Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Communication Continuum

      My eyes are blind, my ears can't hear
And I cannot find the time
"Tonight", lyrics by Bernie Taupin
1976 Big Pig Music

     I have this theory about communication in the workplace.  I developed this theory after working in a law department that had awful--no--virtually non-existent communication.  It was the first time I had ever encountered such a phenomenom.   After all, much of a lawyer's work involves communication.  We write briefs and legal memoranda, we argue motions and cases before courts and administrative hearing officers, we give presentations and do training.  So you would think that communication would be inherent in any lawyer, especially one who manages an entire department.
    But sadly, such was not the case where I used to work.  I had never worked anywhere before where there was no communication when people joined the department or left the department.  Even if the person left under clouded circumstances, there was usually an e-mail that said something to the effect of "Clarence Darrow has left the company to seek new opportunities."  "Seek new opportunities" is the universal code for fired. 
     People work in companies; they are not machines.  People get married, have children, run marathons, win awards, retire, and all sorts of such things.  Why not share these events with the department? 
         I can understand concerns about privacy, but what's the harm in announcing that a long time employee has retired?  Some people don't like to have their personal information shared, and that's ok. Check first.  But more likely than not, the staff will want to share their good news. And the recipients will want to know the good news. Why? Because they care about each other.
     Here are some actual examples of poor communication.
      I found out three months after the fact that a manager in our litigation section had retired. I knew this guy personnally, not well, but I would have sent him a card congratulating him if I had only known.
      I found out one of my colleagues was pregnant only when I saw her carrying her six week old baby.  I would have sent her a card or given her a baby gift.
      I found out a new office manager was joining the staff from the folks in the department he was leaving.
      I was never told that the previous office manager had left the company to "seek other opportunities."  I only found out when I went to his office two weeks later and saw that it was empty.  What kind of management allows that to happen?  And then refuses to apologize for the lapse?  Or worse yet, blames me for not asking?  Asking about something I didn't know about?  That doesn't make any sense.
     I used to complain to my boss that I never knew what was going on in the department.  Not being a member of the "management" team, I was not invited to staff meetings with the GC.  Instead, I had to rely on the "trickle down" theory of communication, which clearly did not work very well.
     Do you know how my boss responded when I told her I didn't know what was going on?  She said, and I quote:  "what do you want to know?"
    Really?  What's that saying-- I don't know what I don't know?   I guess I was supposed to guess, and she would tell me if I was on target or not?  Like a game of 20 questions.  This was just one reason that I often said to her, and I quote:  "This place is whacked.  You know that, don't you?"  And she would reply, and again I quote:  "It's our culture.  I'm not going to change it and you are not going to change it." 
       In other words, get used to it.  Yet, even with all the Welbutrin, Zoloft and Lorazapam I took, I never could get used to the lack of communication.
     You might say-- what difference does it make?  I say it makes a big difference. 
     First, and most obviously, it is difficult to perform your job well with limited or inaccurate information.  And information is transferred from one person to another through-- yup, communication.  I apologize for getting so basic, but clearly there are people in management who have yet to grasp this fundamental concept. 
    Second, the lack of direct communication between the boss and the minions creates what I call the filtering effect. 

   I liken the management team to the layer of sand that lies between the earth's surface and the underlying water source (aquifer).  This layer filters rainwater as it soaks into the earth before it reaches the aquifer.  The filter removes some of the inpurities in the rainwater.
     This layer is essential to the groundwater cycle, but devastating when applied to human relationships.  Why?  Because all communications are being filtered by this management team.  In practice, it means that the minions are never quite sure if they are getting complete or accurate information from the Boss-- since it is filtered through the management team.  As I said above, it is difficult to perform a job well with limited or inaccurate information.
       The reverse is true as well.  Information from the minions to the Boss is also filtered by the management team.  The team makes sure that the Boss only hears what the management team wants her to hear.  It seems to me that the Boss, just like the minions, is getting the short end of the stick.  What kind of Boss would want to operate under such a system?  Plenty, it seems.
     Third, poor communication inevitably leads to the lack of collegiality, cooperation and collaboration.  These in turn,  produce low morale, which in turn negatively impacts productivity.  Hence, open and direct communication between the boss and the minions ultimately improves productivity.  And makes everyone happy (or happier, or less unhappy) to come to work. 
     Here's what the Communication Continuum looks like:
      Here's how it works.  Let's say that instead of relying on the unreliable management team to convey information, both personal and professional, the boss does it herself.  Actually, she doesn't have to do it herself; her staff could write the e-mails, and then she sends it under her name.  This creates a direct connection between the boss and minions, and lets the minions know that she knows who they are, and perhaps even cares about them.  My husband and I had a joke that the GC probably thought my name was "Roberta." 
        Here are some examples of how poor communication can be turned around:
       "Let's all welcome Walter Mitty to the department as the new assistant office manager.  He replaces John Stamos, who left the company to seek other opportunities.  Walter comes to us from the Finance department.  When he's not raising his two children, he likes to compete in Cross-Fit competitions."
       "Congratulations and best wishes to Mary Teegarden on the birth of her second child, another girl, who weighed in at a whopping 12 pounds!  Who knew a woman so small could have such a big baby!"  Ok, I probably wouldn't include the part about the big baby, but you see what I mean.
        "Kudos to Mary McClain who just finished her first marathon!
         "Kudos to Roberta Kobe for creating 1,000 handmade cards for Operation Write Home".
    Communication should not only be in written form.  Successful managers meet with their staff on a frequent and informal basis.  For example, instead of eating at your desk or in the executive dining room every day, wander over to the cafeteria and sit with a random group of your employees.  Do it often so the shock wears off. 
      The boss at my former company came to our floor so rarely that when she did, you could almost hear Stanley Tucci shouting "Gird your loins, people."  Bosses should not have to arrive with advance warning.
      When people connect with each other on a personal level, they discover they have mutual itnerests, which helps build rapport.  Also, it's a lot easier to be snippy with someone you don't know.  If you know and like the people you work with, an atmosphere of collegiality will organically emerge.  It's not enough to call the department collegial at the quarterly all-department staff meetings.  How would a boss know unless she actually spent some time in the department?  Her staff probably told her the department was collegial.  Which is what she wanted to hear, after all. 
    It's also important to provide opportunities for the employees to socialize with each other on an informal basis.  The water cooler type of thing.  Bring a box of donuts once in a while.  Celebrate birthdays with the entire department, not just a small group of cubes.
     In one law department I worked in, the GC had his office on the same floor and did not have his own bathroom.    He had to walk down the hall every so often.  He would take that opportunity to say hello and ask people how they were doing.   Again, we saw him so often that he wasn't scary.
     I can hear the excuses now:  Well, we are so spread out, and plus we are all so busy, especially me.
    Well, if a boss is going to focus on managing up instead of managing down, she won't take the time to get to know her staff.  If the staff is big and spread out, that's all the more reason to focus on communication. 
       People who care about each other tend to work well with each other.  Collaboration creates positive morale.  A negative environment builds walls.  Managers seem to undervalue the importance of morale.  As long as everyone is getting their work done, what difference does it make?  Plenty.
      Let's say one admin is working on a huge project for her boss.  They are getting ready for a big meeting.  She has to put brochures together, create notebooks, nametags, etc.  She could do it by herself, but it would be faster and easier to do it with help.
     At the next cube, another admin is done with her work for the day.  She can either surf the net, or offer to help her colleague.  If the department is collegial and collaborative, she's more likely to help.  If morale is low, she's more likely to say, screw it, what do I get out of it? 
     Which leads me to the final link in the continuum-- productivity.  If morale is low, productivity is going to suffer.  People will do their jobs and not one bit more.  If they don't feel appreciated, they are not going to go the extra mile.  Why bother if no one notices or cares?
      On the other hand, in an environment with true collegiality and collaboration, everyone works together toward a common goal.   
      It's not rocket science, people.  It's just common sense.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Thankful For All that I'm Allowed

And I've got all that I'm allowed
It'll do for me, I'm thankful now
The walls get higher every day
The barriers get in the way
But I see hope in every cloud
And I'm thankful, thankful
I'm thankful, So thankful
I'm thankful, I've got all that I'm allowed
All That I'm Allowed, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 2004 HST Management Ltd./Rouge Booze, Inc.
On Monday I whined about everything that's going wrong in my life.  Today I focus on everything that's going right.  And there's plenty to be thankful for.

  1. I'm thankful I'm married to the best man I've ever met.  Why do I love Billy?  Let me count the reasons.   He's kind and generous to everyone he meets.  He has a fabulous sense of humor.  He has stuck by me through a lot of really bad stuff when he could have walked away.  He's much fun to be with.  We laugh a lot.  When one of us feels down, the other provides support.  He's the ying to my yang.  He's still adorable after all these years.  Those twinkling blue eyes and charming smile have not faded in the least.  He's a fantastic cook.  He empties the dishwasher, does the laundry and cleans the house.  He loves his children more than anything.  He's nice to his mother. He's nice to my mother.  HE'S MY BEST FRIEND.
  2. I'm thankful that our children are healthy!  This should be number one. And number two.  I know several people who have had children with cancer.  I can't imagine the emotional pain that must cause.  I can feel it just thinking about it.  Then there's the parents who have lost a child.  That pain must be excruciating.  Our children can be pains in the you-know-what, but they have always been healthy.  I love them both to the sky and back and all the ocean.
  3. I'm thankful that Billy and I are healthy too.  Billy's dad died of a very rare disease that robbed him of the last few years of his life.  It was horrible to watch.   Billy's mom lost her best friend way too soon.  So, I am grateful that Billy and I are so healthy. 
  4. I'm thankful I have a loving family.  My mother, although misanthropic, does love me.  She just has trouble showing it.  My baby sister is the sweetest.  By older brother is the glue in our family.  We shattered after my Mom left my dad in 1982, and we each went our separate ways to heal.  But he brought us all back together, slowly but surely.  I love him very much.  And his wife is like a second sister to me.  We can't wait to see them at Thanksgiving, along with my nieces and nephews, all of whom have grown into amazing adults.
  5.  I'm thankful for my friends.  My friends are awesome.  I've moved around a lot over the course of my life, and I've made wonderful friends at each stop.  I started to name them, but that would take a book in and of itself.  You know who you are.  I know I have not kept up with them as I should, but I'm so grateful for the friendships I've had over my life.
  6. I'm thankful that my career has given me financial security and allowed me to give my children a comfortable childhood.  The primary reason I went to law school was financial.  I never wanted to be in the situation my mother allowed herself to endure.  I was going to make sure that I could always stand on my own two feet.  Ironically, I married a man who would never even think of pulling the awful stunts my father pulled (like picking fights just so she would get upset.  Who does that?  My dad).   I've never had to make a choice between paying the phone bill or putting food on the table.  My children never had to worry about where their next meal was coming from. 
  7. I'm thankful I was able to give my children a happy, secure childhood. This is due completely to the parenting skills Billy taught me. The skills I brought to our marriage were not exactly up to Dr. Spock's standards (Doctor Spock, not Mr. Spock, Star Trek fans). There was always laughter in our house. We ate dinner together almost every night. We went on fun vacations with the kids. 
  8. I'm thankful we have money for retirement.  I'm about as lame as it gets when it comes to financial planning.  So is Billy for that matter.  Thank goodness for 401k plans.  Upon good advice, I've invested the maximum amount I could for the past 28 years.  I've also been lucky to have good employer matches at most of the places I've workd.  I pick the mutual funds at random.  Seriously.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  I rarely change the investments.  Even so, the money has added up over the years.  So I have one less thing to worry about.
         You know what is so interesting about this list?  It's not interesting at all. There's nothing fancy or expensive on the list.  No yachts, no houses on the French Riveria, no fancy cars.  A Prius is hardly what you might call fancy, and a minivan?  Well, that speaks for itself.  You can't take your job to bed with you at night--unless you are sleeping with your boss, which is generally not a good idea.

       It's the same list most people have.  Why?  Because no matter who you are, these are the things that matter-- love, health, family, friends, security.  That's it.  And it's plenty to be thankful for.  I'm a lucky woman after all.

     If you're worried and you can't sleep
    Just count your blessings instead of sheep
    And you'll fall asleep
    Counting your blessings
    Irving Berlin

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's Getting Dark in Here

It's getting dark in here
Don't want to leave
Shadow's falling
And I believe
Wind's picking up
Things so unclear
I'm afraid of my shadow
And it's getting dark in here . . .
Don't talk about angels
Or how I'll be saved
I'm no coward
But I'm not that brave
Rags are blowing
Rain's getting near
I'm done with running
And it's getting dark in here
It's Getting Dark in Here, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 2004 HST Management Ltd./Rouge Booze, Inc.
I'm at the point now where I'm just laughing as each new thing goes wrong.  There's nothing I can do about any of them.  I can't mention some of them, because they have to do with the house I'm trying to sell.  But suffice it to say, we will be pouring more money into the house before we can sell it.  We just replaced the kitchen appliances with stainless steel, because buyers want to see an "updated kitchen."  And Billy, the ultimate handy man, is replacing the fixtures, lights and mirrors in the bathrooms, and painting the vanities.  The rooms look fantastic.  But so far, no dice.
Then there's my job.  I love the job.  The work is interesting and the people are friendly.  The vibe here was very warm.  I say was, because it has changed recently.  The company is owned by a joint venture, and the minority owner wants to sell.  Headquarters in Denmark told us there might be an IPO on the Danish market.  But then in October we received a due diligence request that seemed to us to be much more detailed than an IPO would require.  Now the word around here is that we will be acquired likely by-- wait for it-- a large tobacco company.  It could be my former employer, or it could be BAT (British America Tobacco).  Either way, the new owner already has a base of operations in the U.S. and will probably not need more lawyers.  Possibly the only people who will keep their jobs are a few in marketing.  Merry Christimas.
The good news for me is, IF I can sell my house, I will probably retire.  Billy and I are going to buy a pop up camper and hit the road.  But see the first paragraph.  It's a VERY BIG IF right now. 
It's easy to praise God when things are going well.  We thank God for all the good things in our lives.  But if God is responsible for the good things, isn't he responsible for the bad things as well?  Like many, many people, I struggle with this. 
Oddly however, the more things go wrong, the more I dig into my faith.  What choice do I have, really?  Is God testing me, like Job?  I doubt it.  I don't think God does that any more.  He apparently turned over a new leaf around the time of the New Testament.

I've always believed that worrying is a useless emotion.  It doesn't change the outcome, and it's negative.  It increases stress.  I have enough stress right now, thank you very much.
So I've turned this matter over to God.  I pray every day, sometimes several times a day.  I'm not quite sure what he is doing right now, because the tunnel is getting darker instead of lighter, but I still have faith. 
If you could spare a prayer, I would be most appreciative.  Also, please share my blog and leave a comment, so I will know I'm not alone.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different: Lawyer's Love Song


Before we met I thought my partner
Would be a lawyer
Just like me
(Except you'd be a man)
We’d speak our special language
Only lawyers understand
By day we’d argue subject matter jurisdiction
At night we’d lie in corporeal possession

This is my lawyer’s love song
The words are mostly latin
And I’m afraid they’re rather long
The main thing I need to express
Is res ipsa loquitor
Our love speaks for itself

With you I find
Accord and satisfaction
There’s no way to deny
Our mutual attraction
We should get into privity
I’d love to see your briefs
You’re my motion in limine
A prima facie case of masculinity
We all know love
Comes without a warranty
It might last forever
Or it might end terribly
But I’m sure my love for you
Supersedes my doubts and fears
With you, a covenant of love
Cannot possibly disappear






Thursday, November 13, 2014

I'm a Clown! LOL! I'm laughing! No, I'm crying

Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around
 Smokey Robinson - The Tears Of A Clown Lyrics | MetroLyrics
How can a man who seemed so happy and could make us laugh so histerically that we peed our pants, be so desolate that he hangs himself?

It may happen more often than you think.  According to Ildiko Tabori, who counsels comics at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, depression and bipolar disorder are more pervasive in comedians than in the general population.  Psychologist helps comics Stand Up to Pressure, by Christopher Goffard, Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 10, 2014.

She has been counselling comics in the wake of William's suicide.   As the initial shock of his death wore off, anger took its place.  More than that, Williams' death unnerved many comics, in part because "Williams represented the pinnacle of talent and success in their field."

"It's scary because so many people think the answer to their happiness is going to be that kind of accomplishment. . . what if those things don't make me happy?"

Sound familiar?  This view is not limited to comics.  Every day on Facebook I read post after post with inspirational messages that say much the same thing.   Like this one, for example:
No, that's not the right one.  But it's good, isn't it?  Try these instead:

Really?  "Be Strong"?  If only it were that easy! These are probably fine if you are not suffering from a medical problem such as depression.
Although affirmational messages can be a useful part of one's cognitive therapy, affirmations alone are not going to "cure" depression.  One needs a combination of the right meds, therapy and, in my opinion, a faith in God.  The last part is optional if you don't agree. 
It appears that Robin Williams had been doing all these things -- he was sober, he was taking his meds, and presumably he was going to therapy.  (I don't know about his feelings towards God).  And yet, unfortunately, it was still not enough. 
The one thing that I have learned on this journey is that these feelings are cyclical. Somedays you feel good, some days not so good.   And for women, these feelings can be tied to the menstrual cycle.  Unlike many women, I never tracked my cycle.  It was unpredictable, so I didn't bother.  I just stayed prepared.  Every month, without fail, I would start to feel depressed at a certain point and feel like I wanted to die.  It took me YEARS to associate these feelings with my impending period.  Why did it take me so long to figure this out?  Besides being stupid, you mean?  I think it's because each and every month, these feelings crept up and felt brand new.  I never associated them with the same feelings I had the previous month.  I felt like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates. (This is a sweet and funny movie if you accept it for what it is.)
Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates, 2004
For years, people will analyze Robin Williams' death and second-guess what happened, and what could have happened. The latest is that he was suffering from hallucinations due to Lewy Body Dementia.   But we will never know for sure. 
For those of us still here, we must continue to perservere:  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Maybe that's not such a good quote.  Try these instead:
When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side. When times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
"Bridge over Troubled Water," by Paul Simon
(c) Paul Simon Music
 Someone saved my life tonight, Sugar Bear . .
So save your strength and run the field you play alone
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight," lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c)  1976 Big Pig Music Limited
If you are feeling bad, call that person who is your bridge over troubled water.  Let someone save your life tonight.  Things always look brighter in the morning.   I'm sure Elton John felt that way after John Baldry (Sugar Bear) saved his life.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Downside of Managing Up

 I had lunch with a former colleague the other day, and I asked about her boss, who was also a friend of mine.  She said all the boss did was "manage up."
   Boy did that bring up some bad memories.  It seemed most managers and directors and up  at my former place of employment focused on managing up, to the detriment of the people they were supposed to be managing.
   I was summoned to a meeting once by the senior attorney who managed the group I was in.  She chastised us for not being more collegial.  (She did not see the irony in this).  (You should have seen the look on the bantam rooster's face.  He thought he was the boss! More on him later.)
   One of the things she said that stuck with me was: "Your job is to make your boss look good."
   Wow.  And I thought my job was to provide legal services to the company.  I guess not.  For a 50 year-old woman, I was pretty na├»ve.   That's what I've been missing!  Silly me thought that if I did my job well, that in itself would make the boss look good. 
    Welcome to the world of managing up, or as we use to call it, brown-nosing.
Don't we all feel this way at some point?
     So what exactly is "managing up"?  Once again, a fancy name is given to a concept that has always been in everyone's vocabulary.   In its simplest terms, it means to focus on your relationship with your boss in order to get the best results for yourself, according to W2W Link.
    Before starting this post, I did some research on the topic of managing up.  To my surprise, all I found were tips on how to do it.  Like this one from a well-known blogger:  7 Ways to Manage up.
    It wasn't until I found this article in the  New York Times that I read anything negative about managing up.  In this article, Kim Bowers, the CEO of CST Brands, says she prefers people who are good at managing down rather than up:

I put people into two different categories: people who manage up really well and people who manage down really well, and I love the latter. If I find someone whose team would walk across hot coals for them, that’s the person I want to work with because I know there is authenticity there, and they are supporting their teams and vice versa. It’s the folks who manage up really well but have this underlying storm all the time who concern me because you don’t know if they’re just trying to charm to cover up. You want to make sure they’ve got the base behind them to go forward.

    Thank you Kim!  A good manager is a good leader who inspires his or her staff to do their best.
    I also found an interesting article in Forbes.  In this article, the author says what I had been thinking for several years as I attempted to navigate a corporate culture intent on managing up to the exclusion of everything else:  "While the premise of “managing-up” is sound, the reality of how it’s most commonly implemented is representative of everything that’s wrong with business today."
     You see, I was good at managing down.  I had a staff of four women who operated the contracting process.  They were awesome.  I taught them what they needed to do, and then let them do their jobs.  They handled every issue they knew they were capable of handling, and came to me when they needed help.  The clients LOVED them.  And, if I can believe what they told me (and I think I can), they liked working with me.  I like to think it was because I did not micro manage them.  I let them do their jobs, but I was always available when they needed me.  I also did not treat them like second-class citizens.
    Right before I left that pit of dysfunction, I asked my staff why I couldn't seem to handle the corporate environment. 
    "Because you care," was the answer.

     Another good example of how managing up can be detrimental to a healthy work environment was the VP of one of the departments (excuse me, "business functions") that I supported.  She had a degree in finance or accounting, and it showed.  One of her directors told me once that she rejected his expense report because he had over-tipped on a business meal by something like 85 cents.  I don't remember the exact amount, but it was under a dollar.
    Why did she do that?  Well, because the company had a policy about tipping, and he did not comply.  So the expense report had to be rejected.  Her management was counting on her (no pun intended) to manage the budget and control costs, and she was more than up to the task.
    Did she stop to think about how demoralizing it is to have an expense report rejected because of 85 cents?  Apparently not.   (She also axed the Christmas party that her predecessor held every year, but that is another story.  It will be called "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  Wait.  That title is taken; I'll think of something else.)
    My friend at lunch explained that her boss did not understand what she did. 
   For example, "metrics" and "service levels" are ways of measuring performance.   My friend's boss kept asking her for service levels-- how long does it take to do a contract from start to finish?, she asked.
    That depends on many factors, my friend tried to explain, including the complexity of the deal, whether the business terms keep changing (which they often do), and how willing the other side is to negotiate.
    Just give me some numbers, the boss insisted.  Is it one week, 6 weeks, 6 months?
    The answer is, all of the above.  But the manager, who had probably already promised her manager that she would come up with some metrics, insisted on it.  Since she had no understanding of how the contracting process operated, she could not understand why metrics don't work on a process that has multiple variables that are out of the purchasing agent's control.  If she had taken the time to learn the process, she would have known better than to ask the question, and, better yet, she could explain it to her boss.
    I'm not saying that people should not manage up.  It's key to getting ahead.  But if managing up is practiced to the exclusion of managing down properly, what is the cost?

    These are my top 10 downsides of managing up:
  1. The manager does not have the staff's backs.  A brown-noser will sacrifice a minion in a heartbeat. 
  2. Lack of mentors.  Mentors care about the people who work for them.  They try to help their mentees get ahead.  If the manager is consumed with keeping her boss happy, there is no time or focus left to mentor anyone.  
  3. Managers don't bother to get to know the people who report to the people who report to them, i.e., the minions.   I would argue that it could be somewhat demoralizing to stand next to your boss's boss, someone who should know who you are, but should, and have the boss not say hello or good morning, or shine my shoes, bitch.  The boss had no idea who she was.
  4. Managers make promises to their bosses that their subordinates are forced to deliver, even when they don't make any sense.  I call this "writing a check that your a-- can't cash."  This used to happen all the time.  A director would promise his manager that he would get a contract signed before x date, and come hell or high water, it had to be done. This usually resulted in the company giving in on business or legal terms, just to get the damn thing signed. 
  5. Results matter more than people. In order to get a promotion, a manager has to deliver results. A promise made must be kept, no matter what the cost to the folks who report to the manager.   
  6. Managers can't make accurate performance evaluations because they don't understand fully what their staff is doing.  As if the performance appraisal system is not political enough already, it becomes a crap shoot.  It reminds me of frat brothers voting to admit new members and someone throws a black marble into the bowl.  Blackballed.
  7. Managers don't advocate for their staff in the appraisal process.
  8. Managers don't know what is really going on because they never hear the truth from their subordinates. Isn't that the essence of brown-nosing-- only telling your boss the things you think he wants to hear.  This can lead to disaster for the manager if he or she is caught unaware by his or her director.  Or perhaps the GC being reamed by the CEO in front of the senior management team.   And we all know that doo-doo rolls down hill.  So who ultimately gets the blame?  The minions.
  9. It makes for a sucky place to work.
  10. Morale, and therefore productivity, suffer.
Please feel free to comment and add your own example of managing up run amok.  I'd love to hear your thoughts because sometimes I wonder if I'm missing the mark.  I know I can't be the only person who feels this way.  At any company. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

Did you hear the one about the lawyer and the non-compete agreement?

Have you ever lived in a cage
 Where you live to be whipped and be tamed
 For I've never loved in a cage
 Or talked to a friend or just waved
Well I walk while they talk about virtue
 Just raised on my back legs and snarled
 Watched you kiss your old daddy with passion
 And tell dirty jokes as he died
The Cage, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 1969 Dick James Music

Did you know that lawyers cannot be compelled to sign non-compete agreements?  Yup, they are prohibited by both the ABA (American Bar Association) and the Virginia Bar.  

If you are not a lawyer you probably don’t care about this, and you don’t need to, but if you are a lawyer, you might want to make a note of this in case it ever comes up, because the same rule applies in every state except perhaps Texas. 

You should also be aware that the rule applies to in-house counsel as well.  Read on.

I'll bet no one ever asked Atticus Finch to sign a non-compete agreement.
Virginia Rule 5.6 says:

A lawyer shall not participate in offering or making:

(a)   A partnership or employment agreement that restricts the right of a lawyer to practice after termination of the relationship . . .

The comments explain the reasoning behind the rule:

An agreement restricting the right of lawyers to practice after leaving a firm not only limits their professional autonomy but also limits the freedom of clients to choose a lawyer.

The comments also mention “the public policy favoring client’s unrestricted choice of legal representation.”  That seems pretty straightforward to me.  The ABA version of the rule is  ABA 5.6.

And what about in-house lawyers?  The Virginia Bar addressed this in Legal Ethics Opinion 1615 issued in 1995.  The Bar responded to a hypothetical in which a corporation was going to hire an individual as General Counsel. The corporation wanted the lawyer to sign a non-competition and confidentiality agreement in which the lawyer would agree not to work in-house for a competitor for one year.

The Virginia Bar responded that “the non-competition portion of the agreement is improper.  

What about the confidentiality portion of the agreement?  The Bar didn't care for that either:

The committee recognizes the corporate employer’s concerns as to the preservation of its confidential and proprietary information.  However, under the Code of Professional Responsibility [the predecessor to the current rules) protection of client confidences and secrets is assured.  Therefore, the committee believes that the portion of the agreement which requires the attorney not to disclose confidential and proprietary information is superfluous. 
If you look at the rule above, it says that a lawyer shall not participate inoffering or making such an agreement. That says to me that the corporation should not even ask the lawyer to sign such a document, let alone try to enforce it. 
So, if it ever comes up, you now know what the deal is.  It seems to me that if the company you work for tries to get you to sign one anyway, that tells you something about the level of integrity of the company and its lawyers.

The inspiration for today's parody comes from Elton John's "Teacher I Need You"

I was sitting in the boardroom
Trying to look invisible
In case the VP looked at me
He was bald and he was mean
He’s a nightmare not a dream
And I know he has it in for me

He’s a prima donna diva
Pounding on the table
While the minions sit and cringe
He’s the inspiration
For my constipation
And I want to throw a brick at him
Oh VP I loathe you
And I’m not alone
You make people hate to
Answer when you phone
You give me palpitations
And migraines, yes it’s true
I just want to come out and say
VP I, VP I, VP I, VP I loathe you

He loves his special parking
The free gas and the driver
Just to make sure he gets home
He gets a hotel suite
And a first class seat
Yet nothing’s in that gleaming dome

So I’m sitting in the boardroom
Watching how he sucks up
To the CEO and yet I know
He’s a first class jackass
And a blowhard fat ass   
And yet I’ll be the one to go

(c)  2014 Renata Manzo
Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Town Halls -- I've Seen that Movie Too

I can see by your eyes you must be lying
 When you think I don't have a clue
 Baby you're crazy
 If you think that you can fool me
 Because I've seen that movie too . .
  Between forcing smiles, with the knives in their eyes
 Well their actions become so absurd
I’ve Seen that Movie Too, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 1973 Dick James Music Limited

Corporations have turned the concept of Town Halls on its head
    Town hall meetings began in small New England towns where members of the local community were invited to present their ideas, voice their opinions, and ask questions of their local public figures, elected officials, or political candidates.
    Corporate America has turned this idea on its head.  Now, instead of a venue for citizens (or in this case employees) to present their opinions, management uses these meetings as a tool for expressing their own views in a way that purports to be egalitarian and inclusive. But really, it's more of a "state of the union" address.  It is not designed or intended for public discourse.
    At the end of each town hall meeting, the presenter (usually the CEO or one of his shills) will ask for questions. 
     Typically, no one speaks up.  To do so would be a “career limiting move.”
     Norman Rockwell must be turning over in his grave.
     Case in point.  At my previous company, I attended a town hall in which the CEO announced the company’s new policy of “adjusting infrastructure ahead of volume declines,” which was a thinly disguised euphemism for lay-offs at the manufacturing facility.
    “Any questions?” asked the 7 foot, 300 pound former basketball player. 
Gulfstream 550: A sweet ride for $50m
    I wanted to ask — “how can you justify layoffs while at the same time the company just bought a $50+ million Gulfstream G550 jet for your own use? (The company already owned two other planes for the other executives to use.)  [Source:]
     How many ‘infrastuctures’ could have kept their jobs if the company hadn’t bought that jet?
    But I didn’t ask that of course.
    Later, I met with one of my clients, Amy, who was new to the company.  I told her what I had wanted to ask.
    She replied that she had started to raise her hand to ask a question, and the woman next to her pulled her arm down.
    Amy said to the woman, “why shouldn’t I ask my question?”
    The answer:  “They don't actually want you to ask questions; not real ones anyway." 
    No, management doesn’t want any questions. 
     My department, of course, never held a Town Hall.   We did, however, have quarterly meetings, which was the minions’ only chance to see the GC live and up close -- at least if you had the guts to sit in the front of the room. Most people sat in the back.
     After all the mind-numbing presentations filled with corporate jargon, double-speak and nonsensical terms, she would ask for questions.

    There would be none.  I would look around the room.  Everyone would have expressions that reminded me of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.  (Myself included.) 
     If someone did speak, they would say something along the lines of:  “No questions.  Nope, we are just happy as clams here.  You’re doing a great job, Madam GC. Keep up the good work.” 
     It’s like that famous line in A Few Good Men” — “You can’t handle the truth!”
     Except that it’s not that exactly.  It’s not that management can’t handle the truth.  Management doesn’t want to know the truth, and they don’t care about the truth either. 
"I don't care about the truth!"
    Take employee surveys, for example.  They are a joke.  Management does them because they think they have too.  They provide an artificial veneer of caring. 
    In my experience, when the results come out, management highlights the good results and minimizes the bad ones.
    Hey—92% of employees like the free parking!  Great.
    Only 32% of employees think their views are important and that they feel like a valued member of a team.  Oh well, must be a few disgruntled employees.  No action plan needed here. 
    Let’s hear it for free parking!
    The fact is, employees are fungible in this economy.  What they think is immaterial.
    The only thing that matters to a large, publicly held company is “shareholder value.” 
    Or, put another way, “what the street thinks.”   Meeting or exceeding analysts’ expectations is key to upper management. 
    Take the case of Symantec, a technology company that makes Norton anti-virus software. It recently announced its second quarter earnings:

Security software maker Symantec Corp. (SYMC: Quote) said Wednesday after the markets closed that its second quarter profit rose 1% from last year, as better cost and expenses control helped offset a slight decrease in revenue.

The company's quarterly earnings per share, excluding items, also came in above analysts' expectations and its quarterly revenue met analysts' forecast. . . .  RTT News, November 5, 2014 (emphasis added).
     Another recent headline announced:  “Altria beat earnings estimate for the third quarter of fiscal ’14, led by higher pricing of tobacco products; the company also raised its guidance . . .”, October 30, 2104.
    Admittedly, employees who own stock in the company are happy when stock prices go up.  But if you look behind the headlines, it’s easy to see that the employees are the ones paying the price.  As the Symantec news indicated, its second quarter profit rose because “better cost and expense control helped offset [the] decrease in revenue.”
    Better cost and expense control often translates into “infrastructure adjustments” which in turn means—layoffs. 
    Another result of “cost and expense control”-- employees are asked to “do more with less.”  As employees leave the company, they are not replaced.  Instead, their work is spread around among the remaining employees.  Do those employees get a raise or promotion?  Of course not.  They are asked to “tighten their belts.” 
    But does management do the same?   Of course not.
    I once participated in an utterly useless cross-functional team that was supposed to come up with ideas as to how to make the company “more green.”  I suggested that all company cars, including the cars driven by the executives, be replaced with Priuses.

Why drive a Prius when you drive this for free?
    The room roared with laughter.
    No, while rank and file employees are asked to “tighten their belts,” upper management still gets their free cars, free gasoline, hotel suites and first class travel.  And a driver who shows up at the airport at midnight to drive the V.P. home.  The rest of us can drive.
    Or, as Bernie Taupin once put it:  “Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown.” 
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, © 1972 Dick James Music Limited.
    So let’s dispense with the Town Hall meetings (or at least call them something else). 
    After all, vaudeville is dead.

Important note:  My current place of employment does follow the true Town Hall model.  More on that later. 









Friday, November 7, 2014

Have Mercy on the Criminals

Have mercy on the criminal
 Who is running from the law
 Are you blind to the winds of change
 Don't you hear him any more

“Have Mercy on the Criminal”, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 1972 Dick James Music Limited

On Sunday, Billy and I went to visit his mom, who lives in South Alexandria, Virginia.  As we entered her neighborhood, I noticed yellow ribbons tied around trees and mailbox posts.  On the corner, someone had put a big sign, like the ones used outside of stores, which read “Hannah you are in our thoughts and prayers.”

It turned out that Hannah’s family lives just one block over from Billy’s mother.  The trip to and from Alexandria was sobering indeed.

The Accused:  Jesse Matthew
The Victim:  Hannah Graham
For anyone who has not read the news for the last several weeks, Hannah Graham was a student at the University of Virginia who disappeared a few weeks ago.  She was last seen in the company of a young man named Jesse Matthew.  Her body was found last week.   Matthew has been arrested.   Murder charges are pending.

How many parents of girls Hannah’s age texted or called their daughters right after Hannah disappeared, to make sure they were safe?  Me too.  How many parents think that losing a child would be the single most devastating event to have to endure?  Me too.
I can’t bear to think about what Hannah’s last hours and moments were like.  What does it feel like to know your own death is imminent?  How awful for this young woman, so full of promise.  So much ahead of her.
And now her parents have to live with this pain for the rest of their lives.  Life will probably never hold the same joy for them that it once did.   They will suffer more and longer than Jesse Matthew ever will.
If the man who has been arrested is guilty of this, and other crimes, he cut a swath of terror from Lynchburg to Newport News, and as far north as Fairfax.  And yet, until Hannah disappeared, no one even knew he existed.  If only his victims at Liberty University and Christopher Newport had pressed charges.   The subsequent crimes could have been avoided.   Not that I’m blaming those women at all; I can understand why they didn’t.  But still . . .
In cases such as Jesse Mathew’s, where the guilt appears to be incontrovertible, it is easy to brand the accused as a monster and want to dispense with a trial and just shoot him.   Judging by the comments I’ve read on Facebook, there are many out there who hold this view.   People want to grab their pitchforks and storm the jail.
I’ve also noticed that when anyone on Facebook expresses any kind of empathy for a criminal, the response is often— what about the victims?  Or better yet--what if it was your daughter who was murdered? 
To which I respond—what if it was your son who was accused of murder?  You would want him to get a fair trial, wouldn’t you?  Or if you were the accused, you would want all the protections the constitution provides to accused criminals, wouldn't you?   As difficult to accept as it is in cases like Matthew’s, in our country, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. 
(Ironically, this cornerstone of American justice is not stated anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, but it is stated explicitly in the constitutions of Brazil, Canada, Columbia, France, Iran (?), Italy, Russia and South Africa, plus the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.)
But why?  Why do we presume that the accused is innocent?  To protect us all, that’s why.   Blackstone said it is better to let 10 guilty men go free than to punish one innocent man.   You may not agree with this today, but it is one of the foundations of our judicial system. 
Jesse Matthew may be guilty, but the fact is that many people are wrongfully convicted and spend time in jail for crimes they did not commit.  According to the National Registry of Exonerations, since 1989, more than 2,000 wrongly convicted people have been exonerated.
For example, after spending 22 years behind bars, in 2004 Arthur Lee Whitfield was released by the parole board when DNA testing failed to turn up his genetic profile in evidence saved from two Norfolk rapes that occurred the night of Aug. 14, 1981. The testing implicated a man already in prison for other attacks.   
That’s why we have the presumption, although clearly it doesn’t always work out the way it is supposed to in real life.      

I’ve seen comments on Facebook that ask—why should we waste money on a trial when we know he is guilty.  Do we know for sure?  Isn’t that the purpose of the trial—to determine guilt or innocence?  If we dispense with a trial when we know, or think we know, that the accused is guilty, where does that lead?  You know very well where it leads.  It’s a slippery slope.  Therefore, there can be no exceptions. 

The comment I take the most issue with, is the one that proclaims “how can anyone defend a monster like that?”  

The Sixth Amendment says:  “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  It doesn’t say, “unless you are really guilty,” or “unless everyone thinks you’re guilty.”   No, it means every accused person, including Jessie Matthew.

Would I defend Jesse Matthew?  In a heartbeat if I had the training and skill.   It does not mean that I don’t empathize with the victims.   The crimes he is accused of are heinous—some of the worst imaginable.  As a parent, it scares me to death to think that someone would defile and kill my precious daughter. 

Make no mistake; I would want to hunt the perpetrator down and make him suffer an agonizingly slow and painful death.  I would want him to suffer as much, or more, than his victim.  As much as I would want to hurt him and hurt him badly (I’m talking Freddie Krueger kind of hurting), I would not do it.

Jesse Matthew may be a rapist and a murderer.  If the allegations are true, then he is a sick bastard and he needs to be punished.  Yet, as disgusting and distasteful the idea is, he is entitled to be defended and found guilty before he is punished.  I know this is an unpopular opinion to express right now.  Everyone is reeling from the news.  We want justice and we want it now.  

But we can’t have it now; not yet.  We must wait for our justice system, imperfect as it is, corrupt as it sometimes is, to do what it needs to do.  Even if my daughter were one of his victims.