The Bonus Round

It wasn’t the fanciest of places to hold their gathering. It couldn’t be, as most of the people around the table were unemployed, having been laid off in the past few months. They ignored the shouts of customer orders to the kitchen area and chatted amiably about their job search efforts.

It was Susan who inadvertently set the topic for the conversation that day. “Did anyone receive their bonus?”, she asked innocently. The shouts from the order takers to the kitchen were the only sounds she was greeted with. No one had received a bonus that year.

It wasn’t that the people at the table didn’t deserve a bonus. They had worked extremely hard during a particularly difficult year. While the bonuses would not be as large as in previous years, there would be some money available. The company shared it had profitable quarters throughout the year.

Nobody on the team received a bonus because of the timing of their layoffs. The company made sure they worked the year. However, they had not received their reviews for that year. Without those reviews, a bonus could not be calculated. The company had timed everything so that while everyone was bonus eligible, none of them would get a bonus.

Right now, those bonuses could have tided them over a little while longer in their job search. However, the company decided it was more deserving of keeping that money than rewarding the work of their employees. The easiest way was to make sure they were not employees anymore. Instant boost to the company dollar!

Even when you have to lay off your loyal employees, you can be decent about it. Severance, benefits, and the like help that loyal employee with surviving the hallways between what was and what is going to be.

If someone has worked an entire year to make the company profits so the employees can have a share in those profits. If you have promised them a share in those profits for a year’s work. The least you can do is share those profits with them. By denying them that after they have put in the work, you illustrate what is most important to you…and it isn’t the employee.

Your actions, not your words, are what will be remembered by your employees. Oh wait, you don’t have to worry about that. These people aren’t your employees anymore. And I bet you won’t even write them a note to thank them for helping pad the executives’ bonuses.

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The Ghosting of Emily

Emily opened her texting app and selected the group thread she had looked at so many times over the past couple of weeks. Though she knew almost every word on that thread, she re-read many of the messages her team had sent over the past few months. It was more than a work discussion. They joked, talked about their private lives, and interacted like friends.

That was until a couple of weeks ago when the layoffs came. Emily and her co-worker Harold were laid off from the company while their manager and the manager’s manager kept their positions. It was then the group texting, and all communication from the two managers, suddenly stopped. There were no check-ins, no inquiries about how she was doing, or any kind of message whatsoever. If there was a professional form of ghosting, this was it. The only person who had kept in touch with her from her team was Harold, who checked in with her on a regular basis to see how she was coping.

Though she had received dozens of messages from co-workers expressing how much they would miss her and offers of assistance for the asking, it still saddened Emily that two people she considered friends had completely dropped her from their lives without explanation and without cause. She guessed she misread all the friendly banter and non-work conversations.

Shaking off that disappointment, she looked at all the messages she received, and all the kind words said in those messages. With practiced movements, she brought up a menu on the text app, paused for a moment, and replied ‘yes’ to the question on the screen, ‘Do you want to delete this thread?’ She then sent a message to Harold seeing how he was doing with his job search.

How many times have you heard executives of companies say, “You are not just an employee here. You are family.” Many job seekers and employees know those to be only words, but when management is given the opportunity to prove those words true, do they? Or, do they follow the safer and easier path, making sure they avoid anger and sadness by avoiding the person who only a short time ago they were interacting with on a daily basis? How is that treating people like family?

Or are they just words in a recruiting folder, an employee manual, or on a group text thread?

Stalling Tactics

Author’s Note: In a previous blog, we found out about Harold, who saw all the promotions going on around him but wasn’t getting promoted himself. Having spoken with his HR representative and receiving a less than satisfactory response, he wondered what his next step was. Unfortunately, the HR representative wasn’t the only one who was less than forthcoming with him.

After hearing the response from HR and seeing that he would get no help on that front, Harold began to work on some other fronts to understand why he wasn’t getting promoted and what he could to change that situation. Taking the direct route, he spoke with his supervisor and her manager, plainly asking what he was doing wrong. They answered carefully and with consideration they said they were glad Harold brought this to their attention and would be speaking with him separately about it. Harold didn’t hold his breath waiting for that to happen, but he would follow up on occasion to remind them about that conversation.

It was then something interesting happened. An executive of the department asked to meet with Harold to discuss Harold wanting to advance. They sat and chatted for a while about what Harold thought were some of the gaps in the department’s servicing structure. Harold offered his thoughts, and the executive asked him to submit a proposal for a position to address that gap. Again, Harold tempered his expectations but knew he had to go along for even the hope of some progress.

He spoke with his management about the conversation, which his management had facilitated, and was asked by them to run the proposal passed their eyes before going to the senior executive. Harold crafted this new position document carefully, getting feedback, making changes, and then handed it to his senior management for their response.

The manager’s response was one of silence. Besides saying that he had discussed this with the executive, he said nothing else. Upon prompting by Harold the manager shared that the department leadership was about to undergo discussions about their servicing structure so there could be no new positions for now. Harold was disappointed but realized he needed to play the game. He continued to do his job, handled the increasing workload, and waited as patiently as possible.

A few weeks later the department shared the new servicing structure, designed to help the department cope with increased business with the same amount of people. With that done, Harold hoped his proposal would get some attention. He continued to do his job, handled the increasing workload, and waited as patiently as possible.

A week or so later Harold was informed that the company had decided to expand their investigations beyond the servicing strategy into their sales strategy. This would place a hold on any consideration of Harold’s proposal, though he was told there was still interest in it. He continued to do his job, handled the increasing workload, and waited as patiently as possible. See a pattern here?

The manager was true to his word and let Harold know there was progress on the position and told Harold a meeting would appear on his calendar very soon regarding it. Harold was grateful and waited for the meeting to appear…and waited…and waited. He sent a follow up message or so thanking the manager for the information and wondering when the meeting would be scheduled.

A week or so later a meeting appeared. Looking at the invitees, Harold saw a name he really wasn’t happy to see. It was Gloria, the HR person Harold had spoken to previously. The meeting was not to discuss the new position, but to let Harold know his position had been eliminated. While he wasn’t alone in the layoffs, as many of his colleagues were also on the receiving end of these conversations, it felt like a betrayal to Harold. To him, it felt like they were stringing him along, getting the work out of him, plying him with promises of recognition until they no longer needed his effort.

Economic times are good and they are bad. Companies hire and they lay off. Any experienced employee knows this. What stays the same, or what should stay the same, is the integrity of the people navigating these oceans. You can either be up front and forthright with your employees or you can install false hope to keep your people productive and then pull the rug out from under them.

The first way doesn’t guarantee high productivity but does treats your employees with the respect they want and deserve. The second can give you the results you want but tells your employees that they matter very little to the company. What does it matter? They’re going to be let go anyway. So what if your company gets a poor reputation online with job seekers? There will always be someone who will believe the promises of advancement and a company which cares about them.

The United States and the world recently went through a period where there weren’t enough people to hire, forcing companies to be competitive. Not wanting to throw money at the problem, many HR people spoke of ‘the company culture’ as the differentiator. Every time a company treats a Harold the way they do. Every time a Harold is strung along. Every time these type of tactics are used to get productivity, it chips away at the collective integrity of the corporate world. Excuse me, Mr. or Ms. HR person, but too many have seen your ‘culture’. We’ll take the money, thank you very much.

It’ll Be the Death of Me

It started as an ordinary day for Bill. He arrived at his desk at work and checked his calendar. He had a seminar to present to his affiliate network later that day. He did what he usually did to drive additional attendance — he posted the seminar details on the bulletin board that was available online to the entire affiliate network. He looked at his email and began his day in earnest.

The time for the seminar came and went with no surprises. Bill presented the material, the affiliates expressed their appreciation for his time, and he logged off from the web conferencing software. It was then things got weird.

A colleague messaged Bill asking if he was okay after ‘what happened’. Bill paused for a minute. What happened? He saw no notices for meetings. There was no company-wide announcement from what he knew. He selected his colleague’s message and replied, “I’m fine, but what happened?”

It seems that someone had a rather strong reaction to the post that Bill had written about the class. It wasn’t the content of the post, but rather that the post went to one of the affiliates employees at all. Bill’s colleague wrote back to Bill, attaching a screen shot of a reply to Bill’s post. The reply stated, “Stop bothering me with these messages or I’ll run you over with my car!”

Bill paused for a bit and then smiled half a smile. It was the first time he had been threatened with death for wanting to improve people’s skills. Bill’s colleague, who was in charge of policing the bulletin board, told Bill she had erased the post, after taking a screen shot of it, and reported it to Bill’s manager as well as the colleague’s manager. Bill wasn’t terribly worried, but wanted to make sure he reported it as well just in case this was more than just an empty threat.

Bill’s manager was shocked at the death threat, and immediately reported it to both Human Resources and to the manager’s manager. For Bill’s part, he reported it to his local police, complete with any evidence he had, to ensure local law enforcement had a record of this. A few days later local law enforcement informed him that the person who threatened him was found and informed that if this person ever made threats against Bill again, he would be subject to prosecution. Bill was satisfied with the outcome, especially when he heard the affiliate had terminated the employee.

It was what didn’t happen that made Bill see his company in a new light. It was a small enough company where he knew the executives that made up the C-Suite. He knew each executive was informed of this situation. Yet not one executive bothered to contact him to offer sympathy or see if he was alright after this ordeal. Even the notification of the affiliate was handed off to a lower-level functionary of the company. For those who ran the company, it was an insignificant event that happened to an insignificant employee.

Except it wasn’t insignificant to Bill. His life had been threatened. Agreed, nobody was holding a knife to his throat. Still, nobody in the company could remember this ever happening to an employee. That didn’t matter. Bill didn’t seem to matter enough for anyone to check on his health and welfare, save for his manager. From that day forward, Bill didn’t act with the same sense of urgency or expediency regarding his work that he had previously. After all, if he wasn’t cared about, why should he care more than he needed to collect a paycheck?

If you speak HR, you will know about ‘non-monetary rewards’. That and other terms are used to describe rewarding an employee with something other than money. Studies show that these can help keep an employee engaged and productive. They cost the company little or nothing but can pay tremendous dividends. When not used, they can have a devastating effect on morale and productivity.

Bill’s executives could have taken under two minutes to message Bill asking how he was doing after the incident. The fact that they didn’t illustrated to Bill what was and wasn’t important to the C-Suite. Every time a salesperson onboarded another affiliate, celebrations were held. That was important. Bill wasn’t. He was insignificant. And in that instant, so was the company, at least to Bill.

The Great Con

Harold hung up the phone, still seething from the conversation he just with his company’s HR department. All he could think of what he suspected the department’s motto was, “There’s a sucker born every minute”, and practiced that motto with gusto and glee. He could count himself as one of the victims of the latest round of con artistry perpetrated by what was laughingly called Human Resources.

He had called HR because he was frustrated. He was buried with work and continually given new assignments. These new assignments were usually not his regular job responsibilities, but he was known as the guy who would figure it out, so he was the one who received the tough problems. He would often succeed in these tasks, get a good pat on the back from his manager, and be rewarded with more work. “Nothing succeeds like success!”, his manager would say with an annoying chuckle.

Yet, every time Harold would bring up the subject of promotion for his hard work, suddenly his work wasn’t quite good enough and his achievements not so wonderful. He was told maybe next year if he showed he could handle the work given to him, and then more work dumped upon him. He was stressed, exhausted, and physically ill.

He had no great love of Human Resources as he had seen their lack of caring for employees over the years, but he threw the dice and took advantage of their offer to speak with any employee about career advancement. What he heard did not change his opinion of the group. Rather, it caused him to have, if anything, a lower opinion of that misnamed group.

He spoke to the HR rep, Gloria, about the workload, the stress, the extra work, and the lack of tangible appreciation for his contributions. Gloria listened silently, asked a few questions, and let him finish his thoughts. “What do I do to get tangibly recognized?”, Harold asked, emotionally.

Gloria began what was to be her well-practiced speech. “I think you need to look not at vertical advancement, but rather role expansion.” In other words, the rep was telling Harold that there would be no help with a promotion, but rather ‘finding satisfaction’ through more duties in his current role and level. The company would get even more work out of Harold and he would receive nothing except more stress.

Harold bit back a few of the more colorful comments he was about to make. Instead, he said, “So this would lead to a promotion?” Gloria would not comment on that but rather said it would make him more marketable in the company so he would have more opportunities. Harold thanked her and prepared for round two.

Round two involved Harold taking time one night to detail all the work he had done that was outside his formal job description. To his surprise, it ran several pages, especially with the explanation of each and how it benefitted the company. He double checked it and composed an email to Gloria. In it he said he appreciated the conversation on job expansion. It inspired him to detail every time his job expanded, which was attached. Could Gloria review the attachment and let him know the next step to promotion, as it was pretty obvious to him that he had expanded tremendously, to the point where he had no more bandwidth for anything. He pressed Send and awaited the reply.

That reply came a few days later. An obviously perturbed Gloria wrote back something very simple. She thanked Harold for his submission, but ‘reminded’ him that the company was not in the habit of giving promotions for, “…simply doing your job”. Harold decided then and there to cut back on his willingness, his problem solving, and his workload. Obviously hard work didn’t matter to people who were only interested in pack mules, not human resources.

A leader of a small firm once said that he didn’t like the idea of calling the group Human Resources. He said it downgraded employees to simple resources, not something that is valued and should be grown. It’s a shame when the view of Human Resources is that people are expendible and HR’s only function is to squeeze more work out of them without providing any compensation. Their role was not advancing them in the workplace. Heaven forbid! Yet these same HR people will moan and wail when they can’t get quality employees who are committed to growing the company. Pro Tip, HR folks: You can’t have it both ways.

HR Leaders — are you simply an efficiency expert of the company — seeing how much work you can get per unit. Or, are you there truly to grow and develop your people? The first guarantees events like The Great Resignation. The second ensures a stable and knowledgable workforce. If you are the first, then I guess the only job you really care about is you own.

When that is the only job you are interested in promoting, you are obviously in the wrong line of work.

Quitting the Trolls

Harry paused, stretched, and rubbed his eyes to stop them from focusing on the screen. He glanced at the clock. Still morning though he had been hard at work for several hours trying to catch up on the pile of work he always seemed to have. He had put in at least 10 hours a day for many months trying to catch up, all in vain. It seems the more he worked, the more work he received.

He allowed himself a few moments of rest and not attending to all the unread emails in his inbox, each screaming that the requester’s work was the most important in the world. He opened a new tab in his browser and glanced over the articles in the newsfeed if for no other reason than to take his mind off all the inbox screaming.

His eyes lighted upon another article about ‘Quiet Quitting’. It wasn’t the first one he had read about the phenomenon, but he noticed the stream of articles had grown since he read his first one a few weeks ago.

He smiled at the name. It wasn’t about quitting at all, quietly or otherwise. It was about what his generation would have called disengagement. In essence, Quiet Quitting was about doing your job. The twist was that it was about doing nothing more. It meant doing your eight hours and then logging off and having a life. It was the opposite of ‘hustle culture’, where you were expected to do more than your work and were looked upon suspiciously if you didn’t.

Quiet Quitting was also about something else, at least to Harry. It was about a broken promise. Hustle culture promised workers that if they worked the long hours, put in the extra work, they would be noticed in the organization and rewarded with raises, promotions, and upward advancement. Workers bought into that agreement, did their part, and saw nothing from management. No raises, no promotions, and not even talk about the path to promotion. The only thing they saw was a demand for more work and, if they slacked off, were told that was a sure path to being fired.

Now the managers’ bluff was being called. Workers were questioning why the long hours, stress, and time away from their families if there was no reward for those sacrifices. The workers’ reaction was Quiet Quitting. I will do what I can in my eight hours a day and nothing more. You want to discuss this, management, we can discuss why there hasn’t been reciprocity on your part for me.

As he looked through the most recent article online, Harry skipped to the comments. They were always the best part of an article for him. There were some thoughtful responses, some venting of frustration and anger, and some case studies from the respondents included. Then there were the trolls.

Harry could aways spot the trolls. They usually had a screen handle that was meant to keep them anonymous and well hidden, like their namesakes who hid under bridges. Their responses were usually meant to inflame passions, not inspire thought. Those same responses were usually exceptionally short so they could go about trolling on other sites as well. Harry didn’t mind opinions contrary to his. He did mind if they weren’t well reasoned and rationally put. If they didn’t meet those criteria, they were trolls in Harry’s opinion.

Sure enough there were troll comments galore. Despite himself, he found himself ‘answering’ the troll comments, if only in his mind and trying to pinpoint a sense of fear that he had.

These lazy Gen Z and Millennials don’t want to do any work — If the troll had taken any time at all to review the article, he would see these generations are happy to do the work. It is the extra, uncredited work that they are having issues with. Being told they are rock stars but being passed over at promotion time or being told there isn’t enough money for a less-than-rate-of-inflation raise wasn’t acceptable to them anymore. Matter of fact, it wasn’t acceptable to GenXers or some Baby Boomers either. Worse yet, it wasn’t acceptable to be told how good you are except when you wanted to be rewarded for your efforts and then told how poorly you performed.

These lazy bums will be the first ones fired — You’re firing someone for doing their job. Doing their job. Harry wondered what those unfair labor practice lawsuits would look like when the judge saw the positive reviews received by the employee, the ‘rock star’ memos, and other complimentary pieces against an employer saying they were fired for not performing their job adequately. He also smiled as more than once in previous positions he found out companies were forced to hire two people to the work he managed to do alone.

Nobody wants to do any extra work these days — There is a difference between pitching in to do some work when the team needs to be on top of a deadline. It is something quite different to expect 10, 20 hours extra work each and every week that is above and beyond the 40 hours you are being paid for and getting no reward whatsoever besides some nice, cheap words. Loyalty goes both ways. When was this forgotten?

It was sad to Harry in a sense. He knew that many in management were using the same arguments and scare tactics when asked the respond to Quiet Quitting. He had yet to hear one person say that maybe the system is broken and that they should sit down with their employees to discuss career development — true career development, and a two-way system of accountability. That sense of fear that went through him was that the trolls were managers who were happy with the one sentence pronouncements. He would not be surprised that The Great Resignation was from their departments. Those who left would be painted with the same brush as everyone else — lazy, unmotivated, or criticized simply because the manager could not see past their own blinders.

Harry sighed. He knew his mental musings would do nothing to help the situation and that he had a ton of work awaiting for him in his email. He stretched his neck and back, closed the tab where the Quiet Quitting stories were, and prepared to go back to the emails. He took his hands off the keyboard, pushed his chair back, and went to get a cup of coffee. Maybe it was time for him to do some quiet quitting of his own.

Tea and Honesty

George knew this wasn’t going to be a friendly chat. Oh, he trusted Margaret, the HR representative he was having lunch with. She had always been straight and honest with him, demonstrating her professionalism at every turn. However, he also knew when she ordered a pitcher of iced tea, which she had just done, that this was going to be a serious conversation. It was her trademark to stay hydrated as she talked. Unlike her colleague, Maxine, who George didn’t trust at all, Margaret had earned his trust. He wold sit and listen to her, knowing she was doing it for his own good instead of her own need to feel powerful.

George also knew what this would be about. One of his employees, Cindy, had recently left the organization. As was Margaret’s practice, she had a conversation with the offboarding employee and wanted to speak with the manager about her findings.

George tried to preempt the conversation. “Okay Margaret, tell me how terrible a manager I am.”, he said, half jokingly. Margaret smiled, took a sip of tea, and replied, “Why would I do that?”

That set George back. “Well, that is why we are here, isn’t it? To talk about what Cindy said about me? That she left because I was a terrible manager?” Margaret smiled, took another sip of tea, and replied, “No, not at all. On the contrary, she said you were a kind person who was a professional but approachable.”

Now George was thoroughly confused. “So we are here to talk about how wonderful I am?”, he said hopefully. Margaret smiled again, “Not exactly.” Well, that was short lived, George thought. “Then why am I having to work with HR to replace an employee?”

Margaret took a long sip of iced tea and refilled her glass. “Tell me George, Cindy wasn’t hired by you, was she?” “No”, George replied, “she came over to me when two departments combined. She was with the other department.”

“I see.”, Margaret replied, “You also had a few new spots available to hire, didn’t you?” George nodded. “Where did you get those other new hires from?” George thought about it for a bit and said, “They were either existing employees of my department or people who I knew who I had worked with previously.” Margaret took another sip of tea and nodded.

“Wait a minute. Cindy isn’t accusing me of discrimination, is she?”, George accused. Another sip of tea. “No….at least not overtly. But the more we talked, the more I could see why she left.”, Mary offered neutrally. George took a deep breath, willed himself to relative calmness, and made his mind as open as possible to Margaret’s comments.

“Do you know what Cindy’s main duties were before the departments combined?”, Margaret asked. “To my knowledge she was the main client contact for many of our products.” Margaret nodded. “And when she came to your department, what were her duties?” George thought for a minute about his reply, and then said, “Well, as we had new responsibilities in the deparment, I gave her new duties to perform along with her old duties.” Margaret reached for her tea.

“In other words, you added to, or in Cindy’s words, ‘doubled’, her workload without any promotion or additional compensation.” George bristled. “We were under orders to save every penny we could to ensure the deparment was profitable. It was part of the reason why we combined in the first place.”

Margaret nodded. “Cindy mentioned to me that she addressed this inequality to you. Do you recall what you said to her?” George thought for a minute and said, “I told her we could discuss it later.” Margaret asked, “And in the two years she worked for you, did you?” George fell silent, then replied. “Once she brought it up again, and I told her she wasn’t ready for any promotion.” Margaret continued, “And did you give her a plan of action so she could get promoted?” Again, George fell silent. “No.”

Margaret contined after another sip of tea. “When the world shut down and our conferences with our customers went virtual, and after we opened up again, who did you choose to present to our customers at those conferences?” George answered, “Francine. I knew her to be experienced in speaking with our customers and knew our products.” “What did you ask Cindy to do?” George thought for a minute and said, “I asked her to monitor the chat when we were virtual and to sit at the product table when we were in person.” Margaret nodded, “Why?” “Cindy knew the products.”, George replied. Another sip. “So, in other words, you made a choice about who would be public facing and who would be behind the scenes”, she said as George bristled. Margaret quickly continued, “As is your privilege. Why did you choose Francine?” “I knew her capabilities better”, replied George. Margaret said nothing.

Margaret poured another glass of iced tea, and also offered one to George, who accepted it readily. “Tell me about career movement in your group.” George was afraid Margaret would bring this up. Of the four people in the group at present, three, including George, had received promotions. Cindy hadn’t. George had noticed Cindy’s change in attitude during this time, but didn’t address it to her, thinking she would snap out of it. When she hadn’t, and offered her resignation, he was genuinely surprised.

“So, what you are saying is that I am a terrible manager who mistreats my employees.”, said George, with a tinge of bitterness that wasn’t due to the unsweetened tea he was drinking. Margaret smiled kindly. “No, I’m not. CIndy made it very clear that you were just the end of the road. You were the last of a line of people who told her how wonderful she was, added to her workload, but didn’t think enough of her to move her up in the organization. She was being truthful about your kindness and professionalism. But even a kind slap is a slap.”

They chatted a while longer of other things before Margaret said she had to get back to her work. She and George hugged, and she headed out the door. George stayed at the table a while longer thinking about the last conversation he had with Cindy before her departure. She had said to him that she hoped he found someone who he thought worthier than her. At the time she thought she was just being snarky or melodramatic. He realized now that she was just summing up what she had been suppressing for the years she worked at the company.

He poured one more glass of iced tea, raised it in the air, and said quietly, “Thanks for the lesson, Cindy.”

Implementing a Change

Harry dejectedly walked out of his annual review. It would be another year where his work was considered exemplary, but that he would not be getting a promotion. The reason this year was that he was not ‘strategic’ enough in his work, thus could not be promoted to a position where strategy was more important.

He was not the only one to receive this message. His colleague, Maise, was also told the same thing. While they both received a raise and would be bonus eligible, there would be no movement in the organization for them, at least for another year. They both suspected that next year would be another reason, or maybe the same reason, why no promotion would be forthcoming.

The reason for this pronouncement from their manager seemed almost ironic. Harry and Maise were the go-to people in the department when some strategy needed to be implemented. They knew where to start, where in the company to get the right people, had the right contacts, and knew how to make the plans reality. Their work had directly contributed to the department’s success and even to promotions for some of their reporting chain. Their successes had only bred more assignments where they were always teetering on being overworked. There were times during the year where they were asked why there were delays in their schedule, a point which was brought up during the reviews. The strategists did not want to hear that they simply had too much work. Didn’t they realize the department’s plans needed to go forward?!

Their morale low and feeling discouraged, they opened their separate projects and began what they seemed destined to do for the foreseeable future. They prepared their status updates and continued their work.

We laud the strategists. They are the movers and shapers of the company. They come up with the big ideas that drive the firm into the next few years. We revere their abilities to see into the future and navigate the ship for greater success and profits, at least it is hoped.

The one thing that always seems to be missing in that reverence is that without the implementers, the strategy is simply a piece of paper. Without the know-how, contacts, and expertise of those who bring the strategy for life, there is no forward movement and no glorious future. There are no back slaps in the executive suite and handshakes all around for another success. There are fewer promotions for a strategy well executed.

But we don’t see it that way. We see the implementers as something less. We see the implementers as not worthy of promotion because, well, they aren’t strategizing, are they? No, they can’t seem to get out of the drudgery of being concerned with the little things, the mundane, the ordinary. They need to think bigger!

Yet, what do you do with the implementers? Give them more to implement! They are so good at it, aren’t they? Just hand it to them, get some updates, and report the success. Or report the issues with the project and how you had to swoop in to save it, showing the implementers are just not ready yet to join the upper ranks. Either way the argument for the lower ranks to stay exactly where they are is justified, at least to your own mind.

It’s time we changed the conversation. It’s also time we changed the attitudes. A company can’t run with everyone deciding where to sail the ship and nobody taking the wheel. Those who implement are as crucial to the viability of a company as those who strategize. They should not be treated as undeserving of promotion simply because they have a different skillset, one that the company cannot do without.

If the conversation won’t change, then it is incumbent of those who strategize to take those skills and teach them to others. That is going to require sacrifice. It will require less work upon the implementers so they can learn to strategize. It will mean a lower chance of success because you have invested in the career of another human being. It will mean courage to explain that to your executives.

All that will take a different kind of strategy. One that will keep good people with the company and your bench strength filled. The question is, do you have the fortitude to be the implementer of that?

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.

An 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 carryovers, 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.