Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Workplace Rules #3: On Seeking Staff Opinions

To continue my completely sporadic series on Workplace Rules, today I'd like to reference the management practice of seeking staff input on things but then never actually using that input.

Let me start with an example.

At a former Horrendo Fucko Workplace, I was on a team with a supervisor who, within his first 3 months on the job, asked us to rate his performance. His Super Scientific way of measuring his performance was to find an employee review template from the Internet that included a series of questions with a 1-5 agree/disagree scale. At the end, he included some blank space for "other comments."

My co-workers and I had some rather specific concerns with this supervisor's behavior, two of which were an apparent anger management issue and constant phone usage (as in, during all meetings, whenever he or the CEO were not the ones speaking, he would be tapping away at his phone, ignoring other people's contributions).

In short, we felt both unsafe and not listened to by this person. So, in the "other comments" section of his feedback form, several of us delicately and as constructively as we could noted these concerns. At a later team meeting, which he led, he gave us the numerical "results" of his "performance review," claiming that he "got a pretty good grade." Nevermind that, as he was the only person being reviewed, no basis for comparison existed for whether or not his grade was, actually, good or bad.

When he then addressed people's "other comments," all he said was, "Yeah, I've been told these things my entire life and, well, I'm really going to look to you all to keep me in check on those."

Thus, rather than changing his behavior on his own, he put the onus on his direct reports to "call him out" when we thought he was acting rude. As a reminder, one of our concerns was his anger management issue.


My points in sharing this story are (a) it's somewhat cathartic to get it out, to be honest; and (b) here was a clear example of a manager seeking out staff input and then completely dismissing it.  And, the whole thing was completely demoralizing.

His sole purpose of the performance review was theater. He wanted to appear to give us a say in team and morale matters, but he didn't want to actually do so. (In fact, he took his review score to a senior team meeting with the CEO and bragged about how much we all liked him. Flash forward three months later, and every single person on his team had quit).

My point here is people in management positions have to be really careful about how they seek input from staff and how they communicate with staff regarding how the workplace will or will not use that feedback. It's obvious as hell, and completely destructive to morale, when managers make a big show of "getting stakeholder buy-in" on matters but then do whatever they fuck they want anyway.

For those who aren't managers, and who feel comfortable doing so, perhaps when staff feedback is sought, it would be worthwhile and enlightening to ask a manager you trust how staff feedback will or won't be used.  I think just asking that question can sometimes prompt management to think, "Oh, shit, we might have to actually address/use what they say."

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