Management: Winning the Battle but Losing the War
I’d like to present a very short case study. Picture an office with an employee run coffee station. The workers chip in $0.25 a cup to buy coffee, filters, creamer, and filters. One day the coffee maker breaks down. No one has coffee in the morning. A worker takes the initiative to go to a local store, buy a new coffeemaker with their own money (there wasn’t enough money in the coffee fund) returns to the office and gets it up and running. All the workers are happy they have coffee. The employee is gone from the office for an hour. As a manager, do you: A.) publicly chastise the worker for being gone without a leave slip and make them take an hour of vacation, B.) Bring the worker into your office and warn them about being gone from the office without leave, C.) Congratulate them on their initiative and concern for their fellow workers. D.) Not only congratulate them but also offer to chip in for the coffeemaker.
Now as professionals you know where this is going, I wouldn’t be writing the article if this had a happy ending. In this case, the manager exercised choice A. Company policy is that employees need to arrive and leave at their official start times. They get a half hour for lunch and two fifteen minute breaks. The employee was chastised in front of six other employees for being gone without a leave slip, made to take an hour of vacation, warned of ramifications for future transgressions, and HR was notified. Due to these actions, the employee will be unlikely to deviate from their schedule for some time; however what were the side effects? Employee chatter was uniformly negative toward the manager and supportive of the employee. Hall conversations centered on a common theme which was to not work past their official stop time on critical projects, (which was the norm), and to religiously observe lunch and break times which were also routinely worked when there was a critical project. During a subsequent all-hands meeting, employees were uniformly silent when asked by the manager to contribute on updates. She was forced to call on people and prompt them to give updates. There was a complete lack of enthusiasm or happiness during the meeting. The manager saved an hour, but probably lost literally days of productivity. Contrast that to Choice C or D. Had the manager chosen either of those options she would have built up the morale of her employees, and increased their loyalty. Unfortunately she and her employees will likely suffer days of poor morale, and the company will suffer as a result. Take an inch, lose a mile. Managers need to think long term, not short.
What would you have done?
What can be done to improve the manager?