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Since becoming Executive Director of the Academy of Business Training, I have worked with over a hundred companies seeking to improve their performance. In the vast majority of cases, the individuals they send for training are front-line managers. The sad truth is the people that need to be attending are the policy makers and senior managers because the company's poor performance is not due to some failing on the part of their front-line workers but, instead, policies or poor execution of those policies by managers. You cannot expect front-line employees to deliver superior performance when company policies and senior managers fail them.
The offending policymakers and senior managers do not understand one of their primary duties is to support the front-line workers and managers. They become too comfortable in their position and provide indifferent leadership. The concept of being in a support role is foreign to most senior managers. The prevailing attitude is I have paid my dues I'm a senior manager now, and you will do as I say. They create policies with little regard to how it affects the employees impacted by them.
The only employees that can accomplish the mission of the company are the ones that create the products or perform the services of the company. Most companies are organized in a triangular formation with front-line employees at the bottom and C-level employees at the top. For a company to truly realize its full potential that triangle must be turned upside down. Every manager must understand in order for the company to accomplish its mission they must support the front-line employees and create policies that enable them to deliver the products and services their customers want in a timely and efficient manner. Any policy that makes it harder for frontline employees to do their job or alienates customers must be eliminated.
What are some of the warning signs leadership problems exists in your company:
High Employee Turn-Over
The most obvious warning sign is high employee turnover. Do you know why employees leave your company? Does your company require exit interviews? There are very few reasons why someone would leave your company if it is properly managed. In most cases, companies with high turnover rates fail to meet the motivational needs of their employees, see Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For example, if you are asking your customer service representatives and front-line employees to enforce policies that upset your customers, who, in turn, express their displeasure in a harsh and demeaning way; why are you surprised when employees quit? Policies should never be created without input from the people expected to implement them.
No Defined Company Mission Statement
Rarely do front-line managers know what the company’s mission is. When I ask the question, I usually get something like, “I guess it’s to make X product.” Managers without a clear understanding of the company’s mission are essentially directionless with no guide for decision-making. Without this critical guidance, companies fall victim to what is called the strategy du jour when companies are sold a strategy that is widely used or popular at the current time and usually does not fix the underlying company problems.
Ivory Tower Effect
Another question I always ask is, “Do you see a senior manager walking the work area talking to you and your co-workers every few days?” There is usually some laughter, and someone will volunteer the information they rarely if ever get to talk with a senior manager. Senior managers that hole up in their office and fail to interact with the only people who can actually accomplish the company’s mission are missing a tremendous opportunity to get a real understanding of the problems and challenges faced by front-line workers.
Walk on Water Behavior
I see a lot of this type of behavior. Senior managers that feel they are always the smartest person in the room and no one could possibly have better ideas than they, can decimate the moral of a company. This my way or the highway mentality creates an absence of trust. This leads to communication breakdown. Front-line employees just give up trying to improve things because they know any suggestions they make will be arbitrarily dismissed. This behavior can have various root causes: obsession with individual success, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and withdrawal.
This problem develops when senior managers are only rated on their department’s performance. What develops is division, secrets, and mistrust of other departments. Doing what’s best for one department can have an adverse effect on other departments. For example, the production manager that overproduces because larger lots sizes reduce his or her per piece costs while creating a serious problem for the warehouse manager that must cope with all the extra inventory and associated costs. Senior manager KPI (Key Performance Indicator)s should include evaluations by other department heads to identify actions that are detrimental to other departments.
No Accountability for Senior Managers
Senior managers must understand they are responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen within their area of responsibility, and they need to be held accountable. Blaming poor performance on front-line workers is just an excuse for the failure of senior management.
The best way to hold managers accountable is bottom-up evaluations. Along with traditional forms of employee evaluation, frontline managers should evaluate the departments they interact with on how well they support the frontline effort. Three to five KPIs should be established for each department that reflects its performance in supporting the company mission. The department doing the evaluation should help create the KPIs. For example, the warehouse manager should suggest KPIs evaluating their interactions with production, purchasing (to include supplier ratings), and 3PL logistic services. The production manager would provide KPIs evaluating their interactions with purchasing, the warehouse, maintenance, and HR.
One of the most important KPI for every manager is employee turn-over. This should be measured in every department for every manager. A serious review of any department with a high turnover rate should be initiated.
In summary, you do not need consultants, trendy management seminars, or the latest success fad to succeed; just listen to your frontline employees and, most importantly, your customers for direction in the things that really matter. Support your frontline employees with a clear mission statement and managers held accountable for failure to enable your frontline employees to serve your customers. If you deliver what your customers want better than your competitors, you can’t help but succeed.
To help companies implement a mission-driven strategy, we have developed our Leadership Essentials Program. The program involves three-course levels:
Leadership Essentials for Policymakers and Senior Managers
Leadership Essentials for Managers
Leadership Essentials for Team Leaders and Supervisors