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

Walking Out the Door

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

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

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

This was the same executive who had:

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

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

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

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

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

The Self-Answering Question

Appeal to Lord to keep his hand over my mouth

It had been a pretty much one-sided conversation on the ride back to the office from the job site.  The talking had been done mostly by the senior partner in the firm, with the listening by the one of his employees.  The employee knew better than to really engage the senior partner in any conversation, as the senior partner enjoyed hearing the sound of his own voice.  The employee was happy enough, for if he were to say anything, he might not have a job after that day.

The senior partner was going on about the recent rash of people leaving the firm.  The most recent departure was someone pretty high up in the organization, leaving a hole they would have to fill and quickly.  It was odd.  When there was a hole in the employee’s level, there wasn’t an urgency to fill that vacancy, and the work was distributed to others as a ‘cost savings measure’.

The senior partner continued.  “Why didn’t he just come in to speak with me about what was wrong.  Nobody seems to do that.  If they would just do that, we could work things out with them and we wouldn’t be facing this.”

The employee just nodded and continued to stare straight ahead, keeping his mouth shut.  He didn’t mention that this was the same firm where, if an employee asked for a raise, the senior partners would drag out every mistake they had ever done since the employee first walked in the door as justification to reject the raise.  This was the same firm where there were not automatic raises, even though their billing out rates continued to rise.  This was the same firm, which, as mentioned, would not replace workers when they left because, ‘well, we aren’t making enough money to do so’.

Unaware of this inner dialogue, the senior partner continued on what he considered a happier note.  They had won the contract for a few other projects, which the employee would be the main contact.  Looking at the employee, the senior partner said to him, “Let’s hope you don’t screw this one up like you did the last one”.

The ride continued in silence.

Managers and leaders are mirrors for their organization.  What attitudes, ideas, and opinions they generate are reflected back to them in the attitudes, ideas, and opinions of their employees.  If they generate fairness, insight, and professionalism, they will have this reflected back at them.  If they generate the opposite, that, too, will be reflected back to them.  It is the clueless manager who generates one set of values and expects a different one to be reflected in their organization.

If you are wondering why employees in your organization act a certain way, look to yourself first to see if this behavior is the one you are sending out to the staff.  If it is, and if you truly want your organization to work differently, then begin with the most difficult change of all — your attitude.  Turn that mirror on yourself and take a good, hard look at yourself.  You may be surprised at what you see.

The Rules Don’t Apply to Us!

Bird Breaking Rules

Sam and Ralph were enjoying this lunch conversation. They had not seen each other in some time, so there was quite a bit of catching up to do.  Many topics were covered, including some of the latest happenings in the company.

One of those was the recent employee all hands meeting, which is talked about in this blog.  While they both agreed that the questions were avoided with amazing dexterity, Sam took the conversation in a different direction.  Sam mentioned that he was disappointed that his question did not get answered.

What question was that?  A very intriguing one.  “Company policy states that employees cannot get more than one promotion in a year.  Yet, there are several people in {Sam’s Department} that have received multiple promotions in one year.  Why hasn’t HR stopped this?”  He knew Ralph couldn’t answer that one, because of two reasons:

  • Ralph worked in HR
  • The same thing happened in HR

Yes, in the bastion of the rule makers, HR, the rule about promotions had been broken a few times, most recently with a manager who received two promotions within six months.  This particular manager had also scored the largest of the offices.  It paid to be liked by the head of the department.

This had been on Ralph’s mind even before his conversation with Sam.  The head of the department was always going on about how she wanted the department to be taken seriously and as a true partner by the business.  Yet, she failed to see that acts like this diminished her credibility among her peers and the employees in her department and in the company.  This person, who should be thinking strategically, instead always thought parochially…what was best for her, without giving thought or care to the consequences of her acts.

This behavior also had an impact on the other departments.  If HR didn’t have to follow the rules, why should they?  They are only following HR’s example, and if called on it, they would not hesitate to call out HR for being hypocritical about what they say and what they do.  It had become a company where no one followed the rules, but only the dictates of their own ambition.  What a great place to work, huh?

Leadership is more than just reporting authority. That gets you only so far.  It also has to be about moral authority.  You show you care about the rules you lay down by following them.  This gives you a stronger argument to others to say they should follow them.  If you go about flaunting the rules at every turn, why should anyone else follow them?  And, if you won’t have the power of the organization chart behind you to enforce those rules, don’t expect people to care who you are or what you say.  All they see is the hypocrite, and hypocrites don’t get much respect at all.


An All Too Reflective Mirror

Snow White Queen Mirror

It was time for Sarah’s once a month, one hour, direct reports meeting.  Let me repeat that.  Sarah had a formal meeting with her direct reports, all four of them, once a month, and scheduled one hour for it.  They would have to fit all agenda items, all action items, all the things they would need the other managers to know or take action on, in one hour.  Sarah saw nothing wrong with this, as it was her time that was the most valuable.

Needless to say, the meetings were usually chaos, as Sarah didn’t practice good meeting management.  Though they were pressed for time, the managers would bring up extraneous things, dive into tangential issues, or have conversations that would be best suited offline, but somehow got into Sarah’s meeting.  Sarah herself was as guilty as her subordinates, asking questions that she knew would take time from the managers’ precious presentation time, and then complaining that the meeting was going too long.

So, when it was time for Celeste, the last of the managers to present, she had all of 3 minutes to do so, as the hour was almost up.  Condensing what she could, she began outlining her points to the team. When the clock struck the hour, two of her fellow colleagues excused themselves, indicated they had another meeting to go to, got up, and left.   Seeing it was only one other manager and Celeste, Sarah called the meeting to be over and dismissed the remaining participants.  Celeste sat there momentarily, her jaw agape at the treatment from both her peers and from her manager.

There were several messages communicated in this scenario, all of them simultaneously not spoken at all, but loud as a shouting match.  Here they are, in no particular order.

From Sarah —

My time is much too important to meet with my staff.  I am granting you one hour for the four of you once a month and you should be grateful.

I am much too important to be concerned with the running of this department.  I have to be its leader, and leaders don’t get involved in problems.  My staff is to do this, and they should be able to do it without having to come to me for anything.  Don’t you know who I am?

Though I tell others how to have a efficient and effective meeting, I don’t practice this myself.  I will not recognize that I have given a scant 15 minutes to each of my direct reports to wrap up a month’s work of items they feel are important enough to share with me, and will not shut down non-productive conversations or questions, especially from people I like.  If that means someone like Celeste gets only three minutes, that is too bad.

From the Other Managers —

My work is paramount, not the fact that I need to support my fellow managers.  So, when the conversation isn’t about me, I feel it is perfectly professional to get up and leave in the middle of someone else’s conversation.  After all, I must keep to my meeting schedule.  Plus, it gives me a perfect excuse to get out of this staff meeting.

It is all about me, first, last, and always.

This is the same leader, and these are the same managers who will sit silently and wonder why the department, the people they manage, act the way they do.  They will wonder why all the employees are out for themselves, bolt out the door at the appointed hour, do not want to volunteer for anything, and hold on to their knowledge as if it were spun gold.  These same employees will interrupt each others in meetings, hold side conversations, and check their devices instead of listening to the speaker.  They will wonder why their employees aren’t interested in improving the conditions of the department.

I could give reference after reference to management theorists on where the issues are as presented in this blog, but I think I shall go with someone a bit more unconventional.  To begin to understand where the problems in the department are, all Sarah and the managers have to do is follow Michael Jackson’s invitation to look ‘at the man in the mirror’.

Royally Clueless

250px-Queen_of_HeartsThe queen looked out at the peasants from her chamber.  She sighed.  Everywhere she looked, she saw them doing thing improperly, not being efficient, or grumbling about the burden of work they had been given.  Why couldn’t they be more like her?  She knew how to be perfectly efficient, delegate her duties so they weren’t overwhelming, and did her share of grumbling, but with her, the grumbling was justified, not the petty and shortsighted concerns they had.  The grumbling against her was the thing that confused her the most.  Didn’t they see that she was only going what was best for them?

Her pointing out of their flaws was only meant to have them realize they could improve.  Her rather forthright style was so they knew exactly what she wanted.  The increasing amount of work benefited the whole kingdom, if not them personally, and had made her the powerful monarch she was today, and who wouldn’t want that?  Yes, to her thinking, her subjects should be the happiest, most grateful, and most worshipful people in the land.

She looked out the window and once again saw the depressing sight of those ungrateful, unhappy wretches doing their work in such depressing fashion.  She was glad she had this little talk with herself, as it proved once again it was all their fault.  She was doing everything properly, and they just couldn’t appreciate it.  She retired into her sanctum assured of her perfection.

Of course this never really happened, but for many of the department’s employees, this is the scenario, or one similar to it, that they envisioned day after day.  It was especially appropriate today after the department head, receiving the employee opinion data, had proclaimed that she wasn’t sure if the data was at all relevant about her, and that maybe she should wait until next year’s data.  This was after last year where she proclaimed, “Yes, but we should focus only on the positive news”.  In the intervening time, she had not changed one thing about her managerial style, moved one iota from her ‘brutal honest’ philosophy, (though not tolerating that from anyone else) or throttled back on the backbreaking workload which she delegated to her subordinates.  After all, she had received a promotion because of the successes this style had brought, so why change it?  It was working for her and her ascent up the ladder.  If others didn’t like it, she really didn’t seem to care.

Still, it came as a shock to her that people were unhappy, eliciting another round of excuses from her as to how the data should be interpreted and, with a heavy sigh, saying that the department would try again to rectify these issues.  She then went about her business, and her employees went around being miserable.

How are you envisioned by your employees?  A benevolent ruler, open to their hopes, dreams, and concerns?  An absolute dictator who barks out orders, brooks no insubordination, and looks down on everyone else as not being as superior as you?  What names (clean ones, that is) are you being referred to when your employees gather together?  If you knew what those names were, what would your reaction be — concern that this was how you were viewed, or an instantaneous judgement that the employees saying those names are misinformed, wrong, and disloyal?

If you find yourself having to make excuses for how your employee see you, then it is you who is living in delusion.  It is time for your to descend from your royal tower, go out into the courtyard, and sit down with the townsfolk and listen to them.  Once you do this without judgement or punishment, you have begun the journey to self-awareness.  Once you have worked to make their lives better person by person, you have begun the journey to becoming a good manager.    Do that for a few years, and we’ll discuss your journey towards being a leader.

The Leadership Mistake

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article regarding the releasing of Henrique de Castro, the top person Marissa Mayers, Yahoo CEO, had recruited from Google.  I found it interesting not from the perspective of Ms. Mayers, but from the comments that employees made about Mr. de Castro.

A bit of background.  Ms. Mayers worked with Mr. de Castro when they were both at Google.  When Mayers became the chief executive at Yahoo, she recruited de Castro to revitalize the advertising business at Yahoo, which is in need of revitalization.  Thus, in a sense, de Castro would be the chief advertising presence at Yahoo.  When you think of a good advertising person, what qualities come to mind?  I’ve listed a few here:

  • Personable
  • Knowledgeable about the company’s products and services
  • Outgoing
  • Gregarious
  • Having the ability to ‘schmooze‘  (a definition of the word is linked)

Let’s look at the terms that the New York Times article uses for Mr. de Castro:

  • “…was fond of using spreadsheets but was weak in his knowledge of Google’s products, said a person who worked with him at Google.”
  • “…he was not a charismatic salesman willing to schmooze with Madison Avenue marketers to persuade them to spend their ad dollars on Yahoo…”
  • “…very smart, they also said he was a poor communicator with an arrogant, abrasive manner.”

Does this sound like someone who you would want to place in front of the CEOs of the companies you wish to do considerable business with and get their advertising dollars?

Okay, so maybe as the public face of Yahoo, he would not have been ideal.  Perhaps his strength was in his ability to motivate his employees to remake Yahoo and bring it back to the powerhouse it once was.  Here’s what the New York Times article says about Mr. de Castro’s leadership style.  Please recall he has already been characterized as being a poor communicator with an arrogant, abrasive manner.

“At Google, Mr. de Castro had so many negative reviews from employees that the human resources department had been called in to review the situation…”

In the end, Mr. de Castro’s departure will have a multi-tiered effect.  Financially, it will cost Yahoo, “…tens of millions of dollars in severance and stock compensation that he was promised.”  It has set back a revival of Yahoo’s fortunes, which aren’t considerable at this point, though the stock price has rebounded nicely.  It also has once again rocked the personnel who reported to Mr. de Castro, having them go back to square one, nurture any resentment from Mr. de Castro’s abrasive style, and lose some respect for Ms. Mayer, who has had some rather public mistakes during her tenure at the top of Yahoo. (The controversy revolving around ending telecommuting practices, the Yahoo Mail outrage from users and how it was handled)

For my purposes, it reenforces this principle:  A friendship does not mark the end of your investigation of someone’s qualifications for a job.  Take a look at how they have done their job at previous employers, get feedback on their personality, and see what others have thought about them.  There are dozens of personality and job preference indicators out there that can be employed, especially for a higher level position.  Use them, and listen to them.

As has been said here before, a leader is nothing without the support of the people they lead.  It is incumbent to bring in the best people for the job.  They should inspire.  They should motivate.  They should encourage.  If you, as a leader, are blind to all of that in your hiring decision, then you will get what you deserve.

In Yahoo’s case, it can be summed up to two facts:  they are now substantially poorer financially and they will have to start back at square one.

Yahoo! indeed….


Never Ask Why

A friend of mine received notice recently that she was being terminated from an organization where she had served nearly 30 years.  Legally, the organization had been within its rights to terminate her.  She had been away from work on a stress leave for more than six months, and the company is only obligated by law to keep the job open for six months.   After that, they can do whatever they wish.

The question never asked was why this employee was on stress leave?  Why was she so stressed?  If anyone had bothered to ask, they would have found out that the management she received, such as it was, was arbitrary, every changing, designed to make the manager feel as if they were the only thing that mattered, punishing, and without accountability.  In short, the manager drove my friend to this decision to where she could not take the treatment by the manager anymore.  She is not alone.  The department is miserable under this manager, but nobody who has the capability of doing something about it seems to care.

It is not that this manager flies under the radar.  She has had several run ins with other people, some higher level than her, and her reputation is known throughout the company.  Nobody cares to do anything about it.  Her manager does nothing to try to curb the attitude this manager has.  Her employees dare not go to HR because they feel HR will do nothing and they will be in further trouble.  And, if there is a lawsuit against this manager, they will find a way to make it ‘go away’ and the manager will learn nothing from it.

Thus, today’s question is:  are you a manager that people run to embrace and become part of your team, or are you a manager who causes people to do whatever they need to in order to escape from your orbit.

Today’s bonus question is: as a manager, do you even care?  A good manager will.  A poor manager will find every excuse in the book to blame it on someone else, so they don’t have to look beneath the surface.

Which way do you want your employees to run?

The Undeniable Link

It was a good lunch.  Morris and Marjorie hadn’t seen each other in several months, and there was quite a bit to catch up on.  Though they worked for the same company, they worked in different offices, so only saw each other when one came to the other’s office on business.  Whenever they did, a lunch was in order so they could truly talk with each other and not have to wonder who was listening in.

The last time they had talked, Marjorie has told Morris about the abysmal morale in her office.  People were truly unhappy about coming to work in her office and had made their feelings known in the employee opinion survey.  Delving a little deeper, Marjorie had related some terrible tales of top leadership and how they treated the general employees.  Morris knew some of the tales, but never the full extent of the misery.

So, imagine Morris’ surprise when Marjorie had said things were going much better at the office.  It was far from a paradise, but people were generally happier coming to work and doing their job.  The reason, as related by Marjorie?  Some of the higher execs in the office were shown the door in the past year.  These executives, who were the main cause of the misery, were told their services were no longer needed.  The morale improvement was almost immediate.  Adding to the uptick was the fact that those managers who replaced them were much more in tune with what the employees wanted and needed.

It seems like a very simple equation, doesn’t it?  Find out who is causing the employees misery and then do something about that person.  Why, then, doesn’t it happen much more often than it does?  Is it a selective blindness for the manager’s peers?  Is it not wanting to go after one of their own?  Is it not believing what the employees are telling them, via poll numbers and survey responses?

In truth, it is probably a little of each one of those in the reasons.  Though, in truth, none of those are good reasons at all.   If someone is underperforming, no matter what level they are, their performance needs to be corrected.  If that correction does not work, they should no longer be associated with the company. Period.  End of story.  It is when there are separate standards and separate rules for the upper echelon that trouble starts.

These higher level managers, by the nature of their position, have the capacity to cause serious damage by their poor management.  Isn’t it in the company’s best interest to stop that poor management as early as possible?  It should, and as Marjorie’s story points out, it can bring a world of good to a staff who had given up on any of the upper management even caring who they were.

Following Up? What’s That?

It was the move that Employee Relations had told every employee they needed to do.  If there was an issue, the employee needed to report it to Employee Relations so something could be done about it.  Little heed was given to the comment by many employees that, if ER did not do its job well, the employee might be subject to some kind of retaliation.  While this issue was brought up many times, it never was properly addressed by Employee Relations.  The following story illustrates just this concern.

Two employees from a department had the same complaint about their supervisor.  The supervisor wasn’t doing her job.  Since this job affected the welfare of the company, it was a big concern for the employees.  Since the employees worked diligently, and often past their usual hours, to get the data into the system that was needed by the company, they were understandably upset that the supervisor never reviewed or approved the data transfer when it needed to be done.  Instead, she would just tell one of the employees to approve the data, without review, and let it go at that.  The employees, who would then be responsible if the data was incorrect, were reluctant to do this.  The supervisor didn’t care.  She didn’t want to do her job.

The employees brought their complaint to the employee relations department of their company.   The ER department, to its credit, handled the complaint with professionalism and courtesy to the employees.  The supervisor’s manager was contacted, provided the details, and together they worked out an action plan for this supervisor to do the job she was being paid to do.  The employees were thanked.  ER checked this off of their collective To Do list and moved on.

Except, there was one problem.  The supervisor didn’t follow this plan of rectification.  The supervisor’s manager didn’t put the plan into place.  The problem persisted until one day when it truly did cause a major problem for the company.  THEN something happened.

There are many areas to ask questions here.  Why didn’t the supervisor’s manager implement the plan, or keep a better eye on the supervisor?  Why wasn’t the plan followed?  Most prominently, why didn’t ER do any follow up?

Here, we have a case where employees did the right thing, endangering themselves so they could put forth a complaint.  Didn’t it deserve a one month, six week, or eight week follow-up to see how the solution was working?  If ER had done this, they would have found out nothing had been done and the supervisor continued her errant ways.  Moreover, if they had followed up, maybe an embarrassment for the company might have been averted.  Now, with a certain organic substance hitting the fan, what once was a small problem is now coming to the attention of people higher up on the organization chart.

Fortunately, these two employees were not subjected to retaliation by their supervisor, and didn’t endure any additional stress beyond having to deal with this supervisor’s actions, or lack of them.  However, that can’t always be said to be the outcome.  How can employees trust their ER department when the ER department itself can’t even do the most basic of follow-up with the employees?  A simple phone call would have ascertained that nothing had changed, which could have prompted actions, which could have prevented a major issue down the road.   If the ER department wants the trust of their employees, then then have to prove they are worthy of that trust.

Or, more simply put, you want employees to trust Employee Relations enough to report incidents that will keep the company out of trouble, then those same employees deserve more than to be abandoned by ER for sticking out their necks.

Going Ood


If you are a fan of the British science fiction television series Dr. Who, you might know the Ood.  Basically a peaceful race, the Ood, which have human bodies and an octopus-like face, have been forced into servitude by a greedy Earth corporation.   Part of this servitude is, not to be too graphic, a replacement of part of their brain with a sphere that allows them to speak.

In one episode, the normally docile Ood begin exhibiting very strong emotions.  Some are angry to the point of being rabid.  Others are filled with vengeance.  The explanation is as bizarre as it complicated, but The Doctor explains it best.  The Ood are beginning to express repressed feelings and they are coming out in many different ways.

The Doctor figures this out because he has observed Ood Sigma, the personal servant Ood of the head of the corporation which is harvesting and enslaving the Ood.  Ood Sigma didn’t exhibit any of the violent emotions that the other Ood were experiencing.  He seemed as docile and devoted as ever to the head of the corporation.  It is only late in the episode that we find that assumption to be wrong.  Ood Sigma has been experiencing emotions, but for him, it came out as cold revenge.  No violent outbursts for him.  No.  Instead, he sought revenge, thinking it out coolly and was willing to play the long game to get to his goal.  The revenge, shall we say, was both ironic and fitting.  If you have never seen the episode, I commend you to watch it.  I won’t say any more here, as it would contain, as another Dr. Who character would say, ‘spoilers’.

So what does this have to do with a management blog?  There are great parallels.  If you are not a good manager, you have probably seen, and ignored many of the Ood emotions in your group.  Anger, despair, vengeance, and even hopelessness.  What about the Ood Sigmas in your group?  The ones who are plotting to do some kind of revenge for the way they and their co-workers have been treated?  Is there some industrial espionage planned?  Some big blaze of glory exit?  Letters being written?  Data being damaged?  This blog is in no way advocating or suggesting any of those acts.  It is simply stating that, due to a manager’s poor management, irreparable harm may happen to the company or the manager’s department.  And no one will ever see it coming.  Remember, Edward Snowden was simply a contractor up until one fateful day.

The same managers who either don’t believe their poor behavior has no victims, or simply refuse to acknowledge the damage they have done can cause a wide spread of illness, emotion, and pain.  To those managers, I offer some simple advice: watch out for the Ood Sigmas in your staff.  Better yet, become a good manager and defuse the situation altogether.