Category Archives: employee communication

With Union Petitions Up, Get Your Message Out … NOW!

Since sharing this blog post the day before the National Labor Relations Board’s “quickie-election rules” went into effect on April Union14, I’ve been waiting to see if the predictions shared therein would come to pass.

More specifically, would there be — as predicted by various employment attorneys I talked to — a surge in the number of representation petitions filed with the NLRB by unions just waiting for those rules to help them hurry up their process?

Well, I just got confirmation from NLRB spokesperson Jessica Kahanek that there’s been a 32-percent spike in union petitions lodged with her agency in one month since the rule’s enactment. Broken down, that’s 212 petitions from March 13 to April 13 and 280 from April 14 to May 14. An impressive and additional 104 petitions were filed between May 14 and May 27, she tells me. Spike indeed!

Kahanek also notes that elections are now taking place — on average — 23 days from the date of the petition. This duration is a dramatic shift from the 38-day average that existed under the previous rule.

What’s also interesting to note is that the petitions didn’t come flooding in starting on April 14. On the contrary, says Steve Bernstein, a Tampa, Fla.-based labor attorney with Fisher & Phillips, “in the first two weeks after the rule, the numbers of petitions filed were flat, maybe even down some; only in the last two to three weeks have we been seeing them really climbing.”

So what does that mean? It means even the unions needed some time to figure out all the new procedures contained in the new rules. “It’s been a learning curve for everyone,” Bernstein says.

What it all really means — to employers — is now’s the time to talk up your company and make no bones about stressing with employees that it’s a better place to work communicating directly with management than through third-party representation.

Bernstein calls this “front-loading the message.”

Employers, he says, “have the opportunity to use this [albeit shorter] period of time to take the initiative away from the union.”

Some companies, in fact, are getting ready for the NLRB before the NLRB even comes knocking. They’re getting all the new data being asked for — employee emails, phone numbers, work histories, job classifications, etc. — collected and collated now “so they’re positioned to be standing on ‘Go’ when the petition arrives and can use all their time getting their message out,” says Bernstein. He recommends that you:

“start from the standpoint that, with the new rules, comes a new petition form giving unions the opportunity to request the earliest election dates possible, usually two weeks out. So you, the employer, can posit the question, ‘Why is this union trying to move so fast on something so important to your lives and the lives of your families as this?’ “

In terms of the new administrative and disclosure requirements contained in the rules, he says, rather than focusing only on scrambling around trying to meet them all, think about taking this approach:

“In many circles, the kind of employee data they’re now demanding from employers would look like an invasion of privacy. So you can put out the immediate message, ‘They’re not even here yet and look at the personal information they already want on you. Why do they want all this from us?’ “

In other words, the NLRB has changed the rules, so you can too. (FYI, my earlier post, linked above, contains the NLRB’s position and purpose in the rule changes.)

You don’t even have to wait for a petition to start the conversation. In addition to getting all your data ducks lined up, you can join with the many companies Bernstein is already seeing “embracing the notion that it’s OK to talk about this, now, with employees,” sooner than later, he says.

Nothing wrong with telling your employees, “Let’s have this union dialogue now,” he says, especially in businesses and industries where unions are dominant. Some companies are even fashioning tailored, customized videos along these lines to go with their orientation processes, i.e., why no union is better than representation.

“You’re really trying to establish this line of communication, getting them used to hearing about this, so it doesn’t just sound like a defensive move after the petition has arrived,” Bernstein says.

So, to recap, your message to them: “Hey, it’s OK to talk about this now, folks!”

And my message to you: Ditto.

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What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

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Starting the Ultimate Conversation

Last holiday season, I posted a piece on this blog about what employers should do when employees come to them with news that 465319021 -- difficult conversationthey are dying. It featured advice from Lynne Curry, president of Anchorage, Alaska-based The Growth Co., who stressed the importance — for employers, and HR and benefits professionals — of going over plans and benefits with any and all employees who come to them with such difficult information.

Recently, it seems, The Dow Chemical Co. took that discussion many steps further by partnering with a company called The Conversation Project. Founded by journalist Ellen Goodman, the project offers a step-by-step guide, called the Conversation Starter Kit, designed to carry managers, HR professionals, family members and loved ones through what I would call the ultimate conversation.

The idea to offer such a project and kit to her employees came to Dr. Cathy Baase, global director of health services at Midland, Mich.-based Dow, when she heard Goodman speak at a health conference about her own experiences as her mother’s caregiver and healthcare decision-maker for many years, and her resulting mission to change the way Americans talk about and deal with death.

As Goodman shared then, had she had conversations with her mother before dementia impaired her ability to share her desires, she might have felt more secure in making the decisions she faced.

Dr. Baase was driven by her own experiences as well, not only in seeing employees through this difficult time, but having engaged her own family to talk early, and often, about their mother’s chronic illness. She and her older sister, a nurse, were the forces behind the bi-weekly and sometimes weekly conference calls they would have with their two younger brothers, committed to staying on the same page about their mother’s care until she passed.

“Having these conversations actually made us closer as a family,” says Dr. Baase. “We knew how things were going and what to expect in the future, and we talked through everything until we came to an agreement. It did make things easier — although these things are never completely easy.”

With the help of The Conversation Project, Dow has begun a focused effort to educate employees and retirees about the merits of getting it all out in the open. Information about the project is now on the Dow internal website and has been distributed at retiree-health fairs.

The company also sponsored two webinars for its employees, retirees and staff, and its magazine, Dow Friends, which reaches more than 50,000 retirees in the United States and Canada, featured an article on the effort. It also shot a video recently for use in meetings and promotions, and plans are under way to hold role-playing events to help people break the ice and initiate these conversations at home.

“If we can help Dow employees be less stressed, more comforted and at peace,” says Dr. Baase, “then that leads to less distraction and a break from worry. … We have a history of confronting challenging problems that affect our society, and end-of-life care is an extension of that.”

Mega kudos to Dow, Dr. Baase and the project.

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Does Being a Jerk Really Work?

work jerkA good leader knows when to be forceful and when to use finesse.

Of course, some have to fight their naturally aggressive impulses in delicate situations, while others must dig deep to find their inner Type A traits when the circumstances call for assertiveness.

A pair of laboratory studies outlined in a recent Journal of Business and Psychology article contrasted uncompromising approaches with more diplomatic methods in the workplace , and when each may be best, in terms of sharing and utilizing original ideas at work.

College professors Samuel Hunter and Lily Cushenbery sought to “investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness (i.e., disagreeableness) and [the] innovation process, such as idea generation, promotion and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships.”

Or, in plain English, the researchers essentially wanted to find out if being kind of a jerk helps one to spawn and advance ideas in the workplace.

The overarching theme emerging from both studies seems to be that obnoxiousness doesn’t necessarily give birth to brilliant ideas, but it may help coerce colleagues into buying what you’re selling.

That’s according to the findings of Hunter, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Cushenbery, an assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership & Conflict Research Lab at Stony Brook University.

In their first study, 201 college students completed personality tests before strategizing together, in groups of three, to develop a marketing campaign. The authors found no real connection between disagreeableness and the originality of ideas created, but did identify a link between unpleasantness and group utilization of ideas.

The second study placed 291 individuals in an online environment to examine the originality of ideas shared with group members after manipulating both feedback and originality of ideas generated by others, and to determine the effect that creative and supportive co-workers have on the sharing of ideas.

This analysis yielded results similar to the first, with the caveat that a bit of belligerence may actually be an asset in environments where new ideas aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” said Cushenbery. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

Ultimately, “being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas,” added Hunter, “but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others.”

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A Finger on the Employee Pulse

employee pollWe all know that employee surveys provide very usable and valuable data. But how much employee input do you need, and how often should you be asking for it?

If a recent Wall Street Journal article is any indication, some companies are searching for the sweet spot by taking a “more (and more often) is better” approach to employee surveys.

In the piece, the paper’s Rachel Emma Silverman examines the rise of “so-called ‘pulse surveys,’ ” highlighting a few employers relying on short monthly, weekly or daily polls to “provide data on how their teams actually feel and catch problems before they fester.” (Short and frequent surveys are even replacing annual employee surveys at some organizations, says Silverman, although she notes that others—Google Inc., for instance—use a combination of both.)

For example, Limeade Inc., a Seattle-based corporate wellness firm with 115 employees, sends it people quick, one-question surveys each week, seeking feedback on issues ranging from customer service improvements to holiday party ideas.

Workers answer anonymously, and the results are discussed at bi-weekly company meetings. Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht told the Journal these polls revealed that the firm’s remote workers were generally less happy than those working from headquarters, and the company has since invested in more teleconferencing tools to “reconnect [remote workers] with the mother ship,” according to the article.

As many as three times a week, Boston-based public relations and marketing firm Metis Communications asks employees what they are most proud of and whether they feel their managers listen to them. Rebecca Joyner, director of content services at the company, told the Journal that a pair of standing desks appeared at Metis HQ within two weeks of one such survey, which asked employees if they were happy with their office chairs.

It’s worth noting that these organizations—as well as most of the other firms included in the Journal article—are on the small side, in terms of number of employees, and pay about $50 a month or anywhere from $15 to $100 per employee for pulse-survey tools delivered by companies such as knowyourcompany.com, TinyPulse, BlackbookHR and Gallup.

We’ll see if more large companies go this route, but it seems at least some are already taking similar steps to get a handle on how employees are feeling.

Sears Holding Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart, has launched Project MoodRing, an initiative designed to “record store employees’ moods at the end of their shifts,” according to WSJ.

Workers choose a color-coded emoticon on a screen, to describe how they’re feeling when they clock out, be it “unstoppable,” “so-so,” “exhausted” or “frustrated,” for instance. The article notes that Sears anticipates it will receive about 28 million daily mood responses a year, and has already found “a correlation between slightly higher sales and customer satisfaction at stores where employees are in positive moods rather than neutral or negative moods.”

While conducting surveys—even short ones—with such frequency can get repetitive and eventually begin grating on employees’ nerves, keeping the questions fresh may be one of the keys to successful employee polls.

Quirky Inc., for example, asks its approximately 150 employees about the challenges they’re facing at the moment, and who at the New York-based invention company has demonstrated great leadership in the past week, according to the Journal. Rochelle DiRe, chief people officer at Quirky Inc., told WSJ that the company has begun rotating questions more frequently, as a way to maintain employee participation and interest.

“Without some kind of variation,” says DiRe, “it can get a little bit like homework for some people.”

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Ford Fouls Up

Editor’s note: Correction appended below.

Will they ever learn?

Amid all the talk recently about the need to re-engage employees and strengthen your employment brand against the backdrop of an improving economy and tightening labor market, Ford Motor Co. decided to downsize 90 workers from its Chicago assembly plant — via a robocall (and on Halloween, no less).

Many of the workers assumed the call — which they received at home –was merely a prank, and showed up at the plant for their Saturday shift only to learn that their badges no longer worked: They were barred from their plant. Because they really had been fired. And that robocall had not been a prank.

In a statement to AOL News, Ford said that it did not normally fire workers via robocall and that it expected the layoffs to be temporary: “As part of our business process, we have temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business.”

And to think, those workers had probably assumed they’d be getting a welcome break from annoying robocalls, now that the mid-term elections are finally over.

Ford is hardly the first company to bungle a layoff announcement, of course. Just a few months ago, Microsoft executive Stephen Elop received plenty of well-deserved criticism when he announced a massive layoff near the end of a long, rambling email to Microsoft employees within his division. Layoffs are often a necessary evil, of course, frequently dictated by business cycles over which the company may have little control. But a company — HR, in particular — does have control over the manner in which the announcements are made, and the remaining employees won’t soon forget how their ex-colleagues were treated.

In summarizing his thoughts about the Microsoft email, Bill Rosenthal, CEO of New York-based Communispond, explained it to reporter Jill Cueni-Cohen this way: “It’s tough to make hard decisions, and I don’t think what Microsoft did was a bad decision; it was the message that was bad. It was the way he delivered it.”

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Stephen Elop as the CEO of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella is the CEO; Elop is an executive vice president.

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‘The Death of Customer Service’

Came across an interesting blog post with the same title as my header here,  written by Rick Conlow, leadership expert and CEO/co-founder of Minneapolis-based WCW Partners. He believes telephone operatorcustomer service has been ailing for some time now and employers need to put the function on “life support” and “invest heavily in bringing it back to health” before it fells you at your knees.

Customer service, he writes, “passed away quietly [and] the wake is at the next quarterly meeting, and the funeral will follow shortly.” Each year, he writes, “companies worldwide struggle for sales growth and profit, yet a conservative estimate of their loss from poor customer service comes in at a staggering $338.5 billion a year.”

He sums up the problem pretty convincingly:

“Excellent customer service is seriously lacking in most places we spend our money. Think about it — can you recall a recent experience where the customer service was really bad? Sure you can. Think of other places you have spent your hard earned paycheck: grocery store, bank, restaurant, a fast-food chain, a department store, a gas station, a hotel, an airline, an online merchant and the list could go on. How many of these had poor to average service? Probably most of them. How many really stood out and had outstanding service? Very likely, it was only a few.”

Here are the top four reasons why Conlow thinks customer service is essentially dead, as itemized in this release about his blog post:

1.    A Lack of Civility — People have accepted poor manners and have become used to rude behavior. “The general perception by most adults is that people are less civil than in days past,” Conlow says.
2.    Employees Treated as Commodities — “Many companies treat employees as commodities,” he contends, “not as valuable partners. Most employees don’t get the training and support they need to deliver superior customer service. Company leaders have little loyalty to their employees, and, in return, employees have little loyalty to them and their customers.”
3.    Public Accustomed to Poor Service — The public’s expectations have become lower as mediocre service has become rampant. Conlow points out that many big companies with poor customer-service ratings still thrive.
4.    An Increase in Technology — The increase in technology today means a decrease in personal interaction. “Service technology loses the human touch — the empathy and compassion that is vital to creating loyal customer relationships,” he says.

Conlow warns that “consumer discontent is a sleeping giant. It will only take so much, and its wrath can go viral today in minutes.” He also says customer service is becoming more important than ever, and companies need to put more effort into improving it.

Such as? Well … a leadership mind change, for one. As he describes:

“Maybe the real issue is that too many business leaders don’t value delivering better service and don’t buy into the bottom-line benefits. So most organizations do just enough to get by. The American Customer Satisfaction Institute at the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan rates some 240 companies across 34 industries on a monthly basis. The airline industry has a 67 average, which is awful. The average rating for all companies is 76.8, which is a C average. This means only two of 10 companies have a significant level of highly satisfied customers. Those few companies with excellent ratings have discovered that excellent service is really their leading product that drives everything else.”

Conlow cites a Customers 2020 report saying the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the future. Those organizations that adapt will survive and thrive, he says. Then he issues this warning:

“As more companies begin to ail painfully, customer service must be resurrected as it becomes more important than ever.”

So … better customer-service training, perhaps? More money in the customer-service-training pot? Conlow’s take: By all means.

Maybe this news analysis we posted in June gets to a better solution for today’s workforce (which now includes many younger workers, and they’re only going to increase). Invest in the things these workers believe in, including corporate-social-responsibility initiatives, and watch your customer-service ratings climb.

Share your CSR visions and values with them, make sure they reflect some of what these younger workers are passionate about, encourage them to connect with like-minded customers on the same issues … and, that story indicates, you really can right this customer-service ship.

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Really, the Form is in the Mail

mailA federal court decision may have added to the list of things that old-fashioned snail mail won’t be used for anymore, and should give employers pause to consider their methods for delivering important notices to employees.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently remanded the case of Lupyan v. Corinthian Colleges Inc. for further proceedings, leaving a jury to settle a dispute over whether an employee received FMLA disclosures her employer sent via first-class U.S. mail.

In the court’s words:

“In this age of computerized communications and handheld devices, it is certainly not expecting too much to require businesses that wish to avoid a material dispute about the receipt of a letter to use some form of mailing that includes verifiable receipt when mailing something as important as a legally mandated notice.”

Here’s what led up to that judgment:

In December 2007, plaintiff Lisa Lupyan—an instructor at CCI since 2004—completed a request-for-leave form, specifying that she was taking “personal leave” for the remainder of the calendar year.

Court documents indicate that her supervisor, James Thomas, recommended Lupyan instead apply for short-term disability coverage. Nevertheless, Lupyan began her leave as scheduled, with her physician completing a Department of Labor “Certification of Health Provider” form. Based on the information provided in that document, however, CCI’s human resource department determined that Lupyan’s absence qualified for FMLA leave.

According to the suit, HR subsequently met with Lupyan and directed her to initial the box labeled “Family Medical Leave” on her request form. Lupyan contends that her FMLA rights—including the requirement that she return to work within 12 weeks—were not discussed in this meeting, a claim that CCI does not dispute.

CCI maintains that an HR representative mailed Lupyan an FMLA Designation Notice after the aforementioned meeting, classifying her absence as FMLA leave and advising her of her rights under the Act. Lupyan denies ever receiving said notice, and claims she was not told she was required to come back to work within 12 weeks.

On April 9—eight days after Lupyan notified CCI that she had been cleared to return to her job with certain restrictions—the school terminated Lupyan from her position, citing low student enrollment as well as the fact that she hadn’t returned within the 12 weeks allotted for FMLA leave. Lupyan subsequently sued, alleging the college interfered with her FMLA rights by failing to give notice that her leave fell under the Act.

In this case, CCI “complied with the letter of the law, to no avail,” says Ellen Storch, a Woodbury, N.Y.-based partner at Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck.

Her advice to employers in similar situations?

“Do more than the law requires when providing employees with FMLA notices.”

For example, she recommends sending notices in a way that creates evidence of receipt—say, by certified mail or an overnight carrier, which requires a recipient’s signature in order to be delivered. She also advises requiring the employee to sign an acknowledgement of receipt, to maintain communication with the employee throughout his or her leave, and to send notices in more than one way.

“If an employer can demonstrate that it attempted to deliver notices and communicate with employees about the notices in multiple ways,” says Storch, “employees will have difficulty disputing receipt of the information.”

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About to be Asked for a Raise? Feed the Source

A paper is being presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Philadelphia, which ends tomorrow, that I thought you might find interesting.

167422861 -- crazy hungryIt seems, according to researchers Emily Zitek of Cornell University and Alexander Jordan of Dartmouth College, the hungrier an employee is, the more entitled he or she feels and the more effective he or she can be in asking for a raise.

Their study, I Need Food and I Deserve a Raise, based on two experiments involving about 270 college students, finds that “hunger leads people to feel more entitled,” according to the report. “Hungry people think about themselves instead of others and focus on their own needs, which leads them to feel and act entitled,” it states. (Here’s the AOM press release about the study.)

The paper, according to the release, “defines psychological entitlement as ‘the feeling that one is more deserving of positive outcomes than other people are,’ and explains that ‘entitled individuals pay attention to themselves and the special treatment that they should receive over other things.”

While research “has tended to focus mainly on social and cognitive causes of increased entitlement, such as recalling an unfair event,” the report states, “the authors posit that it can also be driven ‘by amplified levels of a basic physiological drive — hunger — which may cause people to turn their focus inward and place their needs above those of others.’ ”

The authors’ advice? Feed them. It’ll help you in the raise discussion and can smooth some other workplace rough edges as well.

As the AOM report puts it:

… for the edification of bosses, the researchers observe that ‘entitlement can cause big problems in the workplace, so managers might want to provide food to employees or wait to schedule potentially contentious meetings until after lunch.’ They go on to note that, ‘although certainly due to a host of factors, organizations with readily available food, such as Google, are also known for having unentitled, grateful and satisfied [digestively and otherwise] employees.”

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‘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.

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