When it comes to department, district or company policy, we tend to be on autopilot until some new technology, new national crisis, or new “hot button” issue jogs us into policy development. Although hasty, “knee-jerk” reactions may not always be advisable for a whole host of reasons, there’s another reason to lay low and see if there’s another option to policy creation. When we attack that new issue with new language we can draw unwanted attention and scrutiny from employee unions, the media, parents and others when we would have done better to “not leave the porch light on,” as one labor lawyer recently put it. Read the rest of this entry
An interesting article in a recent New York Times Magazine section caught my eye. Its title was “Forecasting Fraud,” and it focused on the phenomenon of one’s misrepresenting themselves by using titles that are not entirely accurate. The article’s central example was the ubiquitous TV weatherperson who is referred to – often inaccurately – as a meteorologist. While a meteorologist has specialized education, many of the people who report rain or shine may only qualify as a “weathercaster” rather than a meteorologist, since they can claim only professional experience, and have no special course work or degree. Read the rest of this entry
I too read/heard/watched the media “uproar” about the deplorable behavior of Rutgers’ basketball coach Mike Rice. I also watched and noticed the relatively little bad press the university received about the issue. In a set of circumstances reminiscent of the recent Penn State child abuse scandal, the university appears to have been well aware of the circumstances. However, like Penn State, for a myriad of reasons – not all of which we have heard yet – the university took no appreciable action until the viral video displaying Rice’s truly abusive behavior left them with no choice.
Organizational tendencies like this one are not just prevalent in universities or giant corporations. They permeate the very establishments we work in or do business with every day. In our own organizations how frequently do we deny, ignore, rationalize, or even cover up inappropriate behavior rather than confronting it and addressing it? If you’re in the student transportation business you know that school site or department that is definitely not doing things right. It’s not your job to fix it, but you’re certain that if it were, you’d address the pattern of not taking action on problems. Read the rest of this entry
People sell thousands of management books with the promise of showing you how to create great ideas. Some companies or departments seem to churn out great ideas at an amazing rate, while others wouldn’t know a great idea if it was naked standing in front of them. No book can tell you how to create ideas but there’s an easy tip to creating environments where great ideas flourish. In fact, we can learn a lot from a simple children’s fairytale written by the great Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
In 1839 H.C. Andersen published The Emperor’s New Clothes. It was originally going to be a simple morality story which taught a lesson about vanity. If you’re not familiar with it, do a quick internet search. (I’ll wait.) At the last minute the author decided to change the ending. Instead of everyone just seeing the king naked and admiring the invisible clothes, Andersen added a small child who reveals the emperor’s nakedness. This changed the moral of the story significantly. There was still a lesson about vanity but now we all have an invaluable lesson about “speaking truth to power.” That little boy also holds the secret to a truly creative workplace.
Many of us identify with that little boy. When we see things that are wrong, we feel compelled to speak up. However, most organizations don’t encourage or even tolerate that Andersen’s child in us. They don’t want us to expose their weaknesses or they don’t want to be challenged. Maybe they know things are wrong but they really don’t want employees or customers throwing it in their faces. Since these organizations don’t welcome feedback they are often exposed (both liability-wise and otherwise.) They don’t correct problems that are obvious to others.
Another, less obvious problem caused by squelching or ignoring feedback is that it also hinders creativity. Great organizations encourage the free flow of ideas. In this environment anyone can raise an idea to improve things. Those ideas don’t always see the light of day because everyone in the organization is able to (and even required to) check the idea against reality. If the idea’s not going to work, every person in the organization must shout it out. Every member of the best organizations is obligated to be Andersen’s little boy. Because of that, everyone is encouraged to come up with great ideas without worrying about going out into the world with no clothes.
Try it in your organization. Next time someone points out a reason why an idea won’t work, instead of being frustrated with their negativity, try thanking him/her but keep thinking up ideas. Some of them will be great.
“Trust but verify” is perhaps the most famous phrase uttered by our ex-president Ronald Reagan. Several years ago, at a driver training, I mentioned that we would be implementing our 40th President’s advice with regard to one of our procedures.
This comment was very offensive to one of our senior drivers. She believed that “trust but verify” meant don’t completely trust. And trust, if it isn’t complete, isn’t really trust.
Regardless of how you feel about President Reagan, a trust but verify policy works for more than nuclear arms reduction agreements. Verifying:
- Tells your people that you’re engaged (and care).
- Helps you to fulfill your responsibilities to your district and your customers.
- Supports you in fulfilling your responsibilities to the taxpayer.
There’s an old Slovenian proverb – “Pray for a good harvest but keep on hoeing.” Wise ancient Eastern Europeans knew that it was folly to manage by hope. They only stopped hoeing when they verified the harvest. In education, volumes have been written about checking for understanding. Successful teachers verify that their lessons are learned.
Verifying is not distrusting. Rather, it assures that what we thought we asked staff to do, they heard and executed. It also ensures that our instruction actually works as intended. When I’m out in the field “verifying” I’m also checking to see if we gave the correct instructions. Maybe circumstance dictates that the training needs to be “tweaked” to maximize our team’s performance. If I don’t verify I’ll probably never know when and where we’re missing the mark.
So, YES I’ll trust but verify. To do anything else would be irresponsible.
Postscript – It took a few years but the driver came around to respect and even like this approach to management. She overcame her fear of oversight and learned to appreciate our consistent efforts to improve.