Saturday, September 26, 2015

5 Reasons to Give HR Some Love

Sadly, some of it is justified, but there’s also a lot to appreciate about HR. For example:
  1. We know more than you think. I’m not talking about best practices, workplace trends, or breaking employment law-related news, I’m talking about important stuff, like who in the company does a great job and who’s a problem in the making—waaaaaay before the manager wants to admit it. (I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s all in the new-hire paperwork. Whoever’s wildly irresponsible with the paperwork is most likely a disorganized hot mess or an entitled jerk, and in time the work will tell. The opposite is true for those who diligently and completely return their stuff. Honest.)
  2. We’d take a bullet for you. Metaphorically, that is. In 2011, SHRM reported that nearly 31.4 percent of HR professionals had been bullied at work. Sixty percent said they experienced bullying behavior on a daily basis. One reason? According to study author Theresa Daniel, HR professionals often stayed in a bad situation because they were serving as the “ ‘organizational shock absorbers’—they cared about the employees so much that they felt if they exited their role there would be nobody there to protect the other employees.” I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.
  3. We’re getting better. A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a retired HR pro who expressed her opinion that handbooks should be as bare bones as possible—you know, so an employee can never “prove” a company isn’t following its policies. Geez Louise. Thank you for your service and goodbye! I can’t imagine any forward thinking HR practitioner harboring this attitude. (At least none of the ones I associate with think this way.) I believe that means we deserve some credit for evolving. Don’t you?
  4. We make it look easy. Has everyone been paid the right amount and are all payroll deductions correct? Check. No EEOC complaints this year, last year, or the year before? Check. Is the new time and attendance system in place and is everyone trained in its use? Check. Are all positions filled and all new hires on board with the (aforementioned) paperwork complete? Check, check, check. It’s not as effortless as it looks, folks. Not even boring old payroll. (Well, I actually like payroll, but I know everyone doesn’t.)
  5. We keep your secrets. Whether they’re financial, medical, or marital HR keeps your secrets. What’s more, you can sit in our chair and call your boss an incompetent, narcissistic douche-bag, and we’ll never tell. And when your boss says she’d love to fire you, but her boss won’t allow it, we won’t tell that either. You call it two-faced, we call it doing our job.
So there you have it. Five very good reasons why HR should get a little more respect once in a while. Can you think of others?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Chaos and Confusion, the Making of Sheep, and Apathy: Hallmarks of the Unhealthy Workplace

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy famously wrote “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The same could be said of workplaces. At least, each dysfunctional work environment I’ve ever encountered was dysfunctional in its own way.

Some were ruled by narcissists, others by cowards, and others by the dimwitted clueless. Still others (I suspect) were ruled by the verifiably personality disordered, although I could never prove it.

In each case, the differences in leadership drove the differences in degree and type of dysfunction as well as how that dysfunction manifested itself.

Still, unhealthy workplaces do share some similarities, and the reason for this is twofold:

  1. All of humanity has shared traits
  2. There are many ways to love someone but only a few ways to kill him.

As such, dysfunctional workplaces have three things in abundance:

  1. Chaos and confusion
  2. Sheep
  3. Apathy

A Closer Look

Sadly, in the most toxic of workplaces, these three are not merely byproducts of the dysfunction but instead have been carefully and deliberately crafted by the sickest members of the group for the purpose of controlling the others. (If this were a laughing matter, I'd write: “Cue maniacal laughter” right here.)

Chaos and confusion
People who crave control use confusion to maintain the upper hand. Confusion throws us off our game and keeps us guessing. One thing all dysfunctional workplaces have in common is layers and layers of confusion, whether that be confused reporting relationships, confused goals, confused priorities, confused processes and policies (“Yes, we know the manual says that, but we’re going to do this instead”), or confused values (i.e., we say we believe this, but we routinely sanction and do that).

Sheep make the dysfunctional workplace go round. Sheep do as they’re gosh darn told, even if what they’re told is conflicting, irrational, unethical, or illegal. Sheep shrug their shoulders and say, “Hey, I have a mortgage to pay. Baaaaa.”

It’s not all their fault, though. Some sheep do have mortgages (as well as car payments and medical expenses and kids’ tuition and student loans, etc.), and sheep are carefully bred in unhealthy workplaces, where subjects get dinged quick for stepping out of line, and mostly everyone is a subject.

Apathy is what comes after giving a damn is revealed to be futile. Apathy says, “Screw this. It’s not worth it to care.”

In the most unhealthy of unhealthy workplaces, apathy says “Screw you. And you and you. I need to survive, and if I have to backstab, lie, and watch idly as my coworker is humiliated, so be it. It’s not my fault things are messed up, and it’s not my problem to fix. I’m just doing what I have to do.”

Apathy’s pugilistic and more intelligent cousin is purposeful disengagement. Purposeful disengagement says, “This place is nuts, and as such I will limit my emotional investment. However, I’ll give the company what it’s paying for. But more than that would be foolish and contrary to my well being.”

Unfortunately, only the most self-aware, courageous, and honorable employees can practice purposeful disengagement.

Why Does This Happen?

Sigh. Why ask why? Unhealthy workplaces thrive in their dysfunction because someone in control gets a payoff when they do. That someone is usually a tyrannical so-and-so at the top, and he or she often will have sycophants who get a share of the goodies, too.

But enough about them. If you’re not in control, you can’t do anything about them. I mean, you can mess with their heads a little (I’ve done that), for your own education and even amusement, but that’s not a long-term strategy. That’s something to do on your way out the door. You know, so you can blog about it later.

So what CAN you do?

It’s the serenity prayer all the way, folks. Change what you, and accept what you can’t.

Be a zealous truth seeker. Don’t idealize, because that’s the road to insanity. Today you had a good day. Hallelujah. That doesn’t mean things are changing for the better. Know that, and make your decisions accordingly.

Also, don’t be apathetic, please. Apathy makes for a crueler workplace, and it puts you on the side of the problem makers/sustainers. Instead, learn to purposefully disengage without sacrificing your humanity. You’ll be the better for it, as will your coworkers, current and future.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Without Accountability, Organizations Don’t Function Well

No one disputes the importance of accountability in healthy workplaces, but the meaning of the word seems to escape many.

Case in point.

During a monthly “lunch and learn” with a group of company leaders, the topic veered to performance management and the problem of late reviews.

Senior leadership was often late with evaluations, and that gave tacit approval for all managers to follow suit.

And when they did follow suit, there were no formal consequences to their actions. The practice may have been hell on employee morale, but the CEO never held his managers accountable, and I mentioned that.

Well, one of the senior leaders objected. She said she was held accountable when her reviews were late. I asked how. She responded that if she missed her deadline, she’d go to the CEO and fully expect to offer an explanation.

I was speechless … for a moment.

Recovering quickly, I told her that what she’d described was not what I’d call being held accountable. Accountability has costs. And then I asked a question she absolutely did not like:

“What about your employees waiting for their reviews? How are you being held accountable to them?”


Another manager in the room said, “I never thought about that.” She nodded her head slowly to indicate she would in the future.

(I’d always liked this manager—she was good people. Naturally she was later fired by The Silent One.)

Corporate accountability is a community thing

True accountability takes a community. That’s why addicts are often ordered to group therapy. One on one, the addict may talk crap to his counselor, but put him in a group and he’ll be shamed by his peers if he starts in with any manipulative, blame-shifting mumbo jumbo.

Unfortunately, some leaders believe being held “accountable” to nothing more than their own conscious fulfills the spirit of the word. They’re wrong. And it matters, because without accountability organizations don’t function well.

Deadlines are missed, promises are broken, trust is abused, and efforts at improving processes are futile, because some will continue as they please, and no one will insist they do otherwise.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident …”

I’m a proud American, and whenever I reflect on the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence, I appreciate anew the wonder of their accomplishments.

Have you read the Declaration of Independence lately? You might want to. It’s awesome. Awesome.

The Founding Fathers held the King of Great Britain accountable, and they held each other accountable, too.

When we follow their lead, it’s amazing what we can achieve.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Is Rachel Dolezal’s “Blackface” a Slap in the Face to African Americans?

When I heard the news that Rachel Dolezal, President of the NAACP chapter in Spokane Washington, was a white woman passing for black, I almost fell off my chair.

So many questions rushed in.

What in the … ? Why would any white person do such a thing? What does it mean? Was Dolezale wrong to do it? Should I be offended? If Dolezale assumed a black face to nab the NAACP role, are her actions any more objectionable than those of Dr. Albert Johnston, a black man who passed for white so that he could practice medicine?

And of course the biggest question of all—If a woman looks black and identifies as black, who’s to say she isn’t?

Is Race a Social Construct?

Dolezale sports a curly fro and olive skin, but recently released photos show she wasn’t born with these attributes.

In a CNN article, Dolezale’s mother says Dolezale grew up in a diverse household that included four adopted siblings who are black and that she was “always interested in ethnicity and diversity.”

At some point, Dolezale’s interest morphed into something more bizarre.

Ezra Dolezale, one of the adopted brothers, says he noticed physical changes taking place around 2011. “There was the gradual darkening of the skin and the hair. She started molding herself into who she is today.” Age 37 now, Dolezale would have been in her early thirties then.

Dolezale’s transformation begs the question: If a man can change his gender, why can’t a woman change her race?

Unlike gender, the experts tell us race is not biological. And so, I’ll ask it again—

If a white woman decides she wants to be black, who is anyone to object?

Does Context Matter?

Did Dolezale lie about her race simply to gain advantage, or would she truly prefer to be black? Does it matter?

One thing we know for certain—you don’t have to be African American to advocate for positive changes within the African American community.

In a formal statement about the controversy, the NAACP said: “One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.”

So what was Dolezale playing at? And why does it matter? If Dolezale wants to darken her skin, throw on a curly wig, and pretend she has black father, why should we care?

(By the way, perhaps Chris Rock should interview Dolezale for Good Hair: The Sequel? It’s not every day you find a white woman who wants black hair. Just saying.)

Many Blacks Not Pleased

Dolezale announced earlier today that she is stepping down from her role.

I’d describe her note, posted on the NAACP's Facebook page, as a defiant piece of gobbledygook containing some surprisingly humble brag-worthy moments, such as when Dolezale writes: 

“I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices and believe that many individuals have been heard in the last hours and days that would not otherwise have had a platform to weigh in on this important discussion.”

Hmmm …

Dolezale’s statement, which is seven paragraphs long, is also conspicuously devoid of anything remotely resembling an apology. And even if Dolezale doesn’t owe any of us an apology, by all reports she owes her family members one, especially Erza, who told CNN: 

“She told me not to blow her cover about the fact that she had this secret life or alternate identity. She told me not to tell anybody about Montana or her family over there. She said she was starting a new life ... and this one person over there was actually going to be her black father."

Ezra Dolezale also gave this damning quote:

"It's kind of a slap in the face to African-Americans because she doesn't know what it's like to be black. She's only been African-American when it benefited her. She hasn't been through all the struggles.”

What do you think?

Clearly this black woman is conflicted.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thinking of Hiring Your Kind of Liar? Think Again

There’s a certain type of leader you only have to work with for … oh … 5 minutes, before concluding that she sucks.

Why? Because said leader is extremely talented at making everything about her. As far as she's concerned, you and your opinions are garbage. (So if you’ve ever wondered why this manager always looks like she smells something bad, well, that’s why.)

Depending on how long the individual has been in the workforce, she may have learned to solicit your opinion every now and again (having been told that this is what good managers do), but you quickly discover she isn't listening, and she'll never use the information, or barely acknowledge you offered it.


Like me, you may have wondered more than once how these damn people keep getting hired into positions of authority. Their self-centeredness and near pathologic need for control can’t be hidden. 

Could it be someone else in authority actually detected these traits during the interview stage and hired the person anyway?

Methinks yes.

Itching to hire "my kind of liar"

Considering everything we know about the psychology of talent sourcing, including how hiring managers often extend job offers to people who remind them of themselves, I’ve concluded that some of these truly awful leaders are brought on board because the hiring manager, who considers himself or herself a little cocky—but in a good way—believed this individual’s “edge” would be beneficial for the business.

The thinking goes something like this:

“Jamie’s a little haughty, but I like that. You need confidence in this game to get things moving. And I know she’s probably exaggerating her accomplishments a little, but she’s just trying to make a good impression. I like that, too. A bit of boldness never hurt. Plus, Jamie’s got great technical skills. I think we’d be lucky to have such a poised, aggressive, and knowledgeable person on staff.”

For the love of all that’s holy and good, employer, please … stop right there.

You know this person—not!

Once upon a time, I hired a man (let’s call him Pete) who exhibited humor, charm, and flawless professionalism. He had a great resume, too.

We had a good time during the interview. My BS meter went off once or twice, but I was having too much fun to pay it any mind. In my foolishness, I chalked Pete’s braggadocio up to youthful exuberance.

Sometimes I’m an idiot.

Later, I’d learn that Pete: 

  • Falsified his resume, claiming education and work experience he didn’t have.
  • Lied that he’d been laid off from his last job when he’d been fired.
  • Colluded with a friend to provide a false reference. (Yes, believe it or not, Pete’s friend pretended to be his former manager at a company neither had ever stepped foot in.)
  • Claimed to be enrolled in a Master’s degree program at a school that’d never heard of him.

It took me a few months to untangle Pete’s half-truths and outright lies, but boy was that a life lesson! (Also, Pete’s former manager and I became friends, which was nice.)

But I KNOW I’m not the only sucker to have hired a total fraud, all because I saw something of myself in this person and figured, “Hey, I’m okay, so he’s okay.”


I gave the recruiter who found Pete hell, but most of the blame fell squarely on my shoulders. Live and learn indeed.

Just say no 

There’s a common misconception that because we all tell lies, we should presume the liars we encounter are harmless.

Folks, that’s a dangerous presumption.

Despite my poor decision, I got off easy. Pete was not hired into a management position, and his performance tipped me off almost immediately that something was rotten in Denmark. Within a few months, he was gone.

Still, I implore you—don’t allow a trickster to slither into your workplace out of a mistaken belief that lying during a job interview is expected, and therefore it’s not only harmless but evidence of a savvy jobseeker/healthily ambitious worker who’s only doing what any one of us would do to get a job.

Instead of “your kind of liar,” you might find yourself with a deceiver like none other; one who wrecks your team, compromises your brand, and wastes your time—and that’s if you’re lucky.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Management Challenge #293: The Narcissistic Boss

Of all the offensive managerial types, the narcissist has got to be one of the worst.

For our purposes, the term “narcissist” does NOT refer to those with narcissistic personality disorder (although God knows you don’t want someone with this diagnosis in your workplace). Instead, we’ll be talking about your garden-variety but nonetheless dangerous self-serving and self-loving boss. That’s enough bad news for one day.

Hallmarks of the Narcissistic Boss

Narcissistic bosses believe the world would be a much better place if everyone were just like them.

Employees toiling under these self-centered tyrants quickly begin to feel stifled, demoralized, and unappreciated. And no wonder. Each of us is a unique human being with a distinctive personality, temperament, and worldview. It doesn’t feel good when someone attempts to suppress our wills by imposing theirs.

Also, narcissists tend to be sneaky little so-and-sos. They’ll pretend to be “nice” when it suits their purposes, but when it doesn’t watch out! Naturally, their employees receive the brunt of their malice.

What’s more, narcissistic bosses set people up for failure. Demands are communicated haphazardly and with a near total lack of transparency. Data without context is a specialty; narcissists are crazy tight-fisted with information. The poor soul responsible for pleasing an implacable narcissist often finds him- or herself in a damned if you do/damned if you don’t position.

It’s a puzzle. How can someone provide so much detail (these folks are micromanagers for sure) and still be so terrible at communicating what they want?

But perhaps worst of all, narcissists have no (zilch, zippo, nil) sense of humor about themselves. As such, they are prickly, oversensitive to criticism, and dishonest (“Admit a mistake? Hell no. I’ll just pretend you misunderstood or blame someone else …”). 

They are, in a word, “difficult” to work with. Not that they actually care to work with anyone. Narcissists are the ultimate non-team playing players.

In a nutshell, narcissistic bosses are:
  • Emotionally shallow;
  • Lacking in empathy;
  • Ridiculously self-absorbed;
  • Envious
  • Impervious to blame; and
  • Untrustworthy

But, narcissists have two things in their favor: 
  1. They’re great at sucking up to those they deem important. 
  2. They’re completely shameless and will do most anything to meet their dastardly goals. As a result, they’re talented at catching the rest of us off guard and unprepared to deal with someone whom we couldn’t fathom would do that.

Handling the Narcissistic Manager

First, accept that you must do something, because inaction is not a responsible option. Narcissists are toxic to teams, partly because they’re envious and will deliberately sabotage others’ success and partly because they annoy the heck out of people.

Second, if the narcissist is someone you hired, admit this wasn’t your best decision and move on. Pretending that nothing is wrong will only compound the problem.

Third, let your ethics be your guide. We often know the right thing to do but talk ourselves out of doing it to avoid inconvenience, embarrassment, shame, or some other perceived loss. Please don’t do that now. Whatever circle of influence your narcissistic employee has, he or she is probably using it for no good—or more to the point, no one else’s good.

Fourth, don’t be fooled. Narcissists care very little for you or your company goals, no matter what they say to the contrary.

Fifth, listen. If you have a narcissist in your workplace, you’ll know it, because he or she is forever ruffling somebody’s feathers. Interpersonal conflict and narcissists are like salt and pepper—where one is you can usually find the other. A real tale-tell sign? When you start to listen, you’ll begin to hear from people who typically don’t butt heads with anyone.

Sixth, hope for rehabilitation, but prepare for separation. The challenge of managing interpersonal conflict is that everyone has a point of view. So be doubly careful when disciplining a narcissist. Document everything. Provide reasonable chances. Exercise compassion but be firm. One bad apple shouldn’t be allowed to spoil your barrel.

Don’t believe the hype of the brilliant, narcissistic boss who drives his people to wild heights of success with his unwavering commitment to innovation and excellence. (Think Steve Jobs … or at least what people say about Steve Jobs.)

That’s crap. Most narcissistic bosses are average-performing little despots skilled at smoke and mirrors. If they won’t do better, I guarantee you can.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Never Trust HR and Other Workplace Tips for Millennials

One of my favorite Millennials is graduating from college next month, and it occurs to me that he, like millions of others from the so-called Godless Generation, could benefit from some sage counsel before entering the workforce.

So while the world may view us crusty Gen-Xers as all but done, holding on for dear life while awaiting our sure and inevitable Millennial takedown (or is it shakedown?), I say “Bah! You’ve still got lots to learn from us, kids.”

For example…

Follow Instructions

Getting ahead at work is nearly impossible if you can’t follow instructions. I don’t care how much you know, how brilliant you are, or how much experience you have, following instructions is key to getting—and more importantly, keeping—a job. There’s a time for creativity, breaking the rules, and deviating from what’s expected, but most likely that’s not at the beginning of a brand new job in a brand new career. And if you don’t understand the instructions, PLEASE don’t pretend you do. Instead, ask clarifying questions. (And if you don’t know what a clarifying question is, do the research.)

Respect Your Boss

Offering respect to someone respectable is easy. Offering respect to someone decidedly NOT respectable is a real feat, but there’s not a whole lot to be gained by demonstrating contempt for your boss. So unless it’s a matter of psychological, physical, or financial survival, (1) don’t violate the chain of command, (2) don’t ignore directives, and (3) don’t talk fresh.

Respect Yourself

Now is as good a time as any to learn how to stick up for yourself as well as for what’s right. In addition to providing financial security, work is a source of satisfaction, purpose, and identity for many. Work is good. However, the workplace can be an incubator and a haven for all manner of human wickedness and dysfunction, so prepare to be tried and tested while resolving to gather from each trial additional strength, resilience, moral clarity, and emotional intelligence.

Practice Being a Good Judge of Character

How well you fare at work will in large part come down to how well you judge character. In whom will you place your confidence? Choose poorly, and you’ll pay the price. Choose well, and you’ll reap the rewards. Correctly discerning character takes time, patience, and a willingness to accept people as they prove themselves to be. Someone who claims good character but who lies, is manipulative, or appears uninterested in the Law of Reciprocity should be judged by his actions, not his words. And speaking of which …

Use Your Words Responsibly

Words have weight and power. Use your words to edify, educate, and entertain but don’t use them to hurt. Don’t engage in vicious gossip, don’t tell fibs, and don’t say mean and nasty things just because you can. And for God’s sake, use Spell Checker! It’s amazing how many employees don’t bother with that nowadays. Your work will stand out if you do.

Pay Attention

Pay attention, and you’ll go far. Study people. Take the time to understand why most of us do what we do, and you’ll be an empathetic and inspiring leader, no matter your official title. On a more practical note, paying attention will also enhance your ability to quickly pick up new tasks, which any good manager will appreciate.


Do that thing other people won’t, and you’ll gain favor, self-insight, and new skills. And here’s the thing about skills. You can build on them, and no one—no matter how determined—can ever take them away from you.

Don’t Let the Haters Get You Down

The brighter your light shines, the more some joker will determine to take you down. Who knows what motivates these hateful spirits, and who cares? The point is to not let them cause you to doubt your ability, sincerity, or intentions. Smile, stay on path, and determine to let the haters choke on their own venom, if that’s what they want.

Never Trust HR

And, oh yeah … never trust HR. Right now the profession is in quite a flux, and it’s full of people who simply aren’t very good at their jobs. Sadly, they’re okay with that. So … if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of a workplace dispute, don’t go to HR expecting to be helped. Go to cover your butt or go to satisfy your curiosity, but don’t go hoping something useful will result, or you’ll be disappointed. And hey, if something useful DOES result, it’s all gravy! But even so, be sure and run everything by Mom another HR pro (who doesn't work for your company) you can trust, because she’ll always give you the real deal.

Happy Graduation!