If I have a problem with anyone in my life, the best way to solve it would be to speak directly with that person right? Intuitively, I think we all see the uselessness of addressing a problem we have with particular colleague by talking with another. But many executives and other business professionals avoid dealing with relationship challenges directly. Instead, they will engage in activities that do nothing to address the problem or may even make it worse. 
I have had the opportunity to witness many efforts to “deal with” a problematic work relationship. Weather the case is an executive trying to mend some friction with a peer, or senior management trying to address the “bad attitude” of an employee, too many of these efforts are void of the kind of directness that fixes work relationships. This is usually because they take place without both people present. In one case, a VP at an insurance company was having a problem with someone she had recently promoted to a managerial level in her department.  The VP and the Human Resources department had at least 4 meetings to devise a way to deal with the issue. 
Upon being hired to help, I tried to learn about what strategies had been used so far by attending one of these meetings. When I arrived, the person who had the “attitude problem” was not present. In fact, she had not been included in any of the discussions so far. The VP and HR representative had not even considered that she should be there. They told me that “they needed to devise a way to deal with her”, as if she was an IT problem that needed fixing, or case study in a psychology course. The VP told me that they needed to discuss how to “read” her in order to devise a tactic for dealing with her. The problem is that we don’t read people, we read books (and newspapers) – people, we communicate with, we talk to. Even if we think we are intuitive and a good judge of people, we cannot read anyone accurately. The other issue is that “deal with” is pretty poorly defined. 
In a case like this, we need to first discover what “deal with” looks like. Is it that the VP wants her to not scowl when asked to do something, or is it that she wants her to take more initiative in solving work related problems? Without figuring out what “deal with” means, this duo ended up trying to analyze the employee. This type of analysis is rarely accurate and if you think about it, analysis can only lead to the type of characterization that produces defensiveness. In other words, discovering that she is insecure and telling her this will not make her attitude better – it will make her defend herself and make the relationship worse. 
The VP should also attempt to address the problem by asking for what she wants – more of this or less of that, and then work with the employee to make this happen. Often, it is a good idea to begin this face to face conversation by establishing the goal. An opening question like “Are you willing to talk about how we can work better together?” can get things going by establishing a common goal and avoiding blame and judging. 
Often, executives devise seemingly brilliant interventions in order to address peer relationship problems. One of the most common is to ask around and survey people in an organization in order to “get to the truth” about an issue. The problem is that there are usually multiple truths, making this is useless exercise. As well, even some version of the truth cannot trigger improved relations between people. 
In one case, the owner of a medium sized professional services company was having a problem getting along with his President who runs the day to day operations of the company. Rather than going to the President himself or seeking advice from one of the other 5 executive team members, he went and engaged a consultant (not me) who bought into the idea of surveying rank-and-file employees about what they think of the President. 
This is bad idea for a few reasons. First off, it is tough to fix a relationship with one person by keeping them out of the process altogether. Secondly, what kind of message will this send to the staff? It might very well undermine his authority, impede his leadership and de-moralize the staff, which in this case greatly respect and admire the President’s leadership. Finally, the collection of opinions about the President will most likely be all over the map, and even if they are not, what does one do with this information? Should the owner and consultant present it to the President and say “here is what the staff say about you…now defend yourself!” This type of search for the truth can never amount to anything other than a debate, more conflict, and a waste of time and money. 
It might have been better to use the consultant to mediate a discussion between the two in order to get each to define what they want from the other to improve things. Without a discussion that focuses on how each party can modify behavior to improve things, the owner might as well just let the President go. As the plan stands now, the outcome can only prolong the poor relationship and add unnecessary drama and conflict to an already bad situation. 


Has anyone else been hearing about 20% being the new normal when it comes to tipping at restaurants?  It can be hard to keep track of the rules of social etiquette – particularly for executives who are wondering how to treat their direct reports. Acting appropriately toward staff when it comes to special occasions, milestones and the like can pose a real challenge. Here are some tips to steer you in the right direction.
Find a way to do avoid perceptions of favoritism when some deserve more than others.  It will be hard to get away with giving one administrative assistant flowers for her birthday and nothing for your other one. The problem is that there are going to be employees who you feel closer to or more grateful towards. And to you, these staff deserve more special attention. In this case, you can give them a more significant gift as long as you can pull it off more covertly. 
This is a bit of a gamble, so don’t be buying an employee the front row seats at the Leafs game or the Hermes scarf unless you’re certain that he or she will be able to keep it quiet. Naturally, having the rest of your staff resent you and/or loathe the favoured direct report will undo any good you can do by buying that preferred employee a better gift.
Don’t do this year what you will not be able to do the next. To a certain extent employees are forgiving when it comes to understanding that some years are financially better for companies than others. Sometimes, they may even accept that salary increases can happen one fiscal year and perhaps not the next. But this level of understanding is conveniently absent when it comes to perks that are not related to compensation – it’s surprising how quickly special perks can be coloured with the entitlement brush. 
If an employee mentions it’s his 10th wedding anniversary and he’s told you where he’s going for dinner with his wife, suffice it to say that sending a bottle of wine is a thoughtful gesture which he will not expect for a non milestone event like his 11th anniversary. However, if you take an employee out for lunch for her 38th birthday and then totally overlook her 39th, you might as well have just done nothing for both. Remember, there is a flipside to every kind, over-the-top gesture. They set an expectation which when unmet, can be worse than when there is no expectation at all. 
Don’t underestimate the value of an occasional premium gift. Executives are often commiserating about the talent wars – how do you attract and keep the best people? There are so many elements to this including total compensation, culture, management relationships, etc. If on top of all that, you can throw in a $2500 long weekend in the Bahamas for your VP Operations and her husband after an especially successful quarter or a $500 sports watch for your Director of IT to wear up at his cottage after a very busy, stressful month, it goes a long way. 
Many executives know this, but don’t do it because they fear that others will be upset if they don’t get the same, or because they don’t see the value of spending in this way on their staff. First off, even when giving something to a select individual, the key is to remember tip #1: if it’s not something that you can do, or at least do a version of for everyone at the same level, then at least keep it quiet. Don’t feel guilty though, especially when you know the lucky staff member deserves the special gift. In organizational life, not everyone is equal – some contribute more than others and your thoughtfulness can send that message. Secondly, even if you spend the $2500 on your VP, you will get it back ten fold. 
Remember that small talk can be huge. Monday morning small talk can be seen by executives as too personal or as a waste of time. If you engage in the obligatory small talk every single Monday, it may in fact come across as phony, and may feel so as well. But, when one of your directors tells you they are competing in a mountain bike race for the first time, asking them about it on can show the kind of thoughtfulness that staff will remember for a long time. Taking note of special circumstances in an employee’s life – a special vacation, an ill relative, or a milestone of some kind – really should be noticed verbally by executives. To say nothing when you are aware of such circumstances would be a mistake. Your employees will notice, but will never tell you.

Who am I?

I used to think that discovering “who we are” was limited to adolescence.  But it seems that the Presidents, CEOs and owners of small and medium sized organizations are also struggling with their identities. In my work with a number of privately owned, small to medium sized organizations, I have noticed that as they grow, even slightly, the CEOs’ begin to wonder what exactly their role has become or will become. Whether the CEO was focused on selling or doing a bit of everything when the company was small, growth necessitates defining the CEO/President role before it becomes a problem. 
Starting a small business is an onerous task, especially at the beginning. I often think of it as starting a path in the woods: At the beginning you have to hold down all the grass yourself. Until you get the chance to have others use the path, you have to trample it yourself, over and over. Eventually, you will be so busy with walking the back end of the path, that you’ll need some help trampling the front end. So…your hire someone to help, and then someone else, etc. Soon, with all the help, the path no longer needs a “path starter” and your initial role is no longer required. But you still want to be part of the path, right? You are still the boss of the path, right? This path was “your vision”, right? Now what?
In one organization I work with, the President/CEO had actually been recruited from outside of this medium sized, family run business to grow it. He had taken a very “hands on” role due to the family culture, and played a role in hiring, vision, strategy, finance and especially sales. After one year, he had brought on (either through replacement or hiring) several specialized staff to take on specific responsibilities including HR, Finance and Sales. He wanted senior staff that could “hit the ground running” and could take on responsibility for decisions he just not have the time to do. The company had grown from 50 to 80 in one year and he had to pass on some tasks to these new players. Now, while he has done a great job, he had inadvertently made his original role less valuable. 
With some help, he was eventually able to redefine his role as being focused on sales and strategy and has been able to re-frame his role as President /VP Sales. This way, he prevented his role from becoming totally redundant, which would have altered his level of credibility in the organization and made any vision or strategy decisions difficult to move ahead. He was also able to ensure that his role focused on what he is best at, rather than abandoning it in the interest of being the “boss”. He was able to focus on what he needed to “do” as opposed to what he thought he should “be”. A wise choice. 
In another case, the CEO of a medium sized creative organization had been less lucky. This company had also grown, and where the CEO had once been focused on all areas of the business, his staff had been gradually taking over specific responsibilities. As well, this CEO truly wanted to empower his staff, so over time, he gave them even more autonomy and decision making authority. Eventually, he had given so much autonomy to his senior staff that they began to leave him out of basic processes – processes he had once taken joy in. In the early days, he would love to look at creative work before it went out the door. Now, his input was not required. And when he tried to insist on looking at the work, he was seen as micromanaging and going back on his promise to empower employees. He could no longer exercise his passion in business, in this business he helped to build. 
With some assistance, this CEO was able to figure out what was happening and to make some changes. CEO’s and Presidents in this same situation need to be able to see why they are less involved and not blame others for their ill-defined role. Then, they need to express that they feel left out, without feeling shameful for doing so. Organizations need to focus strategic planning during times of growth on articulating the role of the CEO or President, before it disappears. Presidents, CEO’s and other small/medium business owners need to discover what tasks and duties they need to keep and which ones they can let go during growth. For example, aspects of the organization’s strategic direction, vision and values ought to involve the President. But others may be best “let go” by the big boss, including some hiring and compensation decisions as well as deciding the paper stock for business cards, or the clolor of paint for the boardroom. Most importantly, CEO’s, Presidents and owners need to be sure to focus on what the business needs them to do, as opposed to what they or others think they should be. 

Do Recruit...

An increasing number of senior managers and executives are intimately involved in the recruitment, interviewing and hiring of their staff, whereas in the past they may had the assistance of an HR professional. Without receiving training on how to hire well, they are left to their own devices, often with expensive and disastrous outcomes. Senior management can certainly use some hiring tips to lessen the likelihood of a bad hire.  
The time it takes to screen applicants’ resumes and interview them can be excessive if the specific targets of the hire are not spelled out ahead of time. In a number of cases I have seen, a hiring manager will approach resume screening and interviewing the same way we sometimes approach a buffet: try a bunch of items, with the hopes that one will appeal to you, and at that point, discover what we are looking for. What I would suggest is to decide what you want before looking. Searching for something that you cannot define and articulate will, of course, make finding it pretty tough. Time is money, and the time it takes to screen 50 resumes and conduct 10 interviews only to then discover that these applicants are not what you want would be a waste.  
The absence of specific hiring criteria can also result in management using what is often referred to as “a gut feeling” when hiring staff. The problem with this “gut feeling” is that it is subject to bias and error. Despite the musings of Malcolm Gladwell in his best selling book “Blink”, snap judgments of people have been shown to be rife with inaccuracies. For example, we are inclined to positively evaluate people we like and negatively evaluate those we don’t like. This bias toward those we are fond of is sometimes so strong that it can cause us to overlook more important competencies. Our “liking” of a person is not based on an objective assessment of their knowledge, skills and abilities, it is purely emotional. 
The cost of a purely emotional decision in a hiring scenario can be very costly if we discover later that these competencies are not there and we have to terminate them – a severance package, hiring and training another person, not to mention the time/money spent getting the initial applicant on board. This can also be costly in terms of your own reputation. 
One VP I worked with went through at least 6 administrative assistants in one year, with each one either leaving or getting laid off, largely because they could not get along with him. In the end, this inability to hold on to staff was viewed by his boss as management incompetence. After some work with this VP, his boss and the HR department, we discovered that the real incompetence was in the hiring process – the HR department was doing all the hiring, never involving the VP in the process. In doing so HR used their own hiring criteria. They did not take into account the realities of what skills were required to work with this VP. The VP never discussed these specific needs with HR, and HR never asked. And while the two blamed each other for the bad hires, the reality was that the organization as a whole was loosing. Once the specific hiring criteria were discussed and articulated by the VP, the HR department was able to get someone on board that was a better fit. 
The notion of “fit” is the most crucial for senior managers taking part in the recruitment of their staff. But fit is often misunderstood. Fit is not just about having the right education and experience, nor is it purely about a manager’s “gut feeling”. Senior management needs to ask themselves questions like “What are the takeaways from education/experience that will be applicable to this job?” and “What sort of social and emotional skills will enable someone to manage the pace, scope and relationships in this job?” Asking these sorts of questions and devising interview or other techniques to screen for them will help management articulate exactly what they are looking for. 

Stick to What You Know

It always amazes me when executives mistake organizational hierarchy for expertise. If you manage a specific functional area or department, then be sure that decisions which touch upon other areas are made with consultation and advice from someone who knows more about it than you. Be prepared to get advice from someone who is out of your area and who may be lower in the organizational hierarchy than you are. 
Nowhere is this phenomenon more vivid than in staffing issues. Just because you are a VP of Finance with 10 years experience managing your staff, doesn’t mean that you are qualified or capable of making strategic Human Resource decisions. Because our ability to manage people is seen as a reflection of our overall social skills, most are reluctant to seek help. Most people see themselves as having mastered the social skills required 
to manage themselves and others, but the truth is that many struggle and many make bad staffing decisions. Just like in marketing, finance and administration, there are experts in human resource management and you may not be one of them.
In one situation I recently encountered a CFO decided that there should be an executive assistant in charge of all the executive assistants. Although there was no clear evidence that they needed a boss outside of the executive they work for, he decided he would promote one to manager. And his assistant was nearby, he liked her, she was competent in her role so he promoted her. New title, salary increase and a mandate to “lead” the group of EA’s. This decision was made without consultation with the HR area. 
Within a week, the other EA’s were in an uproar. She was bossing them around, micromanaging them and calling what they saw as useless meetings. Soon the executives were inundated with complaints, taking up way too much time, annoying everyone and turning a self-managed team to mush. The CFO had created a monster! 
One of the executives who caught wind of the problem was the HR VP. She approached the CFO to offer help and ended up getting some coaching for the new EA manager. But given their previous interactions with her, her efforts to fix the problem looked to the others like more of the same. She just did not have the skills to manage others – her low self-esteem and need to be in charge was the only agenda she was capable of pursuing. 
She should never have been promoted to this position. HR’s real challenge was to tell the CFO just that. Further, she told him that it is difficult for her to have an impact if she is not consulted prior to making such an important decision. Now they are left with a crucial group being disgruntled, the CFO losing his mind over how annoying his assistant has become, a situation where they may loose high performing EA’s and the possibility that they may have to lay off the EA manager, which will cost money. 
In another case, an HR department in a large organization wanted to be sure that senior management knows more about what they offer, what value they provide and to communicate some things they are doing to enhance organizational life. Certainly not a bad idea…on paper at least. 
They proceeded to put together an internal electronic newsletter which would communicate the HR happenings to managers and executives.  After the second edition of the newsletter went out they began getting feedback and complaints. It seemed that many saw the content as patronizing and insulting. They wrote about shortcomings of specific management practices they had heard about within the organization. The newsletter also came across as preaching, using cheesy motivational phrases which seemed to be more appropriate for children. 
In essence, they missed the basic rule of marketing – know your audience. This could have been easily avoided by partnering with the numerous marketing professionals they have on staff, rather than thinking they can do it themselves. Now, they are left with the opposite kind of attention they wanted and have to find a way to fix it. Just because the marketing department deals with marketing externally, does not mean that they cannot help with marketing internally, an important goal for this department. This just never crossed their mind.  
Organizations cannot be strategic without actually using the expertise and experience they have to get to where they want to go. Further, strategy as it pertains to human resources, marketing, finance or any area cannot happen if their only role is to fix problems after the fact. Getting help from experts is what collaboration in an organization is all about.  

Toss Out The Golden Rule

When it comes to leading others, perceptions rule. The way that your staff sees you – cooperative or uncooperative, respectful or disrespectful – is their reality.  If you want to be an effective leader, stop debating the truth of their perceptions and learn how to address them. Their perceptions of you matter more than how you see yourself and with a new perspective on leadership, these perceptions can be managed. 
After being on the job for about 4 months, a VP was asked to the president’s office for an orientation meeting.  When she got there, the President "ambushed" her about a client issue.  He used aggressive language, yelled and screamed at her. She was expecting a happy occasion, and she ended up feeling threatened and disrespected. 
After cooling off, she approached the President to tell him her perceptions. She hoped that this would help them to define the "rules of engagement" for their future working relationship. He told her that he did not think he was ever threatening, although he mentioned that others had told him the same thing. He also pointed out that this was not his intention, but that’s the way he is and she needs to deal with it. If he can deal with aggressive people, she should be able to.
So essentially, the president said her perceptions are wrong, as are those of others who have made the same comments. He has also said that even if he does come across as aggressive, others should learn how to deal with it…it’s not his responsibility at all. This leadership approach is riddled with problems, not the least of which being that he had just destroyed any chance of open, respectful communication with this new senior employee.
The essence of effective leadership is not necessarily charisma, initiative, or even power. As its most basic level, an effective leader has others that want to follow them. In this case, the VP decided she did not want to follow this president and left two weeks later. Interestingly, the president saw the reason for her departure as being about her competence, not his own. 
So, how can a leader create a situation where others want to follow them? To being with, toss out The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and replace it with “treat others the way they want to be treated”. It is common sense that we can get more effort, loyalty, and performance from people who we treat well. But few recognize that the definition of being treated well belongs to those who follow, your staff. If a leader wants to be seen by staff as treating them well, then that leader must use the staff member’s definition, not theirs. Adjusting to this model of effective leadership is a big challenge for many leaders. 
It begins by recognizing that your followers are not the same as you. They have their own definitions of aggressive, respectful, etc. You need to find out what these definitions are and try to guide your actions accordingly. If your employee tells you that she finds you disrespectful, find out what exact action they found to be disrespectful and try not to do that. It might be that you interrupted them, or looked at your watch while they were speaking. Once you know this, the adjustments can be easy. The alternative is to debate weather or not you truly are disrespectful (a fruitless exercise), or to insist that they ignore what they see as disrespect and carry on, which most cannot and will not do.  
Failing to use your followers as a guide for how to lead can result in key staff walking out or disengaging. You could end up like one CEO did, insisting that his aggressive approach is the only way to be, despite complaints, turnover and profit loss. He finally saw the light when he was asked, “So this approach that you swear by, how’s it working so far?” It wasn’t. This opened the door for him to look at leadership differently. Maybe it will for you. 

Under-perfromance and What to do About it

The way we address underperformers can make or break efforts to improve poor results and to sustain outstanding ones. Turning a blind eye to those who perform poorly prevents solutions but giving too much attention to them neglects our top performers.  Striking a balance is challenging, but possible.  
In every department, unit or team there will be those who perform well and those that don’t. For some, dealing with poor performers poses a set of challenges. Sometimes we don’t want to approach the employee because we want to avoid hurting their feelings. 
There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to avoid hurting someone. But to address poor performance is to take the risk that the employee will in fact be hurt. There is no approach to addressing poor performance that does not include this risk. In a situation like this, we need to make a tough choice. Do we want to avoid upsetting someone or do we want to fix the problem? Unfortunately, we usually can’t get both.  
Avoiding delivering negative feedback may prevent the poor performer from getting hurt, but it may inadvertently hurt those who are doing well. Top performers notice when their colleagues are not pulling their weight, but are often reluctant to confront them. Your stars see this as your job, not theirs. 
When you let that poor performance go unaddressed, your stars become resentful and very quickly their frustration with their peers turns into frustration with you. In this scenario your stars may feel hurt, ignored and unappreciated. If top performers feel wronged, there is a serious risk that they could become disengaged, making it difficult for you to sustain their performance.
Other times, we get so caught up in our own responsibilities that we don’t even notice when employees are doing poorly. It is certainly understandable that senior managers are busy, and cannot see everything that goes on. But, there really is no excuse for being totally ignorant of who on the team is pulling their weight and who is not. Being aware of how your employees are performing is the essence of any manager’s job. Don’t rely on what you might happen to see; make an effort to initiate discussions with your employees to “check in” with how everyone is doing. 
For some management, putting off negative feedback can backfire and be detrimental to their career. When we put off giving bad news, it builds, and builds until we reach the end of our rope. When it gets to that point, the point where we can’t hold it in any longer, we let loose and may just tear a strip off of the offending employee. This kind of reaction never works. The employee becomes defensive or withdraws, leaving the problem unsolved and both parties an emotional mess.  
While avoiding addressing poor performance can be a problem, so can focusing too much attention on it. When too much of our time is spent with those who do not perform well, there is not sufficient time spent on rewarding and recognizing those who are doing well. And your stars will see this. 
There are some people who crave any attention, even the attention that poor performance provides. When we respond by spending a tremendous amount of time and energy on helping them, we may be reinforcing their poor performance, and neglecting great performers. 
Try to ensure that problems with performance are addressed as soon as possible. This way we avoid blowing our top and messing up our working relationships, and we give employees a chance to address the problem before it gets out of hand. As well, try to create regular performance discussions with all your employees, outside of formal evaluations. This way, we give equal time and energy to both praising the stars and helping the others. 

Recognition is Easier (and cheaper) Than You Think

While organizations spend time and money to develop formal employee recognition programs and engagement procedures, the methods that are most successful are those that are simpler and cheaper than many think. In fact, the most crucial ones usually cost nothing.

For employees recognition covers everything from having their good work and efforts noticed, to the seemingly mundane gestures of a greeting or asking about their welfare. Often, in the face of a frenetic work environment, senior managers neglect these simple forms of recognition. Not because they are heartless, but because the culture of many workplaces emphasizes problem solving and fixing, leaving issues that are not problematic unacknowledged. 
I hear from employees at every level of organizations that they can do 50 things well and they never hear about it. But when something goes wrong, they hear about it excessively. Negative feedback might not be seen as excessive if there was some balance. The perception of a lack of recognition can be a major cause of dissatisfaction, resentment and a high turnover. 

While monetary rewards should not be given for meeting a tight deadline or solving a client problem, a verbal thank you would be nice. If you are not informally thanking your staff at least two or three times a month, you are missing out on an opportunity to motivate employees without promotions or bonuses. And for more major achievements, don't underestimate the value of a
$4 thank-you card.

Simple ways of showing recognition may seem petty to senior managers, but for staff, the absence of these can send strong messages. Do you take the time to learn about a new employee's interests or family? Do you ask about an employee's vacation? Do you congratulate the employee whose son just got into medical school, or the one who just won their first new client?

You may not hear about the absence of these gestures, but you can be sure they are talked about around the water cooler. Employee perceptions and gossip can produce assumptions about your character that are untrue and may even harm your reputation.

Far too many senior managers use words such as collaborative, and teamwork, but when given the opportunity to exercise these values, they default to telling employees what will be done. People are more likely to buy in to initiatives and actions they feel involved in than those dictated to them.

This can be as simple as asking "what do you think?"

Again, it is the pace of organizational life that makes it seem more efficient to tell. Talking "teamwork" but doing otherwise can disengage employees to the point that any time saved by telling, will be lost in employee disinterest. 
Sometimes, managers fear employees' views will have no use, that they know best and asking what employees think will give them less credibility. Asking employees what they think can actually raise credibility. Just because you ask, does not mean you have to do what employees suggest -the magic is in asking and considering the views of others.

If you want employees to stick around for a while, try some simple engagement and recognition approaches. In the best case, you might find employees provide a new perspective. At worst, you will be seen as thoughtful, considerate and respectful.

Are You a Referee or a Manager?

Have you ever asked yourself what you spend your time on each day, week, month? As a senior manager, director or VP, you might be developing or implementing strategies, addressing client accounts, or managing the work of your employees. Or, like so many that I encounter, you may be spending an inordinate amount of time as a referee between your direct reports who just can’t seem to get along. 
Many senior managers find that they spend upwards of 3-5 hours per week dealing with the “he said – she said” of employees. Over the course of a year, a Director earning $100,000 could be spending up to $15,000 of his or her time on this referee role. In fact, given that most manager initiated mediations fail, this number can be even higher. The ability to get along with each other is the responsibility of employees themselves, and your time could be better spent in other areas. 
The manager as referee scenario often looks like this: One employee comes to you and says “this person is not cooperating with me. Can you do something about it?” Then you ask to see them both in your office, and attempt to solve the problem. 
Once there is a gathering to deal with the problem the manager usually attempts to find out who is more at fault so some action can be taken, and the one who gets blamed, sulks or freaks out. This outcome poisons morale and leaves the problem unsolved; these two employees are no better equipped to handle their next conflict than they were before. 
This problem brings me back to road trips with my family when I was a kid. It didn’t take long for my sister or me to protest “he/she’s bothering me!” After a few of these protests, my parents would point out that they we would need to find a way to work it out ourselves. This too is the solution for the referee manager.
Rather than let an ongoing conflict between employees become the major task of your day, try taking the issue off your plate. Ask the employees to work it out on their own. By taking it on yourself, you encourage them to look to others for solutions as opposed to taking initiative and responsibility. And this lesson can certainly make its way into other areas. Not good. 
What’s more, the referee can become stressed themselves because of the high levels of negative emotion, and the impact on the relationship with your staff. At least one of them will see that you are taking sides, which you are.   
If asking them to deal with it themselves does not work, you might want to try suggesting an approach that has worked for you in the past in similar situations. For example, you might suggest that they try focusing on the goal of ending the conflict, rather than the goal of proving that they are right, which often works.
Some who are faced with constant personality conflicts between employees find that they don’t have a suggestion. They may also find that their staff are ill equipped to manage their own conflicts. In these cases, look outside for professionals to assist you. Recognize your own competencies, focus on what you are skilled at and leave those things that you are not skilled at to others. 
Management skills, conflict management or interpersonal skills training can provide the skills your staff needs to solve their own problems. If the conflicts of one particular staff member are persistent, you may want to consider a coach for them.
Either way, the cost of these employee development initiatives will be far less than it costs for you to take your time to try, and fail at the role of referee.

Helping Yourself

Senior managers, including directors and VP's, have more on their plates these days than ever before. Input and decision-making responsibilities within strategic, financial, and human resource realms are increasingly falling on this management group whose expertise may not be in these areas. As well, they may not have the tools to manage the change in accountability these new responsibilities bring. 
The needs of employees are also changing. Employees are demanding more engagement and collaboration with senior level management. These increasing responsibilities from above and below present both challenges and opportunities.
The challenge for managers is to avoid reacting impulsively to increased accountability. In other words, don’t panic! Panic will result in taking away employees’ work, purely because of a fear that the job will not be done correctly.
This reaction causes problems on a number of levels: It sends a message to employees that they are not trusted to do the job well; it prevents employees from learning on the job; and most importantly, the manager's own duties fall away. Performance is sacrificed, and taking on the tasks of subordinates is rarely accepted as a justification of poor performance. 
The opportunity is for staff to get a chance to learn on the job. But for this to happen, managers need to delegate important tasks without snatching them away again. Think of coaching staff through a project as an investment in the future rather than a risk. Employees with the potential to do great things require the opportunity to learn by doing. Failing to trust employees is an easy way to lose them to a competitor.
But a growing pile of others’ work on a manager's desk isn't always the result of increased accountability. When management aims to be more collaborative with employees, a manager may take on responsibilities that belong to others in his zeal to be a friend, confidant and supporter. 
For many, the ability to balance being helpful and being selfish is a life-long challenge, not only in the workplace, but in intimate relationships, in parenthood and beyond. In a senior management role, the solution lies in tipping that balance to the selfish side. 
Take to heart the adage "we must learn to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others." Until your own obligations are taken care of, a manager must learn to say "no" and stick to it. 
Helping when you have the time may produce respect and goodwill, but managers who help others excessively are seen as having no backbone, and may lose their job because they are simply not doing it. If your goal is to make your staff like you, bending over backwards to help them won’t work. 
If employees need help, explain your time limitations and offer another solution. If they want to enhance their skills, let them make some mistakes. If the only alternative you offer is to do it yourself, you will not be helping yourself or your staff.      
Taking care of yourself first will free up the time and energy to help and give learning opportunities to staff. Delegate work without guilt or fear. It may just save your job.

Time and Productivity

Any kind of growth or development of an organization is dependent upon the productivity of its people. Some might say that the central role of any manager is to find ways to encourage employees to be more productive at work. But measuring productivity is a funny thing especially as it pertains to using time at the office or time on a task as the index. Employees who put in less time and produce great work, those who put in more time but produce less and those who create an illusion of productivity all present unique challenges.

Some organizational cultures are only capable of measuring productivity by looking at the clock, assuming that those who work longer hours are in fact more productive. But of course, this is a inaccurate measure of productivity – we have all spent a lot of time accomplishing nothing and have also been able to complete a difficult task in a short time. This “time=productivity” culture need not prevail. 

There are some things managers and employees can do to manage this madness. First, we need to ensure that time at work is not the only index of productivity. How? All employees, at every level, need to market themselves! Ensure that you meet with your supervisor on a regular basis (maybe weekly) to show her what you have accomplished – an informal, ongoing, status report of sorts. Without YOU providing this information, busy supervisors may be left to the only index they have access to – time. If you are one of those people who put in less time to produce great work, you certainly want to be judged based on your results, not how long you spent on a task. Without apology, let your supervisor know that time is not best way to judge your productivity. This way, you show transparency in communicating how you work, and confidence in how you work. Whatever you do, don’t let the 12-hour days of others put the pressure on you.

When we look on the management or supervisory side, we see a different set of challenges. The employee who puts in long hours but produces less can pose serious management and organizational problems. Without asking ourselves the question “What does productivity mean for us?” the organization might default to conceptualizing time on task as productivity. They might even end up rewarding effort or time on a task as opposed to results. While it is certainly commendable to recognize effort, rewarding or evaluating productivity based on time or effort may be misleading at best, and downright useless at worst. So what to do? Managers and supervisors need to ensure that the weekly, monthly or quarterly goals of employees are spelled out in terms of end results, as opposed to falling back on time or some other misleading, nebulous measure. This creates mutual accountability as well as clarity for both parties on what constitutes productivity. It also makes it easier for the employee to reach their goals, and for the manager to help them get there.

Lastly, there are unfortunately those who capitalize on organizations’ inarticulate or limited understanding of productivity by staying late (but not necessarily working late) and using other creative methods to feign busyness. Again, both you and your organizational culture need to tighten up their definitions of productivity. This can prevent the employee who uses staying late, the messy desk, and the old furrowed brow while carrying a bunch of files from faking productivity. Otherwise, efforts to enhance productivity might end up only encouraging people to stay later and later, and do less and less. Next thing you know, this extended time at work provides the impetus for employees complaining about work/life balance!