Most employees are doing their job with their heads down.

“May you live in interesting times” is an ancient Chinese saying. Well, these times are certainly interesting. This is the current generation’s period of “the Depression” and a time that will create the foundations of a thinking pattern for life.

However, this new thinking pattern is not necessarily a good one, is it?

Alright, I admit that I am in the school of economic thinking that says: We shouldn’t spend what we don’t have. We should save more. We should prepare for our retirement. We should have a cushion against surprise expenses. I am against the pattern of spending that has had most of us spending every last penny of what we earn. It has been a stressful period without our even realizing it.

But what is bothering me these days is that the employees are not contributing to the success of the company as much as they used to in the past. They are withholding their most valuable resource—their minds.

Invisible Staff

I am seeing many more employees just going along and trying to be invisible. They don’t want to stick out in the company anymore. They are worried for their jobs. This is one of the serious byproducts of this economic calamity we are going through.

Through no fault of the vast majority of employees, we find ourselves in the serious period of slow job growth, high official unemployment rates, and higher underemployment rates. And all of that comes with the length of time to recover these lost jobs estimated to take five years. This is truly not a good time.

I have made reference to author Patrick Lencioni over time as a significant voice in new management and interpersonal business relationship management. His two books, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, are wonderful examples of his thinking and leadership on the issues of employee relationships. We need to enlist every employee in assisting us in developing tools and methods to help us better serve our customers and help us be more effective at what we do. To this end, I urge you to read these two books.

Lencioni points to anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement as critical elements in employee satisfaction in The Three Signs. I trust you remember the “service profit chain” references from the mid-1990s that concluded there is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and loyalty and customer satisfaction and loyalty. It is critical that we have employees who are satisfied with their work and happy in their jobs, not employees who are nervous and on edge.

How well we know each employee as persons and care about them is important and a simple human dynamic that many of you do very well. Here’s what I would like you to look into now. Does each employee know themselves whether or not they are doing a good job on a daily basis?

This is the question of measurement and relevance. Does the employee truly understand the relevance of their job, what impact they have on the customer or other employees, and how they can see and measure their impact on these two important constituencies in the company?

Understanding Contributions

The Five Dysfunctions exposes the absence of trust, the fear of constructive conflict, the lack of commitment, the avoidance of accountability, and the inattention to results. Phew, that is a mouthful, isn’t it? But this is a significant operating list in the success of any business or team. An esteemed and respected associate of mine, Malcolm Phares, talks about understanding, acceptance, and commitment as the key to business success. This really all ties together nicely, doesn’t it?

By now I’m sure you can see me pointing at you to make sure your relationship with each employee allows each one of them to understand and appreciate their individual contribution to the success of the company from every aspect—customer satisfaction, internal excellence, and continuous improvement.

I am urging that every company spend time looking at each task and job function and determining key performance measures. This will ensure that everyone knows what we are trying to do and at what level of performance. This is something that everyone will be able to look at on a daily basis.

“How are we doing?” will be easy to answer. This should lead to more comfort on the part of each employee in their job performance and less stress and discomfort.

Long-Term Benefits

If we can get to this position with each employee, then the pains and travails of these economic conditions will benefit us all for a long time. Everyone will be more conservative financially and we will all contribute more to the company relative to continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.

Let’s not pull our heads in like turtles in these times. Let’s experiment with new thinking and try new things. Remember, man is like the turtle because in order to get ahead you have to stick your head out. What better time is there to do this than the present when things aren’t going full speed?

If you don’t make changes and adapt now, when are you planning to do it?

by Ron Slee
September, 2010
Water Well Journal


About Water Well Journal

The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.