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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
“Trust me” never works. You can only earn it the old
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.
your organization built on a moral culture?
April 18, 2014
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.
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?
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.
are some questions to consider:
The senior management team and the culture of the
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?)
all members of your senior management team talk about
these values often?
you have confidence that a sexual harassment complaint
(or any kind of complaint) would be honestly and
Are employees really treated like “our greatest asset”
or is this phrase only something you hear in speeches
and press releases?
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?
there a lot of finger pointing between departments or
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?
you hear “hero stories” in meetings about people who
have demonstrated the values with co-workers or
managers spend more time being honest than evasive?
Are each employee’s contributions valued and
Are prejudices and biases discouraged when they surface?
Are diverse ideas solicited and encouraged?
managers share information openly, even when it’s bad
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?
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?
you have a problem with something a co-worker has done,
do you discuss it with the person or talk behind his or
you take personal responsibility for your own behavior?
Are you open to feedback and coaching on things you
you treat your co-workers with as much respect as you
show to senior managers?
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
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
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.
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
“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
“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
“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
HR's role during a merger
March 22, 2014
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
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
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
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
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
Lessons to be learned from bad bosses
March 13, 2014
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.”
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.
not-to-do lessons have you learned? See if you can
recognize any of these less-than-charming managers:
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
subtle yet powerful key lies in the manager’s
expectations of subordinates. If the expectations are
high, yet attainable, productivity is likely to be
This doesn’t happen because a manager wishes it, nor
does it have anything to do with the power of positive
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
They believe that subordinates can learn to make
decisions and to take the initiative. They encourage
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
Managers who have been led to expect good things from
their employees and others appear to provide the
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
Don’t punish bad
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
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
“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
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
I manage an employee who has lied to me?
Feb. 7, 2014
have a new hire that, just days short of reaching his
six-month probation period, lied to me three times in
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
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
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.
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
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.
do I manage him going forward?
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?
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.
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
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
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
You owe him nothing. So far you have done all the
bending. It’s his turn to prove he shouldn’t be fired.
leader sabotages manager by allowing end runs - everyone
Jan. 29, 2014
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
person had very limited experience and no formal
training in accounting but they thought I’d be able to
mold and train her.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.
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
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.