Early in my career with the Denver Police Department (in the early 1970′s), I worked for a short time in an assignment that reported to Chief of Police George Seaton. He had a meeting with all of us and told us that for a few months he wanted us to be out and about during each shift, observing officers and their work and letting him know of any glaring problems related to procedures.
Among his directions were: We should be obvious, not giving the appearance of sneaking around; we should assist with arrests and reports when we could; we should never appear to approve of something that we knew to be a violation of a rule or policy. Above all, he wanted us to write commendatory notes every time we could justify it.
He said, “I learned that when I was a sergeant”, (which would have been in about the early 1950′s) “You have to give people a reason to want you observing them. If you always correct something they’ll dread seeing you. If they know you’ll usually say ‘well done’, they’ll look forward to having you come by and before long they’ll connect the idea of you observing them with them doing good work.”
Someone in the group said, “But Chief, no matter what we do or say they’ll think we’re spying on them and trying to get them in trouble. What can we do about that?”
Chief Seaton said (probably using a lot of profanity, since that was something he was noted for), “Not a damned thing! But, some of them will understand and the others will at least know the truth, even if they don’t say it.”
All of Chief Seaton’s advice, then and at other times, has been useful many times in my professional life. I have mentioned his advice from that day in many classes for supervisors and managers. It still holds true: If you are going to do MBWA, management by walking around, to use a Tom Peters term, make those you visit look forward to seeing you.
*Make it separate from times you are required to go to an employee’s work area to ask about something. Be purposeful about what you’re doing.
*Don’t waste your time or their time with unnecessary small talk.
*See how things are going and ask a sincere question or two, if appropriate.
*Ask the reason behind something that seems to be wrong.
*Ask for correction of anything serious enough that to continue it would be harmful in some way.
*Make a mental note to consider small-scale concerns later.
*Say or do something that means, “well done”.
*Move on and let everyone get back to work.
Thanks for the advice, Chief Seaton!
23.8 Cubic Ft. of Trouble
We’ve all seen the signs:
*All items not removed by Friday will be thrown out!
*Your mother doesn’t work here. Please clean out your trash and spoiled food.
*Label it or Lose it!
*To the person who ate my lunch yesterday: How does it feel to know that in your heart you’re nothing but a low-life thief?
An employee took me to the refrigerator in her office’s breakroom last week. She showed me the five signs on it and around it telling people to keep the refrigerator clean. When she opened the door I almost gagged, the odor was so gross! Then, she pointed out the notes accusing people of taking food. It was a depressing situation!
There are four actions that will change a situation like that or like the situation in your office: (If you have a happy office situation and no problems, these ideas may seem a bit much. I can assure you, they are not excessive for the needs of most offices):
1. Consider issues related to the break-room/kitchen, refrigerator and microwave just as important as any other source of conflict. It is part of the office environment and is under the purview of the supervisor or manager whether he or she likes the idea or not–just like the thermostat, music, fragrances and the other non-work things that have an effect on work relationships.
Do not refer to this as being the “refrigerator police”. It’s part of managing the office. It’s also a way to test whether or not the manager’s influence and leadership is as strong as he or she hopes it is.
2. Establish one foundational policy: The refrigerator is only for storage of the employee’s lunch the day or shift it is brought in or for restaurant leftovers that day. If an employee wants to have the food again the next day it can be taken home and brought back. If there are leftover items from an office function, distribute it the same day. Employees can bring their cake back the next day if they want it.
That one improvement–no items left overnight–will save most of the thefts and all of the rotten food smells. Forget making the rule that the refrigerator will be cleared at the end of the week. That isn’t working anywhere. Bring a lunch and eat it or take it back home, but don’t leave it overnight.
3. All employee food items must be in a solid paper bag, stapled and marked with the employee’s name. Have various sized paper bags, a stapler and a pen in a container next to the refrigerator. Even that one apple, container of yogurt or can of soda should be in a bag. (By the way, I think those (and cream, mentioned below) are the most common things to steal, based on many angry reports I receive. I had no idea how many people will give up their ethics for a container of yogurt.)
Employees can bag their items at home or do it at work, but nothing is allowed in the refrigerator without being in a marked and stapled paper bag. After lunch, leftovers can be re-bagged or the first bag can be re-stapled.
No thermal bags: Thermal bags take up much more space than others. They also prevent the cold air from getting to the food. So, if someone wants to bring a thermal bag they can keep it in their personal space or take the items out and put them in a stapled, marked paper bag.
The requirement to bag, staple and mark food items will eliminate the rest of the thievery and food smells. It will also make it possible to remind employees that their lunch bag is still in the refrigerator.
*The same rules applies to the cream, milk or soy milk and the various condiments employees may want to bring. Inevitably it will be stolen or tampered with and the uproar begins. So, that too should be brought the day it is needed and taken home at the end of the shift. There is no reason to have hot sauce, soy sauce, ketchup or anything else, taking up permanent residence in an office refrigerator.
*These rules also apply to the freezer. It’s not to be used for long-term storage.
*Suggest that employees put their car keys in their lunch bags as a way to remind them to pick up their leftover lunch food.
*Acknowledge that this will be more effort for employees who bring food, but it is not horrible work or energy-draining work. The flipside is that since the refrigerator won’t be dirty, no one will have to have the assignment of cleaning out someone else’s old food.
*Make this part of new-employee orientations, even for employees who are not new to the overall company. If they haven’t worked in an office with a clean refrigerator they’ll need to be coached about what your office does to keep it that way!
4. Consider failure to follow these established processes just as much of a behavioral problem as failure to follow rules about anything else, because it is. These aren’t suggestions they are the way things are to be done.
On your own: Whether your office has a process like this or not, if you bring a lunch you could start bringing a stapled and marked paper bag on your own. Maybe it will catch on and maybe not, but at least your lunch will not be stolen and your food will never be considered a problem for odor or anything else.
The bottom line: You may be thinking that Refrigerator Rules shouldn’t be needed. They probably shouldn’t be needed, but they are, aren’t they?
Why do you put up with that??
A supervisor was telling me about an employee who was well known for lying about small issues as well as a larger ones, to the point that the employee wasn’t believed by anyone.
I asked the supervisor if he had ever confronted the employee about it. “Nah. It makes him feel important, so we all just act like we believe him and walk away shaking our heads.” I don’t think that person’s lack of integrity and respect for others is a trivial matter to them, so this was very frustrating for me to hear.
Someone else was telling me about a coworker who is officious and bosses her and everyone else around. I asked her why she puts up with it and she said if she tried to stop it the coworker would be hurt, so she and everyone else has learned to tolerate it. I see this a lot: They care more about her feelings than she cares about theirs.
A woman told me about the rants she endures from a coworker who has extreme and angry opinions about everything from politics to religion to social issues and street maintenance, etc., etc., ad naseam. She said she used to be upset and distracted all day but she has learned to tolerate it so they can get along. Apparently she feels she should be the one to work at getting along, while the coworker can do anything he wants.
I don’t advocate continual confrontation about every small difference of style or opinion. But, it’s foolish and harmful for the majority of people in a workplace to “learn” to tolerate the one or two who are unpleasant or problematic. We create entitled royalty who think they can do or say anything they want–because the reality is, they can.
The next time you wonder why you have a coworker or employee who is unpleasasant or who gossips, gets angry, refuses to cooperate with someone, is disruptive or who exhibits other bad behavior, look no further for the answer than the people who put up with it–coworkers and/or bosses.
If you have sincerely tried to stop the situation and approached it the right way but have been shut down by managers or others, you have my sympathy and also my appreciation and admiration. If you have been tolerating something that continues to bother you, remember that tolerance isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes what we call tolerance is just a lack of courage. Show some courage this week and speak up about something you shouldn’t be tolerating.
I was reading an article about the diet of pioneers on their journeys to the West. It said a party of four was advised to bring: 600 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of bacon, 200 pounds of dried beans, 120 pounds of biscuits (probably the “hardtack” kind, not fluffy ones), 120 pounds of dried fruit, and pounds of other items such as seasonings, sugar and various chemicals.
Although meat was hunted and fish was caught along the trail, often beans were the main food. The article commented that both men and women cooked on the trip, but one thing was a no-no: Cooks didn’t go to other campfires to give advice. They stayed at their own wagon and–to use the phrase I adopted for this article–stirred their own beans.
Don’t you wish people you interact with at work would heed that advice? We all need to spend more time stirring our own beans and less time stirring the beans of others, so to speak. (I’m sure there’s something vaguely off-color about that analogy, but it still makes sense to me!)
There are certainly times when advice or help is asked for and you can give it briefly, then step back and let the person take care of things on their own. There are also times when the outcome is your responsibility and you need to do more than give advice, you need to correct or completely change the way something is done. (Even then, you need to be certain the change is really, truly necessary.) Those situations involve minding business that is yours or at least partly yours.
The advice or false help that isn’t needed or wanted is when it is merely meddling. For example, you’re working very hard–maybe rushing–on a project or task that you have expertise in and experience doing. In the middle of that, someone who has plenty of his or her own work to do and knows nothing about what it takes to do your work, gets involved under the guise of helping.
*”I know you were placing those orders but I went ahead and did ours so you wouldn’t have to.”
*”I saw the handouts on the copying machine so I distributed them.”
*”I know you said you wanted to contact people personally, but I was in the meeting so I told them about it already.”
*”You said you’d bring it, but I wasn’t sure you’d remember, so I brought some too.”
*”I know you use that vendor, but I’m sure you can get it cheaper if you just check around.”
*”I put those tools away because I didn’t think you were using them.”
*”That’s no way to do it. Here, move over and let me show you how.”
*”I know it’s not my business, but really, don’t you think you should do this instead?’
If you try to explain why the advice isn’t very helpful the rescuer will usually insist it could be helpful if only you would see it their way. Finally, if you’re not very gentle about it, you’ll get a huffy, “I was only trying to help.” as Mr. Fixit or Ms. Rescuer hangs up or stalks off.
The bottom line: Most of us have enough problems handling our own work without trying to tell others how to do theirs. If something being done by someone else will harm your own ability to work, that’s one thing. But, if you just think you have a better idea, can show how smart you are, want to rescue people and make them grateful to you, or whatever your other motivation might be, stay at your own campfire and stir your own beans.
This is a cookbook with some good recipes and interesting tips from pioneer times.
There is a difference between a warning and an admonishment–but many supervisors don’t recognize the difference and fail to warn in a way that prevents a problem in the future.
An Admonishment Is Mild But Pointed Advice
An admonishment is a brief word of advice, counsel, maybe mild-mannered reproof. ”Becky, you do a great job when you get here, but you’ve been late three times now. We need you here on time, especially on the days you open up.”
An admonishment can also be delivered using a light tone and even a slightly humorous approach: ”Hey Ken, stop throwing trash in the parking lot, it looks bad enough without your generous contributions.”
For most situations, an admonishment is enough to get good results. I recall the thought in a book for police sergeants: “To a mature employee a suggestion is construed as an order.”
Unfortunately, supervisors and managers often think an admonishment is a sufficient warning and they are frustrated and angry when the employee does the thing again. If they want to make sure the employee doesn’t do it again, they need to warn and give consequences.
A Warning Is A Promise About What Will Happen
A warning can be formal or informal, verbal or written. “Becky, you’re doing a good job otherwise, but you’ve been late three times now. The next time you’re late I’m going to have to put it in your permanent record and give you a formal reprimand. I don’t want to have to do that, so be on time from now on.”
Or, “Ken, after the last incident with you throwing trash in the parking lot after I had asked you not to, I recommended a formal warning and HR approved it. This is your last warning. The next incident will result in loss of a day off.”
Employees Get As Confused as Supervisors
Last week an employee complained to me that she was getting in serious trouble because she continued to do something after she was warned not to. She said she hadn’t been warned, in fact her supervisor was laughing about it when he talked to her so she didn’t take it seriously.
The supervisor’s view was that a reasonable person would know his light-hearted remarks were a warning. I asked him if he had, in the midst of being light-hearted, told the employee what would happen if she did it again. He said no, but surely she realized she would get some sort of sanction.
Was that an effective warning or merely an admonishment? His HR Department and his manager viewed that he had not warned the employee because he hadn’t told her what would happen next. His manager told him that if he had warned her, it would also have reminded him that he had an obligation to follow through, whereas with an admonishment there is no follow-through mentioned.
The bottom line: The reason many employees continue their problematic behavior or performance is because they are admonished, but they are not warned. The reason many supervisors get frustrated with continual problems is that they think they are warning, but without consequences it’s just advice that the employee may not take.
I like the warning on the sign in the photo. I asked a police officer in that town, Griffin, Georgia (my place of birth), if many people hit the bridge. He said it happens now and then, but not nearly as often as it did when the sign just said, “Danger, Low Bridge. No trucks or loads over 16′ high.”
Knowing the consequences and knowing what actions will result in those consequences can make all the difference in what a person does next.
When an employee is rude and unpleasant to a coworker, who should confront it–the coworker or the manager?
The answer to that question can be found through a few other questions:
1. Does the coworker lack the authority to require different behavior? If he or she can’t require courtesy, it may ultimately be up to the manager to require it.
2. Has this employee acted discourteously often before? If so, having a coworker confront the behavior probably won’t make a difference.
3. Is there a chance the rude employee might do similar things to other coworkers at another time? If so, the manager certainly should want to stop it.
4. Might the behavior affect the willingness of others to want to work with that employee or ask for assistance in the future? The workplace is the supervisor or manager’s responsibility.
5. If the employee used a similar tone or acted in a similar way with clients, would that be a problem? If it would be, the manager or supervisor should be very concerned about that potential.
If the answer to any of those is “Yes”, the manager should investigate. If the behavior was inappropriate the employee should be told so, why it was inappropriate, and what should have happened instead. Then, the manager should ask for a commitment from the employee to act differently in the future. There probably is a need for longer-term observation and development about effective behavior.
You or someone you know? You may know supervisors who push coworker disputes back onto the complaining employee. They probably justify their actions by saying that employees need to learn to deal with their own conflicts.
The problem with that approach is, some employees do not have the confidence or skill to deal with personal conflicts effectively. So, while one employee may stand up and stop the rude behavior, others are distracted and upset and avoid working around the rude person. Even employees who are willing to confront the behavior may do so by responding in a similar manner, which makes things miserable for everyone–and doesn’t keep the behavior from happening again.
Think about this as well: If an employee can’t be trusted to be consistently courteous and helpful to team members, how can they be trusted to be courteous and helpful to those outside your team?
Fulfill your role as a supervisor, manager and leader: If you become aware of rude, discourteous, unpleasant, insensitive, or inappropriate behavior in your workplace, use it as a chance to develop people and the team. Talk to the employee who acted unpleasantly and find out what was behind the behavior. Make sure the employee knows it can’t happen again and knows what he or she should do instead. Then, bring the team back together by keeping them focused on work and by commending the good work that is being done.
You will find much less bickering and upset when everyone knows you expect people to behave courteously, professionally and in a way that encourages cooperation and effectiveness–and that you will deal with it immediately if you become aware of a problem.
A bonus question to add to the five above:
6. Who is ultimately responsible for the effectiveness and well-being of the workplace–employees or the manager? You know the answer to that one!
Think Before You CC
This may seem to be my One Tune Topic for the last few months, but it seems that it cannot be emphasized enough. Consider these snippets from emails, all which were copied to several people (some not even part of the organizations involved.)
•”If you don’t have the skill to do it, at least send it to someone who knows how to do their job and stop wasting my time.”
•”Your email makes no sense at all. Rewrite please.”
•”I have tried to resolve this situation amicably only to face your nastiness time after time.”
•”I reviewed the work of you and your committee and frankly am amazed that you would consider this to be the quality I expected, especially from someone who is supposedly trained to do this kind of thing. If this is an example of your work, we need to be talking about getting you some additional training. There is no way I could list the problems in one email, so apparently I will have to take the time to meet and work on this with you. I’m available Friday afternoon but after that will be gone for two weeks, so let me know if you can meet then.”
•”Re: Your request to attend the conference. No.”
I’ve changed some details in those emails to protect the organization and those who sent the examples to me, but they are all essentially real. How would you like to be CCed on those? How would you like to be the recipients? How does it present the sender? Will any of them improve things?
What If Nothing Else Is Working?
In one of the examples above I was blind copied but several others were obviously copied. I immediately called the sender to register my dismay. She said, “Well, nothing else has worked and I figured if I embarrassed her maybe she would finally do something.”
Do you think that will happen? Even if it does, will the damage ever go away completely?
If the performance or behavior of an employee you supervise concerns you, talk to the employee directly by phone or in a personal email. No employee I’ve ever met develops a more positive approach to work as the result of being chided in a message that is copied to others. If the thing that concerns you is something that others need to be reminded of as well, handle it with a training approach for all, after you have dealt with the other employee personally.
If a coworker is the source of frustration or anger, talk to your manager or supervisor and be factual about what is concerning you. If you CC your manager in an unpleasant email you may find that both the employee and the manager resent your method of informing. That doesn’t mean you should ignore problems, it just means you should be direct not sneaky.
If you have something unpleasant or discomfiting to say to anyone, say it to them alone. Don’t wait until you are in an email “room” and bring it up. Have you noticed how brave or tough people can be when they are showing off for others!
“Look what a tough leader I am?” “Look how direct I am.” “See how I tell people where I stand?” “Notice that I don’t take anything from anyone?” “See how saintly I am compared to that other person?” Those are the underlying messages conveyed by unneeded CCs.
If you receive an awkward, embarrassing or inappropriate copied email, let the recipient know you would prefer to not be included on such things. If those who CC were told it was unnecessary or uncomfortable they would be far less likely to preen over their rough and ready approach. If you are a manager, stop such copying when you see it happening. If you are a subordinate, consider doing what one employee told me about: He wrote back directly to the manager and said, “I don’t think I was supposed to be included in that correspondence, but I want you to know that I have deleted it and won’t say anything about it.”
Whatever you do, don’t even inadvertently encourage the kind of rudeness that is the hallmark of unnecessary CCs or BCs.
The bottom line: There is a time for putting your concerns or frustrations in writing. Not all unpleasant mail is inappropriate. However, when you intend to correct someone or negatively critique their performance or behavior, think, think and think again before copying others. There may be rare times when it is needed, but most often, it is not. You and your reputation and effectiveness will be diminished in proportion to how many people you CC unnecessarily.
A supervisor shared his experience: “I would like to ask employees their thoughts about problems or just about work issues, but it comes back to haunt me every time! Sometimes their ideas are so lacking in reality that I can’t help but get irritated. Worse is when I get five ideas from five different people and all of them complain because I didn’t take their advice!”
It sounds as though that supervisor could use some new methods for how he asks for input from employees and how he uses it.
Asking for input the right way.
Pick the right time. Don’t expect the most effective input when someone is just walking in the door or getting ready to leave or if they are very busy. Consider scheduling the time.
Ask for thoughts or ideas, not for advice. Advice comes with an expectation that you will take it or reject it. Thoughts or ideas are simply expressions of opinions to add to someone else’s thought processes.
- Ask for thoughts not rants. Sometimes a general “what do you think” is OK, but try to focus the remarks of the employee toward the information you are seeking. Don’t reward people who are known for arguing or getting angry, by implying you like that behavior. Not, “Greg, if anyone can find the flaw in this you surely can.” Or, “Lisa, let me know what you hate about this idea.”
- Give people time to think about it. Most of us can quickly produce a half-baked idea. However, have you noticed that your best thoughts come after a conversation? Give people a chance to cogitate about the subject in which you want their input–even if only for a few minutes. Email or call ahead. Or, do as Captain Rudy Phannenstiel used to do with me: “I’ve got to make a phone call but I’ll be done in about fifteen minutes. Be thinking about this and I’ll get back to you.” He always did and I had ideas ready! (Surprise, huh?)
- Let them know how you’ll use their thoughts. Make it clear that you’re getting several ideas and want theirs as well. Or, perhaps you just want to hear someones philosophy about a topic–say that too. Don’t promise that all ideas will be used or that you’ll make a choice based on suggestions. Just listen.
Responding to input and using it.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say you’re better off not asking for input at all than asking for it but not acknowledging it–but that’s near to the truth most of the time. Your response to input and how you use it are key issues that can make getting input a positive or negative experience.
Whether you agree or disagree, acknowledge that you listened and heard. A few simple statements can let people know that you have listened and heard. “That’s good for me to know.” “That’s a viewpoint I need to hear.” “This gives me something to consider.” “Interesting way to look at it. Thanks.” ”Hmm. I’ll add that to the opinions I’ve gotten from other people. Thanks.”
Emphasize positive aspects of the conversation. “I was wondering what you thought about it, so thanks for letting me know.” “I’ve asked several people and I wanted to be sure to ask you.” “I think of all of you as the best resources I can have.” “I’m lucky to have someone with your background here.”
Make notes so you can remember. A month from now or next year, it will be good to have a few reminders about ideas you’ve received or the opinions of employees or others. Take the time to send yourself an email or make a file folder, if you asked for thoughts about something significant.
Follow up, even if very casually. If you frequently ask for input you don’t need to send a thank you note each time you listen to an employee. However, you can certainly make the effort to say a quick thanks. “Thanks again for your thoughts today.” If someones ideas were a large part of your deliberation or if you used their ideas or suggestions, put it in writing.
When possible, reflect employee input on performance evaluations. Use your notes to remind you and them that you value their contributions. A few sentences is enough, unless the input was extremely valuable. “In this reporting period Cheryl was a helpful resource about several key issues. Among them….”
The bottom line: Look for chances to ask people with whom you work for their thoughts, opinions, experiences, concerns, observations, ideas–and now and then, perhaps, advice. Make it a positive process for you and for them. It’s a great way to strengthen relationships, learn more about others and gain insights you need for effectiveness.
Two Big Questions About
Performance or Behavior Problems At Work
When a supervisor or manager becomes aware of an error in performance or behavior the first two questions to consider are these:
1. What was done wrong?
2. Who did it the wrong way?
Before you cringe at those tough questions, consider how crucial they are for ensuring precision about correcting problem performance and behavior at work. Without that initial analysis of a problem supervisors can make mistakes that create huge levels of resentment and frustration–and work problems can continue for years. (As they often do!)
What Was Done Wrong?
A precise statement about the behavior or performance error will help keep the focus on the primary concern. Secondary issues may be disclosed and may be part of solving larger problems. However, the problem that started it all should be corrected immediately with direction or assistance from the supervisor or manager. Or, the employee should make a clear committment about his or her plans to ensure the error never happens again.
Who Did It The Wrong Way?
Supervisors should discover precisely who didn’t turn in their widget budget, what shift most often loses widget folders, what is the average experience of those who have failed to tighten the widget bolt, who was late to the widget meeting and who hung up on the person calling about widgets. That information will ensure precision about how to focus retraining or corrective actions and how to prevent future problems.
Being precise about responsiblity will also prevent scattergun correction in which all employees are retrained or lectured for what only one person did incorrectly. If a supervisor or manager is concerned that one error is just the tip of an iceberg, it would be appropriate to discuss a process or program with everyone. But those discussions should not imply that everyone has done something wrong–especially when they know precisely who did!
The bottom line: There are many other questions to ask and answer on the way to correcting performance or behavior problems at work. But, thinking back over your career, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for your managers and supervisors to have been more precise about what was done wrong and who did it–and what they were going to do about it?
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.”