Archive for Topics and Issues — People

418 — Building Independence by Self-Shrinking a Large Group to a Working Team

The workplace is filled with opportunities to tap into the spirit of Independence, a powerful value that runs deep in every individual and throughout our nation. Engaging this spirit is highly motivating, as the following story shows.

I grew up in Australia, not knowing the meaning of the Fourth of July. Recently I moved to the small town of Larkspur just north of San Francisco where I regularly enjoyed our hometown Independence Day parade — a delightful expression of grass-roots America. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died just hours apart on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, a major life achievement for Adams and Jefferson, capped the long effort of the colony to break free from the oppressive, often authoritarian control of England.

History is filled with stories of oppressed people struggling for their independence. Modern corporations can tap into that same spirit we each share — to be independent adults, free-thinking, responsible, valued and creative.

An Opportunity for Employee Independence

In a California unionized facility of a national company, I worked with the managers to establish employee problem-solving teams. One particular issue — Forced Work at Weekends — was contentious and divisive. Some employees liked the overtime pay. Many hated the disruptions to their family life. Management invited volunteers to form an employee group to study the issue and develop alternatives.

Twenty-four people volunteered. Management decided to select twelve people as a workable group. I suggested they facilitate a problem-solving meeting with the volunteers with the subject, “Reduce the 24 volunteers to a working group of 12 people.” The management team was skeptical that the first-line employees could successfully reduce their group’s size. However they had already accepted the logic of the cultural Golden Rule: “If people are affected by a decision, they should be involved in it.” Because it was my suggestion, and because the meeting was potentially difficult, they asked me to facilitate the discussion.

Creating an Effective, Self-Determined Work Group, or “Look, We Shrank Ourselves!”

All 24 volunteers came and I outlined a process they could use to cut their numbers. “First, you decide on your selection criteria. Then you vote and rank order everyone against the criteria. You take the top 12 and see if they are OK. The results are in your hands.”

Everyone agreed and I could tell they were very excited by the sense of control they would have over this decision. The criteria they listed were fairly straightforward. The final group should represent:

    • Each department.
    • Different age groups.
    • People who want to work weekends and people who don’t.
    • People who are angry and outspoken and people who will speak up for others.

I passed out copies of a sheet of paper with everyone’s name on it and asked them to keep their selection criteria in mind while privately ranking their top 12 candidates. This took 10 minutes or so. I tallied the results and made a copy for each person. I asked them to look at their selection of top 12 vote getters and compare them against their selection criteria, “If we go with those top 12, do they represent the areas you said should be represented?” The response was a resounding “Absolutely!”

Everyone left the meeting surprised, impressed, proud, and pleased with what they had accomplished. Those who did not make the cut may have been disappointed, but because they were part of the decision, they were very satisfied with the result.

Management was more than pleased

The management team’s response to the 12 names was; “That is an exceptionally good group. We couldn’t have done better ourselves. If we had done the selection, there would have been a lot of opposition to our decision, particularly from those not chosen. I think we’ll use this process again.”

cc 418 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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420 — Trust: People Won’t Speak Up at Meetings

A site visitor sent this email.

Barry,

I am a Logistics Manager at a bulky waste removal & recycling company. I manage guys in the field as well as the day-to-day stuff of the company. Every Monday (without fail) I hold a meeting to “get stuff on the table” as well as motivate the guys. I seem, though, to be running out of things to go over with them. The job is not complex, but does require labor and common sense as well as customer service. The guys are great. I have no complaints. I just can’t seem to find anything to go over continually with them. When I ask them what I can do to help them, or any suggestions, my questions are returned with answers of “Everything’s fine” or “No Complaints”. I constantly extend my appreciation for the wonderful job that they do daily, and do not take them for granted. I tried a motivational video, but it was extremely complex. I want to present fun, exciting things for them, so they can get amped up. I want them to view their day-to-day activities as challenges. Do you have any ideas?? I would appreciate anything that you can think of.
Thanks so much!
Darlene

Silence in Meetings A Common Problem

Dear Darlene,

I want to congratulate you on holding regular meetings. Even if people stay silent, keep it up.

The problem you face, getting the guys to talk up, is very common. I have spent many hours with groups of first-line employees in the recycling business. I think I know just what you are talking about. You have to be very patient and persistent. Eventually some of them will speak out, and that will be enough. There will always be some who will remain silent, and that’s OK.

There are two topics I have used to get people to speak up — and eventually “amped up” as you say. One area is Safety — “What can we do to make things safer around here?” The other area is Improvements — “What can we do to make things work better around here?” or, “What would make your job simpler and easier?”

Use the Four-Step Decision Process

I like to use the four-step decision process. The first step is “Describing the Situation, Issue, or Problem”. You might tell the group at one Monday meeting that at the next meeting you want to talk about any issue they have, or might want to discuss in the areas of Safety, Improvements, Problems, Making Work Easier, or Anything Else that is important to them. Tell them than next Monday you want to make a list of all the things they can think of, the longer the better.

Set the Stage.

During the week, talk individually with as many crew members as you can about the upcoming meeting and their work experiences. You might even consider doing one or two “Interviews” every week. Do what you can to encourage them to think about issues and problems before the meeting, and to understand that you value their experience and ideas, that you do want them to speak up at the meeting. Don’t wait until the meeting. Do a lot of one-on-one preparation. Lay the groundwork.

Use a Flip Chart

I always use a flip chart in these meetings to write-down what people have to say. Flip charts may seem low-tech or old fashioned, but they fit well with many field situations. Without publicly recording what each person says, too much is lost, and people may not believe that you really heard what they said.

Use their own words and check with them to make sure you got their idea correctly. I usually go around the group, one person at a time, so that everybody knows I will be asking him or her to speak up. Only allow one idea per person until everyone has had a chance to speak. Otherwise one or two people will dominate, and everyone else’s mind will go out the window. There is no hiding, everyone will be asked, and anything that is said will be written down, including negative comments. (That really gets people’s attention when you write-down negative comments, including cuss words. When you do that they know you are really serious about listening and valuing what they have to say. It also makes people laugh, which always helps.) Whatever anyone says is OK. I don’t make any comment about what people say except, “Did I get that right?” and, “Anything else to add?” and “Next!”

One Step at a Time

It is quite enough at one meeting to make a list of the issues, or problems, or situations. You might even say that, “Today we will just list issues. Next week we will look at your suggestions to change them.” I recommend that at the end of your meeting you do a quick Plus-Delta. This is the best way to improve meetings and show people that you value their suggestions. Start the next meeting by putting the Plus Delta sheet on the wall. Say what you have done to keep the good parts and make the changes they suggested.

If you use a flip chart, you can help the group and yourself by saying something open, inviting, and candid, e.g. “I’m new at this and I don’t spell very well. When I make a mistake, those of you who are good spellers, please tell me. I’ll need your help to make this work. This is new for all of us.”

Connect to Job Security

You might discuss the idea that constant improvement is essential for the company to stay in business, and for them to keep their jobs. The competition is always becoming more efficient and so must your company. It’s not just about efficiency. It’s about making everything work more smoothly and easily for them, and having fun doing it. They are closest to the job and maybe to customers. They know what needs to be done. Your job is to help them say what they know and act on it.

Dealing With Difficult People

Sometimes groups have one or two people who intimidate everybody else into acting sullen and hostile. These people discourage cooperation with management. They are afraid of being open but their fear is hidden to them. They act it out by mocking those who speak up and cooperate. These are the employees who are so toxic that the work group would be better off paying them to stay home.

With a little luck these sullen naysayers will eventually turn around, or leave, when other members of the group take them aside at a break, or even in a meeting, and tell him that they have had enough of their negative behavior, “Knock it off!” Peer pressure is more effective than anything you could ever do as a manager. All you need to do is keep providing the opportunity for people to be open, participative, and cooperative.

Rely on Your People — They Want You to Succeed

If people in your group are not speaking up and participating, it is not because they don’t want to. Almost everybody wants to be an active and valued member off his or her work group, to have a good day, and to go home feeling that he or she has been productive and constructive. If you are persistent you will tap into this basic human desire. People want to have a great workplace. They will eventually get on the train — as long as you keep the door open.

cc 420 — Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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419 — Reduce Turnover, Improve Retention, in Retail

Strengthening relationships improves retention and improves all performance measures.

Employees will leave if they imagine that the grass is greener on the other side. Your grass is the greenest if it meets people’s needs. Perks can’t do this, they only touch the surface. What people want is a workplace where they are treated with respect as equals, where they feel appreciated — that is, the kind of workplace we all like.

For decades employee surveys show that people stay because of these things, and more or less in this order:

1. Feel valued
2. Recognition
3. Challenging job
4. Career opportunities
5. Relationships with managers
6. Friendships with colleagues
7. Money
8. Benefits

The Cost of Turnover

Turnover is very expensive. HR managers generally agree that it costs at least half of an employee’s annual earnings (including benefits), to replace that employee. For high-level managers it may be twice the annual salary.

With today’s high unemployment, the churning turnover rates of the .com years is a distant memory. But many companies still have high turnover, with the same high price tag it has always had. This is acute in retail and service sectors. Wages are low, and many employees see little difference between a job in Walmart and one in McDonald’s or Safeway.

The Uninviting Workplace

Retail companies, expecting high turnover and low commitment from new employees, sometimes cut their financial commitment to the new hire. For example they may sit the prospective employee in front of a self-paced computer-training program, to minimize expensive person-to-person time. The low expectation is reinforced on both sides. Some potential employees walk out of the training at mid point, not even making it through day-one on the job. Once on the job, the new employee may face a supervisor who thinks, “I’ll minimize my time with you, because you won’t be here long.” The result is just what you would expect — high turnover.

Example —Build Relationships with Customers and Employees

A regional retailer knew that it should improve customer relations. Senior management agreed on a goal; create the kind of in-store experience that customers would want to repeat and hopefully repeat often. Focusing on the customer’s experience redefined the store employee’s job. For example, the check out clerk’s job had been, “Check-out the customer.” Now it became, “Create a satisfying customer experience by how you check them out.”

One Conversation at a Time

At a monthly meeting with 12 of this company’s store managers, we helped them discuss the relationship between the employee’s experience and the customer’s experience. The managers saw a connection between satisfied customers and satisfied employees. “How do we create satisfied employees, so they create satisfied customers?”  The managers came up with many ideas to improve relationships with employees. One way was to get to know their employees better — sit down and have a conversation, mostly not about work. See “The Cultural Interview”

The Results

Four weeks later, the same group of store managers met to discuss what they had done. We heard from each manager. One said he’d had four new hires after our last meeting. He talked with each one on their first day, for about 40 minutes, and got to know each of them personally. He met again with each individually the next week, for about ten minutes, and did the same each of the following two weeks.

I was amazed at the response of the other managers in the room. Leaning forward in their chairs, listening intently, they were obviously hearing more than was being said. I eventually asked, “What am I missing?” A manager replied, “After four weeks he still has the four new employees.” I asked, “Would you have less?” “Yeah, like none or maybe one.” Around the room they all nodded.

It was obvious that those other managers saw the “Interview” as an idea they would use. They agreed that not only would it increase retention, but would improve the new employee’s attitude, and probably the attitude of other employees as well. Certainly the customer would experience the benefits of happy, satisfied, and committed employees. As they say, “You care for me and I’ll care for you.”

Build That Special Company

Building better personal relationships, and a more satisfying workplace, can distinguish you from other companies. It is good for morale and turnover. Proud employees are wonderful sales people. Customers like companies where employees enjoy their work. They come back — often.

Exit interviews reveal that the single biggest reason employees leave is a poor relationship with their immediate supervisor. A simple conversation can change that.

cc 419 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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