Category Archives: Management Style

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

What REALLY causes investigations?

I was recently thinking again about the big reasons that workplace investigations happen. Let me tell you a story.

Several employees in a large work unit (one Caucasian woman, one African-American women and a Caucasian man who says he’s gay) go to Human Resources with complaints against Frank, their supervisor. They say he discriminates against anyone who is not white, straight and male. They say he doesn’t communicate with them and regularly leaves them out of decision-making. They also say he has a bad temper and frequently raises his voice. They’ve tried to talk to him about their concerns, but say that if you get on his wrong side, he’ll make your life miserable by giving you the worst assignments and preventing you from working overtime (at overtime pay rates). He makes fun of his employees by giving them nicknames (Henry has become Prince Harry, Susan is SusieQ), and regularly made sarcastic comments about them and put them down in front of others.

Frank has been with this employer for over twenty years, and no one has ever filed a complaint against him before. Everyone figures that’s just Frank. Management has heard he has a temper and knows he can be sarcastic – buy he’s always been nice to them, funny to be around and willing to do whatever’s asked of him. Clearly, he’s smart. He finishes his tasks in a timely manner, and has been a great asset. Also, he is a widely acknowledged expert in his field, speaks at national conferences and has written for professional journals.

On the other side, there has been more turnover on his staff than on others, and when the statistics are examined it does appear that women and people of color leave his unit at greater rates than white men. But again, no one had ever complained.

Of course, since this complaint came to management and Human Resources, it had to be followed up. But – why is this investigation really happening? It’s really happening because, even though no one had formally complained before, management knew there were potential problems in Frank’s area – and ignored them. They ignored the turnover. They ignored the rumors. They ignored the bad temper and raised voice, even when they heard these. They ignored Frank, the bully. 

What might management have done earlier? Instead of waiting for a formal complaint, they could have informally explored what was going on, looked at the turnover data, talked with Frank – and coached him to change style so that a technically good and knowledgeable employee could grow in areas where he needed help without waiting for the situation to blow up – and potentially losing that valuable employee as well as others.

The lesson? Address issues when they come to you  in whatever way (including following up on rumors) – even if no one has complained. It may be more trouble now, but will save you a lot of heartache in the long run.   It won’t be easy – and requires a very gentle but persistent approach.  But it is definitely the better way to go.

Have you worked with “Frank”, as his supervisor, colleague or subordinate? What happened – and did it happen before it blew up?  ~Daphne Schneider

Why Aren’t More Managers Great?

There tends to be a fair amount of manager-bashing in the HR and employment law world. Setting aside whether this is fair, I think the more interesting question is why more managers aren’t great. Participants in an excellent LinkedIn forum came up with a number of reasons and I myself see others:

  •  They’re not given the training and guidance to do their jobs effectively. It’s not easy being a manager or other leader and it usually doesn’t come naturally. Yet most managers get little if any effective training or coaching.
  •  They don’t like being managers and aren’t good at it – but the only way to progress in the organization and earn more money is by becoming a manager. I did an investigation once where two employees in technical fields kept seeking and being denied supervisory positions. The two claimed this was because of their ethnicity, but it wasn’t; it was because they were very good at their technical jobs, but would be terrible supervisors. The real problem was that their workplace had no technical track that enabled them to advance while doing what they did best.
  • The organization has a hierarchical system that does not enable managers to make decisions and take action. Instead, they have to go through multiple approvals before doing anything that could create even a little dissatisfaction or controversy. One form of this is the organization that overly fears its employees and enables their poor behaviors and performance without realizing the harm this does to managers.
  • Top leadership does not cultivate the development of lower level managers. This may occur out of ignorance, insecurity, ego, or a perceived lack of time and resources.
  • The managers are focused on themselves, not others. A quote from the LinkedIn forum on this topic: There are two types of individuals: “One … sends this message when he/she meets you, ‘Here I am.’  A second type … sends this message when he/she meets you, ‘There you are.’”  As the commenter added, “I wonder which type we believe “most” great leaders are?” On this same point, another commenter wrote, “Good achievers are all about themselves, great leaders are all about others.”
  • They don’t have the time to be great and no one rewards their leadership efforts or even allows them to retreat from the daily grind to develop their leadership ability.
  • They don’t understand the difference between getting results and leading people to get results.

Good managers are key to the success of every organization. Perhaps the larger question is why more organizations don’t act on this basic notion and work to develop the skill set needed for their managers to succeed. Any ideas? ~Amy Stephson

Help Every Employee Soar!

Well, it’s happened.  I’m actually going to use a sports example to make a point (this from the woman who, some years ago, made it a goal to learn one new sports analogy a month so she could understand her colleagues!)  Anyway, I now actually have a very minimal understanding of and some interest in college football.  So, when I read this coach’s comment about UW quarterback Jake Locker at the Senior Bowl, I thought wow! – that absolutely fits into a workplace context!  Here’s the quotation from coach Ken Zampese:

He [Locker] doesn’t have any preconceived notions that it’s got to be like this or that. No, no. He’s ready to soak it all up, and that’s going to serve him well as he goes, because the only way you get better is to jump in with both feet. You can’t go in and fight something. You’ve got to go full in. 

 As a supervisor or manager you also have to go “full in” without “preconceived notions” about how best to work with each individual employee.  You need to adjust to each person, and to the individual situation, and respond with what actually works – not what you think ought to work.

I’ve written in the past about people having different styles, different temperaments.  They’re also at different places with regard to their ability and motivation to do their jobs.  One very useful tool for thinking about that has been around for many years: Situational Leadership.  In short, it’s a way to quickly sort out how best to lead and supervise someone.  Here’s the summary, applied to fictional employees:

Henrietta who lacks both skills and motivation.  Though she’s been around a long time, she has resisted learning new technologies and seems burned out.  She’s no longer skills, and she’s not motivated.  You need to tell her what you want her to do and how to do it.  Cncentrate on the tasks that need to be done, not on your relationship with her.  If she continues to be unwilling to learn and become more capable,  she needs a different job.

Carlos has also been with you a long time.  He, however, has continually improved his skills, but also seems burned out.  Treating him the way you treat Henrietta (by telling him what to do) will only get you resentment and actually demotivate him.  He needs coaching and encouragement (even selling the job to him) to help him find what motivates him, what excites him about the job he once loved and knows so well. 

Contrary to Carlos, Amma is a very excited, highly motivated employee you recently hired.  So, she doesn’t yet have all the skills, but she sure has the enthusiasm!  You need to teach her the work.  Be sure she learns well, because then she can move to the next level which is where you’ll find Kim.   

Kim is highly competent in his work, and loves it.  Delegate to him: give him the job and leave him alone other than providing  him the resources he needs.  Then, stand back and watch him soar!

So remember coach Zampese in his comments about Jake Locker, jump in with both feet and soak up the information employees give you every day about how you can best supervise them.  Don’t fight what you see and hear from them because it doesn’t fit into your preconceived mold – use the information as data to determine how best to work with each person on your staff.  Remember: one size does not fit all!

Have you successfully adapted your supervisory style to the skills and motivations of your employees?  Have you faced a challenge when you tried to supervise everyone the same way?  Tell us about your experience so we can all learn from it!  ~ Daphne Schneider

2011 Workplace Intentions

Since this is the beginning of a new year, I’ve been thinking about some personal plans and changes I want to make in the way I approach things.  All this thinking also inspired me to suggest the following 2011 Workplace Intentions (rather than resolutions – less onerous, so perhaps more doable) as goals for this great new year.  I intend to use them for my business, and thought you might want to consider them too: 

  1. Ensure that your focus is always on your mission.
  2. Post your values, and run things according to those values (check out for a great example of this).
  3. Honor your commitments to customers/clients and employees.
  4. Deal with employee issues fairly, promptly and effectively the first time they come up.
  5. Create a positive, creative and fun workplace.  You’ll want to give more, and so will your employees.
  6. Promote trust with employees through openness, authenticity and fairness.
  7. Clearly state expectations and goals for employees, and follow up to ensure they’re being met.
  8. Admit mistakes.  Apologize for harm done.  Do better next time.
  9. Treat others as they wish to be treated – not as you wish to be treated.  Follow the Platinum Rule, .
  10. Before making a business decision, think how it would sound at the top of the news hour.   

Look like a lot to take on?  Concentrate on one intention each month: tell your employees that’s what you’re doing and make it a focus of your leadership for the month.

What are your 2011 Workplace Intentions?  Share them with us, and have a great 2011!  ~ Daphne Schneider

Worst Bosses of 2010

I recently came across a website that lists the alleged “Worst Bosses of 2010.” Now ,it’s not a scientific study, and it’s based on submissions by thousands of individuals around the country to the eBossWatch website (whose tag line is “Nobody should have to work with a jerk.”). That said, I continue to be stunned (I know, I should be less naïve – especially given the work I do) by what bosses do in this day and age.  A few striking examples from this site:

• Sexual harassment: “no honey, no money” was one of the comments from a male boss to his female assistant – and you thought the casting couch was a thing of the past!

• Racial harassment: the white boss saying it was “just a joke” when he discussed the marks a rope would make around an African-American employee’s neck

• Assault, as well as sexual and racial harassment by the female African-American boss who tried to run over a white, male employee in retaliation after he alleged that she called him her pet dog and snapped her fingers at him saying, “Come here, white boy.”

And, lest you think that it doesn’t happen around here, state of Washington bosses landed tsix times on the top 100 “Worst Bosses of 2010.” . The honorees were:

# 8: Don Gough, Mayor, City of Lynnwood for sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment.  A number of his female employees have accused him, and the City recently settled a lawsuit for nearly $50,000 with several of them.

# 17: Three managers of the Evans Fruit Company in Sunnyside were named in a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for “sexual comments, propositioning and physical groping” of female employees, including a 15 year old.

# 43: Greg Lassiter was fired as Snohomish County Planning Director for exposing himself to a woman during a golf tournament.  His behavior recently resulted in the County’s settling a lawsuit for $600,000. His Deputy Planning Director, Greg Morgan, was named #56 on the “worst bosses” list for helping create a “Harley club” for male managers whose members allegedly regularly left work early, got drunk, rode their motorcycles, and supported one another in firing and promoting favorites.

# 86: In a letter from her colleagues to the site, State Senator Pam Roach was chastized for “an ongoing pattern of treating your co-workers and employees with hostility and anger. As your fellow Senators, it is difficult to be in a room with you when you erupt in anger. For our employees it is unacceptable.”

So, most unfortunately, we in Washington are well represented here. As we close out 2010, I’d challenge each of us to make sure that we would be found on a “best bosses” list because we understand our own power and use it for good by

• Setting and modeling clear, high standards for workplace behavior and civility, and expecting and helping all employees meet them

• Treating all employees fairly and equitably

• Demonstrating caring and compassion for staff and customers/clients

• Helping all employees meet the organization’s goals as well as their own professional goals

• Supporting the greater community by giving back and encouraging our employees to do so as well.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a great 2011! We’ll be back next year. ~ Daphne Schneider

Can A Manager Be Too “Warm and Fuzzy”?

Last week I asked if leaders and managers need to be “warm and fuzzy,” and concluded yes.  This week the question is: can managers be too warm and fuzzy?  By this, I mean a manager or supervisor who focuses more on an employee’s feelings, happiness, and personal problems than on the employee meeting job expectations. Again I think the answer is yes. 

Why? Because managers and supervisors often have to make hard decisions and do things that do not make their employees happy.  Because managers have to maintain professional boundaries or risk creating expectations in subordinates that cannot or should not be met.  Because a manager who cares too much about employees’ personal business and feelings can be perceived as intrusive or learn things he or she doesn’t want to and shouldn’t know. And finally, because employees, like children, can and do take advantage of the overly sympathetic, permissive manager.

So how to coach a leader or manager who is too warm and fuzzy?  The first task is to explain why this is a problem.  Usually this person is kind hearted and needs some help in understanding why being too nice can be a problem. This involves not only discussing the reasons set out above, but also exploring the notion that it’s not “mean” or “heartless” to view employees’ problems with a more dispassionate eye. This person may also be conflict-averse.  That is more difficult to address, but for better or worse, a manager or supervisor cannot do his or her job without dealing with conflict.

The next step is to discuss specific instances of overly warm and fuzzy supervision.  E.g., repeatedly excusing the employee who is habitually tardy (his car broke down, his child got sick, he was up late dealing with a family situation and couldn’t wake up).  Or repeatedly excusing the employee whose work is sloppy (she’s in the middle of a divorce, her cousin is dying, she forgets to take her diabetes medication). Dissect the situations and come up with alternative approaches to dealing with the problem.

After this, it may help to explore the concept of “ownership” in the sense of: who “owns”  an employee’s obligation to do their job, get to work on time, stay off their cell phones during work, etc.  At some level, the warm fuzzy manager may believe that he or she owns the problem and has to fix it. Wrong. The employee owns it — and as soon as both the manager and the employee realize this, the better.

Helping the overly nice manager toughen up may not be not easy because deep-seated feelings are often involved. However with ongoing support for the manager’s efforts and decisions, a new management style can be developed.  How have you addressed  this issue?  ~Amy Stephson