Month: May 2015

He’s Great at Sales, Lousy With People

Another update from the Jungle…
image002Helen handles HR issues for her company. She has an open door policy to encourage employees to talk to her because it’s a great way to take the pulse of the workforce. If bad (or she can only hope, good) things are happening, she’ll hear about it before it first.

For several months now, she’s been hearing disturbing news through the grapevine about Sam. He’s the leading salesman for the company and he won last year’s salesman of the year award. The company owners and his immediate supervisor love him because he’s boosted company sales noticeably. But his co-workers hate Sam.

Sam talks loud, usually over the conversation of others, because he always wants to be the center of attention. He is rude to lower level co-workers unless he wants their help; although he never acknowledges their help when praise is handed out. His comments to female co-workers are often outrageous but can’t really be labeled sexist since his comments to male co-workers are often outrageous, too. There’s a rumor going round that some of the women are pricing deadly weapons and bidding on the chance to administer the attitude adjustment to Sam.

In short, Sam is great at his job but the collateral damage he causes to office morale makes Helen wonder if he’s really worth the hoopla. Yesterday, Sam yelled at the sales department’s administrative assistant who then hid in the bathroom to cry. This morning, before Helen finished her first cup of coffee, the admin assistant’s in her office complaining about Sam.

What are Helen’s options?

  1. She can meet with Sam to explain (again) that the company has a no-bullying policy and won’t tolerate his behavior. Since that hasn’t worked before, she’s mentally reserving the right to join the women’s bidding pool on the attitude adjustment.
  2. She can ask Sam’s supervisor to join her and Sam for the meeting to discuss the progressive disciplinary action that needs to be taken.
  3. She can research the cost of hiring an executive coach who can help Sam learn to play well with others and then submit the proposal to the owners and Sam’s supervisor for approval.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Non-Conformists Get Results.

Another update from the Jungle…

150px-Terry_de_la_Mesa_AllenHave you ever worked for someone who was more interested in following the rules than in getting results? In these organizations initiative is not rewarded and non-conformists are quickly shown the door.

In World War II, one of our more interesting generals found his career side-lined by superiors who disliked his rule-breaking attitude. General Terry Allen was an Army brat and apparently never considered another career path for himself. His non-conformist attitude made him an oddity in a giant bureaucracy like the Army. He was a mediocre student at West Point and flunked out of the program. He later earned a college degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1912.

His Army career would have been completely forgettable without war. In World War I, Terry Allen proved he was personally brave and able to inspire his troops. He got results. That earned him a place in the downsized Army between the two world wars even though he offended many with his breaches of military etiquette. For example, he was careless about his appearance and allowed everyone, including subordinates, to call him by his first name.

In WWII, General Allen commanded the U.S. 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) in the invasions of North Africa and Sicily. His troops fought well but some spit and polish officers claimed he had ruined the Big Red One by failing to enforce discipline. These officers eventually engineered his removal from the Big Red One by blaming General Allen for the bad results in a battle he did not plan. Their criticism apparently stung because General Allen became a stickler for discipline after he was transferred from command of the 1st Division. His career was never as brilliant after he became a conformist.

General Allen knew that smooth operations require following rules but that the rules should never be blindly followed if that stands in the way of the results. The same principle is important in private companies when they design their human resources policies. Every company needs HR rules so that employees know what is expected of them. However, the rules should be the minimum necessary to ensure the company runs smoothly and should never become a burden on management or employees.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented. To learn more about General Terry Allen, see Terrible Terry Allen, by Gerald Astor (2003).

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Plan First, Improvise Later.

Another update from the Jungle…

unnamedNo plan survives first contact with the enemy. This military maxim is credited to many famous military leaders, including Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Rommel was famous for improvising on the battlefield. But he always started with a plan.

In World War II, Rommel led the Africa Corps in what is now eastern Libya as it attacked British forces in Egypt. In every battle, Rommel’s forces were outnumbered by the British troops they were attacking. That meant that Rommel needed to make real-time changes to his plan of attack as the battle developed in order to exploit weaknesses in the enemy line. He was remarkably successful at it.

Rommel’s true improvisational skills were demonstrated at the battle of El Alamein. Rommel designed a plan to attack the British forces in Egypt. The ultimate goal of the plan was to defeat the British and advance to the oil fields in Iraq. Before Rommel’s plan could begin, the British forces attacked with overwhelming numbers and equipment. (The British had broken German military codes using Enigma and knew of Rommel’s plan.)

The Africa Corps was overwhelmed and fell back toward Libya. Rommel continuously fashioned makeshift defensive lines to save his troops from destruction. Ultimately, he was successful but it was the beginning of the end for the Axis powers in North Africa.

So what does all this mean for your company? Every company faces crises and no matter how well your company plans, an actual crisis will always present new problems that were not covered in the crisis plan. The key is to have a plan and then to improvise real-time solutions from that plan as the crisis develops.

Think back to the Great Flood of 2010. Thousands of businesses were literally under water and they lacked a plan (a disaster plan and a business continuity plan) to handle the crisis. Meanwhile, businesses with a disaster plan and a business continuity plan could improvise a solution in real-time as the crisis developed. Companies with a plan were back in business while their unprepared competitors were still floundering.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented. To learn more about Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in his own words look at The Rommel Papers, edited by Sir Basil Liddell-Hart (WWII exploits) and Infantry Attacks (WWI exploits). Among his many biographies is Knight’s Cross, by David Fraser (1993).

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Another Angle on Employee Performance.

Another update from the Jungle…

USA-E-Riviera-p39Annual performance reviews often cause a spike in anxiety and disgruntlement. No one likes completing the forms and few enjoy the results. Worse is that annual reviews provide only a once-a-year snapshot of an employee’s performance. Instead of the annual forms, grading employees on a scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, consider switching to a process of constant feedback.

Constant feedback is not a new idea. One of my favorite practitioners of this method was General Robert T. Frederick. In World War II he commanded a joint U.S.-Canadian unit called the First Special Service Force (the Force) which fought in North Africa and Italy.

General Frederick set high standards of performance because the Force was an experiment in unconventional warfare. To ensure that his standards were met, he provided constant feedback to his officers and men. In 1944 while fighting in Italy he developed a unique method for assessing their performance.

Before a battle, General Frederick would meet with his officers to review the plan of attack. After the meeting, General Frederick would leave the Allied line and infiltrate the ground to be attacked. From this vantage point, he would observe his troops as they attacked the enemy.

After the battle ended, General Frederick would rejoin his men for a debriefing. That’s when his subordinates received their performance reviews. Any officer not leading from the front could expect an unfavorable review. Any officer or enlisted man who showed initiative during the attack could expect to earn a commendation and often a recommendation for a bravery medal.

Of course, no one needs to go to war to emulate the feedback method practiced by General Frederick. Consider switching from the annual performance review to providing constant feedback that is tied to particular projects or activities at your company. Better informed employees will be more effective in meeting the company’s goals.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented. For more information on the management style of General Frederick (and the escapades of the Force), look at The Devil’s Brigade, by Robert H. Adleman and George Walton (1969) or The Black Devil Brigade, by Joseph A. Springer (2001).

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