W&WP August 2000



Please Don't Take My Crayons


By Tom Dossenbach




In the December 1999 Millennium issue of W&WP, I had a sidebar article declaring, "The most powerful management tool of the new century will be a box of Crayola crayons." I further stated, "Without one in the hands of all company managers, that company is doomed to failure!" Those crayons represent creativity and innovation in solving the challenges of today and tomorrow - essential elements of success as we begin the 21st Century.

In this installment of Management Matters, I want to emphasize that not only is that true of supervisors and managers, but that each and every employee will need to have and use his or her own box of crayons for a company to succeed. Companies today need the involvement of everyone in the organization in making their company more competitive. The managers alone cannot do it, as I have expressed many times in this column.

Where do our employees get their crayons? What part do we play in their use and how will this use determine our ultimate success or failure?

Preschool Crayons

As I write this article, we have just celebrated the Fourth of July - Independence Day. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins with the familiar words: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." That "Pursuit of Happiness" extends into the workplace and includes self-fulfillment.

Each of us is born as a unique human being with certain traits and characteristics and is shaped by our environment into who we are and who we will become. Among these traits is something we call creativity or imagination. It is almost as if we are born with a small box of crayons locked up inside us waiting to be put to use.

One of our "unalienable Rights" is to carry our box of crayons with us in our journey through life and freely use them in creative and constructive ways.

When a young person looks for a job, they are searching for a way to make a living and a way to use the crayons they have been collecting over the years. Every year thousands of immigrants arrive here with little more than their box of crayons. When anyone looks at the help wanted ads, they are looking for a clean wall screaming out to them, "come draw on me." In fact, it goes deeper than that. They are drawn to a company with a reputation for providing additional crayons (free) for their collection and the opportunity to put them to use.

Company Crayons

Every job offer should carry with it - in addition to a paycheck, fringe benefits, and the like - a box of company crayons. Either we let the applicants know that we encourage and value their creativity or we do not. If we do not communicate to them - in no uncertain terms - that we want their input and help in making the company a better place to work, we are saying to them, "We don't really need you to think - just show up everyday on time and do your job."

If you really want to hire me and see me involved in more than just doing my job, you will give me a big box of your company crayons to add to mine - thus empowering me to use my skills and creativity (my total collection of crayons) more than I ever dreamed possible. A partial list of these crayons is in the sidebar.

When we give permission to be innovative, some will already have a huge reservoir of creative energy within themselves just waiting to be released. All employees have a desire to feel important in the company, and we should encourage them to express themselves by coloring outside the lines.

Who Manages the Crayons?

To this point, most would agree with what I have written. The question now is will I "put my money where my mouth is?" Am I going to dispense crayons liberally to managers, supervisors and others or am I going to keep the company crayons locked up and take away their own crayons as well?

Several months ago, I received an e-mail from a woman who related the following:

"I was hired to this company as a Safety Coordinator/Human Resource Manager. Upon arriving my first morning, I was asked to cover the Customer Service desk since the gentleman doing this task was needed in the Production Shop. I agreed, thinking this would be very temporary.

"After three months of 12-hour days at that desk, I was asked to assume the duties I was hired for, in addition to customer service. For over two years, I have tried to make suggestions and correct problems to make a positive difference, only to constantly be told, 'not now.' Many times, I asked for a formal review to discuss my situation but never received one. After 2-1/2 years, I finally got a short meeting where I was told I was doing a good job, given a pat on the head and sent back to my desk. I was so tired, frustrated and exhausted that I quit. Since leaving my job two months ago, I now have started healing. It's amazing what stress and exhaustion can do to a person. Sincerely, Exhausted."

This person had a huge box of crayons when she joined the company. I am not sure if she was given additional crayons or chains when she started work, but I do know that all of the crayons she brought with her were systematically removed from her box and cast aside by management. Why else would a person describe their state as one of just starting to heal two months after their resignation?

Example No. 2:

Jane approached Charles, her supervisor, and said, "Every time we set up those #320 rails we spend 20 minutes measuring, tweaking and re-measuring parts before we get them right. On top of that, we wasted too many set-up pieces. If we could get a go/no-go gauge made, we could cut time and waste in half."

Charles responded, "Jane, first, we have been doing it this way as long as I have been here and have had no problems. Second, I'm not sure it will save any time or money. And third, the maintenance/tooling department is swamped with sample work."

Wham! In three quick swipes, Charles took a fistful of the crayons he gave Jane when he hired her last year and a few of her own to boot. It's like he said, "Jane, I really don't care what you think about running those #320s - all I want you to do is get these done and to assembly before break time. By the way, I didn't mean all that junk I told you when I hired you last year - you know - that stuff about wanting your creative ideas and all that. I just wanted you to sign on."

Steve's Story

If you are still not convinced someone may be snatching crayons in your plant, see if what I saw happen to Steve has happened in your plant.

Steve had been with the company for four years. He was young, ambitious, sharp and had the best attitude in Mike's department. "Mike, I heard that Milton (the assistant supervisor in assembly) is retiring. I would really like to get into supervision and feel strongly this is how I would like to start. Would you put in a good word for me?"

Mike took a bunch of Steve's crayons and crushed them on the floor. "Well, Steve, you know how important you are to us here. We really need you to stay right here and run these machines."

There are two overriding points to these examples: First, a company (your company) will go nowhere if it does not provide an atmosphere of participation and creativity for everyone in its organization. Second, if we do not dole out crayons liberally and honor their use (especially when they are used to color outside the lines) we will not be able to keep good people, and the future of the company will be threatened.

Whatever you do, please don't take my crayons if I am one of your managers, supervisors or other employee. You need to give me more and encourage me to use them all, and, by the way, don't forget to replace my old crayons with new ones when they begin to wear out.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.