Snow Day!

The company policy was pretty straightforward. Each employee had the technology to work remotely. If the office was going to be closed due to inclement weather or other emergency, employees were to work from home during what would be regular office hours. All in all, it was a reasonable expectation, especially in a time when every employee should have had home internet service.

Well, not everyone. An executive with the company posted on social media that the building was closed. He had made some hot chocolate, put his feet up, and turned on some reality TV. He would be back, ‘diligent as ever’, tomorrow.

In other words, while every other employee was hard at work obeying the company policy, the executive decided to have a snow day. Since he knew he was connected on social media to many of his employees, one could guess he didn’t really care what the reaction would be. The reaction, by the way, was far from positive.

Nobody commented on the post, at least in a negative manner. That would have been the same as career suicide. However, the talk in the office from those who had read the post and shared it with others expressed shock, dismay, and anger that the executive felt he didn’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else. The executive didn’t seem to notice, though, as he was involved in too many ‘important matters’.

We all would love a snow day. The thought of getting paid for reading a good book or binge watching that long-anticipated series is irresistible. For many of us, it remains a distant dream. There are no snow days. There are days where we plug into work, and put in our eight or more hours.

Unless you are an executive. Then you can not only take a snow day but also brag about it on social media, caring little about the reactions of those who read your post.

What message does that send to your employees? First, that the rules are different for you. Second, the consequences of that decision don’t matter to you. Third, you care more for your own comfort than for the good of the company.

You cannot tell your employees to give their all for the company’s profitability and you yourself not do the same. You cannot expect your employees to live up to a greater standard of behavior than you, as the leader, portray. You cannot expect that your behavior won’t have ripples through the productivity and engagement of your employees.

If you do, the landscape isn’t the only thing that is getting a snow job.

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The Jelly Jar

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The group sat around the cafeteria table, their jars in front of them. Most of them remained silent, shaking their heads. Arlene had really underdone herself this time.

Arlene was another member of the department in the executive ranks. Over the past year, she had come to each person who was sitting at the table requesting their help. She needed their expertise, their relationships with the customers, and their time and energy. She made no excuses why she needed that help, either. She said several times, “Without your help, I can’t make the numbers I need to get my bonus.” At Arlene’s level, that ran into five figures. They appreciated her honesty and could understand her motives.

Each member around that table put in significant effort for Arlene and her bonus. They had to forego work that would contribute to their achievement of their bonuses, leverage their good will with the customers, and put in some significant extra hours. They did it for teamwork and to help a fellow member of the department.

All that extra effort worked, and Arlene made her numbers, assuring her bonus. Was the generous with her words of appreciation to the group, thanking them for helping her make that bonus. At holiday time, however, the situation was different.

For each member of the team, she proudly gave them a gift of…a homemade jar of jam or jelly. To add to this, she gave them a gift card to a local coffee house, each card in the amount of $5. She remarked it made her feel good to contribute to a local charity that made jams, and gave it with a smile to each member of the team. Yes, the jellies and jams were homemade, but not by her.

Sitting at the table, each member of the team was staring at their jar of jelly or jam. On top of each of jar each member of the team had placed their high-value gift card. Eventually the silence was broken by one member of the team who made a proposal. Each person at the table would chip in for a loaf of bread, which they would bring in, use the cafeteria toaster, and they would have some delicious toast and jam, all courtesy of Arlene.

That managed to get people laughing and talking, with suggestions that they could really go for broke and buy some butter to spread on the toast and have with the jam. This evoked even more laugher and talk.

When the laughter had died down, they each made a promise. They would spend the new year focusing on their goals and reaching them with the same energy they had given to Arlene’s request. As for any further request Arlene made? They would give it the same amount of respect that she had shown them in her gifts.

The sealed that promise with a toast of their jelly jars.

The Lessons of a Pizza Lunch

The group chatted affably over the slices of pizza. It was a scene they all were familiar with. They were asked to join upper management in the conference room to bid farewell to a co-worker who was going to another job. The speeches were made about how the person would be missed and thanking them for their contributions over the years. The employees would then be invited to have some pizza and mingle.

It was all very nice, but all very familiar. For some of the employees, this was a well-worn ritual that happened well too often. For those who had been there some amount of time, their estimate was that around 75% of the company had their pizza lunch or equivalent. Even for those who were not in the company a long time, they saw an inordinate amount of pizza.

Each time it was the same. The same reasons would be given. It’s the economy. It’s the nature of the business. People just don’t want to stay around and grow with the company anymore.

The truth was a bit different. People would have stayed if there was growth with the company. Sadly, except for a few, there wasn’t. The position you were hired at was the level you stayed at. The duties you were hired to do were the duties you always did. There was no growing, no stretching, no innovation. Even when some would suggest something to grow themselves, the answer was usually in the negative. There wasn’t money for that or the person wasn’t experienced enough for that, or it would take away from their more important duties. Eventually people became frustrated or bored and looked elsewhere. Then there was pizza.

The conversation died down and people drifted back to their desks, most of the pizza left untouched. There were some grumbles about that from those paid for the pizza. Why hold these gatherings when people weren’t eating? The answer was simpler than that. People weren’t eating because they had no appetite for yet another pizza party.

Much of management and leadership is asking the right questions. When there is a path being beaten out the door, an inattentive manager will make excuses. A good manager will ask, “What is causing this outflux?” An excellent manager will ask, “What can I do to stop this outflux?” If employees are very, very lucky, that question be followed up with, “Am I doing something to cause that outflux?”

A good manager sees a problem and immediately begins to try to solve it, not make excuses about why it’s happening. They don’t default to well-worn excuses of the economy or the industry. They look first to their actions or inactions, and ask themselves some hard questions…ones in which they may not like the answers. They then take actions to solve the problem, even if it means some sacrifice on their part. It’s a difficult path, but the one that is most rewarding.

If they do it right, they find themselves not having to pay for so many pizza lunches.

Is There a Doctor in the Boss?

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Mara couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  She knew her boss, Doreen, to be a braggart.  She knew her to be a slave driver who equated how much work she did with her worth as a person.  She also knew her as a terrible manager.  However, sitting in front of her, Doreen was claiming to be a doctor.

It had started several weeks ago when Mara came home from the doctor with a confirmation to a diagnosis.  To keep this blog relevant, let’s say Mara was diagnosed with the dreaded Disease X.  It wasn’t fatal, but was chronic.  It could cause some terrible symptoms to manifest, and needed monitoring and treatment.  At times, it would not make coming into the office easy, but Mara thought, at those times, she could manage working from home.  She would have to see.

In accordance with the company’s policies, Mara was to tell her manager, who would then report this to Human Resources.  Mara would supply a doctor’s note affirming the diagnosis.  Human Resources would then work with Mara for a reasonable accommodation, which Mara hoped would be that when she needed to work from home, she could.  She didn’t intend to abuse this policy, but wanted it available to her if needed.

That morning, Mara made time on Doreen’s calendar to speak with her.  She laid out the doctor’s diagnosis of Disease X, produced the note, and asked they be forwarded to Human Resources.

Doreen looked at Mara, looked at the note, and rejected them both.  Her words, verbatim, were, “You don’t have Disease X.”  With that, she dismissed Mara, refusing to accept any evidence that Mara was chronically ill.  With that, she also rejected any notion that Mara could have a reasonable accommodation or be able to work from home a bit extra to take care of the condition.  She congratulated herself on solving the problem so easily.

Mara sat there stunned.  This was a medical diagnosis.  There were established procedures for this within the company.  She had proof — more than that doctor’s note, she had all her tests, which indicated she had Disease X.  In one short sentence, Doreen had circumvented the whole process in the name of convenience – for Doreen.

Mara had to go out of procedure herself and went to HR to self-report her medical condition.  When asked why she didn’t go to her supervisor, she reported what happened, to the stunned silence of the HR representative.  They all knew Doreen to be less than a stellar manager, but never would believe that even she would do this.

In the end, Mara went on record with her diagnosis of Disease X, worked with HR for a reasonable accommodation, and made an enemy of Doreen.  Doreen loved her control, and for Mara to go around her to report her illness was, in Doreen’s mind, nothing less than insubordination.  From that point on, she did everything in her power to make Mara’s life more difficult.

There are few things more precious than someone’s health.  It’s not like you can go order another one online.  Even if you and your employees are not going to ever be considered friends, you have a duty to perform in helping protect that person’s health, if for no other reason than you would have one less person to do the work that makes you look good.

No manager is above the company’s procedure, and, especially when it is a life or death matter, no manager has the right to make a decision in which they have no knowledge or background.  Want to be a doctor?  Go to school and become a doctor.  Your employees would probably be happy that they get a new manager — one who may recognize their employees health over the manager’s ego.

 

The Price of Inflation

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Shortly after Sarah had ascended to the head of the department, she announced that, with upcoming hires, there would no longer be ‘position inflation’.  What this meant was the practice of rating a job higher than it should be for one reason or another.  It was a drain on the department’s finances, she explained, and it served no useful purpose.  True to her word, shortly after she had completed a reorganization of the department, the hire to fill the position she vacated was lower than the level she had occupied when doing that job.  The position was labeled as Director level, where she had been a Senior Director.

Several of her staff members paused at that.  When she was in the position, she felt it was necessary for her to have a level of Senior Director, with all its requisite perks and salary level.  Now that she was no longer in the position, she had a revelation that the position was too high and needed to be lowered for the good of the department and to prevent the dreaded position inflation.

It was strange how pretty much the same position demanded different levels, with the only change being who had been within the position.  It was no surprise to the staff, as they were used to this type of logic with Sarah.

Even more puzzling, soon after she promoted a few people within the department, as she no longer had to pass it by anyone within the department for approval.  One person, who only recently had been promoted, was promoted again, in direct violation of company rules.  A couple of others also were promoted.  So, the savings she gained by lowering one position was eclipsed by the higher salaries needed for the new promotions.  When Sarah was asked why she did this, her response was, “I felt it was needed”.

The rest of the staff, the ones who weren’t promoted, felt that the only things that were inflated in this whole deal, were so egos.

The Project: Bonus Behavior

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This is the third in a series of articles detailing some of the management behaviors that took place while a certain department was working on a very labor-intensive project.  This won’t be detailing the project specifically, but how management handled the stresses on the department resulting from the project.

It was in one of the team’s staff meetings that Sarah announced that Ilene, for all her hard work on the project, was to receive a bonus.  With great fanfare, she presented Ilene with the bonus, thanking her for all her hard work.

The staff clapped for Ilene, for not to do so would have attracted Sarah’s attention, and nobody wanted that.  It wasn’t that Ilene didn’t deserve the bonus. She did.  She had worked many hours as the primary person on the project.  Always known for her good cheer, she was popular with her peers, and was always ready to pitch in to help one of her fellow co-workers.  No, it wasn’t that Ilene was either disliked or didn’t deserve the award that caused the undercurrent of tension in the conference room applause.

Then what was it?  It was the face that Ilene alone was being singled out for a bonus for her work.  Many of the staff felt that the only way Ilene was able to head this project was that many of her duties had been temporarily shuttled to other people in the department.  Thus, while Ilene had her hands full with the project, the other staff members, already burdened with the work in their job, now were faced with additional responsibilities that they were accountable for.  This led to extra hours, staying late, working night and weekends, and some very stressed and tired people.

Even this would have been overlooked by the staff if they had also received some recognition for their efforts.  They hadn’t, and that bothered them.  If you just walked in and heard Sarah, everything was done by Ilene and she managed to do everything related with the project without any assistance whatsoever.

The staff didn’t even look to monetary rewards, though that would have been nice.  They were reasonable people, and being such, recognized that the department didn’t have the financial resources to hand out checks to everyone from the department who helped out in some way.  The management and leadership, though, didn’t even offer a hearty handshake to them to thank them for their efforts.  Instead, they were just given more work to do and the expectation was set that it had to get done.

What could have management and leadership done?  How about each area head take their group out to lunch on the company to thank the staff?  How about giving one half day off to each member who took on some of Ilene’s work during the project?  How about an ice cream social for the teams as a thank you, and then announcing they had the rest of the day off, and management would cover the office for the rest of the day?

No, none of that was done.  Management had made one person, Ilene, very happy, and made the rest of the staff feel as if they didn’t matter whatsoever.  Morale would sink ever lower, people would get frustrated and leave, and management would shake their head and wonder why.  After all, didn’t they just give Ilene a bonus to show their gratitude?  They would continue with their blinders, confident that they were managing things well.

As for the staff?  Well, they probably would be told that they didn’t appreciate anything management did for them, even when management didn’t do squat.

The Project: A Vacation

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This is the second in a set of articles detailing some of the management behaviors that took place while a certain department was working on a very labor-intensive project.  This won’t be detailing the project specifically, but how management handled the stresses on the department resulting from the project.

The project was taking a piece of everyone’s soul.  People were working extra hours, at night, and on the weekends.  One person told the story of having Easter dinner and doing testing of the latest code in between getting Easter dinner ready.  The bags under the eyes of everyone were growing steadily, tempers were getting short, and mistakes were being made simply from exhaustion.  The deadline was everything to the heads of the department, and no excuse would be accepted for that deadline to be allowed to slip.

So, based on this, it was the perfect time for Sarah to take a vacation.

She had a very good reason for it, of course.  This was when she always took her vacation, and it was, you know, the ritual that her family looked for.  She couldn’t disappoint them, could she?  After all, she worked hard for her vacation, and since she and her fellow department heads had extra vacation days that nobody else in the company had, they were hers for the taking.

It didn’t seem to matter to Sarah that other people in the department had given up their vacations or pressured to work more.  It didn’t matter that the department was near the emotional breaking point.  No, that was their problem, not Sarah’s.  It didn’t seem to matter to her that the impression she was leaving by taking a vacation in the midst of everyone else’s herculean efforts to get their work and the project’s work done was one of selfishness and uncaring.  She deserved her vacation, and she was sure that the refreshed, sun tanned, and rested appearance she gave to the department at the end of her vacation would be an inspiration to everyone.

It did surprise her that nobody really seemed interested in tales of her vacation.  They were all too busy and too tired to really stop and listen to stories.  They needed to meet the latest deadlines and get started with another round of testing.  Yes, it surprised Sarah, and it even disappointed her some, but she was in such a good mood from her vacation that she didn’t give it a second thought.

After all, if other people needed a vacation, they could take one, couldn’t they?  Funny how they didn’t though.  Sarah wondered why for a few seconds, before sharing some of her vacation photos on her social network.