Going Ood

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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.

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The Crowning Glory

“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.

The Case of the Missing Manager

“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”.

The Manager Worldview

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“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.

A Dickens of Impatience

There are no ghosts, but there should be a passing resemblance between what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge and Francine, the subject of this story.  Unfortunately, while the lessons were the same, there was no change of heart for our hero in this story.

Many people in the department knew they could go in and ask Francine a question.  They also knew they could not go in and ask Francine a question twice.  If they did, they would get the same reaction.  Francine would roll her eyes, exhale loudly, and talk condescendingly, as if to say, ‘I told you this once, I should not have to tell you again’.  In essence, Francine was telling the people of her department that she was too busy, too important, to be bothered with their silly questions, and to ask a second time was just an imposition on her and her time.

Francine then became seriously ill.  In her long convalescence, she had to relearn to do some previously simple tasks.  She had to repeat those tasks again and again.  Each time, Francine’s therapists would patiently work with her until she had learned the lessons she needed in order to do the task.  There was no eye rolling.  There were no exasperated exhalations.  There was no annoyance in their coaching of her.  See the parallel?

Happily, Francine overcame the illness and got through her therapy well.  She returned to work and resumed her duties.  Unfortunately, the lessons taught to her during her time in rehab were lost on her.  Less than a month into her resumed duties, she also resumed the eye rolls, the exhalation, and the exasperated replies if someone dared to ask something a second time.  She had learned nothing from her Ghost of Christmas Present, it seems.

We expect a lot of our leaders.  We expect them to teach us, to mentor us, and to model the behavior they wish us to exhibit.  When they don’t, it is glaringly obvious, especially when they advocate one thing and do another.  We hope that they will learn, that there will be an epiphany of some sort that will show them how they have acted is not appropriate, as their employees can’t tell them lest they receive sanctions.  When that opportunity happens and they learn nothing, any sympathy that the staff may have had for the leader disappears.  Employees feel the caring was wasted on someone who does not have the will to change, to see that they are wrong, or the ego to recognize their faults.  It leads to an even more dispirited workforce.

To paraphrase Dickens, a good manager should live good management in their hearts throughout the whole year.  When they don’t. even after they have been given an extraordinary chance to change their ways, even Jacob Marley could not save them.

The Petulant Manager Strikes Again

Recently, I wrote about a leader in an organization who was acting more like a petulant child than someone who is supposed to be the example setter for the group.  As she didn’t get to keep a temporary job where she realized her dream of leading an organization, but did get a promotion and a big, fat raise out of the deal, she decided to act as if she would take her ball and go home from the playground.  It seems that this manager wasn’t through having a temper tantrum.

One of the people in the department she used to supervise came to her with a question.  It was within the scope of her knowledge, and she had trumpeted her knowledge of the subject to many.  The manager could have done two things and still stayed professional:

  • Answered the question, but suggest that the employee go see the head of the department about her view on the subject, as the head of the department was the person this employee now reported to, or
  • Politely referred the employee to the head of the department, indicating that she would not want to contradict what the employee’s manager would say

Unfortunately, neither of those happened.  Instead, the manager snapped at the employee, saying, “I’m no longer your boss, go talk to the person who is”.  The employee, feeling her head bitten off, slowly backed away and spoke to her own manager, who answered the question and settled the matter.

I am reminded of a story from several years ago.  A first level vice president at a company was speaking to me about how there seems to be no teamwork anymore.  The reason for this discussion was that an employee had informed him that she could not handle an assignment that he wanted to give to her.  On the surface, it would seem the v.p. had a point.  If one knew the department, however, one would have seen that the v.p. was shedding crocodile tears, as he rarely did anything that didn’t benefit himself first and foremost, and this was one of those situations.  He was trying to pawn work off on this employee, and when he didn’t get his way, was couching it in terms of teamwork and not helping each other.

The leader could have politely dealt with the employee, acting in a professional manner and guiding her to where she should have asked the question.  No, she was still stewing in her own bitterness of not getting what she wanted and lashing out at people she knew could not inform her that this was unacceptable behavior.  This behavior, which she would have called anyone else on the carpet about, didn’t have to happen, and added another count to why the department wasn’t exactly fond of this leader.  Apparently, she didn’t care about being a role model.  She only wanted to take her ball and go home.

Part of leadership is learning to lose gracefully and putting the best interests of the department ahead of your own.  A good manager or leader does this, knowing they still have to put on the professional face when dealing with their people.  Want to stomp and fume?  Walk out of your building and find the nearest playground.  There you will find those who act in such a way, and they won’t care how important you think you are.