Monday, June 26, 2000

The Success Coach

Making management worker-friendly

By Michael A. Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: I am president of a large energy company that has undergone massive changes in recent years. Not only have we had to cope with deregulation, but we've also had several mergers in just two years.

        It's been chaotic and often required a dictatorial presence just to ensure we remained legal. Now things seem to be settling down, but we're still seeing a lot of employee turnover.

        My human resources manager says people aren't happy with the management style at the company. I've always specialized in corporate mergers, so I haven't had the experience of “transitioning” a company to become more worker friendly. Where should I start?

        - Timothy

        Answer: Congratulations on recognizing the need for change at your company. As you've discovered, unique situations sometimes require that we just buckle down and get the job done. However, the dictatorial, military model of management rarely works during the long term if you want to continue growing the company.

        You need every bit of energy and creativity your employees can contribute to remain competitive in today's fast-moving, highly competi tive business world.

        Change will not occur overnight, no matter what you do. However, if you take the following steps, employees will notice the difference.

        „Build a core team of leaders in the company. These should be drawn from all ranks, not just top management. Choose the natural leaders as well as those in highly influential positions such as plant supervisors. Your job is to convince this group of the need for change and to agree on how the change will occur.

        „Communicate the importance of your vision. Make every employee responsible for the changes you will be implementing; your core team will simply be the role models. Explain how important this is to the company.

        „Listen to the employees. You've already begun this, but I'd encourage you to take it a step further. Take your leadership team out into the plant and all your peripheral offices. Hold meetings with all employees, reassuring them that there will be no repercussions for anything negative that's said. Announce an open-door policy and stick to it; listen to every idea that's presented without criticizing it.

        „Ensure respect for individuals. The major problem with a dictatorial workplace is that employees feel a total lack of respect. After all, even the smallest decisions were made for them. To turn this around, begin with praise and encouragement. Let each individual know how much he or she contributes to the company. When there is a problem, make it seem easy to correct by taking the attention off the individual and focusing it on the system that created the problem.

        „Create teams. Formerly, you wanted employees to be workers. Now you're asking them to be contributors. Create cross-functional work teams that meet to discuss and resolve problems in complete processes. The employees will not only begin to feel respected and valued, but they will also learn to trust their new co-workers.

        Of course, this is just the beginning. The most difficult challenge will be maintaining this new commitment to human relations as your company meets new crises. I encourage you to resist the temptation to revert to your old style, however. With perseverance, you will see great rewards from your efforts.


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- The Success Coach