I’ve managed people for more than 20 years, and if the people I’ve managed are to be believed, I’m apparently quite good at it.
There are a few concepts I adhere to that I think make for a better work environment. One of those is defining and eradicating workplace cancer.
When I inherit or build a team, one thing I establish early is that it is in everyone’s job description to be honest and forthcoming about what they’re observing in our work and in the workplace. They are getting paid to help this company be successful on every front, so if they see something happening that is hurting the company, they are getting paid to say so.
This is counter to most people’s workplace experience, where you get passive-aggressively punished for saying something negative about another. But I think it makes for a more open, productive, and ultimately successful work environment.
In my presentation of this idea, I explain it this way: If you’re seeing something that you think could be better, of if you can’t believe we’re doing something so stupid, it’s your job to say so to me, the manager.
If you sit there miserable and don’t tell me your concern, then you’ve got no one but yourself to blame for your own misery. I can’t read minds. There’s no way for me to know you have an idea or are miserable because of something we’re doing.
But in the worst case, if you tell one of your co-workers, and get them angry, too, and then you share that anger and let it build, now you’re a cancer.
If you’re sowing the seeds of bitterness and discontent among some members of the team, you’re fragmenting the group and creating multiple teams. And that’s the first step toward a dysfunctional and counterproductive department.
Likewise, in any organization. It works in sports, as well. If you’re a parent with a kid in a sports organization, and you don’t like what the coach is doing, you have to tell the coach. If you just tell another parent what you think is going on, you’re just going to slowly share the anger.
The coach won’t know this exists and will go on happily doing what they’re doing, while the parents will grow increasingly upset. And the only people that get hurt from this? The kids.
If you have a problem, you owe it to the organization to share it with someone who can solve it.
Sure, if you’re goal is to sanity check what you’re seeing and/or come up with a solution, tell a peer first. But then bring that to leadership.
If you’re invested in the goals of the organization, you can be a very helpful and positive change agent. But only if you step up and share your ideas and observations.
If you do that and get burned, there’s a good chance you’re not in the right organization, anyway. And finding that out is productive, too.