Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: I suspect something is up, almost before I pick up the phone. Even the way the phone rings is enough to tell me it’s going to be someone difficult. And it is.

I’ve never actually met Manipulating Monica from marketing as she has only been in the company for a few weeks, but her reputation has swept around the building like bubonic plague. She tells me she wants to arrange a meeting as she needs my help with various people issues. From what I’ve heard about her style, I’m not really surprised.

We meet in her office on the second floor. I need to pass through a sea of cowering minions to get there. No one looks very happy. A few look at me with the get-me-out-of-here desperation of a puppy in a rescue home. I don’t see what I can do.

It turns out that Monica wants my help with performance management. First of all, she wants to overturn the ratings her predecessor gave to two of her subordinates. She doesn’t think they deserve the rating ‘meets expectations’ because they certainly don’t meet her expectations. One of them has been late for work twice already and the other one is part-time for goodness sake. I explain that they did finish the year under the old manager, and as the reviews have already been communicated, it would be very de-motivating to change them now. Monica asks me what would be the worst thing about that. I tell her they could leave. She raises her eyebrows as if to say: ‘And?’

I notice she is studying my eyes rather closely as we speak. I am beginning to wonder if I have smudged my makeup or something, when I look behind her and see several neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) books on her shelf. Well, that explains it. NLP teaches a secret code to assess how people think. The theory is that if people look up they tend to be visual people basing their thoughts on what they see, if they look sideways they tend to think on what they hear, and if they look down they tend to think about what they feel. The idea is to assess someone’s thinking mode so as to use the right language to build a rapport. Monica tells me she hears what I am saying, so I guess she has decided I am an auditory type. Actually, I was studying the framed NLP master certificate on the wall.

Like all good magic, NLP can be a force for good or for evil. I don’t know if it is down to how it is taught or just down to what sort of person is learning, but for some, the technique can produce a Nicely-Likable-Person, for others it just brings out their Nasty-Loathsome-Psychopath tendencies. No prizes for guessing that Monica has fully gone over to the dark side of NLP.

When I present my arguments against changing the ratings she runs through her full gamut of techniques. She tries to cloud the issue by implying there is truth in part of what I am saying, but refers to something completely irrelevant to confuse the issue and me. She acts like a broken record and keeps mindlessly repeating what she wants in the hope I get bored and give in. I don’t.

In fact she gives in, or at least appears to, and moves on to her next request. She wants me to do all the mid-term reviews with her staff. Yes, she actually wants me to sit down with them and tell them how they’ve done. She’s got her secretary to write them all up, all I have to do is deliver the message. Nothing to it really. She asks me what department is responsible for the performance management process. This is another nasty little tactic: to ask a question you already know the answer to. She knows very well it is my department because of the link to pay and benefits, she just wants to make me be the one to say it. I admit that we develop the programme and tools for managers, but we don’t actually do all the reviews. I explain, quite patiently I think, that it is the manager’s responsibility to coach and develop their team. I’m sure it isn’t part of the NLP curriculum, but I have noticed that people who are attracted to the lower powers of NLP, also go for a get-someone-else-to-do-it style of management. They don’t see delegation as a necessary part of a job, but a job as part of an overall personal policy of delegation. If I let her, this woman will have me doing her merit planning, her headcount reports, and anything else vaguely HR-related she can think to palm off on me. Well, she’s going to have to find another victim.

I tell her that if she needs some help with coaching skills, the training department will be happy to help. Monica says that if she hasn’t got time to do these reviews, she’s hardly going to have the time to go on training courses. She rolls her eyes to the ceiling in disapproval. Looking up at the same place rather pointedly, I tell her that I see what she means.

“Look,” I say, “I think I have sight of what might work for you.” I gather up my papers, hoping she has noticed my game. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it would be good if she latched on to the training department; I’ve never liked them much anyway.

“I’ll see if the there is a time-management course coming up for you,” I tell her, and with that I escape.

Next time…Candid gets motoring on the car policy.

Confessions of a benefits manager – February 2007