Danielle is a 32-year-old female who finally landed her dream job. She is passionate and motivated about the organization’s mission for social responsibility, and truly wants to make a difference in the world. But, just one month into the job, Danielle realized the need for improvement, and the extent to which many parts of the company needed realignment. She decided to channel her frustration through making the necessary “disruptive” changes. How should Danielle proceed and what can she do in order to turn her agency around and continue to do meaningful work? Below are 10 simple tips to help Danielle and you—should you find yourself in a similar situation—take the needed steps towards such an arduous yet noble task.
- Put your customers first. Regardless of what is going on with the organization, always remember your customers come first. Dan, a friend of mine, who is the CEO of a company, often tells me about his different experiences as an “undercover boss.” Sometimes he disguises himself as a customer and presents to his own company asking for information. While this may come across as unnatural to some, it really emphasizes Dan’s core value for customer priority.
- Treat your front-line staff as you would your customer. Your front-liners spend the most time with your customers, and keeping customers happy often means keeping front-liners happy. So, treating them like customers is a great way to achieve this. Provide ongoing support, while giving them enough space to grow. Acknowledge their accomplishments, arrange regular group and one-on-one supervision, and remember team building. Lastly, provide regular and timely feedback, and ask for frequent input, involving them in the decision making process in key aspects of the organization. David, an astute friend talks about how he will usually visit an organization one or two days before he interviews there. He goes in posing as a customer. And his maxim: “If I am treated well as a customer, it's a sign that the front line staff are happy.”
- Formulate the diagnosis and problem solve wisely. In medicine, you need to establish the diagnosis in order to proceed with a definitive treatment plan. But you also need a careful history about what failed to work in the past. If you want to implement a turn-around for your organization, you need to have a clear evaluation of what’s working and what’s not. Further, do your best to understand the series of events leading the organization to its current position, and resist from making changes too quickly without careful and extensive evaluation of the situation. After all, the best problem solver is often the best historian. Henry, a very ambitious manager, recently started in a company and saw potential for growth. He quickly identified the problem, developed a solution and quickly implemented it. To his surprise, his plan not only failed to work, he also quickly alienated many potential allies. Observe and make conclusions, draw hypotheses, but do speak with those more experienced before you proceed to the implementation phase.
- Set clear expectations. The One Minute Manager is probably one of the most popular but simple books in management. Trenell says to the young man, “The One Minute Manager always makes it clear what our responsibilities are and what we are being held accountable for.” When it comes to expectations, remember that a job description can be totally different from the day-to-day tasks. Make sure all employees, at all levels of the organization, are clear about expectations, and be sure to provide the necessary support. Jane, a 27-year-old female was asked to leave because, “You have not been performing your tasks.” After a few minutes of conversing, the manager and Jane discovered for the first time that Jane had honestly never been clear about the expectations of her job. While this might sound rather unusual, it happens more often than anyone of us would like to acknowledge. Remember to set clear expectations and give your staff the proper tools to be successful. Moreover, make sure to follow up and re-clarify, as needed.
- Generate systems and processes for all tasks. Once your expectations are clear and you provide tools and support for staff success, the next best step is developing systems and processes for your staff. Having a system helps with efficiency, effectiveness, and better delegation, regardless of how simple or complex the task may be. Make sure your employees learn that they can be flexible and innovative but within a framework. Carol, a manager, would often ask her staff to do certain tasks, but the instructions were so variable and non-systemized that employees were often frustrated with little accomplished. The proper employee learning curve suffered much, as a result. Carol did end up putting some systems in place, and the resulting smooth workflow, without interruptions, was dramatic.
- Establish clear-cut directions. People, in general, need direction, leadership, and management support. Good leaders help provide clear direction in times of uncertainty. Establishing clear-cut directions for employees is a great key for turning around your organization. Be ready to articulate short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Be ready to express strategic, tactical, and operational planning. Establish a culture of concrete structure, planning for long-term sustainability. Above all, establish a transparent and streamlined communication process. The absence of clear-cut directions in her organization was one of Danielle’s main challenges. But she dealt with this through a “manage-up” process, helping her Chief Executive Officer take necessary leadership to right the “ship.”
- Empower your staff and implement a 360-degree assessment system. Very few employees will be at their best if they constantly fear being fired or if they fear retaliation, should they speak out. You need to establish a culture where employees are empowered to respectfully raise objections, disagree, and make their feelings known, without worry or concern about repercussions. One great way to establish this culture is through a 360-degree assessment system. This will help with accountability, and ensure that universal respect—needed for a functional workplace—is the norm. Esther, a very talented employee, decided to leave her company. During her exit interview, she revealed to HR all types of abuses she silently endured, during the 17 months of employment. Even as she was leaving, Esther still insisted on keeping her report anonymous. You can lower turnover and increase your employee retention rate by empowering your staff and implementing a 360-degree assessment system.
- Create staff specialization. Staffs are at their best when provided with clear expectations, supportive tools for success, and the opportunity to perform at their best. One great way to achieve this is to encourage your staff to perform tasks that reflect their strengths. Allowing your employees to exercise their strengths in this way leads to proficiency, fulfillment, and ultimately ads value to your company. James started in a company to “find himself,” but he was asked to do multiple things, he was struggling, felt like a fraud in his role and was, as a result, ineffective and inefficient. Luckily, a vacancy opened within that same company that was a better match to James’s skills and he transferred into that role. He was later seen as a “genius.” How did this happen? In his new role, James had the opportunity to focus on and continue to hone the skills he already had, thereby giving him specialization and expertise. As best as you can, create staff specialization and watch your organization grow.
- Be both a manager and a leader. Some tend to lead and fail to manage, others tend to manage and fail to lead, and few do both. To turn your organization around, you need to wear both hats, and ideally, both hats at the same time. You need to inspire and motivate, but you also need to be comfortable organizing and planning, providing feedback, and giving directions. Further, leadership involves role modeling, accountability, and making difficult decisions. Junior, a close friend, confessed: “It is hard for me to discipline people. After 13 years of leadership, it is still one of the most difficult decisions I always have to make, even when it is clear that the employee’s performance is causing poor outcomes.” Also, rarely does Junior offer feedback to his staff, and he does not meet with them regularly for reports on performance evaluations. However, he is currently showing progress through coaching and leadership training. If you are lacking in either managerial or leadership skills, having the right assistant to fill the gap can be a great complement. Both are needed in order to turn your organization around.
- Keep alive; the purpose—the why; the vision—the where; and the mission—the what. Keep all these alive. Do you want to retain your employees, including your front line staff, your first line managers, and your middle managers? Keep the purpose alive, bring the staff to a common goal, make the vision palpable and have the mission of the organization become like a song whose words are easy to learn, has a catchy tune, and is easy to sing throughout the day. George, a senior manager, once joked that in his previous job everyone had to recite the organization’s core values from memory. This came across as humorous and everyone laughed. However, everyone agreed how powerful that must have been. Find a way to post your organization’s purpose (why do we do what we do), vision (where are we going?), mission (what do we do), and values (what do we stand for). Keep these alive. I can’t emphasize this enough. Find ways to remind your employees about them during regular meetings and even during disagreements. And watch how powerful a difference this will bring in turning around your organization.
Thank you so much for reading this. Now, over to you:
1. What have you learned from this post?
2. What experience and/or wisdom could you share with me?
3. What comments would you like to leave?
See you soon.