The Project: Bonus Behavior

bonus

This is the third in a series 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.

It was in one of the team’s staff meetings that Sarah announced that Ilene, for all her hard work on the project, was to receive a bonus.  With great fanfare, she presented Ilene with the bonus, thanking her for all her hard work.

The staff clapped for Ilene, for not to do so would have attracted Sarah’s attention, and nobody wanted that.  It wasn’t that Ilene didn’t deserve the bonus. She did.  She had worked many hours as the primary person on the project.  Always known for her good cheer, she was popular with her peers, and was always ready to pitch in to help one of her fellow co-workers.  No, it wasn’t that Ilene was either disliked or didn’t deserve the award that caused the undercurrent of tension in the conference room applause.

Then what was it?  It was the face that Ilene alone was being singled out for a bonus for her work.  Many of the staff felt that the only way Ilene was able to head this project was that many of her duties had been temporarily shuttled to other people in the department.  Thus, while Ilene had her hands full with the project, the other staff members, already burdened with the work in their job, now were faced with additional responsibilities that they were accountable for.  This led to extra hours, staying late, working night and weekends, and some very stressed and tired people.

Even this would have been overlooked by the staff if they had also received some recognition for their efforts.  They hadn’t, and that bothered them.  If you just walked in and heard Sarah, everything was done by Ilene and she managed to do everything related with the project without any assistance whatsoever.

The staff didn’t even look to monetary rewards, though that would have been nice.  They were reasonable people, and being such, recognized that the department didn’t have the financial resources to hand out checks to everyone from the department who helped out in some way.  The management and leadership, though, didn’t even offer a hearty handshake to them to thank them for their efforts.  Instead, they were just given more work to do and the expectation was set that it had to get done.

What could have management and leadership done?  How about each area head take their group out to lunch on the company to thank the staff?  How about giving one half day off to each member who took on some of Ilene’s work during the project?  How about an ice cream social for the teams as a thank you, and then announcing they had the rest of the day off, and management would cover the office for the rest of the day?

No, none of that was done.  Management had made one person, Ilene, very happy, and made the rest of the staff feel as if they didn’t matter whatsoever.  Morale would sink ever lower, people would get frustrated and leave, and management would shake their head and wonder why.  After all, didn’t they just give Ilene a bonus to show their gratitude?  They would continue with their blinders, confident that they were managing things well.

As for the staff?  Well, they probably would be told that they didn’t appreciate anything management did for them, even when management didn’t do squat.

Advertisements

The Unexpected Response

Popeye-the-sailor-man

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.

Let’s Get Larry

knife in the back

Larry was the employee that you really wanted in your organization.  He had been with the company 20 years, knew how to build relationships, always had a joke on his lips, and his employees loved working for him.  He didn’t take himself or the work too seriously, and he had a network in the company like none other.

Still, for reasons yet unknown, his upper management wanted him out.  Maybe it was because he wasn’t fitting the mold of what they thought a manager should be.  Maybe it was because he know too many people.  Maybe because they wanted to move some people into his spot.  Whatever the reason, his upper management wanted him out.

However, they could not just fire him.  That would have cause too much of a lawsuit and issues.  Instead, they changed his job description, causing him to have to travel around 50% of the time to far flung places around the globe.  Larry cheerfully accepted this new assignment, but after a couple of years doing this, the strain was taking its toll.  He looked tired, haggard, and he had lost a lot of his once abundant energy.  One day, coming to the end of his rope, he turned in his resignation papers, though he had another 7 to 10 years until an ‘official’ retirement age.

A few weeks after Larry’s official retirement, his significant other, who also worked at the company, was still be peppered with questions as to how Larry was.  Was he doing well in retirement?  How is he feeling?  Is he getting his energy back?  It was a touching moment for Larry’s significant other that people were still concerned about him, and that he wasn’t forgotten.

Leave it to the company’s HR Director to ruin the scene.  Upon hearing one of these conversations, the HR Director says the following:  “Well, I’m glad he retired.  If he didn’t soon, I was going to make life very unpleasant for him.”  Small wonder that the gathering broke up very soon after that.

One of the salient employment statistics about the Millennial generation is that they don’t seem to stay in their jobs very long.  One statistic said they may have 30 jobs in their lifetimes.  While the sociologists point to many factors, I would like to point to a very specific one.  How many Larrys are out there?  How many HR Directors would be saying the same thing?  Our newest generation in the workforce is highly educated.  They see what is going on.  How are they to react to treatment of someone who has devoted his life to a company?  They see what was done to all the Larrys, see all the similar HR Directors, and can draw their own conclusions.

Maybe, just maybe, our workers would stay longer at their jobs and work with more enthusiasm if we had more Larrys, fewer executive management, and few HR Directors who thought like they do.  What are we teaching our children?  We’re teaching them to collect a paycheck, for nobody will give a damn about them but themselves.

How to Dry Dishes

My way or the highway sign

It was the first time in months that Ralph had any spark of interest in his job.  It was an unusual sensation for him, and he welcomed it.  Ever since the new management team had come in, he had lost all spark of interest in his job, doing it like an automaton, putting in his hours, and then going home.  He knew his fellow employees felt the same way.  The new management team had come in, expressed disapproval of the way they had done things, and instituted a strict regimen of how they would do their work going forward.  There would be no room for creativity, no room for personal expression.  There would be the way the ‘best practices’ prescribed and that would be it.  In short, since the new management wanted automatons, this is exactly what they got.

Ralph was working on a presentation that had been previously given under the old management.  As it was not up to the new management’s specifications, he was busily correcting it, making sure it passed inspection before he would be allowed to present it.  As he was creating it, he saw a need for a job aid for his fellow employees.  It would allow them to take the heart of the presentation with them and use as they saw fit.  He quickly went about creating the job aid, trying to balance the need to convey information with a little less than corporate style.

Knowing he would have to present it to his new manager, he took the initiative, and told her what he was doing.  She, as expected, informed him she would need to see it to give it her blessing.  He sent it to her, and was summarily asked if he could step into her office.

His manager informed him that context was good, with the right information needed.  The issue was the layout.  It wasn’t in straight lines.  The images were a bit off center from each other.  They needed to be in straight lines in order to ‘look good’.  He was advised that he could use PowerPoint SmartArt in order to redraft this, as it placed things in nice, neat order.  She began to show him how to use the tool when he announced to her that he knew how to use it.  As he walked out of the office, any spark that had ignited had been extinguished wholly by a whole bucket of control freak water.

I’m reminded of a story told by a colleague.  Many years ago she was at her grandmother’s house, and was helping her dry dishes.  The grandmother looked at her disapprovingly and told her she was drying the dishes the wrong way.  So not to disrespect her grandmother, she began drying the dishes the ‘proper’ way, but the point of the story was that the dishes were going to be dry regardless, so why was she drying them improperly?  It was that her grandmother saw that doing things her way was more important than the result.  The same could be said for the manager in this story.

A strange paradox in the working world is that when you hold on the tightest to control, you actually control less.  You have your sense of control, but you have unmotivated, uninterested, and unengaged workers who are there to collect a paycheck.  They have no freedom, have no creativity, and have no interest in their jobs.  You are basically saying you don’t trust anyone at all, and have to keep them in line for anything to get done.

By releasing that control, you get people who will use their creativity.  By loosening the boundaries, you can still get what you want, but have people try new and innovative ways of working within those boundaries.  You get your way without having to exert it like a sledgehammer.  By giving up control, you are showing trust in your people, and you get people who want to keep that trust in return.

It is a choice between believing only in yourself or believing in your people.  Your choice will determine whether your people believe in you.

Oh, and that colleague who had the very controlling grandmother?  You may recognize who it is…her name, at least in these articles, is Sarah.

A Good ‘Helping’ of Useless Information

Going Around in Circles

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a company meeting where the top management invited the staff to write in with their questions.  The top questions, based on votes by the staff, would be answered in the session. The answers were, to be charitable, less than what the employees deserved.  The next two blogs will focus on two of those questions, both asked of the HR Department.

One of the more popular questions, by evidence of how many people voted for it, was asked of the HR Department, which had received the majority of questions asked.  The questioner asked how they could advance in the company.  They kept going for new opportunities in their department, always to be turned down.  They wanted to stay with the company, but it seemed that only the chosen few ever received promotions or advancement.

The head of HR, very seriously, answered that question in the following way:  Talk with your supervisor about how you can advance.

Excuse me?

Let’s recap for a moment, shall we? The main reason for the employee writing in, and so many people’s approval of the question, was because this person has spoken with his or her supervisor several times about promotional possibilities in the office.   Each time they were either blown off or turned away.  By the number of people who voted up this question, it was quite a common managerial behavior in the company.  Now, when brought into the light, what does the head of HR say to the person.  Talk to your supervisor.

Excuse me?

You are advising someone who has hit a brick wall with their manager about moving up in the company to talk with the same manager who is blocking them.  Is anyone getting whiplash here?

This question, and the amount of positive votes it received, should have been a red flag in the air for the head of HR.  There is an epidemic in their company of favoritism, or perceived favoritism, in the promotional process.  People are frustrated and are looking for a lifeline to stay with the company.  Your answer, head of HR, which probably took about a minute and a half to scribble down, is akin to saying, “Screw you.  This is not important for me.  Here is a generic answer that you will accept because I have no time to care about your petty problems.”  Yet the head of HR probably wonders why the majority of critical questions are directed at her.

The company is offering a unique way of having people be heard.  True, it may bring out some difficult questions, but as a leader, don’t you want these questions to surface so you can understand the critical issues facing the company?  By providing such a pat, and in this case, insulting, answer, shows you do not care about the company or its people.  Worse, you have squandered an opportunity for you to turn the perception of your department to something positive.

Get hit with hard questions?  Welcome them.  Embrace them.  Treat them as a challenge to find new, innovative, and creative solutions that will truly solve the problem.  This is what leaders do.  It is only the lazy and uncaring that pull out the pat answers and pawn them off to people in pain.

Be a Team Member…Work for Free!

picking cash out of pocket

The IT department was having some serious fiscal issues.  They needed to find a way to cut the budget.  To do this they promoted (!) one of its own and charged her with finding ways to achieve cost savings in the department.  Getting beyond the fact that the first move you make to save money is to spend more in a promotion, the newly promoted executive set about her work.  Let’s do some cutting of staff!

Now, the staff cut were not in the management or executive levels — oh no.  They came from the individual contributors, many of whom were relieved upon by the staff for setting up and fixing their PCs.  With that, delays grew for new employees in getting their new PCs, and PC issue waiting times skyrocketed.

Still, it wasn’t enough.  The new executive needed to find additional ways to cut the budget. She came up with a novel way of doing this — have her hourly employees work for free!  Here was her reasoning:

Over the weekends, the company had to maintain a small help desk presence for staff who needed some PC help, or for those who may be attending company sponsored conferences and need some technical help.  Keeping a person on for the weekend was an expensive proposition that seemed ready for cutting.  Since no one knew when someone might call, it seemed foolish to pay someone to wait for a call.  So, the executive proposed that one of their hourly employees volunteer to work a 12 hour shift, say from midnight to noon.  They would not receive an hourly rate for this. Instead, if they received a call, they would be paid for 30 minutes work.

In other words, though the employee would be tied to a phone and computer for 12 hours, if they received one call, they would receive one half hour’s compensation for the entire time.

The executive appealed to the employee’s sense of duty to the company, how they would be helping out the team, and how they would be helping out the IT Department.  This note, written by someone who just fired several of the recipient’s colleagues, adding to their burden, and who had received a raise and promotion to do so, received a less than warm welcome from many of the employees.  Those who did step up to the challenge received a thank you from the executive, and a couple of hours’ pay. They also were exhausted.  After a few people tried this, volunteers dried up, as the employees would rather have their weekends rather than a promise of a few dollars.

The executive came up with an incentive.  She herself would take a shift to show her solidarity.  Well, at least that was the reason given.  It could also be that the company needed coverage, nobody had volunteered, so she had to take the shift or explain why there was no coverage.  She herself experienced the exhaustion, but it generated no additional volunteers.  New ideas, or new cuts, would have to come.

What the executive didn’t realize, or maybe she did, was that one act of sacrifice wasn’t going to change minds.  This was especially true when she was on the front lines of a blood letting of the staff, which caused everyone at that level to have to work just a little bit harder and a little bit longer.   Then, asking for these same staff, exhausted already, to give up one of those days in order to be tied to a phone without any promise of remuneration?  She should have seen the answer come a mile away.

Could the executive enlisted people, willingly, to take on this duty.  Absolutely.  However, she and her predecessors would have to started years ago.  Give the PC help staffs some help.  Add more people.   Provide better compensation.  Draw the line at firing them to save money, or at least make the layoffs equitable up and down the ladder.  Frequently compliment their work.  Provide a reasonable workload.  Listen to them.  These and dozens of other little things, done over time, would have endeared the staff to the executives of the department.  Would there still be resistance to the plan?  Yes, by some.  For many others, enough good will would have been generated that they would have taken one for the team.

Team spirit is not something you can grow overnight.  It takes years of nurturing.  It takes constant attention.  It takes some amount of sacrifice by those who are trying to build that spirit.  It cannot magically appear when you, as the leader, are in trouble.  It definitely won’t make an appearance after you, newly promoted, cut back on the very staff you are trying to motivate.

Team spirit isn’t free.  Start paying into it now, so one day, when you need to make that withdrawal, you won’t find your account closed and the tellers refusing to wait upon you.  Or, you won’t find yourself standing by a telephone for a quarter of the weekend because no one else will take the calls.

Thanks! Now Let Me Kick You in the Teeth!

Kick in the teeth

All in all, Val accepted the news rather well.  She had been told that her job function at a branch office was being transferred to someone at the central office, so her services to the company wasn’t going to be necessary anymore.  It was not going to be an immediate termination, and Val was even given some latitude as to when her last day would be.  She could leave earlier, or stay around a few weeks more to help train her replacement in the central office about what she did.  It wasn’t exactly a fair question, as Val was told the company would really appreciate it if she could stay a few weeks more to train her replacement.  While she had no reason to stay, she agreed, out of a sense of professionalism and duty.

The weeks dragged on and she had performed her duties well.  Her replacement had been brought up to speed, her file put in order, and she kept the lines of communication with her replacement in the central office.  The one thing that she didn’t know was when her last day was.  Nobody in her department had let her know, or even been in contact with her.  Val really needed to know so she could give prospective employers an idea of when she would be able to begin working for them.

Out of frustration, she contacted Human Resources, and asked for the Employee Relations Manager.   As the ER Manager was instrumental in her exiting out of the company, maybe she would know, or be able to provide some guidance.  After a few rings, the ER Manager got on the telephone to speak with Val.  Val quickly recounted what had happened and asked if the ER Manager had any insight into when Val would be released from the company.

The ER Manager responded thusly.  “You’re getting paid every two weeks.  What more do you want to know?”  Biting back a retort, Val thanked the ER Manager for her fantastic insight, and hung up the phone.  She was quite glad she was leaving a company that would employ someone who acted so unprofessionally.

So, to review, an employee who know she is to be laid off agrees to stick around to help the company adjust to her no longer being there.   The company then promptly ignores her requests to know when this period will end so she can get on with her life, as she will no longer have one with said company.  The employee calls Human Resources in hopes that they might be her advocate to find a small piece of information.  The person she reaches, who is the person who will be escorting her out the door, makes a smart remark instead of actually helping her out.

There is an old saying that you can take the measure of a man (or woman) by how they treat someone they don’t have any need to please.  It seems for this ER Manager, it was easier for her to prove she could be a smart ass rather than help an employee.

In short, for Val, no good deed went unpunished.