Category Archives: Management Style

Employees WILL assume the worst!

Here’s one of my favorite quotations: “In the absence of trust, everything you do for me I consider manipulation.”

Think about these scenarios:

  • The division manager in this organization has closed her door to have quiet time to work on the budget.  It’s a tough year because, to make her budget balance, she will need to move some of her staff to other locations to keep from laying anyone off.  She’ll also have to cut the overtime and training budgets, but she’s pleased that she’s able to keep every employee.   When she finishes her work she calls a staff meeting and happily announces that next year there will be no layoffs.  However, there will be a 75% reduction in the overtime budget, a 50% reduction in the training budget, and some people will be moved to other locations.  There’s a lot of grumbling during and after the meeting because many people identify strongly with their current work locations and want to stay there.  They have also come to rely on the extra money from overtime and feel entitled to it.  Some staff members were counting on receiving training to prepare them for promotional opportunities.  There’s a lot of bitterness and negativity.  Hearing this, the manager is completely shocked: she thought her staff would be thrilled there would be no layoffs! 
  • In another organization, a lot of seasonal hiring has been going on.  Current employees were asked to recruit hard-working, trustworthy people they know and recommend them for the seasonal jobs.  Many did so.  About 15 people were hired.  Some of them had worked there seasonally before, while others were new.  Several former seasonal employees (with no right to the job) who were friends of current employees applied but were not hired.  When the names of the new seasonal hires were announced there was a fair bit of grumbling.   Some employees felt that their friends should have been hired, and that there was a conspiracy to exclude them.  Some of those who were not hired felt they were discriminated against because of their age or ethnicity.   The hiring manager was very surprised by the fallout.  He had thought long and hard about whom to hire, and really felt he had hired the right people.  Some of the former seasonals who were not hired were poor workers, and others had been a pain to work with and he didn’t want them back.  He hadn’t told them that at the time because he didn’t think he needed to.  He just wouldn’t hire them again.  He also felt he did not owe an explanation to the regular employees.  After all, it was a seasonal job and he could hire anyone he wanted, couldn’t he? 

 Both of these managers were right in their assumptions: they had no legal  obligation to share their thinking about budget development or hiring criteria with staff.  However, by not sharing this, staff naturally made their own assumptions about their boss’s motives – and those assumptions were almost all negative.  Lacking information, we all make assumptions about the reasons behind the actions of others.  And those assumptions are almost always negative. 

 Neither manager understood the almost inevitable likely fallout from not communicating.  There is no obligation to communicate about budget development or hiring criteria – but without at least some communication, negative fallout is virtually always predictable.

What to do?  Provide information – lots of it, frequently – to employees.  Drop the “need to know” screen.  We all hate it when we’re on the receiving end, and generally assume the worst when information is withheld.  No, you can’t (and shouldn’t) share everything.  Share as much as you can, and publicly acknowledge (to your employees) that there are some things that need to be kept confidential.  Your staff members aren’t stupid.  They’ll understand – and they’ll trust you more for telling them what you can and sharing a lot of information.  Then, over time the extent to which employees feel manipulated will decrease and the extent to which they trust you will increase.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation, either on the management or the employee side?  Let us know what happened!  ~Daphne Schneider


More on Teaching Mr. Spock

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the problem of supervisors who channel Mr. Spock from Star Trek.  Mr. Spock, if you recall, has tremendous technical expertise – but lacks people skills.  He was likely appointed to his position because of that technical expertise and loves solving all the tough problems.  By the same token, he really doesn’t like the people aspects of the job.  The reality is that you get higher pay for being a supervisor because  it’s hard to do the people stuff, and the expectation is that you’ll do it as a major part of your job. 

So, here are several more ideas to help Mr. Spock be a better people person, and thus a better supervisor.

  • Do some warm and fuzzy stuff: ask employees how they’re doing and actively listen to the answer, remember who told you about their child or parent or hobby (it may be necessary to keep a few notes after employee interactions as reminders), express sincere concern for what’s happening in their lives without being inappropriate or intrusive (yes, boundaries are important).  No need to fake friendliness and suddenly become touchy-feely.  Just let that inner caring person come out a bit.
  • Compliment employees in a meaningful way: acknowledge good work (that’s important to most employees) by being specific about the skills the employee demonstrates and how those skills made a real difference in a particular situation.  For example, don’t just say, “Good job, Joe!”  Say, “Joe, I saw you with that upset customer.  You quieted your voice, politely asked her to explain the problem, paraphrased what she said to be sure you understood and thanked her for bringing it to your attention.  That allowed you to fix the issue and have her leave happy so she’ll likely return.  That was really great customer service!”  If saying it is too hard, write a note or an e-mail, and be sure  to remember these things when it comes time for performance appraisals or bonuses.
  • Ask employees to help: Involve employees in real ways to improve matters, but don’t ask them to be involved when you already know what you’re going to do.  I’ve seen lots of supervisors get into trouble when they ask for employee input without really meaning it. So, ask for input, and be clear about what you’re going to do with it.  Say, “We’re considering buying a new floor waxer.  Tell me what bells and whistles you want and we’ll do our best (within budget) to get one that includes those.”  Don’t say, “What brand do you like?” and leave it at that, because that communicates you’ll get the brand the employees tell you they want – unless that’s actually what you intend to do.

 Again, these are all skills in interacting successfully with subordinates.  They probably seem awkward at first, but practice them and you’ll become a much better supervisor! 

Are there other points you’d like to pass on to Mr. Spock?  Let us know!  ~ Daphne Schneider



Don’t Channel Mr. Spock!

There have been many times that I have been called into a workplace because employees are up in arms against their supervisor (we’ll call her Bella,) while management can’t see the problem since she is delivering great work.  Again and again in these situations I find the following:

 Employees tell me Bella is unfair, mean, angry, cold, doesn’t care about them, never compliments them, doesn’t listen, micromanages, and even lies.  They say good employees have left because they can’t stand to work for her.

Meanwhile, Bella’s boss, Harvey, and her peers tell me she’s made a huge impact on the quality of work being produced, has straightened out any number of problems, improved efficiency, always responds quickly and effectively to whatever they ask her to do, is extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  

When I talk with Bella, she gives me perfectly logical explanations for decisions she has made that her employees labeled as unfair, uncaring and mean.  She explains why she pays attention to the details of the work and how that has resulted in improved work products and increased efficiency.  She describes how she has complimented employees, recalling she told one employee of whom she thought very highly, “I’ve assigned you to X, the toughest job we have, because you’re so good at what you do and this is important to the program.” (The employee’s view was that she was  being punished and her protests about not wanting to do this task fell on deaf ears).  Bella also tells me she provides information to her employees as appropriate, and that sometimes that information changes or evolves.

Are employees, manager, peers and Bella herself talking about the same person?  Is she simply behaving differently depending on the audience?  Or?

The answer is yes to all of these questions.  But more than that, Bella is channeling Mr. Spock – remember him from Star Trek?  He was a highly effective, efficient and task-competent, fact-oriented creature who had zero emotional intelligence.  That’s Bella.

It takes much more than task competence to effectively manage people.  Management sometimes forgets that when they promote a highly competent technician to a supervisory position.  Although in today’s world many supervisors and managers also perform tasks, their primary responsibility is to supervise and manage the people who report to them. 

What to do?  Here are the first steps Bella needs to take to build her relationship with her employees: 

  • Acknowledge and apologize: Before changing her behavior (even to improve it along the lines below), Bella needs to acknowledge and apologize for not being as good as she might have been at interacting with her staff in the past, and tell them she is committing to doing better.  She needs to ask their help in improving.  I know this is tough, but it’s very important in making a fresh start.  If Bella just starts changing some of her behaviors, her staff will likely notice and will most likely not trust that her efforts are well-intentioned (since they don’t trust her now.)  This could make things worse, rather than better.  This is a small scale version of the approach taken by the South African Truth and Reconcilliation Commission in moving past aparteid.  Then,
  • Actively listen: paraphrase, be genuinely open to input.
  • Frequently demonstrate empathy: acknowledge employee concerns, hearing both the content and the feeling behind the content.  Actully name the feeling, for example: “It sounds like you’re frustrated,” or “I’m guessing this move is scarry for you.”  Let the employee respond as to whether the feeling named is correct or not – being right matters much less than acknowleding that there is feeling involved  and attempting to understand it.  Remember: demonstrating empathy is not the same as agreeing.

These are the first skills to demonstrate when moving from Mr. Spock to someone with emotional intelligence.  Like all skills, they can be learned.  But if you’re Mr. Spock (or Bella) it won’t be easy and may feel like a waste of time.  It’s not.  Successfully supervising employees (not just the tasks they do, but them) is one of the most critical duties a supervisor or manager has.  In future blog posts I’ll talk more about some of these and other related skills.

Are there other critical employee supervision skills that Mr. Spock (or Bella) need to learn?  Have you had to learn some of these – or had supervisors who should have learned them?  Tell us your story – we’d love to hear from you!  ~ Daphne Schneider

You’re Just Not the Person I Hired!

I recently read an article in Psychology Today concerning how to tell whether you’re with the right mate.  It included some interesting observations:

  • We alone are responsible for having the relationship we want.
  • When we’re in love, everything about the other person is wonderful. 
  • When “reality rears its head” and we discover inevitable incompatibilities, we can only see the differences we have.
  • When we start seeing these differences, we tend to see them through the lens of what’s wrong with the other person, and what they need to change.
  • Then, our inability to get along with the other person (who we used to think walked on water) becomes their fault – and we can’t do anything about that.

 These insights about intimate relationships got me thinking about the expectations we have for our relationships with people we hire.  When we start a job, it’s pretty common to feel very positive and  hopeful about the people with whom we’re going to be working.  That’s even more the case if we’re the supervisor hiring that new person (of course we wouldn’t hire them if they weren’t just the right person!)  All sort of like falling in love.

 But then, after we’ve worked together for a while,  after the new person has worked for us for a while, the truth sets in.  They’re not perfect.  They’re not the ideal person we thought they would be.  Sometimes it’s as if a switch was flipped (another analogy from this article) and now that perfect new employee just can’t do anything right. 

  • What used to be their great attention to detail is now unbearably boring commentary.
  • What used to be their funny stories about past co-workers is now annoying as they become not-so-funny stories about current employees we like.
  • What used to be a take-charge attitude we admired now feels like bullying and an attempt to take over.

 Our conclusion?  We hired the wrong person!

 Well, maybe not.  To continue applying the analysis from the Psychology Today article, thinking of an employee as right or wrong is using the wrong construct.  No employee you hire will ever be the one and only ‘right’ one. 

 When you discover that that new employee really isn’t so great, refocus.  Ask yourself: why am I suddenly unhappy with this person?  It’s likely not the case that the employee suddenly changed.  Rather, most probably they never were as perfect as you thought them to be and you are now discovering that.  

 So, what to do?  Here are a couple of things to consider:

Remember the positive reasons you hired this person.  They’re likely still there.  Concentrate on them.  Accentuate them.

Address issues that really are matters that bother you only if they are matters of consequence, not just matters of preference.  Rely on that attention to detail – just avoid having to listen to too much of it.  Enjoy the humor, as long as it’s not destructive.  Let go of control so that new employee can have some ownership – it doesn’t all have to be done exactly the way you would have done it.  In other words, decide to change yourself – change the way you view that person.  You have control over that – use that control to quickly improve your outlook and the situation.

Finally, decide to ignore the small irritations you’ve noticed – you’re likely not perfect either!  It’s not worth dwelling on the many things that may irritate you.  Support the positive behaviors and, where at all possible, ignore the irritations.  Don’t let them get to you.  Again, change yourself.

 Following these suggestions will make for a much calmer, healthier and happier relationship with your employee – and will improve your non-work relationships as well!

 Have you found yourself irritated by someone you once thought was wonderful?  How did you handle it?  ~Daphne Schneider



Using the Right Bait

How do you get someone else to change their behavior?  That’s an ongoing challenge for many of us, whether we’re first line supervisors or colleagues, top level managers or parents.  You simply can’t make someone else change unless they have some incentive to change. 

Unfortunately what many of us do is identify our motivation for the other person to change, and assume that’s their motivation.  For example:

  • I ask you not to yell at me because it hurts my feelings (and I assume you care about that).
  • I tell you to clean your workspace because I hate starting my shift in your messy space (and I assume you’ll do it just because???)
  • You’re told to fill out the medical history form because that’s the physical therapist’s policy before they’ll treat you, but you’re there for a sore leg (and not interested in providing information about other parts of your body).
  • You tell your subordinate to stop taking extended breaks (and assume, because you’re the supervisor, he will comply). 

All of these sound like reasonable requests and might work if the other person is amenable to doing something a different way.  However, if the other person is resistant, they are unlikely to work because the incentive is not there. 

So, what do you do when you’re faced with someone who won’t do what you want them to?  We are often tempted to threaten…do it this way or else.  However, most threats are ineffective – and are ignored.  For example,

  • If I already don’t like you I may not care if you threaten never to talk to me again if I yell. 
  • If I know our supervisor doesn’t care whether or not my workspace is messy, your threat to tell her on me (kind of like third grade) will have no effect. 
  • The likelihood they’ll refuse to treat your sore leg if you don’t  fill out their form is…zero.
  • And even if a threat might work, it will only work if you’re watching.  Without my buy-in, the threat to fire me if I’m late returning from break will only be effective in getting me back on time if I know you’re watching every single time I go on break.

The only really effective way to get someone else to change their behavior when they are resistant is to find a reason they will want to change.  I recently saw a brilliant version of this truism at a wonderful restaurant in Colorado.  On a card tent on each table was the following small note:


Your call is important.

For your privacy,

Please use the lobby area.

That’s absolutely brilliant.  We’ve all been annoyed when the person at the next table talks loudly on their cell phone.  And we’ve all seen the signs that say “No cell phone use here” or even, “Please turn off your phone while in this area.”  And we’ve all seen people ignore these signs because they’re about the establishment and the other customers, not about their need to use the phone.  However, this restaurant notice was clearly designed to address the needs and interests of the person using the phone – and there was not a single person in the restaurant on the phone.  It works.  One of my favorite sayings is, “When you go fishing, what kind of bait do you use?  What you like or what the fish likes?”  Clearly, that applies to our interactions with people as well as fish.  Find what will work as an incentive for the other person, and they will change. 

Have you given someone a reason they care about to do something they might not otherwise do?  We’d love to hear it!  ~Daphne Schneider

New Supervisor Revisited

The moment I read Amy’s blog from last week (Top Ten New Supervisor Skills) I knew I had to use my time and space this week to expand on a couple of her points.  I’ve often mentioned that much of what I know about effective workplaces comes from years of conducting workplace investigations (before that I actually was a manager for quite a number of years, and also speak from that experience.)  Several of the points Amy made last week really hit home with me because a number of my recent investigations have underscored their importance. 

  • Understand your new role and maintain boundaries…You don’t want to go partying and drinking with your subordinates.  But why not?  They were your friends before you became a supervisor – why can’t they remain your friends?  This is a really, really tough one.  As someone who was friends over the years with several people I supervised, I can tell you this: it does make it more difficult to treat them the same way you treat subordinates who are not friends.  And, even if you do treat them the say way, you will ALWAYS be perceived as playing favorites.  So, even if you are able to split your brain into work and play and never allow the one to influence the other, coworkers and other subordinates will simply never believe you can do this and will always believe, as I’ve found in investigation after investigation, that you’re playing favorites.  It really is best to separate yourself from your subordinates, though it is admittedly difficult.
  • Learn the fundamentals of delegating, directing and coaching.  I have coached many new supervisors.  A common belief of people in that position is, “Now that I’m the supervisor, things will FINALLY be done right – my way!”  A couple of points to keep in mind: things will be done exactly as you want them done only if you do them yourself – and in most supervisory jobs that not only defeats the purpose of being a supervisor, but is just plain impossible.  So, get over that thought.  Decide what things absolutely have to be done a certain way (and no, not everything does) and let the rest go.  Your subordinates have their own methods and styles, and that gives them pride in the work they do and a sense of ownership.  Help them and coach them and mentor them – but realize that they are (by and large) quite competent to do the work. And, if one of them is not, treat that person as the exception in need of additional help and don’t assume that everyone else needs the same level of support and direction.
  • Understand the larger system in which you work.  In your new role it is now your job to relay what top management wants, and the values of the organization, to your staff.  One of the most common things I encounter in my work is the supervisory (or other) employee who publicly fights management because he/she believes they are doing something ‘wrong.’  In this case ‘wrong’ is not illegal, immoral, unethical or unprofessional.  It’s just not the way that employee thinks it should be done.  As a supervisor you are paid to represent management to your staff and unless you are directed to do something illegal, immoral, unethical or unprofessional, that’s what you need to do – without criticizing it to your staff.  It may not be the way you’d like to do it or even the way you think it ‘should’ be done, and you can and should express your concerns to management in private.  But, once the decision is made to go in a certain direction, as a supervisor it is now your job to lead your staff in that direction.  This can be one of the toughest lessons for new supervisors – it certainly was for me!  And, if you find you simply can’t do that, find a work setting that’s a better fit – staying in a place where you think management often does things ‘wrong’ can give you a heart attack.

As I was thinking about these and the other skills for new supervisors, it occurred  to me that they’re certainly not just important for new supervisors, but for all supervisors and managers.

Do you agree?  Disagree? Have you faced the challenge of being a new supervisor?  What happened?  ~ Daphne Schneider




What’s a new manager to do?

The Situation: Susan (not her real name), was a fairly new manager who was hired to head a division of 20 technical and support staff members, many of whom had been there a long time. Her predecessor of 17 years had retired, and the long-time assistant manager, Camille, had been asked to do both her own job and the manager’s job for about a year. She applied for the manager’s job, but Susan was hired instead.

Susan came in from the outside with lots of new ideas, and encountered a lot of staff distrust. After meeting individually with each employee, she noted that:

– most people seemed quite competent, worked independently and liked it that way

 – many staff members felt overworked since 3 positions had been cut

– there was little communication between Camille and the staff, and staff didn’t know or seem to care about the ‘big picture’ that Camille worked with

– there were no staff meetings, and no other regular ways for staff to meet or share information

– though staff members were individually proud of the work they did, there wasn’t any team spirit

– there was jealousy between some of the technical staff members over who got to do the more interesting projects, and how those were assigned 

Susan determined that a high priority was to improve communication. She instituted regular staff meetings (she brought snacks) where she shared what was going on in this and other areas of the Department. She asked for comments and input, but most people listened politely and remained quiet. She also started copying staff on information she received from other areas of the Department, and sending weekly e-mail updates to all staff concerning work within the division.

Susan also thought there should be more team spirit, so she created a monthly theme (usually tied to something seasonal), asked people to decorate their work spaces according to that theme, scheduled a monthly potluck lunch, and made sure birthdays were acknowledged with a birthday song and cake (for which she paid).

The result? People grumbled about being forced to do things not related to work, and team feeling sank even lower. Some staff members appreciated receiving more information, some grumped about excess e-mails with irrelevant information, and a there was lots of resentment that their time was being used for frivolous things that just put them more behind in their work.

What went wrong? Clearly, Susan had good intentions. So, what went wrong here? Susan approached her new job well. It was good that she met with everyone individually. She recognized (probably correctly) that some of the challenges of this workplace had to do with lack of communication and lack of teamwork. However, the solutions she imposed (staff meetings for the purpose of sharing information where only she talked, and mandated “fun”) were not going to work. For one thing, though she identified some of the issues, she imposed her idea of solutions without any participation from staff.  And that assumes that these two issues are really the ones staff feel are most important!

What should she have done? Once she had gathered information from individual employee interviews, she should have shared the results (in a general way) with the whole staff. Then, she should have solicited their responses to the information.  They would likely have determined that some way of sharing more information was good – but might also have come up with approaches that were more meaningful to them. And, they would have had ownership in those approaches because they developed them. The same is true for Susan’s poor attempts to improve team spirit. 

What now? Given that Susan found herself in this situation after having tried and failed in her attempts to improve things, the best thing to do is back up. Admit that what she did was not effective, and ask for help from the staff: invite interested staff members to work with her to determine effective approaches to the issues that were raised. That will be much more likely to yield positive results than anything she could develop on her own – even if it was a great idea. Involvement creates commitment. Ideas – even if they’re good ones – imposed from the top, do not.

Have you ever been a new manager trying to succeed in a difficult situation? Have you been an employee subject to a new manager’s ideas of how to improve things? Let us know what worked – or didn’t. We’d love to hear from you! ~ Daphne Schneider