It’s Only Someone Else’s Money


It was company policy to refresh each employee’s computer every three years.  Sarah was no different, so when the call to renew her laptop came to the coordinator for the department, the coordinator approved a new laptop for her.  Soon enough, the IT department informed Sarah that they would be stopping by to install her new laptop.  That is when this whole thing began.

Sarah had decided she didn’t want the typical renewed laptop.  Oh no, that would not do for her.  Now, she had not told anyone this, but this is what she wanted.   What did she want?  Well, she wanted something different.  She wanted a laptop made by a company that has a fruit theme.  This didn’t bother the IT department, as they had two different types of fruit-themed laptops available for users.

But wait, Sarah said, she didn’t want either of them.  She wanted something special.  She wanted something that they didn’t regularly stock.  After consultation with IT, they came up with the fruit-themed laptop that she would accept.  This set the wheels turning for the coordinator for the department to spend a few hours having to fill out the proper forms for a special request, give the justification, and do the research for the price and possible vendor.  It then had to go through the Byzantine approval system.  Happily, he must have burned the right incense and incanted the right ritual, as the request went through.  Sarah was happy.

As part of the request, the coordinator was advised to make sure he ordered all the accessories for the computer at the same time.  Again, spending time researching all that Sarah would need, he added in all but one thing.  Would Sarah want a new monitor?

Her monitor at present was satisfactory for what she would use the fruit-themed laptop for, but the coordinator knew better.  This laptop wasn’t satisfying a huge business need.  No, it was satisfying an ego need, which Sarah was the latest victim of, having seen many of her peers succumb.   Because of that, he believed soon after the laptop arrived, she would want the same monitor that the other executives had.  The coordinator went to the fruit-themed vendor’s website, surfed for monitors, and found the one monitor they sold.  It was:


It was:


Bringing this to Sarah, the coordinator advised Sarah of her choices and the respective prices.  Sarah’s decision?  The $999 monitor, which the department would pay for.  Despite that the CFO, one of Sarah’s peers, told everyone in the department that it was everyone’s duty to avoid unnecessary expenditures, Sarah authorized the monitor for her…for $999.  It would take more incense, more rituals, and more paperwork to push it through.  Every time the coordinator would be asked why did someone need such a ridiculously expensive monitor, he would simply say that it was what Sarah wanted.  Having dealt with enough executives of the company and their expensive toys, the ordering department put the request through.

Helping the company be fiscally responsible could wait for another day.  Sarah needed her monitor that could be viewed by the International Space Station.  The coordinator sat back, resumed work on his standard laptop, viewing his standard screen, and got on with his day.

Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Their Hypocrisy…

Walking Out the Door

It was a seminal moment for Sam.  There was no turning back.  He walked into his manager’s office and handed in his resignation.  It felt incredibly freeing and the culmination of so many years of effort.

Several hours later, Sam was called into his manager’s manager’s office.  The executive wanted to let Sam know what a valued employee he was, if he would consider changing his mind, what a great member of the team he was, and the fantastic quality of his work.

Sam was grateful for the training in maintaining a neutral expression he developed over the past few years.  If not, he might have burst out laughing halfway into the conversation.

This was the same executive who had:

  • Told him the body of his work was extremely poor, but so was everyone else’s who reported to him
  • Ignored all the extra work he had done to keep the department going, and rated him average, affecting his raise and bonus
  • Told him he wasn’t qualified for a promotion available in the department
  • Told him that, in the executive’s previous position, his peers would have tossed out his work as being inferior

So, now being given such head turning compliments rang more than just a bit false with Sam.  It was obvious that the executive was worried about who would do the work that he relied upon for his success, and wanted to keep Sam there and happy.  Sadly, it was too late.  For Sam, it wasn’t just a letter of resignation, but rather a declaration of independence.

Still, if Sam had any hesitation about leaving, the none-too-convincing performance by the executive erased it completely.

Simply said, if you want your employees to stay, then treat them as if you want them to stay.  Don’t expect to rush in at the last minute with sweet words and expect the employee to come rushing back saying, “You had me at hello!”.  Work is not a romantic comedy with a happy ending despite all the hardships that took place in the movie.  As a manager, however, you should not make it a horror movie, either.

Pretty words don’t change ugly actions.  Good managers make sure that they put actions behind the pretty words, so the pretty words are necessary at all.

It’s the Quicker Sucker-Upper!

Stopwatch app on smartphone

Last week, I wrote about the meeting on the latest engagement survey for Sarah’s organization.  In that article, I mentioned that the results were not the item most people focused on, but rather how those results were interpreted by Sarah and her leadership team.  That wasn’t the only thing people were noticing in Sarah’s meeting, however.  In this particular case, some employees were tempted to break out the stopwatch app on their smartphones.  Why?  Read on…

As I wrote about, everything that seemed to be positive for the department was claimed by Sarah, and everything not that positive was blamed more on the company.  After the first comment that Sarah made, Anna, one of Sarah’s direct reports, who had been graced with two promotions in one year (which was against company rules, but that is the subject of another article), chimed in, “You’re right Sarah!  That makes a lot of sense.”  That comment, made about 5 seconds after Sarah’s comment, made more than a few eyes roll.

The next time Sarah made a comment, there again was Anna, once again congratulating her boss.  “That’s a great point. I wouldn’t have thought of it that way!”  One expected Anna to break out the pom-poms at that point and lead everyone in a cheer.

This back and forth went on for several more rounds, each time Anna chiming in earlier and earlier about the rightness of Sarah’s statements.  If they wouldn’t be noticed for it, several staff wanted to break out the stopwatch app to time how long it would take for Anna to say something in response to Sarah’s comments.  Others wanted to pass along lip balm to Anna.  Still others were waiting for Anna to simply say to Sarah, “I don’t know what you are going to say next, but I’m sure it is brilliant.”  As you can see, Anna’s comments were not taken seriously by anyone, save for Sarah herself.

There are two ways to ascend in an organization.  You can show your excellence and value to the organization, or you can ascend with flattery and pleasing words.  Either way, you will have attained a higher position, and people will have to listen to you.  How would you like them to listen to you, though?  Do you want them to listen with attention and respect, knowing you earned that spot in the organization?  Or, do you want them to inwardly roll their eyes, nod when appropriate, and then talk behind your back that the only strength you have is tied to how hard you pucker?

Maybe you don’t care, which is a sad state of affairs, for it shows you are in for the power alone, and not what you can do for the organization and your people.  If that is the case, download that stopwatch app mentioned above.  You will need to be in training constantly for how you can continue to curry favor without any substance.

Worse still, if you are the boss who rewards praise and flattery, but not true substance and intelligence, you may want to download that stopwatch app as well.  After all, you want to make sure your direct reports kiss up faster and faster, don’t you?


A Little Throwing Around Money

Man Throwing Money Around

It looks like Maxine and Sarah may have some competition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rose Colored Blinders

Rose Colored GlassesIt is very seldom that we have a crossover post.  Recently, however, the topics of two posts, Maxine and Doreen, came together in a very unusual way.  Even more fortunately, they provided a good lesson in bad management.

As we have mentioned, Maxine was on her never-ending retirement tour from the company.  At a luncheon in her honor, in which her fellow staff was mandated to attend, Maxine spoke of many things.  One of the topics she spoke of was Doreen, an interim department head who had no experience in the department and no support from anyone but the CEO.

Doreen, if you recall, could be equated with the child in school who raised her hand for every task, just to ingratiate herself with her teacher.  While presently a department head, she was known to volunteer to head every high visibility project, usually making the lives of those on the project miserable with her unreasonable expectations and unsympathetic views.

As we said, during the retirement lunch, the topic of Doreen came up, and Maxine had to offer her opinion on the woman and her work.  What did Maxine say?  “Not only does Doreen do so many jobs, but she does every one of them well.”

For the people at the table who knew or worked with Doreen, there was a collective vote of thanks that they weren’t drinking any water, or a good portion of the table might have become soaking wet.  Doreen doing the jobs well?

Unsaid at the luncheon, but talked about later, the staff who had worked with Doreen had wondered if Maxine had ever bothered to talk with the staff managed by Doreen, or heard of some of the comments Doreen had made to people working under her.  They wondered if Maxine ever bothered to explore how Doreen pushed people to come in nights and weekends to get work done, and thought nothing of it.  They wondered if Maxine ever bothered to investigate the complaints that people leveled against Doreen, or simply ignored them as ‘sour grapes’.  They wondered why the engagement scores for Doreen’s department were consistently low, year after year. Apparently not.

That in itself spoke volumes on Maxine’s tenure at the company.  She was very happy with her blinders on, ignoring any evidence that would challenge her opinion of someone.  It simply didn’t exist.  Facts could be brought to her, and she would happily twist them until they fit her worldview.  Many good employees had been punished and many poor managers lauded because of this worldview, all seen in a shade of rose.

If your two main tools as a manager in judging someone are rose-colored glasses and a pair of blinders, the betting money is that you are not getting a full, unbiased view of the situation.  You can either keep the glasses and blinders on, losing any respect people might have had for you, or you can be courageous, taking off the blinders and glasses, and see things as they really are.  Once you do that, your perceptions will not be the only ones to change.  How others perceive you will take a markedly positive turn.  That is, if you care at all about these kind of things.

Not It!


It began almost immediately after the meeting had started.  The consultant from the company which had administered the employee engagement survey had just introduced himself when the head of the department spoke up saying she didn’t know how valid the results were.  Why did she say this?  She had recently come into the job, after the incumbent had, sadly, passed away.

It wasn’t that the department head was brand new to the company.  Far from it.  She had been in a leadership position for the past four years within the department, just not leading the department, save for a brief time when the former head of the department had medical leave.  Still, she felt it necessary to say that she was not sure the results were valid because she wasn’t literally the head of the department.

Looking deeper into this claim, one would find it self-serving at best, and fraudulent at best.   Why?  I present the following evidence.

  • The survey mentioned the department leadership team, not the head of the department in its questions.
  • The survey results from the department head’s smaller group echoed the results the department as a whole now were receiving.
  • During the temporary tenure of the now department head, the engagement scores were also as abysmal.  As the results were announced when the former department head had returned, the excuse was it was all the department head’s fault.

In other words, it wasn’t that the results weren’t genuine, it was the excuses presented by the department head.  She was searching for any excuse, as she had done in previous years, to invalidate the results.  This year it was to blame a dead person for the abysmal scores, claiming she had nothing to do with such poor performance.  It was a performance that she had turned in each year, and which nobody in the department really believed.  Why would she do this?  Simply put, it was her actions and attitude as a leader of the department that was causing these poor results, but that would mean she would have to change her style, which was dictatorial and micromanaging.  She didn’t want to change, so the excuse train left the station once a year.

There is a child’s game called tag.  The rules of the game are simple.  One child is ‘it’.  That child has to tag another child in order to not be ‘it’ anymore.  Of course, the other children scatter and try to get to a safety zone called ‘home‘ before they are tagged.  When first signing up for this, the children decide who is going to be ‘it’.  In many circumstances, the last child to say ‘not it!’ is the one who gets to be ‘it’.  Thus, the children all try to be the first to say ‘not it’.

We expect this on the playground, not the corner office.  If the majority of your time is spent giving excuses for why you aren’t responsible for your employees are miserable, you are spending way too much time making excuses and much to little time trying to investigate the causes of why your department is miserable.  If you suspect it may be you, but are too egotistical to want to admit that or to think you are the one who has to change, then you are not leadership material.

True leadership is one where the leader does what is best for their people, not for themselves.  If they do that, there is no need for excuses year after year why the scores are bad, because the scores will be wonderful.   What do you spend your time on — making up more and more complex excuses or creating a department which has no need for such pitiful excuses?

The Last Thing We Need…


Like too many in his department, Miles had very little engagement in his work anymore.  The factors for this were too many to list, and he knew by his conversations with is fellow coworkers that he certainly was not alone.  He was, like many, just showing up for the paycheck and hoping the day ended sooner than his patience.  So when a project came along that actually held some interest for him, instead of the same old same old, he put his full energies into it.

The project involved the implementation of the first internal social networking tool for the staff, and Miles had been assigned to create training for it.  Miles saw the possibilities immediately, and took the training in many directions.

As nobody else seemed to be doing anything with the rollout of the tool, he took the initiative. He polled departments on how best to use the tool to drive customer satisfaction, devised collaboration strategies to have internal areas work better together, and suggested ways for departments and leadership to use to to drive engagement and recognition.  He would not only have some standard training, but also have a suite of items ready for putting this new tool into practice.   What’s more, he was interested in this project and the possibilities it posed.

A golden opportunity came to put this work into practice when his home department was engaged in a rebranding effort in order to update their image.  The leadership had brought the staff together to brainstorm the possibilities for promotion of this rebranding, and then assign the staff to do the work.  To assist in this, the leadership had brought in several representatives from the company’s Marketing department to sit with the teams and provide advice and assistance.

It was during this time that Miles presented his ideas about how to use the new social media platform to drive recognition of the department’s rebranding efforts,  He proposed that one part of the social networking tool was perfect for this effort, and outlined how it could be used.  His leadership seemed to be receptive to this and encouraged him to continue with his ideas.  However, when the Marketing person heard this, her only reaction was, “The last thing we need is another social networking avenue”.  End of discussion.  Miles could feel his engagement circle down the drain.  He kept his mouth shut during the rest of the meeting and sullenly returned to his desk.

Over the next few days, Miles found out a few interesting facts.  This tool was not requested by Marketing, but rather the company’s customers.   The company’s IT department, which was in charge of rolling out the tool, had invited Marketing to many meetings on its implementation, and Marketing had declined each and every one of them.  It seemed, to use a popular expression, since Marketing didn’t want a tool they could not control, they were taking their ball and going home.  They would rather pour cold water on this new social networking tool than work with people like Miles to implement it.

How do you drive engagement?  A good start is to give people work that they are passionate about, and are willing to take into new directions.  Encourage them.  Guide them.  If they are going in a direction that should not be pursued, gently put them in a better direction.  You’ll find not only happier employees, but a wealth of new ideas.

A big mind allows many ideas.  A small one shuts them out.  The last thing we need is the latter.

A Slap on the Wrist? Don’t Worry, We Deliver!

If you were an employee of the company, who wasn’t a manager, but simply an individual contributor, you knew the drill.  If you were call to talk with Marion, the Employee Relations Manager, you came to her.  There was no courtesy of her coming to you.  You went to her.  You were in her office, as she wanted it to be.  It reflected her philosophy of exerting power.  You were on her turf, giving her the advantage.  People who worked for her reported the same thing, where she would make her employee set up the meeting, giving the subtle meaning that it was too small a task for her, but not for someone who worked for her.  Most people knew this, but since she was the Employee Relations Manager, a power position in itself, nobody could really complain.  Yes, Marion was all about power first, and if there was anything left over, she found some time to actually help the employee.

With this in mind, some eyebrows were raised when Marion reported that she recently had to speak with a manager about the manager’s behavior.  Now, this in itself was surprising, because people could count on one hand the number of times Marion had taken the side of an employee in her dealings wit them.  Usually it was the manager first, last, and always, even if the manager was holding a smoking gun and had a confession note hanging out of their pocket.  Many wondered what had this manager done where even Marion could not cover up for them.  The second surprise was that Marion said that, in dealing with this manager, “…we took a walk down to the manager’s office and had a talk with her.”  In other words, Marion left her Fortress of Solitude to go see an employee in that person’s office.

Still, even with this revelation, one salient fact came screaming out.  When it was an employee involved in a dispute with a manager, and the employee was at fault, Marion had no problem calling the employee down to her office, having the manager there always, and ganging up on the employee with the manager to tell the employee exactly what was wrong with them and how they had to improve.  Yes, the office door was closed, but there was no private chat with the employee.  Even when an employee would come down to talk about a manager’s behavior, Marion would not listen to it without the manager there.

However, when it was a manager who was so clearly at fault, the treatment was different.  Privacy was tantamount.  There was no ‘walk of shame’ through HR to Marion’s office for the manager.  Oh no, it was a discreet visit to the manager’s office for a chat.  It was all very civilized, and designed to make sure the manager’s confidentiality was assured.

A ‘meeting’ vs. a ‘chat’.  A call to Marion’s office vs. a stroll to the manager’s office.  A requirement that the manager be present in discussing an employee’s issues vs. a private chat with the manager.  It was an obvious illustration about who was favored in the company and who was not.  It was an obvious illustration of the respect Marion had for managers as compared to employees.

The one thing that wasn’t obvious to Marion was the ill regard employees held towards her.  She didn’t really care, as they had no power to help her. Manager’s did…so manager’s ruled.

The Silence of the Gossip

It was quite unlike Adrienne.   She was so…quiet.  Well, that wasn’t the word for it, but it would do.  If we had to be more accurate, she was so, non-gossiping.

You see, over the years, Adrienne had gained quite a reputation for gossiping, especially to the higher ups in the department.  It didn’t matter who she gossiped about, but she would gossip to her advantage.

One of Adrienne’s favorite targets over the years was Janine.  Whenever Adrienne could get a pot shot about Janine, she would do so with glee.  True, not true, downright lie…didn’t matter.   She would gossip about Janine to whomever would listen.  When Shirley came into the department as Janine’s manager, Adrienne saw a golden opportunity.   She turned up the intensity and complained about Janine at every instance she could.  As Adrienne and Janine had to work together often, Adrienne had a field day in trying to get Janine fired by sheer gossip and guile.

If Janine was late helping Adrienne set up for a presentation, it was reported.  If materials weren’t produced to Adrienne’s satisfaction (and they never were), Adrienne complained.  If Adrienne gave poor instructions to Janine, it was Janine’s fault, not Adrienne’s.  If something was a day late, there was hell to pay.

Previously, Adrienne received a cold reception in this vendetta.  However, Shirley embraced both Adrienne’s friendship offers and diatribe against Janine.  When other employees would have to show proof of their claim, Adrienne’s word was good enough for Shirley.  When Employee Relations would tell other employees to talk it out between two parties, Adrienne was never questioned about why she complained so much.  When Adrienne was caught in doing something wrong, Shirley made sure that blame was deflected elsewhere.

Sadly, Adrienne’s vendetta was successful and Janine was fired.  Someone new was hired, and suddenly all the issues that Adrienne had with Janine’s work didn’t seem to matter anymore.  For example:

The new person was late in some tasks, and it didn’t seem to matter anymore.

The new person and Adrienne were frequently late for preparing for the presentations, and nothing was ever said.

Tasks that Janine had to do suddenly could be done by someone else or not get done at all, and it was fine.

Shirley saw all this.  Shirley knew all this.  Shirley suddenly didn’t seem to care, though she made federal cases out of everything that Janine did wrong.  Now, the feds had gone home, the rules were relaxed, and things that were important with Janine were no longer important.

This sudden change in attitude was noticed, but seeing the vendetta that Adrienne and then Shirley had against Janine (who they both claimed publicly to ‘really like’), nobody wanted to be next on the list.  So, they just nodded to each other when the new person screwed up, and kept conversations very general with Adrienne, for fear that the gossip train would run them over next.  Final tally — one person fired, rest of the department working in fear, and two people happy.  Seems like a bad deal to me…though I am not Adrienne or Janine.

Nobody likes a gossip.  Add on top of that a gossip who will say whatever is needed to carry out a personal agenda, and you make a bad situation worse.  Add on to that a manager who buys into the gossip and the lies, and you make a situation intolerable.  You sow distrust.  You sow fear.  You sow behavior that never gets past walking on eggshells.  You sow dysfunction at its most dysfunctional.

A good manager runs a department based on facts, not whispers.  Fairness instead of friendship.  They prefer honest dialogue over sweet compliments.  They are rewarded with a staff who believes they will be judged fairly and where open dialogue is the order of the day.

And that’s a department where no rumormonger is allowed.

Truth or Saccharine



It seemed to be a common reaction among those departments which didn’t score well in the employee opinion survey.  The leaders of those departments must have been told that they needed to get the scores up, and they needed to raise department morale to do this.  What seemed to be the conclusion that each of them came to independently?  Why, let’s act happy and excited in all our communications.

To accomplish this, the notes became less formal and more ‘chatty’.  The greetings became happier.  There were more smiles.  There were even attempts at small talk in the hallways and aisles.

The sum total effect on this with most of the staff?  Nausea.   Eyes rolling so far up into their sockets there was a danger of them being stuck in that position.  Anger at being so disregarded to think that fake enthusiasm would satisfy them.

When there is an ugly and pervasive stain on a wall, some might try to paint over it, in an attempt to cover it up.  In most cases, the stain bleeds through the new paint job, making the wall look even uglier.  Why did those people do it in the first place?  It was a quick and easy way to cover up the stain without too much effort having to be expended.  And, in many cases, it was a failed attempt.

A good manager, like a good painter, knows they have to get to the root of that stain and eliminate it, not just cover it up.  Without expending the time and the effort to eliminate it, it will come back time and time again.  Might it require a huge amount of work?  Yes.  Will the work be ugly and dirty at times?  Possibly.  Will it get results?  Most likely.  Only after that stain’s cause is eliminated or rectified can you put a new coat of paint over it.  Whether we are talking about the walls or what goes on within the walls, the solution is the same.

Stop trying to throw a coat of paint on a stain with fake smiles and inane chatter.  Get to the heart of the matter, find the root causes, and eliminate them.  You are showing you are willing to invest your time, your effort, and some of your ego, into true and lasting solutions.  When your staff sees you doing this, their smiles will be genuine, and their appreciation real.  When you show your staff that you have their best interests at heart, the smiles are no longer saccharine.  They are the genuine ones of appreciation.