going after the same job. 65 is a standard retirement date (though typically not mandatory in the US). As you remember from the medical and disability discussion, you're also not allowed to ask them about their health issues unless they are obviously affecting the actual interview itself, right in front of you.

What you need to do, is compare potential new employees (and existing ones going for specific promotions or transfers to other projects or what-have-you) on an even basis, devoid of concern for race, religion, age, and gender. Which is easier to say than to do, given that even, today, people trying to do that (myself included) often have prejudices built into their evaluation system based on life experience.

To counter those prejudices, it's best to look at things in a strictly pro/con fashion. Review the pros and cons for things that are illegal to discriminate on, and then cross those off.

Note that you can review a person on their expected length of service if you don't base it on age. For example, I worked with a wonderful development lead who tended to work until he had a nice nest egg, then take off a year to do his other passions. I totally respect that and would love to do it myself, but it seriously affected long term planning when considering having him on my team. Paradoxically, just because someone is of retirement age doesn't mean they'll cut and run as soon as they hit 65--a lot of folks get a lot out of working (I define a considerably amount of my self worth by my work, which, if you're following along at home, is not necessarily the healthiest thing), and given recent downturns in the economy, might not be in a position to stop working and take a vacation, let alone retire (as someone much younger might be able to do with help from family or the fact that they have a long work life expected in front of them).

I'd also say that you should note that, while it's illegal to discriminate on age--too young or too old, or whatever--people who are not you, will do so. I don't just mean in your organization, either. Older technology specialists I've talked to have explained that when you start showing twenty or more years of experience, suddenly it's not the benefit it once was...it sometimes seems to affect their ability to get a new gig. From personal experience, I have the pleasure of having looked quite young for my years for several years--as a result, people who didn't see my resume until the interview with me (which is a lot of people, because most people aren't eager to quit their current deadlines and read a document about a person who does not yet work at their company), would assume I didn't have the qualifications for the job because I looked so young...and made the mistake of telling me so. Fortunately for them, I'm not a sue-happy kind of girl. I am happy, however, to point to multiple lines in my resume to get them on board and back on topic with why I'm there.

I mention the prejudice of other groups outside your own because ageism is the kind of ism that, while bad if you practice it, can be good if you don't (you know, besides the "not being sued" thing); you get loyal employees who work hard for you if you are blind to things that other people haven't been.

For example, I hired a lovely Chinese lady when I was in my early twenties to work for me in Quality Assurance; she'd had a devil of time, even in a record-low employment rate, getting people to even meet her in person. She had a heavy thick accent that made her hard to understand, and her English construction was non-standard. Her resume, however, rocked my socks. I hired her, and we worked out a system of repeating what we'd heard from the other--which the rest of the team picked up immediately--and she was one of my finest, most tenacious and brilliant testers. She came in extra hours for me, and I bought her a lot of thank you gifts and tried to get her time off for those extra hours. It was synergy. Because I gave her a chance where other people had been prejudiced. This leads nicely into the next section on Racism, which is what she was experiencing.

Racism is defined by Dictionary.com as 1) a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others. 2) a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination. 3) hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

In my example above, the lady I employed was being discriminated against; most people said it was because to do the job of quality assurance she needed clear communication skills. However, after talking to her for ten minutes, it was clear she had them. I have no proof if they were discriminating based on her accent, but it sure seemed like that was the issue; and that's discrimination based on racism.

It is illegal to deny a position, promotion, perk, etc. to someone based on race and/or(and most of the time) on culture. To do so leaves you open to a law suit as well as the company you represent. You can disqualify someone based on the fact that they have poor communication skills, but you need to have specific examples. For example, in one interview, I asked the same question four times of the applicant who never actually answered it once. That was a clear example of communication issues.

It seems unlikely today that if you are reading this blog, you probably aren't going to prevent someone from having a job or promotion or perk because of the color of their skin or the original nationalization of their ancestors. I like to think folks who read this blog are more enlightened. But to clarify: yep, that's illegal.

What's more likely to happen is among the team (and you may fall prey to this yourself). Calling out positive traits associated with race can be construed as racism to those not of that race, or, could even offend those of that race. So, teasing a white person on the team for not being athletic, praising a black person on the team for being an excellent basketball player, and/or assuming a person of Jewish descent is good at math, WITHOUT CORROBORATION NOTED BY YOURSELF OR SOMEONE PRESENT, is racism.

So, if you saw that white person attempt to play baseball and whiff every swing, trip on the way back to the dugout, and generally have trouble putting on their shoes, its tacky to tease them about it, but not racism (as long as you aren't generalizing to all white guys). If you saw the black person on the team play tackle football and lead their team to success, its okay to say they're good at football, but not to generalize to all sports (as that could be construed as racism). Finally, it's never okay to assume that just because someone has a particular nationality in their background that they will be good at anything--so even if the guy of Jewish descent always manages the math for the group lunches, you can't attribute that to his Jewish heritage; you can, however, say that he is personally a math wiz and that you find that awesome.

Religious Discrimination
(okay, not actually an ism, but go with me here)
Religious Discrimination is defined by Wikipedia: valuing or treating a person or group differently because of what they do or do not believe. It then goes on to talk about religious persecution, et all. The gist: religious discrimination is discriminating based on the religious beliefs of an individual or group of individuals.

So, in my above examples, picking only restaurants that mainly serve meat for group lunches could be construed as being religiously discriminatory to folks whose religion prevents the consumption of meat. Also looking at my example above, this does not include people who opt not to eat meat because of reasons other than religion. I worked with an otherwise very nice person who was happy to repeat, as each team member took a bite of meat, that they were contributing to murder on a large scale. While totally uncool, making the only team options primarily meat or burger places is not discriminatory, as she based her dislike of meat on grounds other than religious.

In that particular case, the team spoke with her about not liking to be called murderers. Their concession was to allow her to pick future restaurants for team lunches, so long as the restaurants catered to her needs and those of the folks who did not eat meat and provided some meat options for the rest of the team. We, as a team, ate a lot of pasta, but no one was discriminated against and we were able to move forward, together, as a team.

Having more than one team member (yourself included) can also mean that you may encounter a team with multiple religious practices or beliefs (or none at all). Having managed a team with a die hard atheist, self-proclaimed pagan, two Muslims, and the rest claiming to be "agnostic" but still expecting presents on Christmas, a discussion had to be had to avoid anyone discriminating against anyone. It was a team meeting where we discussed tolerance and no one was asked to talk about their religious beliefs, but were instead asked to discuss how best to be tolerant of everyone's beliefs. The team worked out the rules: people saying "Merry Christmas" were not being disrespectful and that was okay, as was Happy Holidays, or Happy Winter Holidays. No overt religious symbology of any sort was used in the team group areas (we had to all agree on a holiday tree, but no angels, for example). When we were done everyone was allowed to discuss things with me as the team manager, or my direct supervisor, if they were uncomfortable. No one took me up on it and we settled into a very tolerant process that lasted for the entire project.

Note, just because you cannot discriminate on religion doesn't mean you cannot show an interest, which was a tacit part of our tolerance discussion. So, if someone really wanted to know why the atheist was an atheist and they instigated the discussion by asking, the atheist was free to express his beliefs in a polite manner. Likewise, when one of the folks asked us about Christmas celebrations and why the tree, etc. people were allowed to answer back. The important part, to avoid a discrimination issue in the future, was that everyone had to be very polite, and, for security, typically asked at least one more person to be part of the conversation; like sexual harassment, its always possible to realize later you were offended by something religiously discriminating and the team agreed that having an impartial person present for each of these discussions met their needs to keep discussion open an alive, but reduce the chance of misunderstandings and lawsuits.

Finally, your company probably has specific days off around traditional country holidays--Thanksgiving, near Christmas, etc. Also, you may have employees that celebrate other holidays, like the Holiday of Lights, which may not specifically have days reserved on the company calendar. When in doubt, talk to your HR person about what to do. Typically they're going to suggest allowing that holiday observance off for your employee, though they may ask to trade a holiday day from one of the other observed holidays for that time. But, each case is unique, and your Human Resources department will know what's specific to your company policy.

So there you have it: racism, ageism and religious discrimination(ism). Typically you think you know what these are, but I hope I've provided some examples that might sneak up on you. As always, when in doubt talk to your boss and the human resources department, but the general rule of thumb to walk away with is not to discriminate against anyone for any reason other than actual hard, facts to which you can point.

First ever missed post

Last week's post did not go up automatically, mostly because Blogger is confused about what "12" versus "2012" is. Meantime I couldn't remember if this was the correct post or the Presents post, so a combination of technology and occasional cluelessness has won the day here.

My apologies. Since this recent one is going up so late, no new post until next Tuesday (unless the Bonus Blog spirit strikes me).