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  • Writer's pictureGraham Henrickson

Members of a Family or Greatest Asset?

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Referring to employees as members of a family is common place these days. It's done at company functions and even printed in annual reports. While it might seem a wonderful way of generating camaraderie and a sense of community, it could do more harm than good.

That's because everyone's family experience is different and such a reference is open to interpretation and easily misunderstood. Now, according to the likes of Seth Godin, the behaviour and interactions between people at work is more like a 'tribe' than a 'family'. While it might be more accurate, it conjures up images of violent savages and doesn't have the same ‘feel good’ effect.

Rather than describing my team as a 'tribe' or a 'family', I subscribe to a less romantic view – that people are a company’s greatest asset. It's the principle I have applied with every management position, and has helped shape my leadership style.

It's an easy thing to say, but what does it mean and how do you practice what you preach? Here's my answer......

First, you need to understand that today’s workforce is more educated, better connected and has access to far more information than ever before. Plus, they have greater expectations than in the past and more likely to call you out if you fail to deliver on your promises. That said, leaders are human, and as such they make mistakes. So, you may not get it right 100% all of time, but if you do most of the time and keep the errors to a minimum then you are on the right path.

If you aspire to treat staff like an asset and be respected for it, then here are some things to consider:

Adults Vs Children

If you want people to behave like adults, then you must treat them like adults. Treat them like children and that is exactly how they will act. Although their goals and ambitions might be different to yours, they still have them. Your task is to find out what these are and tap into them.

But why?

It might be hard to believe, but there are plenty of managers out there who share the ‘just do as I say’ philosophy of management. Trapped in the feudal period, they are frustrated when asked ‘Why?’ and consider it a challenge to their authority. In a perfect world it would not be necessary, but this is not a perfect world and not everyone on your team has the same insight, experience, and knowledge as you do. Be prepared to explain the ‘why’ and understand that not everyone will agree with you, and they are entitled to express their opinion – provided they have the logic and evidence to support them.

Honesty, Consistency & Transparency

Inconsistency breeds doubt, dishonesty breeds uncertainty and a lack of transparency breeds corruption. Be unpredictable to your competitors but not to your staff. This does not mean you should be less demanding, but that you must be equally demanding of each member of your team. Be honest and be consistent in the way you make decisions.

Unconscious Bias & Favouritism

It is human nature to favour those who align themselves to you, share the same values and say what you want to hear. Unconscious bias is real and can undermine the good things you do. To prevent it requires self-awareness – be aware of your actions and behaviour and the effect it has on others. This applies to the amount of time you spend with people, the help you provide and the way you respond to them.

Surrounding yourself with likeminded people or showing favour toward those you like is an easy trap to fall into and if you do, then it will be your undoing. It encourages jealousy, envy, and resentment.

Be Quick to Fire and Slow to Hire

If someone is not measuring up, then act swiftly. Poor performers deserve the opportunity to improve. Bring shortfalls to their attention, provide constructive advice, and monitor them closely. But do not be over generous and do not hesitate to remove them. It is not easy to terminate people but fail to act quickly and you risk sending the wrong message, losing the respect of your staff and damaging morale.

Do the opposite when it comes to hiring. Take the necessary time to ensure they have the skill set and will be a behavioural fit. Use a structured selection process and remember past behaviour is the best predicator of future behaviour. Provide newcomers with a proper orientation program to the business, clearly defined responsibilities, and performance measures. Try to assign a coach or mentor to assist them and make that person accountable and consider rewarding them for the results.

Reward Desired Behaviour & Call Out Failure

It is easy to become focused on negative outcomes. This can blind you to positive achievements. No matter how terrible things appear, there are always positives. So, remain alert for success and acknowledge those responsible. Encourage your team not to hide mistakes or their concerns, but to bring them to your attention along with workable solutions. If not, then be prepared for nasty surprises.

At the same time, do not ignore failure. Take the time to determine the circumstances and those responsible. Ensure the action you take is appropriate and act quickly. You might be surprised how quickly news of a serious mistake can travel, and the eyes of your team will be on you.

Be Visible

Good leaders are seen and heard. Say hello to people when you arrive and do the same when you leave. But do not rely on this or the rare moments of spare time in your diary to walk around the office, building or factory. Make the time to do it, it does not need to be announced and be sure to mix it up (days and times). We all know what happens with advance warning of a visit by the boss. I remember my days at Myer when news came of a store visit by the top brass. Hours spent preparing and the focus shifted from sales and service to making a good impression.

Where possible, stop and talk to people - don't be afraid to ask questions like – ‘What is your greatest challenge at the moment?' Be careful not to undermine line managers or cause people to think your trying to catch them out. Most importantly, acknowledge the positive things you see and seek out those you have heard good things about and acknowledge them and their efforts.

Open Door Policy

An open-door policy does not mean allowing people to simply walk through your door anytime of the day. It means being available. and being prepared to listen. Even if it is a grievance, you do not want to hear. It is far better to know about it and to have the chance to address the matter before things get worse.

I previously mentioned ‘nasty surprises’ and I don’t believe I am alone when I say: ‘I hate them’. But if you are not approachable and prepared to listen, then you had better be prepared because you are likely to face many of them.

Successful workplaces are those where people collaborate. It is where they work together as a team, rather than in competition with each other. They are reliable, trustworthy and respectful of the company and its values as well as each other.

Whether or not this can be achieved will depend on you. Successful managers lead by example and are prepared to do what they want others to do. They share their knowledge, show empathy and are accountable for their actions.

Know your weaknesses and surround yourself with people who have the skills you don't have. Don't be afraid to hire people that are as good if not better than you. Remember people are not blind, nor are they dumb. The can tell fake from fiction and genuine from phoney.

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