A professor of mine once explained that management is often out-of-touch with the daily grind of what really goes on inside their own firms. As an up-an-coming manager at the time, I felt a certain sense of pride in my work and felt as though I was very well connected with my employees. Basically, I was in denial. I thought I had it figured out – like most of us do.
When I became part of a much larger firm, I vowed my first task would be to get in touch with the workforce by doing what they do for a week. The management team agreed. After the typical first day introductions, I ditched the tie and went to work on day two in a t-shirt, blue jeans, and a fresh set of steel-toe boots.
It wasn't long before I got a reminder of what real work was all about. It was long, hot, and in some cases repetitive and boring. I found my mind wandering away to more desirable places and losing focus on the work.
My back hurt, my hands hurt, and I was confused about processes that seem simple to people in offices. I saw warehouse workers scurry to keep up through an entire shift. I watched sales professionals pour their heart and soul into their negotiations, and I was yelled at by customers. One supervisor even fired me from a very simple job because I didn't have the manual dexterity.
What I Learned
I learned that a week wasn't nearly enough time to get good at every job, but I was able to grasp a few key things quickly. Second and third shift workers are often out of sight and out of mind. In many cases management was oblivious to the most basic challenges faced by workers every day. Attention was needed in specific areas that could not be seen from an office. From this experience, I gained a profound respect for the people making products and talking to customers.
In addition to learning a few things about the experiences of our employees, there were tremendous benefits to this eye opening experience. Most importantly, I received an abundance of respect from employees around the company.
I made lots of mistakes in front of employees and admitted them. Owning up to your own mistakes a great way to build trust.
As a human resources director, I learned insights about the kind of people I would hire, but most importantly relationships were established that could be built upon for the future.
The hand full of opportunities that I have had to spend a day in the life of an employee has been invaluable to my development as a human resource professional and manager. By taking the time to work side-by-side with rank-and-file employees, I earned trust and respect which made my life as a manager go much more smoothly when managing change became a priority.
The experience opened my eyes and encouraged me to ask employees their opinions on issues that managers usually decide from behind a desk. So here's a call to all managers: spend a day in the life your staff and reacquaint yourself with your hard-working, dedicated employees. The results will surprise you.