Half-Baked

Gloria didn’t need the work. Recently retired, she would be solvent in her retirement if she spent carefully. However, extra money never hurt and the job looked interesting. It would also get her out of the house.

The job was with a local bakery. While it had a couple of locations, it wasn’t one of the big chains in the area, which attracted her. The bakery billed itself as ‘gourmet’, which usually meant that they charged premium prices for their goods. She applied to the want ad and was contacted by the owner of the locations.

Gloria had experience baking. She had her own successful cake business for several years until she found working that and her regular job just too exhausting. She also had experience in corporate America, giving her the skills to prepare for the interview with the owner by ensuring she had a portfolio of her baking, her resume up to date, and a great attitude coming from her lips.

The owner met her in one of the locations. A pleasant younger woman, she looked tired. She explained she had been working in the stores more than she should because, “Well, I just can’t seem to keep anyone for any amount of time”. She looked over Gloria’s portfolio and admitted she was impressed by what she saw. Carefully, the owner told Gloria this would not be a baking job, but more of greeting customers, fulfilling orders, and other jobs like that, though she would try to find time to utilize her baking skills. It all sounded good to Gloria.

Then the tough question came. What rate of pay did Gloria want. She was prepared for this and wasn’t going to ask for an outrageous hourly wage. Instead, she asked for something reasonable for the market.

This was greeted by a frown by the owner. She explained that her chef made that amount, but her counter help made much less. Gloria asked what that hourly rate was, and had to hide her shock at the answer. It was pretty much minimum wage, which the owner made clear was about all she ever paid the counter help.

Gloria professionally and politely informed the owner that the job wasn’t for her at that rate, which the owner took in stride. “That’s too bad, because you would have been wonderful.”, the owner admitted. “It’s puzzling to me that I can’t seem to get good people to stay.”, Gloria heard the owner say to one of the employees as she left the shop.

We justifiably cheer for the small business owner. They are the backbone of the business community. We sympathize with their struggles and all the hurdles they have to overcome. We understand that they can’t compete with the big box stores in benefits and other areas. So, when they say they can’t pay a higher rate, we understand. They need to make a profit to stay in business, don’t they?

What is puzzling is that these same owners express confusion when an employee leaves for a better paying opportunity. It shouldn’t. If you look at it that we are all in the business of ourselves, then we are all small business owners. If you had the opportunity to raise your own profits, you would? Why then are you confused when your employees take the opportunity to raise their own profits?

You have a vision for the business you lead. Your mistake is that you expect everyone else to share that vision and be willing to sacrifice to make that business viable. As a leader, you need to understand that isn’t going to happen unless you make that happen. You need to give your people a reason to stay.

You also need to understand that people need to be in the business of themselves. That may mean a small setback for your plans for your business by giving more to your employees. If you are unwilling or unable, then you have to expect your employees to do what is best for them. All the sighing in the world won’t help. Rethinking your goals will.

According to Gallup, the cost of onboarding an employee is one and a half times their salary. How much is that costing you in poor service to existing customers, the cost of customers leaving to follow that employee, and lost opportunity for you to grow your business because you are working the register? What is that in comparison to a higher wage?

In the end, it will be up to the leader to decide what is more costly to them. However, if you have a steady stream out the door for higher wages, it may not be them. It may be you and your fiscal policy.

…And Then the Conversation Changed

You had to hand it to the CEO. Even though it was in the midst of the pandemic, he didn’t have to give a weekly update to the company. It was something he wanted to do and believed he owed to the staff. It had been difficult for the staff. They had faced temporary pay cuts, seeing colleagues furloughed, and a workload that skyrocketed not only because of the furloughs but the additional work the company heaped upon them in order to stay afloat.

You also had to congratulate him for not just addressing the company, but also taking questions via a chat function each week. Further, you had to admire the man for not only taking the questions, but for surviving the questions. Some of the questions asked of the CEO were eye rolling, filled with petty requests that didn’t recognize the situation that the company was in, but rather almost sounded like children pushing a parent for more and more candy. The CEO handled these well, even when his direct reports didn’t handle them as well as they should.

And example of this was one question asked of him during these calls. The question, about whether the company might consider granting an additional vacation day or two for the employees who were working admittedly long hours to keep the company going. In most of these cases, the CEO would politely say it was not a topic for consideration and move on to the next question. In this case, the CEO passed it to his top HR person. Her answer changed the conversation.

Instead of just saying it was not being considered, the HR person said that she would like to see the employees take the days they already had. She then passed the conversation back to the CEO. Adding insult to injury, this response we mimicked by others in the C level when asked the question. No matter who said it, the response did not go over well.

What was the problem? It was in what was said, not the underlying issue. In saying that employees should take the days they already have, it implied that the C level had no idea of the amount of extra work, the amount of extra hours, and the amount of sacrifice the employees of the company were expending in order to keep the company afloat. Many could not take a day off for fear of what their inbox would look like the next day. Others mentioned their managers strongly discouraged the taking of a vacation day for fear of what their team or department would look like to upper management.

Beyond that, the response showed a simple lack of appreciation. Many of the other ‘suggestions’ from the CEO’s call were monetary based. Can we get our cut salary back? Can we get a higher bonus for the work we are doing? Can you pay for the four staples I used while working at home during the crisis. This wasn’t. While there was a monetary component to it, namely lost revenue due to lost work, it was an important non-monetary way to express the appreciation of the management of the company for the sacrifice being forced upon their people. By refusing to even consider it, and saying so in such an offhand way, the C level was saying that they were happy to express their appreciation verbally, but putting any action behind it was not something they wished to consider. That changed the conversation from saying, “We’re all in this together.” to “It’s one thing to have you sacrifice and another thing to have the company do the same.”

Over the next few weeks there were clarifications and explanations, but the damage had been done. Lower level leaders of the company understood and would give an extra day to their people or tell the staff not to charge a day of vacation to the official time keeping application. Even the C level seemed to get the message and began making some other concessions, like vacation carry overs, which were appreciated by the staff. Still, the memory of that response stuck in the mind of many employees, even those who would roll their eyes at some of the more whining complaints of their co-workers.

Especially in times of crisis, leadership needs to tread a fine line of asking for shared sacrifice and showing appreciation to those who answer the call. Doing this successfully will add to the camaraderie of the company and encourage the employees to give what they can, when they can, to get through the crisis. When you draw that line in the dirt between words and action, your employees will do the same. When you show you are ignorant of their actions, you risk revolt.

You as a leader need to erase the lines, foster understanding, and breed compassion. Otherwise, you give your employees no reason to do anything but what you are modeling.

The 27% Heart

During the pandemic, many companies have tried to show they are concerned about their customers. Whether giving extra time to pay bills, rebates on insurance premiums, or offering low or no interest financing on larger purchases, these companies are trying to balance staying in business with showing care towards the plights of their customers, who may be working on reduced pay or not have a job at all.

Then there is Financer X. Financer X is the bank behind a store-based credit card. You know the type. Your favorite department store has a credit card, but it is not serviced by the store, but by the bank who actually extends the credit offer.

Henry had accepted an offer from the department store to finance the purchase of a piece of furniture. The offer was no interest to pay off the piece of furniture at no interest if the payments were made in a certain amount of time. Henry took the offer and budgeted accordingly to pay off before the 27% interest the card charged took effect.

During the pandemic, Henry was fortunate enough to continue work, but his employer had informed him and his fellow staffers that they would be getting a pay cut. It was either everyone took the cut or some staffers would have to be furloughed. With this in mind, Henry began looking at every bill that came into the house to ensure he did not overdraw his checking account balance.

Looking at the statement from Financer X, Henry was pleased to see he had only one more payment on the piece of furniture. Ensuring he wasn’t making any mistakes, and he would not have to pay any interest, he read the bill carefully. There his eye caught the following statement by the financing company.

“Our hearts go out to all those who are affected by the pandemic. Please know our call center remains open if you want to make your payment by phone.” End of statement. Well, not quite. There was a reminder that anyone who did not pay their bill in full would be subject to 27% interest as agreed to in their cardmember contract. There was nothing about payment abatement, postponing payments for the unemployed, shifting payments, or interest deferment. Nope. Financer X’s corporate heart bled for all the affected card holders, but was going to do nothing that might affect its bottom line.

As Henry arranged for an automatic payment, he made a mental note. He would not close the account, as that would affect his credit score, but he would not be shopping with Company X or using their credit card at all. It would gather dust in his desk. He would stop all email from the Company and spend his diminished resources elsewhere. Would that have any impact on Financer X or Company X? Possibly. At that fact, Henry thought, “You know, my heart goes out to them.” He promptly cut the card in two.

In times of crisis, it is your actions that people will remember. In a time when people suddenly have their incomes discontinued through no fault of their own, a company can shine through their acts of compassion, or can be tarnished through their acts of selfishness. These decisions come from the company’s leadership.

When that leadership decides to maintain profit over the suffering of their customers, it says a lot about the company and their ideals. The smart company will take a short-term hit to gain the long term benefit of loyal customers who remember the caring and commitment of that leadership. The not-so-smart company will value the next quarter and hope their customers memories are short.

Unless you sell something so unique that your customers cannot get it anywhere else, it is simply good business to show your customers you care. If you don’t demonstrate that, your customers may take their hearts, and their wallets, elsewhere.

Preach and Practice

The message had been clear all during the seminars the company was broadcasting to its franchisees. If they wanted to keep their employees during and after the current recessionary times, they needed to make them feel needed, wanted, and special. Many of the franchisees understood the message, and shared that they were doing just that. They were engaging in one-on-one conversations with their employees, writing notes of appreciation, and doing what they could to keep the spirits up of the employees, either in person or remotely.

What’s more than that, it seemed to be working well. The leadership of the company were receiving positive reviews for both the seminars and the message that was being broadcast. The franchisees were not losing their employees to the competition even when their commissions were lower due to lower sales.

There was only one group who wasn’t practicing these techniques. The leadership of the company itself. Yes, they were regularly sending out an email or having a team web conference and saying how proud they were of the corporate employees, who were working extra hours at reduced pay to keep all these seminar and other events going. However, as for any of the other techniques the company was advocating its franchisee base do, the actions of the company’s leadership was lacking.

Not one employee could say that the leadership had singled them out for an individual email, phone call or personal note expressing their gratitude for the crippling workload, or managing a household budget with a reduced salary, or for getting all their work done when their hours had been reduced. True, their local managers, mostly, had thanked them for their hard work and said they appreciated their extra work. Some of the local management had even said for the employee to take a day off and not declare it as a thank you for the extra time put in. But the senior leadership? Except for the obligatory ‘thank you’ at a company meeting, nothing more seemed to come from their collective creativity to make the employees feel wanted, needed, or appreciated.

As the weeks of onerous hours and little pay wore on, so did nerves, and they were fraying fast. That seemed to be little noticed by leadership, which was always asking for more, expecting more, and even criticizing more when mistakes happened.

A simple fact of life that seems to escape many leaders is that it takes a happy staff to make happy customers. How do you make staff happy? Besides money, most want to be appreciated in some meaningful way. That is not a passing, “Thank you so much” in a company meeting. It is something done for the the employees on a personal level. It is a recognition that the employee has sacrificed part of their lives to make the customer happy. A good leader will understand that and take the time to reach out to the employee to make sure that appreciation is expressed in a why the employee will find special.

The gap between words and action is amplified when you are giving one message to others and then not putting actions to that message yourself. Your message becomes disingenuous when you are not following it yourself. That leads to your employees wondering why they should continue their Herculean efforts when their leaders can’t be bothered to recognize that effort beyond a few measly words said to everyone.

Simply put, when you don’t make an effort to value your employees, what is there to entice your employees to value you or your business?

Make the effort, put in the time, and make the recognition personal. When you do, you’ll see all the words you are throwing at others can actually work for you, too.

What? You Want Us to Give?

It had been a rough month and a half for the company. The recession had already caused the company to cut salaries, furlough employees, and cut benefits. Employees were working long hours to both make up for the work of their furloughed colleagues and to help preserve the company. As the work went into the second month of this, nerves were frayed, tempers short, and personal budgets strained.

The CEO had made it a practice to update the company each week on the status of the business, if there would be any further or extended salary cuts, and when there was going to be some relief. At the end of his remarks, he would take questions typed in by the employees viewing his live address. Over the course of the updates, he had made the following statements in response to questions asked.

  • The money lost from salary cuts would not be returned to employees once business was back to normal
  • Bonuses, which the company used to augment their less-than-fair-market-value salaries, would be very small, and employees better prepare for that
  • There would be no monetary compensation of any kind to thank employees for their herculean struggles

The employee questions were persistent, though. In this particular week, it was suggested that employees get an extra one day or two days off as a bonus for the hours they have put in and the sacrifices they have been forced to make. The CEO pondered that for a few seconds, and then turned the question over to his HR Director, who was also on the call.

The HR Director took a few seconds to reflect upon the question and answered as follows. “I would encourage employees to take the time off they already have”. That was the end of the statement.

The employees couldn’t believe what they heard. First, they were being told that no, they would not be receiving any type of appreciation for the company for the extraordinary work they were doing, for less money and fewer benefits. Second, they were being scolded for not taking off any time in a period where they were working 12-16 hours days just to stay even with their work. There were a chorus of people saying they would be finding a new place to work once this recession ended. Most had fewer reasons to give all they had to keep a business afloat when that same business seemed to care nothing of them.

In order to get through difficult times, leadership needs to have a give-and-take relationship with the employees. The leadership takes from employees during the deepest part of the crisis, but also needs to give something back to the employees to keep them motivated and productive. Saying how proud you are of your employees or giving them a virtual pat on the back is good, but not enough.

By continuously taking and giving nothing, you risk burning out your employees and engendering enough ill will to affect your business even when the good times come back. You risk losing incredible amounts of knowledge, the relationships your employees have created with your customers, and enough social media criticism of your company to make potential candidates think twice about working there.

Good leadership knows practicing all take and no give causes losses all around. They make sure that whatever they can give during the bad times will result in increased retention, happier employees, and a company which will survive good times and bad. Give that extra day off. Even if they can’t take it due to their workload, they will remember what the company did for them when they have the opportunity to go somewhere else.

Love Me or Get Fired!

It was a big task, but Barbara thought she was up to it. She has proposed to create a whole new system from scratch, though there were plenty of vendor alternatives on the market. No, this was going to be her baby, her inspiration, and her legacy. This system was going to be built.

There was very little input from others about this system. Yes, there were a few focus groups asking what end-users would like to see in the system. Unfortunately, there weren’t any focus groups for those who really used the current system about what they really needed. Thus, when the first iteration of the system was unveiled, there were more than a few questions and more than a few criticisms leveled at the effort.

Stung by this, Barbara vigorously defended the system, leveling accusations at those who criticized the system as ‘hater of innovation’ or ‘not giving the system a chance’. When the critics brought up key functionality that the system did not possess, Barbara would counter that they really didn’t need that functionality and were just looking for things to criticize. When other said maybe they shouldn’t use the system, but stay with the legacy system, Barbara doubled down on her defense of the system and refused to even acknowledge those concerns.

In her own organization, Barbara mandated only support for the system. She did not want to hear about the shortcomings and ordered her direct reports to vigorously defend the system against any stakeholders who might dare to level criticism. For those direct reports who did come to her with concerns about the viability of the product, Barbara had a unique strategy. She threatened to fire them.

It wasn’t an outright threat, as Barbara knew that might warrant HR coming to visit her and investigate. Instead, she would usually say that she didn’t think anyone who wasn’t a ‘team player’ had a place in her organizations, and that the employee better think long and hard if they wanted to level any criticisms against the system. For the majority of her direct reports, that bought their silence rather well, though they still had serious reservations about the system. Barbara could live with that.

One of the most difficult part of being a leader is shuttling your ego to one side and listening to ideas contrary to your own. Even more difficult is admitting that you might not be correct about a course of action you have taken. None of us enjoys admitting that, nor having to reverse course and suffer the backlash that will ensue.

It is also one of the most critical parts of being a leader. If your ego can’t take that kind of examination of your actions, then you don’t have a right to be sitting in that leadership chair. If your reaction to being told you might be wrong is to immediately threaten termination to an employee for being ‘disloyal’, then you should vacate that position immediately, as now you have demonstrated that you care more about yourself than your company or your employees.

We all make mistakes. It is how we learn from them and go forward that defines us. If your reaction to hearing about possible mistakes is to find any and all ways of silencing those who told you, then you don’t deserve a position where you are allowed to make any decisions at all.

Stretching Reality

The HR director was rather proud of herself. She was speaking to one of the company’s departments outlining her achievements, including the fact that she had a strong commitment to stretching employees with new assignments, career advancement, and job rotation. It was a hallmark of her tenure. She went as far to say that she didn’t want to have employees who weren’t willing to be stretched in the organization. It was part of the company’s success.

The employees listened to this politely, thanked her for attending, and left. They were polite enough not to laugh at her words in front of her, but had plenty of conversation about them afterwards. Job rotation? Advancement potential? Stretch assignments? None of them were part of the department they were in.

The HR director had addressed this. If this wasn’t happening, she wanted to know. She would take action. However, the actions taken were more deleterious to the employees than awakening to the management.

In theory, the HR director should have known this. After all, there was a representative for each of the departments, wasn’t there? Yes, but for most employees, the only time they saw their HR representative was at these meetings. When they did come to the department, it was to meet with the executives. And when the executives were questioned as to whether they were growing and stretching their people, what do you think was the answer? The message to the employees? They weren’t important enough for the HR representative to visit and speak with, even though it may tell a very different story than the executives related.

This didn’t happen, and since it didn’t, the commitment of the HR director went unfulfilled. It would have been easy to remedy. Talk to the employees. Find out when was the last time they received a stretch assignment. Find out if they were being groomed for a promotion possibility. Find out if they had been offered a job rotation or offered a short assignment with another group or department. Nobody did, because nobody cared. The employees simply weren’t important enough to do so.

The HR director said she didn’t want to see anyone leave the company because of unfulfilled expectations or potential. If she had put her energy into ways to ensure that instead of just making speeches about it, she would find a much lower turnover rate. She would have found much more fulfilled employees and a lot more heads nodding in her meetings with departments.

What We Have Here…

Even though a question was asked, there was silence in the room. It wasn’t that the question was so difficult that nobody could answer it. No, rather it was that nobody wanted to answer the question. Except one.

The venue was the monthly staff meeting. Human Resources had been invited to discuss the results of the yearly engagement survey. While there had been some good points, mostly in the area of serving the department’s customers, there were also some areas where improvement was needed. One of those areas was communication from the executives of the group to the rank-and-file workers.

The Human Resources representative had outlined what it planned on doing to rectify the problem, and had then asked if the department’s staff had any contributions about why communication was an issue and what could be done about it. That was the reason for the silence.

It wasn’t that the staff didn’t have any suggestions. The executives of the department only seemed to communication at these monthly meetings or when something was needed. Otherwise, they stayed in their offices, barely interacting with most of the staff who didn’t directly report to them. There wasn’t malice in this non-action, and most of the staff ignored the fact that they were ignored. Still, it bothered most of the staff that they were treated simply as workers, so that is how they acted.

It also wasn’t that the staff was afraid of retaliation if they spoke up. They knew they would be looked upon unfavorably, nothing would be done, and some being given the feedback might even take offense at the words spoken. Still, the staff kept silent, despite the benevolent gaze of the department head.

The silence was broken by one of the department executives who offered her interpretation of the results. She explained that there were two questions on communication on the survey – one for the company as a whole and one for the department. The executive speculated that the staff simply confused the two questions. They thought, as a group, they were answering the question on the company as a whole and not the one for the department. There was no problem to report, according to her.

While the staff continued to be silent within the conference room, there was much chatter after the meeting ended. The staff could not believe the temerity of the executive to explain away the results, and explain it as the staff not having the sense enough to know which question they were answering. Nothing demonstrated the gap between the executive group and the staff better than that comment. The ‘confused’ employees went back to their desk assured nothing would change with attitudes like that.

When evidence comes that shows there is a problem, a leader has three avenues of approach. He or she can choose to ignore it, explain it away, or find the reason behind the problem and work towards solving it. The good leader doesn’t have a choice, as only the last is an option. Not only does the problem get tackled, the staff is engaged in his or her leadership, increasing engagement and productivity.

Blame the staff? Don’t be surprised if the communication worsens, productivity goes down, and the scores decline. After all, if they can’t even differentiate between two questions, how can they be expected to do their jobs competently?

The Benefit

Henry sat across from the career counselor, patiently waiting for her to review his resume. He had worked diligently on his resume over the past few weeks and would wait as long a bit longer to get feedback on his creation.

It wasn’t that Henry was looking for a job. Consider it ‘pre-looking’. He had begun to grow restless at his current position, and since it had been a while since he was in the job market, he wanted the help of the professionals in assessing his prospects. He sought out a professional career counselor for advice on where to start a quiet job search.

The career counselor, Allison, thoughtfully reviewed his work, put the document down, and began her assessment. “Your resume is impressive, Henry. You’ve had solid experience in your jobs, along with progressive responsibilities given to you. You’re well qualified for your field. There really is only one thing that may be held against you, and that’s the time spent in your positions.”

Allison saw the look of confusion on Henry’s face. It was a look she had seen many times before in clients of Henry’s experience level. With practiced patience, she explained her reasoning.

“Henry, what did your parents tell you when you were entering the job market?” Henry thought a little bit and responded. “Well, find a good job, stay there for 30 or 40 years, and retire.” It was a story Allison had heard dozens of times.

She followed up. “Why did they say this?” Henry paused a bit longer on this one, with Allison letting the silence stretch. Finally, she broke in. “Was it because during that time the company would take care of you, keep you in a job, and at the end, retire you with a pension and possibly some other benefits?” The flash of recognition that appeared on Henry’s face was all the confirmation she needed. His almost awestruck, “yes” only strengthened that confirmation.

Continuing, the Allison said, “My brother-in-law works for the state. He not only hates his job, he hates his job. Every time I see him he says, ‘Only 9 years to go’ or something like that. He is already in countdown mode.”

“Being in the field I am, I naturally asked him why doesn’t he just find a new job? My brother-in-law replied, ‘as I said, I have 9 years to go’. When I asked him what that meant, he said he has 9 years until he can retire and get his pension and benefits.” She watched for Henry’s reaction, and wasn’t disappointed. “Right? Pension! Nobody gets a pension anymore, but he in his civil service job does. He even gets to continue some benefits after he retires.”

“I’m not here to discuss the benefit or drawbacks of a civil service career. I used that example of why your parents, and many of our parents, gave you the advice they did. My brother will suffer through nine more years of his job because of the benefit at the end. He is working towards that benefit. Your parents were in companies that took care of them throughout their career and then took care of them after they retired. Can you say that about your present company?”

Henry snorted at that one. What Allison had said was true. There was no pension. The company had set up a 401(k) and matched his contributions partially, when the company revenues allowed for it. When he left the job, he was lucky someone would hold the door open for him as he exited the front door. If the money in the 401(k) ran out, he was out of money.

She continued. “Those entering the workforce in the past 15 years or so were raised by parents who faced layoffs, reduced benefits, and companies which went from being benevolent parents to being concerned only about profits and more profits. They entered companies that worked them to death, fired employees without remorse whenever costs needed to be cut, and offered them very little to stick around. Promotions were fewer, raises delayed or didn’t happen, bonuses slashed or eliminated, though there always seemed to be enough for the top executives. In short, they gave them no incentive to stick around for five years, not to mention 40.”

“What’s the benefit for sticking around, Henry?”, Allison asked him. Henry paused for a bit, trying to find a reasonable answer. “Well, I do get extra vacation if I stay around.”, he replied. Allison smiled. “A recent study showed that most employees don’t use all their vacation time because of work demands. Are you able to use all your vacation time?” Henry had to admit Allison was correct. He hadn’t been able to use all his vacation time in years because of the demands of his job.

Getting back to the conversation, Allison continued. “The point I am trying to make is that the more recent generations in the workplace have had to look for different benefits for working at a particular company. If longevity is no longer rewarded, then why stick around? The conventional wisdom now is to work for a company as long as there are benefits to you. They may be a good manager, good benefits, close to home, flexible work schedule, or that you are learning valuable new skills.” A flash of recognition went across Henry’s face. He had heard those conversations in the company lunch room. His conversations with his younger co-workers who were leaving mentioned just those things. He thought they were being selfish. He now saw their logic was more self-preservation.

“This led to a rethinking of the time spent in a job by many employers, especially when the newer generations filtered into the HR and managerial functions. A long time spent in one job began to indicate an unwillingness to grow. To some, it indicated laziness. It was considered a bad thing to stay too long in one job.”, Allison continued. She paused, seeing the combination of realization and concern on Henry’s face. She gave him time to soak this in.

“So what do I do?”, Henry asked. He knew his age was going to be an issue and now what he considered an advantage, his tenure, had suddenly turned into a liability. Allison replied, “We turn some negatives into positives. Tell me Henry, what have you learned, how have you grown, how have you made a difference in your job? Let’s focus on that. Let’s review your social presence, improving or creating it. Let’s bring you in line with the new expectations.”

With that, and with the help of Allison, Henry began working for his own benefit.

I Have 99 Non-Problems…

It was a very simple issue. Sarah did not like Jane. She, Sarah, would not admit this, but it was evident to everyone in the department. Sarah did not like Jane. According to Sarah, Jane was not a good worker and, despite all that Sarah had done to ‘remedy’ the problem, nothing worked.

As time went on, Sarah received a promotion, partially based on Jane’s work. Jane no longer reported to Sarah directly, but to Tim, who reported to Sarah.

Under Tim, Jane blossomed. Tim encountered some issues with Jane, which they worked together to solve. He saw the Jane that her previous managers, except for Sarah, saw in her. Eventually he was able to expand her skill set with new duties that grew her professionally.

This, however, was not good enough for Sarah. She would not let go of her original opinion of Jane, despite the evidence to the contrary. She would seize on any mistake that Jane made, no matter how minor, as evidence that she was right all along. When one of Jane’s triumphs was pointed out to Sarah, she would dismiss it with a cursory acknowledgement and move on to another topic of conversation.

Sarah grew increasingly frustrated with Tim. Why couldn’t he see how bad Jane was! There was only one reason that Sarah could think of. Tim must be a poor manager. With the same resolve she demonstrated towards Jane, Sarah now went after Tim. Nothing he did was good enough. His reviews took a decided downturn. He was ‘called in’ for discussions with Sarah and then with Sarah and the Employee Relations representative.

As Tim saw he had one foot on the banana peel, he decided he had little to lose. He had candid conversations with Sarah and the Employee Relations representative, saying that this was all about Jane and his refusal to grant Sarah’s wish of firing her. He stated all the good things that Jane had done while under his supervision, and stating that Jane could do 99 good things and Sarah would point out the one thing that Jane did wrong.

Sarah’s response? “Now you just sound like Jane!” No denial. No argument. It was simply Tim’s poor management skills that caused this, not her unreasonable expectations. It didn’t matter that the rest of Sarah’s employees were also struggling under the burden of work she was assigning. It was simply their fault for not being efficient enough.

Eventually Jane was transferred from Tim and placed under a more ‘compliant’ manger who would agree with whatever Sarah wanted. Jane was eventually dismissed for the one reason while the 99 were ignored. Tim was punished for his ‘insubordinate talk’, and Sarah was happy. For Sarah, that was all that mattered.

When you work in an office, you encounter many different personalities and many different work styles. You really have no control over other people, though some do try. When you become a manager, that equation changes. You have a greater degree of control over your employee’s lives.

That control means you have a set of work to accomplish and have the resources to get that work done. It does not mean you have the only way of getting that work done. It does not mean anyone else’s way of getting work done is wrong. A good manager knows that they need to work with an employee’s style to get the best results, not dictate that the manager’s style is the only way.

It’s not about you when you are a manager. It’s about your team. If you spend your time trying to prove yourself right and ignoring the signs that you may need to adjust your ways, then you are not focusing on the team. You may get the work done, but at the cost of every other person working for you. That isn’t managing. That’s dictating. Dictating works for a while, but eventually fails.

Manage to your people, not the other way around. That way you won’t have to find 99 reasons to ignore the good and use a magnifying glass to prove your point.