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North Central Business Journal News

(July 2001 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

     Managers don’t have anything to show for their work.  They rarely create a product or deliver a service.  Instead, their task is to ensure that the product is created or the service delivered.  Managers usually are promoted to their position because they were exceptionally good at producing the product or delivering the service for which their company is known.  Once in the position of manager, they have a desire to maintain, or if possible improve, the quality of product or service. 

     Since they know how to do this exceptionally well, they tell their subordinates how to do things the best way.  If they are really lucky, their subordinates perform in the manner described.  Unfortunately, not all employees are like their managers.  Sometimes they skip steps or do things that are relatively unimportant in place of things that are of supreme importance.

     Managers will then redescribe the process they wished to be used by their employees.  Often, however, the employees continue skipping steps or rearranging priorities.  Mangers then become exasperated and angry.  They may resort to more drastic, harsh means of getting the employees to do as they are told.  The employees may then react in a defensive or hostile manner, often escalating to sabotage or termination.

     Nothing positive has been accomplished.  Instead, the situation is worse:   morale is low; tension and conflict are present; stress levels are high.  And the performance has not improved.

      Instead of expressing exasperation and anger when employees appear to refuse to follow directions, managers need to bring the employees into the loop.  Employees need to learn to think as the manager thinks, and to understand the job as the manager understands it.

     To bring the employees into the loop, managers need to start with the overall goal of their department.   The manager and the employees list all the tasks involved in the job.  The manager then asks the employees how each task facilitates the accomplishment of the goal.  If the employees don’t see the connection, the manager can explain.  This helps the employees see the bigger picture that is sometimes obscured by focusing only on the tasks at hand.  Then the manager guides the employees to prioritize the tasks with the ultimate goal in mind.   This helps the employees recognize that some tasks are essential and some tasks are only important, which enables the employees to make appropriate choices during crunch times. 

      Sometimes employees do have better ways of doing things.   If employees appear reluctant to follow prescribed steps or procedures, the manager can ask why the employee’s way is better at accomplishing the goal.  This demonstrates to the employee that he/she is recognized as someone who would attempt to do things better for the good of the company.  If the reason is an improvement, other employees can be taught to follow the new way. 

      On the other hand, many times because of the narrow focus of employees on their particular tasks, they may misunderstand the importance of a step or procedure.  After hearing the employee’s explanation, the manager can indicate how that step is essential to completing the goal.  Now the employee will most likely follow the procedure because it makes sense.  The manager will not need to closely supervise, because the employee will do things correctly whether the manager is around or not.    Morale will improve, respect will be enhanced, the employee’s performance will improve; the manager has something to show for his/her work.

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.

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