Dear Jayme,

The other day I was having lunch and a crew of guys was sitting nearby, talking about their boss. It wasn't, to say the least, complimentary. I figure this grousing is just normal, right? Do my people bad mouth me the same way? Should I care?


Dear Trenton,

What the other kids say about you at the prom doesn't matter. What your employees say about you matters a lot. Some is just grousing but some is key insight to you and your business.

Think about the best boss you ever had. When you and the guys went out to lunch, what ‘d you say about him? You might've poked fun at his dorky haircut or his lousy taste in music, but if he ran a good operation and treated you well, I'll bet you didn't call him a moron and sneer at how he ran the shop. You might even have traded a few positive stories about him over a bean burrito and given him a few ideas later.

Remember the worst boss? The tyrannical, unreasonable, abusive, disorganized, sleazy guy who cheated his customers and employees whenever he could? What'd those lunch conversations sound like? "Didja hear what he did this time? The idiot forgot to order the concrete and we had a finishing crew standing around for two hours doing nothing." Or some such. Great for morale and productivity when the employees don't respect you.

Your people are perceptive and they see far more than you do about what's happening in your business and know whether you're a decent manager or a disorganized mess. They also have many more eyes and ears than you do and see what works, what doesn't, and how to do it faster, better, and cheaper. Their input can be vital to you. The trick is to get them to tell you to your face.

The challenge in getting honest, useful feedback from your employees is that they usually feel vulnerable doing it. They have to be safe from ridicule or retribution. Suggestion boxes are pretty weak. Try a monthly forum for all employees with ground rules that specify what's fair game, what isn't, the agenda and sequence of the meeting. Company policy: All complaints and suggestions are not discussed between employees between meetings, and all are fair game at the meeting. If you don't have the guts to stand up and express your views in the meeting, you can't complain to everybody else all month. And this goes for you, too.

Be prepared to demonstrate your commitment by implementing the great ideas and thanking (rather than blasting) the critics. Be consistent and your people will become willing to contribute.

And, by the way, the most valuable input you'll get is probably the stuff that'll feel the worst to you-where you're screwing it up, where the materials are disappearing to, why your employees are unhappy with you. It won't feel great, but it'll get you very clear on what needs attention.

Your business and your employees are a brutally accurate reflection of YOU. What the guys are saying about you over lunch is probably an accurate (though maybe uncomfortable) representation of how well you're running your business.




"Go to other people's funerals or they won't come to yours."  -Yogi Berra


Construction Business Owner, July 2008