Keil Hubert: Greater Expectations

Telling your employees what you expect of them is darned important. Business Technology’s resident U.S. blogger Keil Hubert suggests that telling your managers what you expect is even more important.

This last Monday, I wrote about a method for heading your black hat employees off at the pass (so to speak) by getting your expectations out in front of them, in writing, as soon as they come on board. The idea is that it’s a darned sight easier to police people’s counterproductive antics when you communicate what’s considered acceptable on your watch rather than simply building a binder full of ‘thou shalt nots’ that are childishly simple to evade.

Turn your expectations into a spirited dialogue, I argued, so that everyone goes about their day reasonably sure that they understand what’s expected of them. Treat people fairly, and transparently – the way that you’d want to be treated. I can’t reiterate that enough.

In my first column, I offered a set of simple expectations that my son’s employer could (theoretically) use in his restaurant to set his people on the right path. Getting the line employees all on the same page is an excellent start, but I strongly believe that it isn’t enough. To really keep employees motivated to stay inside the straight-and-narrow, they need to know that the people with power over them are subject to the same rules that they are. I’ve found that it’s even more effective when the line employees see that their leaders are held to stricter standards; it shows that power and prestige come with significant constraints. That, in turn, will help to build empathy for the line managers, which evolves over time into mutual respect.

Along those lines, here’s what I’d recommend to my son’s employer as expectations for his management tier. These, just like the employee expectations, need to be taught, signed, and publically posted so that everyone involved is held accountable to comply:

Universal expectations counseling for all restaurant managers (version 1, effective today’s date)

Promotion to management is a fundamental change from being a regular worker. As a manager, you have to understand and enforce our policies with an even hand, an even temper, and a constant sense of professionalism. Do right by our employees, and they’ll take great care of our customers.

Managers must lead by example. Be whomever you like when you’re not at work; when you’re in our restaurant, you’ll live by all the same rules as our people, save that you will be stricter, sharper, and in all ways the model for what our people aspire to be. You are the team leader that employees and customers look to when it’s time to take our measure.

I expect you to coach, mentor, supervise, and be accountable for the employees under your immediate control. I require that a manager who observes an unsafe, inappropriate or otherwise incorrect act take immediate, direct and unmistakable corrective action. If you ever have questions about what to do or how to do it, speak with me and I’ll teach you.

Specific manager expectations:

1. Make our customers’ dining experience something that they’ll want to repeat. That requires good cheer and good food, served swiftly and hygienically. Today’s transaction isn’t finished until the customer comes back for the next one.

2. Account for all of the people, resources and equipment within your span of control. Everything between the front and back doors, from the furthest spot in the car park to the skip in the alley, is your responsibility until you’re relieved by your replacement.

3. Enforce our standards of professional appearance and conduct at all times. No reasonable customer or employee should ever leave offended by something that our employees did.

4. Teach employees how to excel at their assigned job first, and then work to round out each person’s skills until they can perform all of the things we do in the restaurant. Prepare our people for promotion and greater responsibility.

5. Attend to the physical and mental well-being of all our employees and their families – know each employee as a person, and strive to help them balance their outside lives with our the needs of our workplace. If someone is having a problem that impacts our team, be helpful. If a problem is too big to resolve, ask for assistance.

6. Maintain the serviceability, accountability, and readiness of all the tools, equipment and supplies under your control. If you suspect that there may be a problem with anything in the restaurant, report it as soon as possible. Isolate anything you’re not confident in using or serving.

7. Supervise, control, motivate and (when necessary) discipline the employees assigned to you. When you see bad behavior, you own it. Correct it on the spot, or else it’ll become acceptable practice.

Remember that the point of all this is to fit all of your expectations onto a single sheet of A4. Note as well that the managerial expectations are posted in addition to the general employee version. Yes, managers sign and live up to the ideals of both documents. That’s what gives the line managers their credibility. By showing that managers’ conduct is more strictly regulated, you’re highlighting your line leaders as stronger, taller, prouder versions of the Regular Joe. That helps each line employee to imagine rising up to a management billet herself some day. That sense of integration and interdependency helps to create much-needed camaraderie within the ranks. [1]

The last time that I was running a decent-sized IT department, I published my expectations for all employees, along with a second set for line managers, and a thirdtier for the senior managers. Each tier in the leadership team had clearly-defined roles and responsibilities, and those distinctions between tiers were kept public – open to scrutiny from workers and customers alike. It helped to keep each contributor focused on doing his or her fair share.

One final note: the largest problem that I’ve found with policies that restrict specific activities (especially when there’s no regard to context) is that they take away all of the manager’s options when it comes to administering discipline. For example, if you make it company policy that the action of ‘sending or receiving a message that contains pornographic content’ is ‘punishable by immediate termination,’ then you’re required to fire the poor fellow whose jack-wagon friends thought it would be funny to forward him a risqué text. The employee didn’t do anything to warrant being fired, and wasn’t a party to the inappropriate act. The employee (in this example) was a victim, not a miscreant. The trouble is, if you violate your own rigid code of conduct (because it’s clearly not warranted), then that action sets the negative precedent that management is willing to ignore its code for some employees and not for others. That path leads to eroded trust, and greater misbehaviour.

It’s far better, I think, to make your expectations just vague enough that you can accommodate new situations rationally without screwing over yourself, your people, or the company due to the policy writer’s inability to accurately predict the unknowable future. Give yourself some manoeuvre room to interpret each new problem on its own merits, and then explain your reasoning to everyone so that it’s increasingly clear where you stand – and why you choose to stand there.

It should go without saying that you’re expected to lead from the front. Always.

[1] People will self-police their behaviour and that of their wingmen when they feel a strong sense of connection to a defined group.

Keil Hubert

Keil Hubert

POC is Keil Hubert, keil.hubert@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter at @keilhubert. You can buy his books on IT leadership, IT interviewing, horrible bosses and understanding workplace culture at the Amazon Kindle Store. Keil Hubert is the head of Security Training and Awareness for OCC, the world’s largest equity derivatives clearing organization, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to joining OCC, Keil has been a U.S. Army medical IT officer, a U.S.A.F. Cyberspace Operations officer, a small businessman, an author, and several different variations of commercial sector IT consultant. Keil deconstructed a cybersecurity breach in his presentation at TEISS 2014, and has served as Business Reporter’s resident U.S. ‘blogger since 2012. His books on applied leadership, business culture, and talent management are available on Amazon.com. Keil is based out of Dallas, Texas.

© Business Reporter 2021

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