As HR people, we’re often asked to find “solutions” that are “scaleable.” Translating these popular buzzwords into plain English, this management request often means, “Can’t you roll-out a one-size-fits-all program to thousands of people so that I don’t get bogged down having to deal with my employees day by day?” (OK, maybe that’s a little cynical — but it feels like that’s what’s being asked sometimes, doesn’t it?).
I’ve always believed that the simple but correct answer to this question is, “No.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against “programs” (i.e., recognition programs, service longevity programs, wellness programs, employee assistance programs, etc.). Well-designed programs can add wonderful elements of supportiveness to an organization’s culture. But . . .
Programs Support People, Not Vice-Versa
. . . Programs can only be effective if they are an outgrowth of a caring culture — not a replacement for it. If they are not, they will be seen/felt more as a discordant note (not aligned with company culture) than anything else. And, the “culture of caring” starts in all the small ways that we relate to as individuals — personal kindness, respect, dignity, etc..
The Good and Bad News For Managers
There, I’ve said it: You need to SHOW THEM YOU CARE. People are smart — they know when something is “real” or when it is “forced.” * Make it real, and the sky’s the limit for employee engagement and commitment! The “bad news”: Neither I nor anyone in HR can create a program that “automates” this process. The “good news”: You (as manager) can make positively influence your culture and your employees EVERY DAY just by showing you care (listening, remembering personal milestones that are important to them, taking their feelings and opinions truly into account, and a whole host of other “little things” expounded on in fine fashion in this article).
* Example: I once had a manager who was good (or so he thought) at remembering to ask about your spouse, sick child, etc., for 15 seconds before launching into what you needed to do. The only problem was, this wasn’t taken as genuine caring. A colleague once remarked, “It’s like he couldn’t wait to “check it off the list” before getting down to business.” Whether valid criticism or not, this is how it felt to his team — and thus the forced kindness did more damage to his credibility than if he just skipped over it completely.
One Example: Saying Good Morning and Good Night
I read a blog post recently (thanks, Manager Girl) that gave a terrific example of a “little thing” that counts for a lot: saying “good morning” and “good night” to the members of your team. Now, granted, taken to the extreme, this can take on tones of an extended scene from “The Waltons” (for those not old enough to remember the classic tv program about a Depression-era family, they would end each episode with everyone safely tucked into bed, sharing goodnights throughout the house: “Good night, John Boy;” “Good night, Elizabeth;” etc. — a warm and reassuring moment each week, to be sure). Yet and still, it’s one of the easiest ways to demonstrate respect: simply acknowledging someone’s presence upon arriving and departing.
Counter-example: I once had a manager who could choose to pass by her team’s doors (there were only 4 or 5 of us, at most) on her way out of the office at night . . . yet never once in the year or so that I worked for her did she bother to offer a “good night” to anyone. It’s a small thing, but there’s no better way of making someone feel that you don’t value their presence than by leaving somewhere day after day and not even acknowledging their existence.
* Confession and point of perspective: I’m Italian and, at least judging by my family, we can tend to take the “good bye ceremony” to extremes — so, I admit that my views on the goodbye thing may be a little over-sensitive. Even so, there’s definitely a point to it.
Managers may read this post and think, “There goes HR again, criticizing the managers. They don’t realize the pressures that are on me to make my numbers day after day — to produce/sell enough to pay all of our salaries. Now they want me to do even more?” I can assure you that the contrary is true: This isn’t criticism . . . it’s encouragement. You know much better than I do how to produce/sell what you produce/sell. I can only encourage you on the fact that while you’re doing it, the small kindnesses of caring and concern — when expressed genuinely — can make all the difference in the world to the people helping you do the producing/selling . . . and all of that part is completely within your control.
And that’s a wonderful thing.