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Managing by example

Excellence, mediocrity, and even malfeasance start at the top. Pretty heavy, especially when you think about this in the context of national (and international) politics.

There’s a place where you get to control this, though, if you’re lucky.

When I started working at Sorcim, everybody had the same size office cube. The benefits were the same for everyone, and although pay levels were different, everyone was otherwise on an equal footing.

Boy, that felt good – especially since I came from a very large firm where you could tell management level by the size of the desk and the height of the office chair.

This attitude started at the top and prevailed throughout the company, largely due to founder Richard Frank. In general, we were a happy, productive, and peaceful crew until the founders brought in a “professional management” team. Suddenly, there were perks for the new VPs, and the worker-bees became second-class citizens. Employee morale tanked, especially since the singular accomplishments of the managers was that they had achieved MBA status from top schools.

When I got to run a company, I remembered Richard’s role model, and treated my employees the same way. And I never asked anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do – in fact many times I pitched in to make sure I knew all employee job functions, which ensured that I wouldn’t ask them to do something ridiculous.

Again, a small, happy crew, despite very adverse circumstances (you know the drill – wondering where/how to make the next payroll twice a month). Everyone felt like they were part of an extended family, and everyone knew that I cared about them as individuals as well as employees.

The absentee owner decided to sell the company after I restaffed it and got everyone trained, and the new owner came in and destroyed everything. He started mandating, rather than asking how he could help people do their jobs better.

He took systems that were working and replaced them with systems he preferred. He never got initial buy-in for the new systems, which is critical if you want people to use them. He didn’t understand that if you make the users part of the change decision they are much more likely to appreciate and implement the changes. His only consideration was what would be easier for him. This led to a vastly increased workload; for example, the support people had to use two different CRMs, and our new hosted exchange service was constantly going down.

Meetings with this new menace were always painful, because everyone knew that each meeting would culminate with a new system that would have to be implemented in addition to the old one, and in almost every case the new system worked worse.

Within 4 months, we had lost 70% of the staff, and most of our institutional knowledge. The new owner would dictate new systems, but he never finished implementing any of them, because he would quit when the implementation got too hard. Then others would have to pick up where he left off. So he lost respect twice – first because he didn’t deliver on his big promises, and second because the new systems made lots of extra work, but had no benefit. In fact, the customer satisfaction levels decreased sharply because we no longer had access to data (billing and support) that we once had.

Nobody respected the new owner. Nobody wanted to work for him. He kept very short work hours, but expected everyone else to work at twice their already substantial workload. Frustrated, maltreated employees led to sloppy work and a “who gives a crap” attitude. It all started at the top.

In the end, he flipped the company, and one month later everyone who was still there was laid off without severence.

Posted in Management thoughts.

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