The entitled manager

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Speaking of managerial entitlement, the headline reads “A Rude Awakening Is Ahead for Young Employees.” The publication is, predictably, The Wall Street Journal (7/5/2022 edition). The author is Daniel E. Greenleaf, whose credentials read “President and CEO of Modivcare, a healthcare services company based in Colorado,” but which should include his position in the Entitled Manager Hit Parade.

Greenleaf’s thesis, such as it is, is that the young employees who entered the workforce during the economic expansion that began in 2009 had better grit their teeth and prepare for the demise of managers who care about creating a positive, encouraging, supportive work environment.

That isn’t, of course, how he put it, but Greenleaf makes his disinterest in such things clear. His sigh of relief that he can stop pretending to consider these matters his responsibility as a leader is almost audible.

And I quote: Younger employees – not all, but many – will need to make more realistic demands of the workplace.”

In addition to wondering what fraction of the workforce is represented by “many,” it’s worth pointing out that in this case, Greenleaf has the authority to determine which demands are “realistic” – “unrealistic demands” are whichever ones he doesn’t like.

He gives us a hint of his own sense of entitlement in his complaints about the hot job market’s impact: We found less loyalty among technical staffers, who often jumped employers for a slight increase in salary or a change of scenery.

Greenleaf doesn’t explain what, exactly, constitutes either “slight” or “scenery.” My guess is that a slight increase in salary is one that keeps employees whole with respect to inflation, while “change of scenery” translates to managers who treat employees with respect.

But wait! There’s more! Over and over, Greenleaf bemoans the lack of employee loyalty that characterizes the current crop of younger workers. What’s nowhere to be found is so much as a hint that, as CEO, he is responsible for crafting a work environment that encourages loyalty – that if he wants employees to be loyal he first needs to be loyal to them.

Greenleaf’s personal experience, he says, along with that of unnamed “fellow CEOs,” is that recruiting and retaining employees who want to learn and grow on the job and then stay long-term is hard. His certain knowledge of the subject isn’t, though, entirely plausible. It’s his company’s managers who are having the experience he relates as his own. Unless, that is, he personally interviewed and regularly interacts with the 20,000 or so employees who work in his company, and personally conducts exit interviews with those who choose to depart.

Nonetheless, Greenleaf’s reported experience mirrors what my own sources tell me, which is that his experience is widespread: As with other marketplaces, the labor marketplace is subject to the law of supply and demand.

In non-labor marketplaces, supply and demand are balanced by price. And in these non-labor marketplaces, price has an intangible component, namely, how well or poorly a company treats its customers.

The labor marketplace is parallel. The current, diminished supply of labor means we should expect the price companies have to pay for it to be on the increase. And the price to be paid for labor also has its intangible components.

Want a committed, loyal workforce?

Given that Greenleaf’s own compensation is more than $3.5 million, it’s clear that his own loyalty has been bought and paid for by Modivcare’s board of directors. If he wants a workforce that displays a commensurate level of loyalty and commitment he can either wait for his hoped-for recession, which, he predicts, will fix the situation for him, or he can pay the price … tangible and intangible … for the workforce he wants.

Doing so would provide the additional benefit of recession-proofing his workforce as well.

Bob’s last word: Entirely left out of Greenleaf’s commentary is that the most important workforce shortage businesses face is one they’ve faced for just short of forever. That’s the shortage of truly outstanding employees. And while reliable metrics are hard to define and harder to find, based on my own experience and conversations with lots of managers the best employees are easily 10 times more effective than average ones.

And no matter how you slice and dice the numbers, no more than one tenth of the workforce will ever be in the top ten percent.

Which means that offering double the tangible compensation your competitors pay for talent, coupled with the intangible compensation of a healthy work environment, is a terrific investment.

Bob’s sales pitch: I wrote Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology to provide a core set of principles for running a first-rate IT organization.

Of its 13 principles, the last is the most important and relevant to this week’s column. It’s that Every employee is irreplaceable. The best leaders understand this principle and embrace it. The other twelve principles are pretty useful as well.

Now showing on CIO.com:A CIO’s guide to guiding business change.Why you should read it: As CIOs re-think IT’s role in the enterprise, leading or facilitating business change is central to the conversation. Here’s one way IT can and should regain center stage.

Comments (6)

  • I’m shocked, shocked to hear that employees aren’t loyal to corporations, especially after all the loyalty corporations have shown employees the past several decades!

    And Greenleaf’s loyalty may be bought and paid for, but you can bet it would vanish the instant another board offered him more. If only arrogance were subject to supply and demand,

  • I believe a bit of punctuation is needed to clarify his quote

    Younger employees – not all, but many – will need to make more, realistic demands of the workplace.

    That is if they wish to be taken seriously and treated with respect by this guy.

  • Yet another great column Bob. The fact that this cretinous CEO will have few (if any) negative consequences for his disastrous management style is yet more proof that life is horribly unfair

  • Bob I believe that was off the editorial page which is more righty/old fashioned. I actually like the reporting in the WSJ. But I did read that article and had a slightly different take.

    Post pandemic, I see a number of executives and managers looking for ways to remain relevant. Suddenly their “butt in the chair” method of management has fallen apart as employees resist returning to the office. These same people continue to fight to get things back to where they were – failing to recognize that most businesses did quite well during the pandemic with employees working from home.

    After all, micromanaging and feeling powerful is difficult when there is no one to see everyday. It is really hard when the first thought it “how can we make more money”. True story in my case. My company had it’s best year by far the 2nd year of the pandemic with everyone working from home. CEO comment after. “We cannot rest on that year and need to show we can do even better next year.”

    I’m no spring chicken and fight the old way of doing things. But I still come back to what has made me successful. Groom and retain top talent. Keep them happy and challenge them. Give them a voice and do not tell them how to be creative. Most importantly, treat them as individuals.

    Finally, if the work is getting done well and customers are happy, be a cheerleader, not a “boss”.

    As a leader you may find yourself a bit bored since things are working so well. Enjoy that while you can.

    P.S. Board of Directors. You are mostly just as guilty being so number focused and incentivizing your CEOs around the wrong things. But this is a conversation for another day.

  • I find the whining about loyalty amusing.

    The companies that claim to want long-term employees do not want to bring on anyone over 40 (often 30). Yet those are the years when job-hopping pays the biggest dividends in pay and upward mobility.

    The over-40 crowd are more likely to seek long-term employment with a company, But they are not wanted.

  • SOO often forgotten!: “the best employees are easily 10 times more effective than average ones.

    And no matter how you slice and dice the numbers, no more than one tenth of the workforce will ever be in the top ten percent.”

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