Guident Newsletter – February 2018 – Issue 22

Does it matter how the towels are folded?

Once in awhile, I get a chance to ride along with a project manager or foremen to visit a job site.  This gets me out of the client’s office and onto a job site, but more importantly, it allows me time to talk with employees in a neutral environment, usually a pickup truck.  On my last ride-a-long, I heard about a business owner who was a micromanager.  He set the policies and procedures for all areas of his company.  Now he has every right to do so, but at times it could be counterproductive.

In this situation, I asked the employee how he would change a procedure to improve a problem area we were discussing.  He gave me a comprehensive outline that seemed to have a lot of merits and could improve efficiencies.  I asked if he suggested it to The Boss.  He just smiled at me and said, “When was the last time you remember ‘The Boss’ changing his mind?”  Well, I thought about it, and he did have a point.  The Boss didn’t change his mind often, ok seldom if ever.  I thought about this ride and the lessons the employee taught me that day.  

If The Boss seldom, if ever, changes his mind, why would an employee contribute their good ideas to the cause?  This business owner was a micromanager and wanted each task done exactly the way he felt it should be done.  This reminded me of when I was a young boy and lived at home with my five sisters, (its ok to feel sorry for me ☺) one of my tasks was to fold the dish towels after they had been washed.  I was told exactly how to fold them, and every towel was to be folded the same way, no exceptions!  I folded them as perfect as I could, and to this day I can still fold dish towels exactly how I was taught as a young boy.  Today in our household we share the chores, one such chore is folding towels, which is an individual task.  I fold the towels one way; my wife folds them another way, and our children fold them their way.  It is more important that the towels get folded than exactly how they are to be folded.  It makes it easier for all of us to participate in the household chores, and the job gets done.   

In essence, The Boss wants each employee to do their job exactly how he wants it done, regardless if the employee could improve on the process.  This type of management style will stifle innovation in the workplace.  If an employee has a better way, why wouldn’t The Boss welcome suggestions on how to improve the efficiencies of a specific process?  Giving employees the option to improve the process and do their jobs better can benefit everyone.  Of course, there are some sensitive jobs that need Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and should be done exactly the same way each time, but not all jobs need this type of structure.

Innovative employees are hard to come by and have the option to move on to other opportunities if not appreciated and valued.  Having a culture of open communication will facilitate this type of innovative culture, allowing employees to take mitigated risks, celebrating their successes and helping them learn from the shortfalls of their decisions will benefit the organization in the long run.  Smart business owners tap into their innovative employees and benefit from their fresh and new ideas.  Innovation cannot happen “if every employee is told exactly how to fold the towel, no exceptions!”  Innovation begins with the freedom to think for oneself, allow your employees to think for themselves and they will join you in contributing to the success of your business.