The Balanced Budget Strategem

termination

The conversation was light and joyful.  One time co-workers who had not seen each other in some time happy conversed about old times, old jokes, and some people they had in common.   Wayne, the organizer of the event, looked over the sea of faces at the table and smiled.  This was just what he needed.

He told a few people at the table his reason for this get together was because, when he walked down the halls of their once common workplace, he didn’t recognize anyone anymore.  There were so many new faces at the workplace that he felt a bit alone.  It was jarring for him, as the workplace had always been known as the place where people never wanted to leave.  Now, it seemed, people were beating a path for the doors.  Why were all his old co-workers leaving so rapidly?

“I have a few thoughts on that”, Mitch said.  With that, several heads turned.  Mitch had been content enough just listening to others during the gathering, making the occasional reply or comment, but generally keeping to himself.  So, when he made that pronouncement, people tended to listen.  They urged him to go on.

“Now, before I say anything, all this is speculation.  The facts I have fit the scenario, and the suppositions I make aren’t outrageous, as I think you will agree.  We all have to understand this before I go on.”, he said.  More heads turned.

Mitch started. “You recall when the CFO began making the same speech to whomever would listen?”  A few heads nodded, which Mitch expected.  The CFO was not the most dynamic speaker, so even if he was invited to speak at a gathering, he didn’t rivet the audience’s attention to him.  For those who didn’t remember, Mitch summed up what the CFO of the company had said.  Simply put, the company was spending more money than it was taking in.

This fact in itself didn’t surprise many people.  They knew from their days at the company that almost every major project had cost overruns, simply because the stakeholders had to have their ideas incorporated into it, and the executives in charge of the projects didn’t have the fortitude to tell them ‘no’.  It was easier to go along with the stakeholders and worry about where the money would come later.  Add in the vanity projects that each of the executives needed to have to highlight themselves, and you had a mess of a financial situation.

What Mitch followed this up with was more of a surprise.  He had found out from a reputable source, verified by an executive of the company, that the CFO, seeing nobody really listening to his plea to save money, had imposed a 1% cap on departmental budget increase requests.  This posed a problem.

The biggest part of any budget is the staff of the department.  Those staff will expect raises.  In a poor economy, you can defer those raises as many will not leave simply to have a job.  In a good economy, they would leave in droves to the competition.  Since the company was not known for its generous salaries in the first place, this could really be an issue.  How could you give raises of 2% to 3% when you could only have an increase of 1%?  Nobody wanted to lay off any staff, as they had fought too hard to grow the department and their influence.

Mitch let this settle with the group for a minute while preparing the next piece of evidence.

“How many of you who have left the company were there more than 5 years?”  Several hands raised. “10?”  Several hands raised.  “15 or more?” Several hands raised.  “How many of you know employees there who have been at the company as long, or longer than you?”  Many hands raised. “Are they the majority of those people you knew at the company?”  Many nodded.

He continued. “The company we worked at and some of you still work at”, he said with a nod to Wayne, “used to boast that it had a long tenured workforce.  It was a recruiting tool.  ‘Look how happy our people are…they never leave!'”  Nobody contradicted him.

“Now, the longer you are with the company…”, Mitch started, and Wayne finished for him. “…the higher your salary is.”  Mitch smiled at the flicker of awareness that was dawning upon the faces of those assembled.  To those whose face still registered, ‘I don’t get it’, Mitch continued.

“You don’t want to get the reputation or the lawsuits that mass firing will do.  You need to keep your budget increase at 1%.  You are in self-preservation mode.  What do you do?”  Mitch paused.

Several people jumbled together an answer, “You target the longer term employees.  Some you fire.  Some you make their lives so miserable that they quit.  You then bring in younger employees or people who will work for less money, and your budget problems are solved.  The work gets done and, aside from a possible flicker of conscience of the executive of the department, the fallout is minimal.”

“Fits what you have heard from others who have left the company, doesn’t it?”, asked Mitch.  Each person at that table had a story of them personally being harassed by their superiors or knowing of those who were harassed until they no longer could stand it and left the company.

“The defense rests”, said Mitch, to laughter. Wayne was a bit shaken up by this, but quickly recovered, at least for the sake of the gathering.  He would worry about Mitch’s suppositions and what it might mean for him later.  For now, it was time for friends.

He raised his glass.  “To friends, no matter where they are, or how they got there”.

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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!

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Thank you for all your support!

Hijacked!

Nelson knew that, as presentations went, this one was nothing special.  Still, when the head of the department asks for you to give a presentation on how a piece of technology might be able to help you reach your customer base better, you give the presentation.  The time frame given to him to prepare was short, but he made the most of his time and was ready when the time came.

The presentation started out pretty much like Nelson had expected.  Then, about 1/4 of the way in, his manager, Harriet, whispered to him to mention a certain feature of the program.   Nelson gave some quick, but silent thought on this request.  Harriet had been there when the department head had requested Nelson present, so she knew what the department head wanted to learn.  Why then would Harriet ask Nelson to discuss something that was completely off the topic?  Regardless, Harriet was his manager, so he dutifully discussed the item and then veered back towards his presentation.

Until she once again asked him to discuss another feature of the product.  Again, it was completely off topic and cut into Nelson’s time, but he discussed it and once again veered back to the topic at hand.  Realizing his time constraint, and that he had other topics to present, he judiciously cut what he was going to say.

The third time Harriet interrupted, she didn’t ask for him to discuss something, but for him to cede control to her so she could present the topic herself.  Wanting to avoid any unpleasantness, he did as she asked, and then silently fumed as she went along happily discussing what she wanted to discuss, burning up his allotted time with her topics.  Even the head of the department weighed in on Nelson’s side, indicating that Nelson had other items to present and that time was growing short.  Nelson politely asked to take control of the presentation back, hurriedly finished the other topics, and packed up.

As he was packing up, some of his colleagues stopped by to either ask him what Harriet was thinking or to offer him sympathy.  This was not the first time that Harriet had hijacked a presentation that was someone else’s.  She had a long history of taking over, uninvited, a presentation, a meeting, or gathering that was clearly the property of someone else, merrily careening along while the other person sat and steamed.  She, most of the time, was perfectly oblivious to this, thinking she was helping the person.  In truth, she was alienating a lot of folks in the department.

For Nelson, this presentation was certainly not a make or break situation.  Still, the fact that the head of the department, in full view of Harriet, had asked him to make this presentation meant that he had some stake in this issue.  Harriet, by hijacking it, had cut into not only his time, but his demonstrating his ability to run part of a meeting seamlessly and with authority.

Maybe you think you are only ‘helping’, or that you simply want to contribute to the conversation.  What you are being perceived as, however, is someone who cannot have the spotlight fall on someone else.  You must get into the action and make the audience know that you are there and a force to be reckoned with.  When this happens to someone you manage, you send out an even more dire message — I don’t trust you to do this alone and am going to ‘save’ you from yourself.

You don’t have to be the kid who was in the greatest number of yearbook photos in order to impress your management.  You don’t need to diminish someone else’s worth because you think you need to enhance your own.  People need to succeed or fail on their own.  A good manager knows when to let go of the bicycle and allow their employees or colleagues to ride solo.  They will run along side of the person, be ready to help if they think the person is going to fall, but knows how to step back and just be a participant.

A good manager knows when to stand just outside of the spotlight and simply applaud.

The Pink Tie Matter

In The Crowning Glory, we discussed the concept of employee privacy and how one leader in a department decided to approve an idea of discarding employee privacy for a few laughs.  The prize for the ‘best’ story would be a crown.  This particular choice of prize brought up another interesting issue, one that had been around under this leader for years.

It was a department of around 20 people.  Of those 20 people, 16 were female, 4 were male.  Of those 4 men, only 2 of them were permanent employees — Vernon and Mitch.  The other two males, a temp and an intern, would soon be gone.  Vernon and Mitch were used to this.  Mitch had been the last male hired in the department, and all subsequent hires had been female, with all but one of the hiring managers being female.  They never saw anything wrong with this, though Vernon and Mitch shared the thought that, if males had tried this, there would have been many complaints of sexism in the hiring process.

Over the years, the unit leader had often mocked Mitch and Vernon, making uncomfortable comments about them, passing it off as a joke.  This particular situation was typical of most.  At the beginning of the meeting, the unit leader, Serena, decided she had to make a comment about the pink tie that Vernon was wearing.  She mentioned that how ‘unVernon’ it was and how it was probably his wife that had picked it out.  She had commented many times regarding the clothes that Vernon especially had worn, but nothing ever mentioned about the dress of any of the female employees.  All the females laughed at this.

Later on, when the crown had been decided as the prize for the ‘best’ story, Vernon and Mitch looked at each other.  Serena, having seen this, asked inquisitively, was there a problem with this?  As usual, Mitch and Vernon said nothing, knowing it would not change anything in Serena’s mind, save for branding Vernon and Mitch as never wanting to have any fun.

Later on, walking back from the meeting, another female manager said with a smile, “I look forward to seeing the crown on one of your heads!”  Vernon and Mitch smiled, with Mitch making a comment to Vernon that the female manager could go do something anatomically impossible.

Years ago, I worked in a building that was very old.  So old, as a matter of fact, that they only had men’s rooms on each floor, as women were not expected to be in the workforce.  It was a very pointed reminder of how the workforce has changed, and changed for the better.  Diverse views and different perspectives help enrich the workforce experience, allowing new ideas to flourish.

Yes, many things have changed, but one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed, at least with some managers, is inappropriate behavior towards the opposite sex.  Years ago, it was women’s complaints against their male bosses.  Today it still is true that some male bosses act in inappropriate fashion, with the mayor of San Diego is a prime example.  However, we can now add in women bosses and their inappropriate comments and actions towards their male employees.  No matter the sex, it is laughed off and dismissed by the superior.  What makes it ironic is that women fought so long to be treated as equals, and now a minority of them are acting the way their foremothers fought so hard to correct.

No matter which side of the gender divide they happen to fall on, a good manager knows what to say and what not to say.  Yes, there are cases where something they may utter is misconstrued or should not have been said.  At those points, a good manager knows when to own up to those comments and apologize.   By repeatedly singling out someone of the opposite sex, and a minority in the department as well, managers open themselves up to disrespect, accusations, and possibly even lawsuits.  Sensitivity training is not a male or female issue, it is a manager and employee issue.  Stories like the one related show that it is still in sore need today.

Let’s elevate the workplace humor to more mundane topics and get it out of the clique mentality.  Male or female, it is simply good business.

Managing a Reversal

I read an interesting article today by ZDNet Writer David Gerwitz regarding poor customer service he received at a phone retailer.  You can read it here.  He linked it, rightly, I think, to one of the reasons physical stores are having such a hard time keeping customers.  He went further to talk about the death of retail, and tied it back to this story.

The part that interested me the most was Gerwitz’s assertion that the retail associates he dealt with seemingly didn’t get good training or had good management by the way he was treated.  I would have to agree with him, based on personal experience.  While the fault can’t be theirs alone, especially with the current generation, there is a lot to say about good management being critical to a well run store and personable and helpful employees.  And, those two factors add up to a store surviving, and hopefully thriving.

In Gerwitz’s story, he was dealing with a retail outlet of a well known cellular phone carrier.  He walked in and saw four associates helping four customers.  There was no greeting, no assertion that they were sorry and they would be with him as quickly as possible.  There were simply four associates, not even looking up at him.

He patiently waited his turn when his sense of smell was assaulted by what smelled of a locker room.  The whole store smelled like that.  Next, he saw one associate finish with a customer, avoid eye contact with him, and announce loudly that he would be going home for the day.  It was clear this was not the associate’s quitting time, but that didn’t seem to matter.  It also didn’t seem to matter there was a customer waiting to be helped.  Eventually Gerwitz was able to be assisted, but pondered what he wasted in going to a retail location, especially since he had to go because his wife refused to because of multiple bad incidents with the manager of that store.

This whole story was of great interest to me because I have felt for a while that managers, especially in retail, teach their staff what to do, but not how to do it.  They teach their staff the mechanics of operating a register or helping a customer, but not how to behave, how to act, how to provide great customer service.  The managers themselves are likely to work for very little money, paid by a company that cares solely about profit and not their reputation…until it becomes horribly tarnished.  It becomes a perpetuating circle.  Managers who are poor in customer service managing employees who are poor in customer service, because those employees are not given the proper training in how to deal with a customer properly.

We live in a world where efficiency is paramount.  Get the most customers in and out to increase profit per square foot or per customer.  Meet the metrics!  Get the numbers or you are out!  No quarter is given to the idea that sometimes good customer service may take longer, but reap rewards down the road.  That is not this quarter.  That is not Wall Street.  Over the years, that thinking has taken hold up the ladder.  Oh sure, good lip service is always given to the idea of customer service. saying the company highly values it.  It is just that, lip service, for many.

The odd thing is that the companies that are famous for their good service, like Amazon and the Apple Store, and making money hand over fist.  It is also interesting that many on the top of the customer service lists are online realtors.  Apple isn’t, but has such a different business model as to live up to their credo of Think Differently.  It shows when management cares to think through the process, cares to encourage good management, and cares about customer service, even if it may ding the profits a bit.

Retail, corporate, or elsewhere, it is the same.  Good management practices can lead to good employee conduct.  Good employee conduct can lead to successful customer interactions.  And successful customer interactions can lead to happy, repeat customers.  When was the last time you can say you were happy with the service you received in a chain brick and mortar store?

Traditional retail is in decline because they have put profit over people.  But reversing that order, retail can make a comeback.  It will take time, dedication, and a view other than the next quarterly profit call.

They Made Her Feel Like Dancing

There are some people who dance as part of their job — C list celebrities on a certain reality television show, football quarterbacks, and Employee Relations Managers.  What, you don’t know the story of the dancing ER Manager?  Well, read on!

It was a rather routine staff meeting, as staff meetings went.  The various departments were giving their reports on the month’s activities.  Employee Relations was called upon to give theirs, and the Employee Relations Manager took the lead.  In the report was a recap of two claims for unemployment that the ER Manager felt were not justified, so she went through the process to dispute the claims.   In both cases, the ER Manager recounted, the company was successful and the former employee did not receive unemployment compensation.

The ER Manager was well within her rights to do this, and cannot be faulted for doing her due diligence in protecting the company against false claims.  The company had generally been fair about unemployment claims by its former employees, only disputing them when they were egregious or not warranted.

What happened next was the part that makes it worthy of this blog.

After each recitation of the success of the company, the ER Manager proceeded to dance in her seat.  She would throw her arms up and wiggle about in her seat in an approximation of a victory dance.  As there were two instances of a successful dispute, she danced twice in her seat.  At no time did her supervisor, who was sitting in the meeting, mention to her that this was inappropriate, though that same supervisor was rather vocal in a later presentation of the mistakes that another employee made, said right in front of the entire staff.

We all have times when we act in a less than professional manner.  It is usually when we are among friends or enjoying a laugh.  Usually a staff meeting is a time for more professional decorum, though we may be among friends.  When less than professional behavior occurs, it needs to be addressed and action taken to ensure it does not happen again.

When that behavior comes from the one person who is in the position to the enforce proper rules of conduct and professionalism for the entire company, the situation becomes both absurd and troubling.  We expect such displays from football players who make touchdowns or small children in the classroom, but not the enforcer of proper corporate behavior.  What’s next, a fist bump?

What makes this even more unbelievable is the fact that her manager was in the room and didn’t correct the behavior immediately, though she was more than willing to do so with another employee later in the meeting.  The message the supervisor sent was that this type of behavior was acceptable, possibly setting either a precedent or having to contradict herself when someone else shows this type of sophomoric display in the future.

Let’s save the victory celebrations for the locker room, and keep it out of the conference room.