Managers from different divisions of the same company sat together in a workshop. At the break, the two headed for the snack tray, chatting about work. One complained about how difficult it is at the end of every month when he receives new material to process that contains a high percentage of less-usable content. The other apologized because he's the internal supplier. He provides the material to be processed including the less-usable content that comes with it. The supplier explained that he used to just pass everything on to be processed as it became available. But then their two bosses got together and directed him to hold back less-usable material until the end of the month.
The first manager's reaction was, "No! You've got to be kidding!" He explained that if the bad material is stretched out throughout the month, he could manage it by blending it with other, more usable, material. When he receives bad material all at once at the end of the month, he doesn't have anything to blend it with and it's a nightmare to manage. After discussing the matter, the second manager agreed to ship less-usable material throughout the month rather than hold it back to the end. What about their bosses? Well, they would let them know about it, later.
Besides the two managers who vetoed their bosses' decision in order to improve production results, a manager in this same company is obtaining remarkable results from his work team. This manager's team members have doubled their productivity in just a few years.
You might be wondering why you haven't read about this empowered, high-performance organization showcased in some progressive management magazine. Maybe that's because there's nothing really unique about it. You would probably consider it a typical company. It's described by employees as old-school and fairly autocratic. Most employees there don't know much about the business. They simply show up each day to do a job and get paid. Supervisors complain about employees, line workers gripe about bosses, and departments spar over space, equipment, and responsibilities. It's probably a lot like the company you work in. Like most businesses, however, it also has pockets of engaged and committed employees here and there who do exceptional things to keep the business running.
How do people keep a great attitude and put out their best day after day in a business that doesn't make it onto the Best Places to Work list? They simply choose to be a contributor. They know they can't control everything about the workplace, but they can control their own choices about how far they'll go to create more meaning for themselves and others when they come to work. So they choose to produce great results and help others do the same.
These remarkable employees have a simple formula. They don't let things they can't change become excuses that hold them back. They use business results as the basis for challenging bad decisions or practices and focus on where they can make a positive difference. The manager with the high-performing team treats team members with respect, never bullying or belittling them. He's upbeat and positive -- like the kind of person you would want coaching your child's tee ball team. He helps his team know what needs to be done, and why. He gives them plenty of latitude to decide how to do the work and he celebrates their successes with them.
It's not always easy. When he buys his team lunch or cold sodas as a nice "attaboy," his boss gives him a hard time. He says, "My boss doesn't get it." Unlike his boss, he knows team members aren't putting in extra effort because they want a free soda. They work hard for their own satisfaction and celebrate when they succeed. And the business gets a great payoff.
Research tells us these traits -- energetic, positive, bold, inspiring, and action-oriented -- can disappear from the right person working in a less-than-ideal environment. But it's not just about being the right person or being in the right place. There's a factor called choice that helps people engage and get better results even in a tough environment. So we don't have to wait for the workplace to change. We can choose anytime to develop those great employee traits that help us contribute and do what we can to help others choose the same for themselves.
Trying it on for fit:
List all the things you would like to do to contribute to the team or business unit you work in, but you believe you can't because your work environment (management, workplace culture, attitudes, practices) won't support them. Confront yourself as to whether or not the reasons you have for not contributing more represent true barriers. Make a list of actions you can take, regardless of circumstances, to help you set and achieve lofty goals that support your team and business unit. Add to your list actions to lift and invite others to choose greater contribution to the team or business.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!