Q: Ever since our department was transferred to a different area of the company, morale has been going downhill rapidly. The main reason for this decline is that we have begun reporting to a new vice president. “Greg” is an aggressive executive who seems to have a “my way or the highway” attitude.
In addition to being very tough on employees, Greg ignores all suggestions made by the managers who supervise them. As members of the management team, we would like to convince Greg that we are really on his side. We just want him to go a little easier on the troops. Any ideas?
A: After a reorganization, people often make the mistake of firmly maintaining that past practices should be continued. But even if this advice is well-intentioned, management can easily view it as resistance to change. Therefore, if you wish to show Greg that you are “on his side,” you need to stop suggesting and start listening.
Instead of pointing out Greg’s missteps, ask what he hopes to accomplish with your group. Once you understand his goals, you may be able to show how your proposals could help to achieve them. You should also find out why upper management decided to relocate your department, since their expectations will undoubtedly influence Greg’s decisions.
When presenting suggestions, choose your words wisely. For example, if you say “go easier on the troops,” Greg may hear “accept mediocre performance.” But if you propose a structured process for helping employees adapt to new standards, he may view that as helpful. In short, if Greg believes that you are open to his ideas, he may be more willing to consider yours.
Q: Two years ago, the owner of our small family business hired his son as the accounting supervisor. At the time, “Henry” had just graduated from college with a degree in fine arts. He has no business training, has never held another job and is very immature.
Despite Henry’s complete lack of experience, he has always been paid well above the average for his position. On top of that, his father just gave him a 25 percent raise, even though the company is struggling to stay afloat. How can I approach the owner about this without jeopardizing my own job?
A: Sadly, you have now learned what everyone employed by a family business finds out sooner or later. In any family-owned company, there are two classes of people: relatives and everyone else. And the relatives are frequently exempt from rules that govern other employees. This may not be fair, but it’s usually true.
Before making the risky choice to talk with the owner, you must clearly understand that you are not complaining to management about an employee, but complaining to a parent about his child. Also, this particular child may very well become the future owner of the company.
If Henry’s job performance is creating significant business problems, perhaps you could describe them in a calm and constructive manner. But if you are simply irritated by his familial privileges, you should probably keep those opinions to yourself.