Preach and Practice

The message had been clear all during the seminars the company was broadcasting to its franchisees. If they wanted to keep their employees during and after the current recessionary times, they needed to make them feel needed, wanted, and special. Many of the franchisees understood the message, and shared that they were doing just that. They were engaging in one-on-one conversations with their employees, writing notes of appreciation, and doing what they could to keep the spirits up of the employees, either in person or remotely.

What’s more than that, it seemed to be working well. The leadership of the company were receiving positive reviews for both the seminars and the message that was being broadcast. The franchisees were not losing their employees to the competition even when their commissions were lower due to lower sales.

There was only one group who wasn’t practicing these techniques. The leadership of the company itself. Yes, they were regularly sending out an email or having a team web conference and saying how proud they were of the corporate employees, who were working extra hours at reduced pay to keep all these seminar and other events going. However, as for any of the other techniques the company was advocating its franchisee base do, the actions of the company’s leadership was lacking.

Not one employee could say that the leadership had singled them out for an individual email, phone call or personal note expressing their gratitude for the crippling workload, or managing a household budget with a reduced salary, or for getting all their work done when their hours had been reduced. True, their local managers, mostly, had thanked them for their hard work and said they appreciated their extra work. Some of the local management had even said for the employee to take a day off and not declare it as a thank you for the extra time put in. But the senior leadership? Except for the obligatory ‘thank you’ at a company meeting, nothing more seemed to come from their collective creativity to make the employees feel wanted, needed, or appreciated.

As the weeks of onerous hours and little pay wore on, so did nerves, and they were fraying fast. That seemed to be little noticed by leadership, which was always asking for more, expecting more, and even criticizing more when mistakes happened.

A simple fact of life that seems to escape many leaders is that it takes a happy staff to make happy customers. How do you make staff happy? Besides money, most want to be appreciated in some meaningful way. That is not a passing, “Thank you so much” in a company meeting. It is something done for the the employees on a personal level. It is a recognition that the employee has sacrificed part of their lives to make the customer happy. A good leader will understand that and take the time to reach out to the employee to make sure that appreciation is expressed in a why the employee will find special.

The gap between words and action is amplified when you are giving one message to others and then not putting actions to that message yourself. Your message becomes disingenuous when you are not following it yourself. That leads to your employees wondering why they should continue their Herculean efforts when their leaders can’t be bothered to recognize that effort beyond a few measly words said to everyone.

Simply put, when you don’t make an effort to value your employees, what is there to entice your employees to value you or your business?

Make the effort, put in the time, and make the recognition personal. When you do, you’ll see all the words you are throwing at others can actually work for you, too.

Love Me or Get Fired!

It was a big task, but Barbara thought she was up to it. She has proposed to create a whole new system from scratch, though there were plenty of vendor alternatives on the market. No, this was going to be her baby, her inspiration, and her legacy. This system was going to be built.

There was very little input from others about this system. Yes, there were a few focus groups asking what end-users would like to see in the system. Unfortunately, there weren’t any focus groups for those who really used the current system about what they really needed. Thus, when the first iteration of the system was unveiled, there were more than a few questions and more than a few criticisms leveled at the effort.

Stung by this, Barbara vigorously defended the system, leveling accusations at those who criticized the system as ‘hater of innovation’ or ‘not giving the system a chance’. When the critics brought up key functionality that the system did not possess, Barbara would counter that they really didn’t need that functionality and were just looking for things to criticize. When other said maybe they shouldn’t use the system, but stay with the legacy system, Barbara doubled down on her defense of the system and refused to even acknowledge those concerns.

In her own organization, Barbara mandated only support for the system. She did not want to hear about the shortcomings and ordered her direct reports to vigorously defend the system against any stakeholders who might dare to level criticism. For those direct reports who did come to her with concerns about the viability of the product, Barbara had a unique strategy. She threatened to fire them.

It wasn’t an outright threat, as Barbara knew that might warrant HR coming to visit her and investigate. Instead, she would usually say that she didn’t think anyone who wasn’t a ‘team player’ had a place in her organizations, and that the employee better think long and hard if they wanted to level any criticisms against the system. For the majority of her direct reports, that bought their silence rather well, though they still had serious reservations about the system. Barbara could live with that.

One of the most difficult part of being a leader is shuttling your ego to one side and listening to ideas contrary to your own. Even more difficult is admitting that you might not be correct about a course of action you have taken. None of us enjoys admitting that, nor having to reverse course and suffer the backlash that will ensue.

It is also one of the most critical parts of being a leader. If your ego can’t take that kind of examination of your actions, then you don’t have a right to be sitting in that leadership chair. If your reaction to being told you might be wrong is to immediately threaten termination to an employee for being ‘disloyal’, then you should vacate that position immediately, as now you have demonstrated that you care more about yourself than your company or your employees.

We all make mistakes. It is how we learn from them and go forward that defines us. If your reaction to hearing about possible mistakes is to find any and all ways of silencing those who told you, then you don’t deserve a position where you are allowed to make any decisions at all.

The Good Management Blog is in Print!

New BookWe 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!

Whose Education is it Anyway?

Diploma

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.

Retiring Your Professionalism

Pouting Baby

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.

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.

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.

Hear No Evil

Animaniacs See Hear Speak No Evil

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?

Strengths and Weaknesses

Circus Strongman

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?

Command and Control

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.