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”.

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We’re Baaaack!

carol ann tv

After 12 years on the air, Carol Burnett signed off her variety television show with a tearful farewell.  So, it was quite the surprise when, a year later, she was headlining another variety series.  Burnett, always the realist, started the first episode with an almost news like ticker showing how she had signed off from her show saying she could never really go back to the variety format.  The camera then panned to Burnett in her current show, where she simply said, “So, I lied”.   She explained a while later in an article for a magazine that she kept seeing things on the news and was saying, “Hey, that would be great to satirize…if we still had a show”.

We at the Good Management Blog wanted to stay away.  A lot of good words had been written and many good points made about the case studies we wrote.  However, new stories kept coming to us and we said, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to…”.   So, like Burnett, we decided to make a return.

We may not post as frequently as before, as our circumstances have changed, but when we see something good, we’ll post it. You may also see a bit more snark in our posts, which is fully deliberate!  As we said, things have changed.

Hope you enjoy!

Elephant? What Elephant?

elephant-in-the-room

It had become the new method of dealing with the abundant stress in the company.  It was the stress leave, and more and more employees had been taking it.  The latest was Ellen, who had finally had it with her new department leader.  The leader, who had risen in the ranks, often decided to sneak up on people to spy on what they were doing on their computer.  Her ‘my way or the highway’ approach to the work to be done had her staff doing tons of extra work in order to do things the way she wanted, even if it didn’t make sense.  She also arbitrarily changed their job responsibilities, adding travel or other duties, without talking with the staff first, and simply expecting them to accept these changes without question.

Ellen did what many staff members had been doing.  Seeing no recourse from Human Resources, she asked her doctor to write her out on a stress leave.  The doctor, seeing what was being done to Ellen, happily agreed.  She thus became one of the lengthening list of people who was taking advantage of this in order to find another job while having some income flowing.  Was it what she wanted to do?  No.  Like many of her colleagues, she wanted to come in to do the job she had at one time loved.  The fact that so many were taking this option showed there was a problem with who the company was promoting, not who the company was hiring to do the work.

What was Human Resources’ response to this growing trend?  Did they begin to investigate why this type of leave was rising rapidly?  Were they working with managers to try to improve their performance, especially at the executive level?  Were they identifying which behaviors were causing this?  No to all the above.  Human Resources only consultation with these managers was to tell them that the employee’s job was protected for six months.  After that, HR would help the manager fire the employee.  They did this with astonishing frequency, almost becoming effortless experts at it.

Thus Ellen became the latest person in another growing line:  employees released by the company because HR couldn’t be bothered to find out why the employee, who had been with the company 10 years, was now willing to be fired rather than come into the office.

It is a poor doctor that decides to treat the symptoms of a disease but make a conscious decision not to look for its root causes.  The same with a company’s HR department.  When their decision is to always support the manager, whether the manager is right or wrong, then they set the stage for employees to take any way they can to cope with the situation.

In other words, when you decide to ignore the elephant in the room, you can’t blame anyone else for having to clean up what the elephant leaves behind.

Retiring Your Professionalism

Pouting Baby

It had been a good run for Vance, but he decided he just didn’t want to go into Sarah’s department one more time.  He was eligible for retirement, had planned his retirement well, and was ready to enjoy the rest of his life.  So, when he dropped his papers on her desk, there were no regrets.

This left Sarah in a bit of a spot.  One of Vance’s people was out on medical leave, and the others were scheduled for training that could not be moved the first week after he left the company.  She asked him if he would postpone his retirement for a few weeks.  The answer was no.  She asked him if he would come back as a consultant for a few days a week to provide coverage.  Why would he, Vance asked, come back with reduced pay and benefits to do the same work he had done as an employee?  No, this is when he was retiring that that was it.

You might think Vance was being unreasonably stubborn, but he wasn’t.  He had worked for Sarah for approximately 5 years.  In those 5 years, he had seen his workload doubled, if not tripled, with Sarah being unmoving on giving his people a break in their work.  Sarah had continually demanded more innovation, more programs, and more things that she could report on that ‘she’ had done with the department.  It could be honestly said that Sarah based her rise in the ranks on Vance’s team’s work, with the only reward that they received was a continuous demand for more, more, more.  He did this without one extra person on the team in all those years, doctor verified high blood pressure, and the stress causing his health did deteriorate.  On the times when Vance did try to tell Sarah these things, Sarah would reply, “You’re not overworked.  You’re simply not efficient enough.  Put some of your work on your people. You need to learn how to delegate better.”

Oh, Vance did get one extra day off about three years ago when his team achieved monumental cost savings for the department, but that was it.  So, now it was payback time.  Sarah was now in a spot, and it was Vance’s turn to be intransigent, and he was reveling in every moment of it.

Sarah’s reaction to all of this was pure Sarah.  Instead of finding ways to cover the gap and wishing Vance well, Sarah decided instead to try to recruit people into an anti-Vance clique.  “Doesn’t it make you mad that Vance is leaving you at that time, with all this work to be done?”, she would ask some of his people, trying to make them resentful.  To their credit, no one would join Sarah in throwing Vance under the bus.  He had treated them as well as he could during his tenure and they would not turn on him simply because he decided to put his own interests first.  Sarah was not happy.

How do you treat someone who helped account for your success?  Do you look at the whole of their work and thank them for all they have done?  Do you put on your pouty face simply because they finally have decided to look after their own best interests, something you have done for your entire tenure at the company?  Which is the behavior of a leader?  Which is the behavior of a three year old?

There’s a picture of a pouting face at the head of this article.  I was going to put in another picture instead, but I didn’t think a picture of ‘big girl panties’ would go over too well.

Failure is an Orphan

blame someone else

The annual meeting to discuss the latest engagement scores was held by Sarah, with about typical results.  Some scores went up, some went down, and some stayed the same.  That wasn’t news.  As any employee who had watched this dance for several years knew, the focus of the meeting, and the major entertainment, was how the scores would be spun.  This year was no different in that aspect.

You had to listen more closely this year for the entertainment, however, as it was subtle, but it was there.  It wasn’t in what was said about why the scores were what they were, but in the different explanations for the scores.  For any scores that were good, or had shown improvement, Sarah and her supporters immediately complimented each other on how well ‘the department’ did.  However, for any scores that had shown a decline, the story was quite different.  For each one of those, the explanation was that ‘the company’s’ scores on these areas must be represented by the data, not the department’s.  In other words, any poor scores were not reflective of the department, but rather that the company’s poor scores were dragging that number down.  Thus, it was not the department’s fault the numbers were low.  They could then be blithely ignored and have no concerns whatsoever given to them.

This see-saw effect happened throughout the meeting.  It was obvious that any good scores were reflective of the department, and that any bad scores were the result of everyone else dragging down what would have been stellar numbers for the department.  This flexible interpretation made Sarah and her supporters feel good and walk out of the meeting assured that they were doing a wonderful job.

There is an old saying that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.  In this case, failure did have a parent, but it turned out to be dubious lineage.  Sarah and her supporters didn’t know who the parent was, but it was obvious it wasn’t them.  This finger pointing would allow them to escape any critical review of themselves for another year.

A good leader is one who accepts both the good and the bad news.  That leader than engages in critical reflection of that bad news and why it happened, and what can be done to turn it around.  That leader does not push it to the side, blaming everyone else for it, but uses it to grow.  The result is a better leader and a better situation for those they lead.

If the only mental exercise you get is to figure out a way to blame others for your own bad news, then I congratulate you.  You are a master of the spin.

I cannot congratulate you for being a good leader, though, for you have a long way to go before that title is bestowed upon you.

 

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 Self-Answering Question

Appeal to Lord to keep his hand over my mouth

It had been a pretty much one-sided conversation on the ride back to the office from the job site.  The talking had been done mostly by the senior partner in the firm, with the listening by the one of his employees.  The employee knew better than to really engage the senior partner in any conversation, as the senior partner enjoyed hearing the sound of his own voice.  The employee was happy enough, for if he were to say anything, he might not have a job after that day.

The senior partner was going on about the recent rash of people leaving the firm.  The most recent departure was someone pretty high up in the organization, leaving a hole they would have to fill and quickly.  It was odd.  When there was a hole in the employee’s level, there wasn’t an urgency to fill that vacancy, and the work was distributed to others as a ‘cost savings measure’.

The senior partner continued.  “Why didn’t he just come in to speak with me about what was wrong.  Nobody seems to do that.  If they would just do that, we could work things out with them and we wouldn’t be facing this.”

The employee just nodded and continued to stare straight ahead, keeping his mouth shut.  He didn’t mention that this was the same firm where, if an employee asked for a raise, the senior partners would drag out every mistake they had ever done since the employee first walked in the door as justification to reject the raise.  This was the same firm where there were not automatic raises, even though their billing out rates continued to rise.  This was the same firm, which, as mentioned, would not replace workers when they left because, ‘well, we aren’t making enough money to do so’.

Unaware of this inner dialogue, the senior partner continued on what he considered a happier note.  They had won the contract for a few other projects, which the employee would be the main contact.  Looking at the employee, the senior partner said to him, “Let’s hope you don’t screw this one up like you did the last one”.

The ride continued in silence.

Managers and leaders are mirrors for their organization.  What attitudes, ideas, and opinions they generate are reflected back to them in the attitudes, ideas, and opinions of their employees.  If they generate fairness, insight, and professionalism, they will have this reflected back at them.  If they generate the opposite, that, too, will be reflected back to them.  It is the clueless manager who generates one set of values and expects a different one to be reflected in their organization.

If you are wondering why employees in your organization act a certain way, look to yourself first to see if this behavior is the one you are sending out to the staff.  If it is, and if you truly want your organization to work differently, then begin with the most difficult change of all — your attitude.  Turn that mirror on yourself and take a good, hard look at yourself.  You may be surprised at what you see.