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Friday, November 30, 2007

update from reader being lowballed by her boss

I just received a fantastic update from the reader who wrote in recently about being ridiculously lowballed on salary by her boss, despite getting glowing feedback and being told she was a model employee. She felt she didn't have enough experience yet to get hired anywhere else, so she felt trapped at a company that was being pretty insulting to her. I and several commenters advised her to re-approach her boss and to look elsewhere if her company wouldn't bend. (Read the original post here.)

Read what's she's managed to do in the 10 days that have passed since -- hopefully it will make you feel as great as it did me:

I cannot thank you and your wonderful "comment-ers" enough for all the help! I read all the comments and I appreciate all the insight. I posted an updated resume on the day before Thanksgiving. That next Monday morning, I got three companies inquiring about an interview! I had to take it down because I got paranoid that my company might see it, since we are also short-staffed!

Armed with the knowledge that there are other jobs out there, I went into the meeting with my boss. Unfortunately, the discussion proved unsuccessful. He said I should be the "best [me] that [I] can be" and not to worry about everyone else. He didn't give me any straight answers and tossed around a whole bunch of cliches about teamwork and only competing against myself. He tried to make me feel guilty and awkward, but his condescending manner helped me make a decision. I resolved to find a better working situation.

After that terrible meeting with my boss, I took the next two days off. I went in for an interview with a company, which happens to be one of our top competitors, and it was amazing. They really liked me and offered me an even better position. The position is very similar to what I do now, but I'll be able to use more of my skill sets. They've offered me a salary position that is DOUBLE what I am making right now. They assured me that the non-compete at my current job will not hold up in court because I started as an entry-level position. As long as I don't take my clients or anything propriety with me, they have no reason to go after me. I accepted the position!! :)

I gave my two weeks notice this afternoon. My boss was shocked! I was very professional, thanked him for everything, and told him that I was pursuing other opportunities. He didn't take it very well. He warned me not to let "company politics sour [my] promising career" and to be more patient but I've already made my decision. I'm worried that this is going to be the MOST AWKWARD two weeks of my life, but I at least I can see a "light at the end of the tunnel."

Thank you so much for encouraging me to be proactive and not let this situation consume me! I cannot believe how great it all worked out! Please also thank your "comment-ers" for me! I "share" this success with you all for motivating me!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

male and female bosses judged differently?

Management Line reports that a new study finds that "female bosses who are seen as unkind or insensitive are judged as worse managers. People, however, are prepared to overlook the same traits displayed by male managers. In other words, male and female managers are judged by different standards."

This adds yet another frustrating layer to that already-infuriating chestnut about authoritative women seeming bitchy, while authoritative men seem like strong leaders. I'll admit that I don't know how much of this is my own internal hang-up, but as a female boss myself, it's sometimes in the back of my mind that I might be being perceived as "bitchy" when I take a hard line with someone, when a man doing the same thing would just be perceived as resolute and authoritative. (I can also think of a couple of occasions in the past where just being friendly and empathetic -- stereotypically "feminine" traits -- has led some men to take me less seriously. I don't think that's happened in a few years though, which might be a result of me becoming ancient and withered.)

If I have to be seen as either the bitch who gets things done or the pushover who doesn't, I'll take "bitch who gets things done." It's infuriating that it has to be a choice, of course; I doubt many men are out there worrying that they're seen as insufficiently sweet.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Incompetent people may have no idea

A fascinating Cornell University study a few years ago found that people who are incompetent tend to dramatically overestimate their own competence, and people who truly are quite competent tend to underestimate their own performance.

This makes a certain sense: After all, if you're incompetent, you're inherently more likely not to be able to competently self-assess (or assess the people you're comparing yourself to). As the researchers write, "Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it."

And if you're competent, you tend to assume others are performing at a similar level to you (since you can't imagine why they wouldn't be), and plus, part of competence is being aware of your own shortcomings.

This study has interesting implications for managers. For one, it reinforces the idea that you must be explicit with employees who aren't meeting your expectations -- particularly about the severity of the problem and what the possible consequences could be. All too often, managers assume that employees surely must know they are in danger of being fired, given all the warnings and serious talks being directed their way, and so they don't bother to spell it out ... and then the employee is shocked when he or she gets fired. The manager is baffled by this surprise, since the person should have seen it coming.

I suspect that many low performers are used to hearing negative feedback from bosses and thus don't process it as a danger sign. So managers should commit to saying the words, "I must warn you that your job is in jeopardy if you don't improve." Don't assume the person should know. If they're as incompetent as you worry they are, there's a good chance they have no idea.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

offensively low pay increase

A reader writes:

I'm a 24 year old black female working for in D.C. This is my first job out of college and I've enthusiastically worked there for a year and two months. I will admit that I agreed to work for an offensively low hourly-rate when I started (in terms of cost of living in D.C. and pay scale of fellow colleagues). I figured that I would prove how valuable I am to the company and they would subsequently pay "to keep me." I am interested in the field and saw it as the ideal entry point to a very competitive and elusive industry. I love challenges and considered it my goal to be the best first-hire they ever had!

In the past year, I've been a model employee and have acquired numerous skills that have made me a valuable resource to the company. I support our second biggest client and the client has noted that our services have been nearly flawless since I joined the team. Also, I am one of a handful of people (all of which have been working in the industry for 5-10 years) that know how to use an application that has become the new industry standard. Additionally, I learned the aforementioned application on my own time and dime. I'm always assigned the harder/more frustrating projects that no one wants to work on. I spend a ridiculous amount of over-time at work, have had to cancel numerous plans in my personal life for the sake of a deadline, and frequently work remotely from home (btw, unpaid hours). I've never complained about ANYTHING because I realize that it's all part of the job and meeting the deadline is the only thing that matters.

After weeks of begging for my annual performance review (two months overdue), my boss agreed to fit me into his schedule this past Friday (2 hours after I was scheduled to clock-out, but I was just glad to get a reply that wasn't "maybe some time next week"). I was really excited because my colleagues have said wonderful things about me and raised my hopes by saying I would definitely be offered a salary position due to my unprecedented improvement in such a short time. Also, a fellow employee with less experience than me, who started only a week before me, bragged that it is "so freeing" to no longer have to clock-in and out because he was salary now. He even asked me if payroll had messed up my time-sheet during the transition from hourly to salary, thinking that I had already had my review. Since he started a week before me, he assumed that I got my review a week after his. He got his review at the scheduled time, while I had to constantly remind my boss that I was due for mine and he kept postponing it. For two months!!

This leads me to my problem. As you may have guessed, the review did not go as planned. My boss said amazing and very encouraging things about me. He said he wished he had other employees like me and even suggested that I teach specific skills and applications to the employee that I mentioned earlier. He said he knew no one else who he would want new hires to "learn good habits from."

That brings us to wage negotiation time. I thought salary position is in the bag! However, the raise that he offered me was a measly $1.80 hourly increase and a title change from specialist to analyst! I was dumbfounded! All I could utter was, "analyst position doesn't come with a salary?" He said that normally it does, but that because I'd only been working for a year , HR would not allow him to offer me a salary position. He said he campaigned for salary pay on my behalf, but HR has very strict rules in regards to that matter. This time next year I would be eligible for salary, but I still needed more time "under my belt." This is a complete lie because the other employee is now salaried and he only preceded me by a week! I was speechless and felt so disrespected and unappreciated that all my effort was spent on holding back the tears and gaining my composure. While I was trying to calm down the rising rage and trying to formulate a logical unemotional argument, he tells me that he has another meeting in a couple of minutes and if I was "okay" with what he was offering. He starts to look at his blackberry and shuffle papers around. The panic sets in and all my acquired knowledge on salary negotiations and any sense of self-confidence is destroyed. I stupidly stammered "that's cool...that's cool..that's cool" repeatedly and before I know it, I signed the review form, shook his hand, and was on the other side of his door. I stood there for a couple of minutes blinking back tears, but paralyzed otherwise.

Am I a fool for expecting them to value my contributions to the company? He knows how much of myself I give to my work and he still screwed me over. Why?! Is it because of my race? I am one of four black people in a 15-people department. Is it because of my gender? I am the only woman working in the department. Is it because I started at such a low pay scale, he thinks that I will always accept the minimum? Did I set a bad precedent from day one? As a manager, isn't his best interest in keeping me, a model employee, happy? Or, is his real goal to save the company money, by any means necessary...even at my expense. I'm heartbroken, and deep down I know it's irrational to be this emotional about it, but I really have put so much of myself into my work and therefore this slight is that much more insulting. Can I pursue legal action? Should I?

I read all these articles about how women in the workplace aren't assertive enough and that this is their biggest problem when it comes to the negotiation table, and feel empowered that this knowledge will help me combat that pitfall. But, here I am, just another statistic. I don't know what to do at this point. I've thought about moving on to another company, but my company has a very strict non-compete policy and my measly one year experience is not going to have our competitors willing to fight for me. Also, all the available jobs require at least 2-3 years of industry experience. Am I being ridiculous, too emotional, or am I justified?

I'm so sorry that this is so long. I just really needed to get this off my chest and to talk to someone about it. THANK YOU SO MUCH for your time and allowing me to vent. I would really appreciate any insight you may have.

First, I'm so sorry to hear about your situation! I can imagine how upsetting this is.

My guess -- and I could be wrong -- is that this company tries to lowball people whenever they can, and they're just hoping they can lowball you and you'll accept it. You're going to have to push back and negotiate.

My advice is this: Ask to meet with your manager again this week. Tell him that you've had time to think about your conversation and you're confused about his inability to switch you to a salaried position. Ask explicitly whether there is a company-wide policy that requires working a certain amount of time at your level before becoming eligible for a salary, or whether HR is just pushing back in your particular case. If he tells you it's the former, well, there may not be a lot you can do. But I think there's a good chance it will come out that it's the latter -- in which case, tell him that you believe your performance warrants a better salary offer and that you'd like some time (a few days or a week) to prepare a memo laying out your reasons. (I'm suggesting a memo rather than an on-the-spot conversation because I think you're upset enough about this that you'll be better able to present a thorough case in writing.)

He may look at you wearily, tell you not to worry about doing that, and that he'll see what he can do (and then hopefully come back to you shortly with a better offer). Or he may just look uncomfortable and say okay. If so, your next step is to write a memo (as brief as possible, because you want them to actually read the whole thing) laying out your case, citing comments from your evaluation, etc.

I think you can get yourself more money if you firmly explain why you've earned it. But if it turns out this is a company that's shortsighted about pay, don't lose sight of the fact that you're not stuck there. With more experience under your belt now, you can go out and find a job that will properly compensate you. Don't be deterred by job ads that say two to three years of experience is required. Those are more like wish lists, and you can absolutely make a case for yourself as a strong candidate despite having less experience. (And cite some of those great comments from your review in your cover letter. Someone smart will snatch you up.)

Now, on the issue of legal action -- If you think you can make a clear case that his reasons are discriminatory, it's always an option, but you're talking about spending a lot of money and even more energy and emotion on something that tends to be hard to prove. It also won't solve your problem in the short run, since these cases can take years. So unless it's egregiously obvious, I'd say to try other avenues before even thinking about whether that's something you want to take on.)

Ultimately, my advice is to address this head on, tell your boss firmly what you want (you might even suggest a specific salary), and see what happens. Make it clear you know your own worth. You could even say that you accepted a lower-than-market salary early on because you hadn't proven yourself yet, but now you have -- as evidenced by his own comments about your performance.

But if it turns out the company just isn't willing to budge, you will find somewhere that will value you in the way they should. Please write back and update us, and good luck!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

announcing an employee is leaving

A reader writes:

We are a medium size company with around 500 employees. I need your advice on how to handle and communicate the fact that the HR head is quitting without triggering any negativity. (The HR head is an average performer, joined as an Assistant Manager HR 5 years and is now Manager of HR.) What is the best way to communicate to all employees and how to soften the presumably moderate blow? (There is a period of notice of 6 weeks. The person has already served 2 weeks. There is no immediate replacement. Till the next person joins, the present Assistant Manager will take control.)

Is there any reason to fear negativity? After all, all employees move on eventually.

I would simply send an all-staff email (or issue an all-staff memo, depending on the culture and practices of your company). It should announce that after five years with the company, the HR head has decided to move on and her last day will be ___. The company thanks her for her years of service (name some of her successes and personal qualities here if you can) and wishes her all the best. And until a replacement is hired, the Assistant HR Manager will be running that department.

Employees know people move on. You're likely overestimating the fall-out from the news. However, do get it out there officially pretty soon -- otherwise it will start leaking out and you'll get rumors instead.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Carnival of HR

The next Carnival of HR is now up at Guerilla HR. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

deathbed advice

I'm taking Etienne at The Happy Employee up on his challenge to list five things I'd tell managers if I were about to die. Here they are:

1. Look for trouble. Assume things will go wrong and poke around to find out what they might be. You'll often uncover problems this way and have an earlier chance to fix them. Ask questions; don't wait for problems to come to you.

2. Do what you say you're going to do, by when you say you're going to do it, or update people accordingly. (A subset of this: Be responsive. If people have to follow up with you to get a response, you're not being responsive enough. It only takes 30 seconds to write, "I won't have time to look at this until next week." If nothing else, let people know where things stand.)

3. Ask for help when you need it. If you're overwhelmed, confused, exhausted, do not suffer in silence. A good boss will want to hear from you if you're approaching the end of your rope.

4. Be honest with your staff about the hard things. Even if you're uncomfortable addressing shortcomings, tell them where they can improve. Don't value your own comfort over their ability to grow and improve. And if deep down you don't believe they can succeed in their current position, talk honestly with them about that too.

And along the way, treat people with compassion, even in the hardest moments, like terminating someone. Don't assume anyone is stupid, insubordinate, or unmotivated; at worst, they are miscast (to steal a phrase from the great Marcus Buckingham). Truly believe this, because doing so will magically change the entire tenor of the experience for both of you.

5. You can't give too much positive feedback, as long as it's sincere. Seriously. It's like handing out chocolate. Take a minute right now to send a positive email or make a positive comment. Trust me, that email will be read over and over. You can make someone's day with only one minute of your time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

conducting strong performance evaluations

I'm embarrassed to admit that this is the first year I'm giving our managers detailed training on how to conduct good performance reviews. In the past, I've sent them forms to use and a few words of encouragement, and not much else. In retrospect, this was a crazy plan, since most people haven't done many of these in their careers and people have different ideas about how to go about them.

So this year I'm doing a group training for managers. In addition to talking about the specifics of our forms, especially the nuances of our rating categories, I'm also going to cover the following:

1. Why do we do performance appraisals when our goal is to be giving feedback on a regular, ongoing basis through the year? Answer: To provide a substantive, overall assessment of employees' performance and ensure the manager and employee are on the same page; to provide suggestions for growth and improvement, helping fair performers become good and good performers become great; to provide an opportunity to delegate more responsibility to the employee; to find out how the employee is doing internally – happy, thinking of leaving in the next year, wanting more responsibility, etc.; and in the case of poor performers, to send (additional) clear messages about needed improvements and to supplement documentation in the event termination becomes necessary.

2. How long should a manager expect to spend on the process? Answer: Plan to allow at least an hour to write each appraisal, if not more, and allow another hour to meet with each employee individually. And no matter how tempting procrastination may be, don't put it off, since it sends a terrible message to the employee when their evaluation is delayed and delayed.

3. Be specific and use examples to illustrate your points, both when praising and when identifying areas for improvement. For instance, you could say "you did a great job with the new inventory system," but it's more effective to say "your revamping of the inventory system has saved the company money and I've heard several people comment about how much easier you've made it to find the supplies they need."

4. Be honest and direct about problem areas. If you have any complaints/concerns, they must be included. Potentially uncomfortable, yes, but it's also your obligation as a manager. (And if you ever find yourself needing to defend a firing in court, you'll be in real trouble if the plaintiff's performance reviews were misleadingly positive.)

5. Be specific about what can be done to improve. Note that that says "can be done," not "needs to be done." That's because even if someone is doing a good job, you should still take the opportunity to tell them how they could to move from good to great.

And be sure to be specific here too. Don't just say "work faster" when you could say "process all checks within three days and respond to customer emails within two days."

6. Pay attention to the overall picture you're painting. I've seen managers write bizarrely lukewarm evaluations for employees I know they love and would devastated to lose. Likewise, if the employee is a mess and needs to make major improvements, make sure that comes through in the overall message. Make sure that the sum of the parts adds up to the correct whole.

7. What if the employee has struggled with something all year but recently improved? What if he or she has done well all year but recently had a major error? Answer: Resist the temptation to be overly influenced by recent events; the evaluation is (in most cases) for the whole year, not just the last few months. That said, if someone has struggled all year but improved recently, be sure to note that so the person doesn't feel his or her efforts are unnoticed.

8. Consider getting feedback (in confidence) from others who work closely with the employee. You may find out aspects of the person's performance, both good and bad, that you didn't know about.

Anyone want to add to this list? I'd welcome more ideas.

challenges to your ego

There's a brilliant post up today at HR Thoughts about controlling your ego and not getting defensive when your decisions are challenged:

"Let's say that someone comes into your office and questions a policy, practice or procedure of yours. Or, you send an e-mail to communicate some not so great news and one of the recipients tells you that it did not come across well and caused some hard feelings. Or, you make a decision (definitely your decision to make), you get a look at your conscience via another person's raised eyebrows. What do you do?" Read the rest here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Have you planned for a personnel disaster?

Seriously, disasters happen. People go AWOL, get seriously ill, leave without notice, get caught embezzling and are escorted out that day, etc. How screwed you will be when that happens depends largely on how well you plan ahead to minimize the impact of such disasters.

In my office, we call it the "hit by a bus" plan. The idea is to document enough key information that if someone gets hit by a bus tomorrow, their department would be able to continue functioning. (We're a sensitive bunch.) This means that information related to the job is all written down in a formal manual, not just recorded in someone's head.

Each staffer is responsible for keeping his or her own "hit by a bus" manual up-to-date with information about contacts, passcodes, procedures, notes about key non-staff personalities that they interact with regularly, etc. It's included in everyone's job description and it's one of the items we evaluate managers on when we do annual evaluations.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. There's enough chaos when you unexpectedly lose a staff member; you will be relieved not to be scrambling for these basics.

using a personal connection when applying for a job

A reader writes:

I saw an ad on one of the online sites for a job I want to apply for. So I went to the firm's address and found the job and there was a link to apply. The thing is that I don't trust the apply online sites. Most of the time, even if I am very qualified for a job, I never hear back. I know of the person who is the director of the department that the job is in, we are members of the same professional organization. Would it be bad form to just send my resume and cover letter to her? The online site does not even have a place to add a cover letter.

If you have a personal connection at the company, you should absolutely take advantage of it and send your materials directly to her. This would be true even if your contact there were in a completely unrelated department -- but since she's even in the same department you're applying to (and possibly the manager of the position since she's the director), this is an ideal set-up.

It's always better to use a personal in if you have one. You can even use a friend's personal in, if your friend is willing. The idea is just to get a live person to shepherd your application along. Good luck!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Carnival of HR #19

The latest Carnival of HR is up at HRO Manager. Check it out.

For the record, I'm a she rather than a he, but I'm not complaining.

Update: My gender has been corrected in the Carnival, but I'm leaving this here since the posts in the comments section are fascinating.