How people matter makes the mission: A Manager’s Tale

The manager works in the developing world and was patiently explaining to me the nuances of working in this particular country. The workforce a mixed education level, he explained, and the infrastructure is delicate. He went on to say that was the reason that command and control leadership was still very prevalent. I asked him, how that was working for him and he paused and said, “frankly not very well. I am drowning in work, and can hardly get away to manage my other plant, which is over 200 kilometers away. “

I asked him what he wanted, and he replied the liberty to come and go and manage both plants, knowing that he had good backup support, particularly at his current location. Next, I asked about his team. He identified one person particular, and then added hastily, “but she’s not interested, she does not like her work and doesn’t want to learn anything new. “ Now, I was curious and asked what he had tried. Mostly, he said, giving instructions and waiting for the work to be done.

What about the mission? I asked. He replied that he took great pride in his work and contributing to the company mission. What about this employee? Where does she fit in and how does her work contribute? He told me that too. Than I asked, does she know that? How her work matters? To the team, the plant and the big mission? He paused, and said no, I don’t think so. The call time was up and we agreed he would speak to this person and tell her how her work matters, and let me know how it went.

6 weeks later, the phone rings. It’s my client, he is excited and shouting over the telephone,

"MJ it works, you can’t believe it! My employee has completely changed, she is doing new things, and she is helping me out. She is excited about work. I had an emergency at the other location and she ran the plant for 2 weeks while I was gone. It’s like magic."

What made the difference, he said was telling her how her work matters. When he told her how what she did contributed to the work of people all around the world, he described, that “her face lit up, like she heard a wonderful story."

Yes, indeed, telling people how they and their work matter to the organization is just like magic. Except you don’t need a wand. You just need to tell them. Often.