Have you ever put your heart into fixing an impossible problem, and after all, your hard work not get any recognition from your employees?
Maybe it was a problem that everyone said was keeping them from doing their jobs.
It used to happen to me a lot when I started in management.
The first time that sticks out in my mind was when I had just been put in charge of a warehouse operation.
It was right after I got back from a week-long offsite positive management training course.
In my next all-employee meeting, I went over our productivity goals. All I heard was groans.
Don, who was my senior forklift driver, said, “Oh, here we go again.”
I said, “what’s wrong?” Don snapped back, “we don’t need another pencil pusher telling us what we’re doing wrong.”
He called all the manager's pencil pushers.
Just as I started to respond, he said, “you people want us to hit the ridiculous goals you give us, but you don’t care about what’s keeping us from them.”
Trying to be the positive manager, I said, “well, tell me about your problems, and let’s start working on them.”
All I saw was eye rolls.
I said, “guys, I want to work with you, so tell me what’s keeping you from your goals?”
Don folded his arms, leaned back and said, “we’ve been through this before, don't waste our time.”
I said, “been through what?” He said, “you guys coming out here saying you're going to fix problems; then you never do anything.”
He looked back to his coworkers and said, “am I, right, guys?” Everyone looked down and mumbled, “yea, yea.”
I just stood there frozen thinking to myself, “what do I do now?”
Then out of sheer desperation said, “so give me a chance. What’s your biggest problem?”
George, who was the informal leader of the warehouse people, said, “receiving times.”
I said, “what about receiving times.”
He said, “the suppliers delivery trucks that we have to unload get here when we’re loading our trucks. We only have so many docks, Mike.”
I didn’t know how to, but I said, “OK. If that's the biggest problem, I’ll fix that for you.” Which brought on a bunch of sarcastic laughs.
Then Don said, “can we get to work now, Mike?”
That day I learned there were good reasons our suppliers’ trucks came in when they did, but with the help of purchasing, we re-arranged the times.
I couldn’t wait to tell them.
The next morning just as their shift was starting, I said, “guys, based on your feedback starting next Monday, we’re moving the receiving of our supplier trucks back two hours so we can get our trucks loaded.”
That’s when Don said, “why do we have to wait till Monday?”
Then he said, “what about the orders coming to us late?”
I said, “what orders?”
He said, “Our customers’ orders are supposed to stop by 6 pm so we can route the trucks for the next day.
But we don't get them until eight sometimes as late as nine at night.
How are we supposed to route the trucks like you want by seven not knowing what orders are coming in?”
Honestly, I was expecting some recognition from them.
But I thought, “well, OK – let’s fix this problem, then they’ll see I’m serious about listening to them.”
Now this one wasn’t so easy.
I had to talk to sales management and customer service management who wasn’t happy I was going to enforce the what we called "6 pm cut off time."
But with my boss’s support, I got it approved.
A week later, I got them together and said, “guys, you’re not going to believe it, but starting in two weeks, any orders that come to us after 6 pm you don’t have to worry about.
We’ll ship them on the next following day."
Without missing a beat, Don said, “two weeks, why do we have to wait two weeks?”
Just as I tried to explain that we needed time to inform sales and our customers, Don said, “typical, see guys, I told you they don’t listen to us.”
I’m not proud of it, but just as he said that I said, “you know what?
Forget it, nothing's ever good enough for you guys” and stormed away in disgust.
Later that day, George, who was kind of informal leader, walked into my office.
He said, “Mike, you have to calm down.”
I said, “you know what George, I’m done killing myself trying to get things done for you guys.
All I ever get is crap back. I don't hear thanks, Mike, or that’s great, Mike. Just crap.”
He said, “Mike, we’re warehouse workers. What do you expect?”
I said, “What does that have to do with anything. You can't just say, wow, this has been a problem for years, and you fixed it, thanks, Mike.”
Then George looked me in the eye and said, “Mike, they’ll never say it, but we can’t believe all that you’re doing for us.”
I said, “yea well, why don't you tell Don because all he does is bitch."
He said, “Don’s a pain in the ass; no one listens to him.”
Then he said, “no one’s ever cared about our problems before you got here.
They appreciate it; they’re just never going to say it, especially in a group.”
That was over 30 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
George taught me that just because I’m not getting praise from my employees doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what I’m doing for them.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember when your knee deep solving other people’s problems feeling no one cares.
But they do, they just don’t always know how to show it.