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People still won’t work for a jerk

By Richard Hadden

A friend recently told me a story about Jim, a man in her company, which specializes in information technology. A Eliminating a rival colleaguereorganization resulted in Jim’s reassignment to a new group, where he reported to a manager he had known only by reputation— and it wasn’t a good one.

Judy, Jim’s new boss, manages by coercion, edicts, and political cunning. By all accounts, she has a remarkable disregard for other people’s time, interests, or needs, and doesn’t feel particularly bound by her own commitments. Athough she is not located in the same city as Jim, she keeps her tendrils tightly wrapped around all members of her remote and virtual team.

Until his reassignment, Jim had loved his work. But after five frustrating weeks spent largely on conference calls and “toting and fetching” bits of what he called “useless information” for Judy, he decided he had had it: He resigned—on the same day the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced an unemployment rate of 8.5%, the highest in 26 years.

He had no job to go to, but, as he told my friend, “Life’s too short to work for a jerk.” And indeed it is.

In these times of unprecedented turbulence and uncertainty, some managers labor under the delusion that everyone who still has a job feels a sense of good fortune that can only be envied by the millions who don’t, and that this blessing will drive them to “put up with anything.”

Not so.

A study released in January of 2009 by staffing firm Robert Half International suggests that even in a lousy job market, the No. 1 catalyst that drives top talent to the competition is bosses who are even lousier than the job market.

When asked “Which of the following is most likely to cause good employees to quit their jobs?” the top answer, given by 35% of respondents, was “unhappiness with management.” That’s up from 23% in 2004.

Speaking of delusions, I know this article is not being read by the hard core, profligate jerks who are legends in their own mind, unless it has been forwarded to them through an anonymous gmail account. Genuine jerks either don’t recognize, or else greatly admire that quality in themselves.

What worries me, however, is that some managers who, in a misguided attempt to wring as much productivity as possible out of their ailing system, will do things that only make matters worse.

To make sure you are not one of those, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you sometimes think your employees are lucky to have a job? Does a semblance of this thought occasionally cross your mind? “They’ll do what they’re told. They’re lucky to have a job. If they don’t like it, we’ve got 200 applications on file from people who’d give anything to work here. All that squishy leadership stuff is out — this is survival.”

If anything vaguely resembling these sentiments tries to creep into your psyche, get a grip! Banish those ideas before they gain a foothold. And, if you see it in someone you work closely with or care about, pull him aside for a little coaching.

2. Do you take people or their work for granted? Nothing destroys a relationship faster. And whether you like it or not, getting productivity from people is still about relationships, and a matter of choice — theirs, not yours.

As soon as you finish reading this, get up, go find someone who is doing good work, and tell her why you appreciate her. You don’t have to get all smarmy about it. Just do it.

3. Do you find yourself managing by fear? You know—threatening to fire if things aren’t done your way? Coercion doesn’t work. Never has, likely never will. Ditto for intimidation.

Oh, sure, you can make things happen through brute force and fear. But you don’t have enough energy or eyes in the back of your head to keep it going for long. Your colleagues, the ones who win performance through influence, trust, respect, and admiration, will outlast and outshine you.

4. Have you forgotten the concept of quid pro quo? Quid pro quo Literally means “this for that.” In other words, if an employee is willing to do something for you, you should be willing to do something for him. For example, the worker who arrives 10 minutes late is subject to scrutiny and reprimand. But when the same worker stays an hour past quitting time to participate in a conference call originating in another time zone, she has a right—if you are going to be fair about it—to expect a similar degree of scrutiny and, with it, at least a simple thank you.

5. Are you letting stress turn you into a jerk? Years ago, when I was a young, insufficiently experienced manager of software designers, I reacted badly to a pressure cooker atmosphere not unlike the one we find ourselves in today. In short, I became a jerk. My boss cared enough to sit me down and tell me so. Sure, it stung for a while, but he was the best boss I’ve ever had, and this was the best, repeat, the best, performance feedback I ever received.

Not everyone’s in a position to exercise their options and resign. But, jerks of the world, beware. Folks may not actually quit their jobs until things ease up out there, but if they stay, look at what they’re giving you. Is it really their best work?

Richard Hadden, partner in Contented Cows Partners (www.contentedcows.com), is co-author with Bill Catlettehadden of Contented Cows Give Better Milk, and Contented Cows Moove Faster (R. Brent & Company). Based in Jacksonville, he is workplace expert who helps leaders worldwide create a more profitable business by becoming an employer of choice. He can be reached by e-mail Richard@contentedcows.com, by phone at 904-720-0870.


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