5 things known to workers, but unknown to their bosses

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REY ELBO

IN 1989, management consultant Sidney Yoshida wrote about the “Iceberg of Ignorance,” which popularized the belief that 100 percent of frontline problems are known only to frontline workers. They know the many ways of cutting costs, exceeding customer expectations, and doing everything to ensure corporate profitability and sustainability. But if the management is not receptive to employee suggestions, then the company will see no improvement in its operations.

To compound the issue, line supervisors are privy only to 74 percent of the issues, while middle managers are limited only to 9 percent. And because many people know that senior management executives are lonely at the top of the corporate hierarchy, propped up precariously by their millions in cash, they are usually aware of only 4 percent of all the frontline problems.

“Who cares, if we have our millions?” you might imagine them thinking.

For eons, money (or the love of it) has always been the root of all evil. Many people judge you based on your economic status. But of course, those at the top of the corporate heap (or dung if you’re on the labor side) have a ready answer against the Iceberg of Ignorance:


“Let the line supervisors handle those frontline issues. That’s what they’re there for!”

OK, that’s fine. But what if I told you that what the senior management team and middle management didn’t know can hurt them, would your answer remain the same? Before answering that, let us count the ways:

One: Workers resent top management for their unethical, or inconsiderate, behavior. That includes illegal or immoral activities that are manifested by the management’s expensive lifestyles. Do you think ordinary workers wouldn’t know it if a top executive of their company resorted to bribing a government official to get a favor, or has committed unfair business practices, has evaded taxes, and many more? Do you think workers wouldn’t care?

Install an eavesdropping device in the cafeteria and you’ll be surprised at how much the employees know about what is going on inside the company. This could indicate that some of them might only be waiting for the right time to move somewhere else, if not take revenge by offering to be a whistleblower sometime soon.

Two: Workers know about the huge wage gaps among them. When I was active in corporate HR, our instruction from the top management was “salaries are confidential and are too sensitive to handle.” Even if you’ve already taken the pains of explaining the confidentiality rule, still you had no assurance that the people who have over-estimated their qualifications and work performance would rest their case. They know about the huge wage gaps and would still push for more information and press the issue if only to accuse top management of being unfair.

Three: Many workers don’t want to be micro-managed. Many of these people are not dumb as what some people-managers think. On the other hand, you, as the boss, may be thinking you’re doing a good job of closely supervising the workers. You happen to think the management’s job is command-and-control. It was – during the war. That’s one side of the coin. Unless, your organization has a 360-degree feedback, you’ll never know. Or even if you have such a system, the Filipino culture would not simply let you know the plain truth, until you hit a double-digit turnover rate, preceded by absenteeism and tardiness.

Four: Management people hear but they don’t listen to their workers. I mean, they don’t do active listening. This means having a serious, eyeball-to-eyeball meeting regularly initiated by management, allowing their workers to raise their concerns at a higher level of discussion and to receive a sincere, honest answer. Even if an organization has the best model of a proactive two-way communication process, such as having a regular town hall meeting, a labor-management cooperation system (among others) would be rendered useless if workers were treated like non-entities with no other option but to resign.

Five: Not sharing leadership responsibility by decision-making. Employee empowerment and engagement have been around since more than 70 years ago. And yet there are management people out there who think they have the monopoly of arriving at the best possible decision. For how could the top management people come up with the best idea if they had a limited view of the real issues, or 100 percent of the real problems that are known only to frontliners? Of course, to make a decision, people managers must trust their people to do a good job. Indeed, if decision-making is a science, then sharing such responsibility with people is an art.

Management expert Victor Lipman, who writes for Forbes magazine says: “The best managers aren’t “conflict avoiders,” but neither do they pull rank and roll right over others when conflicts occur. Remember, you’re going to have to continue work with these same people in the future. Best to look for fair constructive resolutions, not simply “getting your way.”

Management people, regardless of their rank in the organization, must be aware of and understand the important issues fully. What matters is that they improve the communication process. Don’t underestimate the capability of the workers. Remember the words of Theory X and Theory Y inventor Douglas McGregor (1906-1964): “The ingenuity of an average worker is sufficient to outwit any system of controls devised by management.”

You’ll be surprised at the “ingenuity” of people, even if they’re janitors and security guards because they know much more than what you can imagine.

Join our April 27, 2018 (one day) public workshop on “Indispensable Manager’s Metrics to Help Measure Success” at Makati Diamond Residences. For details, contact Ricky Mendoza at (02) 846-8951 or 0915-406-3039 or email inquiry@kairos.com.ph.

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