The Message You Send Through Uneven Enforcement of Company Policy

Another Victim of Social Media?

Applying policy unevenly can have a chilling effect on employee engagementA few days ago, someone had their 15 minutes of fame. It wasn’t planned and no one got hurt – except maybe for her. Company policy got in her way.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Juli Briskman of Virginia was riding her bicycle down a country roadPresident Trump‘s motorcade came by escorting him from his golf course back to the Whitehouse. In a moment of pent-up frustration Juli raised her left hand and extended her middle finger as the they sped by.

OK. Big deal, right? Probably not the first time, inappropriate as it is. Unfortunately, a quick-witted Whitehouse photographer captured it on camera and posted it on the Internet. It went viral. Tens of thousands have seen it. Briskman saw it and liked it so much she made it her profile picture on Facebook. The picture itself just shows the back of a cyclist with no real identifiable features. Juli Briskman could have gone on with life with no repercussions.


Briskman got concerned that her employer would see it. That would not be good. She was a Marketing Analyst for a government contractor called Akima LLC. So Briskman took the initiative to go to her Human Resources office and inform them that she was the person in that picture that is all over the Internet.

Her boss thanked her for stepping forward and then promptly fired her.

Breaking the Code

See, according to her boss Juli Briskman had violated the Akima LLC Code of Conduct. That code states:

The Akima, LLC Code of Conduct describes the policies of Akima and its subsidiary companies for conducting business in accordance with applicable laws and the highest ethical standards.  Akima expects that a high level of ethical standards and personal integrity will be reflected in all of its business dealings.

Similarly, Akima expects its employees, officers and directors to exercise good judgment and maintain high ethical standards in all activities which affect Akima.  Every Akima employee is held to these standards.

So according to Akima Briskman giving the motorcade the finger was an obscenity and therefore a violation of policy. Akima was concerned about the impact it could have on their core business of contracting with the federal government. So, goodbye.

This is Where it Gets Complicated

Now probably a good number of people right now are saying “good, she deserves it.” At the same time, it opens up a whole bunch of questions worth considering from both a leadership and employee engagement perspective. Here are some of pertinent facts as we know them now:

  • Briskman was off duty and wearing nothing that represented her company.
  • She did not take the picture nor arrange to have it taken
  • Briskman did make it her profile picture on her personal Facebook page (which does not mention her employment)
  • A male co-worker allegedly posted a public message calling someone a pretty obscene name typically assigned to liberals on his Facebook page where he features the company logo in his profile picture. He was reprimanded and deleted the post but not fired.
  • Akima LLC was totally unaware of her involvement until she took the initiative to tell them. It is likely they would have never known.
  • Virginia is an employment at will state, meaning technically an employer can terminate you for any reason at any time.

Questions to Consider

Russian Nesting Dolls are a good example of the questions we deal with on employee engagement and personal livesWith all of that in mind, it raises questions about the reach of organizations into our personal lives. It also raises questions about the message we send when the application of policy appears uneven. Some questions to consider are

  1. Where are the lines where behavior and choices in personal life are of concern to an employer?
  2. What message does it send when an employee shows integrity and suffers consequences as a result?
  3. Why the uneven application of the obscenity policy? Does political alignment play a part? If so, does it show discrimination that someone obviously an extreme conservative is reprimanded but a liberal is terminated?
  4. Is the company’s concern about her behavior potentially affecting their core business a valid one? If it is, could I be terminated for being a Protestant because the company’s biggest client is Catholic?

On the surface they may seem like easy questions to answer. Yet like a Russian Nesting Doll, each time you open one up you discover another inside to be opened.

Similar to Other Recent Stories

It seems the situation is somewhat similar to one that Google dealt with a while back with an outspoken employee. You can read more about that here. The termination, based on what has been reported, appears to be more motivated by discovering an employee has political leanings inconsistent with those of the owner or leaders of the organization; much like the employee at Google. Further possible evidence of that is male employee who was even more profane publicly AND connected it to his company through his profile picture yet was not terminated.

No, the answers are not easy yet they are answers we must seek as we look to keep people engaged in the workplace while also involved in the world around them.

What are your thoughts about this? Are there points I missed? Where are the lines drawn for you? Share your comments here or email me at psimkins(at)

Navigating the world of leadership and employee engagement can be overwhelming. I can help you get from here to there. Contact me for a free Discovery Strategy Session at 321-355-2442.

Snakebit Corporate Culture

snakebit corporate cultureSome know what it feels like to be in a corporate culture in the groove.  The organization is in the right place at the right time with the right environment that encourages everyone to shine. We like that feeling and hope to feel it again.

What keeps us from having that feeling with many organizations is a corporate culture that destroys instead of builds; It discourages instead of encourages. Consequently it becomes the wrong place and the wrong time. Like venom from a snakebite, it courses through the veins of the organization. The venom causes a breakdown of the people and processes that allow us to succeed. Without eradicating the poison, it overtakes us and immobilizes us.

Avoiding the Poisonous Corporate Culture

Luckily, spotting a bad culture both as an employee and as a leader, is not hard if we step back and take a look. Before you allow your organization to fall prey to the snakebite, look for the presence of any of these symptoms.

Overly Formal Communication Channels

When just about any communication requires a memo or a broadcast email, it’s a good sign that there are some very deep problems. Sometimes, in industries where thorough documentation of processes is required, what would seem to be excessive formal communication is actually required and perhaps even regulated. In most cases, however, overly formal communication is a sign of a lack of trust and micromanagement – killers to a healthy corporate culture.

Too Many Secrets

When people aren’t talking it’s almost certainly because they are hiding something, not because they are so intent on their work. If the employees aren’t talking, you have to start asking questions such as “What are they fearful of?“, “What’s going on that they aren’t sharing?“, and as a leader “What don’t I know?

On the management side there are those who regard information as power. Sharing information is equivalent to sharing power and some don’t want to do that. Or some simply want to leverage what they know.

Information is only truly powerful when it can used to create positive change. The more people know, the more likely they are to be part of that change.

[tweetthis]Information is only truly powerful when it can be used to bring about positive change.[/tweetthis]

Every Decision Waits on a Manager

In a poisonous culture, managers who want to maintain power and control will insist that nothing gets decided or done until they have given their OK.

I once worked for a manager who reminded me frequently to “don’t do anything. Bring it to me and I will handle it.” This despite having hired me because of my extensive experience handling precisely those types of situations. That often meant that something that could have been handled effectively in a few minutes or an hour would sometimes take a day or two. And I got bored quickly because I wasn’t really being challenged, I was carrying out whatever the boss decided whether I agreed with it or not.

Too Many Meetings

employees not listening to bossI have worked with organizations where they had so many meetings on the schedule I actually asked them how they found time to get anything done. This kind of corporate culture bogs down many organizations in, to use an old southern phrase, they are constantly “fixin’ to get ready“.

Meetings can have distinct and useful purposes. Too often, however, we call meetings just to have “status checks”. We gather everyone in a room and one-by-one go around the table. The vast majority will say everything is fine and we have now wasted another 30 minutes to an hour of productive time.

When people have tight deadlines, places to go, family to spend time with, and lives to lead then having a lot of formal meetings becomes an annoyance and a morale killer. Find alternatives that are more efficient and less time consuming; and don’t have a meeting to flesh it out.

Rigid Adherence to Policy

In a previous post, I mentioned about a study done by Jay Hall and Telometrics on the performance of 16,000 executives. In addition to the overall conclusion of a direct correlation between achievement and the ability to care for and connect with people, they also contrasted high performers and low performers. One of their findings was that

  • High performers focus on communication and collaboration and have a very participative style.
  • Low performers don’t communicate well and rely on policy and procedure and have a very bureaucratic style.

Policies were created to define standard responses and consequences to situations. The flaw in that is that people and situations are not so easily defined. The result is that the responses and consequences have a great likelihood of being unevenly applied. People don’t respond well when they feel they are unfairly treated no matter how consistent it is with the policy manual.

This is also why many organizations have tossed the HR policy manual and moved towards a more values-based approach and relying on using storytelling to provide guidelines for expected behaviors.

Aggression Rules the Roost

Aggressive bosses make for poor corporate cultureHave you ever had a boss proclaim “My way or the Highway!“? Then you know what we mean here. When managers and others use aggression they are trying to intimidate others into following their command or giving in. The aggressive manager wants to win at all costs, with no concern whether anyone else wins. In fact, they want you to lose.

These managers are also the ones who usually hog the credit for team success, They are the ones who stare people down, tower over them, and look over their shoulders as they work.

Their impact on morale and engagement is obvious. Most people reacts to aggression with either “fight or flight”. If they fight, even when they win they lose and the aggressive manager will be that much more determined to make sure you lose the next time. If they choose flight, they go passive-aggressive, showing resistance in subtle ways, or they leave.

The Only Line is the Bottom Line

Let’s get this out of the way: there is absolutely nothing wrong with profits. I like profits. The problem is when our profit and loss are the only drivers for our corporate behavior. I mean, did you see “The Wolf of Wall Street“? Then you get the picture of the detriment of a profit first and only mindset.

So many other drivers, when we pay attention to them, have a positive impact on the profit line that we really don’t need to focus on the traditional bottom line – it will take care of itself.

Companies like Copper Leaf Creative and Patheos and others have added additional parameters of success, many ranking customer satisfaction and employee retention above the financial bottom line.

Are you seeing the signs of a poisonous corporate culture in your organization? How do you think it got there? What has been done to turn it around? Leave your comments here or email me at psimkins(at)

Not sure where you are or you know where you are and not sure how to stop it? Call me to arrange a FREE Discovery Strategy Session at 321-355-2442 to discuss ways to stop the poison.

When Do Employees Become Unhappy?

How soon is too soon to be unhappy?

Dissatisfied Checked on SurveyWe have lots of research on our hands that show that dissatisfied employees lead to less productive employees, lower customer satisfaction, higher turnover, disengagement, lower morale, disintegrating company culture, and … well, you get the picture.

Knowing that opens a lot of questions. Such as, when and where does that start? No one wakes up one day and over their Triple Venti Half-sweet Non-fat Caramel Macchiato decides that starting today they will be unhappy at work.

Is it just the older workers? Is it these millennials? Is it the whole crew? They were all disloyal, every one of them! (doing my best Humphrey Bogart there).

Before we address that, let me give you a little perspective.

Promises Made

You may remember that feeling you had when you first graduated school. Around 1985 that was me – somewhat. Vaguely fresh out of college will that confidence that all the wonderful education I just got fully prepared me to conquer the world in whatever I chose to do.

I accepted a position as a management trainee with a furniture rental company. It was an 18-month program where I was to train in every phase of store operations. After the training, I would then become an assistant manager in one of the nationwide stores. That was the promise.

Promise Broken

Come 18 months later I am still where I started in credit and collections. I did not get exposure to every phase of the operations. I managed receivables and reduced past due accounts. I wasn’t stuck there because I wasn’t good at it – quite the opposite. I was stuck there because I was very good at it. I took the store from worst to first in the company in receivables with the lowest past due percentage.

But I didn’t sign on to be a collections person.

Be a Team Player

When I spoke with the general manager that they weren’t keeping their end of bargain, I was told I was there because they needed me there. Regardless of whatever promises were made, I would stay in collections as long as I was useful there and I needed to be a “team player” and go along. You ever notice how controlling people use that against you?

So, I became increasingly unhappy. My attitude changed. My performance sank. Receivables became to climb again to unsatisfactory levels.

I was given an ultimatum. I had 30 days to bring things back where they were. An impossible task but I tried. My heart wasn’t in it, however, and I fell short. I was fired.

I was 26.

Is 35 Too Early?

It’s one time I am not proud to be ahead of the curve. Very few become unhappy in the work in their mid-20s – unless they are generally unhappy anyway. Yeah, they exist.

According to a recent study cited in Bloomberg News, many start hating their jobs at age 35. That is about the age of the earliest Millennials. But it doesn’t stop there, It also includes Generation X and late Baby Boomers as well. The study showed that groups older than that also became increasingly unhappy in their work.

Was it because their job sucked? No, it was because their workplace sucked. One interviewee for the study reported that they felt “performance managed to death” and they were unappreciated and unloved.

One in Six Are Discontented

The survey showed that 1 in 6 in the 35 year old age range reported feelings of discontent, about half as many as those of  younger. Explanations varied but centered on lack of appreciation from their boss and a lack of friendly relationships at work. Older employees, usually in the 50 year range, said they felt they were being pushed aside for younger employees.

The problem, then, appears to be cross-generational and cross-cultural. If the problem isn’t Millennials and it isn’t an ethnic culture and it isn’t work ethic, where does the problem lie?

Ten Reasons People Hate Their Job

Author Liz Ryan writing in Forbes Magazine says the top 10 reasons hate their jobs are:

  1. They are not respected.
  2. Management fails to equip them properly for the job.
  3. There is a lack of consideration for their personal life.
  4. Their boss is a tyrant.
  5. They are tired of being lied to.
  6. It’s hard to believe their boss will do the right thing.
  7. Politics in the workplace make it unpleasant.
  8. They feel underpaid and overworked.
  9. Employees feel they are making no progress, both in their careers and projects.
  10. The employee must be constantly on alert because the wrong word or action sends them out the door.

When employees experience these feelings they become unhappy. And we already talked about where that leads.

Solving the Unhappy Employee

The critical question becomes what to do about it? They are unhappy and that downward spiral is ahead. How do I make them happy?

You don’t. Happiness is not your job.

You can, however, create an environment in which an employee can create their own happiness or at least enough satisfaction to become productive again.

Three Ways to Help Employees Become Happy

Have a One-on-One Conversation.
It’s not a time for a reprimand or “counseling session” or even a coaching session. It’s time to ask questions and listen. Discover what is creating the discontent or unhappiness. Don’t argue the points or try to counter. Just ask probing questions and listen. If you are stuck with probing questions to ask, simply use something similar to “That’s interesting. Tell me more.”
Regular Check Ups
Set a reminder on your calendar to follow up with the employee every week for a few months. Simply check in and see how they are doing. What’s new and what’s changed.  The follow up is critical because it goes a step beyond the standard. Think about it. How many times have you had a meeting and nothing came out of it and nothing happened. It’s important you don’t let that happen here.
Catch Them in the Act
Intentionally try to catch them doing something good. Excellent work, a great attitude, over the top cooperation with a team. Anything they can do well that you can notice. Remember that one of the things that made many people unhappy with their jobs was a lack of appreciation.

What jobs did you have where you started off well and grew unhappy with it? How did you handle the change? What do you do with a unhappy employee now?

Share your thoughts here or email me at

OH! If you email me you can also get a FREE copy of my e-book 15 Innovative Ways to Show Employees You Care Without Breaking the Bank. it provides some excellent proven methods for creating connections with your employees at minimal or no cost. If you want to start building engagement, you want this book to help establish those channels of caring.

Does Leadership Promote Inclusiveness at All Costs?

Google took action on Monday to fire an engineer who expressed concern over some of Google’s policies. The employee posted a memo about gender balance and inclusivity. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pinchai, said that it the memo from the engineer expressed “gender stereotypes” that had no place in Google’s culture.

Leadership Considers All Angles

Before we condemn the engineer as racist and misogynist, it’s important to have a good picture of what as said. We also need to ask some serious questions that it brings up about company culture and expression of viewpoints.

The internal memo, written by engineer James Damore, was about 10 pages long and cited many sources. The content, minus some graphics, was posted by Gizmodo here. In the memo, titled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, Damore expressed concern that some of the policies of Google targeted towards diversity and inclusiveness possibly went too far. He focused primarily on gender differences. Damore considered whether they were perhaps trying to overcome natural differences in the sexes. He said, “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.” He cited sources that supposedly establish definitive differences that would prevent a perfect balance of sexes in some technical fields.

This is NOT About the Politics of Inclusiveness

I do not intend to debate the merits of diversity and inclusiveness, nor whether arguments against it are valid. In fact, Damore himself stated that he is not opposed to diversity in and of itself.

Damore’s biggest concern was while promoting diversity leaders may have actually created a culture of shaming that suppresses points of view contrary to leadership’s position.

He cited a political bias that on the one hand promoted freedom from offense and psychological safety while on the other hand shamed opposition into silence, providing the opposite of psychological safety.

Ideological Echo Chamber

google leadership in diversityThe result, Damore said, is an “ideological echo chamber” where some topics were too sacred to be discussed openly.

Further, according to Damore, is what happens is that Google resorts to discrimination the other way to battle perceived discrimination. Again, I don’t plan to debate that.

Danielle Brown, the new VP of Diversity, Integrity, and Compliance for Google, issued a response to Google employees in counterpoint to Damore’s memo. In it, Brown specifically said that the memo promoted “incorrect assumptions about gender”. The most compelling part of her response, and the most puzzling, was this:

“Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

Despite that, or perhaps because of that, on Monday it was announced that Damore was terminated by Google for “violating the company code of conduct” by “perpetuating gender stereotypes”. For Damore’s part, he is currently considering his legal options.

Employment at Will

Most states, including California where Google is located, are “employment-at-will” states however. That means, according to Jennifer Englert, Managing Partner of The Orlando Law Group, that

“..a company can fire you for anything as long as it is not a discriminatory reason. Many people get confused about what discriminatory reasons are but they would be discriminating based upon race sex pregnancy or a few other very limited protected classes. Your beliefs about these things and not agreeing with them are not considered discriminatory in most cases.”

So basically it appears that first amendment rights do not really exist in the workplace. Disagreeing with company policy doesn’t qualify you as being discriminated against, no matter how well-supported your thoughts (and I am not saying they necessarily are in this case).

What This Means for Leaders

For us, the real questions to explore here is to what level do leaders encourage or suppress opposing viewpoints on company policy? Where is the danger to the effective development of corporate culture? Does silencing one faction create a chilling effect for others?

Was Google right to terminate employment from a leadership standpoint? Is there a way it could have been handled better? How do we decide that free expression crosses the line into doing more harm than good in our work environment?

Share your thoughts here or email me at

Things Bosses Believe About Employee Engagement That Are Flat Out Wrong

employee engagement imageThere are some who readily embrace the concept of how critical employee engagement is to a productive workplace. Others have to first overcome some hurdles.

I hear it often – perhaps you have heard it too. Sometimes from “old school management” fans or simply those who refuse to let go of preconceived notions.

What holds them back are firmly held beliefs that, despite research proving them wrong, they refuse to release because it is all they know. It is myths about behaviors or people or management concepts that hold them back.

Here are some of the key myths.

Mindset or Culture Employee Engagement Myths

People Don’t Engage Because They Are Lazy

Lazy is a descriptive term we apply to someone who isn’t getting the work done. Yet in a article in Psychology Today, Laura Miller says that the problem is more avoidance behavior. In other words, some emotional issue is keeping them from taking action. She cites seven things that may be the real cause of an employee not getting the job done:

  1. Fear of Failure – Better to not try than to fail
  2. Fear of Success – What happens to my life if I succeed?
  3. Desire for Nurture – No one pays attention unless I mess up
  4. Fear of Expectations – If I do well, will the boss pile up the work?
  5. Passive-aggressive Communication – Avoid conflict, just do nothing
  6. Need for Relaxation – I really just need a rest
  7. Depression – I have a real problem here

lazy office worker

Some of these are rare, some not as rare as you might think. If an employee is not getting work done, you can be assured there is an issue and it’s not their work ethic.

That Generation Just Wants It All Handed To Them

This is typically targeted primarily at “Millennials” and sometimes at Generation X, the one before them. Millennials were born from 1982 to 2004, meaning some Millennials are in their lower 30’s now. Many believe them to be a lazy generation – that they just don’t want to work. Also that Millennials are so self-absorbed that they can’t fully engage at work.

In truth, most Millennials love to work!

They are passionate about achievement and significance.

What is different is how they get there. They want to be free to get to the end result their own way.

And they DO get results. They just don’t see the value of showing up just to show up.

“Those People” Just Don’t Work Hard

Some believe that specific ethnic cultures or impoverished cultures are naturally prone to avoid work or are too wrapped up in their families to be fully engaged.

Yet research by census and the Pew Research Center suggest otherwise, indicating they are no less engaged than any other ethnicity or social status.

Myths About Employee Engagement That Block Progress

Employee Engagement Should Be Checked Annually

Many organizations rely on the annual employee survey. With the trend emphasizing employee engagement, most have taken that survey and renamed it to the Employee Engagement Survey. Problem is, all they changed was the name. I wrote in detail about that in my blog Six Reasons Your Employee Engagement Survey Fails and What You Can Do About It.

The real test of engagement is ongoing and targeted. It’s also personal. Sending out a survey once a year, which gets about 10% response in a good year, doesn’t give you the real pulse. Neither does an annual employee review, which is typically one-sided. To get the real feel for where you are, you need to tap into the line managers and individual contributors frequently.

Sam Walton (Walmart) was famous for this. He would fly into a warehouse location or store location, hop into the passenger seat of one of trucks, and ride around and talk to the driver. He learned about what they felt, how things were going, and what they could do better. And he showed employees he cared about what THEY feel.

Employee Engagement Can Be Bought

This one just doesn’t seem to want to go away. It comes mostly from the sales angle, particularly among managers who believe that salespeople are entirely driven by money. They believe if they just create opportunities for more income then that’s all the incentive they need to engage people more. Maybe it works short-term for one person, but generally fails with the rest. It is then explained away as being the fault of the employees and not the program.

Surveys conducted on sales staff and other groups repeatedly show that money is not the primary motivator. In fact, it’s not usually in the top three.

Another way that managers attempt to buy engagement is by adding workplace features. It’s kind of like someone who tries to buy your love by constantly giving you things. Doesn’t work in personal relationships either.

There is a Standard Solution to Employee Engagement

This myth is perpetuated mostly by companies that want to sell you a solution.

This engagement survey will fix it. This software program provides the metrics you need. Purchase this benefits program. Buy the secret to our proprietary system that solves employee engagement forever! 

That works if your organization is just like every other organization and your employees are like everyone else. You and I know that’s not true.

Your situation is unique. It requires an innovative approach that is entirely yours.

It is highly unlikely you will be able to develop that on your own. You are too close to the equation. The right coach can help.

Employee Engagement is the End Game

Finally, it’s important to remember that our real goal here isn’t employee engagement. Our real goal is have one or all of these things:

  • A supremely productive workplace
  • Cohesive teams
  • Strong leadership
  • Reduced turnover
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Increased profits

Employee Engagement is a means to the end. You can’t have greater productivity without more engagement. And you haven’t really engaged them if they aren’t becoming more productive. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Anything else is not productive.

What do you believe about employee engagement? What’s helped engagement efforts? What’s hurt?

Share your thoughts here or email me at