Nobody Answers When I Call Your Name

Most of us belong to federal government organizations that are huge in size. Take my agency, for example. We consist of approximately 83,000 people spread across almost every corner of the USA. Many of our employees work at the retail level where they deal with customers directly at call centers or drop-in service facilities.

In my discussions with these public servants, they often feel forgotten by their leaders. Even though they are the major life line to our customers, they toil away invisibly at the bottom of the organization in anonymity and silence. They potentially turn in to some of our most disengaged employees.

Huggy Rao, Stanford University Professor and co-author of the book “Scaling Up Excellence,” suggests that leaders should be cognizant of the subsequent conditions that follow large organizations:

• Anonymity and silence increases.
• Smart people become quieter and keep their ideas, creativity and innovation to themselves.
• Bystander apathy runs rampant. As more people enter the organization, they have a tendency to not take self-responsibility. They use the excuse that ‘It is not my job. It is the responsibility of someone else.’
• When people see others not acting on problems, they turn a deaf ear to challenges as well.

How should leaders in huge organizations ensure that every employee can feel valued and on the path to their full potential? I think the key is intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward. Helping employees answer the question, “Why do I do what I do?” Enabling them to see that their contribution is based on them wanting to the do their jobs rather than being compelled to do their jobs.

A story is told that President Kennedy was touring a NASA facility during the early days of the space program. He bumped into a custodian after getting off the elevator. Kennedy asked the janitor, “What do you do around here?” The man replied, “I am helping put a man on the moon.”

The janitor understood the importance of his contribution, albeit a small one. He recognized he was part of something bigger than himself. He was not just a member of the maintenance staff; he was part of a Space Team.

Let’s create the right relationships, recognition, expectations and visibility to guarantee that everyone counts in our workplaces. Let’s go beyond just counting the heads. Let’s make sure every head counts.

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