I finally get the Apple store.
My wife lives in the Apple universe, so we have occasionally ventured to the company store. If you’ve never been – well, it’s an odd place.
There are plenty of people working, but nobody has an apparent specific job, and any of the tables set up around the store could be serving any purpose. It seems like the human equivalent of an ant hill. But everybody is plugged in with an earpiece and a microphone, and everybody knows what’s going on.
I live in other universes with my tech, and it’s different there. I recently dealt with some phone issues, and was reminded once again that nothing with that company can ever be handled with just one phone call or website visit. No one person can help you; you must run through a complicated multinational, tech-based obstacle course.
My computer issues follow the same pattern; when a new desktop computer developed issues with one piece of software, I had to talk to four different companies before I could achieve a (not entirely satisfactory) solution.
It’s not that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing – the left hand doesn’t even know how to find the right hand.
Communication within an organization is critical to the organization’s success. Yet, so many organizations, both in the private and public sector, are so spectacularly bad at it.
Sometimes, it’s the result of a misguided management philosophy. Eddie Lampert, the CEO who presided over the decline and fall of Sears, had the bright idea that the departments in his stores should compete with each other, as if they were actually separate stores. Turns out that does not work well.
In the U.S., we like the idea of a bold, take-charge, leap-ahead CEO who gets things done. But this type of management can bring lousy results if the CEO likes to leap boldly ahead without ever talking to the people in his organization first.
It’s not just that talking to his people would help him avoid problems that they could warn him about because they know things he doesn’t. When they don’t know what is happening, or why, that makes it very hard to back the CEO’s play.
It’s ironic, but bold leapers are often micromanagers – they have to be, because nobody in the organization has enough information to make decisions on their own.
Knowing the why is critical because it keeps the organization nimble. This is where those mission statements that everybody has (but almost nobody pays attention to) come in handy.
If I work for a bold, leap-ahead boss, then every decision that I have to make has to wait for his input to know what I’m supposed to do.
But if I know the guiding principles of the organization and the big goals that we’re aimed for, I am equipped to make judgment calls on my own without having to wait for instruction. And if we regularly talk within the organization about those goals and principles, even better.
Imagine you’re in an automobile caravan. The boss in the lead car gives you no instructions except, “Follow me!” Nobody has a cell phone, and while we might have some guesses about where we’re going, nobody knows for sure. On top of that, the bold, leap-ahead lead car drives fast, often takes sharp turns without signaling, and runs the occasional red light. If we all get where the boss wants us to get, it will be a small miracle.
But imagine another caravan. In this one, the boss says, “We’re headed for the Carnegie Science Center. Here’s a map. Here’s a list of everyone’s cell number – keep your phones charged and ready and we’ll check in regularly. We’ll meet at the main entrance six hours from now.”
People will share information (“There’s a traffic jam on I-79 at the 101-mile marker”) and be able to make their own decisions (“Let’s stop at that Mexican place by the outlets for lunch”) and everyone will be right where they need to be when they need to be there.
Many bosses and organizations confuse “communication” with “talking at people without ever listening.” Many bosses think if they know what they want to do, that’s all that’s necessary (and good employees are the ones who can read the boss’s mind).
But a good and effective leader listens as well as talks and shares his vision rather than simply acting on it.
Peter Greene resides in Franklin and is a retired Franklin High School English teacher. He can be reached by email at [email protected].