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October 02, 2009

Giving Your CEO Ants-In-The-Pants

 

Blog cartoon 10-7-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Maybe what your executives need to get them on their way towards bringing your company back from the recession is ants in their pants—or a few days (long enough for it to grate on their nerves) of doing the job of one of your mid-level employees.

As the CEO, chief financial officer, chief information officer, or chief snooze button, it’s easy to get restful, especially if the position was gotten via “networking.”  Of course in one of those taxing positions a person has the awful burden of attending meetings and making decisions, and there’s surely no way to overstate how hard that must be.  But imagine what it would be like if these same individuals spent approximately three days as the assistant of one of your mid-level employees. I suggest mid-level rather than entry-level because I have a suspicion that the middle is the most beleaguered place to be in most organizations. With both bosses and subordinates to consider, those at the mid-level also aren’t especially respected. They’re the workhorses of the company. The “decision-makers” at the top are the ones with all the glamour (whatever “glamour” means at your company; at some companies it may mean nothing more than getting an office instead of a cubicle, but still).

 

With such remove from the daily grind as even the most earnest executives seem to suffer from, a sense of urgency usually isn’t there. For instance, at some companies I know about, the purchase and implementation of IT systems that could make the lives of employees much easier is put off so long most workers stop believing the system upgrades will ever take place. These system improvements are announced with much fanfare only to be delayed indefinitely. Something tells me if the “decision-makers” were tasked with the extra manual labor necessary to compensate for not having the needed upgrades, the upgrades would be coming tired employees’ way with greater rapidity. What do you think?

 

“Oh, wow,” they’d say to themselves during the afternoon of Day 2 of mid-level assistantude, “I can’t believe how miserable this is!”  The question is whether this initial recognition of misery would make it to the next level of understanding and evolution (proof they’re not an earlier version of human being in need of an upgrade themselves): “Hmm, I wonder if we shouldn’t speed up the upgrade on this system. Luckily I only have to deal with this for one more day, but this poor fellow has to do all this tedious manual work every day. I’d hate it if I were him.”

 

I don’t like to be defeatist, but I’m skeptical all, or even most, of the executives who experience a mid-level worker’s misery for a few days would be spurred to action to help that person, but I do think they might if they could be shown how much more efficient and able to earn the company more money the employee would be with the right system in place.

 

So, one of my ideas is to have three days a year when all the top executives (chief snooze button included) work as the assistant to a mid-level employee. Unlike other similar programs I’ve heard about at some companies, this one would also task the mid-level worker with an important responsibility: using those three days to show the executive through assigned tasks what needs to be changed or improved so he or she, as an over-burdened mid-level employee, could do his/her job better and, ultimately, make the company’s customers happier and the company’s coffers fuller.  On the executive side, time should be set aside in advance for possible follow-up meetings to discuss or arrange whatever needs to be facilitated to make needed changes a reality for the struggling mid-levelers.

 

One way or another, needed improvements in all facets of your company will go way too slow if the decision-makers aren’t brought into direct content with the stuff of your average employee’s (and maybe customer’s) misery.

 

The greatest ideal may be to make the people affected by grunt work key decision-makers in determining the systems and processes they use to do their daily work. Executives charged with cooking up strategies and “mission critical” decisions while holed up in offices big enough to include sofas (sofas!) reminds me of a chef who’s just served a strange looking meal he wouldn’t touch himself.

 

 

What can you do as a workforce manager to encourage your executives to make the changes that will make your employees’ work lives more productive and enjoyable?  Any tips to pass along?

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