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How To Improve Your Dialog Skills

Employees want many things: challenging work, recognition of their contributions to the business, benefits that protect them against the uncertainties of life, safe working conditions, and managers who provide leadership.But beyond this, they want something more: a feeling that what they think counts, a sense of contributing to their company—in short, an opportunity to participate in business decisions that affect them.How can you, a manager, encourage more participation by your people?For one thing, you can listen—really listen—to what they have to say about their jobs, about impediments they may encounter in doing their work, and about any ideas they have for performing better or more efficiently.For another, you can give them more opportunities to do their jobs in their own way.It's a rare manager who can't improve in this area of giving his or her people a deeper feeling of participation in the company.

Employees want many things: challenging work, recognition of their contributions to the business, benefits that protect them against the uncertainties of life, safe working conditions, and managers who provide leadership.

But beyond this, they want something more: a feeling that what they think counts, a sense of contributing to their company—in short, an opportunity to participate in business decisions that affect them.

How can you, a manager, encourage more participation by your people?

For one thing, you can listen—really listen—to what they have to say about their jobs, about impediments they may encounter in doing their work, and about any ideas they have for performing better or more efficiently.

For another, you can give them more opportunities to do their jobs in their own way.

It's a rare manager who can't improve in this area of giving his or her people a deeper feeling of participation in the company. Here is a brief quiz to give you an idea of where you stand and how you may improve. Take what you learn about yourself to heart.

  • Do you listen to your people?
  • Do you hold regular meetings with your people to update them on developments, give them an opportunity to express their opinions, and discuss the issues?
  • Do you make it easy for them to visit with you?
  • When feasible, do you consult with your people before making decisions affecting them?
  • Do you give them opportunities to do their jobs—or at least parts of them—in their own way, as long as results are satisfactory?
  • Do you know each person's strengths and areas of expertise and take maximum advantage of them?
  • Do you help them reason through a solution to a problem or a course of action on their own, rather than dictate it yourself?
  • Do your people view you as a resource, someone they can turn to for guidance?
  • Have you made it clear that you trust your people to do their work in a superior manner?
  • Do you ever ask them what obstacles are interfering with increased effectiveness and efficiency (e.g., the need for additional training, different equipment, more assistance)? And do you do something about it?

How to Generate Ideas

Regardless of your job, the ability to come up with ideas is vital to your success. Indeed, you can't have too many ideas because only one out of ten or more will prove worthwhile. To boost your personal output of ideas, try these tips:

  • Keep pads of paper and pencils within easy reach to capture those fleeting ideas that have a habit of popping into mind when they are least expected.
  • Be observant. Look at everything with a "what's-in-it-for me?" attitude. Ask yourself how what you see or read can be adapted or adopted to fill your needs.
  • Develop a strong curiosity about things, places, and people. Talk with other person's interests in mind. You're bound to learn something.
  • Increase the number of idea sources at your disposal by widening your friendships, expanding your reading, studying subjects outside your field.

Cultivate the Habit of Excellence

Some people always do their best. They are driven to compete not only with others, but also with themselves. Toward this end, they follow a personal "zero defects" program, always trying to perform flawlessly. Even when they fail to live up to their own high standards, the very attempt at perfection pays off in work of a higher-than-average caliber.

They seldom settle for the first idea that comes to mind. They view every task, big or small, as a challenge to be met in a superior fashion. They may not do anything until they have drawn a mental list of three, four, or more possibilities, then eliminate those that appear most flawed. The remaining strategy is clearly the one to be adopted.

They anticipate problems. If one approach will require too much time, they choose another. If they foresee a need for help, they check on the availability of other people before plunging in. If the effort to be invested in a job does not promise a sufficiently high payoff, they search for another solution.

They work hard, for it's results they're after, not leisure time. If an extra hour or day will yield what they are seeking, they are happy to spend it, knowing that there will be other hours and other days in which to do other things.

Above all, they want to experience the heady sense of achievement that doing a job extremely well gives them. For them, there is simply no substitute for that feeling.

You?

When Competition in the Work Place Doesn't Work

Sometimes it's possible to bring out the best in your people by creating a competitive atmosphere.

But not always. Sometimes people simply refuse to compete. This is especially true when a manager holds up one person as the model whom the others should try to emulate or outperform. Reactions to this ploy may range from a cordial dislike of the model who is being offered for consideration to nosediving morale in a department. Either way, the manger loses.

Thus, fostering competition can be a risky motivational tool, especially when there is a better approach. This involves considering each person individually in relation to the following questions:

"How can I translate departmental goals into individual goals?" It isn't enough to say, "This has to be done." This approach only produces short-term results, at best. Instead, you have to ask, "What are the personal goals of each person who reports to me?" Power, money, self-esteem, the admiration and respect of others, promotion—these are just a few of the possible answers. Unless departmental goals are related in some way to individual goals, you are not going to make substantial progress.

"How much does each employee value these rewards?" Suppose an employee is a Scout leader off the job. Is it important to him or her to do a merely adequate job at work so more efforts can go into scouting? Or, if the opportunities were there, would being an outstanding performer on the job be more important?

How available do the rewards appear to be?" If an employee shrugs his shoulders and thinks, "Well, sure it would be nice, but I'll never get it," he is not headed in the right direction. It's up to you to show him that what he considers important is attainable on the job—and how he can attain it.

"What can each employee do to help achieve the department's goals?" This is probably the most important question of all. There is no reason to assume that someone else's way of doing things is necessarily the only, or best, way. Make it possible for different approaches and talents to surface. As a result, employees may create for themselves the kind of competitive conditions to which they can respond most productively.

Bad Habits that Reduce Productivity

Certain on-the-job practices are guaranteed to block accomplishment. If any of these sound familiar, change your ways.

  1. Procrastination. Faced by a large job, procrastinators will find a dozen little things to attend to before tackling it. Faced by a little job, they will put it off because "it will only take a few minutes." Either way, they do nothing.
  2. Lack of planning. You'll get wherever you're going a lot faster if you know your destinations. Basic stuff? Perhaps. But most people muddle through simply because they've never pinpointed in their own minds precisely what they have to do. They coast haphazardly through their days, relying on "inspiration," chance and last-minute scrambling to do their work. Results are a foregone conclusion: poor.
  3. Indecision. This is the result of either lack of pertinent information on which to base a decision or lack of confidence in one's ability to think through a problem. By putting off a decision, postponers are really demonstrating their desire for someone else to make it for them. They are also paralyzing initiative and wasting time.
  4. Knee jerk reflexes. The habit of responding to new circumstances in old ways may be initially comfortable, but by its very nature it is anti-creative and nonproductive. New problems demand fresh solutions. And the only way to arrive at fresh solutions is through fresh thinking.
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