One Thing & Another

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: Women, Work, and Babies

According to the NYT, American companies have spent years “rolling out programs aimed at retaining mothers, but many large corporations still systematically sideline women who are pregnant.”

The proof?

They cite a study which found that each child cuts 4% off a woman’s hourly wages. Men’s earnings, they say, after controlling for other factors, increase by 6% when they become fathers.

I don’t buy it. What I’d bet they’d find out if they really studied those “controls” is that these discrepancies are the result of decisions mothers make. Decisions about opting for less-demanding jobs that allow them to do what’s more important to them: taking care of their kids.

 

Today’s Word: cleave (verb)

Cleave (KLEEV) is the only word with two synonyms that are antonyms of each other: 1. adhere, and 2. separate.

Examples:

  1. “Search men’s governing principles, and consider the wise, what they shun and what they cleave to.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  2. “In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak.” (Thomas Kyd)

 

Fun Fact

The body uses 300 muscles to balance itself while standing still.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

“What’s Your Business Management Philosophy?”, Part 2

 As I said on Monday, [LINK TO JULY 16 ESSAY], there are four broadly different management styles: bullying, babying, being charismatic, and disappearing.

Let’s take a look at them now…

 The Authoritarian

The authoritarian is the manager that knows just what should be done at every moment and who should be doing what. Some achieve their authority through diplomacy. Some through bureaucratic micro-managing, and some by acting the bully.

Sometimes the bullying is direct and obvious. The manager might actually say, “You’ll do this because I tell you to or you’ll be fired.”

I recently spoke to an executive who told me that before hiring a candidate, he tells them, “When you work for me, you work for no one else. If I call you on a Sunday and you are having a birthday party for your kid, I expect you to drop that and come to work.”

This guy’s approach is militant and the atmosphere in his office is like a bootcamp. You’d think such a management style would eventually blow up. But he has been successfully building his business, increasing profits fivefold in less than seven years. And his employees are extremely loyal.

Other times, the bullying is more passive.

Another executive I know, for example, is meticulous and polite in her conversations with employees. She never says anything that on paper would seem untoward. And yet she manages, by innuendo and non-verbal means, to let her employees know that they have two choices: her way or the highway.

And she, too, has been extremely successfully, growing her business from next to nothing to more than $100 million during the time I worked with her.

Bullying – whether active or passive – is the primary management strategy for training and developing soldiers. It’s also the primary strategy for just about every business on Wall Street.

So… though it is indubitably noxious, it is frequently successful. How can that be?

I would say this: Successful bullying requires offsetting abilities and tactics.

One of them is the ability to inspire underlings to believe that they are part of a cause that is greater than their bully bosses. Soldiers, for example, are willing to put up with bootcamp abuse they wouldn’t tolerate elsewhere because they feel that they and their sergeants are serving a higher purpose. They submit to the humiliation to serve that higher cause.

Another is the creation of a sort of fraternity house atmosphere. New recruits understand that the bullying is just part of a process of bringing them inward and upward in the organization. And that later it will be their turn to bully others.

Perhaps the most common way to make bullying work is to pay employees considerably more than they could get in a similar job. If you are making 20% to 50% more than you could make working for a gentler and kinder competitor, you might very well think, “Nah. I can take the bullying. I like the money here.”

The downside of bullying, though, is significant. Although the bully can get a great deal of good work from his employees, he is working with people who fundamentally don’t trust and don’t like him. If an equally well-paid (or better) job opportunity comes along, they will leave without a moment’s regret.

That said, if you want to adopt this style of management there are some guidelines to follow:

* You can’t be an effective bully manager unless you have employees that are comfortable with being bullied now and then. So you have to be frank with them in the beginning. You have to make it clear during the interview process that your business culture is demanding and sometimes humiliating. If the candidate can’t tolerate that, he should withdraw his application.

* Make the pay scale attractive. If you are going to regularly push people beyond their natural limits, you must be willing to pay them more. How much more? That depends on your industry. But I would say that the average compensation should be at least 10% and more likely 20% higher than industry standards, with unlimited potential for some positions.

* Identify the mission. Explain how and why it is extremely important.

* Never forget that even if you’ve established a larger-than-thou goal for the business and you are overpaying your workers, they will eventually come to resent your bullying. And that although you may have captured their best and most productive hours, you will have lost the loyalty in their hearts.

 

The Babysitter

 The babysitter is the manager that believes it is his job to entertain and sometimes pacify his employees. He believes that happy employees make for happy customers, and happy customers make for business growth. There are many dot.com-era CEOs who attribute their financial success to this management philosophy of putting employees first.

The babysitter manager spends most of his time interacting with employees, asking them how he can make their working lives happier. What this invariably results in are changes that reduce work hours and job demands and increase not just compensation but dozens of other employee benefits. Benefits such as childcare and resting (as opposed to rest) rooms and open spaces that serve as playgrounds for infantilized adults.

I believe in treating employees well and respectfully. It is an absolute moral mandate as far as I’m concerned.

But the fundamental problem with the babysitter style of management is the core psychological philosophy behind it: that we can become happier by paying more attention to our wants and needs.

The primary relationship in a business is NOT between the employer and the employee. It is between the customer (who is doling out the cash) and the company (that is providing the product or service).

So although I’m all in favor of treating employees well (especially your superstars), this sort of approach to leadership must be in conjunction with high expectations.

If you are inclined to employ this style of management, here are the guidelines:

* Let new employees know that although you will be doing everything you can to make their job enjoyable, your primary obligation is to the customer. And so is theirs.

* Discuss and agree on what sort of and how much work is required of them. Don’t sugarcoat this conversation. They must understand from the get-go that you expect a great deal.

* Convey to them the general mission of the business – your idea of the value you are providing to your customers and the world.

* Create and communicate a clear chart of responsibilities from top to bottom and insist that it be respected. If you don’t, some employees might get the idea that it’s okay for them to seeking comfort/validation from executives they don’t work for – including you.

 

The Charismatic

The charismatic business manager is a rara avis. A very unusual person with the ability to inspire and even charm his employees to work harder for him than they ever imagined they could work for anyone.

Like bullies and babysitters, charismatic managers come in many flavors. Some are very generous to their employees and some are sort of stingy. Some are great speakers and some are nearly mute. Some are “big idea” people and some prefer to fiddle with the dials.

But they all somehow have the ability to instill in their employees a passion for and a trust in their vision… and a desire to please them, however much work and effort that requires.

If you are lucky enough to be a charismatic person, there are some traps that you must avoid falling into. For example, you need to understand that although half of your ideas may be wrong, your ability to sell them to your employees is so strong that they may “yes” you when they should be saying “maybe not.”

There are several ways to do that successfully and one way to fail. That way is to tell them that they should feel free to contradict you. They will certainly agree to do so. But they won’t. Why won’t they? Because you are charismatic!

Better ways to put a leash on your charisma:

* When you have a new idea or want to embark on a new project, send out a rough plan to any and all employees that will be affected by it. Ask for anonymous feedback. Then review the feedback with two or three senior people whose opinions you trust.

* Empower key employees (particularly those in charge of profit centers) to prioritize the ideas you give them in order of some agreed-upon criteria you’ve established. Let them know that though it’s your nature to sell every idea you come up with equally hard, you know that only some of them will work. So you will count on them to decide which ones takes precedence.

* Make it a habit to wait before selling a new idea to your people. Wait a day or wait a week or better yet a month. The ideas that are likely to make the biggest difference don’t need to be implemented right away. They are usually fundamental and, therefore, will take time to put into action. So write them down. Put them away for a while. Then look at them again and see how good they really are.

You can’t learn to be charismatic. It’s an innate quality. You have it or you don’t.

If you don’t have it, don’t despair. Lesser skills – like how to establish goals and incentivize employees – can be learned. And if you apply those skills to other skills (including, on rare occasions, a little bit of bullying), you can become a very effective manager.

I’d much rather be a charismatic manager than a bully. But since I don’t have the innate talent of charisma, I’ve had to rely on a bit of bullying here and there. Though I wish I hadn’t hurt tender feelings, I don’t regret it because I got the job done.

 

The Invisible Manager

There is a management style that is rarely talked about in books or (I’d bet) taught in classrooms. I describe as “invisible.”

Invisible managers – as you might have guessed from the nomenclature – are executives that manage to motivate their employees and grow their businesses without being especially charming or aggressive.

They do not rally the troops or make visionary speeches. Nor do they bribe and beat their employees into submission.

They simply work with each of their direct reports, quietly and individually. They keep the business moving at a good pace, without drama, ego clashes, rebellions, or disgruntlement.

It’s not easy to become an invisible manager. You have to understand your business from the inside out and understand each of your key employees in terms of what they want out of their careers.

Invisible managers employ some of the characteristics of charismatic managers. But they add to that a great deal of specific knowledge and expertise that they use when having quiet little conversations with their employees about what the next best thing for the business might be.

 

Which leader is the best?

Like I said, no one leadership type is always best for all people.

Being the bully can work very well under certain circumstances. Especially when the structure of the business tends to be centralized and the flow of information and decision-making is top-down.

Babysitting can work, too. But you have to have the guts to fire people when it is clear that they are taking advantage of rather than being motivated by the babysitting services you are offering.

Charismatic leadership is very effective… so long as you either know exactly what needs to be done or are capable of hiring people that will soon know more than you do.

Invisible leadership works best if you have the discipline to learn your business extremely well and are able to communicate your ideas in a non-threatening but crystal-clear manner.

The management style I prefer has a little bit of everything:

* a willingness to give employees a good deal of responsibility and flexibility

* the understanding that the business needs to provide some amount of education and orientation for its employees but not dictate what everyone should be doing at all times

* the ability to establish a strong corporate spinal column consisting of centralized accounting, budgeting, marketing analysis, and information processing

* the willingness to establish decentralized profit centers working from yearly budgets that are regularly reviewed by upper management

* the inclination to allow as much freedom as possible when it comes to how profit-center managers achieve their goals, but making sure they are monitored and regulated by trusted, experienced supervisors

* an overriding belief that what is good for every individual employee is equally good for the business

* the desire to teach employees that profits are critical but that the most important job of the business is to provide continued value to its customers