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.
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…
We have very exciting news here at the Good Management Blog. Our first book is out! We’ve taken some of the very best from the past four years, added some new, never before seen content, and published a book called Engineered to Fail. If you’ve enjoyed the head shakingly bad management and leadership of Sarah, Maxine, and the whole cast of characters, we think you’ll enjoy this book, too!
Since we have never done things the traditional way, we’ve partnered with Smashwords, an e-book publisher, to host the book, and offered the book for an incredibly inexpensive $2.99 (US). We invite you to visit the link to the books page here — Engineered to Fail — and read the first 15% of the book for free. If you like what you read, we invite you to download the book in Kindle, Nook, Sony, and PDF formats.
Thank you for all your support!
It started around post 195. I realized I was about the come across a milestone in this blog that I began a few years ago. I would be publishing my 200th post. For many, that would not very much, but to me, it was, and is, incredible. Over the intervening weeks, as the post counter in WordPress slowly climbed to that magic number, I began to think of what I wanted the official 200th post to be. For inspiration, I looked down the road past the 190+ posts I had written as part of my crusade to make the world safe for employees.
As I read about the misbehaviors of Sarah, of Maxine, and of all the others who I have chronicled, an old question came back to my mind. It was early in this blog when a friend of mine and I met in a restaurant in Irvine, California. Over many topics of conversation that night was a thought that she might want to begin studying organizational psychology. She wanted to do this because she wanted to answer a question. That question? Why, after all these years of books and studies telling us how to manage effectively, so many managers and leaders still fall way, way short of that goal. As I went over the various posts on this site, the answer to that question, or at least a partial answer, came to me.
I can’t say that the thought is original. As a matter of fact, when I first read it, I didn’t think much of it. Over the years since I read that book, chronicled in this post, I have seen the wisdom in its very simple premise.
A good manager is one for whom management is an affair of the heart. They are in management and leadership for all the right reasons. They are there to be helpers and enablers. They are there to grow their people, help them in their career, and make them more than they ever thought they could be. They are there to be supporters, a shoulder to lean on in times of need, and a cheerleader. They fight for their people when necessary. They develop a bond with their people that goes beyond just the manager-employee relationship, making them someone who their employees would walk through fire for on any occasion. Their employees feel safe and respected. They also know that, when they screw up, that they will be told, but even that is okay. Their manager has built up their good will bank account so thoroughly that a withdrawal can be taken out now and then. Those good managers have employees who will work harder and longer than ever expected.
What is a bad manager? A bad manager is one for whom management is an affair of the ego. Their wanting to lead others can be read as wanting to have power over others. They want someone to do their work, especially the work they don’t like. The bad manager doesn’t care about overburdening their people, as long as the result makes the manager look good, all in preparation for the next step up the ladder. Their employees are disposable commodities, to be used, abused, and refused. When there is nothing left of the employees, there is no rehabilitation. Rather, they are fired, disposed of, and a fresh batch of servants brought in. There is no encouragement, no genuine kindness.
A bad manager sees employees as stepping stones, as those who should be told and not heard from. The bad manager thrives on false flattery and praise — anything to keep the ego going. No introspection is allowed. Any dissent from those who might want to disagree? Punishment is swift and humiliating. After all, we can’t have the ego attacked now, can we? When there are indications that the employees en masse are unhappy, the entire blame must be placed on the employee. Nothing can be allowed to penetrate to citadel of their own self-importance.
I could not have ever imagined writing post #200 in this blog when I began. Now, at this point of the journey, with story ideas coming at me from so many areas, it is difficult to believe that there is so much more to write. There is, however, and, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll keep writing a bit longer to expose those with the affair of the ego and celebrate those who have an affair of the heart.
Thank you to those who have been kind enough to follow these writings, to those who have given comments and feedback, and to those who have stopped in to read some of my words on paper. Thank you as well to the Sarahs and Maxines of the world, for without you, I would have nothing to write about.
To paraphrase Buzz Lightyear: “To post 300 and beyond!”
Hazel sighed. While she didn’t expect much else from Sarah, she still had to marvel at how oblivious she was to everyone else, no matter how much she claimed she ‘cared’ for her department. The latest meeting with Sarah, which was the reason for the elongated sigh, was the perfect example of this.
Sarah had called this meeting with Hazel to tell her about a ‘great’ idea that she had one day while out at lunch. Now, to be honest, the idea wasn’t bad. It would not go down in the annals of time as the greatest idea on the face of the earth, but it wasn’t bad. Now, since it was Sarah’s idea, it was going to be implemented, for though Sarah contended it was ‘safe to say’ a contrasting opinion, Hazel (and everyone else) knew it wasn’t. So, she just smiled and said yes, it was a good idea.
The ‘great’ idea would be implemented. That didn’t bother Hazel. She was used to implementing Sarah’s ideas, good, bad, and otherwise. What caused the sigh for Hazel was the time frame Sarah insisted be followed for the implementation of this idea. It had to be implemented by next month. Seeing that it was already the third week of the current month, this left little if no time for Hazel. She knew, from previous implementations, that she would have to consult with the lawyers, with regulatory, and with vendors, to get this implemented. If she and her team had nothing else on their plates, this might be a reasonable timeline. However, due to Sarah’s past ‘great’ ideas, they were slammed with work in the current month and the next month, leaving no time for this to happen. This was the cause of the sigh.
At no time during the conversation, which was rather one-sided on Sarah’s part, did she ask Hazel what kind of work she had in the next month. Not one inquiry was made as to whether her team would be able to add this to their current workload. There was not concern one for the welfare of the team or whether a team already overloaded with work could handle one more thing. No, as usual, Sarah showed a callous indifference to anyone else’s time or concerns. It will simply be done or there would be consequences. Hazel entered her office and began to see how much more overtime she would need to put in to make this latest brainstorm happen.
Where is your perspective as a manager? Is it solely focused on you, your career, and what others can do for you? Or, do you look at your team, what challenges they are facing, what their workload is at any given time, and then look at what you can do to make it easier for them? Does your viewpoint stop at the tip of your nose and go no further?
Your employees are your greatest resource, and the source of your success. If that is the case, shouldn’t you do everything to help them be their best? Doesn’t that deserve at least one question as to if they can implement something for you?
If you treat your employees simply as tools to get a job done, those are the results you will get. Emotionless, utilitarian, and inanimate. A good manager knows to treat their people as people to get amazing results. One thing is for sure…there will be a lot less sighing.
If you are a fan of the British science fiction television series Dr. Who, you might know the Ood. Basically a peaceful race, the Ood, which have human bodies and an octopus-like face, have been forced into servitude by a greedy Earth corporation. Part of this servitude is, not to be too graphic, a replacement of part of their brain with a sphere that allows them to speak.
In one episode, the normally docile Ood begin exhibiting very strong emotions. Some are angry to the point of being rabid. Others are filled with vengeance. The explanation is as bizarre as it complicated, but The Doctor explains it best. The Ood are beginning to express repressed feelings and they are coming out in many different ways.
The Doctor figures this out because he has observed Ood Sigma, the personal servant Ood of the head of the corporation which is harvesting and enslaving the Ood. Ood Sigma didn’t exhibit any of the violent emotions that the other Ood were experiencing. He seemed as docile and devoted as ever to the head of the corporation. It is only late in the episode that we find that assumption to be wrong. Ood Sigma has been experiencing emotions, but for him, it came out as cold revenge. No violent outbursts for him. No. Instead, he sought revenge, thinking it out coolly and was willing to play the long game to get to his goal. The revenge, shall we say, was both ironic and fitting. If you have never seen the episode, I commend you to watch it. I won’t say any more here, as it would contain, as another Dr. Who character would say, ‘spoilers’.
So what does this have to do with a management blog? There are great parallels. If you are not a good manager, you have probably seen, and ignored many of the Ood emotions in your group. Anger, despair, vengeance, and even hopelessness. What about the Ood Sigmas in your group? The ones who are plotting to do some kind of revenge for the way they and their co-workers have been treated? Is there some industrial espionage planned? Some big blaze of glory exit? Letters being written? Data being damaged? This blog is in no way advocating or suggesting any of those acts. It is simply stating that, due to a manager’s poor management, irreparable harm may happen to the company or the manager’s department. And no one will ever see it coming. Remember, Edward Snowden was simply a contractor up until one fateful day.
The same managers who either don’t believe their poor behavior has no victims, or simply refuse to acknowledge the damage they have done can cause a wide spread of illness, emotion, and pain. To those managers, I offer some simple advice: watch out for the Ood Sigmas in your staff. Better yet, become a good manager and defuse the situation altogether.
“We need to have more fun”, announced Marjorie one day during a staff meeting. Her boss, the unit manager, had opened the floor up to any comments people would want to make, Marjorie, never one to miss an opportunity to endear herself to her manager, began speaking almost immediately. She even brought up an idea which she considered ‘fun’. Why not have the executive leadership of the company wash the staff’s cars for charity. She was sure that staff watching executives wash their cars was going to be a laugh riot.
Another long tenured co-worker reminded her that there were some issues the last time this was tried, shutting down the idea. However, the idea in itself didn’t expire there. The unit manager said that yes, we needed more fun, and were there any ideas from the rest of the group.
One newer employee spoke up. It seems that she and the woman she shared an office with were discussing something that her co-workers in a previous job used to do. Once a year, they would get together as a department and bring their wackiest stories of people who had come to them with issues. They would take out all the names of the employees and only describe the situations in general terms. Once all the stories were told, the ‘wackiest’ one would then win the prize, which was, in this case, a crown. According to the employee, it was a highly anticipated gathering from all the employees.
Further discussion of this idea resulted in the following idea. Why don’t we have a monthly contest like this? Within the staff meeting, staff would bring the wackiest stories of the month and then compete. The prize? Why, another crown! Satisfied that they had come up with the solution they needed, the unit manager moved on with the meeting.
So, in short, the unit manager approved an idea in which members of the department competed to see how much fun they could make of their co-workers in the company. Members of this company would come to this department for help in various, sometimes personal, matters, and now it would all go in as fodder for winning a crown.
That ‘thud’ you heard was the sound of employee confidentiality taking its last breath and collapsing on the floor.
The next sound you heard was that of trial lawyers rubbing their hands together in glee at the prospect of millions of dollars in fines and judgements.
The third sound you didn’t hear was that of silence, because nobody would dare speak up against this lest they face the wrath of the unit manager and her mantra of ‘I can never please you folks’.
While some may claim that ‘business’ and ‘fun’ are two opposing forces, kudos needs to be given to those managers who try to inject at least a bit of fun into the workplace. Companies like Google and Pixar have made good attempts to try to get people to be more creative and expressive at work by adding an element of fun to the work day. None of them, I would hazard a guess, advocated fun by making sport of the troubles that your fellow co-workers bring to you. I would go a bit further and say that none of them would want to make a contest of who is considered the least credible of the bunch.
A good manager knows where the lines are drawn, and even errs on the side of conservatism in that respect. However, that same good manager would not really have to worry about that, as they would know their people well enough to see what could be done to inject some fun into the work day. They are innovative in their ideas and applications, and do push the boundaries for the sake of their employees. None of them do it as the expense of someone else.
There is another issue, which I will combine in my next blog, as it fits there perfectly. For now I leave you with this thought. As I mentioned, the leader of the meeting was a unit manager, so not the head of the whole department, but leading a group within it. The name of that department? Human Resources.
“No, I’m sorry I don’t know where Leslie is”, Darleen said with a wry smile on her face. This was about the third call she had received today on that subject. She had lost count over the amount of times that question had been asked of her since she began working for Leslie. For clarification, Darleen was not Leslie’s administrative assistant. Yes, Leslie was her manager, but Darleen as a professional in her own right. It wasn’t Darleen’s job to keep track of Leslie’s schedule. So, why did people continue to contact her to find out where Leslie was? Simple…Leslie could never be found.
Like Wally from Dilbert®, Leslie seemed to make a career out of not being found. People would stop by her office…and she would not be there. People would look for her in meetings which she had accepted…and she would not be there. People would look for her for events which she was supposed to attend…and she would not be there. Leslie would tell no one where she was going, and of course tell no one when she’d be back. It began to be like Bigfoot…people would talk when there was a sighting of her.
It was more than an inconvenience for Darleen, however. If it was simply telling people she had no idea where Leslie was, it was annoying but she could handle that. At times, Leslie would ask Darleen to sit in for her in a meeting. She assured Darleen that it was only to take notes, as Leslie could not make it. Inevitably, Darleen would show up and the other meeting attendees were given the expectation that Darleen was Leslie’s proxy, fully knowledgeable on the subject and fully empowered to make decisions. More than once Darleen was embarrassed because she was being looked to playing a role which she was not prepared for, because she was told something fully different from what the others had been told. Since the one area that Leslie did work hard in was being a part of the Good Old Boys and Girls Club, she was never reprimanded about this, or perhaps she was and put the blame squarely upon Darleen.
Let’s look at this a few ways:
First, what kind of example is a manager setting when she doesn’t call people back, doesn’t attend meetings, isn’t in her office, and generally can’t be found? Is this someone who is approachable, dependable, and reliant? Or, is the lesson the manager is teaching that it is acceptable to skip out on whatever you can, take a master class in hiding, and generally make a career out of avoidance? Will she accept this from her employees, or will there be a double standard enforced?
Second, what kind of manager sends in her employee to meetings with one set of expectations given to the employee and a second to the other attendees of the meeting? A manager is supposed to set up her employees to succeed, not be thrown to the wolves. If the manager wanted the employee to take over this meeting responsibility, it is up to the manager to fully brief the employee on the meeting’s purpose, its goals, and then empower the employee to act on the manager’s behalf. What happened in Darleen’s case made her look like a fool, and probably angered the other meeting participants who were probably thinking, “Great, another wasted meeting because Leslie isn’t here to tell us she actually did something.” Leslie wasn’t there to take that feedback, however, because she couldn’t be bothered to attend.
Third, a good manager takes responsibility for their actions or inactions. In Leslie’s case, she never seemed to get in trouble for her actions, either because she had protection from higher up, or blamed her people for her mistakes. Either way, it’s poor management. Making a mistake is expected. Learning from that mistake and taking corrective action is mandated. It says a lot about Leslie’s management that they allowed this to continue.
I once wrote that showing up is a good part of good management. If you as a manager could have a real life version of “Where’s Waldo” based on your attendance record, then it is time to reassess your priorities. If your management is so chummy with you that they allow this kind of behavior to continue, then it is time to break up that old gang and start afresh with a new game. It’s called, “Accountability”.
“I want you to grow and develop yourself, to get yourself the job you want, even if it isn’t with this company.” This was the perception of a high level leaders of a company who took it upon herself to teach two classes in good resume and interviewing tactics based on the book she had written about the practice. Staff in the company responded well to this, appreciating that the company was interested in not just what they give to the the company, but how the staff could grow in their careers.
Time went on and the leader could no longer teach the class. One of her staff thought it was a good idea still and has talked with his supervisor about taking over and revamping the class. The supervisor thought it was a good idea and brought it to her manager. That is where the idea ended. The manager declared that it was not in the company’s interest to spend its money to teach people how to leave the company. The classes were removed from the catalog, and the staff would no longer have the opportunity to practice their skills in getting a new job, whether it be inside the company or outside the company.
I found this to be a very sad development when I heard about it. It seemed rather shortsighted. The manager had assumed that the people taking the course would immediately beat a path out of the company to find their own version of the promised land. Following that train of reasoning, if she was so worried about that possibility, what does it say about her view of the company and the company in general?
A manager can have three different types of worldviews. They can have the company worldview, where they see everything out of the prism of what is good for the company, no matter if it hurts the employees or not. They can have a personal worldview, where they see everything out of the prism of what is good for them, and not care if it is good for the company or the employees. Or, they can have a people worldview, where they see everything out of the prism of what is good for my people (the ones they supervise) or the people of the company in general. Most, in my experience, have a combination of the three. The ones who are rated good managers by their employees have a healthy dose of the people worldview in that combination.
The people view managers have a longer view. They see that things like a resume writing class may cause some to charge for the door. They also see that the same class may give a promising employee the skills to bid for a new job, possibly one that would promote them in the company. You’ve retained someone who hopefully now sees that the company is investing in them, so they will do more to invest in the company. Yes, it could be that the newly promoted employee may be the type of manager we’ve written about for 100 entries or so, but it is the chance you take. The people view manager is willing to take that chance, knowing that it can provide an avenue for some really good leaders of the next generation to be born.
The corporate worldview managers are well too cautious for that. Their is a very short term view. The next report, the next quarter, the next performance review. What if someone leaves the company because of the resume class? They want people at their desks, laboring away for the good of the company, not giving a thought to their own well-being. Yes, they can get promoted, but they have to do it on their own time, not the company’s! You want to learn how to write that resume? Fine, you take a class, read a book, or find some training on it on your own time. You can ignore the spouse, the kids, the dog, or the responsibilities for a while. You can’t ignore that the company needs you slaving away, not being a dreamer.
In the end, it wasn’t really about a resume class. It was about two different styles of thinking. The leaders who offered the class originally saw that it was her responsibility to grow the people of the company, making them better people, and making it a better company. The manager who refused to continue the classes saw it was her responsibility to stop anyone from wasting the company’s money for a chance to possibly leave the company. I wonder if she even thought that those employees with managers like her would probably not allow their people to take the resume class anyway, and for the very same reasons.
It comes down to a very simple equation. The people worldview managers don’t have to worry as much about their people leaving, because they don’t want to. The personal or corporate worldview managers do have to worry about their people leaving, and one company sponsored class won’t make a big difference for someone heading out the door.