A leader leads. A leader does not focus on the wants of those led; rather, he focuses on their needs. One of their biggest needs is to have an adult working environment. Now, what does that mean? There are several factors, but the most important is security.
How would you like to work in an environment where you knew someone could come in at any moment and shoot someone dead? That certainly wouldn’t be a happy place to work. What if the business was located in the bad area of town and the streets were littered with druggies who robbed to support their habit and threatened you daily? What if, during business hours, you found someone breaking into the back of your shop to steal something?
I have dealt with companies where this has happened, so it’s not fantasy. Luckily, it is not reality for most of us. But I see companies drowning in fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which has the same effect as these horror stories.
How do fear, uncertainty, and doubt enter into the workplace? The leader tolerates it.
The leader tolerates the surly press operator who throws things at the wall when frustrated and kicks equipment when it doesn’t function properly. After all, it’s hard to find press operators.
The leader tolerates the prima donna prepress person who belittles others as being stupid and unworthy, chalking it up to the natural crankiness of artistic types. Besides, no one in the shop knows what she knows about the application software.
The leader tolerates the bindery worker who cusses out and physically intimidates everyone. The leader rationalizes that because previous bindery workers weren’t any good and this guy is, he needs to just accept it.
The leader tolerates the employee who disdains the leader’s spouse. The spouse refuses to come into the shop because that person is there.
The leader tolerates the employee who is functionally illiterate. This sews seeds of doubt in each team member’s mind about the team’s ability to excel.
When conditions like this exist, the leader universally rationalizes that the business can’t do without the delinquent. The leader will say that the worker is the best one they have ever had in that position. And that’s not true. Why? Because the delinquent is instilling fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the workplace.
There’s a simple solution. The leader should say to everyone, “This is a happy place to work, and you will play well with others. If you don’t, you don’t get to be on the team, regardless of what you do or what you know. Are there any questions?”
And then he should never tolerate such behavior again. This speech is particularly effective when delivered to a team immediately after the leader has chosen the biggest delinquent in the pack and terminated him.
“Yeah, but,” says the leader, “how can you do this without having someone to replace them?” The answer is in the question. How much time and effort has the leader put into finding alternatives? Almost always, the answer is, “None.”
Okay, find alternatives to give yourself backbone and then give the delinquent a chance to either reform or not. “This will be a happy place to work, and you will play well with others. If your bad behavior continues, you will eliminate yourself from the team. Are there any questions?”
My bet, however, is that the delinquent won’t reform and he will need to be replaced. Some optimists won’t feel good, however, until they go through several “second chance” talks. How do you know if you’re an optimist? How many people have you terminated for poor performance over the years? That is an indicator.
Now, some owners object to holding people to such a life and death standard. They argue that they are more humanistic in their approach to people and would deal with each worker individually. I argue that they are not more humanistic, for if they were, they would not tolerate behavior that results in introducing fear, uncertainty, and doubt into the lives of all of the other team members.
Team members want the leader to lead and hold everyone to the same standard of behavior that is fair. Team members want the leader to be predictable; not irrational. Team members want to know what is acceptable and what is not, and want the leader to enforce the code of conduct fairly (the same for all).
But What If…
There’s one condition that is worse, however. That is when the leader is the source of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Leaders do this by being irrational and dealing with everything “one on one.” The result is, in one case someone gets by with something and in the next a worker is executed for the same infraction.
The ultimate sin on the leader’s part is being dishonest through omission or commission. Workers see this as the leader deals with customers or other workers. Does the leader lie, cheat, and steal? “Tell the customer that the job is out for delivery,” when the job has yet to be started is a common example.
Does the leader skim money from the cash drawer? Does the owner expect everyone to be on time, but is regularly late himself? Does the owner make appointments and then fail to show up? The actions of the leader tell workers the truth. It’s all in how we act, not what we say.
An adult working environment is where the workers know the answers to basic questions. “What’s expected of me?” is established by the leader legislating behaviors, and through a good set of employee guidelines that let everyone know the policies to which they will be held responsible, as well as the benefits they may expect.
“What’s my job?” is answered with a basic task listing for functional jobs, such as press operator. For upper management, such as a production manager, it is answered through job descriptions.
“Where do I fit in?” is answered with a simple organizational chart, focused on functions, not people, that clarifies who reports to whom and who the worker should go to when they get conflicting directions. For example, “The CSR wants me to do this and the sales guy wants me to do this, so tell me what I should do next, boss.”
“Am I being paid fairly?” is answered with regular wage reviews, using public and trade comparatives. “How am I doing?” is answered with a performance review, as is, “What do I have to do to get ahead around here?”
However, the most basic elements of an adult work environment is the removal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. And that is the exclusive responsibility of the leader.
Next month we will see where legislating applies to more than just workers.
Tom Crouser is principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 4710 Chimney Drive, Charleston, WV 25302, 304/965-7100. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out the unique business opportunity for small press printers offered by CPrint International at www.cprint.org. Tom is now Twittering weekdays. Follow his tweets at www.twitter.com/tomcrouser. This article is available as a podcast at www.quickprinting.com/podcast and from iTunes.