Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dissecting Dissatisfaction

Do you remember your parents being this unhappy? When you walk the length of the cubicle aisles at your company, it may not be your imagination if you think people are looking a little more down at the mouth. For much of today's workforce, labor complaints of long hours, unsafe conditions, and low pay have given way to frustration about glass ceilings, poor leadership, lack of tolerance for self-expression, and a feeling of being undervalued, according to Craig Ross, president, and Steven Vannoy, CEO, of Pathways to Leadership Inc., and coauthors of the book, "Stomp the Elephant in the Office: Put an End to the Toxic Workplace, Get More Done—and Be Excited About Work Again." Here's some of what Ross and Vannoy notice about a possible dissatisfaction trend:

• "We have Undergone Wholesale Changes In a Generation," says Vannoy. "Our parents and grandparents were the beneficiaries of early century labor struggles: Many of them felt fortunate to have a good job and spent their careers working for the same employer. Today's workers don't have the same mentality and expect more from their chosen vocations."

Current American Workers Grew Up In a Culture Offering Wide Personal Freedoms and an Expressive Voice in almost every aspect of their lives—except the workplace. "They won't hesitate to leave for greener pastures if they feel undervalued, disrespected, or unfulfilled," says Vannoy. "Or, worse yet," he offers, "they won't leave at all, and instead will take out their frustration on customers."

Our Dissatisfaction Problem Stems from the Culture We Created, says Ross. "Too many companies tout 'their people' as their greatest asset. But for the vast majority, their people are actually their greatest weakness. The problem is American workers bring phenomenal skills, experience, perspective, and creativity to the workplace, but those qualities are rarely acknowledged or nurtured by managers. Employee frustration is bleeding over into their attitudes and actions in the workplace."

Many of You Don't Realize How Dire the Situation Is, adds Ross. "The American workplace is toxic, and business leaders simply don't get it," he stresses. "The human potential and creativity being lost every day in America is staggering. Imagine if 1 percent of the ideas, improvements, and solutions swimming in the minds of our workers were acknowledged, considered, and implemented. Our world would change in remarkable ways, and America would gain a huge economic advantage."

But take Heart, There's No Such Thing As a Bad Worker, Ross asserts. We all want to be great. He says true leadership is not about motivating workers, but about helping them be great by nurturing their gifts. Companies that find creative ways to involve their employees, and make them a part of decisions and solutions, reap big rewards. Those that don't simply won't be able to compete.

In a Good Organization, There Is No "Them"

In a Good Organization, There Is No "Them"

In a viable organization, there is no "them." Everyone in the organization is a part of "us," and should be treated accordingly. If a clerical worker knows something that might help the CEO make better decisions for the company, the CEO wants to know about it. If the person who empties the waste baskets spots a problem the vice president for marketing ought to know about, the vice president for marketing wants to know about it. There should be no royalty in a company, and there should be no peasants.

In some places, salaried professionals look down their noses at hourly employees. They fail to recognize the levels of skill, intelligence and diligence required to perform the basic tasks that keep us in business. Professionals who take this attitude are closing their eyes and ears to a fertile source of excellent ideas.

The people who know most about what customers want are the people who are in daily contact with the customers. The people who know best how to operate our equipment are the people who operate it daily. When management fails to recognize the value and merit of these people, it's not the employees who are inferior; it's the management.

So it's important that the people at the top of the corporate chart learn to listen to those in the lower echelons. It's also important that the people in the lower levels receive feedback from the top.

Employees need to know how well they are doing and in what areas they need to improve. The ability to offer constructive feedback is essential for managers, supervisors and team members in quality-oriented participative management.

Effective feedback takes into consideration the environment in which an individual is working and how the individual's job relates to the team and to the corporate mission. It lets employees know what they are doing right and what changes they need to make to enhance their effectiveness.

Corporations that give managers and supervisors responsibility for evaluating and appraising employees without teaching them how to coach and counsel will get the kind of quality you get when you turn a bull loose in a china shop.

When employees feel free to share their ideas -- and their complaints -- with managers and supervisors, and when managers and supervisors skillfully share corporate thinking with those who report to them, the lines between "us" and "them" begin to fade. You no longer have an organization of competing interests, but a boundaryless corporation that all stakeholders can feel that they're a part of.