Talking Politics – Taboos in the Workplace

Posted by Richard Moran.

When it comes to the workplace, certain things are just not appropriate to talk about. You don’t even have to be told what’s off limits for chatter, you just know. To talk about these topics could actually put your career in jeopardy. At work, we know to never talk about three things:

  1. Sex. No one wants to know anything about your experiences or lack thereof.  Whether bragging or complaining, there is no interest.
  2. Religion. You could be devout or an atheist. You could worship one god or the ones that lurk in the bottom of a Pringles can; religious beliefs are a personal matter and can cause coworkers to avoid you or worse.
  3. Compensation. We don’t want to know that you don’t make enough money and you were screwed in the last round of bonuses. If it’s so bad, it just might be time to move on. Discussing compensations might run counter to company policy and get you fired, which might create other issues regarding compensation.

Sex, religion and pay have always been the Big Three taboo subjects to talk about at work. Now, like never before, there is a new one: Politics.

The discussion of political views was always a borderline taboo. Radical views from any standpoint were never welcome and proselytizing was and still is forbidden, as it should be. Any real crazy views that would disrupt getting things done at work have never been tolerated. But in the past it was OK to have reasoned discussions. In fact, discussions were often welcomed. Companies would welcome candidates to tour facilities and sometimes even sponsor debates. Margaret Thatcher visiting Ronald Reagan at the White House could be an entertaining discussion topic over coffee. Not too long ago, the debate about a new law or policy could get heated, but in the end, it’s back to work with colleagues. No more.

Unless you work at home by yourself, the environment today does not lend itself to any discussion of politics while at work.  Politics and political leaders are now taboo topics. The topics are just too hot and emotionally charged to discuss and then just settle back into the cubicle. Forget policy and international views, even raising topics tangential to real politics like wardrobes and alma maters can lead down a path of emotion and problems.

You may think everyone agrees with you because you know you are right and everyone must and should agree. They don’t.  You might not hear anything right away about your opinions because so many just don’t want to engage or fight. Make it easy for them by leaving your opinions in the parking lot.

When a political subject is broached, I have heard people interject a comment like, “How about those new pizzas in the cafeteria?” Changing the subject is the goal. And at a time when there is a debate about what’s true and what’s not true, it’s safer to debate the product launch schedule than it is to get into political leadership qualities.

Never lose your passion. Never lose your commitment for doing the right thing. Never give up on inclusion. Keep making a difference, but as a discussion topic at work, politics are taboo. We may not like it because what happens in the political world can change our lives. But no matter how right you are. No matter that all of your friends feel just the same way. No matter that it’s only a matter or time before everyone agrees with you. For a better work environment, it’s best to keep your political passions out of the workplace.

Missed Goals: Lessons from Apple CEO’s 15% Pay Cut

Posted by Richard Moran.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple just took a 15% pay cut. Now, before you start thinking, “Aw, poor, poor Tim. His salary went down 15% to only $8.7 million. But at least he still has his stock options worth a few hundred million.” Hold on; don’t be happy about Tim’s haircut. There is a lesson here and all should take heed.

Tim took the hit because the company failed to meet its goals for both sales and profits. In a filing Apple said its annual sales were down nearly 4 percent and its operating income was down 0.5 percent from its target.

See the numbers? See the targets and goals? See the performance? See the pay? The lesson is that they are all connected or should be.

It’s still early in the year and by now your goals and objectives for the year should be set. With luck and a good boss, you should have had lots to say about what the goals should be for the year. Even if the goals are a stretch, you should feel some level of confidence that you can achieve the goals and glean the rewards of your performance. If you already think the goals are a wild ass number pulled out of the air and are unrealistic or unachievable, best raise your hand and say so. If your goals are set and are reasonable, figure out how to meet them fast. Get ahead. Annual goals are often met (or not) based on first quarter performance. It’s no fun to play catch up all year.

If you have no goals or objectives for the year I can promise you one thing: YOU WON’T MEET THEM.  If you want to connect goals, performance, and pay, you need to have goals. If you don’t have goals for the year yet, drop everything and make a time with the boss to set up a set of goals. The goals need to be written down and shared. Boil them down to magic numbers that you can remember and track against. Use a thermometer type graphic or something simple.

Do it now and you will thank yourself come next December. You can be sure Tim Cook is thinking about hitting targets at Apple.

4 Reasons Why Tweeting is Not a Management Tool

Posted by Richard Moran.


We had Management by Objectives (MBO); Management by Walking Around (MBWA); Total Quality Management (TQM); Management by Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) and lots of other trends and tricks. Now we have Management by Tweeting (MBT).  But wait, is it a management tool?

Let me proclaim here first that I love Twitter. I understand how powerful it can be. Twitter can foment revolution, it can create a movement. Tweets are part of the core of pop culture. Celebrities let us know what’s for lunch. People we don’t know provide inspirational sayings, advertisements, personal updates and snarky comments. It is the source of news for us and we are addicted. But is it a management tool? Is it something for leaders to use to help drive a strategy and be successful? We are finding out.

Any management textbook will tell you that the role of a manager is to Plan, Lead, Organize and Control. Inherent in all of these skills is the ability to communicate. We can hold Twitter up to each skill and it’s hard to make a case that it helps the cause.

I use Twitter. I see why others use Twitter. And, based on my own books and writing, I am known for brevity and the creative use of “bullets” in presentations. So I understand and believe in really short and directive messages. I am a believer that mission statements should be short and strategies should fit on the back of an envelope.

So what is wrong with Twitter as a management tool? Let me count the ways…

  1. A tweet is too short to deliver a big message or provide real feedback. “I have a dream…” doesn’t fit in a tweet. And whether the feedback is positive or negative, 140 characters can only say “great job” or “you screwed up”. After that, there is not much room for further explanation about how to improve or why you screwed up. Sample tweet: “Kate, the project is behind schedule and over budget! Very bad!”
  2. A tweet is one-way unless you engage in a tweet exchange. The back and forth might be amusing but can sometimes make matters worse. Tweets can be cruel if an individual is singled out.
  3. Tweets can’t be taken back and there will probably be times you wish you hadn’t sent it. Drunk tweets are known to cause people to get fired. Tweets sent in the heat of a moment can do more damage than good.
  4. Not everyone is on Twitter. Some downright reject it and consider it another annoyance of the digital age. So using Twitter as a management tool means not everyone is being managed.

Using Twitter can be an effective communications method, but for an organization, it doesn’t stand alone. A tweet is OK for: “The IPO is done! Great job everyone”, but that’s where it’s effectiveness diminishes rapidly. Communications requires color and personality that is more multi-dimensional than a tweet can deliver. Real communications requires a voice that sets the tone of an organization. Real communications from a leader requires inspiration and cheerleading. There are situations that might require pointed ways that things need to change and Twitter is good at that. Or, there could be an emergency so please spread the word. Twitter is especially good in that case.

Maybe tweets can augment all the important things that a managerial role requires, but any number of tweets does not a leader make.