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

Making Your Boss Look Good

Telling "gentle truths" is a way of fulfilling with integrity the "job requirement" of keeping the boss happy by making him or her "look good"

As I was helping a manager write a job description recently, he leaned over and said, “Wait.  There’s one more ‘requirement’ we need to add.”  Waiting a beat, he smiled:  “Ability to make boss look good.”  We both laughed  – but we both recognized the truth in what he had said, too.

While the blatantly “political” (one might say, “Machiavellian”) nature of this idea is uncomfortable for me, there is no doubt that this represents a cold, hard truth in many if not all organizations. It might not be necessary for getting the job, but “making the boss look good” is often a de facto requirement for keeping (or succeeding in) a job long term.

How can one do so with integrity, serving the best interests of their organization, their boss, and – admittedly – their own career? Three “rules” come to mind.

NOTE: The following examples concern qualified, good-performing bosses. Incompetent and “mean” bosses are another case entirely – and, as they say, a story for another day.

#1: Invite them into situations that play to their strengths

We once had a CEO who, while surprisingly quiet and shy in one-to-one or small group settings, was a very engaging speaker in a large room.  Therefore, when we invited him to kick-off a “Welcome to the company” orientation presentation on the day of an acquisition, we were quite surprised when he struggled mightily in telling the company’s story to the crowd.

We later realized our mistake: Continue reading

A Few Feet Makes All The Difference

They say that the distance between happiness and sadness is often very short.  I was reminded of this the other day in visiting a local merchant, who is sometimes noticeably happy and upbeat when I’m in the store and other times quite withdrawn and uncommunicative.  I started to wonder if it was me, until I noticed the pattern. In this case, a few feet made all the difference in the world.

Same Person, Different Roles, Different Demeanor

"Casting" an employee in the right role can make all the difference between happiness and sadness, as exemplified in these ancient dramatic masks.

The merchant, a soft-spoken, pleasant woman in her 50′s, owns a lovely stationery and specialty gift shop — the kind of place you go for fine writing paper, or wedding invitations, or special “knick knacks” of the type that my mom loves. A corner of the store serves as a postal “sub station” handling  certain postal transactions.  Those few feet — from the cards-and-gifts side of the shop to the postal side – are exactly the difference between happiness and sadness for the merchant (not too unlike the “comedy” and “tragedy” sides of a theatre mask).

When she’s on the gift side, she’s happy and light-hearted, easily engaging her patrons in conversation about their purchases; when she’s selling stamps or putting postage on a Priority Mail letter, she’s serious and sullen, almost morose, with no hint of a smile or a twinkle in her voice.  There is an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s girlfriend is Continue reading

Connecting People: “HR By Walking Around”

A few recent conversations with our company’s receptionist have reminded me of two things: 1 – HR’s unique opportunity to bring people and resources together; and 2 – It is often the “little” conversations that spark the true “eureka” moments and help people and resources connect in meaningful ways.

"HR By Walking Around" can help you connect people and resources in powerful ways

Playwright … Parent … Receptionist

In chatting with our receptionist, Carla, over the past year, I’ve gotten to know her from a variety of perspectives.  Taken at face value, she works hard to serve the company’s needs everyday from 9 – 5 – whether it is “putting a smile into her voice” every time she answers a call, or helping to support other projects. However, that isn’t where her true focus and calling reside. 

Carla is a playwright … parent … non-profit director … spouse … church member … among many other roles … and she puts great energy, meaning, and vocational zeal into each of these roles.  In short, she’s a really neat lady! Given the number of people holding down “ordinary” day jobs while pursuing their hopes and dreams outside of work, I’m sure your organization has people just like Carla, too.

Bridging the Personal and Professional

During one of our recent chats, I casually mentioned the specialty area of someone in our management consulting group. Carla reacted with amazement, as she has been answering our phones for over a year without knowing what this particular person (and many others) actually do on a daily basis (yes, our orientation and training programs need a lot of work – but that’s a story for another day!). 

Having this information would not only help Carla serve clients better on the phone, but also had a “personal” impact.  As it turns out, the consultant’s expertise and personal interests might benefit Carla’s non-profit group.  This followed another chat a few weeks earlier in which, understanding other aspects of Carla’s background, I was able to suggest a project she may be able to assist us with beyond what would ordinarily be a receptionist’s role – and which can benefit both the company (by using internal expertise) and herself (personal and professional satisfaction).  All of this just from a few “casual” conversations!

HR’s Ability to Connect Resources

These events reminded me of HR’s unique role as one of the few functions aware of resources, talents, capabilities, and needs across the whole organization.  In this way, we’re best-positioned to help connect employees with other employees, resources, and opportunities that benefit all involved.

This might happen in a variety of ways:

  • In large organizations, there are sophisticated “knowledge-sharing” databases, and most recently, “chat rooms” and other “social media” venues
  • Many firms have professional development programs (e.g., dedicated efforts — usually stemming from annual performance evaluations – to actively use internal and external resources for professional growth and renewal)
  • Perhaps most to the point of this article, there is “HRBWA” (“HR By Walking Around”) – i.e., getting out of our offices and engaging in conversations with people throughout the organization; getting to know their skills, talents, hopes, dreams, and interests; and making the effort to put the people and pieces in touch with one another, whenever possible (in concert with the manager’s own efforts supporting their employees, of course).

In the constant swirl of events, it is very easy for “HRBWA” to fall by the wayside – a “nice to have” that gets sacrificed to the urgent item of the moment (“I can’t talk to anyone today.  I have to get Project ‘x’ done.”).  If we can fight this urge – at least occasionally – great things (both large and small) may occur.

Looking Forward

For me, there is great personal and professional satisfaction when “little things” like my chats with Carla come together in a way that serves a larger purpose.  What are some of your experiences in helping people “connect the dots” and connect with each other?