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Get the Picture

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Do your employees know when to be "automatic" and when to be "manual."

Do your employees know when to be “automatic” and when to be “manual.”

Every now and again, inspiration occurs from unlikely sources.  One such occasion happened recently while reading a book on morality and ethics that referenced how human behavior, and ethical decision-making are best thought of as resembling how a dual-action camera operates.  The explanation offered in the book has relevance for business performance standards and behaviors.

Dual Action Camera Operations

Most of us non-professional photographers rely on the automatic settings that most cameras use to adjust to different settings where photos are likely to be taken.  So, the camera is able to recognize which settings to use when a proud Mom is trying to take a photograph from three feet away of the toddler’s first steps and immediately convert to portrait settings that accommodate certain indoor lighting conditions.  That same camera is able to recognize when a photo being taken of the New York City skyline from a dock in Hoboken, NJ at night demands very different settings and adjusts them to correctly capture a landscape photo from a distance with very different environmental and light conditions.

For most photographic opportunities, the automatic settings more than suffice and make the role or job of the photographer far more efficient.  However, there is little (or no) room for flexibility within those automatic settings.  Based on accepted responses to pre-determined considerations, the camera will default to those settings each and every time.

However, there are times where an experienced photographer (or even one that wishes to experiment) may purposely wish to over-ride those automatic settings and choose others to create a mood, take advantage of focusing on a particular item within the frame’s foreground or background, or artistically choose to use non-default settings.  For those photographers – many cameras offer a manual setting option.  The manual settings are less efficient as they require the user’s intervention, knowledge of the impact of setting manipulation, and the time it takes to create and re-create the manual settings desired for each photo.

Business Implications

As I read through the examples and descriptions of ethical behaviors and the dangers of relying solely on the “automatic” defaults at the expense of the “situational” needs or demands, the analogy to business became crystal clear.  Each of the following occurred to me:

  1. How often sales people follow a process exactly as it was trained – often at the expense of their ability to react to the immediate needs of the prospect or client in the moment.  The process becomes the goal – and not the vehicle to allow the sales person to succeed.
  2. The number of times Managers have chosen to treat all employees reporting to them the same (even though each employee may need or require very different managerial approaches for them to succeed).  In the interest of being fair – they lose the ability to maximize results.
  3. Every time a retail or telephone customer service clerk answers a request with some variation of, “I am sorry, I wish I could help you; but that is our policy.”

As business executives, we should not be forcing our interactions to always be one or the other.  It is far too cumbersome to rely SOLELY on “manual settings” and have every situation and interaction be determined without regard for commonalities between situations and recommended solutions based on policy.  On the other hand, to ONLY use the “automatic settings” and expect policy to correctly address each and every scenario, will undoubtedly leave the occasional employee and customer dissatisfied.

A well-functioning business, like the camera, will have room for both automatic responses and manual ability to over-ride the default responses.  The wise leader and manager helps their organization to recognize when to use either effectively.  How does your business address this need?

David Zahn

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