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Employees: People or Roles?

Posted Jul 15 2009 5:47pm

Director of Sales. VP of HR. Research Associate. Customer Service Agent.

Orgsample1Every time I receive a call to consult or coach, one of thefirst things I hear is the person's title and location on the organization chart. Invariably, the client turns out to be an actual person:

Laura. Luis. George. Dottie.

There's something about organizational roles that allow them to--at least initially--take precedence over the identity of the humans behind them.

I'm quite practical and get the need for org charts, functional titles, and visual relationships. I'm also aware of how the initial focus on titles and roles can subliminally influence the beginning of a working relationship. Here's what I mean:

1. Manager to direct report:"Set up a meeting with the Director of Sales, Europe to review the projections for next month."

Direct report doesn't know the Director. Conjures up images based on title, function, and location. Puts them through the "great mental filter of life." Starts to lose confidence about the ability to interact successfully.

2. VP of HR to external coach:"I'd like you to work with our CFO. She's a real detail person and needs to get the big picture regarding our business. The CEO has a time line for this. Could you get involved as soon as next week?"

Not unusual. If it were me I'd ask the clarifying questions needed to get a more complete picture. But all I can see at this point is the top of an organizational chart.

3. New Director of Customer Service, pointing to screen: "Here is the re-organization as I see it. Notice how the Call Center associates will have a dotted line relationship with Distribution as well as reporting directly to me."

OK. I know what it looks like in a presentation. But who are these people and how will we actually work together?

Humanize or Objectify: The Choice Matters

Humanize: The faster we can begin to relate to other people as people, the more of a chanc e we have of making a connection that matters. (You may find that you don't particularly care for someone , but at least it's based upon real data). Humanizeitsmallercovervlr

Objectify means that we assign meaning to things, people, places, activities, and the like. But they may not be correct and can be based upon preconceived notions, stereotypes, and the comments of others. The worst part: it makes the person an object. Once we do that, we no longer see them as someone with the same kinds of needs, wants, frailties, talents, and humanity as ourselves. And then begin to act accordingly.

What I hope you'll think about today:

1. When talking about your organization, talk about the people by name. Mention an interesting characteristic that you value about them. Then mention the title and role.

2. If you're calling a coach or consultant, talk about the person by name if you can (sometimes you can't at first). Offer some insights regarding their experience and background--their uniqueness. Then talk about their role and the developmental goals.

3.Talent Management. When you are discussing the movement of people up and around the organization, talk about characteristics as well as skills. Humanize the roles that need to be filled. How often have you seen really intelligent people cause distress because they simply didn't have the characteristics--or character--to relate to others.

4. It seems safe to keep a distance from others. It's dangerous if you want to have a fulfilling life on or off the job.

It would be useful to hear situations or comments around this phenomenon. It's tough for people to work with each other--or help each other--if they don't actual know each other.

What's your take?

Speaking of roles: We want to thank Kevin Eikenberry and Best Leadership Blogs of 2009 for nominating All Things Workplace. You can vote at the link and check out the lineup of terrific leadership blogs in the action this year.

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