Last summer, my car windshield was the target of a stone that cracked the glass. The next morning I went to the grocery store and, in the parking lot, I noticed a pickup truck with a sign advertising “glass replacement” on the side of it. The service this guy provided was world-class. He told me to go ahead and shop while he took care of the crack. When I returned, he called the insurance company on my behalf — and a few minutes later, I was on my way. (Well, not really. You know me; I had to find out more.) As it turns out, this is a franchise business and the man who fixed my windshield is the owner. As the owner, it’s not surprising that he is willing to do whatever it takes to do the job well and make each and every customer happy. The question is, how do you get your associates to behave like you?
A number of years ago I was on a plant tour, which I really love to do. When we arrived at a particular machining station, the owner asked the operator to explain what the machine was doing. The operator gave the most complete explanation I had ever heard, including the business case for purchasing this $250,000 machine. After she completed her explanation, I made the comment that she really knew a lot about this piece of equipment. Her response was that she had researched it and had recommended that the company purchase it. Later on, as I was reflecting on our conversation, I thought of this rhetorical question: “Do you think the operator was motivated to get that new equipment up and running smoothly fast?” How about you — do you create an environment where your associates behave as if they were the owners? Perhaps you should think about giving them the responsibility to act. If they feel empowered to act on behalf of the company, their sense of personal investment can move the entire organization further ahead, faster.
I read a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential,” written by Robert Kaplan. The question I found most powerful was this: “How often do your subordinates challenge or disagree with you?” In my experience, the most effective leaders have at least a few associates who are willing to share contrarian points of view. When associates are willing to speak up and voice their concerns, it can lead to a process of working together to refine and perfect the end goal. It also says a lot about the leader if he or she can trust their team and truly listen, not be threatened, and consider the ideas suggested by other team members. How often does someone on your team challenge your views? What does this say about how you lead? What does this mean about the relationship and the trust you and your associates share? If you don’t have anyone who truly challenges you in a healthy way, why do you think no one is willing to speak up? What would the outcome be if you truly welcomed others’ observations and heard what your associates had to say?
I’ve had the privilege of interacting with people of almost every color, language, culture, and social status on six continents. My personal conclusion is that the people of the world are more alike than different. For example, children are important to parents from all walks of life and in every culture. I believe that, too often, we let form over substance — not to mention busyness — get in the way of developing relationships with co-workers. Most companies today have some type of global activity. Do your associates respect each other’s differences and embrace them? What programs do you have in place that assist in building a greater understanding of diversity of all types? I believe this leads to improvements in your company’s bottom line and associates who are more satisfied with their work environment.