Do It Yourself Role Clarification

Dear Coach,

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

Dear 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…
- Sylvia