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Have workers unknowingly fired
James F. Bracher
San Jose Mercury News, Viewpoints
Monday, September 4, 1989
Even if you have been a solid manager in Silicon Valley
for 10 to 15 years or helped launch a couple of start-up
companies, you may have been "fired" by your
Because good people are a crucial component of success,
you hire the best you can find in the right disciplines.
You try to get them stock options to reward their hard
work. Then you push ahead. Maybe you are successful,
maybe not. But at least you gave it your best shot,
Unless you really took the trouble to get to know your
people and relate to them, something that a surprisingly
large percentage of managers do not do, you blew an
extraordinary opportunity. If the workplace chemistry
is not right, the company is almost never running on
all its cylinders.
There is a new workforce out there, and you have to
learn how it ticks. The Puritan work ethic is diminishing,
and most employees do not trust their bosses as much
as they once did. Today, employees are willing to show
The business pages endlessly report corporate restructurings
and the elimination of "superfluous" employees.
Popular books now tell people they are naive to think
they will spend most of their careers with one or two
companies. The message for the 1990s is clear: Workers
must develop a flexible package of skills. In other
words, they should aim for "employability security,"
rather than employment security. With or without stock
options, fewer people will give 100 percent to a company
they suspect may not really care about them, and some
may not commit themselves fully even if the company
Despite all the hoopla about California's sky-high
housing prices, the staggering increase of two worker
households has actually reduced the economic pressure
of working extra hard. More people are getting tired
of the rat race.
Managers may not realize it, but subordinates make
value judgments about their supervisors and act accordingly
most of the time. Disaffected employees develop a form
of passive resistance. The boss realizes he/she is not
getting as much done as he/she should, but is not sure
why, even though workplace morale almost always is low.
But the boss can get rehired. First, he or she must
learn to listen and then follow a few steps:
Lead your staff effectively by praising
good performance and sharing credit for success.
Communicate more effectively by listening
to what employees say to you and about you.
Develop your people better by setting
aside adequate time to train them and monitor
Supervise by setting realistic goals
for workers and show no favoritism.
Take pains to understand the new-generation
The old-fashioned "company man" is rapidly
dying. Today's supervisor must realize that values have
changed. Accept these changes and look for the best
way to work within the new constraints. Do not slight
valuable employees who refuse to work long hours. Make
jobs as self fulfilling as possible.
Another idea is to vary workers' duties. Do not keep
a good, flexible employee in the same job for too long.
He or she will feel stagnant. If a promotion does not
make sense, a lateral transfer or an assignment to a
non-routine project may be enough to keep the person
Think twice about introducing "crash" workplace
improvement programs that may lack long-range commitment.
If workers think management will kill the program as
soon as something goes awry, it is probably doomed from
Sincere programs, in contrast, are valuable. A good
working environment, such as one that might include
flex time or job sharing and referral services for child
care, should keep good employees around longer. The
workplace will be more productive if the "chemistry"
is right. Different people have different personalities,
but this should never stand in the way. Once you get
to know someone well, that person's behavior becomes
fairly predictable. If a manager recognizes his or her
own style and the personalities of those with whom he
or she works, communication becomes
smoother and the ability to motivate easier. Everything
you do and say emits signals to your associates. If
those signals are contradictory or confusing, you will
not receive the feedback that tells you they are on
Honestly assess your own personality and take the time
and effort to ask your colleagues and subordinates to
tell you what they think your style is. If there is
a mismatch, communicate and straighten it out.
Put the people you work with through the same exercise.
Urge them to visualize confrontations with each other
and find a way to avoid them or resolve them satisfactorily.
Identifying different personality styles encourages
healthy give and take. Emphasize there is no "bad"
personality style. Underscore that different personalities
should be viewed as sources of strength, not weakness.
In today's highly specialized and intricate business
environment, the companies that thrive will excel at
accommodating a wide assortment of different people.
There is really only one way to run a company properly,
and that is by example. If employees cannot empathize
with you, they will not do well by you.
Even the most mature employees want their boss to be
a role model of sorts. If he or she is not, the rank-and-file
are likely to be unduly influenced by the behavior of
other employees or their own emotional whims. As a veteran
manager, you may not buy all of these ideas, but think
about them anyway. Too many business people think the
Japanese endanger America's prosperity, but an equally
big threat may be the lack of flexibility to deal with
the new-generation workforce.
James F. Bracher, creator of the Bracher Center
for Integrity in Leadership, is the founder and chairman
of Dimension Five Consultants, Inc. a management consulting
firm in Monterey, California.
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