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OWNER'S MANUAL

9 Things You Should Never Ask Employees to Do

Kill the post-work social events -- among other things -- that might be rubbing your staff the wrong way.

You’re the boss. You have the power.

Awesome. Just don’t use your power to do things like this:

Pressure employees to attend “social” events.  Any time your employees are with people they work with, it’s like they’re at work. Worst case, whatever happens there doesn’t stay there; it comes back to work.

Embarrassing behavior aside, some people just don’t want to socialize outside work. And that’s their choice… unless you do something that can make them feel like they should attend. Then it no longer feels like they have a choice, and what you intended as a positive get-together is anything but.

And keep in mind that “pressure” can be as simple as saying, “Hey, Mark, I hope you can come to the Christmas party… I hope we see you there…” While you may simply be letting Mark know how much you enjoy his company, if he doesn’t want to go he hears, “Mark, you better be at the party or I will be very disappointed in you.”

If you really want to hold outside social events, pick themes that work for your employees. Have Santa attend a kids’ Christmas party. Have a picnic at a theme park. Take anyone who wants to go to a ballgame. Pick one or two themes that cover the majority of your employees’ interests, and let that be that. Never try to force togetherness or camaraderie. It doesn’t work.

Ask an employee to do something you already asked another employee to do. You assign Joe a project. The day you needed it completed you realize Joe hasn't finished... and probably won't. You're frustrated with Joe, and you really need it done, so you plop it on Mary's desk. You know she'll get it done.

Maybe so, but she'll resent it.

Leave Mary alone. Deal with Joe.

Pressure employees to donate to a charity. The United Way was the charity of choice at a previous employer. Participation was measured; the stated company goal was 100 percent participation.

Pressure enough? It got worse; every supervisor reported results from their direct reports to the head of the fundraising effort… who happened to be the plant manager.

I’m sure the United Way is a great charity, one worthy of our support.

But don’t, even implicitly, pressure employees to donate to a charity. Sure, make it easy. Match their contributions if you like. But make donating voluntary, and never leave the impression that results are monitored on an individual basis.

And don't do the "support my kid's fundraiser" thing either. That's tacky.

What employees do with their money is their business, not yours. Make sure they feel that way.

Make employees go without food at mealtime hours. Say you go to a wedding that starts at 5 p.m. If there's a reception you expect a meal to be served instead of just hors d' oeuvres, right?

So don't invite employees out for after-work drinks at 6 p.m. That's a company dinner, not company drinks.

The same is true of lunchtime meetings. If you plan a working lunch, provide food. Some employees go out to eat; if so, they're stuck. Plus others might bring food you would, um, prefer not to smell the rest of the afternoon.

Always err on the side of caution. If you order pizza for a group and you run out, some employees won't remember they had two great slices; they'll only remember that they wanted a third... and you were too "cheap" to provide it.

Ask employees to evaluate themselves. Employees who do a great job always question why they need to evaluate themselves. Shouldn’t you already know they do a great job? Employees who do a poor job rarely rate themselves as poor, turning what could have been a constructive feedback session into an argument.

Self-evaluations may sound empowering or inclusive but are almost always a waste of time.  If you want feedback from the employee, ask them what more you can do to help them further develop their skills or their career.

Ask employees to evaluate their peers. I’ve done peer evaluations. It sucks. “Peer” means “work together.” Who wants to criticize someone they have to work with afterwards? Claim evaluations are confidential all you want; people figure out who said what about whom.

You should know their performance inside-out. If you don’t, don’t use the employee’s peers as a crutch. Dig in, pay attention, and truly know the people you claim to lead.

Reveal personal information in the interest of “teambuilding.”  I once took part in a transformational leadership offsite. We were asked to make small boxes out of cardboard. (Why do offsites always seem to involve arts and crafts?) Then we were asked to cut pictures out of magazines that represented the “outer” us, the part we show to the world.

Then we were asked to write down things no one knew about us on slips of paper, put them inside our box (get it?), and reveal our slips to the group when it was our turn.

I was okay with putting pictures on the outside of my poorly constructed box, even though my lack of scissor skills was a tad embarrassing. I didn’t want to create “reveal” strips, though, and said so.

“But why not?” the facilitator asked.

“Because it’s private,” I said.

“That’s the point!” he cried. “The goal is to reveal things people don’t know about you.”

“They don’t know those things about me because I don’t want them to know those things about me,” I said.

“But think about how much better you will be able to work together when you truly know each other as individuals,” he said.

“Sometimes I think it’s possible to know too much,” I said. “If Joe likes to dress up as a Star Wars character in his spare time, that’s cool, but I’d really rather not know.”

I didn’t end up participating, a potentially career-limiting move that turned out fine when upper management's focus soon shifted from “transformational leadership” to “Back to Basics.” And with that, I was back in vogue.

You don’t need to know your employees’ innermost thoughts and feelings. Even if you did, you have no right to their thoughts and feelings. You do have a right to expect acceptable performance.

Talk about performance, and leave all the deep dark secrets where they belong.

Ask employees to alert you when you “veer off course.” One of my bosses was really long-winded. He knew it, and he asked me to signal him when I thought he was monopolizing a meeting. I did it a couple times; each time he waved me off, probably because what he was saying was just too darned important.

Never ask employees to monitor your performance. To the employee, it’s a no-win situation.

Ask employees to do something you don’t do. Not something you “wouldn’t” do, but that you don’t do. Would is irrelevant. Actions are everything.

Lead by example. Help out on the crappiest jobs. Stay later. Come in earlier. Not every time, but definitely some of the time. Employees will never care as much as you do—and, really, they shouldn’t—but they will care a lot more when they know you do whatever it takes.

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Last updated: Feb 22, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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