"You'll find this interesting," a friend said
to me this week. She then related a story of
a guy in her company she had known for years,
a guy we'll call "Jim", who specializes in
that realm of IT known as Enterprise
Architecture. It seems that a recent
reorganization had resulted in Jim's
reassignment to a new group, reporting to a
manager he had known only by reputation. And
it wasn't a good one.
Jim's new boss, let's call her "Judy",
manages by coercion, edicts, and political
cunning. By all accounts, she has a
remarkable disregard for other people's time,
interests, or needs, and doesn't feel
particularly bound by her own commitments.
She's located in a distant city from Jim, but
keeps her tendrils tightly wrapped around all
members of her remote and virtual team.
Jim had loved his work, and in fact, had been
supremely happy doing it under the previous
leadership. But after five frustrating weeks
spent largely on conference calls and "toting
and fetching" bits of what he called "useless
information" for Judy, he tendered his
resignation on the very day that the U.S.
Department of Labor announced an unemployment
rate of 8.5%, the highest in 26 years.
He had no job to go to, but, as he told my
friend, "Life's too short to work for a
jerk." And indeed it is.
In these times of unprecedented turbulence
and uncertainty, some managers labor under
the delusion that everyone who still has a
job feels a sense of good fortune that can
only be envied by the millions who don't, and
that this blessing will drive them to "put up
A study released in January of 2009 by
staffing firm Robert Half International
suggests that even in a lousy job market, the
number one catalyst driving top talent to the
competition is bosses who are even lousier
than the job market.
When asked "Which of the following is most
likely to cause good employees to quit their
jobs?" the top answer, given by 35% of
respondents, was "unhappiness with
management." That's up from 23% in 2004.
Speaking of delusions, I don't think for a
minute that this article is being read by the
hard core, profligate jerks who are legends
in their own mind. Unless, of course, it has
been forwarded to them through an anonymous
gmail account. (A quick check reveals that
such accounts are still available, if you're
so inclined.) Genuine jerks either don't
recognize, or else greatly admire that
quality in themselves. But what does worry me
are those of us who, in a misguided attempt
to wring as much productivity as possible out
of our ailing system, do things that only
make matters worse.
1. Periodically check yourself for
thoughts like this: "They'll do what they're
told. They're lucky to have a job. If they
don't like it, we've got 200 applications on
file from people who'd give anything to work
here. All that squishy leadership stuff is
out - this is survival." If anything vaguely
resembling these sentiments tries to creep
into your psyche, get a grip! Banish those
ideas before they gain a foothold. And, if
you see it in someone you work closely with
or care about, man up and pull them aside for
a little coaching.
2. Similarly, be careful not to take
people, or their work, for granted. Nothing
destroys a relationship faster. And whether
we like it or not, getting productivity from
people is still about relationships, and a
matter of choice - theirs. As soon as you
finish reading this, get up, go find someone
who is doing good work, and tell them why you
appreciate them. You don't have to get all
smarmy about it. Just do it. And if that kind
of thing isn't in your nature, may I suggest
that you start adopting a new nature?
3. Coercion doesn't work. Never has,
likely never will. Ditto for intimidation.
Oh, sure, you can make things happen through
brute force and fear. But you don't have
enough energy or eyes in the back of your
head to keep it going for long. Your
colleagues, the ones who win performance
through influence, trust, respect, and
admiration, will outlast and outshine you.
4. Since our first book, Contented
Cows Give Better Milk, we've espoused
the benefits of what we call "Balanced
Worth-It's". Quid pro quo, if you
will. I'll bend over backward, go out of my
way, the extra mile, for my employer (read,
boss), if needed. But, at some point, I'm
going to expect some consideration in return.
The workplace is rife with managers whose
sense of balance has gotten a little
lopsided, especially in today's environment.
The worker who arrives ten minutes late is
subject to scrutiny and reprimand. But when
the same worker stays an hour past quittin'
time to participate in a conference call
originating in another time zone, she has a
right-if we're going to be fair about it-to
expect a similar degree of scrutiny and, with
it, at least a simple thank you.
5. Finally, even if you're not, by
jerk - and I suspect you're not - don't let
your own heightened level of stress and
anxiety turn you into one. Years ago, when I
was a young, insufficiently experienced
manager of software designers, I reacted
badly to a pressure cooker atmosphere not
unlike the one we find ourselves in today. In
short, I became a jerk. My boss cared enough
to sit me down and tell me so. Sure, it stung
for a while, but he was the best boss I've
ever had, and this was the best, repeat, THE
best, performance feedback I ever received.
Not everyone's in a position, as was our
friend Jim, to exercise their options and
resign. But I'll again assert the title of
this article. Jerks of the world, beware.
Folks may not actually quit their jobs until
things ease up out there, but if they stay,
look at what they're giving you. Is it really
their best work?