Distance Should Raise Concerns

Proximity matters.  Particularly when it comes to communication and control within a corporation.  A subordinate in the office next door is much easier to manage than one in an office on the other side of the world.  Your distant subordinates – particularly those with a broad span of control – need plenty of additional contact.

Perspectives of a Subordinate

I’ve worked both near to and far from my bosses over the years, and I can say without qualification that I was much more diligent in carrying out their wishes when I was nearby.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Close proximity allowed me to better understand my boss’s mind.  I grasped the political implications of my decisions, what he was trying to accomplish, and generally had a tighter bond with him when his office was next to mine.
  2. Distance permitted me to rely more on my own decisions – a situation I preferred, even if it wasn’t always in my best interests.  Like a race horse with the bit between his teeth, when left alone I quickly developed an aversion to relying on anything other than my own judgment.

One of my many bosses was, for a year, located in the office adjacent to mine.  We had lunch together almost every day.  I found myself frequently redirecting my efforts in support of whatever objective he was currently striving for.  I became a valuable and useful subordinate under those conditions.  My utility to the company at large was less clear and highly dependent on my boss’s ability to direct me productively.

Then I moved a thousand miles away, and took another position – although one still reporting to the same boss.  The dynamic changed dramatically.  Even though I liked and respected this particular boss, the distance meant I was suddenly “out of sight, out of mind.”  I found myself making lots of my own decisions, most often without even discussing it with the boss.

Ultimately, when I decided to leave the company, I conducted my job search in secret.  My boss, who would have undoubtedly helped me, was no longer close enough (physically and emotionally) for me to entrust with this most confidential and sensitive of tasks.

Other than the distance and frequency of interaction, little had changed yet the relationship was completely… different.

Video Conferencing isn’t Enough

Through trial and error, I’ve discovered there is no substitute for close, frequent, face-to-face contact when dealing with your bosses and subordinates.  In general, I prefer my direct reports to be as physically close by as possible.

Of course, this isn’t always possible.  When you have a subordinate responsible for a remote location or territory it is often impossible for them to co-located with you.  In those cases, there is a “hierarchy of contact” that you should pay close attention to.

  1. Face-to-face contact is by far the most effective for managing your subordinates.  I’ve found that casual time spent together (meals, trips, etc.) is at least as productive as hard-core meetings and discussions.  Don’t skimp on this, even though it may be expensive and/or inconvenient.
  2. Videoconferences are a distant second.  While you can “see” each other, the ability to read subtle cues such as body language and facial expressions simply isn’t there.  The commitment to the communication simply isn’t the same – how many times have you seen someone in a videoconference working on something that isn’t a topic of discussion?
  3. Almost as good as videoconferences are phone calls.  You can likely call much more frequently than you can videoconference.  Frequent phone calls are the backbone of most distance relationships.
  4. Emails, texts, and other written electronic communications are almost worthless when it comes to managing your subordinates.  These methods are usually completely impersonal, and are easily “misinterpreted,” delegated, or outright ignored.

When you have a remote subordinate, you should plan to have regular and frequent contact.  The weaker your personal relationship, the newer the employee, or the more headstrong the subordinate, the more you should bump up the quantity of contact.

One of my remotely located subordinates was charged with transforming a foundering business.  Unfortunately, I was spread too thin to maintain close contact with him, and his decisions became increasingly… unsound.  His excuses for continuing performance problems multiplied.  Eventually, it became clear that he business was getting worse, rather than better.  I discovered the subordinate had his own agenda for the business’s rehabilitation, one that weren’t likely to lead anywhere I wanted things to go.  I had to fire him despite the fact that he SHOULD have been the perfect guy to fix the thing.

The Burden is on Both of You

Is it the boss’s responsibility to make sure the challenges of distance are overcome?  Or should it be the subordinate’s burden?

In my opinion, the challenge falls on the shoulders of both of you.

As a boss, you want your people to succeed, and you need them to support your efforts.  It is in your best interest to devote considerable time to maintaining a tight relationship.  Distant employees are one of your biggest points of vulnerability.

As a subordinate, you’re at risk of career derailment when you are out of sync with your boss.  Even if you value your independence.  Even if you don’t like him or her.

I once had a boss I loathed working for – his fake and insincere behavior, his interfering in the simplest of decisions, his armchair quarterbacking – these were only a few of his deplorable characteristics.  That dislike, combines with my predilection to make my own decisions and live with the consequences, meant we rarely talked.  And while I wasn’t a long way from his desk (20 miles or so) it was a challenge for me to communicate with him, to say the least.

Eventually, I found myself the subject of criticism for not doing so.  (Note, he did little to nothing to facilitate communication – apparently, he didn’t think of it as his responsibility.)  It became so bad that the lack of understanding became a serious threat to my career.

So I changed things.  Physically.  I took a second office in the same building where he worked and spent one day a week working from that location.  It gave me enough opportunity for casual interaction that I was (temporarily) able to break my own bad habit.


Distance is a challenging factor in building and maintaining business relationships, and no place is it a bigger problem that between bosses and their subordinates.  When faced with physical separation, take the lead to increase contact no matter which end of relationship you occupy.  Only by intentionally offsetting the detrimental effects of distance can you insure your relationship stays on track.  30.4

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.



 To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

 My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.

Clock Watchers Redux

Today, I'm taking a break from my series on Work Lessons Learned, to touch on a subject that has been percolating for quite a while.

Starting about three years an ago, I wrote two series of blog posts on the following subjects:

  • Extreme Boss Behaviors that Employees Hate
  • Employee Behaviors Managers Hate

The second contained a post on the subject of Clock Watching.  Here is a link to the original blog post:  Clock Watchers -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #8.

In case you're not familiar with the term, in management circles a "clock watcher" is an employee who focuses on putting in exactly the amount of time they are scheduled for, and not one minute more.

The purpose of this series of posts was to point out to employees things they might unwittingly be doing that will undermine them with their boss.  For some reason, however, a few readers seemed to think I was somehow advocating in favor of the bosses that engage in this behavior.

To try to clarify, I've decided to dive into the subject in a bit more detail.

Clock Watching is a Choice

If you've been in a corporate environment for any length of time, you've observed Clock Watchers.  I'm not talking about an occasional early departure, I'm talking about a systematic pattern of behavior where the employee either arrives at the last minute, leaves in the first minute after the end of their "shift," or more probably both.

Years ago, when I worked in a large, automotive component, manufacturing plant, I used to see shop floor workers literally running for the exits when the horn sounded signalling the end of their shift.  Yes, running.  It was undoubtedly the fastest many of them moved all day.

Of course, there is a difference between an hourly worker, who is literally trading hours for pay, and their salaried counterparts.  Managers expect to pay hourly workers for every minute (well, from a practical standpoint it is usually every 6-10 minutes) they are on the job.  Salaried workers are, for better or for worse, are considered "professionals" and expected to conduct themselves in a more "professional" fashion.  In many (but admittedly, not all) manager's opinions, this includes committing extra time on the job when circumstances require.  Some managers appear to expect extra time most of the time.

Against this backdrop of opinion -- Note, I'm not making a value judgement on this, yet.  Just stating the facts as I observe them -- employees that fixate on the clock can easily become a "burr" under the manager's "saddle."

Why do managers feel this way?

Managers themselves are usually expected to dedicate hours beyond the typical forty hour work week.  More ambitious managers typically take on more responsibility and commit more time -- hours spend either "on the road" (in other words, traveling) or in the office.

Is it absolutely necessary for ambitious managers to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week?  That's hard to say.  The answer often depends on the opinions and practices of the "Big Boss."  Having spent a number of years working directly with CEOs, in my experience they all evaluate and critique the hours put in by their managers.  Why do they do so?  Although CEOs may say they value "results," comparing employees and the results they contribute is difficult.  Most professional jobs are unique, and it can be tough to determine where the lines between mediocre, good, and great lie.  But every employee's commitment level is relatively easy to evaluate by watching the amount of time they put in.

In my experience, a senior manager exhibiting "Clock Watcher" behaviors simply does not exist.

One of my peers was fired and the primary reason was the perception that he was "phoning it in."  He wasn't in the office enough (admittedly, probably less than forty hours a week) and the behavior had a detrimental impact on the morale of his subordinates.  There was no question in anyone's mind that his behavior (in a senior manager) was unacceptable.  A "Clock Watcher"  in senior management would invoke a similar reaction.

Why does it matter for lower level management or professionals?

Quite simply, because sh!t rolls downhill.  Senior managers expect those working further down in the organization to model their behavioral leads.  Particularly if they are ambitious and expect to get ahead in the organization.

For most managers, a certain amount of Clock Watching is tolerated among their salaried employees.  Most likely, however, they will also conclude that the employee has little or no interest in being promoted.  Why?  Because they aren't modeling the behavior of the company managers whose ranks they might wish to join.  Whether a first level manager who "watches the clock" would be tolerated depends on the organization and how important the question of time commitment is within the organization.  Based on what I've observed, CEO opinion and corporate culture set the tone and should be no mystery to any employee that pays attention.

I can assure my readers that in the organizations where I've worked, I've heard employees repeatedly knocked out of consideration for promotions because of "Clock Watching."

Teams of "A" Players

Managers are coached to develop teams of top performing individuals, or "A" players.  Can "Clock Watchers" be "A" players?  Probably.  All other factors being equal, however, the employee that commits more time to the job will probably perform better.  Can managers look past clock watching when determining if a player is grade "A?"  That's a lot tougher.  Managers may know that their Clock Watcher is a top performer, but may have a difficult time convincing those further up the management ladder.  Why?  Because those higher level managers see the behaviors and/or know the employee's reputation as a Clock Watcher, but may not be aware of the quality and quantity of their work contributions.

Blatant Clock Watching behaviors -- things like leaving a meeting at 4:01, or cutting off conversations unfinished because the workday is done (or it's break time), or reading at your desk during lunch because that's "your" time -- are very obvious to people.

And these behaviors will also annoy your peers, who will conclude you are trying to "get away with something."  Your enemies will use those behaviors against you, making sure those in management are well aware of any obvious signs of Clock Watching.

Odds are, it is going to hurt you.

You may not lose your job over it, but you're substantially less likely to be promoted.  Or taken as seriously as other employees that appear to be more committed.

And you probably won't make the list of "A" players.

What can you do?

I detailed this in the original post on this subject.  There are many reasons that people leave right away when their shift for the day is done.  There are even reasons that management would consider "legitimate."  Picking up a child.  Ongoing medical appointments.

If the reason you're clock watching is one of these, simply making your manager aware of the reason you bolt for the door at 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday, will help tremendously.

If you simply don't want to be there any longer/later, and don't have a "good excuse," then at least try not make the behavior blatant.  Don't leave meetings or end conversations early or unnaturally.  Try not to let you comings and goings be obvious.  Park in different locations.  Use alternate routes to go in/out.  Wait just five extra minutes.

If you can, stay late once in a blue moon.  Make sure people notice.

It's all about managing perceptions.

Is It Fair?

Most of the complaints I've heard on this subject are of the following form....

"I don't see why I have to put in extra time.  It's unfair.  If I can get my job done in forty hours a week, why should I have to waste any of my personal time?  Managers should be focused on quality over quantity."

All good points.

The problem is, life isn't fair.  Neither is work.  As I mentioned above, managers have a much more difficult time evaluating quality of work and productivity than they do quantity of time spent.  Their bosses will undoubtedly be wondering why more work isn't assigned to the person who can always get their assignments done in forty hours, anyway.

In theory, companies shouldn't be using the "time spent" yardstick as a means of evaluating employees.  In an ideal world they would look only at productivity and quality.

But the corporate environment is anything but ideal.

The point is, you can wish things were different all you want.  Reality in most corporations is that time commitment matters.  With a few exceptions, Clock Watching is frowned upon.  Sorry, but it's a fact.

My personal feelings

In one of my jobs, I worked for a boss that was obsessive about managerial time commitment.  In that job I traveled incessantly, worked ten to twelve hour days most of the time, regularly attended evening dinners and fundraisers on the company's behalf, and still listened to my boss complain that "nobody was here on Saturday" when he came in to the office.  Unfortunately, he did watch the time I spent at work, and it was an important element of his evaluation of all his subordinates.

I resented his obsession with measuring my time commitment.  I found myself feeling guilty when I did need to leave on time, or even (gasp) early.  I worried when I had to turn down a dinner invitation.  At least when I traveled, he couldn't directly observe when I was leaving for the day.

I short, I hated the situation, and had similar feelings to those I wrote about above.

But I learned that it was the price of admission into a senior management position.  I accepted the situation for what it was, and didn't waste energy complaining about why it should be different.

As to my own subordinates, I tried the best I could not to let their time commitment practices impact my evaluation of their work.  I attempted to focus on quality and productivity.

But it wasn't easy.  And sometimes I failed, defaulting back to the company standard of expecting extra time from my managers.

I never fired anyone for clock watching.  I didn't automatically throw them off the "A" team.  But I don't recall ever promoting a clock watcher, either.  In that environment, doing so would have been virtually impossible.  My boss would have never allowed it.  And had I even recommended a clock watcher for a promotion, he would have immediately questioned my judgement.

When is it okay to watch the clock?

You can clock watch when any of the following are true:

  1. You are working in a company where committed time isn't a (formal or informal) measure of performance.
  2. You are in an "hourly" type job.
  3. Sometimes (depending on company culture), when you are in a "clerical" position.
  4. When you don't have ambition to be promoted.
  5. When no one can observe your comings and goings.

In general, however, I advise against this behavior.  A few modest compromises made to disguise or moderate Clock Watching behavior will pay dividends in the long term.  No matter who your employer is.

Other Recent Posts:

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.

Clock Watchers -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #8

This final disliked behavior needs limited explanation.  Based on my observations, it probably rises to a higher level than #8 for some managers, so the reader should be aware -- just because it's at the bottom of my list, doesn't mean it's at the bottom of everyone's.

Traditionally, the term Clock Watcher describes an employee who is out the front doors of their workplace within seconds (really, within a few minutes) of the end of the day.  And truly, I've seen this exact behavior often enough to know it is widely practiced, and widely dispised.  But a Clock Watcher can also be someone who doesn't arrive until the exact first minute of the day (or later), or insists on stretching breaks.  Generally, a clock watcher is someone who gives off a palpable sense of Not Wanting to Be Here.

Managers often expect this from lower level employees, and are pleasantly surprised when they find employees at those levels who don't do it.  For professionals, or, heaven forbid, other manager, clock watching will definitely get you downgraded.  Even if you get all your work done.  Even if you avoid all the other hated behaviors.  Even if you're a star in other respects.  And it also irritates your peers who aren't clock watchers themselves.

The only way you get a (partial) pass on the judgment, is if your direct supervisor is a clock watcher, too.  Even then, there's probably danger in the behavior -- your manager probably rationalizes his or her behavior, but is much more likely to condemn yours.  And your manager isn't the only person watching, either.  Some of those other people, like a boss'es boss, or a current peer but future manager, will have an impact on your career.

The clock watcher label may be a bit unfair.  There may be legitimate reasons you leave work at precisely 5:00:02 every day.  Perhaps you have to pick up children.  Or maybe there is a recurring doctor's appointment.  Most people will cut you some slack for occassional on-time (or even early) departures.  The label usually comes from repeated observations.  And a the more tightly timed the incidents are, the more likely someone will connect them and label the person as a clock watcher.

If you really are a clock watcher, you have two choices -- accept that the behavior will impact perceptions of your value as an employee and move on, or stop doing it.  You aren't likely to convince people you've reformed without completely erradicating the behavior.  But getting rid of it should be fairly easy -- don't rush out the door, stay an extra five minutes or more.  Don't abruptly end activities or conversations just because it almost time to go.  Drop by your manager's office a few minutes after quitting time, just to make sure he see's you're there.

If you aren't a clock watcher in your heart, but are worried you might be labeled as such because of some outside obligation, there are some things you can do to help your reputation.

  1. Let everyone know why you have to leave, and express the fact that you don't like it.
  2. Put in some extra time -- breaks, lunch, early arrival, Saturday, something.
  3. Send some work emails from home, particularly at late or off hours -- it helps communicate your commitment to the company.
  4. When you can, stay late.  Make sure people see you (particularly your supervisor), when you do so.
  5. When you must leave early, park somewhere where people won't see you walking to the vehicle or driving away -- this is a major irritant to many people.
  6. Don't make it obvious at your workspace that you've gone -- keep your briefcase/purse/lunchbox or other personal items you carry every day stashed in a drawer so it isn't obvious you've left.  Give your workspace a permanent work-in-progress look whether you're in or not.  Leave your computer on with something up on the screen all the time.

While some of these tips might seem a little deceptive, they're fair if you truly are at risk of being mislabeled.  Managers are looking for dedication, commitment and horsepower from their employees.  Those willing to go the extra mile, and put in the necessary time without complaint or pre-condition are positively perceived.  Those who clearly don't want to be there, will be downgraded quickly.

Note added 4-4-14

Surprisingly, this post has become possibly the most controversial of all the ones I've published.  I suppose this is because while person can be in denial over whether they're "clueless" or not, clock watchers know exactly what they're doing.  One or two people that I'm aware of were actually angered by what I wrote above -- probably more were, as most people who don't like what they see just move on.  As a result of the "controversy," I recently added a new post called Clock Watchers Redux, which expands upon this subject.

Idea People -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #7

I had a tough time coming up with a label that adequately describes this hated employee behavior -- nothing really got right to the heart of what an idea person does.

After all, being an "idea person" doesn't sound undesirable.  And without new ideas, won't businesses stagnate and ultimately fail?  Absolutely.

The problem with the idea person, is that's all they typically offer.  Ideas.  They stop at that point, leaving the remaining 99% of the work of implementation to management.

This behavior used to drive me crazy -- why would it seem reasonable to these folks that the ten to fifteen percent of the organization's employees within management, should be expected to do all the work when it comes to moving the organization forward.

And, oddly enough, in most cases the "idea" has already been conceived.  In most cases it has probably been discussed, prioritized and put on a back burner because there were no resources available to pursue it.  If you find yourself tempted to say something along the lines of:  "Can't management see that this needs to be done?", they probably have seen it.  They probably just can't get to solving it now.

Idea people -- at least the type that ONLY suggest ideas -- are a dime a dozen.  Give me an employee that can conceive of the idea, AND do some of, most of, or all of the work to make it a reality.  Management needs ideas WITH implementation horsepower.  Not just ideas.  Someone that can make the new idea happen is worth ten times what the idea generator is worth.  At least that's the way I see it, and I suspect most other managers see it that way as well.

There is a subset of the "idea people" category, that deserve a special comment.  I'll call them "Bad Idea People".  They're the employees that suggest strange, inappropriate, or completely off-target ideas, and then get angry when nobody jumps up and implements them.  Being a "Bad Idea Person" requires a special capacity for ignorance or stupidity.  And as one of my business mentors was fond of saying:  You can't fix stupid.

In my experience, a "Bad Idea Person" will never recognize themself -- it becomes the manager's job to find this especially annoying employee type.  I don't know of any solution to this type of person, other than sending them on their way to find employment elsewhere.  Their managers will never satisfy them, and they will become progressively more disengaged until they are bringing down the whole team.  Maybe others have had successes rehabilitating "bad idea people", but I certainly haven't.

As an employee -- be the implementor AND the idea person.  This will certainly make you stand out in your organization as a major contributor.

The Hiders -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #6

It's pretty clear what's going through the head of a "Hider" -- they're afraid.  Perhaps afraid of being blamed for the project that's headed for the ditch.  Perhaps afraid of the damage a failed effort will do to their reputation.  Or ego.

So when faced with a project going the wrong way, predictably, they hide it.  Or at the least, they look the other way, hoping an increasingly unlikely miracle will come along to rescue the situation.  Perhaps even planning their exit from the company before anyone figures out what's really going on.

In my experience, the miracle never comes.  As a manager, I knew "if it can go wrong, it probably will".  And the only way to prevent failure, was to become aware of problems early enough to do something about them.  Because of this, the "hider" was one of my worst enemies.  And the worst "hiders" were the ones that worked for me.

Managers do a lot to encourage this behavior.  Many managers (dare I say, most), seemed to be obsessed with what I like to call "the search for the guilty, and the punishment of the innocent".  They seem to feel every problem has a name attached to it, and their mission is to find that name and exact revenge -- public ridicule, formal discipline, firing.  In such an environment, is it any surprise an employee would hide a disaster, and hope for a miracle?

But not all managers are serial punishers, and employees continue to hide things, despite having a kinder, gentler boss.  I can only conclude they fear to admit the situation even to themselves.

In my experience, managers tend to be the most flagrant "hiders", trying to bury their problems to protect their reputations with higher-ups.  When a fairly senior manager engages in hiding behavior, and they ultimately crash and burn, the situation is often extremely ugly.  This is why when a senior person leaves under "stressed" circumstances, you can expect to find a large mess in their wake.

And while "hiders" are one of the more hated behaviors employees engage in, the other extreme is also annoying (although less damaging).  Those would be the employees that see danger at every turn, and doubt any project can be completed as envisioned.

So to walk a path that avoids "hiding" (or the opposite extreme) one must follow the golden mean -- calling attention to real issues, but not going overboard.  Just to be safe, I recommend employees raise issues when in doubt, rather than ignoring them.  If you find yourself needing an unlikely event to happen to save your project, you're in "hider" territory.

If you enjoy my blog posts, check out my novels Leverage and Incentivize.  There I portray some of the management and employee behviors I blog about, including some of the employee behaviors that drive managers crazy.

The Blamers -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #5

"Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan."

It's basic human nature to want to be associated with successes, and distance oneself from failures.  Everyone wants to think of themselves as winners.  Blamers -- the fifth behavior managers hate to see in their employees -- take this to an extreme.  They will find a reason to fob off the responsibility for anything that didn't go well to someone or something else -- often times the manager they are working for.

A typical Blamer exchange might sound something like this:

Manager:  Why haven't you gotten that project done?

Blamer:  You didn't tell me it was a priority.

Manager:  We discussed it at the staff meeting.  Everyone knew we needed this done ASAP.

Blamer:  Sally hasn't given me her input yet.

Manager:  Why didn't you go get it?

Blamer:  Because of the other project you told me to work on...

And so on, and so on.  No matter what the manager says, the employee will not take ownership for any shortcomings in their own performance.  They always find an externality that prevented them from doing what they were supposed to do.  As a manager, I always preferred to hear the employee say, "Jeez, I guess I forgot about it.", or even "I had to leave early yesterday to take my kid to the doctor."  Those kinds of things can be worked around in the future, but flat out denials and blaming can not.

And some managers, particularly those who are less experienced or  those not good at identifying a Blamer, will internalize the employees critiques, taking more and more on their own shoulders until the situation becomes downright absurd.  If you're a manager, and you feel like you're responsible for everything, and your employees have very little on their shoulders, you might be getting played by one or more Blamers.

Now, I'm not saying taking responsibility is easy, but it is what adults do.

So if you find yourself frequently blaming others or external forces for things not happening, you should try to change your thinking.  Look at your own failings first.  Take ownership for those things that are in your control.  Be a grown up.  Otherwise, you look like a child to your managers, and you significantly reduce their opinion of your performance.

The Clueless -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #4

The vast majority of employees believe they are in the top ten percent of performers at their company. 

I wanted to find the exact reference for this statistic, but a quick search of the internet didn't result in finding it.  Because of that, I can't quote the exact percentages.  The number I've heard is ninety percent, and based on my personal experience, I believe it.

How can this be?

In short, because employees are reasonably good a judging others, but exceptionally poor at judging themselves.

Why?  On the surface it seems like a person should understand their own performance better than the performance of anyone else.  

But they don't.  

My theory?  When thinking about one's self, each person has both an internal and external view point.  When thinking about others, only the external view exists.  The internal viewpoint includes knowledge of the motives, explanations, challenges which the person has to deal with or overcome.  The internal viewpoint colors the external perceptions of self in a way that can't happen with other people.

An exampe -- you fail to win a new account for your employer.  The external viewpoint others have of you is as a failure, at least on that project.  End of story.  You, however, know that your manager assigned eight other projects to you.  You also know that calling on that particular customer is very difficult -- they are condescending, and are already predisposed to buy from someone else.  If you bring these points up, they tend to sound like excuses to your peers or bosses.  Or even whining.

So which view is correct?  Both.  But if you are measuring who the company performers are, only the external viewpoint matters.  Same thing happens with the coaches top tier of sports teams -- the win is what matters, not the struggle, the obstacles that must be overcome, etc.  As an employee, you are judged in the same fashion -- if not by your managers, then certainly by your peers.

You want to be realistic about your own performance?  You have to ignore the internal viewpoint -- something that is hard to do.

Because of the distortion of the internal view, it's not hard to understand why such a large percentage of people seem to be clueless about their own performance.

The part of the whole dynamic that irritates your boss happens when she has to give you feedback.

Now I know that a lot of managers will wimp out and inflate the employees performance -- it is the path of least resistance.  Most managers don't enjoy confronting their employees.

If the manager actually tries to tell the employee how it really is, they tend to get defensive, complain, become angry, argue, or go into denial.  Then, once the discussion is finished, a good portion of those employees run back to their co-workers looking for affirmation of their performance.  And the other employees, also wanting to avoid conflict, usually agree.

But what's really real here?  The kindly words of a co-worker, or the harder position of the manager?

So if you want to avoid being clueless about your performance, then...

...Try -- really hard -- to see how your performance looks to the outside world.  Do your best to ignore the internal viewpoint.

...When your manager has the courage to tell you the truth, listen with an open mind, and try to figure out what you need to do to improve.  Don't justify.  Don't argue.  Don't go into denial.

...Don't fool yourself into believing that just because co-workers agree with you, you're right and the manager is wrong.

...Don't stick around if you're a horrible match for the job, or the manager's expectations.  You might never realistically make it into the high performer category (assuming that's important to you) because of something related to your basic personality or the way you think or work.  Those kinds of things usually can't be changed -- at least not by very much.

And managers -- suck it up and be honest.  Giving employees an overly rosey review just perpetuates the cluelessness which you dislike.

The Entitled - Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #3

"The Entitled" employee is the second cousin of the "Fairness Whiner".  The primary difference is in the point of reference -- "Fairness Whiners" endlessly compare themselves to others, while "The Entitled" just seem to think they deserve it because...well, just because.  There doesn't appear to be a hard line between the two behaviors, and one can easily leak into the other.

Manager:  So you think you should get {insert here object of employee's desires -- pay, office, recognition, etc.}

Employee:  Yes.  I deserve it.  I really am that good. [Entitlement mentality]

Manager:  Nobody else gets that.

Employee:  Not true -- I heard Fred in accounting did.  Twelve years ago. [Fairness Whining]

The cross-over can be seamless.  The distinction, as I mentioned earlier, is in the motivation behind the employee's behavior.

So why do people feel entitled?

I must admit, I'm at a bit of a loss to explain it.  Perhaps they lose track of the basic give and take relationship between employer and employee -- the company pays you money, and you provide effort, knowledge or other values in return.  If you don't like the deal, as the employee, you are always have the right to cancel it and move on to something else.

Perhaps they don't realize how lucky they are already -- a job with a company in the United States already puts an employee in rarefied air when it comes to luck, just ask almost anyone living and struggling to survive in the developing world.

Perhaps they missed out on some of those childhood lessons that should have taught them rewards need to earned, rather than complained into existence.  Or demanded.  Or campaigned for.

Or maybe it's something completely different.  Something I'm missing.  

Maybe they really are entitled to something better than what they have now.  Maybe they are that good.  Maybe their employer is taking advantage of them.

Entitled Employee, if you really think you are that good -- then take action.  Don't complain, go find another job with someone who better appreciates your talents.  Don't poison others, take your future into your own hands.


My thoughts and philosophies on management, employment, corporations and corporate corruption are interwoven in my novels.  You can learn more by clicking on Leverage: A Corporate Thriller, or Incentivize here.

Blinder Wearers - Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #2

"That's not my job."

If you've ever been tempted to utter those words in the workplace, take my advice and don't.  They are the hallmark of the second most hated employee behavior -- Blinder Wearers.

When I was managing, I tolerated this behavior in hourly workers, dispised it in professionals, and fired managers who were afflicted with it.  Blinder Wearers make little to no effort to understand how what they do contributes (or fails to contribute) to the overall success of the business.  Or perhaps they intentionally avoid understanding -- at least that is the way it often looked to me -- a purposeful misunderstanding of the big picture, usually in order to minimize personal workload, and avoid responsibility.

Blinder Wearers seem to believe that at the heart of the company lies bureaucracy.  If you believe bureaucracy should run the company, I suppose you might also conclude that every minute action that must happen for success can be laid out in incredibly detailed job descriptions and targets.  That your goals can be set at the beginning of the year, and that it is the responsibility of management to provide everything you need to accomplish those goals, and achieve all the details in the documentation.

In fact, the blinder wearer seems to think that everything outside of a well defined (and almost always tiny) box is the responsibility of management.  If management could actually operate this way, they would have to outnumber actual individual contributors in the business by ten to one.

Note to blinder wearers:  Nobody knows how it is all going to work out in advance.  Nobody can build a durable bureaucracy of the type you appear to want in today's rapidly changing world.  Nobody can define the boundaries around your job the way you seem to need them too.  And even if they could -- no for-profit company is going to expend the resources to do it!  They would collapse under the weight of their own administrative costs.

Managers are looking for employees who understand (or at least try to understand) the big picture.  They are looking for people who can step into a situation and handle it, not hand it off to someone else, and let the resulting failure be attributed to the white spaces between job descriptions.  They are looking for employees who can roll with the changes.  In short, they want employees who don't waste their time, don't get hung up on trivial details, and can figure out what needs to be done and do it.  All on their own, or at least with minimal guidance.

To employees everywhere -- don't be a blinder wearer.  Get informed, get involved, and become a part of solving your organization's problems.  Only then can you become a highly valued contributor and a candidate for promotion.



To see how the corporate environment can nurture politics, crime and violence, check out my novels:  LEVERAGE, and INCENTIVIZE.

Fairness Complainers - Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #1

How many times have you heard someone say "it's not fair!"?

I'll bet quite a lot.  Plenty if you're a parent.  Probably even more if you're a manager.

After listening to similar comments many times over the years, I've come to a few conclusion about "fairness" and about the "fairness complainers".  And yes, I think these same observations apply to the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, too.

1.  "Fair" is not objective truth.  It is relative.  Relative to expectations.  Relative to others.  Relative to the attitude you decide to adopt.


  • If you expect to get that promotion, but don't, it isn't "fair".  If you expect to be paid more, but aren't, it isn't "fair".  An employee's expectations set the fairness bar -- and where are those expectations set?  Usually based on looking at what happens with others...
  • Susie got the corner office, but you have no window.  "Not Fair!"  And Susie has been here less time!  Forget about the fact that the manager didn't want to re-arrange the entire office, or wanted Susie closer to Larry, whom she works with regularly -- it doesn't matter, it isn't "fair".
  • Employees regularly overestimate their performance (I think the statistic was 80% of employees believe they are in the top 10% of performers), which often causes them to think they are entitled to more, more, more.  If you don't understand how you stack up, and you look for opportunities to be offended -- you're going to find them.

2.  Some whine, others are silently offended, some seem to avoid the fixation on "fairness".  No question, managers dislike the whiners most.  They make people around them unhappy (either sympathically, through heightened sensitivity to fairness, or because the complainers can be so annoying), they chew up large amounts of management time trying to figure out how to make it "fairer", and they usually never stop -- simply moving on to the next complaint.  But even silent fairness protesters can be a problem -- because they quit one day unexpectedly, and their managers don't understand what they "did" or "didn't do" to cause it.

3.  The constant comparison to others is behind "fairness" complaints.  In the age of information, if you want to find an unfavorable comparison out there to support your "unfairness" complaint, it isn't hard.  I remember employees scouring the internet to find pay or benefit comparisons that made their situation look unfavorable.  Talk about searching for a reason to be unhappy!

So, employee, make a different comparison.  How does your lot in life compare to someone who is out of work?  Or homeless?  Or living in a place where they have no opportunities regardless of ability?  If you must compare, compare against the bulk of humanity, rather than finding the two or three examples of people who someone received more.

Or better yet, just ask yourself "Am I happy with the deal I'm getting?"  If "yes", then be happy and stop complaining.  If "no" then ask for what you need, but be prepared to go elsewhere to get it, if the answer is no.

And stop treating your managers like they are surrogate parents whose sole purpose in life is to keep everything even-steven.  Remember, even your parents told you "life isn't fair."


Behaviors Managers Hate in their Employees

I've decided to change gears a bit.  I've blogged extensively about the way corporations can dehumanize and disengage employees.  About how the nature and structure of large corporations create a political environment where innocent bystanders can be run over.

But what about the other side?  What drives managers crazy?  Why do they perpetually seem to have so much trouble "measuring up" to the expectations of their subordinates?

This will be a series of posts about the eight most irritating behaviors subordinates engage in.  The rankings will be strictly from my perspective -- a combination of the fequency with which I saw the behaviors, and the intensity of my negative reaction.  In this post, I'll provide the list, and in subsequent posts I'll explore each characteristic.  See if you can find yourself in here (I was guilty of at least one of these behaviors).

Top Eight Behaviors Managers Hate in their Employees.

1.  Fairness whiners -- complaining about anything and everything because you think somebody got more/better of something than you did.

2.  Blinder wearers -- no understanding (or even interest) in how your particular cog fits into the company machine.  Constantly identifying everything you do in terms of "in the box" or "outside the box".

3.  Sense of Entitlement -- never appreciating anything nice done for long, instead quickly slipping into looking for what you're entitled to next.  Free morning donuts quickly become "hey, where's my donuts?", and "why don't they give us coffee, too?"

4.  Clueless about own worth -- most employees believe they are in their company's top ten percent of performers.  Why?  Because they have no idea how their performance really stacks up.  When you try to tell them, they often become angry or even belligerent.

5.  Blamers -- nothing is ever their fault.  There is always an external cause, an uncontrollable mitigating  circumstance, an excuse.

6.  Hiders -- watch as a disaster unfolds, but never tell anyone.  Perhaps clueless.  Perhaps afraid of catching blame.  Perhaps hoping for a miracle to occur that will fix it all.

7.  Idea Spouters -- "Management ought to..."  These people are quick to spit out an idea (often unworkable), and quick to blame when what they envisioned doesn't happen.  They seem to never volunteer for the harder work of actually implementing.

8.  Clock Watchers -- Never willing to commit an extra minute to the cause, but often quick to ask for flexibility for their personal issues.  When it's crunch time, you can't depend on these folks.

Certainly this list isn't exhaustive, but these were the behaviors that often drove me crazy.  Feel free to offer additions as comments below...