Getting Workers Off of Cell Phones

Published on January 10, 2017

The young man working at the old factory on installation of equipment

As a sales and leadership expert, I often find that leaders and managers are focused on the symptoms, not the underlying condition. They obsess over common workplace problems, but underneath those problems is the issue of a lack of motivation.

I recently was at a client business working with the production manager, and he asked me how I would recommend getting people off their cell phones. The production manager was concerned that workers were spending time on their cell phones but work was being delivered late. This manager said that whenever he brought up the issue with his workers, they responded by saying everyone else was taking breaks. It was clear that the cell phone issue was really plaguing this production manager. After I’d heard enough, I said, “The problem isn’t cell phones. The problems is you. You’re not having effective conversations with your workers.”

I then proceeded to engage him in a role play about the issue. I pretended the production manager was the man with the cell phone and said, “Hey, how are things going today?” The manager played along and said, “Good, I’m at this point in the process.” I said,“ That’s good, but you really need to be thirty minutes ahead of that. What can we do to get you there?” After he made his suggestions, I said, “Remember how you wanted to become a master welder in a year and a half? Well to be a master welder means you have to come in on time on these jobs on a consistent basis. My job is to help you become a master welder, so what can we do to make up these thirty minutes?”

When we stopped role-playing and dissected the discussion, the production manager realized that the conversation had been engaging because it wasn’t about criticism but about problem solving. He also noted that the cell phone issue wasn’t even discussed. Most important, in the role play, the manager conveyed to his worker that he was interested in helping him achieve his goals.

Is cell phone use a problem plaguing your workplace? What issues get under your skin and what do you wish you could fix? These are usually symptoms of a serious condition—lack of motivation. Address the underlying condition and the symptoms will go away on their own.

What can you do as a leader to get your workers motivated and create the environment where they don’t want to be on the phone but want to do whatever it takes to succeed? As a leader, you do have control over your employees and the way they use their time, but you exercise that control in the way you communicate. Don’t blame your workers the next time you see them on a cell phone. Instead, ask yourself how you can create the right environment for them to succeed.

Do you need help with that? If so, call me.

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