Don’t Leave a Wake

Be aware of your bad moods!!

Several years ago when I was a General manager at Macy’s, I had one of my direct reports approach me after I was having a particularly difficult and stressful day and told me something I’ve never forgotten. It’s helped me be a better manager and leader and it’s something I now often share with other leaders when needed.

I’m the type of leader who likes to circulate around the floor or office and visit with my direct reports (as a GM for approx. 100 people at Macy’s) and co-workers (as an HR Professional).  My goal is to build relationships with the people I work with by talking about both business or personal things and get to know them better.

It’s called Management by Walking Around.  It allows the leader to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s really going on in the organization. When you build trust and people see and know that you are interested in them and what they are doing they are more willing to share information with you that may be important to your department and the organization.  Please understand that I truly love getting to know people and building relationships and am not cynically trying to extract information from people to use against them.

Generally all is good after I make my rounds because it energizes both me and, I like to think, my direct reports and co-workers.

I learned, however, those same people are also very aware and sensitive to all of your moods – both good and bad.

On this particular day that I mentioned at the beginning of this post,  I had been doing what I normally do – circulate around the floor- and after doing my rounds, one of my direct reports came up to my office and asked me if I was OK.  I, of course, said yes and asked her why she wanted to know.   I try to maintain an even level at work and thought I was doing so that day.

Apparently not.

She told me that I was leaving a wake with my bad mood as I visited each person.

What?!?!

Apparently it was obvious that I was having a bad day and everybody was picking up on it.

Because I was unable to mask my bad mood, the wake I left that day made my employees nervous and uneasy which affected their performance and morale.  I don’t even remember what was making my grumpy, but it was enough for my team to pick up on it and enough for my direct report to tell me.

People typically assume the worst.  So with me Managing by Walking Around and circulating while in an obviously distracted and in a bad mood, my team assumed there was something going on that might affect them.

Was it a reorganization, a RIF, hours being cut, or any number of things that cause concern?

So the point of this post is, as a leader, we must always be aware of the fact that our team watches us closer than we realize or like to think.  We are constantly under their microscope and they pick up on anything and everything we say and do.  And if there is unusual or incomplete information, as there typically is, they often fill in the blanks with negative thoughts.

It’s also important to be self-aware of your moods and attitudes on any given day.  If you are having a particularly difficult day, be aware of it and don’t go out and leave a wake.  Despite how hard I try, I can’t completely hide my moods when I’m at work and in my experience It’s a very rare person who can.

So my advice when you are having a rough day is to not leave a wake.  If you are like me and practice Management by Walking Around, don’t do it that day.  Hole up in your office or at your desk and get through all the stuff you’ve been putting off.

To wrap up my little story, I had to go back the next day when I was in a much better mood and did some damage control.  Looking back, I’m sure I’ve left wakes before but was never called on it like I was this day.  But ever since that day, I learned to be more aware of how I was feeling and make every effort not to spread my bad day around unnecessarily and leave a wake.

I Fired Santa.

“He’s doing it again, Rich, and customers and employees are irritated with him” said Tina, my department manager.

“Are you serious?” I said  “I just had another talk with him a couple days ago and he promised me he would stop! I will talk to him again.”

Being the long time retail anchor in downtown Missoula, it was up to us to provide the “official” Santa Clause for the community.  Every parent wants to have a picture of their little one with St. Nick.

Up until then, I had no problem because I just simply hired the gentleman who had been doing it for the past decade, but this year he was no longer physically able to play the roll.  I had to find a new Santa and I hit the jackpot – I thought – when I discovered a professional birthday clown/Santa Clause looking for work!  He had experience, could tie balloon animals, and had his own Santa suit!

We set up his chair, the camera, and backdrop along a main aisle.  We ran an ad in the Missoulain and posted his hours throughout the store.  Now I could focus my attention and concentrate on executing the store’s Holiday sales, profit, credit, and customer service strategies.

Instead, we quickly discovered our new Santa had a very odd personality – one that my customers and employees found very irritating. Irritating enough to complain and avoid him.

He would make a strange comment or crack an awkward joke to everybody who walked by him – nothing inappropriate but strange.  It got to the point where my employees would take another longer route in order to avoid having to walk by him when they saw he didn’t have a kid on his lap.

I sat down with him in my office, with him in full costume, and had a “fierce conversation”  letting him know that I had received complaints and that he needs to concentrate more on being jolly and less on being irritating. He initially resisted but after I gave him several examples of his irritating behavior, he agreed that he would  try to do better.

This was Santa’s first warning.

I noticed an improvement in his behavior but that only lasted two days. He reverted back into his old irritating ways and the complaints started again.  I sat down with him again, again with him in full costume, and we had our second “fierce conversation” where I told him that he needs to alter his behavior quickly. He’s driving customers away and irritating my team causing a reduction in their productivity.  The critical Christmas season is short and I can’t afford to have Santa hurting my business.

This was Santa’s second warning.

Again, it took another two days before his behavior to reverted back to his irritating ways which led to the conversation at the beginning of this post.  Well, I had had enough and sat Santa Clause down in my office for the final time, again him in full costume, and said the words “I’m sorry, Santa, but I am going to have to let you go.  It’s just not working out.”

I had just fired Santa.

So now I had no Santa.  Now what?  Well, all I know is that the General Manager of the store (me) would mysteriously disappear whenever Santa showed up to for his shift…

You gotta do what you gotta do to make things right.

This story points out that we occasionally have to do some very uncomfortable disciplinary action on employees or independent contractors.   I sure could have avoided dealing with the situation, he was Santa after all.  And he was only going to be in the store for a couple more weeks.

You have to have the courage to do what’s right.

Even if it’s firing Santa.

A Story About Motivating Star Performers (and How I Goofed)

This story goes back to when I was a General Manager for a large department store chain, The Bon Marche (now Macys).

It was the Christmas season, the most important time in retail, and my number one producing Department Sales Manager (DSM) requested a day off that fell on the same day as a very important sales event.  It was for her six year old son’s birthday.

Being a hard driving and competitive store manager who had to obliterate his sales goals, I denied her request and told her she had to work. We had big numbers to make, by god!  She dutifully worked that day but her energy and enthusiasm was noticeably less than normal – a condition that continued on for several months afterwards.

Looking back, I realized what a hypocrite I was.

I had always preached “family first” but denied her the day with her son on his birthday.  She always worked hard and effectively every day and was my top performer is sales, credit, and customer service month in and month out.  But my short sighted quest to make my sales numbers on one single big sale day ended up costing me so much more.

Her morale was dashed and she became disengaged – my number one producing DSM – and I know it cost me more in sales numbers over the long run than what it may have cost me had I let her have the day off.  She remained noticeably disengaged and unenthusiastic about her work for several months after.  Her performance numbers slipped, affecting the total store’s numbers.

Not only that, my credibility was damaged with her and the rest of my store team.  I learned a hard lesson about how not to treat a star performer. I certainly should have allowed her to have that one day off and she would have come back an even a stronger and more engaged DSM because I would have shown confidence and trust in her team and her preparation.

Several months later, I told my star DSM that I used this story in a presentation I gave a at a store manager meeting. She was a bit embarrassed but I could tell it meant a lot to her that I was willing to publicly share my mistake with my peers.  It helped repair our relationship and restore trust.  About a year later she returned from a DSM training week in Seattle and told me that the Director of Stores (my bosses boss) shared my story about her and the mistake I made to her entire DSM class.  She loved the fact the story had such an impact and was being used to help train the managers in the company about engagement.

In my time as a department store General Manager, I found that the Pareto Principle applied in many aspects of my job including my management team. Twenty percent of my management team produced eighty percent of my store’s performance results.  My star performer above was in that twenty percent and by showing insensitivity and a lack of trust in her, I damaged a certain level of her ability to produce the eighty percent of the performance results that she normally achieved.

I should have allowed my Star to have the one day off to celebrate her son’t sixth birthday.  I should have trusted her preparation and her team to make her goals for the day without her being there.  I seriously goofed.  And it cost me.

You Must Take Control of Your Career

I read a post over at TLNT a while back that reminded me of my experience with my previous career at Macy’s (formally The Bon Marche).  It’s about workplace loyalty and how it can work in the job market today.

A point she made personally resonated with me:

If you’re an employee and believe that your loyalty will be remembered by your employer when it’s time for the tough decisions, my question to you is, “why on earth would you place your career decisions entirely in the hands of someone else?” Not only will working at one place for too long make you stale, you’re giving up the control of managing your own career.

What if your manager retires, transfers or gets a new gig outside of the company? So much for all of those years of loyalty. Do you think your manager is going to present a succession plan for you on their way out the door? Avoid being naive and recognize the excess of “dog eat dog” attitudes in Corporate America.

I spent 22 years working for The Bon Marche’/Macy’s.  Twenty of those years  for The Bon Marche’ which was reorganized and converted to Macy’s where I remained for two years.  I worked my way steadily up the ranks during my twenty years at The Bon Marche’ where there was a core group of executive and regional management who I knew well and who knew me and what I was capable of accomplishing.

We had a long and positive professional history that I was proud to have developed and count on when it came to my performance and career decisions.

When the company reorganized and converted to Macy’s, they closed the Seattle corporate office and laid off all the executive management.  They also restructured the regions and brought in “new blood” and expanded the regional management staff.

My entire 20 year history of accomplishments, skills, and knowledge was immediately wiped out and meant nothing to the newly reorganized company.

Rather than being relied on and trusted to run and operate my store as I was trained to do – and was very good at – I was being told how to run my store by group of people who never ran a store.  I gave it my best but eventually realized I was no longer a good fit in the reorganized company.

I was miserable and dreaded going to work every day. My experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and creativity were no longer valued or even considered.  I had to leave and move on.

I made the mistake of thinking my work history, accomplishments, and loyalty to the company would benefit and help my continued career with newly organized Macy’s.  It didn’t.

So, I left and took my KSA’s to Denver and am loving my current job as Director of HR, IR/PR  at a uranium mining company.

I learned a valuable life lesson.

You need to have complete control over your career. It is your responsibility, not your employer’s.   Network in your profession and in your industry.  Network outside of your profession and industry.  Develop relationships with recruiters.  Grow your knowledge in your profession and industry.  Periodically look at job openings to see what is out there and what they are paying.

You’re not being disloyal to your company, you are being responsible and taking control of yourself, your family, and your career.

As the author of the blog post I linked to above says:

Do you think your loyalty will be reciprocated when your company is facing tough times and has to review numbers and headcount for a reduction in force?

A Manager’s Most Important Responsibility

What is a manager’s most important responsibility?  It’s quite simple, actually.

The most important responsibility of any manager is to hire the best people they can.

Think about it.

What happens to everybody’s workload when a manager makes a good hire?  We love it!!

A good hire makes everybody more productive by allowing them to continue their work while being competent enough to do their own. A good hire is somebody who others enjoy working with creating a positive work environment which increases morale and production. It’s motivating when the new hire fits in well  and effectively contributes.

What happens to everybody’s workload when a manager makes a bad hire?  We hate it!!

A bad hire creates more work for everybody as they compensate for the poor performer.  A bad hire can also create a poisoned work environment leading to poor morale and reducing overall production.   A bad hire can make good employees flee the organization if nothing appropriate is done to remedy the situation.  We’ve all made bad, if not horrible, hiring decisions in our career.  I certainly have and have paid the price.

As an HR leader, it’s vital that we train and coach managers on how to effectively recruit, interview, hire, develop, and retain great employees.

So many managers “shoot from the hip” when it comes to these critical steps.  Sure they get it right sometimes and justify their methods by focusing on when they did well.  If they were honest with themselves, however, they would say they got it wrong more than they got it right.

With the huge impact a good or bad hire can have on an organization a manager’s most important responsibility is to hire the best people they can.