The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 5 of 5

Helen, age 64, has been with the organization 33 years.  For most of those years, Helen’s performance was exceptional. “She lived and breathed the organization,” is the way a previous boss described her.

Helen has recently experienced serious family problems that have affected her health to the point that she is unable to adequately perform her job.  Helen says that she wants to work 10 more months and retire at 65.

The president said, “I’m in a dilemma, I feel sorry for Helen and I’m very grateful for what she has done for us.  Still, I’m not in a position to hire another person.  If Helen stays, others will have to take some of her work.”

“Could Helen take an early retirement?” I asked.

The president reported that he had suggested early retirement but Helen said that she would like to stay on until sixty-five if she could.

I say tell Helen and anyone else that you absolutely will honor her request.  Helen’s thirty-plus years of loyalty and productivity are surely enough to earn her another ten months.

When others complain about having to do part of Helen’s work, listen with empathy.  Smile and say, “I understand and I really appreciate what you are doing to help us out here.”

 

Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony


The president selected Johnathon–a no nonsense, high-performer– to lead a low-morale team that had consistently missed performance objectives.

Johnathon announced to his team, “Your performance disappoints me.  You can do better.  I will change what I need to and I expect you to meet all performance metrics.  I will inspect all activities closely and take quick, corrective actions where needed.”

Employees grumbled, griped and blamed failures on unrealistic expectations, vendor problems, a warehouse fire, and bad weather.

Johnathon, anchored like a rock in a sandstorm, continued pressing.  He made changes, terminated a couple of employees, some quit.  The performance needle began vibrating upward.

After a few months, the president said to the team, “You have performed a turnaround beyond my highest expectations.”

Jonathon impatiently asked for even more from the team.  Turnover became an issue again, excuses emerged, and performance stalled out.  Eventually, the president removed Jonathon.

Johnathon’s methods jerked a group of carless whiners into a high-performing team, but he could not sustain the success.  Effective leaders are not one-trick ponies, they adapt.  Structure often turns bad performance into good, but support and freedom is necessary to sustain high performance.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements


businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

 

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.”