Stephen Comments on Relieving Workplace Stress

Marcia Crawford’s character is modeled on a number of excellent HR professionals I’ve worked with over the years. Some people enter Human Resources to bring order to compensation, benefits, legal compliance, and the administrative facets of HR. Others are drawn to the profession because they want to contribute to and improve the experience of employees in the work environment. They see the world of work as a place for people to bring out the best in each other and evolve personally and professionally.

Some HR executives have training in psychology, but the scope of their interest includes not just individuals but the organizational systems in which they work and the rigors of running a profitable business. Marcia’s passion and expertise are on the human development side of the continuum. She feels for Dan and his organization, and she understands the business impact of a failed project.

In this chapter Marcia, VP of HR, confronts a common situation. Brilliant, hard-working, driven executives can be blind to the costs of their abrasive management style. Lost productivity and revenue, attrition, and even share price devaluation are very real consequences of the way Dan operates.

Because Dan’s knowledge and expertise are critical to the project’s success, replacing him is not an easy option. It would be ideal to keep Dan and develop his leadership style. Marcia knows that coaching is often the intervention of choice for executives like Dan who cannot take time off to attend training. Coaching can give Dan the one-on-one training that only uses content that is pertinent to this mission critical project.

Previously, Dan had rejected coaching, but now with his limitations staring him in the face and his new health concerns, he is suddenly amenable.

Though coaching is highly cost-effective, it still requires financial investment. Like most HR executives, Marcia knows some of her colleagues view executive development as a cost, and not always a justifiable one. She believes good executive development produces a competitive advantage for her company. But mindful that others disagree with her, she needs Dan’s coaching to produce demonstrable results.

Marcia selects from her network of coaches three possible matches for Dan’s needs. Dan has agreed to interview them.

Let’s see how that turns out in Chapter 5.


CHAPTER 4 – HR VP Finds an Opening

Dragons At Work HR VP Finds an OpeningMarcia surveyed the remains of the last meeting – styrofoam cups, crumpled paper, McDonalds wrappers, and plans for a phased rollout scrawled in blue and red dry erase marker on a whiteboard – signs of another team thrashing to meet its milestones. This was the Thoreau Room, one of many windowless meeting spaces. The HVAC register dispensed just enough air flow to support human respiration. Not exactly Walden Pond, she thought. But between meetings, it offered her a place to sit alone and take stock. As was often the case these past months, her thoughts turned to Dan Schaeffer.

No one could deny Dan’s knowledge of the Data Consolidation Project. His brain was hardwired to every detail and problem confronting the teams under his command. And this brain was truly a marvelous instrument, equipped with lightning processing power and seemingly endless memory. Supporters and detractors both acknowledged Dan’s intellectual capacity as “scary.”

At first, Dan’s commanding presence comforted the senior executives. They understood the critical importance of systematizing seventy-five years of chaotic insurance records – some of them centrally located, others in remote offices around the globe – in order to mine and manage the data efficiently. The success of the project was a matter of survival for California Sentinel Insurance, a mid-sized life and property company. Over the last year, its CEO, George Corbett, determined that a strategic investment in IT would yield a significant competitive advantage. Industry analysts concurred, and tracked the project’s progress at every investor relations meeting.

As the initiative gained visibility, it became ever more important that a strong leader deliver the project on time and on budget. Dan was the unanimous choice. But as problems spawned and mutated across organizations, Dan’s intellect, will, and drive seemed to come up short. Milestones slipped, and early attempts to bring parts of the new system online were embarrassingly substandard.

Dan’s response: work harder. Seventy hour weeks grew to eighty. He confided in Marcia that each morning he rolled out of bed at 5 AM, logged online, and ate breakfast with a Bluetooth headset grafted to his ear. Conference call voices swarmed in his head, following him into his car, and onto the freeway. At work, he hurled himself through a morass of meetings, juggling phone calls in the margins until he returned to his home office at night to get some “real work” done.

As VP of Human Resources, Marcia witnessed executives slip into downward spirals. Dan’s descent bore all the familiar signs, including office gossip with its now predictable refrains: Dan yells at people. Dan walks out of meetings. Dan won’t let anyone finish a sentence. What is it with Dan? He’s losing it.

Marcia knew Dan was not entirely at fault. Senior management bought into the project with its $4 million price tag. They spent a great deal of time looking over his shoulder and there were no early wins. As Dan’s team worked to make the system meet the specific needs of sales, customer service, and finance, they found it needed extensive custom programming. The added requirement of integrating five different legacy systems that had previously never talked to each other, presented intractable snarls. Much of the data needed to populate the new system had been low quality from the start. Garbage in and nothing reassuring coming out.

Prior to this project, he’d been the golden boy. No challenge was too complex or daunting for Dan to tackle. He became a vice president at age 42, and was on the fast track to succeed the Chief Information Officer. But this project was bigger and more unmanageable than anything Dan had undertaken.

No one, least of all Marcia, liked seeing Dan stagger under this weight. A few months earlier, she suggested retaining an executive coach to help him better manage the project. “What the hell for?” he said. He knew what to do, and didn’t want to waste time explaining the obvious to a coach.

She wasn’t sure what accounted for Dan’s change of heart, but she was glad to get his e-mail.

She replied: I’ll set up initial meetings for you with three coaches. You pick the one you like the best. And if you don’t like any of them, we’ll cast a wider net. OK? M.

He replied: Set it up.

Click here to read Chapter 5.

Dragons at Work
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