Our primary goal in business is to succeed - whatever that means. Most of the time it means profitability, but hopefully it also includes meeting the "human" goals of supporting employees and their families, providing meaningful goods and services, and otherwise making a difference in the world.
We run our business expecting things to go well, and then "Sarah" shows up (we changed the name to protect the guilty here). I was returning a truck I had rented for the day to a not-to-be-named moving truck company when things seemed to fall apart. We waited in line for what seemed an eternity, only to meet Sarah behind the desk sitting down. "Next!" Our explanation that we were returning a truck was met with "Grrrr!" Not exactly the response I expected. Sarah jumps up and walks quickly away from us, yelling, "Come with me sir!" and mumbling "You shouldn't have to come into the store to return your truck, d***it!"
As we awkwardly followed Sarah outside, we saw her target her employee "Bob" like a hawk targets a small mouse. I then see Sarah in Bob's face giving him the verbal beat-down right in front of me and other customers. In a matter of what seemed like one long breath, she belittled Bob, told him not to tell her how to run her business, reminded him that she could fire him at any time, and that how he really screwed things up for her. It was an awkward display to say the least. As she returned from getting the information she sought, she began to explain why she felt it was necessary to confront Bob then and there. "If I don't embarrass him in front of others, he'll never understand! He's been treating me badly all day and I just had to set him straight. Sorry you had to see that. It's hard to get good help these days. I'll take $25 off your rental because you shouldn't have had to come inside."
Thanks for the $25...but what an awkward spectacle for all of us. My first thought as I had seen this was, "there is no question why you have the perpetual 'HELP WANTED' sign in front of your store." They may be hard to find...but once you find someone, you give them a beat down like that? My general inclination was to send the company an offer for a group discount for management training. My second inclination was to never come back to this location - EVER. I'll go to another location to rent my truck next time, even if it costs me a few more bucks in mileage to avoid this situation again.
Have you seen this? Maybe your first thought was - "Maybe that employee just needed that!" Even the group of guys behind me who witnessed the spectacle were making comments like, "Wow! That is NOT how you treat an employee. She needs some help." In case you were wondering, that is not the way to deal with employees. That episode lost my business forever.
I wish this was a simple exception to management practices - something outside of the norm. Unfortunately, this is one of the top three ways that your managers may be killing your business. Gone unaddressed, these examples may cost you a lot each year - every year - until you do something about them. Here are the top three...
1. How They Treat Employees
The example above typifies the danger and damage that can come from a customer's perspective. A bad experience can cost you business in the form of poor customer relations resulting in customers not returning. But what about the employee's? I would almost guarantee that he does not come back the next day. For the minimum wage he was probably making, he can go anywhere else to make the same amount - there are MANY help wanted signs around town. While this may have been a situation with a minimum wage worker, are we doing the same to more highly paid employees as well?
Depending on the report you use, it costs a minimum of 50% of an employee's annual salary to replace them. When you think of lost productivity, the time and money you spend to advertise and hire a replacement, the training time, etc. it adds up quickly.
Aside from that, you have probably felt the talent squeeze. Most employers are feeling the crunch to find qualified help, especially in their front line positions. If we spend so much time, energy and money to recruit and find the right talent, why would we want to entrust them into the hands of a manager that does not treat them well?
It is essential that we provide managers the right training to help them help their employees be successful. It is also essential to hold managers accountable - not just for overall performance and outcomes, but also the tangible and intangible measures associated with how they manage their employees (which we know has an impact on the bottom line). Spending resources to give managers tools in communications, interpersonal relations, listening, empowerment, coaching, and training can help to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful. Then holding them accountable for using those resources can ensure that we do not invest in them in vain.
Do you have a workaholic as a manager? Are YOU a workaholic? As a recovering workaholic myself, I recognize the dangers that can come from it. I believe in hard work, don't get me wrong. We're talking about those individuals who live, breathe, sleep and eat work. They take work home with them, spend long hours at work, and keep "working". But are they very productive?
An article from Forbes a few years ago addressed the personal impact of workaholism on the individual (click here for article). Creating an addiction to work has the potential for just as many outcomes as any other addiction including lost productivity, lost time at work, poor health leading to major issues including death, increased stress, insomnia, and other behaviors that can be career ending. Sleep deprivation alone results in more accidents and injuries on the job than anything else. Our brains need a break - we can't keep it up forever. Even the best of us will end up with a mental or emotional breakdown if left unchecked. (Click here to read the Harvard Medical School's study on the impact of sleep deprivation.)
For those who work for and around the workaholic, it can be just as bad. Workaholics tend to be perfectionists and the added stress to the workplace has a negative impact. A classic New York Times article reviewed the impact to others of workaholism. Issues such as significantly increased stress result when a workaholic demands employees to work similar hours as they do, attempt to meet impossible deadlines, and then jump in to micromanage the situation when work is deemed substandard. (Click here for NYT article.)
To help these individuals, demand they take time off from work. One company I know insists that every employee (not just managers) take at least one full workweek off per year. They are not allowed to open emails, do any work, or make calls to the office. They have only one number they are allowed to receive calls from - in case of a dire emergency - but it needs to be "dire" in nature. By forcing them to unplug, it accomplishes a couple things. First, it allows the employee to unplug and do it right. Second, if anything is going on that shouldn't be, a week is usually sufficient time for improprieties to come to the surface (which helps to prevent fraud and other situations).
3. Majoring in the Minors
Are your managers spending most of their time on the things that matter most? or are they just keeping busy?
Far too often managers default into crisis management. Whatever the crisis is in front of them - no matter how small - they jump on it. It can be something of importance all the way down to spending inordinate amounts of time on emails. As long as they look and feel as though they are busy, they also gain a feeling of importance and ac
hievement. These may include perpetual list makers who make lists mostly to document all they get done vs. using lists to keep them on track as they work towards a larger.
Managers who focus on "busy" may have some internal or external motives. Internally, if the need is to look and feel busy, this meets a need of satiation - so they feel that they are accomplishing something no matter how small it is. This may be the case for those individuals who do not have much of a social or outside life beyond work. If work is the primary creation of meaning, then the more they do (no matter how insignificant), the better they feel about things. For those who are extrinsically motivated, they may have a boss that figures that busy means productive. I remember my first boss who repeated over and over: "If you don't have something to do, I'll find something for you." That gave us incentive to look busy because we knew what her idea of "busy" meant which was often an unpleasant task. If you have managers who focus on busy instead of productive, it may be expected that people in the department focus on busy and not necessarily outcomes.
Remember the Pareto Principle? Otherwise known as the 80/20 rule? Well, it's true. At least 80% of your meaningful outcomes and purpose come from only 20% (or less) of what you do. By helping managers understand what matters most, use that as their 20% that results in 80% of the outcome, and then limit their busy work, this can help to increase productivity, performance and outcomes more effectively than any other single action you can instill. It's good for them, it's good for you, it's good for the business.
If you can, consider whether you may have a manager in one or more of these categories (including a self evaluation of your habits). Find some ways this week to introduce new approaches, coaching and learning that can help them to easily improve their outcomes.
Here's to your success.
Dr. Wade M. Larson