My New Age Bosses Old Ways

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about managing: So what advice would you offer a manager that simply wishes to comply with company policy on the continuous improvement clause?

Short of writing a book, it is virtually impossible to express one’s personal work experience in enough detail to get the best answers for results. I commend your counseling efforts in this regard. I have worked for many, 20 plus, for employers over the past 28 years. For the past two years I have been an active manager in a manufacturing facility with 10 current employees. The department was created from a small transplanted company that was purchased more then 6 years ago.I was hired to start up and manage the operation with little if any guideline or objectives. Once in the current facility, I was placed under the supervision of the main shop’s superintendent and quickly sensed his ill feelings towards the added workload.

At a younger age, I am sure I would have already sought employment elsewhere instead of suffering the bruises on my forehead from beating my head against the wall. But as I grow older and wiser I feel a unique challenge in dealing with difficult situations. This business is family owned/operated, employing close to 200 and all managers above me have more then 40 years invested each.

Last year I was asked to attend five hours of a managers training course which I enjoyed. What I learned runs parallel to all that I have been studying for the past 15 years that contrasts a lot of upper management practices. I must admit that we have made some progress through my meager attempts to share information about 21 century management techniques. I diplomatically express my concerns that what worked 40 years ago may be causing employee turnover today.

It seems that my effort often falls on deaf ears. The saying, “you can’t teach old dog’s new tricks” is more apparent to me today then ever before. So what advice would you offer a manager that simply wishes to comply with company policy on the continuous improvement clause? Is it possible for a junior manager to change old practices without insulting superiors and allow them to save face in the process? I have been evaluated as being too soft, but my department continues to create more with less. Only when something goes wrong, missed deadline or something, I will be coached on how I should be tougher on my employees.

My purpose in life is to teach, lead by example and through strategically asked questions and discover the desires of others. I do not believe people should do what they do not want to do, thus creating a victim mentality. People don’t work for me; they work with me, and so even the dirty jobs get done with some sense of pride. I am fully aware of our evolutionary process in which we live. In training, I often use a metaphor such as the Grand Canyon was created by a drop of water circulating for billions of years. Things take time, change takes time but in another 40 years this will not matter to me. So I am searching for a balance in progress with some words of wisdom to encourage natural growth in older wiser men. Thank you in advance!

Signed, Managing With Older Owners

Dear Managing With Older Owners:

You strike me as wise beyond your years of experience, and I predict that you will be that Grand Canyon kind of leader who finds a way to weather and collaboratively make wherever you work a place that is better for all stakeholders. It is not apparent from the description of your situation exactly what are those events that you liken to “beating my head against the wall”. But it is obvious that you have felt thwarted in some of your efforts to create a more collaborative workplace and that in light of being evaluated as “soft” that you want to maintain, what I call a WEGO spirit while doing what is suggested by those who gave you that “soft” rating to earn their respect. Is that possible?

Possibly. might the key to doing that be to seeing those who have been around for many years as resources rather than as walls and barriers? You have asked what you might do to “balance . . .words of wisdom to encourage natural growth in older wiser men”? Is not the answer to that desire embedded in how you enlist the wisdom of those individual; seeing them as resources, engaging them in helping you manage? Working is a matter of reducing uncertainty in what to expect; uncertainty about who needs what from whom, when and where. Creating clarity of that can be viewed as giving clear instructions and checking for understanding but it can also be understood as a process of continuously engaging those involved from top to bottom in clarifying who needs what, etc.

Managing is also a process of finding significant metaphors. Union Carbide chose the “cutting waste” metaphor after its disastrous accident in India. I spoke with their managers of operations, safety and training who each told me how they engaged those in their charge to cut wasted supplies, time, paperwork, and energy. At Boeing they told me that the metaphor of “arthritis” signaled to their employees that theirs was an old company that had some weakens in its joints; and needed to find ways to lubricate their operations. Your brainstorming with older and wiser folks may find phrases that become significant motivators.

A collaborative workplace culture is not something that you can impose, rather it something that is as you suggest an on-going process. The stories that grow out of seeing conflict creatively are what will be passed on. Have you found Winning Workplaces a resource? It has many stories of small successful operations, some that your owners might find of interest if you shared them with them. As I said in my opening response to your query, you strike me as a wealth of wisdom and one who has the savvy to engage those at all levels in seeing your work place WEGO spirited. Do use our archives as a resource. Do take a few minutes from time to time to share what is going on with you. Do not take your self too seriously.

William Gorden