Tag Archives: Employee Relations

Rebuilding Relationships

wine_toast

At a recent business dinner, the conversation was lively, the atmosphere cozy, and the mood light, as someone rose with glass in hand. “I’d like to offer a toast to Patty, for the terrific way that she has supported us this past year.”  Looking over the clinking of glasses and the round of warm congratulations sat an embarrassed but clearly gratified Patty.  This simple scene represented the culmination of a years-long journey to rebuild tattered relations between the groups present — and therein lies our story.

The Back Story

For more than a decade, relations between marketing and one of the lines of business had been frayed, sometimes to the breaking point—reflecting in large part the contentious relationship between the heads of both groups. Words like toxic, angry, skeptical, uncommunicative, antagonistic, and the like could be used to describe the tone between the groups at various points.  How did things move from this paralyzed state of affairs to the happy dinner scene above?  In a word, hard work—a series of steady, persistent actions over the course of years.

Lessons Learned

Several steps — some intentional, some happenstance — served to break the logjam and help move the relationship between the groups forward.

  • Change in Players—The first key event was the departure of the marketing head (for reasons unrelated to this situation).  The hard feelings between the two heads had become so entrenched that no Continue reading

The Power of Clarity

Are our managers weighed down by doubts about their roles and the organization’s purposes? Simple clarity can help release powerful performance.

I was reminded again last week how important it is for organizations to communicate clear roles and purposes.  Simply knowing where the organization is going and what it expects of you dramatically affects how you feel about—and how you do—your job.  So simple … and so easy to forget.

The Situation

As I was helping a group of front-line supervisors implement a new performance evaluation system, the question of “trust” kept coming up.  At first, it was difficult to get a handle on what exactly the issue was.  I kept talking about how the system would free them to coach, mentor, and support their employees—and they kept asking, “Really?”

The system itself was pretty simple, so I was confused, until it finally became clear that they weren’t questioning the system—only their role in it.  The “really” was, “Are you sure that the organization really wants us spending our time coaching and mentoring? They’re really going to let us do that?”

Clearly there was some emotional baggage to overcome before any new system could take hold.

The History

In the last ten or so years, they had experienced a number of short-term leaders.  With each new leader—some more communicative than others—the role of the front-line supervisor had shifted, leaving them confused and dispirited.  The common theme, Continue reading

Advice for (New) Managers

 

Recently, one of our senior managers was considering promoting a long-serving employee to a supervisory position for the first time.  To help paint a picture of “management” for the employee, the senior manager drew up a list of “Things Managers Are and Do” and shared it with the prospective supervisor.  I thought it was a very good and thoughtful list, so I asked him if I might share it in this forum (adding a few thoughts of my own).

Things Managers Are

  • They are genuine (i.e., they know that admitting mistakes makes you human, not weak)
  • They are prudent (i.e., they balance the needs of all concerned)
  • They are thoughtful (i.e., they try to understand and consider the implications of their actions)
  • They are humble (i.e., they seek collegial relationships and use power with great restraint)
  • They are hopeful (i.e., they believe in others’ potential and work to help them fulfill it)

Things Managers Do

  • They manage (i.e., they take charge of situations, identifying solutions rather than complaining about problems)
  • They want  to manage (because they enjoy this type of work, not because of where it puts them on the corporate ladder)
  • They care about, and see (and come to know) their staff as individuals first, and co-workers second.
  • They understand and respect that people have a life outside of work and try to plan thoughtfully to help their teams balance business and personal responsibilities
  • They truly want their staff and co-workers to be successful and work to help them become so
  • They see this “role” (helping others succeed) as important as “doing their own job” – because it is part their job
  • They actively demonstrate support by being available, teaching, and offering tools and resources where they reasonably can
  • They represent/support the company in all matters – while maintaining their own individual integrity (i.e., when the company is wrong, they acknowledge it)
  • They continually seek to learn and develop themselves in order to become better managers
  • They don’t  have to win an argument because they’re the boss (i.e., they seek to let the best answer prevail)
  • They understand that they’re not “owed” trust and loyalty merely because they’re “the boss”; they have to earn it (day by day, action by action).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to help new managers thrive.  I’ll be writing more next week about observing two young managers as they strive to learn the art and craft of management. In the meantime, what key actions would you add to the list if you were advising a new manager (or as a reminder for long-time managers)?

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The Clarity of Power

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell

National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, recently issued fines and suspensions related to the “Bountygate” scandal that are unprecedented in league history in terms of their severity and scope.  Goodell’s strong action has given me pause to reflect on the clarity that power — when used prudently but decisively — can bring to an organization, providing both direction and calm.

Bountygate

In early March, the media began to report that a 3-year internal investigation by the NFL revealed the New Orleans Saints had offered “bounties” (cash bonuses) for injuries caused to opposing players.  A week or so into the media storm, Mr. Goodell announced suspensions and fines including: Saints general manager, 8 games; Saints head coach, Sean Payton, the entire 2012 season; and former Saints defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, indefinitely (but at least one year).  All were suspended without pay (in Payton’s case, costing him most of his $7.5 million annual salary).

When the news came out, you could hear the proverbial “pin drop” from the immediate shock. There was no doubt who was in charge, whether he was serious or not, and what was or was not acceptable in the league anymore.  Mr. Goodell had made very clear what wasn’t up for debate.

Closer to Home

I recently observed something in my own organization that brought home a similar point about the prudent use of power.  Continue reading

Constructive Conversations … Not Fierce Ones

In recent years, there has been widespread interest in books recommending “fierce” or “difficult” conversations. While these best-sellers offer many excellent communication tips, I worry that some of their most enthusiastic adherents can seem more eager for the “fierce” (i.e., “confrontational”) part of the concept than the “conversation” (i.e., mutual, respectful exchange of ideas) part.  As a brief anecdote involving two former colleagues illustrates,  “fierce” and “constructive” aren’t necessarily the same thing.

A Tale of Two Colleagues

“Colleague A” is fiercely bright, passionate about a wide range of subjects, and eager to engage in stimulating debate to help focus and fine-tune his ideas and theories.  He feels morally compelled to question approaches to problems until rigorous, high-quality answers and results are achieved – all to the good. Not surprisingly, he is a strong proponent of “fierce” conversations.  Also not surprisingly, this can overwhelm those who don’t share exactly his same sensibilities (i.e., almost everyone else).  He is known to Continue reading

Servant Leadership: Exuding Gladness, Humility, and Hope

Is exuding gladness, humility, and hopeful expectation an important part of servant leadership?

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York that was led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  It was a special experience (complete with incense, full choir, pipe organ, etc.), especially coming during the Advent season (the period of preparation and anticipation leading up to Christmas).  I appreciated it deeply on a personal, religious level.  What I’d like to share with you today, though, are the leadership notes that I drew from the archbishop’s presence.

The Servant Leader

Archbishop Dolan cuts a large presence, both in physical stature (he looks like he could easily have been a Division I lineman in college) and personality – clearly gregarious and vibrant in nature, smiling broadly and constantly and engaging the congregation in ways large and small, more than holding his own against the backdrop of the grand gothic cathedral.  Observing him in this setting for the hour-long Mass, several  servant-leader characteristics stood out to me – none of which require a dramatic setting or a high position in the hierarchy, and all of which Continue reading

Star Employees: Worth The Cost?

Apple's iconic CEO, Steve Jobs, left a legacy of products that have impacted the very ways in which we live and interact. Can the same always be said of other "star" employees -- or do the costs sometimes outweigh the benefits?

The passing of Apple’s legendary leader, Steve Jobs, brought with it a remarkable flood of poignant tributes from every corner.  Many noted his amazing impact – as inventor, leader, and visionary – on the way we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves.   There is no doubt that his influence and vision will live on in the products and company he created.

At the same time, a relatively small proportion of these retrospectives noted the downside of Jobs’ brilliant characteristics – a demanding nature that could often demean employees.  It seems that his famous creative and inspiring temperament simultaneously wrought “the bullying, manipulation and fear that followed him around Apple.”  This has led me to reflect this week on the costs and benefits of “star” employees in  organizations.

In Jobs’ case, his inordinate gifts seem to have far outweighed – though didn’t excuse – his negative impact. Of course, as founder/CEO, his role was quite different than the “hired hand” position of even the most valuable employee.   I wonder, though, if the benefits of “star” employees in organizations outweigh the true costs in many cases.  Here are a few examples from throughout my career.

Product Creator / Collaboration Destroyer

This employee is revered for their ability to consistently create products that take the company’s line to the next level.  To the good, they can serve to inspire other employees to “raise their game” and Continue reading