I was reminded recently of a Nutterism that really fit the struggles one of my culture clients is experiencing.
A little background is necessary. Jerry Nutter was my best boss ever. I spent 5 of my 15 years in YMCA management under Jerry’s tutelage – and I still reap benefits today.
Jerry had a way of expressing truths about people management that were a bit folksy. Us members of Jerry’s team called these “Nutterisms.”
The Nutterism that came to mind was “don’t bump the fishbowl.” When a goldfish bowl gets bumped, the fish are NOT happy. They scurry behind the fake plants (or the plastic castle) and huddle together in fear. Their world has been shaken (literally). They don’t know what’s coming next. They are unable to go about their business anymore – they can only huddle, and watch, and wait.
Leaders bump their employee’s fishbowls all the time! Leaders may not intend to disrupt employee’s work lives, but actions such as these do “bump the fishbowl”:
- Announce changes but provide no context and no opportunity for questions
- Make structural or staffing changes with no context and no opportunity for questions
- Take credit for team or team members’ ideas, efforts, or accomplishments
- Micromanage – attempt to control how team members do the work, even if team members are more skilled at the work than the leader is
- Provide frequent critical and negative feedback; rarely validate team members’ efforts or accomplishments
What happens when team members have their fishbowl bumped? Typically, they scurry around and huddle together in fear. Their world has been shaken. Few are able to go about their business anymore – they huddle, and watch, and wait.
Change is constant. Leaders don’t need to insulate their team from change, but they need to reduce the negative impact of change.
So, how can leaders keep from “bumping the fishbowl?”
Plan. Map out a strategy – then explain the strategy. Be open and honest, consistently. Help team members understand what the issues, problems, or gaps are that need to be addressed. Tell them what you’re thinking of doing to resolve these issues.
Listen. Ask for their ideas and insights. Incorporate their good ideas. Reiterate that these changes are to address identified gaps and problems – and stress how their ideas are being embraced.
Implement and Adapt. Put plans into place and engage team members to learn if there is any unintentional “bumping” going on. Adapt the plan to gain the most benefit for everyone – team members, company, and customers.
How have past leaders of yours “bumped the fishbowl”? What team member reactions have you seen that I missed? What did your great bosses do to reduce the negative “bumps”? Please share your insights, comments, and questions in the comments section below.
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