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Neutralizing The Arrogant Person

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In my third blog post this week on dealing with difficult people, I want to address how to deal with an arrogant person. Like a bully, there is one thing an arrogant person can never tolerate and does not handle well, which is a person who will stand up to them and not back down. The arrogant person will use their position or any authority granted to them to push their agenda forward to elevate themselves rather than others in the organization. They will also think the rules and norms should be applied to everyone else while exempting themselves because they see themselves as above everyone.

The best way I have found to neutralize this type of person is to ask them frequent questions. Questioning an arrogant person is a huge threat because it reveals their motives, which they are trying to keep hidden. Everyone should be able to easily provide a justification for why they want something done a certain way. Questioning the arrogant person repeatedly in a professional, respectful manner will also embolden others to do the same. Be prepared though, because this strategy will cause them to react forcefully by questioning everything you do, which is what you want.

When the arrogant person mirrors your behavior that’s a good thing because it shows you now have their respect. Before engaging this strategy be confident and ready to provide reasonable answers and justification for your point of view, which they are typically ill-equipped to counter. Remember, like a bully, an arrogant person is unable to handle resistance and cannot tolerate it when anyone stands up to them because they are not used to being opposed. If you find yourself repeatedly dealing with an arrogant person in the workplace stand up to them consistently, professionally, and respectfully.

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Driving Negativity Out of The Workplace

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In nearly every group I have been a part of or managed there is frequently a person who takes on the role of being the negative one. They seem to be a on a mission to bring down the morale of everyone else. Certain employees may be miscast in their role and respond well to additional, training, coaching, and directing. Unfortunately, for certain personalities like a narcissist, no amount of help seems to get through to them because they see nothing wrong with their behavior. I have found the underlying reason a person behaves this way is they have an extreme need to control their surroundings and the people in their surroundings.

When an employee does not have authority to control others, or leadership ability to attract followers, their only recourse is to tear everyone and everything down around them because negativity is easy and doesn’t take any skill like positivity motivating others does. There is a certain comfort these personality types have with creating a toxic environment. In the private sector, the solution can be as simple as showing the toxic person the door. However, in the public sector, employees can achieve a “permanent” status where they cannot be easily removed from their position. There is little that can be done to correct the employee’s behavior in this situation unless they are willing.

The solution in these situations is to take away the person’s ability to influence or create a negative work environment. We have accomplished this by having an honest talk with all the employees to set the positive expectations and standards for the work environment. As all the other employees buy in to working toward a positive environment, the negative person finds they no longer have the power to influence or control the negativity in the environment and realizes they are all alone. Once they see they are alone and have no influence they will either choose to be part of the team or leave on their own to a different environment where they can exert more control.

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Everyone Else Can’t Always Be Wrong

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There are three tools I have shared with each of the managers who report to me, which they have found helpful for dealing with difficult people and situation. I hope you will find them helpful as well. The first is a tool I utilize when a manager or employee finds themselves at odds with others. Whenever I or someone who works for me finds themselves all alone on an issue and several reasonable colleagues are opposed, I ask my employees to do what I do, which is to stop myself and ask, “Why am I the only one believing ‘X’ when everyone else is believing ‘Y’? In other words, if I am pressing my team to go in a certain direction and they are not buying in to it, I have to take a step back and ask myself why. I have seen far too often where the boss believes everyone should just go along without questioning his decisions against the counsel and judgment of his team and counterparts.

Of course, a boss is free to press forward without buy in from his team, but what makes someone a leader is the fact that employees willingly follow. A true leader does not demand employees follow because he has authority, but because the employees trust him. That trust is built by listening to opposing viewpoints. Unless a moral issue is at stake, more often than not the person who is saying they are right and everyone else is wrong is the one who is in the wrong themselves. This is especially true if the same issue keeps coming up with different people involved. It’s irrational to believe everyone else is always wrong, stupid, or ill-informed in multiple situations. When I start to see this pattern in my employees and colleagues I bring in someone they respect to help them see that it really is them who may be in the wrong, not me, and not everyone else.

In my next two blog posts I plan to share the other two tools that have helped me as well as my managers to overcome obstacles. For example, surrounding chronically negative people in an organization with positive people and the most effective way to stop a workplace bully.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Changing Direction to Avoid Costly Mistakes

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When I joined my department four years ago we were in the process of funding the most expensive public works project in the history of our state. Much time and investment had been expended analyzing how to fund the project and by the time I accepted my new position as Chief Financial Officer a public-private partnership was being settled on. Soon after starting my new role my financial analysts and accounting staff made it clear they did not agree with where the project was headed. They had expressed their concerns to upper management before and were not being heard that the financing methodology being chosen would cost our state hundreds of millions more to implement than the less expensive method of selling state bonds.

Being the new guy to the department, I knew it wouldn’t be wise to tell everyone I thought they were headed in the wrong direction. I had to earn their trust first and that takes time, which we didn’t have if we were going to change course. I am the type of manager to place 100% trust in everyone, unless they prove my trust is misplaced. So, I immediately trusted my financial staff and began to put the information they provided me into a format our engineers would more easily accept. Utilizing the advertising rule of thumb that it takes seven times to hear a message before making a sale, I patiently presented the financial analysis in several different ways. The first three times no one wanted to hear it, but after hearing it enough times the facts won.

If you’re facing some similar situation where key individuals won’t listen, consider patiently revisiting the topic with them and present your facts in varying formats at key times until they understand. If they are willing to listen keep trying at least seven times!

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Overcoming the “We’ve Always Done It This Way” Mentality

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To help my government agency break out of the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, I look for opportunities to hire employees who have previous experience in the private sector or at least in another agency. Ideally, they have a little of both. The reason being is often these employees can draw from their experiences to solve problems in our agency by looking at our processes differently. However, this type of hiring must be careful thought through because sometimes too much experience in the private sector leads to frustration in the employee with a government bureaucracy they aren’t used to. Too much frustration and complaining produces negativity in the workplace and works against creative problem solving. The best balance is just enough experience for the employee to be confident, yet adaptable to their new environment.

Without intending to, well-meaning employees in both the public and private sectors can become comfortable with their processes and no longer seek to improve upon them. Too much familiarity with doing something a certain way for a long period of time without exposure to other methods can inadvertently hamper the employee. As a result, the manager must maintain an awareness of when his team is at risk of becoming ingrown and know when it’s time to consider hiring outside talent to stimulate creative thinking again. Having a team comprised of those who have been with the agency or company for a while mixed with those who bring experiences from other companies or agencies will help both groups of employees to the extent they are willing to learn from one another.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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But We’ve Always Done It This Way!

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When I started my public service career nearly fourteen years ago it didn’t take long before a senior employee shot down a new idea I had to make one of our processes more efficient by stating, “but we’ve always done it this way.” It’s not just government employees who fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” rut, but in public service the statement is a shield that an employee and manager can hide behind where in the private sector it demonstrates a lack of initiative and creative thinking few could get away with. However, just because the government has managed a process a certain way for a long time does not mean it must continue to be done that way.

For those considering public service as a career or have public service agencies as clients, it is critically important to know the statutory and/or regulatory authority the agency operates under. The only “musts” are written into the laws and regulations. Anything beyond that is a policy or procedure created by the agency and those can and should be regularly evaluated and updated to better serve the public. If you ever run into a “we’ve always done it this way” road block, respectfully ask the person why the process or procedure is being done that way and what the legal basis is. Many times, processes and procedures that have become habit are simply assumed to be written into law when they are, in fact, not.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Learning To Be a Better Leader From Bad Managers

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It’s always easy to spot a bad manager and bemoan their shortcomings. Employees find it hard to understand why their bad managers can’t simply see their shortcomings and do what’s right by their employees. I have had six bad managers in my career and confronted five of them about their behavior about the damage they were doing to morale. The outcome? Not even one of them changed as the result of my heart to heart talks with them. That’s when I decided no matter how bad my next manager was I wasn’t going to seek to change them, but rather, see how I might grow from the situation.

When my new boss was appointed I decided to take the first step and reach out to her. I put myself in her shoes as someone working for the government for the first time and leading an agency where she didn’t know anyone. I was one of the most senior staff and offered her assistance with anything she may need to help her understand our agency and get to know our programs. She enthusiastically responded and we started building a trusting working relationship before her first day on the job. However, it didn’t take long before it became clear her style was to promote herself and micromanage her staff.

While I was greatly discouraged she turned out to be a micromanager, I did my best to continue to be supportive and not fight against her. While my natural tendency is to fight back and “set the record straight” when managers are damaging morale I remembered my lack of success with this strategy and instead worked hard to patiently tolerate her hypocrisy and mistrust of everyone. Over time patience led to greater character in me to the point where I now no longer find it necessary to right every wrong. As I look back I can now see I learned more about being a better leader from having bad managers.

Do you have a bad manager and are wondering how to leave or improve your situation? If so, consider if there is something you can learn from their poor managerial style that may help you to be better.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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The Dysfunctional Government Shake Up Cycle

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Rather than seeing long-term staff as an asset to navigate the unfamiliar minefield of government, they can be dismissed as “bureaucrats.” There’s no question government is full of bureaucracy and obstacle creators, but like any system it takes experience and skill to navigate it in order to get things done. Appointing inexperienced leaders is a great disservice to the public since little can get accomplished when people who don’t know what to do are in charge. What’s worse is these leaders chase off anyone who is a threat to their job from having superior experience or that employees trust as a leader.

Once the appointee leaves for greener pastures they leave an agency devoid of its knowledge and the good leaders it once had on their way out the door. The public then becomes even more frustrated with the lack of talented public servants. Out of frustration the public elects leaders who promise to “shake things up.” This typically just means hiring their inexperienced and untalented supporters who create the very problem the public elected them to fix.

Ideally, only proven leaders would run for and be elected to public office. However, if the election process is incapable of yielding the best leaders the public will either need to continue to expect less from their government services, expect more services to be contracted to the private sector, or demand legislation requiring higher standards of performance from appointees.  As with any problem there is a bright side and in my next post I will address how having bad managers can be beneficial to developing leaders who are able to learn from their bad managers.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Government Appointees Can Chase Away Talent

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After nearly fourteen years in state government service, one of the biggest reasons I have observed as to why employees leave state employment is because of poor leaders. Of course, this is not an unusual phenomenon found only in the public sector. Many sources, including Gallup, have shown that the number one reason employees leave a job, whether private or public sector, is due to having a bad manager. Public sector employees are in an interesting predicament though because the public can be very vocal about their dissatisfaction with the quality of their public employees. Yet, it is the publicly elected officials who are responsible for the appointment of leaders who will either retain of chase away the most talented employees.

Overinflated Sense of Self

I have seen a tendency with elected officials to appoint individuals over agencies that can impact numerous citizens who have not proven themselves to be talented leaders. In the worst cases, there may be individuals who have supported a candidate for office and, once elected, the official rewards certain supporters by giving them positions within the government that they have not earned or have little experience with. Many times, these newly appointed leaders come in to a new agency with an overinflated sense of self and contempt for the staff they are charged with leading. These types are used to getting their way and when they discover that they can’t do whatever they want due to legal processes and procedures they take it out on their staff causing massive turnover.

I will continue the discussion tomorrow as to why appointing inexperienced leaders is a disservice and creates a dysfunctional “shake up cycle with negative results.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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The Four-Year Seasonal Career Cycle

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Some studies conclude that the “honeymoon period” with having a new job fades after only two years causing managers and employees alike to ask, “what’s next,” as they begin looking for their next promotion or career move. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average worker stays at their job for 4.4 years and not surprisingly the Millennial generation’s average tenure on a job is less than three years. The use of the term “honeymoon period” is interesting because unrelated studies indicate love can fade in some newlywed couples after only two years. This doesn’t mean people aren’t committed to their jobs or marriages, but reveals there is a change that happens in people after a couple of years that needs to be understood.

Two-Year Itch

I have seen a pattern in my professional career where some of my most highly engaged employees start to get antsy after a few years and need more fulfillment from their jobs. Because most people aren’t aware of this natural cycle they tend to seek to solve it by getting a promotion or changing jobs thinking they will feel more fulfilled, but after a couple of years the same feelings or “itch” tends to resurface. The same pattern holds true for personal relationships where some may think getting a new partner after a few years may be the answer to solve their relational blues. I have also experienced in my career how the excitement of having a new job wears off after a few years, so I started reviewing the historic pattern of my career and found an interesting pattern.

Seasonal Career Patterns

Just as there are seasons in the year there is an ebb and flow to our lives that is important to be aware of so we can learn to flow with it. There are natural years when we feel up and ready to start something new and others where things just don’t seem to click. Over the last thirty years I labelled each year as either Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter and repeated the seasonal pattern to the present. What I found was the years where I quit two jobs out of frustration were during “Winter” years when I was at an extreme low point. Another interesting pattern is the four times I have moved to a new home have all been in “Spring” years signifying starting a new life. This has helped me to see it is natural to have ups and downs and to stay put through downturns.

Preparing for Lows

Because I now see these patterns I can be prepared for them and help my employees to prepare for them. Knowing employees will get the “itch” to look for new opportunities every couple of years, I encourage them to focus on reevaluating their job duties and think of ways to change it to make it more challenging and exciting to them such as taking on a new project or exploring a new area of interest. Additionally, I encourage them to chart their own career path from its beginning to the present year and four years into the future. The goal is so they can see when they may be at a natural seasonal low point in their careers and not to make any major decisions during those years, but to wait until they feel on top of their game in a Spring or Summer year.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Could You Be Wrong Even When You’re Right?

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When I was a mid-level supervisor I couldn’t let things go. Anytime “management” was doing something I believed was detrimental to our organization, those I supervised, or me personally I felt duty bound to confront it. Most of the time it was managerial missteps involving my manager affecting my and/or other employees’ morale. There is certainly a time for being honest and forthright, but distinguishing between what is important to confront and what is not it critically important if we want to be heard. Like any relationship, if we want to get our point across the receiver must trust us and we establish that trust by demonstrating we know when to fight certain battles.

Need for Control

It may be hard for many to admit, but often the reason behind why we can’t let certain things go is the need to control. The need to control may be masked in righteous indignation, but underneath is really a need to control our environment so we feel secure. This can take many forms, but one I have been guilty of is micromanaging a micromanager. I could clearly see the mistakes an inexperienced manager would make and when it began to affect me I would push back and point out every little flaw, which is no different from what I was accusing my manager of doing. Sometimes it is difficult to admit that the very things we can’t stand in other people are reflections of the same behaviors we can be guilty of. And, rather than correcting ourselves we think the solution is to correct another person.

Focus on Strengths

Some may say we get exactly the manager we deserve and to a certain extent I believe that is true. When I stopped seeking to correct my managers for their shortcoming my work life dramatically improved. Everyone has strengths and weakness and I started appreciating my managers’ strengths rather than their weaknesses. As I focused more on their strengths I found I stated to pick up more of that quality in myself. For instance, I have seen one of my managers get accused of things that aren’t his fault and take one verbal beating after another, but he always lets it roll off him and maintains a good attitude. That is something I have never been good at, but have seen myself change in the last four years to the point where I now let certain things go and try to only fight selfless battles in defense of others.

Don’t Get Angry

One of the best things I have learned to do is not to engage a fool. In the past, if someone was a jerk to me in email or verbally I felt the need to “set the record straight.” However, intelligent and reasonable people know when someone is a jerk and when they see a person not answering back they think even less of the jerk. It used to be I would get angry at certain personalities, but found that no matter how right my points are they become eclipsed by the fact I got angry. It didn’t take long to realize that whoever gets angry is considered to be the one who is wrong. Alternatively, keeping cool and responding professionally demonstrates strength to those who truly matter.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Make Leadership Mistakes Early in Life

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Three leadership lessons that have stuck with me from my teens are: 1) Don’t be a dictator, 2) Never yell to get your way, and 3) Cultivate new leaders to take your place. Some of the worse managers I have ever had and seen have been those who have not had the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Before hiring a new manager, I want to know what experience the manager has had with leading others. But, specifically, I want to know when they failed leading others and what they learned from their failures. I know this may sound like common sense to many, but there are a surprising number of managers hired who lack experience leading others.

Some may be naturally good at leading, but I have found it is often not worth taking the risk to put an untested manager in a leadership role. If they haven’t had the opportunity to make mistakes in the past and grown from them do we want them making mistakes for the first time on employees in our organization? It’s unfair both to the new manager and their direct reports to put them in that situation unless the intent is to provide a lot of hands-on coaching. Sometimes there are constraints outside our control and we must take a calculated risk hiring an untested manager, but whenever possible we should not overlook the benefits of hiring a manager who has built upon their failures.

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One of the things I look for in potential managers is when they first had the chance to lead others. For me it was in the Boy Scouts. I had several leadership roles in Boy Scouts, which provided me with the opportunity to try things like being a dictator. When I saw that didn’t work well with half a dozen young scouts I learned to adjust my strategy and solicit their buy-in. I also had the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other leaders who thought yelling motivated people to action. Seeing how others lacked respect for this leadership method motivated me to take a different approach to gain willing followers. The result was being elected twice to the highest leadership role by the scouts I led.

Learning from my mistakes and the mistakes of others propelled me to the most senior rank in Boy Scouts where I learned one of the best lessons of all, which is to train up new leaders to take my place. Every leader needs to know when their time as an effective leader comes to an end and it is time to pass the torch to others. Seven years in Boy Scouts provided me with the opportunity to make leadership mistakes that I could learn from and grow from as a leader. Organizations that value leaders who learned from past mistakes will have a better chance of having high functioning teams and retaining employees than those who fill managerial positions with untested leaders.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Micromanaging is Not a Leadership Style

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I will never forget how my first boss in State government proudly let those of us on her management team know that her leadership style was to be a micromanager. At first, I thought she was kidding, but after laughing at what I thought was her joke I saw she was being serious. It was as if she thought she told us her style was to be a coach or collaborative leader and was proud of the fact that her style was micromanaging. I could not understand how anyone who had such a long career could possibly conclude that micromanagement was a leadership style worth aspiring to.

Micromanaging might be understandable in an environment where mistakes cost lives, but that wasn’t the case in our office. The problem with micromanaging in an office environment is the demoralizing effect it has on everyone who works for the micromanager. The micromanager believes their identity and the unit’s identity they are managing are one in the same. Based on this belief, the micromanager concludes the purpose of the employees in her unit is to serve her because serving her is the same as serving the mission of the agency. When the employees realize they are not serving a greater good, but only the micromanager’s whims they become demoralized.

A micromanager does not trust their employees and believes if they are not there to tell the employees what to do, then no work would ever get done, at least not “properly.” A new employee working for a micromanager starts at 0% trust and makes the employee believe they must earn the trust of the micromanager. They require perfection and the employee works hard to meet the micomanager’s demands. The problem is 100% trust is never achievable and if the employee makes one mistake, even after multiple successes, then trust drops back down on the scale and must be earned back through subjective measures. It’s a cycle the employee can never break out of to win.

The good thing about a micromanager is they show us the exact opposite of how to lead employees, so when we get into managerial positions we learn what not to do. Unless our goal is to have a group of incapable dependents reporting to us, micromanaging will only result in less valuable work products as every capable person who has the ability to drive creativity and innovation will flee from the micromanager. Don’t spend your time thinking you can change the micromanager’s mind by being reasonable. If you work for a micromanager it’s important to leave before it negatively affects you.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Turning “Wasted” Experience into a New Career

Career Path AheadIn 2003, I found myself in search of a new career. I had spent the first 10 years of my career since graduating from college working in real estate development and the legal field. Neither had worked out as I had hoped and I was at the point where I felt I needed to make a choice between either furthering my career in real estate or in law. At the time, I saw this as a binary choice to do one or the other, but as I have come to learn, rarely does life present us with only options A or B. When we feel stuck between choosing between either A or B I have often found that it is best to be on the lookout for option C to present itself. This takes a lot of patience and creative thinking.

I don’t like for anything to go to waste, especially years of experience in my life. As such, I was struggling with the idea that I had invested the first 10 years of my life in two separate career paths that both led to dead ends. It was a challenge for me to figure out how to brand myself and build a résumé that made sense to prospective employers. From my limited perspective at the time, I thought employers may see value in some of my experience, but not all of my experience. It wasn’t until I started exploring the Lake Tahoe area and realizing I wanted to live there that I began to focus my job search. That’s when someone encouraged me to consider government jobs in the area.

New CareerI had never considered working for any government entity and had always ruled it out as an employment option thinking it would be dry and boring work. However, once I started navigating various State and local government job listings I became intrigued at the variety of jobs that were available. I came across a State Land Agent job at the Nevada Division of State Lands where the job announcement described how they were looking for a candidate with a combination of real estate and legal experience to manage Nevada State properties in the Lake Tahoe basin. I couldn’t believe there was actually a job out there that could make use of all my experience over the last 10 years.

The job seemed too good to be true to the point that I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I didn’t get that job. Having all my emotions invested in one particular job working out was definitely outside my comfort zone. However, the result after going through a two month application and interview process was the State of Nevada hired me, which began my nearly 14-year career (so far) in public service. The lesson that has stuck with me ever since is that nothing has to be wasted and every experience has the potential to be utilized by an employer. I have also found that diverse experiences encourage creativity and problem solving, which is a highly needed and rare skill in public service.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

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Comparing a Government Salary to the Private Sector Equivalent

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When the economy is doing well it becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to great employees. This is particularly true in the public sector where top performing employees have the option to leave government employment for the private sector. This may come as a surprise to some who believe government workers are under-worked and overpaid. In some cases that is true, but for certain highly skilled positions, such as engineers and IT professionals, the government becomes a training ground and very rarely do they return. Those employees enticed away by a higher salary aren’t necessarily considering how that “higher” salary compares to a government salary.

At the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), we recently completed a salary calculator to be used as a recruitment and retention tool to help current and prospective employees to be well-informed when deciding to work for or leave State employment. The screenshot below shows the true annual salary of an average IT Professional who has 10 years’ experience in State service. The take home salary is a little over $83,000 annually, but the effective annual salary is equivalent to over $120,000. While an equivalent position in the private sector will also offer some similar benefits such as health care and leave, the key differences are the hourly rate and retirement benefit.

NDOT Salary Calculator Screenshot

If a State employee is offered a six figure income in the private sector there are a few considerations they need to take into account as a comparison to their State job. First, the annual take home pay is typically higher since the private sector position is contributing far less to a 401k than the State is contributing toward retirement. Upon retirement the State offers up to 75% of the employee’s income for the rest of their life. To be considered an equivalent salary, the employee must be realistic as to whether they will have the discipline to set aside the equivalent deduction from their salary toward retirement and whether their 401k can outperform the State’s investments.

Finally, how valuable is your time? Most of the employees I have spoken to in NDOT’s IT division who have come from the private sector appreciate their State job because it is limited to 40 hours per week and if they are asked to work more they earn overtime. If free time with family and friends is important, and to everyone I have spoken with it is, then this is an invaluable benefit. The private sector expects employees to be on call and if they need to come in after hours there is no overtime. Using the example above, the employee should deduct at least $20,000 on average from their anticipated annual salary in the private sector for the extra time that will be required of them.

A current or prospective employee should be well-informed before comparing a government salary to a private sector salary. They must be willing to accept the risks of preparing for their own retirement, working longer hours, as well as the potential for being let go and setting aside at least 3-6 months of their salary to finance the downtime required to find another job.

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Life’s Too Short Not to Make Friends at Work

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At some point in our careers nearly everyone has had a coworker who’s said, “I work to live,” “this job isn’t my real life” or a similar comment that lets everyone they work with know that they’re clocking in only to get their paycheck and clocking out to go do what’s really important with their life. Of course, a certain amount of this is to be expected. Who doesn’t look forward to the weekend and spending more time with their families? Isn’t it sad though to spend the best hours of our days when we can be the most productive waiting for the clock to tick by? Life is far too short to spend half our life waiting for our “free time” so we can really begin to enjoy life.

When we went to school and college we made friends or at had at least one good friend. Many of these friends were crucial to help us get through the challenges we faced and some even remain life-long friends. Why is it then when we go to work for eight or more hours per day we don’t think much about making friends at work? We can tend to place a higher value on the people we know outside of work as our real friends and our coworkers as simply people we must tolerate until we leave for the day. Considering many of us can spend the equivalent of 13 years of our life working alongside our coworkers how much fuller would our lives be if we made friends at work?

Over my 23-year career I have experienced the difference having work friends makes for my overall well-being. There was one exception where I took a job that I believed would be short and decided not to make friends at the office because of it. I still did manage to make friends even though I wasn’t intentionally trying to, but after 3½ years of being in that office I wish I had been more intentional about making friends because of how not doing so negatively affected me. I was not as happy at work because I was not engaging with my coworkers as well as I could have. After that experience, I chose to always seek to make friends at work and not let the years slip away.

Having friends at work to share ideas with, review work products, and provide support through tough times is indispensable. There were times when I was angry and wanted to give the boss a piece of my mind, but spoke to my friends instead. My friend, Kevin, called it, “talking me off the ledge.” Working with Kevin helped to temper me and place things into perspective when I was letting my emotions get the best of me. With his help, I avoided making costly mistakes. Often, I would do the same for him when he hit a frustrating situation or low point. Even though Kevin I no longer work together he and I have remained friends and his friendship helped me to grow into higher level positions.

Do you have someone at work you consider a friend? If not, is there a coworker you could develop a stronger relationship with by reaching out to them?

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Genuine Interest Retains Employees

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Before my employee interviewed for a job with an outside organization she came to me to talk about it against the advice of some friends and family members. After giving it a great amount of thought she decided to tell me she was interviewing because she didn’t feel right about keeping me in the dark about it. I don’t fault her friends’ and family members’ advice because some bosses would take the news of an employee interviewing as disloyalty, which would effectively end any productive working relationship from that point forward. However, she was confident she could share this information with me because of the relationship we had built over the last four years. Building that kind of trusting working relationship takes an intentional investment of time and showing true concern for the employee’s welfare.

We have weekly one-on-one leadership meetings to discuss issues she is facing in her division. During these meetings, we have had many discussions about how to treat employees and one of the topics that comes up frequently is how to support our employees. As she heard my leadership philosophy reinforced over the years these an atmosphere of trust was created that enabled her to feel comfortable sharing her plans with me. We must be honest about the reality our employees may leave for other career opportunities as we help them grow. They may also leave either because they retire, move, or cannot stand us as managers. We must realize it is within our power as managers to ensure our employees do not leave due to poor treatment and can choose to make it as attractive as possible for our top employees to stay.

Sometimes it is unavoidable to be considered the “bad manager” to certain employees and that simply goes with the territory of making decisions that not every employee can understand. However, there’s no excuse for our behavior as managers when it is within our ability to do right by our employees yet choose not to. One of the marks between a “bad manager” and “good manager” is the level of self-centeredness. To build trusting relationships with employees they must feel their manager has genuine concern for them as a person. The reason I was willing to accept my employee leaving for a higher paying position is that I truly wanted what was best for her and she knew it. That is why she felt comfortable sharing her interview plans with me. Her openness also provided an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of leaving to further her career goals.

Not all employees are going to be open no matter how hard we try to relate to them. Sometimes we simply click with certain personalities and get along with them better than others. However, even the hardest personalities will let in a boss who has genuine concern. I had a certain employee who self-admittedly dislikes people. Many saw her as rude and offensive, but rather than telling her she was rude and offensive I invested in little interactions with her and found out she had two dogs like mine. When she saw I had dogs like hers I became a person to her instead of a boss. Since then our work relationship has grown over the last two years to where she views me as a mentor and we can have productive talks about how to treat people better. Even the hardest personalities can be influenced by a manager who cares about them as a person.

Think of an employee or coworkers this week you would like to have a more productive relationship with and how you could show genuine concern for them as a person.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Using the Power of Trust to Retain Your Top Employees

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I mentioned in my previous blog post the mindset that enables me to demonstrate respect for my employees, which is to treat them as if I may work for them one day. Putting ourselves in this mindset as managers helps to maintain humility and avoids the danger of believing we are superior to those who work for us. Why is this important? From our own personal experience we can relate to having managers who consistently believe they are the smartest person in the room. We, along with our coworkers, easily see through this type of manager and their weaknesses. Yet, the manager maintains a blind spot and thinks they are fooling everyone. This type of manager is making a grave mistake by underestimating their employees’ intelligence.

The best managers know what their strengths and weaknesses are. They don’t try to hide their weaknesses and don’t worry about them because they are too focused on playing to their strengths and doing what they are good at. When employees see this honesty in their manager they relate to them as a person, empathize, and seek to support them. The manager who possesses self-awareness is also aware that their employees possess both strengths and weaknesses. This manager will not be too concerned about an employee’s weaknesses, except those that inhibit their ability to perform job duties, and will help their employees to utilize their strengths. As a result, a mutually supportive work environment is created where the managers and employees can thrive.

The top performing employee I was able to retain knew she had my support to do what she believed was necessary to improve her division. Before I was hired the Governor told my director he was getting too many complaints from the private sector regarding this division and he wanted it fixed. When I was hired my director made it one of my top priorities to ensure customer service was improved in this division. The best thing I did was to hire a person who possessed the skills, talents, and passion to turn that division around. Once I hired that division Chief I gave her 100% support to do her job rather than micromanage the process. The result? Last Monday, the Governor publicly praised this division for the positive feedback he was receiving from the private sector.

Great things that can happen when we pick the right employees, give them a mission, and support them to get the job done. I didn’t tell my employee how to get the job done or tell her to do it my way. I simply trusted her to complete the task and she exceeded expectations, making not only herself, but me, my director, and the Governor look good! Each of the five managers who report to me know I extend them 100% trust to run their divisions and programs. I also encourage them to try new things and that it’s okay to make mistakes. As a result, they work hard to ensure they never violate or lose that trust. It was the power of this trusting and supportive relationship that made the all the difference between my employee deciding to turn down a raise and stick with me.

Are you trusting your top performing employees? Consider meeting with your most valued employee next week and extend them your support and trust on a key project.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Would your employees hire you?

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Last week I detailed how I managed to retain one of my most talented employees who turned down a $30,000 pay increase because she liked me being her boss and was concerned about replacing me with a new boss. My intent is not to boast about how great of a boss I am because that isn’t the case. I am fallible and make mistakes just like any other manager. Not all of my experiences with employees have been this positive. Over my career I have had to fire employees, not promote others, cut jobs during the recession, some have taken promotions elsewhere, but also others have become friends. Knowing my faults and limitations also enables me to realize how anyone can do what I did to retain a top employee.

My desire is to capitalize on what I did right and help other managers to do the same. Some estimates calculate the cost to replace an employee can be 1.5 times their annual salary when considering the recruitment, training, and other turnover inefficiencies. In a recent management team meeting at my organization we were discussing our annual employee survey and the results were clear that employees were dissatisfied with their salaries. I raised the point with my colleagues how the number one reason employees leave their job is not because of pay, but because of their relationship with their direct supervisor. I proposed we could overcome many of the salary objections by becoming great managers, but not many were swayed by that argument.

Now, I have evidence that at least one top employee decided to forgo additional salary and not fire me as her boss. The question is can this be replicated by others to retain other top employees?  While I don’t believe every employee would decide to forgo an additional $30,000 per year I believe we can do our best to tip the scales in the manager’s and organization’s favor to at least make it a very difficult decision to leave. The foundational principles I utilize with each of my employees is to give them respect, support, and 100% trust.  Treating an employee with respect means that we value them as both a person and employee. The mindset I put myself in is that I know I am not better than my employees simply because they report to me.

Being a boss does not make me a superior person. It only means I have more responsibility and a big part of that responsibility is to look after the welfare of my employees. This is simply smart business because as the manager looks out for the welfare for their employees the employees see the sincerity of the manager and it returns dividends to the organization as the employee then looks out for their manager’s welfare. A manager who understands this principle and puts it into practice knows it is in their own self-interest to be concerned for their employees and to treat them with respect. Why? Because we never know what life may bring, so why not do our best to treat my employees as if we may be working for them one day?

Thank you for reading my blog!

In my next blog, I will discuss the importance of supporting and trusting employees.

Until then consider putting yourself in your top employees’ shoes and ask yourself whether they would hire you if you needed a job from them one day?

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Would you turn down $30,000 more per year to keep working for your boss?

Three days ago I was prepared for the worst when one of my division chiefs asked if she could call me on her way out of town. Weeks before she interviewed for another job that fit her experience perfectly and I knew that was likely what she wanted to call me about. The job would be less stress and a 33% pay raise for her. How could I or anyone compete with that! I couldn’t think of anyone in the department who was ready to take her place if she left and given the stress I was under both personally and professionally the last thing I needed was to recruit a new division chief.

Despite that I was prepared to accept either outcome as I picked up the phone to take her call. After our initial chit chat I was extremely relieved as she informed me how she declined the job offer and then began to tell me why. Despite the fact that she liked the person she would be directly reporting to she had doubts about the agency’s director and suspected he would micromanage her. She told me how much she appreciates me as a boss and how that was her main consideration in deciding not to accept the offer. This was the greatest compliment I have ever received from and employee.

Remarkably, as she weighed the pros and cons of the job offer and the $30,000 more per year it was not enough to tip the scales in the other employer’s favor to motivate her to leave. The job she was interviewing for had far fewer direct reports and was far less complex. This is a common problem between Nevada state jobs and equivalent positions for municipalities. The hard reality is the State has become a training ground for  local governments who have the ability to offer higher salaries to our best employees.

Our department has historically been known as a hard one to get into and once an employee got their foot in the door they would often spend their entire career there. Since the Great Recession State salaries were frozen for many years and have not kept pace with the private sector and other public entities during the recovery, which has severely damaged morale. As long time employees continue to retire it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain top talent when local governments and the private sector are offering more competitive salaries.

As some of the historic benefits of state employment have been eroded the State needs to implement innovative solutions to position itself as the employer of choice in order to remain competitive. I believe the principles I used to develop a strong working relationship with my employee that led to her choice to stay can be easily replicated by other managers. I invite you to continue reading my blog in the weeks ahead as I share leadership principles and stories that may help you to retain your best employees.

Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts in the comments section.