The Project: What’s In a Name?

All about me

This is the first in a set of articles detailing some of the management behaviors that took place while a certain department was working on a very labor-intensive project.  This won’t be detailing the project specifically, but how management handled the stresses on the department resulting from the project.

The department was several weeks into the work on the project, and the strain was showing on everyone.  People were working insane hours trying to get their project work done while getting their regular jobs done as well. People putting in 50 to 80 hours a week was becoming typical, and there was no end in sight.  Nights, weekends, and holidays were being taken up by project work, as were the notes from supervisors as to why a certain regular work task wasn’t done.  The silent reaction to that kind of demand was usually, “You are kidding, right?”

Many looked to the office of Sarah.  Claiming she was ‘swamped’, she had not volunteered to take any burden off of anyone regarding the project, though she had hired a temp or two for some of the tasks.  While the staff was appreciative of the temps work, they also looked skeptically as Sarah’s claim, as they were all swamped with work even before the project.  Now they were simply overloaded.

In the midst of this, Sarah had decided what her major area of focus was going to be.  She needed a new title.  Claiming her present title didn’t sufficiently convey the importance of her role, she had gone on a campaign of trying to change her title to something more appropriate.  As the machinery of this involved some of the systems that she was in charge of, she would appropriate some of the time of the people of the department to make this happen.  It didn’t seem to matter to her that her people were already beyond their capacity.  This was important to Sarah, as it would give her the title she so well deserved.

So, it came as no real surprise when a member of her department, involved in getting testing done before the deadline later that day, opened her mailbox to see a note from Sarah designated as high priority.  Opening it, they saw all the approvals necessary for the title change had come through and that Sarah had to have it officially put into the system right away, or, in Sarah speak, by end of day.

Dutifully, the employee of the department closed the testing they were doing, opened up another system, and entered the information to officially change Sarah’s title.  After saving that information, the employee looked at the clock and saw that, with the time used for that ‘high priority’ task, they would now have to stay late, again, to finish the testing for the day.  Otherwise, they risked a note from their supervisor or from Sarah herself scolding them for not getting this done, causing someone to call her and ask why the testing wasn’t done, and suggesting they really needed to manage their time better.

“Yep”, the employee thought to them self, “I now feel so much more respect for Sarah now that she has this new title.”  The employee looked to Sarah’s office.  She had decided to leave for the day, probably claiming that she deserved the time off for all the work she had done that day.

The Unexpected Response


Arnold was in a panic.  Things weren’t going the way he had planned them, and he wasn’t happy about it in the least.  If all had gone as he had manipulated, he would have had Vince exactly where he needed him, things going just as he wanted, and the near future looking good.  Unfortunately, Vince had thrown his plans into such disarray that he didn’t know what do to next.

Arnold used to be Vince’s department head.  Since taking the job, Arnold had relied upon Vince and his colleagues to look good to the client.  Arnold’s clients would ask for a solution, which Vince or one of his colleague would work hard to provide.  They were then mandated to hand it in to Arnold, who would take it to the client, take credit for it, and then reap all the praise for the great work.

In Vince’s case, Arnold added a bit extra to that formula.  On a regular basis, Arnold would criticize Vince for one thing or another, demeaning his knowledge, running down his experience, and basically making Vince feel like he was lucky Arnold didn’t fire him and that Vince was fortunate to still have a job.  This was Arnold’s way of ensuring that Vince stayed worked for him, and not seeking a better job or asking for a raise or promotion.

The whole system began to unravel when the company they worked for underwent massive downsizing and restructuring.  Within a two year span, thousands of the employees were either downsized or their business unit sold to another company.  It was a bloodbath, in no uncertain terms, and caused Arnold’s self-preservation instincts to jump into high gear.

The latest ‘restructuring’ was being announced, and though Vince no longer worked directly for Arnold, his work was integral to Arnold’s sterling reputation with his clients.  As the rest of Vince’s colleagues had already been laid off, Arnold relied upon Vince more than ever.

So, in order to keep this good thing going, Arnold announced to Vince that he was going to ‘save’ him from the latest round of layoffs.  The latest restructuring gave Arnold two employees, and he was going to make sure that Vince received one of those slots.  Vince greeted this with less enthusiasm than Arnold expected, but he accepted the offer.

A week later, after the application deadline for all the ‘restructured’ spots was over, Arnold came to Vince and told him he could no longer consider him for that position.  He used the old excuse of, ‘you don’t have the skills necessary’, though offered no explanation why he didn’t know this a week and a half ago.  In reality, Arnold had been told in no uncertain terms that, if Vince took the position, he could no longer do the work for Arnold that had made him look so good.  As this was the only reason why Arnold wanted Vince in the position, he quickly reversed course.

Realizing where this placed his gravy train, Arnold approached Vince and told him that he was going to fight to have Vince placed on a new team.  What Vince replied with threw Arnold into a tailspin.  Vince’s reply? “No, you won’t.”

If this had been a Hollywood film, Vince would have had a wonderful speech about how Arnold had finally gone too far with his lies, deceptions, manipulations, and other acts.  Instead, he simply said, “You didn’t want me the first time.  I don’t want to be part of yours or any other team in the company any longer.”  He further admonished Arnold not to try to get him on any other team.

Arnold was dumbfounded.  He had worked so long manipulating those around him to his own advantage.  He thought he had Vince convinced that he was so worthless that only Arnold’s kindness and largess was saving him. Apparently, he had underestimated Vince’s resilience, as well as his tolerance for the nearly inhuman way he and his colleagues had been treated by Arnold’s peers.

A few days later, Arnold came back to Vince to offer him another ‘solution’.  Vince could come back as a contractor!  Vince looked at Arnold and asked, “If I don’t want to be part of this place as an employee, why would I want to be part of it as a contractor?”

In the end, Vince was laid off from the company, and Arnold didn’t even wish him well on his way out. He found a position soon after, but kept in touch with some of his former colleagues.  From them he learned that, within six months, Arnold’s reputation with his clients was in tatters.  He was no longer working miracles, and his clients weren’t happy about that.  The two people he had hired for the spots under him, one of them his good friend, weren’t working out, and his life was miserable.  Vince, still healing from the abuses heaped upon him at the company, reacted with muted recognition, and got back to work at his new job.

The picture above is from an old cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor.  One of Popeye’s famous lines was, when he had enough, “That’s all I can stand; I can’t stand no more”. If your way of keeping your good people is to threaten, manipulate, criticize, and make them feel altogether lucky to have a job, be prepared to be surprised.  Each employee, like Vince, will have their Popeye moment and decide that living with the abuse is no longer the way they want to exist.  They will then do something surprising that you never expected, because your own ego won’t allow you to believe anyone but you is pulling the strings.

And, when that employee leaves, and you are left scrambling to have to fill some very big shoes, remember Popeye.  Remember as well that, if you simply treated your employees with respect and courtesy, everyone succeeds.  If you don’t, only your employees will emerge stronger at the finish.



We’ve reached 4000 views of The Good Management Blog!  Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, or liked a post!  If it’s all right with you, we’ll keep doing this a while longer.  Heaven knows we never seem to run out of subject matter.

On to 5000!

The Conversation, Part 2


In my previous blog, I recounted a routine one on one staff meeting between Henry and his manager, Violet.  In one part of that meeting, Violet updated Henry on the status of his tuition reimbursement request.  The request had to be approved by the department head, Lillian, who had not liked Henry for personal reasons for several years.  Lillian, true to form, asked Violet some questions that were designed to preclude Henry from using this benefit.

The conversation between Henry and Violet was unfortunate already, but was not finished, either in content or in being unfortunate.

For some time, there had been an opening under Violet, caused by the departure of one of the department’s employee’s.  Violet had worked to upgrade the position into something more than it was, in hopes of getting more help for herself and Henry, who were carrying a significant burden.  Violet, to her credit, was not interested in handing all the work to Henry, but was sharing it equally between the two of them.

During this conversation, Violet informed Henry that the position now had taken a different spin, and she explained what the position would now encompass.  Henry’s paid greater attention, as the position Violet was describing sounded very much like a position he had pitched for himself approximately a year ago.  Henry had pitched this because it would have expanded his responsibilities, giving him greater knowledge and allowing him to explore new areas of his profession. When he had come to Violet about this idea, she encouraged him to create a job description for it, which she would take to Lillian.  Henry did and, after some modification, Violet took it to Lillian.  The job description, and the revised position, were never to be heard from again.

Once Violet had finished, Henry asked two questions of her.  First, would his position description change due to the other person having this type of description.  Second, could he apply for this position.

Violet paused, looking for the right words.  While she had always been forthright with Henry, she wanted to make sure it was said in the most professional and gentle of manners.  When she did speak, she explained to Henry that Lillian had a certain view of Henry’s capabilities and where he should be in the organization.  There was no changing her mind on this, even though Henry had proven many times over to be more than what his position described.  Because of this, it would be futile of him to bid for this position, as Lillian would never approve him for it.

It was time for Henry to pause.  When he spoke again, he thanked Violet for her honesty and feedback.  On the exterior, they continued with their meeting.  Inside, Henry knew he would miss Violet terribly, but he had to move on.  He had no chance of advancing in the organization as long as Lillian had any say in his future.

We, as human beings, need change.  Some of us welcome it more frequently than others, some crave it more often, but we all need some form of change in our lives.  Whether it is a redecorating of our house or something new at work, we need it in order to keep fresh.  Sound businesses understand this, but also see that, in keeping up fresh, it also benefits the organization.  We learn new skills, new ideas, and new ways of viewing the word around us.  In most businesses, managers look for their people to learn something new every year, as it makes the employees more valuable to the company.

So, when the employee comes to the manager wanting to change, wanting to progress, it should be considered a good thing.  To want the employee to stay the same, do the same duties, because it fits the manager’s needs or because the manager has closed his or her mind to the possibilities of his or her employee, says a lot about the manager.  This is a manager who is looking solely at his or her need, his or her mindset, and his or her prejudices.  Too bad for the employee, I really don’t care about them, as long as I don’t have to change my mind or have any to consider anything new.  When a leader, who should know better, begins to actively block someone from becoming more than they are, it is time for both the leader to have some serious reflection and for the company to begin to think about whether they need that leader.

Blood in the veins doesn’t help the body if it doesn’t move, change, and circulate.  The same can be said about companies, and the departments within those companies.  The lifeblood of the company, its employees, need to move, circulate, and change.  To continue the medical analogy, if a blockage is discovered, it is removed.  Shouldn’t it be the same for blockages in the company’s lifeblood?

Making the Effort

This blog will be a change of pace from the usual tenor of my posts.  Usually, I am speaking to the managers to change a way of behavior or an action taken in order to gain engagement from their employees.  However, a recent conversation with a job hunter sparked some thoughts that I wanted to share.

This gentleman, two years out of getting his undergraduate degree, was despondent because he had not found a job yet.  While this story is not unusual in this economic climate, that really doesn’t matter to the person trying anything to get a job to begin their career as part of the workforce.  So, using what skills I had, I began asking him some questions to see if there was something he might be doing wrong, in his inexperience, that might be lessening his chances for gaining a position.  The answers shouted to me that there was not one thing, but multiple things, he could be doing better.

I asked him where he has looked.  He said he had sent his resume everywhere, and there had been no response to him from many employers.  I asked if he followed up with these employers.  No, he told me, he would expect them to contact him.  I explained that following up is necessary to see if the resume got to the right place, and it shows you are very interested in the job, which might tip the scales.   No, he told me, he couldn’t do that.  If the were interested, they could contact him.

Strike One.

I asked him if he had contacted temp agencies.  It might give him an in to a company and, if nothing else, it brought in some money.  He had contacted one temp agency…once.  He never followed up with them because they never called him.  I explained that temp agencies get flooded with resumes all the time, and flooded with jobs.  Call them,  show your interest.  It might get you put on the top of the pile.  Nah, he wasn’t going to do that.

Strike Two.

I asked him what he wore to the interview.  He was impressed with himself.  He said he wore a sport coat, slacks and a dress shirt.  Holding back my critique, I asked him if he wore a tie.  No, he said, he didn’t know how to tie one.  He had tried to do so and couldn’t.  I asked him if he went on YouTube to see videos of how to tie a tie.  He expressed surprise that they might be there.  I sent him the search link.  The excuse then changed to, “I don’t really like the tie thing.”  I explained to him that a tie is essential, as he had to dress the part of a candidate.  He didn’t want to hear this.  He didn’t ‘do’ the tie thing.

When I approached him about getting a suit, he balked.  He had no money!  How could he afford a suit?!  I told him there were discount places, and places like Goodwill that would have suits at lower prices, and that I am sure someone would spot him the money.  The excuse then shifted to, “My body doesn’t fit an average size suit”.  I asked him his height and general proportions.  A suit would fit him…there was nothing special about his physique from what I could tell.

Strike Three.

His story is not unique, and it isn’t even unique to his generation.  I can recall some of the same attitudes in my early years.  And, I am sure the advice I gave him was given to me and I ignored it.  However, I do recall that in his situation, after two years of looking. I changed my attitude.  I tried new things.  I didn’t reject everything anyone told me.  And, I didn’t start in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since The Great Depression.

One of the greatest failings I find with the college system is that it truly does not prepare you for the real world.  Add to that the current generation looking for work has, as demonstrated by many studies, as having been sheltered and had their whims catered to.  It becomes a toxic brew for when you have to enter the real world and find out nobody really gives a crap about how wonderful you think you are.  Nobody comes to you.  There is no concept of ‘that’s not fair’ out there.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a tough world.  It is one of the rudest awakenings anyone can ever get, and it happens thousands of times each day.

If one looks at job hunting as a great campaign, then it seems logical that you have to throw everything you have into that campaign.  Buy the suit.  Tie the tie.  Follow up the leads.  Get creative in your job hunting.  Find the places others may not be looking.  Do everything you can to get that job.  Finally, do the one thing that is toughest of all…

Change your attitude.

There’s Efficient and Then There’s Efficient

Rachel knew what the answer was going to be.  It was the same answer every time she asked the question.  Still, she owed it to the people who worked for her to ask the question again.  The question was, “Can we get a temp in here to help out for a week or so?”  Why did they need this?  For some routine tasks, like filing, categorizing, file cleaning.  While very easy tasks, they were also rather time consuming, causing the work to pile up as the staff were already very busy with more impactful tasks.

Rachel has asked this before of her manager.  Each time, she would get the same response. “You don’t need help.  You’re just not efficient enough.”  Sometimes that would be the end of it.  Other times, the manager would offer to show how they could be more efficient, viewing the tasks for a few minutes, taking that ‘deep’ knowledge to pronounce how someone could do the task better, and walk away.  Other times, she would just tell Rachel to find a way to do something better.  If the manager was in a rather generous mood, she would say the person needed to go to a Franklin Covey course, because that is what the manager used to stay highly efficient.

Fast forward to a time when the manager had received a temporary promotion to a higher grade level to fill in for someone who was out on long term leave.  The manager felt swamped with all the work and complained that she had to work a full extra day in order to get the work done.  What was her solution for this?  A temp to come in to help her.  Yes, she needed temporary help in order to get her work done.

Knowing better not to say anything, Rachel and her team, as well as the other members of the manager’s department who had been also given the ‘efficient’ speech, talked among themselves.  Why, isn’t the manager efficient enough?  Does she need a Franklin-Convey course?  Maybe she needs someone to help her be more efficient by viewing her for five minutes and making a pronouncement.

As you can tell by the comments made behind her back, this manager does not have a good amount of credibility.  The sad thing is that she could have avoided this by doing something very simple:  relying on her people’s opinions instead of having to insert her own.  While having a gut instinct in matters is critical for a manager, more critical is trusting your people and backing them when they tell you they need something, or that something is important to them.

That would require something that some managers don’t have…the ability to subdue their own opinions on a situation.  No, for these managers, what they think has to be the end all and be all of discussion on the matter.  To sublimate that to someone else’s opinion, especially when those opinions may be…gasp…contrary to their own, is unheard of.  They have to be right.  They have to have the last word.  The sad thing is they don’t.

Oh, they have the last word publicly.  They do not have the last word privately.  This kind of management, management by ego, destroys credibility, destroys support, and destroys morale.

The sadder thing is that this kind of manager also doesn’t care.  They don’t care if they are hypocrites.  As long as they get what they want, they are happy.  If no one else is, then that is their problem.  There is the exit door. Feel free to use it.

Come to think of it, this manager is efficient.  In alienating her staff, this manager is incredibly efficient.

A good manager knows when to trust his or her people.  This is more than just good public relations.  It is a way of empowering the team, building trust, and teaching good lessons.  An old adage states that you gain more control by giving it up.  It is certainly true in this case, where Rachel and her fellow employees would not have batted an eyelash at the manager’s need for a temp if the manager had acceded to the requests Rachel had made.  Why?  Because, the manager would be showing trust in Rachel, and Rachel would have repaid that trust.  There would have been no comments, no behind the scenes mocking, and no resentment.  That atmosphere would have allowed for a flourishing workplace where mutual respect was the predominant theme.

Sounds pretty darn efficient to me.

That Doesn’t Matter

Author’s note:  This entry is a part of a series on hypocritical behavior exhibited by managers and how it can affect their employees.  While there have been previous entries written on this subject, several incidents have come to me recently to justify this ‘series’.  I hope you enjoy and invite you to contribute your own stories in comments.

In my previous post, I spoke of how an administrative professional in a department had been unfairly singled out by the head of the department.  This admin could, from that point forward, do no right, while her replacement, who did some of the same things, could do no wrong.  The tale was to show how the head of the department showed hypocritical behavior towards the first admin.

I’d like to step back into that incident to present another aspect.

The head of the department in the story was also upset with the manager of the admin.  In the department head’s mind, he should have been on board with her from the beginning.  Instead, he supported the admin, admitting there were issues and wanting to correct them.  As mentioned, the department head wasn’t interested in corrective action, and had even dropped hints that the manager could only be successful if he fired the admin.

In once contentious episode, which the manager admits he could have handled better, he had a rather heated discussion with the department head about the admin’s behavior and how it wasn’t too dissimilar to other behavior he had seen in the department.  For example:

The department head mentioned that the admin came in late many days.  The manager pointed out that lateness wasn’t uncommon in the department, including the department head herself who was late between 25 and 45 minutes a day.  The department head’s comment?  “That doesn’t matter” and went on to explain that the law allowed her to be late.

The department head responded that the admin needed to be in there on time (or, according to the previous blog, before her time) in case there were questions.  The manager said the same could be said of the other departments, including the area the department head headed up.  The department head’s answer?  “That doesn’t matter”.

The department head said that the admin’s mailbox had 25 unopened e-mails and that number needed to be zero.  The manager mentioned that many people had unopened e-mails, including some of the department head’s direct reports, who had hundreds of unopened e-mails.  The department head’s reaction? “That doesn’t matter”.  She went on to say that the e-mails in the admin’s mailbox were a reflection on the department to the outside world.  The manager replied by asking that the other e-mails in the other people’s boxes didn’t reflect poorly on the department?  There was no answer for that.

When the manager mentioned that he noticed the department head pointed out many bad things about the admin, but never seems to notice the good, the department head replied, “Now you sound like (the admin’s name)”   Later in that conversation the department head indicated that she was frustrated because the manager didn’t seem to be appreciative of all she did, but only mentioned the negatives.

It’s an old management theory:  model the behavior that you want emulated.  The reason it is old and still used is its soundness.  We put new names on it:  Walk the Talk,  putting your money where your mouth is, and dozens of others.  It all means the same thing.  When your employees see you embracing the principles that you have spoken, they gain respect for you.   Respect usually means harder work, because your employees share your ethics.  Even if they don’t always share your vision, they will see the person who is espousing them is one they can trust to do what is right for them.

If your motto is “Do what I say, not what I do”, people will, if it means their jobs.  That is all they will do, however…enough not to get fired.  You will also have talking behind your back, poor engagement scores, and people not believing you when you supposedly espouse your principles.   Your employees will be forever looking over their shoulders to see if they are the target of the next hypocritical actions.

It’s your choice, dear manager.  Do you want your people focusing on not how not to run afoul of you or on doing their jobs?  Because, unlike the department head in the story above, it DOES matter.