Humans are complicated. While some of our base emotions and behaviors are easy to understand, there are times when we appear to make irrational decisions when faced with personal change. For example, behavioral economists have identified a specific instance when we apparently place a very different value on something depending upon whether we own it or not. Consider the following scenario.
Imagine a team performed an analysis on the layout of a work area. The team concluded that a significant amount of waste of motion and waste of transportation would be removed if the work stations in the cell are re-arranged. With a proposed new floor layout, each of the operators would walk shorter distances as they moved among the stations. It would make it easier for them to accomplish their work each day. The location of the new work stations would be comparable in every way to the existing workstations – tools, space, lighting, climate, proximity to the work. This sounds like a positive outcome for everyone!
However, when the proposed plan is shared with the crew, it is met with surprising resistance by some of the operators. This would seem to be an illogical decision. These operators would rather walk further (and therefore work harder) than accept these minor personal changes to their work flow! How can this be?
Harry couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was shift change. Rob was leaving the locker room and headed toward the operating floor. His colorful athletic shoes were in stark contrast to the soiled and well-worn boots of the other guys around him.
Rob gave a slight nod of his head as he approached Harry, one of the shift supervisors.
“Hey, Harry. Did the machine run well on first shift? I sure hope I’m not walking into a mess in there. After last week, I was hoping for a routine day at work.”
Harry wasn’t in the mood for small talk. He just pointed down at Rob’s shoes and asked abruptly, “Speaking of walking, what are you thinking? You know everyone is required to wear steel-toed shoes. No exceptions!”
“Oh, those,” Rob countered, a little taken aback by Harry’s tone. “Let me explain…”
Harry interrupted him. “No explanation needed. It’s black and white. Either you are wearing the right shoes or not. And those are definitely NOT work shoes!”
“I know that,” Rob responded, the volume of his voice rising to match Harry’s. “I was just going to…”
Harry raised his hand and stopped Rob again. “Look, you’re not going anywhere near the operating floor with those on your feet. So either borrow a pair of shoes – or go home and get some proper foot protection – ‘cause you are not working today unless you have them.”
Rob crossed his arms and glared at Harry. “Can you take one minute and listen?”
Change is hard. Leading others through change can be a daunting
challenge. However, if leaders understand and apply some basic principles, even large organizations can be re-aligned and move in a different direction.
I was thinking about this as I watched a video about operating a large rail yard. I noticed that when an engine hooked up to a long train of cars, the engineer did not simply pull forward after it was coupled. Instead, he backed up first. Then, he slowly accelerated forward. By backing up, the couplings between each rail car were compressed. As a result, when the engine started forward, there was a small amount of slack in the couplings between each car. When the engine started moving forward it was pulling (for an instant) just one car – then two cars, then three cars, and so on.
By following this procedure, the engine was able to eventually pull several hundred cars. If the engineer did not back up first, he would have to pull all the cars at the same time. The total weight of a long train would cause even the strongest engine to lose traction and spin its wheels.
All of us know about the importance of giving and receiving feedback. If the goal is improved behavior or performance, effective and timely feedback is essential. Most of what we read on this topic is focused on how to give feedback. There is considerably less advice on how to get useful feedback from others.
Most of us are not well equipped to receive feedback in a way that encourages people to be truthful. The person giving the feedback can easily be dissuaded from sharing the truth with you. The difference between receiving qualified feedback versus unvarnished feedback is determined by your reactions to the person who is giving the feedback. Without an honest assessment, it is difficult to change our personal behaviors that target our weaknesses.
Peter Bergman recently summarized some key actions that the receiver of feedback can take which will significantly increase the likelihood that the feedback will be useful. According to Bergman, there are five ways that we can improve the way that we receive feedback.
It’s a sad truth about the workplace: Just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.
According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways. These employees are negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year.
What’s the reason for the widespread employee disengagement? According to Gallup, poor leadership is a key cause.
Richard Sheridan, Founder of Menlo Innovations, describes an antidote for this lack of enthusiasm. He claims that “joy” is what is missing from the workplace. In a recent interview, Sheridan spoke about some of the ways that he purposely designed joy into the way that people work.
In what situation are you likely to hear someone ask this question? Perhaps an associate in a retail clothing store would use this phrase to offer some assistance. You could hear this phrase from a librarian while looking for a book or reference. Maybe you have called a customer service number to ask about a recent purchase.
However, would you expect your manager to inquire, “How can I help?” when you walked into his or her office? I wouldn’t.
Equally important, do you use this question as the opening for many of the discussions with your co-workers or those who report to you? Upon reflection, I only occasionally offered these words to my direct reports during the course of my career.