Is Your Boss Your BFF?

I'd like to welcome my colleague Rose, who is going to guest blog today. Welcome Rose! - Anna

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I couldn't help but write a few notes about a recent WSJ article: "Avoiding Conflicts, The Too-Nice Boss Makes Matters Worse" by Jared Sandberg. After I read the piece, not only was I humming the Janet Jackson song ‘Feedback,' but I also reflected on what Anna blogs about concerning the workplace, management, Gen Y, etc.

The need for feedback is one Anna has talked about here and in other places as well. Sandberg's piece points out that the kind of constructive criticism and constant feedback Anna wants us to give Gen Y really is crucial to their growth in the business/management world. After all, this 80 million strong generation (100 million by some counts) will eventually include the next Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, and Martha Stewart. Paradoxically, the article also makes clear that perhaps it's not just Gen Yers who need to hear critical feedback; so do all employees.

We've read the pieces about Gen Y's narcissistic tendencies and strong sense of entitlement. If that's true, and Gen Yers are likely to overreact to negative feedback (because mommy and daddy told them they were geniuses and professors gave them all inflated As), then corporate America has got to get on the ball and figure out how to train Gen Y more effectively.

I have a lot of experience in restaurant management. The majority of my staff have been Gen Yers. When I tell you I've blushed at the things they've openly told me… I'm not exaggerating. They are all educated, bright, and extroverted people. As this article really hit home with me, I decided to share a few things I've learned:

1. I've learned you've got to apply the rules equally (as the article suggests), rather than bend the rules for a few. When one staffer finds out that I overlooked the 5 minute tardiness of another staffer, after I had punished the first one for tardiness the previous week, I will hear about it!

2. Also, fixing little problems is important. For example, we have a uniform. Every so often someone comes into work without proper attire. What pops into my head? Is it so hard to come to work with a proper, clean uniform? Is that really asking too much? Managers don't always want to deal with fixing the little problems. It's stressful. It is much easier to turn your head and say, "I didn't see that." This is where good and bad managers differ. If a manager cares about her job and her mission, she won't try to please everybody. In the end turning a blind eye carries a hefty price for everyone. I agree with the complaints of the employees in the piece that a manager who turns a blind eye to low performing workers, in an attempt not to ruffle feathers, not only creates poor morale for the rest of the team, but also shows the manager's self-centered need for people pleasing.

3. Our job as managers is NOT to be their BFF. I find myself repeating this rule to myself when an issue arises. All I ask of my staff is that they come to work focused on doing their job and providing great service. I don't want to hear about who you are sleeping with, how you won the beer drinking award at the bar last night or that …..ahh. Let me stop here. ☺ This goes against what we read about Gen Y, as managers are advised to create relationships with their Gen Y employees [and we even have professors trying to reach out to Gen Y students through very personal Gen Y-style Facebook profiles — Anna]. The article points out that your boss might make a great neighbor or friend, but that's not what you are looking for at work.

A perfect example: we initially had a very cheery people-person as our staff manager. The outcome was two-fold. She became everyone's friend, got to know the staff very well, but nothing ever got done correctly. There were always ‘little issues' or sloppiness. I couldn't stand it, so we changed managers to someone more direct and aggressive, and we have seen a big improvement in process and employee camaraderie. Staffers may not initially like the nit picking and direct feedback, but I've heard more than once how they appreciate it. They know in the long run they will be that much better at what they do. They also see the fruit of their labor when their gratuities go up.

4. Gen Y very much enjoys working for a company that cares about its employees and its mission. They also like to be involved in decision making. You'd be surprised how late an employee will stay or how much harder he'll work when he feels a part of something. I've involved my staff with everything from menu ideas to expansion plans, and the difference in output is astonishing.

5. As the article points out, we've all worked for the ‘Devil Wears Prada' type boss. I know I've had my share of 90 hour work weeks with no such thing as work-life balance. Would I trade that experience for the types of managers mentioned in this article? Not a chance. As the piece points out, most employees want to hear how they are doing. They want to know what they can fix. After all, most of us look to advance at our jobs and beyond, right? The duty of our bosses is similar to that of a mentor/teacher: Pat me on the back when I've brought a great idea to the table (not every 5 min), but also point out what I am doing incorrectly so that I can improve.

At the end of the day, I think we can agree that Gen Y is not the only group looking for feedback. We all crave it.