dranthonysblog

January 14, 2012

Management by Anger

How many of us have seen, heard, or been on the receiving end of a supervisor, or manager, yelling or losing their temper at work?  Based on my experience working for all types of employers, I am guessing the number is very high.  Since many employers today are more leanly staffed, with correspondingly high workloads, it is probably happening even more now than in the past.

The reason I bring this up is because I do not think it is talked about near as much as it should be.  Yelling or losing your temper at work in many instances probably does little to correct whatever behavior triggered the response and indeed may needlessly create other, likely larger, problems for all concerned.

When someone yells or “goes off” on you, how do you react?  Are you inclined to be more introspective and say or think “gee, I really screwed up and need to correct myself?”  Or is your reaction more likely to be “wow (fill in your bosses name) is really acting like a (fill in your favorite cuss word) today?”  I am guessing that more would agree with the latter than the former.  Since most people have probably figured this out when they were young, why do many of us still use anger when managing others?

Without getting into the psychology of it, which is far better left to those with clinical backgrounds, for whatever reason they are doing it, and it happens a lot!  An example of what I am talking about occurred when a young Army officer became upset with a seasoned subordinate soldier because she failed to follow a process correctly.  The officer yelled at the soldier who became so upset that she cried and he angrily dismissed her.  She left his office, visibly upset, and was called into the Commander’s office as she walked by.  He asked her what was wrong and she said that she just spoke with her supervisor and he yelled at her for something that was done by another soldier. He was so upset that he did not allow her to explain that important detail to him.

The officer ended up being “talked to” by his supervisor, the Commander, which could have been avoided had he simply not allowed his anger to control his actions.  The soldier he yelled at also lost respect for her supervisor, which negatively effected office morale.

Another example of management by anger happened when an assembler in factory accidentally dropped some expensive precision bearings on the ground that he should not have moved in the first place.  The manager yelled at the employee who then yelled right back at his boss!  Unfortunately, for both, the general manager was in the area and overheard much of the exchange.  Both manager and subordinate were severely disciplined as a result!

In another situation, a supervisor in a sales division yelled at an employee for being late the minute he stepped into the office in front of several other staff members.  The employee had already been talked to and disciplined once for the same offense and the supervisor really needed him that morning.  Unfortunately, the employee later told a friend what had happened and he told his neighbor who was at that time considering doing business with the company.  The neighbor decided, in part due to the incident, to take his business to another “more professional” organization.

Unfortunately, I could provide many more examples, but regardless of whether the employee deserved it or not, the majority of the outcomes were negative for the organization as well as the individuals involved.  What truly amazes me is that, though most of us know this, the behavior of managing people by anger continues in organizations everywhere.

In managing employees, the goal should be to simply correct undesired workplace behavior, whenever it happens, and encourage productivity, however that is defined.  Managers and supervisors should not take advantage of an employee’s inappropriate behavior to unload on her or him, however much they feel it is deserved.  Even if it is deserved, and we all know this, the behavior really will not get fixed that way!

When faced with these situations, managers and supervisors who are really upset at an employee should do the following;

  • Be sure to get all the facts before to talking to the employee (this is often not done but can make a big difference in your understanding of the situation!)
  • If it can wait, delay having the conversation until after you have calmed down
  • If it cannot wait, do what it takes to calm yourself down first, or have someone else talk to the employee instead
  • Once you do speak to the employee, ask them to tell you what happened and do not assume, even if you think you have all the facts, that you know why or completely how a certain situation happened (i.e., giving anyone a chance to explain their actions, will almost always help in successfully resolving situations)
  • When they speak be sure to really listen to what they have to say and reserve your judgment until after you have completely heard and understand their explanation
  • If it is a complex situation, take whatever time you need to fully understand it, so you will be able to come up with the best solution
  • Lastly, even the best employee has an off day, so when you are thinking about how to respond to a situation, be sure to take that into consideration as well!

A lot of solid research has been done try to understand human behavior, and misbehavior, especially within organizations.  Nonetheless, the art of managing people in professional organizations is still very much in its infancy, so when you are practicing your particular craft the golden rule still applies!

May 24, 2011

Lessons learned from a career spent working in Human Resources

My career started with a job as a Personnel Administration Specialist years ago and I have since spent the majority of it in Human Resources Management.  I have managed personnel in very large to small organizations, on four continents and across such diverse industries as medical, engineering, government, training, military, contracting, and consulting.  These have included for profit, nonprofit, privately held and publicly traded organizations.

It has been an interesting experience though like many careers it has included more than its share of challenges resulting in numerous successes and a few set-backs.  Overall I have enjoyed it and I have been fortunate to work with some terrific people and have assisted my employers in creating numerous positive outcomes in their organizations.

You would probably not be surprised to learn that I definitely did not grow up thinking that I someday wanted to be a Vice President of Human Resources or even a Personnel Administrator.  Rather, as often happens, I stumbled into the career by chance more than anything else.  At 16, I started college and was focused on a career in the hard sciences, but along the way, probably because of my age, I changed my mind several times.  After a couple of years, I realized that I needed to take a break from university life and see the world. This is when I decided to join the Army, which I probably selected after watching way too many MASH episodes on TV when growing up!

I took the Army’s career aptitude test and my scores were such that I was told that I could choose any field that “was open at the time” (the quotations are because I was told that not all careers were open at any given time). Even though I had the education, I decided against officer candidate school, as I wanted the enlisted experience like my parents.  I also knew, even at that time, that the military would not be a career for me but rather just a start to my professional life, whatever that would be.

I spent several hours with the recruiter discussing all of the “available” career options, and about half way through it was obvious to both of us that it was clearly a process of elimination.  Another couple of hours after that and I was discouraged because none of the careers that “were open” at the time appealed to me.  Finally, one of the last options that the then completely exasperated recruiter mentioned was Personnel Administration Specialist.  I was skeptical and asked the recruiter what the job entailed, to which he replied that it was an office job that involved the usual filing, typing, answering the phones, ad etc.  He also added that it included extensive interaction with people and that I would be involved in sometimes complex problem solving that goes along with it.  The last part of his response was the hook that interested me and so I signed on the dotted line, which in the case of the military is literally what I did that afternoon!

When I think back, I realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into! Since then, I have counseled many, broken up fights, mediated (literally), negotiated, convinced, listened, advocated, and endured (at times) just about every situation that you can think of that could occur in the workplace and some that you would not!  These include but are not limited to; promotions, bullying, interviewing, demotions, awards, deaths, restructurings, layoffs, job offers, collective bargaining, accommodations, workplace romances, and more.  I have had to help long term employees pack up their belongings, due to a bad decision or two that they made, and have tendered job offers for very large compensation packages and have sometimes been told that it was not enough!  Job candidates have also occasionally falsified their applications and one even had associates lie to cover it up!  Unfortunately, I also had to tell family members that their loved ones would not be coming home again.  On the positive side, I have developed employees and watched as they were promoted, mentored workers, and rebuilt and built Human Resource departments from scratch that supported significant organizational growth!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Human Resources is about managing people at work, and all of the good, bad, and indifferent aspects that are associated with it.  It is also about equity and perceptions about what is fair and, more often, what is not.  As an organizational function it is not a glamorous job, nor is it still completely understood or fully appreciated.  It is nonetheless important, especially when you are the employee who has an issue and needs assistance or when you are a supervisor trying to get the job done.

Since you are still reading this, I am sure your question is, that is all great but what lessons have you learned from all of this Anthony and can you really distill it in a few lines, because this is a blog and not a book after all?  My answer is, and you would expect no other, that yes, I absolutely can summarize the most important lessons learned and here they are:

  1. Three or more sides are common – This is why situations must be understood based on facts.
  2. The workplace is not a democracy – This is primarily because Employers are organizations that are focused on either providing services or making goods, ideally, as efficiently as possible.
  3. Laws are not just for others to follow – This also applies to policies and work rules as well and if they are not followed the result is disorganization, which is the opposite of organization!
  4. Some people actually enjoy their work – I have met many who do, so I know they are out there!
  5. Some bosses really do care – They usually do not advertise this and are often modest about it!
  6. Indecision is a choice and it is often the wrong one to make at work – Avoiding problems on the job frequently makes things worse!
  7. People are important – I could not have spent so many years in the field without believing this!

We all have lessons learned at work, whatever field you are in, but when your career involves people, as Human Resources does, the lessons learned are relevant for everyone!

April 16, 2011

Finding a job these days…

Countless articles, books, and blogs have been written about finding a job.  Most were typed with the best of intentions and all have their own perspective on how best to do it.  I know because I have read more than my share of them over the years and found much useful information in some, though others were definitely lacking.

The reason for the disparity is as varied as human nature.  Some are written clearly with the hope to make the writer famous, sell books, or build a consultancy.  A lot of them are based on the writer’s own experience gained in one particular industry, with only certain types of jobs, or in one region.  All of this is fine within a particular niche, but it may not work at all for different jobs, places, or circumstances.

These days many employers have down-sized significantly, competition is generally global, and uncertainty is rampant.  Traditional ways to find work probably will not help you to get a job.  This is made even more challenging by modern technology where the resulting hyper-connectivity to information and people is completely unprecedented in human history.  This fact alone has changed many things, including finding work.

I have been a job seeker several times in my life and most recently last year.  Having worked in Human Resources for the majority of my career, in jobs ranging from Personnel Specialist in the Army to Vice President of Human Resources for a global service sector corporation, I have a lot of experience in hiring people.  My master’s degree is in Human Resources and my PhD is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, so you would think I would have all the answers when it comes to finding work.  Well, 15 very long months of seeking full-time employment taught me otherwise!

Why?  Two major reasons really.  The first is the economy.  Even now, when experts say it is improving, many employers are still understandably hesitant to add staff to their payroll.  In fact, a glance of the news shows that many state and local governments in the United States, for example, are still receiving less revenue and most if not all are working to cut their budgets.  This will translate into more employee lay-offs. In the private sector things are not much better as employers are still slow to hire new workers.  When employers do decide to hire they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of applicants and that decreases the odds of getting hired for any job seeker.

Employers’ responses to being inundated with applicants causes the other major reason finding a job is so challenging these days.  In order to manage the process, all the applicants must be screened (filtered) to a number that the employer can reasonably assess and hire from. They do this many ways but the majority of processes amount to selecting only the most qualified candidates to seriously consider for a given job based on some criteria.  “Qualified candidates” in this instance often means only those with highly specific experience and training are given any consideration at all.  From the applicant perspective, it feels like you must have the perfect background to be hired for any job, when in reality for many positions you really do not.  The prospect of getting hired these days appears about as likely as buying the winning lottery ticket from the local convenience store.

Having said this, what advice would I give a job seeker now?  My best answer, admittedly based heavily on my own recent experience, is as follows:

  1. Do not give up, even though it may take a while.  Jobs exist and you will get one.
  2. Take care of yourself, eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.
  3. Find time to relax.  If you appear to be stressed out, it will show!
  4. Decide what types of jobs you are “currently qualified” and “willing” to do.
  5. Research the employers that hire those types of jobs and learn everything you can about the industry, the work, and especially how they hire people (most public libraries have free Internet).
  6. Apply to jobs using methods that they favor based on your research, follow-up, and apply to others.
  7. However you decide to apply, make sure you present yourself honestly and in a fully professional manner (both on paper and in person).
  8. Network with professionals in the field and let them know you are looking.
  9. Be creative and dedicated in your search efforts.  Wishing or getting angry, or depressed, will not help get you a job.
  10. Believe in yourself!

Make no mistake not having a job is an extremely humbling experience for anyone!  You are not alone and you will find a job if you keep at it.  Good luck, though unlike buying lottery tickets, that probably has little to do with it these days!

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