Leading Your People, Part ?

One of the most important factors in determining & shaping an employee’s satisfaction level with a particular company is not the salary they receive.

It’s not the benefits they enjoy.

It’s not the opportunity to advance, nor the need for interesting & challenging work, nor the chance to learn new things & improve their skills.

Often times, the #1 factor is whether or not the employee believes that he/she is being honestly & fairly recognized for the work that they’re producing.

For the value that they’re adding to the organization.

For the real difference that they’re making.

That’s often the main reason in why an employee is highly satisfied, satisfied, neutral, dissatisfied or highly dissatisfied.

Yes, of course, there’s a multitude of other factors at play here, including, but not limited to, those I previously cited.

But you can’t get away from the recognition thingie.

Here are a few of my thoughts on this topic…

> If there was an award for which my people were eligible, you can be
damned sure that at least one of them was gonna get it.

Realize this.

The person, or the committee, or the senior leadership team, that’s responsible for selecting the winners probably do NOT know the candidates personally nor are they intimately familiar with what they do on a day in, day out basis.

They don’t have the foggiest idea of how very valuable this person (these people) is/are to your organization.

How indispensable they are.

How critical they are to the overall success of your organization.

And since the nominees probably come from a variety of different areas within the company, there is no one comprehensive set of performance metrics that truly & accurately measure one employee’s contributions from another’s.

They’re really not evaluating the individuals themselves…they’re actually evaluating the nomination you authored & submitted.

All they have is YOUR nomination form submitted on YOUR employee’s behalf.



When they give you “this much area” on the form for a write-up, then you use the smallest font in existence to fit as much stuff in as possible or you add an extra page.

You make it so that it’s virtually impossible for them to not approve your person’s nomination.

You highlight everything your employee has done within the applicable time period (month, quarter, year) and to add a little extra spice, perhaps you cite the fact that this is the “5th consecutive quarter in which Suzie has blah, blah, blah”.

You add as many glowing adjectives as possible to describe her performance & her contribution to the organization.

Use stuff that you’ve heard others (peers, superiors, customers, etc.) say or write about your employee…and “quote” these people as best as possible! (Yeah, feel free to take a little literary license without distorting the true meaning of their words!)

Make excellent use of your thesaurus.

Once again, and WITHOUT LYING, make it physically impossible for them…the decision makers…to say “No”!

This form/entry is the only thing they’ll know about each candidate. I seriously doubt if any other effort is made, e.g., pulling personnel records, conducting interviews, etc., to evaluate award candidates other than just the nomination form.

Trust me, as I’ve sat on more than my share of these selection committees & I know how they operate.

And if your boss or senior manager, for example, is part of the group that’ll evaluate the entries & select the “winners”, then make sure you campaign for your person with your boss (or boss’s boss or whomever).

In every election, there are probably several candidates capable of filling the open position.

But it’s often the one that does the best job to convince the voting public that they’re the best that usually wins out.

Again, make sure that your write-up is 100% accurate, verifiable & can be easily supported.

Write more than less.

(“Really, Mike, you would actually say something like that?!?”)

Note: I spent YEARS writing up monthly & annual Executive Summaries for my boss, his boss, & his boss’s boss. I wrote them when I was just hired, when I was still new to an organization & even underwater!

Well, in my whirlpool, not exactly underwater.

And I truly cannot remember ever having one of my people not win an award, regardless of the level or importance.


First, because I’ve had some incredibly-talented & dedicated people working with me. I would have -0- reservations about nominating them for an award or recognition for which I believed they were truly deserving.

And then there’s the nomination form…

When I joined First American (property tax servicing for mortgage banks) in 2009 after Lehman Brothers crashed & burned to the ground in the Great Mortgage Crisis of ‘08, I wrote up Peggy Planamenta’s Presidential Award nomination (“Employee of the Year”).

Peggy reported directly to me, yes, but I had only been there at First American for a week.

I did my research. Spoke with people. Got input.

Oh, BTW, Peggy was indeed selected as 1 of the 5 winners for this prestigious award.


You owe it to your people for all they do for you, your organization, your customers…EVERY SINGLE DAY!

> Informal forms of recognition & gratitude.

You should be saying “Thank you!” in your sleep. 2 simple words that carry incredible weight.

And don’t wait for a special occasion. Say something when you’re passing through the unit.

I’d often call an employee into my officer around performance appraisal time (ranking & merit raise season) & just thank them for a great job.

First off, they’re probably all worried about what they did wrong. And there’s no need to reveal any information before it’s formally announced to them. But to say “Wow! I just read Jennifer’s write -up on your performance & I’m so grateful for what you do for us & our customers every day!” goes a very loooooong way.

You’ll actually find that the informal shows of thanks often means more than any award as it’s viewed as 100% genuine & coming straight from your heart.

Yes, heart! No need to keep that sucker, along with your personality, in your glove compartment of your car when you come through the front door in the morning.

(And come through the front door in the morning…no sneaking in via a back or side entrance. Greet everyone. Say hello to the receptionist & Security! And don’t forget to invite them up for a pot luck!)

> Whenever your organization wins an award or is recognized for its exceptional performance, 100% of the credit goes to your people.

Take the opportunity to review your monthly results with your people. While they may be “your numbers”, it’s what all those people do every day that actually created those numbers for you. While I know very well that you live & die by them, you make sure you thank those truly responsible.

Yes, you’re a wonderful captain of the ship, steering it safely through rough waters & back into port. But don’t ever forget the people that are keeping you there!

> Lobby for your people. All the time & especially, with the people upstairs.

Get your boss to make an appearance every now & then and write up a few cue cards for him to congratulate your people on achieving a milestone or successfully surviving a rough Monday,

Get his boss to step down off his throne as well.

When Mark Devine was USCC CEO, I got pretty close with him. He often would look to me to cut through all the bullshit.

I remember one year when his wife was suffering from breast cancer & he was pretty “detached & removed” from the day-to-day happening of the site.

I fully understood.

CitiPhone had been blowing up for months, ever since Javier Villanueva took the reins in the summer.

It was now about the 3rd week in November & Mark decided to sit in on a morning meeting (for the first time in ages). I wasn’t in the CitiPhone organization myself, but always represented them & the USCC on various project & program initiatives so I attended these meetings to provide updates & keep abreast of things.

Mark asks Javier how things are going.

What followed was a complete mish-mash of numbers, reasons, figures, excuses & what-not.

Mark looked perplexed.

He turned to me & said, “Mikey, how many days have we failed so far this month?” (In English, “How many days have we missed the ‘80% in 30 seconds’ timeliness indicator?”)

“It would be much quicker, Mark, if I only counted the days we’ve made it!”

It took about a second before his face turned about 18 different colors.

“Just how long has…?”

“We’ve been blowing up regularly for the past 4 months or so!” which, coincidentally, matched the exact time Javier assumed managerial responsibility for CitiPhone.

Did I throw JV under the bus? Yeah, probably, but it was well-deserved.

I had met with him on numerous occasions since his coronation ceremony, made MANY helpful recommendations, brought several things to light that deserved (needed) his hands-on attention, but he ignored them all.

Apparently, coming to Citi directly from AT&T meant that he already knew everything on how to successfully run a call center.

Actually, he once asked me why I was offering him all this advice & stuff when I wasn’t even in the CitiPhone (nor did I report to him).

Instead of telling him the absolute truth (“I’ve forgotten more about this place than you’ll ever know, Javier, & you’ve done absolutely -0- to prevent or correct any issues & problems you’re having! You’ve never once paid attention to anything I’ve said that would help!”), I merely said, “You actually said that to me?!? Are you nuts? You think I’m hatching some kind of plot here?”

Then I walked out of his office.

When the place has been running relatively smoothly until the day he walked in & he’s unable or unwilling to recognize that fact, and refuses my help, then I’ll not only throw him under the bus, I’ll drive the freakin’ thing over his body!

FYI, I never turned him in…I just answered a question that was posed to me.

*Dontcha just hate when I take off on all these tangents?*

Anyway, I used to spend time trying to get Mark outta his office.

“C’mon, we’re giving out a Team of the Month award next door. The people would love to see you there! They just wanna kiss your ring & touch your robes!”

He placed a special adjective before “LoRusso” to tell me how he felt.

“Come with me & just take a picture with the winning team. These people absolutely adore you…although I can’t for the hell of me figure out why!”

He grumbled. Loudly.

But he relented & came next door to hand out the award. The reps were on Cloud 9.

On the way back to Building I, he threatened my life, sometto the tune of “I’m gonna kill you!”

“You’re all bark & no bite! Go smoke a cigar!”

He smiled & closed his office door.

BTW, in a totally smoke-free set of buildings, he would smoke these giant Coronas in his office.

Facilities installed a special ventilation system…for his office only!

Mark actually golfed on Saturdays with me & Rich Green on several occasions.

Once, we golfed up at Rebecca Creek golf course in the pouring rain when it was about 40° out!

Rich quit after 9 holes while Mark & I lasted through 13 holes. Had a couple of beers, shot the breeze, then drove home. Not sure he had a lot of male buddies.

> Maintain an open door policy. All the time.

No reservations needed if one of your people need to talk with you. And they’ll outrank just about anything & anyone.

> Push to get rid of them!

Look around to see if there are promotion or advancement opportunities for them in another area of your company.

Employees will often feel as if they’re not qualified for certain positions, but you should know better & be more familiar with what it’ll actually take to succeed there.

Talk with them about it. Lobby for them. Damnit, call in some markers for favors you previously extended to others. Sell your people.

Do the best thing for THEM & THEIR careers. Don’t worry, you’ll survive without them…and you’ll always have allies stashed away in different areas of the company.

That can prove to be unbelievably valuable to you in the future, especially when you need something done yesterday for a customer.

(I would normally refer to these former employees as “disciples” rather than “allies”, but I know some people here would get offended by the terminology, the implications &/or my haughtiness.

None of which is true, by the way.)

BTW, a leader’s success is measured by the success of his people!

> Write hand-written congratulatory notes for every promotion & every significant work anniversary for everyone you know.

Yes. Don’t worry, your fingers won’t fall off!

> Establish a Wall of Fame for your area.

Display complimentary customer letters, promotions/anniversaries, award winners, perfect attendance, etc..

Don’t forget special awards for “most improved” & such. In this way, you can get to recognize some of your newer people & the not-the-best performers who still do a very solid job & who don’t have a reasonable chance to garner one of the more prestigious honors. Don’t water stuff down so much that nothing carries any meaning or significance…just be aware that the overwhelming majority of your people are probably not superstars.

And don’t ever lower your standards to artificially pump up people’s performance.

Standards should be high enough, yet attainable by everyone if they always truly give 100% & that includes maximizing their knowledge, not just their effort.

> Always treat everyone FAIRLY.

That does NOT necessarily mean that you treat everyone exactly the same way.

Poorer performers need to have, and reflect, a much greater sense of urgency with regard to improving their performance.

At least up to an acceptable level.

Or up to their potential…whichever is higher. The standard you demand must be the minimum as most people are fully capable of even more.

> I understand that most companies will strictly prohibit you from writing letters of recommendation for former employees.

Now, if you’re also a former employee, then, by all means, do the right thing for ex-staff members & peers.

And if you’re still with the company, I’d never recommend that you do anything to risk your good standing with your current employer.

> Lead by example.

Charitable endeavors. Fun stuff. Family events. Award ceremonies. Rolling your sleeves up.

A former employee (Kyra Krick Smith, who’s doing incredibly well at Alamo Title company) reminded me that years ago, one of the young ladies at work asked me if I could help her with a flat tire she had in the parking lot.

I could have easily referred her to Security, but I was actually very proud & happy that she asked me to help. See? I wasn’t viewed as a monster!

At least not by everyone.

Kyra reminded me that I insisted that the employee accompany me outside while I changed the tire so I could show her exactly how it’s done.

OK, that’s all I have for now. Pls take this stuff seriously & write yourself a few to-do’s that’ll help your people feel even more appreciated & recognized for the wonderful job they’re doing!

👏🏻    👏🏻    👏🏻

And “Thank you as always!” for being such a great audience!!!

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