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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Do You Still Talk to Your People? Did You Ever Talk to Your People?

Some time ago I was asked by a client to undertake what he said was a rather sensitive assignment.  When I asked about the brief it really lived up to its description: “Morale is terrible and we need to know why”.

“Is that it?”  I asked

“That’s it” I was told: “Go and talk to everyone and find out what is going on”.

Notwithstanding that the directors should, I thought, be doing just that themselves, I started out to see if I could get to the bottom of the problem.

My first interview was with the longest serving employee, the Chief Buyer.  I should point out that the company was a very successful mail order business and good purchasing was at the heart of all they had accomplished. 

She told me that when the business has started up about six years previously, it was run by four directors and the aforesaid buyer, all working in one room and generating lots of energy and excitement.

She went on to say that things weren’t “like a family any more” and she was pretty unhappy.  She said that now, if her office door happens to be open and if the Managing Director happens to be passing and he happens to look in and see her, he may just give her a perfunctory wave before rushing on, and that is on a good day.

Of course, businesses grow and change but not always for the better.  The initial stages of a start up are genuinely exciting and everyone feels that they are a vital part of the growth and success.

Growth brings with it changes of roles and it is obvious that moving to conventional offices will generate a different atmosphere from the original five people in one room.  Cosiness and togetherness gives way to efficiency (sometimes).

I remembered the example of one of my Vistage members who religiously, every day, took at least an hour to go into the business, on to the shop floor, and just talk to the people.   The positive effect on morale was electric and measurable.

The fact is that no-one likes to feel rejected and the Chief Buyer was going through the trauma of feeling just that.  The fact was that she was still performing at a high level simply because she was dedicated and loyal, but without a lot of enthusiasm.

Of course, the answer lies not in the appointment of a clever consultant to dive in and sort out the problem.  It lies in the ability, indeed the willingness, of the management, from the top down, to relate to the people in the business and to talk to them like the human beings that they are.

Too often our people come in to work, take off their coats and hang them up, take off their brains and hang them up too until it’s time to go home when they put on their brains and their coats and leave.

Treat them like real human beings with feelings and interests outside the business and that dreadful feeling of rejection and disinterest on the part of the management will dissipate to the advantage of everyone.

Go talk to your people – you might just learn something.

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