Monday, August 6, 2007

Telling your boss about your ideas

Just read CK's post 夠膽講 and the comments there and it makes me think about the issue of expressing one's ideas to the managements.

If you don't know Chinese, the post is about how CK was unhappy about the dead air when he asked his employees for their ideas/suggestions. In a nutshell, no one was willing to share their thoughts because
  • they're afraid that their ideas may offend the boss
  • they're afraid that other coworkers will think that they're "saying too much"
  • they only care about their salaries and not the company
After reading the post, I've a feeling that most people in Hong Kong think exactly like the three items I mentioned above and it scares me so much. If I have choices, I'll never work for a boss who doesn't listen to his employees and with coworkers who only care about their paychecks. It's just no fun to work in such an environment.

I don't treat the job duties of a manager (or boss) being superior to the ones of a subordinate. Instead, a manager is merely doing a different job. I'd guess that, to the minds of many people, a manager's greatest responsibility is to lead the team and make decisions. There're certainly merits in this thought but I think it's sub-optimal. Rather, I think that a manager's biggest job is to maximize the productivity of the team.

In this regard, the manager doesn't necessarily have to be the smartest/know the most about every issue that may come out from the project/work s/he manages. Instead, s/he should always think about how to help his/her team members to achieve more, for example, giving them the best work environment the company can afford.

If you think about it, actually, how can one individual knows all the details of a considerably big project? It's not just that it's unnecessary for the manager to know everything, it's infeasible for one to do so. If this is true, surely it's unwise for the manager to make decision without listening to other people.


Because of this, it's the management's responsibility to make the work place a friendly place to exchange ideas. Not only one shouldn't be punished for making suggestions, one should be encouraged to do so. If people are discouraged for voicing opinions, as time goes on, no one will speak out his/her thoughts anymore. There're two results
  • People who can still stand the company will just "work for money" everyday (The company doesn't care about him, why should he care about the company?)
  • People who can't stand will just leave the company
People who just "work for money" won't be happy about the job and coworkers around them can feel it, so in turn they won't be happy also or even be unhappy. When turnover rate is high, people will lose confidence in the company and this in turn leads to even higher turnover rate. It's just bad to the company, the boss, the managers, to everyone.

If you read Joel's post Two Stories, you'll know that the managers at Microsoft not only listen to the employees, they actually would like them to make decision themselves: (it was the old days of course, probably not the humongous Microsoft now)
At Microsoft, if you're the Program Manager working on the Excel macro strategy, even if you've been at the company for less than six months, it doesn't matter - you are the GOD of the Excel macro strategy, and nobody, not even employee number 6, is allowed to get in your way. Period.
As a conclusion, if you're
  • a boss/manager, stop practicing defensive management and listen to your employees. Better yet, let them make decisions as much as possible; mistakes make them learn and grow.
  • an employee, voice your opinions in a respectful way and encourage your coworkers to do so also. If it's impossible to do that in any way, LEAVE.
Be assertive guys! :)