Tag Archives: Employee Relations

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in visiting a local merchant, who is sometimes noticeably happy and upbeat when I’m in the store and other times quite withdrawn and uncommunicative.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?

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