The Double Take Comment

Jon Stewart doing double take

The new Director’s staff filed into the conference room and dutifully sat down.  These meetings were common in the Director’s four month tenure at the company.  A bit too common, actually, and the staff was getting tired of meeting.

Among the attendees where Phil and Don.  Earlier in the Director’s brief tenure, they had both applied for the opening of Manager, reporting to the Director.  Both brought skills, talent, and tenure to the position.  The Director thought differently, though and decided not to choose either of them for the position.  Instead, he brought someone in from the outside, who did not know the company’s culture or ways of doing things.  Both Phil and Don were understandably disappointed, but soldiered on with their duties.

This particular meeting was one to discuss some of the statistics that the Director had unearthed in his research on the company.  One rather disturbing statistic was that the company did a miserable job of hiring from within.  Around 70% of the new managerial hires were hired from outside the company, the Director reported.

While that would have been ironic, what he said after that would cause whiplash.  “That is a terrible statistic, and this company needs to do better for hiring from within.  How is anyone supposed to feel engaged or that they are part of the company when there is no career path.”, the Director stated.

There needed to be no words to describe the look that Phil and Don gave to each other.  They continued to listen at the meeting, having learned a valuable lesson about the type of person this new Director was, one which they would remember for a very long time.

You’re new to a company.  You’re in a position of some prominence.  Your new folks don’t know you from a hole in the ground.  It’s probably a good idea to start earning a good reputation right away.  A reputation that says you are honest, straightforward, mean what you say, and have your employees’ best interest at heart.  You have nothing in your reputation’s bank account on which to draw, so you better make some deposits quickly.

Doing one thing while saying another probably isn’t the best way to go.  Unless, however, you don’t care about how you are judged.  If that is the case, be ready for a team that will be judging every word you say and action you take, and not giving you the benefit of the doubt at any time.

You also might see an increase in medical premiums…from all the double-takes they will be doing.

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Ain’t Nobody Sees the Sarah, No Way, No How!

Doorkeeper

The jokes were already floating around the office:

What’s the difference among Elvis, Bigfoot, and Sarah?  You occasionally get a sighting of Elvis and Bigfoot.

You know what is similar between Halley’s Comet returning to Earth and Sarah’s door being open?  They happen with the same frequency.

The jokes revealed a truth around the office.  Sarah, since ascending to the top spot in the department, seemed to have no time for the department that helped her get to that top spot.  Her door was always closed, she ‘worked from home’ as much as she could, and getting an appointment to see her had a difficulty rating above the Normandy invasion.   It was noticed she carved out time for things she deemed important, like a three-day retreat to a seminar in a resort town, in which she took her family.  Other things, like one on one meetings with her staff, or even regular staff meetings, were regularly cancelled and discarded, which indicated the things that Sarah seemed to deem unimportant in her new role.

Any communication came via e-mail, or updates from her administrative assistant.  If she came out of her office at all, she may give a small royal wave and a ‘hello’ to the folks on her staff as she rushed by.  Otherwise, people were escorted into her office, and seen leaving her office, and there were days where, if you didn’t see her walk into the office, you would never even know she was there.   It was ‘the bunker’, and she never seemed to leave it.  While most of the time her staff accepted it as a fact, there were other times when it was very frustrating.  They needed to speak with her on important matters to them.  However, since she determined that those things weren’t important, or that other things were more important than her staff’s needs, many of those things went unresolved.  However, if there was fallout in that matter because they could not get to her to make a decision, you can bet she would take them to task.  Even that, however, was usually by e-mail.

You’re busy.  Your staff gets it.  Your job is important.  There are a lot of things to do.  However, the thing is, you wanted this job, big manager.  You lobbied for it and you worked yourself hard to prove that you deserved it.   The thing also is, you also worked your staff very hard in order to get that job.  They were an integral part of you being in that chair.  Now that you have firmly planted your backside in it, don’t you think those same people whose hard work put you there should get part of your attention and appreciation?

When your door is always closed, or when a subordinate is told they can be ‘squeezed in’ to your schedule, or you cancel face to face meetings with the staff who support you, you are sending a very clear message about what you deem important and what…and who…you deem unimportant.  You can’t then expect to emerge from your cocoon for five minutes and expect your staff to think you are a wonderful leader.  Moreover, you shouldn’t be surprised if your staff has a much lower opinion of you.  You were the one who caused it, after all.

You are not a leader of a department;  you are a leader of people.  When you ignore that central fact, you lose your people.  It is not the paperwork that gets things done.  It is not the projects for your boss that keeps the business going.  It is not the calls with your fellow executives that make your department highly rated among your peers.  It is your people.  A good leader realizes that and cherishes them, no matter how high they climb on the corporate ladder.  A poor leader thinks only of themselves, neglecting the very same people who will make the leader look good.

Step out of your office. Open your door.  Pay attention to your people, and not only when something goes wrong.  It is a poor farmer who ignores their garden and is then surprised to see only weeds growing.

Good Advice…for Everyone Else

Hypocrite

There was a hard and fast rule in Sarah’s mind for any event that her group hosted.  If there were prizes raffled off, her staff could not enter the drawings.  It was a reasonable demand from her, the staff admitted.  What happened if a member of Sarah’s staff won one of the really good prizes?  Even if an auditing agency had presided over the drawing and signed affidvits testifying to the validity of the drawing, someone might believe that there was something crooked in the drawing and the department’s reputation could be damaged.  So, even though some of the prizes were quite good, the staff members never entered any contest in which they were involved.

Then the naming contest came about.  It seems that a room dedicated to the use of one of Sarah’s departments was built, alleviating the need for that department to beg, borrow, or steal a room from another group, or hope that a public room was available.  As the room was being finished, it was decided that a contest would be held to name the room.   Like the other contests, staff members of the company could enter their suggestion and an impartial panel would choose the best answer, giving the room a name.  The contest was announced, a special mailbox was set up to gather the entries, and staff was invited to send in their entries.

Looking through the entries, one name stood out.  Sarah had put in an entry.  A delicate inquiry was made to her regarding if this could be seen as suspect by the staff for the same reasons she gave for staff not being able to enter any of the department’s other contests.  Sarah answered that this case was totally different and there was no conflict of interest in her entering it.  If her suggestion happened to win, well, then so be it.  Nobody could think any worse of the department because of it.  Why?  Because, Sarah said so.

Guess who won?  Now, to be fair in reporting, the committee that chose the winner had only one departmental representative on it, so there wasn’t an undue influence by Sarah on the choice.  However, that wasn’t the point.  Sarah made sure that a plaque announcing the winner was placed in the room, so her name would now live in perpetuity, or at least as long as the room lasted.  It served another purpose, too.  The plaque served as a reminder that, if it benefited Sarah, the rules for everyone else didn’t have to apply to her.  They had seen it many times before,  and, thanks to the plaque, would be reminded of it many times in the future.

There is hardly a more important rubric when leading or managing people than to make sure that the rules you create for them apply to you as well.  When you begin to apply the rules only to some and exclude yourself, you set yourself apart.  When you serve up excuses why ‘this time’ is different so you can enjoy some benefit, you set yourself apart.  When the only time the rules are bent is when you want them to be, you set yourself apart.   By setting yourself apart, you negate any feeling that there is a team effort in the department.  The only team are the horses up front pulling your carriage while you wave to the crowds.

The team won’t consider you one of the horses, though they will think of as another part of the horse.  I guarantee you wouldn’t want that put on a plaque.

Thanks! Now Let Me Kick You in the Teeth!

Kick in the teeth

All in all, Val accepted the news rather well.  She had been told that her job function at a branch office was being transferred to someone at the central office, so her services to the company wasn’t going to be necessary anymore.  It was not going to be an immediate termination, and Val was even given some latitude as to when her last day would be.  She could leave earlier, or stay around a few weeks more to help train her replacement in the central office about what she did.  It wasn’t exactly a fair question, as Val was told the company would really appreciate it if she could stay a few weeks more to train her replacement.  While she had no reason to stay, she agreed, out of a sense of professionalism and duty.

The weeks dragged on and she had performed her duties well.  Her replacement had been brought up to speed, her file put in order, and she kept the lines of communication with her replacement in the central office.  The one thing that she didn’t know was when her last day was.  Nobody in her department had let her know, or even been in contact with her.  Val really needed to know so she could give prospective employers an idea of when she would be able to begin working for them.

Out of frustration, she contacted Human Resources, and asked for the Employee Relations Manager.   As the ER Manager was instrumental in her exiting out of the company, maybe she would know, or be able to provide some guidance.  After a few rings, the ER Manager got on the telephone to speak with Val.  Val quickly recounted what had happened and asked if the ER Manager had any insight into when Val would be released from the company.

The ER Manager responded thusly.  “You’re getting paid every two weeks.  What more do you want to know?”  Biting back a retort, Val thanked the ER Manager for her fantastic insight, and hung up the phone.  She was quite glad she was leaving a company that would employ someone who acted so unprofessionally.

So, to review, an employee who know she is to be laid off agrees to stick around to help the company adjust to her no longer being there.   The company then promptly ignores her requests to know when this period will end so she can get on with her life, as she will no longer have one with said company.  The employee calls Human Resources in hopes that they might be her advocate to find a small piece of information.  The person she reaches, who is the person who will be escorting her out the door, makes a smart remark instead of actually helping her out.

There is an old saying that you can take the measure of a man (or woman) by how they treat someone they don’t have any need to please.  It seems for this ER Manager, it was easier for her to prove she could be a smart ass rather than help an employee.

In short, for Val, no good deed went unpunished.

The Staff Shunning

Shunning

The staff of the department didn’t know which was more disconcerting:  the note from the CEO announcing that their department head had suddenly ‘resigned’, or that the person that was now sitting, temporarily, in that seat was someone not from the department and having no knowledge of the department’s functions.  That was exactly what happened, though.

The head of the department, Adam, was suddenly and mysteriously gone.  Usually in this situation, someone from the department was temporarily promoted into a position of responsibility.  The department would then be directed by someone who knew the projects, was known by the people, and could add some stability to a rather tumultuous time.

The CEO, for some unknown reason, had decided to appoint Doreen to the spot instead.  Many suspected that the reason this was done for expediency’s sake.  You see, Doreen was the kid in grade school who would raise her hand for any task that needed to be done, figuring that it would ingratiate herself to the teacher.  In Doreen’s case, it had carried over to the workplace, where if there was an important job to do, she would somehow shoehorn herself into the position.   This particular time was rather ironic, because Adam, when he was head of the department, had told Doreen several times to keep her nose out of his people’s business when Doreen had decided to inform some of those employees that they were doing things improperly.

In this time of transition, one thing that the employees of the department did agree upon was their dislike of Doreen.  Her previous behavior had won no converts in the department based on her previous comments, and her actions since taking over the top spot had alienated those who had been ambivalent about the woman.  They also had lowered their collective opinion about the CEO, who seemed to, again, have taken a very high-handed approach to a situation, ignoring the needs or wants of the staff.  His decisions during his tenure at the top spot seemed increasingly isolated from the needs and wants of the staff, only giving lip service to those who made his position possible and needed.

This was rather evident during the first ‘all hands’ meeting the department held in the wake of Adam’s departure.  Though everyone was informed it was taking place, and the message was that everyone should attend, only about 1/3 of the department did, leaving a lot of obviously empty chairs.  If that message wasn’t enough, what happened next sent a very clear message on the staff’s dislike and distrust of their management.  The CEO had agreed to attend the meeting to give support to Doreen in her new leadership role.  When he came up to speak with the staff, almost every head of every staff member who attended looked down at their smartphone, scanning mail, messages, and other items.  In other words, the staff was shunning both Doreen and the CEO.  They had enough of this behavior and indicated by their actions that they had no respect for either of them.  Whether this was noticed or absorbed by either Doreen or the CEO was not immediately evident, as both had long ago grown oblivious to the obvious signs that there was very little respect for either of them.

At the levels of the CEO and Doreen, the tactical, everyday items don’t, or shouldn’t, come into play as much.  It is the direction of the department, business unit, or company itself that should concern them.  In order to do this, they need to be intimately aware of the smallest change in the wind in order to steer their ship through ever changing currents.  If all you do is admire yourself in a mirror at how good you look in the captain’s uniform, you aren’t doing you job very well.  If 2/3 of your people don’t show up to a meeting, it should tell you something about how important they think your meetings are.  If they won’t even stop their electronics to hear from the CEO, what do you think their opinion of the CEO is?

You captain a successful ship, run a successful company, or head a successful department by being keenly aware of the needs of your crew or your people.  Respond to those needs, and you will have a devoted crew who will do anything to continue the company’s success.  Ignore their needs, and you can run into a huge amount of trouble very quickly.  Your company, your department is successful because of your people, not because of you.  When you forget that, you lose your most valuable asset.

Ignore your people at your own risk, for they may shun you right back.

The Lesson Escapes Me

hole in wall

The staff filed into the conference room, books under their arms, ready to spend the next three hours learning how to be better employees.  Sarah had informed them a little over a month before that they needed to read this book and come prepared to fully participate in the discussion and lesson that would be taught.  No one was really surprised that the book dealt with how to stop all the whining and complaining that is in a typical office, and they had dutifully read the book and sat down in their seats.

To Sarah’s credit, she was also in the room, ready to join them for this three hour session.  That was until, a short time into the session, Maxine came up to her and informed her of an ‘urgent’ issue that required both her and Maxine’s immediate attention.  They both left the meeting, never returning.  Over the next few days, staff looked for announcements of some momentous company happening that would have required Sarah’s attention that day. None had happened..  There was no explanation from Sarah and no apologies for leaving a meeting she had deemed so important for staff to attend.  There was no appreciation for the staff taking time to read or discuss the book, and there was no understanding that the staff might be a bit put off by her actions, justified or not.  Sadly, it was not the first time that Sarah had done this type of disappearing act, either.

One of the items that a staff is always impressed with is when their manager shows there are no barriers between them and their staff.  A manager who jumps in and goes through the same situation or treatment as their staff is one who begins to gain the respect of the staff.  They don’t find an escape hatch, leaving staff to go through something alone.  This is not to say that a manager should always do the staff’s work.  That is not managing.  However, every once in a while, when needed, it is a wonderful show of solidarity and a fantastic symbol to the staff.

By leaving during the session, never to come back, Sarah (and Maxine) told the staff that it is fine for them to not have to go through this training, but everyone else did.  By not mentioning it or apologizing for having to leave, they built the barrier between ‘management’ and ‘staff’ that much higher, separating themselves from those they manage.  The message they sent was loud and clear, and it was one of divisiveness.  The staff had problems.  Sarah?  She didn’t need to stay.  She had no problems.  It was everyone else that needed ‘fixing’.

That escape hatch was also one from reality.

Leading Into Oblivion

Oblivious

Hazel sighed.  While she didn’t expect much else from Sarah, she still had to marvel at how oblivious she was to everyone else, no matter how much she claimed she ‘cared’ for her department.   The latest meeting with Sarah, which was the reason for the elongated sigh, was the perfect example of this.

Sarah had called this meeting with Hazel to tell her about a ‘great’ idea that she had one day while out at lunch.  Now, to be honest, the idea wasn’t bad.  It would not go down in the annals of time as the greatest idea on the face of the earth, but it wasn’t bad.  Now, since it was Sarah’s idea, it was going to be implemented, for though Sarah contended it was ‘safe to say’ a contrasting opinion, Hazel (and everyone else) knew it wasn’t.  So, she just smiled and said yes, it was a good idea.

The ‘great’ idea would be implemented.  That didn’t bother Hazel.  She was used to implementing Sarah’s ideas, good, bad, and otherwise.  What caused the sigh for Hazel was the time frame Sarah insisted be followed for the implementation of this idea.  It had to be implemented by next month.  Seeing that it was already the third week of the current month, this left little if no time for Hazel. She knew, from previous implementations, that she would have to consult with the lawyers, with regulatory, and with vendors, to get this implemented.  If she and her team had nothing else on their plates, this might be a reasonable timeline.  However, due to Sarah’s past ‘great’ ideas, they were slammed with work in the current month and the next month, leaving no time for this to happen.  This was the cause of the sigh.

At no time during the conversation, which was rather one-sided on Sarah’s part, did she ask Hazel what kind of work she had in the next month.  Not one inquiry was made as to whether her team would be able to add this to their current workload.  There was not concern one for the welfare of the team or whether a team already overloaded with work could handle one more thing.  No, as usual, Sarah showed a callous indifference to anyone else’s time or concerns.  It will simply be done or there would be consequences.   Hazel entered her office and began to see how much more overtime she would need to put in to make this latest brainstorm happen.

Where is your perspective as a manager?  Is it solely focused on you, your career, and what others can do for you?  Or, do you look at your team, what challenges they are facing, what their workload is at any given time, and then look at what you can do to make it easier for them?  Does your viewpoint stop at the tip of your nose and go no further?

Your employees are your greatest resource, and the source of your success.  If that is the case, shouldn’t you do everything to help them be their best?  Doesn’t that deserve at least one question as to if they can implement something for you?

If you treat your employees simply as tools to get a job done, those are the results you will get.  Emotionless, utilitarian, and inanimate.  A good manager knows to treat their people as people to get amazing results.  One thing is for sure…there will be a lot less sighing.