|Does your manager clearly communicate
project priorities to you?
Needless to say, if managers don’t understand corporate priorities, they can’t communicate them to employees. Entire departments may pursue the wrong priorities, causing strategic corporate plans to become less effective. I’ve seen a lot of this. Likewise, if managers understand the priorities, but have not communicated them well to their departments, the results can be the same. And if employees are left to themselves to decide what the priorities are, not only are the efforts of your teams unlikely to match corporate goals, they probably won’t even match each other. You will likely have employees working in different directions, even within the same departments or even on the same projects.
Under a healthy management structure, managers will effectively communicate expectations and employees will basically do what they’re told as outlined to them in a master plan. Communication is open and frequent. Two-way communication is encouraged. Under an unhealthy management structure, employees don’t receive enough communication to know what their goals are. “Do it because I said so,” only serves to create shortsighted misunderstandings that usually involve more management effort and repeated mistakes in the long run. When employees don’t understand corporate priorities or at least the big picture regarding their departmental priorities, they tend to do what they think their priorities should be rather than follow a high-level plan to achieve corporate goals. Because of this, it is vital that you communicate well and frequently, ensuring that employees see the big picture and pursue the priorities that will bring the highest return on investment.
EXERCISE: Learning From Your Employees
Your employees know more than you think they do. I guarantee it. They’re the ones who actually do the work for your company. There is little doubt that they have some strong feelings about both your business and the role they play within your business. They generally know what’s working well and what isn’t. They know what will make their jobs easier, quicker, more cost effective and of higher quality. Here’s a simple way to glean some of that information from them every so often.
Create a simple form that has the following questions on it:
1. What do you enjoy the most about your job or this company?
2. If you could change one thing about your job or this company, what would it be?
3. What do you think our customers like the most about this company?
4. What do you think our customers dislike the most about our company?
5. Do you have any suggestions that would help our company improve in any of the following areas:
Help us to do our work faster?
Help us to do our work with less effort?
Help us to decrease what we pay to our external suppliers?
Help us to increase the quality of our products or services?
Distribute this form to your employees every so often, maybe once per quarter, and see what happens. You should pay particular attention whenever the same issues are raised multiple times. You should also notice the tone your employees use when answering these questions. Is it a tone of unhappiness—of complaining for the sake of complaining? Or is it one of content and cooperation? How many positive comments are there compared to negative comments? You can learn a lot about your corporate culture via such an exercise.
Not only will you learn a lot about how to improve your business from this exercise, but in most cases your employees’ job satisfaction will also increase by merely filling out such a form. However, there is a very important key to making this exercise work for you. In order to accomplish either of these results, you must follow up and report back to your employees. You must acknowledge that you’ve heard what they are saying and then give them reasons why you believe certain comments are valid and doable, valid but impossible, or invalid, and why you think so.
Clearly your employees won’t always be right. In most cases they have a limited perspective of your business. You may need to help them understand the bigger picture. But that’s what this exercise is intended to help you do. If done properly, with tact and genuine interest in what your employees have to say, you can both gain their trust and help them to become better employees and more motivated in their jobs. What once seemed silly and useless to them can become meaningful and help them to do their jobs with much greater understanding than before.
Curt Porritt has more than 18 years of experience in the high-tech industry, including more than 13 years of upper-level management experience. He played an integral part in designing and managing WordPerfect's international development organization one of the first in the world to produce software products simultaneously in more than 30 different languages. In 1995, Porritt began his own consulting firm that helped clients achieve the highest possible ROI from their international markets.
Prior to joining MasterControl in 2006, Porritt served as President and CEO of 10x Marketing, an Internet marketing firm focused on helping companies realize more visitors to their website. As senior vice president of marketing for MasterControl, Porritt has merged his international experience with the latest breakthroughs in global Internet marketing. He enjoys teaching classes on Internet marketing and business strategy for the Small Business Development Center based on a book he authored entitled "The Basics of Business."