Our hummingbird feeder was empty for a few days…er weeks. Once refilled, my husband and I have noticed this massive war going on over the feeder. And I do mean war: One bird dive bombing another, rapid retreats, eating while staying vigilant for the enemy, lonely patrols, even dogfights with pointed beaks. I have to say that having breakfast at the table while I watch these skirmishes going on outside the window has become quite stressful. What is crazy is that there is PLENTY of nectar in the feeder to go around and three separate perches by which to partake. There is more than enough to go around, plenty for all.
This reminds me of some organizations that I have worked for in the past. There are loads of resources, including the human kind, but everyone is running around drawing up battle lines. I can remember an executive who suggested we share a few admins. Cross train a few folks across departments so that we could cover illnesses, lunch breaks and vacations more easily. No one liked it. Silence. Everyone wanted to make sure their team stayed with their team and not cross to the “other side”. Let’s have four humans where, if we could cross train and utilize them more efficiently, we could use two. It’s like that hummingbird guarding the feeder. It’s mine…ALL mine even though he doesn’t need all those resources.
So how do you get folks to share the nectar? Here are some ideas:
1. Benefits. Clearly state the benefits for all. Email it. Have a meeting. Have a round table. Have a family meeting. Get the information out there. There’s more than enough nectar in the feeder and we can all get our sip. If we all wait our turn we will reduce costs, have less turnover and build trust. Explain the rationale so that everyone can understand (I’m not saying they will all get on board immediately) but it’s a little easier to swallow the new “stapler sharing policy” if they understand the potential benefits. Communicate the benefits; for the group as well as the individuals.
2. Sounding Board. Make sure there is a sounding board for dissenting views. This is where it gets uncomfortable. “But hey…Cath…I don’t want to hear dissenting views…I want them all to smile and nod.” Sorry. If you want folks to buy into the new procedure, you are going to have to hear them out. They might have a good point. Or some irrational fear that needs to be addressed. I know those hummingbirds must have some irrational fear. I’m not saying that there are good soldiers out there that will happily (er…grudgingly) comply with the new “stapler sharing policy” but the new plan will have a much better chance of success if you hear them out through a sounding board.
3. Address. Make sure you address the concerns before moving forward. There is nothing worse than asking the folks at large for some feedback and then not responding. So many organizations have one way communication and it’s all down. Nothing is permitted to bubble up. When I used to work in the tortilla manufacturing business, I used to say that no one knows the issues with packing tortillas better than the ladies (yes, it was 100% female) who pack the tortillas. If you spend all day packing tortillas you have much better ideas on how to fix quality or productivity issues than any engineer. So make sure you address the humans concerns. And, just as with the sounding board make sure you’re not just nodding and listening. If there are good ideas, incorporate them into the plan.
4. Re-engineer. Take the feedback and re-engineer the process, procedure or new policy. Information that bubbles up from the folks with their hands on the tortillas. I remember walking out on the production floor and you would see one line that had a stack of tortillas several feet high. All you had to do was ask the now small crowd of ladies what was wrong. They always knew exactly what was wrong…the temperature on the press was too high, the masa was too moist, the operator (on the other end of the line) was new. I can assure you that calling an engineer in Dallas was not going to fix our growing mountain of tortillas as fast as asking the folks up to their elbows in them. Take the feedback, the ideas, the concerns, the irrational fears and address them in the re-engineering effort.
5. Roll. Roll with it. After re-engineering it, roll it out. Make the decision. Pull the switch. There is nothing worse than saying you are rolling out a new process and then letting it languish; especially if you have received some poor feedback. Obviously, if the new procedure now seems obsolete like say a new “stapler sharing policy” when the folks point out that we are paperless now and there is no need to share staplers. Make sure that you communicate that the department or company has abandoned the plan because “we heard you”. This is what builds trust in an organization. When the bosses communicate, listen and then make a decision based on feedback from the folks with their boots on the ground the culture changes and trust is built. Roll with it or pull the plug….just make sure you communicate it.
I think the biggest issue with companies is one way communication. I know it can be difficult if whoever you report to is the main culprit but if you supervise other folks or lead a team or parent? It all starts with you. Set the example. It will have ripple effects and the trust will grow.