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OTHER ITA SITES:
On Thursday, September 13, 2001, I went to facilitate a session with first line supervisors in a company for whom I had been consulting. It was the 6th week of a commitment of 10 weekly sessions.
Most of these supervisors had been promoted from a line position because they were good at their work, mature and smart. I was brought in to teach them better supervisory skills. Management expected them to produce more acceptable results. An earlier survey proved that business objectives and quotas weren't being met, and tardiness and absenteeism were unacceptably high. The company's managers saw this as a crisis and surmised that the first line supervisors weren't skilled enough to promote the company's mission, manage the workers or their work effectively.
The events of two days prior, the Tuesday we will all remember as 9/11, could not be ignored, so my first question to them was, "How is everyone?"
Everyone was all right and in attendance.
My second question was, "How did Tuesday go here at work?" I learned that at the highest level of management, the corporate office in another state, the priority was caring for the staff. They were allowed to take care of themselves and their family's needs first. The company’s long distance phone lines were open to anyone to call anywhere in the world to check on their loved ones. Televisions and radios were brought into central common areas and were left on all day. Staff freely came and went between their workspace, the TV areas, the phones or the rest area, at their will.
The staff went into great detail about their families and where they were and what was happening with each of them. They told me how much they appreciated the freedom that management gave them to cope.
I then asked, “With all that autonomy, how much work was done?” They looked at each other, and nodding in agreement, said, “Quotas were met or exceeded.”
The supportive reaction of management was out of the ordinary, actually, extraordinary. Staff in this company were always accountable to be in their seats at certain times, they followed rigid rules: no personal phone usage; personal belongings were not allowed in their work areas and on their desks; no calendars with pictures or graphics of any kind, no personal photos; and break and meal times were inflexible. All activities during work hours were normally dictated. There was very little staff self-management occurring in this company.
But in the throes of a dreadful world crisis on 9/11, management changed all the rules. They explained to staff that they had to stay open for business to answer incoming calls from their customers, so they asked their staff to stay and accommodated them in this unusual manner. They treated people respectfully, as responsible adults who were allowed to be accountable for their work while also taking care of themselves. There were numerous distractions from the work that staff were paid to do that day.
And quotas were met or surpassed. The differences were striking.
What part did a country in crisis play in productivity? Were staff just unusually patriotic about American productivity that day? How much was this unusual and unexpected accommodation of staff a contributing factor to the day’s business success?
Employees of this company will always remember and be grateful to their company for the fleeting demonstration of support in that time of incredible anguish and fear. But by the end of the 10 weeks that I worked with this group, all the old rules were back in place and the poor outcomes that required calling in a consultant in the first place, existed again. A month later, when our time together was up, no one was surprised or even questioned that quotas weren’t being met. I felt like I was in the twilight zone.
This example resolutely confirms that developing and supporting staff to be self-managed has an immediate positive effect on people, thereby creating positive business results. Treating people as if they are doing you a favor by being there, acknowledging their needs and helping to fulfill those, can be good for everyone.
We shouldn’t have to wait for a world crisis to have a workplace become a good, safe, healthy and health-full place to be.
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