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.
This is the first 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 department was several weeks into the work on the project, and the strain was showing on everyone. People were working insane hours trying to get their project work done while getting their regular jobs done as well. People putting in 50 to 80 hours a week was becoming typical, and there was no end in sight. Nights, weekends, and holidays were being taken up by project work, as were the notes from supervisors as to why a certain regular work task wasn’t done. The silent reaction to that kind of demand was usually, “You are kidding, right?”
Many looked to the office of Sarah. Claiming she was ‘swamped’, she had not volunteered to take any burden off of anyone regarding the project, though she had hired a temp or two for some of the tasks. While the staff was appreciative of the temps work, they also looked skeptically as Sarah’s claim, as they were all swamped with work even before the project. Now they were simply overloaded.
In the midst of this, Sarah had decided what her major area of focus was going to be. She needed a new title. Claiming her present title didn’t sufficiently convey the importance of her role, she had gone on a campaign of trying to change her title to something more appropriate. As the machinery of this involved some of the systems that she was in charge of, she would appropriate some of the time of the people of the department to make this happen. It didn’t seem to matter to her that her people were already beyond their capacity. This was important to Sarah, as it would give her the title she so well deserved.
So, it came as no real surprise when a member of her department, involved in getting testing done before the deadline later that day, opened her mailbox to see a note from Sarah designated as high priority. Opening it, they saw all the approvals necessary for the title change had come through and that Sarah had to have it officially put into the system right away, or, in Sarah speak, by end of day.
Dutifully, the employee of the department closed the testing they were doing, opened up another system, and entered the information to officially change Sarah’s title. After saving that information, the employee looked at the clock and saw that, with the time used for that ‘high priority’ task, they would now have to stay late, again, to finish the testing for the day. Otherwise, they risked a note from their supervisor or from Sarah herself scolding them for not getting this done, causing someone to call her and ask why the testing wasn’t done, and suggesting they really needed to manage their time better.
“Yep”, the employee thought to them self, “I now feel so much more respect for Sarah now that she has this new title.” The employee looked to Sarah’s office. She had decided to leave for the day, probably claiming that she deserved the time off for all the work she had done that day.
Arnold was in a panic. Things weren’t going the way he had planned them, and he wasn’t happy about it in the least. If all had gone as he had manipulated, he would have had Vince exactly where he needed him, things going just as he wanted, and the near future looking good. Unfortunately, Vince had thrown his plans into such disarray that he didn’t know what do to next.
Arnold used to be Vince’s department head. Since taking the job, Arnold had relied upon Vince and his colleagues to look good to the client. Arnold’s clients would ask for a solution, which Vince or one of his colleague would work hard to provide. They were then mandated to hand it in to Arnold, who would take it to the client, take credit for it, and then reap all the praise for the great work.
In Vince’s case, Arnold added a bit extra to that formula. On a regular basis, Arnold would criticize Vince for one thing or another, demeaning his knowledge, running down his experience, and basically making Vince feel like he was lucky Arnold didn’t fire him and that Vince was fortunate to still have a job. This was Arnold’s way of ensuring that Vince stayed worked for him, and not seeking a better job or asking for a raise or promotion.
The whole system began to unravel when the company they worked for underwent massive downsizing and restructuring. Within a two year span, thousands of the employees were either downsized or their business unit sold to another company. It was a bloodbath, in no uncertain terms, and caused Arnold’s self-preservation instincts to jump into high gear.
The latest ‘restructuring’ was being announced, and though Vince no longer worked directly for Arnold, his work was integral to Arnold’s sterling reputation with his clients. As the rest of Vince’s colleagues had already been laid off, Arnold relied upon Vince more than ever.
So, in order to keep this good thing going, Arnold announced to Vince that he was going to ‘save’ him from the latest round of layoffs. The latest restructuring gave Arnold two employees, and he was going to make sure that Vince received one of those slots. Vince greeted this with less enthusiasm than Arnold expected, but he accepted the offer.
A week later, after the application deadline for all the ‘restructured’ spots was over, Arnold came to Vince and told him he could no longer consider him for that position. He used the old excuse of, ‘you don’t have the skills necessary’, though offered no explanation why he didn’t know this a week and a half ago. In reality, Arnold had been told in no uncertain terms that, if Vince took the position, he could no longer do the work for Arnold that had made him look so good. As this was the only reason why Arnold wanted Vince in the position, he quickly reversed course.
Realizing where this placed his gravy train, Arnold approached Vince and told him that he was going to fight to have Vince placed on a new team. What Vince replied with threw Arnold into a tailspin. Vince’s reply? “No, you won’t.”
If this had been a Hollywood film, Vince would have had a wonderful speech about how Arnold had finally gone too far with his lies, deceptions, manipulations, and other acts. Instead, he simply said, “You didn’t want me the first time. I don’t want to be part of yours or any other team in the company any longer.” He further admonished Arnold not to try to get him on any other team.
Arnold was dumbfounded. He had worked so long manipulating those around him to his own advantage. He thought he had Vince convinced that he was so worthless that only Arnold’s kindness and largess was saving him. Apparently, he had underestimated Vince’s resilience, as well as his tolerance for the nearly inhuman way he and his colleagues had been treated by Arnold’s peers.
A few days later, Arnold came back to Vince to offer him another ‘solution’. Vince could come back as a contractor! Vince looked at Arnold and asked, “If I don’t want to be part of this place as an employee, why would I want to be part of it as a contractor?”
In the end, Vince was laid off from the company, and Arnold didn’t even wish him well on his way out. He found a position soon after, but kept in touch with some of his former colleagues. From them he learned that, within six months, Arnold’s reputation with his clients was in tatters. He was no longer working miracles, and his clients weren’t happy about that. The two people he had hired for the spots under him, one of them his good friend, weren’t working out, and his life was miserable. Vince, still healing from the abuses heaped upon him at the company, reacted with muted recognition, and got back to work at his new job.
The picture above is from an old cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor. One of Popeye’s famous lines was, when he had enough, “That’s all I can stand; I can’t stand no more”. If your way of keeping your good people is to threaten, manipulate, criticize, and make them feel altogether lucky to have a job, be prepared to be surprised. Each employee, like Vince, will have their Popeye moment and decide that living with the abuse is no longer the way they want to exist. They will then do something surprising that you never expected, because your own ego won’t allow you to believe anyone but you is pulling the strings.
And, when that employee leaves, and you are left scrambling to have to fill some very big shoes, remember Popeye. Remember as well that, if you simply treated your employees with respect and courtesy, everyone succeeds. If you don’t, only your employees will emerge stronger at the finish.
After 12 years on the air, Carol Burnett signed off her variety television show with a tearful farewell. So, it was quite the surprise when, a year later, she was headlining another variety series. Burnett, always the realist, started the first episode with an almost news like ticker showing how she had signed off from her show saying she could never really go back to the variety format. The camera then panned to Burnett in her current show, where she simply said, “So, I lied”. She explained a while later in an article for a magazine that she kept seeing things on the news and was saying, “Hey, that would be great to satirize…if we still had a show”.
We at the Good Management Blog wanted to stay away. A lot of good words had been written and many good points made about the case studies we wrote. However, new stories kept coming to us and we said, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to…”. So, like Burnett, we decided to make a return.
We may not post as frequently as before, as our circumstances have changed, but when we see something good, we’ll post it. You may also see a bit more snark in our posts, which is fully deliberate! As we said, things have changed.
Hope you enjoy!
This will be the 225th post in this blog. We began this with a specific purpose, and now that purpose has been satisfied. Like the picture above, we’ve come to the end of the road. We’ll keep the blog up for a while, but there probably won’t be any more posts. There are new mountains to conquer, and new roads to travel.
We can’t leave without some recognition. Thank you to all of you who have become fans of the site, read about all our characters, and identified with the situations we wrote about. It is your encouragement that kept us going for 225 blogs, and some great times relating our stories.
Remember, you always have the power to make your work situation better if you just give it your best effort. That’s what we’ve done here, given our best effort, and what a ride it was.
It’s time to find another road…
Sam sat down at his desk in his new job and began his morning routine. After signing into the computer, he would open up the mail program to see what came in overnight. Then, he would proceed to get into the other programs he needed to do his job.
One of the pieces of mail he found in his Inbox that day was a routine announcement from the department’s administrative assistant. She forwarded along to new employees, like Sam, the schedule of days where the company would be closing early in anticipation of a national holiday, where the company would be closed. While it was a rather routine email, it made Sam smile, as he recalled a similar conversation at his old company, but a much different outcome.
Several months prior, Sam had a conversation with a fellow employee of his former company. It was a rather routine conversation, skipping from subject to subject. One of those subjects was an innocent comment wondering why the company waited so long to let the employees know that they were being dismissed early on a day before a holiday. Granted, they realized that they didn’t have to be let out early. It was something that the company decided to grant. They did appreciate that. However, for as long as any of them had been with the company, they had always been let out a couple of hours early on a day before a holiday.
The issue, if you can call it that, came with the announcement of this early dismissal. Sometimes it would come a couple of days before the holiday. Other times it would come a few hours before the dismissal. Leadership always seemed to keep the employees on edge wondering whether they would be leaving early before a national holiday. Again, while it is a gift from the company, people could not plan to take advantage of that time until it was too late.
As it was around the time of a holiday, this topic came up, with Sam wondering why the company seemed so arbitrary in this. His colleague surprised Sam by actually having an answer. It seems, the colleague revealed, that the leadership of the company was dead set against announcing the early dismissals all at once for the year, or even well ahead of time for a very curious reason. That reason? The employees would then be given a new benefit, that of a few extra hours off due to a holiday. The leadership of the company did not want employees to think they were ‘entitled’ to this, decided to make this on a case by case basis, so employees knew it could be taken away at any time. Somehow, that explanation fit the company, but also made him feel a bit like a dog at the table begging for scraps. The leadership was being ‘kind enough’ to give a few extra hours off, and they would never let the employees forget it.
As the memory faded away and tucked itself back into his ‘bad old days’ folder, Sam read over the communication from the department’s administrative assistant. There, listed out, were the early dismissal days before national holidays, from that time until the end of the year. It felt good to be invited to the table instead of begging for scraps.
It had been a good run for Vance, but he decided he just didn’t want to go into Sarah’s department one more time. He was eligible for retirement, had planned his retirement well, and was ready to enjoy the rest of his life. So, when he dropped his papers on her desk, there were no regrets.
This left Sarah in a bit of a spot. One of Vance’s people was out on medical leave, and the others were scheduled for training that could not be moved the first week after he left the company. She asked him if he would postpone his retirement for a few weeks. The answer was no. She asked him if he would come back as a consultant for a few days a week to provide coverage. Why would he, Vance asked, come back with reduced pay and benefits to do the same work he had done as an employee? No, this is when he was retiring that that was it.
You might think Vance was being unreasonably stubborn, but he wasn’t. He had worked for Sarah for approximately 5 years. In those 5 years, he had seen his workload doubled, if not tripled, with Sarah being unmoving on giving his people a break in their work. Sarah had continually demanded more innovation, more programs, and more things that she could report on that ‘she’ had done with the department. It could be honestly said that Sarah based her rise in the ranks on Vance’s team’s work, with the only reward that they received was a continuous demand for more, more, more. He did this without one extra person on the team in all those years, doctor verified high blood pressure, and the stress causing his health did deteriorate. On the times when Vance did try to tell Sarah these things, Sarah would reply, “You’re not overworked. You’re simply not efficient enough. Put some of your work on your people. You need to learn how to delegate better.”
Oh, Vance did get one extra day off about three years ago when his team achieved monumental cost savings for the department, but that was it. So, now it was payback time. Sarah was now in a spot, and it was Vance’s turn to be intransigent, and he was reveling in every moment of it.
Sarah’s reaction to all of this was pure Sarah. Instead of finding ways to cover the gap and wishing Vance well, Sarah decided instead to try to recruit people into an anti-Vance clique. “Doesn’t it make you mad that Vance is leaving you at that time, with all this work to be done?”, she would ask some of his people, trying to make them resentful. To their credit, no one would join Sarah in throwing Vance under the bus. He had treated them as well as he could during his tenure and they would not turn on him simply because he decided to put his own interests first. Sarah was not happy.
How do you treat someone who helped account for your success? Do you look at the whole of their work and thank them for all they have done? Do you put on your pouty face simply because they finally have decided to look after their own best interests, something you have done for your entire tenure at the company? Which is the behavior of a leader? Which is the behavior of a three year old?
There’s a picture of a pouting face at the head of this article. I was going to put in another picture instead, but I didn’t think a picture of ‘big girl panties’ would go over too well.
In my last blog, I mentioned that Sam, an employee of the company, decided to resign and take a new job. That blog focused on how his manager’s manager, after denigrating he and his fellow employees’ talents, heaped false praise upon him when learning of his leaving.
Sad to say, that wasn’t the most head shaking thing to happen to Sam during the two weeks he spent at the company after he had resigned. That honor would go to Sarah, who now was the head of the department, but once was Sam’s immediate manager. Sarah and Sam made a good team until they had a disagreement on how to manage an employee who reported to Sam. If you know Sarah, and if you don’t, please feel free to read some of the blogs about her, you know this independent behavior of Sam’s would not go unpunished, and it didn’t. Since then, Sam and Sarah had a professional relationship, but any warmth or friendship between the two were products of a bygone era, at least as far as Sam was concerned.
So, with this in mind, you can understand Sam’s reaction to what Sarah did. During that two weeks, Sarah stopped by Sam’s desk, told him she heard he was leaving, and said the following: “That will leave me as the last of our little group that started here!”
Let that sink in. Not, “I wish you the very best of luck” or “You deserve to be happy” or even “Well, good luck in your future endeavors”. No, her comments were not directed to Sam’s future, but rather to herself. Sam was once again grateful for his training in keeping a neutral expression and placid smile on his face, as he knew the real story behind that comment, namely:
- There were four original employees in Sarah’s small group
- She had fired two of the four people
- Her treatment had driven the third person, Sam, out of the department
It was small wonder that she was the last person standing, as she had made sure that everyone else no longer worked for the company.
As mind numbing that comment was to Sam, he also realized it was a fitting ending to his relationship with Sarah. Nothing was ever or would ever be her fault. Her actions over the years had demonstrated she would practice yoga master movements in order to blame someone else for her own shortcomings. He was sure that there were no mirrors ever in her house, as she never seemed to reflect on her behavior or her actions. This last comment by her was fully representative of the manager and leader he had known during his tenure in the department. It was the person the Maxines of the department had learned to play so very well to their advantage. It was the person that the employees of the department feared more than respected.
Sarah had once last chance to prove that her ascent up the ladder had given her the skills befitting a leader. Sam could confidently leave the company knowing that he had made the right decision, as Sarah had proven that things would never change.
It was a seminal moment for Sam. There was no turning back. He walked into his manager’s office and handed in his resignation. It felt incredibly freeing and the culmination of so many years of effort.
Several hours later, Sam was called into his manager’s manager’s office. The executive wanted to let Sam know what a valued employee he was, if he would consider changing his mind, what a great member of the team he was, and the fantastic quality of his work.
Sam was grateful for the training in maintaining a neutral expression he developed over the past few years. If not, he might have burst out laughing halfway into the conversation.
This was the same executive who had:
- Told him the body of his work was extremely poor, but so was everyone else’s who reported to him
- Ignored all the extra work he had done to keep the department going, and rated him average, affecting his raise and bonus
- Told him he wasn’t qualified for a promotion available in the department
- Told him that, in the executive’s previous position, his peers would have tossed out his work as being inferior
So, now being given such head turning compliments rang more than just a bit false with Sam. It was obvious that the executive was worried about who would do the work that he relied upon for his success, and wanted to keep Sam there and happy. Sadly, it was too late. For Sam, it wasn’t just a letter of resignation, but rather a declaration of independence.
Still, if Sam had any hesitation about leaving, the none-too-convincing performance by the executive erased it completely.
Simply said, if you want your employees to stay, then treat them as if you want them to stay. Don’t expect to rush in at the last minute with sweet words and expect the employee to come rushing back saying, “You had me at hello!”. Work is not a romantic comedy with a happy ending despite all the hardships that took place in the movie. As a manager, however, you should not make it a horror movie, either.
Pretty words don’t change ugly actions. Good managers make sure that they put actions behind the pretty words, so the pretty words are necessary at all.
Larry was the employee that you really wanted in your organization. He had been with the company 20 years, knew how to build relationships, always had a joke on his lips, and his employees loved working for him. He didn’t take himself or the work too seriously, and he had a network in the company like none other.
Still, for reasons yet unknown, his upper management wanted him out. Maybe it was because he wasn’t fitting the mold of what they thought a manager should be. Maybe it was because he know too many people. Maybe because they wanted to move some people into his spot. Whatever the reason, his upper management wanted him out.
However, they could not just fire him. That would have cause too much of a lawsuit and issues. Instead, they changed his job description, causing him to have to travel around 50% of the time to far flung places around the globe. Larry cheerfully accepted this new assignment, but after a couple of years doing this, the strain was taking its toll. He looked tired, haggard, and he had lost a lot of his once abundant energy. One day, coming to the end of his rope, he turned in his resignation papers, though he had another 7 to 10 years until an ‘official’ retirement age.
A few weeks after Larry’s official retirement, his significant other, who also worked at the company, was still be peppered with questions as to how Larry was. Was he doing well in retirement? How is he feeling? Is he getting his energy back? It was a touching moment for Larry’s significant other that people were still concerned about him, and that he wasn’t forgotten.
Leave it to the company’s HR Director to ruin the scene. Upon hearing one of these conversations, the HR Director says the following: “Well, I’m glad he retired. If he didn’t soon, I was going to make life very unpleasant for him.” Small wonder that the gathering broke up very soon after that.
One of the salient employment statistics about the Millennial generation is that they don’t seem to stay in their jobs very long. One statistic said they may have 30 jobs in their lifetimes. While the sociologists point to many factors, I would like to point to a very specific one. How many Larrys are out there? How many HR Directors would be saying the same thing? Our newest generation in the workforce is highly educated. They see what is going on. How are they to react to treatment of someone who has devoted his life to a company? They see what was done to all the Larrys, see all the similar HR Directors, and can draw their own conclusions.
Maybe, just maybe, our workers would stay longer at their jobs and work with more enthusiasm if we had more Larrys, fewer executive management, and few HR Directors who thought like they do. What are we teaching our children? We’re teaching them to collect a paycheck, for nobody will give a damn about them but themselves.