I enjoyed reading your letter to the person on the job 20 months and unhappy because their manager supervised them closely and they were not being advanced more quickly. It made me wonder about a problem I’m having with one of my workers.
When I hired him, he confided that he had applied at 40 other companies and was grateful to get a job. I wondered why others had not hired him but he seemed bright and energetic as well as physically strong – a combination I need for my shop.
Originally I thought he was a great “hire”. He showed up early, learned the work and got along with his co—workers. His suggestions worked and he often did special projects to benefit the whole shop. He got his small hourly raise for learning the basics and when he stayed late after clocking out, I’d slip him a ten.
About month four I noticed problems with some of the routine jobs where he did the work alone. A customer complained, and I started checking his work before telling customers it was done.
Finally, I realized that he rushed routine things so he could do those that made him “special”. When I’m more in the office than the shop, his work is especially sloppy.
I stopped letting him do the extra things he proposed and started making him fix his errors and sure enough – the shine on his star began to fade. December is his sixth month and his original enthusiasm is history. Also – I have caught the other guys laughing at him and notice he smokes by himself at break.
The economy has not affected us, the shop is busier than ever and I need him to do his job. I miss the extra things he did and I’m dreading what to do with him at bonus time. While the rest of the crew has certainly earned theirs, I will begrudge him his.
Also he’s been asking when his next raise is due and laying on the pressure because his girlfriend is about to drop Baby No. 2.
Ideas? Sign me –
- Fresh out
Sounds to me like you are not the only person in this scenario feeling stuck. It strikes me that your former shining star is most motivated by variety and when he can gain recognition for being creative. Instead your shop handles a lot of similar jobs and has built its reputation on doing each one right the first time.
I do not see a good match.
And – you are not doing him any favors (new baby or not) by keeping him in his current job. However, I suspect that you like this young man and hoped to foster his potential. I applaud your inclination to mentor but such support can be hands on or catalytic.
Both your firm and your employee will be best served by dealing with the mismatch straight forwardly and talking positively but plainly to him about his future.
I’d open the discussion with a short and specific description of the difference between what the shop needs and his performance. While the upshot here is that your job is not right for him, you’ll stay more productive by taking the approach that his talents are not being utilized.
You don’t say what kind of jobs he held previously but the fact that he applied at so many companies indicates that he has not found a line of work that he enjoys for its own sake. You might continue by asking what he always wanted to do and exploring what stopped him.
At this point, your options open.
Depending on your assessment of his capacity to commit and the extent to which analysis indicates your company might profit, either (catalytically) liberate him to find his true career elsewhere or offer him a bridge into that career (fulfill your inclination to mentor).
While you recruit his replacement, could you offer him fewer hours in the shop in exchange for work done to standard and proof that he is researching a trade school or apprenticeship program? (Point him at your local One Stop for starters.)
Once the shop is fully staffed, would your company’s earning capacity or profitability be enhanced by a few months of part-time help with “special Projects”? Etcetera – just be careful your heart does not overshadow your judgement – is this young man mature enough to appreciate such an opportunity and do a good job for you?
Finally – bonuses. I’m unclear whether you split a bonus “pie” evenly among staff or give bonuses based on contribution. Hopefully it’s the latter but if not and he is still there at bonus time, give him his share and consider it your catalyst to revise your bonus program.
Next to my family, my business has been my passion for 40 years. In return, it feathered the nest and put two kids through college. I retire in one year and will be comfortable, but if the company is run right, it could give my wife and me the money to do whatever we want.
I always thought my kids would take it over but am just now realizing that that may have been an empty dream.
My daughter is at least blatant about her lack of interest. She does work in the company but is only working for me to produce an income for her family and pay her tuition in graduate school. She will soon be credentialed to do something completely different and plans to leave as quickly as she finds a job in her new field.
This infuriates me because she is a cracker jack manager and knows our business inside-out. I always hoped she’d catch my passion and so have put a lot into making her tow the line and really learn how to succeed in our industry. As graduation day nears, I find I can barely look her in the eye.
My son says he wants to take over the business but when he says it, I can see the dollar signs pop up in his eyeballs. He’s told everyone that when I’m gone, he’ll be the boss and a recent golf game with a retiree tipped me off to the fact that most of the company either resents him or are afraid of him.
He uses his blood tie with me to make them do things and has a reputation for being lazy and taking credit for others’ work. He was like that in college too – he barely passed most of his courses but he had a great time and has lots of friends to show for my money. He uses his contacts to sell for us but I always thought he’d grow up and then I could teach him the rest of the business.
I figure I have twelve months to figure out how to replace myself but every time I realize neither kid is a good choice, I get too mad to do anything productive.
Suggestions? I’ll be retiring –
- Ready or Not
When I first read your story, I sighed mightily and promised myself to a do a column on succession planning. Then I read your letter again.
You have done your succession planning.
You are very clear that your daughter is executive material and your son, while good at sales, is not. And – you’ve invested your energy accordingly. So now the real puzzle – why is she leaving and why is your son announcing his imminent promotion when that was never your intent?
I wonder about the extent to which you have sat them both down and discussed the firm’s leadership needs over the long run and how you see their competencies within that context. If you haven’t, it is not too late.
I’d also recommend privately asking Daughter to enumerate her reasons for leaving. Be ready to hear some difficult things. To prevent getting defensive, acknowledge where you might have done things differently and do not argue about what she has experienced.
Does she have the impression that despite her steadfastness and hard work, you’ll be turning over the reins to Son? If indeed she believes staying would mean she’d do the work and he’d get the credit, it’s up to you to straighten it out.
Is she willing to work with Son and, bluntly, do you both think it feasible? If yes, options include naming him as VP of Marketing and her - President and General Manager. Fashion a transition plan that will lever you out of the top leadership seat and her into it and create some fail safes to protect her authority.
If she refuses to work with him, then you need to consider letting him go (you certainly have grounds if your retiree’s tip is accurate) and keeping her on.
Many parents worry about equity with two offspring so you may wish to consider a “share” of the company profit as recognition for his bringing in clients over the years but if he can sell, he can sell anywhere. Your goal is to leave the company in competent hands – for everyone’s sake – and it would be terrific if your work to prepare your daughter to take over was not in vain.
If I’m wrong – and Daughter is leaving because her heart belongs to her new field – you still have time to find a buyer for your firm or to hire a General Manager and prepare him or her to assume leadership (or both) on that magic day when you become the “former, now retired President” of the company.
Good Luck and Happy Retirement!
Someone brought in your column about the business models and by the end of the day we were greeting each other with fake Mexican accents. We laughed but today a bunch of us agreed it’s no laughing matter and so I am writing.
Our boss definitely follows the No Stinking Badges model and we pay the price. You wrote about how some business owners develop a vision, mission and goals for the company and then share those with staff, along with discussing how the company and each person is doing?
Ha. We WISH our boss would tell us where the company is going and where we fit in. In fact, we wish we just had jobs that didn’t change from week to week.
Basically we are expected to do whatever she (I’ll call her Sue) thinks needs doing and everything is an emergency. It is so hard to meet deadlines and turn in work that doesn’t draw an icy stare when every day you are interrupted a dozen times.
Sue bought the company three years ago and works really hard. She brings in most of the sales and seems to work seven days a week, often still at her desk when the last person leaves at 8:30 p.m. Sometimes she looks so tired we feel guilty asking questions but if we don’t, we are afraid we might do something wrong. (When we do goof up, Sue generally “fixes” it herself and then we get to feel even guiltier.)
We like what the company does and except for what I’ve said, we like Sue. She pays us well for this area but how do we tell her that we need to be better organized and that maybe she needs to hire more people
P.S.: By the end of the first year after Sue bought the company, everyone who was here before she took over had left.
Thanks for whatever tips you can offer us –
- The Badges Gang
Thank you for writing – I especially appreciate your hopeful, helpful tone.
Sue reminds me of a recent client who, after buying out the founder, changed company direction and began demanding more from staff. People left who did not have the skills and sophistication to follow her lead but in the meantime, her marketing attracted new work for the firm.
To service customers, my client hired new people and quickly trained them to support her expert work which allowed the company to fulfill commitments. Inevitably, however, demand surpassed staff’s capacity because she was so rarely available to mentor professional development and the same symptoms you describe set in.
This is a classic Catch 22 – for everyone concerned. Customers and staff suffer and the owner, trapped and exhausted, risks everything – money; health; personal life and – if she snaps in public – her very credibility.
With time travel, Sue might opt to go back and slow sales growth and the rate at which she hired, allowing herself the hours and energy to groom her people to handle more complex tasks.
Lucky for her, she has the next best thing – loyal employees who, rather than blame her, are willing to take the initiative to help her, the company and themselves focus and succeed. Here’s one way (using three 15-minute appointments) I’ve seen individuals tackle the No Badges conundrum.
Find some old company literature and contrast its mission statement and tone to material Sue has developed. During Appointment No. 1, tell Sue what you notice and ask her what pleases her most about the firm’s progress. Ask her what two things she’d like to see accomplished this year and why. Listen carefully for tangible measures and how your job supports the firm making these targets. Express your enthusiasm.
Next, look at how your work could improve. Analyze where you feel less certain, the mistakes you’ve made and when Sue has taken over a project or account. Share the patterns you find with her in Appointment No. 2. Ask her perspective and how you might go about learning what you seem to be missing.
If you need training from Sue herself, develop a list of tasks that take Sue an hour or two every week that you could do instead and offer to trade. If an outside class has what you need, show you’re serious by taking it. If she suggests reading certain publications, commit two or three lunch hours a week and do it.
For Appointment No. 3, concentrate what you learned in Appointment No. 1 onto your role. Develop one or two verifiable outcomes you could contribute to company goals. Get Sue’s perspective on whether producing these results constitute your priorities and/or what your top five priorities are.
To amplify the value of these discussions, capture goals, development plan, objectives and priorities on one page, cc Sue; and call it a draft template that others in the office can follow.
Much Success and I’ll bet you won’t be missing your “Badge” much longer…
Our company’s growth made the owner too busy to supervise our department so we were happy when we got a new boss. She listens and learned about us before she started changing things. Then she brought in someone she’d worked with before.
Our owner trusts her, so when she presented this new worker, Lulu, as an experienced professional worth 25% more than the highest paid among us, he bought it. Lulu, it turns out, has either fooled our new boss, has lost whatever brilliance our new boss thought she had , or is fooling herself about what she knows and how well she can do her job here.
She’s not fooling us.
Our group is responsible for accounts receivable and accounts payable. But we don’t just crunch numbers, send bills and process payments – we negotiate with our vendors to keep costs down and we work directly with customers who need payment plans or qualify for discounts. Whether the company maintains good relationships with our customers and vendors - and gets the money owed it – depends directly on how well we do our job.
Lulu fails. She is cold, rigid and abrupt with callers and either answers questions incorrectly or refers people to us once she’s offended them. After nearly three months, she still cannot correctly quote discounts or design payment plans. None of our vendors will speak with her. If she answers the phone, they ask for one of us.
Recently this came to the attention of our new boss and she called several vendors and asked why. They told her that Lulu was unpleasant and did not know her job. (I know this because most of them called me to confide the gist of the conversation, I guess in an effort to let me know whose “corner” they were in…)
After conducting her little vendor survey, our boss called a meeting and announced that she suspects Lulu is too hard a name to remember and that we need to ensure that our vendors get to know Lulu better. She asked that we remind vendors who call that Lulu might have also answered their question and hand calls off to Lulu whenever possible.
Worse – she asked that when we give a call to Lulu, we “stay in the loop” until the conversation is complete, helping Lulu handle it correctly.
We do, but we resent it. We resent Lulu for making 25% more money. We resent having to do her work for her and clean up her messes. And we are beginning to resent our new boss because it seems she’s protecting Lulu from life in the real world.
Coach Sylvia, please help us - must we participate in
Wow! What a difference between what you understood the vendors said and what the boss said she understood. Particularly since you seem to have some confidence in her, the disparity makes me wonder if there is something else going on that your boss either is not comfortable discussing or not at liberty to share.
But to Lulu – rigidity can be a fall-back position if someone does not feel confident applying their own judgement. And – a chilly façade can serve as a first defense against others asking questions one feels inadequately prepared to answer.
I’ve worked other cases where faulty assumptions were made about a new hire’s competencies and I’m curious if Lulu’s “experienced” billing was a set up for the current state of affairs.
If none of you original team members trained Lulu but your boss did, I’d wonder if what looks like protective measures are in fact your manager’s effort to recover from prior errors.
Along the same lines, even if your boss was clear about what your vendors said and shared the feedback honestly with Lulu, she may be trying to maintain a level of professional decorum by not broadcasting the bad reviews to the rest of you . (Who knew the vendors would tell you what was said?
Asking you to help Lulu establish better relationships with people who call the department on business may be your manager’s back-handed way of asking you to please help Lulu learn your company’s rules of conduct. It may even represent a request for your help training Lulu on the policies and procedures you say she is missing.
You might consider approaching your boss in the spirit of clarifying that she’s asked the team to complete Lulu’s training.
Clearly defining what needs to be learned, in what order and by what deadline would lend structure to Lulu’s progress, building her confidence and providing the team with the credit you deserve for your help. You might outline those details and – in a productive way – let both Lulu and your boss know that this team prefers open communication and allows learning from one’s mistakes.
Just remember - whether you respond in good faith or bearing ill will can not only affect the extent to which Lulu becomes a competent co-worker but the team’s long term state of mind.
I expect that you’ll prefer the former and, if I’ve read the tone of your emails correctly, foresee that you will soon be able to listen proudly as Lulu joins the rest of you, expertly guarding the company’s cash flow....
All my Best,
I hope you can address my situation. I have been with my current employer for 20 months. This is my third job since college and I excelled at my first two. At each, I worked two to three years and left for a better position. When I took this job, I’d heard the industry pays poorly, but the professional image and opportunity to help others was irresistible.
I was hired about mid-ladder with the understanding that once I completed some advanced training in certain products, my income potential would increase. My customers praised how I handled their (routine) needs and I soon earned recognition. I was assigned to a new, showcase office and the word “Senior” was added to my title.
My new Manager – a company star – was a little intimidating but I accepted him as my role model. He praised my routine work, encouraged me to study the advanced products on my own time and finally sent me to the training.
When I returned, I began helping him with more complex transactions and that is when my problems started. Now I carry my usual workload as well as help my boss. I often stay late – off the clock – to complete the delegated work.
Six months after training, I expected to be working more with the advanced products and making more money. Instead I never seem to live up to my boss’ expectations on his grunt work and he seems to have become dissatisfied even with my routine performance. Rather than mentoring me, he watches me like a hawk and has no patience. Worse – yesterday he yelled at me in front of my co-workers.
I no longer feel proud or fulfilled here and I am disappointed in my earnings. I’d quit except I wonder if I’d get a decent reference and I’m afraid that staying less than two years is a mark of instability.
- Failing Fast
I’m glad you wrote instead of bailing. Without diminishing your plight, the kind of “failure” you describe is most likely the result of a whole system of off-target expectations and miscommunication. Let’s troubleshoot.
First – I get the sense that you are bright, goal-oriented and hard working. Disappointing anyone is not on your agenda and your boss’ reaction to your work is a new experience.
Twenty months ago most companies had little idea we’d be in a recession now and yours may have expected to have more staff for routine work while people on your career track spent an increasing proportion of time with the advanced products and transactions. This alone might account for a significant portion of your situation.
Now, your manager – you say he’s renown for his sharp wit and ahead-of-the-curve achievement record and I’ll wager his communication style is equally fast paced. Managers with this style can miss subtle cues regarding the extent to which they are understood and end up shocked to find they’ve lost a potential protégé in their jet stream. (You say you found him intimidating and so your cues may indeed be very subtle.)
What to do? First – get a reality check on your expectations from someone else in the company. If it is indeed standard to have moved from routine to more complex transactions at 20 months, find out how the transition is handled in a normal economy vs. the current one. And consider your local market – are conditions different for your office? Someone at corporate should be able to put these issues into perspective for you.
I’d also recommend talking with whoever conducted the training you attended. Ask for some honest feedback that you can use to ensure you’re realistic about how difficult mastering the advanced products may prove for you.
Then, collect some hard data about your workload. On average, how many transactions of each type do you handle daily and how long do they take? Share these numbers with your boss and clarify your priorities, given the staffing level of your office and the amount of business it does.
Finally – share your perception that he has lost his confidence in you. Be prepared to acknowledge his feelings (whatever they may be) and to ask for a process whereby you can master the areas where your work falls short. You might also request that he discuss errors with you in private to facilitate your ability to learn from his instruction (vs. feel publicly humiliated).
These may not be easy conversations for you to have, so be sure you verify what you believe you’ve heard in each case and then use what you learn to re—balance what you can expect of your company with what they need from you. Above all - don't lose faith in yourself...
My Best to You,
I am a manager for a very well thought of company. We’re not big but we’re not small anymore either. We are still privately held and one of our core values is family. Our founder and those of us who have been here since the beginning think of each other as extended family members.
Recently, we hired some new people and I am writing to you about the one assigned to my office.
Her name is Doris and she was hired because she’s very bright. She’s in her early 20’s but has skills and we thought she’d do very well selling. She does indeed and her marketing degree is proving to be an asset. She is our top producer and has been here several months.
Unfortunately when she’s in the office, it’s a different story. I’m not sure how to describe her problem except when she’s working with customers, she has all the patience in the world and extremely good manners.
When she’s in the office, she’s impatient and insulting. Basically her approach is, “I’m smarter than you are -- shut up.” When she’s on her best behavior, she’s condescending and on several occasions has even challenged my authority by slamming some decision or another during staff meeting.
We work as a team around here and I don’t appreciate her attitude one bit.
In particular, she seems to have it out for my Assistant Manager, Jim, who did not have the privileges she had, is twice her age and never went to college. Jim is a good worker and we want him to stay. We are planning on opening another office in a year and he will be a front runner to manage that operation.
Jim needs some polish, I admit, but not to the extent that Doris makes it appear. According to Doris, Jim is a moron and “she does not consider him a supervisor”.
I’m in the field about half the time and I depend on Jim. I have told the staff that Jim is who they report to directly when I’m out and when he doesn’t know something he calls and we decide together. He and I talk about three times a day to cover everything that comes up and then he directs staff from there.
Doris will have none of it. When she runs into something that she needs immediate assistance on, she begins calling me on my cell phone instead of talking to Jim. If I don’t return her calls within an hour of the first one , she begins calling the founder on his cell phone – and that really doesn’t work.
The founder wants me to give her a disciplinary memo that basically says, “work with Jim, clean up your attitude, or get out” but I’m uncomfortable doing that. She has nothing else derogatory in her folder. What suggestions do you have?
- Ms Snippy's Boss
Whew – sounds to me like you’ve got a classic combination of the two “I”’s – intelligence hampered by extreme immaturity.
What you see in Doris with customers tells me that she has the wherewithal to conduct herself with respect and decorum in the office – she is simply choosing not to. And I agree with your founder – her behavior is unacceptable. I often recommend that clients have “teamwork” as a job element within which they set some clear performance standards and your case is a perfect example of why.
However, whether she is officially expected to treat other team members professionally or not her behavior is non-productive. And, I agree with you that due process can be a good thing. I subscribe to the “three strikes and you’re out“ model.
First, sit Doris down behind a closed door and name the pattern. Cite two (no more) significant examples you directly experienced and describe how they were disruptive. Your first objective is to let Doris know that her behavior does not meet your internal standards and will not be tolerated. Your second objective is to hear her side of the story and extend your support as she decides how she will bring her conduct up to expectations.
Be prepared to hear her perspective on Jim and how the operation is run. Work to avoid defensive explanations but be willing to respond to sincere inquiries. Hopefully she will have some constructive ideas and you can coach her on using her sales skills in-house.
Offer to provide Doris with support and direction in how to relate more effectively with her team mates during the timeframe you set. Set a time to talk again with the understanding that you fully expect her to succeed.
Good Luck and All my Best –
Star Worker Loses Motivation >
Ready or Not Succession Planning >
DIY Role Clarification >
Poor Performance Puzzle >
Promises, Promises >
Talented But Not a Team Player >
Over the years, Sylvia has written many articles on topics that come up time and time again in most organizations. Below are a sampling of topics from her Dear Coach column that we hope you will find useful.