I once consulted with a company in Australia that owned trains and wagons used in the mining industry. During my time there, an employee was transferred to the team with which I was working most closely. On the day of his reassignment, the CEO warned me that this person was overpaid and didn’t really do anything of value for the company: “We’ve given him lots of chances, and this is his last one. If he doesn’t start pulling his weight soon, just cut him loose. The organization leadership is prepared to fire him.”
Surprisingly, on his very first day, I was able to discern that this staff member actually had a lot to contribute. When I told him about some of the challenges and goals we were tackling, he shared numerous suggestions, which he actually had made time and again but were repeatedly shut down by his previous bosses. Apparently, in his former roles, he would spend time figuring out problems that could really help the business, but when he brought them up to his managers, he was ignored.
As this new team member and I worked together in the coming weeks, I continued to be impressed. One day I decided to just ask him: “You’ve been with the company four years, right? You’d just about given up, hadn’t you?”
“I had,” he said, stressing the second word.
“Well, that’s past tense,” I noted. “So, you’re back?”
“What I’m doing now is awesome,” he shared with me enthusiastically. “I get to lead a team, and we make real improvements. I am using my mind, and the ideas that I spent so much time researching are actually being implemented.”
“Great to hear,” I said. “And I hate to do this to you when you’re just getting settled in, but I’ve actually gone to the CEO and said that you need to be promoted.”
He was shocked. I explained to him that a continuous improvement department was being formed, and I wanted him to lead the team. “Remember, I’m a consultant; one day I'll be leaving,” I added. “You’re staying behind. This is your job, your career. So if you don’t want the promotion, that’s all right. But I think you should go for it.”
Happily, he was thrilled and accepted the offer. And his team ended up doing excellent work. So, it wasn’t long before he walked into my office announcing that he got a second promotion.
“It’s only been four months!” I was stunned.
“Yes. Another guy we trained is now leading the continuous improvement department, so they moved me up.”
Throughout his career at this company, he continued to excel. And all of this was because he finally felt valued. When I think back to being warned by the CEO that he was a last-chancer, I’m amazed — and reminded about the importance of really listening to your employees. Listen to the people who do the day-to-day work. They know the problems and, more than likely, already have a solution. Just ask and really hear what they have to say. Better yet, whenever feasible, implement their ideas. When other workers see the boss listening and taking action, they will share their suggestions too.
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Michael McGinty is an independent consultant with more than 15 years of business operations, plant management, continuous improvement, project management, profit optimization and supply chain experience. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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