Tag Archives: blame

Let the Healing Begin

Rejoicing in life

It was a great evening.  Good friends.  Good food.  Many laughs.  Larry, whose story you can read here, was having dinner with Sam to get his ideas on getting back into the workforce.  Larry had retired from his job at the mutual workplace that he and Sam had worked, but in truth, he was forced to retire by a management intent on wearing him down so he would leave.  That was over six months ago, so Sam was happy that Larry wanted to talk.

Over dinner, the conversation naturally drifted towards their prior, shared workplace, with stories being swapped, and gaps filled in from different points of view.  Larry was ready to jump back into the workforce, but hadn’t prepared a resume for many years.  That was where Sam came in.  He had gained a reputation among his former co-workers as a good resume doctor, so Larry sought him out.

“I don’t know why it took me so long to jump back in the job hunt”, Larry admitted.  It was over six months ago that he retired, and he was not the type of guy who would just want to sit and take it easy for the rest of his life.  Sam smiled.  He knew exactly why Larry had taken so long.  He needed to heal.

If we are fortunate in our work lives, we have workplaces that we cannot wait to get to each morning.  They nurture us, uplift us, and give us the ability to grow as a person and in a community.  Those places have low turnover and are the places where you have to ‘know someone’ to get hired into.

If we are less fortunate in our work lives, we go to workplaces that are simply workplaces.  You put in your time each day, do your work, and clock out.  They are not very uplifting, but they are also not damaging.  They are simply places you spend eight hours or more doing your work so you can get to the people and things you enjoy.

If we are unfortunate in our work lives, we work for those places which are designed to damage our hearts and souls.  We have managers who believe only by degrading you can they raise themselves up.  They believe that the only way they can show that they are truly in power is to make your life miserable.  An insult or slight is always on their lips, and the only words they know about your performance is ‘never good enough’.

They seem to enjoy inflicting pain and look for new ways to do it.  They are always the victim, and you are always the aggressor, though the truth is just the opposite.  Nobody is happy under them, yet in too many cases they stay in power.

When you finally escape that workplace, you think you can just go on with you life.  Sadly, you have to, but you can’t just walk away like nothing happened.  Those workplaces affect both your heart and soul.  They leave scars and injuries.  Those scars take time to heal.  You may not want to admit it, give into it, or think it is silly to think that way, but that doesn’t change what has happened to you.  It also doesn’t change that you need to heal.  Hopefully where you have gone to upon fleeing that workplace is one which allows you to heal and see the true worth that you have.

Larry took this all in and had to agree with Sam, though he did have one question.  How did Sam know this?  Easy, Sam replied, he left the organization later than Larry did.  Guess who was still in the process of healing?



Let the Hostility Continue!

hostile-work-environment-250x210Ralph knew it was a risky proposition from the start, but felt it needed to be done.

He prepared well.  He had his evidence, had practiced what he was going to day, brought examples, and was going to ask for solutions, not demand them.  He made the appointment with the department Director and walked in ready to have a discussion about the hostile work environment that he was experiencing in the office.

It did not go well, thanks to the Director.

Instead of weighing the evidence, the Director dismissed each and every example that Ralph brought in.  Instead of discussing why Ralph felt this way, he trotted out every instance where Ralph had done something wrong. (according to the Director and Ralph’s Manager)  Instead of bringing in a neutral third party from Human Resources, the Director once again told Ralph what a crappy department this was and that the Director had gotten there just in time to save it from itself.  Instead of seeing both sides of the story, the Director decided to blame Ralph for everything.  Instead of taking copious notes about this conversation or bringing in Human Resources, the Director just talked, at one time confusing the issue and having to be corrected by Ralph.

Instead of giving Ralph’s concerns due consideration, the Director decided to make the work environment even more hostile towards Ralph.

A few days after this talk, the Director and Manager pulled Ralph in to inform him he had been placed on a ‘Performance Improvement Plan’, which could result in termination if he did not fulfill it to the letter.  The plan was filled with misstatements, uncheck claims, and was fully one sided, as Human Resources didn’t bother to speak with Ralph at all about his side in the matter.

In short, everything that the company had said about a safe to speak environment was torn up in tiny pieces, and set afire by the Director, Manager, and Human Resources.

If you as a leader of people can’t get past your own ego and take a few critical comments, then you are no leader of people.

If you as a leader of people can’t listen to those comments, carefully consider them, and change your behaviors based on them, then you are no leader of people.

If you as a leader of people believe yours is the only voice and opinion that counts, then you are no leader of people.

A good leader wants to solve problems to make their people happy and productive.  If the only solution you have ends in the words, “I’m right”, then don’t expect much else from your people.  Then again, your ego probably won’t allow you to expect anything from anyone, as you are the only person who matters in the world.

Be that leader your people need and want.  Ditch the ego and open your ears.

There’s No “You” in Team

nutcracker and nut

It had been a long week, and all Ralph wanted to do was go home.  He had been berated about his work all week from his new bosses, especially his new Director, and he just wanted to leave a once promising workplace.  His co-worker, Sam, had tried to help him understand that it wasn’t him.  His work was good, but these new bosses had to go prove themselves, and they were doing it by berating the both of them.  Ralph knew this to be true, but was still tired of the attacks.

It would seem that there was one more salvo coming from the Director for the week.  He called Ralph in, sat him down, and began speaking to him in a tone that brooked no argument.  “It has been reported to me that you have been exhibiting negative behavior in staff meetings.  I need to know right now if you are committed to the goals of this team or not.”

Ralph was knocked back on his heels from this statement.  True, both he and Sam were not always in support of what the new direction was, but had agreed that they had to support it with their work efforts to keep moving forward.  Taking a breath, he asked the Director who had mentioned this to him.  The Director refused to tell him.  Ralph then asked what was this negative behavior. “You rolled your eyes.”  Ralph said very succinctly that he would watch that behavior, and was given permission to leave the Director’s presence.  He beat a path out of the office and left for the day, more beaten down than ever.

When the word ‘team’ is used as a weapon, nothing good can come out of that conversation.  Teamwork is built, piece by piece, not imposed because the leader wants it that way.  Team loyalty is earned.  It is a slow process.  It is patient, and it can blossom.  It has to grow organically.  You cannot magically create a cohesive team simply because you have taken over the leadership of a department or group.  You can’t make a team by hammering the concept into everyone’s head.  Yet, some managers seem to believe this.  In reality, they are over a group of people, not a team.

What happens when a good manager hears of criticism or that an employee isn’t happy?  In most cases, they will ask the employee if they are okay, if there is something they would like to speak about, or ask some probing questions to find out what the problem is so it can be solved.  The good manager will try to get to the heart of the matter to see if it can be resolved.  It may not be able to, but the good manager will give the employee a chance to air their grievances, without punishment and without retribution.

The good manager inspires and facilitates healthy debate, not accuse someone of something without even letting them know their accuser.  The good manager asks why something happened, not makes a summary judgement about what could be an innocent gesture.

When a manager sets themselves up as judge, jury, and executioner, they are not building a team.  That manager is setting up an environment where nobody will speak, there will be whispers in the hallway, and people will give just enough not to get fired.  When they pronounce, instead of ask, they have let their employees know what they really think of the team.

What’s your definition of ‘team’, dear manager?  Is it one where people have the freedom to disagree, or is simply a handy term to enforce your will?

Failure is an Orphan

blame someone else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Very Careful Responses

dangeraheadsignThe staff had to give credit to Sarah.  At least she was trying.  Well, at least it seemed like she was trying.  This is what they thought, among other things, as they sat in one of the company’s larger conference rooms awaiting their ‘action day’ on their employee engagement survey responses.  The scores had not been wonderful, and getting to the answers was made more difficult by the fact that a large percentage of the staff felt it wasn’t safe to speak up on issues, especially if they carried a negative bias towards Sarah.  She was not known as someone who was welcoming to criticism and eventually would dole out retribution to whomever made the comment.  The department was littered with those who had tried it in one way or the other.  It seemed only those who complimented and flattered Sarah went anywhere in the department, and those people had a very different name among the staff.

Sarah either didn’t recognize this correlation or didn’t want to see it; the staff didn’t know which.  What they did know was that they would continue to spend their time in these sessions producing little or nothing because the truth was just too dangerous to speak.

The facilitator today was someone from the company which had administered the survey.  He had been at the company before, and in front of Sarah’s department before, so had some understanding of the issues.  He began without much introduction, saying that they had a lot to do and little time to do it in.

The session ran in a pretty typical fashion to the previous attempts.  The staff was given self-adhesive notes in order to write things that were good about the department.  If the next step followed suit, they would go up to a piece of paper in front of the room and attach these notes onto the sheet in some fashion.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen just that way.

When the staff was finished writing their notes, the facilitator called upon one of the members of the staff, Mitch, to bring his responses up.  Before putting them up on the paper, however, Mitch was asked to tell them out loud to the group.   Mitch, glad he didn’t write anything particularly offensive, did so, while the rest of the staff furiously edited their notes for when it was their turn.

The next part of the exercise the staff knew well.  As they had written down what was good with the department, now they would write down what was wrong with the department.  Knowing the facilitator would ask them to come up and speak their criticisms, the each staff member was more than a little nervous.  Fortunately, the facilitator gave them a chance to save both themselves and their jobs.  He asked them to write down something that could be improved with their department or with the company.  To a person, everyone jumped on that opportunity and, one by one, they brought up their papers describing what was wrong with the company, not the department.

This was not lost on Sarah, who commented that no one really mentioned anything wrong with the department, but with the company.  She wondered aloud if this was because people didn’t want to speak of the issues with the department or that the department was running well.  In a few minutes, she went on to the next topic of discussion, and didn’t give another mention of the odd case of why nobody would speak badly of the department.

Like her predecessor, Sarah didn’t, or wouldn’t, recognize a fundamental truth.  People had indicated, now for a second year in a row, that they were afraid to speak up in the department.  If your staff has indicated in an anonymous survey that they are afraid to speak up in the department, why would you have a session where they are mandated to…speak up in front of the department about the problems of the department?   For many who knew Sarah, they believed this was a calculated move by her to indicate to her leadership peers that she had done her due diligence, but her staff was unwilling to say anything, or that they had indicated nothing at all was wrong with the department.  That box could be checked off, and Sarah could remain secure in the delusion of her own leadership greatness.

Leaders need courage.  They need courage beyond just having to make ‘the tough decisions’, but also to accept criticism about their leadership style.  They also need courage to be able to change that style for the benefit of their staff.  When a leader arranges a situation to purposely avoid that criticism, it shows that they know things are wrong, but either refuse to or are unwilling to change.  It is a very selfish leadership that will be a leader in name and salary only, and not as a person with followers who truly believe in their leadership.  The only leadership they exhibit is of their own ego.

When you have to rig the contest in order to assure the outcome you want, you are not a leader.  You are little more than a carny game operator who makes sure that nobody can win at your games of chance.  In that situation, the real losers are all those who are subjected to your so-called leadership.

The Importance of Being Ernestine

Bob and Carol looked at each other in that sort of, “What the hell just happened” kind of look that people get.  They had this look on their face after hearing from Ernestine, who was the head of the department, and Carol’s direct boss.  Ernestine had just written a note to confirm what she had said directly to Bob and Carol not thirty minutes before.  What happened?  Read on:

Bob and Carol were responsible for training people within the company.  Each year they published a training calendar with classes for the organization, supplemented by classes that would arise during the year due to specific requests.  This set of events was known to Ernestine, who gave her approval to it.

Ernestine, or rather her assistant, had regular staff meetings with her group, in addition to the larger staff meetings held for the whole department.  These staff meetings were held about once a month.  The assistant had put out the meeting schedule somewhere in the spring, three months after the calendar was published, and had updated the meeting schedule somewhere during the summer.  There were some dates that had clashed with the training calendar, but since the calendar was common knowledge, it was assumed that on those dates Bob and/or Carol might not be able to make the meeting.   Apparently Ernestine thought differently.

On one of the meeting days, Ernestine walked past Bob and Carol, casually saying that she would see them at the meeting.  Carol mentioned that they both had training classes that day, due to a scheduled class for Bob and a class Carol had to pick up because they had recently lost a trainer in the department.  Ernestine grew unhappy at this.  Didn’t they realize these meetings were important?  Didn’t they realize that these only happen once a month and that they needed to adjust their schedules for these monthly get togethers?  Bob and Carol, dumbfounded, took in Ernestine’s words and nodded their assent.  After she had left, they mentioned to each other that the training calendar came first, and was out there before these meetings were scheduled, if anyone had bothered to review them.   Thirty minutes after that exchange came an email from Ernestine telling the entire staff the same thing.  Some time after that came an email to Bob and Carol telling them to review their remaining classes and let Ernestine know of any conflicts with the meeting schedule.   There were some conflicts, with Ernestine asking for Bob to reschedule the classes if possible.  Their disappointed students would understand.  It was the staff meeting after all.

Seeing if there was something on a certain day wasn’t too difficult, mind you.  A calendar came out each month with all the activities listed on it by date.  All Ernestine had to do was to look at the calendar and see when the least amount of activities were happening.  This never seemed to cross her mind.  In her mind, everything cleared out for the times she was available and willing to hold the meeting.   If someone had something during that time, it was their fault and their responsibility to change, not hers.  After all, she should not be expected to have to reschedule her work from home days, reschedule an appointment, or inconvenience herself.  Inconveniencing was for other people.

So much for there being no ‘I’ in ‘team’.

Want your team to respect you?  Want your team to do whatever they can to please you?  Respect them.  Recognize their importance to you and the department’s goals.  Be flexible around their schedules and their lives.  Don’t tell them how important your meeting is.  Take time to see when it is convenient for everyone to meet, even if it is inconvenient for you.

Getting your team to support you — it’s as easy as looking at a calendar.  Well, that and not being Ernestine.

Faking One For The Team

It was a frustrating call for Carolyn.  She was trying to be professional with her boss, Marjorie, but it was becoming more and more difficult to do so.  She knew the situation. Marjorie was the type that never saw a piece of work that she didn’t want to offload onto someone else.  Carolyn was convinced that was why she became a manager in the first place…so she could do less work than ever.  Now that she had a team, it seemed that every day was Passover — the work passed over her and directly into the hands of someone who worked for her.

This time was no different, but Carolyn was really at her breaking point, work-wise.  Simply put, she had too much on her plate, and she needed this assignment to go to someone else.  Her bandwidth had not only been met, but had been exceeded, and she needed Marjorie to either assign this task to someone else or take it on herself.  She had explained this to Marjorie as calmly and rationally as she could, doing everything the advice given to her had indicated — stating each assignment she had, how much time it was taking, how it exceeded her working hours, and how she was working extra already to be able to get the work done.  None of it was persuading Marjorie, who had one thing on her mind — she personally didn’t want to do this work and didn’t really care what the situation of the person who worked for her was, as long as that person took the assignment.

So, in response to Carolyn’s well-reasoned explanation of why she couldn’t take on the assignment, Marjorie replied: “I’m sorry to hear you don’t want to be a team player.”  Desperately clinging to her self-control, Carolyn responded, “I am a team player, Marjorie, it’s just that my workload is rather high right now and I don’t have any room in which to take on another assignment.”  Marjorie was unpersuaded.  She repeated that it was a shame that Carolyn didn’t want to be a good team player, she would still have to do the assignment, and this conversation would be noted in her personal file.

One of the purposes of management is to make sure that your people are working at their capacity.  One of the purposes of really wise management is to continue to increase that capacity so more work can get done in the same amount of time.  To get that, however, you have to look at the long game, look for efficiencies, and create an atmosphere where your people really want to get involved, do their best, and go beyond any set limits.  You do that, partly, by showing your people that you are also willing to work at your capacity, unafraid to be right in there doing that needs to get done.  It is management by example, and it allows your people to see you are as willing to do what you are asking them to do.

When your greatest work is seeing how you can get out of work by handing it off, don’t expect a lot of respect.  Not only are you putting a greater burden on your people, you are illustrating to them that you believe you are better than them.  You don’t have to work as hard because you have ‘people’ to do those things.

When you take it to the point where your people are crying, ‘Enough!’ and letting you know they are at their breaking point, and all you do it spout platitudes at them about not being a ‘team player’, you have shown your true colors.  Not only are you, as a manager, unwilling to help take a burden from your team, you are unwilling to help them bear the excess capacity, give them coping strategies, or look for alternatives.  No, even that is too much work.  Just spout platitudes that mean nothing while getting ready to shovel another load on them.  That’s all you really have the energy for, isn’t it?

Being a manager means being there for your people.  It means helping them manage their workload and work life.  It means if they come to you, you help them.  By selfishly giving them work you could do, but are too lazy, and then making them feel like they are the ones who are at fault, you are showing the only person you care for is yourself.

Publicizing Your Prejudice — A Sarah Story

A couple of weeks ago I told the story of ‘Sarah’, who reveled in finding the cloud in every silver lining for employees she personally didn’t want to deal with or didn’t like.   I wanted to record a few of these to illustrate my point.

Emily knew she was on Sarah’s list.  No matter what she did, she could not please Sarah, who seemed to delight in picking her work apart, looking for the bad among the good, magnifying that bad, and writing her up with yet ‘another example’ of how right Sarah was to have the opinion she did of Emily.   It was under this pall that Emily and her manager, Bob, went into Sarah’s office to discuss the preparations for a big company event that Emily was tasked with.  While they were both prepared for anything, they didn’t expect the conversation to come down to the difference between 3 and 5.

Emily had done remarkable work, with Bob’s help.  All the vendors were accounted for, the internal facilities arrangements were made, help from the department was garnered, and the food had been bought or arranged for.  It would be a fantastic event, one which Emily had worked very hard to accomplish.  Sarah looked at all this and nodded, giving grudging assent to all the work done.  Her eyes looked over the arrangement and a smile crossed her face.  Bob and Emily knew this was not a good thing.

“I see”, Sarah started, “that you advertised and marketed this three different ways.  We have five ways we can market an event.  Why didn’t you do all five?”  Emily mentioned that one additional way was going to be done in the next day or so, to keep the advertising fresh. The last one she didn’t see the value in, so didn’t do it.

That was all Sarah needed.  This was ‘unacceptable’.  There should have been five marketing avenues for this.  It was just another way that Emily was incompetent and that the whole event would collapse because the one way not being used would be the linchpin.  The one way not currently used should have been done earlier, and Emily should have known this.   All Emily’s good work was to be ignored, and two marketing avenues would be magnified to unrealistic proportions in order to prove a point.

The event itself was a rousing success, attracting hundreds of employees and garnering praise from the vendors attending.  When Bob did a wrap up of this for Sarah, indicating that, with the four avenues employed, they had record attendance.  Sarah didn’t seem to care, saying the success of the event didn’t matter.  What mattered only was that Emily couldn’t be trusted to run an event like this.

An old joke goes that a woman and her child were walking along the beach.  A huge wave sweeps the child out to sea.  The woman is highly distraught, praying for her son to return.  Another wave comes and safely deposits the child back on the beach, alive and unharmed.  The woman looks at her son, looks heavenward, and says, “He had a hat…’

A good manager looks past his or her own prejudices and focuses on the facts.  They go beyond their own biases and looks objectively at what is being done.  That manager may even have their mind changed.  They allow the facts to bend them, not the other way around.

When a manager has made up their mind and then twists each situation to fit that preconception, no matter what the facts are, then anyone working for that manager who is not on the A list is doomed from the start.  It is unfair to the employee, and demoralizing to the rest of the department.  Who’s next?  Who gets the preconception leveled on them next?

No matter if a manager likes or dislikes someone, they have a duty to look at each of their employees objectively.  When they don’t, and just find the bad instead of the good and bad, they do a disservice to themselves and their employees.

In that case, 3 out of 5 really is bad.

The Whiplash Manager

Sarah’s employees couldn’t say her comment surprised them.  Hardly anything she did surprised them anymore.   Still, there were a few raised eyebrows when she made her latest comment in front of the entire department.  It wasn’t the content of what she said, but rather that it was a complete reversal of the guidelines she used for everyone else.

Sarah’s employees always knew when someone fell out of favor with her and that she was ready for them to leave the company.  Suddenly, all she would notice was the bad things the employees did.  Her focus became laser pinpointed on how she could spin an action to something that was wrong.  Market the product three different ways?  Why not five?  You must be lazy.  Have something on the server that she needed, but the entire network was down?  No matter!  You should have fixed the server yourself or forced IT to get it done faster somehow.  It was your fault!  Stand up for yourself?  Never mind that she had encouraged everyone to speak their mind.  You were simply insubordinate!  When called on this, she didn’t even deny it, just met the accusation with more derogatory remarks.  All of this, of course, was to build her case that the person in question was not a fit employee.  She could then point to the ‘evidence’ that she had concocted and get the person fired.  No one higher up or in authority seemed to question these tactics, just that the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed on the separation papers.

So, with this knowledge, you can see why there were some raised eyebrows when, in the middle of a full department staff meeting discussing the abysmal employee relations scores the department had received (gosh, wonder why?), Sarah says, “Well, we should look at the good things on the report.”  The queen of finding the dark side of things is emphasizing the good suddenly?

Of course, even a cursory glance, her employees knew what was going on.  Sarah was not dumb.  She knew that the numbers could at least be partly attributable to her unique form of personnel management.  What was the best way to remedy it?   Stop tearing people down?  Help fix the problems rather than have a concerted campaign to get rid of the person?  Face the fact that your subjective judgement may be, dare we say, wrong?  Nah!  Put lipstick on the pig.  Distract everyone from the problem by only focusing on the happy shiny stuff.  And always keep a straight face doing it.

What is your view of your employees?  Disposable assets which can be interchanged at any time you choose, once they have lost your favor.  Or, are they true assets which you rely upon to accomplish your goals and move your business forward?  What is more important to you, letting your ego have free rein by showing how you can use or abuse your power, or learning how to grow, develop, or, when needed, correct your employees so they can meet the needs of the business?  One path leads to a well running and highly respected department.  The other leads to a dispirited group who comes in for their paycheck and little else.

Do you treat them as intelligent human beings, or blank automatons on who you can pull anything over while knowing they can’t or won’t say thing one to you?  Do you insult their intelligence because you know you can and get away with it?

Is most of your time spent making excuses or finding excuses instead of finding ways for development and growth?  If it is, then I would suggest you find a better use of your time.  Please, for your employees sake, put that creative energy to purposes that build and engage, instead of obfuscate and destroy.


Mind Over Management

100 Blogs Posts!

100 Blogs Posts!

This post will be my 100th since The Good Management Blog began.  Thank you for being part of it!

For my 100th post, I think it is fitting to comment on a private posting from a one-time contributor to this blog.  He mentioned the following situation in his personal blog, and gave me permission to write about it.

In his blog, he commented on how, a year after he had left a position, the scars the management at that firm had inflicted upon him still came out to play every now and then.  A bit of history…

My friend, ‘Kirk’, had worked at a family owned firm.  This firm typified all the worst stories one can imagine about a family owned firm.  The owner, unconstrained by any HR rules or regulations, had yelled at, cursed at, bullied, and generally mistreated the employees in the office.  His second in command used his rather formidable vocal volume to degrade and demean the employees.  The managers made bad decisions, pushed impossible deadlines, and assigned blame to everyone but themselves.

Well, not everyone.  Like the worst of family owned firms, those who were of the family or knew the family (or, in this case, seemed to have some dirt on the family), escaped deadlines, responsibility, or blame.  They, too, were allowed to treat anybody as they wished, with no peep whatsoever from the owners.  Competency was not a requirement of them.  It was demanded of everyone else, or there would be hell to pay.

Needless to say, the employees were miserable, those who stayed, that is.  There was no morale in the office, only stress levels that were off the charts, and many sniping comments or even arguments in the office.   Of course the family members or friends would always have their side taken by the owners, adding to the stress.  Eventually the only people who seemed to stay there were those who truly needed the work to survive or those who were in the country on a visa of some kind.

Kirk left about a year or so ago as part of a move to another city.  After an intensive search, he found a firm to work for at a higher salary and better title than what he had at the old firm.  The office seemed relatively calm and competent, as did the management staff.  Kirk enjoyed the work and his co-workers, was given challenging assignments, and was treated with respect.  Issues he had were handled quickly and professionally, and his management staff had both the knowledge of how to manage and the industry knowledge to work with Kirk.

So why was Kirk panic-stricken when his boss came to speak with him?  Had Kirk made some egregious mistake?  Nope.  He had done everything well.  Had he violated industry or office standards?  Nope, he was the pinnacle of following the rules.  Had someone in the office commented on something he did or didn’t do?  Nope, he had a good relationship with most everyone there.

The question remained.  Why, when his manager was giving him a simple update on the project was Kirk in a panic?  The best description I can give is Management Muscle Memory.  Though it had been a year, Kirk still had the fight or flight instinct drilled into him from his old position.  In that position, when the boss came to him, his mind had to race to think what possibly he might have done wrong, what he could use as an explanation, and what consequences might arise from the conversation, no matter how fair or unfair they might be.  He had to be in that mode every day in the old job, for years.  Though this current position had not shown very much if any of that kind of environment, Kirk still had that instinct so firmly implanted by the old position that it rose to the surface by instinct.  It was a sad testament to how deeply poor management can affect an employee.

Next time you interact with your employee, it might be instructive to see how they react to your presence.  Do they smile and relax in the conversation, or do they manage to place a grin on their face, but their body language would indicate they are stressed and ready for combat?  Is the conversation relaxed and open, or it is a fencing match of accusation and defense?  Do your employees’ eyes indicate welcome or look like a deer in the headlights?

My personal name for it is the “Oh Crap” reaction.  When your manager’s name comes up on your caller ID, do you immediately pick up the phone, or do you say, “Oh crap, what now?”, take a deep breath, prepare yourself, and then pick up the phone.  Do you as a manager see any of the signs listed in the paragraph above when talking with your employees?  Does it seem like you aren’t really communicating?  Or, don’t you care, because you should be the only one who is communicating?

A group, any group, works better when there is communication that is free of tension, conflict, and suspicion.  While it is everyone’s job to work on creating that, it is incumbent upon those who have the power of hiring and firing, of punishment and reward, to set the example of how to do that.  Yes, there will be mistakes made by your employees.  Yes, there will be times when your employees need coaching to act better.  Yes, there will be times when disciplinary measures are the only way to deal with a situation.  It is how you handle those situations that will determine whether your employees mutter “Oh crap” when they see your name on the Caller ID, or what their body language reveals when you walk into their cubicle space.

Maybe if more managers practiced good management communications and tactics, I will never have to make it to 200 blogs.