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A different angle

Back in 1989, before I’d ever heard about the philosophy of Appreciative Inquiry or Good Boss, Bad Boss, I had an experience that began to change my ideas about management.

I knew a manager of a local division of AlliedSignal who wanted to improve the warehouse space in order to increase efficiency. He began by redesigning a part of the space with new lighting, shelving, inventory tags, and order pulling carts. It looked not only well-organized, but appeared beautiful in the midst of a dusty warehouse. He excitedly explained the new system to the employees and returned to his office.

About a week later, the manager called an informal meeting near the redesigned space. He was eager to hear employees report so that he could complete the redesign throughout the facility. He asked, “How do you like it?” He was dismayed to hear multiple people say things like, “It looks nice, but …. It makes it harder to pull orders. We don’t like it. It slows down our work.” He stopped and decided to listen. He asked them to walk him through the processes they used every day: receiving, shelving, pulling orders, and shipping. They showed him how the redesigned space negatively impacted their productivity.

Instead of shrugging and suggesting they “get used to it”, the manager stayed to listen – an unusual behavior at that time and place. Implementing the ideas of those who used the area daily changed not only their productivity, but it began a culture change that lasted throughout the manager’s tenure. By implementing employee ideas, trust was established in a new way. The manager shifted from being the chief in charge to leading by facilitating. And I learned that organizational power sometimes comes not by force, but by actively listening, supporting, and providing resources.

Now, more than 20 years later, there is evidence to support his method and behavior. Opening a space where people can engage their best ideas and discover what works well is still a breath of fresh air. And often the unexpected, the surprise, shows up too.

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