In The Workplace

I’m an ordinary employee at a medium-sized corporation. My concern is about the management style of our department boss who thinks he knows everything about our job. Whenever we give excellent ideas on how to do a certain job, including how to save money, our boss normally rejects them all. Some of the employees think the boss is doing that for fear that he may lose control of the situation and make him look like a weakling before top management. The trouble is that many practical ideas, including those that don’t cost money, have long been relegated to the sidelines. Sometimes, our boss will simply delay judgment by asking the proponent-workers to give their ideas some serious thought before passing it to higher management. What’s the cure for this? — Lost Dissident.

Exhilaration is that feeling you get just after a great idea hits you and before you realize what’s wrong with it. But somehow, your boss may be right for asking you to give your ideas serious thought. Now, let me tell you another story:

Two young inexperienced hunters went hunting in the woods. As they enter the forest, they see a warden’s notice along the road informing them that should they get lost, they must fire three shots in rapid succession. After two hours, they did get lost. One of them said to the other: “You’d better fire three shots.” So he fired three shots in the air.

Nothing happened. After a while, the first hunter said: “You had better fire another three shots.” So three shots were fired in succession. They waited for another hour or so and still nothing happened. Again, the first hunter turned to the second and said in great distress: “I guess you had better fire three more shots.”

The second hunter said: “I can’t. I’ve run out of arrows.”

Was it a case of miscommunication? Certainly! In people management, the success or failure of managers depends largely on creating and sustaining a proactive communication process every day, starting with a stand-up meeting for not more than 15 minutes, first thing in the morning.

But that’s not all. There must be a holistic approach so that all employee ideas are secured, processed, and implemented with the participation of all stakeholders. This requires a dynamic feedback mechanism that promotes two-way communication all throughout the organization.

I’m not sure about your credibility, status, and image with your boss. These factors are very important and critical in answering your concern. If your performance is “average,” chances are, your proposal may be treated as a low priority by management. On the other hand, if your performance is consistently hovering between “above-average” and “excellent,” you can expect your management to do what it can do to listen to your ideas, no matter how crazy they may appear to be.

If you can’t exceed management expectations, then no number of good ideas will be accepted if it comes from a “polluted” source. The question is this – are you credible enough to suggest the following approaches to your management? That’s the only way. There must be a systematic approach to doing all of these without assuminging malice on the part of your boss and with you looking at the mirror to discover your weaknesses.

If you think you’re ready, explore the following techniques that would promote a greater degree of openness in communicating your thoughts to management:

One, establish a clear-cut policy in managing employee ideas. Either by way of an individual suggestion scheme or through quality circles or any of its derivatives, there must be a clear mechanism on how employee suggestions are to be solicited, processed, approved and rewarded. Without a system, you will only be running in circles and would continue to blame your boss about it.

Two, apply the policy to all departments, sections or units. No ifs, no buts. Such a policy must be a part of everyone’s key performance indicators and done as a corporate-wide program and not as a pocket issuance that applies only to selected groups, except during the planning and piloting stage. This requires the approval of top management who must be committed to make everything happen.

Three, conduct an annual employee satisfaction survey. Continue to take the pulse of all employees. Don’t rely on exit interviews. It’s too late and limited to certain employees only. Find out the majority opinion of the workers and take it from there. You’ll be surprised at the amount of information you’ll get if you will allow your employees to voice their opinion in an anonymous survey.

Four, give rewards and recognition to those who deserve it. It’s one basic approach to motivating people. Praise employees when you see them doing something that is over and beyond their job description. When people work hard, they appreciate it more if management recognizes their efforts. One thing: The reward should not be limited to giving out material rewards.

Last, devolve decision-making to the person closest to a problem. This is not a new idea. It has long been practiced by Toyota, which requires its workers to stop line production as soon as they discover a problem. There’s no need for management approval to do it. And it’s not limited to the Japanese. Even Pixar and Disney workers don’t wait for management approval to come up with solutions.

Ed Catmull, an American computer scientist and former president of Pixar and Disney asks: “What is the point of hiring smart people, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?” It’s not about a managerial job title. What matters is that excellent employee ideas are greater than managerial rank.

ELBONOMICS: The managers can become leaders as soon as they empower their workers.


Send anonymous questions to or via