Productivity Knowledge Base: Case Histories
Express yourself productively|
Leon's business, which we will call ACME, Inc, was facing a crisis. Many of ACME's projects failed to complete on time, and employee turnover was high. Repeat business was more the exception than the rule, and referrals were neutral in tone. What was going on?
Reviewing ACME's operation on paper showed no weaknesses. He had clear procedures written for every major task. He had developed a training matrix, so his people were skilled. Wages were slightly above the prevailing rate for his location, benefits were good, and his policies were fair.
Interviews with Leon showed he understood the business. Interviews with his managers showed they understood the business. Inspections of a few randomly selected projects showed high quality work. Yet, something was driving this business down. Leon was very concerned about the downward slide, because he was approaching retirement.
"I've got two ex-wives to worry about, and I can't count on my kids to help. They don't even come around much, anymore." Hmm. Might this be a clue?
We went out to a job site with Leon, and noticed that he was ebullient with the employees. He was all smiles and he kept telling them what great work they were doing. But, I noticed they looked askance at us and at Leon. For some reason, there was a disconnect here.
When we made our report to Leon, we told him something was off but we couldn't identify what it was. Leon then gave us his own theories, and laid the blame on several of his key managers. "I have to visit every job to make sure things get done right."
We were flummoxed, and told Leon we'd like to take a couple of weeks to review our information and come back to him with recommendations. We then contacted another client of ours whom we felt could use Leon's services. They said yes. In fact, they had a need and just hadn't followed up on it. "Would you be able to let us know, confidentially, what you think of ACME, Inc.? We'd like to be able to refer them in the future. We've met the owner, but just haven't seen them in action."
The work was scheduled for Tuesday. Wednesday morning, we got a call from our other client, and then we knew exactly what was poisoning ACME, Inc.
Leon had developed some idiosyncrasies, over the years. And he would go ballistic on employees who "violated the rules." The problem was, these were "rules" he would develop out of thin air. For example, one employee delivered some boxes to the job site, and had written ACME, Inc. on the tops of each one so there would be no confusion. Leon railed on this employee about "handwritten sloppiness," called him stupid and lazy, and told him that could cost the company several hundred dollars on the project. Of course, none of these claims had any merit.
Now our challenge was on how to bring this subject up with Leon. Coincidentally, I ran over to a shopping mall the next night and there was Leon getting out of his van. I thought I'd walk up and say hello to him, and was on my way over there. I stopped dead in my tracks. Two pre-teen children were just getting out of the van, when Leon let loose a string of obscenities at them and began yelling at them for "wrecking" the door on his van. One child said, "But Grandpa, all I did was slide it open." Grandpa? He yelled at his grandchildren this way?
Then, he told both kids they were no good, and he wasn't going to take them shopping because they were spoiled brats who would amount to nothing. They got back in the van, and he was still yelling at them. "Now that you've wrecked my door, I can't afford to go shopping!" he screamed at them. They were crying as he slid the door shut behind them.
The next day, I visited Leon at his office. I knew he started at 0700 on the dot, so I was in the parking lot at quarter till. I saw him drive up, and I said, "Leon, you start at 6:30, don't you?" He corrected me, letting me know it was 7, not 6. Then I told him, "I wanted to talk to you over breakfast or just coffee. You fly, I buy." He agreed, and off we went in his van. Then I casually mentioned something about doors in vans, and how you have to be careful with them.
Leon said, "Are you kidding? These doors are really tough." After he parked, he showed me how tough his van doors were by opening and closing his several times.
I then told him about the scene I had witnessed the previous night. He said, "Well, they had their hands on the glass." I told Leon that fingerprints wipe off, but angry words don't.
I then related to him that no matter how important an issue is to you, there are productive and unproductive ways to express yourself. You can make whatever excuses you want, but the fact remains that how you make people feel is what they will remember--not the message you brought them.
Leon is an extreme case. What was driving his behavior was his own insecurity and his own feelings of loss of control. By diminishing another person, he was able to temporarily restore this control. But, that resulted in other problems that undermined his situation.
What is your case? Is it extreme? If not, that's good--but perhaps not good enough. Think about how you talk to people when you want to communicate that they aren't meeting your expectations. Are you showing that you respect them as people? If not, the only message they hear is that you are unreasonable.
If you make a point of showing other people respect, they will show you they are worthy of that respect. Rather than jump on them about an error--perceived or real--first determine if it's even worth mentioning. If it bothers you that this person did X, is there a real cost or is that feeling you have more a reflection on you than on that person?
Remember this axiom: "People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost."
If you do determine there's an error worth addressing, then address the behavior--not the person. If Steve is consistently late, don't say, "Steve, you are always late." This simply characterizes Steve. Instead, tell Steve something like, "It bothers me that you are late. I would like you to be on time. When can we work out a plan for you to follow so you are on time in the future?"
Focus on the positive--use positive reinforcement. Have you ever seen killer whales perform? They do some amazing stunts, don't they? Have you noticed their trainers get in the water with them? Now, think about this. Little puny human. Two-ton whale with lots of teeth. Do you think the trainers use positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement? "Go thou and do likewise."
You get productivity from people when you express yourself in a way that recognizes them as people and their contributions as important. Fail to do this, and you won't communicate. You will only alienate.
Disclaimer: In many cases, the names have been changed for various reasons. In no case are we publishing any case that sheds a negative light on any real person or company. Any negative comments related to the name of an actual person or company are purely coincidental.
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