Saturday, February 23, 2019

Reserved Executive Parking Leaves a Bad Impression

I pulled into the lot of a large consumer products company a little before 9:00 for a networking meeting. The lot was crowded with employee's cars. I took a visitor spot near the front, although I prefer to park further out. I noticed there were four empty spots close to the door labeled "Reserved Executive Parking."

That left an amazing first impression for me. First I was struck by the wording: "Reserved Executive Parking." What was wrong with simply "Reserved Parking?" What was the benefit of adding "Executive?" I am still trying to imagine the series of meetings or the considerations that went into that decision. Someone made a point of adding the word I assume with some purpose of highlighting rank. Either someone thought that the executive needed the extra respect, or the executive asked for the rank designation and nobody was comfortable saying it would make them look arrogant.

The second thing that struck me was that the executives spots were closer to the door than the visitor spots. It paints a clear picture of who is most important in that culture. Imagine the impression this leaves on visiting customers.

It didn't strike me at first that the spots were empty. I talked to an employee who shared how busy he had been, working late most nights. I remembered that the parking lot was crowded when I came in. Each employee who came in early would walk by those four empty spots. Imagine the impression those employees got.

I had a nice, long meeting and left around 10:30. When I walked out, two of the spaces were occupied, one with a Mercedes and one with a BMW. I certainly don't begrudge a successful executive the reward of a nice car, but no, these weren't nice cars. These were the kind of cars that Mercedes and BMW owners are envious of: top of the line in every way. They were beautiful machines. They didn't also need the label "Executive."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bad Meeting Math

Some people use their meetings as a way to gather status, in part because it's easier than getting it one by one. Consider the math of that. One leader gathers nine team members for a one hour meeting, for a total of 10 staff-hours spent, with about six minutes per person of value.

The alternative: one leader has a 15 minute 1-on-1 with each of the nine team members. That takes the leader two hours and 15 minutes with an equal amount of time from the team members, for a total of 4.5 staff-hours.

15 minutes is more than double the six minutes available for each person in the one hour meeting with less than half the time cost to the team.

If the leader is optimizing for their own time, the meeting works best. If they are optimizing for team effectiveness, 1-on-1 is the clear winner.

Of course, you might argue that everyone benefits by the shared meeting experience. That is true for some meetings, but unlikely for the typical round-table status meeting. If in doubt, ask your team if they get value from your status meetings, and ask yourself if you are holding them for your convenience or for the greater good of the team.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Earning Respect as a New Manager

I was recently asked to advise a new manager who was having trouble getting respect from her new team. She is now managing the group she used to be a member of, as many first time managers are. From the start, she could feel the resentment from some of her new staff that she was promoted. They would show up late to her meetings and sometimes not show up at all. One of her staff dismissed her in a group meeting, "Your idea for this project isn't important. You've never worked in this area before." Wow!

A lot of new managers struggle with this transition, particularly when they come from the group they are assigned to manage. This can be even worse when the new manager is younger than some of their new staff, which is also the case here. Fortunately, it is not too difficult a problem to deal with. I'm a bit disappointed that she didn't get more support and coaching from her own manager.

The first key to solving this problem is an attitude change ... on the part of the new manager. While respect is important, it is not respect for authority that is at issue here. Everyone should expect basic respect independent of role, rank or authority. A new manager needs to have the attitude that their job is just a role on the team like everyone else on the team. Authority comes into play at times, but largely, managers have a role on the team to coordinate work, administer various company processes and to support their team members doing their roles. Occasionally, that means holding team members accountable sometimes by exerting authority.

I coach new managers to review each member of their new staff with an eye to understanding who might have issues with the change. We sit down and review their analysis together, and make a plan of action before we announce the new role. But, it is never too late for this analysis or to make a plan to fix respect issues that you didn't catch early.

For each such person, schedule a one-on-one meeting and address the issue head-on using the standard "When you"/Result/"I need" pattern, "When you show up late to our team meetings, the whole team is less effective. I need you to come on time in the future." For some that will be all you need to do. You may get a half-hearted agreement and perhaps even an eye roll. If you do, that's fine, it's part of the process.

The next step is to bring the disrespect into the open, "Do I understand correctly that you are unhappy with me as your manager?" After either "yes" or "no" explain your role with a little bit of an appeal to authority, "Our manager gave me the role of ... I play that role to help you and the whole team be effective. You have the role of ... I need you to respect my role on this team in the same way you need me to respect your role." Keep this emotionally neutral. You are not angry, you are fixing a problem.

The next part is key, a challenge with some commitment to change, "Can we work together respectfully, or do we need to deal with this issue in another way?" In many cases this will be enough. You may need to reinforce the agreement to make it stick. Next time they act disrespectfully, call them into your office as soon as possible, "That was not how we agreed you would behave. Will we continue to have a problem?"

In most cases, this will solve the problem enough for the new manager to build new cultural norms. If the problem persists with a particularly difficult person, escalate fast to put them on a plan and help them move on. If the team sees that you will tolerate the problem, all hope is lost, and your manager will be putting you on a plan. When you let these problems fester, your team will be ineffective. I need you to fix the problem for your team. That's your role.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How a Moderator Can Deal with a Bully

Watch some of this video from the second 2012 presidential debate. Candy Crawley has to moderate (that is, lead) a debate between two people who are used to being the leader in their own worlds. Pay particular attention to the body language of Mitt Romney.

There is a key manipulation technique being used here by Romney and to a lesser extent by Obama. Notice how Romney walks forward toward Crawley as he tries to take over the conversation. That is a bullying technique. It is aggressively asserting power including a subtle threat of assault. Walking toward someone like this is a push for the other person to back down. And, as he gets closer, he makes himself appear both larger and higher in Crawley's vision as she is seated. This is another way of asserting power.

So, Crawley is put in an awkward position as the leader of the debate. She is being bullied by a presumptively powerful man. In most situations, he would expect to demand the leadership role in a room. But, Crawley is the leader in this situation, and she must retain the leadership in order to make the event successful. Part of the awkwardness comes because she can't rudely stand up and tell him to back off and follow the rules. But, she still needs to back him down. You can decide how good a job she did.

We find ourselves in these situations when we have to lead a meeting that includes managers above us in hierarchy. When I find myself in this situation, I emphasize the role I've been asked to play, and use the magic phrase "I need." It works wonders. "My role here is to keep us on track. I need to ask you to hold that thought for a few minutes." It's tough, but it's your role as the leader.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Women and Office Politics

As the father of two daughters, I'm keenly interested in the role of gender in business. This Harvard Business Review blog article caught my attention: Three Ways Women Can Make Office Politics Work For Them.

I particularly liked the Mary Matalin quote, "This business about politics at work being sleazy drives me crazy. Virtue can be the essence of politics. The reality is that politics can be just as virtuous or as sleazy as you are." That's a lesson that breaks the gender barrier.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bloggers Helping People Live with Medical Issues

I've been touched recently by the blog posts of two young women I know. They have used the power of blogging to share their experiences of living with medical problems. I know that they are confronted with their medical issues every day, and not simply medically. They deal with whom they can tell, what they should hide, and how they perceive themselves. These are personal struggles, not just medical ones. I know this, but I struggle to understand it. I'm eagerly trying to understand.

I know from experience that these kinds of issues are difficult to empathize with. Unless you are extraordinarily lucky, you will know someone who struggles with such an issue, perhaps a child, a spouse, or a close friend. Children in particular need someone who knows what they are going through, and can put words to their feelings in a way that you may not be able to. They need someone who experiences the same things they do, who could share with them, telling them it will be alright, or that it won't if that is the case.

These two young bloggers fill that role for others who live with the same conditions they do. They also give people like me more insight into their lives, which makes me better able to support them, and others living with medical issues. This can't be easy for them. They have to bear potentially open wounds to accomplish this, but they do it anyway.

Seldom am I as proud of the courage of leadership, as I am of these two women. Check out their blogs at:

I Love Pancakes
Girls Don't Poop

Friday, January 06, 2012

Skip the Form Letters, They Are Missed Opportunities

Recently I wrote an article about how Whitman's candies lost me as a loyal customer due to misleading packaging. They put 12 pieces of candy in a box that could have held 30 pieces. The weight on the label was the only indication of the sneaky packaging. While I wrote the blog article, my wife send a complaint letter to Russell Stover who made the box.

Today, we received a response from Russell Stover. Unfortunately, they missed the opportunity to win us back. Instead of an acknowledgement of the problem we got a form letter explaining that the "box was filled by weight and not by volume," and how the "net weight must comply with all Federal and State regulations." I won't share the whole letter here out of respect for the confidentiality statement they appended. I'm sure such things are not legally enforceable, but I see no compelling need to go against their request.

How should a leader respond to such a customer complaint? Russell Stover was stuck between not wanting to admit wrongdoing and knowing that such packaging is misleading. Rather than defensively explaining how their customer didn't understand their correct actions, a leader can fall back on the truth, even if it isn't a confession of guilt. In this case perhaps, "We understand how you could have felt deceived by our packaging choice. We will convey your concerns to our management. We hope we can better serve you with our products in the future." These are all things that are true and affirming. We would have preferred, "We shouldn't have done that."