The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

October 16, 2013

Connect the dots to better engage workers

I enjoy power tools that go “VRRRROOMMMMM“ and hitting things with hammers, but that doesn’t make me a handyman.

I learned that quickly after becoming a homeowner. There are jobs I can do - painting, minor bits of plumbing, light carpentry - and others best left to professionals. I save us money where I can, hire skilled workers when needed and rejoice in having all my fingers.

This is a good mind-set for the workplace: Embrace your abilities, recognize your limitations, and don’t be afraid to seek help. (Also, try to avoid finger loss.)

Glenn Llopis, a business consultant and founder of the California-based Center for Hispanic Leadership, describes this approach as “finding your dot.“ Where do you fit into the organization? What are the specific areas you can influence the most? Who do you need to be connecting with to improve what you do?

“Not enough people know their dot,“ Llopis said. “They go to work, and their dot is being controlled and influenced by other people.“

Look at the way many companies are run. They’re broken into departments that often evolve into fiefdoms. Workers in each department are doing jobs as defined by job titles, but few are examining their skill sets or limitations to home in on how they might best benefit the company.

“Organizations still operate within these disparate parts,“ Llopis said. “Things are being managed with all these disparate parts because everyone is trying to protect their domain of relevancy. When you’re doing that, you’re minimizing your productivity. People’s talents aren’t being properly allocated, because there’s so much protection of domain.“

He then said something that made me want to jump through the phone and hug him: “There are many people in leadership positions who don’t even belong in one, not in today’s workplace. People of influence have been put there based on performance metrics that don’t align with what’s required to be a great leader. Part of leadership is to recognize fundamentally how to get the most out of people.“

Can I get an amen?

Seriously, countless workplace problems stem from having poor managers in management positions. They’re not bad employees or bad people. They’re often some of the brightest and most talented workers at the company. But being a superstar doesn’t always translate into being a supervisor.

Bad managers typically don’t know their dot and were put in authority by others who don’t properly align workers’ dots. That can leave a company operating competently, as opposed to exceptionally.

A study this year by the consulting firm Deloitte LLP found that some of the most capable workers are “explorers,“ people who possess three attributes: a commitment to having a long-term impact on a particular part of what a company does; a drive to go beyond their basic responsibilities; and a desire to seek connections with other people who will help them learn.

The study found that only 11 percent of the U.S. workforce can be classified as explorers. It’s not that there’s a lack of capable people; it’s that corporate environments can “squelch“ worker passion and keep them from, as Llopis puts it, finding their dots.

The Deloitte study advised: “(O)rganizations should identify elements in the work environment that threaten or discourage passion and remove these barriers as quickly as possible.“

I don’t think a study is even necessary to convince people that this makes sense. Take a humble look inward and evaluate yourself.

What aspects of your job turn you on? What do you seem to do better than anyone else? What are your weaknesses? Who are the people in your company you need to connect with to learn more and enhance your strengths?

“This isn’t relegated to a certain hierarchy,“ Llopis said. “You could be a top manager or an administrative assistant and see something going on around you that you see as an opportunity. Many people work under the confines of playing it safe and making sure they only deliver their role and responsibility. Their dot isn’t maximized. In today’s workplace, you have to be able to produce so much more.“

Know your dot.

And bosses, recognize that each worker has a dot and take the time to align them properly.

Look at it as a low-cost workplace-improvement project.

No hammers required.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at rhuppketribune.com or on Twitter RexWorksHere.

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