Make Your Employees Say “You SEE Me!”

The first chapter in a field book (Senge et al.) was entitled, “I See You.” It outlined cultural norms of South Africa in which people greet one another with “Sawu bona,” which literally means I see you. Another member of the tribe would respond “Sikhona” or I am here. This is all an important piece of their culture which embodies the spirit of Ubuntu, which states when you are seen by the people around you they respect and acknowledge you as a person. In recent years corporations have been hiring managers who were from these tribal regions and in these corporations it is perfectly normal to pass someone by in the hall without speaking if you are preoccupied. This would be worse sign of disrespect under the Ubuntu ethic; it would imply the person did not exist. Although extreme by American standards, it does make one think about the effect on a person who feels invisible.

One of the major complaints employees say is they do not feel important. They go through the motions and just put in their time. They believe the only time they hear anything is when they are called on the carpet and their ideas fade into oblivion. When you take into consideration the Ubuntu ethic are you also creating an environment in which your people feel they do not exist? What effect would that have on their morale or more importantly their productivity? Is there a way to help your employees to feel an integral part of the organization … in other words seen?

Onboarding: There is nothing more important than the onboarding process. Most organizations have some sort of onboarding process, but not all processes are created equal. Many of Fortune’s Great Places to Work find ways from day one to make a person feel part of the organization. Dixon Schwabl spends day one helping their new hire understand who the agency is and where they fit. Many places bring a new hire on board and they receive their business cards a few weeks later. At Dixon-Schwabl the cards greet the person the first day. That simple gesture sends a message…. You belong. Secondly, the new employee meets not only the head of every department, but another individual so they have people they can go to for answers. Baird builders in Houston, Texas bring a new employee in and when it is time for lunch the employees line the hall to welcome the new employee. At another organization they discuss the vision and mission of the organization with new employees and the values on which they are built, then they are given ethical issues that the organization has faced and the new employees are asked how they would approach these issues with the values in mind. You have a better chance of keeping your employees engaged with such a well-planned start.

Communication: A wonderful way to keep in touch with your employees and help them feel important is by establishing a two-way communication process. This entails a consistent process in which both parties have the ability to have open and honest communication. This can be in person or utilizing technology. Wegmans Food market has “Ask Jack” which is a web site which allows any employee the opportunity to ask any question in which nothing is off base. Gilbane, a construction company in Rhode Island, has brown bag lunches which connect their dispersedly located employees to the leadership every few weeks. Multiple organizations find ways to connect on a regular basis, but more importantly listen to their people so they feel visible. While conducting a leadership development session at Pike Company, the VP brought out a stuffed skunk and put it on the table. He said, “Let’s put the skunk on the table and talk about what is really going on.” This type of permission to have open and honest conversation helps employees to understand that their voice is important. This will only work if the leadership is open to what they employees have to say. The first time someone is punished for being honest the communication will stop.

By taking time to make sure your employees feel heard and seen you will go a long way to keep them motivated and engaged. See what you can do to have them yelling “You see me!”

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