Tag Archives: Management

Manage Yourself Before You Can Lead Others


executive-1668932_640I’ve been following the folks at Contented Cows for many years now. Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden call themselves employee engagement experts. The name of their business comes from their first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Relations and Your Bottom Line. Although they say they are employee engagement experts, their website states, “We develop leaders, period.” They write about employee engagement, but mostly in the context of how leaders create the kinds of focused and enthusiastic employees who give the “better milk” that all businesses want.

Recently, Bill Catlette wrote a post entitled “Leadership . . . It’s Not a Position,” which really struck home with me. I’ve read a lot about what a new leader needs to do in his or her first 100 days in the job. But in this post, Mr. Catlette goes beyond the “whats” of a new leader’s role to get at the “hows.” He says:

1. First, you manage yourself.
2. You lead others.
3. You manage the system.

If leaders reflected on these three points, I think they’d get to the “whats” of any new role a lot more easily—and to the “whats” of their existing roles also.

Manage Yourself. We have only to look at President Trump to understand the importance of managing yourself. Now, none of us can know how much President Trump manages himself, but from the outside his tweets seem undisciplined and contrary to the message of control and focus that most Americans want from their President.

As Mr. Catlette states,

“No one is going to follow you for very long or very far if you don’t have your own act together. You summon appropriate doses of optimism and humility, and keep your ego very much in check.”

This is the behavior of a leader. If this first step is not done well, then steps two and three may not get the job done.

Lead Others. Most leadership articles focus on this aspect of leadership. We are instructed that leaders should communicate the mission of the organization and how each individual’s work fits into it. They should listen with empathy to those they manage, as well as to their external stakeholders. They should encourage and persuade their followers toward a shared goal.

We’re all taught to do these things. Some of us do them better than others. But none of it matters if we—as leaders—do not model the behavior and performance needed from others in the organization.

Manage the System. Again, as leaders we are taught to examine the technology, decision rights, workflows, and other tools and processes that make up the organization we lead. We’re told to find the weak points and figure out how to improve them. We’re expected to shape the culture to get the job done—to create engaged employees.

But once more, we must recognize that we cannot shape the culture to something different than what we display ourselves.

The primary reason many leaders fail is because of cultural fit. These leaders often do not fit because they do not shape their behavior to the requirements of their role. I’m not arguing for a cookie-cutter look to all senior executives in an organization. But I am suggesting that leaders be conscious of how their behavior is viewed by those they lead and that they adapt themselves to their environment before they expect others to adapt to them.

When have you observed leaders who failed because they didn’t manage themselves first?

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Lessons from My Best Boss


The best manager I ever had passed away recently. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times in earlier posts—he was the man who told me that “time is your friend” (to which I added the codicil, “except when it isn’t”).

Among the other wise things he taught me were:

1. You can never have an hour long conversation with someone in less than an hour.

hourglass-1703330_640That statement of his taught me that you can never rush through listening to someone with a problem or a complaint. People need the time to tell their stories, and no matter how efficient you can be in the rest of what you do, listening takes time.

He had prior experience in Human Resources and a long history as a manager of large groups. He’d spent many hours listening to people’s grievances.

2. The way to solve a problem is to throw good people at it.

My manager did this many times—he took the best people he had in his division and put them on projects or in roles where important changes were needed. The projects where he set up task forces of strong contributors included productivity challenges, quality improvement teams, and staffing and reorganization issues.

In every situation, the good people he assigned found solutions, most of which worked. And even when success wasn’t immediately forthcoming, he—and we—knew we’d given it our best shot.

3. Even if you can do something better or faster than your staff, you need to delegate.

The only way that people grow is by giving them work that enables them to learn. In my prior roles, I had been an individual contributor, even when I had project management responsibility. My manager taught me that in my new position with direct and indirect supervisory authority, I needed to give my staff the opportunity to do things their own way, even if I was faster, even if it took me time to delegate and supervise, even if I could do it better.

Just as he had given me the opportunity to expand my role, and then patiently coached me, I had to do the same for my staff.

Besides, no one can do everything, and we all need to choose priorities. So for the development of my staff, for my own sake, and for the good of the organization, delegation was important.

4. You’re not a risk.

One time this manager told me that when he named me to my new position, he’d been cautioned that he was taking a risk on an unknown quantity. He told me he’d never believed that. “You weren’t a risk,” he said. “You’d done a good job in your prior role, and I had every expectation you’d succeed again.” Perhaps this is a corollary to his advice that the best way to solve a problem is to throw good people at it. He was telling me I was one of the “good people.”

That was the best compliment any manager ever gave me. I have tried to give similar compliments to people who work for me over the years.

And I will carry all these lessons with me for the rest of my life. I am only sorry this manager will no longer be coaching others in this world. He will be missed.

What’s the best lesson you ever learned from one of your managers?

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Leadership—Expressing Gratitude to Your Followers


thank-you-515514_1280“Thanksgiving is not a day” Leonard Pitts, Jr., wrote in his November 23, 2016, column.

It certainly is not. The dictionary defines “thanksgiving” as the act of giving thanks. As we return from our family holiday, this point is worth thinking about in the context of our work organizations. Giving thanks should be an every day activity for everyone, but particularly for managers and leaders.

There is one month left in 2016, one month to achieve the remainder of your goals for the year. And how will you do that without your organization? You can’t. Your people will work better if you are appreciative. One month is still 8.33% of the year. That’s enough for your gratefulness for your followers to make a real difference.

Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services, Inc., goes even further in describing the importance of giving thanks. She says “Gratitude is a verb.”

“When practiced on a daily basis, [gratitude] becomes a verb, with potentially significant impact on your leadership and your life.”

In a November 23, 2014, guest post by Neamat Tawadrous on the Empowerment Moments Blog, Ways In Which Gratitude Can Transform Your Leadership and Influence, the author says:

“Gratitude sees what is good and right with the world . . . . Leaders who see their followers through the lens of gratitude will always see the untapped potential in people and inspire them to achieve what others think is impossible.”

This author says leaders should practice gratitude because gratitude develops success, leads to opportunities, brings peace, and increases trust. For me, this last point is most important:

“When we show others that we value their hard work and contributions, their trust in our leadership and direction increases.”

As leaders, we cannot achieve success without the trust of our followers.

Tom Stevens at Think Leadership Ideas wrote in a post on November 25, 2013, entitled Gratitude Leadership, that

“It’s willing followers who manifest acts of leadership. . . .

“No individual, no leader, does it alone. Great accomplishments, great organizations, and great endeavors exist due to the efforts of multiple people. Often lots of people. Savvy leaders not only feel gratitude, but communicate it effectively.”

We all know that. We just forget sometimes.

To help us remember, Mary Jo Asmus suggests choosing one person to focus on each day.

“Ask yourself, what is it about this person that makes you grateful? Be specific about what you observe.

“What do you sense in yourself as you consider the gratitude that you feel for this person?”

Do this exercise daily, and repeat it when you have run through your entire organization. You are likely to find new insights each time you think about a person. Moreover,

“As you practice this exercise, you may find yourself noticing your gratitude for others in the present moment as you go about your day. You may also notice that you see them differently, and that your relationships with them strengthen. Gratitude for others may begin to become a part of your life.”

Then, once we realize our gratitude for those around us, we must express it. As Ron Thomas wrote in Leadership 101: The Most Powerful Words You Want From Any Leader on TLNT.com on October 1, 2012,

“Thank you! These are welcome words to all of us. . . . an expression of thanks can make all the difference in a business relationship.”

He suggests being specific in your thanks, and using a handwritten note to provide a personal touch to your appreciation.

As for myself, I am thankful for everyone who reads this blog. I first posted over on Blogger in November 2011. I moved to WordPress.com in November 2012. So as November ends, I’ve been blogging for five years. I’ve made new contacts and found old ones through blogging. Along the way, I wrote a novel, which many of you have read and even reviewed. I am grateful to each one of my readers, and especially to those of you who have chosen to follow this blog.

Now, go thank the people with whom you work, particularly those who report to you.

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Planning and Leadership: You Get What You Plan For


leadership-1714497_1280The title of a recent TLNT article caught my attention—“Leadership Takes a Plan”—so I read it. The article was good (most of the TLNT articles posted on eremedia.com are good), but I was surprised at the direction author Randy Hall took in “Leadership Takes a Plan.” I had expected recommendations for how leaders should communicate with their staffs and organizations.

The leaders I worked for focused on communications, and that has been my focus also. I think of leadership as a hierarchical thing, while Mr. Hall focused on leaders as mentors and developers of people—a very important aspect of leadership. I was somewhat embarrassed to realize how narrow my first reaction to the article’s title had been.

In the article, Mr. Hall says that leaders need a plan for how they will mentor people. Leaders should schedule their mentoring, have a strategy or process for developing people, and measure the results of how protegés develop. All valid points.

I’ve written before about the importance of discretionary time, and I come back to the concept over and over again as I plan my weeks and months and as I make daily choices in how to spend my time. Like Mr. Hall, I believe that if you don’t put things on your calendar, then they must not be important. Scheduling planning time is important to me. I schedule daily (or at least weekly) time to work for long-range projects. And, as Mr. Hall says, it’s important to schedule time to meet with people you are mentoring. Do you have regular meetings set with your protegés?

The strategy for developing people may be more difficult. You probably need individual plans for each person you are actively mentoring. Some might need work on their communications skills, so getting together before and after presentations or other major communications opportunities might be important. Other protegés might be working on their project management skills, so periodic check-ins to discuss their project plans might be needed. And sometimes protegés might not even know you are actively focused on their development (though transparency will probably have a bigger impact), so regular meetings with no set agenda might work.

Lastly, Mr. Hall recommends measuring results. With people development, that can be a difficult task. Still, there are ways to set measurable goals—a certain number of opportunities to present, readiness for the next promotion, favorable reactions from certain managers and executives on a presentation, etc. The point is to think about what success looks like on the person’s development, and then plan your plan to reach that result.

As I’ve reflected on his article, I’ve realized that the point Mr. Hall makes—that you need to plan how you will develop people—is crucial in everything we do. Yes, it is important for developing people. But it is equally important for corporate communications—where I thought initially he was taking his article. And planning is important for accomplishing long-range projects. And for everything else.

With everything you want to get done, you need to articulate what you want to accomplish. Then put it on your calendar, have a strategy, and measure your results.

What do you need to spend some time planning? Do you need to focus on scheduling it, developing a strategy, or measuring results?

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Favorite Firing: When a Customer Harasses an Employee


adult-15814_1280The usual adage in American businesses is “the customer is always right.” And usually that is true. I’ve posted on a few occasions about the need for many organizations to improve their customer service. But it isn’t always true. Sometimes the customer is dead wrong. Today’s “favorite firing” is about a case where the customer was wrong, and then an employee alleged she was treated improperly when she complained about the customer’s behavior. After the alleged retaliation, the employee quit. So strictly speaking, this is a constructive discharge case, not a firing.

The Facts: In Prager v. Joyce Honda, Inc. (Aug. 22, 2016), Nicole Prager, a 20-year-old receptionist at the Joyce Honda dealership, complained to her managers that a high-profile customer pulled on her shirt and revealed her bra. There was no doubt as to what had happened, because the incident was caught on the dealership’s surveillance tape.

Her managers discouraged her from filing charges against the customer because he was a really good customer who had purchased 20 cars over the years and regularly had his cars serviced at the dealership. Despite her managers’ cautions, Ms. Prager did file charges. In fact, once she made the decision to file, the dealership managers called the police and provided an office at the dealership where she could talk to the police. (Later, the customer pleaded guilty to offensive touching and paid a fine.)

After she filed the charges, Ms. Prager alleges that some of her her co-workers began behaving coldly toward her. In addition, she received two written warnings for leaving work early on two occasions. One of these occasions occurred prior to filing the complaint against the customer and the other was an incident after she filed the charges. She objected to the reprimands, saying they were retaliatory and that she had left work early before without being disciplined. Her managers said they reprimanded her because she had not communicated about her leaving early on these occasions, as she had in the past. Nevertheless, the employer offered to rescind the disciplinary warnings, but Ms. Prager resigned instead.

In her lawsuit claiming retaliation and constructive discharge, Ms. Prager alleged that the dealership had become a hostile workplace environment for her, which justified her resignation. The trial court dismissed Ms. Prager’s lawsuit, saying that employers were not responsible for the conduct of customers in the workplace. Ms. Prager appealed.

The Appellate Division in the New Jersey courts also rejected her complaint, although the Appellate Division said that filing a police report against the employer’s customer was a protected act. However, though she could state a claim for retaliation, she had not sufficiently alleged a retaliatory consequence in her complaint—she had resigned immediately after receiving the reprimand and the dealership had offered to make the reprimands go away. The court said

“no reasonable juror could find that conduct ‘so intolerable that a reasonable person would be forced to resign rather than continue to endure it.’”

The Moral: Any complaint of harassing behavior by an employee should be taken seriously. And once an employee complains, the employer must be careful not to retaliate. Those are givens. Moreover, managers should be supportive of employees who complain and who decide to take their complaints to higher authorities, whether those authorities be internal company investigators, administrative agencies, or external law enforcement.

In this case, reading the Appellate Division’s opinion is instructive. It is clear from what the court says that part of the problem was that this employee was young and inexperienced in dealing with harassment and the follow-up complaint process. Her managers did not help the situation—they did pressure Ms. Prager not to complain about a valued customer, though they ultimately did support her. This case is a good reminder that we take our employees as they are, and must adapt our responses in some respects to their unique circumstances.

The timing of the warnings to Ms. Prager was unfortunate at best, and possibly retaliatory, though the court held that the two warnings in this situation were not sufficiently retaliatory to support constructive discharge. The management rationale for the warnings—that Ms. Prager was not communicating with them—probably should have been dealt with through a verbal discussion, at least initially, saving the heavier discipline of a written warning for a later occasion more distant from the harassment.

Nevertheless, there is good news for employers in this case, namely that constructive discharge is difficult to prove. If managers show an ongoing willingness to work with an employee in reasonable ways, it will be hard for the employee to prove that the workplace is so intolerable that he or she must resign. While any disciplinary action against an employee who has complained of discrimination or harassment should be carefully considered, it is appropriate to hold employees accountable for their performance and for following reasonable company policies.

When have you dealt with allegations of constructive discharge?

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What To Do When You Don’t Get to Choose Your Boss


boss-454867_1920For the first twenty years or so of my career, I was fortunate to be able to pick my boss. By that I mean, I knew who I would report to when I took the job.

In my first corporate assignment, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about my supervisor. I knew who he was and what his credentials were, but frankly I was clueless as to how much a manager’s personality impacts the workplace environment. I worked for this man for many years, and I learned his strengths and weaknesses, as well as experiencing first hand the benefits and pitfalls of his characteristics as a manager.

On my next few assignments, I knew something more about the individuals I went to work for, though I didn’t know these individuals well. Still, I chose the jobs knowing who I would report to. I went into the jobs knowing something about them, and had colleagues who had worked for them longer to whom I could talk. And I had enough experience to know myself and how I liked to work, as well as how to be flexible and adapt to new managerial expectations.

Then, in the last few years of my corporate career, I twice had managers foisted on me. My former managers left their roles (and one left the company), and new people were assigned to the positions that I reported to. I had no control over my reporting relationships. It was a disconcerting experience to be in my forties and suddenly have to change how I related to my boss with very little warning.

Even though it was difficult, I was fortunate to know who these people were, and I had worked with them before in previous assignments. Reporting to these individuals was far different than working as peers with them, but I knew the importance of building a relationship with one’s manager and in addressing their priorities. Many people do not have the benefit of knowing the boss that is foisted on them.

So here are my tips for how to deal with a boss you didn’t choose:

1. Analyze the situation

The first thing to do is to understand the organizational issues that led to you having a new manager. Did your old boss retire after a laudable career or was he or she fired? These circumstances will lead to different dynamics as your new manager comes into the workplace.

Even if you don’t know the particulars, you probably have some idea as to what the expectations for change are in your department. Spend some time thinking about the situation you find yourself in.

2. Gather information

As you analyze the situation, gather additional information where you can. Maybe you know your new boss, as I did mine. But if not, you should see what you can find out about his or her work styles, what the higher executives’ expectations are for change in your department, and anything else that can help you fit into the organization as it is evolving.

Do a little research on what executives in your field (or managers generally) should do in their first 90 days in a new role. That will help you assess what your new boss is probably thinking about and where he or she might focus attention first. If you can address your boss’s priorities, or even help determine those priorities, you will be in a better position to be successful.

3. Determine your loyalties

You may have loved working for your old manager. You may have strong friendships with co-workers that might now be upset if the department reorganizes. You might be close to retirement yourself and just want to lay low. Whatever your situation, decide in your own mind where your loyalties lie.

I’m not suggesting that you turn into a back-stabber, but you should give some thought to who else might get caught up in the changes and how they will react. Think about whom you want to help and about where you would ideally end up in relation to others in the organization.

And I suggest that, if your old boss was fired and the new manager is expected to make significant changes, taking the attitude that “that’s how things have always been” is not going to get you very far.

Simply because he or she is your supervisor, the new person to whom you report is deserving of respect and loyalty. Others also deserve your respect and loyalty, and that is why I recommend you consider how all the new relationships you will have after the change will impact your role.

4. Decide what you bring to the table

It’s a cliché, but you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. You want your new manager to see you as a resource. So think about what you can do to help your new boss.

Do you have specialized skills or experience that the boss does not have—how can you diplomatically make your abilities known and available to your manager? Do you have relationships with others or insights into the industry that could benefit the new boss? Again, where can you help fill gaps?

5. Provide assistance to your new manager

After you’ve analyzed the situation, gleaned what you can about your new supervisor, thought about the loyalties and responsibilities you will have in the future, and assessed where you fit in, then make a sincere offer to assist your boss where you can. If you’ve done this analysis, you’ll have some specific suggestions of how your skills and background can help your new manager where he or she is most likely to need help.

You will have positioned yourself to address his or her needs and priorities, and you will be appreciated for it. Yes, it’s office politics, but it’s also common sense to try to make yourself useful in a new environment.

What additional tips do you have for dealing with a boss you didn’t choose?

 

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Performance Management Isn’t About Deadwood


MP900341467I recently wrote about performance management and the abolition of performance reviews at certain companies. Then I read a Wall Street Journal article last week stating that one of Kimberly-Clark’s goals is “managing out deadwood.” So much for doing away with performance reviews at that company.

The article states that Kimberly-Clark has about a 10% total turnover (voluntary and involuntary), and that employees are expected to “keep improving—or else.” I don’t disagree with a focus on continuous improvement, and a 10% turnover is not excessive. Still, performance management and “managing out deadwood” are two different things in concept, if not always in the end result. And they have different consequences both from a legal and from an employee relations perspective.

From the legal perspective, talking about employees as “deadwood” can lead to complaints of age discrimination. See Herr v. Nestlé U.S.A., 2003 Cal. App. LEXIS 855 (June 12, 2003), described here.

Any indication that an employee over age 40 is past his or her usefulness is problematic. Of course, employees can be ineffective performers at any age, but the tendency at many companies that initiate performance improvement drives is to focus on employees who have been sitting around for awhile—and who tend to be in the protected age group.

From the employee relations perspective, it can be demoralizing to adequate performers to know that managers are snapping at their heels, that as soon as the worst performers are out, a continuous improvement drive will mean employees who are in the lower mid-tier are now at the bottom.

Yet a true continuous improvement program means there is always someone at the bottom. It’s not like one manager told me once, “We’re done—we fired all our poor performers last year.”

Despite my quip above (“so much for doing away with performance reviews . . .”), there actually is no disconnect between abandoning annual reviews and an emphasis on performance improvement. In fact, it may be easier to focus on performance issues with the more regular discussions between managers and employees advocated by such companies as General Electric, Adobe Systems, and others.

Whatever performance culture a company decides to adopt, the important thing is to train managers to handle it well, to avoid the legal pitfalls of only focusing on older low performers or others in certain protected groups, and to keep the emphasis both encouraging and disciplined.

Performance management isn’t about getting rid of deadwood. It’s about improving every employee’s performance—including that of managers.

When in your experience has a performance management emphasis caused legal or employee relations problems?

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