Strategic & Operating Reviews: The Ultimate Leadership Challenge (Part 2)
What Needs to be Done?
“Treat regular workers as if they were volunteers.”
Drucker on Leadership
While research shows that engaging employees can directly improve performance, experience has shown that it is not easy to do. In its July 2011 study, The Engagement/Performance Equation (paywall), the Aberdeen Group states that to move towards Best-in-Class performance, organizations must:
- Work with senior leaders to get buy-in, and support engagement and performance management efforts;
- Give managers the tools to deliver effective feedback and reviews;
- Instill accountability at the individual and managerial level for the achievement of personal AND team goals.
Gaining Traction on Engagement
But what does that mean precisely?
At a more granular level, we find it more effective for both individuals and managers to focus on how they need to work together. To do so, employees must also:
- Understand Strategic Direction and contribute to the organization’s mission and strategic direction—at least in terms of how it impacts their day-to-day work;
- Have Managers who can empower them and create a work ethos that promotes motivation;
- Posses the ability to Self-Manage in order to participate in setting their own work goals as a critical contribution to the strategic direction of the enterprise.
The above skills are absolutely necessary in our world of “doing more with less” and to do so at the speed of change itself. Imagine the gains if organizations were able to harness the discretionary effort of all employees all of the time!
With that in mind, let’s take a look at each component.
Understanding Strategic Direction
Creating the conditions where every employee has the desire to give their best, every day, all the time, is what we are seeking here.
The first step in this process is understanding the fundamental purpose of the organization, the clients it serves, and its operating assumptions. Modern workers expect no less, and will accept no less. There is ample evidence to support this.
As a reality check, consider the following three questions from Gallup’s employee engagement survey (pdf):
- I know what is expected of me at work.
- I have the materials and equipment I need to do my job right.
- At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
Managers who can Empower Teams
Pushing the resent button on the manager’s role requires managers to change their mindset from the command and control model in important ways:
Shifts in knowledge, technology and politics:
- The span of knowledge represented in the modern workforce is so vast that managers can’t possibly be experts in all aspects of their job.
- The speed at which change is occurring in turn requires rapid decisions in order to meet client expectations and to remain competitive.
- The need for self-organizing teams operating from a shared understanding becomes essential for achieving results.
The “creative chaos” imposed by the speed of change requires focusing on:
- The few critical drivers in order to assure the accomplishment of goals.
- Selecting the “right drivers” is a collaborative team process which in turn leads to agreement on the “focused measures” all team members agree to use as decision guides.
And the above leads to the inevitable need to build consensus.
Consensus building is the key to integrating interests and to avoiding problems in business processes. If you want employees to be engaged and to use their best judgment when making day-to-day decisions they need to understand how their actions will harmonize with the overall team effort as well as others in the greater organization.
Again, let’s check how the above processes key into the questions that count for employees; here are three key questions from the Gallup’s Q12 (pdf):
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
- My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
- There is someone at work who encourages my development.
Arriving at positive answers to these questions is key to getting employees engaged!
Why is self-management so important?
Because, in traditional organizations most employees have not had a chance to develop the team decision-making skills required when they are given greater discretion.
Self-managed work teams have been around for decades. In the early days examples included Volvo and Gains’ Topeka Kansas dog food plant—which built on the pioneer work of the Tavistok Institute. While much was learned from the early trail blazers, wide spread application began with the work of the likes of Deming and others who advocated a much softer version of employee involvement in the pursuit of quality.
Putting it all together
The Lean movement first employed by Toyota (post-Deming) and the Agile Manifesto, which grew out of it, is widely considered as an effective management philosophy appropriate to our modern times. Lean enterprise, lean production, or simply lean is a practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.
As a management philosophy, who can argue with such a definition given the need to innovate and reduce cost in these modern times.
Start with the Role of Management
You can gain a rapid perspective of how much self-management “space“ there is in your own organization through the lens of leadership styles.
The continuum of “leader behaviour” below is adapted from the Harvard Business Review article How to Chose a Leadership Pattern by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt.
The continuum outlines leader behaviours that range from “tell” through to “sell”, “consult” and “join”. To achieve any semblance of employee engagement and self-management, it is pretty obvious that teamwork—leaders in collaboration with team members—must shift to the right of diagram. Shifting to the right creates space for employees to use their own judgement about what is best.
It goes without saying that the shift also demands a different style from leaders. In my experience, this co-dependency is the often-overlooked “joint product” of greater employee engagement and leadership. The one can’t take place without the other.
This is why sending managers off on leadership training retreats is rarely helpful. It may improve their knowledge of leadership concepts, but it can’t engage the emotional changes that the tough issues require when transforming teamwork—that can only take place with the whole team in the same room at the same time.
Again, let’s see how these processes key into the questions that count for employees - here are another three from the Gallup Q12:
- At work, my opinions seem to count.
- The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
- My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
So, given this background, what can you, as the leader-manager, do in practical terms to nudge your team to greater engagement?
In part 3 of this series, I will present the mechanics of choosing a leadership patter that fosters employee engagement at the team level.
Enjoy this post? You can read Part 1 by clicking here.
And, if you have not already read our series of SOR related posts, you may find our page—Leadership and Management in a DRAP Environment—to be a useful collection of articles and links.