I worked as a supervisor for two different coal mining companies, Y & O Coal Company and Southern Ohio Coal Company. Each company had its own culture and dealt with the employees in very different ways. Y & O Coal ran a pretty traditional company in terms of equipment and mining practices in the 1970s. In this family-oriented company, I felt like a valued part of the management team.
After five years there, I took a job in Meigs County as a supervisor at Southern Ohio Coal Company's Meigs # 2. There were two reasons for the change. First, the financial position of the Y & O mine was tenuous due to the loss of our main customer. Second, I had completed all the courses available for my undergraduate degree at the Belmont County campus of Ohio University and needed to get closer to the main campus in Athens.
The culture of Meigs #2 was very different than that at Y & O. My successful supervisory experience at Y & O did not transfer to Meigs # 2. Also, Meigs #2 had some very different equipment. On some production sections, they blasted the coal and used a loader to pick up the resulting loose coal. The most significantly different mining process was the longwall. The longwall was a huge investment costing millions of dollars to purchase. The result was enormous pressure on the mine's managers to keep it running continuously. When the longwall broke down, everyone scrambled to get it back in production.
The cultural impact of the longwall was that management direction tended to flip flop very quickly. On numerous occasions, I was given very clear directions to uphold a particular company rule, policy, or safety guideline. Then, I was surprised hours later when I was criticized for carrying out their orders. As a result, many of the supervisors were demoralized and confused. Their motivation and energy was sapped.
I am sure that part of the problem was that at 26 years old, I expected the second mine to operate in a very similar way as the first mine. I didn't understand the differences in culture between the two mines. I doubt if many of the mine's managers understood how their lack of consistency in direction and support of supervisors impacted the motivation of their first-line staff. Leaders need to maintain awareness of how their actions create or deteriorate motivation among their staff. One of the most valuable resources of an organization is the excitement of all employees to do the work required. Leaders should check the morale of employees on a regular basis and assess their impact as a leader on that morale level.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.