Archive for November, 2007

Will the Manager’s Real Personality Please Stand up?

November 25, 2007

This edition was inspired by “Sad” who posted a comment on Why Companies Love Micromanagers(August 10, 2007). Sad is experiencing a phenomenon that I’ve seen so many times before during my now thirty-six plus years in the working world – a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde“ manager. In Sad’s case, the manager is a split personality type who acts like a bullying tyrant in the office and Mr. Nice Guy in civilian life. While I have observed this myself to a limited degree, I am much more familiar with managers who become personality chameleons while on the job. Don’t ask me to explain it because I can’t. As I’ve stated before on numerous occasions, I am not a psychologist. My opinions are only based on what I’ve seen and experienced myself.

I once worked with a fellow like Sad describes about twenty years ago at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 sized corporation. Thankfully we were peer managers and not in a superior subordinate relationship. Ernie and I had developed a very friendly comradeship away from the office. We met through a car-pooling arrangement and discovered that we had many common interests. Since we did not live far from each other, we began to socialize and soon became good friends. It wasn’t until our departments began to interface during a cross functional project that I noticed Ernie’s split personality. This low-key “Good ole boy” tobacco chewing hunter, fisherman, gardener and beer drinking buddy would instantly transform into a pompous arrogant sycophant the minute he stepped through the employee entrance. His visceral underhanded attacks on co-workers and incessant devious backstabbing to gain the upper hand over peers were frightening. To listen to his speeches during meetings, you’d think that he was vying to become the next CEO constantly espousing the latest company line and vehemently defending every corporate decision. On the weekends, donned in bib overalls and swilling a PBR, he’d bitch about the company and the executives like a disaffected union shop steward. (No offense meant to union shop stewards!) I found Ernie’s seemingly schizophrenic behavior quite disturbing and became uncomfortable socializing with him off the job. I began to wonder which side of Ernie I was really dealing with and who he actually was. I felt that he was not trustworthy. I even left the car pool because of his antics.

My advice to Sad is not to be swayed in any way by the off-duty personality of the manager in question. While at work, it’s always: What you see is what you get. Don’t expect any change for the better and never hold out hope for a transformation. You will be woefully disappointed if you do. I know this all sounds very jaded and cynical but it’s also the voice of experience.

In my book, 160 0f deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic, I write about several other forms of these apparent split personality disorders. I refer to one as the St. Francis of Assisi Syndrome that seems to afflict many managers and executives who by all counts are nothing more than born jerks – and widely recognized as such. Perhaps you’ve seen this as well? It occurs when these characters return from management training sessions or seminars reincarnated as saints – at least temporarily. The transformations are sometimes amazing. The syndrome may last for weeks or even months. Subordinates and peers alike may be fooled into thinking that the individual has actually changed for the better. A false sense of security may even set in amongst their direct reports. Then, for no apparent reason, their original personalities will return with a vengeance. Perhaps it’s because there is no changing their hard coded DNA. At any rate, co-workers and subordinates often feel betrayed by these temporary metamorphoses. They begin to wonder why the company wastes its money even attempting to change such characters.

In the corporate world, where investors expect consistent returns, corporate honchos are always screaming about consistent practices and policies, and managers are demanding consistent performance from their direct reports; why are these inconsistent personality types allowed to flourish? Shouldn’t subordinates expect consistent personalities from their superiors as well – even if they’re horrible?

It’s tough enough trying to survive in today’s business world without wondering which of the Three Faces of Eve one has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

A Visit from the Ghost of Ghost Payrolls Past

November 18, 2007

Pardon the Dickensonian reference in the title but the holidays are just around the corner! You can bet that there will be plenty of Scrooge stories coming down the pike. Right now I’m hearing the clanking of chains. An apparition appears and the nightmare begins.

If you’ve ever worked in manufacturing or maybe even in service industries, I’m sure you’ve have heard about “Ghost Payrolls” at least once. I’ve seen this ghost conjured up four times during my career and each time at a different company; twice by high ranking vice presidents and twice by the presidents or CEO’s themselves. The subject must be taught as a special course at the VP or the CEO academy, because it is always they who raise the issue and make it sound as though THEY are delivering a revelation from on high. Even though WE are the one’s that suggest, install and audit the controls that prevent ghost employees from getting on the payroll as well as other acts of fraud and corruption, WE are really quite stupid when it comes to the subject. Only those in high office can point out this hole in the dike where the profits are gushing out of the company and into the hands of miscreants.

It’s interesting that the subject is always broached during periods of low profits, losses on the P&L or when efficiency or productivity begins to suffer. These must be the bullet point triggers taught at the academy. It matters not that you can recite the litany of controls in place or even the results of the last payroll audit. Ghost workers on the payroll MUST be the cause of the problem. So just get out there and find them. Perhaps place a call to the Ghost Busters.

I am now being transported back in time by the apparition and allowed to view an event that took place during the time I worked for a mid-sized manufacturing concern. Here’s how I remember it all.

The plant manager and I were attending a quarterly operations meeting chaired by the CEO. The consultant representing the non-managing owners was present to oversee the proceedings. Our plant had just taken on some new business and things were not going well with new product line. The CEO had been involved with its sourcing as well as determining the expected gross margin and the anticipated production throughput. How that data had been determined was a mystery to us. No one below the top echelon had been consulted. It seemed like some “secret formula” known only to the CEO had been utilized. I say that because from the outset, the plant manager warned about the inefficiency of the equipment due to neglect and disrepair as well as the lack of training and talent in the production worker pool. Being an old-timer in the business, the plant manager suspected that the CEO was using assumptions that were at least ten years old. Of course he was ignored and overruled. CEO’s always know best.

When the subject of the losses sustained on the new product line hit the agenda, the CEO immediately jumped on the old “Ghost Payroll” as the cause. It couldn’t be anything else! The consultant raised an eyebrow and nodded in agreement. In fact, the entire discussion was redirected to the subject. The consultant lectured us on the grave consequences of such hauntings. He must have attended the academy as well. Neither the plant manager nor I were able to get in a word edgewise during the histrionics that ensued. The CEO demanded to know the plant’s monthly payroll expense and then ticked off the leakage in terms of, “If only A, B or C percent of the payroll was fraudulent, then our losses would be X, Y or Z.” Of course, the other plant managers and staffs jumped on the bandwagon. It was a real “pile on.” The sharks sure smelled blood that day! The plant manager and I were commanded by the CEO and consultant to complete a total payroll audit post-haste. The CEO ended his performance by stating, “We had a ghost payroll issue here at the plant a number of years ago. A supervisor even lost his job over it. I want controls in place. I don’t ever want that to happen again!” The meeting was adjourned and the plant manager and I skulked away.

The nightmare continues but the apparition reminds me of few more facts.

The CEO was correct about one thing; there had indeed been a ghost payroll incident at the plant a number of years prior to my arrival. It had occurred when the now CEO was then running the plant himself. I found out about it shortly after I had hired on.

The third shift supervisor had just gotten fired for being intoxicated on the job and had put on quite a display while he was being given the axe. Our HR specialist had mentioned to me that she was glad he was finally leaving. Apparently, he had been creating problems for some time. She related that he had gotten caught up in the aforementioned ghost payroll affair and a lot more to boot. She reported that the scheme had been uncovered when one of the third shift employees had complained to the then HR manager that they were tired of paying kickbacks to the supervisor. He must have had quite an enterprise going on back then. Her story continued that besides demanding payoffs from the employees, he was also working a ghost payroll scam. Apparently several employees would clock each other in and out at his direction. The absent workers would be working at other jobs. The supervisor, of course, was getting his cut of the unearned paychecks.

But hold on a minute! If this had occurred several years prior my hire, why was the supervisor still with the company? The HR specialist then related that the supervisor had indeed been fired as soon as his scam came to light. I seem to remember her saying that criminal charges had even been contemplated. But you see, he had held such a tight rein on the third shift (a totally unruly mob) that no one else seemed to be able to get any decent production out of the group. The company couldn’t even find a replacement willing to work the third shift. The solution? Why the then plant manager and now CEO hired him back!

Now I’m awake and the specter has disappeared.

You now know that I was aware of that story well before that quarterly meeting. Over time it had slipped my mind and been forgotten about until I was being lectured by the CEO on the lack of diligence and control. Not wanting to publicly embarrass this arrogant hypocrite at the meeting, I kept my mouth shut and took the beating.

Perhaps the purpose of the apparition was to convince me to not sit idly by and let things like that happen again.

This post sure stirred some ghosts from one of my past lives!

The “Double Secret“ Handbook for bad Executives Returns with a Vengeance!

November 11, 2007

I know it’s been a while since I uncovered another chapter from this tome. If you’ve kept up with my weekly posts, you know that I’ve had a lot going on lately. I just happened to find this one the other day. It was hidden behind a giant whiteboard in the senior staff conference room. There were so many notes, symbols and other hieroglyphics scrawled upon the board that it looked like the wall of an ancient Egyptian tomb. There was a big red note at the top that said “DO NOT ERASE.” It was all very impressive but actually quite meaningless. I did detect something about the NCAA basketball rankings but that’s neither here nor there (and for another post). I decided to poke around behind the board because there’s usually something “behind” these deceivingly important looking scribbles. Voila!

Chapter 7 Command and Control through Confusion

There’s a famous scene in the movie Patton where George C. Scott goes off on a tirade when his staff suggests slowing down the relief effort to rescue the troops under siege at Bastogne because of foul weather. Patton’s dramatic admonition of his staff ends with something like, ”…If we’re not victorious, let no man come back alive!” His officers are stunned speechless by this remark. At this point, Patton’s aide approaches him and whispers, “You know General sometimes they don’t know when you’re acting.” Patton looks at the officer and smirks, “It’s not important for THEM to know. It’s only important for ME to know.” Brilliant! In the Society for Bad Executives’ view, whether Patton’s troops actually relieved the airborne division is irrelevant. The important point here that he reinforced his image as a larger than life character and kept his subordinates in awe. Patton knew how to portray the power of his rank and office. He knew how to act like a general. That’s how we define leadership!

As an executive, you should always think of yourself as a dynamic general. Barking orders, dressing down your staff and acting like a Field Marshall prancing about with a swagger stick are all part of your personae as a leader. You are the anointed one and that’s how leaders act. In your case – it IS as important for THEM to know that you’re a powerful commander as it is for YOU to know it.

You should be constantly reinforcing your power and authority with your staff. They need to be as in awe of you as Patton’s officers were of him. But since there is no war, no battle or desperate rescue effort going on to provide a backdrop to showcase your larger than life status, you need to create some alternative theater that will keep all eyes directed to you. Your strategy of choice – confusion!

Yes confusion! Keeping your staff confused, guessing and off balance are the best ways to solidify your perception as the supreme commander. After all, it’s not important that they know you’re intentionally confusing them. It’s only important that you know you’re intentionally confusing them. See, you’re already beginning to think like a leader! Here are some good battlefield tactics to promote confusion amongst the troops so you can lead them through the fog:

Using the Wild Goose Chase. Sending staff members and teams off on useless missions is a great way to display your command authority. These are not wastes of time and effort if they result in those folks looking to you for guidance and affirmation. Think of these exercises as training tools. As a British member of the Society for Bad Executives once put it, ”We’re off on a fox hunt but it’s not about the fox. It’s the hunt that matters!” Good show!

Keeping Things Secret. Never share information with your staff. Information is power. Make them come to you for even the smallest nugget. Dole it out sparingly and ONLY when it make you seem like the font of wisdom that you are.

Analyzing the Analyses. Anything that can be analyzed can be over-analyzed. Direct the staff to tear reports apart looking for hidden clues. Command them to look at data sideways, upside down and inside out if necessary. Stress the importance of being “analytical” (whatever that means). You’ll let them know when they’ve found what you’re looking for. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you will keep them busy trying to please. When you’ve become bored with the exercise, toss out a few rewards and punishments then simply move them on to the next assignment.

Editing with Extreme Prejudice. Make certain that all letters and memos emanating from your direct reports bear your personal seal of approval as well as your personal touches. You are the supreme editor-in-chief. Only you can understand the appropriate use of words given the context of the writing. Listen, we know you’re busy but it’s important to never let a communiqué go out without making some kind of a change to it. It can be as simple as substituting a single word like “mirrors” (your choice) versus “reflects” (the author’s choice). This will keep them on their toes, as they will never know what other common words you might substitute for theirs. It may even turn into a guessing game. But guess what? You’ll always win!

Talking Techno-jargon. This is akin to keeping things secret but can be much more fun. If there is a new term or acronym coined in the company’s inner sanctum, begin to use it liberally and as if it’s already public domain. Watch them squirm as they try to figure just what in the hell you’re telling about. Will anyone dare to ask?

Committing the Forces to Impossible Missions. Whenever you receive an assignment that needs to be delegated to the staff, never convey the due date set by those above you. Always shorten the timetable. Make the staff stretch. It’s good for them. It’s good for you too if you’re viewed by your superiors as a powerful decisive figure who can lead their troops to victory.

Remember, unlike Patton or a real military leader who is ultimately responsible for the lives and safety of their command, your job is quite different. As a business executive, you are only responsible for holding others responsible. You have a great job! That does not mean that you should not view yourself as Napoleon or Montgomery. Your troops should view you that way as well. It’s not important that THEY know otherwise.

Postscript from the Corporate Cynic: I always wondered why I thought of bad executives as “General Nuisances.”

Letting Your Head get as big as Your Title

November 4, 2007

Phil was a rather low-key character when he joined the company about two years ago. He was replacing the VP of Purchasing who retired after thirty years of service. Phil seemed like a normal type of guy at first. The new division president who had a reputation as a real “cheap shot” and “smartass comment” artist had personally recruited him. That fact made everyone a bit wary. The other new VP’s brought in by this new dynamo were reported to be chums from another company and apparently cut from the same cloth.

It didn’t take Phil long to reorganize the purchasing function and have his title changed to Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management. That was OK. Perhaps the old VP of Purchasing was a bit behind the times when it came to modern business functional titles. About a year later, the IT director left (rumored to have been forced out) and the division president put out an announcement that Phil had some previous experience in that area and would also take on that additional role. Phil’s official title now became Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management and Chief Information Technology Officer. That seemed like kind of a strange combination but most employees and managers were glad that yet another crony with the president’s temperament was not coming on board.

Then six month’s after that announcement, the business unit leader of the national catalogue sales and distribution unit abruptly left the company. You guessed it! Another memo from the division president announced that Phil had volunteered to take on that responsibility as well. Everyone waited and held their breath. The very first memo published by Phil after his latest appointment listed the following after his name: Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Management, Chief Information Technology Officer and Vice President of National Catalogue Sales and Distribution. Every internal document generated by Phil after that carried this 20-word moniker. What was this guy thinking? Sure he was experiencing a meteoric rise within the organization, but to just keep tacking new words on to his title was getting a bit goofy. Phil’s apparent fixation with titles instantly became the fodder for a bevy of jokes and parodies around the division. Someone found some company letterhead embossed with Phil’s name and description of his lengthy new rank and circulated them around the offices – with many hilarious amendments. Speculation ensued about how large Phil’s business cards would have to be in order to fit his name, the required company information and logo as well as his massive title. There was talk of even starting an office pool to guess the correct size.

But it wasn’t the size of his business cards that became the issue for the employee’s of the national catalogue sales and distribution business unit; it was the new size of Phil’s head. At first, folks began to notice the telltale arrogant strut and the cocky attitude. The “cheap shots” and “smartass” comments could not be far behind. No one that guessed it was coming was disappointed. The worst of it rained down on the unit’s financial director. The director was responsible for a weekly Monday morning “Flash” report of the unit’s prior week’s sales and expenses. The top brass apparently held a vigil each Monday morning eagerly anticipating the data. Everything was going well until the Monday happened to be Memorial Day, a recognized company holiday. Someone ran into the financial director at around noon on the Tuesday after the holiday. He was ashen and in shock after having been royally reamed by Phil. It seemed that the financial director had taken the holiday off as was customary in the company. When he returned on Tuesday morning, his voice mail was jammed with frantic cell phone messages from Phil demanding the “Flash” report data. A major confrontation over the issue had taken place between Phil and the financial director earlier that morning. According to the financial director, Phil had stormed into his office at the opening bell demanding to know where the director had been the day before. The director replied that he had been enjoying the holiday with his family. Phil then went into a tirade about the importance of Monday “Flash” report and the director’s responsibilities. The director defended his actions by stating that Memorial Day was an official company holiday and that it had always been customary to observe Monday holidays and reschedule the “Flash” report to Tuesday. Phil reportedly stated that he didn’t care about holidays and threatened the financial director with termination should he ever put a mere holiday ahead of his responsibilities again. It was reported that the confrontation had become very loud and heated. Several employees reported the melee. Phil had apparently acted like a real ass.

Shortly thereafter, the corporation’s CEO and board canned the division president and his cronies. The regime had not even lasted three years. They will certainly all reappear in some high falluting and well-paid positions in some other companies. “Cheap shot” and “smartass comment” artists seem to be needed in every modern American corporation these days. Phil’s “canning” was particularly unceremonious. He just disappeared one day – along with his title. No one was ever graced with seeing any of his business cards.

Moral of the story – Titles do not make leaders.