Remembering someone’s name tells them that you place value on them as an individual. It shows that you respect them enough to remember who they are. Unfortunately, many, if not most, people have an extremely hard time remembering names of people they see only periodically.
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In leadership or continuous improvement roles, the burden of remembering names grows. If you are a front-line employee, you may need only to remember the names of a few co-workers, and a few leaders. If you forget a name, you are generally not on the spot to remember it. In a leadership role, though, you are in a different boat. Because you have a broader range of duties, you cross paths with a greater number of people.
In addition to the greater number of contacts, the meetings generally carry different significance for the subordinate than for the more senior person. Think about if you were to meet the President or a famous author. You would probably be more likely to remember the encounter than they would.
Similarly, frontline employees tend to remember their encounters with leaders and continuous improvement specialists far more clearly than the other way around.
Imagine you are a director of a large organization with several hundred or even a thousand people. You might meet a person one time. But then you meet a hundred other people. That first person, though, does not go on to meet a hundred other directors. When you come across them again in a year, you will likely be at a loss, but there is a good chance he or she will remember you. They will also likely remember nearly all of the conversation you had.
Here’s the problem, though: if you do not remember her name, she will be hurt or offended. It will make her feel unimportant, much like a cog in your vast machine.
The same phenomenon occurs to a lesser degree, even if you are closer to the front line—perhaps a supervisor or an engineer. You encounter many people in the course of your work. Forgetting names can make your job harder as relationships are damaged. Remembering their names helps maintain positive connections with them.
Repetition is the key to remembering names. When meeting a person, use their name a few times, even if it feels a little unnatural. Write it down as well. The more times you see it or say it, the more it will stick. End the encounter by using their name as well.
If you are an instructor, use nametags, but also say the person’s name when speaking to him or her. This is especially important if you will have an ongoing relationship. Make sure that when the crutch (nametag) is gone, your knowledge of the person’s identity doesn’t evaporate as well.
You can help avoid some of the problems associated with leaders not remembering your name by introducing yourself when speaking with someone who you don’t see regularly. For example, when the director of manufacturing is in your work area and you have a question, start off by saying “Hi, (Boss’s name). I’m Steve from the crimping cell. Have you heard about…”
It takes the heat off the manager having to remember your name, which also takes away any chance your boss might have of offending you by calling you by the wrong name.
If you are a junior manager, there is really no excuse for forgetting an employee’s name. You should be down in the work area—gemba—regularly. If you are not, you have a bigger leadership issue than forgetting names.
If you are more senior, you should still be visiting the frontline areas frequently, but because your responsibilities are greater, your time will likely be diluted. If you have a problem remembering names, try studying a roster before each visit, or keep a list of team members in your notebook or smartphone. Refer to it prior to meetings.
Also, help out your boss when you are in your areas together. Introduce your team members, even if you think the boss knows the person. You’ll ingratiate your boss, plus you’ll insulate your team from the hard feelings that come from being forgotten.
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