This past week, a colleague reminded me of the old saying “beliefs inform behavior.” Chances are, everyone reading this post has heard this adage, or a similar sentiment. While mostly invoked when considering your own thinking and outlook, it is important for those supervising others to consider it as they oversee daily activity.
Having managed people in various settings over the past 35 years, I’ve always found it fascinating how people respond differently to identical instructions, especially when working in the same environment. Some put in their time and the absolute minimum effort. Others throw everything they’ve got into the job, regardless of the tasks involved. Then there are a bunch that fall somewhere along the continuum of these two extremes.
If you’re a seasoned manager, chances are you’ve thought, “All of that is common sense.” Perhaps. But how well do you use these insights to inform the way you supervise people? Allow me to offer a few suggestions based on my experience and those of others I’ve observed over the past three decades.
First, find ways to investigate work ethic. The longer I’ve studied management and supervision, the more I’ve become convinced that it all starts with selection. If you are not placing applicants in a situation where they are compelled to demonstrate their skills, creativity and work ethic, you’re only getting half the picture. No one can change someone else’s work ethic. So, the better solution is just not hire that person. Let’s face it, even in an economy where employers are struggling to find good people, you’re still taking a tremendous gamble by simply hiring on the basis of three interviews and a personality assessment. If you already have an existing team, consider what seems to motivate each person. Even those who count the minutes on Friday afternoons are engaged by certain things. You just have to find out what they are.
Second, ask people what they think. I am in the process of reading Jon Huntsman’s autobiography. Over the past forty years, he and his team have built the second largest chemical and plastics producer in the world. Time and again, he mentions that the key to acquiring and turning around failing chemical plants has been to ask the people working there how to improve the facility’s functions. So, when was the last time you asked your people how to improve things and took those suggestions to heart?
Third, offer them opportunities they will find engaging. Once a skill or routine, no matter how complex, has been mastered it becomes repetitive. Even the most invested employee will grow bored with day-to-day work. The formula is sadly familiar: Boredom informs belief. Belief informs behavior. Whether it’s cross-training, release time for new research, industry group involvement, or some other endeavor, what can you do to reinvigorate solid performers who feel locked into a dead-end routine?
With the turnover of each employee costing tens of thousands of dollars these days, paying attention to belief and outlook is an essential element of supervision.