You’re the boss. You have the power.
Great — just don’t use your power to do things like the following:
1. Ask employees to evaluate themselves. Employees who do a great job always question why they need to evaluate themselves. Shouldn’t you already know they do a great job? Employees who do a poor job rarely rate themselves as poor, turning what could have been a constructive feedback session into an argument.
Self-evaluations may sound empowering or inclusive but are almost always a waste of time. If you want feedback from the employee, ask them what more you can do to help them further develop their skills or their career.
2. Ask an employee to do something you already asked another employee to do.
You assign Steve a project. The day you needed it completed you realize Steve hasn’t finished… and probably won’t. You’re frustrated with Steve, and you really need it done, so you plop it on Susan’s desk. You know she’ll get it done.
Maybe so, but she’ll resent it.
Leave Susan alone. Deal with Steve.
3. Pressure employees to attend “social” events. Any time your employees are with people they work with, it’s like they’re at work. Worst case, whatever happens there doesn’t stay there; it comes back to work.
Embarrassing behavior aside, some people just don’t want to socialize outside of work. And that’s their choice — unless you do something that can make them feel like they should attend. Then it no longer feels like they have a choice, and what you intended as a positive get-together is anything but.
And keep in mind that “pressure” can be as simple as saying, “Hey, Steve, I hope you can come to the Christmas party… I hope we see you there…” While you may simply be letting Steve know how much you enjoy his company, if he doesn’t want to go he hears, “Steve, you better be at the party… or I will be very disappointed in you.”
If you really want to hold outside social events, pick themes that work for your employees. Have Santa attend a kids’ Christmas party. Have a picnic at a theme park. Take anyone who wants to go to a ballgame. Pick one or two themes that cover the majority of your employees’ interests, and let that be that. Don’t try to force a spirit of togetherness or camaraderie. It never works.
4. Pressure employees to donate to a charity. The United Way was the charity of choice at a company where I once worked. Participation was measured; the stated company goal was 100 percent participation.
Pressure enough? It got worse; every supervisor reported results from their direct reports to the head of the fundraising effort… and the head of the fundraising effort also happened to be the plant manager.
I’m sure the United Way is a great charity, one worthy of support.
But don’t, even implicitly, pressure employees to donate to a charity. Sure, make it easy. Match their contributions if you like. But make donating voluntary, and never leave the impression that results are monitored on an individual basis.
And don’t do the “support my kid’s fundraiser” thing either, especially when you’re the boss. That’s tacky.
What employees do with their money is their business, not yours. Make sure they feel that way.
5. Ask employees to evaluate their peers. I’ve done peer evaluations. It sucks. “Peer” means “work together.” Who wants to criticize someone they have to work with afterwards? You can claim evaluations will remain confidential, but people always figure out who said what about whom.
As the boss, you should know your employee’s performance inside-out. If you don’t, don’t use an employee’s peers as a crutch. Dig in, pay attention, and truly know the people you claim to lead.
6. Reveal personal information in the interest of “teambuilding.” I was once part of a transformational leadership offsite session where we were asked to make small boxes out of cardboard. (Yes, this was in the ‘80s when transformational leadership was the next big thing… until back to basics became the next big thing, followed by….)
Then we were asked to cut pictures out of magazines that represented the “outer” us, the part of us we show to the world.
Then we were asked to write down things no one knew about us on slips of paper, put them inside our box (get it?), and reveal our slips – and our inner selves – to the group when it was our turn.
I was okay with putting pictures on the outside of my poorly constructed box even though my lack of scissoring skill was pretty embarrassing. I didn’t want to create “reveal” strips, though, and said so.
“Why not?” the facilitator asked.
“Because it’s private,” I said.
“That’s the point!” he cried. “The goal is to reveal things people don’t know about you.”
“They don’t know those things about me because I don’t want them to know those things about me,” I said.
“But think about how much better you will be able to work together when you truly know each other as individuals,” he said.
“Sometimes I think it’s possible to know too much,” I said. “If Steve likes to dress up as a Star Wars character in his spare time that’s cool, but I’d really rather not know.”
I didn’t end up participating, a potentially career-limiting move that turned out fine when we went “Back to Basics” and I was back in vogue.
You don’t need to know your employees’ innermost thoughts and feelings. More to the point, you have no right to their innermost thoughts and feelings. You do have a right to expect acceptable performance.
Talk about performance, and leave all the deep dark secrets where they belong.
7. Ask employees to alert you when you “veer off course.” One of my bosses was really long-winded. He knew it and asked me to signal him when I thought he was monopolizing a meeting. I did that a couple times; each time he waved me off, probably because what he was saying was just too darned important.
Never ask employees to monitor your performance. To the employee it’s a no-win situation.
8. Ask employees to do something you don’t do. Not something you “wouldn’t” do, but that you don’t do. “Would” is irrelevant. Actions are everything.
Lead by example. Help out on the crappiest jobs. Stay later. Come in earlier. Not every time, but definitely some of the time. Employees will never care as much as you do — and, really, they probably shouldn’t — but they will care a lot more when they know you do whatever it takes.