In any company, the front office does not have a monopoly on brains and ideas, but for some reason we think that once someone crosses the line into the front office, they are the only ones who can think. Too many times, we want people to just “shut up and do their job.” Often, managers of companies do not care enough to ask the people on the lines their opinion on how things should work.
No matter what a manager’s previous job was, too many think they are now the self-proclaimed expert on anything and everything. Combine that with the insecurity of “imposter syndrome” felt by many managers/leaders, and you have a self-imposed impasse when it comes to managers working alongside line workers, making sure everyone is doing what’s best for the company.
Instead of creating an “us vs. them” company culture, remember this: Whether you employ 10, 50, or 500, every single person adds to the company’s brain trust. They all have something to contribute, something that will make your company better.
The true job of a manager/leader is to see that brain trust as a corporate asset and make the most out of it. It’s an opportunity to build people as you build your company. In my mind, everybody wins. You do this by finding innovative and creative ways to engage your staff, gathering their thoughts and suggestions on how you can make your company better. It is the path to greatness.
I grew up surrounded by men and women, my aunts and uncles, who were production workers in textile mills and shoe shops. They were treated poorly, to say the least, as chattel, as second-class citizens. They knew they had to toe the line and to treat their bosses with respect or they would be out on their keisters.
Back then, there was nothing worse than their fear of being unemployed. As I child, I would sit and listen to these working adults in my family when we’d gather on Sunday afternoon, talking about how their bosses did not have a clue how their department was run and how there were many more things that could be done to make the operation better. More than once, I heard stories about giving suggestions to their bosses about how to make their departments function better, only to be told, “Shut up and get back to work,” and that they were “paid to work their machine and not think.”
Can you imagine? Thankfully, times are really different now, aren’t they? I would be quite surprised if someone who made a suggestion was told to “shut up and get back to work,” made to feel like their only task is to run the machine and offer nothing else. We live in more politically correct times, and we don’t talk to people that way. But then again, in a kinder and subtler way, the line workers are still being told the same thing. It just looks a little different.
I am not saying we should be taking advantage of our corporate brain trust to make our workers feel good about themselves and their jobs (although that is an excellent by-product). I am saying that 50 brains are better than one and that 500 brains are better than 10.
Your people are smart. They have a lot of good ideas. Everyone who works on the other side of that proverbial wall knows something you don’t about their job, their department, and their company. If you don’t agree with that statement, then you’re just the one I should be talking to.
For example, nobody knows more about their job than the person doing that job. You must assume that she is the “expert” on performing her daily duties, so why not tap into her knowledge when trying to make that job and department better. Multiply that idea and spread it to the entire company by letting your expert line workers have a place at the idea table. You will be a better company in the end.
Pay attention to the people who work for your company. Talk to them individually and discover more about them. Get to know them, and what they are good at—in the company as well as outside their jobs. Ask them about their hobbies and interests. What organizations do they belong to and what is their role there? You’ll be amazed at the talent these folks have. In many cases, those talents could be put to good use in your company.
As managers, we must understand that our people are our greatest resource. We want to encourage that resource for the good of the individual and the company. A brain is a terrible thing to waste. Truly catastrophic, if I’m being honest. If you’re not doing it already, start talking to your people today and using those resources.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.