Steve Smith commented on yesterday’s post, “I think managers have a tough job, especially middle managers. I think that middle managers who are respectful to their employees but choose to execute to abide with their management team’s decision are acting in a dignified manner.”
Steve is right, and it’s not always easy to balance the needs of the company, the manager’s employees, and the manager’s needs. When this has happened to me, I go back to these questions:
- What do they pay me to do? (This helps me derive the company and employee needs)
- What decisions do I need to make or actions I need to take that I can live with? (This derives my needs)
- Can I reconcile those decisions or actions with what they pay me to do and how I can live with myself?
If I can’t successfully reconcile the decisions or actions with my needs, I stop working at this company. If I can, I continue to work at the company. Maybe a couple of stories will help.
Story 1: I was a Director of Quality at a company. The software stunk. They’d brought me in to fix the process. As with many change and process initiatives, we moved at glacier-like speed. The management team asked me to sign a legal document attesting to the quality of the software. I asked them these questions:
- Am I signing in my capacity as Director of Quality?
- Am I describing reality or wishful thinking?
- What is my liability if I sign this?
In the past, my job was to take the heat at customer meetings, to push for change, and to lead the corporate quality initiative. This was a new responsibility, and I needed clarity. My management wanted me to take the heat. But they also wanted me to describe a process we couldn’t even agree on, never mind implement. And, I had substantial liability if the customer became angry and sued us.
This was a no-brainer. I didn’t sign anything. In fact, no one signed anything, because we couldn’t do what the customer wanted. I helped my management see what was happening, something else they paid me to do.
Story 2: I was a Director of Development and had inherited a “problem” employee. My boss came by my office one day, and said, “Fire Sam.” I asked why. Boss said, “I’m tired of his expletive deleted questions. I don’t care how good he is, fire him.”
I told my boss that if he had problems with my employee, he should come to me. I would work with the employee manage his behavior. If that didn’t work, I would fire him myself. But, they didn’t pay me to fire someone whose interpersonal skills were inadequate. At least, not without providing feedback, and coaching if necessary. I chose to provide feedback. The employee chose coaching. We were successful.
I’ve participated in layoffs before. If the senior managers make the decisions, they get to have the joy of the announcement. If they let me make my own decisions, they are also balancing the needs of the business, the employees, and their needs. Once they take over my decision-making, they’re not thinking about one of the pieces. That’s when layoffs go bad and seem irrational. And, that’s when the middle managers can’t be respectful to their employees, nor act in a dignified manner.