“It is the mission! The mission! The mission. . . our purpose—the reason we exist!” a quote from an unknown source.
Here is an example of how a leader prioritized mission over morale.
An employee said to his manager, “I need to take Thursday and Friday off. My parents are passing through on their way to Colorado. They want to spend a couple of days with us.”
“I can’t let you off this week. I need your cost estimates by Friday.”
“I’ve got most of the work done. Someone else can complete it.”
“I don’t have anyone else. You’ll have to work Thursday and Friday.”
Two-thirds of supervisors in my workshops place morale as a higher priority than mission. Morale is important. I agree. But more often it is prudent to prioritize mission over morale.
By denying the employee’s request, the leader prioritized the mission. The employee fumed and complained bitterly to his peers, but he did stay and complete his project.
To avoid permanent morale loss, the leader will need to find some way in the coming weeks to reward the employee for his sacrifice. While leaders can survive short-term morale dips, few survive long-term morale adversity.
Which of the following best describes your bond to your work?
a. pays very well. It supports my family and my expensive hobbies (a job).
b. offers a good career path. I can see several promotions in my future (a career).
c. gives me a sense of purpose. I can make a real contribution (a calling).
Yale University professor, Dr. Wrzesniewski, explains that employees typically identify their work in three ways: a job, a career, or a calling.
Whether your work is a “calling” depends on two things: job fit and how you choose to view your work.
A good job fit occurs when your natural talents, plus your acquired knowledge and skills, allow you to perform your work tasks well. It is your decision as to whether you view your work as a calling.
Those who see their work as a calling tend to be more satisfied and more highly motivated to perform well. Of course, work that is a calling may also offer a good career path and good pay.
As the late humorist Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
As the director hurried into his office, his phone buzzed with the text message: “I just learned that governmental auditors will be in my office next week, and I still don’t have current documentation of our revised safety processes.”
The manager texted back, “OK, after my 8:00 o’clock meeting, I’ll check with the safety training officer and get back to you.”
Very quickly, the manager allowed the staff member to pass the responsibility to him. With the responsibility off his back, the staff member can ignore the issue while awaiting the boss’s solution.
Authors Oncken and Wass, writing in the Harvard Business Review several decades ago, described this process as “Who’s Got the Monkey?” A “monkey” is responsibility for the next move.
In the case above, the monkey sprang from the back of the subordinate onto the manager when the manager agreed to check on the issue.
Some managers, because they are confident they can resolve issues quickly, often overburden themselves by accepting subordinates’ problems.
A more effective approach is to keep the monkey—the responsibility—on subordinates’ backs by asking such questions as: “OK, it is important that you have the proper documentation. How are you going to take care of that?”
“Alfred sounded great during our interviews with him,” a manager commented to me. “However, in a few short weeks Alfred managed to alienate most of his team members with his arrogant, condescending and uncooperative behaviors.”
More than eighty percent of attendees in my leadership workshops say they have been badly fooled during candidate interviews.
Rachel Feintzeig, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reports several studies showing that lying is rampant during job interviews. And Dr. Nicolas Roulin, author of The Psychology of Job Interviews, estimates that up to eighty percent of job candidates embellish their experiences and about twenty percent invent things—like degrees they have not earned and positions they have not held.
Numerous reports suggest that many job candidates inflate their skills, experiences and responsibilities. And what do they minimize? Short comings of course. Further, applicants showcase the likeable version of themselves and may feign passion for what they perceive to be interviewers’ interests.
I do not suggest the elimination of candidate interviews. Rather, the intent is to heighten awareness and confirm impressions with other tools such as cognitive tests, personality assessments, work samples, and reference checking.
Belinda joined her company one year ago and quickly became a vital team member. In author Dennis Organ’s words Belinda contributes by exhibiting organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB’s)—value added behaviors that do not necessarily show up in the reward system.
Comments from several of Belinda’s team members reveal examples of her OCB’s.
“She is very sincere and has kind words for everyone like ‘Good morning.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Thanks for your help.’ Belinda is genuinely polite and respectful of all her teammates.”
“Belinda is reliable. If she says that she is going to do something, you can take it to the bank. You do not have to worry. It will be done.”
“Belinda represents our department well. We have our squabbles but I’ve never heard her whine or criticize our team to others.”
“She is one of the first to help when you need it. She saw me struggling with a process that she once did and offered her assistance. I didn’t have to ask.”
“Do not misunderstand. Belinda does not let people take advantage of her, but she does not hold grudges either.
OCB’s improve team morale; more importantly they enhance performance.
How is this for a new year’s resolution, “I’ll strive to improve my relationship with my manager.”
Although we know most resolutions at a year’s beginning are about as short-lived as the latest weight-loss fad, consider these four practical suggestions for enhanced relations with your manager.
1. Determine what your manager is trying to achieve and dig in to help. Few things get managers’ attention quicker than team members’ who align their behaviors with the boss’s vision.
2. When you differ with your manager’s decision, and you will; present other options of how he might proceed. Begin your suggestion with, “I’m going to do what you ask me to do, but I’d like to discuss another way of approaching this issue.”
3. Avoid hallway grumbling and second-guessing. When peers complain about your manager’s decision, listen attentively and explain why you think her decision might work.
4. None of us is perfect and neither is your manager. Accept your manager’s weaknesses; and rather than slamming him for his short comings, lean into his strengths.
Team members who have good relationships with their managers usually have greater individual success and higher job satisfaction.
“I’m all about merit,” a human resources manager said to me. “But my company sometimes struggles with this concept.”
“Can you give me an example?” I asked.
“Yes. We had four internal applicants for a position that required job knowledge unique to our company. Three candidates had advanced degrees but knew little about our company’s creative ways of managing the tasks. After considerable debate with management, I selected an employee who had acquired superb knowledge about our processes but had no degrees beyond high school.”
“How well did the person perform?”
“She exceeded expectations.”
Managers typically use degrees, certificates, and professional exams to backstop their selection decisions. While credentials may aid in selection, they may also eliminate capable candidates.
Most hiring and promotion decisions, in my opinion, place too much emphasis on degrees, certifications and experiences. Further, diversity and inclusion requirements add additional complexities to decision making.
Understand, I do not suggest that selections ignore certifications and legal and ethical guidelines that ensure fairness to all. Rather, I argue that “merit” be prominent as well.
Long term success depends on hiring and promoting persons with the best set of skills and behaviors that match job responsibilities.