The Two Month Expert

two month calendar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Good ‘Helping’ of Useless Information

Going Around in Circles

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a company meeting where the top management invited the staff to write in with their questions.  The top questions, based on votes by the staff, would be answered in the session. The answers were, to be charitable, less than what the employees deserved.  The next two blogs will focus on two of those questions, both asked of the HR Department.

One of the more popular questions, by evidence of how many people voted for it, was asked of the HR Department, which had received the majority of questions asked.  The questioner asked how they could advance in the company.  They kept going for new opportunities in their department, always to be turned down.  They wanted to stay with the company, but it seemed that only the chosen few ever received promotions or advancement.

The head of HR, very seriously, answered that question in the following way:  Talk with your supervisor about how you can advance.

Excuse me?

Let’s recap for a moment, shall we? The main reason for the employee writing in, and so many people’s approval of the question, was because this person has spoken with his or her supervisor several times about promotional possibilities in the office.   Each time they were either blown off or turned away.  By the number of people who voted up this question, it was quite a common managerial behavior in the company.  Now, when brought into the light, what does the head of HR say to the person.  Talk to your supervisor.

Excuse me?

You are advising someone who has hit a brick wall with their manager about moving up in the company to talk with the same manager who is blocking them.  Is anyone getting whiplash here?

This question, and the amount of positive votes it received, should have been a red flag in the air for the head of HR.  There is an epidemic in their company of favoritism, or perceived favoritism, in the promotional process.  People are frustrated and are looking for a lifeline to stay with the company.  Your answer, head of HR, which probably took about a minute and a half to scribble down, is akin to saying, “Screw you.  This is not important for me.  Here is a generic answer that you will accept because I have no time to care about your petty problems.”  Yet the head of HR probably wonders why the majority of critical questions are directed at her.

The company is offering a unique way of having people be heard.  True, it may bring out some difficult questions, but as a leader, don’t you want these questions to surface so you can understand the critical issues facing the company?  By providing such a pat, and in this case, insulting, answer, shows you do not care about the company or its people.  Worse, you have squandered an opportunity for you to turn the perception of your department to something positive.

Get hit with hard questions?  Welcome them.  Embrace them.  Treat them as a challenge to find new, innovative, and creative solutions that will truly solve the problem.  This is what leaders do.  It is only the lazy and uncaring that pull out the pat answers and pawn them off to people in pain.

The Reorganization, Part II


The staff filed into the conference room in anticipation of the words Sarah would speak to them soon.  She had sent out a meeting invitation to discuss her plans for reorganizing the department.  As she was new to the role, nobody knew if these simply meant reshuffling responsibilities or a wholesale gutting of the staff.  There was some tension among the group.

She began without preamble.  She told the group that there would be no layoffs in her plan.  She went on to say that she felt everyone was doing their jobs competently, so there was no need to replace anyone.  The tension in the room visibly eased, and there was some surprised mixed in to the emotional content.  Sarah was never one to give out compliments.  Criticism, yes.  Suggestions on how to do better, yes.  A genuine and unfettered compliment?  No.  Not really.

For that moment, the staff filled with some hope.  Maybe this was how Sarah would now lead in her new position.  Maybe she wold be more complimentary to her people.  Maybe, just maybe, she had realized that all her criticisms and micromanaging had lowered morale among the groups she managed, and now that she was in charge of the department, that she was having a change of heart and style.

That moment passed quickly with what Sarah said next.

With only a slight pause after extending the compliment to the staff, Sarah commented, “Yes, everyone is doing well.  You know if you weren’t I would have no reservation in letting you go.”  That sound you heard was the staff being snapped back to reality.  Now that she had power and nobody really for oversight, she had signaled that she would exercise that power with ruthless efficiency, firing those who did not live up to her standards without a look backward.

In the end, the reorganization would add a few new positions to the department, but offer no real growth for those who had labored hard all these years.  One or two people in existing positions might be getting a new title, but there was nothing to really strive for, or to want to achieve.

That was the lesson of the reorganization.  Do you job, don’t expect to go anywhere, and if you don’t, I won’t lose a minute of sleep in firing you.  It was not the recipe for a departmental staff to give a damn.  They would come in, do their same jobs, and do just want they had to in order not to be fired.

This was the beginning of Sarah’s legacy as leader.  Is it one you would want as a leader?

The Reorganization, Part 1


Carolyn sat in Sarah’s office presenting her view of what the organization should look like.  Sarah, since ascending to the leader’s position, had informed the department that she was going to make some changes, and invited the staff to share their ideas with her.  Carolyn had given this some thought, and had presented Sarah with a different spin on the department’s structure and its way of doing business.  Sarah thanked her for her submission and asked where Carolyn saw herself in this new scheme.  Carolyn had pointed to the spot recently vacated by Sarah, which would have been a promotion for her.

Sarah wrinkled her nose a bit, looked at Carolyn, and said, “I’m not sure about that.  I don’t think you are ready for it.”  Talking about this later, Carolyn had mentioned to colleagues how wonderful that one sentence had been for her morale and engagement in the department.  Was Carolyn qualified for the position?  Absolutely.  Her credential were impressive, her leadership experience deep, and she was well respected by the department.  This wasn’t about credential.  It was all about ego.

If Carolyn had known the history of Sarah and promotions, she still would have felt highly disengaged, but would have seen she was simply the latest in a long line of refusals by Sarah to believe anyone was ready for promotion, save for Sarah, of course.

Carolyn would have seen her own direct report, Mitch, who had proposed three times during his tenure with Sarah to receive a promotion.  Each time Sarah dismissed him with a wave of her hand, claiming he was ‘not ready’ for anything more than he was doing.  Even when an independent analysis by a consultant brought in by the department had shown Mitch was doing the job of his manager but not getting the role or pay for it, she would not budge.  She would have seen another member of the department, who after putting in 10 years in her function, be told she was not even going to be interviewed when her manager’s slot became open.  The employee left, taking with her valuable experience, and saying openly in her exit interview that the company promised promotional opportunities, but this department didn’t seem to care about its staff.  Now, Carolyn had seen this happen to her.  Nobody was ever ready in Sarah’s eyes, except for Sarah, of course.

A staff stays with a company for different reasons.  For some, it is a paycheck to get them from week to week.  They put in the requisite work, get their requisite pay, and leave.  Others come for the experience,and leave when they have received the experience they need.

A third group comes in wanting to make something of their time with the company, help it grow, and make it flourish.  Management and leadership time and time again are told they need to keep these people with the company, as they will be the ones who will help the company expand over the coming decades.  These people will work hard, dedicated themselves to their work, and be among the most loyal.

The company’s part of the bargain, however, is the also keep these people interested in staying.  This third group isn’t interested in staying in the same role for the rest of their lives.  They want to grow themselves as they grow the company.  A good leadership team and a good management team knows this and works towards making that happen.  They appreciate their people and do what they can to keep them where they can continue to help the company.

By denying that no one, except you, of course, is worthy of movement, the leader turns those loyal folks into those who just punch the clock and look for their next opportunity.  They fail at being good stewards of the company and are only looking out for their own interest.  Yes, the would be the first to scream if they didn’t get what they think they deserved, but blithely look beyond anyone else feeling that way.

Leadership like Sarah’s means that those who stay there will not be watching the company’s bottom line, but rather the clock.  They will show the exact same amount of loyalty to Sarah as she has shown to them.  She will have taught them well.  Sadly, the lesson will be look out for yourself and screw anyone else.

Lead on, Sarah.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

its_all_about_me_coffee_mugs-rf9c65774451e4b2789d0b385d9c4a7b8_x7jgr_8byvr_512The meeting with upper management has ended and Sarah and Marjorie were still basking in the glow.  The upper management had applauded…actually applauded…at the presentation that Marjorie had given on a new system the department was installing and how it would improve the effectiveness of the department.   As they walked down the hall, Marjorie was already thinking of how she was going to share this news, and her thanks, to everyone who had made this moment possible.  Her team, which had worked incredible hours to get the system implemented, the training group, who had instructed the clients on the use of the system, and helped with the presentation which just had won accolades, and everyone else who contributed to its success.

Sarah, Marjorie’s supervisor, was also effusive with her gratitude.  Well, maybe ‘effusive’ is a bit too strong a word.  She had not thanked any of Marjorie’s team, nor the training team, or the assistance with the presentation.  Sarah was saving her gratitude for Marjorie, which she promptly uttered to Marjorie as they were walking away from the meeting.  “Thank you for making me look so good”, she said to Marjorie, and kept on walking.

Let’s contrast the two approaches, shall we?  Marjorie, overjoyed all the hard work had paid off spectacularly, thought of who she needed to share this glory, and her appreciation with.  She also made sure to name those people to Sarah.  She realized she could not do this alone and was truly grateful for the team effort.  Marjorie realized doing this would cost her nothing but some time and kind words, and would add to a reservoir of good will with her team, so in case she needed to ever ask for the hard work again, she would have something to draw upon.

Sarah’s focus was squarely on Sarah.  She didn’t bother to personally thank anyone on the team for their work, although, by her own admission, they ‘made her look good’.  Her words of gratitude to Marjorie wasn’t for her hard work, her great management, or for the countless hours she put in.  It wasn’t even for her presentation skills.  No, the only words uttered by Sarah were to say that she deemed looking good in front of her peers to be more important than anything else.  It was a self-congratulations and nothing for the team.

Now, who do you think is the more respected manager and the one who will get the team to do the impossible for them?  The one who shared the victory or the one who kept it all for themselves?

When all you think of is yourself, then that is the only person you can depend upon to support you.

The Rush Job

It was a fairly simple process in and of itself.  Before you could get a promotion, you had to have your job reviewed by the compensation analyst.  She would review your job duties, review the metrics, look at what the competitive data was, and let you know what level this job was supposed to be.  People protested at times.  They wanted the job to be at a higher or lower level based on where they thought the job fit in their organization, or according to their own whims.  The analyst was firm, and was backed up by her department and its management.   So, when this process needed to be applied to her own department, you would think that there would be no problem.  You would think wrongly.

You may recall the story of the departmental manager who was temporarily promoted to lead the department when the executive who was its leader was temporarily incapacitated.   You can read about that situation, in part, here and here.   When it was found out by the temporary leader that the executive was coming back, she arranged to have another group in the department report to her, though the executive had rejected the idea previously.  Now, since the executive wasn’t there to protest, the manager worked overtime in getting this change in the structure of the department done.  Time was of the essence, if for no other reason that it would mean a promotion for the manager.  Oh, it was not as high as the executive was, but it would be a bump in status and pay.  So, hastily, job descriptions were written, justifications written, and the right people spoken to.  All that had to be done was have the compensation analyst give her blessing.

Usually, as others would attest, this could be a time-consuming protest.  The analyst was a busy person.  She had many requests.  This would not do.  So, when the file for the promotion for the manager was put on her desk, a note was attached to it.  “Approve this”.  In other words, there would need to be no review.  There would need to be no analysis.   There would need to be no research.  Just enter it into the official system as the new role and level, enter the generous new salary, and that was it.  No protest was allowed.  While everyone else could wait, this manager could not…no…should not.  Once again she had proved that there was a set of rules for everyone else, and a different set for her.

We all have read about the politicians who raid the public treasury for their own good.  We have heard of the corporate executives who have used the funds of the company for their own personal gains, whether it be lavish spending on themselves while they are in the position, or an extraordinary retirement or severance package.  We may shake our heads at it or decry it loudly, depending on the level of ire we have for the sheer nerve of the actor.

We get upset because it should be the other way.  The person should be working for the benefit of the company, not the other way around.  If an employee or average person had tried to do this, they would be reprimanded, fired, or have legal action taken against them.  No, the employee is told to sacrifice for the company each and every time, and if they are hurt in the process, oh well, that’s too bad.

No matter where you are in the company, the rules should be the same.  They are not bent because you are a certain level, or have a certain power over someone.  Something should not be rushed through simply because it can’t stand the light of day, or an honest and thorough investigation by a person with integrity.  This becomes especially crucial when others in the department have been denied the privilege of moving up, stopped by you for reasons professional or personal.

You can’t have the moral authority to tell others to act in the company’s or department’s best interest when you are flouting the rules at every turn.  If you do, you will be promoted to a new, informal title — hypocrite.

With ‘Help’ Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

“I have said it before and I’ll say it again, your career development is your responsibility.”  This was uttered by Maria, department head at the annual goal setting meeting she was having with her department.  She was right on a couple of counts.  She had said the same thing many times in the past.  And, it was the responsibility of the person to work on their own career development.  No one should expect their manager or higher to just give them a promotion or new job assignment without the person working towards earning it.

Larry didn’t disagree with either of those pronouncements, though he was truly sick and tired of hearing that same, banal statement.  Having heard it for six years now, he was tired of hearing it for another reason.  He had worked at career advancement, and each time, instead of being aided by Maria, he was blocked by her.  As Maria droned on about this topic, he recalled the various times he tried to do as Maria said…advance his career, only to have Maria throw it back in his face.

He would have understood if Maria didn’t feel he was ready for the next step and gave him help and guidance towards that next step.  Maria didn’t, though.  All she did was stop him in his tracks, or make contradictory statements, or simply do nothing.  It is difficult to have any career advancement when the other party doesn’t seem to want to even lift a finger to assist.

Larry recalled writing a proposal to Maria to take a bigger role in the new direction of the department, managing the new function and combining it with his present managerial function.  He had been instrumental in getting the new function approved and rolling, and thought it was a logical step.  He wrote out his proposal, thought it out logically, and had presented it to Maria.  Her reaction?  Reject it outright, saying he needed to concentrate on his own function.  There was no further discussion on the topic, even when Maria would continuously come to him to aid the new function with is expertise.

Yet, when Larry went to advocate for his area, showing his concentration on his function, he was criticized for not thinking broadly enough about the department as a whole.  Confused, but willing to take the criticism, he designed his goals towards broadening his understanding of the business and for expanding his mindset.

He brought this new mindset to Maria at their goal setting meeting, and when Maria asked him where he wanted to see himself in the future, he laid out the various possibilities, along with the education he could take to get there.  Maria’s reaction?  He needed to regain his focus, as he was too scattered.

Larry massaged his neck as he had the distinct feeling of whiplash.  He had been told, in the span of a year, when he wanted to expand his worldview that he needed to focus on his area.  Yet, when he did, he was told to think more broadly.  Then, when he did, he was criticized for thinking too broadly.

Still, he soldiered on.  Shortly thereafter, in a meeting with Maria, he was told that a contractor who had been working in the department had been brought on as a part-time employee.  He was told that, since this part-time person would have responsibilities in his area, he would be responsible for her work and development as it impacted his area.  Dutifully, he met with the contractor now employee and shared with her the goals of his area and asked her to begin thinking of areas where she could most likely be of benefit and provide him with her ideas.

Imagine, Larry’s surprise when he received a call from Maria indicating that the contractor now employee had told her that Larry was being a slave driver with her and that she had no time to breathe with his ‘demands’.  Larry explained what he had asked the now employee to do, but Maria’s mind was made up.  He had no right to assign her work, but only was a ‘colleague’ to her.  While Larry had always suspected this now employee had a little too close relationship with Maria, this now confirmed it.  In the span of three weeks, Maria had once again given contradictory explanations to Larry, and blamed Larry for it all.

At the mid-year review, Larry was not surprised at all when he was criticized by Maria for not taking a better interest in the employee and letting her know what he expected of her.  Maria’s purposeful amnesia had once again struck full force.  It didn’t matter to him anymore.  He was numb, resigned to the fact that Maria didn’t give a damn about him or his career development, so her present droning on about career development being the employee’s own responsibility was simply background noise.

Maria was right.  It is not a manager’s job to promote the employee.  It is the employee’s job to work to get themselves advanced in their career, whatever that means.  However, that does not mean that the manager has no role in it.  A good manager encourages.  A good manager provides positive and creative feedback.  A good manager lays out a path to the employee for how they can move forward.  In short, a good manager is supportive of the employee’s career aspirations and helps them see what needs to be done to advance.  The manager does not do it for the employee, and does not make any promises of reward, but does provide a roadmap to where the employee wants to go.

The Marias of this world don’t see this.  They believe that they have nothing to do with their employee’s growth.  There is no encouragement.  There is no support.  In Maria’s case, there was contradiction at every turn, so she not only lent zero support to Larry, but also blocked it with incomprehensible utterances.  Of course, she didn’t see it this way, and kept on saying it was all the employee’s responsibility.

We’ll explore that theme more in the next blog.  For Larry, he is exploring his career…elsewhere.  One thing will be sure.  Maria will probably pat herself on the back for giving such good ‘advice’ to him.