Interview with Lawyer, Consultant and Author Jathan Janove
jathan-janoveJathan Janove is a lawyer, consultant, speaker and the Principal of ​Janove Organization Solutions​. In his work, Jathan draws lessons from his 25 years of experience litigating the remains of workplace relationships that began win-win and ended toxic lose-lose. However, his objective is greater than avoiding such misery; it’s to help organizations create fully engaged working environments that maximize employee potential.

Jathan is also an internationally published author. His works include ​Managing To Stay Out Of Court: How To Avoid The 8 Deadly Sins Of Mismanagement, and ​The Star Profile: A Management Tool To Unleash Employee Potential, Gold Medal Winner at Book Expo America 2009. Jathan’s most recent publication is ​Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches, about which Marshall Goldsmith, best-selling author and world-renowned business educator and coach advised, “if you want a front-row seat to observe workplace behavior in all its intricacy and variety, read this insightful book.”

Hi Jathan, thanks for stopping by our website today. Could you tell us a little bit about
yourself?

Thanks Ashley, I’m happy to be here. I went to law school at the University of Chicago Law
School and while there I worked at the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, assisting low income Chicago
residents with their workplace claims. Since then I’ve been admitted the New York, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon bars and been honored to be named the 2005 Utah
Employment Lawyer of the Year and be recognized in Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers and Legal 500.

After 25 years practicing law and litigating the remains of workplace relationships that began win-win and ended toxic lose-lose, I decided to begin working “inside out” vs. “outside in.” I start with an organization’s core needs and objectives, and work “out” to what services will help produce lasting, measurable change. I also speak at conferences around the U.S. and contribute to HR Magazine and write my own blog.

When did you realise that you could help others overcome their management
issues?

When I was still practicing employment law. A manager or executive would call me for advice on
how to fire an employee without a lawsuit. I would provide advice that included being direct and
specific with the employee about the gap in expectations and actual performance. Often, just by
doing so, the manager or executive discovered to his/her great surprise that the employee was
a keeper after all!

Your new book, Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches, has just been released. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Sure! In my third book I draw on the 25 years I spent working to keep employers out of court to
take my readers inside the messy reality of situations gone wrong. I’ve seen it all, from email
exchanges that escalate ridiculously out of control, to requests for confidentiality that backfire in
a big way, to absurd methods of firing employees. The stories are colorful and sometimes funny,
but are always cautionary and reinforce crucial lessons for managers. From failing to give
feedback and withholding key information to exercising poor judgment and making faulty
assumptions, every story highlights the role management plays in exacerbating (or easing)
trouble.

hard-won-wisdomAre the stories in this book based on your personal experiences in management?

They’re based on my personal experience as a manager and on my personal experiences
representing management. Since I’ve been in the trenches, I can suggests simple strategies
that could have been used to turn the situation around before it became toxic and ended in
litigation.

Are there any new projects you’re working on that you can share with us?

I’m currently working with a large, successful law firm in danger of imploding due to toxic relations among the founding partners, and an international engineering consulting company with an office in danger of imploding due to toxic workplace relationships. I’m also working directly with the HR team of a $1B company with the goal that every executive and manager in the company sees HR as a trusted coach, not a cop.

I’m excited to be working on "The Great Boss Initiative" with a large, multi-state property
management company. The goal is to be able to say with certainty that no matter what your
position, no matter what state you work in, the company guarantees you will have a great boss.

What do you think is the most common cause of friction between an employee and a
manager?

Lack of communication, including information withholding, and erroneous assumptions can cause a lot of friction in the workplace. Information withholding is sometimes necessary for confidentiality reasons. However, when managers hold their cards too close to the chest, they create a vacuum that employees may fill with speculation, which is often worse than reality.

Most of the time, employees should be part of the conversation, even when the subject is
difficult, such as relocation or poor performance. I’ve seen a manager leave a poorly performing
employee in the dark until the last minute, resulting in a lawsuit, and managers who listened to
my advice and included their relocating and downsized employees in the discussion, leading to
a peaceful transition.

On assumptions: ask yourself, have you ever thought you’d resolved a conflict with someone
and found out later they didn’t see it that way? If it turned out that what you had hoped would be
a lasting peace treaty was merely a temporary ceasefire, chances are an issue lurked below the
surface that didn’t get addressed. The solution: when a manager and an employee have a
conflict and genuinely desire to end it, an opportunity should be created to bring up grievances
that aren’t visible on the surface. Get these issues out in the open so that they get addressed
and permanently resolved.

How important are soft skills, such as communication, when it comes to managing a
team?

Communication is very important in any management context. Managers have a direct
relationship with employee engagement. When management is communicative and provides
leadership, employee engagement rises. When managers essentially provide instructions to a
team and then leave it to the task, productivity and employee engagement can plummet. Team
members, when mindful of and excited about their shared goals, tend to make a positive impact
on the company. Managers need to connect with their employees on a human level, share the
organization’s goals with the team and connect the team members to that shared purpose.

jathan-janove

What, in your opinion, is the key to leading a productive team?

Creating a shared sense of purpose with opportunities for employees to work together to make
a difference is key. When you foster an environment where there are collective goals and
accountability, you go a long way toward ensuring your team is productive. Employees are more
than job descriptions and must be treated that way. Individuals who know and respect each
other are also more likely to work productively together.

Do you have a particular favourite story from your book that readers should look out
for?

One story that is a lesson for anyone using email in the workplace is “Discharge From Four
Doors Down (Email Is Not the Way to Convey an Emotionally Sensitive Message),” which is
about a company that had recently hired a CFO, Ralph, who held an MBA from Harvard.

Soon after being hired, Ralph participated in his first executive committee meeting, during which
he made a comment that bothered the CEO, Jordan. Although he said nothing at the time,
Jordan sent Ralph an e-mail later that morning, saying “I was disappointed with your comments
in today's meeting about our expansion plan. I'm not sure you fully understand what we're trying
to accomplish.”

Emails got heated, ultimately culminating in the CEO’s email to Ralph with the subject line,
“Moving On!” which he copied to HR. Acrimonious negotiations ensued. Ralph alleged breach of
contract and made whistle-blower claims. Eventually, a deal was cut. It wasn't cheap.
You might think Jordan chose e-mail to communicate due to some geographic separation
between him and Ralph. Perhaps the executives worked in different cities or at least different
buildings. Wrong! Jordan and Ralph were separated by only four office doors.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers? 

Managing people is hard only because we make it so. Regardless of the level of innate
leadership talent or ability, anyone who commits to practicing even just a few of the techniques
in this book will find to their welcome surprise that they can effectively lead and manage others.

Jathan's book Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches is available to order now on Amazon. If you'd like to connect with Jathan, you can find him on Twitter at @jathanjanove or through his website, www.jathanjanove.com.