Several years ago, we received a call from a friend. His family was moving into a new house that came with a cat and since they already had a cat, they wanted to make sure that they knew the best way to introduce the animals as to minimize the trauma. He and his wife had done their research by reading two different cat psychology books hoping to find the right method. They were calling us for advice because we have had several cats and the books had differing theories on how to handle the situation.
As you know, Uncle Casey grew up on a cattle ranch in Idaho and has a pretty pragmatic approach to life. His answer was short and to the point, “Hell, we just throw them in a room and let them figure it out.”
At this same time I had been dealing with a number of personality conflicts in my new team of sr. technical engineers. I had spent a good month trying different team building methods pulled from industry books and my graduate notes in the hopes of finding a resolution. I was sitting in my office listening to two of my most senior engineers argue when it dawned on me, I just needed to throw them in a room and let them figure it out. So I assigned them both to a shared workspace and told them I did not want to hear any more about it. Six months later they were upset when we were moving locations because it might mean they would not be working in the same area.
As a leader, it is easy to feel like you need to solve all of the problems your people bring to you. You do not! I have learned through experience that my interference in interpersonal problems often prolongs the issue. In addition, part of developing a high performing team is allowing them to, “Storm” and showing them how to solve problems on their own.
For the sake of your team and their personal development, don’t be afraid to, “…just throw them in a room and let them figure it out.”
I had accepted a position as VP of Customer Delivery with a software company and knew that I was there to address major service delivery and employee satisfaction issues. In the process of completing round tables with the staff, I learned that one of the key “itches” was a general feeling that management felt everyone was out to stiff the company. There was no trust between the employees and management.
Their specific example of this was that recent changes had been made to the time tracking and reporting system where the employee was automatically logged in and out of the system based on when they logged in and out of the phone system. In addition, if they made a mistake in logging in and out of the phone system, they were not allowed to make appropriate corrections to their timecard, only the managers could make changes.
So let’s look at how this works for the average technical support engineer. I come into work in the morning and log into the phone system to start work. So far so good. At lunch I have to log out of the system before going to lunch and because I have a meeting immediately following lunch, I forget to log back in and immediately go to the meeting. I get back to my desk and realize my very honest mistake, but I am not allowed to make the correction, nor is my immediate supervisor. I have to go up two layers and request that my supervisor’s manager makes the correction. The message is very clear, management does not trust you or your supervisor to be honest, in fact my employees felt as if they were being called, “Liar, Liar!”
When I followed up with HR and the time system administration team, I learned that there had been 2 employees, out of 850 US employees, who had been padding their time cards and had been caught by their supervisors in the audit process. So the team decided they could keep that from happening again by locking all employees and supervisors out of the system and only give managers the authority to make time card changes. Take note of, “…the road to hell is paved my good intentions…”
The result was that the employees and supervisors felt they were being called, “Liar!”, every time an honest mistake was made and the amount of time the managers spent on honest time card corrections increased to 10% of their work time. No one was happy.
This is where I developed my “99% rule”. It is based on my belief and experience that 99% of the world’s population tries to do the right thing and are not intentionally trying to screw anybody over. But that there is the 1% that is acting purposely. To focus only on the 1% and put rules in process in place as if all people act with intentional harm is insulting to the honest people out there and costly to the business. This does not mean I have become, “wussy” in my response to bad behavior. I have developed a stronger sense of tolerance for the, “honest”, mistake and NO tolerance for purposeful deceit.
Fire immediately if it is purposeful and train them if it is not. Lack of ethics is un-coachable, but the rest is worth your trust and investment. You will be amazed at the loyalty you get in return.
On my first day at a major auto manufacturer, I was handed a ticket to fly to Western Pennsylvania with the task to shut down the office of a software company we had bought and move the operations to Cleveland, Ohio. It was not easy to walk into that office for the first time as I was there to put most of the people there out of a job. I approached it with the belief that when treated with dignity and respect, people will respond with their best.
I met regularly with the team and individuals; I asked what they were worried about the most and what I could do to help them in their next career steps. Unexpectedly, their biggest concern was that we would take too long in moving the operations and leave them in a “morgue” waiting to die. The impacted teams and I approached the plan together. We laid out what we needed and then worked on meeting the joint objectives. Their needs were expedited closure, strong transitional support and a plan that ensured that their customers would be taken care of as the business was moved to the new location. The only difference between their needs list and mine, was that I needed to come in on budget. Because we were able to move the transition up, I was able to negotiate to have extra money committed to the closure invested in improved exit packages and support services. Because the employees had the input and support, they were strongly committed to training the new staff and completing the necessary transition documentation.
When we finally closed the offices and transitioned the business to Cleveland, I actually received several thank you notes for “treating them like human beings”.
Now for those who think a standard of treating all with dignity and respect is somewhat soft; this project was brought in early, under budget, and with an increase in customer satisfaction. (Mic Drop)