As we walk the path of guiding organizations to success, we need to question whether we are successful. Too many leaders are greatness in their own minds and they measure success merely by business metrics. As they progress down their strategic plan, one day they are woken to realize that their workforce in disengaged, reacting only to commands, lack empowerment, seek others to represent them, and are disillusioned with what success resembles. That leader will first defend their actions and accuse the workforce of being lazy, not motivated, and simply a reflection of a poor work ethic that is a culture problem. They will increase demands and employees will react slower and with resentment. Have you ever worked for a leader like this? We all have. They end up failing and hurting companies that take years to recover. They are the egomaniacs of the world. Every other sentence is “I”. They may not have started out this way but have slipped into a false sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
There are ways to stay away from the slide as a leader. You are nothing without your empowered, engaged workforce. You cannot lead a defeated organization using the same tactics that defeated them. Below is listed ways to avoid slipping into the trap.
1. Communicate every day with someone in your workforce. A regular conversation with the people from all levels of the workforce is necessary to keep a pulse on your organization. The continued communication develops relationships and allows you to receive feedback in a real time manner.
2. Don’t dismiss criticism. There are disgruntled employees everywhere but you cannot merely dismiss complaints as those of a poor employee. There is usually a shred of truth in every complaint or statement. It may be exaggerated and at times or may be something stated with an ulterior motive, but examine what is said. Do not over-react to every comment but place some credence in it and examine if what is told you is the truth.
3. Hold regular multiple group meetings. All Hands meetings should occur monthly, sub-groups should meet weekly and work groups should have a meeting format on a daily basis. While the finance world will measure this as indirect labor charging that shows a loss, the resultants for improved productivity will far exceed those small losses. There is no format for everyone. Some people will not speak out in a large group and some will feel secure in those groups and give constructive feedback. Small groups can also be intimidating for some people and there are work group clicks that will stop some from speaking up. Finally, hold regular skip level meetings on a regular basis. They should be a minimum of quarterly intervals. Skip levels eliminate the presence and intervention of middle management. People will speak more freely in these meetings and you will receive different feedback. Caution: Do not overreact or make promises to fix problems in these meetings. Doing so will result in group leaders and middle management feeling betrayed. You are there to gather feedback, describe your vision and strategic plan, and create list to investigate.
4. Be honest, loyal, ethical, and have principles each and every day. Do not deceive your workforce. There are always business situations that do not allow you to unveil everything to the entire workforce but you can merely state “I cannot comment on that now”, “We have not made final decisions regarding that matter and when we do we can discuss it”, “I understand your concerns and when we have answers to those we will discuss at the next meeting” etc. Do not lie. Your workforce will lose your trust and everything that is discussed at meetings will be merely dismissed as a possible misrepresentation.
5. Walk the walk of you employees. Walk their job with them for an hour every year. Learn what their job is and understand their challenges. While you walk their job with them, realize they are people that work to live. They have families, children, parents, schooling issues, financial burdens etc. Talk to them as a human being and a leader. Nothing makes someone feel valued more than when you walk the floor and can say, “John, how is the boy’s baseball team doing?” Mary, how is the daughter’s gymnastics coming?”, “Harry, how is mom doing”. It may seem impossible but you can easily take 250 hours a year and dedicate it to this activity.
6. Protect your workforce. Watch and listen for unreasonable management and team leaders. Pay attention to safety and join a safety committee. Realize ergonomic challenges. Prove to people you care because you do care and react quickly to safety issues. People are your greatest asset and protect them like the jewels they are to the organization
Be a leader that people embrace. Reward, recognize their achievements, thank them and show them they are important. If you do not understand or agree with most of these items, you are on a path to failure. Don’t delegate these items to others-walk the walk each and every day.