Category Archives: Managing By Cliches

Stop Tilting At Windmills: Accepting That You Can’t Solve Every(one’s) Problem

Part of our continuing series of posts on “Managing By Cliches.”

Like Don Quixote, HR people sometimes idealistically "tilt at windmills" -- fighting battles that can't be won.

HR people generally try hard to “fix” things — people, organizations, relationships, etc.  There is a bit of the idealistic and ever-hopeful Don Quixote  “tilting at windmills” in all of us, I suppose — always trying to make things better, even when others with a more objective view might see the situation (or the person) as hopeless. In the end, though, the most challenging “truth” that we need to accept as HR people might be that we can’t fix everyone or everything … especially if they don’t “ask” us to “fix” them.

Bob, The Customer Service Rep Who And Hated His Customers

Just from the “headline” above, you might say, “Well, that seems like an easy one.”  And you would be right.  The “fix” — for “Bob” to get a new job, and maybe even a completely new line of work — is easily seen… by everyone except for Bob, of course.

As it turns out, Bob is a bright, hard-working, earnest 30-something who, for the past decade or so has worked two full-time jobs at the same time: managing a restaurant and leading a customer service team in a busy office.  The good news is that he is talented and performs well at both jobs.  The bad news is that the cumulative weight of satisfying customer demands at both jobs has left him burned out, resentful of even the most innocuous of customer request, and generally feeling Continue reading

Managing By Cliches: Timing Is Everything (Pick Your Spots)

This is another in our series of posts on the topic of “managing by cliches.”

Last week was a very good one in my department, as a long-hoped for project moved forward in a significant way, after years of opposition from certain quarters.  Reflecting on the reasons that we  finally made progress,  I believe it came down to two things:

  • perseverance  (i.e., being too stubborn to give up)
  • patience (being willing to “wait it out” until conditions were more favorable).

Melding these two qualities together, I think the cliche “timing is everything” is really what was at work here.

Do we always have the patience (and perseverance) to wait for the right moment to make our move?

Luck?

One might argue that “timing” is nothing more than luck — i.e., some people are just “born under a lucky star” and always appear to be “in the right place at the right time.”  “Not me,”  you might say.  “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” we might all feel in our “Charlie Brown” moments.  (Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought this about yourself).  While I wouldn’t argue that luck (or “good fortune,” or “kizmet,” or “serendipity”) plays no role, I do think that other more controllable factors are involved, as well.

I believe that awareness of “the moment”  plays a key role in this.  No one can be fully aware of everything and everyone around them, of course.  But through practice and focus, we can probably all get better at this.

Poor Timing

As one example on the “bad timing” side … our national sales director Continue reading

“Do Unto Others …”

This is the sixth in an occasional series of posts on the topic of “Managing By Cliches.”

We often talk in HR about big ideas — “cutting edge” practices and “strategic visions,” and the like — and this is a very good thing, as it helps us help management guide the organization forward.  At the same time, we might sometimes be prone to forget what employees really want from their employers, and what puts them in a place to contribute to organizational success — that is, respect, dignity, being “heard” and taken seriously.

A “Smack In The Face” Reminder

As I was scrolling through some Twitter messages the other day, I saw one that mentioned a website for “workplace humor.”  I clicked on the link and quickly became engrossed in PleaseFireMe.Com, which features pages and pages of postings from discouraged employees.  (I imagine that there might be many similar websites — I had never thought to look before).  What I saw there made me chuckle, shake my head, and wince, disturbed and discouraged me, and finally, encouraged me. Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 5: Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Corner

The Joy of Painting

Bob Ross considered his tools -- his brushes -- to be his friends. Shouldn't organizational policies be our "friends," supporting our needs, not limiting them?

Do you remember Bob Ross, the man with the soothing voice, wild hair, and happy demeanor who hosted The Joy of Painting shows on PBS for so many years?  As I recall, one of his favorite phrases was pointing out in an encouraging way, as he added elements to his painting, that “the brush is our friend.” He wanted brushes to expand our horizons, not limit them.

I don’t know if Bob Ross (who sadly passed away at the young age of 52 in 1995 but lives on in re-runs around the world) knew anything about “human resources” or “corporate policies” — but I thought of him recently in connection to both of these topics.   Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 4: Mean What You Say

When advising management teams that are considering new policies, I always ask them to consider one question: “If your star employee violated this policy, what would you do?”

One of BYU's star players violated a sacred university rule -- and the school stuck by the rule, to its short-term detriment and long-term acclaim

If the answer I get back is hemming and hawing and ultimately a sheepish, “Well, honestly, we’d probably look the other way or give him another chance,” it becomes clear that, at the very least, they shouldn’t state the policy in absolute terms (i.e., no use of the words “never,” “always,” and the like).  Better that they have a vague policy — or no policy at all — than that they have a policy that they know they’ll never really enforce (or won’t enforce for everyone, in any case).

To reduce it to its simplest element, it’s all about “meaning what you say.” If you write “never” or “always,” you better really mean “never” or “always.”  If not, your credibility (both legally and culturally) may never recover.  Quite remarkably, a story emerged from the sports world that illustrated the “mean what you say” proviso quite dramatically.  Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 3: Moderation In All Things

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

"Moderation in all things" has been urged by philosophers since the time of Aristotle

This is the third in our series of posts around the idea of “managing by cliches.”

Recently, I’ve become more and more aware of a paradox of management behavior: a leader’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness.  (I’m not sure if this is actually a “cliche” — but I’ve said or thought it enough that it has become one in my mind, at least!).  That is, when an outstanding skill or technique is over-used, or mis-applied (or used without self-awareness), it can create a negative effect more than equal to all of the good that is done when the skill is applied properly.

The Meaning of Moderation

Moderation in all things.*
Chilon, ancient Greek philosopher, c. 650 B.C.

Since this precept was first inscribed on a column of the Temple of Delphi in Ancient Greece, innumerable philosophers have weighed in on its meaning.  An alternative translation of the phrase is “nothing in excess.” Does this mean that one should always be moderate in word and deed (i.e., never going to extremes of forcefulness, or passion)?  Or, rather, does it mean having balance (i.e., balancing one strength with other, even if neither are “moderate” in any way)? And, what can this tell us as managers 27 centuries later? Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 2: Let the System Work for You (not vice versa)

Michael Dorn and Robert O'Reilly as Worf and G...

Naming an HR database after Star Trek villains wasn't a good omen

This is the second in our series of posts around the idea of “managing by cliches.”

During the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of on-line and real-life discussions about the merits of various performance evaluation systems.  One colleague described a particular system as being powerful but “difficult to learn and implement.”  This brought mind past experiences implementing unwieldy systems — times when it seemed that rather than the system working for us, we were working for the system (never a desirable state of affairs).

The Klingon System

Once about a time, I worked for a Fortune-500 company that chose to implement “Klingon” as its HRIS database.  OK — that wasn’t really its name Continue reading