We have very exciting news here at the Good Management Blog. Our first book is out! We’ve taken some of the very best from the past four years, added some new, never before seen content, and published a book called Engineered to Fail. If you’ve enjoyed the head shakingly bad management and leadership of Sarah, Maxine, and the whole cast of characters, we think you’ll enjoy this book, too!
Since we have never done things the traditional way, we’ve partnered with Smashwords, an e-book publisher, to host the book, and offered the book for an incredibly inexpensive $2.99 (US). We invite you to visit the link to the books page here — Engineered to Fail — and read the first 15% of the book for free. If you like what you read, we invite you to download the book in Kindle, Nook, Sony, and PDF formats.
Thank you for all your support!
Adam was ready to go for his Masters. He had been in his job a year and now was ready to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement plan and go for an MBA. He had talked to the Benefits Manager, understood that he was eligible, and verified that the school and the degree was on the approved list by his company. His manager was on board with this, and he knew the process to begin his work.
He then hit a wall named Anna.
Anna was his manager’s manager, and a direct report of Sarah. Her approval was not needed for the reimbursement request, but Sarah’s was, and Sarah was likely to speak with Anna about Adam’s paperwork. It wasn’t that Anna was against Adam continuing his education. It was that she wanted him to take her choice of education and not his.
For years, Sarah was interested in having her staff look more professional by getting a certain certification. She had it, so it must be good. She had made this ‘request’ of several of her people, including Sam, and always held out the carrot of promotion within the department when the person received the certificate. Unfortunately, it never happened. So, while Sarah made a big announcement to her colleagues that another one of her people has this prestigious certification, they went nowhere in the department. Kind of one sided, don’t you think? Yet, if someone didn’t get the certificate, or failed the examination, Sarah made sure they went nowhere in the department. Sensing a pattern here, aren’t you?
Anna, being a bit intimidated by Sarah, didn’t want to upset her boss. So, she as kindly as possible suggested to Adam that he go for this certificate as well. Implicit in this ‘suggestion’ was the statement that she would not be approving his MBA request, although it would also be of benefit to her department and to the company in general. It was against every principle of the program, but that didn’t matter in Sarah’s department. It was only what would make Sarah happy, and nice, compliant staff was what made her happy. Anna would not disrupt that peace, and her job, for anything.
What’s more important to you as a leader of people — making them happy, or making your boss happy, or making life easier for you? Sometimes is has to be the second in that list, but more often it should be the first in that list. And, if you do the first in that list, it usually leads to the last in that sequence. If your main focus is making life easier for you over the happiness of your employees is paramount for you, you will succeed at your goal, as your employees will never be happy. However, that probably doesn’t matter to you, as you want a smooth ride for yourself. Courage doesn’t factor into it, only preservation does.
And that is an education in itself.
It had been a good run for Vance, but he decided he just didn’t want to go into Sarah’s department one more time. He was eligible for retirement, had planned his retirement well, and was ready to enjoy the rest of his life. So, when he dropped his papers on her desk, there were no regrets.
This left Sarah in a bit of a spot. One of Vance’s people was out on medical leave, and the others were scheduled for training that could not be moved the first week after he left the company. She asked him if he would postpone his retirement for a few weeks. The answer was no. She asked him if he would come back as a consultant for a few days a week to provide coverage. Why would he, Vance asked, come back with reduced pay and benefits to do the same work he had done as an employee? No, this is when he was retiring that that was it.
You might think Vance was being unreasonably stubborn, but he wasn’t. He had worked for Sarah for approximately 5 years. In those 5 years, he had seen his workload doubled, if not tripled, with Sarah being unmoving on giving his people a break in their work. Sarah had continually demanded more innovation, more programs, and more things that she could report on that ‘she’ had done with the department. It could be honestly said that Sarah based her rise in the ranks on Vance’s team’s work, with the only reward that they received was a continuous demand for more, more, more. He did this without one extra person on the team in all those years, doctor verified high blood pressure, and the stress causing his health did deteriorate. On the times when Vance did try to tell Sarah these things, Sarah would reply, “You’re not overworked. You’re simply not efficient enough. Put some of your work on your people. You need to learn how to delegate better.”
Oh, Vance did get one extra day off about three years ago when his team achieved monumental cost savings for the department, but that was it. So, now it was payback time. Sarah was now in a spot, and it was Vance’s turn to be intransigent, and he was reveling in every moment of it.
Sarah’s reaction to all of this was pure Sarah. Instead of finding ways to cover the gap and wishing Vance well, Sarah decided instead to try to recruit people into an anti-Vance clique. “Doesn’t it make you mad that Vance is leaving you at that time, with all this work to be done?”, she would ask some of his people, trying to make them resentful. To their credit, no one would join Sarah in throwing Vance under the bus. He had treated them as well as he could during his tenure and they would not turn on him simply because he decided to put his own interests first. Sarah was not happy.
How do you treat someone who helped account for your success? Do you look at the whole of their work and thank them for all they have done? Do you put on your pouty face simply because they finally have decided to look after their own best interests, something you have done for your entire tenure at the company? Which is the behavior of a leader? Which is the behavior of a three year old?
There’s a picture of a pouting face at the head of this article. I was going to put in another picture instead, but I didn’t think a picture of ‘big girl panties’ would go over too well.
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.
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.
The CEO took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. No matter how much he looked at the report on his desk, he could coax no sense out of it. Putting it aside, he scanned his desk for another matters that required his attention.
His eyes lit upon a letter that had been written to him and to the President of the company. He had not filed the letter yet, so picked it up to reread it. The letter was from a terminated employee of the company, or rather the employee’s lawyer, spelling out rather specific charges against the employee’s now former manager. The accusations could cause the company some trouble, as they could be interpreted as violating federal regulations.
The manager in question was someone the CEO knew. She had stepped up to head several projects in the company and had volunteered to fill a spot on the leadership council temporarily, taking some burden off the CEO. He liked when people did this, so was willing to overlook such reports of the manager’s, shall we say, deficiencies. He had decided not to investigate these accusations at all, but held on to the letter in case the President thought differently. He didn’t think the President would, as he had his own agenda and pet projects, and didn’t bother much with the needs of the company’s staff.
The letter did remind him that he needed to make arrangements to make the manager in question’s temporary promotion permanent. After all, didn’t she help him out? Staff complained too much anyway. He took the letter, and promptly filed it in the round file under his desk.
He sighed. That was enough of a distraction. He needed to get back to his report.
Picking it up, he read the top of it again. It was the employee engagement results from the survey taken earlier in the year. It had shown, as it had in previous years, the same disturbing data.
I can’t figure it out, the CEO thought, reading the data for the 100th time. Why do the staff feel so strongly that the leadership of this company don’t care about them or their concerns at all?
Finally! There has been someone hired for the position Sarah vacated when she became head of the department. It had been a long search, and many in the department were happy that the extra work they had shouldered may finally be alleviated, at least partially. The person who finally secured the position isn’t the story of this article, however. Rather, it is the lesson taught in the search.
The position took so long to fill because of the special requirements established by Sarah for the candidate. The applicant had to have special skills in one area, in order to assist one area of Sarah’s department. What area was that? The area that Maxine was in charge of. You remember Maxine. She had no one come to her retirement party, she praised bad management, and insulted employees who made innocent inquiries. When the position became open, Sarah required that the successful candidate be able to help out Maxine. This was not a requirement for any of the other managers under Sarah.
Question One: What does that say about Maxine?’
No candidate who came through the door seemed to have that skill set that Sarah was seeking, so the position remained unfilled, and Sarah’s managers remained overworked. Months passed, and the job was continually re-posted. More candidates came in, and more candidates left without an offer.
Then, Maxine tendered her retirement papers. Someone new was hired (I won’t say a replacement), and they were given time to settle in. As the new manager in the position that was Maxine’s became more comfortable, she showed her knowledge, her background, and her innovative spirit. She also affected a change in the hiring of the person who would be her manager. The candidate for the job no longer needed to have a specialty in what was Maxine’s area.
Question Two: Why did Sarah suddenly decide that the specialization was no longer needed?
The candidate they hired was good, and had the requisite experience and background to do the job well. He also had the good fortune to come in at the time when someone new was in Maxine’s old position.
Which leads up to the final three questions of this article.
Question Three: Why would Sarah, who had no inhibition in firing those she felt were doing their job poorly or incompetently, bend over backwards so much to help Maxine?
Question Four: What standards did she hold for others in the department that seemed to be ignored for her dear friend Maxine?
Question Five: How well does that bode for the respect, or lack of it, the other managers, and the others who saw this hiring process take place, have for Sarah?
Sarah’s latest teambuilder was in full swing. Part of the facilitator’s goals were to have the team create a new mission statement for the organization, and then create some internal principles that the department would agree to follow in order to achieve that mission statement.
Two groups were created from the assembled employees, in hopes that the two groups would come up with principles that would compliment each other, and that combined, these principles would be greater than the sum of their parts. The two groups dutifully split apart, one group leaving the room in order to have some private area in which to brainstorm.
In one of the groups, ideas were solicited about the internal principles that the team wanted to present. Some were rather typical, such as a customer service environment, while others were a bit different. One of those was the idea of servant leadership. The idea was that, if the department espoused servant leadership, this idea could filter to the rest of the company by viewing how successful it was in Sarah’s department.
For those of you unfamiliar with Servant Leadership, here is a brief synopsis, courtesy of LeadersDirect.
Servant devote themselves to serving the needs of organization members, focus on meeting the needs of those they lead, develop employees to bring out the best in them, coach others and encourage their self expression, facilitate personal growth in all who work with them and listen well to build a sense of community and joint ownership
Servant leaders are felt to be effective because the needs of followers are so looked after that they reach their full potential, hence perform at their best. A strength of this way of looking at leadership is that it forces us away from self-serving, domineering leadership and makes those in charge think harder about how to respect, value and motivate people reporting to them.
Many of the participants in the team knew the definition. Lucia, manager of one of the bigger sub-units of Sarah’s domain, didn’t. After a brief synopsis by a few of the team members, Lucia wrinkled her nose as if she had just smelled something foul. “Sounds awful.”, she said, “I need to be in control.” There was some further discussion of the concept and whether it should be included in the team’s statement, but Lucia continually voted it down. For those who did not know Lucia, it was an interesting revelation of how the woman’s mind worked. For those who reported to Lucia, it was a confirmation of what they already knew.
One of the strangest paradoxes of leadership is the fact that when a leader gives away their power, the stronger they get with their people. This doesn’t mean delegating, as delegation is with tasks. No, a leader who makes the decision not to have to command and control of everything under them, but decentralizes their power, giving it to their people, winds up more in control than ever. That leader’s reports want to please their leader. They want to prove the leader’s trust justified. They want to make sure they don’t do anything that might cause that leader to lose faith in them. They enjoy being with that leader, and want to keep that relationship going and growing.
Command and control is about a selfish or insecure leader who believes they need to be the center of the universe in order to get anything done. The leader looks at their subordinates as simply instruments for fulfilling tasks and making the leader look good. It provides no growth, no growing, and no new ideas. The leader fears that giving up control means giving up with they have ‘earned’. What they are blind to is what they have really earned: the lack of respect of their people.
Be a servant to your people. You’ll find what you give away to be only a fraction of what you get back.
It looks like Maxine and Sarah may have some competition.
Fred was enjoying this. The second party in his honor in as many days was being held, and he was enjoying it. After all, hadn’t he been at the company for 20 years, only deciding to move on because he found a better position for himself? Twenty years should mean something, even if it was a tiny bit on the extravagant side.
While it was true that Fred was at the company for 20 years in a high ranking position, it was also known that he wasn’t exactly a ball of fire. Always there with a smile and a story, he had been at the company long enough to know just how much work he had to do in order to keep his high paying job and nothing more. He was a master at it.
That’s why it was a surprise when he announced that he was taking another leadership position with another company and would be leaving his present job. Most thought he would be at the company for life. Still, he made the announcement and soon enough the goodbye party was being arranged by his administrative assistant.
This would not be a cake in the cafeteria, however. Oh no, not for Fred. He deserved better than that, and if you doubted it, just ask him. A party was planned for him in the company’s largest meeting room. Tables were set up, tablecloths rented, party favors purchased, and the catering company duly told that money was no object. It is told that even cookies with his likeness were baked and distributed to all who attended. Anyone else could do with cake and punch. For Fred, the corporate wallet was opened and the credit card grew hot with all the spending that went into this little shindig.
If that were the end of the story, it would have made an interesting sidelight, but that is about it. No, what made this worthy for inclusion into this blog was what happened the day after the party. What happened, you ask? Another party for Fred, and if the corporate credit card grew hot with the first party, it was positively molten when finished with the second one.
This second party was held at a private restaurant, and included a four course meal for all who were invited. Along with the meal, there were videos of Fred, games, tributes, and even a mock roast. How could they fit this all in? Easy, the ‘meal’ went on for four hours. People were leaving even before the dessert course because they simply had to get back to work to attend meetings, get projects accomplished, or simply have work be done. None of this seemed to phase Fred, who was enjoying all the tributes, though he was reportedly not happy with the mild jabs being given to him at the roast.
This blog is not condemning that some people in a business unit. or even in the whole business, had some fun. It is an essential part of the work environment to blow off some steam, have a few laughs, and release the tension that will inevitably build up. Have some fun!
Why then write about it? In the past few years, the company has been given marching orders to save money and to bring in new sources of revenue. Within Fred’s own department, one of his direct reports constantly refers to the ROI of their work. There is the incessant drumbeat of getting new customers, getting the existing customers to buy more, and to continue to grow sales. People are working longer, harder, and signs of burnout and discontent are growing.
In the middle of this pressure to save and gain as much money as possible, what is done? Not one but two parties are held for someone who didn’t exactly typify the new work ethic in the company. These parties each cost thousands of dollars each to stage. Countless hours of productivity time were lost with the filming of the videos, writing the speeches, singing the songs. Thousands more were spent on cute signs that people will throw out and custom cookies that won’t last a week. All because smiling Fred took a new job. Worse yet, nobody seemed to care what kind of message this sent to the staff. That was also typical of the new vision and leadership of the company.
In more ways than one, their behavior took the (retirement) cake.
My apologies, first off, as this blog will do some repeating of a theme that I have stated before. However, the story delivered was too good to pass up.
You may recall that Sarah was famous for saying one thing and doing another. An example of this would be what she expected of other people versus what she expected of herself. As illustrated in this post, Sarah was famous for imposing standards on others that she didn’t follow herself.
Sarah was famous for giving incredibly short deadlines or huge assignments and expecting them to be done in miraculous time. Within that time, she would pester, micromanage, and constantly harass the employee who had the task, asking for progress reports and how things were coming along. If the progress was not to her satisfaction, she would make mention of it, as ‘everyone loves my honesty.’
During those times when an employee would say to her that they were swamped with work, and thus couldn’t meet her deadline, Sarah’s famous phrase was, “You’re not busy; you’re just not efficient enough”. The office was filled with stories of how mailboxes had to be empty and replies had to be given within a day, or the department, meaning Sarah’s ego, would suffer. At times these excuses were used as fodder to get rid of an employee Sarah didn’t like, but other times they were used by her just to bolster her opinion of the employee’s laziness or inefficiency. She couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t liked. After all, didn’t she tell the people that they were inefficient, thus putting them on the path to greater things?
With Sarah’s ascent to the top of the ladder, the demands on her time became greater. The old tricks for efficiency didn’t seem to work as well anymore, and she found that her inbox was filling up, she had more items to do than time, and still the work was piling up. However, being Sarah, she failed to see the irony that this presented, or in the words she had spoken so many times.
So, when she was approached by one of her direct reports regarding some items that needed her signature, she didn’t blink twice at her response. The items, needing her signature, were for sensitive projects across the enterprise. Without her approval, they were stuck in the queue, and they were keeping the folks who wanted to get these projects started waiting. She was holding up the course of business at the company.
What was Sarah’s response? “My inbox is filled to capacity, I am swamped in my work, and you only handed these to me three days ago. I will need at least a week to process things, and that will be my timeline going forward.”
For anyone who had been on the receiving end of Sarah’s efficiency speech. For anyone who was taken to task because they had three unanswered e-mails at the end of the day. For anyone who had to suffer Sarah’s one hour visits to show her people exactly what they were doing wrong, whether or not she truly understood the problem, it was a moment to smile. Sarah now gave herself a week to respond to things, even when she expected her people to do so in milliseconds.
And, while they smiled, it was also tinged with sadness. They knew the irony, or the sheer hypocrisy, would never dawn on Sarah, who would go right along telling people how inefficient they were. The only consolation? It might take a week for her to notice now.