Are you an absentee manager? 


Jan. 20, 2015

Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

Something happened to me that I thought other readers could benefit from, especially managers. I took a new job about a year ago as an accountant for a small insurance company. There was a long-term employee who seemed to have it in for me and never let up. Because I was new I didn’t push it by telling our boss. Instead, I tried to do my own work and get along with everyone, including her.

I soon found out that others have left because of her. In the meantime, I began looking for another job because I could see that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. She withheld information from me as I was training and seemed to be threatened by me. However, lately we had simply stayed out of each other’s way. I’m not a very threatening person and recently made this career change after earning my MBA at night.

I was offered a new job two weeks ago for more money and responsibility. They didn’t call for a reference at my job so my boss didn’t know I got an offer. When I went in to tell him I was leaving, he was shocked and upset. He tried to offer me more money and told me how great I was doing. He went on and on about how much I had contributed to the company. I would have stayed with this company if I had known this!

I have volunteered to work overtime so that I can train a replacement. In fact, I’ve heard from someone else that two people might replace me. My leaving disappoints people in other departments because I was working with many of them on projects. Why didn’t he take the time to tell me all of that when I was on the job ... Why wait until good people leave?

If you print this, maybe other managers will learn from my situation. I would say to them, “Don’t hide under a bushel and hope your problems will go away because they won’t. The only thing that may go away are your good employees.”



Managers like yours are like absentee gardeners. They sow a few seeds, hope for rain and wander off. They don’t come back until harvest time and blame their poor crop on the weather and the weeds. Even the most self-motivated seedling will wither from neglect under those conditions.

Because you were new to the job, and the field, your boss should have taken special care to supervise your growth. He should have showered you with performance feedback and asked you if you had any questions.

Your strategy was perfect: you didn’t lock horns with the long-term employee and developed a reputation as a team player.

Your boss and others noticed that your reputation was thriving in spite of the trouble your co-worker was giving you.

Now is the time to think through what you will do if something like this should happen on your new job. For example, will you go to your new boss, say, after three months, and ask him or her “how am I doing?” Many companies have a six-month probationary period, so don’t make the mistake of believing no news is good news. If you are having trouble in your new job, it is especially important to take this initiative.

If someone on your new job begins to make life miserable for you, what will you do? Although your strategy worked last time, it caused you to leave your job. If you have regular meetings with your new boss, you would have opportunities to subtly make your point before it escalates to that level.

For example, if a co-worker withholds information, you could approach it by asking your boss a question, “Am I supposed to be getting the Thomson figures?” You may be able to add, “I thought I should ask because so-and-so seemed to be confused about whether I needed them.”

A few “naive” questions from a new employee will soon tip off a manager that there is a problem. By asking questions to make your point, you avoid the risk of sounding like a complainer or of misjudging someone’s motives.

If you get the opportunity, you may want to have a talk with your former boss before you leave. Perhaps your comments will help him deal with the long-term employee before she affects more co-workers. Weigh this carefully, however, since you don’t want to burn the only bridge you have in your new field. If you doubt he’ll handle the information well, don’t jeopardize yourself.

In the meantime, you’re wise to be gracious about training a replacement. Don’t discuss the situation while you’re at the old job or the new one. If you sow negative seeds they could choke out your victory garden.

I hope your career comes up roses!


Meetings are only as effective as the person who leads them   
Jan. 9, 2015

A meeting is only as effective as the person who leads it. When most managers and executives often spend half their work time in meetings, it’s shocking to hear so many complaints: "Meetings are a waste of time!" "Why was I invited to that meeting in the first place?" "We never get anything accomplished."

In business, meetings are a way of life. In fact, studies show that twice as many meetings and conferences are being held today as compared with just ten years ago.

As a skilled meeting leader, you can get more done in less time, increase teamwork and demonstrate your ability to get results.

Let’s examine what it takes to run a good meeting. The first questions to ask yourself are:

IS A MEETING NECESSARY? Could I get the job done with a memo or phone call? Use a phone call or memo if you want to communicate routine information that is likely to be well understood, accepted or does not require a group decision. Call a meeting if you want to get acceptance of ideas, resolve conflicting viewpoints, obtain immediate reactions and understanding or draw on the group’s creativity to solve a problem.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH? If you don’t know, you can bet the participants will spend most of the meeting time bouncing from one subject to the next. State your objective in specific terms. For instance, "Decide on a more efficient procedure to balance workflow" is much better than "Discuss our workflow problems." if the group knows the outcome they’re working toward, they will tend to remain focused on that objective.

WHO SHOULD BE THERE? Include only those who can contribute and benefit from attending. People who have nothing to contribute will only be frustrated or bored. Beware of inviting people solely because of their title or out of habit. When dealing with a controversial issue, it’s often wise to invite people who resist change or disagree. The meeting may produce sparks, but will prevent fire-fighting later.


Another thing you should do is assign pre-work to save valuable time once the meeting begins.  This includes doing your own prework.

Develop an agenda designed to get the results you’re after and send it in advance, if possible. Anticipate participants’ reactions and how you will deal with them.

Determine the materials needed, the meeting location, as well as the task. (Always set an ending time and try to stick to it, This is not only courteous, but encourages the participants to move at a faster pace.)

When you get to the meeting itself, start on time. Don’t punish those who are punctual by making them wait for those who are not. Your opening remarks should include the meeting’s objective, background information, time constraints and a description of the way you want to run the meeting.

It’s also helpful to explain why you have invited each of them, so they know how you want each of them to contribute.

Many leaders record the meeting on a flipchart mounted on an easel in full view of the group. As the pages are filled, they are torn off and taped to the wall.

This technique keeps everyone together and provides a written record. Another advantage is that members of the group feel that their ideas have been heard because they are written down.

Recording the meeting is particularly important during group problem-solving sessions. All brainstorming ideas can be listed, and members have an easier time generating ideas when they know each one will be captured for later evaluation.

Specific action plans can be charted, recording who will do what, how and when.

When the meeting is over, these giant sized flipchart minutes can be typed and distributed so everyone has a clear understanding of what was said and agreed to.


High expectations for new leaders
Jan. 5, 2015

Being a boss isn’t what it used to be. In fact, many workplaces are cooking up new names to reflect the changes. “Boss” sounds dictatorial. “Supervisor” implies that employees need to be watched. “Leader” is the favorite of the moment. The change of title is strong testimony about the deeper changes that are evolving for managers.

What are these new leader expectations? They’re more sophisticated and demanding than ever before. They can be categorized in four distinct areas.


Build organizational strength.

A business owner told me recently, “Running a company today is a little like building an airplane while you fly it.” Changes are happening so fast, senior managers are scrambling to reinvent their companies. Consuming questions such as, “How do we do use the Web to maximize our business?” or, “Where are we going to find employees?” are heard in boardrooms everywhere. And quickly changing priorities can feel like chaos to everyone else.

In the past, middle managers could sit back and wait for the grand rollout of the corporate strategy. Today, managers have to jump in and help shape it and communicate it.

* Don’t complain about changes. Investigate why the change is needed so you can help others who are at different stages of commitment. Take time to answer employees’ questions: “Why are we doing this?” and “How will this affect me?”

* Think like an owner. A respected manager said to me, “When I have to make a decision, I always ask myself, ‘If I owned this business, would I make this decision differently?’”

* Become an opportunist who hunts down problems. Volunteer to lead a cross-functional task force, rather than view it as extra work. Organizational issues are your work. Seek out new and challenging lateral jobs in other departments. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur with one client - the company you work for.


Build interpersonal strength.

Employees are in the driver’s seat in this economy. If they don’t feel well treated, they vote with their feet. They want more balance, more respect and more involvement. Retention surveys we’ve done with employers point convincingly to the manager’s role as the most important link in the retention chain.

* Look for ways to make deposits in your employees’ emotional accounts. In spite of your busy schedule, find ways to give employees face time, both one-on-one and in meetings.

* Ask each employee, “What do you want most from your job?” and offer concrete help so they get what they need.

* Spend more time with the good performers than with the poor ones and take steps to coach or confront those who need it.

* Show each employee that their contribution counts in personal, meaningful ways.

* Take a stand and do what’s right rather than what is perceived as “fair” by different constituencies. Apply policies with good judgment, not “by the book.”

* Treat your employees like your important joint venture partners, because they are.


Build inner strength.

Being a manager today isn’t for wimps. It requires mental and physical stamina. Effective managers have a strong sense of values and use them as an internal compass to guide their behavior. They treat people with dignity and respect and work hard to build trust. They know their actions speak more loudly than the words they are saying.

* Do the “Duck Paddle.” Act calm and unruffled, even when you’re paddling like hell underneath. Compartmentalize stress - don’t spread it.

* Seek and act on personal feedback.

* Lead by example. Recognize that every word you say and action you take is sending a message.

* Learn everything you can about the art and science of leading others.


Build career strength.

A programmer told me, “Why would I want to move into a manager’s job? Why would I want that target painted on my back?” He knows that front line employees have a higher stock value than managers do. Simply put, average managers are expendable and hard-to-find technical employees are golden.

* Know that job security is created by you - not granted by an organization.

* Be more interested in solving problems and adding value than status or position.

* Stay marketable by keeping your skills honed and build influence with outside networks.

* Pay attention to critics because they are the first to discover your weaknesses.

We are in the middle of a workplace renaissance. There is a shortage of courageous leaders. Make the most of the opportunity.

What separates savvy managers from so-so managers?   
Dec. 31, 2014

You have worked hard to get that job in management. Now, how do you keep it? What makes an employee work harder for one boss than for another? Is it the leader’s charisma or because they’re so “nice”? Hardly. Smart managers on the rise in any organization know that it takes far more than the right vibrations between manager and subordinates to create a highly productive working environment.

First of all, a good manager realizes that there are three basic rules of adult motivation:  

1. YOU can’t motivate anyone

2. ALL people are motivated. A basic definition is: The element within a person that incites that person to action.

3. People do things for THEIR reasons, not yours.


No wonder the carrot and stick approach never works for long!

So how do you find your employees’ hot button that will cause them to be self-motivated?

Many ideas have been advanced regarding motivational theory. One thing inherent in all the theories is the need for recognition within all of us for a job well done.

Recognizing your employees for the good job they do is certainly not a new or imaginative concept. The problem is that most managers think they are doing a good job of it when, in fact, they don’t know the language of good coaching.

By giving people positive feedback about what they are doing well, you can increase the QUANTITY of their good work. The following rules for giving recognition have been developed and proven by William R. Daniels, American Consulting and Training Inc. - and I’ve seen them work!

Make the feedback refer to one SPECIFIC task. Generalized compliments like, “You’re doing a great job,” are received as back-slapping and glad-handling. They often seem phony and can damage your credibility. Paint them a clear picture of what you like and they’ll give you more of it. For example: “Natalie, your respect for customers, use of their names and eye contact is ideal.”

Rule one on specifics is crucial. Unfortunately, it’s the one researchers find managers violating most frequently. The behavioral effects will not be achieved if the rewards, attention and recognition are not clearly associated with the behavior being reinforced. This is what separates it from “positive thinking” or “being pleasant.” There is no “free” appreciation. All rewards are earned and the skilled manager is crystal clear about what is being recognized. 

Keep the recognition PURE. That is, don’t mix it with criticism. This one is tricky. Listen closely and you’ll hear managers all around you making this mistake. Listen: “You’re doing a nice job on the paperwork, Karen, but you need to be friendlier with the customers.” As soon as an employee hears the “but” after a compliment, the entire thing is discounted. Given a choice between “good news” and “bad news”, people only hear and remember the bad news.  So to get the “good news” across, keep it pure.

For maximum effect, make the feedback POSITIVE about good work. By encouraging desirable work you will crowd out less desirable work. For example, the following attempt at recognition only focuses on the negative, “Marcia, when you get your errors down, you’ll be a fine order clerk.” The undesirable errors will diminish much more quickly if Marcia’s manager tells her what he or she likes about Marcia’s work.

Offer the feedback IMMEDIATELY after the behavior has taken place or within 30 minutes of it coming to your attention. Giving your positive feedback, soon after the desirable work makes your message clear. The pleasure of your compliment gets associated with the work.

At first, offer the feedback FREQUENTLY - when the desired work is in place, you can diminish the frequency. Frequency at first helps the employee make certain that you are paying attention and approve. Later, the employee will internalize this feedback as you slowly diminish it.

Offer the feedback IRREGULARLY. If you always offer your recognition at the same time - Fridays at 4:30 - you will probably find that people perform for you just before your feedback, in anticipation. Give recognition irregularly and you can stimulate a steady increase.

Haphazard? No. Easy? No. Does it work? Yes.

Most new employees come to their jobs highly motivated. A good manager knows proper recognition helps them stay that way.

‘Tough love’ philosophy makes employees take responsibility for their actions   
Dec. 23, 2014

Does your workplace have a “tough love” philosophy? Are employees treated like adults, who are expected to meet expectations, or do some people seem to push the rules and get away with murder? Does your workplace tolerate behaviors that it shouldn’t accept?  Do some employees act as if they are entitled to their jobs, regardless of how poorly they perform?

Here’s a case study for you. What would you do if you were Jason’s manager?

Jason’s performance began to slip right around the time he started dating his new girlfriend. He was late several times a week, sometimes by as much as forty-five minutes. He made frequent personal calls during his workday and seemed distracted. His manager spoke to him several times about these behaviors and each time he improved, only to slip back into old behaviors a few weeks later. When his manager started to get customer and co-worker complaints about Jason’s performance, he knew he had to do something more. He decided to take disciplinary action. He gave him a verbal warning and, when that didn’t work, he issued a written warning that indicated Jason could lose his job if he didn’t improve.

Jason’s manager didn’t want to lose him because Jason generally did a good job and qualified employees with his skills are hard to find. In addition, other employees are complaining that they are overworked, and without Jason, the situation will only get worse. When the manager spoke to him, Jason admitted that he had been “pushing it” and said he’d improve. Jason said he liked his job and enjoyed working at the company but, in spite of his promises, he continued to exhibit “roller-coaster” behavior.

Assuming that you have the latitude to do any of the following, what do you do?

A.     Keep on meeting with Jason and hope that he improves.

B.     Fire him and reassign his work until you can find a replacement.

C.    Suspend him for three days without pay, to teach him a lesson and show him you’re serious.

D.    Give him a “decision day” off, with pay, to decide if he really wants his job. And if so, he is expected to return the following day with a written action plan.


Any of the above answers might work, but I like “D” the best, because it puts the responsibility for fixing the problem where it belongs - on the employee. It’s a "tough love" approach.

Let’s examine the other choices more closely. In choice “A,” Jason is allowed to manipulate the situation and only improve long enough to get his boss off his back. Meanwhile, the rest of his co-workers see that he is getting away with poor performance. Their inevitable question is, “Why am I killing myself to get to work on time and do a good job, when no one is holding him to the same standard?” The leader’s credibility drops, morale plummets and customer dissatisfaction grows. Jason may be a valuable employee but if his manager allows Jason to hold him hostage, just because there’s a shortage of job candidates, the damage will spread outward like ripples in a pond.

It’s understandable why choice “B” is attractive, and perhaps even desirable. Firing him seems a logical choice, since he didn’t respond to all of the discussions or the warnings. Yet, there are several things to consider. If he is fired, the manager and the other overworked employees will be burdened even more. Although they may be supportive of the decision, dissatisfaction will soon grow in proportion to their additional workload. More importantly, when good employees are fired they are often surprised, even shocked. After the fact, they say they never really thought the boss was serious. They thought they were somehow protected because they were “good” employees. But unfortunately, this realization comes after they are fired, when they have no opportunity to act on their regret.

I really dislike choice “C.” It reminds me of the teacher/student or parent/child relationship that I think is counterproductive in today’s workplace. In this option, punishment is clearly the intent and shame is the objective. The problem is that adults don’t respond well to this tactic. They get angry. They get even. If they come back to work at all, they are forced to save face by laughing it off (“I loved my vacation...I went fishing!”) or by stirring up their co-workers against management. It’s a lose/lose outcome.

Choice “D” isn’t perfect either, but it treats the employee as an adult who has to face up to the situation and take responsibility for his or her behavior. It can sound something like this:  “I like you, Jason, and I think you do good work...when you’re committed to doing it. We’ve had numerous discussions about this and I’ve even given you a written warning that you could lose your job, but you haven’t sustained the improvements you said you would make. I want you to take tomorrow off to think about whether or not you want to work here. If you do, come back the day after with a written action plan that outlines what you will do. If you don’t, it’s been a pleasure working with you.”

When you have a “tough love” philosophy, it means you:

* Set high expectations, so employees will be proud to be on a winning team.

* Be as selective as you can in the recruitment process.

* Hold everyone accountable to the same high standards, no matter what position they hold.

* Expect employees to take responsibility for their own behavior, rather than fixing blame on others.

* Have adult-to-adult policies that eliminate “babysitting” and punishment.

* Give honest, straightforward feedback that lets everyone know where they stand.

* Expect honest feedback from your co-workers in return.


Rule bound system fails to serve customers   
Dec. 10, 2014

Dear Joan:

My boss believes that the customer is always right - even when he or she is wrong. This is fine conceptually, but let me give you an example of my situation.

I work in a store and a customer came in just before we closed and requested a special service that required many extra steps, which would have run way past our closing time. A week before our manager posted a memo telling all of us that we were not supposed to wait on people after the store closes.

In this case, I tried to state the policy to the customer but she complained to the manager. I was not only reprimanded in front of the customer but told to do even more services than the customer requested no matter how late it ran. I was then written up and told that I had a poor attitude. Now I ask you am I wrong or is he?



You both are. Each of you was trying to do what is right but unfortunately your system is flawed. Your manager is operating on the old principle that control can be achieved by making a lot of policies and rules. Unfortunately, policies never seem to fit every situation, so then the rules either have to be broken or more complex policies have to be developed for each exception that comes up. What you end up with is an impersonal bureaucracy, filled with people who are rule-bound and unable to do what is right for the customer.

There is a new philosophy, which takes a different approach; the empowered employee should be able to practice self-control and make the best decisions on the spot - if the system is set up correctly.

Let’s look at this from three perspectives: the customer’s, the manager’s, and yours.

Customers don’t want to hear about policies and rules. They’ll balk and walk. They want a product or service on their terms and if all their expectations are met or exceeded they might be back. They want every person who deals with them to have the authority to do whatever it takes to serve them. In other words, they want every employee to act like an owner who wants to keep them as a customer.

If you were an “owner,” there’s a good chance you would have looked at this situation differently.  You probably would have willingly stayed late, depending on your judgment of the situation. You would hope that this extra service would earn a loyal future customer.

Your manager probably established the policy on store hours in response to another situation he was trying to remedy - and it backfired. He may have been embarrassed that it was his own policy that was causing the complaint. He could have salvaged the situation by admitting it was his well-intentioned rule that was at the heart of the problem. ... not your obstinateness. Chances are, if you had been treated with respect and dignity, you would have been much more willing to stay late and do what was needed.

The policy tied your hands and made you look like the problem. You made the situation worse when you argued with your manager. In the future, you would be better off to go to your boss immediately, explain the situation and ask permission to “break the rule.”

For any future policy, ask a lot of questions at the time it’s implemented, so you know (and your boss is forewarned) about how it could actually hurt instead of help.

Your manager doesn’t realize that his employees are his customers too. This new philosophy of leadership means treating you like a partner, with shared information about future vision, the competition, profitability, and goals. If you were aligned with your manager and top management you wouldn’t need a lot of rules. Your judgment would tell you what was the best reaction for any customer situation because you would think more like an owner. The “control” would be internal instead of externally imposed.

You would even have a more powerful and compelling reason to do this if your compensation was based on a combination of your skills and knowledge; how well you performed; and how well the company performed. You would have a reason to learn new things and provide knock-your-socks-off service.

Hopefully, management at your company will come to realize that customer service rules can hurt the very people they are designed to help. A system that builds good judgment, rather than fat rule books, makes a lot more sense for everyone.


When you must step into others’ turf   
Dec. 4, 2014

Dear Joan:

I have recently been appointed marketing manager of the firm I work for. My new duties include crossing functional lines of a dozen departments to direct and implement our marketing programs. Two of the individuals I deal with are close personal friends, who prefer to deal [with each other] directly rather than following the “chain of command” through my office. In order to be effective in my position, I must have the cooperation of these gentlemen on a day-to-day basis and need to assure them it is necessary to respect the “chain of command” for the overall success of our business. How can I be assertive and obtain their cooperation without appearing aggressive?



You have touched on a significant problem in companies today. That is, how to get cooperation from people over whom you have no direct control.

As the need to meet competition grows, departments are finding it necessary to pull tightly together to get more done in less time with better quality.

New product teams and task forces frequently consist of members from several departments. Line and staff functions have been forced into more communication. And office automation is connecting us directly to information and to one another.

Gone are the days when Production seldom talked to Marketing, or Sales rarely communicated with Service.

There are several things that could be barriers to you in this situation: You are new in your job and haven’t built trust, influence and credibility with your new network.

If the position is newly created, your colleagues aren’t used to working with someone in your capacity. If you did have a predecessor, he or she may have allowed these two men, and others, to operate too informally without central marketing control.

The fact that you are a woman may, or may not, have some bearing on your male colleagues’ reluctance to go through you in “the chain of command.”

Your status level may be lower in the organizational hierarchy than these co-workers, thus putting you in a less powerful position.

With all these barriers in mind, let’s examine your options:

* Eliminate the phrase “chain of command” from all verbal and written communications. It refers to power through authority and is applicable only in a boss/subordinate relationship.

* Constantly inform these two friends, and all other people from whom you need cooperation, of the impact their cooperation has on end sales. If people understand why they need to cooperate, they will usually do so.

* Show them what you do with the data they provide, explain how you have followed up on their suggestions and tactfully describe what can happen if you are left out of the information loop.

* Meet face to face as often as possible. Rather than sending a formal memo, try to personalize your dealings with these men. Because they seem to prefer an informal way of sharing information, they will probably warm up to this style of interaction. You may want to build in more structure later after rapport and trust is built.

* If you perceive that this problem exists with more people than just these two, you may need to market yourself before you can market your products.

* Schedule lunches with people from whom you need cooperation and sell your marketing ideas, goals and strategies. Solicit their ideas on how they can help you accomplish these things. Always emphasize the success of the business rather than your personal success.

* Have regularly scheduled meetings that are attended by people important to the company’s marketing goals. The format for these meetings could range from sharing and discussing information to brainstorming solution ideas for marketing problems. However, if you use meetings, make sure they are informative and worthwhile for all parties.

* Be direct, yet diplomatic about what you need. You’ve already partially scripted in your letter a perfectly logical way to state it assertively without being aggressive: “In order to be effective in my position, I need your help and cooperation on a day-to-day basis to achieve the overall success of our business.”

You could go on to say, “I respect the fact that you are close friends and enjoy dealing directly with each other, but it is causing some problems.” (Explain bottom-line effects.)

Or “I know you’re both probably not even aware of this. That’s why I thought I’d explain the situation and ask for your help.

* Throughout the process, keep your manager informed and be sure to ask for his or her advice. The coaching you receive will help you understand the political side of this issue.

 This approach will help you earn respect and cooperation that will get you more mileage than forcing the issue.

Helping an employee with personal woes 
Nov 28, 2014

The performance of one of your best employees has begun to sag. Her last two reports weren’t as thorough as they usually are, and she seems distracted and preoccupied. She’s even come to work late a few times - something she rarely did before.

You finally decide to talk to her. Her reasons? “I’m going through a divorce.”

Many people have problems in their private lives that can affect their performance on the job.

As a manager, you are faced with balancing the concern and consideration you feel for your employee with the standards and requirements of the job.

Some managers feel that employees’ private problems should be discussed at home and not at work. They don’t want to be “social workers,” and they feel uncomfortable discussing personal problems. Other managers feel everything bothering employees should be discussed. These managers tend to get involved in the daily details of employees’ lives and try to give advice.

I don’t think either approach is good for the employee, the manager or the organization.

It’s necessary to strike a balance between empathy and the bottom line. Your employee needs to feel supported but must also understand he or she still is responsible for getting the job done.

If a manager shows no concern for an employee during a traumatic personal time, he or she is likely to resent that manager long after the crisis has ended. They may think, “Why should I go the extra mile for him when he doesn’t care about me?”

On the other end of the scale, if an employee is allowed to continually fail to meet job responsibilities, an “understanding” boss soon finds a morale problem among the rest of the employees who are forced to carry the slack. Co-workers are usually more than willing to help out a fellow employee during a rough time but not when they sense that the situation is unfair. These “nice guy” bosses usually wind up feeling bewildered because their employees can’t get along like one big happy family.

As a strong, yet empathetic leader, you need to approach the problem only when it begins to affect job performance. Until that happens, you have no right to interfere in the private life of an employee.

In my opinion, it is never wise to give personal advice or take sides. Instead, listen intently to the feelings and concerns of your employee. Never say, “She sounds like a jerk. I don’t blame you for divorcing her!” Not only are your opinions irrelevant, but if there’s a reconciliation, you will have to swallow your words and your embarrassment. Sometimes an employee will use what you say to bolster their argument, which is also dangerous. For instance, “You’re being unreasonable! Even my boss said so!”

Don’t automatically assume you can’t assign new or challenging work to the employee. However, it the project has high risk, high visibility, or both, you may consider choosing another employee, or team up the troubled employee with one who is a solid performer. He or she may need a little extra care in the form of extra resources, careful delegation and follow-through, coaching and flexibility. Ask your employee what he or she needs from you to continue meeting job standards. Be willing to consider things like extending a deadline or adjusting work hours.

Many companies offer an employee assistance program for the purpose of referring employees to outside agencies for counseling. This service is confidential and offers strong support to employees of these companies. No reports are sent to the company. If this type of program is not available, consider suggesting outside counseling.

Things can become sticky if prolonged personal problems cause a long-term decline in performance. After numerous discussions about the importance of meeting standards, you may be forced to outline the consequences of continued poor performance. Before doing so, however, you must be mentally prepared to carry out those consequences, should the employee fail to improve. It’s a judgment call that takes careful thought. Your best bet is to get advice from Human Resources.

Fortunately, in most cases, the trauma is short-lived and has little impact on an employee’s long-term career. Often, all that’s needed from the manager is a willingness to listen.

A manager who conveys fairness and understanding to an employee with personal problems can go a long way toward inspiring renewed motivation for someone going through a tough time and among other employees who watch from a distance.


How to disagree agreeably (but directly)
Nov. 9, 2014

If people only talked to each other, most of the conflict in the workplace would disappear.

Instead, it seems when we are wounded by someone, or disagree with something they've done, we end up talking to everyone except the person who's directly involved. We wander down the hall and talk to a co-worker ... mention it to our lunch buddies ... complain about it to our spouses. We spread the negative poison around the organization, drag unwitting coworkers into the fray, sully reputations and, in the end, erode the trust that comes from open, honest, face-to-face communication. 

Where did we ever get the idea that confronting someone face-to-face had to be such a horrible encounter? Are we all so worried about being 'nice' that we've opted for being spineless? And when did we get confused about the perils of telling people the truth?

What about the perils of not telling them the truth? Our organizations are paying a big price for this 'smile to your face/make a face behind your back' communication style. It's costing millions in wasted time and lost productivity, in addition to a human price in broken trust and lost respect.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating brutal honesty and confrontation that strips away self-esteem and dignity. I'm talking about the respectful, caring communication that says, 'I care about our relationship. Something's bothering me and I thought it was important to talk to you about it directly so we could reach an understanding.'

I think most people are afraid. They're afraid of hurting someone's feelings. They're afraid of sounding 'negative' or 'making waves.'  They're afraid of the backlash that can come from a conflict that escalates into a fight. They're afraid of de-motivating their employees. They're afraid of not being liked. They're afraid of collecting political baggage. They're afraid of not getting ahead or losing their jobs.

If you're guilty of side talk instead of straight talk, here are some behaviors that can help:

1. Use the 'best intentions' approach. Most people don't intentionally wake up in the morning and think to themselves, 'I'm going to really hurt her feelings today!'  Most people have the very best intentions. But it's those good intentions that keep getting us into trouble because others don't know our intentions - they only judge our actions.

When approaching another person about a conflict, you could say, 'I'm sure you had good intentions when you ... but let me tell you how it looked from my perspective ...' Rather than waving the finger of blame in someone else's face, just talk about the effect it had on you.

2. Use the 'I'm just getting your advice' approach sparingly. A lot of damage can be done by going to multiple people to "seek advice" about how to handle a conflict situation. It can become a way to see how many people are on your side. It can also be a sneaky way of poisoning the well for the other person; everyone's heard your 'side' and so the other person suffers political damage no matter what the outcome.

3. Start by looking for things for which you should take responsibility. The beauty of opening any conflict resolution session with self-disclosure is that you bring the other person's defenses down immediately and problem solving can occur.

For example, 'I was out of line when I was sarcastic to you in the staff meeting. I'm sorry - it was inappropriate. I'd like to talk with you about the issue.'

4. Be as open and honest as you can, while preserving the other person's self-respect and dignity. This is the very heart and soul of building trust. Sugar-coating your message, or smoothing over conflicts, might feel better to you in the short run, but it can create more problems.


It can be liberating to lay it bare and call it what it is, instead of pretending. The only way to build a foundation of trust is to be open, honest and straightforward in your day-to-day dealings. But in order to preserve the relationship you must let people maintain their dignity and save face. That means using neutral words to describe the problem and finding common ground - pointing out why both of you stand to win if both of your needs are met.

Does this sound pretty basic? You bet. It also is just plain good common sense, but common sense isn't so common - we all have to work at it.

Tips for managers who struggle with delegating effectively 
Oct. 23, 2014

“If I want it done right, I’d better do it myself.”

“If I gave my people more to do, they’d resent it.”

“By the time I explain what I want done, I’ll have it done myself.”

Do any of these sound familiar? If they do, it’s probably because many managers struggle with delegating effectively. They worry that they will lose control, serious mistakes will be made, deadlines will be missed or subordinate resentment will build.

The following tips will not only help you to get more done in less time, by utilizing and developing the talents of your subordinates, but will allow you to maintain the degree of control appropriate to the situation.

Explain why you are delegating the assignment. Adults perform tasks more readily when they understand the reason for completing them. Tell them how this assignment fits into the “big picture” and why it’s important. In addition, if there is a particular reason for choosing this employee, by all means, let him or her know.

For example, “Our department has been chosen to pilot the new office automation system. The results of this project will help the company decide the direction it will take in the future. I’ve chosen you to help me with this project because of your firsthand knowledge of the clerical tasks in this department.”


Define assignment

Clearly define the assignment. Many times an assignment is delivered quickly or in vague terms. Only after an employee has worked hard and handed in the project does the manager realize that it wasn’t what was wanted after all.

Think through the task and jot down your specific expectations, possible approaches, deadline, resources and the key people with whom they should communicate. Answer all the who, what, where, when, and how much questions.

Determine the level of authority your subordinate will have and communicate it to those involved. Send a memo or announce it at a staff meeting. Don’t forget to inform any people outside your department who may be affected.

Factors like the importance of a project and the employees’ experience or judgment will determine the amount of control to give them over the outcome of a project.

For instance, you may want an inexperienced employee to report all the facts to you so you can make the final decision. To a more seasoned employee or for a complex assignment, you might say, “Let me know the alternative actions - including pros and cons of each - and recommend one.” Or you may ask experienced employees to simply let you know what they chose to do after the task has been completed.

Allow your subordinate to ask questions and make recommendations. A hit-and-run approach may buy time at the front end, but cost you time and money in the long run. It’s important for both of you to confirm and clarify the details.


Provide outline

Provide them with a brief outline of the specifics. Never assume that all the details will be understood and remembered. Jotting down your thoughts in advance will help you think through the assignment and provide a guide to your subordinate.

Tell the employee how he or she will be evaluated. This is often overlooked by managers but can make a tremendous difference in the way an employee will tackle a project. This will determine where the employee will concentrate his or her energy.

For example, if an employee knows she will be evaluated on how well the other employees accept a new procedure they have been asked to implement, you can be sure the proper care will be taken to gain that acceptance.

Always ask the employees to summarize what you have asked them to do. Never assume they fully understand until you hear their interpretation of what they have agreed to do.

If the task is complex or will take a while to complete, build in checkpoints along the way. Set up brief meetings for your subordinate to update you on his or her progress. Avoid overcontrol or snatching the assignment back. Schedule your checkpoints so you’ll know of any trouble in plenty of time to help them do something about it.

If your subordinate is doing a task that is unfamiliar to him or her, reassure him or her that you don’t expect perfection at first. This will make it easier to report any mistakes to you immediately rather than trying to hide them from you.

Avoid these poor listening pitfalls - best managers are best listeners
Sept. 11, 2014

Think back to the best boss you’ve ever had. Chances are, that person really listened to what you had to say in spite of a busy, demanding work schedule.

Bosses who are good listeners convey to their employees that they are valued and that what they have to say is important. Consequently, these bosses are not only well-informed but often have loyal, committed employees.

Most managers are constantly bombarded with data to be sorted through, decisions to be made and schedules to meet - hardly an atmosphere conducive to active listening.

Research, done in companies across the country, reveals that most managers spend over 60 percent of every day interacting with people. Up to 80 percent or more of that time is spent listening.

With so much important information coming at us through our ears, we can’t afford to miss much. That’s why it’s shocking to discover that these studies show we forget 50 percent of a 10-minute presentation within 24 hours, and 25 percent more is lost by the next day.

Our listening habits are not the result of poor training, but rather the result of the LACK of it. We need to learn to listen the way we learned to read and write - systematically and with practice.

In the business place, like elsewhere in our lives, we need to listen between the lines to truly comprehend what is being said. Often, people hint at what they are really thinking, or have an undeveloped thought that needs to be drawn out.

If you miss these cues, you may be operating with only surface information. When a subordinate quits, a project fails or morale sags, you may have been forewarned, but you never really listened.

According to Drs. Ralph Nichols and Manny Steil, here are some of the bad listening habits we have acquired and what you can do about them.


In & out listening

We can listen four times faster than the average person speaks. The poor listener will daydream, particularly with a slow speaker. A good listener will evaluate, synthesize, weigh the evidence and listen between the lines for the feelings beneath the surface.


Red flag listening

To some people, words are like the proverbial red flag to the bull. Words like “new procedure,” “taxes,”  “grievance,” can provoke strong emotions that shut down listening. Good listeners are sensitive to the feel of these emotional “hooks.” They keep their mouths closed and their minds open until the speaker has had a chance to finish his train of thought.


Prematurely judging the speaker or his ideas

We sometimes decide too quickly that the subject or speaker is boring or makes no sense. The good listener will try to overlook the speaker’s delivery and seek out the content of the message. The skilled listener will also ask, “What’s in this for me? How can I use this information?” Furthermore, he will listen for central themes and ideas, not just for facts.


Preparing for the counterattack

We don’t like to have our pet ideas, prejudices and points of view overturned. When this happens, the poor listener will tune out and begin planning his own defense or a cross-examination of the speaker. (Red flag listeners often fall into this category, as you might expect.) Good listeners won’t judge until comprehension is complete.


Too-deep-for-me listening

When a topic is judged as too new, complex or too difficult, the poor listener mentally shuts off.

Good listeners will make a real effort to understand and will ask lots of questions. They will try to relate the information to their own experience and use their listening time to mentally summarize and look for central themes.

There is one thing you can do to enable you to overcome most of the bad habits mentioned above: paraphrasing. This, repeating in your own words what you think the speaker meant, without interjecting your own opinion or questions, is the single most important listening technique.

Paraphrasing sounds like this: “In other words, your plan is to research the topic and prepare a proposal. Is that right?”


The components of paraphrasing are:

1. repeat a summary of the speaker’s thoughts and feelings;

2. use key words and phrases to avoid “parroting”;

3. always check with the speaker to make sure your summary was accurate;

4. if you are losing the train of thought, it’s all right to interrupt to paraphrase;

5. don’t insert your opinions or argue a point until the speaker has completed his comment.

It is particularly important to paraphrase when you are going to make a decision on the information, opinion or suggestion offered. And it’s equally important when your immediate reaction is to reject, ignore or disagree with what you’re hearing.

When you confirm your understanding of someone’s thoughts or ideas, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with what is being said. When you say, “In other words, you’re saying... ,” “So you feel that... ,” you’re simply making sure you both share the same understanding of what is meant. This puts you in a position to take whatever action is necessary.

Even if you choose not to follow a suggestion or use an idea, the fact that you’ve taken the time to listen and understand is motivation. It meets the speaker’s need for recognition and strengthens the perception that his suggestions and opinions will be listened to and understood.


Workplace conflict? Complex picture emerges as you dig into organization’s culture  
Oct. 9, 2014

I love my job as a sociologist and cultural anthropologist. The challenge for me is to dig beyond an organization’s conflicts and the dysfunction, into the rules, measures, structures, goals and all the variables that go into making a mini-society work - or fail.

I was working with a group of senior leaders recently and they were identifying some of the problems their company was experiencing. “There is so much conflict between departments,” one leader explained. “The Project Managers are always wrestling with their project teams to get things done on time and with any sense of urgency.”

“Morale is bad, too,” another leader added. “We’re losing some good people and others are complaining that there is just too much work.” “And people complain that we’re ‘meeting people to death’,” another added.

As the discussion progressed, I started asking some questions, to understand what the core problems might be.

* How are you structured? Are employees organized homogeneously by technical specialty, or cross-functionally organized by product group? By geographic region?

* How does your customer interact with your organization?

* How are people evaluated? What’s measured? Who gives feedback to whom?

* What is rewarded?

* What brings in the most revenue? How is that work assigned? What kind of work do you want more of in the future?

As we peeled away the layers of the onion, the core of the matter was exposed. All the while they had been saying “We have a matrix structure” and “We support project management” and “The customer wants integrated solutions.” But the truth of the matter was that most of their internal infrastructure hadn’t changed much from years ago - but their demands and expectations had changed significantly. The leaders were getting more and more frustrated but no one else seemed to understand what the fuss was all about.

They surprised themselves when they realized that the employees were rewarded for individual and department performance and project work was not a part of the goal-setting process or the reward process. No wonder Project Managers had a hard time getting any sense of urgency from members assigned to their cross-functional teams. The future strategy of the company hung on integrated solutions but people were happy doing their department-focused work because that was what counted when it came to salary review and promotion time.

As we uncovered the layers in our archeological dig, the leaders began to see what had been overlooked. When you are getting behavior you don’t want in your organization, it may not be personalities or “styles” at fault. You have to look deeper - at the cultural anthropology - at the formal and informal laws, hierarchy, and infrastructure that make up their organization as a “society”. Organizations, departments and teams are just mini-versions of whole societies, just like the Navajo or the Aborigine.

So often, leaders will see the symptoms and want to fix them. “Let’s teach people how to manage conflict.” “We need a teambuilding session.” And sometimes those are absolutely the right moves to make, but just as often they won’t do a thing to fix the real problem.

So the next time you see the wrong behavior and you want to change it, think of yourself as an anthropologist or a sociologist studying a newly discovered tribe. Here are some of the cultural components you would want to examine:

* Who are the formal and informal leaders and how do they set the norm for the rest of the group? Look beyond what they say to what they do.

* What behavior is rewarded and reinforced? (Look beyond the obvious. Long-standing bad behavior is getting reinforced or it wouldn’t be happening.)

* What gets measured? What behavior do you want and how is that measured?

* Does the reporting structure point clearly to appropriate and clear accountability and lead naturally to the expected outcomes? Do people have to “work around” the system just get the right work done?

* Do the senior leaders all share the same vision for the future and have linked business goals?

* Do the policies and procedures reward the right behavior?

* What gets “punished”?

* Where is the corporate graveyard and who are the walking dead?

* Who do they tell stories about? What stories make up the oral history of the company, that are repeated over and over?

You get the idea. Dig deeper. You may be surprised at what you uncover.

Five strategies for managing group dynamics, in meetings  
Sept. 25, 2014

I think my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sadist, taught me what not to do as a group leader. When freckle-faced Pat Shanhan threw a spitball, the whole class had to stay in for recess. Rather than exert peer pressure on Pat, it just made us focus our resentment on her. And when Billy Larenson was caught napping, the teacher called on him, just to embarrass him in front of the class.

Unfortunately, some leaders took their lessons in leadership from people like Mrs. Sadist. They run lousy meetings and don’t have a clue about how to manage group dynamics. “Our department meetings are a nightmare!” a friend confided over coffee last week. “The department head doesn’t have a clue about how to handle the group, so it’s pretty much a free-for-all. She’s losing respect, too, because everyone wants her to regain control.”

A large group can be intimidating even for a seasoned manager. Here are some tips I’ve used to lasso unruly group members without alienating the group.


The dominator

This person uses a meeting for his or her personal forum on every agenda item. You need to cut him off but if you do it too harshly and wound his self-esteem, he will have hurt feelings and the group will side with him.

Strategy: Look for a place to interrupt him, quickly summarize his point of view and turn to the group and say, “Does anyone else have an opinion about this?” or “Joe, I’d be interested in your opinion about this.”


The wallflower

You know she has good ideas but she’s just too shy to share them in a group setting.

Strategy: Set her up with a little encouragement. “Susan, you’ve had experience with this in your last position. What can you tell us?”  “Susan, you were telling me about an idea you had last week. Why don’t you share it with all of us?”


Side conversations

In a big group, two people will often huddle together and start buzzing about something. If you embarrass them, you’ll look like Mrs. Sadist. Besides, they may be discussing a great idea about the topic.

Strategy: Pause a little longer than normal before you make your next point. Sometimes that will cause them to stop talking (however, avoid giving them an evil glare). Call on someone who is sitting next to one of them. That will startle them enough to stop, without embarrassing them. If all else fails, “Hey, you two. You must have a good idea over there. How about filling the rest of us in?”



This one is tricky, since he or she may have a legitimate point and you don’t want to shut down honest dialogue.

Strategy: Summarize the basic concern the person is griping about. Use neutral words such as “She thinks the policy isn’t fair.” Turn to the rest of the group and say, “What about this concern? Let’s examine it. Does anyone else feel this way?” If no one else joins in, the group can often diffuse the griper and you won’t have to do a thing. If the person is a chronic griper, it’s time for a private one-on-one conversation about what is at the bottom of his or her discontent.


The quiet group

Groups can be reticent for many reasons. For instance, the topic may be an emotionally charged issue that could divide the group, or the leader may dominate the conversation, or the group may be resistant to a new change.

Strategy: If your group is usually quiet, chances are you are the problem. Perhaps you talk too much or have intimidated people in the past when they had an idea that disagreed with your own. Your best strategy is to let others lead the discussion and reduce the frequency of your comments. Ask more questions and make fewer judgements.

If the topic is political, don’t force a discussion in a group. You will have more luck talking with people individually. Then bring forth the range of opinions in a group session, without attributing comments to specific individuals. This will allow people to discuss pros and cons of a solution without being politically vulnerable.

If you don’t know why your group is quiet, it’s time to ask them. The next time you meet, tell them that the only agenda item will be an evaluation of the group meeting format. The goal of the meeting will be to redesign your meetings to make them more effective.

To resolve conflict, managers must separate facts from emotions  
Sept. 16, 2014

Confronting and resolving conflict can be an unpleasant affair. So unpleasant that some managers will either avoid a problem or intervene without careful preparation, just to get it over with.

Conflict is an inevitable part of any work environment. Some conflicts between employees will resolve themselves and some may even produce useful competition or change. But most conflict shreds the cooperative fabric of the workplace and diminishes productivity.

Dear Joan:

Two employees of mine have been in a fight for two weeks. They are barely speaking to each other, and now one to them appears to be trying to get some of the others on her side.

Their fight is about some comment one appears to have made about the other. The accused employee denies such a comment.

I have spoken to each of them and then brought them together for a talk, but it didn’t do too much good. It is beginning to affect everyone, and others are complaining. I would hate to lose either person because they are normally good workers.

I thank you in advance for any advice you can give me.



Your goal is not to make them like one another but to be able to work together. You will need to reduce the emotions and get to the facts.

Do Your Homework

Prepare yourself with as much factual knowledge about the problem as you can. Look at how productivity has been affected.

Your approach has been correct so far. You’ve spoken to each employee separately and then together to attempt to settle his or her differences. You didn’t mention the quality of their relationship before this conflict arose, but I am assuming it was reasonably amiable and professional.


Get Emotionally Prepared

You will need to be impartial, even-tempered and fair.

Both parties probably will be attempting to win you over to their side by building their case and by blaming the other. They will look to you for subtle signals, like the amount of time you allow each person to speak or any expressions of empathy on your part, either verbal or non-verbal.

The day you choose to meet with them is the day they should be notified of the meeting. This will limit the amount of time they have to arm themselves with more accusations or build defenses.

Open the conversation by stating your concern about the problem. Tell them it is affecting their performances.

Never attempt to humiliate them into a resolution. Comments like, “You’re both behaving like children” or “You both have really disappointed me” sounds parental and condescending and only create further resentment.

Two consultants with McGraw Hill,Inc. David Engler, General Education Media, and Lester R. Bittle, author of “What Every Supervisor Should Know,” suggest that you:

1. Ask each person to explain his or her account of the problem. Each version is likely to be laced with emotional interpretations and assumptions. Do not let either party interrupt while the other is talking or you will have an “I did not!” “You did too” free-for-all. Instead, say something like, “Jane, you will get a chance to talk in a moment.”

2. Ask each employee to state the other’s views of the problem. This may be difficult for them to do because they have been too busy mentally arguing and defending themselves while the other person spoke. Asking each of them to put into words what the other’s views are can have a calming effect.

3. Ask each to confirm the accuracy of the other’s restatement. Simply say, “Charley, is that what you said?” Each person needs to feel heard before you can move on.

4. Ask each in turn to focus on the facts of the problem. If either one begins to stray into hearsay or interpretation, calmly but firmly restate that it’s important to stick to the facts. This will create a more problem-solving climate and keep the mud in the buckets.

Here you will need to listen very carefully to make sure you are getting a clear, detailed description of the problem. Allow no generalities.

5. Ask each to suggest solutions. By this time, you may have mentally settled on your own solution. Resist the urge to steer them in that direction or impose your own ideas. Listen open-mindedly to their suggestions since they will be more committed to solutions they come up with on their own.

If their solutions are impractical, unacceptable or not forthcoming, you must offer your own opinion and solution. Offer any support you can to make the solutions work.

6. Ask each of them to restate what they have agreed to do. This eliminates any misunderstandings. It’s also a way to create a more binding agreement.

7. Set up a followup meeting before they leave. This progress check creates a sense of urgency and lets them know you’re serious about ending their conflict once and for all.


Empowering employees is a matter of survival 
Sept. 11, 2014

Status, power and control. These three brass rings are what American employees have been after for decades; and they have grabbed the prize when they were promoted to management.

The language of control is liberally sprinkled throughout the corporate vocabulary. For example, “span of control” describes the number of “subordinates” who “report” to a “supervisor” or “manager.” Even the word “supervisor” implies that employees can’t be trusted and must be controlled.

It’s no surprise then, that some managers are silently digging in their heels and muttering under their breath, “Participative management isn’t for me. I’ve earned my perks the hard way, thanks. Give me one good reason why I should suddenly share these hard-earned goodies with my employees?”

I can give them a reason: survival.

These managers have seen management fads come and go and they figure if they go through the motions and mouth words such as “involvement,” this too shall pass. Not this time, buckaroos.

The only way to harness the waning work ethic is to create the kind of environment that gives status, power and the ability to self-control to the employees. Some companies are way ahead of their counterparts and have established a new set of definitions. Their productivity and profitability are up and their employees don’t leave. Let’s take a look at these new definitions that are reshaping the competitors who are out in front:



There will be fewer corporate status symbols 10 years from now. The walls executives erect between themselves and their employees will need to come down. Why? Because the employees who work directly with the customer, solving their problems and making sales, will be the focus of corporate attention, not who gets the corner office.

Smart executives will do everything in their power to break down the barriers between themselves and the front line. They will need to find out what their employees know about the customer and they won’t get a “worker bee” from the bowls of the organization to open up to them if they are sitting at the opposite end of a 6-foot mahogany desk. Executives will shed their suit coats and go visit their employees where it counts - on the factory and showroom floor.

Instead of status-loaded titles such as “supervisor” and “subordinate” we will see more “associates” and “members.” Perks will go to everyone or to no one at all. The goal will be “one for all” instead of “the guy with the biggest title wins.”

Companies who understand how to compete will know that in order to keep the best and brightest where they need them - on the front line, working with the customer - they will have to make it more attractive than moving into management. Middle management ranks will continue to thin out and steep hierarchies will be a thing of the past.

Many companies have typically paid their field salespeople more than they could make in management. Companies will have to extend this concept to employees at the corporate headquarters, if they are to attract and keep talented, young employees from the ever-shrinking labor pool.


Power and Control:

In the past, power belonged to the decision-maker, the performance evaluator and the money distributor. This will still be true, however, the people who perform large portions of those tasks will be the employees.

Some service-minded companies, who have moved toward the concept of self-managed employees, first experimented with letting teams make some of their own decisions about how they do the work. When these teams were given real power and authority to make the changes they felt were important, these employees exceeded the performance goals that were set for them. 

When management realized that the employees were enthusiastic and the quality and speed of their work improved, they trained them in more self-management tasks such as peer performance reviews and hiring and firing and even salary distribution. The team, rather than the individual, became the unit to reward. Their managers became facilitators and coaches and the focus of the organization shifted from how to please the boss, to how to provide the resources the employees need to serve the customer.

Contrary to popular management belief, anarchy does not prevail when power and control shifts to the employees. But this doesn’t happen without hundreds of hours of training and a management team that is fully committed to the vision. Employees will watch what their bosses do, not what they say. A few control-minded executives can undo, in one knee-jerk decision, the employee commitment that took months to build.

These are exciting times for management and employees alike. The companies who make it will learn the power and excitement of joining hands and beating the competition instead of each other.


Sometimes it’s better to leave than try to fight perceptions 
Sept. 6, 2014

Dear Joan:

After working with my present employer, a large financial institution, for more than two years, I decided to take advantage of the firm’s policy of allowing a review of the results of pre-employment tests with a Human Resources Department representative. I learned that although I ranked in the upper 95th percentile in psychological and social attributes, I rated in the lowest 5th percentile in intelligence and, therefore, could never, according to company policy, be considered for a promotion or higher position.

While in school, I was placed in the Superior Ability Program of the Milwaukee Public Schools when I was in the fourth grade (a minimum IQ of 125 was required); I was admitted to the National Honor Society and graduated with honors from high school; graduated summa cum laude from a large university; received an MBA degree; and now teach senior-level courses in college in the evening.

Obviously, the pre-employment tests are erroneous, but the Human Resources Department insists that an error is impossible and changing the records could not be considered.

The test score explains why I have not been promoted and why I am always given the department’s more secretarial, routine assignments.

My supervisor is an extremely uncommunicative person. How do I proceed from here?


If you decide to stay in this company, after uncovering this information, your intelligence would indeed be in question!

Unfortunately, pushing your Human Resources Department will only tie another can to your tail. The more noise you make, the worse it’s likely to get. Since they insist an error is impossible, they aren’t likely to be tolerant of your protests to the contrary. (Incidentally, why did they hire you in the first place if they thought you scored so low in intelligence?)

Even if you write a letter detailing the facts, the damage has probably been done. As you know, changing people’s perceptions can be difficult. Because you don’t know who has seen it, you wouldn’t know where to begin.

Start looking for another job. Two years is a respectable amount of time to spend at one company. You can tell potential employers that you are looking for a job with more growth and responsibility.

Consider it lucky that you discovered the error when you did. You could have spent many frustrating years questioning your ability.

If you feel you must pursue this issue, it’s not unreasonable to ask to speak to someone from the Human Resources Department who is more knowledgeable about interpreting test results. (They may be willing to let you talk with someone from the testing firm.)

Ask for the name of the test. Find out if it’s valid. Any test used to enhance or determine promotional opportunities needs to meet Equal Employment Opportunity employee-selection guidelines.

Obviously, a mistake was made, but erasing it may create a bigger smudge. You were smart to check your file. Now, be shrewd and leave.

Just a footnote about testing:

Psychological tests are typically used to reinforce a decision the employer has already made. Valid tests are heavily researched and can be used to show a correlation between certain test scores and people who tend to be successful in a particular area. Of course, these predictions are never foolproof.

If the test is reliable and valid, it can increase the likelihood of a good job match. Common sense must prevail, however. There is no substitute for careful interviewing, reference checking and a record of past accomplishments.

What four things separate good bosses from bad bosses? 
Aug. 11, 2014

Is it just me, or is there more selfish, insensitive and downright mean behavior at work these days? When did we cross the line from honesty to cruelty? When did we evolve from “I’m okay, you’re okay,” to “I’m okay and who cares about you?”

In some workplaces today, employees don their emotional bulletproof vests to prepare themselves for the psychological battle they will endure that day. Managers can be the worst offenders, since their employees are at a political disadvantage if they want to stand up for themselves. Heavy workloads and more stress are probably the culprit but certainly no excuse.

Here’s the irony: this is emerging at the same time employers are launching all-out recruiting and retention campaigns to keep their best employees happy and content. In some cases, these minefields of caustic behavior are causing people to walk out the back door faster than they can get them through the lobby.

Here are some of the nasty things I’m seeing from managers and co-workers, and what to do about them:


Sarcastic comments.

Sarcasm can be a hoot at work but when it turns into a veiled barb, it’s crossed the line. The attacker can hide behind his words with a thin smile, “I was only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?” Meanwhile everyone in the room is squirming. The victim of the sarcasm has been publicly skewered and can only lose: he looks defensive if he’s offended and he looks weak if he’s the regular punching bag.

Approach: Public counterattacks can backfire and are tricky to pull off. Instead, pull the peer aside after the meeting and say, “Jack, from your comment in the meeting, you seem to have an issue with the way I’ve handled the Anderson account. I’d like to hear what your concerns are.” After his feedback, say, “I appreciate your honesty. In the future, I’d prefer a similar discussion between the two of us, rather than a comment in a meeting.”


The stealth bomber.

Sometimes everyone in the department knows about Jeff’s problem except Jeff. Co-workers gossip about him on their breaks. The manager has had a stream of complaints and ends up commiserating with other employees about Jeff’s problems.

Approach: Develop a conflict protocol in your department. The expectation is that anyone who has an issue with someone else is expected to go directly to that person first. When the supervisor receives complaints, he or she should coach the complainer to go and talk with the person first before the manager gets involved. The goal is to encourage everyone to take responsibility for the situation instead of playing high school games.


Condescending comments.

I’ve heard about comments that could curdle fresh milk. “Do I have to do your job for you?” “Last time I checked, I was the department manager and you were just a secretary.”

Approach: Stand up for yourself if you are the victim of blatant disrespect. “If you have a concern I’ll be happy to discuss it but not if you use that tone.”


Screaming and temper tantrums.

Managers and co-workers who yell and throw things often dismiss the ripple effect it has. Their way of dealing with a frustration is to get it out of their system, never mind the fact that they have now passed their stress to everyone around them. Sister symptoms are door slamming, sulking and huffing around the office. And if the rage is directed at you, it can be demoralizing and devastating.

Approach: In the middle of the storm, either walk away or tell the person you’ll talk with them when they’ve calmed down. In a calmer moment give some advice. Use this model: 1. Describe what they are doing. 2. Say how it is affecting them/you. 3. State what you would prefer. (“When you yell and start blaming me, it makes me just shut down and get angry with you, instead of directing my attention to solving the problem. And because I’m worried about your reaction on things, I don’t always tell you when a problem is brewing, which makes it worse. I’d prefer it if you would state the problem and wait to hear what I have to say and then let me figure out how to fix it.”)


My life is more important than your life.

You see it everywhere. “I’m going to call in sick. So what if someone else has to cover for me?” “I have to leave early [again] to do something at my son’s school. Sally can finish this project, she’s single and doesn’t have any family obligations.”

Approach: Self-centered people fail to see themselves from other angles. Explain it by putting them in other peoples’ shoes. “If you were Sally, how would you feel if you had to stay late without warning each week to cover for a co-worker? Whether it’s for a child, elderly parent or just an aerobics class, it’s not fair to assume your life is more important than hers.”

If everyone practices a little more civility at work, it can reduce the stress for all of us.

If you ask someone what he or she loves or hates about work, you’re likely to hear about a great working relationship with a subordinate or about some sneaky little weasel in the next office. You’re also likely to hear about his or her relationship with the boss.

It’s no surprise that bosses are often the primary cause of people either loving or leaving their jobs. In your own career, you’ve probably been deeply influenced by certain bosses.

Learning to be a good boss isn’t as clear cut as learning technical skills. There is no degree to earn or tests to pass. Most of us learn how by watching our own managers and by making our own mistakes.

The other day someone asked me if I’ve seen any patterns emerge from the letters I receive about good and bad bosses. Over the years, I have begun to see that there are four main themes that seem to separate the good bosses from the bad.

They are: setting expectations, coaching, feedback, and recognition. These big four can make all the difference.


Setting clear expectations:

Every time I interview a new employee I ask him or her, “What kind of manager do you like to work for?” I’ll bet you know what they say: “Someone who tells me what they expect and how I’m doing.”

Managers need to sit down with new employees and point out priorities. It’s a good idea to pull out the performance review form and discuss how you define “excellent performance.” Paint a picture. Don’t assume.

For experienced employees it’s critical to discuss your expectations at least once a year when you’re forming plans for the coming year. It’s even better to discuss the results you expect when you are delegating each assignment. Too often, we simply tell our employees what we want done - not the results we expect. We deserve to be disappointed.



Too many managers lead through mental telepathy. They assume their employees know what to do and how to do it.

Managers must learn how to be good sideline coaches. Too often a well-meaning boss will run in and play the game for the subordinate rather than calling in the plays from the sidelines. The boss may be having fun but her subordinate isn’t learning a thing.

Overcontrolling bosses make their employees feel inadequate and undermined. Because they don’t force them to take the responsibility for solving their own problems, their employees either give up and become passive or the good ones quit.

Undercontrolling bosses cause different problems. Their hands-off style contributes to confusion about priorities. They don’t like to make unpopular decisions because they want everyone to be happy. Their team ends up running around the field in circles bumping into each other. Fights break out. They usually end up being ignored or despised.



Why wait until the formal performance review to surprise your employee? Then it’s too late to do anything about it. Managers get into trouble by not confronting employees early enough.

They often tell me they don’t want to hurt employees’ feelings or are afraid the employee will lose his or her motivation.

The next time you struggle with whether or not to share negative feedback with your employee, ask yourself:  “If I had this problem, would I want my boss to tell me?”

A good way to give negative feedback in a constructive way is to use the employee’s personal goal as a lead-in. For example: “I know you’re trying to bring in bigger retail clients, so I’m sure you’d want to know if there was something getting in the way of that ...”  It helps them hear what you have to say because you have their best interests at heart.

Feedback given along the way sounds more like coaching - not like punishment.



Employees demand recognition for their efforts. They are actively managing their own careers and won’t tolerate neglect.

We can’t afford what happens when good employees begin to wither from lack of positive reinforcement. In spite of themselves, some of them begin to say: “Why should I kill myself? He or she doesn’t appreciate it anyway!”

There has been a lot of research on motivational theory. One of the things inherent in all of the findings is that humans thrive on recognition. Nothing improves our hearing like praise. We never get too old for it.

Giving positive reinforcement is the most powerful coaching tool you have as a manager. Mention the thing you like and you’ll get more of it.

Remember to be specific, don’t mix negative and positive. Give feedback and compliments as soon after the event as possible. If you wait until their performance review, the effect is lost.

Your job has a tremendous impact on the people you manage. Your success or failure to pay attention to the “big four” will not only affect your employees but your future as well.

Good managers know that employee satisfaction is essential to healthy teamwork, initiative and productivity.  Based on an in-depth study of the most innovative ideas in creating a culture where employees thrive, our recruiting & retention tools have all the secrets you will need to find and keep the best employees.










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