Personal Consulting and Coaching

Don’t Use “The Office” as Your Model for Workplace Culture: Know and Appreciate What Your Employees Bring to the Organization

When you’re the boss, you’re supposed to know what everyone does, and be able to connect it all to the big picture.

Sure, the organizational chart is definitely worth a look. After all, someone did take the trouble to make it, and it actually is important to know how upper management sees the responsibility structure within which you’re being paid to function.

But, for the frontline manager, reality on-the-ground is the real key, and what you most want to focus your curiosity and attention on. Part of it is observation, but most of it is “asking.” What do people really do for their day’s work? What are their responsibilities and the tasks associated with fulfilling them?

How boring and tedious? How pressured? Are there ongoing conversations about the work, the customers, the vendors? Is there occasional laughter floating around? Who seems to be having some fun? Do people make eye contact when they pass each other, and is there small talk at the copier or the water cooler? These are seemingly small, but very revealing, elements of your true workplace culture.

Usually people are delighted, even flattered, to be asked intelligent questions about their job. Even accounting for some over-selling of the significance of what they do, it’s good to get people to brag on themselves (and/or their co-workers) and to get slightly cranked up – it’s vital information.

Remember to ask people about their own paths. Where would they like to be in a year, five years? You may not be able to develop each employee to his or her maximum potential, but they notice right away whether you’re threatened by other peoples’ strengths, are prone to jealousy, and need to take credit. Nothing is better for the culture of a workplace than a sense that good work is truly appreciated, and that there’s actual support for someone looking to move up and/or out to bigger and better things.

Ask about the training. Is it useful and relevant to what’s being asked of particular specialties, as well as the employees overall? How about communication? Where are the logjams? Who decides what gets communicated with what equipment and technology? How do you prefer to be communicated with?

You get the idea. Not that you can waltz in and turn it all around. At least at first, you have what you have. So it’s really important that you perceive as accurately as possible what it is that you’re really dealing with, so that what you then decide to do is based in good measure on your own take on reality.

That gets sensed. There’s no getting away from your employees’ skepticism as well as their needs. They’re looking to see if you’re going to be good to work for. Everybody schmoozes at first, but even so, they’re gauging how real you are. They need reassurance of basic decency and respect, but they also need to see that you know what you’re doing, and that it connects to the reality they know.

Yes, sometimes it feels like a whole lot of people have issues with authority and play it out in their relationship with their boss at work. That’s probably not going away anytime soon, which is why it takes some courage to be a good supervisor. Quite honestly, though, it’s mostly about keeping your concentration.

Know the job, know your people. They’ll trust you. It works.

Shaun Kieran

(207) 767-3864

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