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People Still Won't Work for a Jerk
By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette

"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 with anything."

Not so.

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.

Some ideas:

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 nature, a 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?

We administer employee satisfaction surveys, and analyze, interpret, and present the results to your leadership team.

Especially in times like these, no organization can afford to operate without the full engagement of everyone on the payroll.

Our turnkey process provides a valuable and affordable way for you to measure your organization's effectiveness in the view of those who fuel your business with their effort, labor, and commitment.

Visit us online, or simply contact us, to learn more about our survey process and how it can help to make your workforce a powerful competitive weapon.

Perilous times demand extraordinary leadership.

Are you struggling to manage the fear and uncertainty your employees are experiencing as a result of the current global economic crisis?

Are you being asked to balance cost cutting measures, potential layoffs and other major organizational changes against employee engagement and higher productivity?

Are you stuck in neutral, unsure how to lead in such times?

If so, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden can help.

Our new keynote presentation, "Leading Through the Storm", provides specific tips and techniques to help you lead successfully in uncertain economic times, and to get the most from an enthusiastic and engaged workforce.

It's a message of hope, of realism, of optimism, and of practicality. Your audience will learn:

* At least six ways to keep people fired up and focused in difficult economic times.
* Tips for building and maintaining a reputation as an employer of choice - which is critical, even in times of higher unemployment.
* Strategies and examples from real organizations, and real leaders who are getting it right.

Find out about bringing Bill or Richard to your organization. Contact Geoff Knue at 317-873-0011, or

Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
Contented Cow Partners, LLC

phone: 904-720-0870
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