- January 26, 2021
- Posted by: Phillip Van Hooser
- Category: Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Leadership, Leadership Pitfalls
If we’re honest, we often find a “people issue” at the root of many of our work problems. Sometimes it’s caused by something as simple as being unable to respond to the question: “Do you even know my name?” If a leader can’t get the answer right, it could be the best place to start. It’s not easy. But even with large teams and work from home staff, it is possible. If you want to save yourself a lot of problems and see teamwork and performance soar, consider this.
Do You Even Know My Name?
While being interviewed by Janet Eastman and Kevin Snook on the Make It Right Podcast, I was asked about the best boss I ever had. My response was easy and quick! His name is Jerry! And I’ll never forget his name. Jerry took me — an inexperienced college graduate — and taught me many foundational leadership practices.
Often I didn’t understand or see the wisdom in some of the things he instructed me to do. But in hindsight, Jerry knew the secret to successfully leading one employee or one hundred. And how to head off a lot of people issues in the process.
Early on, Jerry gave me this assignment. Spend thirty minutes a day — EVERY DAY — walking around the plant floor — talking with people. Initially, this seemed to me to be a futile exercise and maybe even a waste of money and time (mine, primarily!) Plus, ours was a very large operation with hundreds of employees with multiple shifts. So I seldom ever saw some of our people.
Jerry didn’t care about the excuses. His concept of “walking around” was a requirement. I distinctly remember asking Jerry what to do while I’m on the floor. He told me not to worry about it. Just spend 30 minutes a day doing it and you’ll figure it out.
At the time, that didn’t seem like much help.
I Don’t Think I Know Your Name
So the first time out, with no real idea of what I was doing, maybe you can understand I was scared to death. I literally set my watch, thinking, “Thirty minutes from this minute, and I can get out of here!”
Then I headed out on the plant floor and started walking around. As I started, all I did was introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Phil. I don’t think I know your name.” And I would offer each person my hand.
This “exercise in futility” went on for weeks. I even scheduled into my calendar spending time on second and third shifts — just walking around.
Why Do You Want to Know My Name?
And naturally, people were suspicious. Many, especially those on the later shifts, were thinking, “What is he trying to do?”
Funny thing is, many nights in the wee hours, I wondered the same thing to myself, “What am I doing here? I don’t get it.”
So to offset their suspicions, I would simply confess, “I don’t know what you do and I don’t know anything about this process. Can you give me a quick overview of how all this works?”
The employee would usually talk to me for a couple minutes, explaining what they do. Then I would say, “I don’t want to interrupt you anymore, but thank you for helping me understand.” Again, I would offer them my hand.
I would continue introducing myself and talking with people. And as soon as 30 minutes was up, I would retreat back to the security of my office — or my bed. But the next day I do it again — and the next day and the next day and the next.
The Payoff When Barriers Come Down
Now here’s the cool thing… I can’t tell you how long it took, but I will never forget the first time it paid off!
I’m walking through the plant, not enjoying the experience at all, when all of a sudden I heard someone yell, “Hey, Phil, come here. I have a question for you.”
And in that moment, the barrier — the wall — between me and our people started coming down! From then on, I couldn’t get through the plant in 30 minutes for people stopping me to talk, to share concerns, to ask questions. And before long, I knew every person’s name.
But I didn’t just know their names. They would tell me about their lives, their families, their hobbies, their goals. I learned from their insights and heard about their concerns. They shared their valuable experience and they helped me see problems I could fix before they became out of control.
I have story upon story of people…
- offering innovative ways to fix or prevent major problems;
- sharing creative ways to improve productivity and cut costs;
- and going far beyond what their positions required for the good of the team — often without being asked!
All this information and these perspectives came to me because I made an effort to engage with people. And it started by getting to know their names.
Here’s How To Change Things
Don’t miss the point here. Spending less time in the office and more time in the presence of your people changes things.
Get to know your people. Even if they work on a different shift than you. Or at a different location than you. (Yes, that includes work from home staff.) Make time getting to know each of your people — in person or if necessary, virtually.
And, yes, it starts with getting to know their name.
I promise you this — you will not be sorry about the time you invested. It’s an investment that pays HUGE dividends in employee trust and builds working relationships that deliver improved performance.
What Works For You?
So in your experience, how have you broken down walls between you and your people? I and others would love to hear what works you. Thanks!
#knowmyname #talktopeople #30minutesaday #theemployeesaidtothemanager #engagedleadership #buildingemployeetrust #betterworkrelationships #investinyourpeople