Managing a group of people is challenging. Getting individuals to buy in to a certain direction and help further the companies goals and objectives can be tricky. Sometimes we fall into the trap of letting the perspectives of other people in the organization color the way we perceive the contribution of an employee.
Is it a Weed or a Flower?
One time, years ago, I was with colleagues on a car trip to visit our office in Chicago. As we passed a bank of purple clover by the highway, someone said, “Those weeds don’t look so bad when their all clustered together like that.” To that, someone else replied, “Who gets to decide what’s a weed and what’s a flower?”
Good question, right? I was reminded of this conversation while on a bicycle ride this weekend along a wooded trail. Plants that we work so hard to get rid of in our yards, become beautiful flowers in the context of being in nature and away from the city.
The same phenomena happens with employees. If we can simply change our perspective, what follows can be a shift in how we look at contribution.
Andy was a customer service representative at a regional telecommunications company. Andy had bounced around from position to position for a period of about 3 years. He just didn’t seem to fit in any position he tried. As he moved from manager to manager, the notes about his behaviors and performance followed him. A new manager would read the documentation and form opinions based on the descriptions. Words like tardiness, lack of effort, not a team player would jump from the page. This would inevitably cause the relationship between manager and employee to begin on rocky ground, and before long Andy would be looking for another job again.
Finally, Andy was assigned to a manager who decided she was not going to look at his employee file. She didn’t care what had happened in his previous stops. She wanted to just get to know him as a person. As they talked, Andy described his passion for art and photography. He spent most of his free weekends traveling to ghost towns and long forgotten railway stations to take black and white photographs. His manager asked to see some of his work and she was blown away by his eye for detail and the way he could compose a picture so that it told a story.
It turns out, Andy wasn’t a bad employee after all. He was simply not in the right element. A few discussions and soon he was part of the marketing team. He quickly became a thought leader and eventually was leading a group of people doing some things with digital photography that hadn’t been tried before and his stock within the organization had never been higher. I’m sure there were past managers who wondered what had happened to the guy they had written off as a low performer.
Once Andy’s skills and passions aligned in a different environment, he was able to grow and thrive.
It doesn’t matter whether you are evaluating the plants in your backyard, or the members of your team, each has a place they look the best to your eye and the eye of others. Your job in a managerial context is to help find that place for your people to succeed. It’s time to turn your weeds into flowers–strive to the align the talents and passions of your team members with the needs of the organization!