Friday, August 27, 2010

Manners for the Workplace

A short while ago a friend was lamenting that she had to chase down responses from people who hadn’t responded to an invitation. “Doesn’t anyone know what RSVP means anymore?” she asked.

It reminded me of a similar situation I experienced a couple of years ago when I sent snail mail invites to a surprise party. Only 20% of the invitees responded promptly, so I created a facebook event – and I got more responses. But within the last twenty-four hours before the event yes’s turned to maybe’s, maybe’s turned to no’s, no’s turned to yes’s and I had no idea how many people would attend.

In the words of my friend, “What ever happened to common courtesy?”

In the workplace, we tend to do a great job of being courteous to clients, but those we work closest with sometimes get treated badly. Consider these examples:

Washington, DC, December 3, 2008 -- FEMA Admin...1. The colleague who doesn’t respond to a meeting invitation. What’s worse is when this co-worker assumes the meeting will be re-scheduled when they don’t show up. And even worse yet, when they join the meeting after decisions have been made and want the team to start over. Is this you? Then by all means respond to those invites in your in-box, and if you can’t make a meeting and really need to attend, then request a reschedule in advance.

2. The manager who doesn’t get back to a potential employee that he or she has interviewed for a job. I’m not suggesting that a personal response is required for the dozens of resumes and applications you received. But when the candidate has been through multiple rounds of interviews, and you were down to the short set of candidates, and you told them you’d make a decision within a week – then yeah, that one deserves a personal response.

3. The boss who doesn’t thank her employees at the conclusion of a project. Your employees have put in lots of extra hours. They put up with early meetings, and late meetings, and changed the materials – sometimes three or four times in one day. When the project is complete you owe it to them to let them know how it went, and yes – to say thank-you.

4. The manager who doesn’t get back to the employee who asked to speak to him today. It doesn’t matter whether the employee is waiting outside your door, or at the other end of a phone line. If you said you’d get back to them, then please do. Their time is valuable too.

5. The boss who asks their employees to disrupt their personal lives but gives nothing in return. Sometimes the early meeting or the weekend work session can’t be avoided. But recognize that you are asking your employees to disrupt their personal lives. If you must do it, then try to arrange a schedule that accommodates all employees, and the next time they ask to leave early to attend a school event, then by all means – give back.

Sometimes that simple “thank you” is all an assistant, or co-worker, or employee, or boss (yes, bosses too) needs to feel appreciated. What suggestions do you have to improve courtesy in the workplace?

Who are you going to thank today?
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Zigzagging to Success

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Given that mathematical certainty, it stands to reason that every couple of years employees should seek a promotion – more responsibility, larger projects, bigger organizations to manage – all with the goal of getting closer to the top layers of the company.

But promotion is not always the most desirable path. One of the benefits of working for a large corporation is the ability to move within the company and gain experience. This is a benefit that you can leverage to enhance your career.

Consider the lateral move.

The lateral move is defined as a shift in job responsibilities, without an increase in job title or pay grade. It’s a different job at the same level you are at today. Examples of lateral moves include moving to an entirely different business unit within the same discipline, or moving to a new discipline or skill area within your current unit. While you might not get a fancy new title with the move, there are lots of reasons to consider accepting (and even seeking out) lateral moves, especially early in your career:

1. Enhancing skills – There is no better way to build skills than by doing the job. Whether you are moving from sales to marketing, or moving to a new product area within a development team, a lateral move is one of the quickest ways to learn something new. In turn, the new skills make you more valuable to the company.

2. Understanding of the business – Managers and executives often seem to be too far away from where the action is to understand how their decisions will be implemented or will impact employees. The more you know about how things really work in the trenches, the better off you will be when it’s your turn to make those decisions.

3. It’s an easier transition than a new job with a promotion – If you’re bored with your current job, or you are at a point in your career where you want a change, but don’t want the extra hours and responsibilities that usually come with a promotional opportunity, taking a lateral move may be just the boost you need to keep you engaged and vital.

4. You can bring a fresh perspective – When you move into a new discipline or a different business unit, you bring with you the knowledge from your prior roles. If you are moving from sales to marketing, you can instantly be an expert on how the sales teams will react to a new marketing program. If you’re moving from a software unit to a services unit, you may be able to spot opportunities for the units to work together. If you can leverage your knowledge from prior roles, you will quickly be considered an asset to your new team.

5. Exposure to different managers and executives – Throughout your career you will report to dozens of managers. It’s great to be well known and respected by the managers and executives in one area of the business, but when the leaders of multiple business units know and respect you, you will be better positioned for higher level opportunities in the future.

What’s your experience with the lateral move? Would you consider it?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

Another senior executive has been ousted from Corporate America. This time it was HP’s Mark Hurd who resigned last Friday in the midst of allegations of sexual harassment. According to The New York Times, Jodie Fisher’s allegations against Hurd led to an HP internal investigation into the matter.

HP found no violation of their own harassment policy, but uncovered some violations of standards of conduct. Bloomberg reported that Hurd failed to identify a personal relationship with Fisher, and repeatedly filed inaccurate expense accounts.

Does that sound a bit too much like someone is covering their tracks?

Fisher (who is billed as an ex-reality TV star turned marketing consultant) and Hurd both claim that they did not have a sexual relationship. Since they have settled we may never know what really happened.

(On a side note, what is it with senior executives relying on ex-beauty queens and ex-reality TV stars for business advice?)

But here’s the real rub; According to Fortune, Hurd is leaving HP with 12 million dollars cash, and an estimated total of 53 million dollars in stock and options. (Pause for impact.)

Does anyone else detect a double standard here?

Fifty-three million dollars is enough to keep 662 people employed, at an average salary of eighty thousand dollars, for a full year. Fifty-three million dollars is enough to keep twenty-two people employed for thirty years. Fifty-three million would go a long way to relief in Haiti or cleaning up the Gulf, or (pick your favorite cause).

And I’m sure that fifty-three million is more than enough to provide a nice retirement for Hurd and his wife, complete with lavish summer homes, a yacht, and extravagant trips around the world.

Maybe we’ll see Hurd’s memoir on the bookshelves a year from now – attempting to define his legacy around how he replaced Carly Fiorina and restored HP to prominence as the number one hardware vendor (ousting IBM from that spot). He’ll likely pay a ghostwriter a meager sum to write the tale for him while he takes all the credit and rakes in even more cash to supplement his retirement. Worse yet, people will buy it because they’ll want to know the real story.

I’d be willing to bet that if you or I had misappropriated up to twenty thousand dollars in company funds, we wouldn’t be shown the door with twelve million in cash. We’d be out on our butts faster than we could blink. And there would likely be criminal charges.

What do you think? Is this another case of “do as I say, not as I do?” or did Hurd really think the rules just didn’t apply to him?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Performance Reviews – A Beef With the Baloney

In early July NPR aired a story on the topic of performance reviews. Samuel Culbert, a UCLA business professor says that performance reviews are, “dishonest and fraudulent”. He even wrote a book on the topic – yes, a whole book on just this topic – titled Get Rid of the Performance Review.

Culbert explains his perspective that performance reviews are “total baloney” by noting that employees focus only on the good things that they accomplished in their reviews, and not what needs to be improved (by either the employee or the company).

While I agree with Culbert’s assertion that most employees hate performance reviews, I find the words dishonest and fraudulent somewhat extreme to describe the problem.

The employees aren’t lying. They are simply playing the game they’ve been taught to play. Do employees focus on their positive accomplishments? Of course they do. That’s the way the system works. The employee who volunteers in his performance review that he missed deadlines and produced an inferior product is likely to have a short-lived career.

The impact of a single review stays with the employee for an entire year, and will affect their salary, bonus, and their ability to compete for better jobs. Those who get a good assessment may let out a sigh of relief – but the relief lasts only a week or so before they start worrying about how much the bar will be raised for next year, and how they will stack up. Those with negative reviews worry even more – they worry about the financial impacts, that their boss doesn’t appreciate them, and that they might lose their job in the next round of layoffs.

In Culbert’s original article, which ran in the Wall Street Journal nearly two years ago, he makes some good points. Despite the fact that most companies tout the benefits of teamwork, and diversity, and leveraging the unique strengths of each team member, the performance review is counter to these notions. It’s Jack against Jill. Each man (or woman) for himself.

The very act of having to complete a performance review causes angst in most employees. I have known employees to spend hours during their end-of-year vacations writing (and re-writing) their accomplishments – as if what they write will actually make a difference in their assessment. It’s likely that the management team has already decided what each employee’s assessment will be.

Is the boss the bad guy here?

Culbert thinks so, but I disagree. The truth is, bosses hate performance reviews as much as the employees do.

We're talking about the bosses on the front lines – the first line managers who have to ask the employees to write up their accomplishments. They are the ones who spend grueling hours with their peer managers in ranking sessions to fight for their employees. Half of the time they lose. This is because they are being forced (by upper management and an HR system) to assess their employees with a skew that resembles a bell curve.

Worst of all, after spending months encouraging teamwork and team accomplishments, these managers have to deliver what they know will be perceived as bad news for many of their employees. In my experience, few managers look forward to this nerve-racking process.

What’s your take on performance reviews?