A Leader’s Lament: Why can’t my employees be more like….me?

 
Are you working longer hours and feeling like you are shouldering more than your share of the responsibility for results? Have you been trying different strategies for getting your employees engaged-- with mixed results? Have you been wondering…Why aren’t my employees…. more like me? 
 
Well, the truth is, they can’t be like you until you let them sit in your chair. In most cases you are the hub in the wheel of your business. Everyone else is a “spoke.” You see sales results, you see costs rising, you pay the bills, and you answer to customers, the Board, shareholders… In short, you know more about the big picture than they do, because your job depends on it. How can you expect them to act like they have skin in the game, when you treat them like they don’t?
 
They may be better informed about the details in their own departments, but how much do they really know—or care—about what goes on in everyone else’s department? Even if they have staff meetings with you and/or their own teams, how much exposure do they have to the whole business? 
 
Another question you may have asked: “Why do they point fingers at other departments, instead of just doing what they can to fix problems?” 
 
Remember how Gulliver was tied to the ground by a thousand Lilliputians? Your employees are often bound by a thousand little rules, department regulations and boundaries. One way to snip those ropes is to create “C Meetings.” C Meetings are cross functional areas brought together weekly for a short production meeting. It can be among sales, marketing, manufacturing and finance, or it could be between just several departments who are highly interdependent for quality outcomes.
 
The C Meeting is attended by the leader of the area, along with one employee, who rotates weekly. The agenda is simple: 
  • What happened last week that we can celebrate or learn from?
  • What is coming this week that we can help each other with; and
  • What is coming down the road that we had better prepare for?
At the end of the meeting, minutes are posted, and the employee/manager from each area go back to their own department to share the contents of the meeting—often just a ten-minute briefing. The following week another employee picks up the baton and attends. It creates a never-ending cycle of involvement and education across enemy lines. Before long, employees become so well versed in the big picture, they can attend even if a manager is out of the office. Mutual accountability grows when people look across the table at one another and understand how interdependent they really are. 
 
You may have company-wide meetings in an effort to be a good communicator. But when you ask, “Are there any questions?” all you hear are crickets. You may ask, “Why don’t they have any ideas for improvements?”
 
Town Hall Meetings are fine but one dimensional. They don’t resemble a real Town Hall meeting, where everyone wants to step up to the microphone. They usually involve senior management talking at the employees, rather than a discussion with the employees. Unfortunately, many employees have no idea how the information connects to them. Or, worse, the speakers read the data off of the financial report, with no effort made to explain, in simple language, what it really means for the business.
 
 I propose an upgrade. Introduce a Company Huddle. A Company Huddle works like this:
 
1.   A specific topic is explained. It is something the leaders want to share with employees, to get their ideas and input. Usually it is a business problem, or a new policy the company is considering, or a change the company wants to make. Or, it could just be the standard “state of the union” update you usually deliver.
 
2.  Next, the employees are asked to get into huddles with a few people seated around them (you could also ask them to form cross-functional groups, depending on the topic). They discuss the issue(s) for 15 minutes or so.
 
3.  Then the leader asks each group to appoint a spokesperson and come up with either a question or a comment from the group. The groups get another ten minutes to prioritize and select their one question or comment (This helps to create high-value questions and comments).
 
4.  The leader team facilitates an open dialogue, using the questions and comments, to hear what people really think. Someone captures the key elements of the discussion and makes them available to everyone for further input and discussion back in their own departments. Misconceptions will be cleared up, fears will be quieted, good ideas will be heard and employees will really feel the company cares what they think.
 
Try these ideas and next year, around this time of year, I think you’ll be facing a different set of questions, such as, “How can we implement all these good ideas faster?”


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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