hanging file

You meet many different types of people at work who lack the skill set to perform, but in my opinion, many things can be taught and learned with the correct performance appraisals, coaching, mentoring, and showing them the way.  The problem is when it comes to common sense: how can it be measured and how can you actually hire and then fire someone with the reason “lacks common sense?”

Firstly, what is common sense?  In the minds of managers, common sense is the way the employee conducts him/herself by abiding by the rules of logic set by the manager.  This is where the mix up starts.  Managers expect their employees to have the commonsense that is equal to theirs.  The problem is, human beings’ common senses is a compilation of their cultural background, personalities, logic, and database of experiences.  How can managers expect their employees to have the same common sense if they have been born, raised, and worked in a different environment?

A simple example is when a manager, without being too stereotypical, was a star baseball player calls in his employees and asks them for a “home run.”  One of his employees who just came in from the middle east, for example, wouldn’t necessarily understand what is meant by his figure of speech and asks.  The manager would immediately think that the employee lacks the common sense because, come on, who doesn’t understand this simple reference to baseball.  No, things don’t necessarily translate well between languages or cultures.  The differences in words describing the same item are clear in multicultural and diversified workplaces in such an evident manner that employees may start joking around without realizing that language barriers in addition to cultural barriers are causing communication gaps.

Common sense is the tacit knowledge a person acquires throughout his years: they include cultural norms and background, personal and professional experiences, personality traits, and all other outside factors that affect the person’s judgment.

To work in a diversified company, employees must understand that their definition of common sense is not easily transferable to other employees; different cultures have a different definition of common sense.  Even though many things can get lost in translation, it’s the misunderstanding that can cause harm in the organization’s harmony.  Many companies either give out a handbook or conduct an induction training for employees to inform them what is considered right and what is wrong in the company and how to conduct oneself.  The trick here is to be able to adapt quickly to the organization’s culture and common sense; should this be considered organizational behavior?

Some companies have the norm of working extra hours without being paid overtime.  Now, a female employee who has other responsibilities at home, would be glad to work for eight hours but as soon as the clock strikes five and she starts going out of the door, her colleagues look at her funny.  It’s the organization’s culture.  She’s not doing anything wrong but they are pressuring her to stay for longer hours just to be part of the accepted group.  Then all the bickering starts about how she leaves at five and doesn’t work hard enough.

Now to my story.

I cannot say that our company is vastly diversified but there are just some things that, I believe, should be considered common sense.  In my studies when discussing the difference in generations at work, it is commonly stated that generation Y employees are very keen on the environment and making a stand to what they believe.  I liked that concept since I took part in many beach clean ups and extinct species reports when I was younger.  And of course, throughout my childhood, I was expected to care for paper: to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

In comes the Gen-Y secretary.

I had some employee files I wanted to file away in the archives and thought that I could ask her to do so.  It’s not that I asked her to do something terribly difficult because she was the person who opened the archive files in the first place and arranged them as she saw correct.  Thus, she was using HER common sense when filing.  I give her seven to ten hanging files (as seen above in the image), some of which are perfectly new and some of which needed to be thrown out ages ago.  Thinking that she has the common sense to distinguish the difference, I did not think of giving her any extra details in my request.

A few days later, I call her up and ask about the employee files:

Me: where are the employee files?

Secretary: I filed them in the box files

Me: no the actual hanging files

Secretary: huh?

Me: the green files

Secretary: I threw them

Me: What?

Secretary: I threw them

Me: can you come up please?

In this instance, I think there is some kind of misunderstanding.  My brain could not get around the idea that she threw away the hanging files.  She comes up and I show her one of the files as a sample.  She repeats that she threw them out.  The million dollar question here is why?  Why did you throw them?

Secretary: (Silence)

Me: They were perfectly new files

Secretary: (silence).

Me: (still in shock and disbelief) did anyone teach you anything about trees and how this is all a waste?!

Secretary: silence

Phone rings, I pick it up and it’s another manager

Me: Please come and explain to Ms. X about the importance of recycling.  (throw my hands up in submission and ask her to go out).

MORAL OF THE STORY: when giving out directions, be very specific because people can’t read your mind.

Should businesses around the world have a universal language or common sense?  Are there already established rules and regulations when it comes to working with businesses from other countries especially with the emergence of e-commerce?

Is there really a big gap in common sense between people from different countries with social networking?  If music is global, books are global, movies are global is the youth in the USA living differently than the youth in Japan?  Being people of the world instead of being associated to one country diminishes some differences in culture (and thus common sense) so youth can easily understand what their counterparts mean when they bring up that amazing hit song of their time.

Are people all required to live a certain way to be accepted and whose culture is the accepted alpha-culture?  What about religion and other taboos that take a big part in some people’s lives, are they supposed to be left at home?  People are made up of their past experiences and thus cannot be requested to leave who they are.  But in terms of working in multicultural environments, the personal common sense must be set aside (or in the back of the minds) and the overall business common sense be ruling.

But does this lack of diversity in a multicultural environment hinder creativity and encourage group thinking?  Aren’t the best companies those who question all processes and procedures and nurture people’s differences?

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