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7 reasons your employees hate you

7 reasons your employees hate you Adam Kleinberg

At some point in your career, you wake up one morning, drink your coffee, put on deodorant, kiss your kids good-bye, drive to the office, and suddenly realize -- you don't have one ounce of experience at your job.

You did yesterday. What happened?

You were promoted. You became a manager. And you suck at it.

Yesterday, you were an absolute rock star at your job as a media planner. Or designer. Or salesperson. So fantastic they put you in charge.

And now, you've got six eager faces standing around your desk, looking to you for guidance.

So, you do what you've always done. You wing it. Act like a leader. Demand results. Drive the ship. Everything you've seen your former bosses do for years on end.

And a year down the road, during your Monday morning staff meeting, you announce a new initiative and see someone at the table sneer in disgust. You look around at all faces and realize: These people hate my guts. They can't stand me.

What did you do wrong?

Well the truth is, I only know why my employees hate me. But I've got some good guesses why they hate you. Seven of 'em.

You tell me. Am I right?

You don't leave them alone.

Nobody wants to be micro-managed. If you browbeat the people on your team to make sure they do what you want them to do the way you want them to do it, they're going to hate you.

As a manager of other human beings, your job is not to care if people like everything you say. Your job is to get results.

But people perform -- and deliver results -- when they have clear goals, the tools to do the job, and the support of their boss.

When people have you breathing down their neck, they don't perform. They are reactive instead of proactive. They look down instead of looking forward. They don't feel you have confidence in them, so they don't have confidence in themselves.

Think about it. When have you had your best job interviews? Your best client meetings? You perform better when you're confident.

Now imagine that confidence was ripped away from you. You failed in your attempt to get that cute girl's phone number. And you knew exactly who it was that took your mojo away.

You'd hate them.

You leave them alone.

The opposite of micro-management is ignoring your people.

Every single one of us craves... desires... yearns for feedback, all the time.

Your people want the attention of their boss. After all, you are the human being with the power to give them a raise, promote them, put them on the great new account and, yes, fire them.

If you don't give your people feedback and meet with them regularly, they don't know if they're doing a good job. Chances are, when you finally do get around to giving them feedback, it's because there's a problem. They are in trouble. That means the only time they hear from you is when there is something negative happening.

How are they supposed to feel about you? I don't even know you and I hate you.

Your people have a reasonable expectation to receive guidance from you. Positive and negative.

That's easy to overlook in the name of "being hands-off." But good intentions have a way of biting you on the ass. There is a middle ground.

Talk with your people. They need it.

You're a Twit.

This is definitely a reason my people hate me.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that since you're reading this article in this esteemed publication, you have an interest in new developments and trends in the industry -- things like social media.

This means you're probably doing things like using Twitter.

But tweet with care, my friends, or risk the abhorrence of your team. All it takes is one bumbling Twitter message that was supposed to be a direct message to someone on your team, but accidentally got broadcast out to the Twitterverse, to transform you into a complete and utter "Twit" in the eyes of your team.

Believe me, I know.

Oh, you can blame your BlackBerry. You can blame your ignorance of social media syntax. No one cares. The result is the same: You just made a public statement about something that was supposed to be discrete.


Regardless of your excuse, public acts of unprofessional behavior reflect poorly on you, reflect poorly on your team, and reflect poorly on your organization. So, think before you tweet.

(If you'd like to watch me make an unprofessional ass of myself in real-time, you can follow me at @adamkleinberg.)

You make commitments without checking.

The overpromise -- probably the most loathsome of managerial behaviors.

We all know that in this business, sometimes we all have to pull rabbits out of a hat. You have clients, they have needs, you need to deliver, so you say "yes" first, and ask questions later.

Then you dump a steaming pile of commitment on your team's lap that they cannot humanly accomplish.

The next three weeks are filled with stressed-out teams working until 11 p.m. and on Sundays. This might be acceptable if at the end of their efforts they were rewarded with a happy and grateful client. But since you set them up for the impossible, they're doomed to fail.

Can you think of something worse than working your butt off to deliver on an unreasonable commitment someone else made on your behalf and then not even having your work be appreciated?

"What can I do?" you ask. Clients are clients and -- especially in this economy -- if you don't say "yes," someone else will.

I have some good news.

First, I have never been penalized by a client for telling them I have to check with my team to make sure something is feasible before confirming we can do it.

Second, there is an art you can master. It was taught to me by Traction's executive producer, Goyo Aranaga, and now I shall pass it along to you: the art of the "yes, but..."

Here's how it works.

"Yes, but we'll have to sacrifice something lower on our priority list to make it possible."

See? Not so bad.

You don't follow your own rules.

What you do every day gives cues to your people as to what matters in your world. Rules, policies, and processes are all important. Which is why it's important for you, more so than anyone on your team, to adhere to them.

When you don't follow a rule, especially one you've made, you are saying to your team, "This is menial. This is not important enough for me to follow."

When you demand your people adhere to a rule you just told them is menial and unimportant, you are implying that they are menial and unimportant.

Ergo, they hate your guts.

You lie.

I can hear what you're thinking: "Them's fighting words."

Maybe, but understand this: When you tell your people you are going to do something and then you don't do it, you just lied. Period.

It may not feel like a lie to you, but you don't get points for telling 75 percent of the truth. And when you keep less than 100 percent of your word, people soon start to get the message that your word doesn't mean squat.

Trust goes out the window. Are you someone they can rely on? Not so much. Yet, as I pointed out earlier, you have your people's careers in your hands. They need to feel they can rely on you.

If you don't take that responsibility seriously, they should hate you.

You're scary.

Remember Pavlov? He was the scientist that figured out that trained responses are biological in nature. Every day, he rang a bell and then gave a dog some food. One day, he rang the bell and didn't give the dog food. However, the dog began to drool in anticipation of being fed. For the dog, the bell = food.

We are all Pavlov's dogs.

If your people only get negative feedback from you, they are going to learn pretty quickly that every single time you ask them to come into your office and close the door, they should be scared. The moment you ask to speak with them, they are going to physically respond by feeling queasy.

They're right to. You're about to tell them they did something wrong, and they know it. Hell, everyone in the office knows it. Hate blooms.

Letting people know when they do something right is even more important than telling them when they do something wrong.

Positive feedback motivates. Negative feedback de-motivates. You want results. You cannot de-motivate results.

In the words of the Godfather, "It is better to be loved than feared."

Adam Kleinberg is CEO of Traction.

On Twitter? Follow Kleinberg at @adamkleinberg. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

MediaPost named me an OMMA All-Star in 2013, an award given to the three most influential digital creatives in the U.S. each year. I was called one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Marketers in Digital in 2012 by iMedia Connection. In 2014, Traction...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: masn masn

2009, December 21

Great to see an experienced marketing hand (mind) addressing operational topics that are at the heart of any successful organizational endeavor. I suspect that Traction has a reasonably positive environement.

Taking your advice may help break the agency dynamic that has been described as a bunch of geniuses and morons chasing each other around.


Commenter: Adam Kleinberg

2009, December 21

I agree with that Robert. At Traction, managers have regular one-on-ones each week with our direct reports. Great way to ensure you have some focused time to give people the attention they need.

Commenter: Bob Bentz

2009, December 21

I know it's important not to micro-manage people, but in a small company, you are often so busy you don't give people enough attention. Therefore, it's important to keep the formal meeting schedule to do so.

Commenter: Gillian Core

2009, July 31

such a gem Adam, thanks for this. i now have my marching orders for today.

Commenter: Adam Kleinberg

2009, July 28

oops, typo. www.tractionco.com

Commenter: Adam Kleinberg

2009, July 28

Fine by me, Reynolds. If you want to give credits, my company site is www.tractionco.com.http://www.imediaconnection.com/profiles/images/btn_submit.gif

Commenter: Reynolds Roy

2009, July 28

Brilliant article. Can I post it at my site with credits to you of course. I do not know how to reach you, but I can always be reached through any of my sites linked at rproy.com

Commenter: Ricardo Andrews

2009, July 28


Commenter: jim sellner

2009, July 27

Great little reminder to new managers.

Commenter: Ginger Dodds

2009, July 25

Adam - your article was so timely and really resonated with me. In any situation where you are put in charge of a group of your peers - title/no title, officially/unofficially - it's important to remember they look to you for guidance, direction, feedback, motivation and encouragement.


Commenter: fajar asmara

2009, July 22

I'ts about employee's behaviour, being their own caracter it means that a good leader can manage everything what have done or what will be do in the future.
it's better for the organization, especially for the leader still focus in their own mission, don't make it destroying relationship each employee or influence another because one person. curcuitously good behaviour can change ungood attitude if their leader and all of support in the organization make it too

Commenter: Erin Brooks-Smith

2009, July 22

Super helpful article! Loved the realistic approach to management.

Commenter: Langston Richardson

2009, July 22

This sounds like every mistake I ever made. The fun moments for employees is when that person is the owner or is loved by the owner. Then it's a problem that would rarely get corrected.

Twitter: @MATSNL65

Commenter: Susan Kienzle

2009, July 22

Best part about your article for me, Adam, was that I was NOT reading about my own boss. The micro-managing, over-promising idiot you describe sounds like an awful person to have to face 5 days out of 7, and your article as a whole not only makes me appreciate the true leader and motivator I have in a boss all the more, but it makes me feel I should go into his office this morning and thank him for being so supportive, positive, and only constructively critical when the situation calls for it! Thanks.

Commenter: Adam Kleinberg

2009, July 22

Thanks for the comments.

Yashod, I don't think it's as hard as finding an elusive "perfect equilibrium" if people have a clear framework of what's expected of them.

At Traction we have a company value system: candor, communication, great work, empathy and integrity. It gives people a compass for just about any decision they have to make. It makes being a manager easier because you can just give people feedback (positive mostly, negative if you need to) to keep them in the framework.


Commenter: Yashod Bhardwaj

2009, July 22

Excellent article Adam…I entirely agree with all the points mentioned Top-to-Bottom, especially Micro-management or leaving them alone, there has to be a perfect equilibrium. Also the scary bosses should learn how to appreciate/ reward their employees might be sometimes without a specific reason or just to motivate them!!

Commenter: Tim Trent

2009, July 22

That "Scary" one is the key for me. I can cope with every other sin you've mentioned, even the over-committing idiot. But the scary one, that is impossible to cope with.

I've only had one scary boss, and yes, I'm sure she had no idea how to be a manager. She managed by fear, but she was afraid of her team, too.

I'm sure we were no better than she was, but she seemed to think so. So every opportunity to bully us, or to rub our faces in errors, or to criticise, or carp or deride us, yes she took those.

The VP who hired her apologised to us for the hiring! But she wasn't de-hired for two solid years, during which she reduced the European marketing team to a shell shocked shadow of its former self. Morale went through the floor. Productivity? You have to be joking! Return on Marketing Investment? Not a chance.

But, at mahogany row level, she talked the right language. And, since most of the other tenants in mahogany row were iin awe of her straight talking and forthright attitude, she got away with it for two whole years.

She became known as "The Bitch from Hell" by the team. We ducked or cringed when she descended to our floor. We quivered when summoned to her office. I've never been more pleased to have been made redundant in my working life! It was the only meeting with her that was enjoyable and had a positive outcome.

Commenter: Kim-Marie Evans

2009, July 22

Great article. I only employ housekeepers and babysitters but got a lot out of it, moreover, you're writing style if fabulous. I don't think I've ever read through anyone's entire blog post before. Well done.

Commenter: James Sandoval

2009, July 22

Nice one Adam. I had little [painful] laugh when I saw myself as you described the newly promoted planner/etc. I was once the newly promoted guy who, really quickly, had the proverbial "oh sh*t moment" where I felt completely clueless, helpless and, to the chagrin of my team and colleagues, well, I didn't make many friends. In time, and, thankfully, with great senior support and guidance, I learned how to do things differently.

And I'm stll learning - articles like yours above help, making for a nice bit of self-reflection, a little reality check and a refocusing for tomorrow and after. Cheers for that from London.

To see how I handle myself today, feel free to follow my random (mostly online advertising-related) Twitter posts here: http://twitter.com/checkyourfuel.

Commenter: Adam Kleinberg

2009, July 21

This is Adam (the author of this). Wanted to give some props to the guys over at ManagerTools.com. Their podcast have been a big influence on me. I recommend readers check them out.