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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 12/04/2008

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


Walk A Mile In Your Boss’ Shoes!

  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

You’re at work and your boss tells you of an action he must take.  You listen and say to yourself, “Why would he do that!  This just makes no sense whatsoever!”  Your next reaction is to object or even “revolt” and to get the other folks in your organization to join the “revolt” and take measures to overcome what you consider to be the unreasonable actions your boss plans to initiate. You give little thought as to why your boss is taking these actions.  The fact that there could be reasons such actions are being taken is not even considered.  It’s just wrong because it has a negative impact on you, and after all, what could possibly be more important than you?  It’s time to get off of your self-centered high horse for a moment to try to take a look at things from your boss’ perspective.  It’s time to at least attempt to walk a mile in your boss’ shoes!

My son works for a rental car company.  During the day he works at an auto insurance company, whose customers are using the rental company’s cars, to expedite insurance claims by working with claims adjusters and auto repair shops to help ensure repairs get done as quickly as possible.  Some evenings, for some extra money, he works overtime at the airport, helping with auto rentals and returns.  A short time ago his boss told him and others in similar situations that due to the business slowdown he would have to cut back on or possibly eliminate their overtime work at the airport.  Some of the employees were up in arms.  How could management consider cutting into their well deserved overtime?  Doesn’t management understand they need this overtime pay?  Some said they should present demands to their management to force them to keep their overtime hours.  My son disagreed with this approach, and asked me for my advice.

The downturn in business, primarily tied to the increase in gasoline prices at that time, was very real.  My son saw this directly in a large drop-off in business on the insurance side of the business.  The number of claims being submitted had dropped significantly due to people driving less, car pooling, and staying closer to home.  It was being seen greatly in the rental offices as well, as tourism and business travel was sharply down due to people cutting back on vacations and business trips.  Consequently the company had to make adjustments to changing business conditions.  One place they could make such adjustments, without resorting to layoffs, was a reduction or elimination of overtime.  The employees who were objecting to reductions or elimination of overtime could directly see the impacts on them, but couldn’t see the big picture impact on the company.  Because of their self-centered viewpoint, they couldn’t put themselves in their boss’ shoes to understand the company position.  They couldn’t recognize that their bosses were actually doing them a favor by reducing their overtime rather than eliminating their jobs entirely.  My advice to my son was to talk quietly with his boss to understand the big picture situation and the pressure his boss was under to manage the situation, and to ask it there was anything he could do to help.  His boss let him know just how dire the situation was becoming and that his actions were attempts to manage the situation with minimal impact to his employees.

Attributing ill motives to a boss’ actions without proof is nonsensical and ultimately self-destructive.  You need to recognize that your boss’ success is dependent upon the success of his people, including you.  If your boss takes negative actions on you and his other people without true cause, how can that help him to succeed?  Do you think he wants to fail?  Think about it!  In the case of my son’s rental car company, less or no overtime, despite the impact on each of the individuals, is far better than no job at all for those individuals (see eN-070802 – Bad Breath Is Better Than No Breath At All!).  When conditions improve, more overtime can again be authorized.

Such situations occur all of the time.  Taking a self-centered view of things, while that may be the natural initial inclination, is not useful to you or your co-workers (see eN-030227 – It’s Your Responsibility to Know Your Role in Implementing the Vision and Roadmap).  You need to talk with your boss calmly and non-confrontationally to gain an understanding of the reasons behind these actions (see eN-070104 – “What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate!).

For example, how many of the proposed actions are actually under the direct control of your boss?  If they are entirely under his control, then ask why he chose these specific actions. Discuss the impacts of the planned actions and the unintended consequences that he may not see, but which are likely to result (see eN-030102 – Poor Company Vision Clouds Everyone’s View, and eN-071101 – Be Careful What You Wish For!).  Discuss alternatives to the actions he is suggesting to see if the alternatives can accomplish the desired outcome without the disruptions you see from the planned actions. 

If the proposed actions are outside of your boss’ direct control, then you need go beyond the specific proposed actions to learn the bigger picture reasons why action of some kind is required, and what their root causes are.  Do these actions really address the root causes or just some of the symptoms?  Are the root causes directly tied to your organization, or are there other organizations that may be more directly responsible and where alternate actions can more effectively address and change the root cause of the problems (see eN-061207 – Stop Picking The Flysh!t Out Of The Pepper!).  You may not be able to change actions outside of your or your boss’ direct control, but if your boss fully understands the root causes of the problems and where actions can more effectively address them then he is in a far better position to argue for actions being taken in the right place in the company.

The result of such probing may be that other actions in other organizations can be far more effective in addressing the root causes of problems, and your organization may be spared impact.  The result may be that alternate actions within your organization but with less direct impact and better results may occur.  The result may be that the actions initially proposed are exactly the right actions to be taken, but at least now you understand the reasoning behind it, even if you don’t agree with it.  The result may be that your boss is fully responsible for the actions and simply doesn’t care about your concerns (see eN-040205 – Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison The Well, eN-071206 – You Reap What You Sow!, and eN-080403 – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!).  The result may be that your organization is not the cause of the problem, but the proposed actions will still be done for political, organizational, or arbitrary reasons (see eN-050901 – Dysfunctional Families) and eN-050407 – When It’s “Us” vs. “Them”, Nobody Wins!).  Life is not always fair.  Still, by attempting to walk a mile in your boss’ shoes, you can learn a lot, both good and bad (see eN-030605 – Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More from Bad!).  Take your lessons wherever you find them!

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