Archive for the ‘Honesty at Work’ Category

The Domineering Executive

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Many executives are busy, and some obviously are too busy for good manners. As discussed in a recent article by Gillian Livingstone in the November 23, 2012 Globe and Mail, Play nice or get kicked out of the sandbox, “being a domineering manager is no longer the sure route to promotion – or retention.”

It is more important than ever for our corporate leaders to not only play fair, but to lead by example, and that means being able to get along with others. Simply put, to PLAY NICE IN THE SANDBOX.

Gone are the days when managers can lose their temper, or leave workers in a wake of fear and tears in order to bulldoze their way through the workplace. Gone are the days when threats could be made to someone’s livelihood, or when staff were shown the door if they disagreed with their boss.

Executives are no longer judged, or retained, solely on their bottom-line impact. As the article explains, “… being a heavy-handed leader doesn’t work in the fast-moving tech industry.” It would be hard to believe that being heavy-handed and plain outright nasty would be acceptable in any industry in today’s world.

Small business owners should take note. Just because they are not involved in managing publicly traded giants, business owners still have to live up to the expectations for fair and humane treatment by their workers. How many times have business owners rolled their eyes in exasperation when mistakes are made?  How many times do they raise their voices over others, drowning out any chance of hearing what their workers have to say?

Small business owners need their entire workforce to be operating at full speed. There is less fat in smaller organizations. So when managers or executives lose their temper, openly express their frustration that things are not moving as quickly as the business owner wants, or raise their voice in authority, the workforce sit up and pay attention.

But it might not be the type of attention the business owner needs or wants. Nobody likes to work for a jerk, and nobody likes being made to be afraid at work. If business owners make it unsafe to disagree, or to express alternate opinions, business owners will soon find themselves making decisions from the only opinion that matters – their own. However, the best ideas come from the synergy that healthy dialog and challenging perspectives that getting along inspires.

If business owners fail to make it safe, truly safe, to make mistakes, they are missing opportunities to grow and become stronger. They are the company’s shareholders, and money wasted is money taken right out of their own pockets. Business owners often believe that mistakes are somehow done “to” them, rather than done “with” them. They take it personally, and thus, let their emotions get in the way of creativity, idea sharing, and calculated risk taking.

If a worker knows that they will be subject to harsh criticism, or a victim to acerbic reactions, why put their neck on the line? Why not just shut up, keep all the good ideas hidden, and let the caustic boss make all the decisions?

When managers understand that mistakes are a natural part of life, and when the employee understands that careless mistakes are not acceptable, companies can gain an advantage through building capacity to think things through more thoroughly, learn from failures, and grow risk management capabilities.

Risk management should be the key here. The reason bosses often become exasperated is because many mistakes could have been avoided through a little extra time, attention to detail, and thinking things through. Thinking two or even three steps out from a problem can provide depth of understanding into the consequences of a certain action. Yet so many of us feel the need to fix the problem immediately, and so we jump in with what we believe to be a viable solution, only to find out that the cure was worse than the illness.


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Twittering the Day Away…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Image courtesy of Tanatat //

One of my clients recently called to ask how to handle the following situation:

Greg (not his real name) had been caught spending a lot of time for personal on-line stuff. One day he sent 60 (yes, 60) emails back and forth to his real estate agent while he was buying his house. Another day, he sent a screen shot to his manager to show her something on the company site. Unfortunately for Greg, his screen shot also captured an open kijiji page, showing that he was once again surfing the net for his own purposes rather than working. When Greg’s manager sent a message back commenting on the open kijiji page, Greg took it upon himself to barge into her office complaining that she had no right to question him about how he spent his time…

Ah, the sense of entitlement was thick in the air; as it is in a lot of other organizations.

Twitter is here to stay, at least until the next tech tool comes along… But what can managers do to make sure their staff are not twittering, or facebooking, or tumblr-ing, the day away? Let’s face it, in today’s electronic  age, where we are plugged in 24/7, there is going to be some time spent during the work day when staff are sending or receiving text  messages, checking for bargains online, or just plain old “surfing the net” for something interesting to read.


And is this really a problem? In years gone by, workers used to refresh their brains by looking out the window, or doodling. If a manager walked past a desk and saw the worker staring aimlessly into space, day dreaming in other words, the manager would probably speak up and remind the worker that they were paid to work, not daydream.

Today, management styles have changed, and it is no longer acceptable or wise to come down too hard on staff who abuse the rules: unless they are for safety reasons, then it is prudent to take a strong stance. Instead, it is somehow expected that managers find a way to motivate staff to work throughout the day. Easier said than done. How can managers highlight the importance of self-restraint when using the internet, texting, etc. for personal purposes while being paid by the employer to produce results?

  1. First off, companies have to anticipate that their workforce will surf the net during the day if they have access to any electronic device. The company must also decide in advance how strictly they wish to control non-work related surfing. Of course, policies should be in place regarding what they can surf: internet porn, violence, anti-religious rhetoric, etc. should all be prohibited on company equipment. But what about the staff who uses their computer at work to search the MLS listings? Or goes onto ebay to buy new guitar strings? Or texts their kids several times a day? What is the message they want to send employees about this sort of behaviour?


  1. Secondly, companies have to find a way to communicate their philosophy on using electronic devices during company time. Are managers willing to tell staff they know that there will be times when staff jump online to check their facebook status or to post a picture? And equally important, how do managers communicate that while staff may feel entitled to surf the new on company time, there has to be integrity in the number of times they log-on or the amount of time they spend on personal business.

I think one of the main reasons companies do not want to acknowledge that staff are surfing on company time is because there is a real fear that the workforce may interpret that acknowledgement as tacit approval for the behaviour. It is vital for managers put a time parameter around what they would be willing to tolerate: half an hour a day, fifteen minutes, an hour… Without guidelines, workers can easily rely on the fact that they simply did not realize what they were doing was against the rules. Since “everyone else” surfs the net, they thought it was acceptable.


In the case of Greg, he threw his colleagues under the bus by saying that they are online WAY more than him. When we meet with him, there are three main issues we need to address:

  1. It is inappropriate to feel entitled to storm into your manager’s office to argue that the manager has no right to ask about how he spends his time at work. What part of “manager” does not involve monitoring performance?
  1. We will be setting clear performance parameters to help Greg understand that if he is failing to meet targets (i.e. making his quota of outbound sales calls or following up with client requests), then he should perhaps focus on getting his work done and THEN use his free time the way he feels is productive to his mental and emotional health at work.
  1. Greg needs to hold his own integrity, and accept accountability for his actions. Rather than pointing out the faults of his co-workers, something that undermines the work culture, he should focus on his own behaviour and make sure it is impeccable before he calls others’ into question.

Companies today are coming up against issues that never existed in previous decades. And, they need to anticipate those issues so they can avert problems before they arise. And where the internet, social media, texting, and personal cell phones and emails are concerned, companies must know what they expect from their workforce and communicate clearly on the expectations. Otherwise, they will continue to bump up against the new challenges of having a 24/7 plugged in workforce.

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Opening Communications and Transparency

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Years ago, managers were the keepers of all secrets a company had. They knew the plans, but only told the workforce just enough information to make sure the job got done. Workers did not question, they just worked and did what they were told. Ah, the good ol’ days… Many mangers in today’s world still believe that knowledge is power, and holding onto knowledge gives them power over the staff.
How ARCHAIC! Retire already, will you? Get out of the workforce, and stop clogging up the works…
Today’s leaders share information readily and often. They give workers the reasons the company needs something done a certain way. They listen to ideas, and consider communication a two-way process: not the top-down information flow that “dinosaur managers” use as their primary communication style.

There are several myths that managers have that tell them it is “unsafe” or “unwise” to share information freely, or to be transparent. This gets in the way of fully engaging the workforce, and creates an environment founded upon the inherent struggle for power and control:

Myth #1: Transparency and information-sharing is NOT a sign of weakness
To the contrary, being willing to be transparent and show both confidence and concern helps build joint commitment to improvements. Being courageous enough to be transparent and to ask for input earns respect, and it builds collective problem-solving. Today’s workforce is well-educated. They can handle a little information without falling to pieces. Trust them enough to know this is true.

Myth #2: Noboby has all the answers
Nobody can have all the answers, so why hide it when a manager is at a loss for a solution. It does not mean the manager is incompetent (unless they truly have no idea of how to fix ANY problem). It does not lessen the manager’s role or scope of authority. Open up the lines of communication and ask questions. Somewhere the solution is out there, and it may come from the most unexpected source.

Myth #3: Being open will lead to a lack of confidentiality
Guess what, if someone really wants to breach confidentiality rules, they will – no matter what. So is it better to keep all information tightly held within the board room, or to remove workers who do not support the company fully? When managers do not trust that their staff can handle certain information, what they are really saying is that they have untrustworthy people on their payroll. Untrustworthy people live at all levels of the operation, and even senior managers can use secret information for their own advantage – just look at Enron and Worldcom. Rather than holding cards close to the vest, get rid of people who expose themselves as gossips, negative commentators, or braggarts who cannot keep their mouths shut in the pursuit of praise and attention. It is not a problem with confidentiality that is the problem: it is the problem of people who fail to respect their company enough to use information they are given for their own personal gain instead of the company’s.

Myth #4: The best answers come from the top
False. The best answers come from a mix of the top and the bottom. Managers often look at a problem from a dollars and cents perspective, while front-line workers view problems as obstacles to getting their work done. Companies who ask for input from a top-down and bottom-up viewpoint gain the advantage of synergies. Top-down decision-making undermines morale, performance, loyalty (both employee and client); it increases turnover and distrust. All this leads to decreased profits. Is this REALLY the end goal? Of course, not every decision can be made be consensus; sometimes the best place to decide is at the top. However, if this is the primary decision-making protocol, management teams are losing valuable information that could negatively impact the long-term consequences of decisions made in isolation.

Myth #5: People won’t understand our finances
That’s true, if the company’s accountants make them so convoluted that they are clear as mud. When finances are handled incorrectly (i.e. Enron’s penchant for mark-to-market accounting, whereby the company posted profits for projects as they were approved, not completed.

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Unionization Rumours are in the Wind

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Unionization rumors are in the wind, how to avoid unionization

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic

A good client of mine recently called saying they had just heard that there were staff trying to get other staff to sign unions cards. YIKES! How should they respond to these rumours? What should they do?

Like most companies, the first and most spontaneous reaction was to get their supervisors to go around and speak with their staff to find out what is really going on. Supervisors were asking their staff who was behind the union campaign, and who was supportive and who was not…

The company also met with their entire staff to let them know they’d heard the rumours and made it clear if anyone felt pressured into signing cards they did not have to sign. They reminded their workforce that nobody should feel harassed in the workplace, and that meant union organizers could not force or intimidate anyone into agreeing to sign a card.

DON’T DO THAT!! Your company could be accused of something called “Unfair Labour Practices” and this could create a whole menu of problems moving forward. So what should a company do when they get wind of “union talk”?

The first thing to do is BREATHE, and try to avoid PANICKING…

The second thing to do is to pick up the phone and get expert help. There are two people you want on your team: a really good (and I mean REALLY good) Leadership Consultant who can help your management team learn effective ways to identify and respond to situations that are certain to arise. The second person you want on your team is a good Labour Relations expert. This could be a lawyer or paralegal who specializes in Labour Relations (not someone who dabbles in LR, but someone whose sole focus in LR).

As the Leadership Consultant, my role is to help develop communication strategies to get the company’s message across to its workforce. One key message is why the company believes they (the workforce and management team) are better off without a union. Another key message is to remind staff of all the good things the company has done for them – without union involvement. For example, many companies provide investment plans or health plans to their staff. Companies may have a “Promote From Within” policy and offer training to help workers develop skills so they can advance.

As a skilled Leadership Consultant I offer advice and ideas to help the management and supervisory team know what to say, and perhaps even more importantly, what NOT to say. Together we position your company in a more realistic light so the staff can make an informed decision, one that is not based on union rhetoric or empty promises.

The union is telling your workforce that their managers don’t care about them. They are telling your workers that it is ONLY through union representation that they will get big, fat pay raises, more benefits, or better working conditions. Their message is LOUD and LOUDER… It is up to the company to bring some balance to the messaging – without using unfair labour practices. This takes expertise that most managers or supervisors simply do not have. In all honesty, how many management teams have actually worked through a union-organizing campaign? Not many, so it is reasonable to accept that your managers and supervisors simply do not have the knowledge to make good decisions during a time when the union “has eyes and ears within the workplace that are watching your every move” (yes, that is a quote from a union letter alleging unfair labour practices to one of the companies I’ve worked with!).

Once we have a good communication plan in place, and the entire management and supervisory team has been trained on what to expect, how to react and respond, and what they can or cannot say, the company is a much better position to manage through the process.

If there are issues with the union, for example you receive letters alleging unfair labour practices, the Labour Relations expert can be the front person to respond. It demonstrates that the company knows what it is doing, and puts the union on notice that it has retained experts to help.

Most companies do not deserve a union, but some do. During the Industrial Revolution, unions were necessary to protect workers from unsafe and unacceptable working conditions. That was then, this is now… Today we have legislation that governs the workplace and how employees should be treated. Unions are like any other business, they rely on the revenues generated by union dues to stay in operation. Union members rarely know what percentage of their dues goes towards their own benefit, versus how much is used to keep the union “in business”.

Studies have shown that 75% of union dues are spent by unions to run organizing campaigns at new companies – this leave little of the union dues that the workers pay going towards negotiating on their behalf.

Hmmmm…. Maybe the workers and their managers could work together and get the same results – for less money and with less animosity…

One thing is for sure: it is much easier to avoid a union if your company treats its workforce with courtesy, respect, and are attentive to their needs. This means paying reasonable wages, offering a variety of rewards and recognition for good performance, and investing in the workers’ mental and physical health at work. In other words, being a good Employer who applies Workplace Best Practices.

So when the Union is knocking on your door, give us a call. We’ll help put your company in the best position possible to remain union-free. We will also offer you strategies to keep your workforce committed and happy to be on your team.

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