Ellis, a newly-appointed supervisor joked to his group, “Well, I guess they couldn’t find anyone else to take the job. I’ve worked alongside you for three years. You know what to do.”
In another division, Janice was also promoted from her group to be the supervisor. On her first day, she held a meeting and laid out her expectations.
“My top priorities are: (1) we meet our quality metric 100% of the time, (2) meet 98% of all deadlines, (2) improve customer satisfaction scores by 15%, and comply with all attendance and safety policies.”
Performance in Ellis’ group actually declined. One employee said, “Some just waited to be told what to do; others more or less plodded along with half-hearted efforts.”
By contrast, one of Janice’s employees reported. “We all knew what she expected and we stayed focused. Both performance and morale soared.”
As the late General Schwarzkopf said, “When placed in command, take charge.”
This does not mean that you know everything, refuse to listen, rule by fear or turn into a dictator. It does mean that you should have a plan, be clear, stay humble, listen and act like a leader—a good one.
“Many of your staff members describe you as a perfectionist,” I reported to a manager.
“I know,” he said. “I want one hundred percent of our customers to give us an “outstanding” rating. I want every project delivered on time. I want no errors. And I want one hundred percent attendance.”
“You will never get all of those things.”
“I know. My team does a good job but I want them to be the best. I think by asking for perfection, I actually get more. They know I do not tolerate mistakes or violations.”
Members of the team responded with comments like, “No matter what we do, you can never please him.” “Why should we work through lunch and stay late? He’ll find something wrong anyway.” “Even when we do a good job, he always points to things we could have done better.”
Perfection is a fairy tale. A fact check showed that performance metrics had not improved in two years under this “perfectionist” manager. Morale was quite low and a couple of good-producing younger employees had left the company.
Employees are more engaged and more productive when leaders focus on getting better—not perfect—just improve over the last period.
According to the Labor Turnover Survey, about 3.5 million employees quit their jobs every month. The average tenure for employees in their workplace is less than five years—longer for older employees, shorter for millennials.
Most job offers look pretty good from a distance but not all turn out to be so. Still, few employees treat a job change like major surgery. As one said, “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just look for another.”
I think the analysis of whether to go or stay boils down to two basic issues—the work itself and the boss.
Concerning the work: Do you like what you are doing? Does your job allow for personal growth? Do you value the mission of your company?
Concerning your boss: Does your manager respect and appreciate you? Is your manager interested in your development? Do your opinions count?
If the answers to these questions are compelling “yes’s,” I suggest that you lean heavily toward staying in your current situation. Still, I understand moving for opportunity. Although I’ve chosen to remain with my current organization for more than forty years, I did change jobs seven times in the first eight years of my career.
“In thirteen years, I’ve worked for two companies,” Albertson said. “Managers tell me that I’m a conscientious employee, and I’ve had very good performance reviews in all of my jobs.”
“Why did you leave the first company?” I asked.
“I was there six years. I liked the work and I had opportunities for advancement. I got a new manager in my third year and our relationship was shoddy. He was a good person but always hovered over my work and was quick to second-guess any initiative I might take.”
Albertson continued to explain that his manager had very little experience in the tasks that he performed and tended to micromanage. Albertson described his manager as a negative person and was not always clear about what he expected.
Eventually, Albertson left for a job in another company at lower pay. Albertson has remained with the second company for seven years. He likes the work and has been promoted. Albertson says his current manager cares about him and is very clear about expectations.
Gallup polls show that seventy-five percent of employees who voluntarily leave their company do so because of poor relationships with bosses. Employees join companies but they leave bosses.
By all accounts, Margie is a very influential leader. Margie’s CEO said, “She has a way of getting people’s attention. Margie’s peers often call her for advice, and I think her staff would follow her through fire.”
I asked a group of Margie’s employees if she offered rewards or used punishment to get them to do things.
“Not really,” one responded. Another said, “I think she appreciates what we do but she doesn’t offer a lot of carrots for incentives.”
I asked if Margie was unusually persuasive or charismatic. “I never thought of her that way,” came a response. “She is professional and communicates clearly but I don’t see her as sprouting ‘charm.’”
I probed further, “In a nutshell, just what is the basis of Margie’s ability to influence you and others to do things?”
In differing ways, employees voiced respect for Margie. They respected her knowledge, skill and integrity. All agreed that Margie was honest and seemed to genuinely care about them as individuals. Others vouched for her competency. She has proven that she knows what she is doing and she will not ask you to do anything that she can’t do herself.
Earn others’ R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It gives you more power than rewards, punishment, or position.
“I’m having trouble with my team,” a manager explained. “We make too many mistakes. Quality is a concern. We have too many accidents. People miss too much work. Today’s employees just don’t seem to take pride in their work.”
I asked if he would be OK if I visited with his team and he said, “Sure, if you think that might help.”
Several members said, “He doesn’t get here on time himself and he sometimes leaves early.” Others’ comments included: “He doesn’t wear the new safety vests; says they are too hot. Why should we.” “He berates us about meeting schedule when he knows that some of the parts need reworking.”
When I mentioned these behaviors to the manger, he said, “I’m the leader. Why should I have to do everything they do? I have a reserved parking space.”
This manager apparently operated as a do-as-I-say, not a do-as-I-do leader. Employees study their leaders constantly and leaders’ actions overpower their words.
You want employees to come to work on time; show up early yourself. You want quality work; show a passion for quality. You want people to work safely; demonstrate safe practices with your behavior. Teams, like fish, rot from the head down.
Two employees were discussing their new manager and one said, “He sure takes a long time to respond.”
The other said, “Really? I got a quick response from him.”
“How did you do it?”
“I just emailed him and he responded in a few minutes.”
“Well, I called and left a voice message. It was two days before I got a reply.”
News flash: managers have unique peculiarities about how they prefer to interact with staff. This manager obviously preferred email and text to the phone. Most employees eventually learn to read their managers, but why should they have to play detective to ferret out their leader’s idiosyncrasies?
Are you comfortable with staff drop-ins or would you prefer appointments?
When staff reports, do you want a lot of details or would you prefer just the headlines?
When an unexpected challenge erupts, do you want staff to simply report or offer options for dealing with the issue?
Do you like to wander around the premises or do you homestead your work place?
Do you like data to back up suggestions or will opinions suffice?
Most staff can respond to a wide variety of leader behaviors, but they can do so more effectively when the leader clearly lays them out.