The Organizational Chart
After more than a 40-year career, I have learned that the person people think oversees running the organization is not always the case. A person may be the CEO, president, or plant manager in title and at the top of the organizational chart. However, there is often someone at a lower level that most people in the company look to be the person they will follow.
The Executive Assistant
The long-known knowledge is that if you want to talk to the person at the organization’s highest level, you need to get past the executive assistant. There have been exceptions to this since I typically worked at smaller companies; it was easier to get to this person. At the same time, I also understood that it was still a good idea to develop a strong relationship with the person that supported the leader. The assistant can become an ally when a meeting needed to be fit into a full schedule or to get something signed when the time was right. My parents taught me to treat everyone with respect. It was natural for me to do so regardless of one’s position in the company.
The Union Rep
I was a plant manager at one unionized facility. It was clear that my days would go better in that location if I followed the union contract. The reality was that doing so reduced the stress I had in similar roles at other manufacturing sites that I managed. An example was assigning overtime hours, which was clear-cut. I would post a signup sheet. Those with seniority in a particular job classification worked the extra hours. Often this meant that a less efficient and effective person worked overtime hours. Usually, that costs us more money while producing less hourly production. In a non-union operation, the rules did not exist, so I had to work through the best scenario to schedule the overtime, hoping that everyone was okay with the final decision.
The One to Which All Looked
Another lesson I learned is that even though I was the plant manager, there was always one person on the shop floor who looked for guidance when a change needed to occur. If this individual was supportive of the desired change, it went a lot smoother for me. There was a reasonable justification for this because the person was a long-serving employee that was very good at the job. The woman was great at helping me develop the best plan to lead a project to eventual success. Her plant experience was invaluable to me.
They All Controlled My Fate
Whether in a manufacturing environment or my current role as a university dean, we are only as good as the quality of the relationships we foster with those in our responsibility areas. I take an approach to show them my gratitude for the excellent work for our business unit. I focus on the positive things that they accomplish. In some plants, that was not easy to do early on, but there was always something I could find to show them appreciation. That approach led to more good things occurring. People respond very well when the person assigned to take care of them positively engages with them.
What Can Each of Us Do
Our conversations are critical to the success of our relationships. A shift in our dialogue with others from a deficit basis to a strengths-based approach is necessary to drive the type of beneficial change required to achieve an organization’s transformational results. “Conversation is a crucial part of everything we do” is the basis of the book Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. The nature of conversations should be appreciative by using an inquiry-based approach to generate information and statement-based interactions that are affirmative with the intent to add value.
To generate conversations worth having is a three-step process of:
1. Name It — Identifying the unwanted problem or complaint
2. Flip It — Determining the positive opposite
3. Frame It — State it as a positive outcome or desirable impact
People often scoff that this can make any difference. I have experienced success in taking this approach, where I can say that it is transformational in building strong relationships without reservation. I learned this first-hand from one of the authors, a faculty member, and dissertation chair in my DBA program. I encourage you to join me in developing positive relationships through conversations worth having.