Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bad Blood

Questions get asked of me often.  Various employees will call, email or walk in and ask, “Do you know that other companies give their employees as much vacation as they want?”  Or perhaps, “What’s our policy on filing a complaint against a manager? I’m just curious.”  Or a classic favorite of mine, “John, will you be a reference for me as I look for a new job? I love working with you, but I hate it here.”  We could share for days all of the various questions we’ve been asked, and trust me that there are some great ones to come still!

One question that’s a bit heart-breaking to be asked by an employee is, “How is it that the people who do the wrong thing (or nothing) get promoted?”  This is an unfortunate question for a few reasons.

First off, what if the person who is promoted is actually a great employee?  The perception of this person being less than stellar is shameful, but not necessarily the asking-employee’s fault.  Why weren’t the successes of the promoted employee heralded previously?  Why didn’t others know of his/her accomplishments or connection to the whole?  It’s a sad state of affairs to be good at your work, but not be seen as such.

Secondly, what if the person promoted hasn’t demonstrated his/her ability clearly?  It may not be a matter of poor PR, but rather a matter of hesitancy.  What if he/she is able but saw that the climate of the workplace is such that doing your job well would mean scrutiny by others?  I have been in workplaces where achievement was frowned upon as it upset the status quo.  It was very middle school in its mob mentality, but it was real nonetheless.  To show others up (which is how it was taken) was the kiss of death and a very clear hit was put out on you.  Other employees would snub you or somehow “forget” to include you in key decisions that affected your workload or process.  Sadly, this is more common than you might realize.

Thirdly, what if the person promoted really is terrible?  Is it a matter of sucking up that got this person the promotion?  How could this occur?  When I was younger in my career, a colleague once told me that “the flakes get promoted to the top.”  What a sad statement!  Such a phrase doesn’t come from one or two incidents.  Who are the people promoting these “flakes” and why do they do it?  It’s frustrating to have to deal with the repercussions of such decisions, and it’s usually HR that has to handle the fallout.

So, how do we handle this?  It’s happening right now and is likely to continue to happen in the companies we serve, so our thoughtfulness around an answer is better to consider now.  Is it okay to simply say, “I don’t know”?  Maybe, but more likely that if this is our answer, we won’t hear from the asking-employee any time in the near future.  Why would he/she be inspired to come to us again when we clearly don’t know what’s going on? 

And let’s not forget about tone.  Answering “I don’t know” with a sharp or sarcastic tone will minimize our leadership, the leadership of the company as well as the mission of the organization.  What kinds of people run this show?  Ones that make crappy decisions, who don’t consult HR, who don’t care about the promotee’s influence on work product or culture to date, and who seem to be living in an ivory tower without a connection to what’s really going on.  Yup, we can translate all of that in one sarcastic response or disgusted look.  We don’t need to add to any bad blood that’s already creeping into relationships.

It’s important to not be thrown by the question.  Someone made this decision.  An employee coming to you to ask is correct.  Where would you want them to go?  It should be you, HR.  You should have an idea as to why someone has gotten a promotion.  It’s not about justifying it to the asking employee, but more about you portraying confidence.  If you know, then you aren’t searching for how to feel about it while in front of this employee.  It’s not about agreeing with the decision but about knowing.  The time for agreement should have already occurred.  If it didn’t, then that isn’t a response that should be shared with the asking-employee.

I, too, have been in that office when I was asked about someone’s promotion and I had no idea what he/she was talking about.  Promoted? Who?!  But the trick is to step back and formulate how to approach this.  I could be dismissive about the manager who has been making these bad decisions.  I could cut down those involved.   I could, but I would be very dumb to do so.  Rather, I should look for ways to build a bridge.

Fix what’s wrong in the process.  Take initiative, be bold and introduce solutions.  Then, when the next question comes, you’ll know how to respond.  You can focus back onto the asking-employee and inspire that person in what’s needed to move forward.  Many times, the asking-employee just wants to know where he/she fits; it’s not so much about the promoted employee.  By knowing what it takes to contribute stronger to the whole and thereby be promoted, allows you to be a resource towards advancement.  The questions will continue so make sure the answers flow, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Closer to Fine

When Ross and Rachel “took a break,” the reality that the relationship might not last started to sink in.  For all of the ways in which Ross had shown his love for Rachel since she was in high school (and caused the world to love him back) and for the progress that Rachel made in understanding her feelings for him, a major setback was occurring.  Could the relationship really be the fairy tale again?

Uncertainty has its place in relational advancement.  Whether it’s a marriage, a career, a church or a team, doubt about your fit for the future is real.  This might be unnerving for some, but it’s true.  Haven’t you sat back and thought, “Is this the job for me?”  Asking the question is healthy. Consideration in areas of usefulness, connection and advancement make sense.  Is this company able to utilize me in the ways I would like to, or do I want to give more of myself (time, talents, and treasure) to this company’s mission?   The giftedness of the individual and the purpose of the organization should be reviewed for alignment regularly.

However, it does not mean that it’s a negative position.  We have gotten too used to this type of consideration ending in break-up.  As such, we’ve believed that even asking the question means it’s over.  Ross and Rachel aren’t real, but their relationship (at least as we know) ended in a commitment to each other.  Is it only on television that it’s possible?  I hope not. 

In our companies, there are daily issues that arise – conflict over management style, turnover, gossip, etc.  Professionals should sit back and consider what’s going on.  The issues that rise to the top after investigation are addressable.  True that one of the ways to address this situation might be termination, but it is not the only option.  Sometimes a person has a bad day.  Sometimes expectations were not clearly shared.  Sometimes there are outside elements to the formula for success that we cannot control.  A machete to the relationship is not usually the right answer.

It is awful to worry when walking into work that Ross or Rachel might ask you for a break.  No one seeks this.  And yet, it might just be the consideration of future relationship that helps aright a ship’s course.  Neither Rachel as a spoiled brat nor Ross as an awkward, self-centered goof was the exclusive reason for the consideration.  It added to it, but the deeper questions were ones of support and commitment.  These are the same questions employees and employers have for one another.

As an employee:
  • Am I valued?
  • How does the company really know what I do or who I am?
  • Am I being taken advantage of? Is that the company’s fault or mine?

As an employer:
  • Do my employees get why we have the mission we have?
  • Is compensation the only way my employees receive affirmation? Have we allowed this to be true, if so?
  • Am I holding back on resources because I fear my employees will leave?

Of course, there are more questions to ask on either side of the table, but these catch some of the initial consideration that should happen.  Relationships, whether between two people or between a person and his/her company, take thought.  Think through why you might not be connecting as you once had.  Termination, as divorce or resignation, is the swifter option, but may be the less than ideal long term response.  Step back and question.

The uncertainty ought to lead to clarity.  Results from the clarity might vary, but the confidence to follow through will be stronger.  Having been through the questioning process will give you peace knowing that you really thought through this, which is confidence-producing.  Uncertainty has a particular nuance of excitement to it as it offers the opportunity to relent to “not knowing” what to do.  If your response were to be perfect each time, where are the opportunities to learn?  By having the uncertainty, we get to step back and research our companies, our relationships, and ourselves.

Ross and Rachel didn’t corner the market on relational uncertainty.  It’s been appealing to us as viewers of movies and television, as readers of novels, as writers of stories.  Plot lines revolve around relationships and have for centuries.  Turn off the “Friends” reruns and pick up a Shakespeare play…any will do.  Wherefore art thou, Ross?