Managerial Courage

bathroom remodel

We are remodeling a bathroom and are in search of the holy grail—a certain rug that we saw somewhere that we should have bought when we saw it but didn’t. Our bad. 

We were unable to find the thing online as it is so hard to judge textured items on a website, forcing us on a store-by-store quest last weekend. Our eighteen-month-old grandson joined the adventure.

We arrived at a the mall that had three potential targets, all relatively close to each other- Pier 1, Home Goods, and Ross. Yes, we had already been to an actual Target. 

We loaded the 30-pound toddler into the first cart we could find and strapped him in. Home Goods had some cool rugs but not the one we were looking for. We left Home Goods to hit the next store in line, Ross. And please get over yourself. Like you’ve never been into a Ross?

When we attempted to enter the store, a security guard in full uniform, carrying a gun, (OK, she may not have had an actual weapon but remembering it that way improves the story) stops me. 

“Sir, you are not allowed to bring a Home Goods cart into our store,” she said. I reacted calmly. OK, maybe not so calmly. I guess it was the shock of being hassled by “the man” when we were right in the middle of a pretty enjoyable afternoon. 

I asked why and was told that it was their policy. I asked why the policy and didn’t get any discernible response.  Apparently, the end game was to get me to transfer my already-strapped-in-and-content grandson from a Home Goods cart to a Ross cart. I declined and we went our way down to Pier 1.

Being the process improvement and customer service instructor that I am, I sent Ross an online, customer service message, explaining what happened, asking them to please fix this silly policy, and I told them that there was no need to contact me.

So, bright and early on Monday morning, the store manager at that store calls me to explain their policy. He says it is a liability issue. Really? 

Worried that some rouge cart is going to break loose and crash into the display of Easter clearance items? The discussion went back and forth, ending with him saying that “He doesn’t make the rules.” And there you have it.

If this guy, supposedly the highest-ranking manager at the store, did not make the rule then who did?  The policy is clearly dumb, but who makes up this stuff?

Policies like this usually appear in one of three ways.

Single Violator/One Time Incidents

Remember that time that Fred (every office has one) started coming in late? It was only five minutes at first but seemed to escalate over time. By the end of the month the tardiness grew to the point where 8:30 arrivals were not uncommon.

Everyone wondered why no one had said anything to Fred? Management finally noticed but dealing with Fred was always difficult. It is also possible that Fred’s manager had waited so long that he was now hesitant or even embarrassed to have to confront the issue. 

The solution? A new policy! 

That’s right. Every employee is notified that they must attend a lunch-and-learn training session on the new punctuality policy. Everyone also knows that this is really about Fred. They call it the “Fred Policy” when the boss (and Fred) are not around.

Risk Aversion

Trying to anticipate every possible event that could possibly go wrong is not a bad idea. Still, the process can escalate into silliness. It is a cultural disease. It starts small but grows and if not checked can create huge, cancerous, policy manuals. 

The challenge here is to find the balance between what must be decided by policy and what should be left to the empowered employee.   I suspect that this is what has happened in the Ross cart story. 

Someone, somewhere, read a story about a shopping cart mishap and decided that a policy was needed. If your organization is really good at policy writing and enforcement, be careful. Any strength, when over used, becomes a weakness.

Emotionally Immature Managers

I have some experience in managing traffic flow as I have volunteered to help direct traffic at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and at my almost-mega church. You learn a lot when you are standing on the tarmac wearing a fluorescent colored vest holding a flashlight.  

One of the things that constantly amazes me is the change in demeanor when you give a guy a walkie-talkie. The nice, even-tempered, well-mannered person you knew ten minutes ago can quickly transform into regimented, command barking, taskmaster. 

Let’s face it. Some of us just can’t handle being put in charge. We sometimes overreact by installing rules and regulations that fit our needs and are not necessarily beneficial for the team.

The Call

When’s the last time you managed-by-policy rather than deal with issues?

Please have the managerial courage to deal directly with Fred, the strength to empower your employees to make decisions locally, and the emotional intelligence to keep your own “rules” reasonable.  

Doing so will mean that people will line-up to be on your team.  See for another tool to help you be a hero in your organization.

This article was contributed by friend and colleague, Roger Ferguson, creator of the Big 5 Performance Management system.

Are We Being Big Data Stupid?

The biggest buzzword in Human Resources these days seems to be “Big Data”—the idea that we can now gather so much complex information about our workforce processes and can churn that data into a meaningful analysis that will help us better manage our business. Like our federal government, however, we in HR can sometimes be accused of over-engineering, as in the proverbial definition of a camel being a “racehorse designed by Human Resources”.  Still, we spend lots of time and resources on gathering and crunching numbers to either improve our processes or possibly to justify our professional existence.



In my last corporate assignment, our Big Data arrived each month in the form of a four-page report that contained about 125 statistics.  I, personally, thought that only about three of them were really significant.  That could explain why I no longer work there, I guess. Still, the question… have we become so fascinated with Big Data that we continually miss what I consider to be one of the most singularly important pieces of data in the HR world?

Deloitte’s Review

One of the largest public accounting firms in the world, Deloitte, conducted research that showed that their 55,000 employees were spending 2,000,000 hours per year on the annual, employee performance appraisal process (“Reinventing Performance Management”, Harvard Business Review, April 2015). On average, that computes to over 36 hours per year, per employee.

Deloitte determined that the return on that time and expense investment was unacceptable. Only 42% of their executives believed in any correlation between the appraisal process and increased employee engagement, improved performance, or enhanced bottom line. Like others, they have made some adjustments to their process but at last report, they continue to complete an annual, year-end, summary process.

Unlike others, however, Deloitte should be credited for gathering this data. Many Human Resources and C-suite executives in other companies seem to accept the inevitability of the annual appraisal without question.

The Dating Game

The vice-president of HR of one of the largest online dating services in the world, when asked about their program’s effectiveness responded: “While I don’t have any data, per se, I know my people and our process works well here.”  Why do so many organizations spend so much time tracking and improving efficiency and profitability in other operational units while HR, at least on this issue, seems to get a “pass”?

How much time are employees spending on the annual review process? The research is sparse but telling. The least documented time data is found in the Society for Human Resources Management website, showing managers spending as little as eleven hours per year on the process. Research conducted by iSi Human Resources Consulting in Houston shows managers spending significantly more.

Big Numbers for Big Companies

The general manager of the Fluor Corporation’s Houston office tracked his actual hours spent on the process in 2008 and found that he invested 400 hours (ten weeks a year), of his time in the process.  That ten-week commitment to the traditional process was verbally validated by the same online dating service HR executive mentioned above.  An engineering manager at NASA who was recently interviewed said that he is responsible for producing formal appraisals for 43 different employees, three times per year and he is not allowed to delegate any of that responsibility. He spends about 1,000 hours on the process each year; almost one-half of his occupational life!

Take Ownership

While these numbers may first seem unrealistically large, caution is advised.  HR professionals will want to take ownership of this issue, conducting research to assure an adequate return-on-investment for their organization. Everyone in the HR world seems to be concerned with “big data”. It is difficult to imagine any bigger data than knowing the total amount of time, money, and resources organizations are committing to the appraisal process and, of course, the dollar value of the benefits or outcomes.

HR executives who determine that “the juice is not worth the squeeze,” will want to consider creative alternatives like Big Five Performance Management at [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#d98310″ class=”” size=””]”What have my people done and what are they going to do?”[/perfectpullquote] “Big 5” has been in use since the late 80’s but has only recently been thrust into the corporate limelight. Big 5 is a simple, yet sophisticated way to cut to the heart of the employee performance issue.

The whole Big 5 process can be summed up this way. At the end of every month, have each employee submits twp shortlists:

  • What are the five biggest accomplishments this past month?
  • What are my next 5 priorities for the new month?

This process takes no more than 10 minutes per month per person but gives employees the chance to tell-their-story, taking credit for their contributions.  Managers then have the opportunity to respond with affirmation/praise, coaching, and even correction, re-directing the team member’s efforts.  DaVinci said that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  We could not agree more.

When a full year passes, you now have 60 data points from which you make your assessment decisions; employee rankings, merit awards, bonuses, etc. No need for really big data here.

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Roger C. Ferguson,  author, and creator of Big 5. Visit him at Big Five Performance