Being Proactive Requires Reviewing Our Values

My boss asked me to finish a report by Monday morning.  I was planning to submit it by Wednesday next week but my boss wanted it earlier.  Because he asked me on Friday, I had to cancel my weekend plans. 

Some bosses pile on work on their employees.  The bosses would believe there is good reason but they also would believe they aren’t beholden to explain deadlines to their subordinates.  Bosses dictate, employees follow, after all. 

Employees, however, are people too and it can be demoralising when the boss deems work more important than the quality time of employees after work hours. 

So, what can employees do? 

Either the employees just do what the bosses say or they don’t.  If they do, they can count on some praising like a pat-on-the-back assuming they did a good job.  If they don’t, they’ll risk getting on the bad side of the boss who would put a bad mark on an employee’s performance record which may lead to career stagnation. 

Not really much of a choice.  But that’s reality. 

Never mind what some consultants or so-called gurus may say, people who work for other people don’t own their time.   When we have bosses, the bosses own us and sometimes if not often, they own even our time after work hours.

This is because work for many people, like middle managers and office workers, as we know it no longer is limited to a fixed schedule.  With email, SMS texting, and Internet-enabled voice & chat technologies, the boss can communicate with her employees wherever they may be and at anytime.  (I had a boss who’d call me when I was halfway around the world on vacation and that was even before the Internet). 

But thanks also to the Internet, we have more access to more information.  We can find out if there are other jobs waiting for us in other companies.  We can submit our curricula vitae (CV) with a few clicks of a mouse.  And we can get interviewed long distances from the comforts of our own home (or office desk when the boss isn’t around). 

The hard part, of course, is writing the CV and preparing for the interview.  The harder part is deciding whether we’d want to change careers in the first place. 

The hardest part, however, is making the choice itself.  We’d wrack our brains thinking if we should stay in our jobs or move on to greener pastures. 

It isn’t just about the risks of what we choose but it’s also what we believe in. 

This is what being proactive is really about.  Proactive is choosing based on what we value.  Note it isn’t what we want, it is what we value.  Stephen Covey of Seven (7) Habits fame identifies being proactive as the freedom to choose one’s response.  But to choose what we believe is right, we should choose based on what’s important for us, which is in a nutshell are our values

Employees would opt to stick with a job with a slave-driver boss that deprives weekends off because the employees would value the job security and income needed for their families. 

An employee, however, may choose to quit because she values her time with her children more than anything else. 

But as much as it may be clear to some, it can be a lengthy exercise for many who haven’t really defined what they value or are in self-conflict with changes in what are important to them. 

As the PlanPlus Online website puts it, values “may change as demands or needs change.” 

“If a given belief or opinion is something that might be altered if the conditions are right, then it’s a value.”

-PlanPlus Online, The Difference Between Principles and Values, https://www.planplusonline.com/difference-principles-values/

When values become moving targets, we can become confused and that can make it difficult to decide things.  We therefore sometimes become dependent on others to make our minds up, like just doing what the boss tells us to do. 

Values are based on beliefs, opinions, causes, and/or the very stuff we put the highest importance on, such as our families, relationships, careers, and religions.  We often try to rank them and doing so can be a difficult process, not to mention frustrating.  The bottom line is we always are evaluating what our priorities are. 

Is there a best way to define our values?  No.  But the question maybe should be:  how often should we define our values?  Not everybody knows what he or she wants.  Lucky for those who do but there are many who constantly need to review what’s important.  Actually, it may be those who do it often are the luckier ones because they would always be updated to their versions of their value systems. 

When we know surely what we think or feel what’s important, we’d know how to choose confidently.  We end up knowing how to answer when a boss asks us to work on weekends. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Three Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

Every new manager should always ask three (3) questions about an operation he or she will be in charge of:

  1. What does the book say should be happening?
  2. What do the people say should be happening?
  3. What is really happening? 

Chances are each answer would be totally different from the others. 

What does the book say?

The “book” in this case is the manual, memo, policy, or rule.  What does the book say how an operation should be run? 

What do the people say?

The “people” are the workers running the operation, your boss, and your peers whom you work with.  They’re the men and women on the ground who know their jobs as well as those co-managers who think they know more than you. 

You could also pose the same question to support staff like the inspectors & maintenance technicians, or to foremen and supervisors who oversee the workers.  But I’d put more weight to what the people who are on the front-line say since they’re the ones who are right there doing the job itself.   

What is really happening?

This is what is actually happening which comes from witnessing the operation itself. 

Most of the time the answers to each question differ greatly.  What the book says would differ from what the people you work with say and either would differ from what is happening in real life.

When a new manager notes the different answers, it provides a starting point on how best to manage the people and operations she will be in charge of.  It will lead to more questions like:

  • Why isn’t the operation doing what it’s supposed to as per the manual?
  • Why are people saying differently from what is actually happening?

The idea isn’t to catch people and find fault.  It’s to know what real problems underlie the jobs people are doing and the systems that run them. 

The three (3) questions provide an opening into understanding what those challenges and difficulties are. 

Case in Point:  Production at a Refrigerated Margarine Packing Line

As a new manager of a refrigerated margarine packing line of a multinational consumer goods corporation, it was my job to make sure production would always be maximised.  There was high demand for the corporation’s refrigerated margarine brand at the time and I had to make sure production was in full swing.

I noticed, however, that production per eight-hour shift never was more than 700 packed cases a day. 

I went to check the work styles of the margarine’s operators.  I had the three (3) questions in mind:

What did the book, the company’s manufacturing manual, say? 

The manual said employees must be on the production line at the very start of their shift and can only leave their work-place during breaks and only at the end of their shift.  During their work-time, they must be working and packing to meet output as dictated by the production schedule.

In other words, employees should be working throughout their shift except during breaks. 

But if they are working throughout their shift, then based on time & motion studies, they should easily exceed 700 cases a day.  So why weren’t they?

What did the operators say?

When I asked the operators how come they weren’t exceeding the 700 cases a shift, they said that is the maximum they can humanly do.  Each case is heavy and packing them isn’t as easy as what the manual says. 

When they pack a refrigerated margarine case, they said they have one person scooping up the margarine bars and putting them into a corrugated container.  A second packer tapes the case and stacks it with others on a pallet.  A third person who is also the operator of the production equipment moves the pallet to cold storage adjacent to the packing line and then provides a new pallet for the packets to stack new cases. 

What was really happening?

When I went to discreetly observe the packing operation (I would observe from a spot where they wouldn’t see me), I noticed that there’d only be one operator on the packing line.  The other two wouldn’t be there.  In fact, whenever I observed the operation, there will always be only person doing everything:  packing, stacking, and moving the pallets. 

On the swing shift (afternoon to evening) and graveyard shift (evening to early morning), there would be no production operation for the last two to three hours of each shift.  As in no one present on the production line. 

When I confronted the crews about this, their first answer was that the other operators were on break when I was observing only one person on the line.  When I countered that it wasn’t the designated company break time, they then said they took turns on breaks so that they could run the machine straight without having to turn it off and on again. 

When I asked how come there was no operation for the last two to three hours of a shift, they said they were making up for the break-times they didn’t use up from going straight during the shift.

Finally, when the employees realised they weren’t making sense, they finally said:

Some years ago we were paid on incentive.  We were given a quota of 700 cases a shift.  If we exceed quota, then we will be paid extra.  But the company decided two (2) years before you the manager came to scrap the system and raised every worker’s salaries to make up for the lost incentive.  We at the refrigerated margarine line, however, felt no longer motivated to produce more than 700 cases per shift.  And rather work throughout a shift, each of us operators took turns packing the items on the line.  Each of us would really be working only two (2) hours a shift.  After six (6) hours, when we reached the “quota” of 700 cases, we would all go upstairs to our locker room and rest until quitting time. 

For the succeeding months afterwards, I worked with the refrigerated margarine crew in this regard.  I didn’t outright succeed in getting more production per shift but I did change how production schedules were done and did organise the crews into teams that worked on reducing downtimes.  Productivity actually improved despite the ongoing practice of producing only a fixed quantity per shift. 

Asking those three (3) questions:

  1. What does the book say?
  2. What do the people say?
  3. What is really happening? 

helps managers see what’s happening from three (3) different angles. 

Neither answer may necessarily be the right one.  The idea is to reconcile them all and identify the problems that underlie each one of them. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Heroes Among Us

It’s easy to criticise.  It’s simple to call someone stupid. 

Social media in the Philippines has been abuzz since the pandemic began in 2020.  Not that it hasn’t been abuzz before; it was more so after as people stayed home and expressed their frustrations.

As vaccine supply remained scarce, the COVID-19 virus continued to wreak havoc in 2021.  Hospitals were full; people died.  Critics blamed government; government blamed critics. 

People finger-pointed at politicians; politicians grand-standed or pushed back.  It was a show we watched and participated in every day.  We texted, we posted, and we hurled invectives.  While people absorbed themselves in the viral discussions on the Internet, many chose not to join the fray and decided to do their work―work that mattered. 

There was the barangay (village) health officer who was in charge of scheduling vaccinations for the village residents.  He would call the residents up and tell them when their vaccines were ready.  He also scheduled the village’s ambulance to pick up and bring patients to the hospital. He also secured medical clearances for recovered patients.  The health official did many things at once and when asked, he did it as a “service” and for no more.

There were the many others like the barangay health officer who did their part beyond the call of duty:

There were the doctors who did house calls to diagnose and treat CoVID patients, despite the risk of infection to themselves. 

There were the swab test nurses who went house to house to get samples from suspected infected patients.  And those who worked at the laboratories to analyse and deliver the results. 

There were the crews of mobile X-ray trucks who went place to place to cater to patients who couldn’t leave their homes because they were in quarantine.  

There were the funeral home employees who did the sad and thankless job of picking up and cremating the remains of patients who didn’t survive.

And on the fringes, there were the security guards who reported to duty every day.  The custodians who cleaned the buildings.  The maintenance technicians who watched and made sure critical equipment kept running.  Not only at the hospitals but at facilities such as office buildings and factories. 

There were the drugstore clerks and pharmacists who worked the whole day to dispense medicines.  The supermarket merchandisers and workers who helped shoppers find the food and household supplies they needed.  And the many motorcycle riders and delivery truck crews who left early in the morning and went home late at night. 

It is true all of the above work for an income; an income that agencies and enterprises bill us and we frequently complain about. 

But despite whatever flak we may give them, these ladies and gentlemen did their jobs without fail and contributed life-saving work for many stricken from the pandemic. 

Hats off to them.  Perhaps we can’t do any better in giving them tribute but we can at least make sure we pay our bills and get inspired to give a little more extra in the work we ourselves do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Seen and Not Heard, Speak Only When Spoken To, Why It’s Good to Listen

In the old days (as late as the mid-20th century), many parents told their kids that children were meant to be “seen not heard” and that children can only “speak when spoken to.”

This rule prevails among many families, never mind if it’s the 21st century and some people say we should be more liberal with our kids. 

Many enterprises apply this rule in their organizations too. 

In one company I was consulting with, the executive vice president disliked getting interrupted or being asked questions by her subordinates.  When they do, the EVP yells at them.  The subordinates believed they didn’t have the privilege of speaking out; only their bosses have. 

Whenever I sat in the top management meetings of large multinational corporations, I noticed only the executives seated around the conference table would be allowed to speak.  Those middle managers and staff who sit at the periphery in less comfortable chairs would only talk when they’re addressed.  Otherwise, they were expected to keep quiet.  (They can laugh at the chief executive’s jokes though).

It seemed that such an old-fashioned rule stifles the sharing of information and the emergence of innovative ideas.  And because of this, executives had become out of touch with their own people.  Instead, the executives form their own opinions and solutions and when they address their staff, they expect immediate agreement. 

New enterprises attribute their successes to the teamwork of their people.  This gets forgotten as enterprises grow in size and complexity.  But size and complexity shouldn’t be the reasons for not engaging with everyone in the organization. 

Whether big or small, everyone in an organization has always something to share.  Many of what they share may seem trivial but chances are there will be a gold nugget of an idea in the information they impart. 

So, what should an organisation do to encourage information sharing?  Meet with the people at their level is the first thing that comes to mind.  Go listen to them at their workplaces.  Note I said “listen” not “talk.”  Listening is the real key here.  It’s amazing how much an employee can open up when he or she realises there’s someone actually willing to listen. 

It will take time of course.  Some employees won’t open up at once especially when they’re face to face with the person who they believe holds the power of the organisation.  There is effort involved.  There always is when trying something not really done as much before.

But I think many have testified to the benefits of listening.  It promotes trust for one.  When the people of an organisation trust their executives more, when they see that executives are humans just like them, they tend to be more open to change.  At least they would be more open to share information as well as receive feedback from the executives. 

Some of us grew up in families where we were not allowed to speak unless spoken to.  This unwritten rule somehow carried over to organisations which some of us work for today.  It stifles information sharing and hampers innovation.  Executives can break this rule by simply going down to the level of their employees and listening. 

Listening builds trust and trust opens up communication which leads to information sharing and innovation.  Innovation drives growth and competitive advantage.  And it doesn’t cost a thing.  Just some effort will do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous