Saturday, August 03, 2013

What Makes a Good Workplace? Part-2

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Item 1: "I know what is expected of me at work."
Expectations are the milestones against which we test our progress. Within the workplace, knowing what is expected can be viewed as the pathway that guides us toward achievement. If expectations are not clear, we are hesitant, indecisive, and unsure of ourselves. The importance of properly setting expectations for employees is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization. The objective of the research was to identify the consistent dimensions of quality workplaces (those in which four critical outcomes-employee retention, customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability-are all at high levels). The research identified 12 dimensions that consistently correlate with these 4 outcomes-dimensions Gallup now uses to measure the health of a workplace. An associated research effort, in which Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers, focused on discovering what great managers do to create quality workplaces.

Setting clear expectations is not a new concept for managers. In our attempts to set and define clear expectations, however, we often over-operationalize jobs. We put all of the focus on describing the steps to follow, and in doing so create an environment that communicates, "Check your mind at the door, follow these steps, and you will meet expectations." This roboticizing of humans builds little self-worth and self-confidence, and dramatically impairs quality output. When defining steps becomes the focus, setting expectations then becomes a question of how to control employees, rather than of how to guide very different people with very different styles toward productive outcomes.

So, how does a manager, who is held accountable for a team's performance, set expectations? The best managers tell us they define the right outcomes first, and then let each person find his or her own route toward those outcomes. This approach resolves the manager's dilemma. It allows for growth of the individual to occur via the individual's discovery of his or her own "path of least resistance." It appreciates and values differences between employee styles and flow, and allows individuals to use their strengths to their fullest potential.

This approach also encourages employees to take responsibility. Great managers want each employee to feel a certain amount of tension to achieve. Defining the right outcomes creates that tension and the thrill and pressure of being out there by oneself, having a very definite target. It is recognized and understood that every job has a certain number of steps associated with it. Some jobs have more of them than others do. The question is, do the steps support a clear perspective on the particular outcomes that are desired? Many times, the steps actually obscure the outcome, and the result is mere activity that has no broader purpose.

Item 2: "I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right."
We have all been in the position of having an expectation put on us and not having had the tools necessary to achieve it. This is a very frustrating position to be in. The importance of employees feeling that they have the materials and equipment they need to do their jobs right is one of the 12 key discoveries from the multiyear research effort.

The challenge we face in providing the necessary tools in the workplace is how to appropriately match individuals with a wide range of skills and knowledge with the right tools to maximise their potential. If this matching is not thoroughly examined, there can be great cost for the individual, the organisation, or both. Many organisations, for example, have come into the computer era boldly and rapidly. Salespeople have been supplied with laptop computers with the idea that computers will help them better manage time, keep accounts organised, communicate with the home office, and so on. But many salespeople don't use them. Companies tend to view this lack of usage as a training issue. So they send the salespeople off to computer school to build a comfort level with computers, and their salespeople end up using them to play solitaire. In other words, sometimes we give people materials and equipment they actually don't need to do their job right.

There is also another issue measured by this item. In today's non-hierarchical, flat organization, employees are looking around for clues that define where they stand in the social order of things. Materials and "stuff" have become those clues. So, a manager may receive an employee request to put a conference table in the employee's office, only to discover that the main reason given is "because Julie has a conference table in her office, and I am as important as she is." here is, therefore, a relational component to this item as well.

The best managers shift the decision to the employee. They provide criteria for employees to use in making decisions such as, how is this new tool or piece of equipment going to help:

· you as an employee
· our company
· our customers
This broadens the perspective of the employee, expands clarification on desired outcomes, and builds better communication between individuals and managers. It also takes the manager out of the traditional "parent" role and allows for true ownership and accountability.

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