Look for the Good in Yourself and Your Employees

Avoid the unnecessary search for shortcomings and weak points in yourself and employees, unless there is a deliberate effort to conduct a needs analysis for future training. Otherwise, focus on their good attributes. Highlight them and turn even indifferent employees into winners. Keep in mind, too, that they are the ones who will carry out your plan, which has at stake your personal reputation—and perhaps your job.

In the process, be alert for the inevitable expressions of hardship, complaints of tough work, and sacrifices that often surface among workers during any emergency. Distinguish between what you would consider grueling work and merely a display of whining and grumbling. To counter any emotionally charged outbursts, indicate to the rest of the staff the consequences if they continue with their flare-ups.

If you succeed in choking off their complaints, and as a result of their sacrifices and hard work you show first-rate results, point out that those positive results are only the beginnings of other good outcomes.

It is your opportunity to say, “If you call this good, I’ll really show you what good is. I’ll show you how this company can grow and how each of you can benefit financially and professionally.” Of course, this approach must be anchored to tangible and realistic assessments that the staff can understand, believe in, and rally around.

What ties into that approach are the opportunities that emerge each day. Some are quite apparent, others require more searching. Also, what might appear as sameness could be an opportunity under a different set of market conditions.

As long as there is a mind-set tuned to fresh opportunities, it is your job to instill in your people the ability to seek out possibilities of what every day and each event has to offer. You must be sure, however, that your employees see the opportunities, agree with them, and are of the same opinion.

Workers will be happy to change their individual behavior if they understand why and how their actions contribute to the overall company’s fortunes. Also, they will act positively if they believe it is personally worthwhile for them to play an active role in the organization.

As part of change, utilize a workable system of rewards and recognition. Such a system includes much of what is generally accepted about positive reinforcement and classic motivational behavior. Look again at the concepts developed by Herzberg, McGregor, Maslow, and Ouchi, described in Chapter 7.

Further, as part of the process of nurturing your staff to heightened levels of performance, initiate (or recommend) procedures to capture the insights, knowledge, and observations of numerous individuals and categorize them into usable databases. Such information should be then available and easily accessed for training, mentoring, written documentation, or oral exchanges.[1]

Even where you cannot effect change in the organization, it is possible to take the initiative and set up a system within a small group. (See the discussion below on “Managing Knowledge.”)

These points are illustrated in the following case example.

The most complete and happy victory is this: to compel one’s enemy to give

up his purpose while suffering no harm oneself.


Nucor Corporation is the largest producer of steel in the United States and the world’s foremost steel recycler. And it does so efficiently and profitability when benchmarked against almost all other companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index. Nucor’s 371 percent return to shareholders over the past five years beats most other companies, including such icons as Amazon.com, Starbucks, and eBay.

What is behind such exemplary performance in an industry as Rust Belt as they come? The answers fall into several categories:

  • 1. Performance: On average, in a nonunion environment, two-thirds of Nucor steelworkers’ pay is based on a pay-for-performance product bonus, which results in the highest wages in the industry. Behind such a system is management’s understanding of human behavior, which is anchored to respect, empowerment, and rich rewards for all its workers. As such, the Charlotte, North Carolina, company has never laid off a worker for lack of work. At the executive level, compensation is also tied to product performance. As an add-on, executives are measured by tangible actions aimed at beating the competition and outpacing a sample group of other high-performing companies.
  • 2. Corporate culture: To assure a cultural compatibility throughout the organization, a managerial priority is to instill Nucor’s unique culture in all of the 13 plants it acquired over a five-year period. Teams of highly experienced veteran workers visit with their counterparts in newly acquired facilities to explain the system face to face. Part of that cultural process includes explaining the deep-rooted custom of providing a helping hand without obtaining approvals from supervisors. It is a common everyday occurrence, for instance, for employees in one plant to take the initiative and help others in sister plants to get operations up and running should severe problems shut down production, regardless of time, distance, or any inconvenience. Even the cultural symbols are considered important. Every year, for example, all employees’ names go on the cover of Nucor’s annual report.
  • 3. Entrepreneurship: Nucor’s flattened hierarchy and emphasis on pushing power to the front line leads employees to adopt the mind-set of owner-operators. That focus gives free reign to employees to exercise their imagination and allow their intuition to flourish. For example, such commitment led to the development of thin slab casting of sheet metal that has made Nucor an industry leader. In another instance, employees in one plant had to innovate themselves out of a predicament. Its particular form of steel could not be produced profitably any longer. Relying on their personal knowledge, experience, and intuitive creativity, employees found types of specialized steel they could produce more profitably—and which would be less threatened by imports.
  • 4. Motivation: There is unwavering attention heaped on employees. That means talking to them, listening to them, taking a risk on their ideas, and accepting an occasional failure. It is about nurturing their experiences and sharing them with others in a proactive way.

Nucor systematically sends new workers to existing plants to hunt for improvements. Older workers also travel to newly acquired plants to find out what they can learn. These experienced individuals actively tune in to sharing ideas and experiences, as well as staying alert for innovations they can take back to their home plants. There is a healthy competition, too, among facilities. For instance, plant managers routinely set up contests to try to outdo other plants in areas such as safety, efficiency, product quality, or output. It all ties in with the company’s long history of cooperation and idea-sharing.

The Nucor case provides a learning platform for you to strengthen your personal decision-making and other managerial capabilities.

The following two categories hone in more precisely on developing that capability: managing knowledge and activating intuition.

If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hours, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this first light wherever it may lead.


  • [1] In no way should this process be confused with a typical transition memo, which tends to be morelimited in scope and deals with fundamental administrative procedures and the like.
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