the human aspect of being a manager


I saw this article in the New York Times, mentioned to me by a former coworker. I took a read and shocker – I have some thoughts from a few different angles. :)

When I left Starbucks (nearly 5yrs ago!) I was working at at store in a different city we were moving to. That market had implemented an “optimized scheduling” process, which meant I went from a store with 18-19 people, including 5 supervisors + myself, to a store of 10 people and 4 supervisors + myself that did more sales per week. It was impossible. Most managers were working 6 days a week and nearly 60hrs a week. I was driving back and forth to my former city on my off days while our house was on the market so I squeezed my hours into 5 days so I could go to back the other 2 days. Every supervisor was full time and if someone wanted to take vacation we had to borrow people from other stores, which was also impossible because everyone was full time – thus why the managers were working their knuckles to the bones. It was awful, and I felt like I had started working for a completely different company than previously. Morale was in the toilet. Everyone was looking for a different job, including myself. Not just in our store – but from what all of my peers and their teams were saying it was pretty widespread. It wasn’t a way to live, especially when they had experienced what it “used to be.” Decisions were made in response to the recession (it was 2009), and to protect the bottom line, but definitely not to protect the employees.

I always placed a high level of importance on the scheduling process as a manager, and would try very hard to be diligent to accommodate requests and scheduling because I felt that was a key part of creating a positive work environment – really, regardless of the company – but it seemed extra important to Starbucks. I believed whole-heartedly in taking care of my people as best as I could, while also managing the needs of the business. (My “arranger” theme for you StrengthsFinder types was really beneficial to me in this.)

So this article hit me a couple different ways. After Starbucks I managed a workforce development program for those in poverty, and the story that Ms. Navarro has in this article is not unusual. We want to cheer on those in poverty to get a job – any job! – and most of us on the outskirts don’t realize the reality of trying to juggle a job with varied hours, where you often get called in or cut, making it unpredictable and nearly impossible to budget on. If you have kids then multiply that logistical nightmare by like 100. I’ve read numerous articles about parents in poverty spending hours commuting by public transit to get their child to daycare so they could get to work and repeating it again in the afternoon.

(This is why I want to scream at anyone who says, “they just need to get a job” about people in poverty. It’s FAR more complex than that. But let’s not veer down that road right now.)

The other thing is I know that there are managers out there (especially in the retail and food service industry that schedule in this manner), in every company, who rely too much on the technology and not enough on the human aspect when it comes to scheduling. They lack compassion and understanding, and/or they’re more focused on making themselves and the bottom line look good than taking care of the employees. And for some of them, the manager above them (the district or regional person) may be the one lacking compassion and understanding or too focused on the bottom line, and thus doesn’t enable the manager to care well for his/her employees.

I believe it’s like leadership karma – you’re not going to get anywhere long term in a way that’s truly fulfilling by stepping on other people to get there. I made decisions as a manager to argue for and advocate for the needs of my team not to the detriment of my business, but in a way that would reduce the cushion. But I also knew I needed to be able to sleep at night knowing I did the right thing for the human beings entrusted to my care. It’s almost this parental feeling, and years later, I still feel care and compassion for those I managed years ago.

Whether it’s hiring, scheduling, developing people, etc – you can’t be a good manager and leader and not have the human aspect of your job as a manager at the forefront of your brain. Your numbers may look good, you may balance your budget, and on those things maybe your boss will give you kudos for the work you do, but don’t be deceived thinking that your team doesn’t see right through that, and you won’t have the loyalty and trust from your team that could propel amazing things.

Years later, I still like to believe that, for the most part, Starbucks is a different kind of company. I don’t want anyone to miss that the article mentioned that once Ms. Navarro talked with her manager about her struggles that her manager adjusted her schedule into something much more manageable. Sometimes it takes being open and honest about your situation and being vulnerable, too. It sounds like Ms. Navarro was pretty vulnerable anyway, so having to sit and open up like that with her boss may have just been something she didn’t want to have to do.

My lesson from this – and my reminder to myself and others – is this: Don’t forget the human aspect. It’s not all about the bottom line and the schedule or the Gantt chart or the pipeline. Remember the humans.




is a shorter workweek feasible?

an article came across my email today entitled “Billionaires Carlos Slim And Richard Branson Want A 3-Day Workweek — Here’s Why It Isn’t Practical“. since i’d recently had a conversation with a friend on the merits of a shorter workweek (we were talking 4 10hr days), and have even seen articles that have questioned whether or not a full 40hr workweek is necessary, i decided to give this one a read.

(i should begin by saying that i’m addressing salaried workers, and i understand that hourly workers when it comes to this topic is a whole other fish to fry.)

many times i’ve heard the anecdote that advances in technology – such as computers, smartphones, things in the cloud, etc – were supposed to make us so much more efficient that we weren’t going to need to work 40hr workweeks anymore. the initial thought was to be more like “yay technology! you can spend more time with your family and doing things that matter to you and your community!” because what used to take 40-50hrs would take significantly fewer hours. when i first heard that, i cracked up, because that’s just so Americans. :) we glorify work, even if it’s unnecessary. that’s certainly not always a bad thing; that mindset has helped us become a pretty awesome country. but we’re often out of balance, which is an op-ed for another day (and probably another writer).

i’m not sure it’s reasonable to think there’s exactly 40hrs of work to do, week in and week out. for salaried workers, some organizations are aware enough of what “salaried” means to allow some flexibility – knowing some weeks will require more hours than others. from my experience as well as research and anecdotal experience, most organizations require  40hrs/week (either spoken or just within the culture) whether the person is salaried or not and whether or not that person has 40hrs of work to do that week.  (some of this may be generational, too: my boomer boss at a former job was way more set on the “you’re not actually working/contributing if you’re not at a desk from 8a-5p every day” than my GenX and younger supervisors have been.) being stuck on this 40hr work week idea, despite technology advances, creates a continuum between 2 extremes:

on one hand, you have the people expected to be there for 40hrs even when they don’t have that much work to do, and out of fear of losing their job or looking unnecessary, they have to find ways to look busy on a regular basis to fill that time. on the other hand, you have those who are adhering to ridiculous expectations and consistently working well over 40hrs/week, either because of their own expectations (ie: workaholics, which i tend towards and really have to guard against for my own sanity), or those who would work a healthy week if given the opportunity, but can’t because of the constant pressure from the top.

in many ways, these 2 extremes have so become the norm that if you ask one of those people “looking busy” to take on more work they’ll go on and on about how busy they are, because the truth is they’ve figured out how to busy themselves for 40hrs/week, and would have to seriously alter the way they work to take on more. it’d be a significant culture shift. and for those working a kajillion hours a week, trying to suggest that they cut back to a normal/healthy 40hr workweek is like asking them to either a) kill their dog (for the workaholics) or b) allow themselves to be fired (for those working in organizations with ridiculous expectations). also both significant culture shifts.

can we all take a breather? very few of us work in industries that are literal life and death if someone doesn’t work those extra hours. what’s shocking to me is that we’re so concerned about deadlines and goals that WE’VE created, that we’re willing to put ours and our own employee’s stress levels, health, and family lives/outside lives at risk because we’re unwilling to budge on our gantt chart. even in life or death industries like healthcare, many of the projects consuming thoughts and deadlines are NOT life and death.

workplaces have such a constant, steady stream of a sense of urgency which isn’t always necessary or productive. putting our bodies in that state as a constant is not mentally or physically or emotionally healthy. and how these things lead to increased turnover, decreased morale, and increased healthcare costs for the company has been well documented and a quick google search or a visit to your library can give you more info on that.

but back to the article i shared at the beginning, and why i think the premise is incorrect.

first of all, people work fewer long days ALL THE TIME. i worked with nurses for a while. in their world, 10-12hr shifts were the norm. they still worked 40hr weeks, but while the long days could be tough, many of them appreciated getting 3-4 days off every week to be at home with their kids, take care of errands, etc. i’ve also read/been told that long days like this aren’t unusual in the medical field, hospitality, retail, and several other industries. so when mr taube and dr matos say that a 3 day work week is “more likely a pipe dream than a possibility,” i have to respectfully disagree. i understand and agree that it’d be a culture shift for corporate environments that are still entrenched in the 8-5 mon-fri schedule from the 60’s (if not earlier), but that doesn’t mean it’s a pipe dream. i think giving employees the option could be a morale booster, could communicate that you care about their semblance of work/life balance, and may even provide more coverage for the business – as some may choose fewer/longer days, you could conceivably have coverage earlier and later in the day from those working 10-12hrs instead of 8 and then busting out of there. on the other hand, this op-ed from CNN believes that if a company is going to go to a shorter week (which it argues is the best), everyone should be all in, stating:

…the four-day week tends to work best when the entire office is involved. One reason many employees may feel reluctant to take on a four-day week is because of the fear of “missing out” on access to the boss or to the flow of ideas and information.

obviously there are pros and cons to both. in environments like healthcare, hospitality, etc, they benefit more from the coverage from longer hours and can’t choose for the whole staff to be off for 3 days. but in many corporate environments, it might be beneficial for everyone to do the same. this is another area where knowing the culture of the organization is beneficial.

secondly, the article presumes a necessity for a 40hr work week, given quotes such as:

Salaried employees could conceivably get as much done in 33 hours as they would in 40, but they, too, would have significant issues with the 3-day workweek — especially if they tried to make up the additional two days off by working 13-hour days for a 39-hour workweek.

i believe the point the slim and branson are making is that they don’t HAVE to make up the extra days off. the point is to have them take those days off. the employee works longer days and retires later, but in exchange works fewer hours and fewer days.

what adds to this fascination are the studies that all of this extra working is not advantageous to americans when compared to other countries:

this list could continue, but there’s a definite pattern that’s emerged. the countries at the top of the happy list spend less time working and more time with family and friends.

these “happier countries” also tend to outrank the US in terms of education.

the struggle to maintain balance is an ongoing one. i’m not naive enough to think that this is anything that’s going to change in the next few years. i’m not even sure if i’d take advantage of it; we’re creatures of habit and in some ways the predictability of a normal 8-5ish schedule is comforting and offers stability. some of the workweek expectations are driven by generational expectations. but it is an awful lot of food for thought.

what about you? would you work a shorter workweek but longer days? do you think slim and branson have a good idea to ask people to work longer days and retire later but have them work fewer overall hours?

5 Ways to Increase Trust in the Workplace

It’s really up to the senior management team to set the tone and do what is necessary to build a high trust work environment.

Here’s a great article about how to increase trust in the workplace: 5 Ways to Increase Trust in the Workplace.

I’ve written about this numerous times, and did my final practicum in grad school on trust. It’s pretty foundational to a successful workplace, and if we don’t get with it and understand, accept, and implement that philosophy, we’re going to find things more and more difficult, especially the workplace is taken over by millennials and Gen-Xers whose desire to feel trusted in the workplace is seemingly stronger and more important to them than to previous generations. For more of my thoughts on trust, click here.

Creating a Strong Company Culture

Really great article on building a strong company culture. Never easy to do, but if your business is new, it’s easier now than once the culture you don’t want is seeped into the walls. Changing it is harder than building it.

A few great quotes:

Culture is an output of a bunch of inputs that have to come together the right way. Specifically, it is the collision of people and their context, how they interact with each other in that context, and how that context evolves based on those interactions as they multiply. By the time you see a culture is bad — or more often (and just as pernicious) only okay — it’s a complex thing you’re dealing with, like a Mexican mole sauce with 29 ingredients that tastes funny but you don’t know why.

And this one, that reveals why it’s sometimes the best business decision to make to let go of the people who don’t fit the culture and are unwilling to change:

This is hard to say because it sounds mean: the people you fire are more important to your culture than the people you hire. It’s a half-truth, as you have to hire people who are an outstanding fit, but an important half-truth because the best way to protect the environment is to recognise where you have erred and course correct. You reveal that culture as a by-product of who stays and who goes, and to effectively experiment your way into what your culture is by learning who fits and who doesn’t — and by learning what exactly it is they are fitting into. To do this requires courage and confrontation. You muster both of these by telling yourself it’s what you must do to make the company safe for your best people, which should be the only people.

And why experience and education aren’t the end all be all of the right fit:

This is one way to screw up your culture — experience-based hiring leads to bringing in those who have the right credentials, but not the right fire in their soul.

And why mission is important (and I might add – not only organizational mission, but even department/team mission) and why it’s important that it’s communicated and “bought into”:

Half of fit is about personality; the other half is passion for the mission of the company. To gauge this, you need to actually know what the mission is.

Read the full article here: Creating a Strong Company Culture – BoF – The Business of Fashion.

are organizational policies needed?

In short, yes. But no. At least – not as detailed and lengthy and gratuitous as we’ve made most of them.

I came across this article by Dan Rockwell (find him on Twitter here and check out his site here) called “Fewer Policies – More Conversations”. It immediately resonated with me, because my experience in most organizations is that we’ve made a lot of policies as a reaction to something, or to address what Rockwell refers to as “the exceptions”, rather than have conversations about things. What this inevitably does is make things “easier” for managers, because they can blame the policy for why they’re having a corrective conversation (“well the policy says this so that’s what you have to do”), rather than having to have the more difficult conversation of why what someone did wasn’t the best idea.

(Come on. All of us who have managed people have hidden behind policy to make difficult conversations “easier”.)

Let’s take dress code for example, as it seems rather simple but organizations really love to make this super complex. If, for example, our managers and orientation leaders would take 5 minutes to state, “our dress code is business casual; if you’re every wondering if something fits with that, err on the side of a conservative interpretation of ‘business casual'”, we could likely avoid most dress code policies that detail every single little thing that employees can and cannot wear (and I’ve seen LENGTHY LISTS). Perhaps we could even show some visual examples of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Then, if someone comes into work in capri pants and flip flops, have the conversation about how that is not “business casual” wear, but more “casual wear” that’s more appropriate for mall shopping on the weekend than a workplace.

What a broader policy like that requires of supervisors, however, is a) that they provide direction and a framework early on (which may also require better/more structured orientation/onboarding), b) that they trust their people, and c) that they’re willing to say, “yeah this doesn’t work and here’s why” when they cross a line. For most supervisors, my own experience included, this seems more difficult. In the short term, throwing a policy at someone and calling the conversation “done” seems much easier. In the long run, however, an environment of mistrust, micromanagement, lack of communication, and a stifling of creative and innovative thought can be established.

To play my own devil’s advocate, I also recognize the argument that policies can make things more “fair” and “objective”, helping the manager keep things more consistent. If the policy doesn’t allow open-toed shoes or PTO requests with fewer than a week’s notice, than it doesn’t matter how much the manager likes the employee, the policy is the policy. But um yeah – over the long run, that creates a lot of compliant people, but not a lot of loyal or engaged people. (There are a ton of articles and studies on this side of things, too.)

Typically I’m not one to peruse comments on blogs, but Dan’s commenters had a lot of great things to say, including this great thought by Judith Glaser, author of “Conversational Intelligence“, amongst others:

I would say that if [policies] can be used to ‘create conversations about how we want to work together – and those working together create rules of engagement together or co-create them – then the policies are not compliance drive but they are a shared co-creation of the team…. and will galvanize the team to higher levels of productivity and self-expression.

So are policies needed? Yes. There are legal ramifications to having anarchy in a workplace. Not to mention that there are severe things that require a firm foundation of a policy – such as discrimination, harassment, etc. (Also – legal reasons.) Additionally, there have been studies shown that employees produce better and more when they are given a framework within which to function, versus a complete lack of direction. Are the vast amounts and detailed ramblings of much of our policy manuals necessary? Likely not. I think for established organizations, making the move to “eliminate” policies, or even to simplify them, would be difficult if not impossible. Policies help to dictate culture (which could be another post for another time), and culture is not an easy bird to change.

What about you? What’s your experience with organizational policies? Too little? Too much? Why or why not?


My job is now leadership development


For years, I’ve been working towards a career in the learning and development field, hoping that one day I could combine it with my (obvious if you read my blog) passion for leadership development.

Well, Monday that goal is realized. I start a job as a leadership development training specialist. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Excited to jump back into the work. Excited to read about it again. Excited to meet people and learn from them and teach them. Excited to have more things to blog about.

Eeeeek! :)


On Mission

Every company has a mission statement, don’t they? If they don’t they’re likely working on one. Even many subgroups in companies and organizations have mission and vision statements. What they heck are they for?

Unfortunately in many organizations, including some I’ve worked for, the mission statement is nothing more than fluff that may hang on a wall somewhere, but it doesn’t serve as a conduit for decisions and culture. Perhaps it’s there to make the shareholders and customers feel better and maybe even the employees? It’s hard telling.

Mission came to my mind earlier this week when I was in a meeting for one of the committees I serve on at my work in an ancillary capacity. It’s a great group of brilliant people, and while it’s been in existence for almost 2 years, the committee has tossed around the need for a mission and vision statement but hasn’t ever landed on one.

So in the meeting we’re tossing around dialogue I’m sure many of you would be familiar with.

Should the mission statement be short and easy to memorize?”

“What’s the difference between the mission statement and vision statement?”

“Should this line up somehow with the organizational mission statement?

And on and on it went. By the time the meeting was over the chair felt like we had something closer to what we’ll stick with than we’ve ever had before so I guess it was a productive time.

ANYWAY, in the middle of the meeting talking about mission, out of NOWHERE the entire mission statement for a former employer of mine popped into my head, clear as day, word for word. I momentarily thought I was crazy. I haven’t been there in over 4.5 years, and it was over 8.5 years ago that I was “indoctrinated” to this company, drank their sweet, sweet, koolaid, and propagated the mission in my own work and for everyone I hired. I encouraged everyone to memorize it, and would quiz them on the floor. “What’s our mission statement?” “Does that [action] reflect [key phrase of mission statement]?”

Oh yes. I was that person.

Because for a long time I’ve been a strong proponent of having a healthy, vibrant culture in the workplace. I’ve been a part of it done very well. I’ve been a part of it where it SUCKS. And I’d much prefer the former thankyouverymuch.

Organizations with great cultures tend to get accused of being cultish, or their employees drinking the koolaid, etc.

Well study them. Because these are also the companies with the lowest turnover, highest rates of employee engagement, and high rates of employee satisfaction. And why?

Largely because they’re all on the same page. The mission – the “why we all woke up this morning” – is pervasive throughout the organization at all levels. It informs decisions and strategic plans. It’s used to guide performance conversations and succession planning.

Mission IS important. It has to accurately reflect who you are, and why you exist, but then – the whole gang needs to get on board with it. And there needs to be an environment where employees can hold each other accountable to it.

So to my former employer who modeled what living a mission is, thanks. Please continue to hold to your uncompromising principles as you grow.

What about you all? Is the mission statement at your employer a living, breathing thing, or more decoration and not really ever talked about?

Woe to the company that loses sight of its Mission Statement for it has taken the first step on the slippery slope to failure.” –