Friday, September 25, 2009

Nice Girls Don't Ask

At least that’s been my experience.

After years as a boss, having worked with somewhere close to 1000 employees over that time, it’s hard not to notice. Men tend to ask for what they want – and women don’t.

I am specifically referring to things like raises, bonuses, and promotions. Of course there are exceptions to this. Every now and then I meet women who know exactly what they want and have no qualms about asking. They are rare and often have strong executive (usually male) mentors. Men, on the other hand – well as a general rule, they ask.

Now, I’m not saying they get everything they ask for – or even any of it.
Nor do I believe that it’s the norm for anyone (male or female) to get something undeserved just because they ask.

But the men that worked for me (yes, I’m generalizing) kept a drumbeat going all year long so that I knew their expectations. For some it was once a week, for others once a quarter was enough. I’m not suggesting that they were unreasonable. They simply made a point of – well, pointing it out.

The women more frequently believed that they would get what they deserve; their boss should notice their great contributions and reward them accordingly. They expected their boss to be fair. Again, not unreasonable.

Does it matter? Consider this:

If a boss has an extra $50 he can give to an employee for salary increases once he’s done due diligence and been equitable, who might get it? The person who made it clear that they expect more than 1% this year, or the one who said nothing? It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.

Or there’s a job opening up. It might be a promotion or it might just be a great opportunity. The boss can put only one name on the slate. Will it be Jack, who’s made it clear he wants an opportunity, or Jane, who never asked? Jane is happy where she is, and Jack will be happy for the opportunity. It’s a win-win, right?

I think it does matter. If you’re not convinced, read the Carnegie-Mellon experiment noted in this Washington Post article by Shankar Vedantam.

What is your experience? Do you ask?

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to Be a Better Bully

I know you’ve seen them – office bullies who intimidate and harass their colleagues.

Now, I’m not actually suggesting you practice bullying or become the office bully. Although, if you are so inclined, you may find some of these methods – which I have seen used over the years – useful.

The ‘expert bully’ throws his weight around by claiming to be the preeminent expert. One colleague I worked with used to claim that “It’s against the laws of physics,” whenever he wanted to get his way. He was a senior level technical guy, and he happened to have a PhD in physics. It didn’t matter that we were talking about things that had nothing to do with physics… like a marketing slogan, or the color of the stripe on the new machine.

I mean really – is the space-time continuum going to be disrupted with a new marketing slogan? Will we defy gravity if we paint the stripe blue instead of red? Our conversations usually went something like this:

Me: “We need a new system for small and medium business clients.”

Expert Bully: “It’s against the laws of physics.”

Me: “The market data shows that we have over 5000 customers who would buy it.”

Expert Bully: “That’s not possible – it’s against the laws of physics.”

Me: “Clients are running out of processing power on the systems they have, but they can’t afford the high end system.”

Expert Bully: “The laws of physics say that can’t be true.”

Me: “You do your job and I’ll do mine. Besides, I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Okay – I didn’t say that last part – but I should have. I can’t recall the expert bully ever winning one of these ridiculous arguments, but he sure caused a lot of chaos and extra work.

Now let’s look at the ‘endurance bully’. These guys (okay – they’re not always guys – I’m using the term generically) are in it for the long haul, and can be particularly effective.

Surprisingly, endurance bullies tend to be nice. They are methodical, calm, and never yell. After all, they are running a marathon – they need to conserve their energy. The technique? Endurance bullies ask as many questions as possible that promote their position and discredit yours, and above all – they outlast their opponents.

This can be particularly effective in management personnel discussions when the bully’s candidate is up against yours for a promotion (for example). For everything nice you have to say about your candidate he will have two nice things to say about his candidate and one negative thing about yours.

And an hour later, when the meeting really must end, he will have the last word – always. I swear… endurance bullies have an internal time clock that lets them know exactly when the boss will make that decision.

Now it’s your turn – tell us about your favorite bullying techniques.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Have You Ever Faked It?

Of course I mean at work.

In case you’re still not with me – of course I mean on work projects at work.

I’m not talking about lying on a resume, or anything truly unethical. I am talking about faking your way through a project, or committing to a goal that is clearly unachievable.

After all, it was the only real choice you had at the time. Expectations were high. So, you agreed – secretly hoping that the project would get killed, or that your bosses would forget about it, or that something more important would come up that you would be re-assigned to.

Or maybe your boss asked you – in front of the big bosses – if something was possible. You have no idea whether or not it’s possible, so naturally you say, “Sure, we can do that,” and then scramble to figure out a way to make it happen.

I got pretty good at faking my way through projects. It wasn’t my preference – I liked to be able to see the end before I started – but it became important to have this skill. So, I would assemble a team, I’d give them assignments, I would sound confident (confidence is key to faking it), and I would make believe I knew what I was doing – hoping that at some point it would all make sense. Surprisingly, it usually did!

I later found out there was a name for this management style. I came across a question on a test for a management refresher course that asked which of four answers was not a valid management style. I was certain that “muddling through” had to be the correct answer – that couldn’t possibly be a valid style, could it? Turns out it was.

I felt vindicated.

Now it’s your turn. Fess up… have you ever faked it?

Friday, September 4, 2009

How Confident Are You That You Can Keep Your Job?

Full employment.

I mentioned in my first blog post that my new manager told me I would have a job for life at that company.

He lied.

He didn’t mean to lie — it was true at the time — the corporation I worked for did indeed have a "full employment" policy, and for many years this was true.

Sure, people were occasionally fired for not doing their jobs, but that was rare. And usually before it happened the employee’s boss went out of their way to help the employee improve, or move to another job within the company. You see, the company I worked for believed that it was the manager’s job to take care of their people … to help them succeed.

Almost sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

And the bosses were actually measured by how their employees rated them, their jobs, and their general happiness, on an annual opinion survey. Honest, I’m not making this up.

Of course, these surveys largely disappeared by the mid-1990’s, along with the promise of full employment.

One of the most important questions on the early surveys at the corporation I worked for tested whether or not the employees felt secure in their jobs.

It’s Labor Day weekend, and I’ve got a hunch that no one has asked you this in quite some time. So take the survey below and let’s see how secure we all feel in our jobs today!

How confident are you that you can keep your job?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bad Boss Stories, Episode 1

Let me introduce you to a really cool blog, called Six Sentences, where writers can submit short stories (saying it all in six sentences) for publication. My second ‘six’ was published on Friday, August 28th.

This is fiction, but captures the essence of someone I once worked with. In other words … names and details have been changed to protect the guilty.

Paris to Amsterdam

It was just the two of us and a bottle of red wine in a first class cabin on a train from Paris to Amsterdam. The wine was Charlotte’s idea after standing in six queues to correct her ticket to Amsterdam. Settling into the cabin with our feet on opposing benches, no one dared to join us as Charlotte poured the wine into the plastic cups she had secured from the porter. She made sure the cups stayed full as she talked about the men she dated, and complained about virtually everyone we had worked with that day. But mostly she talked about herself – how she was treated badly by her manager, how she had almost been fired but given a second chance, how hard it is to be her, how all of her male peers felt threatened by her because she was smarter than them -- smarter than most people really -- and as the train was pulling into the station she declared, “In my next life I really want to be less… complicated.” The confessions wouldn’t have been so odd, if it weren’t that Charlotte was my boss.

Honestly, I swear it’s fiction. See the original post on the Six Sentences blog here.

Share your fictionalized bad boss story with a comment.

p.s. In case anyone is wondering – no – it’s not Friday yet.