VP Roberto surprised Julia with a request. “I need a plan that will reduce headcount in your department by ten percent.”
Several times, Julia approached Roberto to discuss options. Each time Roberto responded with something like, “I’m pretty busy. Give me your best plan and I’ll look at it.”
After considerable thought, Julia produced a plan for ten percent reduction.
Roberto responded, “We have too many supervisors. You need to lose some supervisors. I don’t want all of the shrinkage from employees.”
Julia responded, “I will be relying heavily on my experienced supervisors. There is going to be a lot of confusion when we start realigning duties. And I can’t just demote a supervisor and expect to get the commitment we need.”
“I can’t accept the plan,” Roberto said. “I’ll take it from here.”
Roberto’s eventual decision had no resemblance to Julia’s plan. Of course, the department was confused and disheartened. Turmoil continued for many months.
Roberto could have eased some of the confusion had he stayed more engaged with Julia. But Roberto chose to exemplify Ken Blanchard’s seagull management—he flew in, made a lot of noise, dumped on everyone and then flew out.
Ambrose’s manager asked him to complete an analysis for a customer by a certain date.
Ambrose responded, “I don’t think that is in my job description.”
I do not remember referring to job descriptions when making decisions. Nor have I seen other managers dig out job descriptions to justify decisions. Many companies, perhaps wisely so, do not even have written descriptions.
I am aware that job descriptions may become evidence when someone questions an employment practice. However, I’m not sure descriptions sufficiently clarify issues.
Although he recommends written descriptions, attorney Jonathan Sigel, says that federal law does NOT require them.
Here are a few problems created by written job descriptions:
- Too general and too out-of-date to be meaningful
- Good applicants do not apply because they do not meet ALL requirements
- They become tools for laggards who wish to avoid tasks
- Too much time and cost for writing, revising, and updating
- Brief, written summaries cannot describe ALL aspects of a job
I would guess there have been job descriptions on file for every position that I have held. But I have never referred to the file to determine what I should do. Have you?
“He was tough and he was hard; as tough a man as I have ever known.”
“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing.’
“He drove you to exhaustion but was the most compassionate person I have known.”
“He suspended Joe Namath and Ken Stabler–two of his greatest quarterbacks–for breaking team rules.”
“He would tear you up on the field and then bring you into his office and ask how your Mom was doing.”
“He would find ways to help his players without letting them know that he was helping them.”
“He would jump in front of a bullet for his players.”
“He could pull people together, unify them and get them to commit to the mission.”
“His harsh, tongue lashings were not personal, he simply wanted to make you better.”
These are comments from players and coaches led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach.
Today, a street, a museum and a stadium display Paul Bryant’s name. And more than seven hundred children of his former players have received generous university scholarships from the Bryant Scholarship Fund.
Of course, there are critics of Bryant’s methods. And many of his practices are surely not appropriate for most corporate cultures. Still, I think the leadership philosophy of “Demand a lot and care for the person.” is a sound one.
During a management meeting, the president said, “I’m not sure we can save the Western Division. Sales continue to decline, employees keep quitting and morale is in the pits.”
Managers sat quietly, fidgeting with their devices and avoiding eye contact. After what seemed like an eternity—probably fifteen or twenty seconds—Albertson spoke up, “I’m your Huckleberry!”
All eyes turned to Albertson. “What did you say?” asked the president.
“I’d like to lead the division,” replied Albertson. “I think we need to replace a couple of people, reduce the number of brands, and improve relationships with our dealers. Give me six months. Then we can reevaluate.”
When you observe a troubled department, consider volunteering to lead the group. But first, make sure you are empowered to replace personnel and improve customer service. If you do these two things, you have a chance of improving performance. Higher management will see great value in you. That’s how legends are made.
Of course, there is a chance you will fail; but if management has already labeled the department “terminal,” you will not likely be stigmatized.
The phrase, “I’ll be you huckleberry,” apparently appeared among the Knights of King Arthur and more recently as a movie line from Doc Holiday to Wyatt Earp. Translation, “I’m the person for the job.”
“Do they have a Fourth of July in England?”
Two of three responders answer, “Yes.”
When I asked a large group in managers in Canada, “Do you have a Fourth of July in Canada?”
Eight of ten said “No.”
We discussed the issue for a while, and a person commented, “I think they do have a Fourth of July in England, but it’s in August sometime.”
This exchange represents a common and frustrating aspect of human communication. Employees sometimes resist management communications, not necessarily because they disagree; but because they make different assumptions. For example, do you assume “July 4” to be a calendar day or a national holiday?”
While we commonly assume that words have the same meanings to all, this is often not the case. For example, we use the simple word “run” to mean very different things. “Let’s run to the store,” “My watch has run down,” “We scored three runs,” “Nice trout stream run,” “Running after kids,” “Run in my stockings,” and many, many more.
When there is apparent disagreement, the first action should be to explore and explain the assumptions of each party. Rather than assume disagreement, start the conversation with, “What did you interpret my message to mean?” A reply might be, “Here is what I intended for it to mean?”
Harrison said to his manager on Tuesday, “I need to take Thursday and Friday off.”
Harrison was in the midst of a complex analysis needed for a Monday presentation to key stakeholders.
A traditional manager might respond, “Harrison, you know I can’t approve your request at this time. Why do you think you need to take two days off?”
The resulting conversation would likely evolve into excuses, explanations, disagreements, and frustration. Both would have continued pushing hard; each trying to bend the other to his will.
A more effective approach is to look for options that work for both Harrison and the manager. As author Chris Voss says in his book, NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE, ask “what” and “how” questions.
For example, “Harrison, you know about the stakeholder presentation. What can you do to ensure that it is ready?” Or, “How do you expect me to handle your part of the stakeholder presentation?”
Avoid “why” questions, as they beg for persuasive excuses and explanations. “Why do you need two days off?”
“Because, I need to take care of ______.” You can bet that Harrison would fill in this blank with jury-convincing reasons.
The intent is to seek options that allow Harrison to meet his needs, whatever they may be; while at the same time, ensuring a quality presentation for the stakeholders.
We are running forty days behind plan,” complained Jeremy the plant manager. We’ve applied lean manufacturing concepts. We’ve reduced cycle time. We’ve maxed out overtime. Our only hope of catching up is to add people.”
“How many?” asked the site manager.
“At least thirty full-time plant workers.”
“How long to catch up after we get the thirty on board?”
“Should be meeting schedule in about four months after all are hired.”
After considerable debate, the site manager reluctantly agreed to add thirty employees. Fast forward six months. The additional wages and benefits spiked labor costs. And the plant is still forty days behind.
An influx of new people almost always challenges quality and safety practices, teamwork suffers, meeting time increases, decisions drag out, disruptive behaviors surface, and customer and vendor coordination requires more time.
Before adding headcount, in small or large segments, consider four actions.
1. Replace inadequate producers who have been given several chances.
2. Remove support personnel who are not critical and replace with operators.
3. Eliminate bureaucratic approval processes that bog down decisions.
4. Evaluate supervisors and replace those who are not effective leaders.
Should you still think you need to add employees, be deliberate and select carefully.