Recently, while facilitating a leadership discussion with a group of managers and owners at a conference for the Lumbermens Merchandising Corporation, the topic of engaging the front line employees came up. In effect, the question was asked, ” How do I get a truck driver to engage with the business and think about their work differently?”
Of course, the question isn’t really about truck drivers, but it is a common question I get, and it is based on two mental mistakes.
- People ask the question from their perspective, and don’t consider the perspective of the other person (or make wild assumptions about it).
- People assume others don’t want the same things they do.
Both of these mistakes lead to the honest confusion that underlies the question.
So just how do I engage front line employees?
Everyone operates from the view of the world they see. If you are, for example, a truck driver, there are certain things you see and think about everyday – your experiences and thoughts create your perspective. Do you and your front line folks share the same experiences and therefore thoughts? Of course not! So in order for them to see things differently, you need to help them see different things.
Strategy: Help people see a new perspective. Give them a chance to see the numbers. Give them a chance to sit in on different conversations. Help them see the bigger picture. Will they see it immediately? Not necessarily, but be patient, they will if you give them time, support, and encouragement. It’s like the opposite of the show Undercover Boss – when the CEO sees a new perspective, they have a new understanding.
If you think you are different because of your job, education, or station in life, get a grip. Yes, every human being is different with a unique set of wants and needs, yet at the heart, we are all human. We want many of the same things from our work, regardless of our job title. Here is a good list for starters. (Read it if you aren’t sure what I mean).
Strategy: If you want to engage people, especially if you aren’t sure how, ask them. Ask them some questions, then listen. Don’t get into problem solving, justification, or excuse mode. Shut up and listen. Find out what they need. Engage them from their current perspective. You’ll learn something, and you will move in the direction of a more engaged employee.
There is a lot more that could be said (and done), but this is a good start.
Now go and get started!