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February 22, 2018

Who's In Charge Here?

I saw a link to this article recently: "9 bad manager mistakes that make good people quit." It’s one of many I’ve seen about mistakes companies or managers make that alienate employees. It must be a popular topic.
Articles like this necessarily oversimplify a complex network of issues, boiling them down to a pithy copywriting exercise. And lest I be guilty of sucker punching the article's writer, I confess I've done much the same.
But many such articles and the studies behind them also advocate a point of view that is debatable, if not outright controversial. I’ll paraphrase it: “since the employee is the person delivering value to the company, find out what makes them happy and give it to them.”

I'm not so sure. Admittedly, my perspective is shaded by years in management and executive ranks, but I believe businesses exist to serve. They prosper by helping their shareholders, customers, partners, and employees prosper. So I don't share the pre-Copernican view of the employee as the center of the universe. In the spirit of constructive dialog, here’s my take on “9 bad manager mistakes that make good people quit.”

They overwork people. At what was then the world’s largest professional services firm, I booked 800+ hours of overtime per year, all of it accounted for in biweekly time sheets. Overworked? Yep. Underpaid? Absolutely. Why did I stay for 10 years? World-class colleagues. Knowledge. Pride. I didn't leave because of overwork, I left for a breakthrough career opportunity – one that would not have come my way without that decade of preparation.

  1. They don’t recognize contributions and reward good work. I receive recognition on two banking days each month, and I earn it every working day. Keep the certificates (but I will accept gift cards).
  2. They fail to develop people’s skills. Years in management have made me a skilled (if uncredentialed) therapist.
  3. They don’t care about their employees. Company leaders often care, and most managers care most of the time. But the priorities of the business dominate all.
  4. They don’t honor their commitments. To me? To customers? Shareholders? As an employee I’m most often at the bottom of that hierarchy, and perhaps I should be. See #4.
  5. They hire and promote the wrong people. But they hired me. I'll do what I can to help my co-workers raise their games. And I'll raise my own.
  6. They don’t let people pursue their passions. Isn’t this HR’s mission? More seriously, to prosper in business you must focus where the business needs you and deliver the most value you can. Are you asking your company to make you a better person, or are you building a better company?
  7. They fail to engage creativity. I can’t come up with a witty comeback to this one. Sadly, no one has engaged my creativity.
  8. They don’t challenge people intellectually. When I look for challenges, I find them. And no one but me can chain my imagination.

The article concludes: “If you want your best people to stay, you need to think carefully about how you treat them. While good employees are as tough as nails, their talent gives them an abundance of options. You need to make them want to work for you.”

I agree. But – corporate environments are complex, constantly in motion, filled with stress and conflict, riddled with competing priorities, and often ruled by imperfect knowledge and judgment. That makes it complicated. So here are three things to consider when deciding whether to stay put or move on – in no particular order.

  1. Is your compensation competitive, and is there a decent upside opportunity?
  2. Does your work make a positive difference for some people on this earth?
  3. Are you working every day with ethical people who are fun to hang with?

Like you, as a member of the business community, I've put up with my share of crap. But the more conditions we make and the more red lines we draw, the more we box ourselves in.

I say, align your work with your values and enjoy.

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