New Rodeo, Same Clowns

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You had to hand it to the Executive Council of the company.  They found new ways to try to get the pulse of the company.  In anticipation of the latest all hands meeting, they had harnessed the power of social media to get the opinions of the employees.  A site had been set up where employees could write their questions of the Executive Council.  Employees could also vote on those questions, improving their ranking.

This wasn’t just a fanciful test of technology.  For the past three years, the Executive Council had been the recipient of increasingly poor rankings of trust and leadership, as expressed by the employees.  As they were in the midst of the latest survey, and that Board of Directors would be watching the scores, it was important for them to be seen as wanting to get the voice of the employee.

The employees did not disappoint.  The questions were sharp, to the point, and pulled no punches.  Those questions expressed frustration, anger, and distrust.  If those questions were answered in a forthright way that equally pulled no punches, it would reflect a new era in relations between those who were governing and those who were governed.

Based on the title of this article, I think you can guess what happened.

The all hands meeting came around, and, as promised, the top vote getting questions were selected, asked, and then answered.  The answers were safe.  The answers were careful.  They answers were the same things that were heard every single time the questions were asked.  No bold promises were made.  No trails were blazed.  No responsibility taken by any of the executives…only responsibilities assigned by the executives, saying the employees had to find their own answers.  For every question asked, a buck was passed.  It would never be the executive’s fault that promotions were not given, or bonuses lacked, or that there was unfair treatment.  What did the employees hear?  “Don’t bother us, peons, we have governing to do”.

The employees left the meeting with ironic smiles on their faces.  Once again they had been duped.  They had been asked for their opinions, with the implicit promise that these questions, no matter how painful, would be answered.  They were answered…with the same trite phrases that had been used by the executives of the company since time immemorial.

One of the greatest traits that an executive can have is that of courage.  Many will claim they do have it, usually in response to the latest round of layoffs or cuts they have authorized.   That, I suggest, is not courage.

Courage is admitting that you may be wrong in your approach.  Courage is having a willingness to listen and change.  Courage is addressing questions with the same frankness as they have been asked. Courage is making yourself vulnerable, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and be willing to try the new and innovative, even if it means you won’t be as comfortable or secure as it once was.

Courage is not providing the same, trite answers to questions, but realizing there is something deeper in those questions.  It is finding out why those questions were asked in the first place and taking bold, innovative steps to address them.

Come to think of it, that is also called Leadership.

The Reorganization, Part 1

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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.

The Conversation, Part 2

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In my previous blog, I recounted a routine one on one staff meeting between Henry and his manager, Violet.  In one part of that meeting, Violet updated Henry on the status of his tuition reimbursement request.  The request had to be approved by the department head, Lillian, who had not liked Henry for personal reasons for several years.  Lillian, true to form, asked Violet some questions that were designed to preclude Henry from using this benefit.

The conversation between Henry and Violet was unfortunate already, but was not finished, either in content or in being unfortunate.

For some time, there had been an opening under Violet, caused by the departure of one of the department’s employee’s.  Violet had worked to upgrade the position into something more than it was, in hopes of getting more help for herself and Henry, who were carrying a significant burden.  Violet, to her credit, was not interested in handing all the work to Henry, but was sharing it equally between the two of them.

During this conversation, Violet informed Henry that the position now had taken a different spin, and she explained what the position would now encompass.  Henry’s paid greater attention, as the position Violet was describing sounded very much like a position he had pitched for himself approximately a year ago.  Henry had pitched this because it would have expanded his responsibilities, giving him greater knowledge and allowing him to explore new areas of his profession. When he had come to Violet about this idea, she encouraged him to create a job description for it, which she would take to Lillian.  Henry did and, after some modification, Violet took it to Lillian.  The job description, and the revised position, were never to be heard from again.

Once Violet had finished, Henry asked two questions of her.  First, would his position description change due to the other person having this type of description.  Second, could he apply for this position.

Violet paused, looking for the right words.  While she had always been forthright with Henry, she wanted to make sure it was said in the most professional and gentle of manners.  When she did speak, she explained to Henry that Lillian had a certain view of Henry’s capabilities and where he should be in the organization.  There was no changing her mind on this, even though Henry had proven many times over to be more than what his position described.  Because of this, it would be futile of him to bid for this position, as Lillian would never approve him for it.

It was time for Henry to pause.  When he spoke again, he thanked Violet for her honesty and feedback.  On the exterior, they continued with their meeting.  Inside, Henry knew he would miss Violet terribly, but he had to move on.  He had no chance of advancing in the organization as long as Lillian had any say in his future.

We, as human beings, need change.  Some of us welcome it more frequently than others, some crave it more often, but we all need some form of change in our lives.  Whether it is a redecorating of our house or something new at work, we need it in order to keep fresh.  Sound businesses understand this, but also see that, in keeping up fresh, it also benefits the organization.  We learn new skills, new ideas, and new ways of viewing the word around us.  In most businesses, managers look for their people to learn something new every year, as it makes the employees more valuable to the company.

So, when the employee comes to the manager wanting to change, wanting to progress, it should be considered a good thing.  To want the employee to stay the same, do the same duties, because it fits the manager’s needs or because the manager has closed his or her mind to the possibilities of his or her employee, says a lot about the manager.  This is a manager who is looking solely at his or her need, his or her mindset, and his or her prejudices.  Too bad for the employee, I really don’t care about them, as long as I don’t have to change my mind or have any to consider anything new.  When a leader, who should know better, begins to actively block someone from becoming more than they are, it is time for both the leader to have some serious reflection and for the company to begin to think about whether they need that leader.

Blood in the veins doesn’t help the body if it doesn’t move, change, and circulate.  The same can be said about companies, and the departments within those companies.  The lifeblood of the company, its employees, need to move, circulate, and change.  To continue the medical analogy, if a blockage is discovered, it is removed.  Shouldn’t it be the same for blockages in the company’s lifeblood?

Same Old Pig, New Shade of Lipstick

The department management were so excited as they unveiled their latest project.  The staff had known about this project for a while, as they were asked for the input into some small portions of it, but this was the be the grand unveiling of all the hard work that the management had put into this.  Without further ado, the presentation started, and the new logo for the department rebranding was unveiled. Wasn’t it exciting?

If you ask the staff, not really.  The impetus for this rebranding was to change the image of the department in the company’s eyes.  The department wanted to look innovative, consultative, and a whole lot of other ‘-ives’.  So, old department titles were going away, changed to hipper, newer titles.  A new logo was commissioned for the department, which would be used on every piece of correspondence, marketing, and presentation they could think of.  Each group within the department would have its own special icon, and the department itself would have a new tagline.  So why wasn’t the staff excited?

For the answer to that, let’s look at the Cadillac Cimarron.  In the early 1980s, GM was finally waking up to the fact that it needed to have more fuel-efficient vehicles.  That included its luxury Cadillac line, which was known for its big heavy cars that measured gallons per mile, not miles per gallon.  It was a way to show the world that GM was listening to the public.

Instead of sending their design teams to work and creating a truly unique compact luxury car, Cadillac decided to go for a less expensive route.  they would use an existing platform, called the J platform, to build the Cimarron.  The J platform currently held the Chevrolet Citation, an entry-level car in the much less expensive Chevrolet brand.  You bought a Citation not for the looks, which were unremarkable, but because it was good on gas and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

So, when all was said and done, and the Cadillac Cimarron unveiled, it looked like…a Chevrolet Citation.  Oh it had a few fancy pieces of trim on it and the Cadillac nameplate, but it looked like a Chevrolet Citation.  When it didn’t sell, they executives couldn’t understand why.  They couldn’t see that if people wanted to buy a Chevrolet Citation, they would buy a Chevrolet Citation, and not the more expensive Cimarron.  Cadillac owners, who were used to luxury, didn’t want to buy a car that looked like a Chevrolet Citation.

That is what the staff of the department saw that the management didn’t see.  Namely, that they were putting all this effort to rebrand the department, but underneath it was still a Chevrolet Citation.  They had done nothing to improve conditions within the department.  They had done nothing to solve the problems that staff had complained about.  They hadn’t even bothered to address the grievances of staff, as evidenced in the employee opinion survey, for the last three years.  No, all the department management wanted to do was slap on a Cadillac nameplate and call themselves brand new.

Staff knew that the new department still wouldn’t do anything about their career development, inequalities in how people were treated, engaging staff in new and interesting work, or acting as if management gave a damn about them.  None of that would change with the rebranding, so why should they care?  Yet management gave the marching orders that all staff needed to be excited and spread the word about this rebranding, as this was a new beginning for the department.  Paste on the fake smiles, boys and girls, and go spread the good news.

A new coat of paint, a new nameplate, or a new brand image mean nothing if there isn’t substantive work behind the scenes.  The best way to show off your new and improved appearance is to have an engaged workforce that will spread the good news organically about the department and its managers.  They will be your best ambassadors, and they will tell the company how great the department is, because they truly feel that way.  A good manager knows that if the house is falling apart, you fix the foundation, not slap a fresh coat of paint on it and say it is fixed.  They work to get everyone on board because everyone wants to be on board, not because you are told to get on board.

Without true engagement brought about by true reform, you are simply putting a new shade of lipstick on the pig.  All that does is make the pig mad and results in a waste of good lipstick.

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 Manager Worldview

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“I want you to grow and develop yourself, to get yourself the job you want, even if it isn’t with this company.”  This was the perception of a high level leaders of a company who took it upon herself to teach two classes in good resume and interviewing tactics based on the book she had written about the practice.  Staff in the company responded well to this, appreciating that the company was interested in not just what they give to the the company, but how the staff could grow in their careers.

Time went on and the leader could no longer teach the class.  One of her staff thought it was a good idea still and has talked with his supervisor about taking over and revamping the class.  The supervisor thought it was a good idea and brought it to her manager.  That is where the idea ended.  The manager declared that it was not in the company’s interest to spend its money to teach people how to leave the company.  The classes were removed from the catalog, and the staff would no longer have the opportunity to practice their skills in getting a new job, whether it be inside the company or outside the company.

I found this to be a very sad development when I heard about it.  It seemed rather shortsighted.  The manager had assumed that the people taking the course would immediately beat a path out of the company to find their own version of the promised land.  Following that train of reasoning, if she was so worried about that possibility, what does it say about her view of the company and the company in general?

A manager can have three different types of worldviews.  They can have the company worldview, where they see everything out of the prism of what is good for the company, no matter if it hurts the employees or not.  They can have a personal worldview, where they see everything out of the prism of what is good for them, and not care if it is good for the company or the employees.  Or, they can have a people worldview, where they see everything out of the prism of what is good for my people (the ones they supervise) or the people of the company in general.  Most, in my experience, have a combination of the three.  The ones who are rated good managers by their employees have a healthy dose of the people worldview in that combination.

The people view managers have a longer view.  They see that things like a resume writing class may cause some to charge for the door.  They also see that the same class may give a promising employee the skills to bid for a new job, possibly one that would promote them in the company.   You’ve retained someone who hopefully now sees that the company is investing in them, so they will do more to invest in the company.  Yes, it could be that the newly promoted employee may be the type of manager we’ve written about for 100 entries or so, but it is the chance you take.  The people view manager is willing to take that chance, knowing that it can provide an avenue for some really good leaders of the next generation to be born.

The corporate worldview managers are well too cautious for that.  Their is a very short term view.  The next report, the next quarter, the next performance review.  What if someone leaves the company because of the resume class?  They want people at their desks, laboring away for the good of the company, not giving a thought to their own well-being.  Yes, they can get promoted, but they have to do it on their own time, not the company’s!  You want to learn how to write that resume?  Fine, you take a class, read a book, or find some training on it on your own time.  You can ignore the spouse, the kids, the dog, or the responsibilities for a while.  You can’t ignore that the company needs you slaving away, not being a dreamer.

In the end, it wasn’t really about a resume class.  It was about two different styles of thinking.  The leaders who offered the class originally saw that it was her responsibility to grow the people of the company, making them better people, and making it a better company.  The manager who refused to continue the classes saw it was her responsibility to stop anyone from wasting the company’s money for a chance to possibly leave the company.  I wonder if she even thought that those employees with managers like her would probably not allow their people to take the resume class anyway, and for the very same reasons.

It comes down to a very simple equation.  The people worldview managers don’t have to worry as much about their people leaving, because they don’t want to.  The personal or corporate worldview managers do have to worry about their people leaving, and one company sponsored class won’t make a big difference for someone heading out the door.

The Loud Silence

Over the past few months I have written about a department who scored very poorly on the Employee Engagement Survey, and what the department’s management had done, or not done about it.  You can read the latest chapter here.  I wanted to provide an update on the steps taken by the department after the leaders had announced that they were going to work on the issues, creating a better department for the future.

………………..

There’s the update.  To date, though the results came out two months ago and the department informed of the results one month ago, not one initiative, not one survey, not one iota of change has happened in the department.  It is as if the department’s leaders had a large check box, checked off what they needed to when addressing the results, and then left the issue in the dirt on the side of the road.   Not a mention, not an e-mail, not a word about anything that is going to be done to deal with being one of the lowest rated departments in the entire company.

The employees in the department are not protesting.  They are not demanding action.  They are not taking up proverbial arms.  Why not?  They know nothing will happen positively if they do.  They know this is the pattern, as it was the year before when the department was lowly rated, and the year before, and the year before that.  They have, in short, lost all hope that their voices will be heard, change will be coming, or that someone higher up gives a damn about them.

Their response, like the leaders’ response, is silence.  They come in to their jobs, do their work, and leave.  There is no enthusiasm, no desire to do better than just the minimum, no real caring if the department meets its goals or not.  They just don’t really care anymore for a department that shows it does not care for them.

It is, in a sense, a silent war.  One side is keeping silent on how they should be taking action to help raise abysmal scores.  The other side, tired of trying to find solutions which aren’t supported, or are just fodder for the leadership to say they tried, and it is not their fault that they can’t motivate these ‘unmotivatable’ employees.  Or, to put it succinctly, one side being silent for fear of having to change their ways, the other side silent because they see no point in talking it out.

Silence can be deadly for a manager.  It means the manager is not willing to address issues that need addressing, but preferring the silence that allows them not to have to change.  Breaking the silence would improve the team, but the silent manager doesn’t want that.  It may be too painful, too cathartic, or simply too inconvenient.  They sacrifice their team’s health for the sake of their own egos.

Break the silence.  It may be oh so painful in the short term, but oh so beneficial in the long run.