Don’t Be a Know-It-All Manager

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.

How to be a better manager by using common sense and a little popular psychology.

Why do some managers think that they know it all? Sometimes, the position and power goes to their heads and with the best intentions they try to take care of everyone’s problems. This may work some of the time, but it isn’t the best way to operate.

Managers are just like other people; they don’t always have all the answers. Even if they do have the solution to a particular problem, they may not be solving it in the best way, if they impose their solution on everyone.

It’s natural for people to want to do things their own way. Even young children want to be autonomous ad we often hear them say in frustration, “I can do it myself.” Adults are no different and they don't necessarily appreciate someone else’s efforts to do everything for them

The lesson here is to take advantage of human nature and involve others in solving their own problems. This is a great deal easier for the manager; it usually results in better solutions and, as an added bonus, it builds morale, pride, and team spirit. Let me give you an example of how a little knowledge of human behaviour applied to modern management, paid off.

A manufacturing firm had a serious problem with dust and fumes. This situation had been going on for years and there had been a few half-hearted attempts to deal with it, but very little change ever seemed to take place.

Up to now, management’s attitude seemed to be that if the employees didn’t complain, why should they worry about it? However, with changing times and an enlightened management, the firm decided to tackle some of the health hazards in the plant. You can probably guess which one they decided to go after first.

On some days the fumes were so bad that the front office staff complained of eye irritation and itchy skin. Out in the plant, the conditions were appalling. In fact, it often became so bad that production came to a halt while the workers stepped outside and waited for the air to clear.

A teamwork approach

Now it would have been relatively easy for management to legislate change, create new rules and set new regulations. Instead, they took a different tack based on their understanding of how people like to operate and be treated.

What they did was to invite a team of people from the plant to meet on company time to tackle the problem. The firm provided them with all the resources that they needed including a trained leader. The results were sensational.

No one knew the problem, its causes and effects better than the people who worked in that environment. The first thing that they did was to analyze what was causing the dust and fumes. It didn’t take them long to figure out that a combination of inadequately trained operators, a faulty machine and a poor cleaning and maintenance program were the major causes.

The solutions took a little longer to figure out, but this work group helped design a better training program, develop alterations to their machinery and organize a proper maintenance schedule. They also came up with suggestions for the placement of curtains in the work area to contain the fumes to certain areas where they could be drawn out of the building more efficiently.

Creative Thinking

Of course, there was a cost for all of this, but the work team did its homework and was able to show management that an expenditure of a few thousand dollars would improve the working conditions, reduce health hazards for everyone and increase productivity. In fact, by using some creative thinking they were able to prove that the firm would break even on the cost of implementing their suggestions in less than three months- and that the company would save tens of thousands of dollars every year in the future.

The overall result of the exercise was that not only did the problem get solved; the people who were most concerned about it solved it. These were the people who had the most to gain and who were most determined to make sure the solution would work and continue to work. Sure management could have done it and tried to force compliance by using this approach, they didn’t have to.

What’s more, you can be assured that the people in this work area will make sure that the machinery is maintained, that the cleaners are doing their jobs properly and that the alterations to the machines continue to function the way they want them to. After all, this is their area.

They also have a new pride in themselves and their jobs, a new team spirit and higher morale. This is what happens when you manage using sound psychological principles about human behaviours.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.