Table Scraps

Dog begging for table scraps

Sam sat down at his desk in his new job and began his morning routine.  After signing into the computer, he would open up the mail program to see what came in overnight.  Then, he would proceed to get into the other programs he needed to do his job.

One of the pieces of mail he found in his Inbox that day was a routine announcement from the department’s administrative assistant.  She forwarded along to new employees, like Sam, the schedule of days where the company would be closing early in anticipation of a national holiday, where the company would be closed.  While it was a rather routine email, it made Sam smile, as he recalled a similar conversation at his old company, but a much different outcome.

Several months prior, Sam had a conversation with a fellow employee of his former company.  It was a rather routine conversation, skipping from subject to subject.  One of those subjects was an innocent comment wondering why the company waited so long to let the employees know that they were being dismissed early on a day before a holiday.  Granted, they realized that they didn’t have to be let out early.  It was something that the company decided to grant.  They did appreciate that.  However, for as long as any of them had been with the company, they had always been let out a couple of hours early on a day before a holiday.

The issue, if you can call it that, came with the announcement of this early dismissal.  Sometimes it would come a couple of days before the holiday.  Other times it would come a few hours before the dismissal.  Leadership always seemed to keep the employees on edge wondering whether they would be leaving early before a national holiday.  Again, while it is a gift from the company, people could not plan to take advantage of that time until it was too late.

As it was around the time of a holiday, this topic came up, with Sam wondering why the company seemed so arbitrary in this.  His colleague surprised Sam by actually having an answer.  It seems, the colleague revealed, that the leadership of the company was dead set against announcing the early dismissals all at once for the year, or even well ahead of time for a very curious reason.  That reason?  The employees would then be given a new benefit, that of a few extra hours off due to a holiday.  The leadership of the company did not want employees to think they were ‘entitled’ to this, decided to make this on a case by case basis, so employees knew it could be taken away at any time.  Somehow, that explanation fit the company, but also made him feel a bit like a dog at the table begging for scraps.  The leadership was being ‘kind enough’ to give a few extra hours off, and they would never let the employees forget it.

As the memory faded away and tucked itself back into his ‘bad old days’ folder, Sam read over the communication from the department’s administrative assistant.  There, listed out, were the early dismissal days before national holidays, from that time until the end of the year.  It felt good to be invited to the table instead of begging for scraps.

 

The (Almost) Perfect Ending

Walking Out the Door

In my last blog, I mentioned that Sam, an employee of the company, decided to resign and take a new job.  That blog focused on how his manager’s manager, after denigrating he and his fellow employees’ talents, heaped false praise upon him when learning of his leaving.

Sad to say, that wasn’t the most head shaking thing to happen to Sam during the two weeks he spent at the company after he had resigned.  That honor would go to Sarah, who now was the head of the department, but once was Sam’s immediate manager.  Sarah and Sam made a good team until they had a disagreement on how to manage an employee who reported to Sam.  If you know Sarah, and if you don’t, please feel free to read some of the blogs about her, you know this independent behavior of Sam’s would not go unpunished, and it didn’t.  Since then, Sam and Sarah had a professional relationship, but any warmth or friendship between the two were products of a bygone era, at least as far as Sam was concerned.

So, with this in mind, you can understand Sam’s reaction to what Sarah did.  During that two weeks, Sarah stopped by Sam’s desk, told him she heard he was leaving, and said the following: “That will leave me as the last of our little group that started here!”

Let that sink in.  Not, “I wish you the very best of luck” or “You deserve to be happy” or even “Well, good luck in your future endeavors”.  No, her comments were not directed to Sam’s future, but rather to herself.   Sam was once again grateful for his training in keeping a neutral expression and placid smile on his face, as he knew the real story behind that comment, namely:

  • There were four original employees in Sarah’s small group
  • She had fired two of the four people
  • Her treatment had driven the third person, Sam, out of the department

It was small wonder that she was the last person standing, as she had made sure that everyone else no longer worked for the company.

As mind numbing that comment was to Sam, he also realized it was a fitting ending to his relationship with Sarah.  Nothing was ever or would ever be her fault.  Her actions over the years had demonstrated she would practice yoga master movements in order to blame someone else for her own shortcomings.  He was sure that there were no mirrors ever in her house, as she never seemed to reflect on her behavior or her actions.  This last comment by her was fully representative of the manager and leader he had known during his tenure in the department.  It was the person the Maxines of the department had learned to play so very well to their advantage.  It was the person that the employees of the department feared more than respected.

Sarah had once last chance to prove that her ascent up the ladder had given her the skills befitting a leader.  Sam could confidently leave the company knowing that he had made the right decision, as Sarah had proven that things would never change.

The Double Take Comment

Jon Stewart doing double take

The new Director’s staff filed into the conference room and dutifully sat down.  These meetings were common in the Director’s four month tenure at the company.  A bit too common, actually, and the staff was getting tired of meeting.

Among the attendees where Phil and Don.  Earlier in the Director’s brief tenure, they had both applied for the opening of Manager, reporting to the Director.  Both brought skills, talent, and tenure to the position.  The Director thought differently, though and decided not to choose either of them for the position.  Instead, he brought someone in from the outside, who did not know the company’s culture or ways of doing things.  Both Phil and Don were understandably disappointed, but soldiered on with their duties.

This particular meeting was one to discuss some of the statistics that the Director had unearthed in his research on the company.  One rather disturbing statistic was that the company did a miserable job of hiring from within.  Around 70% of the new managerial hires were hired from outside the company, the Director reported.

While that would have been ironic, what he said after that would cause whiplash.  “That is a terrible statistic, and this company needs to do better for hiring from within.  How is anyone supposed to feel engaged or that they are part of the company when there is no career path.”, the Director stated.

There needed to be no words to describe the look that Phil and Don gave to each other.  They continued to listen at the meeting, having learned a valuable lesson about the type of person this new Director was, one which they would remember for a very long time.

You’re new to a company.  You’re in a position of some prominence.  Your new folks don’t know you from a hole in the ground.  It’s probably a good idea to start earning a good reputation right away.  A reputation that says you are honest, straightforward, mean what you say, and have your employees’ best interest at heart.  You have nothing in your reputation’s bank account on which to draw, so you better make some deposits quickly.

Doing one thing while saying another probably isn’t the best way to go.  Unless, however, you don’t care about how you are judged.  If that is the case, be ready for a team that will be judging every word you say and action you take, and not giving you the benefit of the doubt at any time.

You also might see an increase in medical premiums…from all the double-takes they will be doing.

The Two Month Expert

two month calendar

Sarah found herself in a quandary.  The new manager in her department, the one brought in the replace the retired Maxine, had just left…after six months in the job.  Now, of course, there was rank speculation about why there was such a short tenure in the department, especially since the manager resigned after having found another job.  Suffice it to say that you don’t leave a job after such a short time without a good reason, such as complete and utter disillusionment in your boss or the department itself.  However, that is not the point of the story.

That left the department two managers short, a situation that Sarah wanted to correct as soon as possible.  Her solution?  Promote one of the people in the department to the manager position.  She would be showing that she does promote from within and give opportunity to those in the non-managerial ranks, and fill a gaping hole in her management ranks.

There was only one problem with this.  Her choice?  An employee who had been in the department and with the company for 2 months.  Yes, 2 months and receiving a promotion.

In two months, you may know where the washrooms are.  You’ve met some employees.  You can get yourself in to and out of the parking lot.

In two months, you don’t know the company culture, values, or ways of operating.  You don’t know the buildings, the associates, or history of where you are working.  In two months, you are basically treading water, getting your job done, and making sure you don’t drown.

In two months, you don’t get a promotion.  You have not had time to prove yourself worthy of it, or given your vision, or showed by your work that this is a natural progression.  Even if you have the qualification on that piece of paper called a resume, you have not had time to show how accurate that resume is.

A good manager knows this, and is more attuned to these factors.  A good manager looks beyond whether they like you and the need to fill a hole quickly.  A good manager is sensitive to how the department will view this, and how it will reflect upon their managerial ability.  A good manager knows that 2 months is no proof that someone is qualified for a promotion.

Then again, if the person was a good leader in the first place, the first manager would never have quit.

 

Betrayal!

Knifing someone in the back

When you hear the word ‘betrayal’, what comes to mind?  Some political intrigue?  Some far off movie on spies and espionage?  Maybe a bad Telemundo soap opera?  How about coming out of the mouth of the head of a department at a professional conference?  Read up and see what is happening with Sarah and the Great Betrayal.

It happened at a teambuilder that Sarah had put together for her department.  She brought in a high priced coach to help the team get through some of the ‘issues’ that she felt the team had.  She sent the team to an offsite location so they would not be disturbed.  There was even lunch served.

One of the the exercises that the coach put the team through was to mention a word or phrase of something that happens to them in the office which angers them to most.  Participation was mandatory.  Everyone had to answer.  When it got to Sarah, the word she used as her emotional response was, ‘betrayal’.

There was a silence when she said that word, as if the staff and the coach had to digest it.  The session went on, but the word itself left a lasting impression on the staff.  What exactly did ‘betrayal’ mean to Sarah, and what implications did it hold for the staff?

First, they didn’t expect to hear that particular word coming from someone who holds herself us as the height of professionalism.  Second, it was a professional business event where Sarah used the word ‘betrayal’.  Not ‘unprofessionalism’.  Not ‘lack of business focus’.  Not ‘not achieveing our objectives’.  ‘Betrayal’.

The staff also wondered what constituted betrayal in Sarah’s eyes.  Was it not agreeing with her fully?  Was it simply disagreeing with her?  Was it not being 100% committed to her vision?  Was it not saying ‘good morning’ to her?  Was it something else?  With some of the things she had done recently, nobody was ready to dismiss anything.  The term ‘execute her vision’ had taken a very dark and ominous turn.

So, instead of the teambuilder showing the staff how to work together in a trusting atmosphere, all it had done was drive the specter of doubt and uncertainty further into the department.  People would be walking even more gingerly on those eggshells now so they didn’t stir up feelings of betrayal in Sarah.

The teambuilder did build one thing for the team:  paranoia.

If you are a leader of people, learn the lessons of how to deal with people as a leader.  Leave the ‘betrayal’ comments to the Telemundo soap operas.

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.

 

Good Advice…for Everyone Else

Hypocrite

There was a hard and fast rule in Sarah’s mind for any event that her group hosted.  If there were prizes raffled off, her staff could not enter the drawings.  It was a reasonable demand from her, the staff admitted.  What happened if a member of Sarah’s staff won one of the really good prizes?  Even if an auditing agency had presided over the drawing and signed affidvits testifying to the validity of the drawing, someone might believe that there was something crooked in the drawing and the department’s reputation could be damaged.  So, even though some of the prizes were quite good, the staff members never entered any contest in which they were involved.

Then the naming contest came about.  It seems that a room dedicated to the use of one of Sarah’s departments was built, alleviating the need for that department to beg, borrow, or steal a room from another group, or hope that a public room was available.  As the room was being finished, it was decided that a contest would be held to name the room.   Like the other contests, staff members of the company could enter their suggestion and an impartial panel would choose the best answer, giving the room a name.  The contest was announced, a special mailbox was set up to gather the entries, and staff was invited to send in their entries.

Looking through the entries, one name stood out.  Sarah had put in an entry.  A delicate inquiry was made to her regarding if this could be seen as suspect by the staff for the same reasons she gave for staff not being able to enter any of the department’s other contests.  Sarah answered that this case was totally different and there was no conflict of interest in her entering it.  If her suggestion happened to win, well, then so be it.  Nobody could think any worse of the department because of it.  Why?  Because, Sarah said so.

Guess who won?  Now, to be fair in reporting, the committee that chose the winner had only one departmental representative on it, so there wasn’t an undue influence by Sarah on the choice.  However, that wasn’t the point.  Sarah made sure that a plaque announcing the winner was placed in the room, so her name would now live in perpetuity, or at least as long as the room lasted.  It served another purpose, too.  The plaque served as a reminder that, if it benefited Sarah, the rules for everyone else didn’t have to apply to her.  They had seen it many times before,  and, thanks to the plaque, would be reminded of it many times in the future.

There is hardly a more important rubric when leading or managing people than to make sure that the rules you create for them apply to you as well.  When you begin to apply the rules only to some and exclude yourself, you set yourself apart.  When you serve up excuses why ‘this time’ is different so you can enjoy some benefit, you set yourself apart.  When the only time the rules are bent is when you want them to be, you set yourself apart.   By setting yourself apart, you negate any feeling that there is a team effort in the department.  The only team are the horses up front pulling your carriage while you wave to the crowds.

The team won’t consider you one of the horses, though they will think of as another part of the horse.  I guarantee you wouldn’t want that put on a plaque.