Eliminating Us and Them using this Simple Technique

One of the biggest things I noticed in the business world after spending years working on a submarine was the physical separation of employee groups. In the Navy, officers and sailors worked together in small spaces like maneuvering or the control room.

We spent long hours standing watches together, often with little going on. During those long shifts, we got to know each other. We developed relationships, and we built trust because we shared common experiences.

We developed relationships, and we built trust because we shared common experiences. Click To Tweet

Imagine my surprise when I took over my first manufacturing business at just 32 years old. I noticed the employees in this plant were physically separated by role. The white-collar employees, like purchasing, sales, marketing, engineering, and accounting, all worked in two office areas on each side of the plant. The blue-collar workers all worked on the shop floor.

The only areas they shared were the breakroom and bathrooms. Other than that, these employee groups had no common experiences. The blue-collar employees worked in one place and the white-collar employees in another.

As a result of years working this way, animosity had developed between both of these groups. There was a strong “us and them” attitude that existed in the plant.

The white-collar workers had very little understanding or appreciation of the difficulties that existed in the production environment. The blue-collar employees had no idea what the white-collar employees did all day. Each group blamed the other when things went wrong.

As the new plant manager, I knew I had to do something to change this. I also knew it had to start with me.

So I did what good leaders have been doing for years, I got out of my office, and I walked around. Every afternoon, I would head out to the shop floor to get to know the employees, learn what they did, and let them ask me questions as well.

Getting out in the plant had some positive effects, and I could tell the shop employees were genuinely glad to see that I was interested in them. But, I kept thinking about my time in the Navy. We eliminated the “us and them” attitude through working together and building shared experiences.

My visits to the shop floor were helping, but I knew it wasn’t enough.

I decided that if I wanted to build relationships with the factory workers, I needed to work with them side-by-side. So that’s what I did. I started a program called “Fridays on the Floor.”

I decided that if I wanted to build relationships with the factory workers, I needed to work with them side-by-side. Click To Tweet

On the first Friday of every month, I would spend four hours working in different plant areas. Employees would show me how to do the job, and I would work with them throughout the morning.

Through this process, I got to know the employees better, they got to know me, and I learned more about our problems. For the first time, white-collar and blue-collar employees worked together, sharing an experience and learning more about each other.

Eventually, the entire site management team joined me in these sessions.

The production employees were excited that management was finally paying attention and trying to make conditions better. A common understanding of the challenges in the plant began to evolve. Managers got to know shop employees better, and we formed deeper relationships.

When managers realized how difficult some of the production processes were and how skilled the employees were, respect deepened. In the same fashion, shop employees learned what managers were doing in their offices each day. They realized how difficult their job was as well.

Mutual respect spread throughout the operation.

“Fridays on the Floor” became standard practice at this operation, and it helped us build unity in the organization. As we broke down barriers between blue-collar and white-collar employees, we began to appreciate each other.

As we worked together to fix the problems we found, our performance improved as well. The plant eventually became the top-performance operation in the division setting new records for sales and profitability. It all happened because we worked together and became a unified team.

Twenty-two years later, I’m still doing it. I’m still leading a manufacturing business, and I’m still working on the shop floor with my employees. In fact, the worn-out boots in the picture are my boots.

You’ve probably heard that you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Well, I’ve walked that mile (and maybe a little more). I can tell you that it’s true. I’ve built a greater understanding of my teams through this process.

To eliminate “us and them,” you need to find ways to work together and build those shared experiences. It’s the only way to create unity, and a unified team is hard to beat.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Fridays on the Floor” and the impact it can have on an organization, pick up my latest book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.  I cover  this topic extensively in chapter 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excellence Attracts Excellence

Last week the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and coaches were awarded their Super Bowl LV rings. Shortly after that, Tom Brady took to social media and posted a picture of himself wearing his seven Super Bowl rings.

Like most lifelong Patriots fans, I had mixed emotions seeing our former quarterback getting another ring. Sure, we were all happy for him and sad that he won the big game wearing another team’s jersey.

This weekend, I talked with my 24-year-old son about that picture. He had an excellent observation about Tom Brady that I hadn’t considered. Like me, my son is a lifelong Patriots fan. I mentioned how truly unique it was to see a player like Tom Brady go to another team and win a Super Bowl in his first year.

My son simply said, “excellence attracts excellence.” He reminded me of all the great players that joined the Buccaneers shortly after Brady announce he would be signing with the team. He also reminded me of how many notable players came to the Patriots over the years for that very reason.

Great players are attracted to great leaders Click To Tweet

The truth is that great players are attracted to great leaders. This is true for football and business.

If you think about it, football is a lot like business. Winning a Super Bowl or building a world-class business takes an entire team. One quarterback or leader can’t do it alone. So it only makes sense that you will be more effective as a team if you can attract and retain the best players.

In close to 30 years of business leadership, I have seen countless examples of great leaders attracting the best talent. For example, my first boss out of the Navy was an R&D manager who had several great engineers who had followed him to several different companies.

The same thing happened to me when I started my manufacturing company. I was shocked by the number of talented people who sent me their resumes with the intent to leave their safe, corporate jobs to be part of my small company. In fact, one employee turned down a job offer to join the Ford Motor Company as a design engineer so he could be part of our team.

Excellence attracts excellence, but the opposite is true as well.

Bad leaders repel great employees Click To Tweet

It’s not that bad leaders attract bad employees; it’s more like bad leaders repel great employees. A recent Gallup poll of more than one million U.S. workers concluded that the top reason people quit their jobs was because of a bad boss. More than 75% of employees who voluntarily left their jobs did it because of their boss.

Despite what you think of Tom Brady, he’s a winner. And he keeps winning because he attracts and retains talent.

If you want to have a winning organization, you need the best players as well. You will attract those players when people know you are a great leader. People want to work for someone they know that will treat them with respect, listen to their ideas, and help them become the best version of themselves.

If you want to become a better letter, you need to keep developing your leadership skills. One way to do that is by reading books like my bestselling new leadership book All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Photo credit – Tom Brady’s Twitter Feed]

Should I Stay or Should I Go? What do you do when you disagree with management?

As a leadership speaker and author, I get this type of question a lot.

I work in a company with poor management. Employees are frustrated and apathy is widespread. Should I confront management about this or just look for another job?

The real question is: When do I know if I should stay at my current job or look for a new one?

I began to think about this after someone else recently contacted me for advice.  He works for a local government department and has had a long, successful career.  Lately though, he has been frustrated the top-down approach of everyone in management.

His question was simple; do I question leadership or do I just stay quiet?

The problem with questioning authority is obvious.  You might get cross-threaded with management which could lead to termination or getting passed over for future promotions. Staying silent, however, can lead to frustration, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and disengagement.  This, of course, can also lead to termination or getting passed over for promotions.

I imagine a lot of people find themselves in this situation.  If I look back on my career, I can recall times when I strongly disagreed with a management decision but kept my mouth shut to preserve my job and my advancement prospects.  It was very frustrating and my ability to lead others suffered because of it.

“Next generation leaders are those who would rather challenge what needs to change and pay the price than remain silent and die on the inside.” ~Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley’s quote from his book, Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future, was the basis of my advice for my friend.  Remaining silent and dying on the inside is no way to live your life.  It’s probably time for him to talk to his boss and voice his concerns but it needs to be done in a respectful manner.

“Question authority; but, raise your hand first.” ~ Alan M. Dershowitz

 If you find yourself in this situation, it’s fair to question leadership, but do it in a way that is private, respectful, and considerate.  You may find their explanations make sense or they decide to make changes based on your feedback.  In this case, you have resolved the conflict in a respectful manner and can go back to enjoying your job.

If, however, you find they don’t appreciate being questioned or their answers don’t make sense, it may be time to start looking for another job.  And that’s OK too.  It’s better to fully understand your situation and know it’s time to go than stay at a job where you will be unhappy and dissatisfied. Plus, it’s always easier to find a job while you still have one.

Consider the words of Andy Stanley and don’t remain silent.  It’s acceptable to question leadership, but do it in a way that is private, respectful, and considerate.  Their answers will make it very clear what you should do next.

Pre-order my new book All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.