Q. I work part time as a receptionist for a company that uses our branch as a training ground for management. When things are going well for the current management team, why do they begin to focus on the lowest paid staff and the things they can do to make "us" even better? Over the years I have watched the same ideas come and go that do nothing to increase productivity but in fact decrease morale and job satisfaction among my coworkers.
A. The reason your management team focuses on improving the lowest paid staff is that the alternative when things are going really well is to focus on the fundamental problems in the organization. Which focus do you think would raise less anxiety?
Most of the time, the management knows that some thorny interpersonal conflict would need to be addressed to fix these problems. Most of the time, the last thing the management wants to do is to handle a big potential conflict.
When I consult with boards and management teams on interpersonal issues, I see first-hand how long-term, entrenched and damaging these conflicts are to a company. Logically, no one wants to give up profit, productivity or reputation just to avoid feeling nervous, but every day that is exactly what is happening in corporate America.
Entry-level employees think it's silly that management has decided they should, for example, wear blue shirts because blue makes customers happier. Unfortunately, for your management to stop tweaking your shoes, shirts or water cooler, they would have to go after the big problems.
I get many letters from employees who express confusion about why these impractical improvement campaigns only sweep the company during good times. Keep in mind that during bad times, there are so many small problems to focus on the management has no risk of tackling the larger issues.
Now when the company enters smooth waters, there is a lull, and the threat of addressing the elephant in the room appears imminent. Enter the "next great idea," apply it to entry employees and voila, excellent distraction until the next bad time consumes management focus.
Try not to take the mandate on blue shirts, different coffee mugs or peppy posters personally. Our species has been perfecting creative ways to avoid big problems for centuries. Your management is just implementing a modern version of an age-old aversion to anxiety.
The Last Word(s)
Q. My manager did a performance evaluation recently. She told me she thinks I have a lot of knowledge but that I am not very wise about the way I do my job. Is there a difference between knowledge and wisdom?
A. Yes, wisdom is knowledge that we are able to apply. We all know what we should do, but wise people actually do it.
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)