“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” ~ Steve Jobs
Now this guy was on to something. In the conversation with my friend I wrote about last week, we were talking about some of the aspects of his work environment that troubled him. In the discussion, he focused on respect, but he also kept saying that his management doesn’t listen. As I typically do, in true coaching fashion, I nudged him to say more about what that meant to him.
He laid out a few scenarios for me. In one case, he brought forward an idea to his manager which he knew would improve efficiency of the operation. He was told, “oh yeah, ok, I’ll bring it up to senior leadership.” My friend said, “yeah right, he didn’t bring it up to anyone.” So, I pressed him and asked, “well, how do you know that?” He was silent for a minute. Then he said, “well, I don’t know for sure, but I’ve done this many times in the past, and none of my ideas were implemented, so I’m pretty sure it goes nowhere. And I don’t trust the guy anyway.” Ouch.
Another time, my friend was asked to provide input into a system upgrade and implementation. Given that this directly impacted his work and, again, the efficiency of the daily operation, my friend took great care and spent much time detailing in spreadsheets the system requirements and flow of tasks and information that should be included. He was excited that he was asked for his ideas and was hopeful that the new system upgrade and implementation would fix many of the issues and workarounds he dealt with daily in trying to do his work.
The new system was rolled out. You guessed it: none of my friend’s input was included in the implementation. Neither were the recommendations of his colleagues. Depressing to know that you put time and effort into producing something that went nowhere, and you’re still stuck with the same old workarounds that sometimes add a whole day of wasted time to your workload. Ugh. Even worse, these workarounds are likely costing this company money, both in hard and soft savings.
The last example he gave me was from one of his staff. He has a long tenured employee working for him. When he was new as her manager, she half-heartedly brought up a suggestion for remedying a long-standing issue with a process. My friend was taken aback at what a great idea it was, and asked if she had brought it forward to leadership. His direct report shrugged and said, “why? They never listen to us anyway.” Again, ideas laying fallow which could increase revenue or reduce expenses.
Painful. I was literally shaking my head. Staff members closest to the operation have the solutions to problems and ideas for making the operation run better, not the folks in the C-Suite. They are the key to your organization’s success.
As a leader, have you seen this happen at your organization? Have you made some of these mistakes as a manager? There is nothing that kills employee morale and engagement faster than not feeling valued or heard. If no one is going to listen, if ideas from staff are not seriously considered, or if the loop is not closed about ideas that were brought forward, your staff are going to stop bringing ideas. They will have a “whatever” attitude about operational issues and adapt a “not my problem, I’m just here for the paycheck” perspective. Here’s how to prevent that from happening:
- Welcome ideas and problems brought to you by staff. Thank them for coming to you. Get out a notepad, iPad, or whatever you use to take notes and ask them to tell you more. Make them feel valued.
- When you ask for staff input, use it. There is nothing worse than being asked to provide guidance on how to build a system, rework a process or design a new product only to see that nothing you’ve put forward made it into the final product. How would that make you feel?
- If ideas can’t be implemented or problems can’t be fixed now, talk with the staff member. Sit down with them. Thank them for caring enough to come to you. Explain the “why” behind the decision. People are more likely to buy in and trust you if they know you are communicating with them honestly, even if it isn’t good news. Encourage them to keep coming back to you. Tell them you will continue to advocate for their ideas and will do your part to raise system issues.
- Then do it. Be an advocate for your staff. Make the case to your higher ups about why your staff’s changes should be written into the new system design. Work the numbers to show why your team member’s idea is cost effective, even when money may have to be spent in the short term. Show the ROI for increased employee morale and engagement when problems are addressed and staff don’t have to burn hours or days doing workarounds. Be a leader.