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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
have touched on a significant problem in companies
today. That is, how to get cooperation from people over
whom you have no direct control.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
status level may be lower in the organizational
hierarchy than these co-workers, thus putting you in a
less powerful position.
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
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.
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
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.”
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
“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 approach will help you earn respect and
cooperation that will get you more mileage than forcing
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.
finally decide to talk to her. Her reasons? “I’m going
through a divorce.”
people have problems in their private lives that can
affect their performance on the job.
manager, you are faced with balancing the concern and
consideration you feel for your employee with the
standards and requirements of the job.
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.
don’t think either approach is good for the employee,
the manager or the organization.
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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.
you're guilty of side talk instead of straight talk,
here are some behaviors that can help:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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
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.
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
Oct. 23, 2014
“If I want it done right, I’d better do it myself.”
I gave my people more to do, they’d resent it.”
the time I explain what I want done, I’ll have it done
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
When a topic is judged as too new, complex or too
difficult, the poor listener mentally shuts off.
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
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
Paraphrasing sounds like this: “In other words, your
plan is to research the topic and prepare a proposal. Is
components of paraphrasing are:
repeat a summary of the speaker’s thoughts and feelings;
use key words and phrases to avoid “parroting”;
3. always check with the speaker to make sure your
summary was accurate;
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
“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.
the discussion progressed, I started asking some
questions, to understand what the core problems might
How are you structured? Are employees organized
homogeneously by technical specialty, or
cross-functionally organized by product group? By
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
the senior leaders all share the same vision for the
future and have linked business goals?
the policies and procedures reward the right behavior?
What gets “punished”?
Where is the corporate graveyard and who are the walking
Who do they tell stories about? What stories make up the
oral history of the company, that are repeated over and
get the idea. Dig deeper. You may be surprised at what
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
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.
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.”
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?”
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
This one is tricky, since he or she may have a
legitimate point and you don’t want to shut down honest
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
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.
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
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.
resolve conflict, managers must separate facts from
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.
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
Their fight is about some comment one appears to have
made about the other. The accused employee denies such a
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.
thank you in advance for any advice you can give me.
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.
Prepare yourself with as much factual knowledge about
the problem as you can. Look at how productivity has
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
will need to be impartial, even-tempered and fair.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
you will need to listen very carefully to make sure you
are getting a clear, detailed description of the
problem. Allow no generalities.
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.
their solutions are impractical, unacceptable or not
forthcoming, you must offer your own opinion and
solution. Offer any support you can to make the
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Sept. 6, 2014
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
test score explains why I have not been promoted and why
I am always given the department’s more secretarial,
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
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?)
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.
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.)
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
are some of the nasty things I’m seeing from managers
and co-workers, and what to do about them:
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.”
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
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
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
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
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.”)
life is more important than your life.
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.”
everyone practices a little more civility at work, it
can reduce the stress for all of us.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
often tell me they don’t want to hurt employees’
feelings or are afraid the employee will lose his or her
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?”
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
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.
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.
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.
Learn how to give criticism effectively
August 5, 2014
is like swallowing bad-tasting medicine. We wish we
didn't have to take it, but we know, if it’s valid, it
will make us better.
Criticism is often as difficult to give as it is to
receive. We don’t like to criticize because we don’t
want to hurt feelings. Because of this, many managers
rank giving negative feedback high on the list of
techniques they want to improve. Even the best employees
occasionally need to hear how they can improve their
work. In fact, as a good coach, you owe it to your
employees to recognize excellent work, as well as to
give criticism, so they have a clear picture of the
performance you desire.
If employees only hear about their work when they do it
wrong, they may feel unappreciated and withhold extra
effort because “the boss never notices anyway.” You risk
getting an average performance out of a star performer.
Conversely, if employees hear only positive remarks or
silence, they are being cheated out of important
feedback that could help their careers. For example,
studies have pointed out that some male bosses are
hesitant to criticize female employees because they
aren’t sure how they’ll handle it.
Here are some basic guidelines to help you deliver
■ Don’t sugar-coat the criticism with compliments.
Even though you may think it will make the criticism
easier to take, you may send mixed signals to your
employees. They may either doubt the sincerity of your
compliment or not take the advice as seriously as they
should. For example: “John, I really think this report
is well done, but there are quite a few little things
Instead, focus immediately on the task or behavior you
wish to change. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the
need to preserve your employee's self-esteem, however.
Example: “John, these fact sheets are incomplete. You’re
usually very thorough in your reports. Can you tell me
anything about this?” This preserves the employee’s selfesteem and reduces defensiveness, while staying
focused on the specific problem.
■ Give negative feedback on only one thing at a time.
Overloading an employee with several criticisms at once
can diffuse the importance of each item. For example:
“Sharon, there are too many typos in this letter. You
have to be more careful. It’s just like your filing ...
I couldn’t find the Evans report this morning ... and
another thing ...”
Overloading criticism is also unproductive because it
tends to make your employees feel ineffective,
frustrated and resentful.
It is better to concentrate on one issue at a time and
to deal with the most important area first.
■ Be specific about the change or result you want.
The change you want is probably so obvious to you that
you assume it is understood by the employee. Constantly
communicating your standards and expectations helps
everyone stay on track. Consider the time, energy and
anxiety caused by this vague criticism: “Brenda, you
must work on writing better memos. Work on improving
your style next time. It needs to be tightened up, OK?”
A better approach might be: “Brenda, you made some
interesting points in this memo, but they were hard to
find because of the memo’s structure. Next time, try
limiting it to a half page and underline each key
■ Offer criticism in the form of advice and give it
right before the employee has a chance to try again.
This technique makes the feedback sound supportive
rather than punitive. It can be difficult to discipline
yourself to do this because our tendency is to routinely
offer criticism immediately after a mistake is make.
Here’s how it could be done: “Pete, you have some
difficult formats to put together for this report. I’d
like you to be consistent with the other technicians in
the way you lay out the data. When you get to that part,
let me know. I’ll show you how I’d like it done.”
This timing technique of describing the change you want,
right before they can practice it, isn’t always
practical, but when used correctly, it is an effective
coaching tool. Athletic coaches use it all the time to
make performance adjustments.
■ Involve the employee in thinking through solutions.
This helps to eliminate blaming.
Listen to this exchange: Employee: “If Accounting had
gotten the information to me on time, I could have
prepared a complete report.”
Manager: “Do you have any ideas about how to get those
figures from Accounting on time, next time?”
Pointing the finger at Accounting isn’t going to solve
the problem, so the manager put the responsibility where
it belonged – with the employee. Only if the employee’s
facts clearly indicate that the fault lies elsewhere,
and is beyond his or her authority to handle, would the
Involving the employee in thinking through solutions to
mistakes encourages a healthy discussion of the problem
and forces the employee to take responsibility for
Giving criticism is usually not easy but knowing how to
do it well increases the likelihood that it will be
heard and acted upon. It will make you a boss everyone
will want to work for.
Reserve competition for your competitors
July 25, 2014
the past 10 years I have worked in sales and have been
successful because I’ve developed good relationships
with my customers and the sales team.
the past four years, I have been working for a
manufacturing company in sales but I’m having a
difficult time dealing with the philosophy of our sales
manager. He believes that the best way to motivate the
staff is to sow seeds of dissension between us. When we
confronted him in a meeting he said that he believes
that healthy competition keeps us motivated and working
hard. We think this is counterproductive. Isn’t the
“enemy” our competition - not each other? It’s tough
enough dealing with the outside environment; we don’t
want to be fighting inside too. What do you think?
with you. The individuals on the team would probably do
much better if their focus was on beating the
competition instead of each other. Internal competition
between individuals and between departments does all the
wrong things: competition for resources, withholding
help and information, opposing goals ... all the things
that will hurt the customer and can kill a company.
managers still think that setting up some "healthy
competition” between peers will spark the drive to do
better than the other guy. Unfortunately, not many
people are motivated this way.
people do better when they’re in a supportive team. The
pressures of the workplace are relentless, and in sales
they increase when making your mortgage payment depends
on a commission. Sales people spend a lot of time alone
in the field, and dealing with rejection is tough
enough, so when they come back to the office they need
to feel supported. It’s important to be able to
congratulate each other’s successes and support
teammates when they need it.
Another powerful component of motivation is having a
shared goal. Imagine the dynamics of two differently
structured sales contests. In group one, the sales
manager would pit each sales person against the other
for a prize. In the second group, the manager would have
them work together.
likely group one would steal leads from each other,
withhold valuable market information, and hide how well
they were doing. There would be winners and losers. Even
the sales person who came in second place would be a
loser. And because they wouldn’t share information about
successful tactics, the team members wouldn’t learn much
from the experience.
the second team, things would be much different. The
sales manager would work with the team to come up with a
team goal that would be challenging yet possible if
everyone did their part. Progress toward the goal would
be prominently posted and the team would meet regularly
to discuss how they could help each other to do even
better. They would have a vested interest in making sure
each of the team members had all the help and
information they needed. They would have a compelling
reason to share customer information and marketing
ideas. They would all be winners and so would the
These dynamics don’t just occur in sales teams. Most
companies are inadvertently set up in a way that creates
destructive competition. If they are structured
functionally - each with their own goals - it’s
inevitable. People fight each other for limited
promotions, departments fight each other for resources
... and the customer is the loser.
That’s why progressive companies are moving toward a new
way to structure and reward work groups. Rather than the
traditional departmental configuration, they are now
grouping people around a whole front-to-back process or
product. The idea is to start with the customer and
structure the organization to serve them, rather than
organizing to suit the selfish efficiency needs of the
manager doesn’t realize that these two things -
structure and rewards - need to be in alignment before
Progressive discipline minimizes liability, maximizes
July 18, 2014
a new manager, having recently been promoted after five
years at this company. I am concerned about how to
discipline employees. Some of my questions are:
How are U.S. firms dealing with employee discipline?
How do managers discipline their employees without
offending anyone or getting sued?
How can a manager earn respect from their employees and
still have them make sure the job is completed with
company doesn’t have a human resources function. We are
a small service company of 35 employees. I am struggling
with an employee who only seems to work when he feels
like it and when I talk to him about his work he will
improve for awhile but go right back to long breaks and
is the right approach? My boss is always worried about
getting sued, so he wants me to tiptoe around this
employee but I want to get him to perform his job. What
do you advise?
An employee who is performing below the minimum standard
- and getting away with it - is, in fact, lowering the
standard for everyone. After all, if he can get away
with lousy performance, doesn’t it mean everyone else
on your side. If your manager ties your hands and
prevents you from holding this employee responsible, he
is taking away your authority to do your job. I suspect
your manager is uninformed about what constitutes
appropriate progressive discipline.
called “progressive” because it evolves over a period of
time, with no surprises for the employee and clear
expectations and consequences. When done correctly, an
employee can either take steps to turn around the
situation or “fire himself.” In other words, he knows
what the consequences will be if he doesn’t change his
behavior but he continues down the path to termination
Experience shows us that surprised people sue. This
process eliminates the surprise and gives the employee
clear choices about the outcome. He or she may sue
anyway but chances are you’d win the case, if you have
been clear, consistent and reasonable about expectations
and what the consequences could be if he or she fails to
meet minimum expectations.
are some general guidelines to follow:
Meet with your manager and show him this process. Ask
for his support as you move through the steps. If it
would make him feel more comfortable, speak to a lawyer
who specializes in labor and human resources issues
before you begin.
First meeting: Have a discussion with the employee to
spell out exactly what is expected and give him examples
of the pattern of behavior that is unacceptable. “Jack,
over the last few months you’ve missed a number of
deadlines. Your weekly reports are consistently late,
three of your main projects have missed major targets
and you haven’t begun the new assignment that is due
next week. This pattern isn’t acceptable and we need to
talk about what you are going to do to turn this
During this conversation, it’s important to do three
Keep the focus on his responsibilities. Don’t accept
excuses or blame. “Let’s stay focused on you. What are
you going to do differently that is going to ensure that
you meet your deadlines?”
Determine if there is some legitimate barrier preventing
him from meeting the expectation.
Give him fair warning. This isn’t going to be documented
but if you need to talk to him again, you will be forced
to document the incident and put it in his personnel
Second - Third - Fourth Meetings: Observe his behavior,
being quick to notice if he is making improvements but
talk to him again if he fails to meet expectations. At
this point, you will probably ask him to meet with you
weekly and report on his progress. Restate the
expectations, ask him for actions he’s going to take, or
impose some actions if necessary.
Summarize your conversation, including action items he’s
agreed to do, in an email and give him a copy. Put a
copy in his file.
Spell out the potential consequences. “I feel that it’s
only fair to tell you what could happen if you don’t
turn this around. It has already had an impact on your
results, which will affect your salary review. If it
continues, it could cause you to lose your job. I hope
you will take the necessary steps to prevent this.”
Final Meeting: He hasn’t improved consistently enough
and you are going to give him one final warning. He is
one step away from termination and he needs to know it.
Give him specific, measurable actions you want from him,
within a clear time frame. “Over the next six months,
you need to hand in your weekly report by 3 p.m. on
Friday. You also need to meet every deadline, unless
we’ve agreed otherwise. Failure to do this could result
in losing your job. It is unfortunate that it’s come to
this but you’ve left me no other options.” (Notice the
words “could result.” This gives you some wiggle room in
case there actually is a legitimate reason. But at this
point, it would need to be something out of the person’s
Taking disciplinary action is never easy. But done
correctly, it will put the employee’s fate in his own
Boosting quality means thinking about service
July 8, 2014
employees know who their customers are? If you’re
thinking, “But they don’t have customers, only our sales
people have customers,” you are missing out on an
important concept. If each employee served internal
customers as well as they serve outside customers, the
level of quality in your organization would rise
Everyone has a customer. It’s easy to identify them.
Just ask yourself. “Who receives the output my work
group produces?” “Who complains when our work isn’t done
right?” Tomorrow, call your employees together and
discuss the concept of internal customers. But before
you do, think about how you manage for “customer
service.” Quality gurus, such as W. Edwards Deming,
point to faulty management practices as the undermining
influence that destroys good quality.
Here are some things to consider when you want to
reinforce what you preach: Do I give my employees enough
autonomy to solve problems with their customers or do I
force them to follow inflexible policies? Have you ever
heard one of your employees say to a customer, “I’m
sorry, but that’s the rule.”
Is my organization structured so that employees who do
different parts of the work can talk to one another
daily and consider themselves as part of one team? Do
your groups blame and complain about each other?
Does your performance review process and form weigh
quality and teamwork as much as it does quantity of
production? Are there complaints about service or do
your “customers” have to revise some of your employees’
In times of crisis, do you overlook poor customer
service in order to get the work done? Action in times
of a crunch are what employees remember when searching
for your real expectations: “If he demands good customer
service during rush periods, he must really mean it!”
Do you use the terms “customers” or “clients” when
referring to the people who are next in line to receive
work from your employees? In order to change thinking,
you will probably need to use these terms on a regular
When you receive complaints about services or products,
do you give them back to your people to solve or do you
try to solve it for them? Do you encourage them to
discover what caused the problem in the first place, so
that future problems will be avoided? Or do you ignore
the opportunity and encourage everyone to get back to
work as usual after the complaint is resolved or the
When quality slips, do you demand that everyone work
harder and try to concentrate? Or do you ask your
employees if there is a problem in the work flow or
changes in the system that could also be causing the
problem? Quality experts have found that poor quality is
usually the result of faulty systems, not faulty people.
When crunch hits, will you provide the resources
necessary to get the job done at a level of quality that
Do you demand quality customer service or is cost
control or production your real focus? Will you hire
more help or delay a project deadline if the quality
isn’t up to your customers’ standards?
Do you survey your customers on a regular basis? Do you
have a regular system of feedback so your employees know
how they’re doing? If you asked your employees what your
customers’ standards are for quality work, would they
Do you provide appropriate training that reinforces
quality customer service? Do you actually monitor what
your new employees learn during their initial training?
Do your employees have frequent educational meetings at
which information is shared?
Do you have regular meetings at which problems are
discussed openly and solved through teamwork? Or, do
employees come to you individually with their problems
or complaints about one another?
Do you ask your employees to give you input on policies,
procedures and work decisions that affect them? Do you
let them solve problems that are closest to them?
Do you reward the employees who strive to provide a
responsible level of service and quality to their
Manager who plays favorites is playing with fire
June 27, 2014
have a situation in my office for which I would like
your advice. I work for a very large telecommunications
company on the East Coast. Although I have been working
in my position as an account manager for four years now,
I started working for a new boss a year ago due to a
recently discovered that this boss takes certain
employees in our department to baseball games and other
events during business hours over the summer and
throughout the year. Certain employees have gone to
sporting events several times, while others have never
been asked to go, including myself. I should mention
that there is an employee, newer than myself to the
department, and he has been invited twice now. I should
also mention that it appears to be only men who go to
these games and I understand that there are really no
business discussions going on at these events. The
outings require no use of vacation hours; they are
simply a perk.
wouldn’t mind it so much that these employees get to
take time off during business hours to go and enjoy the
afternoon, if it weren’t for the fact that there are
others of us who can’t take so much as an hour off
without having to use vacation hours. There are certain
employees (myself included) who are not allowed to work
through lunch to make up an hour, while other people in
the department are allowed to do this.
would say something to my boss directly, but I suspect
he really doesn’t like me and I would just be labeled a
complainer if I said anything.
should mention that our boss does give some nice perks
to all employees, which I really appreciate. I get to
work flexible hours along with about half of the office
and everyone gets Friday afternoons off in the summer
months without having to take vacation hours. We also
are allowed to dress casually (when we don’t call on
not appreciating the benefits I do have (even though
everyone gets them)? Or, is there some discrimination
going on? Is there a way to address this with my boss
without appearing to be a complainer?
be annoyed, too. In the best of circumstances, your
manager is lacking some basic understanding about fair
play and how to build a team. A worse case scenario,
your manager is displaying favoritism. His selective
invitations to certain employees have created an uneven
playing field, whether he realizes it or not.
appears that there is even a disparity about the way
“everyone’s” benefits are administered. If some people
can make up time and others can’t, I have to wonder what
the criteria are for these decisions. Is it based upon
the job duties? For instance, in some customer service
jobs, work hours must be adhered to for coverage
purposes. But if this isn’t the case, it certainly looks
like favoritism to me.
Employees who aren’t his cronies must be feeling like
you do. Who wouldn’t? They must feel as if the boss
doesn’t like them, either. They must wonder if their
careers will be ignored, while his buddies’ careers will
flourish. And if the “haves” are all men and the “have nots” are all women, the career opportunity imbalance
will appear to be tipped in favor of men. And that’s
where the risk lies for the appearance of
discrimination. Although these outings may be done in
ignorance and innocence, others may view the chosen ones
as having an unfair advantage when raises and promotions
are handed out. This manager is playing with fire.
Ironically, this situation isn’t fair for the manager’s
pals, either. Even if they are good performers, any
raise or promotion will be tainted with whispers about
your manager is blind to the obvious predicament he is
creating, I doubt that he will be open to your opinion.
If you do bring this up and he reacts with more
hostility, you have several choices - go to Human
Resources, or to your next level of management with your
concerns, or you may decide to leave.
situation is not unlike many stories I hear about the
subtle, and not so subtle, discrimination in many
workplaces. It’s where the term “glass ceiling” got its
name. Many women feel that situations such as this
aren’t bad enough, or overt enough, to fight against.
They chose their battles carefully and try to outperform
their peers. In the end, if they feel that their good
work will lose out to cronyism, many of them take their
talent and go where they have a fighting chance.
Address feedback – perception is often reality
June 17, 2014
At my company we have an extensive succession planning
process. As a part of that process we hear feedback from
those above us regarding our upward potential. I am a
mid-level manager and I would like to move up some day
but for right now, I’m happy in my job. I was promoted a
few years ago and I still feel I have a lot to learn.
The question I have for you is about something I have
heard from my boss in the succession feedback.
Apparently there is a perception among some senior
executives that I am “too close to my people.” When I
pressed for what that meant, I was told that sometimes I
don’t see my people’s flaws. I view them only through
“rose-colored glasses.” In other words, I think they are
better than others think they are.
In my own defense, I like to build a strong team and my
team is in a role that is under heavy pressure and
stress. So, I believe that my job is to protect them a
little from the business politics and administration
that only bogs them down and interferes with our
results. And our division is getting great results
(we’re in sales and service).
He mentioned a few people who have had some performance
slumps and one person who has been with the organization
a short while but who has ruffled some feathers. I have
defended these individuals because they have great
My boss said it wasn’t anything career-threatening but
he wanted to make me aware of it now, so I can work on
it before it becomes a more serious issue (especially if
I want to move up). What do you think?
I think you should thank your boss for his candid
feedback. Whether you agree with it or not, if that is
the perception of some of those above you, it must be
addressed. In other words, if you disagree with their
perceptions, you must prove them wrong with objective
data. If their comments have a grain of truth, you would
be wise to take a hard look at what you need to do
If you believe that you are being judged incorrectly,
then your strategy is to clear up their misperceptions.
Talk to your manager and find out more details about
what he and the senior managers think are your
employees’ shortcomings. Ask yourself, “What aren’t they
seeing that I see?” “What extenuating circumstances are
they unaware of ?” “What behavior is causing ‘ruffled
feathers’ and what can you do to help your employee
change that outcome?”
As you work with those above you, find opportunities to
educate them with objective data that they may not be
aware of. Their perceptions will only change after they
see the whole picture for themselves. Nothing you say
will make that happen. In fact, it will only make you
look more protective, if you try to defend these
employees in the face of those perceptions.
On the other hand, if the issue is pronounced enough to
come up during a succession planning process, it is
probably grounded in some real evidence. If more than
one person sees it this way, you should do some soul
Good people managers sometimes have this blind spot.
They are such devoted employee developers and teachers –
especially for those employees they hire themselves –
these managers aren’t always objective about the amount
of progress that is being made. They don’t want to give
up on a person.
Because these managers are such people-builders, they
see potential everywhere. “I’m working with him on
that,” is a typical refrain when senior managers
question the person’s abilities. They see their
employee’s failure as their own personal failure.
If you are seen as tolerating mediocre performance, or
viewed as a manager who can’t fire someone, you will be
a liability to the organization. In spite of your
ability to build loyalty and commitment, you won’t be
seen as strong management material. The ideal manager
develops his or her staff but doesn’t identify so
personally with their employees that their vision