no surprise that bosses are often the primary cause of
people either loving or leaving their jobs. In your own
career, you’ve probably been deeply influenced by
you ask someone what he or she loves or hates about
work, you’re likely to hear about a great working
relationship with a subordinate or about some sneaky
little weasel in the next office. You’re also likely to
hear about his or her relationship with the boss.
Learning to be a good boss isn’t as clear cut as
learning technical skills. There is no degree to earn or
tests to pass. Most of us learn how by watching our own
managers and by making our own mistakes.
other day someone asked me if I’ve seen any patterns
emerge from the letters I receive about good and bad
bosses. Over the years, I have begun to see that there
are four main themes that seem to separate the good
bosses from the bad.
They are: setting expectations, coaching, feedback, and
recognition. These big four can make all the difference.
Setting clear expectations:
Every time I interview a new employee I ask him or her,
“What kind of manager do you like to work for?” I’ll bet
you know what they say: “Someone who tells me what they
expect and how I’m doing.”
Managers need to sit down with new employees and point
out priorities. It’s a good idea to pull out the
performance review form and discuss how you define
“excellent performance.” Paint a picture. Don’t assume.
experienced employees it’s critical to discuss your
expectations at least once a year when you’re forming
plans for the coming year. It’s even better to discuss
the results you expect when you are delegating each
assignment. Too often, we simply tell our employees what
we want done - not the results we expect. We deserve to
Too many managers lead through mental telepathy. They
assume their employees know what to do and how to do it.
Managers must learn how to be good sideline coaches. Too
often a well-meaning boss will run in and play the game
for the subordinate rather than calling in the plays
from the sidelines. The boss may be having fun but her
subordinate isn’t learning a thing.
Overcontrolling bosses make their employees feel
inadequate and undermined. Because they don’t force them
to take the responsibility for solving their own
problems, their employees either give up and become
passive or the good ones quit.
Undercontrolling bosses cause different problems. Their
hands-off style contributes to confusion about
priorities. They don’t like to make unpopular decisions
because they want everyone to be happy. Their team ends
up running around the field in circles bumping into each
other. Fights break out. They usually end up being
ignored or despised.
Why wait until the formal performance review to surprise
your employee? Then it’s too late to do anything about
it. Managers get into trouble by not confronting
employees early enough.
often tell me they don’t want to hurt employees’
feelings or are afraid the employee will lose his or her
next time you struggle with whether or not to share
negative feedback with your employee, ask yourself: “If
I had this problem, would I want my boss to tell me?”
good way to give negative feedback in a constructive way
is to use the employee’s personal goal as a lead-in. For
example: “I know you’re trying to bring in bigger retail
clients, so I’m sure you’d want to know if there was
something getting in the way of that ...” It helps them
hear what you have to say because you have their best
interests at heart.
Feedback given along the way sounds more like coaching -
not like punishment.
Employees demand recognition for their efforts. They are
actively managing their own careers and won’t tolerate
can’t afford what happens when good employees begin to
wither from lack of positive reinforcement. In spite of
themselves, some of them begin to say: “Why should I
kill myself? He or she doesn’t appreciate it anyway!”
There has been a lot of research on motivational theory.
One of the things inherent in all of the findings is
that humans thrive on recognition. Nothing improves our
hearing like praise. We never get too old for it.
Giving positive reinforcement is the most powerful
coaching tool you have as a manager. Mention the thing
you like and you’ll get more of it.
Remember to be specific, don’t mix negative and
positive. Give feedback and compliments as soon after
the event as possible. If you wait until their
performance review, the effect is lost.
job has a tremendous impact on the people you manage.
Your success or failure to pay attention to the “big
four” will not only affect your employees but your
future as well.
managers know that employee satisfaction is essential to
healthy teamwork, initiative and productivity. Based on
an in-depth study of the most innovative ideas in
creating a culture where employees thrive, our
recruiting & retention tools have all the secrets you
will need to find and keep the best employees.
Learn how to give criticism effectively
August 5, 2014
is like swallowing bad-tasting medicine. We wish we
didn't have to take it, but we know, if it’s valid, it
will make us better.
Criticism is often as difficult to give as it is to
receive. We don’t like to criticize because we don’t
want to hurt feelings. Because of this, many managers
rank giving negative feedback high on the list of
techniques they want to improve. Even the best employees
occasionally need to hear how they can improve their
work. In fact, as a good coach, you owe it to your
employees to recognize excellent work, as well as to
give criticism, so they have a clear picture of the
performance you desire.
If employees only hear about their work when they do it
wrong, they may feel unappreciated and withhold extra
effort because “the boss never notices anyway.” You risk
getting an average performance out of a star performer.
Conversely, if employees hear only positive remarks or
silence, they are being cheated out of important
feedback that could help their careers. For example,
studies have pointed out that some male bosses are
hesitant to criticize female employees because they
aren’t sure how they’ll handle it.
Here are some basic guidelines to help you deliver
■ Don’t sugar-coat the criticism with compliments.
Even though you may think it will make the criticism
easier to take, you may send mixed signals to your
employees. They may either doubt the sincerity of your
compliment or not take the advice as seriously as they
should. For example: “John, I really think this report
is well done, but there are quite a few little things
Instead, focus immediately on the task or behavior you
wish to change. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the
need to preserve your employee's self-esteem, however.
Example: “John, these fact sheets are incomplete. You’re
usually very thorough in your reports. Can you tell me
anything about this?” This preserves the employee’s
selfesteem and reduces defensiveness, while staying
focused on the specific problem.
■ Give negative feedback on only one thing at a time.
Overloading an employee with several criticisms at once
can diffuse the importance of each item. For example:
“Sharon, there are too many typos in this letter. You
have to be more careful. It’s just like your filing ...
I couldn’t find the Evans report this morning ... and
another thing ...”
Overloading criticism is also unproductive because it
tends to make your employees feel ineffective,
frustrated and resentful.
It is better to concentrate on one issue at a time and
to deal with the most important area first.
■ Be specific about the change or result you want.
The change you want is probably so obvious to you that
you assume it is understood by the employee. Constantly
communicating your standards and expectations helps
everyone stay on track. Consider the time, energy and
anxiety caused by this vague criticism: “Brenda, you
must work on writing better memos. Work on improving
your style next time. It needs to be tightened up, OK?”
A better approach might be: “Brenda, you made some
interesting points in this memo, but they were hard to
find because of the memo’s structure. Next time, try
limiting it to a half page and underline each key
■ Offer criticism in the form of advice and give it
right before the employee has a chance to try again.
This technique makes the feedback sound supportive
rather than punitive. It can be difficult to discipline
yourself to do this because our tendency is to routinely
offer criticism immediately after a mistake is make.
Here’s how it could be done: “Pete, you have some
difficult formats to put together for this report. I’d
like you to be consistent with the other technicians in
the way you lay out the data. When you get to that part,
let me know. I’ll show you how I’d like it done.”
This timing technique of describing the change you want,
right before they can practice it, isn’t always
practical, but when used correctly, it is an effective
coaching tool. Athletic coaches use it all the time to
make performance adjustments.
■ Involve the employee in thinking through solutions.
This helps to eliminate blaming.
Listen to this exchange: Employee: “If Accounting had
gotten the information to me on time, I could have
prepared a complete report.”
Manager: “Do you have any ideas about how to get those
figures from Accounting on time, next time?”
Pointing the finger at Accounting isn’t going to solve
the problem, so the manager put the responsibility where
it belonged – with the employee. Only if the employee’s
facts clearly indicate that the fault lies elsewhere,
and is beyond his or her authority to handle, would the
Involving the employee in thinking through solutions to
mistakes encourages a healthy discussion of the problem
and forces the employee to take responsibility for
Giving criticism is usually not easy but knowing how to
do it well increases the likelihood that it will be
heard and acted upon. It will make you a boss everyone
will want to work for.
Reserve competition for your competitors
July 25, 2014
the past 10 years I have worked in sales and have been
successful because I’ve developed good relationships
with my customers and the sales team.
the past four years, I have been working for a
manufacturing company in sales but I’m having a
difficult time dealing with the philosophy of our sales
manager. He believes that the best way to motivate the
staff is to sow seeds of dissension between us. When we
confronted him in a meeting he said that he believes
that healthy competition keeps us motivated and working
hard. We think this is counterproductive. Isn’t the
“enemy” our competition - not each other? It’s tough
enough dealing with the outside environment; we don’t
want to be fighting inside too. What do you think?
with you. The individuals on the team would probably do
much better if their focus was on beating the
competition instead of each other. Internal competition
between individuals and between departments does all the
wrong things: competition for resources, withholding
help and information, opposing goals ... all the things
that will hurt the customer and can kill a company.
managers still think that setting up some "healthy
competition” between peers will spark the drive to do
better than the other guy. Unfortunately, not many
people are motivated this way.
people do better when they’re in a supportive team. The
pressures of the workplace are relentless, and in sales
they increase when making your mortgage payment depends
on a commission. Sales people spend a lot of time alone
in the field, and dealing with rejection is tough
enough, so when they come back to the office they need
to feel supported. It’s important to be able to
congratulate each other’s successes and support
teammates when they need it.
Another powerful component of motivation is having a
shared goal. Imagine the dynamics of two differently
structured sales contests. In group one, the sales
manager would pit each sales person against the other
for a prize. In the second group, the manager would have
them work together.
likely group one would steal leads from each other,
withhold valuable market information, and hide how well
they were doing. There would be winners and losers. Even
the sales person who came in second place would be a
loser. And because they wouldn’t share information about
successful tactics, the team members wouldn’t learn much
from the experience.
the second team, things would be much different. The
sales manager would work with the team to come up with a
team goal that would be challenging yet possible if
everyone did their part. Progress toward the goal would
be prominently posted and the team would meet regularly
to discuss how they could help each other to do even
better. They would have a vested interest in making sure
each of the team members had all the help and
information they needed. They would have a compelling
reason to share customer information and marketing
ideas. They would all be winners and so would the
These dynamics don’t just occur in sales teams. Most
companies are inadvertently set up in a way that creates
destructive competition. If they are structured
functionally - each with their own goals - it’s
inevitable. People fight each other for limited
promotions, departments fight each other for resources
... and the customer is the loser.
That’s why progressive companies are moving toward a new
way to structure and reward work groups. Rather than the
traditional departmental configuration, they are now
grouping people around a whole front-to-back process or
product. The idea is to start with the customer and
structure the organization to serve them, rather than
organizing to suit the selfish efficiency needs of the
manager doesn’t realize that these two things -
structure and rewards - need to be in alignment before
Progressive discipline minimizes liability, maximizes
July 18, 2014
a new manager, having recently been promoted after five
years at this company. I am concerned about how to
discipline employees. Some of my questions are:
How are U.S. firms dealing with employee discipline?
How do managers discipline their employees without
offending anyone or getting sued?
How can a manager earn respect from their employees and
still have them make sure the job is completed with
company doesn’t have a human resources function. We are
a small service company of 35 employees. I am struggling
with an employee who only seems to work when he feels
like it and when I talk to him about his work he will
improve for awhile but go right back to long breaks and
is the right approach? My boss is always worried about
getting sued, so he wants me to tiptoe around this
employee but I want to get him to perform his job. What
do you advise?
An employee who is performing below the minimum standard
- and getting away with it - is, in fact, lowering the
standard for everyone. After all, if he can get away
with lousy performance, doesn’t it mean everyone else
on your side. If your manager ties your hands and
prevents you from holding this employee responsible, he
is taking away your authority to do your job. I suspect
your manager is uninformed about what constitutes
appropriate progressive discipline.
called “progressive” because it evolves over a period of
time, with no surprises for the employee and clear
expectations and consequences. When done correctly, an
employee can either take steps to turn around the
situation or “fire himself.” In other words, he knows
what the consequences will be if he doesn’t change his
behavior but he continues down the path to termination
Experience shows us that surprised people sue. This
process eliminates the surprise and gives the employee
clear choices about the outcome. He or she may sue
anyway but chances are you’d win the case, if you have
been clear, consistent and reasonable about expectations
and what the consequences could be if he or she fails to
meet minimum expectations.
are some general guidelines to follow:
Meet with your manager and show him this process. Ask
for his support as you move through the steps. If it
would make him feel more comfortable, speak to a lawyer
who specializes in labor and human resources issues
before you begin.
First meeting: Have a discussion with the employee to
spell out exactly what is expected and give him examples
of the pattern of behavior that is unacceptable. “Jack,
over the last few months you’ve missed a number of
deadlines. Your weekly reports are consistently late,
three of your main projects have missed major targets
and you haven’t begun the new assignment that is due
next week. This pattern isn’t acceptable and we need to
talk about what you are going to do to turn this
During this conversation, it’s important to do three
Keep the focus on his responsibilities. Don’t accept
excuses or blame. “Let’s stay focused on you. What are
you going to do differently that is going to ensure that
you meet your deadlines?”
Determine if there is some legitimate barrier preventing
him from meeting the expectation.
Give him fair warning. This isn’t going to be documented
but if you need to talk to him again, you will be forced
to document the incident and put it in his personnel
Second - Third - Fourth Meetings: Observe his behavior,
being quick to notice if he is making improvements but
talk to him again if he fails to meet expectations. At
this point, you will probably ask him to meet with you
weekly and report on his progress. Restate the
expectations, ask him for actions he’s going to take, or
impose some actions if necessary.
Summarize your conversation, including action items he’s
agreed to do, in an email and give him a copy. Put a
copy in his file.
Spell out the potential consequences. “I feel that it’s
only fair to tell you what could happen if you don’t
turn this around. It has already had an impact on your
results, which will affect your salary review. If it
continues, it could cause you to lose your job. I hope
you will take the necessary steps to prevent this.”
Final Meeting: He hasn’t improved consistently enough
and you are going to give him one final warning. He is
one step away from termination and he needs to know it.
Give him specific, measurable actions you want from him,
within a clear time frame. “Over the next six months,
you need to hand in your weekly report by 3 p.m. on
Friday. You also need to meet every deadline, unless
we’ve agreed otherwise. Failure to do this could result
in losing your job. It is unfortunate that it’s come to
this but you’ve left me no other options.” (Notice the
words “could result.” This gives you some wiggle room in
case there actually is a legitimate reason. But at this
point, it would need to be something out of the person’s
Taking disciplinary action is never easy. But done
correctly, it will put the employee’s fate in his own
Boosting quality means thinking about service
July 8, 2014
employees know who their customers are? If you’re
thinking, “But they don’t have customers, only our sales
people have customers,” you are missing out on an
important concept. If each employee served internal
customers as well as they serve outside customers, the
level of quality in your organization would rise
Everyone has a customer. It’s easy to identify them.
Just ask yourself. “Who receives the output my work
group produces?” “Who complains when our work isn’t done
right?” Tomorrow, call your employees together and
discuss the concept of internal customers. But before
you do, think about how you manage for “customer
service.” Quality gurus, such as W. Edwards Deming,
point to faulty management practices as the undermining
influence that destroys good quality.
Here are some things to consider when you want to
reinforce what you preach: Do I give my employees enough
autonomy to solve problems with their customers or do I
force them to follow inflexible policies? Have you ever
heard one of your employees say to a customer, “I’m
sorry, but that’s the rule.”
Is my organization structured so that employees who do
different parts of the work can talk to one another
daily and consider themselves as part of one team? Do
your groups blame and complain about each other?
Does your performance review process and form weigh
quality and teamwork as much as it does quantity of
production? Are there complaints about service or do
your “customers” have to revise some of your employees’
In times of crisis, do you overlook poor customer
service in order to get the work done? Action in times
of a crunch are what employees remember when searching
for your real expectations: “If he demands good customer
service during rush periods, he must really mean it!”
Do you use the terms “customers” or “clients” when
referring to the people who are next in line to receive
work from your employees? In order to change thinking,
you will probably need to use these terms on a regular
When you receive complaints about services or products,
do you give them back to your people to solve or do you
try to solve it for them? Do you encourage them to
discover what caused the problem in the first place, so
that future problems will be avoided? Or do you ignore
the opportunity and encourage everyone to get back to
work as usual after the complaint is resolved or the
When quality slips, do you demand that everyone work
harder and try to concentrate? Or do you ask your
employees if there is a problem in the work flow or
changes in the system that could also be causing the
problem? Quality experts have found that poor quality is
usually the result of faulty systems, not faulty people.
When crunch hits, will you provide the resources
necessary to get the job done at a level of quality that
Do you demand quality customer service or is cost
control or production your real focus? Will you hire
more help or delay a project deadline if the quality
isn’t up to your customers’ standards?
Do you survey your customers on a regular basis? Do you
have a regular system of feedback so your employees know
how they’re doing? If you asked your employees what your
customers’ standards are for quality work, would they
Do you provide appropriate training that reinforces
quality customer service? Do you actually monitor what
your new employees learn during their initial training?
Do your employees have frequent educational meetings at
which information is shared?
Do you have regular meetings at which problems are
discussed openly and solved through teamwork? Or, do
employees come to you individually with their problems
or complaints about one another?
Do you ask your employees to give you input on policies,
procedures and work decisions that affect them? Do you
let them solve problems that are closest to them?
Do you reward the employees who strive to provide a
responsible level of service and quality to their
Manager who plays favorites is playing with fire
June 27, 2014
have a situation in my office for which I would like
your advice. I work for a very large telecommunications
company on the East Coast. Although I have been working
in my position as an account manager for four years now,
I started working for a new boss a year ago due to a
recently discovered that this boss takes certain
employees in our department to baseball games and other
events during business hours over the summer and
throughout the year. Certain employees have gone to
sporting events several times, while others have never
been asked to go, including myself. I should mention
that there is an employee, newer than myself to the
department, and he has been invited twice now. I should
also mention that it appears to be only men who go to
these games and I understand that there are really no
business discussions going on at these events. The
outings require no use of vacation hours; they are
simply a perk.
wouldn’t mind it so much that these employees get to
take time off during business hours to go and enjoy the
afternoon, if it weren’t for the fact that there are
others of us who can’t take so much as an hour off
without having to use vacation hours. There are certain
employees (myself included) who are not allowed to work
through lunch to make up an hour, while other people in
the department are allowed to do this.
would say something to my boss directly, but I suspect
he really doesn’t like me and I would just be labeled a
complainer if I said anything.
should mention that our boss does give some nice perks
to all employees, which I really appreciate. I get to
work flexible hours along with about half of the office
and everyone gets Friday afternoons off in the summer
months without having to take vacation hours. We also
are allowed to dress casually (when we don’t call on
not appreciating the benefits I do have (even though
everyone gets them)? Or, is there some discrimination
going on? Is there a way to address this with my boss
without appearing to be a complainer?
be annoyed, too. In the best of circumstances, your
manager is lacking some basic understanding about fair
play and how to build a team. A worse case scenario,
your manager is displaying favoritism. His selective
invitations to certain employees have created an uneven
playing field, whether he realizes it or not.
appears that there is even a disparity about the way
“everyone’s” benefits are administered. If some people
can make up time and others can’t, I have to wonder what
the criteria are for these decisions. Is it based upon
the job duties? For instance, in some customer service
jobs, work hours must be adhered to for coverage
purposes. But if this isn’t the case, it certainly looks
like favoritism to me.
Employees who aren’t his cronies must be feeling like
you do. Who wouldn’t? They must feel as if the boss
doesn’t like them, either. They must wonder if their
careers will be ignored, while his buddies’ careers will
flourish. And if the “haves” are all men and the “have
nots” are all women, the career opportunity imbalance
will appear to be tipped in favor of men. And that’s
where the risk lies for the appearance of
discrimination. Although these outings may be done in
ignorance and innocence, others may view the chosen ones
as having an unfair advantage when raises and promotions
are handed out. This manager is playing with fire.
Ironically, this situation isn’t fair for the manager’s
pals, either. Even if they are good performers, any
raise or promotion will be tainted with whispers about
your manager is blind to the obvious predicament he is
creating, I doubt that he will be open to your opinion.
If you do bring this up and he reacts with more
hostility, you have several choices - go to Human
Resources, or to your next level of management with your
concerns, or you may decide to leave.
situation is not unlike many stories I hear about the
subtle, and not so subtle, discrimination in many
workplaces. It’s where the term “glass ceiling” got its
name. Many women feel that situations such as this
aren’t bad enough, or overt enough, to fight against.
They chose their battles carefully and try to outperform
their peers. In the end, if they feel that their good
work will lose out to cronyism, many of them take their
talent and go where they have a fighting chance.
Address feedback – perception is often reality
June 17, 2014
At my company we have an extensive succession planning
process. As a part of that process we hear feedback from
those above us regarding our upward potential. I am a
mid-level manager and I would like to move up some day
but for right now, I’m happy in my job. I was promoted a
few years ago and I still feel I have a lot to learn.
The question I have for you is about something I have
heard from my boss in the succession feedback.
Apparently there is a perception among some senior
executives that I am “too close to my people.” When I
pressed for what that meant, I was told that sometimes I
don’t see my people’s flaws. I view them only through
“rose-colored glasses.” In other words, I think they are
better than others think they are.
In my own defense, I like to build a strong team and my
team is in a role that is under heavy pressure and
stress. So, I believe that my job is to protect them a
little from the business politics and administration
that only bogs them down and interferes with our
results. And our division is getting great results
(we’re in sales and service).
He mentioned a few people who have had some performance
slumps and one person who has been with the organization
a short while but who has ruffled some feathers. I have
defended these individuals because they have great
My boss said it wasn’t anything career-threatening but
he wanted to make me aware of it now, so I can work on
it before it becomes a more serious issue (especially if
I want to move up). What do you think?
I think you should thank your boss for his candid
feedback. Whether you agree with it or not, if that is
the perception of some of those above you, it must be
addressed. In other words, if you disagree with their
perceptions, you must prove them wrong with objective
data. If their comments have a grain of truth, you would
be wise to take a hard look at what you need to do
If you believe that you are being judged incorrectly,
then your strategy is to clear up their misperceptions.
Talk to your manager and find out more details about
what he and the senior managers think are your
employees’ shortcomings. Ask yourself, “What aren’t they
seeing that I see?” “What extenuating circumstances are
they unaware of ?” “What behavior is causing ‘ruffled
feathers’ and what can you do to help your employee
change that outcome?”
As you work with those above you, find opportunities to
educate them with objective data that they may not be
aware of. Their perceptions will only change after they
see the whole picture for themselves. Nothing you say
will make that happen. In fact, it will only make you
look more protective, if you try to defend these
employees in the face of those perceptions.
On the other hand, if the issue is pronounced enough to
come up during a succession planning process, it is
probably grounded in some real evidence. If more than
one person sees it this way, you should do some soul
Good people managers sometimes have this blind spot.
They are such devoted employee developers and teachers –
especially for those employees they hire themselves –
these managers aren’t always objective about the amount
of progress that is being made. They don’t want to give
up on a person.
Because these managers are such people-builders, they
see potential everywhere. “I’m working with him on
that,” is a typical refrain when senior managers
question the person’s abilities. They see their
employee’s failure as their own personal failure.
If you are seen as tolerating mediocre performance, or
viewed as a manager who can’t fire someone, you will be
a liability to the organization. In spite of your
ability to build loyalty and commitment, you won’t be
seen as strong management material. The ideal manager
develops his or her staff but doesn’t identify so
personally with their employees that their vision
President killing his own firm with authoritarian ways
May 26, 2014
am writing to you because the employees of the company I
work for are very concerned about our president and
manager. I’ve been with this company since its
inception. We have almost 50 sales people working here.
We really enjoy our jobs and have an excellent
compensation package, but we have a problem with the
“hands on” approach our president uses to manage our
care very much about our president. He has an
outstanding analytical mind and knows how to construct a
company. However, he violates a basic rule of management
by constantly belittling people in front of others. He
talks down to people and threatens with total
disrespect, including upper management. In fact, just
recently, two managers and the director of sales stepped
down from their positions due to his conduct towards
them in public.
we’ve addressed him regarding his management style, he
has defended his position by stating that he believes in
reprimanding and insulting people in front of others
because he learned that this is an effective management
style when he was employed by a major manufacturing firm
and he told us he does not mean any harm. Unfortunately,
we are now starting to lose employees and everyone here
is too embarrassed to bring other people in to work here
until the president learns to treat people as competent
adults. The disrespect is so blatant that he even
insults the secretarial and support staff.
is the only problem we have with this man. We have tried
to individually speak with him and to address him as a
group, but our attempts are only met with anger and a
closed mind. We want our company to grow and succeed.
Can you help us?
president is killing his own company. His management
style seems to be, “The public humiliation will continue
until your respect for me improves.” Unfortunately, he
learned this destructive behavior back when
authoritarian rule got some results. Forty years ago,
barking orders, yelling at employees and treating them
like peons was what bosses thought they were supposed to
do. These managers believed that if you weren’t tough
(like military officers in World War II) people wouldn’t
do what you wanted them to do. They thought the only way
to command respect was to act powerful and use fear as a
military style continued well into the 70s. Many
managers thought that employees were “subordinates” (in
the true sense of the word) who couldn’t be trusted.
They believed only managers were wise enough to make
decisions ... employees should just follow orders.
Things have changed. He hasn’t. He needs to analyze the
outcome of his behavior. He says his intentions are good
(and I believe him) but let’s apply his philosophy to
other areas of life to see if the same good intentions
cause the desired result.
example, how would he feel if his child’s teacher
screamed at his son or daughter, “Class, look at how
stupid and lazy this child is!” Would his child respect
that teacher? Would he or she be enthusiastic and
motivated to do his or her best? What would he think of
an athletic coach who said to the press after a close
game, “My guys are a bunch of morons. They can never do
Let’s bring it closer to home. How might he react if his
wife humiliated him by talking about his most
embarrassing faults and weaknesses in front of his best
friends or family? (His weight or sexual performance
might be areas needing improvement.) Would he be
grateful that she used public humiliation? Would he be
motivated to change? Perhaps. But chances are he would
feel bitter resentment and he’d rather leave ... just
like his employees are doing.
manager may not mean any harm but that doesn’t mean he
isn’t causing harm. If he’s smart, he’ll change his
behavior. If he can’t change, he’d be wise to step out
of the day-to-day management and give the reins to
someone who is more skilled at managing people. He has a
good analytical mind. Why not do a job where he can
contribute this talent? Maybe finding this column on his
desk is the best favor you can do for the future of your
Problems with top executives eventually
spread to all levels
May 16, 2014
Patrick runs an influential staff department and has
been with his company for 28 years. He is “tight” with
the CEO, who sees him as a loyal, dedicated employee.
Unfortunately, Patrick is seen as a poorly performing
obstructionist by most of the other mangers in the
organization. All attempts to get the CEO to confront
Patrick have failed. Meanwhile, important projects die
from lack of Patrick’s support and employees are
becoming cynical from the growing reality that Patrick
is “untouchable” and able to block any new idea that
happens to threaten him or make him work harder than he
works for the new senior vice president in a large
computer software company. She’s been a project manager
and systems analyst for over 10 years and now runs a
large, successful division. The sr. VP used to run a
smaller company, which was acquired by his current
employer. Lisa has recently accepted a job with another
company. She says that the senior vice president has
mistreated her and the rest of his employees. He curses,
shouts, pounds on the table and last month she almost
became insubordinate in a meeting while he was bullying
her. Attempts to get the president to confront this
situation have failed. Complainers have been told to
deal with it and get a more positive attitude.
president and CEO in these two organizations have chosen
not to confront their own employees’ performance
problems. Unfortunately, when a high level manager is
dysfunctional, it usually has a ripple-down effect that
hurts many people beneath them in the organization. This
inertia can come from any one of the following reasons.
* They have
discounted the seriousness of the damage that is
occurring. This is especially true if the problem person
is in a staff department. The owner or president is more
likely to deal swiftly with performance problems if the
person directly affects the customer or hurts sales or
production in some way.
They are preoccupied with large, company-wide problems
and have classified this issue as less important.
a senior executive is preoccupied with things such as
strategizing new company initiatives and dealing with
stockholders and key customers, it’s understandable how
a nagging personnel issue can seem like a persistent
gnat that is annoying but can be brushed away. With
other performance issues the president can delegate to
the manager in charge or get the Human Resources
department involved. But when the person reports to the
president herself, there is no one else to delegate to.
They lack the skills to confront the person, especially
if the person has been a long-time associate.
Confrontation is never easy and it can be particularly
difficult if the relationship has been a long and
collegial one. As with any confrontation of this type,
it’s awkward and painful to discuss performance with a
The problem grows gradually, without a big event drawing
attention to the performance problem.
Sometimes the problem performer slips into mediocrity so
slowly the senior executive doesn’t notice. The person
cashes in on past accomplishments and lives on the
dividends. In other cases the Peter Principle takes
effect and the person is promoted to a level of
incompetence. The senior executive is usually the one
who promoted him beyond his skill level and then doesn’t
know quite how to right the wrong without offending his
long-time colleague and admitting his own mistake.
* Once a
person rises to a high level in a company there are few
places to move laterally if the job isn’t a good fit.
person fails at the top, there is usually little else to
do but force them to leave. This harsh choice prevents
some senior executives from taking action. If the
organization is experiencing other problems, the
executive is reluctant to rock the boat.
Often senior executives and owners aren’t good coaches.
Frequently, these folks are action-oriented
entrepreneurs or fast thinking strategists who readily
admit that they don’t have the patience or the interest
in coaching a senior manager. Some feel that any manager
who makes it to the top of a company should have all the
necessary skills and shouldn’t need hand holding.
However, new assignments at any level often require
personal development and coaching.
Sometimes a senior executive is out of touch and the
problem performer works hard to keep it that way.
Although most employees believe that the person at the
top knows everything that is going on, they couldn’t be
farther from the truth. Some executives are so isolated
from the day-to-day goings-on that they are shocked when
they learn the truth that everyone around them knew for
months or even years.
The skillful executive faces up to the responsibility
of confronting performance issues, particularly at the
top, because he or she knows the damage it will cause if
it is left alone. He or she doesn’t try to reorganize
around the problem, because they know it only delays it
and makes it worse. They know that creating artificial
infrastructure to prop up a bad executive only distorts
and corrupts the system and destroys the spirit and
productivity of the good employees.
When managers don’t manage, employees suffer
May 13, 2014
What you see:
technicians, who have similar jobs, have been in
conflict for the past six months. One feels that the
other isn’t doing her share. The other feels that her
co-worker is a demanding know-it-all. The manager has
heard the angry accusations of each of them. He’s talked
to each person individually but it just seems to get
worse. The owner throws up his hands and complains about
how women are “so catty.”
manager of a business unit made a presentation to the
corporate executives. When he was finished, the CEO and
all the executives sitting around the table complimented
him with big smiles and assured him that he was doing a
fine job. A month later he was fired.
do-nothing manager has felt threatened ever since a new
manager joined the company. The new manager has been
trying to get her peer to take action on some important
new initiatives that will help the company to be more
competitive. She is frustrated and so are her employees.
It seems as if every one of their requests for changes
goes into a black hole.
What you don’t see
What’s going on here? What you don’t see is often at the
heart of the problem. If you were a fly on the wall in
the corner office, this is what you would learn.
case #1, it turns out that the manager in charge has
brought on most of the problem himself. He hasn’t had
the courage to confront one of the women and tell her
that she needs to improve. Instead, he has overloaded
the better employee with the work of two people. Then to
make it worse, when they complain about each other, he
agrees and commiserates about how terrible the other
case #2, the CEO waited until the manager left the room
and then turned to the rest of the executives and said,
“Get rid of him.” The manager never knew what hit him a
month later when he was “reorganized” right out of his
position. No one had ever told him about issues he
should be working on or expectations that hadn’t been
case #3, the do-nothing manager is an “untouchable.”
Everyone knows from past experience that he is protected
because the president feels some special alliance to
him. It turns out that this manager was one of the first
people to join the company when it was a start-up
enterprise. Because the president believes in rewarding
that kind of loyalty, he has never confronted his
employee, even though he knows first hand how
ineffective he has become.
The real truth
These leaders don’t have the courage or the conviction
to do the right thing and speak the truth face-to-face
to the person who needs to hear it. Tremendous workplace
angst and anger has been created because of this single
weakness. The tendency to agree when you secretly
disagree and go around someone rather than deal directly
with them is one of the most damaging and dangerous
mistakes leaders make.
case #1, an honest discussion with the weaker employee
and a clear action plan to improve her skills would let
her know exactly what was expected of her and what she
had to do to keep her job. Training and coaching would
be provided. The excellent employee wouldn’t be
“punished” with the extra work because the weak employee
would have to do her fair share or face a career move.
case #2, the manager would know what his business unit
was accountable for and would know the consequences if
the goals weren’t met. He wouldn’t waste precious
productivity spending half of his time covering his
backside and guessing at what the expectations were.
case #3, the owner would do everyone a favor, including
the do-nothing manager. He would constantly challenge
his loyal employee and set him up for success instead of
universal resentment among his peers and employees. If
the manager didn’t perform up to expectations and change
with the times, in spite of ample assistance, the owner
would do the right thing and help his employee find
another position where he could be successful - even if
that meant an outside opportunity. In the end, his
company would be stronger and so would both managers.
about you? Are you honest with your employees? Are you
stepping up to deal with nagging issues that demand a
decision? Do you make balanced decisions that keep in
mind all three components: the individual, the rest of
the employees, and the organization?
Managers, how open are you to feedback?
May 1, 2014
I read your article in the paper about swearing in the
workplace. Not being an avid swearer myself, I do
occasionally find myself letting out one now and again
when something isn’t working properly and I’m under the
gun. This is not very often, however. I felt your
article was noteworthy and I will try to mutter other
terms, under those situations, in the future.
in my company, managers included, tend to color their
language more often with expletives, and some verbiage
that I personally find embarrassing. I have come to
terms that being a female in a male dominated field,
I’ll have to live with some of that.
thought that your article had a lot of good points,
especially about losing customers, so I decided to cut
it out and post it outside of my cubicle. I anticipated
either no comments or at best, maybe even a tiny bit of
improvement. I did not anticipate that the situation
would get worse!
my boss walked by and read the article, he was furious,
and asked if I had put that up because he got mad last
week. I said, no, that I thought the article was
interesting. He continued on, and I said I thought he
was taking it too personally. (There are many other
managers and coworkers who swear as much or more than he
am being singled out every time they want to say
something. My boss is even going so far as to say, “Good
morning Susan. Oh, may I call you that?” This is getting
suggestions? I don’t think approaching him about it is
going to help either. How about next week’s article, “I
never thought posting an article would make things even
not alone. Another person wrote in some time ago and
greatly enjoyed your column, “When Managers Don’t
Manage, Employees Suffer.” I work for a small business
that has management problems. I thought it was worth
sharing with my coworkers. The majority of them thought
the same as I did, but management thought it was
“childish” of me to share your column.
posted a copy next to the punch-clock at my place of
employment. It was removed and burned in front of all
the employees. Yes, burned! Of course, this was done
after I was gone for the day. Who do you feel was being
are sad letters. Not because someone disagrees with my
viewpoint, but because some managers are so threatened
and defensive about their behavior that they lash out
when employees dare to question it. Such strong
reactions suggest a much deeper leadership problem.
Obviously, these managers were embarrassed and felt
criticized in front of their peers and other employees.
These managers felt as if they were being attacked
publicly. I suspect these managers already knew that
their actions needed improvement or they wouldn’t feel
case of the manager who burned the column, perhaps the
employee would have gotten further if he had approached
his manager privately on specific issues that were
troubling him. However, if this incident is any
indication, I suspect that the employee has probably
approached his boss and been “burned” in the past, which
is why he tried a more anonymous approach.
were one of these managers, wouldn’t your first thought
be “Why did my employee feel this message needed to be
sent?” Wouldn’t your second thought be, “What should I
do to change things?” In both cases, I suspect every
employee has gotten the message loud and clear: “Never,
ever, speak out on anything. Tiptoe around the boss’s
ego and just tell him what he wants to hear, or you,
too, will be singled out and punished.”
second case, a manager who would burn an article shows
such a profound lack of understanding about why the
article was posted in the first place, it’s hard to
imagine anyone working there for long under such
oppressive conditions. With competition for employees
heating up, it’s going to be tough for these businesses
to hang on to their employees. Would you stick around
when you could be treated so much better right down the
good news is that these situations are overshadowed by
hundreds of letters I receive from people who bring
these articles (and others) to their staff meetings and
talk about them as tools to improve their workplaces.
They may not always agree, but that’s the whole idea -
to spark a good, open discussion.
message to all managers is this: if you are open to
feedback, ideas and even criticism, you are leading by
example and creating a healthy, productive environment
where people will want to do their best.
Managers must earn their employees’ trust
April 23, 2014
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.