Updated: Feb 23
When I was in university, I worked at a retail store selling jeans. It was a great job, for the most part. My friends would come in and shop, and we always had awesome music playing. Besides that, I really enjoyed helping customers find the perfect pair.
The only downside was it was a new store, in a new mall, in an up and coming part of town. This meant we were sent all the “C” stock. Needless to say, it was tough to sell much, since a lot of the stock was junk. However, we were stuck with it because, until we proved the store could be a money maker, the chain wasn’t going to invest in it. Needless to say, this made life pretty hard. We had little to sell that was any good, and people didn’t want to buy the ugly stuff. We truly had the odds stacked against us.
In time, population in the area went up, and so did our sales. And, finally, we were rewarded with quality stock. Phew!
“Give me heat, then I’ll give you wood.”
As soon as I heard it, I was taken back to that time when we were expected to sell a lot while having nothing worth selling. It makes no sense to expect people to do amazing work with few to no resources. In order to create, promote, and sell the thing, employees need tools like up-to-date technology, quality materials, resources, and knowhow. They also need their company to believe they can do a lot with the right tools, coming up with ideas, products, and services which customers are going to want to buy.
This seems like common sense, yet a lot of companies use the heat first, then wood philosophy.
In the 1980s and 90s, Lean Methodology became super popular, and organizations everywhere embraced the ideals of cost-cutting, asking their people to “do more with less”. While this isn’t actually the true message of Lean (which is to streamline business and reduce waste), it’s what has stuck in the collective business mind.
Somewhere in the process, business has become so focused on low cost and high profit, it forgets about the people in the equation. The interesting thing is, taking care of the people in the organization has been shown, over and over, to result in greater productivity, lower attrition, higher customer satisfaction, and increased revenue. By providing the “wood”, organizations would be able to generate more “heat”.
Now, I’m going to show my bias (I prefer vested interest). I’ve built a career in organizational learning and development. My area has always been considered a cost center, so I’ve faced an uphill battle, for decades, in encouraging companies to develop their employees, especially in the areas of soft skills and manager training.
Not gonna say “I told you so”, but…
My colleagues and I have long been saying the key to the above benefits to productivity, retention, creativity, satisfaction, and revenue is employee engagement. However, recent research has shown business is just not getting it. Engagement is actually declining amongst managers, and that’s a problem.
Managers are feeling the true brunt of the Great Resignation. With all the movement in the job market, companies are reeling, trying to hire while losing people at the same time. Managers are buckling under the strain of so much work and not enough people to handle it. They’re also expected to support their people, helping them overcome the burnout and challenges of work these days, while getting no support themselves.
… I told you so.
Employees, including managers (hey, don’t forget they’re employees too), don’t feel they have the tools and preparation to effectively do their jobs. It’s worse for managers, who are constantly adjusting and readjusting roles and resource needs. Couple this with the fact they don’t have a clear idea of what leadership is thinking, and it’s challenging for managers to engage and inspire their teams. They can only inform and engage their reports if they are clear on organizational priorities themselves. If communication abut these priorities is fuzzy, trying to make it make sense adds stress to an already stressed-out management workforce.
It’s time to provide some wood.
Organization leaders need to help their managers. To do so, companies should focus on the basics i.e. give them some wood.
Provide the right materials, equipment, and resources to do their jobs well.
Communicate clearly and frequently to managers, advising them of organizational priorities and direction. They need to know what’s going on so as to communicate it to their teams.
If you’re a leader with managers reporting to you, remember they’re employees too. You expect your managers to provide support to their team members. They should be able to count on you for the same. So, hold regular, frequent, and consistent one on one and coaching conversations.
Finally, provide training and support to managers so they have a sense not just of knowing what they’re doing, but also progressing and getting better at what they do.
The leader in employee engagement research, Gallup, has found employees who were struggling in 2021 are almost twice as likely to change jobs this year. This includes managers.
Can you afford to lose your managers? Give it a think. You can help them by having quality conversation with them and by providing them with training. In other words, give them the wood so they can bring the heat.
Manager training is what I do. If your senior leaders and managers need support and guidance on how they can develop their team members, let me know. I'm happy to help! email@example.com
If you'd like an alternative way to encourage learning in your management team, check out my book. You can find the book right here: