Category Archives: Leadership

The Project: A Vacation

vacation

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.

The Balanced Budget Strategem

termination

The conversation was light and joyful.  One time co-workers who had not seen each other in some time happy conversed about old times, old jokes, and some people they had in common.   Wayne, the organizer of the event, looked over the sea of faces at the table and smiled.  This was just what he needed.

He told a few people at the table his reason for this get together was because, when he walked down the halls of their once common workplace, he didn’t recognize anyone anymore.  There were so many new faces at the workplace that he felt a bit alone.  It was jarring for him, as the workplace had always been known as the place where people never wanted to leave.  Now, it seemed, people were beating a path for the doors.  Why were all his old co-workers leaving so rapidly?

“I have a few thoughts on that”, Mitch said.  With that, several heads turned.  Mitch had been content enough just listening to others during the gathering, making the occasional reply or comment, but generally keeping to himself.  So, when he made that pronouncement, people tended to listen.  They urged him to go on.

“Now, before I say anything, all this is speculation.  The facts I have fit the scenario, and the suppositions I make aren’t outrageous, as I think you will agree.  We all have to understand this before I go on.”, he said.  More heads turned.

Mitch started. “You recall when the CFO began making the same speech to whomever would listen?”  A few heads nodded, which Mitch expected.  The CFO was not the most dynamic speaker, so even if he was invited to speak at a gathering, he didn’t rivet the audience’s attention to him.  For those who didn’t remember, Mitch summed up what the CFO of the company had said.  Simply put, the company was spending more money than it was taking in.

This fact in itself didn’t surprise many people.  They knew from their days at the company that almost every major project had cost overruns, simply because the stakeholders had to have their ideas incorporated into it, and the executives in charge of the projects didn’t have the fortitude to tell them ‘no’.  It was easier to go along with the stakeholders and worry about where the money would come later.  Add in the vanity projects that each of the executives needed to have to highlight themselves, and you had a mess of a financial situation.

What Mitch followed this up with was more of a surprise.  He had found out from a reputable source, verified by an executive of the company, that the CFO, seeing nobody really listening to his plea to save money, had imposed a 1% cap on departmental budget increase requests.  This posed a problem.

The biggest part of any budget is the staff of the department.  Those staff will expect raises.  In a poor economy, you can defer those raises as many will not leave simply to have a job.  In a good economy, they would leave in droves to the competition.  Since the company was not known for its generous salaries in the first place, this could really be an issue.  How could you give raises of 2% to 3% when you could only have an increase of 1%?  Nobody wanted to lay off any staff, as they had fought too hard to grow the department and their influence.

Mitch let this settle with the group for a minute while preparing the next piece of evidence.

“How many of you who have left the company were there more than 5 years?”  Several hands raised. “10?”  Several hands raised.  “15 or more?” Several hands raised.  “How many of you know employees there who have been at the company as long, or longer than you?”  Many hands raised. “Are they the majority of those people you knew at the company?”  Many nodded.

He continued. “The company we worked at and some of you still work at”, he said with a nod to Wayne, “used to boast that it had a long tenured workforce.  It was a recruiting tool.  ‘Look how happy our people are…they never leave!'”  Nobody contradicted him.

“Now, the longer you are with the company…”, Mitch started, and Wayne finished for him. “…the higher your salary is.”  Mitch smiled at the flicker of awareness that was dawning upon the faces of those assembled.  To those whose face still registered, ‘I don’t get it’, Mitch continued.

“You don’t want to get the reputation or the lawsuits that mass firing will do.  You need to keep your budget increase at 1%.  You are in self-preservation mode.  What do you do?”  Mitch paused.

Several people jumbled together an answer, “You target the longer term employees.  Some you fire.  Some you make their lives so miserable that they quit.  You then bring in younger employees or people who will work for less money, and your budget problems are solved.  The work gets done and, aside from a possible flicker of conscience of the executive of the department, the fallout is minimal.”

“Fits what you have heard from others who have left the company, doesn’t it?”, asked Mitch.  Each person at that table had a story of them personally being harassed by their superiors or knowing of those who were harassed until they no longer could stand it and left the company.

“The defense rests”, said Mitch, to laughter. Wayne was a bit shaken up by this, but quickly recovered, at least for the sake of the gathering.  He would worry about Mitch’s suppositions and what it might mean for him later.  For now, it was time for friends.

He raised his glass.  “To friends, no matter where they are, or how they got there”.

The Good Management Blog is in Print!

New BookWe 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!

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.

 

Whose Education is it Anyway?

Diploma

Adam was ready to go for his Masters.  He had been in his job a year and now was ready to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement plan and go for an MBA.  He had talked to the Benefits Manager, understood that he was eligible, and verified that the school and the degree was on the approved list by his company.  His manager was on board with this, and he knew the process to begin his work.

He then hit a wall named Anna.

Anna was his manager’s manager, and a direct report of Sarah.  Her approval was not needed for the reimbursement request, but Sarah’s was, and Sarah was likely to speak with Anna about Adam’s paperwork.  It wasn’t that Anna was against Adam continuing his education.  It was that she wanted him to take her choice of education and not his.

For years, Sarah was interested in having her staff look more professional by getting a certain certification.  She had it, so it must be good.  She had made this ‘request’ of several of her people, including Sam, and always held out the carrot of promotion within the department when the person received the certificate.  Unfortunately, it never happened.  So, while Sarah made a big announcement to her colleagues that another one of her people has this prestigious certification, they went nowhere in the department.  Kind of one sided, don’t you think?  Yet, if someone didn’t get the certificate, or failed the examination, Sarah made sure they went nowhere in the department.  Sensing a pattern here, aren’t you?

Anna, being a bit intimidated by Sarah, didn’t want to upset her boss.  So, she as kindly as possible suggested to Adam that he go for this certificate as well.  Implicit in this ‘suggestion’ was the statement that she would not be approving his MBA request, although it would also be of benefit to her department and to the company in general.  It was against every principle of the program, but that didn’t matter in Sarah’s department.  It was only what would make Sarah happy, and nice, compliant staff was what made her happy.  Anna would not disrupt that peace, and her job, for anything.

What’s more important to you as a leader of people — making them happy, or making your boss happy, or making life easier for you?  Sometimes is has to be the second in that list, but more often it should be the first in that list.  And, if you do the first in that list, it usually leads to the last in that sequence.  If your main focus is making life easier for you over the happiness of your employees is paramount for you, you will succeed at your goal, as your employees will never be happy.  However, that probably doesn’t matter to you, as you want a smooth ride for yourself.  Courage doesn’t factor into it, only preservation does.

And that is an education in itself.

Not Worth the Paper…

certificate

A job description recently went up for a high level position at a company.  It was the the leader of the publishing arm of the company.  Since the company had many high profile publications, and were facing fierce competition, they wanted to make sure they hired the right person.  With the help of HR, they carefully crafted a job description that would encompass all the aspects of the position and the challenges that they would face going forward.

Who did they want for this position?  Let’s look at the requirements for the candidate:

  • An advanced degree – PhD preferred
  • An advanced degree in a field that many of the customers of the publication had, but had nothing at all to do with publishing

Nobody seemed to tell these people that people usually get PhDs so they can be published, not publish someone else’s content.  They also didn’t tell them that it might be helpful to have an advanced degree in, oh I don’t know, a publishing related field.

This reminded me of a few times in my career where I was told I could not move forward because I didn’t have a certain certification.  Now, this certification wasn’t mandatory for any position I was applying for.  It wouldn’t replace the experience, the knowledge of the organization, or the subject matter knowledge that I had accumulated.  Would it have helped?  Yes.  Was it a deal breaker in terms of being able to do the job?  No.

The above two examples, the degree and the certification are nothing more than vanity plates for the department or the organization.  They are to be used for bragging rights, not for job performance.  They will not help move business forward, get things done, or improve the conditions of anyone.  Sadly, the opposite at times happens.  The person meets all the vanity qualifications and is horrible at their job.  The company or department has focused so hard on getting someone who fills out the vanity that they shortchange whether the person is a good manager, knowledgeable in the field, or has the qualifications that really matter.  Everyone suffers then.

Let’s start focusing on what truly matters for an organization:

  • Has the knowledge, skills, and background to do the job required
  • Has an impressive track record of people management and leadership, showing how they raised the standard for people-focused leadership
  • Can make a positive impact on the company and its people

If they happen to have an impressive piece of paper as well, so much the better.  However, let’s put the truly important things first instead of the vanity plates.

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.

The Lucy Van Pelt Method

Lucy Pulling Away Football from Charlie Brown

Anyone who read Charles Shultz’s classic comic strip ‘Peanuts’ knows the setup.  Lucy Van Pelt would hold a football and invite Charlie Brown to kick it.  Charlie Brown would refuse to do so because he knew Lucy would pull the football away at the last minute and cause him to go sailing in the air.

Readers knew that was going to happen.  That wasn’t the payoff of the comic strip.  What readers looked for was Lucy’s current excuse to Charlie Brown about why it would not happen this particular time.  The reason was always well thought out and convinced Charlie Brown to run up and want to kick the football with all his might.  Then, at the last minute, Lucy would pull the football away, Charlie Brown would go flying, and she would offer some excuse why she just had to pull the football away, usually making it sound as if Charlie Brown was at fault.

Sarah probably read ‘Peanuts’ religiously just for the times when Lucy and the football would appear.  She seems to have taken lessons from her.

Once again Sarah had received bad news on the Employee Engagement report for her department.  Once again the report showed her people’s morale was abysmal, lower than low, with the lowest scores being reserved for their trust in executive management and staff’s ability to speak up without being punished.  As longer term readers of this blog know, this wasn’t a surprise, and wouldn’t be when Sarah released this to the department.  Like Lucy Van Pelt, the entertainment came with the excuse that Sarah would give for the scores being so low.  Here is a recap of some of the previous excuses Sarah gave throughout her career:

  • There was nothing wrong with management.  It was all the employee’s fault, and thus they had to fix everything that was wrong.
  • The scores were reflective of the previous leader of the department, despite the fact that the questions asked not about the leader of the department, but the leadership of the department, of which she was one.
  • Silence save for asking the leader of the department what she was going to do about the scores, despite the fact that Sarah had led the department for seven months during the rating period.
  • Everyone had a different interpretation of the question.  Once we had a common interpretation, the scores would be better. (They weren’t)
  • and our particular favorite:  Staff was tired of taking the survey, did not answer honestly, so the survey was invalid.

This year, Sarah went for an oldie but goodie.  She attacked the survey itself.  No space between the words, no comma, no semi-colon was safe from her ‘examination’.  Her goal?  To convince herself that the test itself was poor, so could not provide accurate results.  No matter that the company which created the test had decades of experience in the field, that the questions were vetted by experts, and that the company had thousands of clients.  None of this mattered.  It didn’t tell her (again) that her brilliant and inspired leadership was causing her staff to dance in the aisles, so it must be invalid.  And who can believe an invalid test?

This would forestall another year where she might have to be introspective about the nature of her leadership.  This would put off any thought that she was a poor leader and manager who might need to make significant changes to her personal style in order to have a happy and engaged staff.  This would give her 12 months breathing room to have to look inside herself and come to grips with the fact that she needed to change.  No, it was much more efficient to find the next excuse than expend energy on becoming a better person, and by extension, a better leader.

Sarah could be very happy in walking off the field with her football while her staff lay moaning in pain.  After all, it was their fault they were in pain, wasn’t it?

The Two Month Expert

two month calendar

Sarah found herself in a quandary.  The new manager in her department, the one brought in the replace the retired Maxine, had just left…after six months in the job.  Now, of course, there was rank speculation about why there was such a short tenure in the department, especially since the manager resigned after having found another job.  Suffice it to say that you don’t leave a job after such a short time without a good reason, such as complete and utter disillusionment in your boss or the department itself.  However, that is not the point of the story.

That left the department two managers short, a situation that Sarah wanted to correct as soon as possible.  Her solution?  Promote one of the people in the department to the manager position.  She would be showing that she does promote from within and give opportunity to those in the non-managerial ranks, and fill a gaping hole in her management ranks.

There was only one problem with this.  Her choice?  An employee who had been in the department and with the company for 2 months.  Yes, 2 months and receiving a promotion.

In two months, you may know where the washrooms are.  You’ve met some employees.  You can get yourself in to and out of the parking lot.

In two months, you don’t know the company culture, values, or ways of operating.  You don’t know the buildings, the associates, or history of where you are working.  In two months, you are basically treading water, getting your job done, and making sure you don’t drown.

In two months, you don’t get a promotion.  You have not had time to prove yourself worthy of it, or given your vision, or showed by your work that this is a natural progression.  Even if you have the qualification on that piece of paper called a resume, you have not had time to show how accurate that resume is.

A good manager knows this, and is more attuned to these factors.  A good manager looks beyond whether they like you and the need to fill a hole quickly.  A good manager is sensitive to how the department will view this, and how it will reflect upon their managerial ability.  A good manager knows that 2 months is no proof that someone is qualified for a promotion.

Then again, if the person was a good leader in the first place, the first manager would never have quit.

 

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.