Be sure to check out Victoria Easter Wilson’s fantastic hiring guide (a MUST READ for millennials)
Sorry I’ve fallen behind on posts. A lot’s happened this past week or two. I’ve been meaning to update you, but it appears that I’m going to have to backlog my posts (and probably chunk them) so that they’re easy to reference. Notable events include:
Featuring this comedy of errors…
- Filing an informational report about the receipt incident involving my problematic worker with our security office at the recommendation of one of the officers.
- Having said report accidentally end up on the desk of the head of security who received the impression that I was filing a formal complaint against the worker.
- Having that report and a referral (very intentionally) sent to my boss’s boss before I got the opportunity to inform him of the situation
- Lots of Damage Control and Crippling anxiety waiting for the topic to be addressed and fearing I might be in trouble (but at least it didn’t take as long as it has for them to find that damn Malaysian plane)
- Sitting down with my boss and having to explain to him, not only why the report was filed, but also the history of the situation so that he understood the need for the action by putting it into context
Featuring Romeo and Juliet-style panic and mayhem… (if Juliet were somewhat sensible)
A reasonably attractive gent that I met at the gym turned out to
a) have a girlfriend which he neglected to mention it (thankfully I’m not one to rush into emotional or physical stuff with people, so no harm was ever really done)
we shall call her “Rosaline”
b) have a really angry dad who doesn’t like me (and owns one of 3 restaurants within walking distance of my job) who may have made some assumptions or let his imagination get the best of him regarding my intentions with his son.
c) have a really angry dad who doesn’t like me who, as it turns out, was friends with a guy who went to jail for murdering some people …one of which was the roommate of my “hotheaded” brother
d) be a reasonably nice and overly-trusting person in general, unlike his dad, and is more or less unaware of the factoid I divulged in the bullet labled “c.” I am fond of him, but not enough to jeopardize any of his relationships.
(so the basis of our mutual acquaintance has been about me teaching him how to treat me in a way that preserves his dignity but still clarifies which boundaries are appropriate. I have not and will not ever encourage him to do anything that might compromise his or “Rosaline’s” dignity), but papa bear doesn’t know me well enough to understand that.
But the degree to which papa bear’s gotten really pissy with me makes me question whether I’m missing something, but I certainly don’t want to communicate to any of them that I’ve done anything wrong. The outcome of the story resulted in the gent cutting off all communication with me (verbal and nonverbal), which is weird because no one ever communicated to me what they think I’ve done wrong… I suppOSE my mind-reading capabilities must be on the fritz… so I just tried to keep that balance between giving the gent some space (because I got the sense that the behavioral change was to keep the peace with his father rather so I have to give him the benefit of the doubt of this one and act as if I trust him to do what’s right for himself and his family) and to stand up for myself by reinforcing consistency in my behavior of treating those I meet with high regard and professional courtesy (even if my gut is telling me that I may for awhile be treated differently…). The good news is it seems to be working. …It’s not the first time I’ve been snubbed over something, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever been snubbed by anyone I’ve actually known.
Featuring high tensions, drama & even more panic and mayhem…
…What began as a quest to replace the two retirees from our organization’s private healthcare provider devolved into a debacle in which the following discoveries were made:
- medical records were leaked to 3rd party without consent from the patients
- our healthcare provider couldn’t find any practitioners willing to take on a mid-level medical practice resulting in a two month window for our organization to identify alternative options for health care coverage
- the organization offered staff discounts for participating in healthcare screenings, etc. and then made modifications to the health plan and someone figured out that we would be paying the same amount for bare-bones coverage or 3 times the amount to provide the same quality we are currently receiving
- the announcement about the modification was made 3 days after our state closed open enrollment for alternative healthcare coverage
- the governor of our state extended the deadline, but only through midnight (that just passed)
- the website has placed a super emphasis upon making the website secure, but not enough time making the site (even reasonably) easy to navigate; difficult for even experienced web technicians
- given the timing, there was no way to find out whether the plan was comparable, because the site lists the prices for each plan, but no information is really provided to determine what the coverage entails
- We have exhausted our medical reserves, so not only are people pissed, I can’t afford to get sick if I wanted; even with my excessive accumulation of sick days.
- When people get scared and angry about losing their medical benefits, it can disrupt the entire notion of trust/cohesion within an organization, as evidenced by dramatic rallying and storming at client meetings and inbox assault of poorly timed, poorly executed “rely-to-all” emails
- I got a confirmation number but have no clue what I applied for, so I’m hoping my application errors can buy me more time (I listed my organizational insurance agent’s contact info under healthcare provider, since I didn’t have those details available within the time frame)
- If I can stay healthy until November, I can re-enroll in something more affordable
So as you can imagine the whole thing has turned out to be kind of a cluster to keep track of…
It certainly made last minute venue bookings, big client presentations, and our disastrous bookkeeping audit seem like simple routine disasters! …Either that or I’m really getting numb to it (which is a concern). All I can say is that if you don’t find these topics entirely exhausting, you’re in for a treat; because there is a LOT to rehash.
Today I came into work and found that my problematic worker had collapsed in front of my desk. The person who was covering the shift before me thought that it might be a low blood sugar issue or dehydration since they were on a sports league together and the coach had been pushing them pretty hard. But when I offered her assistance, she pretty willfully refused even though she couldn’t even hold herself up. So next came the dilemma. It is my responsibility, if she was in as bad a shape as she seemed to be to notify someone and get her medical attention. If it turned out there was a problem and I didn’t intervene, that had one set of really daunting consequences.
But if it turned out that she was not that bad off but just using it as an excuse to be willful and melodramatic (which was plausible since her refusal of medical attention communicated to me that she was not in the state of mind to make decisions that best reflected what was in her best interest), there were another set of unfavorable consequences associated with making the call to force her to take medical attention and would divert resources away from people who really needed it. So I quickly made a decision and pursued a third option. I went and got someone else (someone that she trusted from management) to attend to her so that they could make the call.
Three sips of water and a snickers bar later, she was fine and I went off to do work in another part of the building. When she saw me coming around the corner, she took off. She came back to work later still in a pissy mood; only this time, she had an audience.
She’d brought another woman from her sports league. I noticed that many of them had started acting weirdly around me at the gym, so I knew that my actions had been misrepresented by some form of malicious gossip, and they were constantly looking for some indication or behavior to confirm what they heard was true, but alas I hadn’t yet given them that satisfaction mostly because I just kept behaving consistently.
The worker camped out at a post in front of my cubicle and I sat back in the corner, which faces the wall and worked on something quietly. Behind me I could hear discussion taking place about the impending deadline for labor contracts. Rather than ask the person on duty, who she’d had a clash with, or any of the other people standing around on her shift where she could find the form (they were due that afternoon), she called across the cubicle to me. I should probably note that I have nothing to do with that process, don’t receive input or emails regarding that aspect of our business, so any information I have I simply overhear. …and I had just happened to overhear the person who coordinates the labor contracts tell the person on duty that he would be left with the forms to distribute to any workers who hadn’t yet submitted their forms.
So when I answered, “Bob has them,” it was about exactly the same time that “Bob” also replied to her that he was in possession of the forms. And she didn’t seem to hear either one of us so she asked again in a much more forceful tone. To which I calmly replied “Bob has the forms” to make it clear that I was actually addressing her question because I didn’t want to see the situation escalate. Silly me.
At this point, the sports league friend had also overheard what was happening and told her “I think she said that Bob has the forms,” and the woman got out of her seat and started to lay into me, unprovoked, and for no reason. ” NO, I’M ASKING where to get the labor contract FORMS.” I could feel my eyes widen and I looked at her friend who also seemed a bit startled and perplexed at the quickly escalating situation. I felt just a brief spike of adrenaline, followed by crippling exhaustion and I replied again quietly and calmly (and everyone could tell from the tone of my voice that I had grown pretty tired of this but also didn’t want to invite any further conflict). “Bob has a clipboard, that has the labor forms on it. You can get one from him…”
Bob also chimed in with bewilderment. “Hey, I told you, I have the forms right here…” Then she looked around. Her friend looked horrified (and a little bit guilty). I felt a small twinge of relief (and possibly dopamine) that she’d just made an ass of herself… followed by my own guilt.
I don’t want to pattern myself to feel rewarded when someone fails at displaying good character. I can’t condone being cruel at another’s hubris even if they deserve it or they’ve earned it by being rude
I skimmed through several articles about corporate hubris and workplace bullying, but realized that it isn’t really a topic that’s discussed very often even though it seems to be (from what I understand from discussions I’ve had with entry level millennials) to be a pretty real and reoccurring thing.
I’m always wary of acting as a perpetrator of Queen Bee Syndrome, which is why I try to focus more so on performance metrics and upon equipping my workers both male and female to build their capacity for leadership because I know how it feels. My last boss (don’t worry, it’s not chronologically aligned with what I have listed in my resume) was a bit of a queen when it came to his treatment of female workers. And I’d worked for another who would take down half the hive to get back at one bee that fell out of line. So I am not exactly thrilled about having to watch the safe space culture I worked so hard to build dismantled. But because I am not her supervisor and there will always be suspicion that I’m not assessing her equitably since I’d raised concerns prior to her promotion it kind of leaves my hands tied. My options include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:
a) I can address the issue with her directly (I’d need a tape recorder before I tried anything that risky)
b) document her behavior and my attempts to get upper management to get them to issue a stop order (which has its own set of risky ramifications)
c) do nothing (which seems only to escalate the situation since she seems to interpret that as some form of complicit behavior).
d) egg her on silently and let her tire herself out until she either crosses the line or experiences a breakdown publicly
e) research the matter more (although frankly I find the whole thing exhausting. Once upon a time, in another job when I was allowed to fire people, I would have let her go and the entire staff would have totally backed me).
As you can imagine, I’ve made the decision to go with option e… although there are many moments when I wonder whether option d would be the most effective option. I’d prefer to build a culture where we build each other up, so I hate to focus upon this one person when I have a lot of incredible workers who are just a pleasure to work with. It just sucks that it’s so easy to let the actions of one person disrupt my ability to remember that, which in turn only makes me angry with myself. Perhaps there’s an approach I can pursue that incorporates forgiveness….
I know that there have been a few other initiatives to end workplace bullying and create inclusive cultures that reflect the desire to advance workers equitably, but I am not sure yet of the best way to navigate through this, I just understand that it’s not only causing me to lose sleep, but it also takes away my focus from creating the best customer and workplace experience for our employees. What are some ways that you’ve approached this in order to remain accountable to your staff but also eradicate the problem without incurring the liability yourself of being misrepresented as a workplace bully.
I checked for reading recommendations for how to manage someone w/ poor self management/ emotional intelligence. Do you have any resources you would recommend for how to manage these toxic and unhealthy behaviors (when firing is not an option)? Otherwise I may have to start taking advantage of this boss tracker.
In the meantime, in the spirit of lightening up, I thought I’d post a few “I would rather … than …” jokes that I can mentally refer to the next time one of my workers refuses to take advantage of something that would rationally and reasonably serve their best interest.
(Just to spite you) I would rather … than to receive your medical attention
Suck the hairspray out of Donald Trump’s comb-over
Vacation at Abu Ghraib
Sit on my glasses — naked
Gulp every last pill in Liza Minnelli’s medicine cabinet
Lose my Social Security card and identification in Arizona
Pogo-stick across I-75
Move to Crimea
Base jump off a wind turbine
Eat a 48-oz. breast-milk cheeseburger
Re-watch media coverage of Justin Bieber getting arrested
Listen to Kanye West talk about himself nonstop for 72 hours
Sleep on a bed of used NFL jock straps
Convert The Godfather to 3D
Direct Breaking Dawn
Chew the head off Iron Man 2‘s evil cockatoo
Handwrite all of the dialogue to every Police Academy movie, up to and including Michael Winslow’s voice-sound effects
Adopt a derilect drug addict
Smoke a menthol cigarette through an asbestos filter
Clean up after one of Hugh Hefner’s parties
Drop my smartphone in a toilet
Be stranded out in backwoods Mississippi
Tumble down a flight of stairs
Cancel baseball season
Yodel the Ten Commandments
Appear in drag on Chatroulette
Dethorn the entire White House rose garden with my teeth
Stare into an atomic explosion
Convert to Scientology
Lose my house keys
Perform a bris
Go on tour with Milli Vanilli
File for bankruptcy
Re-enact the Phantom Menace (including Jar Jar Binks character)
Wash, dry and detail all the taxi cabs in New York City
“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.” — Jim Rohn
So I must be doing something right ; ) but it appears that I’ve also still got a long way to go. So in previous posts I mentioned a need I had to reconcile my new role after raising concerns that one of my workers had been promoted without any of the other eligible candidates being offered an opportunity for an interview.
I previously settled upon making a resolution to take a step back (appropriately so, I believe) to allow the new supervisor to embrace her new role (without generating any misguided suspicions that I might attempt to sabotage) her new position.
I maintained that stance for about 2 weeks just to de-escalate the situation. But I noticed that with the supervisor that my apparent disengagement seemed to create a fair amount of tension, and I noted definite improvements in her engagement levels with the other workers, as she stepped in to try and prove that she could be more empathetic and more understanding than I could be when they approached me hoping I could help them address some of their concerns and issues. And I simply explained that with the evolution of the new roles, I didn’t have the information but to check with their supervisor who might be able to provide them with better information.
But I did begin to notice a pattern of disengagement begin to set in. After I spent the first week or so finding other work spaces to complete my tasks, or meeting with vendors, or prospective clients, there was a tension that definitely existed from not being informed or included.
Concurrently the tensions also began to mount earlier this week as I began the pilot of our big/little mentorship program. We had a few people ask what the purpose of the program which was;
to bridge the leadership gap between our inexperienced workers and senior level leaders by creating mentorship opportunities for our lower level workers so that they can begin to learn the magnitude of the responsibility of mentorship early and begin to cultivate the attributes they would need to be more effective leaders, in a safe, experiential, nurturing controlled learning environment.
And it was communicated to everyone we polled when we were trying to gauge potential interest that the program was voluntary, anyone could opt out at any time, and would not be a formal program due to the variance in desired level of participation. And most workers expressed excitement about it; many even expressed preferences for who they would like to be partnered with.
So this week we started assigning “bigs” and “littles.” We only had two conflict (ish) moments with two workers classified as “littles” wished to be claimed by more than one of our “big” participants, but the matter was quickly resolved by explaining the situation to the “bigs” and asking the “littles” for their top preference.
I did discuss the idea prior to launch with the incoming head supervisor after she expressed some apprehension about the program because she was concerned some might not be interested and she didn’t want to force participation. But once she found out that the program would actually benefit her by providing participants an opportunity to go to one another for guidance and assistance, rather than flood her phone and inbox with messages (as it had done inconveniently so with the incumbent who held her position), she expressed that she thought it was a good idea.
Then today I was approached by our building manager, asking me to explain more about the program because he’d received a complaint about the initiative.
Someone had expressed to him that we shouldn’t have the program
…out of concern that people might be forced to participate in the initiative. It was the incumbent. He didn’t have to tell me who it was. I already knew, because the incumbent had already expressed those concerns to me and I had already expressed to this person that the program was voluntary and that anyone who did not want to participate simply had to express that they wanted to opt out, which is why we were discussing whether workers would even be interested prior to launching the program, and what we’d like the outcomes of the program to be so that they could be flexible but still provide maximum benefit.
The person also expressed later criticisms about one of the big/little pairings because the mentorship arrangement would be across genders. I knew that the worker felt personally responsible for the “little” and even though I reassured the incumbent that the deliberation had taken longer to consider been made and that since the incumbent would be devoting so much time to the upstart that we didn’t want to neglect the needs of the “little” since she had expressed interest in the program, I reassigned the “little” to the incumbent since they had a natural affinity for one another and I acknowledged that it could foster a meaningful relationship.
The little was “thrilled.” That’s probably an understatement. When I mentioned that one of the first assignments would be for the “bigs” and “littles” to assign nicknames to one another, her response was “OhmyGOD that’s so awesome. We could be big A___ and little A___!” Although it was probably more of one very rapid run on sentence.
*of course names and images have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved or mentioned
And as similar reactions came from other “littles” who relayed how much fun or how much cooler they thought their “bigs” were once they had spent a little time getting to talk with them (as in the case with the social butterfly and outgoing Air Force aspirant we’d paired with the anti-social kid in the corner who built functional crossbows out of pencils and rubber bands who wanted to join the Marine Corp and went home and built fully functional combat gear every weekend) I noticed the incumbent begin to act more withdrawn.
And the few of those who had already expressed that they wouldn’t be interested in the program or would be minimally invested were either kept off the list completely or paired with someone who’d expressed a similar level of commitment. And those who were on the fence seemed content to learn that they had the flexibility to choose their own level of participation.
We did get some eye rolls from the building manager, however, before today’s discussion (mostly because he isn’t a huge fan of any of the practices derived from the Greek system). But after I reiterated that it was explained to all participants that the program wouldn’t be formal and that the intent of the program was to provide them with opportunities to build the soft skills they’d need to become better mentors and supervisors since we were going to have SOOO many people in leadership roles next year and our predecessors hadn’t really provided any leadership development options (‘m not quite willing to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, as I think that the biggest lesson our younger workers can learn is how to respond in healthy ways whenever they find themselves unexpectedly in conflict since that wasn’t being modeled well by our top leadership).
I did request that he encourage those with criticisms of the program to come and speak with me in person, or at the very least remind them that at any time they can express to me that they would not like to participate and that they would always have that option. I wanted to follow up with the reminder that they are all supposed to be adults, but felt that albeit true that it was probably wise that I left that omission. So he agreed to allow the program to continue and that he would keep his ears and eyes open.
In the meantime, my “little” and I; I only landed one because she requested to have me specifically, are planning a little spirit quest of sorts. Since neither of us expressed a preference for a nickname (I did give her that option), and we both like to run the trails (although I’m not familiar enough with “big coaster” to run out there without another person), she’s agreed to spend an afternoon out there more or less goofing off and creating some shenanigans on our quest to create a narrative about how we got our names so that we can create our own story.
I’m actually extremely lucky as far as “littles” go, because mine’s pretty, rad and popular, but she’s still uninhibited enough to get weird and nerdy.
She’s even got her boyfriend excited about participating and the plan isn’t really even formed. We hadn’t even fully explained to him what the spirit quest was when he belted out, “does this mean I get to use a sword?!”
When I came home this evening, I did want to confirm whether my concerns that the attempts to disband the program might have been initiated by the incumbent because there was something I’d contributed, or not contributed in the early stages that I could have one differently. But after skimming through some articles about workplace envy [trust me, it’s a real thing] and remedies for it I learned:
But I was also pleased to learn that:
“Smart managers, of course, try to avoid these dynamics by spreading around the opportunities, giving people a range of assignments, and basing recognition on measurable accomplishments.”
And I do feel as if this initiative could be really effective at accomplishing some of those goals, even though it may seem at a glance to be frivolous and unnecessary (at least to those who don’t understand the value of play and trust building simulations and the impact it has upon stimulating dopamine receptors as workers
- cultivate a sense of belonging,
- intentionally create small acts of kindness,
- provide recognition for these gestures and these acts of kindness
- coach, confide and encourage one another during times of stress or conflict,
- discover confidence and gratitude as they build their proficiency in some of these areas
- create positive associations and bond with one another through these multi-sensory experiences
I do, however, really like the idea of being able to choose how I respond to this –and if the initiative is successful– then I’d like to feel proud of the way we’ve worked around this barrier, and that we rose to the occasion as the authors and heroes of this story.
So I don’t know what the outcomes of all of this will be, but I am really looking forward to gathering some good metrics on growth of engagement since we have such a variable level of interest, to provide good research controls. Plus, my “little” and I discussed possibilities this afternoon of inviting other bigs/littles out for pac-mixers, pranks, competitions and other outings. If Derek Sivers is correct about his theory regarding how to grow a movement, perhaps this initiative to provide fun and fellowship will prove to be a glowing testimony and replication of his work on the rapid growth of cultural shifts spurred by grassroots engagement.
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” – Warren Buffett
I must admit I’d been brooding a bit lately after our last round of hiring because due to a time crunch and lack of planning they’d excluded my input (and performance data) from the hiring process. And I didn’t “Lean In” or intervene because I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries or to communicate that I distrusted the hiring committee or create discord. But I let my fear get in the way which resulted in some pretty inequitable hiring practices.
I had some really great candidates. According to the data, they each had the strongest performance records, two had a pretty strong rapport with the workers that they supervised so I assumed that one of them would be hired, but they lost to a candidate who was awarded the position of head supervisor even though statistically she had one of the poorest performance records and was the least prepared for the position. When her friend, who just recently held the position told her they were considering candidates for the position, she would scramble around trying to appear to be helpful when being assessed by members of the hiring committee (which included her friend), but I’m embarrassed to say that the decision to hire her grossly reflects what many HR professionals refer to as a recency bias rather than her actual performance history.
It can be a bit hard to know how to navigate through the red tape surrounding all of this. I’ve had to build my reputation and I’ve compiled a lot of hard data because I know that distrust has been a huge factor in our organization and I want to be able to back myself up if I say something works so I don’t have to worry about being accused of bias or have to be held accountable for someone else’s negligence.
Statistically, I have a great performance record. I am really proud of the fact that I have good relationships with my workers and have been able to improve their performance. I just don’t see where it’s constructive to be a braggart about it. This year I’ve been fortunate enough to only have had 7 under-performers out of 60 relatively inexperienced workers. We had two drop outs, two who are on target to be kicked out because they don’t show up for shifts and are more or less at risk across the board, one who is juggling WAAYY too many responsibilities, one I’ll mention below and the worker I’ve mentioned.
Her workers are constantly off task and goofing off for HOURS at a time increasing not only our risk at being reprimanded by the labor office, but also our increases our patrons’ health risks associated with our high liability operation. She has no idea how to keep her workers’ accountable short of snapping at them, she hasn’t really made any effort to learn our policies which results into her giving our patrons bad information (which lowers the consistency and quality of our service) and if you try to work with her to get her up to speed, she’s pretty unwilling to learn or to listen. It’s very frustrating at times and I can totally understand why mothers of teenage girls are constantly pulling their hair out.
She wants the autonomy of being an adult without having to take on the responsibilities associated with being an adult.
In fact, the supervisor hadn’t made any attempts to fulfill her duties outlined by her job description until hiring began about one month ago. I’ve witnessed two emotional outbursts in which she’s publicly yelled at two of our inexperienced workers within the last week. They hadn’t actually even done anything wrong, she just got flustered and projected her hostility onto them because she didn’t know how to constructively articulate clear boundaries so she instead reprimanded them for behavior she didn’t personally like but had never articulated to them. And for me it’s kind of hard to watch. Obviously I can’t correct her in front of others and our office location is in front of everyone (I’ll explain in a bit) so even pulling her aside signals a public reprimand if we’re both absent. And to be fair, my position (on paper) isn’t really designed to give me that level of authority anyway. But because I’d previously expressed concerns about our even rehiring her to work within our department in a supervisory capacity, I feel as if I have considerably less influence now because I don’t want my concerns to be construed as some sort of retaliation or attempt to undermine her efforts to lead (ish). I also know that she and her friend have some kind of expectation that I might try to sabotage her efforts and they’re both kind of watching me closely (it’s quite nerve-wracking really) to find any tiny little indication that might validate their suspicions.
Had I known that they hadn’t even invited any of the other potential candidates in for an interview, I probably would have spoken up prior to their announcing the new positions. That’s a bullet I would have happily taken for the other candidates. I was initially worried that I had failed to prepare the more qualified candidates in some way because I’d heard that she’d had a strong interview. I’d heard that part of what resonated with the hiring committee is that this candidate expressed concern that she would be judged and compared to her incumbent because she wasn’t as experienced or organized or considered to be as nice a person — qualifications I believe are kind of critical when you’re hiring someone to supervise the other 60 workers. What I wasn’t aware of, until yesterday, when I was making a referral to one of the candidates who didn’t get selected to head over to our career center to set up an appointment on interview skills was that none of the other candidates had even been given a chance to interview. So right now I’m just kind of taking a step back and trying to reassess what my best role should be given the situation.
Also, in order to reduce the risk that someone may perceive that I hold any personal grudges or would seek to undermine the authority that the new supervisor holds in her new position, I spoke with both her and our building supervisor on separate occasions to let them know that because it was my responsibility to instill trust and to allow her to learn how to do her position on her own (since that what she prefers) that I was going to take a step back out of the role of supervising workers.
It isn’t technically included in my job description, I only inherited the role because the administration and community wanted to hold someone accountable when our workers were neglecting their duties. I just happened to be the only visible person around since they moved my reception area down in the middle of all of the building foot traffic and once I realized that the “that’s not my job” excuse was not going to be very effective since most people only saw me acting as an agent of the organization, I was going to have to step up and exhibit that leadership when needed. It’s not a role that I have always enjoyed, but it has played to many of my problem solving strengths. It has also forced me to reassess how I handle uncertainty and conflict (both verbally and non verbally) when I’m at my wits end because I am constantly “in public” due to the design and location of my workspace. I mean, I’m not even allowed to non-verbally communicate that I’m flustered or frustrated (even when it’s valid) because there’s no privacy and my role is expected to be responsive and deferential. So you can imagine why it’s a role that can often make me feel conflicted.
While theoretically it would seem that I have the option of simply removing myself from the equation (so I’m not expected to be liable for it) — this could easily be perceived as a cop out and could easily be construed as a lack of accountability if someone wanted to push it. So I don’t want to leave that to chance as it would be poor reputation management.
Yesterday I mentioned in mixed company that on my way home for lunch I noticed that the heads of the first crocuses of spring had finally poked their little purple heads out. I made a reference to something Shug Avery said in “The Color Purple” about it making God mad when we walk by the color purple and didn’t notice and the memory made me smile even though purple was a color I’d always been rather indifferent to in the past. But it made me happy to see evidence that after this very cold winter spring was finally coming.” And most of us just kind of stood and looked around for each moment not saying anything and smiled. Then out of nowhere she goes; “Well IIIII really like the color purple…. I have three shirts in that color at home….”
For some (I think really unnecessary reason), she’d made a commitment to whatever she thinks this rivalry is. Like she’s getting some sort of dopamine boost out of obsessively looking for ways to contradict me and I’m going to have to find some way to manage it. It’s not going to go away by me simply ignoring it. It isn’t really something that I understand, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone through it, I imagine it won’t be the last. But apparently I have failed to recognize early on that she finds something about my presence pretty threatening, and by making the decision not to succumb to it, it isn’t de-escalating the situation, but is more likely feeding it.
But what I realized from that interaction was that this wasn’t about me.
…and the truth is, I have neither the interest nor energy to play into it. It’s hard enough walking on eggshells to make sure that I am not only keeping myself accountable. If I engage her directly, or even demonstrate to her or to others that I’m rattled, it distracts my focus from being able to set a good example and create meaningful relationships with my other workers. But if I don’t take care to regulate my behavior (including the nonverbal behaviors) when she has her emotional outbursts, I run the risk of triggering additional outbursts even when I exercise restraint because she’s looking to be the victim in this scenario, and I don’t want the motives behind my indifference to be interpreted as dismissive or negligent.
Part of me just wants to sit back, let her throw her little tantrums and tucker herself out. But unfortunately, the business world will blame me for neglecting her because although I have no official authority over her, I am the only visible agent of the organization that will be associated with her behavior due to our shared physical proximity in our workspace.
At least previously, I had the option to write the worker up or send them home when they behaved insubordinately or couldn’t keep their emotions under control; a strategem I exercised fairly frequently in previous iterations of my job when I was expected to act as a disciplinarian in this role, really just because we’d had such poor worker oversight when they transferred me to that area and I needed to communicate to our community and my superiors that this area could and would not be neglected any longer — as well as to establish very clear boundaries with some of the workers who had been bullying their peers. So she isn’t my first emotionally volatile worker and I imagine she won’t be my last. But promoting someone to a level of oversight that would her give her the same level of authority as one of my professional colleagues based upon one month of performance without weighing her performance for the previous 5 months does seem to be a bit irresponsible, even if the efforts may have been unintentional.
Plus it undermines the positive environment that we’ve built since then. I immediately switched toward a positive reinforcement model of supervision once we weeded out the people who lost incentive to work for our organization once we increased oversight. Workers used to apply to work for our organization because it was the one area on site that met the labor requisite but required the least amount of accountability but the majority left once they increased my oversight because I actually enforced our policies and held our workers responsible for upholding our service standards and policies to ensure liability compliance. Once we eradicated the people from our workforce who were there for the wrong reasons, it was much easier to implement a structured merit based performance model. The expectations were clear, we frequently rewarded those who modeled the best character and met our performance standards with more autonomy and more oversight. We also secured more buy-in with our new hires by implementing peer recognition initiatives and used peer modeling to improve our organization’s reputation and standing in the community as well as our staff, as is evidenced by our significant increase in leadership retention.
And in all fairness, now thinking back, I suppose I am guilty of suggesting that we seriously consider replacing that particular supervisor unless we can provide her with direct mentorship and supervision to help her work through some of her areas of weakness. But I didn’t think they were going to hire her head the entire leadership division. Her friend will be leaving soon and sadly, when her friend isn’t around to take her under her wing, she reverts back to the behavior I’d previously documented.
Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know how much it sucks to be micromanaged or to have someone feel as if they constantly need to put you in your place; which is why I make a special effort not to do that. Many millennial often experience that when they become recent graduates. Nagging makes young women old before their time and I may know a lot, but it doesn’t mean that I’m willing to take on the role of trying to control other people’s choices. And I do my best to refrain from unsolicited advice when I can; but there are times when I see them standing on that ledge and at most I just give the boilerplate speech so that someone has a record of me attempting to be reasonable before anything disastrous happens. If it’s a big enough concern I will pull them aside and ask them whether they have considered the implications of x choice that they are making?
Most are pretty receptive to it because they don’t want to make mistakes. But the more headstrong mentees, like our new head supervisor and the incumbent just kind of bulldoze off the cliff for no other reason than they don’t want to feel like they’re being managed. And I have to just let them — and wait — wait for them to approach me when they need someone more experienced to intercede if things degenerate and require a professional intervention.
And I understand that these young women want to contribute, to be treated like adults, and that they want to prove that they are capable of doing things on their own and I try to respect that. But:
You’re not going to reinforce my or anyone’s trust if you communicate that you’re impossible to work with; point blank.
Leaning in does not mean bulldozing over the people who care about your development or that you don’t have to be held accountable for your behavior or that exempt from having to listen. You can either listen to someone who genuinely wants you to succeed, or you can listen to the consequences, but I have no intention of chasing you if you have a piss poor attitude or if you plan on wasting my investment. And I frankly have no interest in standing in between anyone and that choice if I’m not required to take on that imposition.
I’m certainly not looking to set back women’s lib 400 years or anything. There are some aspects that you have to take seriously if you’re going to give good service. I don’t push her to live up to those standards because she’s not required to, I am. But when she makes mistakes that merit any meaningful consequence, I do pull her aside to call it to her attention because that’s what my responsibility is whether she’s receptive to it or not. And it is also my responsibility in many cases to fix it, because I get reprimanded for it whether it be my mistake, my supervisors’ or my workers.’ But with her most of the time I can’t even get two words in and she automatically perceives being corrected as a threat and it has to do with her background or the way that leadership has been modeled to her in the past. You can tell that most of her distrust of perceived authority figures has to do with ways that she’s been previously wounded and I would have to either keep a paper trail or wait for her to have a serious breakdown before I could even safely recommend that she seek out the kind of help she would need to resolve it.
In the meantime, I have tried to find other areas to redirect my interest. I’ve been pouring through Martine’s book of etiquette to make sure that I am holding myself accountable in my treatment toward her so that my involvement won’t be considered a factor in the assessment of her performance. I treat her civilly, and with respect, and when she fails to return the favor, I excuse myself politely and take my work to a different location. But it still doesn’t stop her from trying to contradict me or to try to make me look bad in even the most trivial of conversations.
When we talked, I thought we’d resolved not to step on each others’ toes (and had even gone so far as to develop a nonverbal hand signal to let the other know when we’d cross the line, but I developed that for her to feel more of a safe space. I didn’t think I was going to be the one to have to use it.
Most of the time, I just keep my distance so as not to egg on any conflict since she’s made it a point to articulate that she finds my presence a hindrance. And she doesn’t just do it with me. I’ve also seen her bully or neglect some of the other workers as well. There are times when I almost feel as if I am living in a modern day depiction of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” where I’ve been cast as Elinor and she as Marianne — only instead of having dueling views of romance we instead differ in our views and etiquette of work ethic. There are days when she seriously makes me feel like Tina Fey from the movie Mean Girls.
And I don’t want to be hard on her. I understand that learning is necessary if she’s going to grow, I just think that at the level of emotional awareness and maturity that she illustrates right now that she really needs guidance before she’s entrusted to work at that level. I understand that this conundrum ultimately revolves around issues of trust.
I learned the hard way early on, that leadership can be a burden if you don’t know how to build trust with the people that you work with. And if someone you work with doesn’t like you or trust you, they will go out of their way to undermine you using any opportunity they can. And this new kid is gunning for me. Although I’ve never expressed it to her directly, I’m sure that her friend (the incumbent supervisor) and she have discussed that I raised concerns about her being rehired again. The incumbent supervisor isn’t really supposed to disclose that information, but they’re friends, and the incumbent supervisor doesn’t have many because her time commitments don’t allow her much of an opportunity for a social life.
I just genuinely don’t trust that the new kid understands what she needs to be successful as a supervisor, let alone HEAD supervisor and I have the documentation to prove that she won’t even follow basic instructions, and she’s pretty negligent to the needs and expectations of our patrons and her subordinates. But, for the most part, I do trust my direct supervisor who made the decision with the incumbent. I just think because he was stressed for time and didn’t plan for his hiring process that he may have not looked at the bigger picture and the implications of half-assing his hiring process. I know that he trusts the incumbent supervisor implicitly. She trained him how to do his role and I believe that he wants to be fair and equitable and to instill trust in her.
So I’ve been doing a lot of praying about it. I know that if I don’t find a way to learn how to manage it, it’s just going to silently continue erode away my self-confidence. I think part of this means that I have to acknowledge my own disappointment about not being able to form a healthy bond with her and that displaying fear in an unhealthy manner is only going to reinforce a threatening environment. I have a lot of incredible strengths that I don’t get to take advantage of. And I won’t get to if I keep sitting back waiting for the storm to pass. So although I don’t think want to sit back and take it, if I stop focusing upon her and just redirect my attention toward setting a good example, it’s going to frustrate her to no end, but I’m going to have to find a way to manage it.
They dug a pretty deep hole, but it’s not the end of the world.
I’ve also been doing a little bit of really wanted to research to see if I could find a more nurturant solution to address these concerns. I just have to record the data and measure the outcomes in performance. Of our 7 under-performers, only 1 of them showed measurable improvement. It was the one I predicted from the data I collected over summer. So I shouldn’t write them off completely. But sometimes people have to see themselves, or see how they are perceived by others before they can make meaningful decisions about how they choose to develop self-discipline.
What I’ve learned about myself from all of this is that data provides a rationalization for skewed bias, but it doesn’t mean that I’m exempt from having to listen. If I’m going to hold myself accountable for how I treat our under-performers, then I need to be more aware of how my reactions appear to others. And I need to learn how to do a better job of setting up our under-performers with mentors that they can trust and confide in so that they can have a safe place to go to, and do a better job of articulating my intentions.
And I’ve had a lot of success empowering and character coaching with the majority of my workers. One strategy that I’ve employed more recently is a pilot big/little mentorship program between the more experienced and the less experienced workers so that the workers can get used to consulting one another for guidance. The workers all seemed pretty enthusiastic about the opportunities for mentoring and bonding, and I think a program like that could be incredibly useful in teaching our workers how to recognize good leadership traits, model good work ethic and to initiate trust building to do a better job of closing our leadership gap intermittently so we can reduce the likelihood of something like that happening again.
In the meantime, here are some of the resources I’ve perused to kind of get a more holistic sense of directions I could take to manage this:
So I look forward to seeing how this develops. I’ll be sure to update you on any strategies I implement or interesting outcomes from the data I come across.
“Jane Jacobs argued, contrary to common wisdom in the 1960’s, that streets are safer when more people are on them. They are also safer when people are able and willing to watch the street from windows. InThe Death and Life of Great American Cities, she explains how to make public streets and public spaces secure. Her ideas are a prescription for real crime prevention, not simply a way to achieve a feeling of security. Safe, well-used streets are inherently livable streets.”
Following the wisdom of Jacobs and by applying her principles to labor supervision, I created and adopted this recognition system template in the summer of 2013, later known as the “student worker acknowledgement grid — or swag sheet,” to quickly collect data on the work habit and work ethic of my students, liked the results and later used it with my workers.
This tracking system gave us real-time performance data that:
- required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates,
- allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”),
- track growth/ regression of our workers, &
- gave the inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success.
This experiment actually resulted in a significantly measurable rate of improved performance.
The swag sheets were effective I believe for the following reasons:
1) Required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates: rather than sit around and dictating orders or assignments, supervisors were expected to walk around the building, identify the name and appearance of each of their subordinates. Often after the workers had gotten to know their supervisors better, they’d ask about the data collection and once the students knew they were being watched and recorded, they were much more willing to complete their tasks because they didn’t want a track record that they weren’t contributing. Supervisors were either enthusiastic or apprehensive about collecting data and most were very good about finding out other information about their workers, helping them find supplies or troubleshoot difficulty they may have been having, or letting the supervisor know of potential scheduling conflicts. In previous years, because the roles weren’t clearly defined and supervisors weren’t involved at this level, there was a lot of confusion between supervisors and workers about who was working, when, which or whether supervisors should be approached about concerns, etc., so the swag sheets were effective in alleviating quite a bit of that confusion. The swag sheets also made it easier for supervisors to pass information along quickly about what tasks had been assigned and to whom when they were switching shifts.
2) Allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”), Daniels talks about the failure of annual performance appraisals and employee of the month initiatives to motivate employees and how the rate of improvement in employee performance could be significantly achieved using specific positive reinforcement. You can read more about Daniels work here in the publication Positive Reinforcement: Misunderstood and Misused.
3) Tracked growth/ regression of our workers: this allowed us to be able to track performance issues related to supervisor engagement, the impact of policy changes on worker performance and retention, or areas of mismanagement. It also helped us to identify and reaffirm the things we were doing right. We could look at indicators like absenteeism, history of task completion and so on to identify when workers were suffering from issues outside of work, to track illnesses, time falsification and even incidents of worker fraternization.
4) Gave our inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success: the increase in oversight and involvement improved employee attitudes and most workers saw the passive approach to monitoring less invasive because they’d received an increase in communication. As a result we’ve had one of the highest employee and leadership retention rates in the history of our department in a very long time.
So I suppose we have that to be proud of.
I recently read this article “I Finally Figured Out Why People Love to Hate Millennials” in which Jewelyn Cosgrove explores why many employers believe millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists and whether this perception should be viewed as an accurate depiction.
It’s certainly not the first time a journalist has investigated this topic, and after reading Derek Thompson‘s article “Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials?” from the Atlantic, I imagine it won’t be the last.
I grew up as an 80’s baby, but I went back to school in 2008 to finish up my degree and learned very quickly as a non-traditional student that learning how to work with millennials would be nothing short of an adventure. You don’t really realize how perplexing you must have been to the older generation until you find yourself in their shoes. Millennials value autonomy, freedom of expression and quite frankly they don’t always realize when you’re genuinely trying to help. Watching them make mistakes and try to make sense of the world can be incredibly painful at times; especially when they cast aside any expectations that we believe may compromise their future or their promise.
…like I once had a student who refused to go to the hospital for treatment after having an anaphylactic reaction because he’d concluded that just using an epi-pen would increase his chances of getting accepted into the air force. Despite my admonitions, he chose not to out of concern that any medical documentation of his condition would jeopardize his chance of receiving an air force commission.
But looking back, I wonder whether this generation is really more headstrong than any other. More often than not, I have also found many millennials to be incredibly bright, insightful and just a pleasure to work with. But what I’ve also found is that as I’ve transitioned back out of college and into the working world, that I’ve also fallen prey to much of the bias and cynicism that millennials face at the entry level due to my freakishly youthful appearance.
I found this particularly vexing at times when I accidentally reinforced those perceptions when I got really excited about a new idea (esp. if my students were receptive to it) or caught myself actively trying to prove my worth to upper management. I can definitely say that I’ve experienced both sides of the equation as both a caretaker to millennials in the workforce and as an entry level associate. What I have discovered is that my unique role floating between both of these worlds is that even though I feel a bit out of place at times (and have dedicated numerous hours to the study of both of these worlds), that once you understand how the brain works and how patterns of behavior shape what motivates people, it becomes much easier to articulate to millennials what’s expected of them as well as to help their caretakers better understand how to reach them.
What are your thoughts, would you agree with Jewelyn Cosgrove’s stance against millennial bashing? Or do you think millennials really deserve the reputation used to describe them.