Archive for April, 2018

Angelo Palazzolo was a supervisor, here is what he did for a living

My Uncle Angelo Palazzolo passed away yesterday.  My Uncle Angelo was my first real supervisor when I went to work at Butternut Bakery.  I did this post years ago and I mention my Uncle Angelo in it.  He told me something then that I have not forgotten to this day.  So I thought I would reprint this in his honor.  Rest in Peace Uncle Angleo:

So, you are a frontline plant supervisor at the ACME Widget Company. What on earth is your job?

Is it to make more widgets in a more cost-effective manner to contribute to the bottom line? That might be exactly what your job description says, and if it does not say this exactly in the same way it probably says something eerily similar, written by some more senior member of management who is even farther away from the actual production process than you are.

So is your job really to make more widgets more cost-effectively? If so, I wonder, when is the last time you picked up a wrench or operated a machine? I’ll bet it has been a while, because as a supervisor your job isn’t really to make the widgets. It is to motivate the people who are actually making the widgets to make “more widgets in a more cost-effective manner,” isn’t it?

When I became a production supervisor more years ago than I care to remember, my Uncle Angelo, who was a production supervisor at the same plant, told me, “Well, that’s the last time you’ll actually do any productive work.”

Turns out he was more right than he knew . . . I went to law school. But really, what wise Uncle Angelo was saying was I was no longer actually making the bread. (We worked in a bakery.) Instead, I was watching over others who actually made the bread.

So, I’m a supervisor; what exactly do I do for a living?

The answer should be that I motivate and inspire people to do a better job. In short, I make sure I have happy people who are satisfied with their work so that they in turn can be more productive and make better widgets in a more cost-effective manner to contribute to the bottom line.

I wonder how I am doing?

So I looked. According to Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, a staff writer for Time magazine who writes a great blog called “Work in Progress,” I’m not doing very well. Ms. Takeuchi Cullen, in an Aug. 21, 2007, post entitled “Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” points to a recent Gallup Poll that found that about 77 percent of Americans hate their jobs. That’s right, HATE! (See http://time-blog.com/work_in_progress/2007/08/three_signs_of_a_miserable_job.html?xid=rss-wip.)

Not satisfied with the raw numbers, Ms. Takeuchi Cullen went in search of the “why” and found author Pat Lencioni, whose new book is entitled, oddly enough, “Three Signs of a Miserable Job.” Now I have not read Lencioni’s book, but according to Ms. Takeuchi Cullen, Lencioni claims there are three signs of a miserable job:

The first is anonymity, which is the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them as a human being and that they know little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests.

The second sign is irrelevance, which takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life—a customer, a coworker, even a supervisor—in one way or another.

The third sign is something I call “immeasurement,” which I realize isn’t actually a word. It’s the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers, to gauge their progress or contribution. (See http://time-blog.com/work_in_progress/2007/08/three_signs_of_a_miserable_job.html?xid=rss-wip.)

This struck me as odd. After all, where are the complaints about the lousy pay and the crappy benefits? Why aren’t these people complaining about that and how can this be right?

So I looked. According to an AFL-CIO survey when dignity is a key issue at a plant, unions win elections at a rate of about 55 percent. Conversely, when wages are the key issue, the union win rate is only about 33 percent. Maybe Lencioni is on to something here?

I have to tell you, thinking back to my seven years as a first-line supervisor, I just don’t like this at all. I can’t blame lousy pay for turnover? I can’t blame substandard benefits for employee dissatisfaction? You mean the key to happy, satisfied employees is right in my own hands?

You bet it is.

And if you are not a first-line supervisor, if you are a member of upper management or work in HR, it is in your hands too.

Take an interest in what your employees are doing in their lives; it is not that hard. Talk to them. More importantly, listen to them. Walk around and see what they are doing. Make sure your employees know how their jobs contribute to the overall success of the enterprise and how they fit into the success of the company. You don’t have to be doing some noble thing to be contributing. Show employees that every job matters to the success of the business and the satisfaction of the customers. Show them how they fit. Sit with them and work out a system of measuring their individual success and how that success impacts the team and organization.

If you are a member of upper level management or HR, promote people who have the ability to do these things, not just people who are good at making widgets. Take an interest in making sure that your supervisors take an interest and reward them when they do it well.

Before you know it, you might like your job better too.