People is People and Parts is Parts
by Wally Bock
Dan was angry.
He was a computer support tech. Earlier in the day he'd picked up a trouble ticket for one of his company's customers. He called to check things out and he thought he knew what the problem was.
The woman on the other end of the phone described symptoms that sounded like they were caused by a defective part that Dan had seen a lot of lately. Evidently there was a bad batch out there.
The customer's location was quite a distance away, so Dan figured he'd just take the part with him. He was on his way to pick one up from the equipment room when he ran into his boss.
"Dan," the boss said, "You know the rules. Your job is to go the customer's location, run your diagnostics, then come back here to get any parts you need."
Dan protested. The boss stood firm.
Dan grumbled for almost the entire two hour drive to the customer's. He ran the diagnostics and, just as he'd suspected, determined that same part was a problem there as with other customers.
He climbed back into his car and drove back to the shop. Once he had the part, he drove back out the customer's location and installed it.
After that he drove two more hours back to the shop, still grumbling. He clocked out for the day and noted his overtime.
That incident was the straw that broke the camel's back for Dan. The next day he gave notice. His boss just shrugged. Dan was an excellent worker customers liked him. But that didn't seem to matter.
"Listen, son," his boss told him, "Computer techs are a dime a dozen. I'll have you replaced before the close of business tomorrow."
Too many companies act like this one. They treat people like they're interchangeable parts.
This is in the great tradition of the efficiency experts with their stopwatches and clipboards. The experts and management know what needs to be done and when and how. Workers need only show up and do what they're told.
Dan had good technical skills and a knack for dealing with people. When he started with the company he'd made suggestions about how to improve things, but nothing ever happened, so he stopped telling the boss and kept his own efficiency tips for himself and the other techs who were his friends.
Here's what happened to Dan after he quit. By his own admission, he's "pretty awful at promoting myself." So he hired on with a temp agency.
On his third or fourth assignment he was sent to a bank to help handle a system conversion. They liked Dan, especially the way he got along with people, and they hired him.
He wound up working as the main tech support for the senior executives in what everyone, except the senior executives, called "the Ivory Tower." The bank has named him Employee of the Year. Twice.
What's the difference between the bank and the place where Dan used to work? It's simple. At the bank, they treat Dan like a person, not like a cog in some giant machine.
The companies that treat their employees like parts think it's easier that way. They think that the workplace shouldn't be mucked up with human stuff, like emotions or relationships. And besides, it's easier to get rid of parts than it is to get rid of people. That comes in handy when it's time for another re-organization or downsizing.
Companies that treat their employees like people do wind up having parts of their employees' lives spill over into the workplace. But they also get the parts of people most businesses crave today.
Treat your people like people and they'll respond. They'll work hard. And they'll come up with ideas. They'll be what we call "engaged" and companies with lots of engaged workers are more likely to be profitable.
In today's economy with today's knowledge workers, you can't succeed if only a few people at the top of the org chart are doing all the thinking. As Jack Welch said, you need "every brain in the game."
Parts don't have brains. And no part ever had a good idea. So which do you want, people or parts?
Wally Bock helps organizations improve productivity and morale, as well as deal with the challenges of massive Boomer retirements. Wally coaches individual managers, and is a popular speaker at meetings and conferences in the US and elsewhere. You can find out more about Wally and his work at his Three Star Leadership web site (http://www.threestarleadership.com/). This article first appeared in the Three Star Leadership Blog (http://blog.threestarleadership.com/)
Wally Bock may be contacted at http://www.threestarleadership.com/ or firstname.lastname@example.org