b Self-Helpless: True Tales of a Working Girl: August 2006



And the Winner is…

Just suppose that you could choose who your next boss would be. You know - like if you could vote for them in an election.

Of course, having an election could potentially bring in a whole new set of problems and office politics. But let’s put that aside for the time being.

Who would you vote for? What qualities would you value over others? Holding an election not only makes the candidate work hard for the job, but makes the candidate accountable to the people they will lead. They will have to prove that they are good leaders, good workers, good communicators, and of course good people.

For good measure (and to see if they’re a true sport), you should hold relay races as well as debates. Potato sack races might work too. If you want to see how crafty they are, send them on a treasure hunt with the job they want at the end if they win it. You could set up an obstacle course for the candidates to navigate through while riding tricycles.

Let’s face it; at the end of the day it would be good to have a boss with a sense of humor. Tests and games would allow that to shine through. Here’s the opportunity to test the theory. I mean really, why should the stuffy upper management be the only ones to decide who gets promoted? Their opinions might be valued, but the people who will be governed should choose their leader.

Now who’s up for a good game of “Pin the Spine on the Boss”?




Because I'm the Boss, That's Why!

In the book The Dictionary of Corporate Bulls*** by Lois Beckwith, change management is defined as, “1. overseeing the process of change or transition in an organization. 2. consultant lingo for “cutting away the dead wood,” i.e., laying you off. An ugly process that senior management farms out to consulting firms so that the execs don’t have to deal with the messy business of restructuring.”

Change Management is an ugly phrase, bringing up a host of unpleasant images and feelings. This is why I don’t like the book Who Moved My Cheese. Same nonsense. It sounds to me like employees must be flexible enough to roll with the punches and adapt to changing environments. But, has anyone really looked at these changes?

People, when they are hired to do a job, are more or less at the mercy of their bosses and going to do what they are told… at least in theory (and let’s go with that theory please). I know in my last job, I was often asked to present a particular report in a variety of ways. It happened too that the boss would make countless changes to these reports before I finalized the product. All of this is fine and good because I was doing what I was hired to do. But, what made those changes any good? Suppose those changes were only to serve the egos of our managers? So then, if I were to speak up about a “change” like, perhaps I suggest things be done differently, why would I then be considered inflexible? It would make me inflexible and my boss a genius, because let’s face it; it couldn’t be the other way around now, could it?

Let’s also look at restructuring. This is one of my favorites.

Change Management + Restructuring = I QUIT

I’ll tell you why: I was hired to do one job with a semi-set realm of responsibilities. When I am thus “restructured” into a completely different job area with completely different responsibilities, the talent I was hired for is no longer being used. My guess is also that this is management’s way of letting someone go without needing the spine to actually fire them. Again, this makes them look like heroes while I’m “resistant to change”. Of course it couldn’t be the other way around.

I’m guessing that it’s management’s overall insecurity that enacts a lot of this "change management". But that’s just my guess.




When All Else Fails...

...it's time to get the hell outta Dodge.

Everyone has their limits. If you’ve honestly given your job the good ‘ol college try and nothing has worked, then it’s time to go. Seriously. As I've said countless times, I do not claim to have the answers as many others do. I’m not even sure that there are answers - or at least the right ones. I can tell you what I've done, what's worked and what hasn't worked (unfortunately there's more that hasn't worked).

Results are largely dependent upon who you work with. Try as you may, you will never be able to change others. It may be possible to work out the occasional compromise, but stupid bosses will always be stupid. It’s best to know how to protect yourself while still doing what you were hired to do. If you can no longer do that and your reputation as well as your sanity are hanging in the balance, then it’s time to cut your losses and move on.




Been There? Done That? You're Hired!

Granted, this focuses on the accounting and finance areas, but I still think it’s interesting. Robert Half International conducted a survey for CFO’s asking them the determining factor in a new hire. It’s universally accepted that it’s all about WHO you know, rather than WHAT you know, right? Wrong! This survey suggests that hiring managers will hire you based on your experience. So there is reason to keep some faith during your next job hunt.

Then again, that’s all fine and good until you find out that your competition for the job (or the promotion) is the president’s son or someone else who is owed a favor by the same hiring manager. That would suck… but that’s life, isn’t it?

(Now that’s more like it! After all, I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth until I’ve been properly screwed.)




Fan Club or Fight Club?

Creating tension will only cause problems; they will not lead to work getting done faster or more efficiently. Be a part of the solution, not the problem (don't you love cliches?). Create a fighting force that will accomplish amazing feats and make you look like a superstar. No one will do that for you if you put them down or threaten them.

I mean, at the end of the day if you’ve done your job right, there would be no need for the boss to be anything other than grateful to you for doing what you’re supposed to, right? I get it: what do we expect when we accomplish that which we’re hired to do, right? This isn’t about anyone bowing down to us. This is about courtesy and mutual respect. We do not expect you to lick our boots, but you can repay us not just by giving us a paycheck every other week, but by not finding fault with something completely unrelated and solely for the sake of putting us down. There’s always tomorrow to nitpick about an issue that needs attention. Right now we need to feel like we’re not total failures. We’d appreciate it if you can remember that from time to time.




Who's the Boss?

No, this isn’t about bad 80’s programming. This is about how close is too close with the boss? While this suggests romantic involvement, I’m talking about forging friendships between manager and subordinate. Is this is a good idea or a bad idea?

I might still be on the fence on this one; I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen it backfire. It can be a tough call. On the one hand, the friendlier the relationships, the more willing both parties are to help the other. Trust is something that is also likely to exist.

I’ve had this situation work out where I trusted my subordinate (whom I’d known before they were my subordinate). There was an unspoken understanding and camaraderie in the wake of my bat-$#@%-crazy manager’s delusional behavior. My subordinate knew that anything “wacky” out of my mouth came from my supervisor.

I’ve also seen this set-up fail. There once was a manager who was friendly with their staff and was promptly discouraged from continuing any friendship with her subordinates. Was it b/s? Probably. Especially since this manager started her employment without any guidance or supervision and thus had no clue what the functions and responsibilities were. So what happened? The employees guided the manager and there ensued an “us versus them” mentality. To say it ended badly is an understatement. This manager (who, btw, is the wind beneath my wings), left. The employees were left behind with their resentment of upper management. It was an ugly situation.

What happened then was your’s truly was forced to step in to lead this unhappy group of riff raff and produce results. Although I totally understood how they felt, I quickly became torn once threatened with termination. So, while I never really agreed with what went on, I was unable to go to bat for the team and they didn’t understand. It was unfortunate; we were all in a bad place. The way the employees saw it, I “switched sides” although that was never farther from the truth. Never.

Would it have been better for me never to have been on their side? Perhaps. Each situation is different and therefore I have no one answer to give. I’ve been on all sides of this issue. Just something to ponder.




Lessons learned...

Managers as well as workers need to remember not to sweat the small stuff. Something is always going to happen. We need to deal with that. Chances are, there’s going to be things that drive us mad about our bosses. It’s just the way it is. Pick and choose your battles smartly. Let the small stuff go. You’ll have to or you’ll go mad.

On the other hand, managers really need to chill. Mistakes are not the end of the world. Sometimes, mistakes are needed in order to move forward or do things more efficiently in the future. If there’s a mistake such as, you left off a comma in a 10-page memo to a group, this is not a tragedy. There’s a big difference between mistakes like that and several grammatical issues that alter the meaning of a message, or the same mistakes over and over.

My big thing was always: Is the work correct? If yes, then get over the fact that I failed to bold a word on page 399, or left out a set of parentheses where there should be a set. It was a mistake. Let me know about it, I’ll fix it and won’t do it again next time.

If I make repeated mistakes however, that may be a little different. But still, it’s not as though I’m failing to report millions of dollars in company liability due to a glitch in the system that I should have caught long before. I mean, that’s something that could (and should) lead to termination. But commas, font style and color? Boss please… let me get back to work.




The Corporate Bloodsuckers Moved Your Cheese

Who Moved My Cheese is a book that’s supposed to be an endearing metaphor about mice that learn how to think “outside the box” and broaden their horizons in response to the changing times in their little world. I want to squash those mice. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost sixteen years and that’s how I feel about those little guys. Cute, nothing.

They set the stage for disaster. Let me explain.

The point they make is obvious; in order to move forward in business you need to move with the times and be adaptable. This is the best way to be successful. Those who don’t change and remain rigid in their ways and practices are stepped on, “starved out”, or simply left behind.

In theory, this is good advice. I mean, how many of you have been told “No” to trying something new because, “It’s always been done this way”? Well, to me the book came to mean something else.

When my boss handed this book to me a few years ago, I should have seen the writing on the wall. Boy, was I naïve. I interpreted the book to be what it was: a metaphor.

What my boss was really saying: “We’re going to knock you on your ass with constant ‘restructuring’ and tell you how it’s good for you. Meanwhile, we’ll increase your workload, berate you, belittle you, and walk all over you. Basically, we’re going to do everything we can to either push you out or just make you cry like a little girl with a skinned knee… because we feel like it.”

This book was merely a sign of events to come. How I wish I’d had the foresight to know.




English as a First Language

Communication… managers need to learn how it works. Long gone are the days where we simply do what we are told. Now, at best, we need to repeat what our bosses say, write it down, and follow it up with an email. And that STILL gives us no guarantee that our bat-$#@%-crazy manager isn’t going to turn around and clobber us with, “That’s not what I told you to do!”

Also, it would help if they knew how to explain what needs to be done. It’s great that Miss Manager knows what she's doing, but if I have to ask her four times to restate it differently, that means she needs to find a better way to go about explaining it. Based on my experience of "getting it", I know the misunderstanding is not from my stupidity. This inability to be able to lace together a single coherent thought is, I'm sorry to say, commonplace. This is just reality.

Aside from that, people learn things differently. Some people learn by seeing it done, others by doing it, others by hearing it, and still others by putting it under their pillows at night and learning by osmosis. Okay, I pulled that last one out of thin air because I thought it sounded good.

When I was still incarcerated in Corporate America and managing others, I used to write up extensive “How-to” manuals that literally took a person by the hand on what needed to get done for every task. If anyone found a better way to perform step #3 than as I laid it out, I would tell them to go for it and make the change. Or, if something needed further clarification, I would go back and re-write it. I never completed a manual from start to finish on my own. If there were others that needed it, then it needed to pass their inspection. Let’s face it; sometimes someone else has a better way to phrase things. As a manager, it's key to learn some of these ways and use them. It makes better managers and gets past the fact that they don't know how to explain anything to anyone else. It's also about getting over the ego thing.

I’m just saying.




Cupid in the Cubicle

Office romances are a way of life. When you consider how much time is spent at the office, it’s really no surprise that work becomes a great way for singles to meet other singles.

The problems arise when you:

A: Blab about your trysts to all of your friends
B: Play footsie during the weekly meetings with your paramour
C: Date while going against company policy
D: Have a very public break up

While there are many people that see no problems with intra-office dating as long as the work is not interrupted, there are plenty of people that will tell you not to go there. It’s a fine line to walk, so tread carefully.

More to come




Last Call

It used to be my manager’s habit to call me 5 minutes before the end of the day… almost every single day… for 2 ½ years. Like clock-work, 5:55pm my phone would ring and she’d want the run-down on what was happening.

Let me also explain that every day I gave said manager an update no less than thirty minutes before the end of the day in order to prevent the daily “last call”. Not only that, but she got a report at the start of each day in addition to a separate daily status report. So what could possibly be so important at 5:55pm? Let me tell you: there was never anything that important that couldn’t wait.

My friends used to tell me not to answer the phone. What they didn’t get was that if I went that route, I’d get a speech about leaving 5 minutes early and how office hours were 9am-6pm blah, blah, blah. To me, it was just a plot to annoy me. Yeah well, it worked. It annoyed me because it usually kept me there for a long time past “office hours”.

A word of advice: If you find yourself in a situation where you continually check on an employee this much, ask yourself:

If yes, then ask yourself:

And finally, ask yourself:

I mean, I get it; giving up control can sometimes be difficult. However, needing to maintain that much control usually means there’s something deeper going on with YOU. By that I mean, you’re insecure about your own talents. The employee you question actually does have all the answers and if someone asks you something that only this person has the answers to and you are no help, then that would make you look… bad and probably worthless, right? Maybe, but maybe not.

Get on your game and off your employee’s backs. If they’re doing their jobs, listen to what they say so you don't have to ask them ridiculous questions that you should know the answers to and let them handle business. If they handle business that well, it’ll be a sign that you, as their manager, have lead them well.

So let it go and keep the last call for the bar!




Burn Those Bridges!

Napoleon Hill may have been on to something. As one of my freelance assignments, I had to provide a summary of his book Think and Grow Rich. It was originally published in 1937, and while it’s touted as a classic, sounds completely antiquated.

Take the example Napoleon uses of Edwin C. Barnes. Barnes was a man determined to partner with Thomas Edison. Armed with a fierce determination, he also went in with tunnel vision. What I mean is, he left himself no way out. In the book, Napoleon calls Barnes “the man who burns bridges” because that’s exactly what he did to propel himself toward success.

Barnes’ idea was to burn all bridges so that you leave yourself no other option than to succeed. If you have nowhere to go but up, then up is where you go.

Just imagine if this was common practice today! If that were the case I’d have flipped off my former bosses on the way out the door as I wanted to. But noooooo, I didn’t do that because I was taught never to burn those bridges. No, instead I sent my exit interview to the president of the company.

I don’t plan on going back there any time soon. Burning bridges… sheesh… what will they think of next?


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