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Golden Oldies: Real Email Can Be as Bad for Your Company’s Health as Spam

Monday, June 6th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Although the focus was elsewhere, Friday’s post mentioned that Zirtual CEO Maren Kate Donovan chose to notify her 400 employees that they were and laid off by email. Definitely not good management. Way back in 2002 I wrote that you can’t mange by email; in 2016 I’d add text, Twitter and all social media to that list. Some things you just need to do face-to-face.  Read other Golden Oldies here.

Hooray, I’m vindicated! And in Business Week, no less.

The article, about the importance of reducing email reliance and encouraging face-to-face meetings, is a must read for every manager who is looking to boost productivity, spark innovation, and improve retention of both employees and customers.

Recognition of the problems and misunderstandings email causes is finally gaining a higher profile and being researched and documented by top academics and consultants.

My November 27th post contains a link to an article on the dangers inherent in how one choose to sign-off at the end of an email.

Google “dangers of email” and you’ll get back nearly five million results.

As to my vindication? Here’s an article I wrote for a client’s company newsletter in 2002.

You Can’t Manage By Email

Email. Some people can’t live without it and others refuse to live with it. The debate as to whether it’s a blessing or a curse may rage on, but one thing is for sure: You can not manage by email.

As a manager it is your responsibility to encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop every person on your team. No matter your style, you must be teacher, mentor, coach, cheer leader, and fan for each individual for whom you are responsible! (Hey, you wanted to be a manager, remember?) That said, it should be obvious that these functions aren’t particularly email friendly, any more than they were memo friendly in the dark ages before email. Further, even those that seem as if they should work are dependent on writing skills that are beyond most people’s ability.

Now, don’t get defensive. Look back at email you’ve received from just one person with whom you are close and count how many times

  • you asked for clarification;
  • you found that actions predicated on your interpretation were either awkward, or downright incorrect; or
  • your understanding of what was written left you questioning/confused/annoyed/angered/ hurt/etc., which was not the intended effect.

If that’s the batting average of someone you know well, how much more likely are misunderstandings to happen between two people who not only aren’t peers, but where one possesses substantial leverage over the other? (By definition, managers have leverage, whether or not they use it.)

Email is good for such things as

  • quick alerts (The meeting starts in 10 minutes.);
  • a public thank you (Thanks, Lucy, you gave a terrific presentation today!); and
  • simple, clearly worded instructions (Please collect everybody’s project notes and be prepared to discuss them with me at 10 AM tomorrow in conference room A.)

Although there are rare occasions where it works, in most instances using email to manage (encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop) is similar to driving blindfolded—you’re going to have an accident. Lower productivity and higher turnover are the results of management accidents, and neither is likely to give your career a boost!

To succeed at management you need to recognize some basic facts:

  • You are managing people (AKA, wetware), not androids (software) so you must lead, not program, them.
  • Living entities respond best to personal interaction, so spend the time willingly.

Your people do not interfere with doing your job, they are your job, so nurture them and they, in turn, will guarantee your success!

Golden Oldies: “Or Else” Management

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Have you noticed the threats flying around this political season? Not in-your-face threats, but the subtle kind; the kind that end with an implied ‘or else’. And some not so subtle, with the ‘or else’ loud and clear. ‘Or else’ may be common, and even acceptable, in  politics, but when used as a management tactic the results are always negative. Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescridland/4334589129/How often do you (or your boss) add “or else” or words to that effect when assigning a project or discussing a deadline?

It happens more than you would think.

The threats are rarely direct—Do it or start looking.

More often, they are subtle, unstated—I expect employees who work here to be team players.

Have no doubt, the threat is there: Do X if you want to keep your job.

Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a threat will tell you that they aren’t exactly motivational.

What they are is atrocious management.

Threats are costly not only to the threatEE, who loses confidence and the threatenER, who loses credibility, but also to the organization itself for allowing it to happen.

Far worse is the ripple effect that the sows seeds of a self-propagating culture of intimidation.

Threats kill creativity, innovation, motivation, caring, ownership, in fact, everything that it takes to compete in today’s economy.

Managers who choose to use ultimatums as a motivational tool should not be surprised when employees respond with their feet.

Flickr image credit: James Cridland

Yelp Follows in Walmart’s Footsteps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/javmorcas/8528220016/

Have you read yet the story of Talia Jane?

She is a customer service rep at Yelp, whose pay puts her right down there with Walmart and bank tellers.

“I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 40 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes.” (Minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour.)

She was fired two hours after writing an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Medium.

Yelp, of course, says the letter had nothing to do with her termination.

Stoppleman has a solution.

“The reality of such a high Bay Area cost of living is entry level jobs migrate to where costs of living are lower. Have already announced we are growing EAT24 support in AZ for this reason.”

Stoppleman’s solution seems to be to kick out everyone who doesn’t earn a fat salary — how dare “them” have the temerity to want to enjoy the pleasures and opportunities of life in San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

That said, I’ve never understood why Walmart, banks, Yelp or all those who follow in their footsteps, pay their front-line people—the actual “face of the company”— what can amount to starvation wages in urban areas and then are surprised when those same people lie, cheat, steal or speak out publicly.

Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, Costco and Trader Joe’s are a different story.

What it comes down to is that the further away from contact with customers the greater the money, perks and benefits.

Crazy.

Flickr image credit: Javier Morales

Golden Oldies: Ducks In A Row: Who Cares?

Monday, February 15th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Unengaged workers was a growing problem long before I wrote Who Cares in 2011and it has escalated since then. The results of a January Gallup poll show 67.5% of US workers are unengaged and the reason at the end of this post still holds true. Read other Golden Oldies here.

mirrorI’m hearing the same lament from a lot of managers these days; the words and circumstances are different, but it boils down to the same thing—s/he has the knowledge, but doesn’t do anything.

It’s not just younger workers, but all ages.

The current term is “unengaged” and the problem is rampant.

Most managers who call don’t use that term, they complain that people just don’t care. They don’t care about doing more than the minimum; they don’t care about doing great work, instead of just adequate; they don’t care how the company is doing; the list of ‘they don’t care’ goes on and on.

They all see this as a problem with the people they hire.

They ask me where to source good candidates; how to better interview, so they can hire “people who give a damn.”

Some complain that the so-called entitled attitude of Millennials has spread to all ages.

These managers are a disparate group; they come from different industries and range from management newbies to senior executives, but they all have one thing in common.

None of them sees “not giving a damn” as a result of the way they manage, but 98% of the time it is.

So the next time someone you know (or you) complains about people not caring, suggest they ask the only person who really knows the answer—the one they will find in the mirror.

The old adage “you reap what you sow” holds just as true for bosses and companies as in any other circumstances.

Flickr image credit: antkriz

 

Weeds in Your Garden

Monday, November 9th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/southpaw2305/3465219891/

This post first appeared in 2012, but I believe both its premise and its point deserve another airing.

Managing Weeds

As companies grow and managers build their organizations they frequently talk about “weeding out” low performing employees—Jack Welch was a ninja weeder.

If that thought has crossed your mind you might take a moment to think about James Russell Lowell’s comment, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.”

As with weeds, there are better ways to look at under-performing employees.

Seeing a weed as food changes everything, just as seeing people’s potential does.

95% of the time it’s management failures that create weeds and those failures run the gamut from benign neglect to malicious abuse and everything in-between.

Weeds can come from outside your company, inter-departmental transfers and even from peers in your own backyard.

What is amazing is how quickly a weed will change with a little TLC.

“Weeds can grow quickly and flower early, producing vast numbers of genetically diverse seed.”

People grow quickly, too, and often produce innovative ideas — just because someone listened instead of shutting them down.

And while trust that your attitude won’t change takes longer to build, the productivity benefits happen fairly rapidly.

So before you even think about weeding look in the mirror and be sure that the person looking back is a gardener and not a weed producer.

Flickr image credit: Clare Bell

Ducks in a Row: Hire and Hold

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zenera/240884577

In one way or another, I’ve been involved in staffing for more than 30 years; first as a recruiter, then as a coach and mentor.

I’ve worked with companies from earliest startups to Fortune 500; with bosses ranging from CEOs and other executives to first-line supervisors and team leaders.

The best and smartest companies/bosses never have an opening and almost never lay people off — the ‘almost’ being directly connected to the the bosses’ level of control within the company.

How they accomplish this is often a mystery to outsiders, but it’s simply the result of specific MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

I’ve listen to many bosses tell me why this approach wasn’t feasible, often using their industry as the reason.

Most of the ‘reasons’ fall apart when you consider Intuitive Research & Technology, which has never laid off an employee.

That’s impressive for any company, but it’s especially notable for a 16-year-old aerospace engineering and analytics firm that’s a contractor for the federal government.

Intuitive also never has job openings.

Harold Brewer, Intuitive’s co-founder, chairman, and president, says the company has avoided reductions by taking a unique approach to hiring. “We don’t really have job openings,” he says. Instead, the company operates like a talent agency—always scouting for skilled employees. (…)  Brewer calls it a “speculation hire.”

His mantra is simple, “If it’s good for employees, it’s good for business,” so the company supports training, advanced education (unlimited tuition reimbursement) and pays substantial bonuses.

It’s what I’ve always said, hire great talent, instead of filling openings, cherish them, so they stay and watch your organization prosper.

Flickr image credit: Serena

How NOT to Run a Company

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/7257857044/

What do you do when your stock price has plunged 25% in five months and a substantial number of your executive team leave?

What’s your spin when a number of those leaving were hand-picked by you?

If you are Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer you publicly proclaim that they weren’t good enough to do what needed to be done.

“Recently, there has been external interest and speculation in a few shifts amidst our management team. The design and changes in Yahoo’s leadership team are the result of careful planning to achieve the necessary skills, passion, and the ability to execute growth in our business.’

The people who weren’t good for Mayer were scooped up by the likes of Facebook, Square, Helix and STX Entertainment — not exactly companies known for hiring passionless castoffs.

The exodus isn’t all that surprising, considering Mayer’s management style and need for control and the fact that in the three years she’s been at Yahoo there has not only been no turnaround, but everything is worse.

Of course, these days CEO all provide reasons for whatever is happening, but only rarely admit to being one of them.

As I said last January, this is what happens when people buy into their own wunderkind status.

But the truly sad thing is the ammunition she has provided to the anti-women-leaders crowd who will use her to prove that, in fact, woman don’t belong in the corner office.

Flickr image credit: Tech Crunch

Star Creation

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelpollak/8406100469/

Monday we considered the idea that a team can have too much talent, i.e., stars.

Bosses claim they hire stars because they are the rocket that drives a team further, faster.

I think many do it because they are lazy.

As Wally Bock puts it, “We live in a world of microwavable answers and quick fixes” — and bosses see stars as quick fixes.

Which, if you will excuse the bluntness, is really stupid for two reasons.

The so-called slow fix takes more effort, but provides far greater ROI.

And you, personally, do much better, and have more fun, with fewer regrets, building your own team of stars — usually the only things lacking in this approach are egos, prima donnas and drama.

A slightly offbeat story illustrates the kind of stars that can result­­­.

Faculty from Bard College coach a debate team from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup.

They recently beat the national and world champion Harvard team. They have also beaten the University of Vermont and West Point teams.

They are home-grown stars, since it’s doubtful that a world-class team of debaters were all incarcerated at the same facility.

The point of all this is that if you want to be known as a great boss, then be the coach who builds an extraordinary team, as opposed to being the one who hires shooting stars.

Flickr image credit: Michael Pollack

Talent, Talent, Too Much Talent

Monday, October 26th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/13770174084/

Stars. Everyone wants to hire stars.

Sports teams buy them for astronomical salaries.

Companies use salaries, stock, sign-on bonuses and anything else they can.

Beyond bragging rights, stars are supposed to goose innovation, boost productivity and all kinds of good stuff.

But do they?

In 2010 the Miami Heat bought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to add to the triple the star power of Dwayne Wade — and had a terrible season.

What happened?

Stars want to be stars.

When individual interests take precedence over what is best for the collective, group performance declines. It no longer functions as a cohesive whole. (…) For chickens [another example], businessmen, and basketball players alike, high-levels of performance comes with high-levels of competitive spirit. These status conflicts drive performance down.

Down, not up.

You can still hire brilliant individual contributors if you are willing to put in the time and effort to make them a team.

It takes work, because they won’t become one left to their own devices.

Just remember that all teams aren’t created equal, so be sure your team plays basketball and not baseball.

Bill Simmons referred to baseball as “an individual sport masquerading as a team sport.”

President Barack Obama referred to basketball as “the quintessential team sport

Flickr image credit: Kentucky National Guard

People Come and People Go

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/17387574355/

The media loves making it a big deal when people leave companies, especially if

  • they have been there a long time;
  • they have a high profile/big title; or
  • the company is one of the golden ones, e.g., Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, Salesforce, etc.

Not counting layoffs or termination, why do good people leave good companies?

Actually, it’s not so much where they are leaving from as it is what they are going to.

No matter how great the company; how talented the boss; how good the career path; at some point people just want to see what’s on the other side of the mountain.

That isn’t a reflection on the current company/boss/career, it’s a reflection of the natural desire to challenge/test oneself in a new environment.

That doesn’t always mean starting their own company.

It simply means they found something attractive enough that they decided to pursue it — and it is rarely found in compensation..

One of the few constants I’ve found through decades of dealing with people in the workplace is that those who join a company for compensation (money/stock/perks) will leave for more compensation.
However, this is a concept that seems beyond most media understanding — or perhaps it’s not what the public wants to hear.

So the next time you see one of those stories, think “where is she going” as opposed to “why is she leaving.”

Would you hire someone who was fired?

Join me tomorrow for the reasoning behind the unexpected answer.

Flickr image credit: BK

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