Managers must earn their employees’ trust 


April 23, 2014

Joan Lloyd

“Trust me.” Yeah, right. Trust is in short supply at work these days. Yet managers sometimes think because they’re the boss, trust should be automatically granted. Can you hear the employee chorus? “Yeah, right.”

Waning loyalty has become the hallmark of the modern workplace. Downsizing, reorganization and other corporate “gotchas” have created employee cynicism. And yet, as a manager, you need to build trust among members of your team. So, how do you pull that off? You can’t wait around hoping your organization will make it happen. It starts with one: you. Trust won’t be given to you until it is earned.

Here are some essential trust building blocks:

Strength grows from vulnerability.

Ironic isn’t it? Yet we can all name powerful, respected people who can bare their throat. We admire that because we know only those with internal strength and confidence will lay themselves open. So, admit you don’t know the answer and ask your team for advice and help. Stay open to opinions and ideas. If you only act tough and strut around like you know it all, the pack will be looking for opportunities to bring you down.


Attempting to control others only drives them away.

Take a lesson from ex-spouses and angry adolescents; control never works. Once you hit adulthood, control tactics only cause resistance and rebellion. Micromanaging the daily work of talented employees or hogging all the good technical work for yourself snuffs the life out of employees and makes them run for the door.

Begin by trusting that employees by nature want to do good work. Be available for coaching and advice. It should look like this: “set expectations, encourage, encourage, encourage, redirect, encourage.”

Reexamine your policy manual and turn it into a good judgment guide. Only set policies around things that absolutely must be enforced. Policy manuals that stifle only prompt employees to find passive aggressive ways to circumvent the rules.


Have a playful spirit.

I used to think I had to have two personalities; one for work and one for my friends and family. I thought I had to don a “professional” mask when I started writing my column back in 1982. When people met me they’d often say, “You’re a lot more fun and down to earth than I thought you were from reading your column.” When I finally started letting my real self out, I not only began to have more fun, everyone else did, too.

Laugh at the stupid things you do (you might as well - everyone else is). You’ll get bonus points for being human. Encourage those around you to be silly sometimes and let their goofiness out - it’s good for business.


Authentic, open communication creates credibility.

Say what you see. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s probably the area managers ask me to help them with the most. Honest feedback is what everyone wants and few people know how to give. Adopt a philosophy that you want to help people and one of the best ways to do that is to tell them the truth about what is getting in their way.

If you are diligent about sharing information with people about what is going on in the organization, your people will turn to you as the trusted source, instead of the grapevine.


Curb your urge to be judgmental.

We want those around us to be like us, think like us and act like us. If they don’t, you secretly think they’re not very smart. (Come on, admit it.) We say judgmental things about our boss, our co-workers and our employees.

Instead of judging behavior, start describing it in neutral terms. This is tougher than you think. For example, (neutral) “When you don’t come to work on time, your coworkers must answer your phone and handle your customer questions. We need you to be here on time.” (judgmental) “You seem to care more about your personal life than you care about your job.”


To build courage, face your fears.

Confident people didn’t inherit a bravery gene. They got that way by taking small risks and then working their way up to bigger and bolder moves. Like a sapling subjected to strong winds and harsh conditions, the mature tree is stronger than it’s sheltered twin.

What are you resisting or avoiding? Chances are it’s the very thing that is holding you back from where you want to go. Are you afraid of public speaking? Afraid of hurting feelings if you speak honestly? Start small, but start to face your fears. If you don’t, they become bigger boogey men.


Keep your promises.

Dependability creates trust. There is an old quote, “We judge ourselves by our best intentions. Others judge us by our last worst act.” (unknown) Do what you say you will do. That means returning phone calls, keeping confidences, showing up for meetings, and stopping at someone’s desk to answer a question when you promised you would.

“Trust me” never works. You can only earn it the old fashioned way.

Trust and respect are the foundation. Based on an in-depth study of the most innovative ideas in recruiting and retaining employees, our recruiting & retention tools have hundreds of ideas to help you find and keep the best employees.

Is your organization built on a moral culture?
April 18, 2014

The modern organization is becoming the new town hall, the new main street. Increasingly, employees are looking to their workplace as their “community.” Many people spend more time with co-workers than with their families. Many people don’t even know their next door neighbors as well as they know their co-workers.

Many Generation Xers have never experienced a nuclear family or a tightly knit neighborhood. They can’t imagine a time when grandma and grandpa, mom and dad and the kids talked together at Sunday supper about the events of the day and the resulting moral implications.

Which brings me back to the question I would like you to think about. What are the principles and values in your workplace? If you’re a manager, where do you want the standards to be set in your own work team? As an individual, what standard do you want to live by? What do you want to stand for?

Be forewarned. This is not for those who like to manage by the latest bestseller. This goes a lot deeper than that. It also means you have to commit to the dreaded WYT (walk your talk). But I suspect that your employees will embrace it and be uplifted by it. After all, where else can they find it? Most people yearn to be a part of an organization that provides something more than just a paycheck. And if they can be a part of an organization that commits to values-driven behavior, their commitment and productivity soar.


Here are some questions to consider:

The senior management team and the culture of the organization:

* Has your organization actively defined a set of core values or beliefs? (For example, does your company use words such as honesty, integrity, trust and respect when it defines its mission and vision and how it wants to treat the employees and customers?)

* Do all members of your senior management team talk about these values often?

* Do you have confidence that a sexual harassment complaint (or any kind of complaint) would be honestly and carefully investigated?

* Are employees really treated like “our greatest asset” or is this phrase only something you hear in speeches and press releases?

* Do budgets, goals and measurements support the values?

* Has anyone ever been fired or encouraged to leave because they were violating one or more of the values? Was that person in senior management or a big producer who brought in a lot of money?

* Can you think of situations when the company demonstrated honesty and integrity, when to do otherwise would have been advantageous?

* Can anyone in the organization ask a question of anyone else, regardless of their level?

* Is there a lot of finger pointing between departments or between people?

* Does your manager encourage you to do “the right thing” for the customer, even if it’s not always convenient or efficient for the company?


Managers’ day-to-day behavior:

* Do managers at all levels try to lead by example?

*Do you hear “hero stories” in meetings about people who have demonstrated the values with co-workers or customers?

* Do managers spend more time being honest than evasive?

* Are each employee’s contributions valued and appreciated?

* Are prejudices and biases discouraged when they surface?

* Are diverse ideas solicited and encouraged?

* Do managers share information openly, even when it’s bad news?

* Do you have to rely on the rumor mill or can you rely on your manager for the truth?

* Does your manager immediately confront disrespectful behavior when it occurs?

* Do you feel safe admitting something you’ve done wrong, or do you feel as if you have to lie to avoid blame?

* When you hear “no,” is it followed by an explanation?

* Are people held accountable for things they should do?


Employees’ day-to-day behavior:

* Do you trust your co-workers?

* If you have a problem with something a co-worker has done, do you discuss it with the person or talk behind his or her back?

* Do you take personal responsibility for your own behavior?

* Are you open to feedback and coaching on things you could improve?

* Do you treat your co-workers with as much respect as you show to senior managers?

* Do you speak up when you have a concern, or are you likely to grouse about it to others?

* Are you actively working to add value to customers and co-workers?

Remember, a value-driven organization begins with you.

Your life isn’t more important than mine
Jan. 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.


Balance and consistency are key to being a good manager
March 31, 2014

“If I become a manager, I’ll never be like that,” we often say when we have a lousy boss. The problem is that we often over correct and our behavioral pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction. Here are some examples:


The mistake: overreacting to a dictator.

Several years ago, a manager told me, “If I am ever a boss, I’ll never treat people that way.” He was highly critical of his boss at the time and felt that he was too demanding and rigid.

This fellow got his wish. He was promoted into his former manager’s position. But, unfortunately, he was so worried about being a dictator, he became a wimp. 

“I just want us to be one big happy family,” the manager told me recently. “I don’t know why people just can’t get along.” He was lamenting the fact that his employees had become very disgruntled and were complaining to him constantly. They said he was showing favoritism to some employees, by granting special privileges when they came and whined for favors. The complaining employees were unhappy about some employees who weren’t pulling their own weight, and had missed many days of work.

Employees had confided to me that they actually missed the “bad old days,” because at least then there were some rules. “The rules may have been applied harshly,” they told me, “but at least they were consistently applied and everyone knew exactly where they stood. Our manager won’t take a stand on anything and he’s always trying to be our pal. He doesn’t understand that he has to make some unpopular decisions that keep the playing field level for all of us.”

Ironically, what this manager discovered was that being “too nice” can be just as bad as ruling like a dictator.

This is a classic mistake. In the absence of a good role model, the new manager patterns him or herself in the opposite mold from the managers they despised, only to go too far in the opposite direction.


The mistake: overreacting to a perfectionist.

“He was never satisfied,” an engineer told me about his manager. “His standards are so high, he thinks nobody can do the work as well as he can. He’s constantly peering over our shoulders and sometimes he even takes back a project because he thinks he can do a better job of it. It’s really very demoralizing. I wish he’d just go back to being an engineer.”

Some time ago, I worked with a new manager who had left a job because of a perfectionist boss. He, too, overreacted by letting people have “creative freedom”. Unfortunately, that creative freedom - with no standards or constructive feedback - became a low-performing work environment, where employees did the minimum to get by. The best employees began to complain to the boss about their coworkers’ lax attitude but they soon learned that their manager just didn’t want to be the bad guy. Those with higher standards left because they couldn’t tolerate being a part of a team with no pride in their work.


The mistake: overreacting to a rigid, old fashioned boss.

“I worked long hours to get where I am, so why shouldn’t my employees? It’s the price they have to pay to get ahead. Employees today just don’t have a decent work ethic.” This 60-something manager scorned the notion of “family-friendly policies” and held fast to his belief that the person who came in early and left latest was the best employee.

Needless to say, his employees didn’t see it that way. When he retired, and one of the team was promoted into his position, the employees rejoiced. Finally, they were going to have an enlightened manager, who would let them take some time off for their children’s soccer games and other personal needs.

For some, their elation turned to irritation quickly, however. It seemed as if any employee request to leave work for personal reasons was granted. And the same people kept making the requests, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. Workers who were single complained that they got stuck working later than everyone else. Men complained that some of the women were always leaving early - you get the picture.


The lesson in each of these situations is to learn from the mistakes of others but not to take it to the opposite extreme. If you hear yourself say, “I’ll never be like that,” be careful. The answer is somewhere in the middle, with a fair set of guidelines to guide the way.


HR's role during a merger
March 22, 2014

Dear Joan:

I am wondering if you have any insight on HR’s role in a merger. We are about to combine two companies. My job will now mean that I will be flying out to the other two locations of our newly formed company.  
They have not had an HR position there and I will have to establish myself and build up rapport and a comfort level with the other employees. What should the first steps be?


You must understand the strategic intent before you can take any steps at all.

Understand the goals of your senior management team and position yourself as the point person for the cultural and personnel issues for the merger. For instance, are they trying to create one large company with integrated benefits, policies, products and services? Do they expect to see financial gains from combining functions and eliminating duplicate positions? Perhaps the purpose of the acquisition is to move into a new region of the country or expand their products and services.

There may even be a restructuring at your own company, whereby a new corporate holding company is created, with legal, HR, financial and other staff functions overseeing all three companies.

Hopefully, you have been a partner with your senior team as they made the decision to acquire these companies. History has taught us that failing to do a due diligence assessment of cultural fit can bog down - and even derail - mergers when people issues are ignored. For example, if the cultures are very different, you will need to allow more time to build trust and introduce any changes.

Ask senior management to introduce you to the key decision makers at the two new companies. Ideally, you should sit on the integration team, which is usually a group of executives from a variety of departments, who meet periodically to plan and execute changes at the acquired company.

Although they have not had formal HR expertise, someone must have been doing some HR functions. The companies are probably rather small, since they don’t have an HR function, so the tasks may even be done by several people or even outsourced.

You will need to go through a discovery phase, where you visit just to listen and learn about their business and their people. The most important thing to remember is that these people are nervous and perhaps intimidated. They are worried about their jobs, even though they may have been told nothing will change. They are concerned that the Big Fish is going to devour them, so they will be cautious about what they tell you.  
Your best strategy is to be open and friendly and completely honest. If you know, for example, that some jobs may be lost, don’t try to calm them with false hope. It will only come back to bite you. Or, if you know that all three companies are going to be combining benefits, be honest about it but assure them that the goal is to keep their benefits the same or better (assuming that is indeed the case).

Here is a list of don'ts:

-Don’t act like you are superior to them. Be extra sensitive with your word choices. If you come across as pushy or know-it-all, they will resent and resist you.

-Don’t assume the way you do things at your company will work just as well at their company.

-Don’t try to change things too fast. Start with the easy wins first.

-Don’t change things top down. Use a participative process and use their own internal champions to sell and implement change.

If the executives at your company aren’t planning to meet with employees of the other two companies - along with onsite executives - you need to encourage it. You can play a valuable role by coordinating these meetings with onsite managers, collecting employee questions in advance, helping to script the answers to sensitive questions and facilitating the sessions themselves.

You may also want to establish a confidential, phone “hot line” for employee questions. (An online version could also be used but emails aren’t confidential.) You could play a valuable role by collecting anonymous questions and publishing answers online. You will position yourself as the point person who is responsive and helpful and the senior executives will likely welcome your initiative on this.

Identify a well-respected champion at each site who can work with you to coordinate and communicate as your partner. You will have much better luck implementing changes if they are supported and introduced by someone they trust.

Lessons to be learned from bad bosses

March 13, 2014

“I wear my bad bosses like a charm bracelet,” my friend explained. “Some people just seem to come by their management skills naturally; some learn it from books or classes. Me? I learned how to be a manager by doing exactly the opposite of most of my past bosses. Each charm teaches a lesson I never want to forget.”

I had to admit I’ve learned a lesson or two from lousy managers, too. They were well intentioned but lousy, nevertheless. The trick, I think, is to learn the lesson but not to let the pendulum swing to the other extreme. For instance, if you’ve worked for a micromanager, it would not be an improvement to be completely hands off and unavailable. In your zeal to avoid doing one thing, you don’t want to over-correct.

What not-to-do lessons have you learned? See if you can recognize any of these less-than-charming managers:

The Corrector

This manager doesn’t give much direction when he is doling out assignments. He tells everyone what he wants done and then goes back into his office and waits for the results to come in. When the finished product is laid at his feet, he steps into action, challenging, correcting and criticizing. Finding faults allows him to show his clear technical and managerial superiority, and besides, it’s easier than coaching employees before they begin a project.

The Lesson:

When you assign work, discuss the end result you are looking for. Ask employees how they would like to approach the assignment and what ideas they want to explore. If you see that a person has limited knowledge or is going in the wrong direction, you can suggest alternatives that will avoid mistakes later.


The Hoarder

This manager squirrels away information, power and/or satisfying work. She doesn’t share information from senior manager meetings and only doles out an occasional tidbit on a need-to-know basis. Another version is the manager who insists on making every decision. Meanwhile, the logjam of stalled projects piles up on her desk, awaiting her review. Finally, the work Hoarder never should have been promoted in the first place.

She loves the technical work and can’t keep her hands off of it. You might get a crumb or two but she keeps the whole cake.

The Lesson:

The more you share, the easier your job becomes. People want challenge and will gladly take a project from you. Then, you can really exercise your expertise by providing advice and creative ideas, without getting buried in the unchallenging details. The more information you share, the less your employees need close management, since they will understand where to take action to solve problems. Once employees are experienced enough to make their own decisions, they become more enthusiastic and motivated.


The Screamer

There are usually a lot of slang terms his employees use to describe the outbursts. “Going ballistic.” “Getting caught in his barrel.” “Spending time at the whipping post.” “Public beatings.” Lovely, aren’t they? People will do almost anything to avoid the wrath because even the toughest executive has an innate need to protect his self-esteem.

Even though the screamer recovers and becomes as sweet as a kitten, his potential victims never come too close or trust him with their honest information. They have seen - or felt - the claws.

The Lesson:

There are no excuses. This behavior is so counter-productive, it has no redeeming value. For instance, if someone made a costly mistake or the company was in dire financial straits, would screaming be justified? Would it make employees more committed, more motivated and less inclined to make additional mistakes? Of course not. It causes people to hang their heads, run for cover and keep their mouths shut.


The Ego

He loves to flaunt the spoils of his position and status. His office looks like a shrine to himself. He has the “little people” handle all of his daily details. Everything must be first class. He has no time for the real work that is being ground out every day by the people around him. Honest questions and pressing decisions must wait until he finishes his round of golf.

The Lesson:

Mr. Big Shot makes a big target. Eventually, his arrogance will catch up with him. His employees will resent his puffery and they will not protect his back. When he is about to step on a political landmine, they will merely smile. As soon as you start thinking you are better than the “little people” in your department or your company, you’ve forgotten the lesson that you are there to serve them, not the other way around.

High expectations lead to excellent performance
March 6, 2014

Some managers treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. How are they different from managers who fail to develop top-notch employees?

A subtle yet powerful key lies in the manager’s expectations of subordinates. If the expectations are high, yet attainable, productivity is likely to be excellent.

This doesn’t happen because a manager wishes it, nor does it have anything to do with the power of positive thinking.

Physicians, behavioral scientists and educators have long recognized the influence of one person’s expectations on another’s behavior. In fact, as a child, you probably experienced the power of positive (or negative) expectations of a coach, parent or teacher.

If you were lucky enough to have a coach, for example, who believed in your athletic abilities, chances are your performance met the coach’s high expectations and exceeded your own. This phenomenon, known as the Pygmalion Effect, or the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” is a powerful influence in business, as well.

Studies, including one conducted by Berlew and Hall at American Telephone and Telegraph Co., show the power of high expectations to be most significant during the first years an employee is with an organization.

This critical period of learning is a time when the trainee is ready to change or develop in the direction of the company’s expectations. Consequently, the manager of a new (or recently transferred) employee is likely to be a very influential person in the employee’s career.

Managers who have been found to be positive “Pygmalions” are usually also the best managers. (Pygmalion was a sculptor in Greek mythology who, by his effort and will, brought a statue to life.)

They have certain characteristics in common that make the self-fulfilling prophecy work to their advantage:

* They believe in themselves and have confidence in what they are doing.

* They hold a strong belief in their ability to develop talents of their employees, to select, train and motivate them. Because of this, successful managers are careful to select only those subordinates they “know” will succeed. They are slow to give up on a subordinate because it means giving up on themselves. Thus, they try that much harder to make sure the employee succeeds.

* They have the ability to communicate to subordinates that their expectations are realistic and achievable. (If employees are encouraged to strive for unattainable goals, they eventually give up trying and settle for results that are lower than they are capable of achieving.)

* They believe that subordinates can learn to make decisions and to take the initiative. They encourage this behavior.

* They prefer the rewards that come from the success and increased skill of their subordinates to the rewards they get from their own supervisors.

How do these beliefs translate to actual behavior?

Robert Rosenthal, of Harvard University, offered a four-factor theory to explain the influence that produces the self-fulfilling prophecy. These factors include both non-verbal and verbal forms of communicating expectations.

Managers who have been led to expect good things from their employees and others appear to provide the following:


The manager sets an accepting, encouraging social and emotional climate for employees with more potential. This includes warmth, attention, smiling, nodding the head appreciatively, all the positive, non-verbal kinds of communication.


The manager gives these employees more verbal clues about their performance - more reaction, more praise, and sometimes even more criticism, all of which help to teach the employee what is needed for improvement.


The manager will teach more material, and more difficult material, to employees who supposedly have more potential.


The manager encourages the “chosen” employee to ask more questions, urges him or her to respond to instructions, allows more time to do a job correctly, and gives the employee the benefit of any doubt.

What seems to be critical in the communication of expectations is not so much what the boss SAYS, but the WAY HE BEHAVES. Indifferent and non-committal treatment is the kind of behavior that communicates low expectations and leads to poor performance.

The startling fact is that managers are more effective in communicating low expectations to their subordinates than in communicating high expectations, even though most managers believe exactly the opposite.

Clearly, the way you treat your employees on a day-to-day basis can make all the difference.


Steer clear of the Bermuda Communication Triangle
Feb. 20, 2014

It seems so helpful, so kind, and so innocent. Without even knowing it, you may have stepped into the Bermuda Triangulation of Conflict. What starts out to be a three-hour cruise can turn into a shipwreck. The triangulation occurs when someone comes to complain about a coworker. The damage can get even worse if one of your supervisors’ employees comes to complain about her.

Many managers tell me that they welcome employee complaints and have an open door policy, which is fine as a general practice. But where they capsize is when they unwittingly step into the conflict too soon, without following some simple guidelines.

First, some basic principles that will make your workplace a healthier place and help you know what to do when it looks like your ship may steer off course:

Employees should try to resolve their own problems first, before coming to their manager.

While you may have good intentions to react and solve your employees’ problems for them, it is often the wrong thing to do. You need to set the expectation that your employees are adults who should work things out with their coworkers. If you jump in too soon, your employees will be only too happy to let you take responsibility for resolving every issue and they will sit on the sidelines and critique your performance.

Unfortunately, as soon as a boss steps in, the intensity of the storm increases because the other party feels that their coworker has tattled on them. If you find that you have a continuous line of employees outside your door, you probably have fallen into the Mommy or Daddy trap: “Come to me. I’ll fix everything.”

Managers should use complaints as an opportunity to teach their employees how to handle conflicts, rather than jump in and do it for them.

If one of your employees comes to you for help with a conflict, start teaching by asking questions:


“What have you said or done thus far?”

“Why do you think she is angry with you?”

“How has it affected the customer?”

“What do you think you could do that would help solve this?”

“What could you say to her?”


One of the most effective ways to help your employees is to guide them through a thought process about their own responsibility, approach and what they could say to the other person. You may want to role-play how they would say it. Then ask the person to report back once they have completed the conversation. This guarantees that they follow through and gives you another opportunity to help them with the next step.

Don’t be too quick to side with one person or the other.

Once you have asked probing questions, you will probably discover that the complainer played a part in the conflict. Your best strategy is to get out of your work area more often and make it a point to observe the circumstances first hand. Secondary complaints are usually a sign that you are too removed from what is going on.

Anonymous complaints, such as, “Here’s what my coworker did that upset me but you can’t tell him I complained about him. Now, I want you to go talk to him,” are destined to steer your ship off course.

If you become the mouthpiece of the anonymous complainer, you will only make things worse. The offending party will say, “What do you mean some of my coworkers complained about me? What did they say and who was it?”

It’s human nature to want to hunt down the complainers and confront them, “Why didn’t you tell me directly?” The person will be suspicious and hostile toward the team and will be resistant and resentful.

When a person comes to you and says, “Don’t tell him it was me,” ask the complaining employee, “How would you feel if I told you there were anonymous complaints being lodged against you?  Would you want to find out who complained? Would you be receptive and eager to change? Would you be able to continue to trust your teammates?

Instead, suggest that he or she make the first attempt to discuss the problem directly with the other employee, with help from you on the sidelines. Then, if things don’t improve, you may step in. If they don’t feel abandoned on a desert island, the complainer may be more willing to take steps to resolve the problem on his or her own.


CEO behavior has huge impact on entire organization
Feb. 13, 2014

What do you think goes on among a typical group of senior managers? Do you envision a group of smart, hard-driving executives engaged in open dialogue about the strategic issues affecting the bottom line of their company? Or, do you imagine a group of fifty-somethings with a mortgage to pay, kids in college, with a lot to lose if they don’t play along with the CEO? The reality is often somewhere in the middle. And if the organization is lucky, it has a CEO who realizes that his or her behavior determines, to a large degree, which way the pendulum will swing.

Regardless of the size of the company, there are critical cause and effect behaviors that CEOs need to be aware of:

Don’t punish bad news.

Leaders who go ballistic when things go south usually don’t realize how much their emotional volatility shuts down communication. Their management team will withhold negative events in the hope they can fix the problem before the leader hears about it. They will waste endless hours massaging data, wordsmithing memos, and rehearsing presentations until they are sanitized and guaranteed not to cause a stir. The problem, of course, is that the truth is always masked and issues go unresolved. Then, voila! The CEO learns about something too late, goes ballistic, and starts the vicious circle again.


Don’t trust the “Open Door” policy.

Put yourself in an executive’s shoes. He has a lot of issues he probably should talk to the CEO about but he doesn’t want to bother the CEO because he is very busy. He knows he is expected to solve problems on his own, so he doesn’t want to look inept - or worse - needy. This can happen at every level of an organization when a leader relies on the Open Door to hear about issues. It’s a risky - no - lazy approach. Leaders need to get out of their office and walk around, have lunch with employees, have fireside chats, visit sales staff in the field and be visible and accessible.


Invite challenge and debate.

Unless a leader encourages this, he or she may not get it. It’s often necessary for the CEO to be direct about it:

“Let’s make sure this will work. I want to hear all the reasons why it won’t so we’re not surprised later.”

“I’m no expert in this matter. Charlie, you’ve seen how our distributors have reacted to new initiatives in the past. What are we missing?”

Whether the leader is intimidating or not, direct reports will often hold back without a direct invitation.


Ask advice from a wide spectrum of excellent contributors.

Leaders can run into trouble when they only rely on a few key advisors. Not only will the advice be limited in scope; it will create an unhealthy dynamic within the leadership group. For instance, executives and managers will quickly learn who is in the inner circle of confidants. If they are on the outside, they will resent being excluded, which may cause them to distance themselves from the “in” crowd and even withhold information from them. Political jockeying will begin, as people maneuver to gain access to the king.


Beware of rewarding loyalty over competence.

We all see what happens in politics. The loyal one seems untouchable and is viewed through the rose colored glasses of the CEO. Because the loyal one has been granted this special safety, he or she would never risk jeopardizing this situation by challenging his or her benefactor. Unfortunately, this is also seen in private organizations. For example, successful entrepreneurs sometimes aren’t objective about the employees who were with them from the beginning, when times were tough. If the loyal one is a poor performer, good employees will become frustrated with this cog in the wheel of effectiveness and will lose respect for the leader. Great performers will not play on an uneven field and may take their ball to a company where competence is rewarded more fairly.


Beware of the outside ambassador role.

Some CEOs are so busy visiting customers, active in community affairs and shmoozing at the club; the mother ship begins to drift. Senior leaders have to make decisions without a CEO who can make the final decision and hold everyone accountable. Without the ultimate decision-maker, dissension can break out and politicking can eat up vast amounts of time. The vision becomes fragmented and momentum stalls. Every ship needs a captain.

How do I manage an employee who has lied to me?
Feb. 7, 2014

Dear Joan:

I have a new hire that, just days short of reaching his six-month probation period, lied to me three times in one conversation.

While verifying progress on a pilot program that was his sole responsibility, I asked three project-specific questions. There was no chance of miscommunication because the questions were: Did you do step 1 and how did it go? “Yes, easy process.” Were there problems with step 2, entering the data? “No, all went well.” Did the equipment work after the step 3 check out? “Yes, working perfectly.”

I discovered his lie; the customer called in wondering when he was coming to do the pilot. I asked him why he lied and his response was, “I was embarrassed to tell you I had not done the job, and I was planning on doing it the next day and then ran out of time before I left for vacation.”

I gave him a “Decision making day off” with pay, asking him to provide me with a plan on how he proposed to regain my trust. I explained I would not micromanage him if he chooses to stay with the company. He returned to work with a check and balance plan (micromanaging) which I rejected and he promised he would be perfect in his performance. I stated there is no perfect employee and that standard was impossible to achieve and I only wanted his best effort every day.

We agreed that he would sign a last chance agreement (any future work rule violation could result in termination), his pending pay upgrade would be put on hold, and the disciplinary action would remain in his file for five years. I believed our frank discussion and his commitment to my expectations would result in him being a conscientious employee and decided to keep him employed.

The very next day, he was 15 minutes late because he had to drop off his child at day care, a task his wife normally did. My VP overrode my request to dismiss him, based on a unique situation of snow-covered roads that morning and our #1 corporate goal - safety first.

How do I manage him going forward?


I think your VP is being overly generous and has put you in a tough spot. Since there have been no real consequences for any of these serious offenses during his probationary period, he will now believe that he can get away with even more. The question is: can he?

The lesson learned in this situation may be that your VP wasn’t adequately briefed prior to overturning your decision to fire him. Or, perhaps your VP is trying so hard to be the nice guy, he or she is blind to the pitfalls. In any event, since your company’s safety first rule trumped your desire to put an end to this charade, you will have to wait for the next opportunity to fire him - and you’ll surely get one based on his behavior so far.

He has unbelievable gall to lie to your face, let a customer down, and then fail to complete the pilot because he was going on vacation! What about this situation says he has any regard for the customer, respect for you, work ethic, or has any personal integrity?

As you are well aware, most people who really wanted to keep their jobs after signing a “last chance agreement” would get up a little early on a snowy day and get to work on time! I expect his future excuses will be Oscar-winning performances.

The fact that you didn’t let him get away with an action plan that forced you to micromanage him is admirable, but the fact that his alternative plan was to be “perfect” just underscores how glib and manipulative this guy really is. I would demand another specific plan if I were you and I wouldn’t let up until I got one. I would also extend his probation for another few months so he can’t think he is off the hook.

Before he pulls another fast one, get an agreement from your VP that he will be on a very short leash. He has not given you any reason not to micromanage him - and any freedom you may have promised is null and void after this series of events. He has clearly not earned your trust so you should micromanage his performance so you can not only see if he truly can do the job but to protect your company from additional customer complaints.

You owe him nothing. So far you have done all the bending. It’s his turn to prove he shouldn’t be fired.

Senior leader sabotages manager by allowing end runs - everyone loses 
Jan. 29, 2014

Dear Joan:

Several years ago I was promoted from the Accounts Payable Supervisor to the Accounting Manager, who oversees both the Accounts Payable Department (A/P) and the Accounts Receivable Department (A/R). Against my recommendation, one of the A/P clerks was promoted to A/P Supervisor.

This person had very limited experience and no formal training in accounting but they thought I’d be able to mold and train her.

She spent many days in my office crying and feeling overwhelmed. I took time to reassure her and advise her on how to handle situations at hand. It has been a rough two years trying to mold this employee, tackling staffing issues and staying on top of my responsibilities. My professional relationship with her has always been good and she has continued to report directly to me.

One of this supervisor’s biggest faults is her lack of communication skills. We have discussed this topic often. Recently, I confronted her about her work being extremely behind and the fact that she didn’t tell me about it. She said she doesn’t want to talk to me. In addition, she has told me “No,” when I asked her to come to my office to finish another heated discussion about another matter.

Now, she has an attitude about me for some reason. When I leave her alone, she’s fine but when I inquire about situations as her manager, she becomes very defensive.

My boss, the controller, knows about this situation and yet won’t support me to fix this problem. This supervisor has been going around me directly to him for the last year, which has complicated communication even further. I will make specific requests of this employee and she will go to the controller to override my decision.

I have come to the conclusion that she lacks the leadership skills, communication skills and technical skills and I feel we should make a change in personnel.  Of course the controller disagrees with me. I feel that I have done all I can to help her succeed. I feel the controller is making a fool of me by allowing this supervisor to go around the proper chain of command and override decisions that I have clearly discussed with him in the past.

How long should this be allowed to go on? Am I doing something wrong? I don’t want to leave but something has to be done.


The main thing you have “done wrong” is to stay silent for too long. Your manager, the controller, is cutting your legs out from under you and leaving you with no real authority to direct the work of your employee. Most people in your shoes (and believe me, there are plenty) want to say to their boss in frustration, “Okay, I give up. Why don’t you just manage my employees for me?”

If you are doing something “wrong” your manager is at fault for not telling you. Yes, I suspect that your employee has been seeking your boss’s support at your expense. She may have done some serious damage to your reputation.

Perhaps when you began to hold her accountable for producing results, she ran for cover and a sympathetic ear. Sometimes under-skilled people, who know they are over their heads, try to save their jobs by desperately trying to build supporters and discredit their boss, whom they know is in a position to expose their inadequacy and remove them from their jobs.

I suggest that you go to your manager and tell him that your leadership authority is being undercut when he overrides your decisions. Explain that you would prefer it if he would discuss these issues with you, come to a joint decision, and then support you when she tries to lobby him for a change in her favor. Clearly spell out what this has done: give him specific examples of situations when this supervisor has been insubordinate and refused to do something you’ve asked her to do.

Ask him if he has some concerns about your leadership ability. If he dodges the question, say, “You must feel I’m not a good manager or you wouldn’t be overriding my decisions. If either of you have concerns about something I’m doing, I feel it’s only fair that you tell me, so that you have the benefit of both sides of the story.”

Judging by the way that he has handled this situation, your manager may not have strong leadership or communication skills. He needs to know that this is unworkable for you. Unfortunately, he may not have the skills or the spine to do anything about it. It would be wise to start looking for another opportunity, just in case the damage is worse than you think.