In the early seventies, I worked as a performance improvement consultant in many manufacturing facilities across America. One thing I heard repeatedly from frontline employees was stories about company founders that visited the plant every day. The founder would stop and talk with everyone. Employees would say, “He knew the names of everyone who worked here. He knew the names of employees’ wives and children. He knew the histories of their lives.”
Employees talked about this person fondly; his behavior encouraged them to do their best – not because of production goals or financial encouragements, but because they were performing in the context of friendship and mutual respect. Talking and listening to employees communicates and encourages a bond; the bond is one surrounding the accomplishment of performance objectives important to the success of the company.
I also consulted in plants where employees would say, “I haven’t had a conversation with my supervisor in 5 years.” I remember these quotes because I was shocked by the statements. The employees that made these types of comments were disengaged from the company. They performed as automatons; not concerned about quality or production or safety. They knew that any extra effort they exhibited would be ignored. The identification of problems or any ideas that would improve the manufacturing process would not be encouraged – not even listened to.
Now, in the 21st Century, you would think that ideas of “employee engagement, total rewards, employee participation,” would preclude any of the distant behavior that worked against peak employee performance. Your thinking would be wrong. Even today there are managers and supervisors who cannot or do not have a respectful dialog with their employees; who are negative verbally and emotionally; who only talk with employees when there is a problem. The harmful behaviors are still present in the workplace.
We are an organization of behavioral psychologists whose mission is to create organizational cultures that facilitate optimum human performance in quality and safety. Most companies are looking for technologies that will improve the organizations performance and subsequently the bottom line. Social technology is overlooked; the topic is foreign to most managers. Dealing with people at work is a science; behavioral science says that respectful discussion about the work is germaine to enabling an employee’s motivation to perform at his or her best.
Employees need attention to create a sense of personal value and to instill a sense of value to the company and its performance objectives. Additionally, acknowledging behavior that contributes to performance enhances an employees desire to do more. Simple statements like, “I saw that you jumped in to help Jim when he was falling behind yesterday; he told me he appreciated it.” Or, “That idea you had about a way to reduce the number of off-quality compressors worked extremely well.”
Many who read this will say, “We are already aware of the importance of treating people with respect, emotional intelligence, and positive reinforcement.” To those readers I say, “wonderful.” To those who acknowledge that the behaviors that encourage people to do their best are absent from management priorities, I would ask them to read some of my blogs that discuss the influence management dialogs have on engagement and performance. So much of our lives are spent at work; why can’t it be a positive experience for everyone?