What Companies Care About
The cynics say that companies care only about profits. And of course, companies must care about whether they are earning or losing money. Unless companies can stay on the plus side of the balance sheet, nothing else will matter.
But good companies — those with staying power — are the ones whose corporate visions reach beyond earnings statements. Good companies try to involve employees at all levels of the corporate chain in decision-making. They emphasize and practice open, two-way communication. And they provide opportunities for learning and advancement.
They understand that employee productivity relies on numerous factors, key among them being the following:
Opportunities for self-expression
A feeling of having some control over personal destiny
Having a voice in what happens within the company
Contrary to popular perception, most companies
Each day is an adventure for Carolyn. When she steps through the doors of the software company where she works as a team manager in the fantasy game division, she never knows what she will encounter. Employees often dress up as the characters they are creating. There are toys everywhere, from collectible movie figures to toy swords and lasers.
Sometimes all the light bulbs are red or green or yellow; sometimes black lights give off an eerie glow. It isn't unusual for Carolyn to walk into the middle of a “battle” or other scene enactment. Often, a hail of soft foam arrows greets her arrival, flying at her from behind doors and under desks. Boisterous laughter follows.
This work group has fun. So much fun, in fact, that some employees work around the clock when creativity is hot. And their fun pays off. The computer and video games they develop rank at the top of the market. Of course, this environment is a bit extreme for other kinds of work groups. But it supports the needs of its members, and that's what matters most.
Enjoying what they do at work ranks near the top of the list of job satisfiers for most people. Employees — including managers — should want to come to work each day. Many companies have implemented casual dress policies (such as “casual Fridays”) and minimized formality, especially if there is no direct interaction with customers. Numerous studies conclude that employees who are relaxed and comfortable are better able to concentrate on job tasks.
A Productive Work Environment
The work environment needs to support the work being done within it. Do employees spend a lot of time on the telephone, or do they need quiet to help them concentrate? Then they might need office space with walls that go to the ceiling and doors that close. Do projects require employees to discuss possibilities and brainstorm ideas? Then a more open floor plan is probably better.
Of course, these elements are not always within your ability to control. But if you do reshape what you can control to meet employee needs and requests, we're willing to bet that your work group's productivity and efficiency will improve.
A study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia revealed that when it comes to what determines happiness on the job, Americans like to feel independent, good at what they do, and close to others. Money becomes an important factor only in times of uncertainty.
The Challenge of Balance
The challenge for managers is to balance the needs of the organization, the demands of customers and clients (internal and external), and the desires of employees. To be consistent and effective in supporting a company's principles, managers must also be committed to them. This doesn't mean you live or die by the rules, but you must feel enough commitment that you can and do use them as the guiding force in your interactions with employees.
If you deeply resent certain corporate policies or goals, this commitment will be difficult for you. Ask yourself these questions:
What is it, precisely, that I don't like?
Why do I feel so strongly about it?
Do other managers share my feelings?
What have I done to attempt to change the policy or goal?
Could I live with this policy or goal if I understood the reason it was in place?
Often, simply exploring the reasons for how you feel brings your concerns to the surface where you can examine them to decide if they truly have merit. Sometimes your feelings about certain policies or goals have little to do with the principle, but instead relates back to some personal baggage you're still carrying around.
If you think about it, companies don't have anything to gain by implementing policies and procedures that are unreasonable. Sometimes the original purpose for the guideline gets lost in the process of moving it through the process of approval. Once someone points this out, it's possible to correct the flaws.
As a manager, you need to let your superiors know when there are problems. Who knows better how to make improvements than the people who do the work — the employees who report to you? Listening to them is more than just good business. Employees who feel there is no audience for their concerns work in frustration and may leave in anger.
Successful companies create working environments in which employees and managers feel welcome to share their views and concerns. This kind of dialogue helps companies avert potential problems. After all, the company doesn't exist solely for the purpose of creating rules. Rules are in place to support the company's mission and goals, whatever those are.
Like nearly all other dimensions of doing business, rules must be dynamic to remain effective. This means that a company must continually review and reassess its policies to be sure the policies are keeping up with changes in the business environment.