Less soul selling, more soul searching

The traditional way in which people look at their role in the organization creates problems. The most serious of which is that labor and management won't face up to the reality that Corporate America is not about taking care of people -- it's about taking care of business.

A significant number of people in today's workforce still view the corporation as their extended family, a place that will take care of them and provide a secure job until they reach retirement age and the pension kicks in.

Depending on corporate America to look after the financial needs of its workforce is not only outmoded and unreasonable, but it also conflicts with the dynamics of the modern economy.

In today's customer-driven marketplace a company must continually add quality and value to its products and services. If it can't reduce costs, attract customers and make a profit, it will cease to exist. And consequently, employees cannot expect to keep their jobs unless they take a more proactive role in the betterment of their company.

Whenever I talk to the employees in a struggling organization, I hear two recurring themes: (1) Whatever's wrong is not our fault; and (2) If there's a problem, go talk to management. These people fail to make any connection between the results of their efforts and their future with the company. They simply do not view themselves as responsible contributors with an active role to play in turning the company's fortunes around. Instead, they perceived themselves to be either victims or disinterested bystanders, expecting those in the ranks above them to take care of the problem.

Sadly, these same employees feel entitled to their jobs regardless of how much, if anything, they contribute to the firm's bottom-line.

Labor and management interactions

The life of any organization -- its principles, ethics, style, values and morality -- is shaped by the interactions between labor and management. In analyzing what is likely to hamper these interactions, we can identify two sets of problems: one centered around management and the other on employees.

Employee-centered problems

  • Few companies ever take the time to teach employees how to communicate with management in a constructive manner.

  • Hourly workers are too frequently on the receiving end of poorly implemented change strategies that are revised or replaced so often they make no sense.

  • New hires are expected to work together and build teams on their own with little or no help from management.

  • Employees are seldom exposed to problem solving and conflict resolution methodologies as part of their formal job training.

  • Employees who lack relationship-building abilities tend to concentrate on each other rather than the task at hand.

    Management-center problems

  • Managers are too often unapproachable, hard to locate, or otherwise make it difficult for subordinates to communicate with them in a timely fashion.

  • Managers talk about teamwork and expect their subordinates to work in teams, but seldom work in teams or act in a team-like manner themselves.

  • Giving timely evaluations, addressing poor performers, and correcting inappropriate behavior are job factors that managers too often avoid and seldom perform well.

  • The importance of delegation is frequently disparaged or given only token support by those managers who still find it hard to give up the old command and control system.

  • Fielding complaints, being open to criticism, and communicating negative information in a constructive way are managerial skills that are highly valued but rarely practiced.

    What we need is less soul selling and more soul searching. In other words, we must change the way corporate American works.

    But, you may ask, can something be done that will make a difference and not cost a ton of money? And, more importantly, can a change of this magnitude be brought about without disrupting the workflow?

    The answer to both concerns is yes. I believe there's a lot you can do that won't take a long time or require a heavy cash investment either. All it requires is for your organization to stop pitting management and labor against each other. By joining forces the Me-ness that's there now can quickly be replaced by a We-ness that fosters collaboration.

    Your company would benefit greatly if labor and management were to see themselves less as opposing forces and more as collaborators. A good way to impart this attitude is to tackle the two lists cited above. The needs and wants of your managers and employees should be the same -- to do good work and to prosper as a result.

    Jones is a Fresno-based management consultant and author of "Help! I'm Surrounded By Idiots" and "If It's Broken, You Can Fix It."

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