This post is part of a series that follows A.M. Starkin, a young manager taking his first major steps into leadership. Starkin writes here to share his experiences and to get input from others, so please share with him your thoughts and ideas.
Dear me! – and dear anyone. Let me pick out two significant days since my last post that are really significant.
Thursday last week, 9:15 in the morning – everyone comes in systematically late.
My ops manager/deputy pulls me aside and says that she has had enough of this place, and that she is only waiting for a better salary offer to leave. And that I might as well begin thinking of hiring because two others are going to leave real soon.
Early afternoon: I go through the current workfiles with everyone and find out that we are neither paying our suppliers nor invoicing our customers – or that we are doing both much too late and accumulating a HUGE backlog.
Thus: People are demotivated to the point that nobody wants to do anything. Those of my team who still believe in us seem to be expecting a superhero who arrives with answers to all their questions – while others have lost every hope and are just waiting for an opportunity to leave.
Can you think of a point of departure for my journey which is more basic than this one? Apart from the office being on fire?
My ops manager can be really strong if she is on ‘our’ side. If she would take the same responsibility for her job as she apparently does for her private life, she will be really good for us. Right now she is extremely illoyal. To be worked on – brutally honest, affirmative and extremely constructive.
There are a couple of really resourceful people in my team and I am sure that changing the environment quickly will bring out the best in them. I am also convinced that the rest can become responsable and happy colleagues. It will take some courage on my part!
I have a lot of ideas on how we can change for the better, and they will have to like it for it to work. My seniors have all adviced me to use fear as motivation: If we don’t change this quickly, we’ll close the subsidiary and you’ll all lose your jobs. Or if you don’t behave we’ll fire you!
That Thursday I had decided to present my strategy to everyone:
1) We need to go out and find customers as the corporate salespeople are too busy elsewhere
2) We need to fix all our IT-problems which are making payment and invoicing hyper difficult
3) We need to begin learning constantly, all of us
4) We need to begin putting in place all sorts of small productivity-increasing things which will enable us to make more money and be less irritated by routine
5) we need to have fun while doing all that and our daily jobs.
I wanted everyone to pick whatever they felt for working on of those areas – except the part about having fun, where I proposed to take turns on being the chief happiness officer (called it something else). I suggested that those who were completely against my strategy considered whether they wanted to be part of this project at all – and thus whether they wanted to stay in the company – and I proposed that they all spend a week to consider how they would like to contribute.
The room was painfully silent – and I had made the usual mistake of not noticing my audience while I was speaking – consumed by enthusiasm over my idea. I expected some scepticism because everybody already had problems getting everything done in a day. But this silence – ssshhhhh – was a bit scary given what the day had brought so far.
I then pulled my ops manager aside to discuss her future: Did she want to stay or go? Ded she buy in to my project? I tried to be as sincere and positive as possible. How did she feel that her own attitude contributed to her happiness? I gave her the task of redesigning her own job for bext week: Tell me what you want to do in this company – no limits – and we’ll rewrite your job description next Thursday.
Thursday next week – today:
(Let me just add that this is a second job for me – I have a full time job in another city which I tend to 2-3 days a week. I can only spend 2 days a week in the company we are talking about here – so that limits the time I can spend)
The office fills up around 9:30: Headache, frustration over traffic, one didn’t sleep well. In the afternoon I had called for a first operational meeting, which I started out quite conventionally by asking everyone in turn to tell briefly what was happening. Which happened hesitantly, reluctantly for some. (You have to imagine me trying to convey a positive, affirmative, enthusiastic attitude out into this thick fog of frustration and lack of hope.) Then I asked everyone to get up from their chairs and continue the meeting standing. I spoke once again enthusistically about my project and asked who was against it and who doubted it. One said she wasn’t against but frankly she didn’t care about it and did not want to participate.
I had put all 5 of the above strategy domainson a whiteboard and while I went out to make a phonecall I asked everyone to sign up for as much as they felt like.
When I came back there were two camps in the meeting room: Camp North had all signed up for at least one project and were joking about ideas and stuff they could do – and Camp South were standing mute, critical and passive – one asking whether we could sit back down again.
My deputy and I spent an hour together where she did all the talking: About what she wanted to do, about being proactive – and we ended up agreeing on a pretty darn excellent project for her, which would be a huge win for everyone. The room was humming with motivation and good vibes.
Now what? What do I do about those sceptics? Is the enthusiasm that we created today enough to set the project afoot? We need a quick success story, wouldn’t you say? Will the urgencies of non-payment and non-invoicing make the corporate headquarters enforce rigid control procedures that ruin the new deal?
Should I celebrate or bite nails?