There’s No Such Thing as a “Sanity Clause”


White Bordeaux.jpgWhite Bordeaux

If the heart of winemaking is the Burgundy region, Bordeaux is the mind. Merlot and Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc in any blend provide ponderous potables from the rich terroir near the banks of the Gironde River. The costs for a “typical” Bordeaux can be daunting, as you know if you have priced a Chateau Latour or Chateau Lafite/Mouton Rothschild. Other Bordeaux of lesser quality have a relatively lower price, but the quality vacillates too much for the premium. 

Luckily, Bordeaux is home to some extraordinary whites as well. It is said that the marginal land value of red grapes in that region so greatly eclipses those of whites that only the best vintners would dare grow and bottle a white wine. White Bordeaux is usually a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The lower residual sugar gives a clean, true flavor that may be harder to approach than the Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough New Zealand (I admit to being a sucker for those wines), but the result is a refreshing glass without the contemplative air of its red counterpart.

Watching the Olympic beach volleyball competition has been a different experience than it was in the past. Historically, I would be watching the ball and the scoreboard, but beginning in London and continuing now in Rio, I’m focusing more on the pairs. There is very little time to set tactics between the time you send the ball over the net and when it returns, so a tacit understanding of roles is essential for success. Included in that understanding is a form of psychological contract—how responsibilities are shared, how success and error are handled, the overriding purpose. Teams that have a strong psychological contract tend to fare better than teams that don’t. We instinctively know this as every season we hear how a new coach needs time to get his system in place or a “super team” will struggle to find their chemistry.

A psychological contract is an unwritten agreement that defines the employer/employee relationship. An employer who promises a safe, rewarding work environment, then sticks a new hire in a cubicle with a broken chair and exposed wires and subsequently ignores the employee has broken this contract. When a contract is broken, the employee’s productivity and quality will decrease, attendance likely will as well. All are signs of disengagement. When left unaddressed, meaning when the broken social contract is not resolved, the employee may begin to intentionally undermine the organization.

As a manager, it is our responsibility to promise only what we can deliver and deliver what we promise. This means focusing on the real, not just the ideal. We may want a “horizontal hierarchy” and free discourse, but “when the CEO speaks, the conversation is over” clearly defies both a flat structure and open communication. A quick litmus test, if the C-suite only responds to “Mister Smith” or “Ms. Brown,” you may not be in a flat organization.

Similarly, whether you promise constant feedback or annual reviews, be sure to deliver on either. Few things will shatter a psychological contract quicker than accumulating violations and presenting them at once or, if the company is structured around annual reviews, giving a shining review three weeks late and failing to have it reflect in compensation.

The key is to understand Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. We instinctively do—we know the first runner to cross the finish line in the Olympics will win the gold medal, that good acts shall be rewarded and bad acts punished—and are upset when such things don’t occur. As a manager, we need to apply these principles to the workplace.

What psychological contracts do you make with your staff and how do you “enforce” them?

Ordem, but not Progresso


Make simple syrup (boil 1/2 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water, chill). Squirt small amount into glass with two lime quarters and muddle. Fill glass with crushed ice, then add 3 oz cachaça. Stir well.

By now, we are a week into the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Going into the event, plenty of stories emerged about poor water quality, concerns about Olympian safety and security, and controversy over the ban of a potential powerhouse. As the Games have unfolded, Americans such as Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles have entered the water cooler conversation with their heroics. Meanwhile, Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, Poland’s Magdalena Fularczyk-Kozlowska & Natalia Madaj, and Australia’s Cameron McEvoy & Cate and Bronte Campbell, among numerous others, have taken center stage. Thus far, the performances on the pitch, mat, or body of water of play have been exemplary. However, NBC’s coverage has been far less so.

This is not a complaint about tape delay, that’s something we’re just used to in the Western United States. It’s not even a complaint about the excessive commercial breaks. NBC is a business and Walmart is contributing much more to financing the broadcast than I. I can’t really complain even about the odd omissions of portions of the events. (If we’re not watching the rowing event live, is there a good reason why we enter the event in progress with the first fifty meters elapsed?) No, my complaint, like that of many others, is the way of the coverage.

Wednesday night, we were treated to several swimming events. As I tuned in, Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Balandin pulled away for an improbable gold from the eighth lane. The women’s 100 meter freestyle semifinal was next. Normally, NBC has shown a strong U.S. bias, focusing on second-place finisher Josh Prenot, but as the women lined up for the first heat, we were introduced to Australia’s Bronte Campbell, half of a sister act. American Simone Manuel received as much of an acknowledgement as Japan’s Miki Uchida, France’s Charlotte Bonnet, or the host, Brazil’s Etiene Medeiros. While this should be a reflection of the emerging worldliness of our coverage, after the next heat was shuffled through quickly with an introduction of Bronte’s sister, Cate, we were treated to a profile of the next event’s eventual winner, Ryan Murphy.

The mini biopic had all the pathos you’d expect from NBC’s Olympic coverage, but what made Murphy worth the extra attention and not Simone Manuel? Enough was made of Josh Prenot’s time at Cal, but what of Manuel’s college experience at rival Stanford? Much was made of Cate Campbell’s form at 6’1” and how her form is so different than her 5’10” sister, but how does Manuel’s 5’10” frame fit in? For that matter, why are we so concerned with their heights and frames when Murphy, Phelps, and Ryan Lochte’s physiques are secondary to their “stories?”

I would find it disingenuous for NBC, a media outlet that rightly calls Donald Trump out for his racist and misogynist comments, to intentionally highlight white male American athletes over their teammates, but I know I’m not alone in questioning the bias. Ideally, NBC is aware of the output and can address it quickly, but it is my hope that they spend the next four years before Tokyo doing some soul-searching, recognizing where the bias exists, and addressing it accordingly. The Olympics should be a celebration of the world’s athletes, of any gender or orientation, but if we’re going to have a bias, it best be a color bias of red, white, and blue.

Ultimately, the presentation of these games remind us on a very public scale that disparate impact is very real and can reflect very poorly on a business.

If You Leave Me Now

Bourbon BuckKentucky Mule

A friend of mine ordered this as a Bourbon Buck. Both are correct as a Buck or a Mule are both cocktails with a citrus, ginger ale/beer, and a spirit. The Moscow Mule is the same cocktail with vodka and a Rum Buck is the same with rum. Here, I used 2 oz bourbon, 1 oz Canton ginger liqueur, 1 oz of lemon juice, and topped off with Ginger Ale, gently stirred over ice. My only regret was not having the copper vessel hers was served in. 

On July 21, the state of Nevada’s Supreme Court affirmed  a district court’s decision that a Non-compete Agreement (NCA) drafted by Golden Road Motor Inn (Atlantis Resort) was unreasonable and, because, they determined, they are not responsible for blue-lining such policies, is wholly unenforceable.

According to testimony and court documents, an employee who signed a non-compete agreement as a condition of employment copied player information from Atlantis, altered it in Atlantis’s database, quit her job, and began work at Grand Sierra Resort (GSR) shortly after, then uploaded the player information against GSR’s own policy. There is no doubt that her actions deliberately defied the letter and spirit of the NCA. Grand Sierra Resort is approximately three miles from Atlantis and her employment with GSR began well within the one year limit. Her actions defied both the NCR and GSR’s policies. So, where did Atlantis go wrong?

According to the Court, the prohibition of the employee from seeking “any employment, affiliation, or service with any gaming business or enterprise” was overreaching. Preventing her from being a host at GSR would have been acceptable, as would any position that would enable her to perform the act she did. However, theoretically, if she desired a job as a cocktail server or valet, that would have been a breach of the NCA. Reno’s reliance on gaming is diminishing, but remains a significant employer in the region.

The Court’s decision to not modify the agreement hails from a 1947 decision between Reno Club Inc. and Young Investment Co where the opinion held that “[t]his would be virtually creating a new contract for the parties which, under well-settled rules of construction, the Court has no power to do.” It effectively puts the onus on the employer to draft a reasonable NCA.

The three common elements that are deemed reasonable are:

  • Time

The length of time deemed reasonable. Each state has its own time table for reasonable non-compete clauses. They can be a year up to five. While lifetime bans have been upheld in court, these are rare and rely heavily on other factors.

  • Distance

Distance is usually dependent on several factors as well. Does the company have any interests within the entire radius? A Chicago-based intrastate freight carrier can certainly impose a state-wide agreement, but as its interests are strictly intrastate, it cannot disallow a driver from seeking employment in Wisconsin. As well, the economic structure of that region is considered. Preventing an individual from seeking employment at a competing resort in Las Vegas, for example, would be difficult to uphold.

  • Scope

As seen in the Golden Road Motor Inn case, the scope of the prohibition needs to be reasonable. A medical equipment salesperson may be prohibited from working for a competing medical equipment supplier, but if she chose instead to sell insurance benefit packages, such a prohibition would likely be unreasonable.

The key, then, is to clearly define the business reason for the agreement. Then drill down on the policy to ensure that it meets that business reason and only that business reason. Have your lawyer review it to make sure it’s water-tight.

But There’s More…

Jim Beam FamilyBourbon on the rocks

Chill glass. Put whiskey stones in. Pour bourbon. This isn’t about the drink, it’s about branding. I first was introduced to bourbon through Knob Creek. I’d had Jim Beam before, but it was usually as a substitute for Jack Daniels in accompanying Coca Cola. I swore I’d never drink Beam once I discovered Knob Creek, Makers Mark, and their contemporaries. I was rather embarrassed when somebody dropped the bombshell: Makers and Knob Creek were both Beam products. The alternate labels were merely tools to find the market like me, those who would recoil at “Jim Beam Reserve” or “Beam Especial.” Branding, right?

In an early post, I talked about the conversation I had with another manager about the “ideal candidate.” The topic as a whole was establishing a broad, diverse, and loyal candidate base for hiring. One social media branding class later and a Beam/Knob Creek-like bombshell hit me, taking on such a campaign is entirely similar to establishing a broad, diverse, and loyal customer base. It should have hit me sooner as this manager was the one who introduced me to the concept that our employees are our customers.

To build a customer base, one needs to have a product or service to sell. It should be of reasonable quality: people are loyal to Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, but few seem to be loyal to that generic clear plastic bag of raisins and bran flakes at the end of the aisle. Tag Heuer and Mont Blanc are passed down from generation to generation, but I’ve seen people leave Bic pens, unchained, at banks. The difference is that you know there will be two scoops of raisins in that box of cereal (how big is a scoop?) and that Tag Heuer will keep time better than any drummer not named Neil Peart. Tag, Mont Blanc, and Kellogg’s know what they provide and can project that with clarity. For an employer, the product is the working environment, the management style, Total Compensation Package, and experience. Knowing and being able to communicate the quality of these aspects is the first key.

Second, you need people capable of creating that product on the front line. Switching cereal brands for a moment, think of those Honey Bunches of Oats ads. These people, or the people the actors portray as the case may be, know and believe in their product…sometimes a little too much. It is because of Diana Hunter and her compatriots that Post can credibly peddle their cereal. Your employees may be making the product or the service that builds company loyalty, but it’s the management team that produces that working environment, provides the management style, offers the Total Compensation Package, and shapes the employee experience. If a department is undisciplined, unsafe, unsanitary, it’s because the manager allows it.

Third is understanding that relationships take time. Every salesperson knows that a customer that is gained in one “call” can be lost in one “call.” It takes time to establish a relationship, establish that loyalty. Apple released the iconic “1984” video seven years after it was established. Even today they are far from the largest market share in PCs and cellular phones, adhering to their 15-18% market share as Android consumed Symbian and others[1] to seize 81% of today’s cell phone market. However, those 15-18% remain fiercely loyal to the brand in part because of the relationship established in that ground-breaking commercial 30 years ago. Recruiters can use universities, online aggregators, and temp agencies to fill spots, but the staying power and treatment of those placed in the organization will decide if the agency wishes to continue a relationship with an organization. And what better advocate in the recruiting world than professional recruiters?

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, have an effective feedback protocol. Nordstrom famously has a generous return policy, so it’s no surprise that any region that has a Nordstrom has cars toting the “Outta My Way, I’m on my way to Nordstrom.” It’s not about giving away the shop either. Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and USAA consistently rank highly in customer satisfaction because they actually have people who will LISTEN. Raley’s (Nob Hill, et al) appeals to me because they frequently leave recorded voice messages about food recalls including detailed information on what’s being recalled and how to reconcile the issue. Employees are an excellent source of feedback. They should feel free to complain about issues in their workplace and, when legitimate, see an effort in correcting the issue. An employee who is voluntarily (or sometimes involuntarily) leaving your organization should be allowed a “no holds barred” exit interview. Bad companies will endeavor to discredit the departing employee’s testimony; the good ones will work to address those departing issues.

At the end of the day, we are selling our organizations as the “employer of choice.” We need to remember the effort that is required in building that lasting relationship. From this, we can take a cue from our sales force.


The Real Thing


(A bit of a cheat on the “wine walk”)

Pour ½ oz Crème de Cassis in a wine glass. Fill glass with chardonnay, chilled to about 46 degrees. Serve

Like countless others, I was touched by Brené Brown’s TED talk from Houston titled The Power of Vulnerability. In it, Ms. Brown divides people she’s researched into two categories: people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. She expounds on the courage (literally whole-heartedness) of those who have a genuine sense of worthiness. That, in itself, is a profound statement, but in her limited TED time, she doesn’t explore why. To me, however, the answer is fairly concise: the worthiness has been tested.

We all encounter those who are focused on projecting an image—competent, confident, once again hoping that perception becomes reality. This image becomes an exoskeleton, our armor against the world’s impact. We find we exert our effort into forming and sustaining this image, failing to strengthen that which is actually us. Brown says we go numb to vulnerability, then numb to all uncomfortable feelings, then numb to all feelings altogether. We’re living outside ourselves, inside this cold shell we’ve wrapped around ourselves. Perhaps we hope that we’ll become what we project, but we never really will.

A Chinese proverb says “out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” The truly worthy people understand this because they’ve allowed themselves to lay vulnerable to adversity. They’ve failed, again and again, but as a former professor once advised, they’ve failed “gloriously.” They’ve taken what they learned from the failures, integrated it into improvement, and showed the courage to get up and face the adversity again. In time, they’ve learned that valuable lesson others only pretend to know: “I’m enough.”

Authenticity in Leadership has become a buzz-phrase in business in the last decade. Article after article call for a push to be authentic, so many leaders, almost overnight, invent an “authentic” them that is more approachable, but it’s not authentic. They’re still maintaining 100% of the control over their image, they cling to an illusion of infallibility—sure, they’ll admit to making mistakes, but listen closely to those testimonials: it was because they weren’t given enough information, they were inexperienced then, or some other external cause led to the mistake—and the “transformation” is almost invariably superficial. Instead of introspection, the focus is on projection.

Authenticity doesn’t materialize overnight. It takes allowing yourself to be vulnerable—releasing that situational control, testing that vulnerability time and again, self-doubt. It takes conflict. It may even take starting a blog where every entry you wonder if people actually read and, if so, does it bring value or is it time wasted, but I digress. It takes failing gloriously until you reach a point where you can genuinely, with courage and conviction, say “I am worthy.”

Where are you on your journey? Please comment below.

Growing Pains

Blood & Sand.jpgBlood and Sand

Over ice, shake 2 oz rye whiskey, 1 oz sweet vermouth, 1 oz Cherry Heering, and 1 oz orange juice. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass with a dash or blood orange bitters. Sprinkle fresh nutmeg over the top.


I remember the first time I broke my leg. In a game of front lawn football, I ran a three yard buttonhook and as I pivoted to make the catch, the defender landed on my ankle. The pain when I tried to put weight on it was excruciating, but it wasn’t until I went to Marine World the next day when I finally conceded the pain was enough that it needed immediate attention. For the next several weeks, I wore a heavy plaster cast and hobbled around on crutches, most certainly not the last time. It wasn’t until years later when a math teacher explained the fundamental purpose of pain—to notify us of a problem and to let that part of the body fix it.

Pain is unpleasant, as is conflict. Many companies strive to avoid conflict at all costs. Peers will capitulate to one-another in the interest of “keeping the peace,” supervisors will write subordinates up for insubordination at the slightest resistance, subordinates will remain silent until they ultimately move on to greener pastures for fear of that write-up. Sadly, in each case, an opportunity for growth is missed and peace isn’t kept—the war has been muted.

For peer to peer conflict, the focus should be on the problem, not the people. Avoid generalizations and “you” comments. “You always wait until the last minute to hand the project over” or “you never show up” are not constructive. Instead, focus on the behaviors that are causing the conflict and keep the focus on yourself. “I feel pressured to cut corners when projects do not land on my desk until just before the deadline” or “our current headcount does not allow for the number of absences we’ve experienced lately” keep the focus on solutions. They do not avoid the problem that is causing the conflict.

Insubordination is the default resolution to supervisor/employee conflict. As insubordination typically falls under one of two categories, “refusal to carry out a directive” or “disrespectful behavior” towards a manager or supervisor, I’ll focus on just the former. Rarely does an employee refuse to carry out a manager’s directive without reason and sometimes that reason is legitimate, if not legally protected. Perhaps the employee hasn’t been properly trained or perhaps the process or the required equipment are inherently and unnecessarily unsafe. Perhaps the manager’s direction is unclear or his/her behavior is antagonistic. Going back to a theme for the week, ask “why” an employee is refusing to perform his or her duties before resorting to disciplinary action. Further, do a self-check to ensure that what you’re asking aligns with your and your company’s core values, the “Why.”

As the subordinate, recognize how your demeanor is contributing to the conflict with the supervisor. Would a reasonable person in your position act in the same manner? Are you clearly communicating your concerns? If you truly feel your legitimate viewpoints are not being heard, ask Human Resources to be an advocate. Again, focus on the problem, not the person.

Conflict IS unpleasant. It also leads to understanding, healing, and quite often opens dialogue to new ideas while avoidance shuts down conversation altogether. Do you disagree? Let’s discuss…

Legal Considerations for Gaslighting

Cab Franc.jpgCabernet Franc

“Search your feelings, Cabernet Sauvignon. You know it to be true. I AM your father.”

And thus went the conversation between the most powerful wine grape in the universe and the sinister force that seemed diametrically opposed to it. Cab Franc hails, as you would guess by the name, from France, but from the Basque region. Melded with Sauvignon Blanc, it created the wine we started our walk with. Daddy issues? Not really. In the Bordeaux region, 25% of the grapes pressed are Cabernet Sauvignon, while 12% are Cab Franc. Merlot rules the region with 62%. I’ll let you go back to watch Sideways and let that sink in. In California, 30% are Cab Sauvignon while 1.18% are Cab Franc. (USDA) If you’re overlooking this varietal, more is your loss as it dresses up or dresses down with everything from burgers to pork belly to curry. 

In previous posts, we’ve looked at Gaslighting from the point of view of the victim and the perpetrator. The next question is, is it illegal? As we know from Griggs v Duke Energy, disparate impact against a protected class is illegal, as is disparate treatment if the gaslighting can be proven. However, that leaves a lot of unprotected ground.

Bullying, specifically, isn’t illegal unless it meets the definition of harassment and the correlation between gaslighting and bullying should be self-evident. Harassment is defined as an “act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or group, including threats and demands.” Further, “the purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or to merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious…A systematic pattern of harassment by an employee against another worker may subject the employer to a lawsuit for failure to protect the worker.” Clearly, there is cause for a claim when gaslighting occurs.

Harassment becomes unlawful when[1]:

  • Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

The first step in making a claim is to relive the past. Revisit those moments where the lie started and take in the context. Did the perpetrator act out of guilt, insecurity, or as an emotional reaction to a vulnerable situation? Recognizing when the tactic was previously employed will be beneficial in preventing it from happening in the future.

When you suspect gaslighting occurs, make a note of it—mental at first, but then actually document the incident. What led up to the “gaslit” interaction? What was your emotional state at the time? What of the perpetrator’s emotional state? What was said? What is your “truth?”

Slow down and take control of the pace of events. The gaslighter will try to keep you off-balance by demanding a snap-decision or steering you towards a single conclusion by a stream of logical fallacies. “Clearly you came in here to talk to me about this project because you wanted my opinion, which means you don’t have the conviction to back up your own, so it’s obviously best that you defer any decisions regarding this or any future projects to me in the future. I’m glad we had this talk.”

Take care to keep your emotions in check. You may be angry, you may start shaking uncontrollably, you may want to cry or run away from the situation. Gaslighters feed off emotion, using it against you to sway perception in their favor. “You were clearly too upset to think.”

Seek legal counsel. An attorney can provide guidance as to how to pursue remedy. The attorney can best guide you in what and how to document.

Finally, seek professional help. Meet with a licenses psychiatrist or psychologist and begin the road to healing.

[1] EEOC