Gone in a Flash

Greedy dog

The atmosphere was light and there was laughter around the table as the family got together.  Sam was enjoying himself, finally able to tell some of the stories about his new manager, but also surprised at how widespread the epidemic of bad management was.  The next round of stories went something like this:

Sam related that his manager came to him, excited for some new content sent to her by a provider.  It was on a flash drive, and as she wanted to give a copy of some of the content to others, she asked Sam what kind of reusable media the department had to copy the items.  Sam mentioned to her that they had a stock of flash drives, probably about 25 in number, that had been left over from an old project and were just sitting in the closet.  Occasionally he or his co-worker Ralph would use one for some purpose, and it was handy having them there.

His manager thanked him and headed off to the supply closet.  She returned a few minutes later, dashing into her office, her hands and arms filled with flash drives.  Pausing for a moment to process this, Sam walked to the supply closet and was greeted with an empty box where there were, minutes before, 25 flash drives for the department to use.  He related that, to this day, not one of the flash drives has reappeared for a business purpose.

As soon as the comments about this died down, one of his relatives piped up about something similar in her workplace.  Like most offices, her office received little thank you gifts from the vendors they used throughout the year.  It may have been a bowl of fruit, some other edibles, or something creative.  Usually, before her new manager took over, these were put in a common area for all the employees to enjoy.  After the new manager arrived, things went differently.  The new manager would take each package and bring it into her office, never to be seen again.  Oh, she did say that anyone could come into her office and enjoy the snacks, but she would either stare at the person the whole time they were in there, or the food would mysteriously have disappeared when someone went to avail themselves of something.  The manager was always at a loss of where these would go, but was seen many times carrying rather heavy bags out to her car.

Being a good manager is made up of many tiny things.  Fairly or unfairly, each one of those things are visible to your employees, who will form an opinion of you based on the actions you take.  You don’t need to be perfect, but you do have to have a favorable balance in order to gain the respect of your people.

When you show that you never learned how to share, you give the impression that you only care about your happiness and well being.  Nobody else matters.  Your happiness overrides everything.  If extrapolated into how you are going to deal with people whose work lives are in your hands, what are they bound to think?  They are going to think that you will manage them with the same greed that you have shown in your other actions, thinking nothing of them, but only of yourself.  And, if this is how you are going to rule them, they might as well take whatever they can whenever they can.  After all, isn’t that what you are modeling to them?

If you want a genuinely caring and giving culture, start with yourself.  If you only think of you, don’t be surprised when your employees only think of themselves.

Hear No Evil

Animaniacs See Hear Speak No Evil

The CEO took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.  No matter how much he looked at the report on his desk, he could coax no sense out of it.  Putting it aside, he scanned his desk for another matters that required his attention.

His eyes lit upon a letter that had been written to him and to the President of the company.  He had not filed the letter yet, so picked it up to reread it. The letter was from a terminated employee of the company, or rather the employee’s lawyer, spelling out rather specific charges against the employee’s now former manager.  The accusations could cause the company some trouble, as they could be interpreted as violating federal regulations.

The manager in question was someone the CEO knew.  She had stepped up to head several projects in the company and had volunteered to fill a spot on the leadership council temporarily, taking some burden off the CEO. He liked when people did this, so was willing to overlook such reports of the manager’s, shall we say, deficiencies.  He had decided not to investigate these accusations at all, but held on to the letter in case the President thought differently.  He didn’t think the President would, as he had his own agenda and pet projects, and didn’t bother much with the needs of the company’s staff.

The letter did remind him that he needed to make arrangements to make the manager in question’s temporary promotion permanent.  After all, didn’t she help him out?  Staff complained too much anyway.  He took the letter, and promptly filed it in the round file under his desk.

He sighed.  That was enough of a distraction.  He needed to get back to his report.

Picking it up, he read the top of it again.  It was the employee engagement results from the survey taken earlier in the year.  It had shown, as it had in previous years, the same disturbing data.

I can’t figure it out, the CEO thought, reading the data for the 100th time.  Why do the staff feel so strongly that the leadership of this company don’t care about them or their concerns at all?

Ain’t Nobody Sees the Sarah, No Way, No How!

Doorkeeper

The jokes were already floating around the office:

What’s the difference among Elvis, Bigfoot, and Sarah?  You occasionally get a sighting of Elvis and Bigfoot.

You know what is similar between Halley’s Comet returning to Earth and Sarah’s door being open?  They happen with the same frequency.

The jokes revealed a truth around the office.  Sarah, since ascending to the top spot in the department, seemed to have no time for the department that helped her get to that top spot.  Her door was always closed, she ‘worked from home’ as much as she could, and getting an appointment to see her had a difficulty rating above the Normandy invasion.   It was noticed she carved out time for things she deemed important, like a three-day retreat to a seminar in a resort town, in which she took her family.  Other things, like one on one meetings with her staff, or even regular staff meetings, were regularly cancelled and discarded, which indicated the things that Sarah seemed to deem unimportant in her new role.

Any communication came via e-mail, or updates from her administrative assistant.  If she came out of her office at all, she may give a small royal wave and a ‘hello’ to the folks on her staff as she rushed by.  Otherwise, people were escorted into her office, and seen leaving her office, and there were days where, if you didn’t see her walk into the office, you would never even know she was there.   It was ‘the bunker’, and she never seemed to leave it.  While most of the time her staff accepted it as a fact, there were other times when it was very frustrating.  They needed to speak with her on important matters to them.  However, since she determined that those things weren’t important, or that other things were more important than her staff’s needs, many of those things went unresolved.  However, if there was fallout in that matter because they could not get to her to make a decision, you can bet she would take them to task.  Even that, however, was usually by e-mail.

You’re busy.  Your staff gets it.  Your job is important.  There are a lot of things to do.  However, the thing is, you wanted this job, big manager.  You lobbied for it and you worked yourself hard to prove that you deserved it.   The thing also is, you also worked your staff very hard in order to get that job.  They were an integral part of you being in that chair.  Now that you have firmly planted your backside in it, don’t you think those same people whose hard work put you there should get part of your attention and appreciation?

When your door is always closed, or when a subordinate is told they can be ‘squeezed in’ to your schedule, or you cancel face to face meetings with the staff who support you, you are sending a very clear message about what you deem important and what…and who…you deem unimportant.  You can’t then expect to emerge from your cocoon for five minutes and expect your staff to think you are a wonderful leader.  Moreover, you shouldn’t be surprised if your staff has a much lower opinion of you.  You were the one who caused it, after all.

You are not a leader of a department;  you are a leader of people.  When you ignore that central fact, you lose your people.  It is not the paperwork that gets things done.  It is not the projects for your boss that keeps the business going.  It is not the calls with your fellow executives that make your department highly rated among your peers.  It is your people.  A good leader realizes that and cherishes them, no matter how high they climb on the corporate ladder.  A poor leader thinks only of themselves, neglecting the very same people who will make the leader look good.

Step out of your office. Open your door.  Pay attention to your people, and not only when something goes wrong.  It is a poor farmer who ignores their garden and is then surprised to see only weeds growing.

Good Advice…for Everyone Else

Hypocrite

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.

The Staff Shunning

Shunning

The staff of the department didn’t know which was more disconcerting:  the note from the CEO announcing that their department head had suddenly ‘resigned’, or that the person that was now sitting, temporarily, in that seat was someone not from the department and having no knowledge of the department’s functions.  That was exactly what happened, though.

The head of the department, Adam, was suddenly and mysteriously gone.  Usually in this situation, someone from the department was temporarily promoted into a position of responsibility.  The department would then be directed by someone who knew the projects, was known by the people, and could add some stability to a rather tumultuous time.

The CEO, for some unknown reason, had decided to appoint Doreen to the spot instead.  Many suspected that the reason this was done for expediency’s sake.  You see, Doreen was the kid in grade school who would raise her hand for any task that needed to be done, figuring that it would ingratiate herself to the teacher.  In Doreen’s case, it had carried over to the workplace, where if there was an important job to do, she would somehow shoehorn herself into the position.   This particular time was rather ironic, because Adam, when he was head of the department, had told Doreen several times to keep her nose out of his people’s business when Doreen had decided to inform some of those employees that they were doing things improperly.

In this time of transition, one thing that the employees of the department did agree upon was their dislike of Doreen.  Her previous behavior had won no converts in the department based on her previous comments, and her actions since taking over the top spot had alienated those who had been ambivalent about the woman.  They also had lowered their collective opinion about the CEO, who seemed to, again, have taken a very high-handed approach to a situation, ignoring the needs or wants of the staff.  His decisions during his tenure at the top spot seemed increasingly isolated from the needs and wants of the staff, only giving lip service to those who made his position possible and needed.

This was rather evident during the first ‘all hands’ meeting the department held in the wake of Adam’s departure.  Though everyone was informed it was taking place, and the message was that everyone should attend, only about 1/3 of the department did, leaving a lot of obviously empty chairs.  If that message wasn’t enough, what happened next sent a very clear message on the staff’s dislike and distrust of their management.  The CEO had agreed to attend the meeting to give support to Doreen in her new leadership role.  When he came up to speak with the staff, almost every head of every staff member who attended looked down at their smartphone, scanning mail, messages, and other items.  In other words, the staff was shunning both Doreen and the CEO.  They had enough of this behavior and indicated by their actions that they had no respect for either of them.  Whether this was noticed or absorbed by either Doreen or the CEO was not immediately evident, as both had long ago grown oblivious to the obvious signs that there was very little respect for either of them.

At the levels of the CEO and Doreen, the tactical, everyday items don’t, or shouldn’t, come into play as much.  It is the direction of the department, business unit, or company itself that should concern them.  In order to do this, they need to be intimately aware of the smallest change in the wind in order to steer their ship through ever changing currents.  If all you do is admire yourself in a mirror at how good you look in the captain’s uniform, you aren’t doing you job very well.  If 2/3 of your people don’t show up to a meeting, it should tell you something about how important they think your meetings are.  If they won’t even stop their electronics to hear from the CEO, what do you think their opinion of the CEO is?

You captain a successful ship, run a successful company, or head a successful department by being keenly aware of the needs of your crew or your people.  Respond to those needs, and you will have a devoted crew who will do anything to continue the company’s success.  Ignore their needs, and you can run into a huge amount of trouble very quickly.  Your company, your department is successful because of your people, not because of you.  When you forget that, you lose your most valuable asset.

Ignore your people at your own risk, for they may shun you right back.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

its_all_about_me_coffee_mugs-rf9c65774451e4b2789d0b385d9c4a7b8_x7jgr_8byvr_512The meeting with upper management has ended and Sarah and Marjorie were still basking in the glow.  The upper management had applauded…actually applauded…at the presentation that Marjorie had given on a new system the department was installing and how it would improve the effectiveness of the department.   As they walked down the hall, Marjorie was already thinking of how she was going to share this news, and her thanks, to everyone who had made this moment possible.  Her team, which had worked incredible hours to get the system implemented, the training group, who had instructed the clients on the use of the system, and helped with the presentation which just had won accolades, and everyone else who contributed to its success.

Sarah, Marjorie’s supervisor, was also effusive with her gratitude.  Well, maybe ‘effusive’ is a bit too strong a word.  She had not thanked any of Marjorie’s team, nor the training team, or the assistance with the presentation.  Sarah was saving her gratitude for Marjorie, which she promptly uttered to Marjorie as they were walking away from the meeting.  “Thank you for making me look so good”, she said to Marjorie, and kept on walking.

Let’s contrast the two approaches, shall we?  Marjorie, overjoyed all the hard work had paid off spectacularly, thought of who she needed to share this glory, and her appreciation with.  She also made sure to name those people to Sarah.  She realized she could not do this alone and was truly grateful for the team effort.  Marjorie realized doing this would cost her nothing but some time and kind words, and would add to a reservoir of good will with her team, so in case she needed to ever ask for the hard work again, she would have something to draw upon.

Sarah’s focus was squarely on Sarah.  She didn’t bother to personally thank anyone on the team for their work, although, by her own admission, they ‘made her look good’.  Her words of gratitude to Marjorie wasn’t for her hard work, her great management, or for the countless hours she put in.  It wasn’t even for her presentation skills.  No, the only words uttered by Sarah were to say that she deemed looking good in front of her peers to be more important than anything else.  It was a self-congratulations and nothing for the team.

Now, who do you think is the more respected manager and the one who will get the team to do the impossible for them?  The one who shared the victory or the one who kept it all for themselves?

When all you think of is yourself, then that is the only person you can depend upon to support you.

Manners Make the Manager

 

 

pile-of-work-give-me-a-hand

Sadie and Herb walked out of the vendor meeting wondering what just happened.  It was supposed to be a review with the vendor of the previous year and a discussion of how to improve the process for this year.  What they ended up with was an even greater pile of work.  Worse yet, the work was due to the ‘ideas’ that their department head, Ellen, had brought to the meeting and dumped at their feet without a look backward.

Ellen had never bothered to discuss with Sadie and Herb that this is part of what she wanted to discuss with the vendor.  She never had a pre-meeting debrief with them about what was on her agenda.  She wanted to be at the meeting; that was all they knew.  In short, she didn’t have the courtesy to let them know ahead of time so they could prepare.  It seems they were too unimportant for her to loop into the conversation.

Now, to be fair, Sadie and Herb knew Ellen always wanted to go further, push the envelope, and ‘keep things fresh’.  What she failed to realize was that, while keeping things fresh with new ideas and programs, she never removed anything from their already overburdened workload to make room for the new.  No, her staff was just supposed to find some time to do this, and do it well, or else Ellen would come down on them for doing sloppy work, and brook no excuses for it.

There was never the one question that they longed to hear from Ellen’s lips.  That question?  “Do you have enough capacity to handle these new items?”

Now, you may say that Sadie and Herb should be more proactive with Ellen and tell her that they simply can’t handle the work based on what they have.  The short answer is that they have.  Multiple times.  With a wave of her hand, Ellen has dismissed these comments with one statement.  “You can handle it.  You simply aren’t efficient enough.”  At times, she would deign to spend ten minutes with them, show them what they were doing wrong from her ‘expert analysis’, and breeze away, assured she had managed the situation well and that they now had the bandwidth to handle the burden.  In the wake of Hurricane Ellen, Sadie, Herb, and the rest of the department would be faced with picking up the wreckage that she had created.

Leadership means making your people more important than yourself.  It means creating an atmosphere where your people feel they can do great things.  It means hearing them when they say that are overburdened.  It means respecting them enough to have the conversation with them about your next steps, especially when it means they will have a greater workload.  Leadership means showing respect for the people who are going to make you look good day in and day out.

Leadership does not mean throwing work on them, being inconsiderate of their concerns, using trite phrases to dismiss them blithely, and then patting yourself on the back for being such a ‘good leader’.  If that is what you think a leader is, then enjoy the self-deception, for nobody you manage will think many good things about you or your style.

A good leader has the good sense and the good manners to know their people come first.  How are your manners?