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News & Press: News Stories

Working with Invisibles

Thursday, November 8, 2018   (0 Comments)

“What if being fulfilled, what if finding success, had nothing to do with getting attention?”

This question — seemingly at odds with our culture dominated by the quantification of likes, followers and shares a person has — is what drives David Zweig, a WERC 2018 Annual Conference presenter and author of Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion.

Consider the fact-checkers at newspapers and magazines — a role Zweig held at Rolling Stone. No reader, he says, finishes a cool article and thinks, “Wow, that piece was really well fact-checked.” It’s only when mistakes occur that the harsh glare of the spotlight shines on him.

Instead of devising ways to be recognized and keep his job, Zweig decided to strive for invisibility, and subsequently, perfection in his work. He also explored other professions that share this inverse recognition and worked on devising strategies for managers.

Peter Clements, the guitar technician on tour with Radiohead for example, knows the show is going well if he remains unseen. Robert Elswit, cinematographer for such movies as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, understands his role is secondary to the director. He strives for perfection in order to support the success of the movie as a whole entity.

And, consider the numerous architects who restore famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s projects. They follow his work fixing his engineering and design flaws. The project will forever remain attributed to Wright’s legacy, but they are satisfied knowing their contributions support the overall integrity of his structures.

Even the logistics industry is familiar with the concept of invisibility: consumers rarely think about this sector until their online order is late, out of stock, or they receive the wrong item.

Invisibility is not restricted to certain jobs or industries. It can be inherent to an individual member of the team, those who seem ambivalent toward recognition, who are meticulous and who savor responsibility.

In his presentation to WERC conference attendees, Zweig reviewed two important perception shifts managers must make to properly engage and support their “invisible” team members.

First, rethink rewards. Attention-seeking individuals derive motivation and satisfaction from public shout-outs at team meetings or in staff emails. Invisibles are motivated by the internal knowledge that their work contributes to the broad success of a project or organization as a whole. To reward them, confirm their job well-done with added responsibility or by including them on important projects.

Second, rethink culture. Open-door management styles are ubiquitous in today’s workplace. But, they inherently feed the attention-seeking employees who are happy to go out of their way to haunt their manager’s door for validation. Similarly, team round-tables may be dominated by the same set of attention-seekers. Add regular one-on-one meetings with your team members to provide invisibles with a direct and comfortable platform.

Attention-seekers and invisibles, plus everyone in between, each have a role and purpose on your team. Effective managers know how to distinguish and tailor their style to effectively harness and support employees’ contributions to the organization.


Discover management solutions and hiring strategies, plus the latest innovations and tested solutions for the warehousing industry, at WERC’s 2019 Annual Conference and Solutions Center. Registration opens in November at werc.org/2019.