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My father (Rich) and I (Jen) are, obviously and literally, from different generations and thus have different perspectives on many, many topics. In many ways, certainly not all, we represent a small slice of the broad spectrum of people working in our industry. This diversity of personalities and views may be more wide-ranging than ever in our industry’s history. We believe the companies that embrace this breadth of backgrounds — ages and ideas — within reason, will prosper while those companies who irrationally espouse, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” will suffer as the world passes them by. Don’t get us wrong, we aggressively resist change for change’s sake and recommend a basic return on investment (ROI) thought process as changes are contemplated. Managing a diverse group of ages, backgrounds, ideas and personal goals will be the proverbial circus of challenges. At the heart of success will be refocusing on the basics of setting goals and expectations for employees, customers and the company as a whole. (As always, review all personnel activities with your labor attorney.)
So, here are some thoughts on all of it:
People come to work to do a good job…but need direction more than ever. For many years, we have asserted that most people in our industry come to work every day to do a good job. We sometimes get misplaced souls from other industries who are on a different trajectory, but mostly people in our industry are there to work hard. Further, we have suggested that one of management’s key roles is to clearly explain what a “good job” is. Without that information, sincere people left to their own devices will make something up and then march forward to their personal definition of good job. Less sincere folks will creatively goof off.
The company must define, for each role in the company, what constitutes a good job. Depending upon the role and the individual, the “definition” should be consistent and communicated properly to the individual. Some people are capable of digesting written directions requiring that they infer information required to do their job. Others may require that a task be demonstrated, possibly several times, in order to get the training to stick. Failure to understand this human reality can be the difference between slotting people into productive roles in the company as quickly as possible and having an employee fizzle out.
Why is this more important than ever? Some statistics show that fewer people than ever are entering the workforce with any sort of working experience. In the past, many kids worked summer jobs or had part time jobs while in high school or college. In some cases, they are too busy with “activities” to get any work experience. While “activities” broaden a person, the reality of holding down a job are vastly different so as you hire new people into the team, your company may be required to teach them the basics of holding a job.
Managers/supervisors mostly get that title because they lead a group of people. When managers are sidetracked from this leadership responsibility, their team wanders off trying to look busy. The better ones will make up their own job definition that may or may not have anything to do with the company’s needs, goals and directions.
On a past assignment, Rich encountered a lost soul who, in the absence of any direction from his supervisor, envisioned a “good job” to be the creation of the best, in his own not so humble opinion, product possible. Further, over time he had come to think that the company had no right to limit his creativity or otherwise prevent him from doing, what he defined as, the best possible job. As you might have guessed, the products he designed were so expensive that nobody could ever afford them. Without getting into details, he would have been inventing $100 hamburgers. Not a bad person, just misguided energy in need of a leader to focus the zeal on the right work. This story has a sad ending. Because the guy had operated without guidance for a while, he had developed some bad habits and attitudes. When his new supervisor tried to get him refocused, he resisted all efforts to get him back into creating products that the company could sell. Had an engaged supervisor set proper expectations from the beginning, we think this guy could have been a good member of the product team.
Pre-employment testing is still mandatory in our minds. This helps to ensure that you are bringing in good quality people for your team. In an environment of low unemployment, it will be even more critical to know if an available person is a gem or a goof before investing in the significant training required in our industry. Someone who tests well may not work out, but at least you know they have the intellect to succeed before you hire them.
Everything is being recorded. We have suggested that your team records (in their head) every interaction that occurs in the course of business. They watch what the management team and executives do like hawks. These are powerful mental “videos” for training them how they are to act and interact within the company. They undercut all formal training that you have or will provide to your people. When the “walk” and the “talk” don’t match up, they believe the “walk”. Since managers and executives are the stars of these ongoing mental training videos, they must be cognizant of their actions every day. They also must be aware of their inactions in the course of business. Also remember, sometimes it’s being recorded on someone’s phone to be used against you in court or on the news.
Not everything in life is fun. In our business, we are seeing a trend as we hire people that some of the new entrants to the workforce think that all of life must be fun and if it isn’t fun they shouldn’t have to do it. As we hire them, we try to set an expectation of what the job will entail and what we will want them to do. Some candidates opt out when we mention that we don’t want them texting, shopping, playing Candy Crush or updating their Facebook page while on the clock. Set the right expectations from the beginning.
Employee’s lives are complicated. Many families have lots of moving parts and configurations: one or more adult with each holding one or more job; one or more children; one or more pets; and one or more extended family member. Not everything fits into the traditional 9-5 schedule. Progressive companies understand and support this reality. This gives those companies access to multidimensional people. This cannot be an excuse for poor job performance. When people need to schedule out-of-office time, they should be obligated to get the time approved, work to make sure their post is properly filled and to make up the time in terms of projects and schedules. Part of having a good position in a company is feeling responsible for getting tasks done. When you allow people to “game” your flexibility, it demotivates the good hard-working members of your team.
Respect has always been important, but it is now required. Years ago we saw a cartoon taped above a manager’s desk with a large, menacing gorilla. The caption read: “When I want your opinion, I will beat it out of you.” Over the years, we have witnessed companies that operated with an atmosphere of terror and disrespect. Yelling, swearing, insulting and disparaging were the order of the day. To question or resist the bad treatment was likely to get you fired. The best companies in the future will have a basic culture of respect at all levels and in all directions. Respect should be afforded to employees, suppliers and to customers. Bullies should not be tolerated.
As we write this, Hollywood seems to be having daily disclosures of inexcusable behavior by famous people. Making this even worse, are the disclosures that many people knew of these problems and did nothing. To be clear, we’re not talking about the victims, but the others who watched it or suspected it and did nothing. Years ago, we encountered a “bully” purchasing agent whose reputation was to jerk salespeople around until they were in tears. Companies who permit this kind of behavior are sending a powerful message to the rest of the team about respect. Everyone in the company knew what this guy was doing, but nobody said or did anything.
Semi-tasking and the myth of multitasking. The availability of handheld devices and laptops has created, in some people’s minds, the false idea that people can multitask even though there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Witness the growing number of states addressing the growing accident rate among distracted drivers. We think the truth is that people are “semi-tasking” where they are somewhat engaged in several tasks, partly paying attention to each of them. This leads to lower productivity and engagement in the task at hand. What if you held a meeting where everybody came, but nobody was paying attention?
Engagement in meetings. We recently went out to dinner at family restaurant and as we looked around the room, we noticed a now-all-too-familiar sight, most of the adults of the families were heads-down in their mobile device. Many of the couples were in a similar posture. We are not judging anyone. In fact, we hope they are busying buying products from our customers through our mobile solution. What people do in their personal lives is their business. We wonder if the children were asked to draw a picture of their parents, if they would draw a picture of the top of their head.
We believe a stated company policy that prohibits use of electronic devices while driving on company business is a significant, important safety issue. A stated policy on electronics in meetings might be appropriate too. More and more we are seeing participants bring their phones or laptops to all meetings so they may continue to semi-task.
Person-to-person, face-to-face interactions. With all the electronic communication tools, it has become quite easy to avoid personal contact with employees, suppliers and customers. While technically you can do this, you lose a ton of valuable information in the process.
This is just our starter list to remind you about some of the basics to keep on keeping on as you continue to evolve with the industry and the world.