Released to theaters nationwide in July, the 2011 movie Horrible Bosses is about three friends who are so fed up with their bad bosses they hatch a plan to murder them. “Let me tell you something, I own you—so don’t walk around here thinking you have free will, because you don’t,” says one horrible boss, played by Kevin Spacey, to an employee, played by Jason Bateman, who refers to his boss as a “slave-driving psycho.”
On the heels of the release, the union-backed organization Working America invited people to submit their “bad boss” stories. One of the winning entries was the story of an employee whose team was forced to work standing up because the boss took away their chairs. The employee was then asked to fire a disabled worker because she couldn’t stand up.
And then, MSNBC.com ran a July 6 story titled, “How to Handle a Bad Boss,” that offered helpful tips to workers who are contending with bad bosses.
Clearly, attention to “bad bosses” appears to be on the rise. Perhaps this is not surprising considering our weak economy and high unemployment rate. Today’s tight job market heavily favors employers rather than employees, and it’s beginning to show in the popular media.
As the number of unemployed people stagnates and the number of underemployed people rises, workers seem increasingly unhappy. An August 8 story in The Wall Street Journal, “Exiting Employees Are More Disgruntled Than Ever,” reports that more than three-quarters of departing employees say they wouldn’t recommend their employer to others, according to the research firm Corporate Executive Board Co.
Adrian Miller, president of Adrian Miller Sales Training, believes today’s tough economy makes a manager’s job trickier because employees are feeling so insecure it is affecting their job performance.
“People now are nervous about the economic situation and job security,” Miller says. “The manager’s job is to make people feel comfortable, secure and confident so they can execute their job exquisitely as opposed to having people feel threatened and negative about what they’re doing.”
In today’s tough job market, are bosses required to excel at managing people? The short answer is no. But, in the long haul, it is more important than ever for bosses to go from bad to best to elicit optimal performances from employees in fearful times.
So how does a boss become the best?
For the second consecutive year, PPB sought nominations from readers to identify some of the industry’s best bosses and learn what they do that makes them so effective, respected and, in some cases, even adored. From all nominations, 23 bosses were selected for recognition as the PPB 2011 Best Bosses (click here for the full list).
PPB talked to those who nominated them and to the best bosses themselves to find out their secrets.
One of the hardest parts of a boss’s job is to inspire employees—bringing out the best in them for a better bottom line.
Angelo Morra, inside sales supervisor for Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Ash City (UPIC: ash0001), says he tries to establish incentives that will inspire his team and provide encouragement to keep his employees motivated.
“I feel it’s critical to understand what motivates each individual,” Morra says. “You can’t apply a cookie-cutter approach to managing people. It’s important to learn more about the individual characteristics of each employee on your team and identify the specific motivators for each person.”
Whatever Morra is doing, it appears to be working. One of his employees, Rita Giugias, who nominated Morra for the honor, says he “brings out the best in people, resulting in higher productivity, teamwork, enthusiasm, drive, motivation, dedication and ultimately more revenue for our awesome company.”
Morra believes people work harder when they’re happier. “If you’re somewhere where you’re not getting along with your co-workers or your boss, you’re not going to be motivated to perform,” he adds.
Michael Medina says his boss, Kellie Claudio, vice president of sales for City of Industry, California-based Sweda Company, LLC (UPIC: SWEDA), believes in empowering employees.
“She will assist you with whatever you have going on, back you 100 percent or help you with whatever you are good at to make you a stronger employee,” Medina says.
“I’m very much a motivator,” Claudio says. “Managing well means listening to everybody. Everybody has a story, everybody is motivated differently. Everybody wants to be the best at their job. They don’t want to stay stagnant, so you have to listen and create a path for them.”
Miller says good managers are generous with praise and tactful with criticism, resulting in highly motivated employees. “If you praise people generously, they want to work harder for you because they feel good about what they’re doing,” she says. “People don’t react well to less than tactful feedback.”
Trust And Teamwork
Building trust is another factor in making employees feel secure in their positions. “The way to build trust on your team is to embrace consistently open communication so no one’s ever blindsided,” Morra says. “Without trust you’re not going to get people who are committed.”
Jason Black, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Boundless Network (UPIC: Bound784), says when employees trust a manager they are comfortable with taking risks because they know they won’t be criticized for it.
Black’s direct report, Sarah Philips, who nominated him as a Best Boss, says Black provides an environment where trust can be built without fear of being reprimanded. “He asks us how we can automate tasks and become more efficient, and it creates an environment of trust because we are all in this together,” Philips says of Black.
“Employees should feel comfortable with being innovative and doing what they’re paid to do without the feeling that someone is going to be looking over their shoulder,” Black says. “Inevitably you get a better product because people are less encumbered by fear.”
Nicole Labrecque says her bosses Gail Paul and Robert Rebholz, partners at Woburn, Massachusetts-based distributor Next Level Promotions LLC (UPIC: 1itsours), are patient and quick to respond to any questions. “If I make a mistake in my work, they will correct me and teach me how to do things the right way without being condescending or harsh,” Labrecque says. “There’s a notable level of trust in the way they manage.”
Brandon Mackay, MAS, president/CEO of Salt Lake City-based SnugZ/USA (UPIC: SNUGZUSA), also believes in maintaining a trusting work environment. “Brandon is trusting of who he has in place and knows they will make the appropriate decisions to help better our company,” says Mackay’s direct report and nominator, Megan Ludlow, marketing manager.
However, Linda Henman, author of Landing in the Executive Chair, believes trust is earned-it’s not a given. “If you have hired people who are trustworthy, then you should put your trust in them,” Henman says. “If you have hired badly, then obviously you should not put your trust in them. Actually it’s not that you shouldn’t trust them, it’s that you should get rid of them and hire people you can trust.”
Scott Schmidt at National Premium, Inc. (UPIC: NATIONAL) found out how important trust and teamwork are to a company’s success when he had to step up as president about a year ago, upon the unexpected death of his father, Dick Schmidt. Scott had worked at the family-owned distributor for most of his adult life managing sales and leading the Harley-Davidson account team. “Scott has taken on the challenge of not only leading the company but also acting as sales manager,” says nominator Lori Morell. “The struggle of losing a parent, who was also your boss and employer, and then having to learn to do the job of that individual had to be daunting. But he’s doing it and doing it well. He’s willing to try anything and that allows for growth.”
Despite today’s economy, more employers appear to be loosening their requirement for workers to report to an office. In June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, in 2010, 24 percent of employees did some or all of their work at home.
Miller believes good bosses are flexible and know that people have lives outside of the office. “The bosses who are totally inflexible wind up with a negative workforce, and a negative workforce never really produces their best work because they’re hostile,” she adds.
In the promotional products industry, there are many examples of this trend toward increased flexibility in when, where and how employees work.
Jeff Hall, executive vice president of sales and business development for Richmond, Virginia-based distributor NewClients Promotional Marketing (UPIC: clients), says 10 of his 18 sales reps are “remotes”—they work from home.
“We give the salespeople a lot of autonomy and flexibility,” Hall says. “We’ve got a lot of moms who need the ability to work flex schedules. They’ve got the autonomy to work the schedule they want to work. Everybody has goals, and expectations are clearly defined so we follow a work hard/play hard philosophy.”
“Jeff has created a sense of family among the staff and has an open-door policy,” Melissa Anderson says of Hall, her boss. “He has created a flexible work environment, allowing for a good work/life balance.”
Arcie Reza says her boss Elton Yen, president of Hacienda Heights, California-based supplier SUMDEX Inc. (UPIC: SUMDE726), allows employees to take time off to volunteer. “Every Thursday I leave work early to volunteer for my local community,” Reza says. “Elton has never questioned me on my time. He simply trusts. That is a great boss.”
Ashley Werner, marketing manager for Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based supplier Tex Visions (UPIC: TexVis), also believes in providing a flexible working environment. “Ashley is flexible with our work hours,” Lisa Haria says of her boss, Werner. “If we have a doctor’s appointment or need to take our car to the shop, we don’t have to take vacation time; we can just take short lunches until we make up the time. It’s cool that Ashley understands that our job doesn’t make us who we are.”
Hilde Boozer feels the same way about her boss, Mary Jo Tomasini, CAS, president of Stevensville, Michigan-based distributor Competitive Edge Promotions Inc. (UPIC: COMPEDG). “She is conscious of her employees’ family life and is always willing to work with them to give them the time off as required,” says Boozer of Tomasini.
Author Henman says fostering flexibility means focusing on results rather than face time. “Flexibility is not wavering on what you expect of your employees but being flexible enough to let them decide when they’re going to get those results,” she says.
Fairness Versus Firmness
Another tricky part of a manager’s job is balancing authority with friendliness. This is where some managers fail—they are either too nice or too authoritative. Striking a delicate balance is an art.
The key to managing well is finding that right balance between being someone’s boss and friend, Morra believes. “They need to be motivated every day to work, but at the same time, they’re not going to take advantage and they need to have respect for you,” he adds.
Henman says managers must balance fairness with firmness. “People will want to work for a boss that is tough as long as they can trust that boss to do the right thing,” she says.
Miller adds that managers should be flexible but not become everyone’s friend. “It’s hard to be a manager if you’re a best friend,” he says. “People don’t take you seriously. You need a little bit of authority. In a work situation somebody has to be in charge.”
One boss who appears to embody both fairness and firmness is Ellen Reichert, director of solution design for Saint Louis, Missouri-based distributor Staples Promotional Products (UPIC: AMER0016. “She performs successfully as a mentor, colleague and friend without compromising her position as the leader,” says Rebecca Jackson, who reports to Reichert. “She encourages learning, empowers employees and strives to achieve a truly collaborative effort among the team.”
Darlene Kirk, owner of San Antonio, Texas-based distributor Kirk Marketing Solutions (UPIC: kirkmkt), also appears to have mastered the art of the balancing act. “Mrs. Kirk is tough, stern and determined—everything a boss should be—but what makes her the best boss is that she has a big heart,” says Cassie Vasquez of her boss. “She encourages us to be the best that we can be.”
Gillian Hammond at Brand Fuel also gives kudos to her boss, Production Manager Allison McLain, for her fairness and objectivity. “She never chooses favorites,” she says. “She has achieved being a true friend while maintaining her role and responsibilities as a boss. I feel safe and comfortable speaking candidly with her.”
Another direct report, Sylvia French-Hodges, says, “Allison is super even in her temperament—even when things go awry. I have yet to see her get angry or frustrated, and that is a gift.”
In an August 3, 2011, USA Today story, “Micromanaging Makes You Frantic and Less Productive,” reporter Anita Bruzzese states that a byproduct of difficult economic times is the rise of the micromanager. “Those who were micromanagers before the recession may have evolved into micromanaging Godzillas, wreaking havoc among the cubicles,” she writes.
Boundless Network’s Black believes micromanagers don’t trust the people they’ve hired. “You’ve got to hire the right people, and then you’ve got to trust they’ll do the right job,” he says. “If you want to do everything, you shouldn’t hire anybody.”
Both Shelly Anderson and Dana Buerkley praise their boss, Jeff Hall of NewClients, who has perfected the practice of staying out of his employees’ way. “By not micromanaging each employee’s work style, Jeff allows us to create our own way of doing things,” says Anderson of Hall. “He will jump in and help if you want him to, but he will also stay back and let you learn on your own accord if you wish.”
At Seattle-based iClick (UPIC: IClic342), bosses Lon McGowan, CEO, and Jeff Hall, president, give their employees the freedom they need to succeed, says direct report and nominator Mariah Hannaford.
“Lon motivates employees in a hands-off approach, giving us the opportunity to come up with solutions and great ideas on our own without having to be micromanaged,” Hannaford says. “Jeff has followed Lon’s hands-off approach, only stepping in when assistance is needed.”
Mike Rhodes, president and CEO for Philadelphia-based Bodek and Rhodes (UPIC: ULTRACLB), understands that constantly second-guessing employees creates an unhappy working environment. “Mike hires the best and lets them do their jobs,” says nominator Mary Ellen Nichols, MAS, director of marketing.
Rather than micromanaging, smart managers hire motivated people at the get-go, Henman says. “Micromanaging is one of the most irritating things that people do,” she says. “It does not motivate anybody; it just annoys everybody. If you have to micromanage, you’ve hired the wrong person. Which is it, the person or you?”
While it’s true we’re living in serious times, there’s still a place for fun in the workplace. There’s not only a place for it, but a point to it, Miller believes. “You work harder when you’re having fun,” she says. “Adults tend to learn more and work harder when they’re participating and having a good time.”
Rhodes, too, likes to have fun at work. “He constantly makes fun of himself, showing he’s a regular guy, and he loves having fun with the team,” says Nichols of Rhodes. “He believes fun helps us work better as a team.”
Heather Kelly and Michelle Peebles, MAS, also say their boss, William L. Clay, president of Hanson, Massachusetts-based Walker-Clay, Inc. (UPIC: WALKCLAY), understands the importance of having fun.
“Bill always tries to make things fun, either with sales contests or just getting together to have a cookout and relax,” Kelly says of Clay. Peebles adds that Clay’s sense of humor makes the office a fun place to work, especially around Halloween when workers don costumes.
“You only go through life once, so it might as well be fun,” Clay says of his management style. “We’re trying to make it an atmosphere where people work hard but also have a lot of fun.”
Setting Good Examples
Employees typically look to the boss to set the standard for what’s expected at the company—and when the boss’s performance is exceptional, others seek to emulate it. That’s one reason why Billy Bauer, marketing manager for Emporium Leather Co., Inc. nominated his boss, Kathy Bauer, CEO/director of e-commerce. “There’s no problem too daunting, no customer too difficult and no situation too stressful for Kathy to deal with the utmost professionalism, level-headedness and innovation,” he says. “Her persistence is relentless, and her marketing tactics are inspirational.”
Likewise, Alicia Mallay at supplier Ad-A-Day (UPIC: AD-A-DAY) nominated her boss because he’s willing to do anything he’d ask an employee to do. “Merrill is willing to do the dirty work … I’ve seen him working out in the factory to get an order done on time.”
Tommy Lewis at distributor Bob Lilly Professional Promotions (UPIC: BOBL8430) respects his boss, Bob Lilly, Jr., for working hard to build a successful company yet being open to employee input. “Bob is all in,” he says. “He sincerely wants the best for everyone in the organization. It is in his character to be open in thought and approach. He invests regularly to improve as a manager and business owner.”
Employees are happiest when they are learning and growing in their positions, Claudio believes. This is why she created an internal career path that enables entry-level employees to climb the ladder of success at Sweda.
“They come in as a general service operator, which is an entry-level position, and then they can work toward a customer service position, progress to a regional sales position, become a strategic accounts rep and then, hopefully at that time, they’ll want to be a field rep,” Claudio explains. “This way, when someone new comes on board, there are a lot of positions they can grow into.”
At both Walker-Clay and Corporate Express/Staples, employees are encouraged to participate in webinars, tradeshows and conferences. “From providing opportunities for further education to general encouragement, to finding creative ways to best use my skills, Ellen seeks every opportunity to foster growth within my position,” Rebecca Jackson says of her boss Ellen Reichert.
Andrew Kurniawan says his boss, Angelo Morra, encourages his learning efforts and motivates him to be the best he can be. “He is opening new opportunities for me to grow within the company and excel in my career,” Kurniawan says.
“Jason has built an environment where everyone matters,” says Philips of her boss, Jason Black. “I love what I do here and feel like it makes a difference. It’s easy to achieve growth with Jason around.”
Best bosses create partnerships with their direct reports, Claudio believes. “We’re working together to achieve the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” she adds. “You can get the best out of somebody if you know what motivates them and what’s going to make them happy. Happy people do great work.”
What Makes The Best Bosses?
The bosses who make the biggest impressions with subordinates are those who regularly demonstrate these practices according to PPB readers:
• Leads by example
• Creates an environment of collaboration through good listening
• Manages through empowerment; doesn’t micromanage, allows me to learn through my own mistakes
• Acts as a mentor; looks for the potential in all and encourages successes
• Challenges me with new projects and opportunities
• Communicates good news and bad news effectively
• Celebrates successes
• Embraces education, new technologies and out-of-the-box thinking
• Promotes a work environment with balance between work and personal/family
• Advocates social responsibility, volunteerism, community and/or industry commitment
• Is a creative problem-solver
• Coaches me without taking over
• Provides ongoing performance coaching
• Doesn’t begrudge me my earnings, bonuses or raises
PPB 2011 Best Bosses
The following 23 individuals were selected by PPAI staff as the 2011 PPB Best Bosses based on nominations by their employees and direct reports:
Kathy Bauer, Emporium Leather Co. Inc.
Jason Black, Boundless Network
Kellie Claudio, Sweda Company, LLC
William (Bill) Clay, Walker-Clay, Inc.
Merrill Cross, Ad-A-Day
Sharon Eyal, ETS Express
Taly Eyal, ETS Express
Jeff Hall, NewClients Promotional Marketing
Jeff Hall, iClick
Darlene Kirk, Kirk Marketing
Bob Lilly, Jr., Bob Lilly Professional Promotions
Brandon Mackay, MAS, SnugZ/USA
Lon McGowan, iClick
Allison McLain, Brand Fuel
Angelo Morra, Ash City
Gail Paul, Next Level Promotions, LLC
Robert Rebholz, Next Level Promotions, LLC
Ellen Reichert, Staples Promotional Products
Mike Rhodes, Bodek and Rhodes
Scott Schmidt, National Premium, Inc.
Mary Jo Tomasini, CAS, Competitive Edge Promotions, Inc.
Ashley Werner, Tex Visions
Elton Yen, Sumdex, Inc.
To see a list of last year’s winners, click here.
Coping Strategies For Less-Than-Best Bosses
It’s no wonder bad bosses often make it to the big screen: Many workers can relate. Nearly half (46 percent) of employees surveyed by Office Team, a leading staffing service, said they have worked for an unreasonable manager. OfficeTeam identified five common types of challenging bosses and tips for working with them:
Boss Type: The micromanager has trouble delegating tasks. This boss looks over your shoulder to make sure you complete a project exactly as told.
Coping Strategy: Trust is usually the issue here, so make sure you build it. Don’t miss deadlines, pay attention to details and keep your supervisor apprised of all the steps you’ve taken to ensure quality work.
Boss Type: The poor communicator provides little or no direction. Your assignments often have to be completed at the last minute or redone because goals and deadlines weren’t clearly explained.
Coping Strategy: At the outset of a project, ask for any information your boss has not yet provided. Diplomatically point out that these details are necessary to ensure you meet his or her expectations. Seek clarification when confused and arrange regular check-ins.
Boss Type: The bully wants to do things his or her way, or no way at all. Bosses like this also tend to be gruff with others and easily frustrated.
Coping Strategy: Stand up for yourself. The next time your supervisor shoots down your proposal, for example, calmly explain your rationale. Often, this type of manager will relent when presented with a voice of reason.
Boss Type: The saboteur undermines the efforts of others and rarely recognizes individuals for a job well done. This supervisor takes credit for employees’ ideas but places blame on others when projects go awry.
Coping Strategy: Your job is to make your boss look good, but not at the expense of your own career advancement. Ensure your contributions are more visible to others, especially senior management. Get information in writing from this person so you have a chain of communications to refer to, if needed.
Boss Type: The mixed bag is always a surprise. This manager’s moods are unpredictable: He or she may confide in you one day and turn a cold shoulder the next.
Coping Strategy: Try not to take this boss’s disposition personally. Stay calm and composed when dealing with this supervisor. When he or she is on edge, try to limit communication to urgent matters.
Source: OfficeTeam, www.officeteam.com/aboutus.