3 Undervalued Employee Virtues

By Julie Rains on 27 September 2011 (Updated 5 October 2011) 0 comments
Photo: Goodluz

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”—Winston Churchill

As a boss, you may dislike or undervalue virtues of your employees. However, when exercised wisely, certain traits may be extremely useful in propelling your business forward. Consider the value of these three virtues.

Occasional Imprudence

The occasionally imprudent employee brings clarity to ambiguity. This ability is especially valuable when your company is exploring new territory. Perhaps you made bold moves but are still sorting out the details for execution. As a result, you have provided limited guidance for interacting with a new customer segment, introduced a project with ambitious goals but little structure, made requests to find applications for proprietary technology, and so on.

A typical employee will turn down these assignments or wait patiently for clearly defined instructions. Why? The chance of error is great. The likelihood of time wasting is tremendous. The cautious employee would rather maintain a record of perfection in small tasks than risk failure when attempting to contribute in a big way.

The temporarily incautious person, however, recognizes pitfalls but sees blossoming possibilities. She is unsure how success will come to fruition. But she is confident that not seeming slightly foolish and taking risks now will bring certain regret later as opportunities are missed.

Using know-how gained during more prudent times (typically this person acts methodically and cautiously but deviates from this behavior occasionally), she will take a first step and then the next on a self-made roadmap. She will adapt approaches using lessons learned along the way, moving from fuzzy beginnings to clear direction, well-defined action plan, and executable follow-up tasks. Eventually the customer will be delighted; project goals attained; feasible, cost-effective, and in-demand uses of the invention developed and launched.

As boss, your focus may be on mopping up missteps taken along the path to making decisions, charting the course, etc. Take a step back to consider the chaotic nature of the company’s initiatives before she accepted an ill-defined assignment and its current status. Then, grasp the value of her imprudence.

Practical Inventiveness

The employee who is practically inventive quietly makes improvements in a way that streamlines processes while complying with strict requirements. This virtue is particularly valuable in handling seemingly standardized tasks in areas such as order processing, manufacturing, assembly, customer service, distribution, and administration.

Non-inventive employees follow procedures, interpreted as narrowly as possible. Unbeknownst to you, special requests and exceptions are shoehorned into ill-fitting policies and procedures. Or, they are set aside for consideration and resolution at a later date. Ironically, these responses are often out of sync with policy intentions and frequently lead to problematic delays. Qualified prospects are angered, orders and shipments are mishandled, and goodwill is squandered. At the same time, efficiency is lowered because much time is spent in dealing with bungles.

The innovator in the practical realm makes small but meaningful updates to company processes without violating the intention of policies or compromising the integrity of procedures. He evaluates existing methods and initiates changes, additions, or deletions that improve quality, efficiency, and accuracy. Because he works on the front lines of the business, he sees the consequences of changes immediately and makes adjustments quickly to get desired results.

Practical inventions are rarely groundbreaking as they are applied to day-to-day tasks, not highly visible product innovations. Plus, those who initiate these changes appear to think simplistically, breaking down mundane tasks and rebuilding or adding to them in basic ways.

To see the value of practical inventiveness, spend time working alongside front-line employees. Discover how they are able to handle increasing complexity (that is, trickier customer questions, deeper product assortments, and higher volumes) without overtime hours or additional resources.

Integrated Thinking

The integrated thinker recognizes how her actions impact the work of her colleagues, and ultimately the performance of the entire organization. This trait is valuable for any business with a brand message that needs to be conveyed and reinforced in a series of customer touch points.

An independent employee focuses solely on his assigned duties, which, superficially, is a reasonable approach. From a standalone perspective, he delivers high quality work. However, his activities are not aligned with the company’s strategic direction, reducing their value to the company. But because he is fearful of being brought down by less talented and accomplished coworkers, he is either indifferent or opposed to collaboration. Further, his apparent success makes him resistant to changes that could lead to teamwork.

The employee who engages in integrated thinking understands how her efforts contribute to business results. She is mindful that her actions influence the effectiveness of other people’s work. So, she stays informed on the company’s mission and business plan. She talks with colleagues about their priorities and concerns. She asks for insights on day-to-day tasks and project plans that improve the company’s performance. This extra involvement may make her seem unfocused and slower to make decisions at times.

First, keep in mind that your business’s success is more important than exceptional performance from a superstar employee. Then, notice which of your employees consider overall direction and weigh team goals in taking actions and making decisions. See how integrated thinking leads to much better experiences for your customers and higher levels of profitability for your company.

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