Belief No. 1 for a High Performance Organisation


I first started work in my family business when I was 20. It was an iron foundry, employing about 50 people, and I was the 4th generation of my family to work there.

We had a very stable workforce and, with surprising insight for a 20 year old, I quickly realised that whilst I could try and use the power of my position - "I'm the boss's son, you must do what I tell you" - to get what I wanted, I was likely to to be shown very quickly and effectively that I was not as smart as I thought I was.

Many of the people there had known me my entire life and had watched me grow up. During my childhood, when I spent a lot of time "playing in the sand", these men I was now responsible for managing had done their best to teach me some of the skills needed to work in a foundry. For instance, as a 12 year old I was taught moulding (the process of making sand moulds into which the molten metal is poured) by Les Clover, who by that time was in his 70s, but who had started his own working life as a 14 year old, employed by my great-grandfather.

So I already knew that they were very good at what they did and and were very proud of their abilities.

As I worked more closely with them, and got to know them better, it became extremely clear to me that they had a genuine desire to do their jobs to the absolute best of their ability, and that the way in which I could do my job most effectively was to tap into their vast bank of knowledge, skills and experience and provide whatever I could to help them do their jobs even better.

That is how I first developed my belief that people want to do the best job they possibly can.

I worked in that business for over 20 years and came across very little evidence that suggested I should change my belief. In fact, the more I stood by it, the more my thinking was corroborated.

As I became responsible for recruitment, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the time we attracted people who wanted to do a good job. The few that didn't showed up very quickly and I was usually told by the others when I had recruited someone who was not pulling their weight. It was also extremely rare to have performance or disciplinary issues to deal with.

Interestingly, this high level of performance apparently had nothing to do with how people were paid, as throughout the period we had no performance related pay system.

The ultimate example of this particular group's commitment to doing the best job they possibly could came in 1996 when we, like many small engineering companies in the UK at the time, succumbed to the combined pressures of a contracting domestic market and increasing competition from Asian manufacturers, and ceased trading.

The day after we closed, the Receiver told me he literally could not believe what he had seen in the foundry. He told me that invariably when he arrived to wind up a company, the place had been trashed by the employees and everything of value that could be taken away was gone.

At our place, he was utterly amazed to find that absolutely no damage had been done, and all the tools were not only still there, but had been put away and  the work areas cleared and swept up. He told me "It looks just as if they were planning come back to work tomorrow."

Since soon after that time my job has involved me in helping other organisations get the best out of their people, and I have placed that lesson I learnt in my family business at the heart of my approach.

Despite this story, I do not think that that group was unique in any way. I do know that they were treated with respect by their management (not just by me, but by all three generations that preceded me) and that that behaviour was reciprocated. I also know that they were very proud of the work that they did, and were encouraged to be so.

And I know that I believed passionately, and still do, that they wanted to do the best job they possibly could.

Over 20 years they repeatedly demonstrated to me that if people are treated as if they want to do the best job they possibly can, then they will do everything they are capable of to live up to that expectation.

 

This is the second part in a 4 part series:

3 Key Beliefs for High Performance Organisations

People want to do the Best Job they Possibly Can

People can be Trusted

Working Together is Best

 

3 Responses to People Want to do the Best Job they Possibly Can

  1. dialogic says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Beautiful story, even if it’s sad. Key leadership lesson to implement from tomorrow: when you look at yourself in the mirror in the bathroom, remember that the best things in life are free. It does not cost you a penny to decide that you are just going to be nice today. Nor does it cost a penny to be fully present or to treat other people the way you want to be treated. Might feel like eating humble pie sometimes, but will yield great results in the long run. You get what you give. And that also apply when you just give negativity.

  2. dialogic says:

    You should maybe take out the typos from the header?
    “Beleif No. 1 for a High Performance Organaisation”
    😉
    Best, Martijn

  3. Frank Sonnenberg says:

    What a wonderful story Doug. You’re so lucky that you had the opportunity to work in this kind of environment. I applaud you for helping other organizations achieve similar success. Today, people want so much more than a paycheck. They want to work for the kind of company that you helped lead. Congratulations on a great post! Best, Frank

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