Is There a Fourth of July in England?

“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?”

Can We Just Eliminate Performance Improvement Plans (PIP’s)?

“I was put on a performance improvement plan,” an employee reported.  “My manager thought that I should have higher satisfaction ratings from my current accounts.  He gave me a detailed checklist of what I should do, and I had to report my results daily.”

The employee said he became discouraged and the entire team (You cannot keep these things secret.) worried and fretted excessively.  The employee eventually quit and moved to another company where he had a successful career.

From my observations, more than eighty percent of employees on PIP’s earn a termination notice or they quit.  Less than one in ten improve performance.

Here is the dirty little secret about PIP’s.  Managers use PIP’s almost exclusively for sub-par performers.   The intent is to create a lawsuit-proof paper trail to justify termination.  I understand this need; but you can document bad performance without creating paper-stacked, time-eating PIP’s.

If you are disappointed with an employee’s performance, tell the person what disappoints you and what you expect.  Suggest ways to improve. Root for the employee’s success.  Make a note with time, date and items discussed.  Copy your boss and the employee.  In less than five minutes, you have begun your paper trail.

Don’t Pass the Buck to Grandma

pass-buckA six-year old picks up rocks and begins throwing them in the backyard water feature.  “Grandma doesn’t want you to throw rocks in the water,” Grandpa warned.

“Don’t tell Grandma,” replied the six-year old.

We can marvel at the quick-thinking six-year old’s recommendation, but it was Grandpa who committed the faux pas.   Not wanting to take responsibility for enforcing a policy of “no throwing rocks in the pond,” Grandpa passed the buck to Grandma.

A more adult correction from Grandpa might have sounded like, “I think it best that you stop throwing rocks in the pond.  The rocks could clog the drainage or damage the pump.”  That is, Grandpa could take ownership of the correction and explain why.

I observe many parallel, buck-passing actions of less effective leaders.  A newly-appointed manager explained to an employee, “Because of your excessive absenteeism, Human Relations requires that I reprimand you.”

In response to requests from front-line managers to provide more vacation time to employees, the Regional Manager said, “The CEO believes that our current policy is very competitive.”  An employee denies a customer’s request with, “It’s against company policy.”

Effective leaders understand their organizations’ policies and accept responsibility for executing them; that is, they ‘own’ the policies.  For example, “Because of your unexcused absences, consistent with our policy, I’ve decided to write you a reprimand.  If you continue to miss work, there could be additional consequences.  I don’t want that to happen.”


To Save Meeting Time, Plan Ahead

proactive-meetings-16“Meetings, meetings, meetings,” exclaimed Rupert.  “If I didn’t have to spend half of my day in meetings, I could get more done.”

“What was the purpose of your last meeting,” I asked.

Rupert said, “We met to select a new vendor.  We immediately began arguing like siblings over who was going to sit in the front seat of the car.  After an hour and a half, we were exhausted but had no solution.  So we adjourned and agreed to address the issue at our next meeting.”

I observe a lot of meetings where people get together, perhaps with an agenda, and all start sharing their opinions spontaneously—not good.

By contrast, I sat with board committee where the purpose was to develop next year’s training plan.  Shortly after the meeting began, Alisson opened a well-organized, three-ring binder and politely talked through a completed list of training topics with purposes, resources, and a tentative schedule.

Although no one had assigned this task to Alisson, all others expressed awe and support for her preparation.  Members quickly supported some parts of Alisson’s plan and recommended modifications for other parts.  In short-order, the team agreed upon a proposal.

One of the major reasons for long-lasting meetings, I think, is that participants show up and begin creating solutions during the meeting.  Meetings are more productive, not to mention quicker, when members come with thought-out, tentative proposals.  Members then devote time to critiquing and improving rather than creating from scratch.

Why Some Leaders Lie

liar-16Samuel Watson (not his real name) was smart, physically attractive, and athletic.  “Sam was very popular,” recalls a college friend.  “Intelligent and extremely capable,” said another.

A friend also said, “We could never be sure that Sam was telling the truth.”  Another said, “Bending truths, large and small, was just a way of life with Sam.”

After college, Sam joined a growing company and advanced quickly to a powerful leadership position.  But eventually, his division ran afoul of governmental regulations and he was fired at the age of forty-six.

A careful examination of Sam’s career unearthed mystifying behaviors.  Sam graduated from a prestigious university with a master’s degree, but he had falsely reported that he had a second master’s.

Sam occasionally misrepresented delivery schedules to customers.  He exaggerated claims, denied previous promises, and communicated incorrect data to staff and management.  When cornered, Sam relied on denials, personal persuasion and charisma to patch relationships.

A staff member said, “I really liked working for Sam.  He was kind, generous, charming and very talented.  I can’t understand why he had this puzzling prevaricating habit.”

Why do some leaders lie?  Researchers suggest that a few among us are genetically incapable of consistently telling the truth, i.e., they are congenital liars.

Accusations of falsehoods befuddle congenital liars because, in their minds, they remember things differently.  Beware of being bamboozled by consistently dishonest persons; they rarely change their behaviors.



The Paradox of Power: Part 1

power-16“You can’t tell employees everything,” explained a manager.  “You have to select information that persuades them to do what you need.  There are things I do not tell my people.”

Another manager disagreed, “I think you have to tell all—the good the bad the ugly.   Even if the information is harmful to my position, I get it out.  If employees are going to follow your lead, they have to trust you to tell it like it is.”

Psychology professor, Dacher Keltner, in his book The Power Paradox, quotes numerous studies to show that most (not all) organizational leaders gain power by giving away the tools of influence.

Leaders rise in power by being grateful, generous and collaborative with their employees.  Followers believe these leaders to be looking out for the good of the whole and they want to contribute.

Leaders who try to influence by concealing, manipulating and deceiving actually lose power.  Employees eventually band together and, with the strength of numbers, refuse to execute the leaders’ directives.

Many of us, no doubt at some time in our career, have worked for a certified jerk.  Hopefully, we have also experienced leaders who downplayed their personal achievements while being grateful and generous in recognizing the help of others.

When it comes to giving the “extra effort” on an important assignment, the collaborative and generous leader gets my vote.

Effective Leaders Try to Avoid “Wimp Wins”

compromise-16“I know this project is important,” admitted Jason, “but I’d like to schedule a week of vacation next month.”

“Jason,” the manager replied, “your contributions are critical to the project’s mission.  There is no way we can meet the deadline if you are gone.”

“I know,” said Jason.  “Five of my close college friends had a gathering planned for November, but a friend called yesterday and said they were rescheduling it for September.  Many of us haven’t seen each other in years.”

After further discussions, the manager and Jason agreed to a compromise.  The manager would approve three days of vacation and explain to the stakeholders that the project would need a little more time and budget.  Jason agreed to work the weekend prior to leaving for vacation and get as much done as he could.

This compromise is a “wimp win.”  Both Jason and the manager can live with the outcome, but both are troubled with the agreement.  For the manager, the project is late and Jason misses part of the reunion.

Before agreeing to compromises, strong leaders exhaust all options for all parties.  Perhaps they can move the reunion to October.  Maybe Jason can put in more time prior to going and be available via technology during the reunion.

Be wary of wimp wins.  Unfortunately, a pattern of compromises increases the likelihood of a growing bitterness among the parties.