Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mistakes (even good) Managers Make

Managing other people, and the work they do, is hard. We want to be seen as successful, we want to be liked and we (usually) want to get the work done. But whether we’re fresh, new and inexperienced managers, or seasoned managers, we make mistakes. In life, the key is always to learn from them, and hopefully learn not to repeat them, or at least not repeat them too often.

In managing people in the workplace, there are a number of mistakes that are all too common. These mistakes can be difficult to resist. But resist we must, if we truly want to be successful leaders of people. The solutions to these mistakes are usually a mixture of "tough love", restraint and focusing on the big picture, among other things. And when you think about it, they’re hallmarks of any good manager.

What are some of these mistakes and how do we fix them?

Shifting Criticism

You want to be positive, upbeat and encouraging. This is great! But when employees aren’t performing up to standards, you’re reluctant to move off that positive outlook. As a result, when you sit down with an employee whose performance is declining, you try to soften it, or cover it with something less confrontational. For instance, you may express concern, "Is everything ok? You don’t seem like yourself lately." But, you never really get around to telling her that her performance has been slipping and it needs to improve and how.

Your employee is left with the impression that you’re a kind and caring manager, but not understanding she isn’t performing up to expectations. Direct criticism is hard for most people, but by shifting or concealing (constructive) criticism, your employee will not understand the true nature and extent of the problem, and you’re unlikely to see any improvement. And that, of course, will lead to bigger problems down the road with unmet goals and lack of success for your department or organization. The goal is to develop and maintain a good working relationship with your staff, but keeping your company’s goals in mind while you do it.

Doing All the Work
Deadlines are looming; you’re swamped and stuff is piling up. You sometimes think you can do your staff's work better and faster than they can. And in some cases, that may be true. After all, that’s part of what got you moved into management. And yes, sometimes if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. But if you keep doing work your staff should be doing, you'll still be working like a mad person, no one will have learned how to do the job as well as you do, and no real progress has been made. Supervise the work your staff does, but let them do it.

A related mistake to doing all the work is being way too accommodating. Are you approving every vacation request, every time for every employee? Do you allow last minute call-outs because someone has tickets to the football game? Sure, those staff are going to love you for that. But the employees left behind to pick up the slack probably won’t. Deadlines are pushed back, work is not completed and schedules are in disarray, because you "made it work" in order to be accommodating. Yes, employee happiness is important and a priority for most managers, but in reality, you won’t be able to accommodate every request all the time. You have to keep your department’s and your whole organization’s goals and best interests in mind. If you don’t you’re not fulfilling your responsibilities as a manager.

Ignoring a Bad Attitude 

Bad attitudes are contagious. Someone who lives off negativity will always try to get other employees to see things like they do. Misery does love company. Negative employees never fail to complain. They focus on problems; they bitch and moan about perceived unfairness; they anticipate, cause, and often delight in things going wrong. If allowed to continue, they'll have your whole staff agreeing that their job sucks, and their boss sucks even more. After ample discussion, sharing of information and context, and offering appropriate support for appropriate change, if bad attitudes or resistance continues, you need to take action, before it infects and spreads throughout the whole department or organization.

Excuses Accepted as Reasons
If someone is late to work one morning because of a bad accident snarling traffic, the heavy traffic is a reason. If that same person is always late for work, heavy traffic then becomes an excuse. Similarly, if you make a mistake on a new task, the reason for the mistake is that you’re not experienced with that task. But if three months later you’re still making that mistake, then whatever reason you might offer can only really be an excuse. A temporary personal problem is a reason; a constant stream of personal problems becomes an excuse. We need to learn to tell the difference between someone who is temporarily unable, and someone you're simply enabling.

Promoting the Underdog
You’re interviewing for a position on your team. The candidate tells you much he wants the job, needs the job, and that he’s a hard worker. Of course, you want to believe him. You also know he doesn’t really have the right experience or education for the job, but you’re thinking his enthusiasm will make up for what he lacks in knowledge and skills. You figure you’ll be able to teach him what he needs to know; bring him along and he’ll be a great employee. Then, it turns out that despite everything he said in the interview and the hopes you had for him, he simply wasn’t willing, or wasn’t able to deliver. In the end, you have to let him go and you start all over again searching to fill that position. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your common sense; you’ll only succeed in doing both your company and your employees a disservice.

Allowing Staff to Break the Rules
If you let your staff to get away with breaking even small rules, the message you’re sending is that it's also okay to break big rules. If you really don't care or don’t think it’s important if a particular rule is broken, that’s a sign that it's probably not a good or necessary rule in the first place. The proper response to that is to advocate to senior management for it to be changed or dropped. But recognize that if it's important enough to be a rule or policy, it really is important enough for both you and your staff to respect it. Model the behavior you want to see in your staff; model the respect for procedures and model the proper way to question or seek change for policies or procedures to be changed when necessary.

Yes, managing people is hard. But it becomes even more difficult if you become blinded by efforts that don’t take your goals, and your organization’s goals into account. To be successful, we need to lead.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


"The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change -" Heraclitus

We know this, right? Then why is it so hard to deal with change? Whether we initiate change ourselves, or whether it is imposed upon us, we avoid it, we fear it and we often fight it. Seems a bit useless to expend such energy on something that is inevitable, doesn’t it? But we do. Even when we know it’s necessary, when the time is right – or right now – it’s still hard and we still drag our feet and agonize over it.

These have been my thoughts as I’ve been facing a major change in my life that I’ve been considering for quite some time. This is a change that I have chosen, but I still struggled with it; I still worried over it; I still fought over the necessity of it.

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new" – Socrates

There really aren’t any secrets to dealing with change; we do it all the time. But when the change is emotionally charged, all the common sense approaches to problem solving seem to fly out the window. But we can cope with change.

Ask yourself this question. "What's the worst that could possibly happen?" This will force you to look at the worst case scenario then work back from there. It's forcing yourself to look at what could go wrong and finding strategies to prevent that from happening. It can also serve to keep us from catastrophizing and becoming immobilized.
Acknowledge that there's only one thing you can truly control in life, and that's yourself. Change may turn your world upside down but it's how you react to it that makes the difference between coping and falling apart. Blaming others may be a "normal" response to why change has to happen, but whether or not it's a fair assessment, blame won't really solve anything and may only serve to make you feel bitter and helpless. However, give yourself time to grieve the change. If you don't acknowledge the pain that accompanies change, there is a risk you'll push it deep down and pretend you're coping. In turn, this emotional time-bomb may explode later on.

Adopt a purposeful approach to change. Restating, refining or finally finding your purpose in life, or your career goals (or whatever else has to change in your life) can be a powerful way to put change into context. Change can awaken the quest for re-examining what truly matters to you. Allow this to be an opportunity to renew or reroute your purpose in life. This is an opportunity to re-examine the life you've been leading to see whether you've been making the right choices, spending too much (time, money, effort) on leading a lifestyle that isn't bringing you happiness or being aimless rather than making choices that make you the leader of your life.

Accept that you can’t (usually) change others. Nor do you need to take their actions as a reflection of who you are or of your personal worth.
"They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." - Andy Warhol

So, when you have to make the hard change in your personal or professional life, reframe it as an opportunity to begin anew. Go ahead and scream and yell, or bitch or moan – for a few minutes – but then get back on track, take control, be the leader of your life.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

You Get What You Allow

This week’s post will be short, and a bit of a rant, so bear with me.

My new favorite saying is "You get what you allow". Think of all the things you really don’t like; things that set your hair on fire and get you all riled up. How many of those things do you allow to happen? How many of those things do you let pass because you don’t think you can do anything about them, or you think are too much trouble to address? Quite a bit, I think.

Politicians who lie, cheat and steal? We hear about them almost every day, don’t we? And it makes most of us pretty angry. But, guess what? We allow it to happen; we allow it to continue. We keep voting them into office. As citizens, we rarely demand that our elected officials behave ethically and honestly. We allow this despicable behavior, so that’s what we get. We just sit here and think "well, there’s nothing I can do about it, I’m just one person", or "that’s just the way politics are". No, my friends, it’s not. Not if we don’t allow it. Speak out, speak up. Vote the jackasses out! Join together with others and make some noise! We can take control and demand something better.

Poor quality consumer goods, crappy customer service? Somehow, we’ve decided that we have to put up with cheap products or lack of any semblance of service, so we allow it. We can demand better. Write a letter to the president of the retail store, or the manufacturer, stop shopping at that place where you can never find a sales person, return the sweater that fell apart in the wash and tell them to make it right. We can take control and demand something better.

Exhausted because you’re always doing something for someone else, or always going along with the crowd? Can’t understand why no one returns the favor? Same answer. We get what we allow. Learn to say no once in a while. Learn to take care of yourself for a change. We can take control and demand something better.

Business leaders and managers are no different (you knew I would get around to this, right?). Do your supervisors refuse, either passively or outright, to do parts of their job? No problem, just take that task away and do it yourself, or give it to someone who will do it. Do you have staff that come in late, leave early, or only come to work when they feel like it? Do you throw up your hands and say "but what can we do?" Is providing quality service or products less important than doing only the parts of the job that they like, or does quality just take too much time and effort? Well, gee, I guess we just have to accept that. Managing out of fear is never effective. Notice I said managing out of fear, not managing by fear. Don’t fail to expect the best, don’t be afraid that everyone will quit if you actually expect them to do the job for which they were hired. If you do, you get what you allow. How does this affect your customers, client or product? Could your goods or services be any better if you expect and demand the best of your employees – all employees? If you find yourself lamenting the demise of the work ethic, just remember: You can take control and demand something better. But if you allow less than that, you probably deserve it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Managing Millennials in the Workplace

Is it really different?

Read any business or HR oriented publication, website or blog and you’ll see countless articles on the challenges of managing those Gen Y’s, the Millennials! They’re so unique; we just must manage them differently in the workplace! If we want our businesses to succeed and grow, we must embrace this new breed of employee and blow up our organizational structures to suit them!! Really? What makes them so different from any other generation upon entering the workforce (or continuing in the workforce, for that matter)?

A poll of these articles will tell you that the millennials are self-centered and overly confident of their own abilities; that they don’t often want to finish what they start; and that they don’t appreciate or understand the traditional structure of most organizations. All this may very well be true, but is it any different than any other generation? Is it really? For the most part, I don’t think so. The same things have been said about the baby boomers or Generation X employees when they first entered the workforce.

On the positive side, millennials have been described as wanting to make a real difference in the world; that they "get" the concept of globalization. Anyone remember the 1960’s? There was a generation who wanted to make a difference, both here and abroad; they may have gone about it differently (since we really didn’t have the internet then) but the passion for making a difference was certainly there. And yes, they and others "got" globalization as it was understood at the time.

I think the one characteristic that has been ascribed to this generation – that of entitlement – may have merit, although certainly not exclusively. When you’ve been in management and HR for any length of time, you come to realize that there are no real unique characteristics you can pin on any one age group, industry, job type or any other grouping you care to use.

Where does that leave us in answering the question about how to manage millennials? Pretty much the same place we end up in answering the question of how to manage any employee.

Let’s take a look at some the areas where millennials are seen as "unique".

Millennial’s parents are and have been heavily involved in most aspects of their life. These parents micromanaged their kids’ daily school and extracurricular activities, and continue to do so after high school and even college. The idea of allowing them to experience failure or disappointment or to deal with stress of any kind is somehow foreign to the parents of this generation. The problem here is that it doesn’t end there. More than a few bosses and HR pros report receiving calls from parents. I’ve received calls from parents of applicants wondering why their child wasn’t given an interview, or even better, why their child wasn’t hired (when little Johnny hadn’t even been selected for an interview, much less the job). The ability and/or willingness to problem-solve or to accept responsibility for their actions does seem more pronounced with the millennials. But again, I’ve seen this with many people in the work place, regardless of generation.

Gen Y’s are often accused of not taking critical feedback well. They seem to want only praise and thank you’s for everything they do. They don’t respond well to authority and leaders and managers must prove that they are worth following. But, at the same time, they are hungry for feedback – the right feedback. They want to know how they doing and what more they can do to succeed. The key is for managers to build that relationship first. This generation of employees is used to adult supervision from people they know support them and have their best interests at heart. Isn’t that what everyone wants? Whether in our professional lives or personal lives, we want affirmation, solid advice and gentle correction when things don’t go well. Constructive criticism, delivered clearly and without malice works for everyone.

Lacking structure, focus and a strong work ethic? Everyone needs some structure and focus. Work ethic is defined differently by different people. Providing structure for your workforce is vital to your organization’s success – without being rigid just for the sake of control. Reports have monthly due dates; jobs have fairly regular hours; activities/tasks are scheduled every day, week or month; meetings have agendas; goals should be clearly stated and progress is evaluated. These are necessary to an organized and productive workplace. We all deserve to know the rules of the game upfront, what is expected of us and the consequences if we don’t play by the rules. Flexibility can be provided where it fits, but structure where necessary needs to be maintained.

Demanding work/life balance is also seen to be a defining characteristic of our Gen Y’ers. They’re not willing to give up any part of their lifestyle for their career. Eventually, they choose careers that allow them to live their chosen lives (don’t we all strive for this?). The problem may come in getting there. Their social life may bleed over into their professional life in unacceptable ways. Their social media savvy also plays into this with uninhibited use of Facebook, Twitter, Vine and other social networks at home, work and play. Providing structure and limits will be necessary to keep the extraneous distractions at bay.

Used to communicating short, fast messages through instant messaging, texting, Facebook and e-mail, acceptable business communication styles are a challenge for them. Face-to-face communication is less important and the preferred way. As a result, they are often unaware of their non-verbal cues. As a result, this generation tends to have more miscommunications between friends, co-workers and bosses. They forget that words only account for a small part of the communication. In business, communication with customers and clients, whether internal or external, is key. Managing expectations surrounding use of "text-speak" or the need to have an in-person meeting will be important.

Millennials have grown accustomed to instantaneous connection and nearly immediate responses each time they Tweet or post. In the workplace, they expect the same. They want to be able to ask questions and get career advice all the time. Having to wait for requests, responses and feedback in a normal corporate structure will need to be tempered with reality. However, the rest of us can take a page from their book and learn to remove unnecessary obstacles caused by bureaucracy.

The 9-to-5 workday has been fading for quite some time, partly as a result of the Internet and our ability to be constantly connected, and the millennials are right there for this! This can be a good thing; however, research shows that 81% of millennials think they should be allowed to make their own hours at work, compared to only 69% of boomers. They prefer a flexible environment, including the right to work remotely and go into the office only sometimes or maybe not at all. They maintain that as long as the work gets done, the amount of time spent in the office shouldn’t matter. Face time in the work world is still important, although the strict adherence to start and end times is less necessary in some businesses – hence the move to "core hours" many companies have adopted.

Seventy-nine percent millennials think they should be allowed to wear jeans to work at least sometimes, compared to only 60% of boomers. An astounding 93% of millennials say they want a job where they can be themselves at work, and that includes dressing in a way that makes them comfortable. They also seem to prefer casual attire because they don’t separate their personal and professional lives in the same way that baby boomers do. (Ok. They got me on this one. While my workplace is fairly casual a good part of the time, being able to wear jeans and t-shirt most of the time would up my engagement score by a bunch.)