Tag Archives: Employee Relations

CEO’s: No Longer Accountable?

More than 40 years ago, Simon and Garfunkle sang their famous lament, “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”  Judging by recent news reports, maybe today’s question should be, “Where have you gone, Harry Truman?”  Truman’s “the buck stops here” perspective on executive accountability seems to be sadly missing from the current age.

Did He Really Just Say That?

Truman-style "buck stops here" accountability isn't evident in recent CEO testimony. (image via Wikipedia)

For the past few weeks, the”phone hacking” scandal centering around News Corporation executives has been plastered across front pages around the world.  I have to admit that I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the details until News Corp‘s CEO, Rupert Murdoch appeared before parliament in London the other day.  Acknowledging that he was “shocked, appalled, and ashamed” by the tumult engulfing his global media empire and which casts a pall over Scotland Yard, among other institutions, a chastened Murdoch said, “This is the most humble day of my life.”

Fair enough.  If he had stopped there, it would have been Continue reading

Self-Discipline: An Under-Rated Leadership Skill

Last week, as I observed a leader handle a delicate inter-personal issue with great skill, it struck me that the successful result was influenced as much by what he didn’t do as much as by what he did.  While seeming “passive” on the
surface, the “not doing” took a great deal of active self-discipline – a very
under-appreciated leadership skill, I believe.

Don’t Underestimate the Soft-Spoken, Unassuming Guys

“David” (name changed to protect the “innocent”) is very low-key in nature – ever friendly, helpful and hopeful.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one example of the personal self-discipline brought to his daily work by the leader in this story (not pictured)

He is quietly supportive  in an “I’ve got your back” way — without ever having to say it because everyone knows it’s true.  While he doesn’t have much formal “power” in the company, he does have significant influence, flowing largely from his personal qualities.
If David sounds like what others have termed an “authentic leader,” I
would fully agree.  In this situation, Continue reading

Leading Edge … or “What’s Old Is New”?

Offices -- and management theories -- have changed over the years. But people -- and the best ways of working with them -- haven't changed.

It seems these days that organizations increasingly seek “leading edge” solutions to their issues.  As the economy and our working lives become more and more complex, saying “Get me the latest thinking on this problem” seems like a logical thing for an executive to do.  And yet, I wonder … is it really?

Do we want the “latest” solution — or the “solution” that’s going to work, even if it is “tried and true” (i.e., mundane and boring).  Do we want to be “leading edge” for purposes of image and cache, and is the latest necessarily the greatest? Particularly when it comes to managing people, is there really anything new under the sun?

A Little History

Thirty-five years ago, my dad wrote his master’s thesis on “The Human Relations Approach to Management” — arguing for the notion that treating people well is not only the most ethical but also the most productive approach to managing.  Since that time, we have seen any number of management theories come down the pike, from ideas around “Management By Walking Around” (Peters and Waterman), to thinking on “empowerment” and “quality circles,” to the latest notions of “engagement” and “servant leadership.”  Before that, earlier in the past century, managers learned about the “Hawthorne Effect” and contemplated “Theory X” and “Theory Y.”  All have been “leading edge” for a moment in time.  But does their value come from their “edginess” — or from the fact that they all revolve around the same core principles?

Core Principles

In one way or another, couldn’t you say that all of these theories really come back to a few central ideas:

  • Treat people decently (see last week’s “Do Unto Others” post)
  • Listen for understanding (hear what is being said — or not said — in the margins)
  • Understand their wants and needs (i.e., take them seriously and care about them)
  • Remember that the people doing the job probably have the best ideas about how to do the job best
  • Give them the resources they need to do the job … then get out of the way and let them do it
  • Help them see the “big picture” (how their work helps the company and its customers)
  • Have the courage to make the tough calls, for the good of all (i.e., people want, need, respect, and expect a leader who will help move us forward)

History moves on and the world evolves, but at its core, human nature — and what’s productive, and not, in organizations — really remains the same.  It’s neat and exciting to be at “the leading edge” — and it’s absolutely fine, as long as we remember what’s at the core.  Turns out that “the human relations approach to management” might be leading edge, after all!

What are your thoughts on “old” theories that still work just as well today as they ever did?

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The subject of human relations in industry is one of the most important things in the whole field of business and one which we must investigate and teach.

Wallace B. Donham, Dean of Harvard Business School
to Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, 1925

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

To “Fix” Performance (and Help Employees), Remember Maslow

Diagram showing the hierarchy of needs based o...

Image via Wikipedia

As I was working with a manager recently, discussing strategies for improving the performance of a good-performing  employee who recently seemed to be “cracking” under the pressure, the “light bulb” went on for me.  In that moment, I was struck by the impossibility of the task — or, at the least, the noble-but-misguided way we were approaching the task.  There we were, trying to fix what appeared on the surface to be a “job performance” problem — never recognizing that the real issue was something far different.  All I could think to say was, “Maslow was right.”

Maslow Was Right

“Maslow?” the manager asked. “The guy in accounting who always gives everyone a hard time about their expense reports?” he asked.  Continue reading

Halloween Special: Cast of Characters That I’ve Known

In honor of Halloween, I thought I might keep things on the lighter side and walk down “memory lane” a bit, recalling notable “characters” from my years in the working world — or at least situations in which our “best and brightest” thinking didn’t exactly shine through.  Have you known characters or situations like these?  Please share your stories … and we’ll enjoy a (kind-hearted) laugh or two together (all in good fun, of course)!

Characters

. . . Mr. Plant, I Presume: the sales executive who spotted his boss airport and, because he owed him some data that he didn’t have, decided to “hide” … behind a potted plant (yes, this is almost too cliched to be true — but it is)

. . . Just Doing My Nails: the HR person who was so relaxed, she regularly did her nails in team meetings — complete with bag of manicure supplies spread on the table, cotton balls between each finger, etc., etc., etc.

Continue reading

Leading Without Saying a Word

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about authentic leadership and servant-leaders.  It strikes me that much of this good and thoughtful writing gets down to simple but vital lessons learned at your parents’ knee: be sincere, kind, and thoughtful; take people and their concerns seriously; listen and support; do as much as you can to help – in essence, an elongated version of the golden rule. Understanding that one doesn’t need to be a CEO to “lead,” here is a small contribution from my own experience of a former colleague and “leader by example.”

A True Gentleman

I met Scott several years ago when I was responsible for managing the HR side of mergers and acquisitions for our company.  He was the VP of Human Resources for a mid-sized business unit that we were acquiring.  It came to pass that due to redundancies, although Scott was clearly an exemplary HR leader, he and his small team would only be with us on a transitional (9-month) basis. (I know – not exactly visionary staff planning on our part, but that is a story for another day).  Over those nine months, I had the chance to work closely with Scott and his team and found them all to be very fine people, taking their cues in the best sense of the word from Scott, who was admired as a true gentleman (and, not incidentally, a highly-skilled HR and OD leader, as well).

Continue reading

It’s The Little Things: People (Not Programs)

As HR people, we’re often asked to find “solutions” that are “scaleable.”  Translating these popular buzzwords into plain English, this management request often means, “Can’t you roll-out a one-size-fits-all program to thousands of people so that I don’t get bogged down having to deal with my employees day by day?”  (OK, maybe that’s a little cynical — but it feels like that’s what’s being asked sometimes, doesn’t it?).

I’ve always believed that the simple but correct answer to this question is, “No.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against “programs” (i.e., recognition programs, service longevity programs, wellness programs, employee assistance programs, etc.).  Well-designed programs can add wonderful elements of supportiveness to an organization’s culture.  But . . .

Programs Support People, Not Vice-Versa

. . . Programs can only be effective if they are an outgrowth of a caring culture — not a replacement for it.  If they are not, they will be seen/felt more as a discordant note (not aligned with company culture) than anything else.  And, the “culture of caring” starts in all the small ways that we relate to as individuals — personal kindness, respect, dignity, etc..

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