Managing Employees

Newsflash: Managers Delegate Bad Stuff

Okay, I read something in my favorite Harvard Business Review, and it Cracked. Me. Up.  It was a little article called “Why We Pass the Buck.”   In the December 2016 article, researchers Mary Steffel, Elanor Williams and Jaclyn Perrmann-Graham suggest that managers delegate “when the consequences would affect other people, especially when all the options were unappealing.”

True story.  And let’s face it, why wouldn’t they?

Pass the buckSo yes, if the consequences of their decision affected other people, and if the choices were unappealing, managers were two to three times more likely to delegate that work to someone else.  According to the authors performing the study, the decision was motivated by the desire to avoid criticism or blame, and the desire not to be responsible if something bad happened to someone.  They preferred to delegate over quicker decision options (like flipping a coin).  But here’s the interesting part:

They delegated to a peer or someone of higher authority.

That’s good news for you, Revolutionary Assistant.  At least the issue isn’t landing on your desk!

But this is an interesting little finding.  Not so much that you can do anything about it, but it’s useful to recognize the affinity for doing this when you’re working with young managers looking to develop their leadership skills.

For instance, the manager has a choice between three ugly options to find some extra money in payroll.  No matter what the decision, someone’s hours are going to be cut right before the holidays.  Vacillating between solution A, B, and C is prolonged because the young manager doesn’t like any of them.

This is where you can step in.  Appeal to your own manager to step in and help the new manager on your team.  If your own manager can help address the situation, and assure the manager that he or she will not be held responsible for the decision, the delegation can be avoided and the decision made quicker.

And that’s better for everyone.


Next Post:  Wednesday, December 13

What’s Better: A Satisfied Employee or an Engaged Employee?

Companies spend a lot of money to find out just how engaged their employees are, and they’re right to do so: turnover costs organizations thousands and thousands of dollars.  In fact, if an employee makes a salary of $40,000 a year, it can cost $30,000 in recruiting and training fees to replace him.

Not so good for the bottom line.

SatisfiedAccording to McKinsey, an organization that conducts employee engagement surveys on behalf of companies looking to stay in touch with their team members, there’s a difference between a satisfied employee and one that’s engaged.  And you want the engaged type of employees.

A satisfied employee just “does his thing” at the office.  He’s happy with his current situation, doesn’t go out of his way to get involved or help others but turns in his work on time and done right.  That doesn’t sound like such a bad deal, right?

An engaged employee, on the other hand, takes steps to understand his role within the company and how he affects the bottom line and how his work fits into the scheme of things.  He goes out of his way to help others, he’s an ambassador for the company and its brand, and he may even look for additional work, take on additional projects, or identify and capitalize on opportunities to improve company performance.

Companies usually have a mixture of satisfied employees and engaged employees, but it’s those engaged employees that really drive the organization forward.  So, logically, companies want to understand just what their “mix” of employees is, and work on improving the company’s relationship with those team members so that engagement (and quality of work) increase.  How does a company like McKinsey help them to do that?

McKinsey weighs employees’ responses against engagement “drivers.”  They ask questions specific to areas their research tells them impacts engagement.  These areas include things like your relationship with your coworkers, work-life balance, and even compensation and benefits.  After asking the organization’s employees to agree or disagree with a variety of statements, they’re able to determine their levels of engagement.

Companies that find their number of engaged employees is a little disappointing might think they need to spruce up their office a bit, but that’s not always the case.  Moving in a ping pong table or buying the team lunch may be a great gesture of goodwill, but sometimes better communication and an enhanced rewards and recognition program may more efficiently address the situation.  Engagement survey results are usually prescriptive, and companies are often willing to share the tips and tricks that worked best for them.

I’m using McKinsey as an example, but there are plenty of companies out there that run engagement surveys and offer similar results.  In the event your company is small or doesn’t want to make a huge investment, survey apps like SurveyMonkey offer suggestions and tips on creating your own engagement survey.  There’s no need to guess if your employees are engaged or just satisfied…ask them!  It can be the start of a more productive environment!


Next Post:  Wednesday, September 20

Avoid Hiring the Wrong Kind of Employee

If you’re supporting a C-level executive, or even a vice president or senior vice president, chances are likely that you may have to interview some candidates here and there.  Heck, in one of my positions I was never on the interviewer list, but always one of the first people whose opinion hiring managers asked to hear, because I’d escorted the candidate all over the building all day for his or her interviews.  Very often, they’d let down their guard when they were “just with the assistant.”  Ha!

So, how do you tell if you’ve got the wrong person?  Here are some hints to make sure you’re avoiding the people that shouldn’t be a part of your company:

Is the candidate a big-time rule follower? – Every article I’ve ever read, and every manager I’ve ever talked to has warned me about the rule follower.  Sure, there are rules for a reason, but if you’re going to have a rule-following person in your office you want him to be a little more like Marvel’s Captain America and a little less like Major Frank Burns in the 4077th MASH unit.  If there’s a potential to hate this person for always chiming in with the “correct way” to do things, then get out fast!

ToxicIs the candidate looking to learn or does he think he knows everything? – Toxic employees tend to exhibit an overconfidence about their work and their mission, and that’s something to watch for.  Does your candidate seem anxious to learn new skills and gather new information, or does he boast about his all-encompassing knowledge?  Lean toward the former and run away from the latter.

Does the candidate’s values match the company message? – I currently work for a pet specialty retailer, and one of the things I always ask is if the candidate has any pets.  I’ll see an immediate change one way or the other.  The response will be, “Oh, yes, let me tell you about Fluffy!” and the phone comes out so I can see a million pictures.  Or, it’ll be, “No, I’m really too busy for pets,” or “I’m allergic.”  I look for a fondness in the face, a childhood story…something that lets me know that this person feels strongly about our mission.  If there’s a coldness in the response, the candidate will be thanked and sent on his way.

How are the candidate’s communication skills? – Is the candidate going to be the type that motivates the team toward a win, or one that shouts orders and demeans people who don’t get the job done?  Use behavioral interviewing to get to the crux of how this person manages.  “Explain a time when you an your team had a hard task ahead of you.  How did you motivate the team?  Did anyone let you down?  How did you handle the person who let you down?”

Is the candidate trustworthy? – It’s difficult to tell this for sure, but sometimes your gut tells you that this guy you’re talking to just isn’t as above-board as he claims.  He’s not likely to tell you any stories about how he beat up kids on the playground for their lunch money, but if he strikes you as the type, consider it a red flag.

There are no guarantees that the candidate you’re chatting with isn’t your next toxic employee, but these hints might help you expose one before the employment offer is made.  Toxic employees cost so much more than just turnover…keep them out if at all possible.

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 22


Helping Your Manager Make Sure Everyone Feels (and is) Included

In this era of remote workers, it’s easy to accidentally leave someone out of a conversation or a meeting.  Even more, you can accidentally pass over an introverted person in a meeting or exclude someone who’s culturally different from the rest of the group.

You don’t want to be missing those good ideas these folks aren’t sharing!

If your manager is interested in making sure everyone is included (and she should be!), you can help her by being the bug in her ear, reminding her of these important ways she can make sure no one feels left out.

Seek input in discussions – If your organization is lucky enough to have a diverse staff, then it’s likely you might encounter folks who culturally don’t care for the idea of speaking up in a crowd.  Or you could just have an introvert in the group who hesitates to speak.  These people could have amazing ideas, so encourage your manager to solicit their opinions and thoughts before moving on to the next subject.  Or speak up yourself and suggest that the team hear what’s on their minds!

Encourage video conferences for distributed team members – People work from home nowadays, and it’s easy for them to feel left out of home office goings on.  Tools like Skype, FaceTime and Fuze provide ways for you to see your remote team members when you’re talking to them.  The video services are mostly free, and so worth it!

Keep meeting minutes and notes in a place where everyone can access them – This is particularly nice to do if you’re a group with remote team members, too.  Whether your notes are securely placed on the cloud or on a network drive for easy access, this will help keep the whole team in the loop.

Allow all your team members to have their moment in the spotlight – If it makes sense, encourage your manager to allow each of his direct reports the opportunity to run the team meeting, or something similar.  Your manager should be allowing others to be seen, both within her own team and to other internal and external customers.  Employees feel very included when they have an opportunity to develop their skills and show them off.

Be careful you’re not inadvertently excluding co-workers – Maybe you’re always forgetting to invite a team member to a meeting on a subject that has impact on that person’s work.  Or maybe it’s a more subtle behavior:  I have a co-worker who addresses each of our male team members as “mister” but addresses every female employee by her first name.  While it’s nice to show our male counterparts respect in the office, if you don’t extend that same respect to your female co-workers, they can feel excluded.  I’m sure this hasn’t even occurred to her, but as a female, I’ve definitely noticed!

Celebrate differences – That same person who’s culturally programmed to say very little in meetings might feel a bit left out when the rest of the group partakes of behavior that’s common to their own culture.  Give everyone equal time to show off their differences.  This is where all the good ideas come from.

Making everyone feel a part of the team, and making everyone feel important, is a full-time job.  Every day should be a new effort for your manager, and every day you can be looking for more opportunities to make inclusion happen.  The ‘next great thing’ might be the germ of an idea that’s currently sitting quietly in your most introverted employee’s head.  Don’t miss out!  Include.

Next Post:  Wednesday, November 19

Dan: Allowing Employees to Play to Their Strengths

Celebrate your manager this week!  This is our third installment in our own Boss’ Day celebration, as this Revolutionary Assistant celebrates the managers that taught her valuable lessons!

I know I’m not the only Revolutionary Assistant that manages employees.  Many of us have junior assistants, receptionists and facilities staff to juggle along with our other duties, and that’s not always easy, especially if you want to keep those employees happy, engaged and productive.

When it comes to knowing how to engage employees, no one I’ve ever worked for has done it better than my former manager Dan, because he was particularly keen on understanding what people did best and putting those talents into action.  While for him this was a God-given talent, I try to take those principles he showed me and apply them as much as my natural abilities will allow me to.

When I started working with Dan as his executive assistant, he realized immediately that communication was my thing and put me to work at it.  Dan was our company’s human resources executive, and one of my first projects was to create a bio sheet or a “leadership profile” as referred to it, for each of the company’s other executives.  He gave me a little diagram of what he thought it could look like, and I ran with it from there.  Before long, I overheard him in his office, showing other execs in our department my creation and saying, “Look at how great these look!”  I was so pleased!

From there, all my projects were like a dream come true.  I edited company newsletters, I wrote memos from him to the general masses.  If there was a project that required information collection and reporting, I was assigned to the case, sometimes even when it wasn’t coming out of my department.  And because of that, I ran to the office every day to start work, knowing that my contributions were appreciated and needed.

Dan could really dive into the details when he was setting someone up to succeed, matching people together into teams as well as handing out projects and tasks that were in his employees’ wheelhouses.  He had his whole team take the Strengthfinder test and share their results with each other, so we could understand what made each other tick.  It was enlightening, productive, and great fun, and it also helped me see his method and what he was trying to do.

I don’t have that same natural inclination that Dan does, but I quickly understood the power of this ability and tried to cultivate it when it was my turn to manage people.  As an example, one relatively new employee recently told me, “Don’t make me do anything in Excel.  I hate Excel!”

Microsoft Excel wasn’t a requirement of the position, so I wasn’t terribly worried.  But I started to notice that she did have a way with words, a style about her communication.  And she was terrifically in tuned with fashion, enjoying making things presentable and pretty.

“I know you hate Excel,” I said to her one day, “but how do you feel about Powerpoint?”  Turns out, Powerpoint is two thumbs up in her book, and they’re going to be showing up in her list of projects a lot more!

Another of my direct reports was gifted when it came to dealing with people.  She had a lovely sing-song voice on the phone, and customers would go out of their way to tell me how much they loved her.  But the angry customers would wear her down.  Together, we decided on a customer service course for her that helped her deal with the angry customers – and letting it go after the phone call terminated.  I knew that dealing with people was a great talent of hers, and I didn’t want her to abandon it because people could sometimes be rude.  Sometimes it’s not enough that we appreciate someone’s talents internally.

The result of these efforts is a group of happy, engaged employees that produce great results for the business.  I thank Dan for showing me that an employee using her talents is an employee that has the motivation to do better and more.  It’s not only made my employees more successful, it’s made me a more successful manager.  Thank you, Dan!

Next post:  Wednesday, October 23