Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Do People Expect Quality Products and Services?

Within any organization, quality is the standard bearer that will determine success or failure. A company can only survive due to the fruits of its labor. In many cases, companies have developed a top-notch, unbeatable product. While the product may have been as revolutionary as sliced bread, the ulitmate determining factor in success or failure is quality.

Examine the difference between a Japanese automaker and and American automaker. The Japanese, through American innovation, have developed near-flawless processes that can be stopped by any line worker discovering a problem. On the flip side, an American automaker, the production line can only be stopped by a front line (or higher) supervisor. Do you ever wonder why a Ford Explorer begins to rattle at 36,000 miles while a Toyota 4Runner can be expected to be driven for 200,000 miles without fail? Quality is the answer.

Most people not only expect quality, they demand it. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant and been treated poorly by the wait staff? How much did you tip them? In most cases, I would venture a guess and say "not much" and be correct. We expect simply expect quality. On the flip side of this expectation, are we willing to pay for quality?

Quality choices are made during every trip to the super market. Depending upon the product, we determine if the quality of the name brand exceeds the cost savings of the no-name brand. Can we stomach the no-name in order to save money? Will the no-name bleach destroy our clothes and cost us more money farther down the road? Can I live with the decision?

There is one example in which a company can produce a non-quality product, but yet charge exorbitant fees: Microsoft Operating Systems. Microsoft is the only company that I have ever witnessed in which they can provide a product that is incomplete, requires updates to be used (out of the box) and suffer no repercussions because of it. How can they do this and get away with it? There is little to no competition facing them. While Apple is giving Microsoft a run for their money in some arenas, Microsoft is still the king of operating systems.

People do not simply expect to receive "adequate" service or goods, we expect to receive what we paid for the item. If we pay $1 for a child's toy and expect that toy to last the child's lifetime, then our expectations are too high. We demand quality, we are willing to pay for quality; however, we do not always receive what we pay for. The market forces behind supply and demand will push inferior products to the wayside. Business recognizes this fact and in most cases, attempts to market their product within the correct price range.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Handling the Butt Kisser

Is kissing up to your boss a must if you want to get ahead? Actually, this depends wholly upon the organization and its culture. Are the workers expected to fall into line and conform or are the workers viewed as separate personalities that form a whole? As a front line supervisor, I never encourage or allow a butt kisser to infect my workplace. The ramifications are too dangerous to the over all morale of my workers. I do not agree that kissing up is a must to move ahead; however, I do recognize the fact that this personality type will always exist. While every organization will have its fair share of the kiss ups, the actual reasoning behind the worker's attitudes will chiefly fall into the front line supervisor's hands.

If the workers are expected to toe the line, conform and know their respective places, it could be reasonably expected for a vast number of these workers to kiss up in order to move ahead of the pack. These workers will feel that their environment places them into such a position that they must kiss their boss' rear in order to move ahead. For example, within a company that views all workers as equals, there will be a great many butt kissers attempting to separate themselves from the pack. If these people were largely ignored or padded along due to their kissing attitude, they have received the incorrect signal from their supervisor. It is the supervisor's job to maintain morale within his or her area. In some cases the butt kisser's co-workers will simply laugh the person off, make fun of them, etc.; however, if the butt kisser is promoted, heads will be turned. As the supervisor, if you have allowed a butt kisser to establish themselves above the other workers, get ready because their attention will now turn towards your position. In other words, would you want to promote a kiss up to a position that will enable them to take your job? Even if you are expecting a promotion and are looking for a replacement, it is never a good idea to allow a butt kisser to infect your workplace.

Are your employees valued for their diverse, separate personalities that form the whole that is your company? If the answer is yes, then in my experiences, the total amount of kiss ups will be reduced. Sure, they will still exist; however, not in the volume as in the previous example. In this scenario, the workers are revered by the company for being diverse. A solid company will recognize their workers' abilities and reward them accordingly. Once again, it is up to the butt kisser's supervisor to ensure that the workplace is not affected by one person's attitude. If the butt kisser is allowed to run rampant due to being ignored or even worse, encouraged, again the workplace could easily erupt. As the front line supervisor, prevent this situation from arising.

It does not matter where you work, there will be butt kissers present at one point. It is that person's supervisor that must nip the brown nosing attitude in the bud. While many employees will simply laugh the butt kisser off, if the kisser is promoted, expect a workplace eruption. If the supervisor uses prevention in the first place, many heart aches can be prevented.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lessons In Change Management

Changes will occur within a workplace for a myriad of reasons. The majority of the time, change will be brought about in order for the company to save time, resources or materials; all of which correspond back to money. It is your job as the front line supervisor to ensure that the changes are brought about to achieve the company's goals. View this role as that of a salesperson. You must not only show your product to your workers, but you must also get them to "buy" your product.

There are essentially three ways for workers to adapt to change management techniques: negative, indifferent, positive. Each attitude brings vastly different challenges for the team leader / supervisor to handle. By maintaining a positive, forward thinking aurora, the team leader can bring about nearly type of change successfully.

No matter what the workers' attitudes are (collectively or singularly), it is your job as a front line supervisor to ensure that the changes are implemented and enforced as per the company's vision. It may sound like a "company man" statement, but there will be times in which you will carry forth change that you do not agree with. At all costs, never show your workers that you do not agree with the changes. In order for change to work in any organization, the workers' buy-in must be sought and accepted.

How do you handle the worker with the negative-towards-change attitude? The easiest, simplest way to handle this worker is to talk to them. You need their buy-in; however, show them that they will not stop the changes from coming to fruition. With or without their help, change is going to occur; however, "I need your help". It has been my experience that in most cases when a worker dreaded a change, that worker actually ended up being one of the largest proponents of the change. It will not be easy, but turning a worker's negative attitude concerning a change is imperative. As the supervisor, you can not allow negative attitudes to fester in the workplace. If allowed to run unchecked, negative attitudes can affect everything from employee's morale, safety or workplace efficiency. Negative emotions are never a good thing within an organization, but like a garden, these emotions can be fertilized and encouraged to grow. While there will always be some workers whose attitude will always seem to be negative, people are not pre-programmed to be negative, hateful unproductive individuals. It is your job to discover what is causing the negative emotion to occur and if possible, fix the problem. Unfortunately, in many cases, it will be outside of your scope of work to help the person due to the negativity being caused by "outside of work forces". Emotions are contagious within the work environment and you must ensure that your are supporting the positives, leading the neutrals and correcting the negatives. If you allow the negative emotions to continue without addressing them, it will affect your worker's overall performance.

In many cases, you will witness workers whose attitude change is indifferent: "I do not care, I just work here", "You are the boss, whatever you want to do", etc. This worker's emotion is actually teetering between positive and negative. They have not actually agreed to buy-in to your proposal yet. This is the person that you still must "close" to the change or risk their attitude slipping into negativity. On the reverse of that statement, this worker can also move over into the positive group. It all depends on you as the supervisor to positively attain these workers' buy-in to the change. With the indifferent emotion, this employee will seem that they are coming to work everyday simply in order to receive a paycheck to support themselves and/or a family. In my experiences as a front line supervisor, even the person with the indifferent attitude wants to be a part of something in the workplace. Sure, there are some that do just show up for the paycheck; however, that person also must realize how a particular change will affect them. In some cases, simply showing this person how a change will positively affect them will bring them into a positive attitude towards the change. As with anything within the organization, if you want the people to perform, sell them on it.

The person with the positive emotion towards change is, expectantly, the easiest for the supervisor to deal with. As the boss though, are these workers agreeing to the changes because they:

  • Want something in return?
  • Are simply kissing up, hoping to join the corporate ladder?
  • Or because they truly see the change as a positive occurrence?

If the worker is agreeing because that person is expecting something in return, examine how you sold the change. Did you sell the workers on the actual change or were they sold on the possibility of receiving something in return for agreeing to go along? If the latter is the case, expect the explosion to occur within the first week after the change is implemented. Continuous workplace improvement can not occur if you are promising your workers the moon and only giving them a moon pie. Be up front and honest when selling the change.

Is the worker simply kissing up? These are the worst types of employees to have in your organization. Suppose you promote the brown noser to a position just below your own. What do you think will happen next? Buckle your chin strap because that person is gunning for your job and has been for some time. I make a point to always tell someone that is kissing up that it will do them more harm than good. Additionally, suppose your brownie has gladly embraced your changes and you ignore their kiss up attitude, then what? Just like the person with the indifferent attitude, the kiss up will eventually blow up through lack of attention. Head this worker off at the pass and avoid the potential bomb.

Has the worker viewed the change as a positive occurrence? If you have sold the change correctly, then expect at least 75% of your workers attitudes to fall into this category. If you are not receiving an immediate 3/4's buy-in, view the change itself and how it was presented. If the change could be seen positively by any reasonable person and your buy-in percentage is low, then change your approach. No one will gladly accept a change from a boss who carries the attitude of "my way or the highway". If that is your management style, then watch out. The first chance your workers get, they will sell you down the river. Do not allow this leakage in personality to happen.

Changes occur within the workplace everyday of the week. Some changes are positive, while some are truly negative. For example, changing a process flow within a manufacturing organization to increase productivity is a positive change. Reducing the company's workforce by 20% is a negative change. In this case, obviously, there is nothing you will be able to do as a front line supervisor to change worker's emotions. The attitudes that your workers have when these changes are implemented will be a direct reflection of how well you sold them the change.