Whose Education is it Anyway?


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.

The Stella Dallas Retirement

Stella Dallas Poster

For those who aren’t fans of old movies, a brief synopsis of the movie, “Stella Dallas”:  A low-class woman is willing to do whatever it takes to give her daughter a socially promising future.  You’ll see why I mention this movie at the end of this blog.

Mitch was doing his duty.  He and his table colleagues had shown up for the retirement party for Maxine in the company cafeteria.  Sarah was almost in tears talking about Maxine, and the obligatory gift was being given.  As Maxine was making her speech, Mitch was looking around the cafeteria, a recent memory coming to mind.

The previous week, Mitch had to walk through the cafeteria on the way back from a meeting.  There he saw another retirement party underway. Like Maxine, the honoree had been at the company quite a long time.  The cafeteria was jammed with well wishers for the employee.  The air was filled with animated voices, punctuated by raucous laughter.  The guest of honor had pulled over Mitch and twisted his arm to have a piece of cake.  People were in great spirits and enjoying the time, the company, and each other’s remembrances.

It was a very different scene for Maxine’s party.  Where the other party filled the cafeteria, this party barely took up a third of the space.  Indeed, if it wasn’t for Maxine’s co-workers, who knew they had to attend or feel Sarah’s wrath, the attendance would have been, to put it kindly, sparse.  There was no animated chatter, no raucous laughter, and no hint of joviality.  It was mechanical, and the people dispersed as soon as they thought it was safe.

Looking upon the two celebrations, one of the conclusions that someone could make was the degree of respect and affection that people had for the two honorees.

To be fair, Maxine’s job wasn’t the warm and fuzzy one.  She had the job of meeting with employees who were having issues with their managers, and employees who had to be disciplined.  She was also the one who would process the firing of people from the company.  Still, this could not be used as a blanket excuse for the less than robust attendance.

One of the wisest pieces of advice I have ever received is that a person has to be judged not only the the ‘what’ they did to get their job done, but the ‘how’ as in how they performed the job.  Did they do it by steam rolling over everyone else?  Were they collaborative, or where they rude?  Did they look out only for themselves and their own goals, or did they take someone else’s time and needs into consideration.

In Maxine’s case, by a good many people’s opinion, the ‘how’ Maxine performed her job was the cause of so few attending this party.  Maxine was known to support the highest ranking person in the room, whether that person was right or wrong.  This left many simple employees in the company dreading a call to Maxine’s office because they knew they would not be treated fairly.  Maxine wanted to be considered a friend to management, and would bend over backwards to make that happen.  Even Maxine’s own colleagues in her department would always look out for the bus Maxine would push them under if it were advantageous to Maxine.   This is why Sarah had such affection for Maxine.  She could always count on Maxine to support her, no matter what the decision.

None of this seemed to phase Maxine.  She accepted her gift ‘from the company’ with grace, shed the appropriate tears, and thanked ‘everyone’, especially Sarah, for all their love and support.  Those who applauded might have done so only because she was no longer going to be there to deal herself the most advantageous cards from the deck.

The movie Stella Dallas is, for all intents and purposes, a tearjerker movie designed to be a soap opera before the medium of television came along.  In it, Barbara Stanwyck does everything and anything to ensure that her daughter has everything in life, and alienates everyone and anyone along the way.  In once scene, Stella throws a fancy party to ensure their status in higher society.  She goes to greet her guests only to find out that nobody is there.  She has thrown a party and no one has attended.

As a manager or a leader, always think of the ‘how’ you are doing something.  Is it simply for your benefit or for the benefit of those you lead.  If it is simply for your own benefit, that’s not leadership.  It is selfishness, and something that should not be in your leadership curriculum.  It will wind up with not only an empty room for your going away party, but also empty looks in the eyes of those you lead and half their energy going into preventing that knife in their back.  If that is what your idea of leadership is, be honest with yourself and get yourself a title change.  The new title?  Mercenary.

Petty Purim Patronizing

PURIM_-580x222For those who might not know what Purim is, here’s a brief primer, courtesy of chabad.org:

The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed, and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made.

Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G‑d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

On the 13th of Adar, the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar, they rested and celebrated.

Rebekah and her co-workers were discussing various holidays, when Rebekah mentioned Purim.  Some of her co-workers were not familiar with this holiday and why it was important to the Jewish faith.   As she was explaining this, Rebekah’s manager chimed in with an explanation of her own.   “Purim?  That’s just a Jewish Halloween”.  The room fell silent in digesting that particular comment, and those who were happily enjoying some employee bonding just a minute or so ago now went sullenly to their desks.

You may say that Rebekah should have gone to Employee Relations at this instance.  Rebekah considered this, but knew her company’s Employee Relations department was nothing more than a defense department for managers.  That being the case, Rebekah knew that the only person punished would be her when her manager found out she had been reported.  She remained silent, not out of understanding that the manager would never change, but knowing things would never change, especially her manager.

As Rebekah went back to her desk, she wondered what kind of progress had been made in the past 40 years.  A manager, in this day and age, making a comment as bigoted as this.  It simply boggled her mind.  And to know, because the company motto was managers first, last, and always, that nothing would be done save for getting her punished, was equally as galling.  If one manager could say this, what were other equally offensive things were other managers saying, and getting away with?

As she sat at her desk, she wondered whether she should plot her own personal exodus from the company.

Going Ood


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.

The Pink Tie Addendum


Remember the Pink Tie Matter?  The situation where a male was constantly the target by remarks from his female co-workers in what was a majority female department?  There’s an addendum to the story.

Shortly after Serena’s meeting, the entire department gathered for its monthly staff meeting.  In reporting that the department had snagged a very well known book author to address its latest leadership conference, the following was said.

“Not only will he inspire our leaders, but he is so damn good looking”


“I think we should be able to expense our makeup and hair styling so we can look our best when we meet him”

Needless to say, Mitch and Vernon were not amused.  However, this time, Mitch spoke up saying, “If I had said such a thing about a woman’s looks, I would have been called a sexist pig and had every woman in this meeting yelling at me for being so inappropriate”.

Were the women in the meeting silenced into shame?  Was there a pause to contemplate what Mitch had said?  No and no.  Instead, he was told he was too sensitive and that he should just get over it.

On the way out, Vernon thanked Mitch for saying what needed to be said.  They both agreed that it would not matter at all, but still, he had spoken up against what he perceived as rank hypocrisy.

Too bad none of his management bothered to see it that way.

All Bad Things Must Come to an End

I read a very interesting article today from the Careerism website.  You can find it here.  It details the feelings of more than a few HR professionals, some of them rather senior in the companies in which they work, that they will be leaving to find new jobs, voluntarily.  To a person, the reason they gave was, “…living with the disconnect between what the company claims are its core values, and how it is handling staff relations during this recession.”  A few examples stated in the article included, “… a service agent who was terminated after revealing she had cancer, to an entire team that was being laid off so that the division director could meet his cost-cutting targets for his performance bonus.”  The article goes on to say that the excuse of, “Be happy you have a job” is being worn rather thin and that the level of discontent with many organizations is so deep and so pervasive that many executives can’t even fathom the magnitude.

What’s the result of this?  As the article states, there will be tsunami of job hunting coming and that the most active of these job hoppers will be HR personnel themselves.  The worst of the companies can find themselves with critical bench strength gone because people will have up and left without a single regret.  Don’t think it can happen?  I urge you to read the Wall Street Journal.  There have been multiple articles about the large increase in job searching from employed persons looking to get out of a situation where a company has so demoralized the ranks as to leave employees no other choice.

As readers of this blog know well, this is a drum I have been pounding for the 2 plus years I have been writing, and been honored by your reading.  Despite the hyperbole that the many in the news have given to the recent and lasting economic crisis, I believe that the term The Great Recession is appropriate.  It was a life changing event for all generations.  Boomers now have to stay in their jobs longer to recover their retirement savings, leaving less room for Generation X to ascend the ladder.  The Millenials were the hardest hit, being laid off from lower level jobs and finding it well nigh impossible to find another job at a decent salary and begin lives on their own.

Employers had a massive upper hand during the Great Recession and its aftermath.  Having that upper hand, they had two ways they could have acted.  Regretfully lay off people, but let those who were still employed that they were valuable, that times were tough, and that they would all work together to survive this recession.  Or, they could adopt an attitude of dictator, knowing they could do whatever they wanted to their employees because there was no other place to go.  There were mouths to feed and mortgages to pay, so people would simply have to endure anything that some managers would dish out, no matter how unprofessional or unfair it was.  Like a dictator, they didn’t care for anyone but themselves and abused the power they had been handed.

The ones who adopted the stance of dictator, who became drunk with the power of the Great Recession, are the ones who will be in for rude awakenings as the economy improves.  They are the ones who will see the out flux detailed in that article.  They are the ones who have so much discontent in their ranks, but are incredibly blind to it.

Those who did what they could to show their people how valued they were, how much their employee’s exhaustive work schedule was appreciated, and pitched in as one of the oarsmen instead of the galley master will be the ones who will see their efforts rewarded with employees who, though they could now leave, will stay and work even harder for that manager.  Why?  Gratitude for being treated fairly, evenly, and humanely during a time when others were managing by the lash.

To corrupt an old aphorism, all bad things must come to an end.  As the recession eases and more jobs are created, the aftermath of how people were managed during that time will become apparent.  Will yours be a department who have bonded through adversity and now are ready to show their gratitude?  Or, will the doors barely be able to accommodate all the exiting employees?

The Rush Job

It was a fairly simple process in and of itself.  Before you could get a promotion, you had to have your job reviewed by the compensation analyst.  She would review your job duties, review the metrics, look at what the competitive data was, and let you know what level this job was supposed to be.  People protested at times.  They wanted the job to be at a higher or lower level based on where they thought the job fit in their organization, or according to their own whims.  The analyst was firm, and was backed up by her department and its management.   So, when this process needed to be applied to her own department, you would think that there would be no problem.  You would think wrongly.

You may recall the story of the departmental manager who was temporarily promoted to lead the department when the executive who was its leader was temporarily incapacitated.   You can read about that situation, in part, here and here.   When it was found out by the temporary leader that the executive was coming back, she arranged to have another group in the department report to her, though the executive had rejected the idea previously.  Now, since the executive wasn’t there to protest, the manager worked overtime in getting this change in the structure of the department done.  Time was of the essence, if for no other reason that it would mean a promotion for the manager.  Oh, it was not as high as the executive was, but it would be a bump in status and pay.  So, hastily, job descriptions were written, justifications written, and the right people spoken to.  All that had to be done was have the compensation analyst give her blessing.

Usually, as others would attest, this could be a time-consuming protest.  The analyst was a busy person.  She had many requests.  This would not do.  So, when the file for the promotion for the manager was put on her desk, a note was attached to it.  “Approve this”.  In other words, there would need to be no review.  There would need to be no analysis.   There would need to be no research.  Just enter it into the official system as the new role and level, enter the generous new salary, and that was it.  No protest was allowed.  While everyone else could wait, this manager could not…no…should not.  Once again she had proved that there was a set of rules for everyone else, and a different set for her.

We all have read about the politicians who raid the public treasury for their own good.  We have heard of the corporate executives who have used the funds of the company for their own personal gains, whether it be lavish spending on themselves while they are in the position, or an extraordinary retirement or severance package.  We may shake our heads at it or decry it loudly, depending on the level of ire we have for the sheer nerve of the actor.

We get upset because it should be the other way.  The person should be working for the benefit of the company, not the other way around.  If an employee or average person had tried to do this, they would be reprimanded, fired, or have legal action taken against them.  No, the employee is told to sacrifice for the company each and every time, and if they are hurt in the process, oh well, that’s too bad.

No matter where you are in the company, the rules should be the same.  They are not bent because you are a certain level, or have a certain power over someone.  Something should not be rushed through simply because it can’t stand the light of day, or an honest and thorough investigation by a person with integrity.  This becomes especially crucial when others in the department have been denied the privilege of moving up, stopped by you for reasons professional or personal.

You can’t have the moral authority to tell others to act in the company’s or department’s best interest when you are flouting the rules at every turn.  If you do, you will be promoted to a new, informal title — hypocrite.