Question: “The vice president of our department recently sent an email forbidding all conversation that is not directly related to work. If she finds someone in another person’s office, she says "What's going on here? I hope you’re talking about work!" No other group has a rule like this. This woman has a longstanding reputation for being unreasonable. No one likes her except the CEO, but his opinion counts for a lot. We’ve thought about talking to the human resources manager. Is that a good idea?” — Afraid to Speak
Marie’s Answer: Your tyrannical VP would make an excellent prison guard, but she’s a horrible manager. Smart executives increase productivity by inspiring employees, not terrorizing them. And muzzling people is hardly inspirational. Here are some points to consider:
• Resolving this problem requires support from the CEO, since he’s the only person who can overrule the VP. If he endorses her work-talk-only rule, then you’re doomed to suffer in silence. However, he may be completely unaware of the situation.
• If you have a good HR manager, he should be able to help you address the issue. Any intelligent HR professional will know that this policy is idiotic and counterproductive.
• To have the greatest impact, go as a group when you meet with HR. And don’t start ranting about the VP’s dreadful personality. Instead, describe how her harsh policies can hurt the business by damaging morale and increasing turnover.
• After making your case to the HR manager, try to get agreement on some specific steps for tackling the problem. A sympathetic ear is nice, but action is what really counts.
For tips on becoming a more inspirational boss, see Six Secrets of Motivational Managers.
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