Bad Boss? Really?

It’s there everywhere. Apparently bad bosses are the reason employees are unhappy if one were to go by latest reports.

Who are supposed to be bad bosses? There is a complete list out there of types of bad bosses for those who are interested.

Bullying, micromanaging, insecure, unapproachable, people-pleasing, credit-stealing, the list goes on. Bad bosses are apparently to be blamed for almost everything going wrong, from attrition, unhappy employees, poor customer service, to toxic work culture.

Of course all companies, big or small, have their share of black sheep or rotten apples. All the above about bad bosses being true, a consistently dipping graph of unhappy employees says something else altogether. There are questions that beg answers in these cases.

1.   Who hires bosses?

Every boss is also an employee who was hired in the first place because he or she showed promise and potential. Is there a method for hiring bosses? How are they termed competent for a leadership or supervisory position? How are they inducted into the role of a boss for the first time? Is it a “sink or swim” law, or is there a structured approach to releasing them into the role?

2.   How does a boss become bad?

A boss is a human being with insecurities and vulnerabilities. According to psychology, bullying is a behavior that is born out of a deep sense of insecurity. Same goes for self-serving behavior where individuals take credit for others’ accomplishments, or people-pleasing behavior. Indecisive behavior is usually due to a lack of confidence, whereas incompetence and insensitive behavior is due to a lack of awareness and direction. Is there a life-support system for bosses so they feel safe and secure? Who boosts their confidence and provides them a sounding board when they need it?

3.   How is a bad boss able to thrive? How is the boss able to get away with being bad?

Everything, including viruses, needs a suitable environment to breed. Everyone, including children learn the rules of behavior not only by observing, but also by perceiving what is tolerated by the environment. A child that learns to cheat and lie does so because she feels she is able to get away with it. At times a boss is someone who makes her boss look good (by probably fetching good revenue or sales), but behaves poorly with her team. Is there a way to objectively get the team’s feedback? How tolerant is your system against poor performance? (Because, a bad boss who is not liked by the team, is a poor performer at least in the people’s department.) Are there necessary mechanisms in place to arrest toxic and unconstructive behavior? Are there necessary mechanisms to reward positive behavior? Is there a safe environment for employees to give feedback about their bosses to upper management without worrying about retaliation? Is the feedback even addressed?

4.   Doesn’t every boss have a boss?

Someone hired that boss, and besides, the boss reports to someone higher up in the chain. Who takes responsibility for the boss’ behavior and performance? Are there clear and transparent lines of authority and accountability? Is there a process to measure and review a boss’ performance, especially the way he works with his people? Is the boss provided a regular and consistent feedback on her performance? Does the boss have someone she could trust with her vulnerabilities and insecurities?

5.   A bad boss? Not me!

Matrix reporting without clear lines of ownership adds to the confusion. A boss may just have the title, but not the authority. Perhaps someone else is calling the shots and the boss is probably a puppet in the game. That said, the team may not be aware of the fact, and may judge the boss to be an ineffectual, powerless leader. Are teams aware of their boss’ circle of influence and his extent of power? Does the boss feel empowered enough to make decisions without fearing the consequences?

Do we have bad bosses or poor leadership?

It is always easy to pin a problem on someone. Everyone loves a scapegoat. Having a bad boss also makes it easy for employees to demonstrate poor performance and unconstructive behavior with the excuse, “What can I do? I have a bad boss!”

When we look at the entire picture non-judgmentally, especially when we look at bad bosses causing a downward trend in employee satisfaction surveys, we just need to reflect on the following:

How are bosses hired? Is there a competency assessment and evaluation in place to select or promote the right person?

Are bad bosses inherently bad, or is the system making them bad?

Is there is a learning and development system in place for not just developing, but nurturing leaders?

Is the organization tolerant and supportive of vulnerabilities in leaders?

Is the organization intolerant towards apathetic leadership?

Lastly, this is probably the question we need to ask:

Is this a case of bad boss or poor organizational leadership?

The First Step to Wooing Talent

(Published on LinkedIn on Jan 26, 2015)

The other day I got a call from someone part of a company’s recruitment team. As she read out the job description of the role in discussion, I realized she had not even read my resume completely. When I politely inquired as to whether she had my latest resume, she airily brushed me off saying how big the company is (which the company in question definitely is), and that how rigorous their hiring process is. By the time she was done, I got the impression she couldn’t care less whether I was interested in the job or not. “Take it or leave it”, was the unspoken statement. Till I talked to her, I used to regard very highly the company in question. After this “interview”, the sheen had dulled somewhat.

Why is it that some companies spend a significant amount of their budgets in marketing and promoting their brand, but seem to ignore or dilute their first step towards acquiring talent?

Courtesy, the forgotten skill

This is one of my pet peeves. Why can’t we be nice to candidates over the phone? Many years back when I was part of a smaller company, I did not have the luxury of an assistant when I had to hire my team. As we were a small company, I was conscious of making a good first impression. To me, the candidate was the customer and I was aware that I was the first point of contact from our company. As the company grew we took care to ensure our recruitment team continued to take care of every prospect they called and briefed over the phone.

I guess sounding snooty might make one sound exclusive and important especially when screening on behalf of a big company, and there are people who might feel privileged that they even got a call. I also agree that the economic downturn has resulted in more eager jobseekers desperate for employment. However, times do change and the tides do turn. And people never forget how they were treated. They don’t remember the recruiter. They remember the company.

Till date when I interview people I think of how important this job must be for them and how worried they might be about the outcome. While most of them might not make it, I always go out of my way to make sure they have a positive interview experience. I have had my share of positive experiences as a candidate too, and I still regard those companies highly.

The importance of homework

I remember another recruiter who called me up a few years back for a senior level position as an e-learning team lead. As he asked me various questions, there is one that really surprised me: “I understand you have developed e-learning projects, but have you done instructional design?” It clearly demonstrated to me that he was simply “scanning” my speech to see whether it matched the job description instead of truly understanding the role!

The importance of researching the role and understanding the industry in question cannot be emphasized enough. When I was hiring instructional designers for my team at a time when e-learning was new in India, the recruitment team I was working with did not know much about the e-learning industry. We scheduled many meetings to give them an overview of the industry, besides showing them how e-learning courses looked like and what goes into developing them. We also provided them a list of skills, jargon words, keywords and the likes to help them understand the various terms used. This helped the recruiters not only in selecting the right resumes and identifying some of the best candidates, but also widening the search to other sources.

Putting the best person forward

As a candidate, I form an impression about the company depending on who talks to me first about the job. If I’m someone with 10 years of experience being considered for a mid-level senior role, I would like the recruiter to understand the role from my perspective. For that to happen, the recruiter needs to have the necessary experience and confidence talking to candidates about the role. Too often we have recruiters struggling to match pace with the candidate’s seniority during phone screening. Either they sound too deferential and in awe, or too immature. I have seen many recruitment teams putting their junior-most members to the task of screening candidates over the phone. I would recommend that we in fact put senior level professionals in charge of these interactions. Being experienced they would be able to match their tone to that of the candidate, have the confidence to pitch the job correctly, be intuitive enough to ask the right questions, and represent their organizations credibly. They would also be able to instinctively identify the right people without even seeing them face-to-face, within minutes into the discussion, thus saving precious time.

Making the first cut count

Phone screening sounds like a routine no-brainer task, but is in fact an implicit sales call. It is a highly crucial activity which when done right can save an organization huge costs. Do it right, and your candidates will gladly refer you to their friends and contacts.

Job openings are going to be higher in 2015 as compared to previous years if we were to go by most recruitment trend reports. Recruiters are going to be overworked. At the same time, the talent shortage is going to be more acute than ever before. You don’t want to lose out on a great candidate at the first stage itself. As the talent demand versus supply gap widens in 2015, companies should monitor this process to ensure they are represented well in the hiring market.

Good talent is ripe and available for picking. Somewhere in the race for numbers we tend to forget the basics. As the late Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Overcoming Workplace Stress

According to this interesting infographic, 77% of people at the workplace today regularly experience physical symptoms and a 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms all caused by stress.

In the past 10 years, I have observed an increasing number of colleagues reporting ailments like heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, obesity, hypertension, fibromyalgia, and depression to name a few. What’s alarming is these ailments are not restricted to the 40 plus age groups, but a significant number of people in the 25-35 age group. A majority of them are either caused or aggravated due to a variety of reasons ranging from poor lifestyle choices, bad habits, overwork, to work-life imbalance. If we could summarize most of these reasons, we could call it STRESS.

What is stress?

Stress is our body’s way of responding or reacting to a disturbing stimulus in a way that causes imbalance. Stress is usually something that is triggered by unpredictable events, and threatens the peace of mind. Imagine walking through an unknown forest in the dark where you have no idea what might happen, or whether you are going to be safe. Your nervous system might help you for a few hours or days, but after a period, you will become a mass of nerves so acutely stretched and ready to defend yourself, that you lose all focus on anything that is positive or peaceful. I will not step into scientific territory here, but simply say that stress completely upsets our physical, mental, and emotional balance, leading to a lack of control of our lives.

Unfortunately, most of us resort to medication that only alleviates outward symptoms without treating the root cause. This is also the reason we are driven to pursuits such as shopping, partying, alcoholism, expensive treatments, and other superficial activities that provide instant gratification, which lasts for a short while, leaving us hollow and empty later.

Recognizing the causes of stress

A few years ago, I was battling what I then thought as mid-life crisis. I had gained weight. I started complaining of headache, body ache, hair loss, and fatigue as a result of hyper-acidity, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. I was very negative in my thinking and I had several lapses in my judgement. I didn’t realize stress was the culprit.

Stress is triggered by our body’s emotional response to external circumstances. Unfortunately, we don’t realize the adverse impact of stress until it manifests itself in the form of illness and unhappiness. How do you recognize, acknowledge, and deal with stress proactively? It all begins with understanding unconstructive emotions that lie at the root of it all.

Fear

Fear is one of the fundamental unconstructive feelings that we block and bury inside. Ask yourself: What do I fear? If this job is making you insecure, what is stopping you from leaving it? If your boss is your source of stress, what stops you from confronting him or her? Do you really look forward to working with your client, or does the thought of interacting with them scare you? Are you afraid of being laid off or humiliated? Unacknowledged fear causes overall weakness in your bones and muscular system, and also weakens your immunity. Courage is the answer to fear. The first step is to face those fears and acknowledge their existence. Think of all things in your life that will stay with you no matter what. Drawing strength from our loved ones or things of deep meaning to us, rebuilds our sense of security.

Guilt

Guilt is another slow poison that slowly but surely destroys our morale. What are you guilty about? Does your job make you do things that go against your conscience and values? Do you feel guilty about your child in daycare? Are you blaming yourself for delivering a poor product to your client? These manifest as problems in your lower back, elimination system, or reproductive organs. Acceptance is the answer to guilt. Think of all the reasons you feel guilty about, and then release yourself from the blame. Think of what you could do to remedy the situation and to assuage the feeling of guilt.

Poor Self-Esteem

A lack of self-esteem and shame eats into our confidence and awakens the negative self-talk inside of us. Some of us even go to an overdrive burning ourselves out with worry of becoming second best. What are you ashamed of? Do you find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to interacting with your team? Does your inner voice tell you things like – “I don’t look good”, “I’m not that smart”, “I’m so stupid”, or “I’m not good enough”? This unconstructive thinking pattern results in chronic digestive ailments and other liver and pancreatic problems like ulcers, diabetes, hepatitis, to name a few. Self-acceptance is the answer here. Accepting and loving yourself despite your shortcomings, is the only way forward from here. Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good is another way of restoring your confidence. Offering support or contributing to the needy is another way to build positivity and inner confidence.

Lack of Love

All of us like being appreciated and cared for. Sorrow, resentment, jealousy, or hatred, are huge reasons for unhappiness. Have you lost someone dear to you? Do you feel lonely and unloved by your peers? Do you crave appreciation? Do you harbor deep resentment against a colleague? Are you a target of emotional abuse? Have you been hurt too deeply in the past and still holding on to the hurt? These repressed emotions affect the heart, arms, lungs, or our circulation, besides causing allergies and asthma. Compassion and forgiveness is the answer to this. Believe in the law of karma and let go of resentment and forgive those who have done you harm. Forgive and move on. Appreciating and recognizing others around you helps you receive love from others. Note that the word Forgive has the word Give within it. Does that give you a clue? Think of the blessings in your life. What else are you grateful for?

Lies

We live in an overexposed world thanks to social media, which ironically causes us to wear masks. Like the proverbial ostrich that has buried its head under the sand, we actually start believing in the world of make-believe so much so that we don’t want to hear the truth. What are the lies that you’re telling yourself and to others? Or rather, what is that truth that you are evading? Over a period you find yourself suffering from problems in the neck, jaw, thyroid, sinuses, and other dental and oral ailments. Facing facts with honesty helps you speak and act with conviction, providing you that much-needed clarity in your thought.

Lack of Insight

Once you have opened and exposed the layers of unconstructive emotional patterns, you hit the next roadblock. Been feeling restless and irritable lately? Are you unable to come up with ideas for your new project? Do you feel you have been making mistakes too often and seem to lack foresight? Do you feel your life lacks purpose? Do you feel like you’re caught in a rut? You find yourself suffering from chronic headaches, sore eyes, and neurological problems. A lack of insight prevents you from coming with innovative solutions. All your experience, skills, and talent come to a naught when your intuition is blocked. But how do we overcome this really tricky one? Albert Einstein quoted, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” There is no cure better than nature to relax and soothe our senses. Changing our daily routine and introducing new creative tasks makes us feel fresher. Learning a new hobby, working from a different place, or playing a sport, help tremendously in approaching our thoughts from a different angle.

Materialism and attachment

Now that we have dealt with tangible emotions, we come to the trickiest one of them all. Now assume that you don’t have any of the emotions described above. You are fearless, confident, and capable of creative thinking. Yet, you feel something is missing. You have read about spirituality and God, and find most of the stuff to be mumbo jumbo. (By God I don’t mean religion, but the sense of awe we feel about this universe and this world.) Most of things you value are either possessions or people you have full control over. You are so caught up with being in control that you consider yourself separate from others around. An excess of this causes brain toxicity leading to disorders like depression, anxiety, delusions, and other mental ailments. When was the last time you felt overcome and awed by something larger than you? Believing in a higher power makes us humble. “Faith moves mountains”. There is a lot of truth to this. Letting go of materialistic pleasures and attachments, makes us stronger from deep within. This does not mean that we don’t need wealth. What this means is that wealth does not define us.

Coaching and Healing

Tried and tested traditional and ancient healing concepts that were scorned and shrugged off in the last century, are now slowly being re-established and advocated across the world through Yoga, Tai chi, Reiki, Pranic Healing, Ayurveda, and meditation. Despite having different techniques and procedures, all of these have one single fundamental belief. Well-being is all about being healthy at a holistic level that includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level. These holistic theories have one fundamental philosophy. Our thoughts and our feelings have a strong influence in our actions, behaviors, and our immunity against diseases. Our thoughts and feelings have the ability to channelize or disrupt the energy flow within our body. For the skeptics, here’s a very interesting and scientific explanation about this phenomenon. You could also read The Biology of Belief by the excellent Dr. Bruce Lipton.

A few years ago, I went through a bit of upheaval at home and my career that impacted my overall health. Around that time, I turned to coaching and found it a life-changing experience. I also enrolled for Yoga sessions and have been practicing it regularly for more than a year now. Apart from a positive outlook towards life, I have also developed a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the people around me, and express it on a daily basis through prayers. I feel blessed and content. And my headaches? They do come up once in a while, but overall I feel that I am in control of my health and mind.

Embark on a journey within

Identifying a life coach would be a great starting point to identify and find ways to overcome your stress. Coaching works because you get to look at your unconstructive emotions and roadblocks objectively with someone facilitating the entire exercise and working with you. While your coach would help you in identifying goals and constructing a concrete action plan to help you move forward, you could also consult a Yoga practitioner or a healing therapist to bring your health and well-being in order. Meditation makes a huge difference. Initially it helps to work with an expert who will guide you. Thereafter, you find yourself looking forward to that journey within. Because whatever happens in the external world, you always find answers within yourself.

Note: A few readers have requested that I provide links substantiating the above points. I’ve attempted to list a few useful resources and references.

Sources: http://www.finerminds.com/personal-growth/,http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/M/mindfulness/,http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-91/The-7-Chakras-for-Beginners.html,http://www.officevibe.com/blog/infographic-stress-at-work,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-136478/Heal-stress-migraines-muscular-tension-chakra-workout.html

Let’s Fix It: Hire Potential, not Degree

(This article was published on LinkedIn on Oct 16, 2014: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20141016114939-11623865-let-s-fix-it-hire-potential-not-degree)

In my article Are we hiring people or headcount, I had talked about how as leaders we make the mistake of hiring highly qualified candidates for jobs that they quickly outgrow.

Way back in the 80’s and 90’s when the IT revolution was picking up, it made sense hiring candidates from premium B-schools and top engineering universities. Companies were in their upward growth curve and needed bright and entrepreneurial thinkers who would have enough excitement to stick around within the company for several years.

The story has changed today. Engineering and management students join companies with high aspirations only to be disappointed when they realize their skills are barely needed.

Over the past decade, burgeoning companies of the 90’s have exploded into large conglomerates after multiple mergers and acquisitions. The current economy and ever-changing business landscape now demands that companies retain their knowledge capital by hiring more stable players who will adapt and grow with the changing requirements.

Another mistake we leaders make is hire people at peak level talent. Rather, I would pitch in favour of peak potential.

Room for growth

Every designation or role has a minimum tenure during which employees get a chance to learn on the job and pick up competencies. Candidates whether sourced internally or externally, should be selected with a not-yet-acquired skill or competency gap. The tenure for the role should allow the employee to fill this competency gap.

Hire attitude, develop aptitude

Easier said than done, but job descriptions need to detail the responsive traits that are needed to accomplish the job successfully. For instance, a sales team might need candidates who won’t take no for an answer, or a technology team might benefit from candidates with the ability to quickly grasp the root of a problem and be at it till they arrive at a solution. A training coordinator probably needs to know how to think and process requirements in an organized manner while a customer support rep should probably be someone who goes out of her way to help people. Psychometric assessments usually help in identifying these inherent traits, which can be used as a base for building tangible on-the-job skills.

Upgrade and update the job description!

Job description documents definitely need an overhaul during an organizational change. In fact I recommend periodic revisions of this document to ensure that the hiring stays specific and relevant. As hiring managers we should ask ourselves,

  • “Does this role truly require an engineering (or B-school) candidate?”
  • “How can I make the job description more specific and relevant to today’s context?”
  • “Are there specific personality types or behavioral traits necessary for this role?”
  • “What are the non-negotiable or mandatory or must-have skills for this role?”
  • “What is the competency gap or minimum skill potential based on which this candidate could be hired?”
  • “For how long on an average will a candidate need to work in the current role in order to fulfill or outperform the competency gap?”

Investing in an incubation centre

A significant number of high potential candidates get eliminated using only qualification or experience as a minimum requirement. Hiring managers in their immediate business need, try to directly map the candidate profile with the required skill set and select people with an already optimum competency level. Such candidates naturally outperform their current roles within their first year of joining. By the time they are in their second year, they are already updating their LinkedIn profiles! It would help if companies establish an incubation centre where they groom and prepare future candidates for their businesses. These candidates need not necessarily be fresh graduates. There is an enormous amount of untapped and unharnessed potential in the form of women who seek to resume their careers after a break. There are a significant number of professionals seeking a mid-level career change.

Talent shortage is a myth! Talent is definitely available if we look at future potential rather than existing skills. I have also talked in another article about how building a future career roadmap leads to more engaged employees.

#FixIt #recruitment #talentmanagement #leadership