#23 of 37 Lessons – Don’t Nickel and Dime Your Employees

Don’t Nickel and Dime Your Employees – Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I have first-hand knowledge that neither sector is immune from frustrating employees with financial rules that frustrate or over-scrutinize trusted employees. Two cases that give me pause:

·      A CEO’s Happiest Day should be the day an appropriately incentivized employee earns more than the CEO. When that happens, the sales person is kicking butt and that is a good thing! Though I have some issues with incentivized sales, it is the bane of existence for many of the most successful companies. Therefore, I’ll go along with the practice with the caveat that the sales person, or his company not sell customers things they don’t need and buyers remain aware of what they are buying and from whom

By appropriately incentivized, I mean an incentive compensation plan that is carefully designed to reward employees for bringing in meaningful business revenues. There must be no questions about how incentives are calculated, administered, or awarded. The plan should be transparent with no opportunity to manipulate numbers subjectively by either party. 

Designing an incentive pay plan is not easy and should involve open and honest communications between management and the sales team. The plan must be easily understood and agreed to by both sides – employee and company.

Problems arise when a combination of unclear rules, unreasonable expectations, and greed kick-in. Employees must be trusted to not manipulate the plan to their benefit and the same goes for the company. After a “great” year, the company shouldn’t change the plan drastically because their employees did “too good” and made too much money – that only leads to strong demotivation. Likewise, the plan should not be used as a weapon to target poor performers by setting unrealistic goals. This needs to be a two-way street that is a win-win situation. Failure to accomplish any of these tenets will only lead to disgruntled and unhappy employees.

·     Simplify, simplify, simplify the expense reporting process. Ask almost any employee about submitting expenses for reimbursement and they will voluntarily tell you some great stories. 

I once had an employee’s expense report get severely scrutinized because he spent an extra night at a conference site. When he was first seeking my approval to go on the trip, he showed me that changing his departure date would reduce his airfare by an amount that would more than make up for the additional hotel and per diem costs. A whopping savings of $16.14, but a savings none-the-less. Without hesitation, I gave him the go-ahead.

Months later, internal auditors required us to spend what amounted to be more than $1,000 in staff time to justify the extra night. In addition to what I already told you, we pointed out that the employee chose to take a red-eye flight on the way home saving another justifiable $250+. On top of all this, he booked flights that were Super Economy fares where you almost need to pay for air to breathe. In the end, I still think the auditors felt that me and my employee should have both been severely disciplined for having such a lapse in judgment. 

Have you been nickel and dimed? I hope not, and if you’re in a position to do this to employees – DON’T DO IT!!

#22 of 37 Lessons – Make and Learn from Mistakes

Make and Learn from Mistakes – I’m sure it’s not just me, but I always say: “If you’re not making mistakes, you aren’t growing and you aren’t living.” God knows, I’ve made many mistakes and they have made me stronger and wiser. Perhaps we should even celebrate mistakes, because I am thankful for most of the mistakes I have made. I might not have been thankful at the time, but in retrospect, mistakes are good. We all need to make mistakes and let others do the same.

My consciousness of helpful blunders began when I was just a kid. My dad made a big mistake at work. He worked in a metallurgical destructive testing laboratory. They tested the performance of various high tech metals for use in aircraft parts and other critical applications. One day, a lab technician who worked with dad came to him and asked dad to order a pair of tongs to lift tensile strength samples from liquid nitrogen. My dad said, he would, placed the order and waited for their arrival.

Several weeks after placing the order, a truck driver showed up in dad’s office and asked where he should deliver the tongs. Dad said, “Just bring them to my office.” The truck driver laughed and went on to tell dad they were about ten feet long and weighed hundreds of pounds. By transposing a number or numbers on his requisition request, dad ordered a pair of tongs for use with a crane as opposed to a small hand-held pair.

I’m unclear whether the tongs were returnable or not. In the end though, all seems to have worked out, except for ribbing from his co-workers. Shortly after this incident, the management team presented dad with a life-sized cardboard replica of the mistaken tongs. I remember this well because dad brought the replica home and they were around the house for a long-time until they were KonMaried to the backyard where they were eventually destroyed by the elements and found their way to the trash heap.

I’ve made mistakes about a lot of things…relationships, jobs, cars, hiring, restaurants, how much garlic to put in mashed potatoes and much much more. In hindsight, even the worst mistakes made me stronger and I’m happy to have had the experience. If nothing else, they give me stories to tell and warnings to give others in a similar position. 

What mistakes have you made? What did you learn? Get out there. Make some mistakes and grow!  

#21 of 37 Lessons -- Be Flexible

Be Flexible – My original intention was to blast through these 37 lessons in 37 days. Had I held to that schedule, the last post in this series would have been completed on February, 7th and here it is April, 22nd! Though a few people may be checking in on my blog from time to time; as far as I can tell, I’m currently writing this blog pretty much for myself. 

After post #20, I got sidetracked by international women’s day and made two posts that were important to me. Then, I took an unintentional blogging hiatus. I just got busy with a few other things. Up until my last post on March 9th, we were finishing up a very cool, sometimes cold, and certainly wet winter. Then, Spring sprung here in North Carolina and the many things I pledged to do in retirement began calling my name. There was a lot of yardwork (still is), the boat needed attention, consulting opportunities arose, people wanted business proposals, my workshop was a mess, taxes had to be done, and the list goes on…

Instead of blogging, I did a bunch of other things and I chose not to beat myself up because I had not been blogging. I was being flexible with myself. My deadline(s) were self-imposed, as opposed to the tax deadline of the recent past. No one was waiting for the next in the series – I don’t think.

I gave myself flexibility and it feels good. Now, I’m back to blogging because I want to refer people to my blog in a presentation next week. I’m not going to promise daily blogging because I’m flexible. However, I will endeavor to complete the 37 things series in a somewhat timely manner. 

Give yourself (and others) a break and be flexible. Don’t break promises, or intentionally sabotage deadlines, but be flexible – it will give you some peace of mind. 

Women and Balance Part II

On International Women’s Day, a friend got me thinking about balance and women (see yesterday’s post). Because I wrote about balance yesterday, I decided to send International Women’s Day into overtime – a well-deserved bonus as there should be more than just one day for women!

Connecting International Women’s Day with balance immediately made me think about my grandmother – my dad’s mom, Anna Zak Pliszka Weinstock (aka Grandma, or Grandma Weinstock). Thanks to my uncle George (dad’s brother), I have some details. Grandma’s parents, Mary and Stanley immigrated separately from Poland to the United States in the late 1800’s. They met in New York and were married at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1898. On October 14, 1902 Grandma Weinstock was born. She was the first of seven children. 

It’s not clear how the family ended up in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin and it doesn’t really matter for this story. When she was 14 years-old, grandma left school to work in the Appleton Electric foundry. (Sixty years later, I would also work there to put myself through college). At 19 years-old, grandma married Walter Edward Pliszka and they had four children, one of whom died at age six. 

Shortly after getting married, my grandparents started Pliszka Variety Store which eventually became Pliszka Hardware. After 14 years of marriage, Walter died from pneumonia, leaving grandma a widow with three young children, the oldest of which was 10 years-old. The year was 1935 and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.

Times were tough, but grandma somehow found her balance and kept the store going while she worked other jobs to make ends meet and keep her family together. For fourteen years, she supported her family on her own until she married grandpa Ray Weinstock in 1949. Together they kept the store going while Ray worked for the Milwaukee County Parks Department. 

When I was in seventh grade, I began working in grandma’s store on a regular basis and job shared with a cousin who was a year older than me. This helped free grandma up to be in her home which was connected to the store. There, she could be found cooking, cleaning, or doing the books. 

Working in her store was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I quickly learned the responsibility of being on time to work, how to be courteous to customers, how to count change back to customers, and how to wrap presents (well, sort of). I learned how to mix paint and cut glass to size. When something became too complicated, or a customer insisted, there was a buzzer connected to the house that we would use to summon adult help.  

For a seventh grader, working all day on a Saturday was grueling and it was my first taste of what it might be like to work full-time. It made me value free time and is perhaps the impetus for balance as my second most important value. Secondarily, there were the awesome lunches which grandma fixed. Be it a hot melty grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, or fried bologna and onions, lunch was always a treat and somehow an incentive to help out at the store.

Sometimes I would accompany grandma to the wholesalers to buy stock for the store. It was my first foray into business. Sure, it was fun to see what things we would be stocking in the store, but most of all, the trip usually resulted in a luncheon stop at The Buttered Bun. There, the long-gone restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee served up the best cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate shakes money could buy. Believe me, it wasn’t just about the food, but it did teach me how to motivate others with food! 

Grandma was strong and kind. Once I had bullied a neighborhood kid and broke his baseball bat. The kid told my grandmother what I had done and of course, her store sold baseball bats too. She replaced his bat and afterward gave me a pretty stern talking to — thankfully she did not tell my parents. Grandma taught me a life lesson and I’m still a bit embarrassed about what I did. In fact, I still cringe a little thinking about her admonishment. I’m sorry I let her down. 

I’m a better person because of my grandmother. She finally retired at 73 years-old when they sold the store in 1975. She died on May 2, 1997 at 94 years-old. She was a strong woman with good balance. Rest in peace grandma.


Women and Balance

I interrupt my 37 things series for two very important posts. One of my friends (Amelia Beonde) posted the following on Facebook: “It’s international woman’s day - I want to know what you (all of you - men, women, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles, etc.) think about what it means to have balance and promote balance (for all) in work and life.”

After reading Amelia’s post, I couldn’t stop thinking about both, balance and women. After fun, balance happens to be my second most important core value. (Shameless plug:If you don’t know your core values, you can find yours in chapter 5 of my book.) Balance is an important aspect of living because it is what keeps us sane. In fact, one synonym for the word sane is well-balanced. 

Most of us are familiar with the proverb “All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl.” Okay, I changed it slightly for International Women’s Day! The origins of this proverb reach back to the writings of an Egyptian sage named, Ptahhoptep in 2400 B.C. More recently, it appeared in James Howell’s Proverbs written in 1659. 

So, this balance thing has been going on for a long time and my take on the proverb is that we can’t live harmoniously and purposely on a single track and therefore must seek balance in our lives. Regardless of gender, we all need balance. Let’s look at just three aspects of life that must be balanced – work, kids and personal well-being.

First, very few of us are independently wealthy and therefore we must work. When we work, we serve our proverbial master (boss, or clients, or both) and in this fast as lightning world, people want things yesterday and they want them mostly for free which puts us in a pressure cooker of work. Without work, we don’t survive, so work garners a very high priority.

I don’t have kids, but act like a kid and therefore think I know kids well. As an observer, I don’t know how parents balance just work and kids, let alone all the other things that must be balanced. Society sets a minimum standard for parents to meet just to stay out of jail. Fortunately, most parents go way beyond the minimum which further messes with the balance and leaves me scratching my head asking, HOW? 

Personal well-being is the need to feed and nurture our bodies and minds in order to keep our sanity so we can continue working and continue our way of life. Tending to ourselves is important to our survival and helps us balance. 

So how do we balance:

·     Try to avoid multi-tasking. Set your mind to the task at hand and do it.

·     Say no. Sometimes you just need to say no and not feel bad about doing so.

·     Prioritize. Get busy not being busy. Work to minimize activities that are “urgent and important” – delegate when you can. 

·     Spend as much quality time working on the things in your life which are “not urgent, and important” Things like loving your family, taking care of yourself, or planning strategically.

·     Minimize things that are “urgent and not important.” Just because a phone is ringing, doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Turn off the ringer, turn off e-mail notifications. Live life on your terms.

·     Lastly, eliminate, to the extent possible things that are “not urgent and not important.: Things like mindless social media, perfectionism, and procrastination. Who cares what the Kardashian’s are doing!

Find your balance and live your BEST life. Tomorrow, I will continue with a second post. A story about a woman – an amazing woman, my grandmother Anna Weinstock. See you tomorrow!


#20 of 37 Lessons -- Management By Walking Around

Management by Walking Around (MBWA) – in an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of learning, knowing, and using employees’ names. Perhaps the best way to use those names is through the practice of management by walking around. This practice might have roots going back to Abraham Lincoln when he would walk around and check in with his troops during the civil war. It was a way for him to get feedback on how things were going and how he could provide better tools and strategies for his troops.

So, if you care about your troops and want to help them do a better job; then, start walking around. Before you do though, think about these few tips to success:

  1. Be careful that employees won’t perceive your effort as forced or contrived. To the employee, it should be as if you just happened by and are taking an interest in them. 

  2. If you must schedule the time on your calendar, do so, but be careful that your intention isn’t telegraphed to your employees.  

  3. Ease into it with a few practice runs to perfect your technique.

  4. Treat employees evenly. Don’t only visit with employees you like. Spend time with those who might be troublesome, less likable, or have less in common with you. Only spending time with those you like will cause troubles for you and them.

  5. Get to know people on a personal basis. Look for personal mementos in their work area (e.g. a family picture, baseball pennant, movie poster…). Ask about those things and what they mean to the employee. 

  6. Ask how things are going and encourage candid, open and honest communications about how things are going.

  7. Be prepared to receive tough questions.

  8. When a tough question is received, it must be answered. The answer doesn’t need to be immediate. You can always say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

  9. If you say you will get back to someone – do it! Get back to them with an honest answer.

  10. Have fun! Take your people a little treat every now and then and keep your ear to the ground for how things are going. Show some personality. Tell ‘em a work-appropriate joke. Take another (higher level) manager with you from time to time. Before you know it, they may come to you before they come to you and they’ll come with a problem and the solution.

When will you start walking?


#19 of 37 Lessons -- Keep Learning

Keep Learning – starting with kudos to my lovely wife for a huge learning accomplishment. Though she has been in the hospital pharmacy business for quite some time and is inching toward the sunset of her career, two weeks ago she completed a very significant and grueling certification in her field. She is now one of approximately 300 people in the entire country that holds the particular designation – congratulations babe. That’s a huge accomplishment.

During her studies, my wife remarked how the lessons helped her do a better job for her clients and her company. Obviously, one reason to keep learning is to make yourself more valuable at your job. Besides that, learning is good for your brain, improves its resilience and keeps you from aging prematurely. 

Learning is often a social activity that helps you to connect with others. It can open your mind to new ideas and adventures which might keep you from just becoming a couch potato. In this fast-changing world, there is much to learn. Think of the technology explosion. I remember when it was a big thing just to learn how to program a VCR. A VCR, for those of you who might not know is a Video Cassette Recorder, a precursor to the DVR and was notoriously difficult to program (at least in the beginning). Now we point and click, carry smart phones, talk to Alexa and Siri. We can have video calls with people around the world and stay in touch with anyone we wish and expand our minds even more.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Today, I learned, I have a lot to learn and don’t see any end in sight to the things I want to learn. What have you learned today and what do you want to learn tomorrow?


#18 of 37 Lessons – Don’t Micromanage

Don’t Micromanage – in a previous post about delegation, I warned of the inefficiency brought about by poor delegation of duties. Even worse than poor delegation – micromanagement can be the death knell of employee morale. A good friend of mine works in a micromanaged organization. She is barred by her manager from sending any kinds of communications to higher ranking employees without the manager’s approval. 

This friend, is a highly-trained professional with many years of experience in several different organizations where she performed similar duties in each one. It’s not that she is a novice at her job, or is a screw-up waiting to happen. No. She is a throttled-back discontented employee looking for a place to go where her skills can be trusted, utilized and appreciated. She’s just biding her time for the right opportunity to come along and then when she leaves, her managers will wonder, “what happened?”

My aversion to micromanagement came at an early age. My grandmother owned “Pliszka Hardware” which was much more than a hardware store as it sold everything from nails by the pound to feminine hygiene products. As a young kid, I worked at the store and soon wanted to learn all things mechanical. I was especially drawn to cutting glass to size and mixing paint colors. Once I had learned to do both tasks, I didn’t want an adult looking over my shoulder – if I had a question, or concern, I would ask for help. Otherwise, leave me alone – I’ve got this! In short order, my grandmother trusted me and went on to do more important duties to keep the store running. 

As an illustration of micromanagement in reverse, one of my former employees was continually coming to me for permission to do things which were essential parts of her job. Soon, I said, “Samantha (not her real name), we pay you a lot of money to make decisions and get on with your job; it’s time you do so.” Probably not my best employee relations quote, though she quickly got the picture. I went on to say, “We trust you to do a good job and if you are unsure of yourself, come ask questions anytime. Equally, if you think something you are about to do will cause a kerfuffle, let’s talk about that too. I’m always here for you if you need me.” Samantha walked away with a smile on his face. Thereafter, her performance went through the roof – it was a great lesson for both of us. 

Steve Jobs said, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." Are you a micromanager? What important duties could you be doing instead of micromanaging your employees? Tell me your story.


#17 of 37 Lessons -- Send Christmas Cards

Send Christmas Cards– we’ve sent the holiday season of 2018 into the history books. So, we think we have a lot of time before we’ll be saying, “where did another year go”? Early in my career, I was blown away when I received a handwritten Christmas card from a division manager who had more than 250 people in her bailiwick. I thought about how difficult I found it to send cards to friends and family and my list was way less than 250. Here, my boss’ boss took the time to send personal Christmas cards to each of her employees and no doubt, her friends and family too!

Her lesson wasn’t lost on me. I vowed to do the same when I had employees under my supervision and held true to that vow. Employees’ reactions were overwhelmingly positive. The first time I sent cards, almost everyone who received a card, came to me to thank me for the gesture. In future years, the same held true, employees appreciated getting a personal card from the boss. It was a little thing and went a long way to tell employees I cared.

In this crazy world we live in, you might not be comfortable doing the Christmas card thing. As an alternate, you might acquiesce to the more generic holiday card. If not that, you can go for birthdays, a seasonal celebration (winter, spring…), or some other obscure celebration such as “talk like a pirate day”. Regardless what you do, try not to offend with a holiday such as Halloween, which might offend, as some equate it with devil worship. You don’t want a well-meaning sentiment to back fire.

What do you think? What would make an impression on you and what might you do to boost employee morale?



#16 of 37 Lessons -- Live Your Values

Live your values– until I searched for and found my core values, I never realized how much living out of sync with those values can affect your life. When you are out of sync with your values, you may feel somewhere between a little uncomfortable to utterly unhappy. We often can’t put our finger on what is bugging us and chalk it by saying, “that’s life”. You can begin to fix that uneasiness when you determine your core values. It will help you to see what is out of sync and how to begin fixing it. When you can take action to rectify the incongruences in your life, you begin to live your life and “that’s life” changes to “that’s my life”.

Until I defined “freedom” as a core value (see chapter 5 in my book), I couldn’t clearly explain my disdain for rules, regulations, and bureaucracy. Once I found freedom as a value, I began to look at the things that violated my freedom differently. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating anarchy where there are no rules and regulations. What I am advocating, is seizing your right to design and live the life of your dreams. 

Over the years, I have been fortunate to enjoy great freedom in almost everything I chose to do. It wasn’t always smooth sailing though, and could give many examples. I once worked for a guy who violated most of my core values, especially fun and freedom. Over the course of a year and a half, I tried to reason with him about having a little more fun and was rebuked with, “you’re having fun, we can change that”. He was serious, he didn’t think work should be fun. He was steadfast in working hours and I tried to get him to flex a bit, but he held fast. In most of his relationships, if the other party didn’t agree with him, it became adversarial. It never ended with this guy…

Fortunately, the example above is extreme. Rarely did I experience such egregious violation of my core values. However, because my values were being challenged, I attempted to fix some of the issues to no avail.  I then had to take extreme measures to rectify the problem by looking for and finding a new job. Simply running away from the matter is not always the cure. In this case, it was necessary. 

In other cases, I was able to pick and choose my battles. When bureaucracy reigned, I might reluctantly comply in a perfunctory manner while lobbying for relief from the unnecessary. When I recognized a task at work might not be fun, I planned to have fun outside of work and that brought me some of the balance I always look for in life. The bottom line for me is I’m much happier when I’m in sync with my core values of fun, balance, relationships, freedom, and cooperation.

What are your core values? Are they in sync?