Home Sweet Home

Fingers Crossed Behind Back

They should have taken bets.  The staff realized this too late, of course, so all they could do is sit and watch the creative excuses unfold.

Sarah had made telecommuting an art form.  While most of the staff had one day of telecommuting a week, and a few had two, Sarah would try to see how many days she could get away with not having to come into the office.  No subject was off limits for her to employ her excuses for staying at home.

  • There was snow on the ground
  • There was snow on the way
  • It looked like it was going to storm fiercely
  • She needed privacy
  • She wasn’t feeling well, but well enough to work from home
  • She had a half day off in the afternoon, so why bother coming in the morning?
  • She had a day off in the morning, and it didn’t make sense to come in for the afternoon
  • Her husband, son, neighbor, dog, neighbor’s dog, complete stranger wasn’t feeling well and she didn’t feel right about leaving them
  • Alien invasion

If it were simply that she wanted to stay home, the staff would have been somewhat accepting of this.  After all, it meant she wasn’t in the office to tell everyone their jobs and give extra work.  This was a bonus.

Sarah’s telecommuting had a dark side to it, though.  First, any day she telecommuted, she would inform everyone that they had to rearrange their schedules in order to accommodate her telecommuting.  If they had to change everything for her, then so be it.  She could not be inconvenienced by something as complicated as a web conference or conference call.  Second, if she wasn’t there to sign off on something urgent, progress stopped.  She needed to be in to sign off on items, and her telecommuting interfered with that.  Third, there were simply things that staff needed to talk with her about in person.  A phone call would not do.  She had to make decisions, and she needed to be there for this.  None of this mattered to Sarah, of course, as it was her telecommuting, and she wanted it to be that way.

When Sarah was tapped to head the department, her habits changed slightly.  Based on what she was doing, the staff guessed that she was told by her new boss that she could take one telecommuting day a week, and one only.  Sarah dutifully promised this would be the case.

The staff was still kicking themselves for not taking bets about how long this would last before she found some way around it.

For the first few weeks, Sarah was a good girl.  She took one day a week as her telecommuting day, and that was it.  She was out of the office other times, but they were for official travel.

Then, when no one was looking, the excuses crept back in again.  One day stretched into a day and a half.  A day and a half stretched into two.  The stretching continued for as long as Sarah was able to get away with it.

Staff knew that if any of them ever tried what Sarah did, they would be hauled in front of her so fast it would make their head spin.  Employee Relations would tell them the telecommuting rules chapter and verse from the employee handbook, and they would be informed that telecommuting was a privilege and not a right.  If they wished to continue to telecommute, they would be able to do so only once a week, maybe twice, but that was it.  After all, work would have to get done.

There was one silver lining in that, though.  Sarah would want to make sure she told them all this personally.  That would mean she would have to be in the office to do so.  That might give the employee months and months before the conversation took place.

The Double Take Comment

Jon Stewart doing double take

The new Director’s staff filed into the conference room and dutifully sat down.  These meetings were common in the Director’s four month tenure at the company.  A bit too common, actually, and the staff was getting tired of meeting.

Among the attendees where Phil and Don.  Earlier in the Director’s brief tenure, they had both applied for the opening of Manager, reporting to the Director.  Both brought skills, talent, and tenure to the position.  The Director thought differently, though and decided not to choose either of them for the position.  Instead, he brought someone in from the outside, who did not know the company’s culture or ways of doing things.  Both Phil and Don were understandably disappointed, but soldiered on with their duties.

This particular meeting was one to discuss some of the statistics that the Director had unearthed in his research on the company.  One rather disturbing statistic was that the company did a miserable job of hiring from within.  Around 70% of the new managerial hires were hired from outside the company, the Director reported.

While that would have been ironic, what he said after that would cause whiplash.  “That is a terrible statistic, and this company needs to do better for hiring from within.  How is anyone supposed to feel engaged or that they are part of the company when there is no career path.”, the Director stated.

There needed to be no words to describe the look that Phil and Don gave to each other.  They continued to listen at the meeting, having learned a valuable lesson about the type of person this new Director was, one which they would remember for a very long time.

You’re new to a company.  You’re in a position of some prominence.  Your new folks don’t know you from a hole in the ground.  It’s probably a good idea to start earning a good reputation right away.  A reputation that says you are honest, straightforward, mean what you say, and have your employees’ best interest at heart.  You have nothing in your reputation’s bank account on which to draw, so you better make some deposits quickly.

Doing one thing while saying another probably isn’t the best way to go.  Unless, however, you don’t care about how you are judged.  If that is the case, be ready for a team that will be judging every word you say and action you take, and not giving you the benefit of the doubt at any time.

You also might see an increase in medical premiums…from all the double-takes they will be doing.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Cameras facing each other

Author’s note:  This is the 199th blog I have written for this site.  While blog #200 will be reflections on that, I did want to make note of it here, and the reason why this particular blog is being written.  It has been saved for quite a long time.

When an employee does something against company policy, or a manager is underperforming in some way, the usual cry is to get Human Resources (HR) involved.  This is natural and to be expected.  HR is the body that is charged with creating and maintaining a workplace that both respects the laws of a country and prevents lawsuits from ever happening in the first place.  Thus, if something is taking place that is unprofessional, illegal, or unlawful, it is HR that is duty bound to set it right.  It is an unpleasant duty, but HR is supposed to be the watchman of the organization.

What happens when it is HR that is breaking the rules?  What happens when it is HR that has staff acting unprofessionally?  Can they be trusted to police themselves?  Or, because they are the watchmen, they are free to ignore their own acts and act with impunity.  If you are a member of HR and are being treated unfairly and unprofessionally, who do you go to?  Who watches the watchers?  And, if the watchers know there is no one watching them, do they then act accordingly?

In my collection of stories about good managers and bad, I have heard a lot of HR stories.  Many HR organizations are good.  They try their best under very difficult circumstances to serve their constituents.  However, there are others that let the following go on:

  • An Employee Relations person in a college was known for gossiping about any case that came to her.  If anyone complained, they found an Employee Relations case leveled against them.
  • An Employee Relations manager routinely ignored complaints about managers, but would always prosecute employees when a manager would come to her with a complaint.
  • An HR Director, when asked about an executive in the company who had a file of complaints 3 inches thick, responded, “Yeah, she’s a problem”
  • An HR person said the following to an employee who issued a complaint about her manager routinely cursing at her: “He outranks you and that makes him right”.

If this is what is said and done outwardly to the company, what does that say about how they treat their own people?  If this is the standard they set for the company and expect no pushback, what do they get away with in their own department?  What nepotism, politics, and punishment goes on when there is no one to report these abuses to?  Much like the stories above, I have heard many of how the HR department acts with impunity to their own people because there is no recourse for their employees.  I’ve reported a fair number of them over the past 200 blogs, but there are many more in the files.

Everyone needs oversight, for without it, the temptation to cheat becomes too great.  Even the watchers need someone to watch them.  Let’s enforce honesty in those who are supposed to enforce honesty in others.

The Rules Don’t Apply to Us!

Bird Breaking Rules

Sam and Ralph were enjoying this lunch conversation. They had not seen each other in some time, so there was quite a bit of catching up to do.  Many topics were covered, including some of the latest happenings in the company.

One of those was the recent employee all hands meeting, which is talked about in this blog.  While they both agreed that the questions were avoided with amazing dexterity, Sam took the conversation in a different direction.  Sam mentioned that he was disappointed that his question did not get answered.

What question was that?  A very intriguing one.  “Company policy states that employees cannot get more than one promotion in a year.  Yet, there are several people in {Sam’s Department} that have received multiple promotions in one year.  Why hasn’t HR stopped this?”  He knew Ralph couldn’t answer that one, because of two reasons:

  • Ralph worked in HR
  • The same thing happened in HR

Yes, in the bastion of the rule makers, HR, the rule about promotions had been broken a few times, most recently with a manager who received two promotions within six months.  This particular manager had also scored the largest of the offices.  It paid to be liked by the head of the department.

This had been on Ralph’s mind even before his conversation with Sam.  The head of the department was always going on about how she wanted the department to be taken seriously and as a true partner by the business.  Yet, she failed to see that acts like this diminished her credibility among her peers and the employees in her department and in the company.  This person, who should be thinking strategically, instead always thought parochially…what was best for her, without giving thought or care to the consequences of her acts.

This behavior also had an impact on the other departments.  If HR didn’t have to follow the rules, why should they?  They are only following HR’s example, and if called on it, they would not hesitate to call out HR for being hypocritical about what they say and what they do.  It had become a company where no one followed the rules, but only the dictates of their own ambition.  What a great place to work, huh?

Leadership is more than just reporting authority. That gets you only so far.  It also has to be about moral authority.  You show you care about the rules you lay down by following them.  This gives you a stronger argument to others to say they should follow them.  If you go about flaunting the rules at every turn, why should anyone else follow them?  And, if you won’t have the power of the organization chart behind you to enforce those rules, don’t expect people to care who you are or what you say.  All they see is the hypocrite, and hypocrites don’t get much respect at all.


Strengths and Weaknesses

Circus Strongman

Finally!  There has been someone hired for the position Sarah vacated when she became head of the department.   It had been a long search, and many in the department were happy that the extra work they had shouldered may finally be alleviated, at least partially.  The person who finally secured the position isn’t the story of this article, however.  Rather, it is the lesson taught in the search.

The position took so long to fill because of the special requirements established by Sarah for the candidate.  The applicant had to have special skills in one area, in order to assist one area of Sarah’s department.  What area was that?  The area that Maxine was in charge of.  You remember Maxine.  She had no one come to her retirement party, she praised bad management, and insulted employees who made innocent inquiries.  When the position became open, Sarah required that the successful candidate be able to help out Maxine.  This was not a requirement for any of the other managers under Sarah.

Question One:  What does that say about Maxine?’

No candidate who came through the door seemed to have that skill set that Sarah was seeking, so the position remained unfilled, and Sarah’s managers remained overworked.  Months passed, and the job was continually re-posted.  More candidates came in, and more candidates left without an offer.

Then, Maxine tendered her retirement papers.  Someone new was hired (I won’t say a replacement), and they were given time to settle in.  As the new manager in the position that was Maxine’s became more comfortable, she showed her knowledge, her background, and her innovative spirit.  She also affected a change in the hiring of the person who would be her manager.  The candidate for the job no longer needed to have a specialty in what was Maxine’s area.

Question Two:  Why did Sarah suddenly decide that the specialization was no longer needed?

The candidate they hired was good, and had the requisite experience and background to do the job well.  He also had the good fortune to come in at the time when someone new was in Maxine’s old position.

Which leads up to the final three questions of this article.

Question Three:  Why would Sarah, who had no inhibition in firing those she felt were doing their job poorly or incompetently, bend over backwards so much to help Maxine?

Question Four:  What standards did she hold for others in the department that seemed to be ignored for her dear friend Maxine?

Question Five:  How well does that bode for the respect, or lack of it, the other managers, and the others who saw this hiring process take place, have for Sarah?

Good Advice…for Everyone Else


There was a hard and fast rule in Sarah’s mind for any event that her group hosted.  If there were prizes raffled off, her staff could not enter the drawings.  It was a reasonable demand from her, the staff admitted.  What happened if a member of Sarah’s staff won one of the really good prizes?  Even if an auditing agency had presided over the drawing and signed affidvits testifying to the validity of the drawing, someone might believe that there was something crooked in the drawing and the department’s reputation could be damaged.  So, even though some of the prizes were quite good, the staff members never entered any contest in which they were involved.

Then the naming contest came about.  It seems that a room dedicated to the use of one of Sarah’s departments was built, alleviating the need for that department to beg, borrow, or steal a room from another group, or hope that a public room was available.  As the room was being finished, it was decided that a contest would be held to name the room.   Like the other contests, staff members of the company could enter their suggestion and an impartial panel would choose the best answer, giving the room a name.  The contest was announced, a special mailbox was set up to gather the entries, and staff was invited to send in their entries.

Looking through the entries, one name stood out.  Sarah had put in an entry.  A delicate inquiry was made to her regarding if this could be seen as suspect by the staff for the same reasons she gave for staff not being able to enter any of the department’s other contests.  Sarah answered that this case was totally different and there was no conflict of interest in her entering it.  If her suggestion happened to win, well, then so be it.  Nobody could think any worse of the department because of it.  Why?  Because, Sarah said so.

Guess who won?  Now, to be fair in reporting, the committee that chose the winner had only one departmental representative on it, so there wasn’t an undue influence by Sarah on the choice.  However, that wasn’t the point.  Sarah made sure that a plaque announcing the winner was placed in the room, so her name would now live in perpetuity, or at least as long as the room lasted.  It served another purpose, too.  The plaque served as a reminder that, if it benefited Sarah, the rules for everyone else didn’t have to apply to her.  They had seen it many times before,  and, thanks to the plaque, would be reminded of it many times in the future.

There is hardly a more important rubric when leading or managing people than to make sure that the rules you create for them apply to you as well.  When you begin to apply the rules only to some and exclude yourself, you set yourself apart.  When you serve up excuses why ‘this time’ is different so you can enjoy some benefit, you set yourself apart.  When the only time the rules are bent is when you want them to be, you set yourself apart.   By setting yourself apart, you negate any feeling that there is a team effort in the department.  The only team are the horses up front pulling your carriage while you wave to the crowds.

The team won’t consider you one of the horses, though they will think of as another part of the horse.  I guarantee you wouldn’t want that put on a plaque.

A Little Throwing Around Money

Man Throwing Money Around

It looks like Maxine and Sarah may have some competition.

Fred was enjoying this. The second party in his honor in as many days was being held, and he was enjoying it.  After all, hadn’t he been at the company for 20 years, only deciding to move on because he found a better position for himself?  Twenty years should mean something, even if it was a tiny bit on the extravagant side.

While it was true that Fred was at the company for 20 years in a high ranking position, it was also known that he wasn’t exactly a ball of fire.  Always there with a smile and a story, he had been at the company long enough to know just how much work he had to do in order to keep his high paying job and nothing more.  He was a master at it.

That’s why it was a surprise when he announced that he was taking another leadership position with another company and would be leaving his present job.  Most thought he would be at the company for life.  Still, he made the announcement and soon enough the goodbye party was being arranged by his administrative assistant.

This would not be a cake in the cafeteria, however.  Oh no, not for Fred.  He deserved better than that, and if you doubted it, just ask him.  A party was planned for him in the company’s largest meeting room.  Tables were set up, tablecloths rented, party favors purchased, and the catering company duly told that money was no object.  It is told that even cookies with his likeness were baked and distributed to all who attended.  Anyone else could do with cake and punch.  For Fred, the corporate wallet was opened and the credit card grew hot with all the spending that went into this little shindig.

If that were the end of the story, it would have made an interesting sidelight, but that is about it.  No, what made this worthy for inclusion into this blog was what happened the day after the party.  What happened, you ask?  Another party for Fred, and if the corporate credit card grew hot with the first party, it was positively molten when finished with the second one.

This second party was held at a private restaurant, and included a four course meal for all who were invited.  Along with the meal, there were videos of Fred, games, tributes, and even a mock roast.  How could they fit this all in?  Easy, the ‘meal’ went on for four hours.  People were leaving even before the dessert course because they simply had to get back to work to attend meetings, get projects accomplished, or simply have work be done.  None of this seemed to phase Fred, who was enjoying all the tributes, though he was reportedly not happy with the mild jabs being given to him at the roast.

This blog is not condemning that some people in a business unit. or even in the whole business, had some fun.  It is an essential part of the work environment to blow off some steam, have a few laughs, and release the tension that will inevitably build up.  Have some fun!

Why then write about it?  In the past few years, the company has been given marching orders to save money and to bring in new sources of revenue.  Within Fred’s own department, one of his direct reports constantly refers to the ROI of their work.  There is the incessant drumbeat of getting new customers, getting the existing customers to buy more, and to continue to grow sales.  People are working longer, harder, and signs of burnout and discontent are growing.

In the middle of this pressure to save and gain as much money as possible, what is done?  Not one but two parties are held for someone who didn’t exactly typify the new work ethic in the company.  These parties each cost thousands of dollars each to stage.  Countless hours of productivity time were lost with the filming of the videos, writing the speeches, singing the songs.  Thousands more were spent on cute signs that people will throw out and custom cookies that won’t last a week.  All because smiling Fred took a new job.  Worse yet, nobody seemed to care what kind of message this sent to the staff.  That was also typical of the new vision and leadership of the company.

In more ways than one, their behavior took the (retirement) cake.

The One Week Leadership Lesson

Shoe on the other foot

My apologies, first off, as this blog will do some repeating of a theme that I have stated before.  However, the story delivered was too good to pass up.

You may recall that Sarah was famous for saying one thing and doing another.  An example of this would be what she expected of other people versus what she expected of herself.  As illustrated in this post, Sarah was famous for imposing standards on others that she didn’t follow herself.

Sarah was famous for giving incredibly short deadlines or huge assignments and expecting them to be done in miraculous time.  Within that time, she would pester, micromanage, and constantly harass the employee who had the task, asking for progress reports and how things were coming along.  If the progress was not to her satisfaction, she would make mention of it, as ‘everyone loves my honesty.’

During those times when an employee would say to her that they were swamped with work, and thus couldn’t meet her deadline, Sarah’s famous phrase was, “You’re not busy; you’re just not efficient enough”.  The office was filled with stories of how mailboxes had to be empty and replies had to be given within a day, or the department, meaning Sarah’s ego, would suffer.  At times these excuses were used as fodder to get rid of an employee Sarah didn’t like, but other times they were used by her just to bolster her opinion of the employee’s laziness or inefficiency.  She couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t liked.  After all, didn’t she tell the people that they were inefficient, thus putting them on the path to greater things?

With Sarah’s ascent to the top of the ladder, the demands on her time became greater.  The old tricks for efficiency didn’t seem to work as well anymore, and she found that her inbox was filling up, she had more items to do than time, and still the work was piling up.  However, being Sarah, she failed to see the irony that this presented, or in the words she had spoken so many times.

So, when she was approached by one of her direct reports regarding some items that needed her signature, she didn’t blink twice at her response.  The items, needing her signature, were for sensitive projects across the enterprise. Without her approval, they were stuck in the queue, and they were keeping the folks who wanted to get these projects started waiting.  She was holding up the course of business at the company.

What was Sarah’s response?  “My inbox is filled to capacity, I am swamped in my work, and you only handed these to me three days ago.  I will need at least a week to process things, and that will be my timeline going forward.”

For anyone who had been on the receiving end of Sarah’s efficiency speech.  For anyone who was taken to task because they had three unanswered e-mails at the end of the day. For anyone who had to suffer Sarah’s one hour visits to show her people exactly what they were doing wrong, whether or not she truly understood the problem, it was a moment to smile.  Sarah now gave herself a week to respond to things, even when she expected her people to do so in milliseconds.

And, while they smiled, it was also tinged with sadness.  They knew the irony, or the sheer hypocrisy, would never dawn on Sarah, who would go right along telling people how inefficient they were.  The only consolation?  It might take a week for her to notice now.

The Too Long Goodbye

fish and houseguests

A few weeks ago I wrote about the retirement party for Maxine.  The party, typically, was a gathering in the cafeteria, with some presents, some speeches, and a sheet cake.  Maxine’s party, though sparsely attended, followed this pattern well.  The one exception was the gushing speech, complete with tears, from Sarah, her supervisor, on how valuable Maxine was and how she was irreplaceable.  While many of Maxine’s co-workers disagreed with this assessment, they smiled politely, had some cake, and left.

After the party had ended, the staff of Sarah’s department went back to the department and found a new e-mail in their boxes.  It was an invitation from Sarah, indicating that there was going to be a lunch for Maxine in a few weeks.  Maxine would not have to return to the office for this, as her retirement was going to be gradual, with her coming in as a ‘consultant’ for several months.  The staff began to refer to Maxine’s retirement as the Farewell Tour, wondering how long this would be dragged out.

The lunch itself even had a precedent.  For many retiring employees, their friends would hold some type of gathering for them.  The difference was that it was off company time, and paid for by the employees themselves.  The employees invited had the ability to attend or not attend, based on their feelings for the employee.  This lunch was different.  First, it was being held on company time.  Because of that, you were expected to attend, whether you wanted to or not.  If an employee pressed the issue, they would be allowed to stay behind, but would then face the wrath of Sarah in many small and ongoing ways.  No, this was a mandate to attend, or to face the consequences.

Additionally, this lunch, held at a rather expensive restaurant, was to be paid for by the department.  No other employee had ever received this type of treatment, and it made the staff wonder why Maxine received it, when others had left the department and had nothing done for them save for a cake and a card.  Was this going to be a precursor of Sarah’s tenure in the department, where some were treated differently, and better, than others?

Appreciating your team is something every leader should do.  A staff that is appreciated is a staff who will work harder, work longer, and provide more quality work.  However, that appreciation has to be uniform.  Everyone has to be be appreciated in some way or form, and the staff has to see no favoritism in this treatment.

When there is favoritism, the concept of appreciation takes a dark turn.  A manager who shows appreciation for one person’s work, but not another person’s, creates an atmosphere of distrust, disengagement, and disappointment.  For the haves, there is no real impact.  For the have-nots, it breeds a ‘why bother’ attitude, as nothing they will do can get recognition.

A good leader knows how to appreciate, but also how to do it justly.  They don’t let bad policies overstay their welcome.

An All Too Reflective Mirror

Snow White Queen Mirror

It was time for Sarah’s once a month, one hour, direct reports meeting.  Let me repeat that.  Sarah had a formal meeting with her direct reports, all four of them, once a month, and scheduled one hour for it.  They would have to fit all agenda items, all action items, all the things they would need the other managers to know or take action on, in one hour.  Sarah saw nothing wrong with this, as it was her time that was the most valuable.

Needless to say, the meetings were usually chaos, as Sarah didn’t practice good meeting management.  Though they were pressed for time, the managers would bring up extraneous things, dive into tangential issues, or have conversations that would be best suited offline, but somehow got into Sarah’s meeting.  Sarah herself was as guilty as her subordinates, asking questions that she knew would take time from the managers’ precious presentation time, and then complaining that the meeting was going too long.

So, when it was time for Celeste, the last of the managers to present, she had all of 3 minutes to do so, as the hour was almost up.  Condensing what she could, she began outlining her points to the team. When the clock struck the hour, two of her fellow colleagues excused themselves, indicated they had another meeting to go to, got up, and left.   Seeing it was only one other manager and Celeste, Sarah called the meeting to be over and dismissed the remaining participants.  Celeste sat there momentarily, her jaw agape at the treatment from both her peers and from her manager.

There were several messages communicated in this scenario, all of them simultaneously not spoken at all, but loud as a shouting match.  Here they are, in no particular order.

From Sarah —

My time is much too important to meet with my staff.  I am granting you one hour for the four of you once a month and you should be grateful.

I am much too important to be concerned with the running of this department.  I have to be its leader, and leaders don’t get involved in problems.  My staff is to do this, and they should be able to do it without having to come to me for anything.  Don’t you know who I am?

Though I tell others how to have a efficient and effective meeting, I don’t practice this myself.  I will not recognize that I have given a scant 15 minutes to each of my direct reports to wrap up a month’s work of items they feel are important enough to share with me, and will not shut down non-productive conversations or questions, especially from people I like.  If that means someone like Celeste gets only three minutes, that is too bad.

From the Other Managers —

My work is paramount, not the fact that I need to support my fellow managers.  So, when the conversation isn’t about me, I feel it is perfectly professional to get up and leave in the middle of someone else’s conversation.  After all, I must keep to my meeting schedule.  Plus, it gives me a perfect excuse to get out of this staff meeting.

It is all about me, first, last, and always.

This is the same leader, and these are the same managers who will sit silently and wonder why the department, the people they manage, act the way they do.  They will wonder why all the employees are out for themselves, bolt out the door at the appointed hour, do not want to volunteer for anything, and hold on to their knowledge as if it were spun gold.  These same employees will interrupt each others in meetings, hold side conversations, and check their devices instead of listening to the speaker.  They will wonder why their employees aren’t interested in improving the conditions of the department.

I could give reference after reference to management theorists on where the issues are as presented in this blog, but I think I shall go with someone a bit more unconventional.  To begin to understand where the problems in the department are, all Sarah and the managers have to do is follow Michael Jackson’s invitation to look ‘at the man in the mirror’.