Company owners and supervisors who allow their employees to express their creativity on the job see the most positive results.

It amazes me how many managers at faltering wood products manufacturers always seem to come up with a similar excuse for poor performance. The comments in the side bar below are representative of the prevalent attitude surrounding these people. It seems that the employees of a company are the most convenient scapegoats, and thus the ones on which to place the blame.

If you or anyone else in your company truly believes that any of those four statements are accurate, you need to pay close attention to this column.

Furthermore, if any of these perceptions are true, they are serious issues that must be addressed with a sense of urgency.

You Have What You Expect

When I hear such comments, they disturb me because I know that the managers and supervisors who speak them will get exactly what they expect from their employees — no more and no less. Mediocre companies drift from day to day, led by some who have a negative outlook toward the future and some who don’t have any confidence that their peers or employees will help make things better tomorrow.

Often, this leads to a finishing department lead person (or other supervisor) trying to solve all of the day’s problems himself. When he can’t do it alone, he endures and tries to make it through the day without ever realizing that the solutions may be found in the very employees he is criticizing.

If you believe your employees are mediocre —they will soon become just that.

If you believe that your employees are unmotivated because you are near the bottom of the pay scale in your community — it’s just a matter of time before you will be correct. If you believe that your place of employment is so bad that your employees can’t wait to jump ship for a better job — they will. And finally, if you truly believe that the only way to get something done at your company is to do it yourself — you are going to be a very busy and frustrated person.

Your thoughts drive what you say and what you say forms your thought patterns. Those around you are going to pick up on it and before you know it, you will get exactly what you think and speak. If this shoe fits you or someone you know, it’s time for a serious attitude change.

Creative Activity Increases Creative Ability

The first order of business is to replace negative thoughts and words about your company’s employees with positive actions that communicate your belief that the company has a brighter future with them. It’s really not so hard to do if you believe in yourself and in others. The key is to motivate others to feel the same way that you do, and the best way to accomplish this is to set a good example.

Successful companies have one thing in common: They are made up of creative people who do creative things to one-up their competition.

Going back to the four statements in the sidebar, one might question how to motivate employees to become creative in such an environment. The answer again is simply to lead by example. You and the management of your company must become creative and offer innovative solutions to the challenges that confront you each day. Most importantly, you must get the ordinary people within your company involved in the process. The more you get them to see how you solve problems in creative ways, the more they will do the same themselves.

This is still the management tool of the 21st century. It represents creativity and innovation, and the way to achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people as they color

outside the lines. This little box also represents a powerful employee recruitment and retention tool.
Some of the most common excuses for poor company performance are:

1. “We don’t have good talent here at our company.”

2. “Our pay scale means we have to settle for second-class employees.”

3. “Our employees are just here until they can find something better.”

4. “If you want something done around here, you have to do it yourself.”

I was in a kitchen cabinet plant a few weeks ago. This is a fine company, but one that has gotten bogged down with negative attitudes. As I walked around the plant and engaged employees in small talk, I was amazed at the number of times one of these ordinary employees volunteered an idea to help solve a production or quality-related issues that they recognized as a constraint to the plant’s productivity. On the one hand, management was saying that the employees did not care about their jobs and on the other hand, those same ordinary employees were getting excited about helping to solve pressing issues at their company. How could this have been possible?

Was it because they confronted an outsider who had no preconceived notions about them or their attitudes? Was it because I took the time to listen to their ideas? Or, was it that we talked and shared creative ideas about how we might approach solving some of the issues closest to them — together? Could it be that I encouraged them to come up with a creative solution? I suggest it was all of the above.

It is important to see that if you can get your employees working as a creative team with you, together you can accomplish the impossible. You and I want to count for something in our jobs, and so does each and every person who showed up to work at your plant today. Get hold of this and get your people involved in the creative activity of problem solving. The results will be more creative people who are ready and willing to help propel your company

forward, because creative activity increases one’s creative ability over time.

Extraordinary Results from Ordinary People

Most of us are just ordinary people trying to do the best we can. But, ordinary people are easily transformed into highly effective individuals if properly trained and motivated. This begins, as I have mentioned on these pages before, with a deep belief in your people and recognizing their intrinsic desire to be an important part of the success of your company. Every human being wants to feel needed and appreciated.

Every mediocre company needs to capitalize on this authentic human need in order to turn a failing company into a thriving success story. Six years ago, I predicted that the most powerful management tool of the 21st century would be creativity and innovation and I have not retreated from that position one inch.

I am more convinced today that this must be paramount in every top manager’s mind as he or she leads his or her company in this intense climate of global competition. I chose a box of crayons to represent creativity and innovation and thus have made it a tangible management tool that can be held in your hand as a reminder of what can be. But, holding the box unopened will accomplish nothing. The box must be opened and one or more crayons used to color outside the lines — to unleash your creativity and to foster that creativity and innovation in others. Those crayons represent the very employees you may be criticizing today.

Successful wood products companies get extraordinary results from ordinary people. They believe their people will give their best as they transform their companies into world-class manufacturers.

Let me remind you of the owners and presidents of very successful companies who have opened their top desk drawers and pulled out their box of crayons that I gave them some years back at a seminar or another occasion. They testify to the awesome power in that little box.

I challenge you to get your own box of crayons, or contact me and I will send you one. Place it on your desk and show it to your peers and employees. Use it as a tool to draw out the best in them and it will become a powerful employee recruitment and retention tool. Buy them their own box and encourage each individual to color outside the lines as your company begins the process of continuous improvement.

Then watch as you see extraordinary results come from ordinary people.

Tom Dossenbach is the managing director of Dossenbach Associates LLC, a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail Visit his Web site at

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