On Management

Dec. 21, 2004
Hail the 'unsung heroes'

After my yearend column appeared in IW -- encouraging readers to "achieve those dreams" -- I received a number of enthusiastic responses. But none was more inspiring than the one I got from Jim York, in the form of a tribute to industry's "unsung heroes." Jim is director of operations projects for Clopay Corp., Cincinnati, a leading manufacturer of garage doors and other products. I met Jim more than 10 years ago at a local meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Management, which had invited me to speak. He was in the audience. We chatted after the meeting but hadn't kept in touch -- until his e-mail arrived. Various actions and attitudes of arrogant and presumptuous management -- fortunately, not in his company -- prompted Jim to write a heartfelt piece about the real heroes in today's world of work. His thoughts tend to reinforce my conviction that great leaders need great followers. And I'm delighted to pass his message along: Every successful company has them -- and no company can survive without them. They are seldom recognized, appreciated, or properly compensated. They are not listed among the company assets, or even itemized in the "good will" entry on the balance sheet. One hardly even notices that they are there, but without them the wheels of business would slowly grind to a stop. Who are they? They are the unsung heroes who make a business hum. They are dedicated line employees who come to work every day, do boring and repetitive jobs, and take pride in the quality and quantity of work they produce. They are group leaders who risk ridicule and resentment from their peers and take the heat for decisions in which they had no input. They are supervisors whose cars are the first in the parking lot in the morning and the last to leave, because they feel responsibility for the company's -- and the employees' -- well being. They are the maintenance people who work weekends and holidays so the plant can function at the optimum level during normal running hours. They are the line engineers who labor long and hard to design and build increasingly efficient and profitable equipment. They are customer service representatives who handle each customer's concerns courteously and effectively, even though no one seems to notice or care. They are truck drivers who leave their families on Sundays, drive on increasingly crowded highways to get product to ever-more-demanding customers, and, by their example, try to convince the customer that theirs is the best company in the industry. They are the accountants, clerks, middle managers, janitors, buyers, computer technicians, and ordinary people who do their level best to do a good job every day, even though they are seldom asked for their input or given credit for their dedication and intelligence. Without these unsung heroes, America's unprecedented run of prosperity in the last couple of decades would not have been possible. People who are visible and in the spotlight in their companies should make an effort to seek out these folks and, once in a while, give them a sincere face-to-face "thank you." It costs nothing and means so much to the individual who contributes every day. Executives who do this are heroes themselves, because it is so rare for someone in the "visible" organization to recognize the people who make them successful. If you are one of the unsung heroes, give yourself a pat on the back -- and accept a sincere "thank you" from a fellow American for your contribution. You have made, and are making, this a better world. What more can I add? Jim's moving tribute encompasses all working people, whether they are hourly, clerical, or management. I know that in my business career many "unsung heroes" helped to make me successful. I'll bet the same is true in your case. So seek out a few of them, as Jim recommends, and say, "Thank you." John Mariotti, a former manufacturing CEO, is the author of Smart Things to Know About Brands (1999, Capstone Ltd.). His e-mail address is [email protected].

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