Friday, June 05, 2009

Throwing at the Batter

Yankee pitcher A.J. Burnett has been suspended for throwing at a Texas Ranger batter in retaliation for a Ranger who'd just hit Yankee Mark Texeira in back to back at bats.

Earlier in the season, it was the Red Sox Josh Beckett who got dinged (5 games) for throwing over the head of the Angel's Bobby Abreu.

All part of Major League Baseball's antler dance around deliberately, accidentally, or accidentally-on-purpose throwing a 95 hour speed-ball at an opposing player and, conceivably, ending a life or a career.

The suspensions have gotten me thinking about the "throwing at the batter" equivalents in the workplace which, unfortunately, seldom merit a suspension - and seldom result in a retaliatory pitch, largely because the hurler is generally senior in the organization to the hurlee.

Here are a couple of the situations that should result in a return bean-ball, a suspension, or a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl - but never do.

Throwing someone on your team under the bus - How often have we seen this scenario play out: a manager is taking some heat at a meeting. The flames, which look like no more than a match head to those of us in the crowd, seem to the manager to be licking his or her arse. You're sitting there thinking that a little heat is why they're paid the big bucks. They're standing their channeling Joan of Arc being burned at the stake.

So, what do they do - they name names. They blame "it" on someone in their group - it's their fault, they tell us. It won't happen again.

In one instance that I didn't witness (but heard about from several reliable sources), a company VP got a little push back about some program or another - very mild pushback. She flipped, told everyone that "it's P's fault, and I'm going to demote her." Which she pretty much did.

Pulling unnecessary fire drills - And speaking of flames and fire. How about those managers who, the minute someone senior to them asks for something - or even casually mentions it - whips everyone into a frenzy to accommodate that request. No matter how trivial. No matter how ridiculous. No matter that it's not really a request at all.

I had some peers who worked for a manager who was the worst fire-driller I've ever seen in action.

We would all be at a meeting with someone more senior in the company - an SVP, the President, the CEO - and said senior person (almost always just thinking out loud - you know how these guys operate: they always have to be "giving value" and showing how they got to their vaunted position) asks, "have you thought about xyz?"

It didn't matter whether xyz represented an entire shift in strategy, or was something that was so off-base it was worth rebuttal (brave approach) or ignoring it (coward's way out).

The fellow my peers worked for would leap into action, hauling his directs into near all-nighters to follow up on his nibs' comment.

Of course, by the time the follow up was delivered, Mr. Big had likely forgotten that he even mentioned the shift in strategy.  Or thought out loud that it would be interesting if all the PowerPoint presentations used Aharoni for the font, and had a chartreuse backdrop.

I saw this particular manager in action a lot, and never once did I ever hear him push back on a request - even by saying something as innocuous as "I'll have to get back to you on that". Let alone asking for clarification and seeing whether Mr. Big (and in this company, it was always Mr. Big, I'm afraid) was actually interested in having all kinds of people drop whatever they were doing so that their manager could toady up to his boss (or boss' boss) with a lip-smacking a "your wish is my command" flourish.

Taking credit for something you didn't do - I know that it is not always possible (or necessary) to give everyone involved in a presentation - plan - analysis - whatever credit at the meeting where you're giving it. Let's face it, if you're presenting up, the senior folks probably don't care about you, let alone the junior folks who helped put together (make that entirely put together) whatever it is that  you get to present. Still, it's always graceful to start off (or end) by mentioning that your team (or whoever it was) made a contribution, especially if some of those folks are sitting there. Better still, if it's possible, have them prepped to elaborate on a point or answer a question. That's good management!

Especially for internal documents, you can always have some note at the end of a document/preso that notes those who helped, or mention them in an e-mail. It might not matter to the person who's the recipient of your brilliant work - but it will to those who helped create it.

Of course, this never occurs to the credit grabbers. They're just happy to bask in the glow. (And they're typically the ones who, if there is criticism, back pedal big time. They're always more than willing to share, or allay, the blame.)

The worst offenders are those who, when there is a direct compliment on "their work", have the gall to pretend that it's all theirs.

I'm not recommending false modesty here, or doing an Academy Awards acceptance speech.

Just give credit where it's due.

Taking credit for someone else's idea - Same as the above, only even more so. Hey, you can pretend it's your idea, just mention that you were speaking with Joe Blow and he's thinking along the same lines. (This one, actually, doesn't always involve people who are more senior to you. Peers, junior folks - idea grabbers are everywhere.)

(And, by the way, if someone takes your idea and runs with it and succeeds, as long as they acknowledge your role, you really shouldn't begrudge them it they were the one who got of their duff and turned the idea into something.)

Giving someone the bad personal news publicly - The worst case of this I've ever heard of happened to my cousin, who worked in a small branch of a company. The manager of the branch called the dozen or so people in the branch into a meeting and laid off my cousin and another colleague in front of everyone else. No head's up, no warning, no nothing. Just "we need to make some changes, and that means that A & B will be leaving."

I was once told that I was now reporting to one of my peers - in front of that peer. When I called may as-of-that-moment-former manager on it afterwards, he smirked and said, "I knew you wouldn't mind."

Well, pal, wrong your were...I did mind, and I especially minded the way that I learned about it.

Oh, I know that there are other horrendous types out there in the work-a-day world. But these are the ones who came to mind when I heard that A.J. Burnett was suspended for 6 games.

Sometimes you really wish that your company had an MLB out there willing to call foul.

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