Monday, June 30, 2008


One of the best lessons I learned came from the general manager who recruited me from the packaged goods industry into the packaging industry.

The plant we worked in had two unions and a history of poor labor relations. The first week I was there, we had a communications meeting, and the union reps were not only very vocal about their views on management, but also seemed very aggressive.

The general manager’s advice to me was to get a pair of safety shoes, spend at least 25% of my time in the plant and to get to know everyone in the plant by name.

That first week, I tried to put it into practice and walked up to one of the machines, introduced myself to the operator and asked what his machine did. I think we spent about an hour together as he showed me what the machine could do and what capabilities weren’t being used. He took time to answer all my questions.

The company eventually suffered a financial setback, and we had to lay people off. Now, when I walked through the plant, you could sense the employees were scared. Because I was not only on the management team, but also the Marketing Director, I had some insight into the fortunes of the company.

When I encountered the union reps, the tone was very different from what I’d seen in the first weeks. They wanted to know what the future was for their members (and probably themselves), but the tone of communication was much more sober and the questions came not as “the union line” but at a more personal level.

I told them that quite honestly, I didn’t know what the future held. I didn’t promise everything would work out. I think they sensed and appreciated the candor in what I said, even though what I’d said didn’t really put their minds to rest.

At this point, it dawned on me that our role as managers was not just to run the business profitably, but we had a responsibility to the employees for their jobs. Their livelihood, in fact, depended on our ability to keep the business going. We had more control over their employment than they had – even with the unions – and therefore if we let the company go down, we were also letting down a whole team of employees who relied on us.
The lesson from this is that managers must remember that their employees are dependent, in more ways than we generally realize, on their actions. There is a need for mutual trust to make the organization work effectively and the best way to build that is to get out of the office and put a face to every employee in the organization. For the employees, it means there is a face to management and they can see managers as humans. Similarly, for the managers, it is an opportunity to remember a business is more than numbers: there are people whose livelihood depends on their actions.

A Sense of Purpose

I wanted to set up this blog to share some of my experiences and views on working with others more effectively, and to support the cause of the people who make things happen for the organizations they work for - the employees.