Burbank, California; March,2003;
Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student

George was an outgoing person: happy, upbeat, and always well dressed. People liked him in general. He had been managing the logistics division of a midsize company for the past 3 years, directly supervising 450 employees at a variety of levels. Yet there were a few people in his office who did not seem too fond of George lately. Oh, in the beginning they had all been very positive about him. In those days he often received notes and emails from co-workers about their relief of having a pleasant person like him around, especially after their previous manager, who had been infamous for his absolutely apathetic approach. With George such was definitely not the case. He had made it part of his routine to walk around in the plant on a regular basis, and make small talk here and there in order to make workers know that he cared. What made them like him even more: he knew most of his employees by name!

So why would the people in his office have this aversion against him? Where did things go wrong? In George's opinion he really went out of his way to give them all the opportunities they deserved: Tanya got promoted from the storage room to the main office where an extra assistant was needed now that the number of incoming orders had increased; Shelley got transferred from the reception to the computer department, where she was now earning 40% more than her previous salary, and Bill was made the new head of Human Resources, a once-in-a-lifetime chance in George's perception.

George really assumed that by thinking of- and placing all these workers in the recently opened positions, he had demonstrated his awareness regarding their possible ambitions, his thoughtfulness of their hard work, and his eagerness to reward them with the best opportunities possible.

Yet, the atmosphere in the office became gloomier by the day, and one day George decided to find out what was wrong. He scheduled one-on-one appointments with each of his three recently transferred employees. What he heard in the individual conversations with them was a hard but important lesson for George to learn.

  • Tanya expressed her dread about working in the hectic and demanding main office, and articulated her regret of losing her peace of mind by having to give up her job in the storage room without being asked. She was not particularly a people-person and had really enjoyed the serenity of working in a department that accommodated her need for solitude. She sorely missed that now.
  • Shelley spoke out her gratitude for the salary increase and the enhanced financial room she now had as a single mom of three, but she also conveyed her concern about the nature of her work in the computer department. She had always been a very people-oriented person, and computers were not so cold and quiet. She missed the smiles and the little chats of the people she had come to know through the years, and wished she had been asked before being transferred.
  • Bill nervously communicated his concern about being able to keep up with the stress of a management position, since he actually preferred a low-stress job. He was not particularly looking for a raise or a higher position: he had been perfectly happy with his previous job, yet felt obligated to accept the new position, since it was presented to him in such a convincing, almost demanding way.
  • George was in the least flabbergasted. But he was mature enough to realize the enormous mistake he had made here: he had a-s-s-u-m-e-d. He had portrayed his own personality and preferences on his beloved employees, and thereby made the capital mistake of disrupting their trusted world by offering them one in which they felt threatened, stressed, and unhappy.

    Fortunately, George was able to find a satisfying solution to the problem, and even managed to find these three valuable workers a position in which they DID feel happy, yet did not have to sacrifice the increased salary they had been earning in their most recent position.

    The moral of the story? It is so easy to assume. We effortlessly suppose that others will want the same thing we do. But people are different. And cultures are different. It is therefore of extreme importance to communicate and find out whether a person or a group of people is really receptive to the rewards, help, support, or assistance we want to give them. People continuously make similar mistakes as described in George's actions above, and so do countries. When will we learn???