What to Expect, or Not

Time to move to a related, albeit inverted topic: What expectations should you have in your new job (or your ongoing one, if you’ve been there a while and just got a new “boss”)?

This is not about products or processes, the widgets/reports to be made/filed, the skills required to make/complete them, the hours needed to complete the tasks, or your paycheck.

Rather, I’m more interested in looking at your expectations of the intangible environment, the culture in which you work.   This is basically the inverse of what I’ve blogged about for a number of posts: if your employer expects you to display positive character and attitudes in interacting with people and skillfully executing your work, then it should not be a surprise that you should expect management, and peers, to do the same.

Theoretically, your expectations should be realistic, based upon what you know about yourself and the company’s culture, conducive to enabling excellent work to be achieved, and assuming that managers and peers have a handle on the needed technology and interpersonal and people-management skills.

Practically speaking, this is a tad bit naïve.  Coming up to cruising altitude and fitting in to the culture will not just happen.  Playing off of the title of a very good movie: There Will Be Turbulence.  The reality is, actual environments more often than not fail to live up to expectations.

Recent research from the Gallup organization shows that about 70% of employees either hate going to work or have mentally checked out to the point that they cost their companies significant money (billions annually).  In other words, “7 in 10 American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.”

Other studies reinforce these conclusions.  According to the US Department of Labor, the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they “do not feel appreciated.”  Various polls indicate 65% of Americans report receiving no recognition during the past year at their work.

And an important result from another survey is that the Number One reason given by people for leaving their jobs was “because of their boss” (65% of citations).  Other reasons contributing to departure was the feeling that “my boss is more interested in his career than in mine.”

At this point you are probably wondering, “Should I have tried to check this out before accepting this job?”  Yes.  The interview process is always a two way street: you should be interviewing your interviewers, the people representing the company, about culture, environment, and how they manage their people.  If you didn’t ask then, then it should be safe to ask when you start working.

And since you’ve just started working for me and have asked, let me begin by preaching what I try to practice.

-The organization has made a sufficient investment in hiring you for a specific job and responsibilities.  We believe you have the competence needed now, the growth potential to grow into additional responsibilities, and the intangible characteristics such as attitude, character and traits that will help you have a positive impact on those you work for and with.  Translation: we need you to add value and we think we know where and how to get you started.

-Your expectation, probably when considering accepting the position, is that your boss (me) possesses in his job similar laudable attributes as yours: competence, growth potential, attitude and character.  And while I’d like to think this is a no-brainer, the truth is that you must pay attention and draw your own conclusions based on your experiences and the practiced (not just professed) behaviors you observe.

-What you should be able to observe (I hope) are as many of the following behaviors as I can competently juggle on any given day in a multitude of circumstances:

Towards You

1.  Find out more about you as a person, i.e., learn.  I need to connect with you personally so I can appreciate how you think and approach problems and issues.  I have had some reports who were not comfortable with this approach, and that is fine.  This is not about becoming friends; it’s about becoming professional colleagues, about becoming familiar with each other’s passions, strengths and weaknesses and learning what motivates you.  It’s about establishing trust both ways, so I can help leverage your strengths in opportunities, and provide support for weaknesses whether in opportunities or threats.  Ultimately, it’s about helping optimize your expected added value within the team’s added value to the organization.

2.  Observe and give ongoing feedback on what you are doing, how you are doing it, and what the results are in the context of the bigger picture.  This has two purposes: the first and most important is for recognition and appreciation, reinforcing positive results and change, and the second is for teaching and coaching (part of my added value).  It applies not only to the application of your skills but how you are fitting in with the culture (or where you don’t need to fit in).  My choice is that this is ongoing feedback (another alleged part of my added value), not something that occurs once a year in a “performance review” or if an issue crops up.  Once again, this is about optimizing and growing your added value.

Towards You and the Team or Group

3.  Treat everyone fairly.  This does not necessarily mean equally, as there will be differences that need to be respected as well as leveraged for the good of customers and the organization.

4.  Make your jobs easier.  Open doors, stand in the gap, defend, “got your back,” get resources, deflect disruptions, provide training opportunities, etc.  While a larger part of my added value, there is also a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy about this one, because one of the objectives is also to teach you how to make my job easier.

5.  Help everyone understand the rules.

-Rule Number 1: Don’t have dumb rules (at least that’s my #1 rule).
-Rule Number 2: Understand a rule’s purpose, WHY certain rules exist, especially the
unwritten ones.
-Rule Number 3: Rules are meant to be guidelines; if they aren’t guiding, ignore them
(without sabotaging their purpose).
-Rule Number 4: Know when to exercise Rule number 3.  The yardstick for applying
this: look at the added value (long-term, not necessarily short-term).

6.  Encourage thinking outside the box (or, preferably, not see a box at all) in a mode of continuous learning and growth.

7.  Encourage ownership, self-motivation, and action, rather than try to create them.   Also focused on continuous learning and growth.

8.  Maintain clarity through transparency and open two-way communications, as best possible, i.e., no B.S. and no surprises.  And be honest about it when I can’t.

9.  Lead from the back or at least alongside.  Except when it’s necessary to lead from the front.  This is like learning to ride a horse.  The horse has to learn how to “read” what you want, and you have to learn how to “read” what the horse is doing.  You build relationship and trust.  You know when to “loosen the reins” and when to pull them in.  And you learn how to read when the horse sees something that you don’t (the ol’ snake in the grass) and trust.  This is not micromanaging.

10.  By example, encourage “and/and” thinking, not “either/or” thinking, also for continuous learning and growth.

11.  Provide meaningful, collaborative work, where the added value from continuous learning is clear.

12.  Provide ample recognition.  Celebrate.  “Credit is infinitely divisible” – and it doesn’t cost anything.

13.  Constantly walk a tightrope between not tolerating mediocrity, which means providing challenges and raising the bar when necessary, and not micromanaging.

14.  Fight “Hire’s Remorse.”  I refer here to a recent posting by Mel Kleinman (“Hiring Wisdom: Top 10 Ways to Guarantee Your Best People Will Quit”) in which he added an important new category to my thinking over which I have had little input in the past.  This is the New Employee Orientation Program, or Onboarding, which is
a) typically organized by a department higher up, and b) an exercise in tedium.  The previous 13 points, while obvious in theory, in actual practice also help fight the effects of this potential killer.

I hope that you notice that all of the above are focused on building trust, people, competence, and culture, in that order.  They are focused on people not problems, on relationships not tasks, and on improving the ability to add value by keeping people engaged in meaningful work connected to organizational mission and goals.

Thus, if you recall the concluding behavior graph from a previous post,

Attitudes & Behaviors

you will recognize that all of my intentional behaviors above are focused at moving and maintaining people into the upper right (green) part of the curve, where Builders and Added Value are found, and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

You might also notice there are a few occasions where I’ve used “soft or conditional descriptions” (that is, “weasel words”).  That’s because in reality there will often be times when everybody recognizes our backs are to the wall and all our focus needs to be on getting urgent (or possibly new) tasks accomplished.  This can be euphemistically referred to as when

Sudden Happenstances Involving Turbulence occur

or, more commonly, S**T Happens.  Then it’s time to know exactly what to do:

Either lead or follow, but get out of the way.

With a well-developed team, the latter can often be the best course of action.  Then when the horse wants to run, loosen the reins…

… but stay in the saddle.


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
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