The Balanced Budget Strategem


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”.

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!


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.

Future Imperfect

For those of you who know and watch Matt Goening’s other highly satirical animated series, Futurama, you are familiar with the character of Zapp Branigan.  (If you are not, I highly recommend you watch some of the series on Comedy Central)  Zapp, a comic twist on James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame, is a military commander who is egotistical, crude, treats people badly, and completely not self-aware, except when he has to fake that in order to win sexual conquest.

Zapp has one and only one military strategy — to thrown wave after wave of soldiers to their death in hopes of conquering an enemy.  That is all he does.  No other strategy crosses his mind.  It is blunt force and that is it, except when he is ordered to do something different, and even then he may disobey those orders because ‘he knows better’.  After a few recent incidents that I have been told about or witnessed, I think that there are some managers who fit in the Zapp Brannigan model.

While I don’t see many managers sacrificing thousand of people, many stick to one strategy, refusing to see that there may be other options to improving employee morale, solving a problem, or facing an issue.  Whatever enters their mind must be right, even if it has proven to be ineffective, unpopular, or dangerous previously.  Their ego, like Zapp’s, prevent them from seeing something alternate, and if someone dares to question that tactic, they are immediately dismissed, punished, or thrown to the enemy.    The manager, like Zapp, then sits back, congratulates themselves on that ‘victory’ and their brilliant strategy.

Zapp is a fictional character, and meant to be satirical.  However, his actions are not totally fictional.  During World War I, the commander of the British forces was notorious for his continuing a failed strategy.  Shelling for a certain amount of time, silence for a certain amount of time, then send the soldiers ‘over the top’ to the enemy.  The Germans could set their watches by his timing, as it never changed, no matter how many thousands of casualties he caused.  When someone would disagree with Haig, they were immediately sacked.

We may not be talking thousands, but in the case of a manager who continues a failed strategy because they don’t want to consider they might be wrong, the consequences are just as disastrous.  Take your ego out of the management mix and see how much better your decisions are, your staff is, and the results can be.  You are there to serve the company, not your ego.  And, unlike Zapp, you might be taken seriously not just because you have the power in your corner.

Consultation? What’s That?

As rollouts go, it was a pretty big one for the company.  This would affect the daily life of every member of the company to some degree.  Because of that, the people implementing it were being very careful to dot their i’s and cross the t’s about its delivery, training, and implementation.  Timetables had been carefully drawn up, drawbacks analyzed, and mitigation plans put into place.  Six months of planning stood ready to be implemented in about six weeks time.

And then came Margie.  Margie had built her reputation as a project manager around the company.  She was a good project manager, too.  She knew how to keep a project moving along, who to contact, and what to do when things weren’t going smoothly.  There was only one problem.  Margie wasn’t assigned to this project.  She wasn’t even in the project management group, but a business functional group.  The group’s line of work had nothing to do with the rollout’s purpose.  That didn’t stop her.

Margie had spoken with some of her direct reports regarding the project and what some of the challenges would be based on the rollout timeline of the project.  She had one determination — it would  never do.  No, the challenges were too disruptive to the course of business.  The timeline would have to be shortened considerably, in her opinion.  It would be, in her opinion, ‘for the good of the company’.

She immediately talked to her contacts in the executive group, including the executive who was over the group rolling out the software.  She shared her concerns about the timeline, her suggestion, and what should be done.  There was only one group she didn’t talk to about this rollout — anyone involved in actually implementing the rollout.  So, when the timeline was changed, everyone who was charged with rolling this out to the company was caught unaware, uninformed, and unconsulted.  Margie was pleased with herself that she once again ‘saved the company’, and refused to hear of any issues from ‘the little people’ regarding her lack of consideration for them.

The consequences Margie caused for this were enormous.  Plans had to be changed, timelines, which were carefully and meticulously planned out, were thrown into chaos.  IT didn’t even know if they had the resources to accommodate their new timeline, something that their own manager should have considered before agreeing to this.  By this one action, she increased the workload on people by a factor of 10, and seemingly didn’t care.  She got what she wanted, and that was really all that mattered, didn’t it?

A good manager looks beyond themselves when making a decision.  How will this impact the team he or she manage?  How will it affect others.  Is there enough bandwidth to support this change?  Will the change cause more harm than good?  If a manager doesn’t take the time to consider these things, to consult with those who live and breathe whatever is to be changed, then they are doing a disservice to those who they are supposed to protect.  When the only interest is self interest, then it is not good management or a good manager.

Additionally, the executive over the department wasn’t exhibiting good management, either.  Even if the argument for change was a good one, the executive needed to look at the impact, how much time is left for the rollout, and what needed to be accomplished, and if it could be accomplished if the change in plans were to take place.  Nike may be fine in saying, “Just Do It”.  That is not the way an executive should deal with is department.  If he or she does, then they will have a staff who doesn’t care about the department, but more about preserving their own health, mental and physical.  That department devolves into self-interest, resulting in chaos.

Interesting, isn’t it? That the main part of this whole situation, a situation that could be avoided altogether, is one hyphenated word:  self-interest.  It does not boil down to two other, very different words:  good management.

Change is not to be feared.  Change without thoughtful consideration and being mindful of all the parties involved and the impact upon them is to be feared.  It is also to be avoided at all costs.

The Efficient Manager Strikes Again

In my last post, I discussed how a department head had two different views of efficiency — her staff being efficient, and her being efficient.   At the time of that writing, I didn’t know that there would be a continuation of the story.

The department head recently sent out a note indicating that she is very busy, even with her new temporary assistant.  There was just too much work, and her next step was to shed some of it.  Her decision?  To cancel the regular meetings with one of the units serving under her.

Let’s step back a bit to recap how she ascended to this current position.  The manager was in a position reporting to the department head.  When the department head went on an extended leave, the manager worked to be elevated to this position in order to keep the department running.  While she offloaded many of her former tasks to her underlings, she didn’t realize the amount of work that was going to be piled on her, work that she could not offload to anyone else.

These meetings that she cancelled had already been reduced from once a week to once a month.  This was even too frequent for the department head.  In her note, she indicated that she would still have her regular meetings with the department managers, but not with any of the staff in the form of these meetings.  Staff could still meet with her if requested, but there would no formal meetings with the non-managerial staff.

This isn’t the first time the manager has followed this pattern of behavior.  In her last promotion, she offloaded all her former duties to a subordinate without a proper transition period and without much attention to him or her former department as she went full force into her new duties.

Good leaders become good leaders because they realize and appreciate the support of their people.  They realize that their people are the heart of their organization, and staying close to them is vital to keep the department running and the morale high.  They do have a good deal of work, there is no doubt about that.  Yet, smart leaders take time from that work and take the opportunity to walk and talk among their people to get the pulse of the department.  Ineffective leaders separate themselves from their staff, staying in their office or working out of other locations, like their homes or remote locations.

Staying in your office, cutting down appointments, and the like may help the leader get their work done, but at a terrible price.  They lose touch with staff, become aloof, and fool themselves that they are ‘in touch’, when actually they have become strangers.  Without that balance of getting their work done and keeping up with their people, they fail both their work and their staff.  The staff feels uncared for, and begins to see the leader as self-interested only.

The old philosophy of ‘management by walking around’ still exists.  The good manager makes sure he or she employs it.