Avoid an “It’s your turn” Justification for Decisions


Jacqueline cheerfully announced to her team, “Because we’ve had a great year, the company will pay all expenses for me and one of you to attend our national meeting in Orlando.”

After an awkward silence, Helena said, “I’ll go.”  Since Helena was an excellent performer who was respected by all, many nodded their agreement.

After returning from the meeting, Helena held informal luncheons and briefed team members on what she had learned.  Everyone benefited.

The next year, the company offered the same perk.  Jacqueline announced the decision to her team; and after a brief silence, Helena offered, “I don’t mind going again.”

“Thank you for volunteering,” Jacqueline responded.  “The meetings are informative and fun.  Perhaps we should send someone else this time.  Stanford, wouldn’t you like to go to San Diego?”

“Sure,” he replied.

The perk continued as an annual event.  In Year Seven, although he was a marginal performer with a whiney attitude, the department sent Randell.  Why?  Because it was Randell’s turn.

I see too many managers use an “it’s your turn” justification to allocate schedules, trips, accounts, projects, equipment and the like.  While the motive is to be fair, the result is:  stars are overlooked while marginal producers receive unearned rewards.

 

Leaders Avoid Becoming Prey to Bullying Employees


“I am exasperated,” proclaimed Jamison, “I’ve bent over backwards to help Jerry.  He shows no appreciation.”

“Is Jerry a good employee?” I asked.

“He has good skills but if he does not like a task, he starts griping and does just enough to get by.”

Jerry was friendly and nice when Jamison became his manager.  But after about three weeks, Jerry began coming in a late.  When Jamison approached Jerry about his attendance, Jerry responded rudely, “We’ve been working too much overtime lately.  Why are you on my back?”

Jerry is a bullying employee.  He saw that Jamison was a kind, caring manager and perhaps vulnerable.  Jerry first endeared himself to Jamison (an effort to cause Jamison guilt feelings).  Later Jerry tested Jamison with rude behaviors.

While Jamison was compassionate and well meaning, Jerry saw him as vulnerable and he escalated his defiant behaviors.

Maybe it is the “law of the jungle,” but aggressive employees seek out leaders who may be vulnerable and they test them with inappropriate but acceptable behaviors.  Appeasing and patient leaders may actually encourage increased employee aggression.

When dealing with predatory animals, school-yard bullies, or aggressive employees, one must respond confidently and firmly to avoid becoming prey.

How Appraisal Policies May Put Managers in a No-Win Situation


A very successful, but frustrated, manager reported to me, “During annual performance appraisals, we must have an improvement plan for low ratings.”   The manager further explained that he rated two employees low on the “quantity of work” scale.

“Did you develop a plan?” I asked.

“Yes, both had good attitudes.  I spent a lot of time with them and they did improve.”  The manager admitted the employees did not blossom into stars and probably never would.  Still, on the next appraisal, they earned “meets expectations.”

“Then what is your frustration?” I asked.

“When I submitted my appraisals, my manager said that my ratings were too high.  He said I needed at least some ratings that were “below expectations.”

“I think I see the cause of your frustration,” I responded.  “You are required to improve employees’ performances and, at the same time, your manager expects you to report lower ratings.  This seems like a no win situation.”

“That’s my point, exactly!”

Performance appraisal ratings create more frustration than a ref’s bad call you your star player in the final seconds of a game.  Why don’t we just do away with ratings?  Replace them with a brief listing of an employee’s achievements and areas of emphasis for the future.

 

Put Your Employees in a Place Where Their Fire Can Burn


After completing her engineering degree, Margie took a job in an aerospace firm.  Although Margie worked hard, she struggled to complete design assignments.

Margie’s manager lamented, “She is cooperative and smart but I don’t think Margie will be able to do what we need to do.  It breaks my heart but I think we may have to let her go.”

As managers discussed the “Margie issue,” the sales manager offered, “She has a great personality and a good work ethic.  I’d be willing to give her an opportunity with our sales team.”

When approached about the sales option, Margie was devastated.  “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer.  I know nothing about sales.”

However, facing a fork in the road—go sales or go home—Margie opted for the sales experiment.

After extensive training and a few months experience, Margie’s confidence grew.  She soon became a key member of the team.  “I never would have guessed it,” Margie said, “but I really like sales.  I awake every morning energized.”

Humans, like wood, have energy stored within them.  Under the right conditions, wood releases its energy—it burns.  Effective leaders put their employees in a place where their fire can burn.

I Am Your Leader; I’m Not Your Therapist


A manager, trying to find out why a good employee began coming in late, said, “You haven’t been yourself lately.  Is something wrong?”

“I’m having some personal problems.  It’s hard to keep my mind on work.”

“What’s going on?”

“My wife and I have not been getting along.”

“When I went through my divorce it was hell. Maybe you need to slow down on your drinking.”

“My spouse has gone on a spending spree. We are having financial problems.”

The conversation continued for another thirty minutes without a resolution.  The manager later explained that he was trying to find the root cause of the employee’s problem.

I think most managers’ fail when striving to find reasons why employees miss work or behave inappropriately.  Managers may even worsen the situation by giving bad advice or enabling dysfunctional behaviors.

Consider two ways to help employees get through a personal wreck.  One, show your concern by honestly laying out the consequences of their behaviors.  Two, encourage employees to visit your Employee Assistance Program where they can receive professional help.

No matter how well meaning, most managers make poor therapists.

Do You Create a Jekyll and Hyde Issue at Work?


Lucius said, “My new manager is very friendly.  He’s always asking about my kids and he likes to talk golf.  I thought we had a good relationship.”

Lucius continued, “Yesterday, the boss got upset because he thought I had not done enough to help to a younger employee.  I tried to help the new guy but he ignored my advice.”

To Lucius, the manager was unpredictable because he seemed to turn from “nice guy friend” to “jerk boss.”  Author Bruce Tulgan calls this the “Jekyll and Hyde” problem.

The Jekyll and Hyde issue emerges when managers build relationships based on sharing personal matters at work.  Eventually, a manager will need to have an awkward conversation about a work problem.  Employees are surprised because they see the relationship flipping from boss-friend to corrective-parent.

Managers, Tulgan believes, should save most of their personal talk for after work, social events and other encounters.  At work, the boss’s role is to keep people laser-focused on quality, deadlines, customers, safety.  This requires constant work talk.

Effective leaders strive to create trust and rapport with employees by mature discussions about what is going well and what needs improving.  For most, there would not even be a relationship were no for the work.

 

In God We Trust; All Others Bring Data


(Quote from the late W. Edwards Deming)

“I know that is your opinion,” stated a manager, “but where are your data?”

“I don’t trust the data,” responded the specialist.  “I rely on my gut-feelings.”

In the era of big data, analytics and algorithms, how important are your instincts?  Back in the day, Ford Motor Company’s Edsel model was probably the most researched automobile of the time.  Still, the product was a colossal failure.  You might say big data failed.

A recent Fortune Knowledge Group study reveals that six in ten executives rely on gut feel and soft factors when making big decisions.

Recently, Google quickly and accurately predicted the spread of flu by tracking people’s online searches.  Soon, Amazon will send you products before you order them because they will be able to predict what you want.

Do you want your doctor to rely on years of schooling and experience?  Or, would you prefer a computer-generated diagnosis based on a hundred million cases?

Of course, effective decision makers will continue to use both data and instinct.  But I suggest that decisions improve as we rely more on data and less on gut-feel.

I’m reminded of the Dilbert comic strip quote, “Where do you stick your head when you listen to your gut?”