By Natalia Torres Molina
There is one trend in every workplace today regardless of what your company or organization does, what industry you are in, or what your role is. It is the expectation that all employees, both management and non-management, do more with less.
The jargon of the day calls this “operational effectiveness” and it refers to any number of business or operational practices that allow an organization to better utilize its inputs. Generally speaking, it means finding ways to produce more and/or better results at a lower cost.
Unfortunately, all too often, managers can actually nulify their own efforts to improve operational effectiveness because they focus too much on systems, processes, and other non-human aspects of the production process while over-looking the human component. The real-world example below illustrates this.
Offer your employees quality time and they will give you quality work
A manager was approached by an employee that the manager really considered to be a star-player and top performer. In fact, the manager often encouraged this employee to move into a management role. The employee, however, had significantly different career aspirations. The employee’s family situation had changed and she now had two young children that she wanted to spend more time with. She approached the manager to propose that she reduce her work time to 80% of what would be considered “full-time”. The employee had already spoken to her coworker (there were two of them that shared the same role) to confirm that the 20% reduction would not negatively impact the level of service provided by the duo to the patients nor would it put excessive strain on the coworker who would have to take on a slightly greater workload. In fact, the coworker supported the employee’s decision completely.
When the manager was first approached, her immediate response was “no”. She listed a number of reasons why it couldn’t work, the single greatest was that the manager didn’t want to lose the productive time of the employee. The unit was already running very lean under previous operational effectivess initiatives and the manager didn’t feel the unit could accomplish its objectives if it lost 20% of the employee’s time.
Companies that exploit get exploited
The effect on this top performing employee was an immediate drop in loyalty to the hospital, a reduction in work effort (she stopped going above and beyond and “just did her job”), and an overall reduction in productivity, relative to her previous levels (she was still meeting her required performance levels). So, in an effort to avoid a perceived 20% productivity drop, the manager was actually losing far more.
This is just one example of how a manager’s attempts to maximize operational effectiveness in the department or workplace may be inadvertently at the expense of the effectiveness of their individual employees. However, this isn’t to say that a manager should accommodate every employee request either. The key lies in the simple phrase “If I Can, I Will“. This short yet powerful phrase should replace the instantaneous and automatic “no” that many managers often fall back to when any request is made. “If I Can, I Will” says to the employee that their concerns, ideas, and well-being matter and are worthy of further investigation. It tells the employee that the company and the manager is dedicated to making the employee’s work experience as positive as possible. It says “if I can find a way to make this work, you are valuable enough that I will do it!”.
Of course, the critical next step is to actually investigate (without bias) if and how the request can be accommodated without have any negative impact on the operations and performance of the unit, department, or company. However, as the saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” (note: we are in no way endorsing violence to our small furry feline friends). In other words, look at the “how do we make it work” from all angles and involve the employee and even their co-worker in the brainstorming. By involving the employee making the request, even if the final conclusion is that the request cannot be accommodated, the employee will walk away knowing every attempt was made to find an answer.
So, whether you are a manager, team leader, or simply an employee, practice making “If I Can, I Will” your automatic response when facing any employee request. By following this process in earnest, you will preserve the operational effectiveness of your work unit while building the trust and respect of your people. And when you are not able to accommodate an employee request for valid reasons, your people are more likely to continue performing at the high level for which they are known.