Manager’s Corner: Your Job, Respect and People Power

What’s Your Job?

I had the opportunity to see one of my clients make the leap from being a manager to being a leader a few days ago. I was preparing for our strategic planning session with his senior team, when my client – the company owner – walked into the conference room and said, “I finally understand what my job is. My job is to build a strong management team and to ensure this organization survives me.” That’s it! He “gets it”! He finally understands – deep in his gut – what his job is.

A manager ensures the products and services are being produced and provided properly to the customers and profitably for the company. A leader’s job isn’t simply to provide good-quality services or products and to make a profit – that’s expected. As a leader, and in this case, as the owner of the company, my client also has a responsibility to his employees and to his customers, to ensure the company is as financially and as functionally strong as it can possibly be. He must ensure the company will survive the current leadership and will be able to continue to provide a livelihood for its employees and products to its customers in the future. That’s what a leader needs to do.

However, an organization can only survive changes in management and leadership when the management team is strong and clear on their responsibilities in ensuring the organization moves forward. That clarity and strength comes from having systems and processes in place that allow the management team and employees to focus on their customers and their jobs. They can then focus their energies there instead of dealing with chaotic procedures, inefficiencies, duplication of efforts, miscommunication, and disarray.

A leader’s job is to identify the people, resources, and systems needed to ensure survival. A manager’s job is to implement and work the systems, use the resources, and train the people to provide the best products and services they can. What’s your job?

The Power of a Leader’s Respect

It’s a really neat experience to watch management and teambuilding theories prove themselves true. It’s incredible to see the power a leader has just in his or her subtle behaviors to either develop a team or to crush one. It’s amazing the power a leader’s respect has on team performance.

Recently, I had the chance to guide one of my client’s through their Strategic Plan update. Now the cool thing isn’t that they even cared enough to update the plan; the cool thing is what the leader did and didn’t do during this process. Two years ago, when I worked with this client to initially develop their plan, they had a different “leader”. That leader had been in power for over 20 years. He’d run an organization that fulfilled its mission, yet its management team always seemed a bit on-edge. When I worked with them on their original plan, I found out why.

During those work sessions, I saw the leader demean select senior staff members in front of their peers. I saw him allow some to come to the sessions unprepared – or not at all, yet he’d chastise others if they weren’t prepared ahead of time for the next several sessions. I also saw him agree with the group while we worked as a team, but then unilaterally change the plan after the sessions. The team’s input meant nothing in the long run. The leader didn’t respect their input enough to agree to it for the long-term or to implement many of their ideas. He didn’t respect their ideas. He didn’t respect them as team members. He didn’t respect them as individuals. Needless to say, the planning process soon became an unwelcome exercise for the team. The plan was never completed correctly and most of the senior team never saw the end product that the leader had approved. It wasn’t the plan the team had developed in the work sessions. It wasn’t a plan that anyone used or cared about. It wasn’t a plan. It was just a document.

Two years after that experience, the new leader asked me to help update the plan. The new leader had been a former senior staff member. However, this time around, he mandated full participation by senior staff. During our initial work session, he challenged his senior staff to be honest, share their ideas, and help him develop their plan. He told them, “This is your plan. I’m just responsible for ensuring it gets completed. But you have to believe in what we develop here.” Subsequent sessions included input and challenges by all team members – including the leader. Senior staff members were comfortable challenging his ideas and he challenged theirs. There was a lot of joking, idea generation, planning, energy, and – respect.

The true extent of his respect for the team came to light when the leader had to miss one of the work sessions due to a family emergency. He didn’t cancel the session or reschedule it. He told the team to handle it. Upon his return and review of that session’s accomplishments, he approved everything the team had done – no questions asked. He liked what had been produced and he told the team why.

In just four solid work sessions, the shambles of the prior plan were re-evaluated, brought up-to-date where necessary, and trashed where needed. New ideas flew around the room and became a solid, clear, focused three-year plan.

Their plan is terribly aggressive. Their plan is going to challenge the team and the leader to make some incredible initiatives into functioning realities. Their plan is going to propel that organization forward and position it to deal effectively with an aging workforce and an ever-changing future. However, their plan is their plan.

The leader showed the team respect before, during, and after the process – and the team produced. The power of this leader’s respect built a team and changed an organization.

Do you respect your team enough to change your organization too?

People Power

I had the opportunity to provide the keynote address at a client’s annual team meeting in New York recently. For most organizations these types of events are honestly, quite boring and attended only by those employees who couldn’t come up with a believable excuse not to attend. This organization, however, is different. Their employees are different, and their success and growth rates are different. Why? They believe in the power of their employees.

I started to get an idea that something was different, when a few weeks before the event, one of the branch managers shared that she and her entire team look forward to the annual meeting every year. Weird.

I also noticed a difference, when a few days before the event, I picked up the phone for a conference call with the senior management team. They didn’t realize I was already on the line. I heard laughing, giggling, and then the VP of Administration saying, “Hey, hey, now we have to behave. We’ll be talking to our speaker here shortly.” Laughing? Senior management? Surprising. The difference almost stunned me when I walked into the presentation hall. All of the employees were there. They were smiling and laughing. Many were hugging their colleagues from the branch offices who had only just arrived. They were congratulating one another on specific accomplishments they’d achieved. They introduced themselves and each other to me. In doing so, they’d say things such as, “Liz, this is Terry. He is the manager of our Juno branch. He has completely turned that operation around. He’s done a great job for us.” And this introduction would be made by one of their peers – not one of their superiors! They appreciated each other as team members. Amazing.

Weird? Surprising? Amazing? Not really. Not when I asked how they’d achieved such a co-operative, collaborative, and positive environment. Their answer? Their people. They hire right. They train right. They retain the right people. But how do they really do it?

First, they’ve learned over the years that having people with the right attitude is key. If they have employees who want to be there and who want to learn, they can train them how to do just about anything necessary. Because of that, they have a 3-step hiring process: telephone interview, 3-person management team in-person interview, and finally a 2-person interview with the candidate’s prospective peers. This has got to be an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process, right? Yes. But it’s amazing what will slip by the professional HR screeners and management team. Candidates often “let their guard down” when they talk to prospective peers.

Second, they orient every prospective and new employee to the organization’s Corporate Values immediately and continuously. These “House Rules” are then used on a regular basis to help guide the employees’ personal and professional growth, development, and overall performance. The organization has made it very clear, what the expectations of behavior and performance are — and they stick to them. They’ve earned a reputation in the community for being a very “select” employer. But they’re the employer everyone wants to work for.

Third, they work hard. They’ve got a strategic plan that’s shared with the entire employee population. Each employee knows how he or she fits in to the overall plan. Everyone has goals. Everyone is important and they know it.

Fourth, they play hard. They like challenges, but they like beating their challenges so they can celebrate them. Several employees had prepared a video that chronicled this past year’s celebrations. They celebrated reaching a set of goals with two managers shaving their heads. They kicked off a new sales promotion with male managers dressing up as cheerleaders to “send the team off”. They had a group of employees sing a congratulatory song to those employees who were celebrating their anniversaries.

This organization is different. It loves to play. It loves to work. It loves its people. It has worked hard to create an atmosphere that challenges yet rewards its employees. Because of that, the employees love it. Because of that, the organization is successful. That’s the power of people.