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Monday, August 13, 2012

What bosses wished employees knew

It is true. The higher you go the cooler it becomes. The same is true at the work place. As people go up the career ladder, they tend to lose more of their former close friends in the same company. The moment they become heads of departments and supervisors, they soon realise the relationship between them and the rest of the staff changes.  They are no longer referred to as employees. They earn a new title. They are now boss. Supervisor. Manager. The employer.

After some time, they start noticing a certain trend among the staff that worry them. In the rare opportunities when staff get the energy and the strength to approach them, there is one running theme. Boss, we need a raise. Boss we want you to consider this and that. It seems like the employees rehearse this request phrase as each of them seems to use the same script when in discussion with the boss.

As the discussion progresses, it dawns on the boss that the employees imagine the bosses are the main stumbling blocks between them and their good times at the office. It is now clear that the employees feel like the bosses are out of touch with their feelings. This is a disturbing position for the bosses to be in. They wish the employees know just a few things about them and their experiences. Pauline, a senior executive in a blue chip NGO shares her wishes.

I wish employees knew how frail I sometimes get, she reflects. In the mind of the employees, the bosses are the strongest among all the staff in the company. It is a perception among the employees that the bosses never suffer from faint hearts. They are strong and have huge hearts to easily carry all the burdens of the staff. As much as this could be true and is a key characteristic of an effective leader, the fact is that there are times when the bosses are at their lowest ebbs. There are times when Pauline has had to hide in the bathrooms to cry as she reflects on the experiences with some of the staff.

The second perception is that when the company is at risk of closure, the boss is never concerned. Some staff imagine that the boss’s job is always secure and all the boss does is to look at the organizational chart and decide who among the staff to relieve of their duties. Nothing is further from the truth. When Pauline reflects on a recent experience when her organization suffered great shocks after key donors terminated their support to one of the projects, she grows downcast. She had received a letter from the board chairman requesting her to show cause why she should not be replaced with a more outgoing manager.

Despite all her efforts to retain the donors, a decision had already been made and hence had to manage the crisis. As she approached the staff meeting room one Friday afternoon, she knew the staff considered her as the failure and cursed her in their hearts. She walked slowly hoping to get the right words. Her heart was heavy as she weighed the implications of the donor exit. Staff had to lose jobs within a month and she knew this was a big blow to her future career prospects. She was hurting yet none of the staff seemed to realize how she had spent sleepless nights looking for extra resources to retain the team.

Finally, bosses wished the employees knew the push for their interest in improved performance among the staff. Have you ever heard staff talking about performance targets and the thread of thought to the effect that bosses only wish to load it on the staff yet life would be better off without the targets? 

What employees miss is the realization that targets set for staff are usually a reflection of the agreed upon organizational targets set by the board of directors. Their boss receives clear targets that must be attained through the various departments. 

So, when you see your boss insist on targets, appreciate their efforts as they are as accountable just as you are to their bosses. Bosses have bosses and are equally are under pressure to perform.

Kahihu is an Organizational Development Practitioner

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