• I work in the marketing department of a large catering company. Recently, our CEO has started making noises about doing more to promote our “values,” both internally and externally, and making them a bigger part of our corporate identity. I’ll inevitably be involved in this effort and I’d like it to be as meaningful as possible.

    Currently our so-called “core values” are pretty generic – quality, service, excellence, teamwork, etc. etc. Those are all good words, sure, but too generic to hang anything meaningful on. Any company would say they value such things (as would any decent human being, for that matter), and yet most of our employees can’t recite even one or two of them on any given day. I don’t blame them – there’s no way to see how these concepts might actually play out in their own daily work.

    My thought is to turn these “values” into taglines suggesting something more concrete, or actionable. For example, “Quality food prepared with care for you and yours” might be more appealing to clients, and our cooks might better appreciate and internalize “Be excellent in the kitchen” or “Teamwork makes the food taste better.” To me, this sounds like a better place to start.

    And maybe we should involve the staff? I think their input might be key if this effort is to be effective. We could have them tell us how they feel about our current values, and then work back from that information, rather than always handing everything down to them. We’re probably going to devote a few days to this effort, so it’d be great if it weren’t a big waste of time. Is my idea worth developing, or will our “values’” always be just a bunch of corporate [expletive deleted]? – Name Withheld

    I appreciate your candor.

    It’s refreshing to hear someone (in marketing, no less) willing to admit their company’s values are a bunch of, well…nonsense.

    Yes – your current values sound insipid and meaningless, as you say, and probably not doing anyone any good. I’m also on board (mostly) with your instinct to make them more ‘actionable.’ But I can already hear your kitchen staff mocking what you propose. ‘Bechamel seemed a bit bland, chef, so I added another teaspoon of teamwork.’ Or, ‘You know what they say: ‘If you can’t stand the excellence, get out of the kitchen.’’

    You get the picture.

    What you have come up with is great copy for your company’s website and promotional materials. You’ve obviously found a job that suits your talents. Feel-good slogans like the ones you suggest will undoubtedly go over well with your clients, customers, and patrons. But don’t expect the same reaction from your staff.

    What they’d rather hear are things like ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,’ ‘The opportunity to be your best at a company that appreciates your efforts’ or ‘Safety first, last, and above all else.’ (I’ve got a whole list, if you’d like more.) 

    Obviously ‘values’ like these will be far less appealing to patrons, who’ll assume your company does this already (as would any decent employer). Your staff, on the other hand, will almost certainly appreciate seeing them stated so clearly, and explicitly. They’re actionable too.

    Which brings us to whose benefit this little exercise is really for. It’s not your employees, is it?

    It’s your CEO.

    For whatever the reason, he/she/they apparently feels the need to do something CEO-ish. Updating your company’s values certainly fits the bill. Maybe it’s pandemic related anxiety, a desire to feel more hands-on, or just plain boredom. Or—and this is really important—maybe they’ve noticed that the quality, performance, and/or morale of the organization is indeed slipping, and are understandably concerned.

    Whatever the reason, getting the staff involved as you suggest is the right thing to do. Cooks, servers, dishwashers – all of them. But don’t be surprised if the values they come up with are shockingly similar to the ones you have now (and just as generic). Take it from someone who knows: Savvy employees have a way figuring out what management wants to hear, and telling them that, as opposed to saying what’s actually on their mind. It’s called surviving.

    Overcoming this inclination will take a little work. The key is to get your colleagues to genuinely open up – and that means in some way reassuring them they won’t be punished for their candor. So, for instance, any work-shopping you do to develop new values should be done out of earshot of the top boss. Or suggestions could be submitted anonymously. And don’t restrict their input to just what they think the company’s values should be, either. Let them talk (or complain) about whatever they want.

    And then listen.

    In my experience, managers spend way too much time and energy suppressing their employees’ opinions and complaints, when in fact they should be welcoming them. That’s a mistake for two reasons: (1) Feedback of any sort is absurdly valuable to your organization if it’s to stay competitive. Some of the best suggestions for improving your business will come from your frontline employees, given the chance. You ignore their input at your peril. And (2) the very act of soliciting employees opinions and then taking them seriously is guaranteed to improve staff morale, even if it’s pretty great already.

    One last bit of advice: You imply that someone has been quizzing your staff on the company’s current values (maybe you?), even asking that they be recited on demand?

    If so, for [expletive deleted]-sake, stop. It’s anxiety provoking, grossly unproductive, and more than a little bit offensive.

    Best of luck – and let me know how things turn out.

  • I work for a company that offers human resource management software and services. It’s a large organization (+5K employees) with a global presence, but the division I belong to is quite small (5 people) and tight-knit. Recently, I’ve been getting the feeling that my group may be eliminated altogether – probably because we don’t add much to the bottom line. Nothing official has been said, but these things aren’t hard to pick up on. I’ve asked my manager what his read on the situation is—who I love, by the way, and feel very loyal to—and he assured me he’s heard nothing. Obviously, however, he couldn’t offer any guarantees.

    My circumstance is that I have a standing offer from another company for a similar position that would probably be more secure. The people there are great too. In fact, I only came in contact with them because of my current employer (much of the work I do is contracted by them). My question is: Should I take them up on their offer? It would be complicated because there’s a non-compete clause that might prevent me from working for them right away, but I guess my broader question/concern has to do with loyalty. My manager has been super supportive of my career – do I owe him my allegiance?  – Name withheld


    So spoiler alert: I can’t tell you what to do here.

    The way I see it, jobs are like shoes. No one can really tell you what’s fits you best. You’ll have to decide for yourself – and even then you may need some time to break it (or them) in before you really know.

    Nevertheless, it’s a great question. Just how much allegiance do we owe the businesses—or managers—who employ us?

    Well, for starters, this sense of ‘loyalty’ you’re feeling is actually a little self-serving – although not in a bad way. It suggests you’re getting more from your job that just a paycheck, and that, in turn, undoubtedly means you’re more motivated when your there, and more committed to your work. In that, your employer benefits. You’re likely performing at an even higher level than you might otherwise, which is in part why companies go to considerable lengths to encourage feelings of loyalty in their employees.

    The mistake would be to assume that the allegiance you feel towards your employer (or manager) is somehow being reciprocated, and in equal measure.

    According to this misguided calculation, loyalty equals job security, even though there’s not an employment contract in existence that explicitly states as much. This false sense of security may be further heightened if one’s allegiance is directed towards a specific person, such as manager, as opposed to the organization as a whole. Now it’s personal. How could my boss let me go when our connection is so strong?

    But the fact of the matter is that most of businesses are not as loyal to us as we may come to be towards them. Nor should we expect them to be.

    Sure – loyal employees such as yourself are likely performing at a higher level, and a well-managed organization will take pains to prevent you from going elsewhere. But that same organization exists in a market, and is therefore subject to competitive forces, first amongst them being the need to turn a profit. As a consequence, you can expect your employer to make relatively dispassionate choices in the pursuit of that goal – including who to lay off and when. That might sound harsh, but would you really trust them if they weren’t doing everything in their power to succeed?

    So how much loyalty do you owe your employer? About as much as you owe the brand of shoes you wear, I’d argue.

    As long as you’re happy with the fit, hang in there. But if you’re not, or there’s a better (or more secure) job for you somewhere else, then make the switch.

    Why? Because in doing so you’re not only bettering your own circumstance, you’re improving the job market—and therefore the overall economy—as well.

    You see, markets are at their most efficient when individual actors pursue their own best self-interests. This principle applies to job markets too. When consumers—in this case, job seekers—leave one job for something better, their former employers are forced to either up their game to attract someone similarly qualified and hardworking, or settle for someone not so well suited for the role and/or lower performing.

    This ‘pressure’ ripples through the market. As good workers gravitate to a better jobs (or their employers go to greater lengths to keep them), vacancies are left behind them. These are filled either by other workers improving their own circumstances, or the previously unemployed who now have work. As the market realigns, the very worst jobs—those that nobody is willing to work for the wages offered—are ultimately eliminated. All of this is a net win for the economy.

    Still, I understand your hesitation to make the switch.

    Such decisions are often difficult, with a multitude of factors to consider, and may result in unintended consequences. Unfortunately, they’re also next to impossible to undue. You can’t know for sure if your new manager will be as supportive your current one, or this new job may not actually be more secure. You also mentioned this offer only came to you because of work you were doing for your current employer. This further complicates matters – both legally, as you recognize, and also from a perspective of ‘loyalty.’ You have a lot to consider.

    It is worth pointing out, however, that another sign of a truly great (and loyal) manager/organization is a willingness to re-hire former employees should they later have second thoughts.

    The footwear analogy works here as well. Customers who switch from one brand of shoe to another, only to switch back because they realize the old ones fit better usually become even more loyal to the brand.

    And that too, it turns out, is good for everybody.

  • Is greed good?

    December 4, 2020

    I’m a very successful Wall Street investor, and I’ve always told my shareholders that ‘Greed is good.’ I think it’s a pretty cool thing to say…but it’s also true, right?  Sincerely, G. Gekko


    No, Mr. Gekko. Greed is not good. 

    Or at least not in the way you seem to think.

    What I suspect you’re trying to say is something profound about the concept of self-interest.

    That idea—which you are mistaking for ‘greed’—does in fact have its place, particularly as it relates to our understanding of economics and capitalism. Indeed, many consider it to be fundamental to the efficient functioning of any so-called ‘free’ market, including the father of economic theory, Adam Smith. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he writes:

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

    In other words, it is in the interest of producers (such as butchers, brewers, and bakers) to charge as much as demand will allow for their offerings, just as it is in the interest of consumers to attempt to pay as little as possible in return. It is the interplay of these two opposing ‘self-interested’ forces that is believed responsible for any and all of the efficiencies that markets have to offer (at least under what are referred to as ‘perfectly competitive’ conditions). That much is true.

    But not all acts of self-interest are necessarily ‘good’.

    In Give and Take (2013), organizational psychologist Adam Grant distinguishes between three types of acts, or behaviors. 

    The first is the selfish act. This is behavior that is in an individual’s own best self-interest, and theirs alone. The second, the selfless act, benefits someone other than yourself, but not you personally. It may even come at your expense.

    But Grant also describes a third type of action which does not seem to be as widely recognized, or acknowledged. These are behaviors which benefit not only yourself, but others too. Kind of an ‘everybody wins’ scenario. Grant refers to them as ‘otherish’.

    For example, acquiring, and then breaking up a successful airline after deceiving its union in order to raid its pension fund is by almost any measure an act of pure selfishness. Obviously, you (and your investors) stand to profit, but the workers who lose both their jobs and retirement savings do not.

    A selfless act, by comparison, would be to re-purchase the airline from the soulless corporate raider who initiated the takeover, then re-hire those same workers and make the company whole again – especially if the effort were undertaken without any expectation of later financial reward. It would be particularly selfless if, in order to do so, you were willing to violate insider trading laws to execute your plan – and therefore risk going to jail.

    But such an act could be considered otherish too – especially if the airline were to commit to hiring you once you’re released from jail. It might also be otherish if doing so simply allowed you to sleep better at night.[1]

    Anyway, I trust you see what I’m getting at.

    Self-interest—aka, ‘greed’—is not always good. Some acts of self-interest are ‘otherish’ – that is, they benefit not just you, but those around you as well.

    Others are just plain selfish, and to no one’s advantage but your own.



    [1]  Or [SPOILER ALERT] you could hatch a scheme to buy back the company and bankrupt the Wall Street investor who executed the takeover. Then, maybe later, you could secretly wear a wire so that when he berates you in Central Park for screwing up his illegal scheme, the feds could use this as evidence to put him in prison too, and offer you a lighter sentence in return. Or something like that.

  • I have a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and I’m having trouble finding a job. Part of my problem is pandemic-related for sure; it’s tough for anyone looking for work right now [November 2020]. In my case, I also took a couple years off after graduating to ‘find myself,’ which probably doesn’t help. Basically, I spent the time traveling and working jobs unrelated to my major (like bartending). I guess I needed a break, and wanted to do some things I might not be able to once I settle into my career. Now I’m ready though, and motivated to work.

    My more immediate problem, however, appears to be my lack of on-the-job experience. I find this sooo frustrating! I’m applying for ENTRY-LEVEL positions, and employers STILL want to see some prior experience – in most cases, 3+ years. How does this even make sense?? I’ve already done an internship (my program required it) and I’d really prefer not to do another. But it’s been about 9 months since I started looking, and I’m getting desperate. I have a degree in a high demand field, and I feel marketable. I even hired a headhunter. What more can I do?? – Name withheld


    You’ve hit upon what is, in my opinion, one of the more confounding realities of the modern job market.

    Increasingly, employers seem unwilling to train their new hires for the work they’ll be tasked to do. Better to recruit someone with experience, and be done with it.

    It wasn’t always this way.

    Back in the day, a career began with an apprenticeship, often for a guild. In exchange for the appropriate training, workers would stay on for an agreed upon period of time once a certain level of competence had been achieved. The practice still exists, but it is by no means common. It’s estimated that only about 0.3% of U.S. labor force receive their training in this way.[1]

    More recently, a college education would have been enough to secure gainful employment in the working world. In The Organization Man (1956), William Whyte observes that the typical graduate might have 8 or 9 job offers from which to choose. The expectation was that on-the-job training would be provided by the employer:

    “What [the new graduate] wants, above all, is the guarantee of a training program.”[2]

    Needless to say, things are a bit different now.

    Consider your own experience: You’ve recently spent tens of thousands of dollars (possibly more) on the education necessary to secure a high skill, high demand, 21st Century job. And if you’re like most new graduates, you’ve gone into considerable debt to do so.[3]

    Now, however, you’re finding out this is not enough. Not only must you possess a general knowledge of the field you are about to enter, prospective employers also expect you to have somehow acquired the specific experiences unique to the position for which you’re applying. Yet, as you say, you have absolutely no way of meeting this criteria. It would appear these positions aren’t really entry-level at all. Perhaps ‘Experienced, But Willing to Start Over at the Bottom of the Ladder’-level would be more accurate.

    So what can you do?

    You mentioned you’ve hired a recruiter/headhunter, so I won’t bore you with what they’re likely to suggest (ie. tidying up your resume, polishing your interview skills, etc.). And I probably don’t need to tell you to keep applying. If you’re like most human beings, and need to work for a living, you really don’t have much choice.

    There are a couple of other things to keep in mind as you forge ahead, however:

    (1) Don’t sell yourself short on experience

    By my count, you actually do have three(ish) years of experience under your belt: One year in your field (your internship), and two or so in an unrelated, yet nevertheless professional environment (service industry). I get why you might not want to tell prospective employers about your bartending gigs, but keep in mind that experience will serve you well in the future. Undoubtedly you worked with a diverse group of people with a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds. You also probably learned a thing or two about navigating a hierarchy. Both are invaluable.

    (2) Spin your “time off” as a positive

    Most graduates go straight from college to their career, almost as if they’re on autopilot. That’s not necessarily good for them, or their employers. They may wish they’d taken a moment to explore some pent-up interests as you did, and their doubts (or regrets) at not having done so may linger for years, potentially impacting their motivation levels. You, on the other hand, have satisfied your curiosities, it could be argued. Your career choice is therefore more deliberate, thoughtful, and informed than it might otherwise have been. Prospective employers may appreciate this if you frame it appropriately. Some recruiters may even be jealous of your meanderings.

    (3) The fact that you worked in sales is to your advantage

    The capacity to deal with customers—and therefore people—will prove useful to you no matter where your career leads. Take it from someone who’s worked in the sciences for years. Many of your future, technically-minded colleagues will almost certainly lack this competency, and furthermore may never come to acquire it. That’s to your advantage. It sets you apart – so work it. And if you ever do decide to become a manager, I suspect you’ll find this experience very, very helpful. Increasingly, businesses are waking up to the fact that the best managers treat their employees as customers, not ‘subordinates’.

    (4) Hiring is a pain for employers too

    Having done some hiring myself, I can assure you that this whole interview/hiring dance is no fun for employers either. Yes – recruiters are looking for reasons not to hire you. They’re likely swamped with resumes, and anything they can do to whittle down that pile makes their job easier. Asking for previous job experience is an easy filter to apply, and not likely to be questioned. Companies still need to hire someone, however, and the sooner they do, the sooner the ordeal is over for everybody. So do your best to give employers an excuse to hire you. Maybe it’s talking up your non-work experiences?

    (5) Be creative in your job search

    My last idea is perhaps the lamest, but I’ll put it out there anyway. Please feel free to send me your name and credentials, as well as a brief description of the sort of job you’re looking for. I’d be happy to post it here.

    Maybe your future employer will find you that way?

    Best of luck, hang in there, and keep me posted.

    Update 8/9/2021: NW has since found a full-time, salaried position in his degree field of engineering. His only complaint: Taking a significant pay cut relative to his bartending days. Otherwise he reports being happily employed. Congratulations!



    [1] Krupnick, Matt. “US Works to Expand Apprenticeships to Fill White Collar Jobs.” Hechinger Report. Teacher College at Columbia University. September 27, 2016. [https://hechingerreport.org/u-s-quitely-works-to-expan-apprenticeships-to-fill-white-collar-jobs/. Retrieved February 18, 2021.]

    [2] Whyte, W. The Organization Man. 1956. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 109.

    [3] According to the Federal Reserve, in 2016 the average student loan debt in the US was $32,731. [https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2017-economic-well-being-of-us-households-in-2016-education-debt-loans.htm. Retrieved Feb 19, 2021.

  • Being a manager means being ‘in charge.’ Right?

    As a manager, you’re ‘the boss.’ You do the telling, while your employees do the listening – and then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when. That’s for you to decide (or at least approve), not anyone else.

    Now your own management style may not be nearly authoritarian as that sounds. Maybe you’re perfectly happy to ‘empower’ your employees (at least on occasion) – that is, give them some freedom to do their jobs as they best see fit. Perhaps you only weigh in when you’re asked to, or when it’s obviously needed.

    Nevertheless, should push come to shove and you and one of your employees disagree on something, you both probably accept and understand that it’s your opinion that rules the day, not theirs. You’re the top dog, after all – the big cheese, the head honcho. The ‘decider.’ And this is just how things have to to be if your organization is to have even a chance of succeeding. 

    Anything less would seem to invite organizational chaos, and risk organizational failure.

    Or so you probably think.

    Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back any of this up.

    In fact, according to the best available research just the opposite is true. Studies of effective management practices by Google, The Gallup Organization, Harvard Business School, and researchers associated with The Wharton School all indicate that managers are far more successful—and their organizations are far more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around. You’re better off, in other words, behaving as if your employees are the boss of you.

    Consider Google’s study. According to their findings the most effective managers possess most, if not all of following ten (10) traits[1]:

    • (1) Is a good coach
    • (2) Empowers the team and does not micromanage
    • (3) Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
    • (4) Is productive and results-oriented
    • (5) Is a good communicator – listens and shares information
    • (6) Supports career development and discusses performance
    • (7) Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
    • (8) Has key technical skills to help advise the team
    • (9) Collaborates across Google
    • (10) Is a strong decision maker

    Workgroups with effective managers were shown to score higher on a variety of productivity measures, including collaboration, ‘getting work done,’ and innovation. They also experienced lower turnover, and greater job satisfaction.

    A study of good management practices by The Gallup Organization resulted in very similar conclusions.

    Well-managed employees—that is, workers who are more engaged in their work—were shown to outperform their industry peers in a variety of measurable ways.[2] For instance:

    – Among publicly traded companies, earnings-per-share of organizations employing highly engaged workers was 18 percent higher than that of their competitors, and over time progressed at a faster rate.

    – Better managed, and therefore more engaged teams were more than twice as likely to succeed. Teams in the top quartile of engagement were three times as likely to succeed, and averaged 18 percent higher productivity and 12 percent higher profitability.

    – High team engagement correlated strongly with higher customer service scores.

    – Engaged employees averaged 27% less absenteeism than those considered actively disengaged.

    – Workgroups in the bottom quartile with respect to employee engagement averaged 62% more accidents than workgroups in the top quartile.

    – Workgroups with a high number of disengaged workers also lost 51% more of their inventory to ‘shrink’ (employee theft).

    – In high turnover industries, business units with a surplus of disengaged employees suffered 31 percent more turnover. In low turnover industries (where the cost of losing one person is often higher than in high turnover industries), business units with actively disengaged employees experienced 51 percent more turnover.

    Critical to ‘great managing’ then, is getting employees engaged in their work. That, Gallup found, is best achieved by adopting a variety of very specific workplace practices and behaviors – or what these researchers refer to as the ‘12 Elements’ of great managing.

    Their list is not so different from Google’s, however. Copyright prevents me from reprinting it in its entirety, but, for example, Gallup concludes that having a manager who provides employees with clear job expectations is critical. Encouraging career development, and taking employee opinions seriously are also seen as crucial to worker engagement.

    But far more important than any of the cosmetic differences between these two lists, is the broader, overarching theme that they both reinforce. And that is:

    Great management consists of doing things for your employees.

    That’s worth repeating.

    The best managers appear to focus on doing things for their employees, not doing things to them. Directing, controlling, evaluating, or otherwise telling employees what to do; these things have little, if anything to do with being an effective manager, according to these two studies, even though such behaviors are amongst those most closely associated with the management role.

    Research associated with The Wharton School further reinforces this conceptualization of ‘good management.’

    Their investigation focused on ‘enthusiastic’ employees (again, those highly engaged in their work), and who they claim outperform their less motivated counterparts by anywhere from 20 to 40 percent.[3] Critical to getting the hoped-for levels of enthusiasm, they furthermore determined, is satisfying three (3) basic employee ‘needs’, including:

    (1) Equity – Employees expect to be treated fairly and respectfully by their employers – particularly regarding compensation. Equitable treatment also includes a desire for a safe work environment, and humane working conditions.

    (2) Achievement – The opportunity to take pride in one’s work is also important to most workers. Human beings possess an innate desire to experience the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done, and to receive recognition for those efforts. They also want to take pride in the efforts and achievements of their organization as a whole.

    (3) Camaraderie – Workers are happier and more satisfied when warm, interesting, and cooperative relationships develop between themselves and their co-workers. This feeling is often the result of successful cooperative effort.

    Again, managers who see their function as doing things for their employeesin this case fulfilling certain basic needs—are demonstrably more effective than those who do not. ‘Great managing,’ in other words, can be summed up with a single term: SupportThis is the critical insight.

    A study by Harvard only further reinforces this conclusion.

    For their investigation, freshman managers were interviewed as they transitioned into their new role – and it was the word ‘support’ specifically that many relied on time and time again in their survey responses (my emphasis in each case):

    You have to…listen to and support your people.

    What does he [the employee] need from the manager? Support, guidance, training…

    I’m paid for making my quota, but my job is to support and develop my people…

    It is best to lead by example and with support.

    You have to let them go out and do their job and not get in the way. Be helpful and supportive…

    These new managers also realized that support was what their employees expected of them:

    I think the first thing they [subordinates] expect is support. They expect that if they’re out doing their job as they think it should be done and as it has been outlined for them, that they’re going to get my support.

    I guess the key underlying thing is: Is [a manager] a caring person and supportive?

    I didn’t get religion right afterward [promotion]. But there was a greater awareness that they [subordinates] thought that I should work for them.[4]

    According to some of the best available research into good management practices, acting like you’re ‘in charge’ is simply not going to make you an effective manager. It may actually do more harm than good. 

    Better for you to be understanding, listen, and offer your support. When you do this, you will be at your most effective, as a manager, and your organizations will be most likely to succeed. Or as the Wharton study bluntly sums things up:

    Companies profit when managers give employees what they want.[5]


    So what does this means for you?

    Well – maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how you think about the management role.

    Unless you already recognize that your job is to support your employees—not expect their obedience—the one thing you think you know about managing is wrong.


    [1] Google’s ‘Project Oxygen’ Report was first made public in 2008, and later updated in 2018. It is available as a free download at https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/the-evolution-of-project-oxygen/

    [2] Wagner, Rodd and James K. Harter. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press.

    [3] Sirota, David, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [4] Hill, Linda. 2003. Becoming a Manager. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

    [5] Sirota, et. al.

  • My manager drives me nuts

    October 9, 2020

    I work for a small biotech company. For the most part, my manager is fine. He pretty much leaves me alone to do my work, and is generally supportive. But some days he drives me nuts! Thoughts?  – Name withheld

    According to The Gallup Organization, only one out of every 10 humans has the ‘God-given’ talent to manage a team of people. They also estimate an alarming 82% of all supervisors have been ‘miscast’ in the role.[1]

    So consider yourself lucky. That you like your manager at all suggests you’re among the fortunate few.

    Still, I get your frustration. Most ‘bosses’ can be tough to work for, even the very best. That’s not to excuse their (mis)behavior, though. Nor is it meant to suggest they can’t improve – perhaps even dramatically. In other words, Gallup might claim that the capacity to manage, and manage well, is something you’re either born with or not, but I would argue otherwise. Inept or bad managers are not beyond salvation, in my opinion. Their real problem is even more fundamental than that:

    Most managers struggle because the one thing they think they know about managing is wrong.

    Here’s how your manager probably views his role: As manager, he’s ‘in charge.’ That means he does the telling, and you and everyone else who reports to him do the listening, then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when – that’s for him to decide, not you. And while he may be willing to leave you well enough alone for the most part, as you say, undoubtedly you both understand that should push come to shove and the two of you disagree on something, it’s his opinion that rules the day, not yours. That’s what being ‘the boss’ means, to him— and probably to you, too—and seemingly for good reason. This sort of bargain would seem absolutely necessary if the business you work for is to have even a chance of succeeding.

    Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back any of this up.

    In fact, according to the best available evidence managers are more effective—and their organizations are more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around.

    I’ll say that again: Managers are more effective when they see their function as one of support, not power, control, or authority.

    Research by Google, Gallup, Harvard, and a study associated with the Wharton school all demonstrate as much.[2] But the underlying logic isn’t hard to follow. Engaged or ‘enthusiastic’ employees are more productive than their less motivated counterparts (by some measures, as much as 40 percent more[3]). This gives the businesses they work for a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The key then is getting the hoped for levels of enthusiasm from your employees – and that’s best achieved by listening to, supporting, and giving them the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    Or, as one study bluntly puts it, managers are more effective when they ‘give employees what they want.’[4]

    Needless to say, most managers don’t see things this way. 

    Again, your manager considers himself to be in charge, and probably behaves accordingly whenever he can. He inclination is to tell you what to do, because to him that’s ‘managing.’ He may of course also do what you ask him to do on occasion – or even most of the time. But he’s likely to bristle at the suggestion that that’s the sum total of his job.

    So don’t be too hard on your manager. It’s not really his fault.

    I’m guessing nobody’s ever told him that the one thing he thinks he knows about managing is wrong.



    [1] The Gallup Organization. 2015. The State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders.

    [2] The Google study, termed ‘Project Oxygen,’ is available as a free download at the company’s website. See also: Wagner, R. & Harter, J. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press; Hill, L. 2003. Becoming a Manager, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [3] Pfeffer, J. 1998. The Human Equation, Boston: Harvard Business School.

    [4] Sirota, et. al.