PERFORMANCE REVIEW TIME AT MUNDANE INDUSTRIES
"Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart." — Dorothy Parker, from a letter in response to a job offer
It's Butter Month here at Mundane Industries. Salary reviews are coming up and managers are being buttered up like hot bread. Unfortunately, Butter Month always ends badly, with Faint Praise Day, followed by the Festival of Sighs.
Last year's review was a low point in my relationship with my secretary, Maria "Hands of Stone" Englehup. You try to be a sensitive, aware individual, but sometimes you just slip.
I told Maria that she could make an attempt to be more upbeat and cooperative. For instance, when given an assignment, instead of saying, "Just put it over there with the other stuff I'm never going to get around to," she could lie, like the rest of us, and say, "No problem."
If I'd been shrewder, I might have seen what was coming next. Looking back, I could have noticed that she'd been walking funny, kind of like Popeye, and whenever she'd come into my office, she'd lean with both hands on my desk and talk too loudly. These are classic warning signs that someone has been studying assertiveness books with their inevitable emphasis on body language.
Anyway, before I knew what was happening, she took my suggestion as an insult, replying hotly, "You can't take strong employees, can you?" Unprepared, I stammered out that "strong" and "cooperative" were not mutually exclusive. But this, too, offended her. Leaning over my desk, she insisted that I wanted her to "deny her feelings" and that as far as I was concerned she was "just an object ... like this stapler." Maria later claimed, in her complaint to HR, that I then said, "No, the difference is, the stapler WORKS." Well, maybe I did; I was distracted by her pacing like Popeye.
Either way, it certainly was an example of "assertiveness" tumbling down a slippery slope. I'm not sure how some writers have come to believe that the critical trait of success is aggression. As part of this column, I've gotten to spend time around many of our most successful businesspeople, and I have found them, as a group, to be unusually gracious, considerate and, often, self-deprecating. In fact, I'm convinced that the barbaric few are successful despite their personalities, not because of them.
And I don't know about you, but I find "loud" body language to be off-putting. And it certainly isn't what drives success. Exhibit One is Bill Gates: His body seems to whimper, "Please don't hurt me," or sometimes to whisper, "I have a wedgie and I like it." Exhibit Two is Dave Thomas of Wendy's, whose body language says, "I think I'll take a nap."
But my experience with Maria did have an upside. It prompted me to discuss with a number of admirable executives how they approach raises. Here's what I learned:
(1) There was a time when percentage-point increases were passed out like after-dinner mints. These days, managers usually get a new staff budget, all in one lump, and have to divvy up raises according to talent and output — or, to be more exact, according to how desperate they are to keep each employee from looking for another job.
(2) Despite rumors to the contrary, HOW you ask for a raise is nothing as compared with your worth to the organization. (If your work says "indispensable," your body can mumble all it wants.)
(3) The biggest raises still come from promotions. Despite all the talk of flattened organizations, hierarchies are very much alive. If you're in doubt as to whether or not you're in one, here's a test: If the person you report to is murdered, and you aren't automatically a suspect, then you're not in a hierarchy. If you're in a hierarchy, then you need to clear a spot above you. Here's an important principle to remember: It's easier to get a boss promoted than fired.
I recently passed these suggestions on to Maria. The Festival of Sighs started a bit early this year.
Dale Dauten is an entrepreneur, speaker and author. His latest book, on changing careers, is "The Max Strategy" (William Morrow). Please write to him in care of King Features Syndicate, 235 East 45th St., New York, NY 10017, or at www.dauten.com for e-mail.
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