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6 ways to be a better boss

Employment lawyer and HR professional Marian Exall, a regular blogger on, relates how a friend who works as a scientist for the EPA did such a good job that he was promoted to manager. Now he complains that he “can’t get anything done” because his reports “keep bothering me with questions.”

6 ways to be a better boss

Being a manager is hard, says Exall, and few receive formal training for the job. Here, in an adaptation of a recent blog, Exall offers six resolutions for managers.

1. Hire wisely. I’m going to practice my active listening skills, instead of listening to the sound of my own voice. In interviews, I’ll pose open-ended questions that probe for relevant experience (e.g., “Tell me about a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer”). I’m not going to try to “sell” the bank.

2. Make feedback more than an annual event. I’ll take the time to meet with my reports at least every two months to discuss what’s going well—and what isn’t—so at the annual evaluation, there will be no surprises. The pay raise given (or not given) will reflect an entire year’s performance of all job tasks, not just a recent triumph/disaster in one area.

3. No favoritism. It’s human nature to like some people better than others. However, in the workplace I will suppress my preferences and be equally accessible and even-handed to all. I will guard against making assumptions (“X has two pre-schoolers; she won’t want the additional responsibility”). And I will not “friend” a subordinate on Facebook.

4. The buck stops here. If an employee comes to me with a complaint—even if it’s not one of my direct reports—I will never say, “There’s nothing I can do.” I will listen carefully and take factual (not evaluative) notes. I will thank the employee for speaking up, and promise that the complaint will be investigated promptly, thoroughly, fairly, and discreetly. I will then immediately find a partner—my boss or HR—to help me investigate and resolve the issue.

5. Termination as a last resort. Turnover is expensive, in time as well as money. It also reflects badly on a bank’s reputation. Employees who leave under a cloud rarely have anything good to say about their former employer. If I’m serious about keeping Resolutions 1 through 4 above, I might be able to avoid firing anyone in 2013. In those cases of last resort, however, I resolve to treat the departing employee with dignity, remembering that, after death and divorce, loss of a job is the most traumatic life event.

6. The three rules of Human Resources. In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In HR, it’s document, document, document. Managers whom I admire follow a simple routine of noting in their calendars when they meet with employees and briefly what was discussed. Then when it comes time to write a formal evaluation, select a candidate for promotion, or create a performance improvement plan, they have a basis to work from, other than memory.

Marian Exall

Marian Exall ( is an employment lawyer and HR professional with more than 25 years' experience advising banks and other employers on compliance issues. She is a principal and co-founder of Employment Law Compliance, Inc. which provides HR compliance solutions to banks exclusively through the American Bankers Association. She is a frequent speaker and writer on human resources compliance in the banking industry, on association briefings and webinars, and at national and state bankers' association conferences. For more information on this or other employment compliance topics, please call Employment Law Compliance at 866-801-6302 or go to

Marian also writes fiction. Her latest novel is a mystery called A Slippery Slope. For more information and to order, go to

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