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Treat Your People Like Machines and Invest

October 31, 2016


Investing in people is a proven way for employers to demonstrate that staff are truly their most valuable resource.  According to a 2016 Conference Board report, spending on Training is up by Canadian employers. Yet, putting your money where your mouth is does not always follow the laudable statements made by employers. As one executive related to me recently: “we take much better care of our machines and wouldn’t dream of cutting service contracts and scheduled maintenance while thinking nothing of slashing training and development budgets”.


Despite the best of intentions and given that resources are often limited; employers need cost-effective options. I would argue that on the training issue alone a lot can be achieved with many lower cost solutions. This can be done with orchestrated knowledge transfer through mentoring, job shadowing, job swaps, webinars, lunch and learns and the list (especially online) goes on and on and is only limited by managerial will and ingenuity.


But what about other ways to invest? Here are five ways managers and supervisors can invest heavily in their people in order to engage staff which research consistently shows positively impacts productivity and profitability:


  1. Intervene with people who are not meeting performance or behavioural expectations. Nothing disengages staff more than when they see their colleagues not pulling their weight or behaving inappropriately while bosses look the other way and shy away from difficult conversations.                                                                                                                                         

  2. Continuously clarify people’s roles. Once or twice a year during formal reviews doesn’t cut it. Investing means taking the time needed for ongoing conversations on performance and behavioral expectations. Rejigging checklists, revisiting daily and weekly team and individual accountability through huddles, bi-laterals and kickoff meetings are best practices.                                                                                                  

  3. Invest by creating a feedback rich workplace. No news is good news as a management approach with staff is antiquated, largely ineffective and stifles peoples progress on important tasks. It also does nothing to build confidence and capability. A steady diet of positive and constructive feedback mobilizes people and a reputation for doing so enhances an employer’s reputation and their ability to recruit and retain staff. Employers who leave this vital component to the whims and predilections of individual managers and supervisors are missing the point. When providing ongoing feedback is an agreed upon accountability for people leaders, workplace cultures become stronger.                                                                    

  4. Invest the time required to ask lots of questions. Telling is quicker and sometimes called for but Jim Collins author of “Good to Great” famously said “Lead with questions”. A practice of asking questions that validate, affirm and enable staff members to come to their own decisions with guidance, strengthens confidence and capability. Managers and supervisors are often seduced into thinking that providing answers is their role and potentially thwarting growth and healthy delegation.                                               

  5. Invest early through effective onboarding of new employees. Best practices are when line managers and supervisors are an integral part of welcoming their new staff from day one. They welcome, integrate and get people on task quickly with gobs of conversation around expectations, debriefings of how things really work and a heightened focus on feedback. When front line managers and supervisors leave this critical role to HR or if the process is largely administrative, an investment opportunity is irreparably lost and the seeds of disengagement are already being sown.


Treating people somewhat like machines with regard to investment may make sense. Thinking of scheduled maintenance, upkeep and spot repairs in human terms by investing time to engage people promises greater output and potentially less downtime.  

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