If You Chase Two Rabbits, You Will Not Catch Either One


After a manager presented the departments’ ten objectives for the upcoming quarter, a supervisor asked, “Which are the most important?”

“All are important,” the manager replied.  “We have to achieve all of them.”

Another employee said, “Sometimes, we get surprises and it may not be possible to achieve everything.”

“Yes,” added another, “and some are in conflict.  When there is a quality issue, do I fix the glitch and miss the on-time; or do I ship on-time, knowing the product may be returned?”

The manager stated, “I expect you to make every effort to achieve all of the objectives.”

The manager’s comment shut down the discussion but did not address the issue.  No one believes all of the objectives are equally important.  To paraphrase a quote from George Orwell’s novel, ANIMAL FARM, “All of the objectives of the department are equal but some of the objectives are more equal than others.”

For an agricultural promotion, a state representative said, “We are Number One in egg production but not Number One in chicken production.  You can’t be Number One in both of those.”

We achieve great things by laser-firing our efforts toward being good at one thing at the time.  “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one,” states an old proverb.

How to Respond When Squeezed Between Boss and Employee Requests


Top managers, in different organizations, discussed sensitive issues–combining departments, potential layoffs, prospective mergers–with their direct reports. All top managers requested that they “keep this in the room for now.”

In every case, rumors surfaced and employees questioned their immediate managers who made responses like:

“Where did you hear that?”

“I’m not at liberty to talk about that.”

“I’ll let you know something when I know something.”

“If I were you, I’d just do my job and not worry about rumors.”

These responses, and other similar ones, do two things. One, mid-managers maintain loyalty to their bosses by “keeping the information in the room.” Two, although unintended, the responses actively encourage employees to believe the rumors and pass along grossly exaggerated versions.

Unfortunately, managers too often find themselves squeezed between their bosses’ requests and employees’ questions. While it is not always possible, I suggest that managers strive to honor their bosses’ while maintaining employee confidences.

For example, “While I do not have an answer for you at this point, I want you to know that we are seeking decisions that best serve our customers while valuing our employees.”

Do You Practice Seagull Management?


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.

Why Waste Time Writing Job Descriptions?


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?

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?”

Leaders May Sometimes Need to Temporarily “Burn” a Relationship


“I have a good relationship with Fred,” the manager commented.  “He is a good performer and team player, but he continues making excuses for not using our new scheduling system.”

“What are Fred’s reasons for not using the system?”

“I’m not sure Fred’s concerns are legitimate, but he says the new system requires too much documentation and takes too much time.”

“Does Fred’s failure to comply cause problems?”

“Oh yes!  We have to do time-consuming work-arounds.”

“Tell Fred that you will treat failure to comply as insubordination.”

“He would not like that.  It would surely dent our relationship.”

The manager is very conflicted.  Maintaining a good relationship means extra work and sets a bad example for others.  Requiring compliance burns a good relationship with a high performer.

Effective leaders are both demanding and friendly.  But sometimes they must require others (even friends) to do things they resist.  Such actions may cause the relationship needle to point south.

If fractured relationships reach critical mass, staff may in effect “fire” the leader.  Resisting staffers apply so much pressure that higher authorities decide they are better off with the leader being gone.

When leaders consciously sacrifice relationships in service to the mission, it is imperative that these leaders, in the following weeks, make every effort to restore their relationships.

 

When an Employee Gives You a Relationship Assignment, Don’t Take It


Askov, an employee, says to his manager, “I don’t work very well with Renfro.”

“What’s the problem?” the manager replied.

“He’s hard to communicate with.  He doesn’t listen.  Never makes eye contact.  When I ask him about something, he doesn’t give me a good answer.  It makes it hard for me to do my job.”

It appears that Askov is surfacing a problem between him and Renfro and asking the manager for help.  However, Askov is most likely setting a trap for the manager.

Should the manager investigate, he will likely discover that Renfro has a very different take if he has an opinion at all.  The manager may have the detective skills of a Scotland Yard lifer, but he will not likely be able to resolve the issue to Askov’s satisfaction.

However, Askov now has cover and does not have to be accountable for his behavior.  After all, if the manager could not fix Renfro, why should Askov be expected to do so?

When employees try to give you assignments, don’t take them.  The manager could have mirrored Askov’s communication, as in, “So you and Renfro are not working together so well?”   Likely the manager will get from Askov, “That’s right, Renfro can’t communicate.”

Then the manager can refuse Askov’s assignment with a, “How can you deal with that and still get your work done?”