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It is Your Job - Part II

Register • Aug 22, 2013 at 3:00 PM

In the last blog titled "It is your job", employees were encouraged to step up and learn more about themselves and their job even if it wasn't expected. Management was disregarded as that would be addressed later. Now, that time has come.


All stories here are taken from real examples. Identifying details have been changed. The point of each is to give a candid look at what is good and bad about managing styles and hopefully offer a solution to change things.


Negative, Case 1: Too many or under-enforced rules.


Candice works at a retailer. Just like any of us, she has a life and interests outside of work. One of those interests led to her being certified in CPR as she enjoys helping people. Let's face it, it isn't a bad skill to have! So one day while doing her job a customer encounters a severe medical problem. Candice is quick to wish to help as she has the training to do so. The store rules say that only managers are allowed to administer such aid. Candice could only stand by and watch the situation worsen as none of the managers present knew CPR.


Rules should be in place for a reason and should be explainable as to why they exist. Rules create boundaries, set expectations, and in many cases can actually make an excellent support system. In this case, perhaps due to logical litigation fears, that rule was created. That is all well and good, but where is the follow-up? Delegating responsibility only works so well if there are responsible people who can handle the tasks in authoritative positions.


Should Candice ever have to fear for her job and the income it provides her because of administering first aid and acting in a humane manner?


Negative, Case 2: Undermining the employee.


Mitch works in hospitality. Similar to the example above, there are a set of rules on how to deal with certain situations, especially when it comes to problematic guests. Many times a guest's complaint can escalate as a problem (real or imagined) becomes emotional and economic. Following the rules, Mitch respectfully sticks to the books and, thinking he is supporting the company and its operations, explains the situation. Quickly the guest asks for a manager to overrule this mere employee. The manager, after hearing the irate guest briefly, quickly dismisses Mitch's reasoning and grants a favor leaving Mitch humiliated and left to clean up the situation in front of the guest and the others who were waiting and saw the spectacle.


Managers are called for reasons like this, that is a normal expectation. But there is a tact and responsibility to not throw an employee who is on the front lines of interactions, under the bus. Even if it isn't intended, such displays leave employees who were doing what was asked with no recourse. If a special condition or exception was made by a manager, the manager should take responsibility for handling it and afterwards reinforcing that the employee was correct and handled the situation as best they were expected in otherwise reasonable circumstances.


Should Mitch feel that everything he was taught and the amount of tactful skills he developed were all for naught because his decisions are repealed in a flippant manner?


But, let's not dwell on the negatives. We can all think back to poor managerial practices or workplace abuses. Some are obvious such as sexual harassment. Others, like callousness or ignorance, aren't as direct but hurt just as much. Informing employees that you only need this job to pay off your second car or home renovations is insensitive. But, what about the good? Let's explore an anecdote about a positive interaction and then a system of creating a mutually-beneficial workplace that isn't forced nor contrived.


Positive, Case 3: Communication is everything.


Christian works in a grocery store. When asked about it, while he primarily recalled more bad than good, there is one manager who stood out like a shining light amid a dark sky. Christian went on to recount how this one manager always greets him if he isn't busy, checks on his duties to see if he needs anything, and attempts to coordinate what is going on in the department as other managers give him conflicting requests having not spoken to each other or taken the time to learn what the current status of Christian's station is. His manager's tone is friendly, professional, and overall the manager carries a respectable aura. The manager seeks both sides to a problem and even if the result isn't in Christian's favor, will provide follow-up and support with little delay.


Christian is by no means a perfect employee. He admits this. But, because he is treated like a competent, understanding person he doesn't get discouraged. He feels empowered by his manager and as such, is able to report more problems, offer alternative solutions to events, and doesn't dread coming in to work. It isn't that he feels like a valuable employee, he feels like a valuable human being.


Should Christian have to feel disappointed that there aren't more managers like his?


Solutions, Case 4: Kaizen - "Continuous Improvement"


There is no magic bullet point on a guidebook that can address workplace relations. Every human is unique and the situations they create are infinitely more so. That is why the bonds between employee and employer must never cease growing. "Kaizen" is a practice usually talked about on industrial production floors and was even used during Fireland's POLA (Public Officials Leadership Academy) when the representative from Lean Ohio (http://lean.ohio.gov/) discussed what he does. In essence: management and employees spend a week working together to go over everything a particular process involves from the ground up. Nothing is sacred, just because Cathy always does a certain report on Thursdays and has for the past seven years doesn't matter. Just because Donnell has ten years experience with the company and everything has run fine according to him doesn't matter.


To continue to borrow Japanese business terms, primarily from "The Toyota Way" we must also consider the practice of "genchi genbutsu", or effectively, "go and see". An American translation of it is "Management by Walking Around". Effectively, a manager cannot hope to do a good job by staying in his/her office alone. In order to understand the processes that are in effect and the people who literally make it happen, you must go out onto the shop floor. You must walk the aisles. Ask questions. Compare how rules are implemented as discrepancies can occur from author's desk to being in the field, or, "gemba"  - the place it actually happens.


When was the last time you as a manager (or you as an employee had a manager who) opened him/her/yourself up to ask questions? To seek where improvements could be made? To show at least a modicum of respect for employees as people with their own interests and lives? To take an extra second to just say "thank you/good job"?


Perhaps we will return with another installment of "It is your job" to continue to offer advice and suggestions on how to improve yourselves and your working atmosphere. The moral of the story as we have explored so far is that going out of your way to interact with each other often speaks volumes and creates an atmosphere of constant personal growth and refined company policy.


Ja mata! (See you again!)

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