Before I get too far, let me state that my title for this column started out as, “Obstacles in the Organizational Chart.” You’ll understand why in a moment.
Let me tell you the story about someone we’ll call Jim. After 14 years with his company, Jim supervised his department, but his own supervisor didn’t give Jim much freedom to make improvements. An atmosphere of micromanagement squelched all initiative.
This frustrated Jim. He and the members of his team had many ideas for how to improve efficiency and effectiveness, but every time he suggested something, his boss told him to just keep doing what they were doing.
One day Jim was talking with a regular customer, and during the conversation, the customer revealed that he was a supplier for some of the equipment used at Jim’s place of work. He said he could tell Jim was familiar and confident with the products and was curious why Jim’s company wasn’t using them to their full potential.
Since Jim trusted this customer, he discretely mentioned the restrictions being placed on him from above.
A week later that same customer came back to Jim’s place of business and offered Jim a job. He wanted Jim to be a product rep, which included visiting companies that used the product and making recommendations for how the products could be used more effectively.
He also offered Jim 50 percent more money than he was currently making.
Suffice it to say Jim didn’t have to think too long about it. He took the job and excelled at it.
As Jim related this story to me, he noted how strange it was that his prior company wouldn’t listen to anything he had to say, even after being loyal to that company for 14 years. However, once he became a consultant and product rep, that same company implemented his advice!
“A year ago, I was offering my input for free,” he said, “but because I was just another face who’d been there forever, they just took me for granted. Now they actually listen to what I have to say, and I make more money at the same time!”
The problem of letting invisible obstacles appear in the organizational chart is more common than you may think. As I write this, I’m reminded of some work I did with a food processing plant. Many of the supervisors were hired out of college, and it was their job to manage the production workers. These supervisors regularly conversed among themselves, brainstorming different ways to improve production speed as well as quality.
Since I was facilitating a training course for the supervisors, I suggested they bring in some seasoned employees, tell them they valued their opinion, and ask for ideas on how to improve production. It amazed me they said no. “Too awkward” was their reason for not doing it.
To this day, I have a tough time understanding why people let pride get in the way of learning how to get things done better or faster. Just because people work at a “lower” level on the organizational chart doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable insights.
Allow me to offer five suggestion for developing a cooperative and collaborative workplace that leads to better employee engagement and workplace effectiveness.
- Hire good people. This ought to be a no-brainer, but everything starts here. I’ve seen supervisors make it a habit to hire people barely qualified to do a job, just so they could pay them less. This almost always backfires. As the late advertising mastermind David Ogilvy once said, “If we hire people smaller than we are, we become a company of dwarfs. But if we hire people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
- Believe in your employees’ capabilities. In my master’s program I learned about a 1964 study in which children were given a standard IQ test, but the researcher repackaged the test with the title, “The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.” He told the teachers it would identify students likely to experience a dramatic increase in their IQ. Of course, it did no such thing, but the researcher chose children at random and told their teachers that these students would experience dramatic IQ growth. And wouldn’t you know, because their teachers set high expectations, over the course of two years, those students actually did increase their IQ.
- Ask questions. Too many supervisors think they need to do the telling and have all the answers. It’s not true! It’s been my experience that the best supervisors are the ones who ask good questions. The key here is to be genuinely curious about what people think and ask questions to draw that out. Conversely, “gotcha” questions designed to make an employee feel stupid will certainly backfire.
- Seek to understand. I borrow this phrase from Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” because it’s a much better action to recommend than simply, “listen.” I can listen to someone rattling on about something that doesn’t interest me, and I won’t retain much. But if I “seek to understand,” then I’m absorbing data in a way so that I can restate it later in my own words. When we understand something, it’s easier to see its inherent value.
- Recognize everyone operates differently. Whether its behavioral styles, cognitive styles, or motivational preferences, every person is unique. Again, to quote Stephen Covey, we treat people the same by treating them differently. This sounds like an oxymoron, but it simply means knowing someone’s style and communicating according to that person’s style. For example, a strong driver prefers direct communication with little chit chat, whereas a non-confrontational supporting style prefers low-key conversations and also time to think.
Bottom line, every employee brings value to a team. It’s the job of every supervisor to identify each person’s value and ensure each person is given an opportunity to contribute. Without that, motivation is usually minimal, and productivity – as well as profitability – can suffer.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.