The Rossiter Report – Volume 2;Number 2
by Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS
“Breaking Out of the Chicken Farm”
Ginger: So laying eggs all your life and then getting plucked, stuffed and roasted is good enough for you, is it?
Babs: It’s a livin’.
Recently, I have been hearing a great many business owners expressing the dire need for employees who “think on their feet” regarding the jobs they were hired to do. These business owners are dumbfounded and frustrated at the fact that their employees (most of whom are long since out of high school) take no initiative and will not think beyond the immediate task at hand, as if they are working from a script and have no thoughts or words beyond that.
More and more, business owners are faced with a workforce who is looking to be told what to do at every turn. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the generations of children that have grown up being shuffled from one scheduled activity to another, constantly told what happens next, what to do, and how to do it are becoming the bulk of the people in the workforce at large. Perhaps it has to do with the way the corporate world has functioned for the past several decades – where employees are told that their input matters and are encouraged to contribute, yet penalized in a variety of ways when they do contribute. This experience leaves the workforce to interpret this message as proof that the only way to move forward is to put one’s head down and wait for the next instruction.
Regardless of how we got this way, it is critical for us to break out of this prison, taking the initiative to risk change. With the economy in the state it is currently, people are afraid to make waves and risk losing their jobs. Believe me when I say, “I’ve been there. I understand”. The problem that arises because everyone takes this point of view is that things never stay the way they are, they only get worse. We simply get used to the new norm and tell ourselves that things are the same. This is what Ginger the chicken in the movie Chicken Run is trying to get her fellow inmates to see. The quote referenced at the beginning of this article was prompted by Ginger recognizing the signs that something much worse was on the horizon for them.
For those of you who have never seen the movie, I not only recommend you watch it (if only for the pure entertainment value), but I will summarize the plot for you. Ginger is a chicken living on a chicken farm that is run like a prison camp (think Stalag 17 meets Hogan’s Heroes). Ginger’s only thought is to break free of the tyranny and live a free life, beyond the hills – with grass and sunshine; with the freedom to live the life she decides, the freedom from fear, boredom, and abuse. Her difficulty, and challenge, is in trying to convince the other chickens on the farm that the way things are is not how they were meant to be – that there is a better, happier way of living. Ginger could easily escape on her own, she had done it many times, but she cares enough about the other chickens that she will not escape unless they all can.
In the quote above, Ginger is asking her fellow chicken inmates to think beyond the mechanical routine that leads to, in their case actual death. In the case of so many people in the working world/Corporate America, this life leads to a broken spirit and emotional death. Ginger is trying to connect with the thinking part of her fellow chickens to open them up to their reality as well as the possibilities that are available to them if they would only think about events as they unfold and take the risks necessary to obtain this new life of freedom.
So too the contemporary business owner.
This begs the question, “How does one get beyond this mentality in order to create happy, thinking individuals who take in the whole scenario, process it according to what is right to do in the situation, and take the initiative to go ahead and DO what needs to be done?”
Consciousness is the key.
As an employer, you have to be conscious of your own work habits and the example you are setting. I once worked for a woman who hounded her underlings (yes, that is how she thought of us) to be productive and would publicly scold and berate us if she walked by and we happened to be taking a breath because, in her eyes, we were slacking. Her behavior created extreme resentment in her staff because her workday consisted of nothing but slacking (i.e.; complaining about all of the e-mails she had to go through and that she had no time to deal with them. In the meantime she would spend 90% of the time she was not in meetings texting or telephoning her friends and family). This same woman would consistently change the essence of the tasks she delegated without telling us, then berate us for failing at the task. The behavior that she was modeling was creating an atmosphere of insecurity and instability which resulted in our running to her for every detail and instruction so that she couldn’t say we didn’t do what she wanted. We stopped thinking for ourselves because, our manager’s behavior told us to, regardless of what words she used.
You also, as an employer, need to be conscious of the reason you are passionate about your business. Recently I spoke with a business owner who could not do this. He could not tell me why he devoted his life, sacrificing time with his family, to doing what he does (which he clearly loves doing). In order to be able to project your passion to your employees or colleagues, you must be able to express the Why behind the What. Oftentimes, employees do not care about their work because they cannot see the point to it. They interpret their boss’ passion as obsessiveness or inability to be satisfied. The result is that employees give up trying to satisfy their employers because their efforts will be wasted since their employers will let them know that the work should have been done better.
Another area employers need to be conscious of is the effectiveness of the training system in place. One business owner I spoke with recently had nothing in place beyond the functional aspects of the job. The new hires were essentially thrown to the wolves on the first day to be trained “on the fly” with all of their mistakes quite public. Additionally, since they were not trained in how to work with their customers, they had an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and humiliation so they, again, ran to the owner for instructions on the minutest task. The employees are afraid to remember anything because, “What if I get it wrong in front of everyone?” This business owner does not realize that he has created a system of failure for his employees because he has not given any thought to the type and style of the training he is providing to his staff. This business owner does not realize the effect that not caring about the training program he puts in place has on
- the morale of his employees (“He doesn’t give a hoot ‘n a holler about us so why should we care about him or his stupid job?”),
- the way they treat his clients,
- the cost of continually replacing employees (monetary cost as well as time and effort), or
- his Bottom Line.
As employees, you need to be conscious of not falling into the prison of numbing your mind and stifling your abilities. You need to be conscious of taking risks to make change happen. You need to be conscious of the most effective ways to communicate your needs to your employer or manager in order to clear away the barbed wire surrounding your workplace chicken farm.
Again, I know from whence I speak. I have been a culprit of each of these errors in thinking and have learned the hard way that staying silent, trying to adjust to a new level of abuse or dysfunction does not change any circumstance for the better. It allows, and in fact encourages, circumstances to get worse. Therefore, if you are unhappy in your job, ask yourself why. When you arrive at an answer, ask yourself why you feel that way. Continue asking yourself why until you reach the core of the problem. If there is anything you are at fault with and can improve on, do so. Once you know the core of the problem, you will be able to find a way to properly address the situation.
For example, if you find that the core of your dissatisfaction at work is that you feel that you are afraid to try or to think on your own because you have gotten the message that you will surely fail in the eyes of your employer/Manager(as in the case of the business owner above who was passionate about his work yet came across as impossible to please), then talk with your employer/Manager about this. By stating your case in terms that do not blame your employer/Manager, yet bring out the fact that you feel you are not able to perform to your best because of how you are made to feel and that you simply want to clear up any misunderstandings and expectations, you will go far in effecting the necessary changes that will allow you to do your best and love what you do.
If each person begins to make small changes, sooner or later great changes are made. I think you will find that sooner is sooner than you think.
Until the next time, I send you all my best wishes.
Copyright © 2012 – Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS
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