“For the Company!”

Ms. Prim, head of Prim’s School for HR Professionals, walked around the classroom in measured steps, her wooden pointer clicking against the wooden floor just as loudly as her severe shoes. Smiling was not permitted in her classroom, but she did smile inwardly at her current class. With one exception, this group of aspiring HR professionals had acquitted themselves well in their studies. They would soon be ready to enter their respective Human Resources departments secure in the knowledge that they were to do everything to protect the company and very little to serve the employees of those companies.

She knew the latest lesson would be one of the most difficult. Layoffs. Prim thought of this with a scowl on her face. She didn’t like the subject because it dealt with…ugh…emotions. Prim firmly believed that emotions had no place within an HR organization. Her graduates were there to do the HR functions swiftly and efficiently. Having empathy for a candidate or employee was something no HR professional should demonstrate. They were there to ‘administer’ the agenda of the company forward, nothing else.

This was the message she conveyed to her class. A good HR professional talked about when the employee would be separated from the company, what severance benefits would be given to the employee, what the employee was expected to do in return for those benefits, that all equipment needed to be returned or there would be penalties, and a warning to the employee that they should read the concise 37 page separation agreement and come back with any pertinent questions. All should be talked about in as monotone a voice as possible. If the employee started crying or falling apart, the HR representative should pause in a judgmental silence and wait for the employee to compose themselves, and then proceed as if the unseemly incident did not happen.

A student raised his hand. Prim let out a little sigh. It was Jenkins. He was her problem student, always asking about the ‘human’ side of Human Resources, about getting to know employees, and treating them with empathy and understanding. He was true to form today.

“Ms. Prim, why shouldn’t we at least say we are sorry to hear that the employee was laid off? After all, they are losing their income, their livelihood, and possibly being disassociated from many of the friends they made in the workplace. Why can’t we acknowledge that and express some sympathy?”

With an audible eye roll, Prim removed her Pince Nez glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose. With a barely concealed annoyance, she addressed the question. “Mr. Jenkins, we as HR professionals are here for the benefit of…class?” The class dutifully responded, “The company.” Prim continued. “When they conduct layoffs it is to protect shareholder value and to ensure they keep their executives happy with bonuses so they do not leave the company. Besides, if the employee were worth keeping, the company would do so, wouldn’t it?”

Jenkins made a motion to interject, but Prim rolled over him. Tapping her pointer to emphasize her point, she said, “If the employee cannot have the decorum to sit and be laid off without any undue emotion, it is not our issue. We have a duty to fulfill, and it should be done efficiently and expeditiously. Otherwise, we might find ourselves laid off as not adding value to the organization.” Her withering look towards Jenkins informed him the subject was closed.

Prim looked at the clock in the room and made a motion to dismiss the class. “Tomorrow class, we will discuss discouraging employees from seeking a promotion. Read chapters 17 and 18 and be prepared to discuss how we can facilitate this discouragement.”

The class filed out and Prim sat at her desk. She pulled out a small hot water heater and treated herself to a cup of tea. She worried about Jenkins. HR professionals who cared about people being laid off. What was next? Counseling? Coaching? He would not go far, Prim predicted. Not with those silly emotions spilling out everywhere.

An employee being laid off is suddenly faced with the loss of income, livelihood, and the possibility of financial ruin. At least, that is what is going through their mind. While the HR person does not have to go out for a beer with the person, he or she can show some sympathy and kindness. Even an, “I’m sorry this has happened to you” would help ease the burden a bit. Yes, it may be the professional’s 10th conversation of the day laying off someone, but they owe it to each and every person to be empathetic.

The HR professional must never forget they are also there for the employee. Otherwise, they wind up like Ms. Prim, or risk being outsourced themselves. After all, if all the company wants is efficiency, what stops them from outsourcing HR functions to a vendor? And if that happens, will you as an HR professional want someone reading from a script or someone who acts brazenly human?

Acting brazenly human. What a concept!


The Great Con

Harold hung up the phone, still seething from the conversation he just with his company’s HR department. All he could think of what he suspected the department’s motto was, “There’s a sucker born every minute”, and practiced that motto with gusto and glee. He could count himself as one of the victims of the latest round of con artistry perpetrated by what was laughingly called Human Resources.

He had called HR because he was frustrated. He was buried with work and continually given new assignments. These new assignments were usually not his regular job responsibilities, but he was known as the guy who would figure it out, so he was the one who received the tough problems. He would often succeed in these tasks, get a good pat on the back from his manager, and be rewarded with more work. “Nothing succeeds like success!”, his manager would say with an annoying chuckle.

Yet, every time Harold would bring up the subject of promotion for his hard work, suddenly his work wasn’t quite good enough and his achievements not so wonderful. He was told maybe next year if he showed he could handle the work given to him, and then more work dumped upon him. He was stressed, exhausted, and physically ill.

He had no great love of Human Resources as he had seen their lack of caring for employees over the years, but he threw the dice and took advantage of their offer to speak with any employee about career advancement. What he heard did not change his opinion of the group. Rather, it caused him to have, if anything, a lower opinion of that misnamed group.

He spoke to the HR rep, Gloria, about the workload, the stress, the extra work, and the lack of tangible appreciation for his contributions. Gloria listened silently, asked a few questions, and let him finish his thoughts. “What do I do to get tangibly recognized?”, Harold asked, emotionally.

Gloria began what was to be her well-practiced speech. “I think you need to look not at vertical advancement, but rather role expansion.” In other words, the rep was telling Harold that there would be no help with a promotion, but rather ‘finding satisfaction’ through more duties in his current role and level. The company would get even more work out of Harold and he would receive nothing except more stress.

Harold bit back a few of the more colorful comments he was about to make. Instead, he said, “So this would lead to a promotion?” Gloria would not comment on that but rather said it would make him more marketable in the company so he would have more opportunities. Harold thanked her and prepared for round two.

Round two involved Harold taking time one night to detail all the work he had done that was outside his formal job description. To his surprise, it ran several pages, especially with the explanation of each and how it benefitted the company. He double checked it and composed an email to Gloria. In it he said he appreciated the conversation on job expansion. It inspired him to detail every time his job expanded, which was attached. Could Gloria review the attachment and let him know the next step to promotion, as it was pretty obvious to him that he had expanded tremendously, to the point where he had no more bandwidth for anything. He pressed Send and awaited the reply.

That reply came a few days later. An obviously perturbed Gloria wrote back something very simple. She thanked Harold for his submission, but ‘reminded’ him that the company was not in the habit of giving promotions for, “…simply doing your job”. Harold decided then and there to cut back on his willingness, his problem solving, and his workload. Obviously hard work didn’t matter to people who were only interested in pack mules, not human resources.

A leader of a small firm once said that he didn’t like the idea of calling the group Human Resources. He said it downgraded employees to simple resources, not something that is valued and should be grown. It’s a shame when the view of Human Resources is that people are expendible and HR’s only function is to squeeze more work out of them without providing any compensation. Their role was not advancing them in the workplace. Heaven forbid! Yet these same HR people will moan and wail when they can’t get quality employees who are committed to growing the company. Pro Tip, HR folks: You can’t have it both ways.

HR Leaders — are you simply an efficiency expert of the company — seeing how much work you can get per unit. Or, are you there truly to grow and develop your people? The first guarantees events like The Great Resignation. The second ensures a stable and knowledgable workforce. If you are the first, then I guess the only job you really care about is you own.

When that is the only job you are interested in promoting, you are obviously in the wrong line of work.

Quitting the Trolls

Harry paused, stretched, and rubbed his eyes to stop them from focusing on the screen. He glanced at the clock. Still morning though he had been hard at work for several hours trying to catch up on the pile of work he always seemed to have. He had put in at least 10 hours a day for many months trying to catch up, all in vain. It seems the more he worked, the more work he received.

He allowed himself a few moments of rest and not attending to all the unread emails in his inbox, each screaming that the requester’s work was the most important in the world. He opened a new tab in his browser and glanced over the articles in the newsfeed if for no other reason than to take his mind off all the inbox screaming.

His eyes lighted upon another article about ‘Quiet Quitting’. It wasn’t the first one he had read about the phenomenon, but he noticed the stream of articles had grown since he read his first one a few weeks ago.

He smiled at the name. It wasn’t about quitting at all, quietly or otherwise. It was about what his generation would have called disengagement. In essence, Quiet Quitting was about doing your job. The twist was that it was about doing nothing more. It meant doing your eight hours and then logging off and having a life. It was the opposite of ‘hustle culture’, where you were expected to do more than your work and were looked upon suspiciously if you didn’t.

Quiet Quitting was also about something else, at least to Harry. It was about a broken promise. Hustle culture promised workers that if they worked the long hours, put in the extra work, they would be noticed in the organization and rewarded with raises, promotions, and upward advancement. Workers bought into that agreement, did their part, and saw nothing from management. No raises, no promotions, and not even talk about the path to promotion. The only thing they saw was a demand for more work and, if they slacked off, were told that was a sure path to being fired.

Now the managers’ bluff was being called. Workers were questioning why the long hours, stress, and time away from their families if there was no reward for those sacrifices. The workers’ reaction was Quiet Quitting. I will do what I can in my eight hours a day and nothing more. You want to discuss this, management, we can discuss why there hasn’t been reciprocity on your part for me.

As he looked through the most recent article online, Harry skipped to the comments. They were always the best part of an article for him. There were some thoughtful responses, some venting of frustration and anger, and some case studies from the respondents included. Then there were the trolls.

Harry could aways spot the trolls. They usually had a screen handle that was meant to keep them anonymous and well hidden, like their namesakes who hid under bridges. Their responses were usually meant to inflame passions, not inspire thought. Those same responses were usually exceptionally short so they could go about trolling on other sites as well. Harry didn’t mind opinions contrary to his. He did mind if they weren’t well reasoned and rationally put. If they didn’t meet those criteria, they were trolls in Harry’s opinion.

Sure enough there were troll comments galore. Despite himself, he found himself ‘answering’ the troll comments, if only in his mind and trying to pinpoint a sense of fear that he had.

These lazy Gen Z and Millennials don’t want to do any work — If the troll had taken any time at all to review the article, he would see these generations are happy to do the work. It is the extra, uncredited work that they are having issues with. Being told they are rock stars but being passed over at promotion time or being told there isn’t enough money for a less-than-rate-of-inflation raise wasn’t acceptable to them anymore. Matter of fact, it wasn’t acceptable to GenXers or some Baby Boomers either. Worse yet, it wasn’t acceptable to be told how good you are except when you wanted to be rewarded for your efforts and then told how poorly you performed.

These lazy bums will be the first ones fired — You’re firing someone for doing their job. Doing their job. Harry wondered what those unfair labor practice lawsuits would look like when the judge saw the positive reviews received by the employee, the ‘rock star’ memos, and other complimentary pieces against an employer saying they were fired for not performing their job adequately. He also smiled as more than once in previous positions he found out companies were forced to hire two people to the work he managed to do alone.

Nobody wants to do any extra work these days — There is a difference between pitching in to do some work when the team needs to be on top of a deadline. It is something quite different to expect 10, 20 hours extra work each and every week that is above and beyond the 40 hours you are being paid for and getting no reward whatsoever besides some nice, cheap words. Loyalty goes both ways. When was this forgotten?

It was sad to Harry in a sense. He knew that many in management were using the same arguments and scare tactics when asked the respond to Quiet Quitting. He had yet to hear one person say that maybe the system is broken and that they should sit down with their employees to discuss career development — true career development, and a two-way system of accountability. That sense of fear that went through him was that the trolls were managers who were happy with the one sentence pronouncements. He would not be surprised that The Great Resignation was from their departments. Those who left would be painted with the same brush as everyone else — lazy, unmotivated, or criticized simply because the manager could not see past their own blinders.

Harry sighed. He knew his mental musings would do nothing to help the situation and that he had a ton of work awaiting for him in his email. He stretched his neck and back, closed the tab where the Quiet Quitting stories were, and prepared to go back to the emails. He took his hands off the keyboard, pushed his chair back, and went to get a cup of coffee. Maybe it was time for him to do some quiet quitting of his own.

Tea and Honesty

George knew this wasn’t going to be a friendly chat. Oh, he trusted Margaret, the HR representative he was having lunch with. She had always been straight and honest with him, demonstrating her professionalism at every turn. However, he also knew when she ordered a pitcher of iced tea, which she had just done, that this was going to be a serious conversation. It was her trademark to stay hydrated as she talked. Unlike her colleague, Maxine, who George didn’t trust at all, Margaret had earned his trust. He wold sit and listen to her, knowing she was doing it for his own good instead of her own need to feel powerful.

George also knew what this would be about. One of his employees, Cindy, had recently left the organization. As was Margaret’s practice, she had a conversation with the offboarding employee and wanted to speak with the manager about her findings.

George tried to preempt the conversation. “Okay Margaret, tell me how terrible a manager I am.”, he said, half jokingly. Margaret smiled, took a sip of tea, and replied, “Why would I do that?”

That set George back. “Well, that is why we are here, isn’t it? To talk about what Cindy said about me? That she left because I was a terrible manager?” Margaret smiled, took another sip of tea, and replied, “No, not at all. On the contrary, she said you were a kind person who was a professional but approachable.”

Now George was thoroughly confused. “So we are here to talk about how wonderful I am?”, he said hopefully. Margaret smiled again, “Not exactly.” Well, that was short lived, George thought. “Then why am I having to work with HR to replace an employee?”

Margaret took a long sip of iced tea and refilled her glass. “Tell me George, Cindy wasn’t hired by you, was she?” “No”, George replied, “she came over to me when two departments combined. She was with the other department.”

“I see.”, Margaret replied, “You also had a few new spots available to hire, didn’t you?” George nodded. “Where did you get those other new hires from?” George thought about it for a bit and said, “They were either existing employees of my department or people who I knew who I had worked with previously.” Margaret took another sip of tea and nodded.

“Wait a minute. Cindy isn’t accusing me of discrimination, is she?”, George accused. Another sip of tea. “No….at least not overtly. But the more we talked, the more I could see why she left.”, Mary offered neutrally. George took a deep breath, willed himself to relative calmness, and made his mind as open as possible to Margaret’s comments.

“Do you know what Cindy’s main duties were before the departments combined?”, Margaret asked. “To my knowledge she was the main client contact for many of our products.” Margaret nodded. “And when she came to your department, what were her duties?” George thought for a minute about his reply, and then said, “Well, as we had new responsibilities in the deparment, I gave her new duties to perform along with her old duties.” Margaret reached for her tea.

“In other words, you added to, or in Cindy’s words, ‘doubled’, her workload without any promotion or additional compensation.” George bristled. “We were under orders to save every penny we could to ensure the deparment was profitable. It was part of the reason why we combined in the first place.”

Margaret nodded. “Cindy mentioned to me that she addressed this inequality to you. Do you recall what you said to her?” George thought for a minute and said, “I told her we could discuss it later.” Margaret asked, “And in the two years she worked for you, did you?” George fell silent, then replied. “Once she brought it up again, and I told her she wasn’t ready for any promotion.” Margaret continued, “And did you give her a plan of action so she could get promoted?” Again, George fell silent. “No.”

Margaret contined after another sip of tea. “When the world shut down and our conferences with our customers went virtual, and after we opened up again, who did you choose to present to our customers at those conferences?” George answered, “Francine. I knew her to be experienced in speaking with our customers and knew our products.” “What did you ask Cindy to do?” George thought for a minute and said, “I asked her to monitor the chat when we were virtual and to sit at the product table when we were in person.” Margaret nodded, “Why?” “Cindy knew the products.”, George replied. Another sip. “So, in other words, you made a choice about who would be public facing and who would be behind the scenes”, she said as George bristled. Margaret quickly continued, “As is your privilege. Why did you choose Francine?” “I knew her capabilities better”, replied George. Margaret said nothing.

Margaret poured another glass of iced tea, and also offered one to George, who accepted it readily. “Tell me about career movement in your group.” George was afraid Margaret would bring this up. Of the four people in the group at present, three, including George, had received promotions. Cindy hadn’t. George had noticed Cindy’s change in attitude during this time, but didn’t address it to her, thinking she would snap out of it. When she hadn’t, and offered her resignation, he was genuinely surprised.

“So, what you are saying is that I am a terrible manager who mistreats my employees.”, said George, with a tinge of bitterness that wasn’t due to the unsweetened tea he was drinking. Margaret smiled kindly. “No, I’m not. CIndy made it very clear that you were just the end of the road. You were the last of a line of people who told her how wonderful she was, added to her workload, but didn’t think enough of her to move her up in the organization. She was being truthful about your kindness and professionalism. But even a kind slap is a slap.”

They chatted a while longer of other things before Margaret said she had to get back to her work. She and George hugged, and she headed out the door. George stayed at the table a while longer thinking about the last conversation he had with Cindy before her departure. She had said to him that she hoped he found someone who he thought worthier than her. At the time she thought she was just being snarky or melodramatic. He realized now that she was just summing up what she had been suppressing for the years she worked at the company.

He poured one more glass of iced tea, raised it in the air, and said quietly, “Thanks for the lesson, Cindy.”

Implementing a Change

Harry dejectedly walked out of his annual review. It would be another year where his work was considered exemplary, but that he would not be getting a promotion. The reason this year was that he was not ‘strategic’ enough in his work, thus could not be promoted to a position where strategy was more important.

He was not the only one to receive this message. His colleague, Maise, was also told the same thing. While they both received a raise and would be bonus eligible, there would be no movement in the organization for them, at least for another year. They both suspected that next year would be another reason, or maybe the same reason, why no promotion would be forthcoming.

The reason for this pronouncement from their manager seemed almost ironic. Harry and Maise were the go-to people in the department when some strategy needed to be implemented. They knew where to start, where in the company to get the right people, had the right contacts, and knew how to make the plans reality. Their work had directly contributed to the department’s success and even to promotions for some of their reporting chain. Their successes had only bred more assignments where they were always teetering on being overworked. There were times during the year where they were asked why there were delays in their schedule, a point which was brought up during the reviews. The strategists did not want to hear that they simply had too much work. Didn’t they realize the department’s plans needed to go forward?!

Their morale low and feeling discouraged, they opened their separate projects and began what they seemed destined to do for the foreseeable future. They prepared their status updates and continued their work.

We laud the strategists. They are the movers and shapers of the company. They come up with the big ideas that drive the firm into the next few years. We revere their abilities to see into the future and navigate the ship for greater success and profits, at least it is hoped.

The one thing that always seems to be missing in that reverence is that without the implementers, the strategy is simply a piece of paper. Without the know-how, contacts, and expertise of those who bring the strategy for life, there is no forward movement and no glorious future. There are no back slaps in the executive suite and handshakes all around for another success. There are fewer promotions for a strategy well executed.

But we don’t see it that way. We see the implementers as something less. We see the implementers as not worthy of promotion because, well, they aren’t strategizing, are they? No, they can’t seem to get out of the drudgery of being concerned with the little things, the mundane, the ordinary. They need to think bigger!

Yet, what do you do with the implementers? Give them more to implement! They are so good at it, aren’t they? Just hand it to them, get some updates, and report the success. Or report the issues with the project and how you had to swoop in to save it, showing the implementers are just not ready yet to join the upper ranks. Either way the argument for the lower ranks to stay exactly where they are is justified, at least to your own mind.

It’s time we changed the conversation. It’s also time we changed the attitudes. A company can’t run with everyone deciding where to sail the ship and nobody taking the wheel. Those who implement are as crucial to the viability of a company as those who strategize. They should not be treated as undeserving of promotion simply because they have a different skillset, one that the company cannot do without.

If the conversation won’t change, then it is incumbent of those who strategize to take those skills and teach them to others. That is going to require sacrifice. It will require less work upon the implementers so they can learn to strategize. It will mean a lower chance of success because you have invested in the career of another human being. It will mean courage to explain that to your executives.

All that will take a different kind of strategy. One that will keep good people with the company and your bench strength filled. The question is, do you have the fortitude to be the implementer of that?

The 27% Heart

During the pandemic, many companies have tried to show they are concerned about their customers. Whether giving extra time to pay bills, rebates on insurance premiums, or offering low or no interest financing on larger purchases, these companies are trying to balance staying in business with showing care towards the plights of their customers, who may be working on reduced pay or not have a job at all.

Then there is Financer X. Financer X is the bank behind a store-based credit card. You know the type. Your favorite department store has a credit card, but it is not serviced by the store, but by the bank who actually extends the credit offer.

Henry had accepted an offer from the department store to finance the purchase of a piece of furniture. The offer was no interest to pay off the piece of furniture at no interest if the payments were made in a certain amount of time. Henry took the offer and budgeted accordingly to pay off before the 27% interest the card charged took effect.

During the pandemic, Henry was fortunate enough to continue work, but his employer had informed him and his fellow staffers that they would be getting a pay cut. It was either everyone took the cut or some staffers would have to be furloughed. With this in mind, Henry began looking at every bill that came into the house to ensure he did not overdraw his checking account balance.

Looking at the statement from Financer X, Henry was pleased to see he had only one more payment on the piece of furniture. Ensuring he wasn’t making any mistakes, and he would not have to pay any interest, he read the bill carefully. There his eye caught the following statement by the financing company.

“Our hearts go out to all those who are affected by the pandemic. Please know our call center remains open if you want to make your payment by phone.” End of statement. Well, not quite. There was a reminder that anyone who did not pay their bill in full would be subject to 27% interest as agreed to in their cardmember contract. There was nothing about payment abatement, postponing payments for the unemployed, shifting payments, or interest deferment. Nope. Financer X’s corporate heart bled for all the affected card holders, but was going to do nothing that might affect its bottom line.

As Henry arranged for an automatic payment, he made a mental note. He would not close the account, as that would affect his credit score, but he would not be shopping with Company X or using their credit card at all. It would gather dust in his desk. He would stop all email from the Company and spend his diminished resources elsewhere. Would that have any impact on Financer X or Company X? Possibly. At that fact, Henry thought, “You know, my heart goes out to them.” He promptly cut the card in two.

In times of crisis, it is your actions that people will remember. In a time when people suddenly have their incomes discontinued through no fault of their own, a company can shine through their acts of compassion, or can be tarnished through their acts of selfishness. These decisions come from the company’s leadership.

When that leadership decides to maintain profit over the suffering of their customers, it says a lot about the company and their ideals. The smart company will take a short-term hit to gain the long term benefit of loyal customers who remember the caring and commitment of that leadership. The not-so-smart company will value the next quarter and hope their customers memories are short.

Unless you sell something so unique that your customers cannot get it anywhere else, it is simply good business to show your customers you care. If you don’t demonstrate that, your customers may take their hearts, and their wallets, elsewhere.

Stretching Reality

The HR director was rather proud of herself. She was speaking to one of the company’s departments outlining her achievements, including the fact that she had a strong commitment to stretching employees with new assignments, career advancement, and job rotation. It was a hallmark of her tenure. She went as far to say that she didn’t want to have employees who weren’t willing to be stretched in the organization. It was part of the company’s success.

The employees listened to this politely, thanked her for attending, and left. They were polite enough not to laugh at her words in front of her, but had plenty of conversation about them afterwards. Job rotation? Advancement potential? Stretch assignments? None of them were part of the department they were in.

The HR director had addressed this. If this wasn’t happening, she wanted to know. She would take action. However, the actions taken were more deleterious to the employees than awakening to the management.

In theory, the HR director should have known this. After all, there was a representative for each of the departments, wasn’t there? Yes, but for most employees, the only time they saw their HR representative was at these meetings. When they did come to the department, it was to meet with the executives. And when the executives were questioned as to whether they were growing and stretching their people, what do you think was the answer? The message to the employees? They weren’t important enough for the HR representative to visit and speak with, even though it may tell a very different story than the executives related.

This didn’t happen, and since it didn’t, the commitment of the HR director went unfulfilled. It would have been easy to remedy. Talk to the employees. Find out when was the last time they received a stretch assignment. Find out if they were being groomed for a promotion possibility. Find out if they had been offered a job rotation or offered a short assignment with another group or department. Nobody did, because nobody cared. The employees simply weren’t important enough to do so.

The HR director said she didn’t want to see anyone leave the company because of unfulfilled expectations or potential. If she had put her energy into ways to ensure that instead of just making speeches about it, she would find a much lower turnover rate. She would have found much more fulfilled employees and a lot more heads nodding in her meetings with departments.

What We Have Here…

Even though a question was asked, there was silence in the room. It wasn’t that the question was so difficult that nobody could answer it. No, rather it was that nobody wanted to answer the question. Except one.

The venue was the monthly staff meeting. Human Resources had been invited to discuss the results of the yearly engagement survey. While there had been some good points, mostly in the area of serving the department’s customers, there were also some areas where improvement was needed. One of those areas was communication from the executives of the group to the rank-and-file workers.

The Human Resources representative had outlined what it planned on doing to rectify the problem, and had then asked if the department’s staff had any contributions about why communication was an issue and what could be done about it. That was the reason for the silence.

It wasn’t that the staff didn’t have any suggestions. The executives of the department only seemed to communication at these monthly meetings or when something was needed. Otherwise, they stayed in their offices, barely interacting with most of the staff who didn’t directly report to them. There wasn’t malice in this non-action, and most of the staff ignored the fact that they were ignored. Still, it bothered most of the staff that they were treated simply as workers, so that is how they acted.

It also wasn’t that the staff was afraid of retaliation if they spoke up. They knew they would be looked upon unfavorably, nothing would be done, and some being given the feedback might even take offense at the words spoken. Still, the staff kept silent, despite the benevolent gaze of the department head.

The silence was broken by one of the department executives who offered her interpretation of the results. She explained that there were two questions on communication on the survey – one for the company as a whole and one for the department. The executive speculated that the staff simply confused the two questions. They thought, as a group, they were answering the question on the company as a whole and not the one for the department. There was no problem to report, according to her.

While the staff continued to be silent within the conference room, there was much chatter after the meeting ended. The staff could not believe the temerity of the executive to explain away the results, and explain it as the staff not having the sense enough to know which question they were answering. Nothing demonstrated the gap between the executive group and the staff better than that comment. The ‘confused’ employees went back to their desk assured nothing would change with attitudes like that.

When evidence comes that shows there is a problem, a leader has three avenues of approach. He or she can choose to ignore it, explain it away, or find the reason behind the problem and work towards solving it. The good leader doesn’t have a choice, as only the last is an option. Not only does the problem get tackled, the staff is engaged in his or her leadership, increasing engagement and productivity.

Blame the staff? Don’t be surprised if the communication worsens, productivity goes down, and the scores decline. After all, if they can’t even differentiate between two questions, how can they be expected to do their jobs competently?

Snow Day!

The company policy was pretty straightforward. Each employee had the technology to work remotely. If the office was going to be closed due to inclement weather or other emergency, employees were to work from home during what would be regular office hours. All in all, it was a reasonable expectation, especially in a time when every employee should have had home internet service.

Well, not everyone. An executive with the company posted on social media that the building was closed. He had made some hot chocolate, put his feet up, and turned on some reality TV. He would be back, ‘diligent as ever’, tomorrow.

In other words, while every other employee was hard at work obeying the company policy, the executive decided to have a snow day. Since he knew he was connected on social media to many of his employees, one could guess he didn’t really care what the reaction would be. The reaction, by the way, was far from positive.

Nobody commented on the post, at least in a negative manner. That would have been the same as career suicide. However, the talk in the office from those who had read the post and shared it with others expressed shock, dismay, and anger that the executive felt he didn’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else. The executive didn’t seem to notice, though, as he was involved in too many ‘important matters’.

We all would love a snow day. The thought of getting paid for reading a good book or binge watching that long-anticipated series is irresistible. For many of us, it remains a distant dream. There are no snow days. There are days where we plug into work, and put in our eight or more hours.

Unless you are an executive. Then you can not only take a snow day but also brag about it on social media, caring little about the reactions of those who read your post.

What message does that send to your employees? First, that the rules are different for you. Second, the consequences of that decision don’t matter to you. Third, you care more for your own comfort than for the good of the company.

You cannot tell your employees to give their all for the company’s profitability and you yourself not do the same. You cannot expect your employees to live up to a greater standard of behavior than you, as the leader, portray. You cannot expect that your behavior won’t have ripples through the productivity and engagement of your employees.

If you do, the landscape isn’t the only thing that is getting a snow job.

The Jelly Jar


The group sat around the cafeteria table, their jars in front of them. Most of them remained silent, shaking their heads. Arlene had really underdone herself this time.

Arlene was another member of the department in the executive ranks. Over the past year, she had come to each person who was sitting at the table requesting their help. She needed their expertise, their relationships with the customers, and their time and energy. She made no excuses why she needed that help, either. She said several times, “Without your help, I can’t make the numbers I need to get my bonus.” At Arlene’s level, that ran into five figures. They appreciated her honesty and could understand her motives.

Each member around that table put in significant effort for Arlene and her bonus. They had to forego work that would contribute to their achievement of their bonuses, leverage their good will with the customers, and put in some significant extra hours. They did it for teamwork and to help a fellow member of the department.

All that extra effort worked, and Arlene made her numbers, assuring her bonus. She was generous with her words of appreciation to the group, thanking them for helping her make that bonus. At holiday time, however, the situation was different.

For each member of the team, she proudly gave them a gift of…a homemade jar of jam or jelly. To add to this, she gave them a gift card to a local coffee house, each card in the amount of $5. She remarked it made her feel good to contribute to a local charity that made jams, and gave it with a smile to each member of the team. Yes, the jellies and jams were homemade, but not by her.

Sitting at the table, each member of the team was staring at their jar of jelly or jam. On top of each of jar each member of the team had placed their high-value gift card. Eventually the silence was broken by one member of the team who made a proposal. Each person at the table would chip in for a loaf of bread, which they would bring in, use the cafeteria toaster, and they would have some delicious toast and jam, all courtesy of Arlene.

That managed to get people laughing and talking, with suggestions that they could really go for broke and buy some butter to spread on the toast and have with the jam. This evoked even more laugher and talk.

When the laughter had died down, they each made a promise. They would spend the new year focusing on their goals and reaching them with the same energy they had given to Arlene’s request. As for any further request Arlene made? They would give it the same amount of respect that she had shown them in her gifts.

The sealed that promise with a toast of their jelly jars.