If You Don’t Hear The Noise
If you don’t hear the “noise” in your organization, you aren’t listening!
Every organization has “noise”. I saw a pyramid chart the other day called the “Iceberg of Ignorance”, which would shock most business owners and/or executives. I’m inclined to rename it the “Iceberg of Arrogance”. The chart shows an iceberg and a waterline at 4%, illustrating what executives are able to see, further illustrating that 96% of the danger is present but out of sight. The chart then goes on to show the percentage that each next level in the organization are able to see all the way to the bottom. Yes, 100% of the problems are known at the lowest (staff) level. Why is this? In my opinion, executives simply are not listening, not asking the right questions, or the culture of the organization “filters” communication and does not allow information to make it to the top decision makers. In addition, over time, when employees are not listened to, they eventually stop talking. Communication requires a transmitter and a receiver. Eliminate one or the other and communication becomes impossible.
Early in my management career I was working for a manufacturing company. We were a remote plant with our company headquarters in the Northeast. Our management team was solid and worked well together. All our numbers indicated rapid growth and we were preparing to increase staffing by 15%, train the new workers, and arrange an increase of machine capacity by adding two 12-hour weekend shifts. As we were in our final stages to initiate our plan, we received a frantic communication (orders) from corporate to cut our workforce by about 20%. We questioned the orders and tried to explain that our numbers indicated otherwise, but no one at the top would listen. In our second attempt to explain, we were told to stop questioning and just do it. We did as we were told. We scheduled and held layoff meetings, created hardship for 20% of our workers, paid unemployment, and sent a message of uncertainty to the other 80%. A week and a half later we were told by corporate that the numbers now showed huge growth, to recall all the employees, and increase capacity by 15%. In the end we lost about 5% of our best young workers, the trust level and morale of most workers diminished, and we needed to schedule mandatory overtime for months to make up all the productivity losses. This proved to be too much for the workers and turnover rates skyrocketed. All of this could have been avoided if someone would have just allowed us to explain our numbers (which were spot-on), and truly listen.
Just by listening, asking better questions and actually clearing the smokescreens (sacred cows) from in front of our eyes, management and executives can identify many hidden costs. Remember, it may not be as much what we are doing, but more of what we are not doing.
Executives should encourage and reward open communication between supervisors, managers, directors and departments. It’s hard to validate the truth if you don’t hear the rumors. I’ve witnessed cases where the messenger was crucified when he should have been rewarded. These cases encouraged me to begin advocating for the messengers, asking for clarification, trying to understand the issues from all perspectives and passing the information upward. If you find that the information was not accurate you can use it as an opportunity to educate and “right” a situation before it explodes into a bigger issue.
Over my years in upper management I learned a few unconventional tricks which allow you to keep your ear on the track. Most of these have little to no cost.
• Park in the employee parking lot, enter through the employee entrance and walk through the general work areas. Take this twice-a-day opportunity to listen, watch and learn.
• Get your own coffee from the cafeteria. Listen at the water fountain!
• When scheduling a meeting or forming a committee, invite the opposition. Having them be part of the solution diminishes the chance of them being the problem.
• Make a point of taking an employee or supervisor out to lunch twice a month.
• You may not smoke, but that doesn’t stop you from visiting the smoking area.
• Don’t forget about the off-shifts. Bringing in some donuts to third shift could be priceless.
• Don’t just show interest in a new operation, stop and show interest in an employee.
In short, take off your armor (stuffy white shirt) and allow true open communication to penetrate. Trust me, it won’t hurt. It will actually feel very good!
Doug Pepin- Advise-HR LLC is a Business and Human Resources Consulting firm located in Stillwater, serving the Greater Twin Cities area. Doug works with clients who are serious about making ethical cost-saving improvements to their businesses resulting in increased productivity and compliant work practices.
For more information call (651) 888-1113 or visit advise-hr.com.