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People aren’t pieces – on management

Don’t ask an employee an opinion if they can’t say no. It is a waste of time and fools them into thinking that management cares. When they realize that their answer meant nothing and wasn’t considered, they will feel betrayed. Then they won’t trust anything else that comes from management, and the team isn’t a team anymore.

Sometimes the employee realizes that the only answer that is acceptable is “Yes, that is a great idea!” even if they know it is a terrible one. Sometimes it is simpler to go along and pretend that it is going to work out even if you know from years of experience that it is not. If you argue, you are the squeaky wheel, and you won’t get grease, you’ll get the axe.

Now, nobody wants a curmudgeon. Management doesn’t like an employee who fights against change just because it is change. But we all hate “Yes-men” as well. We hate people who agree to anything just to suck up. So there has to be a middle ground.

Working together on a project as a group is important. We all have to be rowing in the same direction if we want the boat to go straight. We’ll be dead in the water if the people doing the rowing (the workers, not the management) don’t know where they are going. If they feel betrayed and lost enough, they might be actively working against the change. It is up to the leader to earn the trust of the team, rather than just crack the whip.

New managers would do well to take time to get to know the rhythms and patterns of the departments they are assigned to lead. If they have never done the job that their team does, they need to do it. They need to see for themselves what works and what doesn’t. They also need to show the team that they know what they are talking about. No team member trusts a manager who gives directions who doesn’t know how to do their job.

If the manager has done the job that their underlings are doing, but at another building, she needs to come at it with fresh eyes. Different franchises do things different ways, even if they are supposed to do them the same. Sometimes the different ways are better. Sometimes they make more sense for that location. Saying “But we did it this way at my old place” will only get more pushback, because you aren’t there anymore.

One of the fastest ways to ruin trust is to start making big changes right away without consulting the people who have been there a long time. They know from experience what will work and what won’t. They are also the people who are going to have to implement those changes, so they need to be in agreement with them or they won’t get done. If they can’t understand them, they will be unable to do them. If the new changes are impossible to do then they won’t happen either. Management can’t know what won’t work if they don’t allow employees to be honest, or do the same job as the employee. You can’t change a boat’s direction midstream without people falling into the water and drowning.

It is important to remember that people spend more time at work than they do at home. Most of the hours spent at home are asleep, so they don’t count. 40 hours a week with people you didn’t choose to be with is hard. Changes made to the workflow, environment, or polices at the workplace are far-reaching. They affect the morale and psyche of the employees, especially if they have been there a long time. It is the same as going into a person’s house and redecorating without their permission. They won’t know where anything is. They won’t feel settled. They won’t know their place. Then, instead of improving workflow, you’ve just halted it.

Big changes can result in trauma. Trauma occurs when something huge and unexpected happens that feels unfair and unjust. Everything that you knew to be true is now up for grabs. Nothing makes sense. There is a sense of betrayal and loss of trust. People who are experiencing trauma feel like ships lost at sea, with no guidance and no security.

A good manager, like a good captain of a ship, gets everybody working together and in the same direction. It takes time to build up that level of trust. People don’t respect the title or the position. They respect the person – and they can’t respect what they don’t know. They need to know that you are fair, you can be trusted, and you know what you are asking them to do. They need to know that the changes you are asking them to implement are necessary and helpful and not arbitrary. They need to know that their opinion, experience, and input matters. Mostly, they need to be treated as unique and important people, and not cogs in a machine. People aren’t pieces.

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