‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’

Bruce Tulgan

Bruce Tulgan

I just came across an advance copy of a book due on shelves Sept. 15 that takes a pretty interesting stab at itemizing and enumerating every key challenge a manager will face in his or her profession. I’m sharing it here — “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” — because I’ve found the author, Bruce Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., to be pretty authoritative and sound over the years when it comes to manager-employee relationships.

HRE clearly concurs, as it will be featuring Tulgan in a webinar on Aug. 13, titled “Building a Better Boss: Engaging Managers to Inspire and Engage Workers.” In the webinar, he’ll discuss his latest research that finds “The Under-Management Epidemic,” first revealed in his company’s 2004 study, rages on 10 years later. According to the study, nine out of 10 leaders and managers are not providing their direct reports with sufficient guidance, support and coaching today. 

In his latest book, already listed on Amazon, Tulgan reiterates and underscores that fact, bringing together what he says are the 27 — not 26 or 28, mind you — challenges he’s heard repeatedly from managers over his 20 years of research. During that time, he says, he’s asked “hundreds of thousands of managers in organizations of all shapes and sizes, ‘What are the most difficult challenges you face when it comes to managing people?’ ” His finding:

Regardless of industry or job title, managers cite the same core issues — more than 90 percent of responses over the years refer to the same 27 challenges. The same cases come up over and over again — maybe it’s the superstar [who] the manager is afraid of losing, the slacker [who] the manager cannot figure out how to motivate or the two employees who cannot get along.”

As Tulgan says in a Q&A at the end of this link about the book, including excerpts:

It turns out that when things are going wrong in a management relationship, almost always, the common denominator is unstructured, low-substance, hit-or-miss communication. … Almost always, the ad-hoc manner in which most managers talk to their direct reports every day actually makes inevitable the most difficult employee situations that tend to vex managers. What is the key to avoiding most of these problems and the key to solving them quickly and with relative ease as soon as they appear? High-structure high-substance one-on-one dialogues with every direct report.”

For what it’s worth, I have talked to numerous experts over the years who have corroborated this need for more effective and authentic one-on-one business leadership, including folks at Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, whose recent study finds a sorry lack of interactive-conversational skills among business leaders and managers worldwide. (I wrote about that study in this recent news analysis.)

As it is, and as Tulgan’s book lays them out — grouped in chapters according to stages of one’s management career and types of problems — here they are, all 27 of them:

1, when going from peer to leader; 2, when coming from the outside to take over leadership of an existing team; 3, when bringing together an entirely new team; 4, when you are welcoming a new member to your existing team; 5, when employees have a hard time managing time; 6, when an employee needs help with interpersonal communication; 7, when an employee needs to get organized; 8, when an employee needs to get better at problem-solving; 9, when you have an employee who needs to increase productivity; 10, when you have an employee who needs to improve quality; 11, when you need an employee to start “going the extra mile”; 12, when your employees are doing “creative” work; 13, when the employee you are managing knows more about the work than you do (I, Kris Frasch, suspect that might be something managers are experiencing more frequently these days, given our demographic shifts in the workplace); 14, when an employee needs an attitude adjustment; 15, when there is conflict between and among individuals on your team …

Breath …

16, when an employee has personal issues at home; 17, when there is a superstar you need to keep engaged; 18, when you have a superstar you really want to retain; 19, when you have a superstar you are going to lose for sure: how to lose that superstar very well; 20, when you need to move a superstar to the next level to develop as a new leader; 21, when managing in an environment of constant change and uncertainty; 22, when managing under resource constraints; 23, when managing through interdependency management challenges; 24, when managing around logistical hurdles; 25, when managing across differences in language and culture; 26, when you need to renew your management relationship with a disengaged employee; and 27, when you need to renew your own commitment to being a strong, highly engaged manager.

As Rainmaker puts it in one promotional, “The 27 Challenges are enumerated not in order of frequency or difficulty, but rather according to the bigger-picture human capital issues in which [they] fall. Like a guidebook through the real life of a manager — from the ‘new-manager’ challenges, through performance management, retention, and all the way to the latter career stage when so many managers face the challenges of ‘renewal.’ ”

Tulgan says he hopes readers will use this book like reference material, referring to the specific challenge one is encountering and his solution for overcoming it, maybe reading others to prepare a little, but then shelving it until it’s needed again.

Personally, I can’t imagine many other challenges than the ones listed above, but Tulgan assures me there are hundreds more. Solve these ones, he says, and you’ll have a pretty good handle on how to apply “the fundamentals of management to gain control of any situation.” People managing managers, he adds, should keep it on hand, too.

Being a Better Boss

There’s been no shortages of stories about CEOs who have run amok. Business leaders who couldn’t care less what others think. Who believe they have all the answers — and fail to listen to what those much closer to the front lines are seeing and hearing.

475752015(1)At the same time, there’s been no shortage of books, written by the countless experts out there, on the key ingredients that go into what it takes to be great boss. I’m sure you’ve read a few.

But what do the masses think?

Posted yesterday afternoon are the results of a recent CNNMoney poll, in which the website asked its readers to weigh in on what they think characterizes the best bosses. According to the site, the traits showing up most frequently in the responses were ….

1) Respect and appreciate their employees

They respect what you do, they respect your expertise and they respect the fact that you may have your own work style.

‘Great bosses earn respect by giving respect,’ said one reader.

Bosses who say ‘thank you’ came up a lot, too, as did bosses who publicly give credit where it’s due, who welcome employees’ input and feedback, and who recognize that employees are humans, not just ‘resources,’ as another reader put it.

2) Create trust and support

An excellent boss trusts you to do your job, has faith in your team, encourages your success, goes to bat for you and is always approachable.

Great bosses are also consistently ethical and fair, and they hire good people, readers said.

3) Give employees the backing and resources to do their jobs

A great boss provides clear guidance, coaching and structure, but also the leeway to develop a sense of ownership over your work.

And when something goes wrong … great bosses assess what happened and help you fix the situation rather than assign blame.”

There’s obviously much more to being a great boss than the items listed above. Just a few others that come to mind include first-rate listening skills, an extraordinary ability to inspire your workforce and one’s ability to lead by example.

But while the findings from the CNNMoney poll certainly just scratch the surface of what it takes to be a great boss in today’s environment, I would think the three most cited reasons — even though they’re not coming from the so-called “experts” — might be as good a place to start as any as we (both personally, as HR leaders, and as organizations) evaluate and further build on our ability to lead.

Top Pay at Top Companies

exec paySo how do the best of the best pay their executives? A new report from Towers Watson highlights the executive-comp practices at high-performing companies (high performing as defined by the 50 companies in the S&P 1500 with the most-sustained outperformance in total shareholder return for the 15-year period ending in 2013, vs. the S&P 1500 overall). The goal was to find out whether top-performing companies pay their execs differently than other companies, said Todd Lippincott, TW’s exec-comp leader for North America. And guess what? They do.

“We found that many high performers take approaches and differentiate their pay programs in ways that many observers, including proxy advisory firms, would view unfavorably,” said Lippincott.

For example, stock options — often criticized for promoting short-term thinking at companies — are more heavily emphasized at top performers, representing approximately 50 percent more of the long-term incentive mix than in the broader market, according to the report. High performers also place less emphasis on long-term performance plans than other companies, the report found.

“It’s interesting that companies that actually sustained performance over time have embraced [stock options],” said Lippincott.

Meanwhile, the report noted that while target pay opportunities (target total direct compensation) were generally very similar between high performers and the S&P 1500 overall (adjusted for company size), the actual realizable pay at top-performing companies often exceeded market median levels by significant amounts — by 43 percent among large companies and 28 percent for small companies. Top performers also keep things relatively simple compared to non-top performers: they used fewer annual incentive plan metrics (often just one or two) and added metrics as they grew, and also used fewer LTI vehicles earlier in their life cycles and added them as they grew, as well.

The implications of the report’s findings are significant, said Lippincott:

 First, they reinforce the importance of considering company size when assessing the appropriateness of pay programs. Often, we see commentary about pay that doesn’t consider the company’s development stage. Second, these findings suggest that high-performing companies with revenues of $500 million to $2 billion are more likely than their similarly sized competitors to retain the less complex incentive practices associated with smaller start-ups and early-stage companies. In short, they keep it simple and focus on a few key goals.”

 

Adding to ACA Uncertainty

ACAA pair of appeals court rulings made just hours apart yesterday seem to have compounded employers’ confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

First, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled in the case of Halbig v. Burwell that the ACA does not permit the Internal Revenue Service to distribute premium subsidies in the 36 states where exchanges are run by the federal government.

Later in the day, a federal appeals court panel 100 or so miles down the road in Richmond, Va., took the opposite view, determining the ACA’s “ambiguity” affords the IRS the authority to issue the subsidies.

Reaction to the contradictory rulings—which seem to pave the way for a likely Supreme Court case—was swift, strong and, politically speaking, true to party lines.

Noting his dissent in the later ruling, D.C. Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards described the decision as a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Meanwhile, the conservative side of the aisle commended the Richmond panel’s decision.

Speaker John Boehner, for example, described the ruling as “further proof that President Obama’s healthcare law is completely unworkable,” saying in a statement that the Affordable Care Act “cannot be fixed.”

For employers in the majority of the U.S., what happened yesterday just seems to further cloud an already uncertain future with regard to the ACA.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is significant in that it calls into question whether employers [in the affected states] could be subject to a penalty under the ACA’s ‘pay or play’ penalty scheme,” according to Peter Marathas, a Boston-based partner in Proskauer’s employee benefits, executive compensation and ERISA litigation practice center.

Yesterday’s decisions are “not the final say on this issue,” he says, “but [they] certainly underscore the thin thread much of the employer penalty hangs on, particularly if other courts agree with this decision.”

The matter “seems destined for the U.S. Supreme Court,” said American Benefits Council President James A. Klein, in a statement.

Klein also offered his take on how things may ultimately shake out.

“Since the employer mandate penalty is triggered when employees receive a subsidy, some employers may be relieved of penalties, or may have different levels of penalties, depending on which states their workers reside.”

In addition, some companies have weighed whether employees may be better served through steady coverage in exchanges, especially those who frequently change jobs, said Klein.

“The lack of subsidies for workers in some states certainly would change the dynamics in that decision making,” he noted, adding that further uncertainty over the implementation of the healthcare law “chills” the decision-making process for employers.

“The courts need to quickly resolve this critical issue,” he said, “one way or the other.”

Facebook Ranked Last in 401(k) Contributions

It’s not very often that the 21st century’s titans of business, Facebook and Amazon, find themselves at the bottom of a list, but according to the Bloomberg News rankings of the largest public companies’ 401(k) plans, those two companies rank among the least generous:

A first-of-its-kind ranking of 401(k) plans at the 250 biggest companies in the U.S. found that ConocoPhillips and Abbott Laboratories are among those that provide the most lucrative retirement benefits. Among the least generous are Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. The natural-foods grocer offers a maximum contribution of $152 annually.

Facebook finished last in the Bloomberg rankings, which were based on 2012 data, the latest available for all companies. The Menlo Park, California-based social media company didn’t offer any match at the time. It started making contributions in April to its 401(k) plan.

The big winner, according to Bloomberg, is ConocoPhillips, a Houston oil and natural gas producer, largely due to a matching formula that contributes 9 percent of annual salaries for employees who save as little as 1 percent of their pay.

And these new rankings are designed to allow employees, for the first time, to see how their own 401(k) compares to others on such criteria as company match, investment options, and time to vest, according to the story:

For example, more than 40 percent of companies allow workers to vest immediately, enabling them to take company contributions with them if they leave. Retailers Home Depot Inc. and Amazon.com make employees wait three years, and software maker Oracle Corp., four.

It will be interesting to see how these rankings change over the coming years, as this research provides a great measuring stick to see just how well an employer stacks up when it comes to planning for workers’ retirement.

One Firm’s Bathroom Policy: Hold It

It seems the more versions of this story I read, the more ludicrous it becomes. A company in Chicago, WaterSaver Faucet, is facing a lawsuit filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the 455616613 -- toilet deskTeamsters Local 743 on behalf of its employees. Why? Because, according to the suit, they are only allowed to use the bathroom for six minutes a day. Anything more and they’ll face disciplinary measures.

Which is precisely what happened to 19 of the company’s 140 employees who were issued written or oral warnings for spending more than their allotted 30 minutes per week in the washroom, according to this story posted on the Opposing Views site.

The union says monitoring bathroom time is an invasion of privacy. As Nick Kreitman, the Teamsters’ WaterSaver representative, says in this CNN Money piece:

The company has spreadsheets on every union employee on how long they were in the bathroom. There have been meetings with workers and human resources where the workers had to explain what they were doing in the bathroom.”

Excuse me?? They really wanted that information?

That story goes into some detail about where this six-minute concept originated and why.

The company’s human resource department described ‘excessive use of the bathroom as … 60 minutes or more over the last 10 working days,’ according to the affidavit. Do the math and it works out to 6 minutes a day.

The controversy goes back to last winter when WaterSaver installed swipe-card systems on bathrooms located off the factory floor. The company said it had little choice because some employees were spending way too much time in there, and not enough time on the manufacturing line.

WaterSaver’s CEO, Steve Kersten, said 120 hours of production were lost in May because of bathroom visits outside of allotted break times.”

And then there’s this story in the New York Daily News detailing how WaterSaver even adopted a rewards system that allows workers to earn a gift card worth up to $20 each month if they don’t use the bathroom at all during their shift.

Kreitman’s quoted in that piece saying the company “offered $1 per day for anyone who doesn’t go to the bathroom at all.”

Uhm … excuse me?? Again??

Clearly, WaterSaver sees this as a real problem. Perhaps the picture above offers one way around that. But all joking aside, this appears to me to be a sad commentary on the level of trust — or lack thereof — that still exists at some companies today.

In addition to wondering how the company will respond to the union’s suit and the NLRB, I can’t help but wonder how its HR and benefits leaders plan to respond to questions from their insurance carrier about the inordinate number of doctor’s visits its covering for bladder and kidney ailments resulting from holding it all day long.

 

Promising News for Gen Yers

Millennials are apparently in a lot better shape when it comes to tucking money away for retirement than many of us might have thought. In fact, if we’re to believe the latest data from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, a strong case could be made that this workforce demographic definitely has its act together.

475319371(1)According to TCRS’ 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, 70 percent of millennials are already saving for retirement either through employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k)s, or through plans outside the workplace. What’s more, the median age at which these workers begin to save for retirement is 22. Pretty impressive, no?

The study also revealed that millennials who are participating in employer-sponsored 401(k)s and the like are contributing a median of 8 percent of their annual salary into those plans. (At companies offering a match, the salary deferral rate hits 10 percent!)

In actual dollars, the annual retirement savings for millennial households jumped from $9,000 in 2007 to $32,000 in 2014, an increase that obviously is connected to the timing of their entry into the workforce (many on the heels of the Great Recession).

Others have studied this issue before, but I don’t recall seeing anything nearly as upbeat as these TCRS figures. In June, Wells Fargo released the results of its 2014 Wells Fargo Millennials Study. That survey found 55 percent of millennials reporting they were saving for retirement, compared to 45 percent who were not. (Unlike the TCRS study, that study included those currently not in the workforce, perhaps explaining the discrepancy.)

No doubt, more than a few factors are behind TCRS’ extremely encouraging numbers, including the fact that many millennials are fully aware Social Security won’t be there for them (at least in a meaningful way) when they retire. (Indeed, more than eight in 10 respondents said they believe that will be the case). But I have to imagine at the top of the list of the various drivers here is the widespread adoption of automatic enrollment, a relatively newer development.

I spoke to TCRS President Catherine Collinson the other day to get her take on the findings. As you might imagine, she said she was “enormously pleased” with the high savings rate among millennials. “It’s encouraging to see they’re getting such a head start, compared to older generations,” she pointed out.

Looking at the results, Collinson said, there’s little question millennials take retirement benefits very seriously and consider these offerings much more than just a nice-to-have. Indeed, one statistic in TCRS’ study found that three out of four millennials said they consider it a major reason for accepting a job offer. So if employers don’t have competitive offerings today, they would be well served to close that gap soon.

The other thing in the report worth noting is the importance these workers place on information and advice, an area that continues to be something of a weak spot for many organizations. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the respondents in the TCRS study said they would like to receive more education and advice on how to achieve their retirement goals, compared to 65 percent for Gen X workers and 57 percent for baby boomers.

On this front, Collinson pointed out, employers need to take greater advantage of the innovations that are out there in the provider community. “Providers are always innovating,” she said, “but there appears to be a disconnect between those innovations and what plan sponsors are actually doing.”

Certainly, that’s a point plan sponsors might want to consider as they formulate their strategies for 2015.

Part-Timers’ Woes Spur New Legislation

Members of Congress, states, municipalities and unions are reacting forcefully to complaints from many part-time workers that their work schedules have become too unpredictable and erratic to allow for time to take care of other important matters, such as child care or attending college classes, according to a front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times by reporter Steven Greenhouse.

As Greenhouse documents in his story, employers that make heavy use of part-time workers — such as retail and restaurant chains — are increasingly relying on “on-call” scheduling of their part-timers, with the aim of ensuring that hours worked are more closely tailored to peak customer traffic, which is not always predictable. This can result, as the story documents, in situations like that experienced by Mary Coleman, an employee of the Popeyes fast-food chain in Milwaukee, who — after taking an hour long bus commute — arrived at her job one day only to be told by her boss to go home without clocking in, even though she was scheduled to work that day.

U.S. Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation this summer that would require organizations to pay their employees for an extra hour if they were notified they had to work with less than 24 hours’ notice. He also wants to guarantee that workers receive four hours’ worth of pay if they’re sent home after only a few hours on shift because of low customer traffic at the establishment at which they’re employed.

Here’s what Miller (who serves on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce) told Greenhouse:

It’s becoming more and more common to put employees in a very uncertain and tenuous position with respect to their schedules, and that ricochets if workers have families or other commitments. The employer community always says it abhors uncertainty and unpredictability, but they are creating an employment situation that has huge uncertainty and unpredictability for millions of Americans.”

The story notes that Vermont and San Francisco have laws that give workers the right to request flexible or predictable schedules to make it easier to take care of children or aging parents and that New York City is considering similar legislation. Unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers and other organizations are promoting the “Fair Workweek Initiative,” which is encouraging the passage of legislation in cities across the nation that would discourage employers from using “just-in-time” scheduling.

Don’t expect this issue to disappear anytime soon. As Susan J. Lambert, a University of Chicago professor, told Greenhouse: “The issue of scheduling is going to be the next big effort on improving labor standards. To reduce unpredictability is important to keep women engaged in the labor force.”

Branding, Schmanding

brandingHR hears a lot of talk about the importance of building a solid employer brand in order to lure top talent, and to make the company known as much for its cool, unique culture as the products and services it provides.

There’s no doubt that establishing and maintaining a reputation as a great place to work is extremely important. And, working for an organization with a fashionable employer brand may indeed be important to some job seekers. But not nearly as important as the work they do and the people they work with, apparently.

In a Monster.com survey of more than 2,400 visitors to the site, job seekers were asked the question, “Aside from salary, benefits and location, which of the following would most likely attract you to a new job?”

The most common response, by a wide margin, was “the opportunity to work in an industry I’m passionate about,” at 61 percent, followed by “the opportunity to work with people I professionally admire,” at 17 percent. Thirteen percent cited “a lively and energetic office environment” as the biggest selling point for a potential new gig, with 6 percent and 3 percent saying the same about “the opportunity to work for an aspirational/cool brand” and “an innovative office design,” respectively.

“Job seekers are naturally most concerned about salary, benefits and convenience to their home,” said Mary Ellen Slayter, career advice expert at Monster, in a statement. “But once that’s settled, the intangibles come into play. People are craving ways to bring meaning to their work, and they want to work in an industry they feel passionate about. Employers can take an active role in supporting these positive feelings by helping people see the connection between the work they do and how it benefits others. No fancy office can replace that sense of satisfaction.”

From touting their freewheeling work environments to overhauling their “conventional” office spaces, some organizations are forever looking for new ways to present themselves as cool and progressive employers. And while there should always be room for innovation, it seems that coolness quotient still doesn’t quite trump passion for their work and respect for their peers in the eyes of most prospective employees.

Cynicism’s Impact on Business, Take Two

Here it is again. Another report on the harm cynicism can have on the workplace. This time, it’s from George Banks, a professor at Farmville, Va.-based Longwood University specializing in human resources and organizational behavior.

78459275 -- smug businessmanHis study, conducted in 2013 when he was a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and reported on by Longwood earlier this year (here’s the release about it and here is the study itself that can be downloaded for free), found the harm caused by cynical employees is greater than the good created by positive employees.

Banks and his co-authors — In-Sue Oh of Temple University, Dan Chiaburu and Laura Lomeli of Texas A&M, and Ann Chunyan Peng of Michigan State — analyzed 9,186 people from 34 organizations, examining how their individual differences, including attitudes, were related to organizational cynicism, as well as how organizational cynicism was related to job performance.

“We found that bad is stronger than good in terms of job performance and job satisfaction,” says Banks. “Cynical employees tend to be less motivated, grumpy with customers, maybe rude to their boss[es]. They’re bitter employees who don’t want to be there.”

He adds: “If I’m a cynical person, it will hurt my job performance, but if I’m a trusting person, it won’t help my job performance as much.”

So what does it mean and what can you do about it? Some say building a culture of corporate trust is one good approach.

In fact, my blog post from May 27 highlights Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard’s 10 strategic steps toward reconfiguring employee cynicism around a whole new form of corporate trust. As he puts it in that post:

Cynicism is the defense mechanism of people who feel unsafe and powerless. It’s an expression of the uncertainty that comes from working in an environment where ethics are lax, employees don’t feel valued and information is withheld. When it thrives in an organization, it signals a lack of employee trust — a problem that’s gotten significantly worse over the last generation.”