I work a lot with companies that want to improve their cultures. In general terms, they want to remove friction. Like in physics, friction is wasted energy. So I’m there to minimize the amount of energy expended in friction between employees or departments, or through confusion and complexity, so that the maximum amount of the employee’s energy is being used to propel either the business and/or the employee forward.
In the vast majority of cases all competing businesses generally have the same tools and resources, so the real difference will be in how the people are managed. We’ve all walked into fast food outlets and seen the difference between good and bad management. It can be the same overall company, and yet one location is clean, fast and friendly, and another is slow, dirty and disorganized. And virtually 100% of the difference will be in the management.
It’s funny to me how many times managers will assume I’m going to use some form of measurement to assess their ability. They think I’ll look at their sales, or their productivity, or their adherence to rules etc. But just because a manager has decent numbers doesn’t mean there isn’t headroom. Because he or she is number one doesn’t mean that there’s not loads of room to improve. But how do we find this headroom?
The answer is: we ask the people. Why would we only use the manager’s brain to develop solutions to challenges? That’s only one perspective. Only one set of experiences. Rather than a manager formulating an idea and then selling it to his staff, better that the many brains of the staff work out the solution with the manager leading the discussion.
It’s much like with training. 95% of training supposes. It imagines what the employees want to know rather than asking them. If you want to know what would allow your employees to be more successful at work, ask them. If they don’t know the answer to that question, then make sure the asking is being done well, and if you’re still not getting good answers then maybe that’s not an ideal employee because you want people who are enacting, rather than stifling, the natural desire to grow and expand.
Weaker managers often get quite concerned when they learn I’ll be letting their employees tell me know how well things are running. Stronger managers find the practice only makes sense for the precise reason noted above—the only real difference between one competing company and another is their employees. Steel will do what steel will do. The same with water or electricity or any other commodity. All of the flexibility exists within the people. If you want to know if there’s room to improve you have to consult the people.
Part of the problem is that some management strongly resists working so closely with employees because they have historically seen themselves as a higher echelon, further up the pyramid of employees. In reality, a better metaphor might be that the employees are the parts of an engine that do the work, and the managers are the mechanics that keeps it all running. They’re not there to tell the engine what to do. They’re there to make sure the engine is well lubricated with positive feelings, that it’s got all of the appropriate parts, that it’s tuned up with information and training, and finally that it is operated safely, responsibly and successfully.
In the end, the way to remove friction is easy. Create an environment where suggestions and frustrations are met with openness, and where dialogue can lead to change. With some exceptions, complaints by employees should be viewed as opportunities for the business to succeed even more.
Maybe it’s by helping the employee to understand that their legitimate frustration is there only because it prevents a much larger frustration, or maybe it’s through making changes that make the employee happier and the company more successful. Either way, less energy gets spent on friction and more gets spent on the creation of value. And that’s the real secret to success in business.
Enjoy your day.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.