By Natasha Foreman Bryant, MBA
In my more than twenty years of starting, operating, and managing businesses, mine and others, I have learned numerous lessons along the way. Coupled with my experience as an employee for several small, medium, and large corporations, these lessons have shown me that many mid and senior managers aren’t seeing the big or even the small picture about the companies where they work or the employees that they are supposed to manage and lead. They also aren’t being honest with the senior leaders positioned over them about internal and external risks and opportunities that can impact the company.
I have also had the opportunity to see in real-time that many senior and c-suite leaders, those with Chief or VP in their title, are also overlooking telltale signs that there is a major disconnect within their companies and amongst their teams. These same individuals struggle with accepting the fact that at the end of the day, it all lands on their shoulders, because it is their responsibility to prevent and fix issues. It is what it is.
My dad always said, “be careful of the title you give yourself or accept, because it determines your responsibilities, risk and exposure within that organization“.
In most organizations the influence and order comes from the top and flows to the bottom, starting with the CEO (or other title that declares, “I run this company“). At the top your focus is on higher-level decisions, relationship-building with other senior leaders from various organizations, and making sure that the ‘ship’ doesn’t sink. Your focus is on profits, the bottom line, gaining market share, and remaining relevant (and favored) with current and prospective clients. You want the best and brightest people added to the team, and you set in motion the working components and mechanisms to build and maintain the type of company you wished for long before you opened your doors.
So you make sure that the team closely affiliated with you is concerned with the other aspects of the business that don’t necessarily require your constant contact, like training and helping your employees determine whether or not there are enough supplies on hand. Of course there are more responsibilities (large and small), but I simply wanted to reflect both ends of the spectrum, and the fact that most senior leaders within organizations aren’t focused much or at all on those issues. That is left for the worker bees.
At the top you may not interact much with those three, four, and five or more levels down the ladder from you. The farther down the ladder of seniority, and the more employees that you have, the less genuine and frequent interaction that you have. For some of you, after employee number 20 you’re barely remembering names. After employee number 50, you couldn’t pick most of your employees out of a lineup. The 10 to 12 closest to you, nearest in your periphery, are the ones you remember and engage with most often. The rest better do something spectacular to get noticed.
But how do you truly know and gauge what’s going on down below? How do you know that what your number two leader or senior manager is reporting to you is accurate and current? How do you know that as information reports back up the ladder to you, that it isn’t being filtered, distorted, or lost?
I can recall those moments when I had at least 15 people coming directly to me about an issue or project, and sometimes I would hear five or more different versions to the same story or situation. If my number two in charge or one of my senior managers were not influenced to lean in one direction or the other, then I could count on receiving at least a 90% accurate report from them. But if there was any bias, that percentage could crumble quickly. It didn’t take too many of these blunders for me to sit back and devise a plan to train my managers and other employees on information sharing, conflict resolution, and in other key areas.
Remember, at the end of the day it all fell into my lap, as it was my responsibility to get things right and to keep that ship from sinking.
If your company is one to five years old, you have better odds of realigning and reimagining your company’s internal operations (or “organs” as I sometimes like to call them). The older your company is, and the less you reimagine it, the more difficult it is to bring about positive change. But change is always required if you seek growth and success. With technology comes change. Our global economy demands change. We must change and we must help the members of our team accept, embrace, and be a part of that change.
Now the next set of questions are not trick questions, so please answer honestly:
1. How often are you personally checking in with the workforce that keeps the doors at your company open?
2. How often do you engage with your employees, shake their hands, and say, “thank you for showing up, doing your job, and helping us fulfill our mission“?
3. How often are you having your human resources team check on the well being and engagement of your people? I mean really check on them.
4. How often are you personally asking the entry-level and mid-level employee what you and the company can do to help them do their jobs better, so that they enjoy coming into work?
5. What are you personally doing to follow up and follow through with employee feedback and requests?
6. What are you doing to help create cohesiveness within your organization?
7. How often are you having senior leaders, managers, and other employees participate in various types of training sessions and team-building activities to help them be better individuals, leaders, and employees?
8. How often are you personally checking in to see how leadership is being encouraged and nurtured throughout every level of your company? People don’t need titles to be leaders, and a title doesn’t make a person a leader (even when the title has the word ‘leader‘ in it).
If your response to these questions is, “that’s not my job, that’s ___________(fill in the blanks) responsibility” then no offense, but you are truly disconnected from your people and the company that they helped to build and keep in business. Your company cannot operate successfully without them, and your “that’s not in my job description” attitude is contagious and will grow and fester like a plague throughout your organization.
Yes, it was your idea (if you are the founding leader) to start your business but it requires all of those bodies that were hired to keep things running, even if it’s done with little or no passion on their part, and even if you are (personally) one of the highest grossing sellers/fundraisers for the company. Let’s be honest, if you could successfully do it alone then there would be no need to hire employees, and that means less expenses and a greater profit margin. So if you have a say as to who gets hired and fired, then you should invest time in making sure that each person is equipped with the training, tools, and resources to be successful in their position.
An untrained and unarmed soldier benefits who exactly?
Now consider this…
When your company has issues with turnover, a lack of cohesiveness amongst your teams, and you keep finding yourself in the position of having to (or authorizing others to) order more supplies and equipment more frequently, because items keep mysteriously disappearing—-it’s because there is major disconnect and your employees are acting out and having temper tantrums just like children, to send you a message, and unfortunately for you and your company— on your dime. They aren’t happy with their managers, with certain organizational processes, with you, or with all of the above. Whatever it is they won’t stop acting out until something gives, they quit, or they are terminated. Either way it’s unhealthy, costly, and oftentimes avoidable.
As the senior/c-suite leader it is your responsibility to reimagine your company and the people who keep things running. It is your responsibility to build a team who reports directly to you what is and isn’t happening on every rung of your ladder. It is your responsibility to ask questions, get answers, and then make decisions. It is your responsibility to make sure that the culture, subcultures, and environment of your organization is presented and cultivated as you envision. It is your responsibility to make sure that there are no loose links in your chain, and if there are then you have to get them fixed or replaced immediately.
In followup posts we will dig deeper into this and how reimagining and restructuring your company now can benefit you, your employees, your company, and your stakeholders.
I can’t stress this enough—at the end of the day everything lands at your feet. Successes and failures come back to you. So find, train, build, and support your ‘soldiers’, and lead by example. It is YOUR responsibility!
About the Author:
Natasha Foreman Bryant, MBA is the CEO and Managing Consultant for Foreman & Associates, LLC. She specializes in executive and management training, operations management, strategic planning and management, organizational restructuring/overhaul, contract drafting and negotiations, and business support consulting. She holds an MBA with a marketing specialization and a post-baccalaureate certification in College Teaching. She is currently finishing her Doctorate in Organization and Management with a specialization in Management Education.To learn more about Natasha and Foreman & Associates, LLC visit: http://foremanandassociates.co
Copyright 2014. Natasha Foreman Bryant. Foreman & Associates, LLC. All Rights Reserved.