Down on the farm

Growing up in Ohio, I saw my share of farm land and storage silos.  Little did I know that many years later I would be sitting in a seminar about silos in the workplace.  Fascinating.

The topic was how we sometimes isolate (or silo) ourselves from other people and departments for one reason or another.  The reasons for this are plentiful… fear, lack of trust or respect, lack of communication, no shared goals, etc.  SiloOf course the point of the session was how damaging these can be to workplace productivity and morale.

One of the exercises we did during the session was to think of a partnership we had been a part of that was particularly successful and why.

The first thing I thought of was my involvement with the IAAPA HR Committee.  We are tasked with organizing the education programs for the annual expo, and because our committee members are literally spread all over the world, our work is done mostly by conference call and email.  Normally, this would be a great breeding ground for silos and isolation, just given our distance apart.  But in my two years on the committee, the experience has been the exact opposite.

When asked why this partnership works so well, it came down to a couple of factors for me:

Mutual goals – we all have the same goal of putting on the best expo we can, bottom line.

Shared accountability – we trust each other to accomplish our individual tasks, and there is no shortage of help if someone gets in the weeds.

We are all volunteers – we all want to be part of this group.  No one is forced or coerced to be a member, and it shows in our involvement level.  We’ve all got day jobs, but we also really enjoy helping the industry as a whole.

We get along – while this may not be the case for all teams, it is for us.  I think because we trust and respect that others on the committee are just as committed as we are, we tend NOT to question their motives or intentions.

If you want to know what breeds silos in a workplace, look at the opposites of the characteristics above.

One of the final thoughts of the seminar was to think of a time when your department or company was in crisis.  What happened?  Did people come out of their “silos” to deal with the emergency?  Did people ignore the hierarchy or specific titles to do what was needed to get done? Did things get done more efficiently?

Silos do tend to break down during a crisis because of a highly important, single focus that captures the attention of many people.

Just imagine if you could create that kind of urgency and teamwork without a crisis… hmm…

Thanks for reading!

Getting seasonal leaders on board

This past week I received an email from a reader who was reflecting on the 2009 season that was.  He was relaying that one area he wanted to work on was gaining more substantial “buy-in” from some of his seasonal leaders.  I thought this was something we could all probably relate to, so I decided to answer him here.  I asked, he’s okay with it!

To give you a little background, he mentioned that these folks showed great promise prior to being promoted, and in fact could give the right answers when asked about what to do in certain situations.  However, there was a disconnect between their behaviors and their knowledge.

Motivation!  I said to myself is the problem here.  But how do you motivate lmotivationeaders who are supposed to be motivating others, and should be motivated themselves?  It starts with remembering that seasonal supervisors are people, too.

You might say, well, duh!  But this is a lesson that took me a few years to learn as I moved up through the leadership ranks at Canobie Lake Park. One day it hit me that I had been so focused on our front-line employees that I totally forgot about taking care of the two levels of leaders that fell between us.  Once I realized that I needed to work on motivating them, and then THEY would take care of the front-line, things got a little easier.  No longer was I trying to take care 200 people single-handedly.  Instead, I was now able to focus my attention on 8.

But that’s not the end of the story.  As I thought more about actually doing this successfully (and providing a real tool that you could use) it dawned on me that in these cases, it often comes down to the three E’s.

  1. Expectations
  2. Enforcement
  3. Explanation

Expectations – are your expectations for behavior, performance, wardrobe, teamwork, and work schedule clear?  And I mean CRYSTAL clear.  Like Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” kind of clear?  Think about how your expectations are communicated, and how you will know that your employees and leaders really understand what those expectations are?  Do you give them a handbook to read or tell them once at the beginning of the season and hope for the best?

Your actions are one of the best ways to communicate expectations.  Your front-line employees are not the only ones watching you – your seasonal leaders are, too.  What are they seeing?

Enforcement – what happens when one of your leaders perform above or below your standards?  Are there specific, consistent rewards or consequences to their behavior, and do you tie those rewards and consequences back to your expectations?  For example, if you expect your leaders to address sub-par performance in their employees, do you recognize them when they do it?   Conversely, do you hold them accountable when they look the other way?  Behavior that is rewarded gets repeated.  Period.  This is true for everyone.  EVERYONE needs feedback on their behavior.

Explanation – why do you do the things you do?  Do your leaders know the reasons behind your decisions, or is there an opportunity to allow them to make a decision or even to have a voice in company policies or procedures?  Another truism is that people do not argue with their own ideas.  On the other hand, there is nothing more demotivating than a policy that no one understands, and no one will listen to suggestions for change because “that’s the way we have always done it.”  If that’s the best reason you have for doing something, it’s probably time to re-think it.  Need some different perspective?  I know just who you can ask… (your leaders, in case you missed that part!)

So don’t be discouraged with your seasonal leaders.  They are people, too, who need guidance, feedback, and yes, a little motivation from time to time.