How to Create a Scary Workplace

Vintage Metal Sign - Beware of Monsters - Vector EPS10.Over the years, I have met, worked with and worked for a lot of people. By far the majority of those people taught me, through their actions and words, what I can do to make work a better place.  These people:

  • Come to work each day with a fabulous, ‘let’s have a great day’ attitude
  • Look for potential in others and then make the time and provide the support required to nurture that potential
  • See the opportunity behind the challenge
  • Expect as much from themselves as they do from others
  • Take responsibility for failures or errors
  • Put team members in the limelight and acknowledge everyone’s role in success
  • Are accessible

Then there are the people who have instead taught me how to create a scary workplace, a workplace filled with hurt, mistrust, discontent and turmoil. Here are some surefire tactics these scary monsters used to create unhappiness, anxiety and even a little fear. They:

  • Come to work with a ‘let’s see who I can take down today’ attitude
  • Push and maneuver behind the scenes to ensure their favourite people succeeded at the expense of the entire team
  • Push and maneuver to get rid of people they perceive as unworthy or a potential threat
  • See challenges as an opportunity to bring someone down and raise themselves up
  • Don’t follow the same high standards they set for others
  • Blame others for failures or errors
  • Take all the credit for success
  • Hide behind closed doors, computer screens, voice mail or ‘too many meetings’
  • Expect results without sharing what the expectations are or providing adequate resources to be successful.
  • Keep changing the rules or the definition of success so success can’t be achieved
  • Discourage creativity or innovation with the phrase “that’s not the way I would do it” or better yet, discount the idea, then present it as their own

What has struck me about some of the people I’ve met who fall into the scary monster category is that many view themselves as action oriented, go-getters, not afraid to “say it like it is”, as someone strong prepared to make the hard choices. I’m not sure if they really are oblivious to the hurt, turmoil and discontent created by their words and actions, or if they are aware but simply don’t care.

Whether oblivious or uncaring, the damage caused by hurt, turmoil and discontent is real.

  • Hurt, turmoil and discontent don’t stay in the workplace. Unhappy, discontented employees share those feelings with friends, family and peers, potentially damaging the reputation of a company to potential high quality employees.
  • Employee turnover rises as people leave for a less stressful workplace
  • Employee morale and productivity continues to decline, leading to shoddier work and unhappy customers

Are You Really as Good as You Think You Are?

Man talking to himselfDo you use yourself as an example of what everyone on your team should be like? When hiring, are you trying to find more of you?  If so, stop it!

Chances are, there are some things you are pretty good at, perhaps even a whole lot of things. There may even be one or two things you are really good at. While there are some people who have been promoted past their level of competence or people skills, most people are in a supervisory or management role because they demonstrated capability. Awesome. That very probably applies to you as well.

Now for the reality check. Just because you are good in some key areas, does not mean you are good in all of them.  Just because you think and believe one way, does not make it the only right  way.

Hiring a bunch of mini-me’s serves only two purposes.

  1. It feeds your ego.
  2. It stops meaningful conversation. After all, a group of people agreeing on everything, including how amazing they are and how everyone else needs to be like them, does nothing to take your business to the next level.

If you are brave enough, identify your areas of weakness.  (Really brave supervisors and managers will ask the people around them to identify their weaknesses.)Then go and find people who are strong in those areas. Next … let them shine.  Don’t take credit for their good work by telling everyone how amazingly smart you were to have hired them. All you’re doing then is turning the spotlight back on you. (See point 1 above)

Find people brave enough to let you know when they don’t agree. Wait … let me rephrase. Create an environment where people don’t need to be brave to let you know when they disagree with you. Quite frankly, if this isn’t in place, there is no point in asking others to share their insight on areas of weakness as per the previous paragraph.  That will be an exercise in futility, unless the intent was to feed your ego and hear things like “I can’t think of a thing” or “Oh no, you are amazing.  Nothing wrong with you.”

An effective, engaged team is made up of individuals who recognize and acknowledge individual strengths and weaknesses. They are strong enough to ask for, accept and offer help when needed.  Individuals on a team agree on and work towards a common vision, but their perception of how to achieve the vision may differ greatly. Wonderful. Group think kills creativity.

Go ahead … acknowledge your areas of strength.  Then go and find people who aren’t like you, people who are good or great where you are not, people who bring new ideas to the table, who look at situations from a different perspective and who make you stop and think … “I wish I’d thought of that.”

And Finally …. Waffling Walter

It’s very seldom the responsibility for customer service problems lies with just one person.  It’s easy to blame the front-line person, the person whose name is mentioned in the complaint.

That’s how the Horrible Harry’s of this world (meet him here if you haven’t yet met him) deal with those moments. They blame their staff, instead of stepping back and asking “Am I providing my team with the tools, the training and the on-going support they need in order to be successful?”

But, just because Horrible Harry is a less than stellar example of what a good supervisor looks like, it’s not all Horrible Harry’s fault that service and morale are low. That’s because Horrible Harry reports to Harried Harriet (Ok … I’d love to help you meet her if you haven’t yet, but try as I might, the direct link does not work.  If you want to meet her, visit my blog page and scroll down to “Introducing Harried Harriet” post.). Harried Harriet knows that Horrible Harry’s management style is not working, but she is just too busy to deal with it.  Does that mean all the responsibility lies with Harried Harriet?  Why no … it doesn’t.  Waffling Walter also plays a part.

Harried Harriet has put together numerous reports and recommendations, detailing the challenges and suggesting potential solutions and then submitted those reports and recommendations to Waffling Walter.  But nothing seems to ever leave Waffling Walter’s desk with a definitive “yes” or “no” stamp.

Waffling Walter takes days, sometimes weeks, to respond to requests. When he finally does get around to it, it is generally with vague questions or comments like “we will take that under advisement and get back to you”.  Waffling Walter likes the word “we”, not because it’s an inclusive word, but because the word “we” means he’s not the one who will be held accountable. The phrase “the buck stops here” has no meaning to Waffling Walter.

Another way Waffling Walter puts off having to make a decision is by sending Harried Harriet’s reports back, over and over again, asking for further detail, study, examples, scenarios, etc, etc, etc.  No wonder Harried Harriet is having difficulty finding the time to work with Horrible Harry and coach him to becoming a better manager.

The sad thing is, Waffling Walter also sees the negative customer comments and he wants to know why and what will be done to resolve them. That’s more emails and phone calls for Harried Harriet to deal with.

Poor customer service is rarely the fault of just one person.  It’s easy to point fingers and say “if I had or if they did, then I could”, but that means giving away control of the best you can be, in this situation, right now.  It’s when everyone takes ownership of their role in the entire customer service process that positive results happen.   Sometimes, sadly, when others don’t take ownership of their role, the ones that do move on, leaving behind the ones that say “if only”. That’s not good for business.

Excellent customer service, delivered consistently, needs a whole team of committed individuals working together, helping and supporting each other internally. When that happens, negative customer comments decrease and employee morale increases.  That is good for business.


Introducing Harried Harriet

Last week, I introduced you to Horrible Harry. His less than stellar management skills have led to low morale, high turnover and negative customer service comments in his department. (If you didn’t get a chance to meet him, click here.)

As easy as it would be to put all responsibility for the rather dismal state of his department on Horrible Harry, the reality is he reports to Harried Harriet. Where is Harried Harriet?  Does she not know what is happening? If she is aware, why is nothing being done?

As it turns out, Harried Harriet is fully aware of the challenges and issues in Horrible Harry’s department.  She has personally witnessed his bad behaviour. She reads the negative customer comments, but she is just too busy to deal with Horrible Harry right now.  Harried Harriet is frantically trying to find ways to cut costs and get new customers in the door because revenue and profit margins are not where they need to be.   She simply does not have time to take Horrible Harry aside and speak to him about the damage he is doing to his department and the business overall.  She simply does not have time to coach Horrible Harry on how to be a better manager.

I know … you saw it too, didn’t you?  If Harried Harriet focused on the root cause of low morale and high turnover, chances are customer service and customer retention rates would improve.  That would mean less time and effort would be needed to bring new customers in the door to try and replace all the unhappy ones that left, never to return again.  That might also mean services wouldn’t have to be cut because the demand for them would increase.

So where are we now?  You’ve met Horrible Harry, who reports to Harried Harriet.  But wait.  We’re not done.  Next week, I’ll introduce you to Waffling Walter, Harried Harriet’s boss.

P.S. To all the Happy, Helpful Harry’s and Harriet’s out there, thank you for all the good work you do!

Meet Horrible Harry

Horrible Harry is a mid-level manager. Horrible Harry has been in the business for years and thinks he’s all that … and more.

Horrible Harry likes to do things like berate employees in public.  On a positive note, he does realize the inappropriateness of dropping the f-bomb during public shamings.  He saves those for private shamings. Actually, Horrible Harry drops the f-bomb liberally throughout a large percentage of any verbal communication.

Horrible Harry doesn’t believe in coaching.  Instead he keeps notes of all errors made (the list is only in his head, not on paper). Horrible Harry doesn’t ask why errors are made.  After all, there really is only one reason, right? The employee is stupid, uncaring and not motivated.  It would never cross his mind that perhaps the training wasn’t adequate or that expectations were unclear or inconsistent.

Horrible Harry doesn’t like his employees, but then again, he doesn’t really like his customers either.  Words and phrases like demanding, rude and ungrateful pop up regularly when he references his customers.  He thinks they ask stupid questions and doesn’t understand why they would be upset when a service promoted on the website isn’t available when they arrive.  After all, if they could offer it they would, but they can’t, so stop the whining.

Rather unsurprisingly, turn-over is high and morale is low in Horrible Harry’s department.  Customer comments are negative and when an employee does receive a positive mention, they never hear about it. Guess which ones they do hear about??

Sadly, dear readers, Horrible Harry is real.  Horrible managers, horrible supervisors exist, in all industries. They do things like send employees to customer service seminars in order to “whip them into shape” and then say things like “well, that was a waste of time and money” when customer comments don’t improve.

The mirror they look into every day is clouded. They don’t see that their lousy service and their poor attitude is the problem.  But of course, they are not the only problem.  They report to someone else, who allows that behavior to continue.  We’ll meet Harried Harriet another time.

P.S. To all the Happy, Helpful Harry’s out there, thank you for all the good work you do!