May 21, 2018

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Take Me to Your Leader - How to Manage Your Staff Without Alienating Them

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, some employees would venture to say that their bosses are from Uranus. Dilbert, The Drew Carey Show, and The Simpsons are just a few popular illustrations of the great cultural divide between employees and their managers. Why is it that staff members often cannot relate to their managers and managers often alienate the very people they are supposed to motivate? To find the answer, let’s stop thinking outside of the box and start thinking outside of the galaxy.

  1. Guiding the Spaceship; Explaining the Mission

    “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

    Even if you are not a Trekkie, you probably recognize the text that introduced each original Star Trek episode. It succinctly states the mission of the original Starship Enterprise. What is your team’s mission? Has it been clearly defined or is your starship lost in space? Make sure that you and your team completely understand your long-term mission as well as the results you are trying to achieve for each short-term goal. If your staff cannot recite your mission as easily as they can remember the Star Trek opening montage, then your mission is not clearly understood.

  2. Greetings, Earthlings; We Come in Peace and We Speak Your Language…

    You undoubtedly know what UFO stands for (Unidentified Flying Object), but do you know what a UAP is? This joke, found on the internet, perfectly illustrates what happens when managers and employees are not speaking the same language.

    A flying saucer, boldly emblazoned with the letters “UFO," lands at a gas station on a lonely country road. The two space aliens inside pull up to the full service pump. The station owner stands and gawks in silence, paralyzed with shock, as his young gas attendant nonchalantly fills up the tank and waves goodbye to the two aliens as they take off.

    "Do you realize what just happened?" the station owner finally utters.

    "Yeah," says the attendant. "So?"

    "Didn't you see the space aliens in that vehicle?!"

    "Yeah," repeats the attendant. "So?"

    "Didn't you see the letters 'UFO' on the side of that vehicle?!"

    "Yeah," repeats the attendant. "So?"

    "Don't you know what 'UFO' means?!"

    The attendant rolls his eyes. "Good grief, boss! I've been working here for six years. Of course I know what 'UFO' means: 'Unleaded Fuel Only.’"

    Now, if you worked for the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), you wouldn’t call an unidentified object a UFO, you would call it a UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). The idea is that the acronym “UFO” makes the layman think of alien spaceships and flying saucers, whereas serious researchers in the field report that a very large percentage of the phenomena that they study aren't necessarily “objects” (think refracted/reflected light) and may not even be "flying."

    What acronyms and industry terminology are used in your office? Does everyone understand the finer nuances of what these words mean? Does your team use "recruiter" or "headhunter," "client" or "customer," "candidate" or "applicant’? What’s the difference and why does is matter?

    Make sure everyone knows the same language and speaks it consistently. As the leader of your own little galaxy, it is up to you to create (or ensure that someone else creates) scripts and rules of engagement for the mission of your team. Then, train, train, and train some more.

  3. Take Me to Your Leader; Close Encounters of a Different Kind

    Most science fiction portrays aliens as harmful creatures here to attack us, harvest our organs, or kidnap us for other suspect reasons. Most employees think their alien supervisors are out to do the same (in a manner of speaking). We all know that getting called to the boss’s office can put a lump in our throats, quicken our heartbeats, and sending us searching through our mental Rolodex of all of the things we might have done wrong.

    Adopt a Close Encounters or Mork & Mindy management style. “Close Encounters” showed benign, intelligent aliens coming to Earth for an exchange of information and mutual gain. Mork was like a cultural ambassador on Earth observing the customs of Earthlings and reporting back to the great leader of his planet Orkan.

    Show your employees that although you may be the boss (alien), your aim is to understand their jobs (behavior of Earthlings). Gather information by showing interest and asking questions in a non-threatening way. Better yet, do as most visiting aliens and adapt the behavior of the people you manage: spend a day working at the reception desk; have your website manager train you on how to monitor internet postings; process payroll with your bookkeeper. Managers should delegate, not abdicate, and understanding the ways of your people will help you lead them more effectively and achieve the results you desire.

  4. Understanding The Crop Circle Perspective

    Crop circles are areas of cereal or similar crops that have been systematically flattened to form various geometric patterns. Usually, they are undetectable from the ground. To see the full effect of these large patterns, one must view a crop circle from an aerial perspective. Managers are like the pilots flying the planes and helicopters, the ones who get to observe things from a bird’s-eye view. They see the entire crop circle and how each area works together to create patterns so intricate and complex many people argue that they are a supernatural phenomenon.

    Your staff is the hard-working team down on the ground using planks, rope, and wire to create the grand design you get to appreciate from above. Crop circle makers usually work in the dark, and they don’t always get the opportunity to see their finished product from a big-picture perspective. Is it the same for your staff?

    In order to keep your employees motivated, remember to share the larger vision. Let them see what your corporate crop circle looks like from above. Hold staff meetings to explain current initiatives and show their progress toward achieving your goals and missions. Invite staff members to one-on-one lunches or ask them to sit in on executive meetings. Take your staff to industry events and conferences to give them a broader perspective than what’s happening in your office.

  5. It Takes A Village to Create the Most Successful Alien in the Universe

    Steven Spielberg may get the credit for creating the best-loved alien of all time, but everything about E.T. was a compilation. E.T.'s face, for example, was modeled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein and a pug dog. E.T.’s voice was performed by several people, including Debra Winger (for the rough cut), Pat Welsch, a chain-smoking housewife from Marin County (who, incidentally, was overheard in a bank line by the film's sound effects editor and got the part for the final version of the film), and even Spielberg himself.

    As a manager, don’t try to conquer the world alone. Seek your team’s input and use it, even when (or, perhaps, especially when) you may not like it. Otherwise, you could find yourself in the position of Mars--not the planet, but the candy company who owns M&M’s. Originally the script of E.T. called for the use of M&M's. Mars executives did not agree to the contract because they thought E.T. was ugly and would scare children. Hershey signed on instead, and allowed the film to use their candy, Reese's Pieces. A week after the movie premiered, Reese’s Pieces sales tripled.

    So the next time you’re feeling as if you and your employees don’t come from the same planet, accept that it’s probably true and re-visit these alien-inspired management techniques. You just may succeed in building a team that is out of this world. Good luck and may the force be with you!

    - Charlene Dupray

    For years, Charlene Dupray worked in Manhattan as a manager of a full-service bilingual staffing agency. She speaks French and fluent Alien-ese. She currently lives in Wilmington, NC, where she serves as an industry consultant and reporter for Staffing Industry Tips. With the rest of her time, Charlene and her (legal) alien husband operate a bonbon company (