Now Serving… Wait a Minute, Who are We Serving?May 10, 2022
Periodically, a parade of managers would gather around those nifty bulletin boards I mentioned last time and they’d expect the area lead person to give them a run down of everything that was plotted on all the charts they were supposed to be updating each hour. In the cases where the lead had actually updated the charts AND things were indeed going according to plan, the production manager would pat the lead on the butt and tell them “Good game.” Just kidding! To the best of my knowledge, no pats were given - at least not during those parades… If everything was on track though, and none of the managers chose to emphasize how important they were, the area lead may have actually walked away from the exchange feeling decent about themselves. But even then, I’m not sure they were ever provided with any real understanding of how their work impacted anyone. And I can say with a high degree of certainty that the rest of the folks working in that area, the ones whose effort was shown on those charts, rarely got any feedback about how their work made a difference!
If you’ve never worked in a factory setting, this may be tough to picture… I remember my first several months in manufacturing; standing in the same square of concrete for 10 straight hours, seeing but not really being able to communicate with the few people anywhere nearby, and doing the same thing over and over and over again. That was a HUGE change from the carpentry work had done for years leading up to it. And while the grocery store I had worked in through high school was inside, I still had a lot of interaction with people as well as a fair amount of variety in the tasks I performed. Even with those differences, the most difficult thing to wrap my head around was not having a clear understanding of how what I was doing made any real difference. As a carpenter, I could see the finished structure and usually knew the people living in it or using it. In the grocery store, it was abundantly clear how the merchandise I stocked on the shelves would be used once the customer took it home (with a few weird exceptions). But stamping a metal blank into a specific shape that would go through several more processes before it ever made its way into a box or into a customer’s hand? The impact I had was much harder to get my head around…
Understand me here though! I’m not suggesting that one line of work is any more or any less important to society. If there’s no value in a given industry, it can only stay afloat so long. Well, unless the gubermint steps in to fund it with our tax dollars - then no one seems to care but I’ll fight the urge to continue down that path.
The key we need to keep in mind as leaders, regardless of the industry we’re in, is that our team members deserve to have a crystal-clear understanding of exactly how the work we’ve tasked them with makes a difference; they should be completely aware of who benefits from their effort! When we provide that kind of clarity, the chances that working for us sucks drop significantly. In the odd case where someone just doesn’t connect with the purpose our work serves, they don’t have to guess about it. Openness about the impact we make from the beginning will eliminate most of it, but it will also help make it extremely clear when the fit just isn’t right.
Let’s be honest, neither of these things require earth-shaking effort. But they do require intentionality! And when we put them into practice, we fill a huge void for our team members. Then if we add one more thing, we may truly move well beyond providing a job that sucks to creating a positive work environment! Doing that might not get rid of all the Help Wanted signs, but it will certainly go a long way toward getting rid of the one in front of where each of us lead teams so we’ll wrap this all up with that next time!