The most effective managers and supervisors actively seek employee ideas and opinions on a regular basis, not just when big decisions are being made. Those who are regularly doing a task may have excellent ideas for how the task can be done more efficiently or effectively. Nevertheless, it is important for managers and supervisors as well as employees to remember that ideas and opinions should be used as part of decision-making–not used in place of well thought-out decisions by managers and supervisors.
New supervisors and managers: The idea of carefully evaluating employee input is especially crucial for new supervisors and managers. They may be anxious to build rapport with their new staff or team but do not yet have a grasp of the big picture. As a new manager don’t act too quickly in your effort to gain acceptance. Wait until you understand the totality of work and the ramifications of the ideas you are hearing.
•Ideas for one person or group may have a negative effect on others. A new form, method or process that will work very well for John or Janet may create tremendous burdens for everyone else. In addition to listening to employees, managers should communicate with other managers before making decisions that have a larger impact. Then, explain the issues as a way to help the employee learn to see the bigger picture, even if he or she still has a preference.
•Employees do not usually have the level of knowledge about larger issues that managers have–or should have. When the Denver Police Department was planning for World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II, two officers with a lot of tenure thought it was very funny that I was looking at information on Porta-Potties. In response I asked them how many portable toilets they thought we would need for 500,000 people, how many were in the state of Colorado and what it would take to get enough here in time. After they looked at the information and realized what a challenge it would be, one of them said, “That’s the trouble with our mayor, he says yes to everything. He should have said we didn’t want World Youth Day here because it’s so much work for the city.”
•Employees ideas may be purposely or inadvertently self-serving. Most employee suggestions don’t mention a downside or potential problem. If you’re the manager or supervisor you need to be thinking of those. When employees have suggestions about issues with which you’re not completely familiar, ask them to provide you with the things that could go wrong and how those could be avoided. Then, get other input before deciding.
A manager of a large group commented that almost all the improvement suggestions he received involved what employees thought they could stop doing for customers, what safety procedures they could eliminate or what rule was no longer needed. He said after five years he had only received two or three ideas for how employees could provide better service or be more efficient in their use of resources. His example may not be typical–but it isn’t unusual either. I think that phenomena is called human nature.
•If there are bad results, it is most likely the implementing manager or supervisor who will be held responsible, not the employees who made the suggestion. It’s inevitable that some decisions will not work out well. Usually those are fixable and work moves on. However, managers and supervisors should have better reasons for their decisions than, “Bill and Gloria said it was the best way to do it.” Ideas should be welcomed and carefully reviewed, not welcomed and implemented without review.
Some of the most serious or tragic errors I have heard about–or made myself–were the result of decisions based primarily on the clamoring input of staff or group members. Often they are so close to the work they see no other options–and there are nearly always options. That is why, whether we’re talking about work, government, the military, a surgical team, a family or anything else, checks and balances and unbiased input are needed.
A good rule: If you think to yourself: I’m approving this against my better judgment, use your better judgment and don’t approve it, at least not right then.
When you’re the employee with a suggestion or opinion: Make it your goal to gain the knowledge, skills and insights needed to give valuable input. Do self-evaluation of your ideas to ensure they reflect the needs of the organization and its customers and clients. Also remember that the person to whom you’re making the suggestion may respect you, like you and want to encourage you–but still have reasons for not adopting or supporting your ideas. That’s not a slight to you, just a reality of work.
The bottom line: It is a laudable concept to seek the input and ideas of employees. However, the responsibility of managers and supervisors is to listen, evaluate and make final decisions, based on many criteria and considerations.
In the picture above, Patton was listening to a soldier–a trait for which he was well known. He was sincerely interested in the thoughts of soldiers in the field. However, you can bet he didn’t suggest a military strategy to General Eisenhower by saying, ”Private Smith said the guys all want to attack from this direction because it will save time. I would hate for them to think we don’t value their input, so let’s do it their way.”
I’ve noticed that many people, upon learning about almost any calamity, have a tendency to point out how sufferer was at least partly to blame. (I’ve done the same thing.) Fire, flood, illness, cancer, divorce, conflict, mechanical failure, burglary, broken pencil, you name it–many of us can quickly see how it could have been prevented. The implication being that it wouldn’t have happened to us, wise, cautious and savvy people that we are.
We may be right, but such an approach tends to block other responses that reflect a more caring nature. Recently I heard someone say, about a home accident, ”How tragic! I’ve done the same thing myself and never thought anything bad would happen. I’m going to let this be a lesson to me so I don’t have to go through what they’re dealing with.” It sounded refreshingly empathetic and completely devoid of sanctimonious blame!
Try it sometime soon: When someone tells you about a problem they have had, an illness they are going through or a situation that frustrates them, focus your thinking on understanding, rather than mentally shaking your head at how they brought it all upon themselves. You might not be completely successful, but it will be good self-discipline.
The Empty Hard Drive
You’ve probably heard about the Blue Screen of Death and the Black Screen of Death, but until you’ve experienced the Empty Hard Drive of Death which produces the Blank Screen of Misery, you won’t fully understand the gut-wrenching experience it can be.
Think about this catastrophe: Everything you’ve typed, scanned, saved, produced, edited, recorded, downloaded, viewed and worked on, all gone. It’s enough to make even an optimistic and hopeful person feel PTSD coming on!
You can avoid the worst of those feelings by having an external drive with your data automatically backed up often. Or, you can have an external drive you manually back up often. The key phrase is, back up often.
You can also use a web-based synchronizing and/or back up program or just a very large portable USB device on which you save important files regularly.
This concept is like, “Which teeth do you have to floss?” “Only the ones you want to keep.”
“Which files do you need to back up?” Answer: The ones you use, the ones you want, the ones you created, the ones you will want again sometime. Which is to say, “All of them!!”
Right now, are you confident of never having to worry about losing the music, video, photographs and documents on your computer? What is the program, plan or device that is guarding them for you? Make sure it’s working, backing-up often and easy for you to access.
If you don’t have that confidence, don’t let another day go by without doing what it takes to protect your work, memories and–if you’re like many who live on a computer–your life!
Do you feel ignored when you talk to your supervisor or manager?
It’s frustrating to try to share an idea or opinion with a manager and feel that he or she is only half listening or not really listening at all. Here are some reasons supervisors and managers may seem unapproachable, disinterested or unimpressed.
1. Your manager is unapproachable, disinterested or unimpressed. (I thought I might as well get that one out of the way, first thing.) The truth is that some managers are self-absorbed, excessively focused on their own work, or don’t want to give anyone the impression they could learn something from someone else. You may never get the attention of that person. However, I’ve known several people like that who listened and remembered–and were even gratifyingly complimentary, months later. Don’t give up. At the very least, it keeps you in practice for discussing your thoughts with others who are more receptive.
2. You take too long to get to the point. Some employees make every conversation a long, dramatic story with too many unnecessary details. Just as business letters, reports and emails benefit from a summary first paragraph, so do business conversations. When time is limited and you have a lot to say, see if you can boil it down to the essentials to present first. Then, if you sense your audience is zoning out, you at least have presented the essence of your thoughts. Follow up with an email or a document attachment, with the full information.
3. Your timing is off. An effective supervisor or manager shouldn’t have a “good time” or “bad time” for employees to talk to him or her. But, if that’s the way it is with your boss, that’s the way it is. Most people don’t like to be hit with big news the moment they arrive or as they’re walking out the door. Consider setting up a time that works best and remembering that time for the future.
4. You often have a hidden agenda. Few people can resist the urge to push a personal agenda when they get face time with the manager. Most managers resent being manipulated in that way or they find it irritating. Avoid using the time to take a shot at a rival, report petty wrongdoing or self-congratulate excessively.
5. You’ve said it all before. If you have a favorite topic you may find that it’s the only thing you talk to your manager about. That may especially be true if you’re trying to get managerial permission to expand your work, buy new items or start a new program. Unless you have brand new information, you probably won’t be well-received if you harp on it time after time.
6. You don’t have credibility. Ouch! That hurts! But it may be true. A number of things may contribute to the situation: The quantity and quality of your work, your reputation, what you have said about your manager or others, your history with the manager or even your appearance if it is unkempt or inappropriate. Credibility takes time and effort to develop, but it is required if you want people to listen when you talk.
7. They’re listening, they just don’t show it. I often advise supervisors and managers to turn away from their computers, stop looking at their phones and give employees full eye contact and attention. Nearly always someone will assure me that he or she “multi-tasks” and is able to listen and process mentally while doing other things. Even if that is true, it looks rude. However, it may be good news for you, if you think your supervisor isn’t paying attention while he or she is doing something else.
The bottom line: There is no effective way to tell a boss that he or she should pay closer attention to what you’re saying. Your best approach is to consider the circumstances and see if you can change those in some way. Make use of written material–still using the idea of brief and concise. The important thing is to keep the communication channels open, even when you don’t think you should have to make the effort. If you intend to be in your job for awhile, it’s important to be a full participant. That means being able to talk to people at all levels comfortably, appropriately, using good judgment about timing, topic and personal presentation.