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Treat Your People Well

Treating people well seems to be a

matter of perception. Several years ago I saw a training video about being nice. People were interviewed on the sidewalk about whether they were nice or not. Some people actually answered that they thought they were good because they hadn’t stolen anything or killed anyone.

Current layoff figures literally stab a serious-minded person. So many folks without work; they seem like dandelions on a forgotten lawn to many; common, numerous and easy to replace.

To my regret, I have often watched the actions of some managers who perceived workers that way even when things were going well. Not only their behaviors but also the work environments they provide leave a lot to be desired. Each and every day, employees are expected to produce in these conditions and most times, they usually do.

Dr. Deming, who practically invented modern quality, always maintained, and proved to the satisfaction of many, that 85 percent of all problems were failures of systems, not people. He additionally pointed out that management owned the systems. He also practically proved that people, by their nature, really want to do a good job.

Once, while delivering a training session in which that topic was relevant, a red-faced manager with whom I had a good relationship blurted out in a less than friendly manner “I resent your implication that management causes 85 percent of the problems!” In the kindest way possible, I replied “I’m sorry Tony, I didn’t mean to imply it, I meant to say it straight out loud because it’s true.” Nine months and about three lunches later he ultimately agreed. Up until then you could say Tony was a blamer. If anything went wrong at the company, his first words were invariably, “Who did it?” rather than the seldom used “What went wrong in the process?” The latter question may or may not lay blame on any particular person when all the facts have been collected.

Tony’s kind of blaming was not unique then and certainly is not today. What’s worse is that his habit of blaming is not the only poor habit that managers exhibit when dealing with their associates. Let’s look at ignoring people as another example, think of a high level manager walking down a hallway. Here comes an employee in the other direction. As they are about to pass, the employee nods a greeting. The manager never makes eye contact or acknowledges the employee at all. What’s the problem? Well, if the employee has a high level of self esteem, he or she will shrug it off and think something like “What a jerk.” If, on the other hand, their self-esteem is suffering even for just that day, they’ll probably start a thinking and worrying process that will include thoughts as “Why doesn’t he doesn’t like me?” or “What did I do?” or “Maybe I’m getting laid off” or any of a host of thoughts that makes that operator a walking talking accident or a serious run of defective product. If it happens to be a Friday, they may spend an unhappy or sleepless weekend sulking on it. There are people like this in your organization. They are everywhere. The last thing they need is a downer. They are responsible for their work but that’s not the point.

What is the point? The first is, and think of this as being “shouted,” managers are too highly paid to exhibit such behavior. Secondly, managers are responsible for their people. If that’s true, and it is, it follows that they are also responsible for the quality of the work done by their people. Thirdly, the tools of blaming or ignoring are not taught in high school, college or anywhere else because failure isn’t a required or elective subject. These behaviors lead to failure. They can’t be seen on a balance sheet but they are there hidden in the numbers for waste, rework, returns, claims, workmen’s compensation, accidents and the place I’m trying to reach; turnover.

When this economic crisis is over and jobs open up, what will stop your people from leaving? Put another way, what might make them jump at a new opportunity? Remember that studies have repeatedly shown that money is seldom a motivator. In their book “How Full is Your Bucket?” Rath and Clinton point out that the number one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. Even more glaring is that 65 percent of employees reported that they received no recognition at all. That’s zero! The insane argument that people are paid to do a good job so they do not need recognition is the great canard of the manager in the hallway who wishes to escape the responsibilities of inspiring and motivating.

In a class on process documentation, I use the example of a whole department that left a company all at once when they hit on one of those get-together lottery tickets. This has actually happened several times. My message here is simple. Nodding a greeting in a hallway costs nothing and you can literally run a company on “Thank you” and “Good Job.” Don’t choose to lose the lottery, choose to treat your people well. It’s an employer’s market now but that could change abruptly.

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