Foolish Actions Mess the Message

From the Center for Strategic Relations, a twice-monthly supplement to Applying Strategic Relations, mailed at your request

  1. Forward
  2. In the News
    Don't Be Foolish With Your People
    Bill Gates Email on Trustworthy Computing
  3. Shameless Self Promotion


Business relationships are not about being friendly, it is about being respectful to your people (and in turn, yourself.) In this issue, you will learn about a managers failed attempt at bonding with employees, and about Bill Gates powerful internal memo on trustworthy computing.

For stronger business relationships, develop your executive image while communicating in ways that guide your people and save you time in the future. If have challenges in this area that you would like me to address, please write,

In the News

Don't Be Foolish With Your People

Everyone likes a good laugh, but your business relationships will deteriorate if that laugh is at the cost of someone's dignity. An article "We Won't Be Fooled Again" in Oct 2002 issue of Incentive Magazine explains the importance of a CEO's image -- using examples of incentive programs that turn out more a joke than honest reward.

A great example they use is the story about an employee who won a "Toyota" only to receive a "toy Yoda" (Star Wars action figure). While this kind of "trick" is entertaining it is not appropriate for an incentive program. Do you ever do things you think are funny but are not considered rewarding to the recipient?

Remember, as an executive it is not your place to present humor at the expense of others -- even if it was not intended that way. If you want that kind of humor, bring in a comedian to rally up people and be the butt of the joke yourself. If you even by accident slight a single employee, those feels will spread throughout your company, possibly costing you productivity.

Personally, I never liked work place jokes. I have worked in a few environments as an "undercover consultant" hired by a corporate executive to optimize an environment without knowledge of the local manager. While the local manager did not know his supervisor primarily tasked me, he thought it was funny to joke about my shirt and tie dress.

When I work on-site, I dress comfortably and consistent with my customers' attire. Like many, I am comfortable in a great fitting suit, or a comfortable pair of slacks and polo. The running joke became, "Where are you interviewing today?" or "Should we be expecting the Admiral?" or my favorite "Golf with the customer today?" -- In the context of a software development lab people thought these off hand comments were quite funny.

While this kind of attitude did not bother me much, it set precedence for how employees should treat other team members. I was assigned to this group because their productivity was way down and turn over was very high. To make a long story short, once the managers attitude about non-work characteristics of employees was addressed turnover reduced.

This manager felt he was "bonding" with staff by choosing some unique characteristic about them to include in his conversations. Joking to him was a way to break the ice. The problem was that his jokes were oriented towards the individual traits instead of their work.

Joking about an employee's preference of tea over coffee at morning meetings really is not that funny. Sure, it got a little chuckle from employees; but when you do not consider the full story, you could be introducing insult.

This Chinese-American software developer preferred tea and took great pride of having it sent from his parents' herb shop in New York. This same herb shop his grandparents opened after coming to America. The tea symbolized tradition, family, and the struggles his ancestors went through to this point in his life. In five minutes, I learned more about what makes motivates this individual than I could have in a year's time. All I did was acknowledge his preference and listen.

In another situation, an incredibly intelligent engineer had the unique ability to be able to call out math equations and could clearly explain radar systems to even the least technical individual. Oddly enough, the supervisor never assigned this individual to tasks that required his expertise, nor ever asked to tutor new staff in that area. The running joke was, let someone else try it, and if it breaks this genius could fix it. It seemed to give the supervisor something to joke about, because now he talks about how person A could not handle the task and B had to bail them out.

Do you have managers who setup employees to fail for their own entertainment, or because they have unconscious issues with the people around them? Challenge your experts and give them the opportunity to tutor new team members. Never set anyone up for failure, it will always come back to haunt you.

Unfortunately, this manager did this with everyone; over time, the customer stopped taking this manager seriously and most of his employees were not really listening to him. Whether self-esteem issues or socialization problems, this manager was costing the team in production. Some employees would even quite weeks after being hired because of his joking.

The moral of the story is that in a work environment you should never highlight individuals' characteristics in a humors way. It is too difficult to tell how employees will translate your efforts. It is always better to reward people by praising them in a non-humor more personal way.

This manager hurt the productivity of his team without even realizing it, while deep down inside he just wanted to fit in and build comradely among staff members. In fact, it almost cost him a $25 million dollar follow on contract. What is foolish humor costing your company?

Bill Gates Email on Trustworthy Computing

Assuming Paul Boutin has a copy of a message from Bill Gates about Trustworthy Computing, I want to provide some commentary useful to your organization.

If you have not considered it already, email can be a useful tool to provide a personal message to ALL your employees without the high costs of the traditional print memorandum.

The key points about Mr. Gates memo:

This message could have gone terribly wrong. I have seen CEO's write all-hands messages in uppercase, or in a dictatorial language, which was not clear to even why they bothered to jot down the note. It is likely that Bill Gates drafted an outline for this message then went over it several times with writers before posting a final draft.

Was it worth the time? Not only was it worth the effort, but this well crafted message made its way into popular media and provides a customer the sense that Microsoft wants to improve and serve their needs. This is one of Microsoft's most effective sales messages this year.

What can you do to help your employees understand corporate objectives, provide self-guided performance measures, and inform your reader all in one relationship building message?

Have you seen a news story that I may find interesting as it pertains to strategic relations? Does your company have a story about results with strategic relations? I'd like to hear about it. Email me at feedback-newsletter

Shameless Self Promotion

If you're reading this in the archive, you're already a member of Applying Strategic Relations, won't you take a moment to post a little about how it's helped you reach personal objectives?

Whom do you know who could benefit from stronger business relationships? How much is less employee turnover, or more loyal customer's worth to you? How effective is your business development teams' strategy?

As a member of Applying Strategic Relations, you could easily ask questions about putting business-building principles in place at a fraction of what it would cost to bring a consultant on-site. With a private interactive forum, you questions are answered within 24 hours of posting.

This forum is designed to help clarify your challenge, answer those clarification questions, and share experiences with fellow executives. If you require detailed support, the forum also serves as an education tool to help develop your proposal guidelines.

This powerful tool is one of the many advantages of being a subscriber to the Applying Strategic Relations member service. Enter your subscription today, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

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