Not Worth the Paper…


A job description recently went up for a high level position at a company.  It was the the leader of the publishing arm of the company.  Since the company had many high profile publications, and were facing fierce competition, they wanted to make sure they hired the right person.  With the help of HR, they carefully crafted a job description that would encompass all the aspects of the position and the challenges that they would face going forward.

Who did they want for this position?  Let’s look at the requirements for the candidate:

  • An advanced degree – PhD preferred
  • An advanced degree in a field that many of the customers of the publication had, but had nothing at all to do with publishing

Nobody seemed to tell these people that people usually get PhDs so they can be published, not publish someone else’s content.  They also didn’t tell them that it might be helpful to have an advanced degree in, oh I don’t know, a publishing related field.

This reminded me of a few times in my career where I was told I could not move forward because I didn’t have a certain certification.  Now, this certification wasn’t mandatory for any position I was applying for.  It wouldn’t replace the experience, the knowledge of the organization, or the subject matter knowledge that I had accumulated.  Would it have helped?  Yes.  Was it a deal breaker in terms of being able to do the job?  No.

The above two examples, the degree and the certification are nothing more than vanity plates for the department or the organization.  They are to be used for bragging rights, not for job performance.  They will not help move business forward, get things done, or improve the conditions of anyone.  Sadly, the opposite at times happens.  The person meets all the vanity qualifications and is horrible at their job.  The company or department has focused so hard on getting someone who fills out the vanity that they shortchange whether the person is a good manager, knowledgeable in the field, or has the qualifications that really matter.  Everyone suffers then.

Let’s start focusing on what truly matters for an organization:

  • Has the knowledge, skills, and background to do the job required
  • Has an impressive track record of people management and leadership, showing how they raised the standard for people-focused leadership
  • Can make a positive impact on the company and its people

If they happen to have an impressive piece of paper as well, so much the better.  However, let’s put the truly important things first instead of the vanity plates.

Cast Adrift

Penguins Cast Adrift

It happened as it usually happens at the company.  The employee is called into his or her manager’s office and is told that they are no longer employees of the company.  The security guard is summoned, the employee’s keys, purse, or such is brought to them, and they are escorted out of the building.

Yet, this isn’t an article about that process.

A note is sent out to the staff informing them that the employee isn’t working there anymore.  There was no time for goodbyes, no time for a hug, and there is no invitation by the manager or anyone in leadership to come discuss how this firing might affect them.  And affect them it does.  Each time this ‘rip off the bandage’ approach is taken, it makes the employees who are left behind a little more nervous about their jobs, a little more wary to say anything, and never knowing if their turn will be next.  Seeing that the company really doesn’t have any secret information that could be accessed by the employee to give to competitors, the employees wonder why it has to be that way.  They are never given an answer.

Yet, this isn’t an article about why the process has to be that way.

The manager, of course, felt they had good reason to let go of the employee.  Maybe the employee was under performing.  Maybe they were put into a job that they simply couldn’t handle.  Maybe their conduct was less than professional.  At the same time, maybe it wasn’t any of these cases, but just a case where the employee was thrown into the job without proper training and was trying their best.  Maybe the employee was staying late or coming in early, or on weekends, as this particular employee was, in order to get the work done.  Maybe the employee deserved firing, or maybe they were running full out to try to be successful in a job where they could not if they stayed on the job 24 hours a day.

Yet, this isn’t an article about that type of unfairness.  Well, not really.

What this article is about is what did the manager do to help make this employee successful.

How many times have you heard the company you work in say that people are their most important asset?  How many times have you seen a manager of the company, their representative, back up that motto with any action?  If you have, and have seen it many times, make sure you go into your manager’s office and give them a very big ‘thank you’, as you definitely have a good manager.

In the case of the terminated employee, that motto wasn’t put into action.  There was no tangible action to help the employee succeed, either by truly looking at the workload and if it was feasible to do, whether the employee had the proper tools or training, whether what they expected the job to be really was what the job turned out to be, or whether it could be done by anyone, anytime.  No, the manager in question simply ignored the words and pleas from the employees regarding the workload, ignored the employee coming in on weekends to keep up with the work, and the evidence that the amount of work was simply overwhelming.  The employee could not do the job and that was that.

‘Your employees are your most important asset’…until you need to put some effort into them, and then it is too much of a burden, so you cast them adrift.  If this is the attitude that you take as a manager, or that the company encourages, don’t expect anyone to step up and give their all.  ‘All’ is not rewarded.  Trying your best is not rewarded.   They will give you the same amount of effort that you have given to them, nothing more, nothing less.

It’s time to change the company motto…Sink or Swim.

The Very Careful Responses

dangeraheadsignThe staff had to give credit to Sarah.  At least she was trying.  Well, at least it seemed like she was trying.  This is what they thought, among other things, as they sat in one of the company’s larger conference rooms awaiting their ‘action day’ on their employee engagement survey responses.  The scores had not been wonderful, and getting to the answers was made more difficult by the fact that a large percentage of the staff felt it wasn’t safe to speak up on issues, especially if they carried a negative bias towards Sarah.  She was not known as someone who was welcoming to criticism and eventually would dole out retribution to whomever made the comment.  The department was littered with those who had tried it in one way or the other.  It seemed only those who complimented and flattered Sarah went anywhere in the department, and those people had a very different name among the staff.

Sarah either didn’t recognize this correlation or didn’t want to see it; the staff didn’t know which.  What they did know was that they would continue to spend their time in these sessions producing little or nothing because the truth was just too dangerous to speak.

The facilitator today was someone from the company which had administered the survey.  He had been at the company before, and in front of Sarah’s department before, so had some understanding of the issues.  He began without much introduction, saying that they had a lot to do and little time to do it in.

The session ran in a pretty typical fashion to the previous attempts.  The staff was given self-adhesive notes in order to write things that were good about the department.  If the next step followed suit, they would go up to a piece of paper in front of the room and attach these notes onto the sheet in some fashion.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen just that way.

When the staff was finished writing their notes, the facilitator called upon one of the members of the staff, Mitch, to bring his responses up.  Before putting them up on the paper, however, Mitch was asked to tell them out loud to the group.   Mitch, glad he didn’t write anything particularly offensive, did so, while the rest of the staff furiously edited their notes for when it was their turn.

The next part of the exercise the staff knew well.  As they had written down what was good with the department, now they would write down what was wrong with the department.  Knowing the facilitator would ask them to come up and speak their criticisms, the each staff member was more than a little nervous.  Fortunately, the facilitator gave them a chance to save both themselves and their jobs.  He asked them to write down something that could be improved with their department or with the company.  To a person, everyone jumped on that opportunity and, one by one, they brought up their papers describing what was wrong with the company, not the department.

This was not lost on Sarah, who commented that no one really mentioned anything wrong with the department, but with the company.  She wondered aloud if this was because people didn’t want to speak of the issues with the department or that the department was running well.  In a few minutes, she went on to the next topic of discussion, and didn’t give another mention of the odd case of why nobody would speak badly of the department.

Like her predecessor, Sarah didn’t, or wouldn’t, recognize a fundamental truth.  People had indicated, now for a second year in a row, that they were afraid to speak up in the department.  If your staff has indicated in an anonymous survey that they are afraid to speak up in the department, why would you have a session where they are mandated to…speak up in front of the department about the problems of the department?   For many who knew Sarah, they believed this was a calculated move by her to indicate to her leadership peers that she had done her due diligence, but her staff was unwilling to say anything, or that they had indicated nothing at all was wrong with the department.  That box could be checked off, and Sarah could remain secure in the delusion of her own leadership greatness.

Leaders need courage.  They need courage beyond just having to make ‘the tough decisions’, but also to accept criticism about their leadership style.  They also need courage to be able to change that style for the benefit of their staff.  When a leader arranges a situation to purposely avoid that criticism, it shows that they know things are wrong, but either refuse to or are unwilling to change.  It is a very selfish leadership that will be a leader in name and salary only, and not as a person with followers who truly believe in their leadership.  The only leadership they exhibit is of their own ego.

When you have to rig the contest in order to assure the outcome you want, you are not a leader.  You are little more than a carny game operator who makes sure that nobody can win at your games of chance.  In that situation, the real losers are all those who are subjected to your so-called leadership.

Going Ood


If you are a fan of the British science fiction television series Dr. Who, you might know the Ood.  Basically a peaceful race, the Ood, which have human bodies and an octopus-like face, have been forced into servitude by a greedy Earth corporation.   Part of this servitude is, not to be too graphic, a replacement of part of their brain with a sphere that allows them to speak.

In one episode, the normally docile Ood begin exhibiting very strong emotions.  Some are angry to the point of being rabid.  Others are filled with vengeance.  The explanation is as bizarre as it complicated, but The Doctor explains it best.  The Ood are beginning to express repressed feelings and they are coming out in many different ways.

The Doctor figures this out because he has observed Ood Sigma, the personal servant Ood of the head of the corporation which is harvesting and enslaving the Ood.  Ood Sigma didn’t exhibit any of the violent emotions that the other Ood were experiencing.  He seemed as docile and devoted as ever to the head of the corporation.  It is only late in the episode that we find that assumption to be wrong.  Ood Sigma has been experiencing emotions, but for him, it came out as cold revenge.  No violent outbursts for him.  No.  Instead, he sought revenge, thinking it out coolly and was willing to play the long game to get to his goal.  The revenge, shall we say, was both ironic and fitting.  If you have never seen the episode, I commend you to watch it.  I won’t say any more here, as it would contain, as another Dr. Who character would say, ‘spoilers’.

So what does this have to do with a management blog?  There are great parallels.  If you are not a good manager, you have probably seen, and ignored many of the Ood emotions in your group.  Anger, despair, vengeance, and even hopelessness.  What about the Ood Sigmas in your group?  The ones who are plotting to do some kind of revenge for the way they and their co-workers have been treated?  Is there some industrial espionage planned?  Some big blaze of glory exit?  Letters being written?  Data being damaged?  This blog is in no way advocating or suggesting any of those acts.  It is simply stating that, due to a manager’s poor management, irreparable harm may happen to the company or the manager’s department.  And no one will ever see it coming.  Remember, Edward Snowden was simply a contractor up until one fateful day.

The same managers who either don’t believe their poor behavior has no victims, or simply refuse to acknowledge the damage they have done can cause a wide spread of illness, emotion, and pain.  To those managers, I offer some simple advice: watch out for the Ood Sigmas in your staff.  Better yet, become a good manager and defuse the situation altogether.

All Bad Things Must Come to an End

I read a very interesting article today from the Careerism website.  You can find it here.  It details the feelings of more than a few HR professionals, some of them rather senior in the companies in which they work, that they will be leaving to find new jobs, voluntarily.  To a person, the reason they gave was, “…living with the disconnect between what the company claims are its core values, and how it is handling staff relations during this recession.”  A few examples stated in the article included, “… a service agent who was terminated after revealing she had cancer, to an entire team that was being laid off so that the division director could meet his cost-cutting targets for his performance bonus.”  The article goes on to say that the excuse of, “Be happy you have a job” is being worn rather thin and that the level of discontent with many organizations is so deep and so pervasive that many executives can’t even fathom the magnitude.

What’s the result of this?  As the article states, there will be tsunami of job hunting coming and that the most active of these job hoppers will be HR personnel themselves.  The worst of the companies can find themselves with critical bench strength gone because people will have up and left without a single regret.  Don’t think it can happen?  I urge you to read the Wall Street Journal.  There have been multiple articles about the large increase in job searching from employed persons looking to get out of a situation where a company has so demoralized the ranks as to leave employees no other choice.

As readers of this blog know well, this is a drum I have been pounding for the 2 plus years I have been writing, and been honored by your reading.  Despite the hyperbole that the many in the news have given to the recent and lasting economic crisis, I believe that the term The Great Recession is appropriate.  It was a life changing event for all generations.  Boomers now have to stay in their jobs longer to recover their retirement savings, leaving less room for Generation X to ascend the ladder.  The Millenials were the hardest hit, being laid off from lower level jobs and finding it well nigh impossible to find another job at a decent salary and begin lives on their own.

Employers had a massive upper hand during the Great Recession and its aftermath.  Having that upper hand, they had two ways they could have acted.  Regretfully lay off people, but let those who were still employed that they were valuable, that times were tough, and that they would all work together to survive this recession.  Or, they could adopt an attitude of dictator, knowing they could do whatever they wanted to their employees because there was no other place to go.  There were mouths to feed and mortgages to pay, so people would simply have to endure anything that some managers would dish out, no matter how unprofessional or unfair it was.  Like a dictator, they didn’t care for anyone but themselves and abused the power they had been handed.

The ones who adopted the stance of dictator, who became drunk with the power of the Great Recession, are the ones who will be in for rude awakenings as the economy improves.  They are the ones who will see the out flux detailed in that article.  They are the ones who have so much discontent in their ranks, but are incredibly blind to it.

Those who did what they could to show their people how valued they were, how much their employee’s exhaustive work schedule was appreciated, and pitched in as one of the oarsmen instead of the galley master will be the ones who will see their efforts rewarded with employees who, though they could now leave, will stay and work even harder for that manager.  Why?  Gratitude for being treated fairly, evenly, and humanely during a time when others were managing by the lash.

To corrupt an old aphorism, all bad things must come to an end.  As the recession eases and more jobs are created, the aftermath of how people were managed during that time will become apparent.  Will yours be a department who have bonded through adversity and now are ready to show their gratitude?  Or, will the doors barely be able to accommodate all the exiting employees?

The Blind Spot: A Sarah Story

Sarah sat with her team at their monthly meeting.  It was pretty routine.  Each group would provide their important updates, and aside from the fact that some of her managers considered highly routine things important, the meeting was going along smoothly.   When it was the head of the training area’s turn, she had mentioned that a particular class she was going to teach might have to be postponed because of a scheduling conflict.  Sarah immediately responded that whatever the head of training needed to do, but that Arlene could also teach the class.  Who’s Arlene?  She is a temporary worker who is doing some fill in teaching because the department is short staffed.

It’s not that the training department doesn’t have staff.  They do.  There is the head of the training department, but there also is Charlie, who is a full time employee within the department, having a longer tenure there than even the training manager.  You may recall Charlie and Sarah from some previous blogs, one of which you can read right here.

Charlie was at this staff meeting, sitting in plain view of Sarah.  So, when Sarah made the comment about a substitute instructor teaching the class, it was what Sarah didn’t say that struck Charlie.  Sarah pointedly made sure to say that Arlene could teach the class, deliberately excluding Charlie.

This wasn’t a big surprise to Charlie.  If you read the blog in the above link, and the link in that blog as well, you would see that 1.  Charlie and Sarah have had a rocky relationship and 2. Once Sarah has made up her mind about something or someone, neither heaven or earth will be able to change it.  It had been years since Sarah said to Charlie, “I don’t think you can manage anything”, and despite the fact that he not only taught management classes to good reviews, and had developed an entire management series that won praises from Sarah, Sarah would not change her opinion, as it might mean that she was wrong in the first place.  That would never do.  So, Sarah would rather recommend a temp who had no management experience whatsoever over her own team member who had managed staff, taught management classes, and been a liaison to management for many years before joining Sarah’s team.

From managers to teachers to spouses, the advice from experts remains the same.  Saying you are wrong does not pose a sign of weakness, it is a show of strength.  From managers to teachers to spouses, the advice from experts remains the same.  You must constantly reevaluate your position, your thoughts, your views, as things change so rapidly in the world and with people that opinions become outdated quickly.    Those who do not keep up are in danger of being left behind.

How big is your blind spot?  How calcified are your opinions?  How rooted are you in your own ego that you refuse to see the truth around you and instead cling to outdated notions and medieval opinions?

In this case, maybe Sarah needed to take those management courses being taught by her department head…or Arlene.  Maybe, just maybe, she would learn something.

The Definition of Insanity

You may have heard the old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way.  When it comes to tracking down why your staff is engaged, craziness seems to be the rule for some.

In the previous blog, I discussed what to do in order to find out the issues that are driving low engagement scores on an employee opinion survey.  The organization that received the low scores tried another method…doing the same thing they have done for the past five years.

This is not to say that the leaders were not concerned over the scores.  They were, and, to an extent, they wanted to find out why the staff was so unhappy.  What did they do?  They spoke to the department managers about why things were so bad.  They brought the managers in one by one, in secret meetings, to try to understand what were the issues.  In fairness, some good intelligence came from this, but on the whole, the leadership overlooked one crucial point…

It was the management that was driving the low engagement scores.  Not all the managers, but enough of them were managing their groups so badly that they were causing the scores to plummet.  Asking them to point out their faults is akin to asking a shark why fish are scared of it.

The department management and leadership also made the decision to keep these meetings secret from their teams.  Nobody was supposed to know this was going on.  Until somebody blabbed, and then the word spread like wildfire.  To sum up…

A department that didn’t trust its leadership because leadership never communicated with them found out that leadership wasn’t communicating with them

A department that felt that leadership didn’t care about their opinions found out that its leadership didn’t trust them enough to get their opinions

A department that felt that leadership didn’t respect them found out that leadership didn’t respect them enough to get their opinions

An old joke goes:  A man walks into the doctor’s office and says, “Doc, it hurts when I do this.  What should I do?”  The doctor replies, “Don’t do that!”

A good manager looks at the behaviors that he or she has done in the past that have worked to disengage their workforce and stops those behaviors.

A great manager looks at the behaviors that he or she has done in the past that have disengaged their workers and creates solutions to change those behaviors to ones that engage their workforce.

A poor manager keeps repeating the same actions because they are either too unwilling to change their behaviors or refuses to believe that their behaviors could have anything to do with disengaging their workers.

Want to stop the insanity?  Do something new. Do something different.  Stop believing the same old thing will bring new results.

You’ll soon find the sanity returning.