Fish and Houseguests

End of the RoadThere’s an old saying that fish and house guests get stinky after about 3 days.  I’m not sure what the statistic is for a blog, but everything has an end.

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…

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Table Scraps

Dog begging for table scraps

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.

 

Retiring Your Professionalism

Pouting Baby

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.

The (Almost) Perfect Ending

Walking Out the Door

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.

Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Their Hypocrisy…

Walking Out the Door

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.

Let’s Get Larry

knife in the back

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.

The 24 Comments

Edited Text

It was a fairly standard document and practice.  Sam was writing a proposal for the department to do some work for another department.  He had written these many times before, had a template for it, and knew pretty much what to put in the document.

At least he thought he did, before his new manager showed up.  Right from the very beginning, she made it very clear that she was an ‘expert’ in these things and was going to show all of them how to do things the ‘right’ way, at least according to her way of thinking.  So, a new template was drawn up, the new manager told the staff what had to be placed into these proposals, and announced that each and every one of them had to be personally cleared by her before going to the customer.  Though the staff was rather insulted by this behavior, they complied, if only to keep their jobs.  The took deep breaths and began to do their work this new way.

Sam was one of the first to experience what this new way involved.  He wrote the proposal the way that the new manager had indicated, sent it off to her, and awaited her response.  A couple of days later it came back, and when opened, revealed that, on a two page document, she had made 24 separate comments on how it had to be improved.  The amount of electronic red ink on the paper alone threatened to overwhelm the word processing program.

That wasn’t all, though.  The comments were not the type where there was a suggestion of how things might be put differently.  No, they were direct comments about how to write each and every bullet point, or comments about how the items Sam had written down were poor, ineffective, or not of a quality nature.  What the new manager had done was remake the document in her image, according to what she thought was right, and schooled Sam in how things were going to be.  What the new manager had also done, in one big swath of red ink, was to sap any remaining motivation or love of his job right away.  Judging from the looks on the other faces of the employees around him, she was doing a good job in that respect to all the other staff.

We all have our ways of doing things, according to our own style.  Look for assessments of this and you will find dozens of tests to determine your personality or way of doing things.  It is human nature to do things a bit differently from someone else.  What’s more, a good manager knows this.

The good manager, if they want something done to a certain specification, leads the employee to that realization by questioning, self-realization, and explanation.  That manager knows that, while you may get things done with the stick, the carrot is much more effective in making sure people’s actions change to how you want things done.  This approach leads to learning, growing, and, in most cases, getting what you need without many hard feelings.

If you come in as the great hope of the department, determined to show how much you know and determined to convert the masses with the force of your personality, you are going to see a lot of backs turned to you.  If you tell instead of suggest, order instead of lead, and demean instead of persuade, you will get just what you intended:  a group of drones, not an engaged workforce.

A good manager does their job so their people learn and grow.

A bad manager does their job so their own ego can grow.  And they do it awash in a sea of red ink corrections.  That same sea of red ink will wash away your people as soon as they can get the chance to leave.  What will that do for your ego and, more importantly, your productivity?