January 27, 2017
2 minute read
This week, another installment in a series of posts I call the “Paradox of the week.”*
These are posts in which I point out the contradictory statements and/or paradoxical assertions made by the authors of management advice books.
The focus of today’s edition is the bestseller Good Boss, Bad Boss (2010) by Robert Sutton – a book that was written—according to its opening page—to address questions inspired by the “thousands of emails, articles, blog posts, and conversations” that his previous bestseller, The No Asshole Rule (2007), provoked.
But let’s see what his text has to say.
- On page 4 of Good Boss, Bad Boss, Sutton perhaps states the obvious in pointing out that what most people are looking for is, in part, a boss who isn’t “a certified asshole.” Furthermore:
“…treating people with dignity is something that skilled bosses do…” (p. 5)
Great – except that Sutton can also be found offering the following advice to managers at various points in his text:
“Talk more than others…” (p. 68)
“Interrupt people occasionally…” (p. 68)
“Try a little flash of anger every now and then.” (p. 69)
Now I don’t know about you, but that’s not what necessarily comes to mind when I think of treating people with dignity. (It also sounds a little like what a certified asshole would do.)
- On page 102 of his text, Sutton also cautions:
“…employees who put their needs ahead of their colleagues and the company are dangerous.”
Hard to argue with that, except that on page 245 he insists:
“…to be a great boss you’ve got to think and act as if it is all about you. Your success depends on being fixated on yourself.”
(And again, this sounds like a bad/asshole boss to me.)
But maybe bosses—good, bad, asshole or otherwise—just don’t matter as much as everyone thinks they do? Maybe there are other, more important factors for businesses to consider if they hope to succeed in a competitive marketplace? As Sutton explains on page 49:
“The truth is that bosses of everything from small groups to Fortune 500 firms don’t matter as much as most of us believe.”
And yet on page 17, he points out that “managers trump companies,” and furthermore quotes a “leadership researcher” who expresses this widely-held opinion:
“People do not quit organizations, they quit bad bosses.”
Oh yeah – and then there’s the very first sentence of Chapter 1 of his text. It reads:
See you next week.
*An instance in which a management advice-giver/author/“expert”/guru offers contradictory of otherwise paradoxical advice, typically without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more examples of this phenomena, click here. For an explanation as to why this happens—and why it happens ALL the time—please see: “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1,2&3).”
 Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert I. Sutton. 2010. (New York: Grand Central Publishing), p. 1.
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January 20, 2017
8 minute read
What makes someone a good manager?
This is, of course, a difficult question to answer.
Certainly those “popular” management advice books aren’t much help, as I was able to show in previous posts. Every text I’ve ever read offers nothing but contradictory advice and paradoxical assertions.
But business schools aren’t much better, as I also argued in some prior posts. Many within the management academia claim that managing well is akin to an “art” (as opposed to a science) requiring some sort of innate talent, while others insist there really is no “one best way” to manage, each situation being unique in and of itself.
Unfortunately though, neither perspective is much help if you’re just a manager trying to figure out how to do your job better.
Part of the challenge is that this question is really two questions – one folded into the other. The first is perhaps better phrased what is a manager? and is a bit easier to answer. A manager is someone who coordinates the efforts others; that person deemed responsible for organizing the work of one or more individuals, and ensuring their efforts are directed towards some common, agreed-upon organizational goal.
This does not go very far, however, in answering the broader, and more difficult second question what makes a particular manager good? (Or, for that matter, not good?) Certainly any manager who neglects to coordinate the work of his or her subordinates is likely to suffer by reputation. Dereliction of duty is rarely the path to excellence. But managers whose supervision is excessive—“micromanagers” as they are referred to today—are perhaps criticized just as frequently.
Well, for this week’s post, a slightly different approach.
Instead of attempting to figure out what managers need to do to be considered “good,” let’s start with what organizations want or expect from their managers, and work backwards from there. In other words, what is it exactly that businesses, companies, and corporations are looking for from their managers?
And what, in turn, can a manager do to deliver it?
The right stuff
Without a doubt, what any for-profit organization wants first and foremost from management is simple:
Typically this means some measure of financial success, upon which, obviously, the very survival of any business depends.
How that success might be achieved, however, is perhaps open to debate.
Some would argue that producing a superior product is the best strategy, while others might contend that providing the best possible customer service is the key. And then there are those who believe that offering a better value than one’s competitors is sufficient.
Ask any successful businessperson, entrepreneur, or CEO what it takes, however, and you’ll likely get a very different response. The crucial factor, you are likely to be assured, boils down to one thing: People. That familiar refrain “people are our most important asset” is perhaps just the most obvious expression of this widely-held sentiment.
But just any workers won’t do, of course.
Indeed, it takes more than just a bunch of warm bodies for a company to be successful. The right workers are necessary. And while this might seem to imply that those workers need to be well-educated, highly-skilled, or otherwise suitably experienced, none of these qualities are terribly critical, as it turns out. Instead, it is enthusiasm for the job that consistently proves to be most valuable to employers.
And there is considerable evidence to back this assertion up.
According to the Gallup Organization, companies who employ workers who are highly “engaged” are far better off than their rivals – an advantage that manifests itself in a variety of concrete and measurable ways. For instance:
- Amongst publicly traded companies, organizations with an engaged workforce outperformed their competitors by 18%, based on the earnings-per-share. And over time, these companies progressed at a faster rate than their industry peers.
- Being in the higher reaches of team engagement equated to 12 percent higher customer service scores, compared to those teams in the bottom tier.
- When Gallup’s database of business units was sorted from most- to least-engaged and then split down the middle, teams in the more engaged half were more than twice (2x) as likely to succeed as their counterparts on the other side of the divide. When the teams were split into four equally sized groups, teams in the top quartile were three times (3x) as likely to succeed as those in the bottom quartile, averaging 18 percent higher productivity and 12 percent higher profitability.
- Engaged employees averaged 27% less absenteeism than those who were considered actively disengaged.
- Workgroups whose engagement put them in the bottom quartile of Gallup’s database averaged 62% more accidents than workgroups in the top quartile.
- Workgroups with an inordinately high number of disengaged workers lost 51% more of their inventory to “shrink” (employee theft) than those on the other end of the spectrum.
- Business units with a surplus of disengaged workers suffer 31 percent more turnover than those a critical mass of engaged associates.
- In low turnover industries, business units with actively disengaged employees experienced 51% more turnover than those with engaged employees – a disadvantage compounded by the fact that the cost in dollars of losing one person is often greater in low turnover businesses.
Give me what I want
If engaged and enthusiastic employees are what it takes to succeed, the obvious next question is:
What can I do, as a manager, to ensure my employees are in fact engaged?
Well, according to the behavioral scientist and management consultant David Sirota and his colleagues Louis Mischkind and Michael Meltzer, the short answer is:
Give your employees what they want.
In The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Their Employees What They Want (2005), Sirota and his fellow researchers identified what they considered to be the ideal employee: An individual who is “enthusiastic,” and possesses a genuine desire and willingness to go above and beyond what is expected of him/her. In their words:
“Enthusiastic employees…search for ways to improve things rather than just react to management’s requests; encourage co-workers to high levels of performance and find ways to help them; welcome, rather than resist, needed change; and conduct transactions with…customers in ways that bring credit (and business) to the company.”
“…enthusiasm is not just about being happier or more content—it is employees feeling that they work for a great company, one to which they are willing to devote time and energy beyond what they are being paid for or what is expected and monitored.”
Understandably, Sirota and his colleagues then set out to figure out what it might take to achieve such levels of worker engagement.
What they found, however, probably isn’t what you’d expect. Superior recruiting efforts, for instance—that is, identifying and hiring employees who already have “the right stuff,” so to speak—was not considered to be terribly critical. Most workers, they discovered, start a new job with high levels of enthusiasm to begin with. And while pay was certainly a factor, not in the way—nor to the extent—that you might imagine.
Instead, Sirota and his colleagues found that high levels of enthusiasm and engagement can be elicited from employees by making a sincere effort to satisfy three (3) basic needs.
These are the need for equity, achievement, and camaraderie.
These are my needs
Equity is the term Sirota and his colleagues chose to describe an employee’s desire “to be treated fairly in relation to the basic condition of the workplace.”
Most people, these researchers found, harbor a desire to feel that they are being treated equitably relative to their colleagues, and that there is little (if any) preferential treatment. As for the “basic conditions” of the workplace, this was thought to include:
- Physiological conditions – such as having a safe working environment, a workload that does not damage physical or emotional health, and reasonably comfortable working conditions
- Economic conditions – such as having a reasonable degree of job security, satisfactory compensation, and satisfactory fringe benefits
- Psychological conditions – respectful treatment (with reasonable accommodation being made for personal and family needs), credible and consistent management, and being given a fair hearing for complaints
Achievement is the sense of accomplishment workers hope to experience through the work they do, according to Sirota. This would include a desire to receive recognition for one’s own accomplishments, as well as the accomplishments of the organization.
Most people actually want to work, Sirota and his colleagues observed – and being able to produce work that could be considered of “high quality” was also seen as important to most workers. “Few people volunteer to fail,” they also noted, so a desire not only for a challenging job, but one that they could do well was considered critical. And since people tend to gravitate not only to work they enjoy, but what they’re good at, some degree of job autonomy was seen as helpful in satisfying this particular need as well.
Finally, camaraderie is the term Sirota used to describe the sense of community most people hope to experience at their places of work. The desire “to have warm, interesting, and cooperative relations with others in the workplace” is shared by most workers, these researchers found.
It should be noted these findings are not unusual. That previously cited study conducted by the Gallup Organization, for instance, resulted in similar recommendations.
Nor are Sirota’s findings apt to surprise to you, I’d wager. Given the opportunity, who amongst us wouldn’t jump at the chance to be part of a company committed to providing for, or creating a workplace which satisfied these three “needs”?
(Personally, I’d settle for an employer who even made a half-reasonable attempt to do so.)
But let’s be honest – this is all starting to sound a bit unrealistic, isn’t it?
For instance, it doesn’t take an accountant or CFO to recognize that even the “basic conditions” of the workplace, as Sirota describes them, might be costly. State-of-art equipment and facilities requires capital expenditure that a business may just not have. Likewise, insuring that each and every employee is completely satisfied with his or her organizational role, or experiencing a sense of achievement is no mean feat either. After all, somebody has to empty the wastebaskets, right? As for fostering a sense of camaraderie amongst employees – well, that smacks of too much time being spent around the water-cooler, if you know what I mean. Employees are paid to work, after all, not “connect” with each other.
So for the next post in this series, I’ll take a closer look at how realistic all of this may or may not be. Is it possible to meet these three needs—and thus engage your workers in the way that Sirota and his colleagues described—without breaking the bank?
Or is this just too much to expect, given the perhaps inherent selfishness of the human animal..?
Next in the series: Give them an inch
 Please see my posts: “Why that MBA might not be worth as much as you think,” and “The one best way (to manage)”
 Please see my post “Why that MBA might not be worth as much as you think.”
 Managing by Henry Mintzberg, 2009, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), p. 12.
 “The Manager Paradox” by Thomas O. Davenport, Workforce Solutions Review, October/November, 2013, p. 8.
 I have so far been unable to determine precisely who, or precisely when this particular management cliché was first uttered. (If you happen to know, please post this info in the comments section below.) I would simply refer you to this instance in 1993, when it appeared in a Dilbert comic strip by Scott Adams. http://dilbert.com/strip/1993-03-03. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2017.
 All statistics from 12, The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter. 2006. (New York: Gallup Press), and references therein.
 The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want by David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Micheal Irwin Metzer, 2005 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing), p. 41.
 Ibid., p. 26.
 Ibid., p. xxix.
 In his text, Sirota observes “Contrary to popular belief, employees don’t expect wildly generous pay for their labors. In fact, they would likely question the motives or competence of management if pay were astonishingly high” (p. 81).
 Ibid., p. 9.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Ibid., p. 14.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Ibid., p. 204.
 Ibid., p. 195.
 Ibid., p. 127.
 Ibid., p. 17.
12, The Elements of Great Managing, op. cit.
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January 13, 2017
3 minute read
Set an agenda, and stick to it.
If you’ve ever had to run a meeting, you’ve probably gotten this advice. Doing so, you’re likely to have been assured, is absolutely critical to conducting an effective and efficient meeting.
Forbes Magazine certainly seems to think so. If you want to run the most effective meeting possible, “create an agenda” they argue, and “stick to your schedule.”
The Harvard Business Review appears to agree. Circulating an agenda prior to a meeting is “by far the most important” thing you can do to prepare according to an article published in that journal by Anthony Jay. Meeting leaders “should not be afraid of a long agenda,” Jay adds, because it will help to “clarify” what the meeting is about, and speed it up.
Even Dummies.com—the website associated with the popular “How To”-series of books—is in agreement. One of their “ten tips” for running an effective meeting is to “stick to an agenda with a timeline.”
Wait for it…
And so in light of all this, it is interesting to hear what Brian J. Robertson has to say on the subject of meetings, and meeting agendas.
Robertson is the author of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World published in 2015 (Henry Holt). Holacracy, according to the book’s jacket, is a “revolutionary new system for running companies” that allows for “maximum agility and flexibility.” According to the website Holacracy.org, over 300 companies currently manage themselves this way, including Zappos and PrecisionNutrition.
Holding effective meetings are of particular concern for Mr. Robertson, and for good reason. As he explains in his text:
“With Holacracy…the seat of power shifts from the person at the top to a process…” (p. 21)
That process is defined in detail in a written constitution – a document which mandates that several different types of meetings occur on a regular basis. These include “governance” meetings and “tactical” meetings, as well as “strategy” meetings.
Importantly, the Holacracy “process” that these meetings are intend to serve reigns supreme, and “trump even the person who adopted it,” as Robertson explains. Meetings might therefore be considered especially critical to the effective practice of this particular management system.
And so with all of this in mind, it is then interesting to hear what Robertson has to say about meeting agendas, and how to set them:
“Rather than going through a preset list of items that you think you should talk about, try to drive your meetings with agendas built on the fly, in the meeting” (p. 182).
See you next Friday.
Blogger’s Note: The point of this post is not to try to convince you that setting, and sticking to a meeting agenda is a bad idea. In some instances you should definitely come up with an agenda beforehand, while in others it may make sense to be more spontaneous. Instead, the larger point I’m trying to make with this, and all of the posts in my “Unconventional (mis)management non-wisdom” series, is simply this: For each and every pearl of management “wisdom” that you might come across, or have otherwise come to believe, there exists an equally convincing argument, or equally sincere observation that advocates for behaving in precisely the opposite way.
 “Seven Steps to Running the Most Effective Meeting Possible” by Neal Hartman. Forbes.com, Feb. 5, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2014/02/05/seven-steps-to-running-the-most-effective-meeting-possible/#2d53deac1054. Retrieved Jan. 12, 2017.
 “Ten Tips For Running an Effective Meeting” by Laura Larimer and Abshier House. http://www.dummies.com/careers/project-management/ten-tips-for-running-an-effective-meeting/. Retrieved Jan. 12, 2017.
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January 6, 2017
4 minute read
Yes – the holidays are officially over, so this week it’s back to work.
Well…for most of us, at least.
According to the National Retail Federation somewhere between 640,000 and 690,000 “seasonal workers” were hired for the 2016 holiday shopping season. This includes the approximately 70,000 holiday workers hired by Target, and 95,000 hired by UPS. Amazon reportedly brought in 120,000 additional employees to handle its holiday rush.
But now that the holiday season is over, presumably so are those jobs…so it’s not back to work for everyone, it seems.
Of course, many of these seasonal workers will in fact be offered permanent positions, or otherwise asked to stay on – so it isn’t quite as dire as all that. Target, for instance, intends to keep about a third of their seasonal workers, while UPS plans on keeping about 37% of its holiday hires.
It should be acknowledged too, that many seasonal workers were never interested in full-time or permanent employment to begin with. For them, the holidays are simply a chance to make some extra cash to perhaps pay off a credit card, or take advantage of the employee discount at their favorite store.
For many others, however, the “extra” income is not so much a nice-to-have as it is a necessity.
If you are low-wage worker, for instance, the holidays offer a welcome opportunity—at least temporarily—to boost an income that may or may not be able to provide for your basic needs. As evidence, consider that the number of people holding down two or even three regular jobs is at an 8-year high, and on the rise. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many, full-time, low-wage workers living paycheck-to-paycheck are eager to pick up any income they can, even if it means time spent away from family and friends during the holidays.
(It’s perhaps worth noting as well that one of the “unintended” consequences of a low and stagnant minimum wage in the US is that retailers will have little trouble filling these seasonal positions for the foreseeable future, such are economic circumstances of many American workers.)
But what does any of this have to do with (mis)management, you might ask? That is, after all, the subject of my blog.
Well, consider the findings of behavioral scientist and management consultant David Sirota, and his colleagues Louis Mischkind and Michael Meltzer. In their studies of “enthusiastic” workers, these researchers found that in order to get employees engaged in their work, and performing at their full potential, employers must offer a few things in return. These would include “a reasonable degree of job security, satisfactory compensation, and satisfactory fringe benefits,” according to their surveys. That is to say, employees who can’t be assured of permanent, fair-paying employment—or know up front that their job is only temporarily, and devoid of benefits such as healthcare—may perform poorly no matter how well they’re being managed.
So managers, be forewarned. You may not have a Christmas or Hanukkah prayer of getting your seasonal employees to perform at, or even near a level you’d like to see, no matter how hard you try.
(And shoppers, you might also want to keep this in mind the next time you’re subjected to lousy customer service during the holidays. How excited would you be working a terminal job with no benefits, for a wage you can’t afford to live on, at time when most people are thinking of family and friends?)
Still, I don’t mean to start 2017 off on a down note.
Even if as many as half of 2016’s seasonal workers are again looking for employment, that’s only about 0.2 percent of the US labor force. And at it’s current growth rate (approximately 160,000 jobs added per month) that means that, theoretically at least, it should only be a couple of months before most of those workers find permanent positions. (So here’s to St. Patrick’s Day, I suppose.)
And even if they haven’t all found jobs by then…well, you know what they say:
Only 320 days to go ‘til another holiday shopping season—and those same seasonal job opportunities—are upon us.
See you next week.
All retrieved January 5, 2017
 From Target’s corporate website: https://corporate.target.com/article/2016/09/seasonal-hiring-2016.
 “UPS Will Hire About 95,000 Seasonal Employees This Holiday Season,” Fortune Magazine (online), Sept. 24, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/09/14/ups-hiring-seasonal-employees/.
 “Amazon is adding 120,000 holiday jobs. Here’s where,” by Krystina Gustafson. CNBC.com, Oct 16, 2016. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/13/amazon-is-adding-120000-holiday-jobs-heres-where.html.
 From NPR’s “Marketplace,” aired Dec. 29, 2016. http://ualrpublicradio.org/post/end-seasonal-job-tight-hiring-market-you-might-get-full-time-gig#stream/0.
 “The ranks of multiple job holders jumped by 300,000 last month [September] to 7.8 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The moonlighters represent 5.2% of all those employed, up from 4.9% in September 2015.” From: “The job juggle is real. Many Americans are balancing two, even three gigs,” by Paul Davidson. USAToday (online), Oct. 17, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/10/17/job-juggle-real-many-americans-balancing-two-even-three-gigs/92072068/.
 The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want by David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Micheal Irwin Metzer. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing, 2005.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Current estimate of the US labor force is 159,000,000 according to the Department of Labor. https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet?request_action=wh&graph_name=LN_cpsbref1.
 “Jobs Report: Monthly Employment Growth Statistics” by Kimberly Ameado. TheBalance.com, Dec. 2, 2016. https://www.thebalance.com/jobs-report-monthly-employment-growth-statistics-3305732.
 That is, 320 days until so-called “Black Friday” of 2017, which is often considered the official start of the holiday shopping season. However, in recent years many retailers have initiated their holiday sales efforts prior to this day – a phenomena that some have termed “Christmas Creep.” (“The truth about “Christmas creep:” We complain about holiday shopping season starting in October — but we keep buying earlier and earlier,” by Angelo Young. Salon.com, Oct. 29, 2016. http://www.salon.com/2016/10/29/the-truth-about-christmas-creep-we-complain-about-holiday-shopping-season-starting-in-october-but-we-keep-buying-earlier-and-earlier/.)
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December 30, 2016
< 1 minute read
Out of the office (and unplugged) this week – but I’ll be back with my usual posts next Friday.
In the meantime, I wish you and your families health, happiness, and good fortune in 2017.
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December 23, 2016
< 1 minute read
Wishing you and your families all the best during this holiday season.
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