Posts Tagged problem people

424 — Managing Your Boss

darthvader faceIs that your Boss? Your Dad? Your Mom? Darth Vader? Or a person like you?

Morphing your boss from giant — or mom, or dad — back to person, boss-human being, can be a liberating experience. Doing it can build a valuable skill to carry into future jobs. And doing it doesn’t require cooperation.

Our feelings about our boss come largely from childhood, when we experienced our first bosses, our parents as all-powerful giants. Burdened with this old baggage, it’s sometimes hard to see some authority figures, maybe our boss, as a person like us — with hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, problems at home, and self-doubts. But presidents, media celebrities and bosses are not giants — they also put on their shoes one foot at a time. Fortunately there are some actions you can take to build a more casual rapport with “your boss.”

Open Up…Start Talking

Lets start with one fact. Managers often feel isolated, left out of the loop on what’s happening below them. This is an acute problem for CEOs at the top of the authority pyramid. This isolation happens when employees don’t feel comfortable initiating casual conversations — they leave it up to the boss to make the first move. This limits upwards communication and the flow of information.

Senior managers are hungry for improved relationships and information, but often don’t know how to change things. Some were taught not to have personal relationships with subordinates because it might make inhibit giving honest negative feedback or might be seen as favoritism.

If you are an employees, improving the relationship with your boss does not have to be a big event. You might just smile and say, “Hello” in the morning, mention your son’s baseball game, or ask how his or her weekend was. One small comment might open the way to a conversation, and lead to a more responsive boss. Here is an even more proactive way.

I taught management courses at the UC Irvine campus to budding supervisors and managers. In the week between each all-day Saturday class, the student assignment was to apply class work to their job. One assignment was to practice “The Cultural Interview”. Each student had to “Interview” a person they worked with but did not know well personally. The results were always striking. Here’s one.

Mike was a mid-20s first-level engineer in a 12 person consulting company. He felt distanced from the firm’s owner, who Mike said, “Spent too much time in his office.” Mike decided to invite the owner to lunch and “Interview” him. He was apprehensive but the class was encouraging. The following Saturday Mike said that the interview went well and that the day after the lunch the owner walked around the office talking with other employees. “It was the first time I had seen him do that.” Two years later, at a professional conference, Mike sought me out to excitedly report that he had been promoted to office manager. He said his promotion began with that Interview. It changed their relationship.

Do Something Together

A more ordinary, and a very effective way to build a relationship, is to do something together. This might be working together on a business project or it might be something informal, like playing together on the unit’s softball team, or working on a United Way drive.

What if Your Attempts at Bridge-Building Fail?

Some managers use their role to isolate themselves and avoid intimacy. These managers find relationships too difficult, preferring to keep employees (and others) at a distance. In that case your attempt to improve relationships upwards may fail.

If your repeated attempts to establish better communications with your boss are getting nowhere, you may just have come up against one of these well-defended (fearful) managers. In that case there is little you can do. If the lack of a strong relationship is actually a problem your best solution is probably to find another position, hopefully with a more open person. Surveys show that poor relationships with an immediate supervisor is the number one reason people resign.

cc 424 – © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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412 — Employeee Engagement Example

Every politician knows that the way to quell opposition is to put the agitators on the payroll. Engagement is like that. It handles “attitudes.”

Every company has “problem people”. Their behavior ranges from poor performance, to poor attitudes, to departmental morale busters. Whatever shape and size the problem is, your solution should demonstrate the qualities you want more of in the company. Old-style top-down autocracies traditionally point the finger at the employee and say, “You’re a problem and we’re going to do something about YOU.” The solution was usually “coaching”, “training”, reassignment or firing, none of which demonstrates the kind of qualities you want in your workplace.

There’s a Better Way

The company was a unionized, major Southern California distribution center. The seven person cleaning (sanitation) crew had two problem employees. They combined poor performance with bad attitudes. Their traditional, autocratic supervisor tried everything he knew. He shouted, got angry, lectured them on their bad performance and threatened they’d better straighten up or . . . . . .  Yes, you’ve seen his kind a dozen times. The other five members of the crew performed at an adequate level, but were hardly inspired. They didn’t like the supervisor’s behavior either. No one likes being threatened. This supervisor didn’t know any other way. Fortunately the distribution center manager did.

Using an Opportunity to Change

An increase in the workload gave the DC manager an opportunity to transfer the supervisor to the overworked area. Before doing that the DC manager asked the cleaning crew if they would be prepared to manage the cleaning themselves. They were thrilled and over four weeks, mostly on their own time, they prepared detailed spreadsheets describing how they would organize the cleaning process. These detailed plans, which the crew pinned on bulletin boards for feedback, were impressive. Even more impressive was what happened behind the scenes. The five-members told the two problem employees that they had to shape up and get on board or the proposed changes wouldn’t work. Failure was not an option. This was peer pressure at its strongest.

Within two months the distribution center was spotless, achieving the highest possible rating from an independent assessment group. As if by magic, the two “problem employees” were problems no longer. There were now seven highly motivated, enthusiastic and productive employees — fully engaged.

cc 412 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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121 — The Structure of Culture, The Five Levels


You don’t need to know the structure of your brain or personality to change your attitude and behavior. Similarly you don’t need to know the structure of you company culture in order to change it. However for those managers who’d like to know the basic structure of culture, here are the five distinct parts or levels. In a well developed work culture, these parts are balanced. The first three you can analyze, the last two you can’t. See also Balance The Two Halves of Culture.

1. Physical Objects — equipment

bridge 039This is the first level of any culture. It includes tools and objects people use to build and make, the clothes they wear, the structures they live and work in, the products they trade or sell, and the art they create and cherish. This is the level of physics and chemistry, equipment, hardware, engineering, and technology. (more…)

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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