By Sondra Whitt
In the movie, What Women Want, Mel Gibson is Nick, an advertising executive and macho chauvinist who thinks he’s God’s gift to women — totally clueless that they actually think he’s a narcissistic jerk. He treats the women he supervises as mindless objects there to do his bidding, even if that’s running personal errands. For example he has Annie, his assistant who has an MBA from Harvard, pick up his dry cleaning. And he isn’t even aware of Erin, a depressed, young file clerk, who feels like she’s invisible to everyone around her and like nothing she does really matters.
After he falls into a bathtub of water while holding a hair dryer and is electrocuted, Nick can “hear” what women are thinking. He’s literally shocked to discover women don’t think as highly of him as he does of himself! He’s forced to accept the distasteful truth about himself as he listens to the thoughts of the women around him — even though he doesn’t want to hear it. As he gets to know them and stops treating them like mindless robots, he learns to respect their opinions and abilities and changes the way he treats them. He even stops taking credit for their ideas!
I talk with a lot of people who are unhappy in their jobs and it’s not just women working for chauvinistic pigs like Nick — it’s people working for clueless people like Nick. Most people who are unhappy in their workplace can relate to one or more of the reasons that Patrick Lencioni describes in his parable, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Lencioni writes that job misery is caused mainly by three things — anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. Here’s how he defines them:
Anonymity: If we feel like no one really knows us in our workplace — especially our supervisor — then we’re feeling the effects of anonymity. There is no one at work who seems to care or be interested in our personal joys or sorrows. As a result, we usually also feel unappreciated, misunderstood and may even feel like the invisible man as we go about our day’s work. We might feel like no one would notice or care if we didn’t even show up.
Irrelevance: We all want to know that the work we’re doing matters to someone. We need to see the connection between our work and how it positively affects someone else. When we can’t see that connection then it’s easy to feel that our work is irrelevant. On the other hand, the sense of fulfillment we get from knowing there is a reason for what we’re doing and that we’re helping someone else will keep us going through the tough times.
Immeasurement: We need to be able to measure our progress and level of contribution to the greater cause. When we don’t have tangible means of assessing our success and failure, we lose our motivation and see ourselves as unable to control our own fate. We need to know what is expected of us and how what we’re accomplishing fulfills the agreed-upon goals that we have had a part in setting. Those goals, in turn, fulfill the organizational goals, that fulfill the organization’s purpose.
There are organizations where the leadership needs a hairdryer-in-the-bathtub experience. If they could hear the thoughts of their workforce the three signs of a miserable job would be a common theme of their culture. If so, they need to accept the fact that they are the ones responsible for that culture. But I have good news for them. In the movie, Nick realizes the error of his ways, and changes his behavior which has an immediate impact on everyone around him — his employees, his coworkers and his bosses. The first step in changing the culture of an organization is for the leadership to change their behavior. They’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they hear then.