As a corporate recruitment and resourcing person, I am usually uncomfortable when companies roll-out changes to their performance appraisal system with policies that are untested, unproven and out of the norm. If a system works, let’s keep it. Let’s follow industry’s best practices. That’s what I’d do as a Talent Manager. Bottom-line to any work is the satisfaction, fulfilment, and most importantly financial rewards. What’s the point of being told you’ve done well when your salary remains the same for the last 2 years?
Recently, the company tried to maintain the attrition rate at 26%. I was flabbergasted at the rate they proposed because my previous clients and employers preferred anything below a 10%. So when the top officer implemented the ‘one-grade’ system, I was shocked beyond words. This system will assume every employee an AVERAGE worker. The senior management wanted to maintain a high percentage of AVERAGE workers by grading everyone a “3″ on a “5″ pointer scale.
If a manager decides that a staff is better than average, the manager needs to send a very strong justification to senior management to get it approved. If and unless the manager can cook up a ‘good story’ for the staff, the rest is history. When this plan was implemented performers were outraged. Those who worked harder than others taking up added responsibilities and bigger scope of work were immensely furious. Their colleagues who were entrusted with less and achieved less had the same score!
The salaries were frozen, bonuses cut and promotions made intensely difficult. This was a good reason for good people to find better employment. In previous companies where I used to work, workers were appraised for their contribution, quality of work, attitude, interpersonal, initiative, service level, etc. Here in this company, all these attributes became next to nothing. If you covered your colleague and helped her as a team player during her time of need, you are still seen as the AVERAGE worker. No credit was given to team work, leadership, initiative and kindness.
Having worked in many corporations – some large enough to be reckoned as leaders in their industry, I am enormously shocked at what I call a ‘socialist’ grading system in this organisation. All equal unless proven different. For someone like me, I knew immediately this was a company with no future for me. I like to be rewarded for bringing value to the organisation by being a team player, coach, leader, and taking up additional role and responsibility which now have evaporated to nothingness. I now have to prove what I do has uniquely brought significant improvement to the organisation. This again is so subjective. If I meet all the stretched objectives, I am nothing but an average Joe. In summary, I’ve told management this is wrong but they told me I’m wrong. They say that ‘people who work hard should not be rewarded because it’s a sign of inefficiency’. I told them there are two classes of hard-working people. One group who values the learning experience of added responsibilities and willing to go the extra mile to ensure things do not fall as a result of laggards or irresponsible team mates. Another group that is genuinely unproductive. If the management doesn’t differentiate the two, then there is seriously something lacking.
In the last 2 days after the performance grade is announced, people have come to me with complaints. People who think they have contributed more than others told me that they will now switch to the average Joe because if that’s what the company thinks, then that’s what the company gets. If a company offers no future to those who go the extra mile to hold things together for their team, then the company does not deserve them. It’s only right for them to move on to other organisations instead of punishing themselves to perform below par. I trust there will be truck loads of resignations from the genuinely good and sincere workers. The laggards will definitely stay cause they know they can get away with this ‘socialist’ grading system. Such a pity… really. Does the management know what they’re doing? It baffles me.
I don’t think tears has anything to do with one’s capability or performance. Tearing up or crying is an emotional gesture. It is not a sign of weakness. Some people can’t cry and some people cry a lot while some have their tearing moments. I have had recent encounters with really good and strong bosses who tear up. It is a language to be concerned for if we have the right emotional response towards it. If your boss thinks you’re weak just cause you break down and cry, then he or she does not deserve to be in a leadership position. A leader empathizes and understands every body language including that of tears.
Some show frustration through anger; some through tears. Some show sadness through silence; some through tears. Some show gladness with laughter; some through tears. Some show relief through a smile; some through tears. Tearing is just another emotional gesture and it is strong is some people and weak in others but it doesn’t conclude weakness.
Since there’s a general understanding that crying is a career killer in the corporate world, it is better for us ladies to hold it back if we can control it. The way to do this is by taking a very deep breadth. You look up the ceiling, pull your shoulders back and breathe hard. It pushes back the tears. There’s no need to run and hide. This is the fastest way to recharge yourself from an emotional meltdown.
“Ahem – this morning I’m going to tell you that we are going to remove Sandy from GEC account and replacing her with Andy. Abbie will be moved to Beijing office and I will now manage all of Abbie’s accounts in our local office,” the boss announces.
You can see the shock on everyone’s face including Sandy, Andy, and Abbie.
“Did boss tell you about this change before he made the announcement?” I ask Sandy.
“No, gosh no! What am I supposed to do now? GEC is my only account,” Sandy looks extremely worried and tears start to well up in her eyes.
“What is Sandy’s new role?” I ask the boss.
“I haven’t decided,” he replies.
“Then why is she removed from GEC?” I ask.
“GEC wrote me an email last Tuesday saying they had a problem with the last batch delivery. So I assume Sandy did not manage that delivery well. So I decide to remove her from GEC.”
Norman is our new boss on the job for 2 weeks. He comes from our back office call centre operation. Front office client services is new to him. Apparently he thinks being the boss means he needs to boss us around to get things done. We’re not allowed to ask him where we’re going or how we’re getting there. After a month, none of us in the team knows what his plan is. The team is reorganized without anyone’s consensus. It was all about Norman and his own personal agenda. Everyone in the office knows he dislikes Sandy and Abbie. Andy is someone we hardly know that’s transferred from back office call centre to take over Sandy’s job. Sandy is left without a role. And Abbie is left without a choice but to relocate to China!
Although names and actual events are modified in the above scenario, this is taken from a real scenario of a case I’m currently participating in. Here we see a series of actions taken by a dictator manager who seems to know everything and forgets there are ‘passengers in his vehicle!’.
True to my anticipation, I revisited the team three months later. Sandy has moved to the regional office and taken up a bigger role with her previous manager. Abbie resigned and joined a competitor as Vice President of their regional marketing office. Andy struggled in Sandy’s old position and received an enormous list of complaints from customers who found that he could not manage the work. Norman’s probation period was extended and the management gave him several warnings against his hasty decisions.
If you find yourself as a ‘passenger’ in such a ‘vehicle’ with a driver that does not care about your existence or your well being, it’s time to either ask for direction and if you’re not getting an answer, it’s time to alight from that vehicle. If you know you have a careless person in the driver’s seat and you can’t seem to control where he’s going or how he’s driving, there’s that decency to shift out unless you want to risk a tragic end.
So you ask yourself, “Why do companies hire people like Norman into such critical positions?”
For that, you need to ask the organisation that employs someone like Norman. Sometimes they do not anticipate his downfall. Sometimes they think his success in back office can be replicated to front office operation. Sometimes it can be political maneuvering. Companies that do this often don’t consider the employees’ welfare. Either they are of the opinion that people like Sandy and Abbie are worth the risk because they don’t really care. Whatever it is, if you’re the individual caught in the passenger seat, I suggest you stop the driver to ask or get out of the car early enough before it crashes.
Companies usually make an employee redundant for 2 reasons:
1. To manage the employee out of the organisation
2. To move the employee to a new role (if the redundancy is for short-term)
In my honest opinion, if your boss tells you to make yourself redundant, it’s usually not a good sign. Once you see your responsibilities being stripped off from you and transferred to other co-workers, you will naturally get worried. Unless the boss informs you of your new role and responsibilities, it is most likely that the shift to redundancy is a plan to manage you out. You will see yourself excluded from meetings, removed from the usual loop of communication, given explicit instruction to hand-over, and asked to provide documentation of all your work processes to your boss. You will feel like your services are no longer required.
Even if the likelihood that you’re given a new role, the management should meet with you and discuss that role with you in detail before removing every task from you. Whether a promotion is involved or just a lateral transfer, a clear communication to the worker will be set in place for the transition plan. An announcement by the management to your team is also vital to assure everyone your redundancy is meant to move you to bigger and better things. If none of the above is happening and you feel emotionally challenged that you’re being cast out, you can opt to seek clarity from senior management in the organisation or your human resource department. Do not fall victim to political maneuvering. Sometimes exit plans are created for non-performers and those with disciplinary issues. But if you find yourself in neither position and know your boss has a personal agenda to remove you, then you must take up your rights as a corporate citizen to speak up. Besides, certain bosses have had a history of managing good employees out just so they could hire their own cronies to take over.
My first and utmost advice is to seek clarity from management and HR. If you are not getting anywhere with this, apply for a transfer. If that is still not working out, you’ll have to find a job in another company.
When they’re practically showing you door!
It doesn’t have to be in an explicit pink form because they usually don’t do that unless they have a really good reason for it. Here’s a real story of someone who for the first time in his life was indirectly forced to leave his job.
Aaron (name is changed to protect the privacy of the person) has worked in several large corporations for the last sixteen years of his career. In the recent two years, he was head-hunted to join X company. He didn’t get along very well with his new boss. Nevertheless he still did his best given the fact that his boss wanted him out. He was practically thrown with every unjustifiable task and piled on with numerous responsibilities. When he saw his performance report, he knew it was totally biased. Aaron had always received very good appraisals for the last fifteen years and this was the first time he saw a below average report of his performance. Would he want to bother talking to the boss? Maybe not. It would just be a waste of time. He would be harassed with whatever his boss had in store to press him down further. His colleagues who did less and achieved far less than he were given accolades and recognition. He understood it all to be his boss’s intention to get him out. No increment, no promotion, not an ounce of recognition for all the hard work, and Aaron practically did about 70% of the work in the department to keep things going for the team.
Aaron knew he was practically shown the exit. He wanted so much to take legal action against the company but he thought it would lead to nothing more than sleepless nights and more money spent on legal fees. But Aaron knew that his skills would be much sought after by other more deserving employers. He has had a good track record in the past. Although Aaron felt uneasy going to work on most days knowing his boss was tying to throw him out, he just remained focus on getting a new job and not for a day slacked in his current one.
When the opportunity came, Aaron resigned. Aaron waited two years and all that time he was harassed and bullied by his boss. If you thought your situation was bad, think about Aaron who endured.
“It was the toughest two years of my career. But today, I’m a much stronger man. Looking back, I knew I shouldn’t have taken up that job. But fate had brought me there and I’ve learnt so much. I now learn to appreciate my boss, my colleagues, the new environment and everything here is so pleasant as I compare it with what I had before. Although this is not a perfect place for anyone, it’s like working in heaven for me now!” Aaron joked and laughed.
Ever experienced panic attacks at work when you’re so overwhelmed you can hardly breathe?
Are you facing a nervous breakdown that you wish you could just go on a long sabbatical break and drop the whole load of sh**?
Do you have sleepless nights thinking about your work or frustrating weekends thinking about the amount of responsibility you alone have to carry while the rest of your colleagues are enjoying their time away from work?
I can practically relate to all the above. I have a super demanding job and while I’m at it, I’d better do the best I can to make it work for me. Even if you’re looking for a job change, it’s not going to come so soon. I always remember what my ‘dad’ tells me – “Just be appreciative of the guy who pays you your salary even if he’s a jerk.” If you tell yourself that, you’ll feel much better.. trust me.
1. Take a temperature check at the start and end of the day. Do you start your day right? Pen and notepad, I’d walk off from my cubicle with coffee in hand to a private corner and start writing. I make a priority checklist and I divide the tasks into time slots. How and what am I measured? What are my core duties? Am I letting some trivial tasks to take priority over something important? If I’m spending too much time on those bottom list tasks, is there a way to exclude or remove them? When you’re done for the day, browse the checklist again and see if you’ve achieved what you’ve set out for that morning. High achievers and successful people measure their own performance everyday.
2. Once you know what takes priority in your work, you know when to step on the accelerator and when to pull the brakes. If my boss comes to me with something that’s not in the top of my list, I’ll ask him a few simple questions – “When do you need this? How important is this to you? What is the purpose of doing it? Who needs it?” Questioning your boss isn’t insubordination. It’s about managing your workload. Smart people don’t take every sh** that’s thrown at them. They work around the system to focus on first things first. Learn to say ‘no’ with a smile and a good reason.
3. Delegation is a key must-have. If work is piling up on you, it’s time to talk to the boss and ask for resources. Once you’ve got your team, structure and delegate properly so you get the most out of every individual. Don’t try to take on everything. If your boss isn’t providing you the resources you need, ask yourself why not? Perhaps you have not tackled the inefficiencies. Maybe he knows that you’re trying to avoid work.
4. Turn it off. I make time to be away from emails, phones and colleagues at least 30 minutes a day. I’m not talking lunch or toilet breaks. I meant walking around and talking to people from other departments. I make new friends and start talking about their work rather than mine. This way, I turn off from my stressful routine to focus those 30 minutes on someone else’s life.
5. Keep the bosses in the loop. If you regularly tell them you’re having too much, they may slow it down. If your plate is full, don’t pile on. If you’re taking on to please the bosses, you’re NOT doing yourself a favour. Remember that a full plate that’s not finished will look like an ugly pile of ‘waste’. Communication about your workload to your bosses or partners or colleagues in the office is essential to get them to stop piling up on you.
When I coach people at work, I like to use an illustration from sports. My favourite illustration is the game of badminton cause most people in Malaysia can relate to this game. I once told these 2 younger ladies in my team to watch for the ball. The corporate game is all about serving and picking the ball. Once you’ve got your game and you’re on top of it, you will be visible and people will draw themselves to you. But the fact remains that practice makes perfect. Take a look at the picture of Lee Chong Wei who stretches all his limbs just to hit the shuttle at the perfect angle to get it over the net at the spot he aims for it to drop. Everyone in badminton wants to play with Lee Chong Wei because he is good. If people are drawn to you and they want to know you, then you’re going somewhere. People don’t become CEOs to get noticed. They get noticed so they will become CEOs.
When someone serves you the ‘ball’, you must hit it. If you let too many balls fall, you just ain’t getting into the game and soon you’ll find yourself lonely and incompetent. The ‘game’ isn’t about you. The game is about you, the opponent, the media and your fans. That is why most people who don’t get this right often find themselves working hard, getting lots done but going nowhere. They will find excuses to do only the things they think are important. Soon they find themselves left behind and when they cannot keep up with the progress of their opponents, they are pushed out of the game.
I know of exactly one very senior manager who was hired by a company because of her experience and seniority in her previous organisation. But what the company who hires her doesn’t know is she was promoted over a stretch of 10 years in her previous organisation because every competent person left that organisation and she was good at what she did in that organisation. However moving to this new company meant adapting to a 180 degree change. After a year, she was literally struggling as an individual contributor and she had no idea what the corporation was expecting from her. She was practically drowning in her daily grind. She left her team alone to self-manage and only had time to focus on menial operational tasks. You see – she simply did not get it. When you’re a ‘guru’ in a small company, it doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the pro. When you move to join the ‘pro’ and you’re still playing the amateur game, you will soon be ousted.
We need to know our game. If we’re now joining the ‘pro’ club, then we need to saddle up and learn their game. If we stay in our little comfort zone, don’t be surprised if we quickly find ourselves going from hero to zero. Like all pro athletes, you have to position your game and make sure you stay ahead. It takes a lot of hard work and brain work for athletes to succeed. Opponents keep getting stronger and wiser. They will read, network, train, work the extra hours, be challenged all the time to stretch beyond so they never limit themselves.
In fact I relate at best to swimmers. I remember when I first learnt to swim. Each time I mastered one step, I’d move to the next and the next until I could comfortably do laps without stops. Then I’d move to skill and rhythm to increase strength and speed. Thereafter it was pushing to build stamina. I see no difference between swimming and my work. The beginning is always painful with lots to learn and plenty of embarrassing moments. Be patient. Gradually move into execution. And then focus on efficiency to get more done in lesser time. You stay competitive by being focused on actually getting ahead and not trailing behind.