A few weeks ago some colleagues and I drove from the New York City area north to Ontario, Canada for Lab Manager's annual sales meeting. Five hours into the trip—somewhere near Buffalo—I realized I’d forgotten my passport.
A minute or two after the shock and embarrassment wore off, my fellow passengers and I began a furious brainstorming session—pitching different ideas; considering different options; playing out different scenarios. In the end, we made our way to the border where, after having done some online research and with a pdf of my passport on my boss’s blackberry, we crossed into Canada without a problem.*
Talk about a team-building exercise! While I didn’t need to close my eyes and fall backwards to find out whether my colleagues would catch me, I did learn something about trust.
During the hour-plus car ride from Buffalo to the Canadian border, there was only brainstorming, support, and good humor—no recriminations.
Unless you live alone in a cave, chances are what you do involves other people. But until things go badly, you may not have the opportunity to learn how your workmates—be they peers or superiors—will behave in a crisis. What I learned during that drive to Niagara Falls is that collective teamwork and trust makes all the difference in getting through rough patches as well as just getting one’s job done. What does this have to do with our September issue? Quite a bit.
“Staff who regularly receive ‘trust cues’ from managers perform best, since higher levels of trust allow staff to buy into the manager’s vision of task significance and its potential beneficiaries, driving motivation,” says Roger Mayer of North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management in this month’s cover story. “A key ingredient for management to motivate knowledge workers is earning their trust. If employees don’t trust their managers, they continually have to think of ways to protect their vulnerabilities. To the extent employees’ minds are focused on self-protection, they are less able to focus attention on complex and creative tasks that need to be accomplished,” adds Mayer.
Once trust is established, managers are also tasked with helping their staff identify professional growth opportunities within their organizations. Reed George, in his Leadership & Staffing article, “Beyond Pay and Promotions,” tells us that lab managers, unable to offer their employees career growth in the form of regular promotions, need to broaden “the traditional definition of growth, drawing on the initiative of the employee and elevating professional development goals above the personal level.”
Whether motivating, establishing trust or guiding career development, managers need a strategy. Alan Edwards, in this month’s Science Matters column, says managers would do well to enlist project management principles in these efforts. “Ultimately, you must treat the goal of motivating and engaging your employees like any other project that requires systematic steps in order to be implemented correctly,” he says.
And as if today’s lab managers don’t have enough on their plates, they are also tasked with non-personnel responsibilities, including operations. For that, John Borchardt in his Business Management article recommends Activity-Based Management as a way to “improve R&D and technical service effectiveness while identifying and better managing activities that consume excessive resources and drive up operating costs.”
As a lab manager with a full plate of responsibilities, I hope you find the articles and everything else in this month’s issue helpful. I also hope you had a wonderful summer vacation and that your road trips, if any, were without incident. Welcome back to business.
*In case you ever find yourself in this situation, know that U.S. citizens traveling into Canada only need photo I.D. Returning to the U.S., a passport is required.