#333 from Innovative
Leader Volume 7, Number 4
More Productivity? Move Out Of Dilbertís World
Pizzuto is founder and managing director of CDA Management
Consulting, Inc. (Middleburg Heights, OH; phone 440-891-9166), an
organization specializing in productivity gains through creative
workplace changes. She
writes and speaks nationally on the topics of leadership,
teamwork, change, and shared values.
Truth be known, I
hate Dilbert cartoons. That
statement puts me in an unpopular position with managers who
attend seminars I facilitate.
I hate the spirit of Dilbert for the same reasons that they
like it. Generally they like Dilbert because it satirizes everything
that they see as ridiculous in an organization.
The managers have no problem telling one anecdote after
another about faulty systems, inefficient production facilities,
obvious competition between sales and service, and the unnecessary
reports and paperwork. Ah,
the paperwork that no one reads!
The managers see ďupper managementĒ as the problem.
They say that the executive level is not ďin touch.Ē
I agree with
their interpretation of Dilbert.
And thatís exactly my point. Show me a company where thereís a Dilbert cartoon posted on
a wall or door, and Iíll show you a company where no level of
management is immune from the criticism of its staff.
Itís not just upper management who is under scrutiny. The spirit of Dilbert thrives in an environment where people
take actions regardless of practicality, thought, economics, or
popular support. Fundamentally,
it implies that the employees know more than management.
So what is the
opposite of a ďDilbertĒ environment?
The opposite is obvious.
The opposite is an organization in which employees respect
management and credit them with some real smarts.
Itís an organization in which employees usually want to
go along with the game plan.
In fact in some organizations, employees suggest game
plans. Bottom line,
itís an organization in which people feel useful, productive,
I hate to use a
corporate-type term, but we are talking about a culture.
Itís not the managementís attitude.
It is not laborís attitude.
Itís a prevailing environment thatís motivating.
How does a manager create that environment in his/her area
of influence? There
are two basic principles to follow.
thrive on two basic human freedoms:
1) having choice and 2) having control.
Think of the last time you wanted to make a decision, but
it was made for you. I
know a manager who recently planned to turn down an exciting
reassignment. As it
turned out, the company changed the plan; the manager was
dismayed. When I
pointed out that she planned to decline the offer, she said that
she still liked to think it was her choice.
employees know many wasteful efforts in their organizations.
They often donít suggest fixing them because they think
they have no choice but to follow the procedure.
Worse yet, many employees donít think their manager has
any real control over the system.
We can have real
gains in productivity if we unleash some of the unnecessary
example, at a recent company meeting, after the agenda was
covered, an employee suggested that the company stop talking about
fixing things and start fixing things, such as their poor physical
inventory process. Two
important lessons were learned.
First, provide a forum for employees to uncover issues.
Usually a suggestion box doesnít work.
Try to find an interactive way through meetings, e-mails,
or lunch brown-bag sessions. Second, appreciate the level of knowledge.
The employee had long enough tenure that, in ten
quite-entertaining minutes, he regaled the attendees with how the
company had repeated the same mistakes for years and, roughly
three times a year, had to fix them. He suggested they fix it the
employees speak from a less informed perspective. When this happens, itís important not to dismiss the
person, therefore dismiss the concept.
Discuss what would be improved, accomplished, or reduced if
the concept were pursued. Often
managers find these uninformed opinions a valuable source for
great ideas, although the final outcome may not be the original
control can be exercised even in the most serious conditions.
A client had a very sudden downturn in business when a key
customer declared bankruptcy. They had no choice but to reduce staff. Due to other new work, the reduction was expected to last two to three months.
I inquired as to whether the employer had any interest in
easing the pain. Somewhat
surprised that this was possible, they pursued the topic.
The timing was great:
workforce was primarily female.
I suggested asking employees to pick their two preferred
options out of three choices.
The first choice was a reduced work week.
The second was a personal leave of absence.
The third was to accept reduction in force.
Many mothers loved the idea of being home with children for
the summer, while preserving their tenure with the company.
Plus they didnít have to look for another job. Others felt they needed income and opted for the reduced work
week or the reduction. The
point is that this wasnít a good situation, but it was handled
the best way possible.
So how do you
know if youíre a control freak or if you give enough choice and
control to your staff? First
thing is to check out your organizationís culture.
Find out what the prevailing norms are. Take steps to
consciously think of ways of turning a decision, problem, or
mandate into a request, opportunity or choice. Itís not easy; it
means challenging your own thinking.
It means changing how you talk to people.
It means answering a question with a question.
We all know how annoying that habit can be.
Things can change
if you want them to change; otherwise look out!
Some day Dilbertís name may be lined out and some
maverick has penned in your name instead!
Do you regularly
say: ďIíd like your opinion on....?Ē
Do you issue
things in writing addressed to individuals rather than ďall
Do you ask for
advice from your staff?
Do you prevent
signs (usually paper, ripped, and messy) announcing the
ďdonítsĒ, such as donít leave the door open; donít
forget to punch out; donít use the visitorís parking area?
Have you been
complimented by any member of your staff at least three times in
the last quarter?
Have you been
complimented by your boss on something a member of your work group
Did you pass on
Do you worry that
staff members might think of you as a fool?
Do you find the
more you help, the more people consult you on new issues?
Did you take all
Do you have to go
to another department to see Dilbert cartoons?
If you answered
ďyes,Ē then you are letting go of your need to control.