Successful Supervisor 75 Handling a Trust Betrayal by Upper Management

May 6, 2018

Last week I discussed a process of recuperating from a trust betrayal between a supervisor and an employee. This article deals with the situation where the supervisor has lost trust in upper management.

Unfortunately, this situation is common, and it can be as problematical as the downward loss of trust between the supervisor and employee.

Picture a loss of trust between a supervisor and her manager because she feels she is being required to support a policy or decision that she believes is wrong. What advice can we give the supervisor who finds herself in this common but delicate situation?

1. You must support the decision to your people even though you are trying to get it reversed. Reason: if you tell your people you are going along with it simply because it is an order but you think it is wrong, you are undermining the authority of your superior, and that is a certain black mark on your reputation.

Too many black marks and you will find yourself on the outside looking in. When you publicly support a decision that you privately don’t agree with, employees might sense a lack of transparency. I will deal with how to prevent the loss of trust in this case later in this article.

2. Seek to understand the nature of your disagreement. If it is a matter of style and you think there is a better way to handle this issue, then push back with your logic about why a different approach is wiser.

Be flexible and ready to negotiate to find a win-win way of framing up the problem. Often there is a third approach that will satisfy both you and upper management.

3. If instead you believe upper management is violating one of the values or advocating some policy that is unethical or illegal, then you need to decide if you are willing to die on that hill.

Point out the reason for your belief in clear but gentle terms to give your manager the opportunity to give a counter point.

Be willing to listen and be flexible, but do not bend on a matter of principle. In the end, you may have to indicate your desire to work somewhere else if an illegal policy is being contemplated. Just make sure of your facts before becoming adamant.

4. It is a delicate discussion to stand up to a superior in this way, so remain open minded for a solution that is a reasonable compromise as long as the values are not breached.

When arguing your case for why you feel uncomfortable with a decision, avoid the logic that it is not going to be popular with your employees. Supervisors are sometimes called upon to administer unpopular policies, and you need to step up to the challenge of doing that or leaving your position.

In trying to explain unpopular decisions, you must support the management position, even if you argued against it strongly before or after the decision was made. This is one of the most difficult challenges any supervisor will face.

You cannot say, “This is a really dumb decision but we are going to have to do it anyway.” Here are some considerations to think about when this situation arises:

1. You should tell your employees the decision with the sensitivity that you would want if the roles were reversed. Often people need to be reminded of the larger picture and that some sacrifices are required for the greater good. Say something like “There were other possible alternatives, but our management believes this path is the best one for all of us in the long run, so we are going with it.”

2. Often the organization is facing a decision that might temporarily disappoint employees but be beneficial to customers or some other stakeholder. Remind the employees that we cannot win every point and that the bigger battle is more important to their long term objectives.

3. It is important that you remember who is in charge and act that way unless the proposed action is illegal, unethical, or dumb. Which of those three problems are in play will determine the intensity of your push back on upper management.

When you took on the role of supervisor, you accepted a difficult position. You need to recognize the job is not always going to be an easy one and that you will be called upon to administer unpopular policies at times.

Think of this as a test of your ability to see the management perspective, but if the proposed action is unethical or otherwise violating the values, it is time to stand firm for your convictions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Smart is Dumb

January 3, 2015

Dud ManagerIn his famous program, “Effective Negotiating,” Chester A. Karrass, makes the observation that, in negotiations, often appearing dumb is a great strategy.

The idea is that acting naïve causes the other party to fill in some blanks with information that may ultimately be helpful to you in the negotiation.

Conversely, acting as if you know everything is usually a bad strategy, because you end up supplying too much information too early in the conversation. This habit gives your opponent in the negotiation a significant advantage.

As I work with leaders in organizations of all sizes, a similar observation could be made about leadership. Being dumb is sometimes smart, and being too smart is often dumb. Let’s examine some examples of why this dichotomy is a helpful concept.

To make enlightened decisions, leaders need good information. It sounds simple, but in the chaos of every day organizational issues, it is sometimes difficult to determine which set of information is true.

Rather than blurting out their preconceived notion of what is going on, if leaders would simply act a little confused, like the brilliant detective Colombo, they would elicit far more information from other people.

The way to execute this strategy is simple. Refrain from making absolute statements, and ask a lot of open ended questions. This draws out alternate points of view from individuals and allows the leader to hear many nuances before tipping his or her hand.

When leaders display hubris, and expound their perspective on every issue before others have a chance to voice their ideas, it stifles collaboration and creativity.

Therefore, being smart is often a dumb strategy. Of course, no rule of thumb works in every situation. Leaders need to know when the time is right to divulge their opinion.

Unfortunately, due to over active egos, most leaders like to weigh in on issues far too early. This colors objective conversation and cuts off interesting alternate perspectives.

The same logic holds when making decisions after the information has been gathered. If leaders would say, “I wonder what we should do,” instead of, “Here is what we have to do,” they would draw out the best ideas available.

Smart is dumb and dumb is smart in terms of getting a smorgasbord of options from which to choose.

The antidote to this problem is simple. Leaders need to understand this dynamic and catch themselves in the act. By being alert to the dangers of advocating too early, leaders can improve their batting average at allowing everyone to enter the conversation at an appropriate level.

Sometimes in a crisis situation, it may be necessary for a leader to be highly directive and quick on the draw. Usually, it is better for the leader to allow conversation around sensitive issues, and then work with people to find the best solution.

If you are a leader, it is important to catch yourself on this issue and begin to train yourself to have more patience and improve your listening skills.

It has been said many times that the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth, because we should listen twice as much as we speak. Many leaders do not understand this simple logic, and it works to their detriment.

They are dumb because they are too smart.


Who Can I Trust?

August 19, 2012

Imagine you have just been parachuted into a new area or organization where you do not yet know the people. All of us have been in that situation more than once in our lives. You recognize that first impressions are incredibly important and want to start off on the right foot. Of course, you introduce yourself and immediately try to get to know your new working buddies.

There is an interesting dynamic that goes on for the first few days upon entering a new organization. You are sizing up people, and they are evaluating you. Actually, behavioral scientists say the first few moments when meeting another person are incredibly important in terms of establishing the starting point for each relationship.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell refers to a phenomenon he calls “thin slicing.” He contends that human beings have a knack of sizing up other people in only 2-3 seconds, and that impression has a lot to do with how well the relationship proceeds. Of course, it is the consistent behaviors over time that ultimately determines the level of trust between people, but the rate of development is hugely impacted by the first impression.

So you are in your new environment. You recognize that some of these people will become your close confidants while others will be held at arm’s length and never fully trusted. How can you know quickly who can be trusted? Is that even important to do? I believe it is critical to identify the following seven factors as soon as possible:

1. Genuine or phony? – Does this person ring true as a person of high integrity, or is he/she a blowhard who will say things for effect?

2. Smart or Dumb? – Is the person capable of operating effectively in the working world, or is he/she bluffing along without the skills needed to be effective?

3. Friendly or Aloof? – It is easy to spot someone who is genuinely interested in you versus someone who just talks a good game.

4. Trustworthy or Shaky? – To gauge trustworthiness, be alert for eye contact. Either too little or too much eye contact can be a problem. The normal level of eye contact to be viewed as trustworthy is about 70%.

5. Consistent or Flighty? – This aspect is difficult to judge quickly. Obviously time will tell if this person is good at follow-up, but you can quickly judge the intent to be consistent. That is a starting point for some trust to grow on over time.

6. Respected or Suspect? – Other people will have knowledge of the individual you are just meeting. Watch the body language and comfort level the new person has with others in the area. That will tell you a lot about your chances of connecting with the person.

7. Honest or a Crook – Spotting someone who will lie cheat or steal is not as easy as it seems. Competent liars are out there, so you need to read signals carefully. Watch the body language, particularly the eye contact. .

It is inevitable that you will do something during the first few days that appears to be clumsy or goofy. It is normal to have a moment or two of embarrassment as you get to know new people. Don’t be thrown when this happens to you. I have found when I have done or said something stupid, it helps to say something like, “Well we always make some bonehead comment at first, I’m glad we got it out of the way so soon.” That logic plays well with other people because you signal that you do not take yourself too seriously.

When you are in a new environment, there is a lot at stake. If you get off on the wrong footing, it will take months, perhaps years, to set things right. Obviously it is important to watch your own behaviors, but beware of trying too hard. You cannot fake the body language; people will read you accurately with incredible speed. The best advice is to relax, be yourself, and be genuinely delighted to be making new friends.


DUMB Goals

March 4, 2012

We have all heard of SMART Goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time bound. The term was invented by G.T. Doran way back in 1981 (Management Review, Volume 70, Issue 11(AMA FORUM), pp. 35-36).

I thought it might be a perfect time, 31 years later, to upgrade the thinking and add some DUMB Goals. DUMB stands for Doable, Uncompromising, Manageable, and Beneficial. Here are my thoughts on why DUMB Goals are important in our society today:

Doable – In our global economy, we have stretched resources in nearly every organization beyond the elastic limit. As leaders pull on resources in an ever- intensifying quest for more productivity, more and more people reach a burnout stage or just quit trying to stretch. What is needed is to go for quantum leaps in productivity. The incremental approach or Kaizen has served us well for 30 years, and now we need to find new afterburners to take us to a higher orbit. This additional thrust can be achieved by having a more robust culture based on higher trust. Trust within an organization has been shown to improve productivity by 2-3 times. Leaders need to seek higher levels of trust as a means to achieve seemingly impossible productivity goals.

Uncompromising – As everything has become ultra critical, the tendency is to slack off on some of the basics. We have seen several organizations slip backward on the quality principles that provided improvements through the last 2-3 decades. A classic example of this is Toyota. When they got so wrapped up in being the biggest, they took their eye off the very engine that was powering their rise to stardom. They paid a dear price for that mistake. If organizations are so hell bent on productivity and profits that they forget to invest in the basic building blocks of quality and culture, they are sowing the seeds of their own demise.

Manageable – In most organizations today, the goals set out for people are too many and far too complex for human beings to manage. What you get is a watered-down approach to performance rather than the laser-focused and potent enthusiasm of the entire team. The answer here is better focus. I cringe when I see a strategic plan with 18 critical thrusts. It ain’t going to happen folks! For a manageable array of critical result areas, keep the number of thrusts down to three, or four at the most.

Beneficial – It is time for a broader view of organizational output. We have become more environmentally conscious over the past decade, but we are still far off the mark if we are going to save our space ship. We need to dig a lot deeper into our environmental conscience to at least double our efforts to preserve the environment.

Social awareness is lagging environmental activities, although some organizations are starting to gain in this area. We need to encourage more socially-conscious corporate decisions. This means taking a hard look at where products are produced and not supporting socially irresponsible sourcing. That equilibrium may come at the expense of some short term profitability, so it is less popular with the insatiable companies who are intent on squeezing out every last penny. I believe the organizations that are moving in the right direction will ultimately prevail. We need a balance of organizations doing the right things for the right long-term reasons.

It is a totally different world in 2012 than it was in 1981. There is nothing wrong with pursuing SMART Goals, but I think organizations would be well served by also considering the DUMB Goals as well.


Leaders: Be Smart, Act Dumb

October 2, 2011

In his famous program, “Effective Negotiating,” Chester A. Karrass, makes the observation that, in negotiations, often appearing dumb is a great strategy. The idea is that acting naïve causes the other party to fill in some blanks with information that may ultimately be helpful to you in the negotiation. Conversely, acting as if you know everything is usually a bad strategy, because you end up supplying too much information too early in the conversation. This habit gives your opponent in the negotiation a significant advantage.

As I work with leaders in organizations of all sizes, a similar observation could be made about leadership. Being dumb is sometimes smart, and being too smart is often dumb. Let’s examine some examples of why this dichotomy is a helpful concept.

To make enlightened decisions, leaders need good information. It sounds simple, but in the chaos of every day organizational issues, it is sometimes difficult to determine which set of information is true. Rather than blurting out their preconceived notion of what is going on, if leaders would simply act a little confused, like the brilliant detective Colombo, they would elicit far more information from other people. The way to execute this strategy is simple. Refrain from making absolute statements, and ask a lot of open ended questions. This draws out alternate points of view from individuals and allows the leader to hear many nuances before tipping his or her hand.

When leaders display hubris, and expound their perspective on every issue before others have a chance to voice their ideas, it stifles collaboration and creativity. Therefore, being smart is often a dumb strategy. Of course, no rule of thumb works in every situation. Leaders need to know when the time is right to divulge their opinion. Unfortunately, due to over active egos, most leaders like to weigh in on issues far too early. This colors objective conversation and cuts off interesting alternate perspectives.

The same logic holds when making decisions after the information has been gathered. If leaders would say, “I wonder what we should do,” instead of, “Here is what we have to do,” they would draw out the best ideas available. Smart is dumb and dumb is smart in terms of getting a smorgasbord of options from which to choose.

The antidote to this problem is simple. Leaders need to understand this dynamic and catch themselves in the act. By being alert to the dangers of advocating too early, leaders can improve their batting average at allowing everyone to enter the conversation at an appropriate level. Sometimes in a crisis situation, it may be necessary for a leader to be highly directive and quick on the draw. Usually, it is better for the leader to allow conversation around sensitive issues, and then work with people to find the best solution.

If you are a leader, it is important to catch yourself on this issue and begin to train yourself to have more patience and improve your listening skills. It has been said many times that the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth, because we should listen twice as much as we speak. Many leaders do not understand this simple logic, and it works to their detriment. They are dumb because they are too smart.


The Hidden Cost of Outsourcing

August 7, 2011

In the new global economy, one of the more tempting techniques for gaining competitive advantage is to outsource non-strategic functions to lower-cost labor areas. The practice has become ubiquitous for most US-based organizations.

Unfortunately, there is a kind of false economy in outsourcing, because the dollar savings are easy to calculate and the eventual hidden costs are not evident until the damage has been done. Several organizations have elected to tuck their tail between their legs and “insource” the jobs back to the home base because the damage being done is far greater than the savings enjoyed by paying for lower cost labor. For brevity, this article will deal with only one classic example.

I had a graduate-level class that was studying the impact of outsourcing, and I gave them a discussion question to recall an incident with outsourcing that caused problems for them. Amazingly, more than 25% of the class came up with examples from a single company with remarkably similar stories. The company is Dell.

Each person recalled having some piece of Dell equipment that needed customer service. The frustrations described were so similar it was astounding. The students described having a hard time getting through to customer support in a timely manner because the function had been outsourced to India. Once the wait was over (sometimes after more than one hour), and they had a human being on the phone, the frustrations only grew. The students all complained of the inability to understand the customer service person due to a heavy accent.

They described having to ask the service person to repeat a sentence multiple times, then still needing to guess at some of the words. These customer service reps were speaking English, but the students could not understand them. In some cases, the students escalated the call to a supervisor but had the same problem with the replacement. Those students who fought through the heavy accent to get the needed support found that the reps were not very helpful technically. It became obvious that the service person was reading from a decision tree or script and did not have the in-depth knowledge of the equipment and software to resolve the problem. If the students were talking to a hardware guy, the problem was eventually blamed on the software and vice versa.

In each case, the students expressed that they were totally disgusted with the service and had no intention of purchasing any Dell equipment in the future. Here is how one person described his frustration:

“Dell is a classic example. The lost reputation of Dell is a number that cannot be calculated, but it is huge, hundreds of times larger than the money they saved by outsourcing customer service to India. For example, in our family, we will never again buy a product made by Dell, yet we have done so in the past. We have lost trust in the company, and they simply cannot get it back. From our perspective, their products are not even on the market at any price. They can say they have “learned their lesson,” but that will not bring us back as customers. A damaged reputation spreads out over a company like a kind of cancer. You cannot see it working unless you have some very sensitive instruments, but it is really there doing damage every day.”

I am trying to think of an analogy to use here. Try this one…

For a CEO to consider outsourcing customer service to save money due to lower labor costs, it is like taking a bath every day in the warm waste water from a nuclear plant. “What is the problem? The water is nice and warm, and it seems perfectly clean. I’ll just take a nice hot bath every day because this water is less costly than what I have at home, and I do not have to pay to heat it up.” Hello? Anybody home? Nope…I guess not!