I’m U.S. based and I don’t know if this is a U.S. only problem or more widespread. I’d value your input. I’ve noticed is how prolific the business sector is with poor managers. People shoved into a position of “managing” businesses with little or no training in how to manage people. It’s appalling to say the least. No wonder so many businesses fail or don’t turn the profits they should. To that end I thought a little training might be in order. My qualifications? I was a business owner for many years and managed several businesses. All of which were successful. I was well liked by my co-workers and never hated to go to work nor did the people I work with. Their smiles and retention numbers were the proof.
A paycheck is compensation, but for what? Is it for the work they do which turns a profit or for taking verbal abuse from an untrained “manager”? The very word itself implies that a manager should what? Manage. Defining that word in your management team is essential to reducing your turnover. And that may include turnover in managers. Here’s a great example of how your company may have landed in the shape they are in right now.
Did you know that when a hotel open’s its doors, the back of the house, the very soul of the operation takes on the personality of the man that opened the doors. If he is good and kind and caring and catches people doing things right, that hotel will probably be the top of its class forever more. Regardless of the managers that transfer in or out long after they original has gone on. Why is that? It’s really very simple. They’ve learned to support each other in a positive way. There is less interdepartmental strife because they are also friends. Now let’s look at what happens when you have a good hotel who changes management. You get a tyrant in there who doesn’t know how to manage people. A little Hitler who needs to feel big and “in charge” and needs to feed that feeling daily. He leaves his office for his rounds to see what he can find wrong, who can he prey on today. Jody at the front desk sees him headed for the hall on the right, he’s headed for the kitchen, she texts her friend, “code 9.” ya, they develop codes! It means look busy and keep your head down. Look busy and don’t make eye contact he’s headed your way. The second he heads out of the kitchen Sam texts engineering, “He’s on his way.” People scatter like cockroaches to their vehicles or departments.
They spend more time notifying than working. And they can do it because it works. And you know what’s really funny. Make the hotel Nextel and they can signal by a double tap on the phone. Christ the guy is walking through his hotel marveling at how much work is getting done because everyplace he walks there are Nextel tones going off all around him. DAMN! They must be busy! That Nextel is really paying for itself! But they do it to protect each other because they know that in three years or less he’s going to be gone. The GM at that time can’t figure out why he can’t get the numbers up and why things aren’t going very well despite the fact that he is on the floor making sure that every day, every person is scurrying around him “obviously” doing their jobs.
Now let’s look at opening the doors with a bad manager. You get that same mentality above except without the friendship. No quite the opposite. You get alliances instead. It’s not about protecting the “us”, it’s about protecting the “me”. It’s all about C Y A. Interdepartmental strife is rampant as the cross hairs are pushed to another reason for the lack of achievement. Even if you get a new manager, a good caring one it’s too late, they won’t believe it is going to be different. Why turn away from what has kept them alive this long. You don’t mess with survival. So what happens is the guy starts trying to weed out the bad managers. The “burnouts” we’ve dubbed them.
OK, so we’ve gotten rid of the head of the department. The guy who already knew the ins and the outs of the business. You’ve resigned yourself to the loss and the learning curve. Well you need to head that department don’t you? How do you do that and minimize the loss? That’s right, you promote from within. And what do you get? You have a department head that was trained or in some cases conditioned by the problem you just got rid of. You better have not thrown out that book of excuses as to why you’re not doing better after all you got rid of the problem. And what will corporate think? That’s right, it must not have been him, it must have been you! So do you see how this is self-perpetuating?
So how do you turn that around? How do you stop being a training ground for your competitor’s employees? How do you get rid of the dysfunctional and initiate productivity? Well we’ll get to that shortly. Before you can fix it we have to identify some of the problems that created the attitude you see in your business.
First and foremost is the profitability of the business. Every year you are pushed to get more for less; To raise the numbers over last year by a percentage. That means cutting costs and the compression of responsibilities so that fewer do more. And when you get to the bare minimum, then you have to cut corners someplace so you get cheaper equipment. Unfortunately some buyer for a tire company at the top; who knows nothing about “using” a tire machine finds one $500 cheaper and orders 300 of them. It’s the new machine! And he saved the company $150,000! But that machine breaks because it’s crap. He also bought 400 lifts that are also crap and now you have to figure out how to pay to keep them making you money. Or hobble yourself and just resign yourself to replace it in your new budget. So it sits unusable for 7 months. But the problem isn’t over! No! You still expect them to turn out the same amount of production. And it further complicates the equation because their numbers are dropping by whatever number or percentage that piece of equipment represents. And further, that remaining tire machine is now getting twice the use and rough handling because the worker is rushed because of the line to use it. Meanwhile the whip is being cracked to keep the numbers up and the workers are getting fed up because the crap is rolling downhill. But here’s the problem. You’re making them responsible for something they have little or no control over. Frustrated and rushed, ill equipped with the basics needed to do their jobs and they start leaving or acting out and then you fire them. Now the rest are taking up the slack for being down one more person and the only ones surviving are the efficient truly trained and they’re getting fed up because they have to do all the work. The less skilled are trying to keep up because they’re measured by the most productive member. Everybody is pissed and ready to walk on a daily basis. Does this sound like fun?
Truly, the worst thing in life is to get up in the morning and hate going to work. And most of us do it.
What are some of the other problems that tear at the fabric of business?
Favoritism is one. It can be caused by many things. Relationships that occur between workers, romantic and otherwise, biases or prejudices, religious and political beliefs. These are things that can allow favoritism or cherry picking. Like it or not, people look for fairness in business practices when in reality you don’t get what you deserve you get what you are able or foolish enough to negotiate. But two guys working side by side expect the same treatment. If one guy gets the gravy and one guy gets the grease there is a reason for it.
Personal problems outside the workplace being brought in to work. John works for you, his wife Mary is pregnant and about to pop. John is beside himself with his hormonally enhanced bride and horny as hell. The guy beside him is going home early because he’s dating the service writer. John’s about to go postal. Jim who is two bays over is caught staring into space for long periods of time and his work is suffering. He starts to have one or two at lunch. Nobody knows he 7 year old son was just diagnosed with Leukemia. We could go on and on and on. The problems vary as much as people do. And their problems are not something we can control. OK, so let’s look at what we DO control.
First, we control the workspace and equipment condition. We control the number in the workforce and what their assigned duties are. We control manhours. And we can control for the most part, attitude.
So where do we look first for the root of the problem? Do we inventory all the broken equipment and then find someone to complain to, to get it fixed or replaced? Do we look at man hours and attitude to see if there is someone we can blame all our miseries on? What do we do? When you buy a new stereo and it won’t work and we call the geeks what’s the first thing they ask? That’s right, is it plugged into the wall. So we need to do the same thing. We need to start by seeing if everyone is plugged into their job. Here’s what I mean. Everybody has an unpleasant, favorite or detested part of their job. A favorite part and a least favorite part. Begin by asking each person under your charge four things.
- What is the worst part of their job?
- What would make that part easier?
- What is the best part of their job?
- Can you think of anything that would make our system of doing things easier and more efficient?
You would be amazed at how this will change things. First, they’re on the front lines. They know where the breakdown is. Count on their daily confrontation of this issue and their skills to give you the information you need. And if you are able, shadow the person for a day or part of it. Maybe a cycle of what they do. Exist in their conditions. And don’t just watch, do. If their job is to clean the toilet then clean the toilets with them. Come on, you can do it for a couple hours. You’re asking this person to do it every stinking day. Walk a few feet in their shoes. You know what that does? It tells the person you are actually listening, trying to understand to try and make things in their world a little better. Will you be able to? No clues. But even if you can’t that person now sees you as human and on their level at least in your compassion. That can make a huge difference. After all, you’re looking to make them a team not a bunch of individuals. If you can’t connect with that person on a one to one level then you will remain in an “us and him” environment. Listen to the answers to the 4 questions. Make a note to look into it or to give it more thought. Perhaps you can’t change the flow of what that person hates for some reason. If so, go back to them and tell them, I looked into this, the reason we have to do it this way is because it affects this in this way. Can you see any way to do it differently and still give this information or result to this station that relies on that information for their part? If you get a distant look just tell them to give it some thought and if they can come up with an idea you’ll put it to the other folks. Or suggest if they get a chance to talk it over with the affected person or station. If it’s doable but the other person is made a little uncomfortable because it means they have to take an additional step then partner the person who would have to change so that they can see the issue. Perhaps let them swap jobs for a day if they are close enough and are able. The second person may see that doing it in a way that is a little more uncomfortable for them will make a huge difference to the first. But what did you do really? You made them find their own balance and if done right, could make the second person feel really good about themselves for having made a difference in the flow and the first guy happy because his job is more bearable. You now have a team of three. Now you ask the second person the four questions and you’re creating a force that is unstoppable. You’re changing the face of the workplace. If everybody can be made to feel they are part of a collective group then you can start friendly competitions between sectors, groups or departments.
Ok, so now we’ve begun to create a cohesive team. There isn’t a lot you can do about their lives outside the box you call the workplace but try and be accommodating when you can. Like Jim whose son was diagnosed with Leukemia. Talk to him. Let him know that you’re all there for him. If he needs time talk to the group and see if they can cover down for him until they get through this. You don’t have to go into detail, just say his son is really sick and we need to help him where we can. Ask him to talk to the group in the morning coffee start or call a group meeting impromptu. Those few minutes may make the difference between letting him go and making him an even more solid member of the team.
One more thing. If you have less than 50 people in your company, throw the damn time clock out. Tell them to write their time down. If they don’t get a lunch then pay them for it. Just write NL in that slot. Here’s my point. I was never a clock watcher. I may have a time out at 5 PM but the job I’m doing doesn’t get done until 5:10. I’m not mercenary; it’s still 5 PM on my out. I’m good with that. But when I’m stuck in traffic and come in at 8:13 I don’t want to be reamed for it. If it’s an everyday thing then a conversation needs to happen; Perhaps changing the schedule from 8 to 8:30 for that person. And if you do this, round up to the next half hour. Guy gets done at 5:13 look at him and say, “Looks like a 5:30 out.” You will be amazed at the loyalty that will buy. Don’t do that and you’ll find him massaging a tool cleaning it up staring at the clock waiting for 5:17 to get the extra quarter hour. So why not give it to him and reap the loyalty. It will be worth more tenfold. And when you see them leaving for the day, stop tem, tell them they did good today. If they didn’t then try and blame the work, “Hey, try not to let the day wreck your evening. That one was a can of worms. Tomorrow’s another day.” Seal it with a smile. Let them know you recognize their feelings and often frustration. Manage your people, they’re your most volatile and important resource.
And your entry level people. The ones who call off whenever the clouds to the east look like unicorns. Here’s how I handle them. I sit down and talk to them when I hire them, “Here’s how this works. I want to teach you more of this job so I can give you more money. This is what this job pays. It’s not very interesting or fun, that’s why we call it work. But before I invest in you I have to see that you’re invested in us. Just because your job is unskilled doesn’t mean we don’t depend on you. So your probation period is 90 days from the last time you called off. Until I can see that you can go 90 days without skipping work I’m not willing to teach you anything that can better place you in a position to make more money. Show up and do your job and we’ll see how it goes. It’s in your control. And if you call off more than three times in that 90 day period, it’s likely that I will start looking for a replacement unless there are some really uncontrollable circumstances. A no call no show means you walked out on your job. Even if you call later in the day, call. Because if you don’t you won’t have a job.”
Now, as a final word on this subject. Bigotry and racism have no place in the workplace. You can’t make them lose their bias but you can make them put it aside or leave. It’s the one thing you cannot tolerate in the workplace because to do so changes the value of a member of your team. And people will see that if you can devalue one, you can devalue them. So make it known you have a zero tolerance for such ignorant behavior. Nobody wants to look ignorant so stating it this way will cause peer pressure to help them overlook their prejudices; If it doesn’t then give them the boot. It’s important to set this example, that all will be protected equally, regardless of race religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. Additionally, if they can show bias for a team member you can bet it will flow over to the end client. Something that can cause huge waves of shit to wash over you and your brand.
Dating in the workplace is another thing that needs to be addressed. You as a manager are not exempt. Even if it doesn’t change the relationship at work it will give the appearance of it. No one who has control over another should be involved with each other. And of course no one in a terminus position either; Like the purchaser and the receiver.
Now the workplace. If the machine is important then get the damn thing fixed. The numbers are going to be hurt anyways, do it now so it can be making you money again. Its cost for repair or replacement far exceeds the initial costs. If you’re a chain, see if anyone else is having the same problem. It can be the excuse needed for the numbers and perhaps it will get a flag to the buyer to approach the vendor about compensation or reparations. The purchaser has the power if it’s a piece of crap. But don’t bug him if it’s not a common problem. You just got a Friday machine. They built it like there was a cold one waiting for them.
Make sure time is scheduled for a clean start each day by cleaning and organizing nightly.
Finding someone doing something right is motivation.
Training and damage costs a bundle. Employees screw up. That’s how it is. But if you fire them you’ve lost all that learning curve money. A glass shop will lose money on a trainee for the first three years. Break even the fourth and recoup their investment by the sixth and lose the employee the seventh. It’s a fact. At six years, they become proficient and can be lured away because their compensation multiplies 1.5 to 2 times because there is no loss on the training.
Making a goal with a tangible prize creates efficiency and profitization. Break down and budget once a month lunch. Buy pizza or lunch. Don’t forget the other shifts if you have them. Once a year at least, get together offsite for a picnic or some other event. Reward good behavior. Value your people, they keep you in business. How well they do that depends on you.
Making your company more profit while serving the customer is the current goal. Change that to include creating a pleasant place for your people to reside when they are providing for their lives.