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Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of The PCB Magazine.
One thing that is certain about every employee in your business is that he or she has opinions, problems, good ideas and conflicts with other employees; every employee also has a boss and needs a strategy to deal with just about every other aspect of the business. Another certainty is that most employees are never really heard by the leadership of the company. This gap of truthful communication can keep your company from being great--or even good. Often, leadership will claim they are listening, but employees may feel that their leaders really only hear what they want to hear. The problem with the truth is that it sometimes hurts and we know it, so we avoid it.
If only we could get to the truth without all of the emotional pain and baggage that comes along with it.
And what is the truth? Often, it’s that employees feel like co-workers are not doing a good job, or there are inefficiencies, or the boss is an asshole and that there are no real plans, teams direction or communication. Other times, the complaint is that the plans, direction or communication is all wrong, or there’s no training and the bosses don’t care or the tools need upgrading, and on and on it goes.
Bottom line: Employees need to be heard and listened to, even when their leaders may not want to hear it.
These truths are not something you learn from a suggestion box or water cooler gossip. In fact, the truth has to be something that is carefully learned because there tends to be a lot of emotion tied to it. The fact that people often feel like they are not heard or cared about increases the emotional intensity around any issue. This energy can become explosive and in that moment of intensity, people might yell, withdraw, lose respect for leadership or just leave their jobs all together. It really is a tough way to manage a business. Many business leaders are fine with the old adage of “my way or the highway,” but these people tend to struggle in running a truly successful business.
If you want a fear-based work environment marked by intimidation, a “my way or the highway” management style is fine. On the other hand, this old-school way of doing things simply won’t work if you want a company filled with caring, compassionate people who contribute to the wellbeing of the company and are truly happy. This is not to say that the leadership does not set the vision of the company; and, a strong vision is necessary. President John F. Kennedy shared a strong vision when he said that we were going to put a man on the moon. The vision was clear and everyone knew exactly what the direction was. The vision was also magnetic and exciting. It was something of which people really wanted to be a part.
Granted not all visions can be compared to going to the moon, but your vision can be compelling. Once you have shared it and people really get excited, your company begins to gain a reputation for being a great place to work and employment there becomes coveted. People long for a great place to work that offers an environment that is safe for them to be truthful and happy. Such a place helps people want to do a good job and helps the company reach its goals in a positive, loving way. These companies are typically the leaders in their industry and the world. Conversely, imagine if your company had the reputation of employees being so dissatisfied that they wanted to commit suicide. That is clearly a worst-case scenario, but there are companies out there like this—they do exist.
The performance and health of your company has to do with getting to the truth and then acting in a positive fashion to change systems. What you may find is that most of the issues people have are tied to systems, or the lack of defined systems. W. Edwards Deming, the foremost quality expert of the last century, said that in excess of 90% of all errors are caused by systems, not people. People really want to do a good job but the systems fail, making it look like people are failing. Then the manager attacks the person “at fault,” while ignoring the broken system. This is a truth that we see all of the time--and a common trap for leaders.
The question becomes, how do we get to the truth? Well, first you have to be ready to hear it and then you must be prepared not to react in a negative way. You have to be able to hear things that may seem very personal (like, the boss is on an island and is out of touch), which may make you very uncomfortable. However, to be a great company, you can’t avoid the truth forever. Many bosses, including owners and managers, think they know the truth, but most do not. Their defensive mechanism to protect their ego has kicked in so that they can avoid dealing with the real problems.
Once you are ready to hear the truth, you then need to create a safe environment for your team to share. In fact, in the first meetings you may not even be present. Remember, people will see the leadership as part of the problem and may have a tough time sharing their true thoughts if you are there. One recommendation I would make here is to bring in an expert who is not connected to the content of your business. This person should be an expert facilitator and systems thinker. One person I would recommend that we have worked with for more than 20 years is David Dibble. He has developed a process that works very well. Whether it is Dibble or someone else, don’t delay. The amount of waste that is present when the truth is ignored can add up fast and can be significant. Learning the truth definitely will help make your company much stronger, happier and, as a result, your profits will increase. This really is a competitive advantage that should not be ignored.
Please click here to learn about David Dibble’s improvement process. Barry Matties started in PCB manufacturing in the early 1980s. In 1987, he co-founded CircuiTree Magazine. Nearly 13 years later, Barry and business partner Ray Rasmussen sold CircuiTree as the leading publication in the industry. In the early 2000s, Barry and Ray joined forces again and acquired PCB007. Over the years, PCB007 has continued to grow and thrive. In July of 2010, Barry and Ray acquired SMT Magazine. With his many years of business leadership skills, Barry now produces this column for anyone who has a desire for success. The column relates 25 years of successful business leadership, including marketing and selling strategies that really work. Read a few and decide for yourself.