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The history of the workplace and how it’s managed is fascinating. Since the beginning of free enterprise, in particular, management theories have increasingly favored participation by employees at all levels of the organization.
Think of employees – all employees – as decision makers. Outside of the workplace, they make decisions on an ongoing basis. Where to live, what type of car to buy, what to eat, with whom to form relationships and how to raise our children are just a few of the high-level decisions we make. So then if an employee inside a workplace is told to “Just do what I tell you and how I tell you to do it,” they’re not going to feel management thinks they are smart and capable.
Many first-time managers make this rookie error. Excited about the opportunity to be in charge, they tend to over-manage (or micromanage) and it works against them. The best ideas, in fact, generally come from the folks actually performing the tasks associated with the job. While the first-time manager may have been mulling better ways to do things for a long time and therefore looks forward to the new opportunity to “bark orders,” it won’t be effective in the long run.
Chances are if a new manager – or any manager – feels inclined to demand “my way or the highway,” it’s because s/he didn’t feel listened to as a member of the staff. The best way for that new manager to make sure he is well-respected and looked up to, then, is for him to break the cycle of telling instead of listening to and supporting others’ ideas.
Don’t get us wrong: listening and supporting doesn’t always mean accepting others’ ideas and running forward with them. The manager is accountable for the overall business plan and therefore has to make sure every idea is vetted from all angles. If it’s accepted, then implementation has to be thoughtful and detailed, bringing along all the folks that weren’t involved in the decision at the beginning.
The point is that if you’re still running your organization with that strictly top-down management theory, you’re about 70 years out of date. Try to loosen the reins and find ways to dialog with employees so that all great ideas – management and non-management – are on the table and open to discussion.
Whether it’s an all-company gathering, a department meeting or even a one-to-one conversation with the boss, most of us head in to employee meetings with a combined sense of obligation, skepticism, trepidation and boredom; and an overall belief this will be yet another waste of good work time. The problem is not the attendees’ attitudes. The problem is that meeting organizers and presenters – and that’s typically company leadership – don’t take time to plan meaningful gatherings.
Leaders have to shake it up. They’ve got to match their presentations with what we’ve come to expect in the world – a fast pace, multi-media and a chance to interact. If you’re a leader that has no idea how to do that – and in fact, even if you do know how to do that – one of the ways to refresh and invigorate meetings is to include non-management staff members in planning and presenting. Ask them what they’d like to know more about and ask them how they would present it so that it’s interesting, meaningful and understandable. It’s even a good idea to let those folks make some of the presentations. We don’t always have to hear the CFO give the financial highlights. Lots of your team members can read financial statements. Have one of them talk with the CFO to glean what’s going on and then let the employee present it in the manner she wants to and highlighting what she thinks her peers will find important. If she wants to create a rap and “spit the word,” we challenge you to let her. In fact, Leaders, we challenge you to join her!
And let’s go ahead and slay another sacred cow. Maybe there is no financial report or state of the organization report. Those things can be written and read; or discussed by a direct supervisor with his staff members (which would like be a more interactive exchange anyway). At a large gathering, instead of droning on about the company’s quarterly results, or the latest capital campaign, use the time for building a collaborative team. Do team activities – fun and silly; or meaningful learning experiences – it doesn’t matter. Show them – let them experience – working together as a group to complete a task that isn’t related to the work they do at their desks. Shake up the teams, by the way – don’t make it “department wars,” but get folks from different departments working together on a team. (“Department wars” are okay for endeavors like fundraising when they’re competing to see who can raise the most money. For the most part, however, we strive to break down any walls between departments.)
If you don’t want to be silly or conduct non-work related activities (and we don’t know why you wouldn’t), then have the entire office work on rearticulating your vision, mission, values and corporate culture… but let them have a creative, innovative, fun time doing it. Have them make a three-dimensional poster that represents a value; or have them write a short story or scene to act out about the mission.
Bottom line: we all engage better if we feel that the meeting organizers wants us to be part of the meeting. Nobody wants to be lectured, regardless of age, rank, gender or any other criterion of distinction. All team members have brains; and, when encouraged, most are willing to participate.
The era of complete vertical integration is rapidly dissolving. In the last decade of the prior century, growing companies acquired, built and otherwise owned each aspect from production to sales. Today, from manufacturing to marketing, leadership teams have discovered that costs of space, human resources, capital and opportunity can be reduced and consumer prices kept more competitive by outsourcing functions and skills that heretofore may have all been in-house.
Determining what and when to outsource requires an objective analysis of the all-in costs of performing a function totally in-house compared to the price of the same deliverables from an external source. A simple example is an organization’s large printing functions—quarterly reports, annual reports, newsletters and the like. Compare the costs of owning or leasing the printing equipment, maintenance, space, paper stock, as well as the human costs in time, salary, benefits, and—what is most often overlooked—what critical functions are not being done while someone is standing by the printer collating and binding. Add in the time cost of equipment breakdowns and the answer of whether to outsource or not begins to gel.
The same process can be applied to virtually any function within an organization including elements of human resources management such as payroll and benefits; website updates; employee training and development; and bookkeeping. There is one exception, however: accountability. The buck still stops with the leadership of the organization. We don’t want missed deadlines or inaccurate journal entries. It is incumbent upon the decision makers to clearly define work-quality standards and hold the vendor’s feet to the fire.
This is not to say that outsourcing is always the most cost beneficial answer. In the printing example above, if an organization has, as one of its key mission-based functions, the production of written reports on a daily basis, the cost benefit may favor an internal print shop.
A final word about outsourcing. In general, the decision to outsource should be an “all-or-not-at-all, we’ll-always-stick-to-the-policy” decision. “Sometimes” negates any cost benefit whether you retain the function in-house or outsource it. In fact, the “sometimes” approach unquestionably adds significant and needless costs.
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At Align, we regularly check in with everyone that works here to see if they’re actually enjoying most of what they’re doing. Yep, for the most part we’re able to match talents, “want to” and business needs – and we bet you can, too, when you take the time to shake things up on occasion.
And yet every once in while we run across things that have to be done but just feel like time-consuming drudgery for everyone on the team. What to do? Either someone just accepts it as his lot to do this undesirable thing – or we find a third party that excels at it and will make a good partner for us.
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Interestingly enough, there’s a bit of controversy these days on whether an organization needs both a vision statement and a mission statement.
A mission statement describes the organization’s purpose and is the foundation for how the organization operates and plans for the future.
A vision statement expresses what the organization aspires to achieve – that is, what you see the organization having accomplished in the long haul.
Current schools of thought are that both remain important and necessary; or that they can be redundant, as well as time-consuming to develop and so it’s a waste of time to create a vision statement. It does indeed take time to ensure board and staff members clearly understand the differences between the two statements. And it certainly can take a great deal of time to do the wordsmithing that satisfies all the stakeholders – board and staff – that the correct words have been used in the correct order.
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Hopefully it comes as no surprise to you that the US Department of Labor is in the midst of changing one of the ‘tests’ for exempt status eligibility. That is, in order to be exempt from overtime (time and a half) pay, employees have to meet certain “requirements” or “tests.” One of these is that they must earn at least $23,660. Under the proposed rule that is working its way through the lawmaking system, that amount jumps to $50,440.
Align has weighed in as an HR consulting firm, as a nonprofit business, and on behalf of all our nonprofit, social services providing clients and friends. We said what most employers are saying: This is going to be a budget buster that causes us all to rethink how we do business.
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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a 20th Century maxim that doesn’t translate well to the 21st Century and the fast-moving, world economy. Today, leaders recognize their organizations must constantly be ready to seize opportunities that didn’t exist, even in the recent past.
When it’s time to shake up an organization to make sure it’s performing at its very best, where do we start? Well, two recent examples in our hometown provide some food for thought on how and when to really shake things up.
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Bottom line: the current leaders of successful organizations know a lot and we owe them a lot. They’ve grown the business and achieved significant goals. Yet the world of knowledge keeps growing … and your successors deserve a chance to learn from others, even though they’ll likely keep learning from your even after you retire. If you’re a business leader or hope to be, then succession planning is on your mind. Who will run the business when the current ‘big boss’ retires? Who can do it as well as he does? Who will your clients accept as the next leader or leaders for your business?
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You’ve read, heard or watched thousands of opinions about leadership and management. Unapologetically, Align is devoting three Angles to covering these qualities, but with some simpler observations than you may have experienced in the past. The first in the series was about leadership; our most recent past edition (two weeks ago) focused on managing; and this third installment highlights the interdependence of the two.
They are not the same. The key difference is that leadership is inherently a sociological manifestation and management is a scientific method. Leading can’t occur unless there are those to lead. Managing, however, can occur in the laboratory, using the same principles one would in an industrial setting, e.g. planning, controlling, directing, and budgeting.
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