Monday, January 26, 2009

It's Time for Managers to Get Weird


I feel for managers these days, I really do. Or, at least I feel for the good managers. The evil troll managers I don't really think about too much, because they're going to get theirs one day no matter what I think about them.

But the good managers -- those men and women who are trying to hold it together when it feels like the entire workplace is a huge Titanic without Leonardo DiCaprio to at least provide a distraction from the looming iceberg -- I feel for what they're going through.

I know they're losing sleep. They're worried about their job, sure, but they're worried about dozens or even hundreds of others. The good managers know their people really well. They know who has health problems and can't afford to lose insurance coverage. They know who is struggling to pay a mortgage with a kid in college and they know who is a single parent with no help.

So, they go into work every day trying to stay calm and rational and upbeat. They're trying to keep frightened and disillusioned employees on track, trying everything to keep employees feeling creative and productive.

That's why it's time managers got a little weird.

Let me explain. I once interviewed a restaurant manager who needed to make sure employees were cleaning the place thoroughly, but knew that constant nagging would not help. In fact, it would probably just make workers annoyed and angry, or perhaps apathetic. Not a good thing when a health inspector was on the way.

So instead he devised a system where he stuck small colored stickers in various places around the eatery. Employees who cleaned well would soon find these stickers. And, by turning these stickers over to management, they gained a prize — and the restaurant gained quality work and a top-notch health inspection.

While such a practice sounds simple, many managers wouldn't even think of such a different approach to work. They simply keeping nagging employees — and losing morale and motivation in the process.

But if managers these days want to keep their best workers -- and that is another huge worry -- they've got to quit caring what someone else will think of their methods and just focus on getting people to do what they do best.

In other words, give the employees a reason to get out of bed in the morning and not worry about what may be around the corner. Someone else might think your methods are a bit weird, but hey, you're just being a good manager.

So here are some ideas given by other managers as a way to make a job more interesting and fun for a worker, while gaining higher productivity and quality work:

* Let them play.
Everyone knows that employees play solitaire on the computer, or some other kind of game. In fact, studies show that a little “down” time is good for recharging the batteries. So, why not devise internal company games that get employees to solve crosswords or anagrams or puzzles that have to do with company products or history? That way, employees are being educated while having fun.

* Put mentors in reverse:
It’s not only the older employees who have something to teach younger employees. Many younger workers can help older employees master some technology dilemmas through interactive sessions where information is shared in a relaxed way.

* Use training theater.
I learned that one manager feared that some of his younger male employees were being a little too forward with female customers, so instead of lecturing them, the manager had several male managers dress as women (heels, lipstick, dresses) and role-play with other male employees. It soon became apparent after the laughter died down that some behavior was not appropriate, and it brought the message home without pointing fingers.

* Take a road trip.
Take employees to visit a competitor and find out what the other business “does right.” Or, visit businesses known for their customer service, even if it’s not your particular industry. Many retailers are known for top service — ask employees what they noticed about how employees in these stores behaved.

*Put out the welcome mat:
Every month have one department hold an “open house” for others in the company. Handouts should be given telling what the department does, as well as a tour and narrative that gives information about how the department functions, who works there, etc. (It’s always a good idea to offer a little food and beverage — one company found a cotton candy machine to be a big hit.)

What are some other ways managers can help ease the stress and engage employees?



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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a really terrific article - and very timely!

Phyllis R. Neill, www.shementor.com

David Benjamin said...

Once again Anita you've written an outstanding post. Very timely and on point.

Other suggestion:

Try to have lunch scheduled at the same time for all employees (assuming company is not too big). Encourage everyone to bring lunch and eat in should there be proper accomodations.

Make sure the owners, managers, and all other key employees are present and involved. There are going to be occasions that logistically this is impossible but it builds great commradery.

Anita said...

Phyllis,
Thanks! I hope managers will see that it's not only good for employees -- but will be good for them, too.

Anita said...

David,
Great suggestion. I think very fondly of the lunches we had where we would try and work a Washington Post crossword puzzle as fast as we could. We would call out possible answers -- it often got really funny. Great way to relieve the stress and see one another in a new light.

MPC said...

Great article, I was a manger for years at a busy retail electronics store. My people were the key to constant success that my departments had. I knew every thing about me people, what they need to be motivated. Met most of their families and shared many friendly discussions on the floor.

Upper management insisted on me cracking down and micro managing each of my people. They did not care about the overall success of the departments and put intense amounts of pressure on me that I had to absorb so my team could enjoy their jobs.

When I finally could not take it any longer and left to start my own company upper management got their way. Within 1 year all of my team had moved on to other jobs claiming that things had changed to much.

Ultimately the departments that I managed slipped dramatically and the store manager ended up losing his position. The store manager being the one that was putting the pressure on to micro manage.

Karma I guess. Now I have my own company and I could not be happier. I even still keep in contact with a lot of the team that made my time as a manger so successful.

Anita said...

MPC,
I think some employees are unaware the pressures their managers are under, and how managers do their best to protect them. It's popular to talk about bad bosses, but the truth is, there are a lot of managers out there doing a great job and trying to balance the demands of staff and upper management. In this economic climate, their job has just gotten harder.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Dan Erwin said...

Anita: Thanks for emphasizing older mentors on the reverse track. I use Gen X and Gen Y input all the time. Their perspective, knowledge and insights differ from mine in often helpful ways. They also seem to enjoy feeding this codger helpful info.

I'd be lost without their input--and friendship.

Anita said...

Dan,
So glad to hear of your wonderful experiences. I've had the same, and really feel like so many people are missing out on this great chance to help one another.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Working Girl said...

To me the best thing a boss can do for employees is to (a) make job expectations perfectly clear and (b) give people the tools they need to fulfill those expectations.

In these dire times, an outstanding manager might also overtly help employees brainstorm ways to keep their jobs.....

Anita said...

Working Girl,
I think those are great suggestions, and hope all managers take them to heart. But I also hope that managers work hard to find ways to keep employees engaged and focused -- and they might have to use a little creativity (and a bit of weirdness) to do just that.

Stephen said...

Great and timely article.

Well written and some great ideas. Now if I can just find some way to get my boss to read it.

Anita said...

Stephen,
Well, if you send me his e-mail and I just forward him the link.....? :)

Mike Buckley said...

Anita,

I love the idea of "reverse mentoring". You can teach an old dog new tricks and the young pups are just the ones to do it.

Great post [as usual].

Mike Buckley

Anita said...

Michael,
Thanks for your kind words!
One of the things I love about working with younger employees is that they have such a fearlessness in their work -- they really are inspirational when they decide to take on a problem. I also love the fact that so many of them have taught me a much easier way of doing a task via technology.