Impressing Your Boss by Kindness - The Sycophant

Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Rewards and Recognition

It happened few years ago when I was working with a start-up organization housing 210 employees. I was on leave for TEN days when I received a call from a team-leader in my team, Priyanka to inform me that Sarah, another team member, had resigned. She had sent her resignation to the CEO, which had been accepted with immediate effect. Her resignation didn’t come as a surprise to me because I knew she was already on her way out, but it was her timing of resignation that shocked me.  

I was one among the 1st TEN employees to join the organization.  Since it was a start-up, I was also asked to lead Office Administration as well as Finance and Accounts along with HR. After one year, Finance and Accounts were carved out as separate functions, as it was becoming difficult for me to focus on all three departments. There were SIX employees on my team, two to represent each function. All of them were hired by me. Sarah, who was appointed as Assistant Manager, for a gross monthly salary of X, specialized in Office Administration. She was given one Admin Assistant, for a monthly salary of X-12K. Pooja was appointed as Assistant Manager – HR, for a monthly gross salary of X-3K and Priyanka was junior to Pooja and was given a monthly total salary of X-10K. Vikram was hired as Assistant Manager – F&A, for a monthly gross salary of X+4K and he was given an Assistant Accountant for a monthly total salary of X-12K.      
During her school days, Sarah had studied from Sacred Heart Convent School in Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) for few years. Due to this Himachal connection, she felt close to me and probably was expecting professional favours from me.  Since I was unmarried at that time, Sarah would bring lunch for me, though I had asked her to stop this practice several times, however, she would bring every day unless she was on leave. At that point, I was new to the city, so if I needed any help or information to travel and shop around, she would always volunteer. 

However, her work was very shabby and unprofessional. Her primary role was to get the work done through housekeeping staff and other assistants, find new vendors and negotiate terms and conditions with them, guest relations, organizing events and coordinating with travel agents for visa and ticketing. Often I saw her working with housekeeping staff, doing dusting, cleaning, etc. If our CEO asked for a cup of coffee, she would serve the coffee. When part of our office was going through renovation, I saw her working with labour. On plenty of occasions, I reminded her to work as per her role. Probably, she couldn’t understand. We had a procedure to get at least THREE vendors for every service and then select the best, however, she would always end up finding ONE vendor only. On some occasions, she projected her stubbornness by completely disregarding a work done in a manner that varied from her proposed way. She seemed to have a problem with every solution. Once I told her, “I thought I have hired a Manager, didn’t know you wanted to become an Office Girl.” 

In the meantime, as we became 24/7 operational and began to work in THREE shifts, I hired TWO more people in my team, one each for HR and Admin. It was that time of the year when people wait for their increments and promotions. I was considering elevating one team-member to the level of Team Manager. After evaluating the work of everyone done in the previous year and taking feedback from other Functional Heads, I promoted Pooja as Team Manager, and her gross monthly salary got revised to X+12K while Sarah moved to X+3K and Priyanka moved to X-6K. Sarah became very furious. Having observed our evaluation processes, of taking feedback from other Functional Heads to decide hierarchical elevations, now, Sarah began to impress them as well by getting them lunch, extending help whenever they needed. Even the CEO and his family weren’t spared from her kindness. She went out of her way to find a school for the son of CEO. She also found some excellent health spas for the wife of CEO. 

In our organization, birthday of CEO was nothing less than an annual event. While we were still at the stage of discussing a team gift for our CEO, during tea break, one of the Functional Head asked me, “Hey Sanjeev, when is the birthday of our Boss”? I told, “Tomorrow”.   He replied, “Yeah, I knew that but got a bit confused because Sarah of your team has gifted something to him today”. When I asked Sarah, at first she denied and then agreed that she had purchased a gift for him in an individual capacity; however, she would also contribute to the team gift. It later became evident that Sarah had spent 75% of her monthly salary in getting a gift for CEO. 

One day my CEO told me that Sarah had spoken to him regarding her salary and had requested him to increase her salary to X+35K. Which he said he found irrational, reckless and idiotic, however, he told her to speak to me. He stated that he might consider increasing her salary by 3K or 4K points, if I suggested so. In 2nd review, Sarah salary moved by 4K to X+7, while the salary of Pooja moved by 7K points to X+19K and the salary of Priyanka moved to X-1K. After two years, Sarah improved her ways to impress the senior management but didn’t improve on the quality of her work in spite of several sessions of coaching and mentoring. Mid-way through the 3rd year, one month before I left for my vacation, Pooja resigned to capitalized on a job offer which she got from Wipro.  Sarah thought that being the senior most on the team; she was the only one eligible for promotion, but, I promoted Priyanka as Team Manager and revised her salary to X+12K. Though Sarah and Priyanka were friends as well as neighbours, Sarah didn’t like the elevation of Priyanka and hence decided to resign. 

So, there are such employees, who believe that they can get into the good books of their bosses by other means than the quality of their work. Being pleasing, helpful, and flattering, is good, some managers like it too, but that doesn’t substitute for your job. You are hired to do a particular job, don’t try to become a personal secretary. You are unlikely to achieve your objective if you bypass your reporting manager, processes, and organizational systems. At the top, they have solicitude for one another. Your reporting manager will always be aware of what you do and with whom do you meet and what you talk. In organizational setup, it is always important to keep your reporting manager in the loop, or else you will be in for a big problem. 

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