Friday, October 7, 2016

How to Manage a Toxic Employee

Harvard Business Review
by Amy Gallo


There’s that one person on your team — the bad apple who has nothing positive to say, riles up other team members, and makes work life miserable. If you can’t fire him, how do you respond to his behavior? What feedback do you give? How do you mitigate the damage he inflicts?
What the Experts SayThere’s a difference between a difficult employee and a toxic one, says Dylan Minor, an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management who studies this topic. “I call them toxic because not only do they cause harm but they also spread their behavior to others,” she explains. “There’s a pattern of de-energizing, frustrating or putting down teammates,” adds Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown and the author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.  “It’s not just that Joe is rude. The whole team suffers because of it.” Of course,  your first step as a manager should be to avoid hiring toxic people in the first place, but once they’re on your team, it can be hard to get rid of them. “Oftentimes the behavior doesn’t run against anything legal so you can’t fire them if others in the organization don’t agree that a line has been crossed,” Porath explains. Here’s what to do instead.
Dig deeperThe first step is to take a closer look at the behavior and what’s causing it. Is the person unhappy in the job? Struggling in their personal life? Frustrated with coworkers? “You might meet with them and ask how they’re doing — at work, at home, and with their career development,” suggests Porath. If you find there’s a reason for why they’re acting the way they are, offer to help. “A manager can use this information to coach the person, or suggest resources to help address the root of the problem.” For example, adds Minor, if the person is going through a divorce or struggling with a mental health issue, you could offer “counseling resources or time off that could potentially alleviate” the underlying issue.
Give them direct feedbackIn many cases, toxic people are oblivious to the effect they have on others. “Most of the time people don’t realize that they’re as destructive as they are,” Porath says. “They’re too focused on their own behaviors and needs to be aware of the broader impact.”  That’s why it’s crucial to give direct and honest feedback — so they understand the problem and have an opportunity to change. The standard feedback rules apply:  Objectively explain the behavior and its effects, using specific, concrete examples.  “It’s not helpful to say, ‘You’re annoying us all,’” Porath explains. “You have to ground it in the work.”  Also discuss what kind of behavior you’d like to see instead and develop an improvement plan with the employee. “What do you expect them to change? Strive for clearly defined, measurable goals,” Porath says.  “You’re giving them the chance to have a more positive impact on people.”
Explain the consequencesIf the carrot doesn’t work, you can also try the stick. “We all tend to respond more strongly to potential losses than we do to potential gains, so it’s important to show offenders what they stand to lose if they don’t improve,” says Porath. If the person is hesitant to reform, figure out what they care most about — the privilege of working from home, their bonus—and put that at stake. For most people, the possibility of missing out on a promised promotion or suffering other consequences “tied to the pocketbook” will be a strong motivation to behave in a more civil way.
Accept that some people won’t changeOf course, you should always hope that the person can change but not everyone will respond to the tactics listed above. Minor is currently researching toxic doctors and says that early results indicate that some are either unable or unwilling to change. Porath’s research on incivility has meanwhile found that “4% of people engage in this kind of behavior just because it’s fun and they believe they can get away with it.” In those extreme cases, you should recognize that you won’t be able to fix the problem and begin to explore more serious responses.
Document everythingIf you conclude that you really need to fire the person, you must first document their offenses and any response you’ve offered so far. “You want to establish a pattern of behavior, the steps you took to address it, the information, warnings or resources provided to the employee, and the failure of the employee to change,” Porath says.  Include “supporting material” too: formal complaints, relevant information from performance evaluations, such as 360-degree or peer reviews. The idea, says Minor, is to protect yourself and the company and to show your employee exactly why they are being let go.
Separate the toxic person from other team membersEven if you can’t get rid of a bad apple, you can isolate it from the rest of the bushel so the rot doesn’t spread. Minor’s research shows that people close to a toxic employee are more likely to become toxic themselves, but the good news is that the risk also subsides quickly,” he says. As soon as you put some physical distance between the offender and the rest of the team – for example, by rearranging desks, reassigning projects, scheduling fewer all-hands meetings, or encouraging more work-from-home days — you’ll see the situation start to improve. Porath calls this “immunizing” the others. “You’re trying to protect people like you would with a disease,” she says. “You will hopefully decrease the number of run-ins and the cognitive loss.” But make sure to do this with discretion. Let employees come to you with their complaints about the toxic colleague and use “one-on-one conversations” to coach them on how they might minimize their interactions.”
Don’t get distractedManaging a toxic person can eat up your time, energy, and productivity. But “don’t spend so much on one individual that your other priorities fall by the wayside,” says Porath. To counteract the negativity and make sure you’re still thriving, “surround yourself with supportive, positive people” and “look for meaning and purpose in your work,” she says.  Also focus on basic self-care. “If someone is draining you, build yourself up by exercising, eating right, sleeping, and taking breaks, both short-term ones and vacations,” she says. “Being healthy and proactive is the one thing we know that buffers people from the effects of toxic behavior.”
Principles to Remember
  • Talk to the person to try to understand what’s causing the behavior.
  • Give concrete, specific feedback and offer the opportunity to change.
  • Look for ways to minimize interactions between the toxic employee and the rest of your team.
  • Bring the situation up with your other team members. Allow them to mention it first and then provide suggestions.
  • Try to fire the person unless you’ve documented the behavior, its impact, and your response.
  • Get so wrapped up in handling the issue that you ignore more important work and responsibilities.
Case Study #1: Give direct feedback and support the rest of the teamChristina Del Villar, the director of marketing at the e-commerce operations software firm Webgility, managed a small team at a start-up earlier in her career. One employee, Sharon (not her real name), a senior marketing manager, was making the rest of the group miserable.
“She was an alcoholic, abused drugs, and had a medical condition,” Christina recalls, Her work was “full of mistakes,” her work ethic was poor — ”she was often out of the office, at least one day a week, if not more” — and she frequently took credit for others’ efforts.
Christina made sure to document the behavior but says she couldn’t fire Sharon because the woman “had threatened to sue for a variety of reasons, including her medical condition” should she be let go. Instead, she worked to prevent “the negativity from seeping into everything” by routinely giving Sharon feedback and direction. “Sometimes people don’t realize the impact they’re having so I like to have a blunt conversation with them about their behavior, what they can do to change it, and how they can work better with the team.”  Her approach was “delicate” because, with Sharon “you never really knew who you were going to get on any given day.” But she learned to read her employee’s “state of mind” and “pick days where she would be more accepting of this kind of conversation.”
Christina also supported the rest of the team. “Sometimes it was as easy as saying they were doing a great job or thanking them for stepping up to “fill the void” left by Sharon, she explains. She also encouraged them to focus on themselves and their work, “not on what someone else was or was not be doing.” When they complained about Sharon, she offered advice “while still respecting everyone’s privacy and staying within the law.”
While Christina’s efforts reduced the negative impact Sharon was having, the problem was ultimately solved by circumstance. When their business was acquired by a larger company,  Sharon moved to a different department.
Case Study #2: Help him rebuild his reputation
Daniel Hanson (not his real name) once managed an IT team at a large multinational that suffered every time it had to interact with Bob (also not his real name), a senior internal consultant. “He had a habit of talking down to people and being dismissive and was blissfully unaware that his behaviors  irritated people,” Daniel recalls.
With a little probing, Daniel discovered some of the reasons for Bob’s negativity. “His personal life was a mess between bad relationships and estranged children. Plus he’d realized that he had reached a certain age and hadn’t achieved the professional satisfaction that he wanted and he thought he deserved.”
Still, Daniel made clear to Bob that his behavior needed to change. He recommended a counselor provided by the company and offered up his own time and advice in weekly meetings. “I told him this was his last chance and that the next step was a formal performance management plan and almost inevitably exit from the business,” he says.
Although many managers “hated Bob with a passion,” Daniel encouraged them to stop talking about him behind his back, “to see that he was trying to change and to include him in more senior projects under close observation.” He spoke to people individually and “pointed out that his contribution on numerous projects had been immense.”
“Gradually, as Bob’s behavior changed, their attitudes toward him changed as well,” Daniel says. He’s proud that, when Bob did eventually transfer to another team, it was because he’d wanted to go, not because he’d been forced out.
Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of the HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work. She writes and speaks about workplace dynamics. Follow her on Twitter at @amyegallo.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Once Skeptical of Executive Power, Obama Has Come to Embrace It
Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most
prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.

The Obama Era

Over the next months, The Obama Era will explore the sweeping change that President Obama has brought to the nation, and how the presidency has changed him.

PART 1The Regulator in Chief

WASHINGTON — In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life.

Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.

Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.

The Obama administration in its first seven years finalized 560 major regulations — those classified by the Congressional Budget Office as having particularly significant economic or social impacts. That was nearly 50 percent more than the George W. Bush administration during the comparable period, according to data kept by the regulatory studies center at George Washington University.

An army of lawyers working under Mr. Obama’s authority has sought to restructure the nation’s health care and financial industries, limit pollution, bolster workplace protections and extend equal rights to minorities. Under Mr. Obama, the government has literally placed a higher value on human life.

And it has imposed billions of dollars in new costs on businesses and consumers.

Many of the new rules are little known, even as they affect the way Americans eat, love and die. People can dine on genetically engineered salmon. Women can buy emergency contraceptive pills without prescriptions. Military veterans can design their own headstones.

In its final year, the administration is enacting some of its most ambitious rules, including limits on airborne silica at job sites, an overhaul of food labels to clarify nutritional information, and a measure making millions of workers eligible for overtime pay.

The administration’s regulatory legacy has become an issue in the campaign to replace Mr. Obama, as Donald J. Trump has sharply criticized regulatory overreach and promised to undo many of the new rules. But executive power has expanded steadily under both Republican and Democratic presidents in recent decades, and both Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton have promised to act in the service of their own goals.

The new rules built on the legislative victories Mr. Obama won during his first two years in office. Those laws — the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Act and the $800 billion economic stimulus package — transformed the nation’s health care system, curbed the ambitions of the big banks and injected financial support into a creaky economy. But as Republicans increased their control of Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s deep frustration with congressional opposition led to a new approach: He gradually embraced a president’s power to act unilaterally.

History may now judge the regulations to be one of Mr. Obama’s most enduring legacies. At the least, his exercise of administrative power expanded and cemented a domestic legacy that now rivals Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society in reach and scope.

In May, Mr. Obama was asked by a farmer in Elkhart, Ind., to justify the “dramatic increase” in government regulations that affected his business. “I’m not interested in regulating just for the sake of regulating,” Mr. Obama responded. “But there are some things like making sure we’ve got clean air and clean water, making sure that folks have health insurance, making sure that worker safety is a priority — that, I do think, is part of our overall obligation.

” Infuriated Republicans describe many of the new rules as unwarranted, resulting in “less jobs, less businesses, less prosperity, lower take-home pay,” in the words of the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan. Business groups, also incensed, have challenged a number of new regulations in court, delaying them or preventing them from taking effect. Some economic experts worry that the accumulation of regulation is contributing to the economy’s persistent sluggishness.

“The big issue that I grapple with is that the regulatory state keeps growing,” said Robert Hahn, an economist and a regulatory expert at the Smith School at the University of Oxford. “And as it keeps growing, when does it become too much?”

Not Inherently a Regulator

Rahm Emanuel, third from right, Mr. Obama’s first chief of staff, and other top aides mapped out an ambitious two-year agenda that included a health care overhaul, new banking laws and a remake of the federal student loan program. CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

Mr. Obama entered office in January 2009 determined to make his mark by passing bold new laws, not by tinkering with rules. Rahm Emanuel, his first chief of staff, and other top aides mapped out an ambitious two-year agenda that included a health care overhaul, new banking laws, a remake of the federal student loan program, infrastructure spending and stricter limits on pollution.

The new president had a skeptical streak when it came to the value of regulation, influenced by his friend Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor who had long argued that the government should more rigorously assess the benefits of new regulations. Mr. Obama liked that idea so much that he named Mr. Sunstein to lead the White House office that oversees rule-making.

“The president is not somebody who is intuitively or inherently a regulator,” said Howard Shelanski, who followed Mr. Sunstein in that role in mid-2013. He said Mr. Obama conveyed a simple message: “‘If we can get a good result without regulating, let’s do that.’

” But after eight years of a Republican administration, many Democrats were eager for the government to lean more forcefully on the levers of regulatory power, and officials within the federal bureaucracy felt emboldened.

The White House did resist some ideas. It shut down efforts by Lisa Jackson, Mr. Obama’s first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to increase the regulation of ozone, a decision that environmentalists viewed as a betrayal.

But other rules were allowed to proceed. Kate Hanni, an advocate from Napa, Calif., for the rights of airline passengers, had tried for years to persuade the government to address a series of incidents in which flight delays left passengers trapped for hours on planes that had already left the gate, often in cabins with stinking toilets, weak air-conditioning and no food. The Bush administration put Ms. Hanni on a task force consisting mostly of airline executives, which concluded in the fall of 2008 — over her forceful and repeated objections — that the public was best served by allowing the airlines to make their own decisions.

Weeks after the task force released its report, Ms. Hanni was invited to Washington in December 2008 to meet with Robert S. Rivkin, the head of Mr. Obama’s transportation transition team. Democrats in Congress had introduced legislation to address the issue, but Mr. Rivkin asked Ms. Hanni if she would support new regulations instead. She would back anything enforceable, Ms. Hanni said.

“Right answer,” he replied.

Over the course of the next nine months, Mr. Rivkin and his team of career regulators at the Department of Transportation developed rules prohibiting planes loaded with passengers from sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours.

In meetings with Ray LaHood, Mr. Obama’s first transportation secretary, and his staff, airline representatives argued for flexibility, saying rigid timelines would only increase flight cancellations. They chafed at the regulators’ willingness to see the benefits but not the costs.

Sharon L. Pinkerton, an executive at Airlines for America, the industry’s main trade group, recalled Transportation Department regulators suggesting that “unquantifiable, unidentifiable benefits” would “outweigh the costs” of new rules for the airlines.

“What are we supposed to do with that?” she asked later in an interview.

But Mr. LaHood had himself experienced long waits on the runway during frequent trips home to Illinois. Just days before Christmas in 2009, he announced a Passenger Bill of Rights, which for the first time levied fines of up to $27,500 per passenger on airlines that leave domestic flights stranded for more than three hours. He challenged the major carriers to provide their service “in a way that is halfway convenient” for their customers.

His department, Mr. LaHood said in a recent interview, had a new sense of purpose, independent of any specific directive from the White House. “They had other fish to fry,” Mr. LaHood said of senior officials at the White House. “We didn’t want to wait around for Congress to take five, 10 years to do this. We could do this by rule and regulation, so we were pretty much off to the races.” Other agencies were moving too. In its second year, bureaucrats working across the government completed 96 major rules, more than in any subsequent year.

Equal Rights for Everyone

Outside the Supreme Court before its decision in June 2013 allowing same-sex marriage. A number of executive actions and regulatory changes intended to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people followed. CreditChristopher Gregory/The New York Times

The White House soon began to take a greater interest in regulation.

In May 2009, Mr. Emanuel raised concerns about Janice Langbehn, a social worker featured in The New York Times who was barred from visiting her hospitalized same-sex partner.

Passing legislation to address the problem was unlikely, Mr. Emanuel knew, given entrenched ideological opposition and the White House’s focus on overhauling the health insurance system. But Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the newly created Office of Health Reform, suggested an alternative: The administration had the power to impose conditions on hospitals that got federal Medicare funding. 

A year later, the president directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations requiring hospitals to extend visitation rights to same-sex partners.

“All too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall,” Mr. Obama wrote in an April 2010 memo.

A focus on similar issues produced more than 100 executive actions and regulatory changes intended to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, particularly after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the federal law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

People with H.I.V. were no longer barred from entry into the country; federal housing rules recognized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families; health insurance companies were barred from discriminating against gay people; labor protections applied to gay couples; married same-sex couples could take family and medical leave; and the Internal Revenue Service started treating same-sex couples no differently.

“These are really lasting things,” said David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy organization. “They affect people in their everyday lives.”

The Value of Regulation 

As the Obama administration turned toward regulation, it sought to strengthen its hand by changing the estimates of what a life is worth. Those estimates allowed the administration to argue that the benefits of many regulations were greater than previously appreciated. This push was particularly important as a justification for stronger environmental protections.

A White House push to pass a sweeping climate change bill in 2009 failed to pass in Congress, but almost from the outset some of Mr. Obama’s aides were working on a Plan B. Mr. Sunstein and Michael Greenstone, the first chief economist of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, created an internal task force to put a dollar figure on the cost of carbon emissions.

The government does not try to quantify all the benefits of proposed regulations. When it came to environmental regulations, the calculation was particularly limited. Analysts often assigned a dollar figure to just one kind of damage — emissions of “small particles” — and then stacked up the costs of the proposal against the benefits of fewer particles.

Quantifying a second kind of damage, from carbon emissions, would broaden the assessed benefits of new regulations — potentially justifying new and stronger restrictions. In 2010, the administration issued a report that estimated the economic impact of global warming, including agricultural disruptions, increased flooding and health problems. It pegged the cost of carbon emissions at $21 per ton. An updated assessment in 2013 raised the price tag to $33.

When the administration announced stricter standards for automobile fuel efficiency in 2011, it cited the reduction in carbon emissions as a key benefit. Those benefits have since been cited in several dozen new regulations, including the hotly debated 2015 rule seeking to restrict emissions from new power plants.

Regulators also revisited a more fundamental concept: the value of life. Not just a theological or philosophical abstraction, that figure is used to assess how much spending the government should require to prevent death or injury.

The Department of Transportation, for example, increased the estimated value of preventing one death from $6.6 million in 2009 to $9.4 million last year, adjusting for inflation. The department made an even larger adjustment for preventing injuries, for example raising the value of averting a broken arm from $103,000 in 2009 to $442,000 in 2015, also adjusting for inflation. The increases have helped to justify new requirements for stronger roofs and rearview cameras on automobiles and seatbelts on buses.

The new carbon cost estimate, in particular, has drawn fire from industry groups who regard it as an arbitrary assessment intended to further an environmental agenda.

Environmentalists, however, argue that the government is still significantly understating the actual impact. A 2014 analysis by economists at Stanford University, published in the science journal Nature, estimated that the cost of carbon was actually $220 per ton, far above the government’s official estimate.

Mr. Greenstone, in a recent interview, defended the government’s number as a result of a technocratic process that was not influenced by political pressures. “Our job as faceless bureaucrats sitting in windowless rooms was not to do science but to summarize the frontier of science,” he said. “ And I feel that we were faithful to that.”

The Room Where It Happens

Mr. Obama with the House speaker, John A. Boehner, left, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, at the White House in July 2011. The three discussed raising the debt ceiling, an issue that almost led to a government shutdown. CreditPhilip Scott Andrews/The New York Times

By the fall of 2011, after a summer standoff between the two political parties nearly caused a government shutdown, it was clear to Mr. Obama that little hope remained for moving his agenda forward in a Congress controlled by Republicans.

Speaking in Las Vegas that October, Mr. Obama expressed disdain for “an increasingly dysfunctional Congress” and pledged: “Where they won’t act, I will.”

That sentiment kicked off a slow-moving realignment as White House officials held a series of strategy meetings that fall in the Roosevelt Room, first with Mr. Obama on Saturdays and later with agency and policy experts, usually on Tuesdays and Fridays. Led by Ms. DeParle, who had become deputy chief of staff, and Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, they asked: What can we do without Congress? 

“It’s certainly true that we learned by about the third year that the answer to every challenge isn’t going to be legislative,” said Cecilia Muñoz, now director of Mr. Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

The pace of regulation stalled somewhat in 2012, amid political concerns about announcing sweeping new regulations during the campaign. In 2013, Mr. Obama’s team briefly hoped his victory would lead to legislative progress, but Republicans blocked gun control measures and an immigration overhaul, and partisan gridlock shut the government down for 15 days that October.

In early 2014, the moment was finally ripe. Mr. Obama recruited John D. Podesta, then the head of the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and policy institution, to be his counselor in the White House

“The weight, if you will, changed with a very recalcitrant Republican House, and with both the House and the Senate being part of the ‘Nyet!’ caucus,” Mr. Podesta said. “It meant that you had to be seriously concerned with trying to make change happen with the tools that you had available.”

A Year of Action

Mr. Obama at his desk in the Oval Office the day before his State of the Union address in January 2014. “Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said in the speech. CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

In January 2014 a frustrated president stood before Congress and declared “a year of action” — with or without the help of the Republicans arrayed before him.

“Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,”

Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union address. Mr. Obama announced an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for several hundred thousand cooks, janitors and other federal contract workers. In subsequent orders, each resulting in a new regulation, the president required contractors to let their workers take paid sick days and banned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. He also increased workplace protections for all workers at businesses that held federal contracts — an umbrella covering roughly 29 million workers.

“What the president was ultimately doing was holding up the United States government as a model employer,” said Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation, a union-backed advocacy group that pressed the administration to embrace its regulatory power. “And it created a ripple effect. Within months of the president acting you had private C.E.O.s — Ikea, Gap, Disney, airlines — saying they too were going to boost minimum pay.”

The new regulations again required the White House to broaden its assessment of regulatory benefits. During Mr. Obama’s first term, administration officials told Mr. Geevarghese and other activists that the government did not have the power to make such changes. But after Mr. Obama’s re-election, they found a way: White House lawyers concluded that the president could impose requirements on contractors in the interest of taxpayers.

Betsey Stevenson, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, took the lead in building a case that contractors who paid higher wages would attract and retain better workers, increasing their productivity.

The theory holds, for example, that if the lunch lines at a federal office building moved a little more quickly because of more competent, motivated cafeteria workers, every employee in those lines would save a few minutes a day and have more time to work, thus increasing productivity.

The idea has its roots in work by George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and his wife, Janet Yellen, now chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, who decided in the early 1980s to pay their babysitter above-market wages as motivation.

With the president’s blessing, the E.P.A. also became more aggressive. The agency asserted federal authority to protect thousands of waterways and wetlands, proposed to cap carbon emissions at new and existing power plants, raised emissions standards for trucks and airplanes, and called for new limits on methane, mercury and ozone.

“He has been much more ambitious and aggressive on environmental regulation than any other president we’ve had,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, a lawyer pursuing legal challenges to some of Mr. Obama’s signature environmental rules.

Courts have now temporarily blocked the administration’s water rules and delayed the power plant limits on carbon dioxide emissions. The next administration will also have considerable leeway to determine how quickly new rules are carried out, and how strictly enforced.

 The Next White House

Mr. Obama before his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Every president promises to prune the federal rule book.

Mr. Obama has tried to formalize the process for reviewing existing regulations, and the two candidates vying to take his place, Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, have nodded at the need to ease the burdens of regulation.

But the scope of federal regulation has continued to grow, and the trend is likely to continue. Presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have asserted greater power in recent decades to dictate the shape of regulations, while Congress has become less specific in its instructions.

“We live in an era of presidential administration,” Elena Kagan, a Harvard law professor since appointed by Mr. Obama to the Supreme Court, wrote in a 2001 paper that reviewed the expansion of the regulatory state.

Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump would most likely face significant congressional opposition to their major campaign promises. To sidestep Congress, they now have the legacy of Mr. Obama. Mr. Podesta, now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, said the appeal of taking action without Congress is hard to resist.

“You come in with a strategy of going to the Hill, certainly where you can find some cooperation,” Mr. Podesta said. But when that fails, writing regulations “is a way to get much more substantial throw-weight behind solving the problem.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

10 Dumb Rules That Make Your Best People Want to Quit
Sometimes the dumbest rules can drive away the best employees.

CREDIT: Getty Images

It's hard enough to attract and hold on to good employees--but to attract and hold onto the best employees is even harder.
Occasionally they leave because of an opportunity they can't pass up, but most of the time the cause lies with the company they're leaving.
Too many workplaces create rule-driven cultures that may keep management feeling like things are under control, but they squelch creativity and reinforce the ordinary.
The more rules, the less passion--which means less motivation.
The more rules, the less excitement--which means less powerful performance.
The more rules, the less enthusiasm--which means lower profits.
Faced with a rule-driven culture, the best employees--the most talented and hard-working--are usually the first to go, because they're in high demand and have more opportunity then most.
What's left is a pool of people who are mediocre at what they do, willing to compromise their standards, and in it mostly for the paycheck.
And if you have mediocre people doing mediocre work, you are going to have a mediocre company.
Here's a simple principle for hiring and keeping the best and most talented people:
Stop creating dumb rules.
How do you know if a rule is dumb?
Ask yourself who needs it. If it's directed primarily at the people you wish you hadn't hired, it's probably a dumb rule.
Here are some prime examples:
1. Dumb rules for hiring. 
Imagine you're a potentially great employee applying for a job with your organization. You polish your resume and write a compelling cover letter. And then you enter the black hole--the space between applying for a job and being hired (or getting an impersonal notification that the job's been filled). It's not just dumb--it's inhumane. Isn't there a way to create hiring processes with a human touch? Isn't it possible to find the right person based on their words and presentation and a sense of who they are instead of relying on keyword search? Humanize the process and you'll get better and more talented people.
2. Dumb rules for performance reviews and rankings. 
Let's be honest: performance reviews are a waste of time. Brilliant and talented people deserve better than being slotted into some bureaucratic five-point scale once a year. It doesn't provide valuable feedback--it's just a ritual that's dreaded by everyone involved. Forced ranking, sometimes called stack ranking, is even worse. Lining up your employees and comparing them to one another, best to worst, is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever encountered as a coach and business consultant. Why would anyone want to stay at a company that treats people this way? How hard must it be to trust your colleagues when you're essentially in an organizational version of the Hunger Games? Does any meaningful information come out of such a process? Gifted and talented people should be supported in their strength and uniqueness, not compared to others or measured against arbitrary standards.

If you don't trust the people you hired, why did you hire them? (And if you don't trust your managers to hire good people, why did you make them mangers?) Get rid of annual reviews and rankings, and allow people to be brilliant and motivated and creative. Encourage them to set goals and maintain high standards and support them in doing so. Trust them to produce, and if they are not producing let them go.
3. Dumb rules for on-site attendance. 
In many positions, smart people don't need polices to force them into showing up at the office. People know what work they have to do that day and where best to do it. One week they may know they have something truly valuable to contribute or learn in a group setting at the office, but the next week they may see that their time is better spent meeting a deadline from home with availability by message or phone. Those who consistently fail to show up and contribute are likely not meeting other standards as well.
4. Dumb rules for approvals. 
Ask yourself how productive you'd be in your personal life if you had to get someone else to approve all your purchases and decisions. You'd never get anything done! Do you really want your best workers to spend their time chasing people for rubber-stamp approvals? If you're talking about a big project or new procedure approvals are appropriate, but to require them on everything is ludicrous. It slows down work, wastes money, and tells people you don't trust their judgment.
5. Dumb rules for time off. 
If a dedicated employee doesn't feel good enough to come to work, what's the point in making them drag themselves out of bed to get a doctor's slip? Just let people know that when they're sick, they're expected to stay home and rest until they're well enough (and noncontagious enough) to return to work. For a serious illness, maybe a transition time of half days is appropriate. Similarly, if people want to take a personal day, don't make them lie about it. Treat the great people you hired with respect. Trust that they know how to honor their time and work hard delivering on their promises, and encourage them to take a down day if they need it for whatever reason, no questions asked. Requiring documentation is another case of sending a message that you don't trust the people you've hired.
6. Dumb rules for frequent flyer miles. 
Work travel isn't easy--leaving your life behind and living out of a hotel room in a place where you may not even know a soul can be true drudgery. And with airport check-in lines that stretch out for hours, TSA impositions and constantly canceled flights, it can seriously feel like years are being shaved off your life. That's why frequent flyer miles should belong to the person who earned them, not the company. It's a no-cost way for you to reward their sacrifice. Rules stating otherwise are not only stupid but grossly unfair.
7. Dumb feedback methods. 
I have worked with companies that put complete faith in employee engagement surveys, but frankly I believe they're a sham. If you want to know how things are just walk around and ask people face to face. Speak to them, hold a conversation, engage. A quick online survey will give you shallow responses. But the best way to learn what's happening is to have honest, candid conversations about what is working and what is not. If that's impossible, you have a big problem with connection and communication--the two most important things that drive engagement. Look to the source and speak to the heart of your people. They don't need to speak through fancy surveys; they can get to the heart of the matter on their own if you give them a chance.
8. Dumb rules for cell phones. 
Making people check their phones on the way in so they can't be used for confidential documents or information shows only--again--a lack of trust. The main reason for having a phone is so you can be easily contacted. Why not trust your smart people to make smart choices?
9. Dumb rules for Internet use. 
This is among the stupidest rules of all. In offices where this is a rule, it's broken by everyone, including the person who created it. It's one thing to ask people to limit their time or put reasonable restrictions on what kind of sites they can visit, but to forbid access to information is just plain dumb.
10. Dumb probationary rules. 
Many organizations still have the throwback rule that employees have to be in a position for six months before they can transfer or be promoted. This might have worked in the past--even baby boomers who weren't happy with their jobs went along with the rules--but these days the work force is different. If someone wants to get around the six month rule, they will simply defy it--or quit.
If you came up in an organizational culture governed by rules, especially dumb rules, you have to ask yourself if you belong there.

Is it possible to build a framework for policy and governance based on our own civilisational values?

The Economic Times
By Jayant Sinha & Sanjeev Sanyal

(The question facing the nation: Samudra Manthan, watercolour on silk, Puri)
For India to reach its potential, over a billion people need to pull in the same direction and accept far-reaching changes. History suggests that all successful countries have ultimately relied on a common set of civilisational values to underpin mass coordination. What could these shared ideas be in the Indian context?
The current Western model of liberal democracy and open markets has its roots in the intellectual developments triggered by the Calvinistled Dutch resistance against Spain that led the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England. Under the influence of thinkers like John Locke, the English adopted the Bill of Rights that limited the power of the monarch and guaranteed certain liberties to its citizens. A century later, the ideas of the Enlightenment found their full expression in the US Constitution.
Culture Counts
The Western model’s success, and the Soviet alternative’s collapse, led many to believe that the model was universal. However, the disastrous impact of efforts to impose it on West Asia shows that the model only works in a certain cultural context.
This does not mean there are no alternatives. East Asia has successfully developed using a Confucian approach: the political leadership’s main role is to impose order so that the civil service can deliver public services efficiently. Non-democratic China is the obvious example. But it is also true of countries that have democratic institutions such as Japan and Singapore. From a Western perspective, such systems may appear somehow suspect, but these systems have delivered on objectively measurable performance metrics.
Not all political economy systems succeed. But it appears that the ones that do, are deeply rooted in their civilisational values. When India became a Republic in 1950, it adopted formal institutions derived from the West, but also a socialist political economy dominated by a tiny elite and a centralised bureaucracy. Despite its failures, however, the latter arrangement has never been replaced.
What are the values than can build an Indian alternative? We propose four such values that collectively define an internally consistent belief system for a truly Indian State.
Karma: This term tends to be narrowly associated with the theory of reincarnation, but can be more broadly interpreted to mean that every individual is responsible for his actions. This emphasis on personal responsibility implies a form of individualism but is different from the Western system of rights and entitlements.
Dharma: The word is often narrowly translated to mean religion, but it more broadly means ‘to perform one’s duty’. Applied to the economic and political sphere, it means that both the citizen and the State are obliged to perform certain duties visà-vis each other and society at large. Thus, Dharma ties every actor to a web of duties, which are to be carried out irrespective of personal interest (the exact definition of these obligations varies).
Note how Indian thought ties individual responsibility (karma) with wider obligations (dharma). Thus, the Indian ideal falls somewhere between the atomised individualism of Western liberalism and the Confucian hierarchy of social obligations.

Manthan: The Indian, particularly Hindu, worldview is that the world is naturally chaotic as expressed in Shiva’s tandava. While other societies try to identify an ideal equilibrium or Utopia and define success in terms of achieving it, Indians see churn as the natural state of the world. The churn releases both negative and positive forces, and success is measured by the ability to absorb the negative and adapt to take advantage of the positive.
Churn’s Turn
The idea of churn and ‘creative destruction’ is not unique to Indian thought. But it contrasts with the Confucian ideal of static harmony or the end-state utopia of Marxism. It may explain why Indians have such faith in democracy despite its flaws — it embodies churn within a constitutional framework.
Rule of Law: An important concept in ancient Indian texts is that of Matsyanyaya, or Law of the Fish: the big fish eating the small fish. Rule of law and the strict enforcement of contracts are seen as key to avoiding Matsyanyaya. Indeed, Indian mythology is full of instances where a promise is shown as sacrosanct even if it is personally costly or unfair. The contrasting conduct of Rama and Krishna in the two epics is a memory of an ancient debate on this issue.
In a constantly churning world, therefore, the role of the State is to create a framework where citizens can take responsibility for their lives and carry out their social obligations. This is neither libertarian nor welfarist. Thus, Kautilya’s Arthashastra emphasises the role of the State in providing defence, internal security, infrastructure and rule of law, but simultaneously imposes strict limits on the powers of officials who are seen as inherently corruptible. Note the contrast between the strong but limited Kautilyan State and the existing Nehruvian construct of a weak but all-pervasive State.
We are not making the case that India’s political economy has generally followed these principles. We merely want to illustrate that it is possible to build an intellectual framework for policy and governance based on our civilisational values. An Indian State rooted in our cultural matrix will be able to better harness the energies of the Indian people.
(Sinha is minister of state for civil aviation, and Sanyal is an economist)