The 8th Principle in Dann’s Principles of Management: An organization values its employees only to the extent and depth that it maintains two-way dialogue with them. (To view the complete list of Principles, visit our introductory post and to read full descriptions on each of the remaining eight principles, use the links at the bottom of this post.)
So, let’s begin with a definition of dialogue. Dialogue is a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.
Why is this on the list of Dann’s Principles?
As I wrote in the introductory blog, I developed this list of principles some 30 years ago. I was a young pup manager struggling to figure it out, to define some bedrock ideas I could hang my hat on and turn to when the going got rough. I was doing research for a management course I was asked to present at Boston University, when I came across a book that stunned me. Though the book itself is long gone from my memory, the research finding I read remains imprinted and is the basis of Dann’s Principle #8. It stated that two way dialogue was the single most important attribute that employees used to gauge whether they were valued. Dialogue came in as more important than job title, salary, and the like, i.e., all of the usual stuff I had thought was important. I was stunned, and then I began to reflect on what I was experiencing as a manager.
What was it that my employees at the time wanted most? To be in the know. They wanted the opposite of what was called at the time (and still is) as “mushroom management” , i.e. keep them in the dark and feed them feces (I am trying to be polite here). This is still widely practiced. That is, the notion that “you don’t need to know. Just do your job”, or “I don’t have time for this”.
So, I began to look at this more closely and tested the theory. The more I looked, the more true and more important this became for me. So, it made the list, and it is stated as an absolute.
What’s going on here?
Think about any relationship that you have that is important to you; spouse, child, sibling, whatever. How well is that relationship going to go if you don’t value the opinion and viewpoint of the other person? Universally, not well. What human beings crave is to be understood and valued. Yes, for what they produce (bonuses and employee recognition is nice for this), but also for what they think.
Go back to the definition of dialogue at the top of this post. It is not just about honoring employees by keeping them in the loop of what you know, it is learning and valuing what they know.
The importance of this principle lies in the truth that if you don’t value my point of view, then you don’t value me. And, if you don’t value me, then I’m outta here!
What’s in it for me?
OK, you say, I am already too busy. I simply don’t have time to go around dialoguing with everyone. There are ways to organize this so that it doesn’t consume you. But first, you really need to understand why this is important. Here are just two reasons backed with empirical data from my own experience with clients:
- You can’t possibly begin to know everything. In fact, you are likely in the dark on some very important matters. We often use a diagnostic instrument in strategic planning that brings to light the points of view of the CEO, management team and employees re. “what are the real problems around here”. What has been startling to me to find is that over 90% of the time (including when I first used the instrument on my own company), the CEO sees a mirror image of the organization, i.e. the employees see the earth as round and the CEO sees it as flat. Therefore, if you are not actively soliciting and listening to your employees as to what the real problems and opportunities for improvement are, you are likely managing with serious gaps in data.
- The solutions to problems and real innovation lie in the people closest to the work. You need to rid yourself of the notion of the all-knowing manager. The manager should be a facilitator that gathers and effectively employs the wisdom and knowledge of those doing the work, those touching the customer, the product etc. We have seen this time and again, both in use of employee teams in strategic assessments and in process improvement.
So, as promised, what’s in it for you? Success. You don’t have to search for the answers; they lie within your organization’s workforce. Every manager I have guided to employ this principle has been astounded by the untapped resource that had been available for years.
What’s been your experience?
I could go on forever on this particular topic. For now, if you want guidance on how to put this principle to the test, e-mail me with your experiences, as I am always open to learning.
If you are interested in learning about Dann’s Principles 1 -7 and 9, or the list as a whole, click on any of links below: