We’re almost a quarter of the way through 2017. Some of you have experienced weather events that have boosted revenue and contributed to a strong start for the year. Others may be behind your revenue and profit forecast (business plan) for any number of reasons. Whatever your situation, now is the time to take specific actions to improve your likelihood of success in 2017 and beyond.
We’ve all read articles that outline how to be better leaders and improve business results. I’m going to take a closer look and provide guidance on a focused “spring cleaning” list of management activities that will have an immediate and lasting impact on your organization.
Know Where to Focus
The first box to check on your list is confirming your key people understand where they need to focus. Identify the three most important people in your organization, other than yourself. Then sit down with each of them, one-on-one, and go through the following:
The main business objectives you are focused on achieving in 2017. There should be no more than four or five. This will confirm for them what is most important.
Which objectives each of your people are expected to achieve. Having measurable targets takes your expectations from subjective to objective. One of your business objectives, for example, may be to improve gross profits from 45% to 48% of revenue. Translate that larger objective into more specific targets that your operations or production manager can control, track, and manage. You may agree to targets for reducing the time it takes to complete jobs or making sure that change orders are completed and signed by the customer 100% of the time when there is a scope change.
Translate the monthly revenue targets identified in your business plan into the number of jobs that need to be completed and invoiced each month, based on your average job size. Discuss with your sales or business development people how many referral sources will be needed to produce the target number of jobs and how much call activity is required. Translate your business objectives into clear expectations for each person’s activities and results.
Provide Meaningful Feedback in Real Time
Effective communication is fundamental to sound management and leadership. Providing consistent feedback, both positive and negative, to your people is a core skill. As you have one-on-one discussions with your key people, include the following:
Establish a firm time when you will meet with them each week. This ensures that you will devote time specifically to them and the expectations you have of them (and vice versa). It also assures them that they will have the opportunity to discuss any issues they want to cover with you or need help with.
Tell them about three situations where they have been successful, or that they have handled particularly well, since the start of 2017. These must be specific, objective observations of their strong performance. Most managers do a great job of pointing out to their people when they do something wrong, hoping to eliminate mistakes and improve productivity. People don’t thrive in an environment of constant criticism. Great managers and great motivators understand what Tom Hopkins said: “Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.”
Talk about three areas that are not going well or not being handled as you expect. Again, give details; specifics of situations they should have handled differently or results that need to be improved.
Discuss how you will work together to improve in the areas that need improvement and how to continue or expand on the positive results. Create a specific action plan that includes follow-ups that will take place during your weekly meetings. Remember to let each person lead the discussion on what steps should be taken. The actions should include commitments for both of you, not just your employee.
Lead Instead of Dictate
Just because you are the boss doesn’t mean that your people will do what you say. If they don’t respect your authority they will perform at what they believe is the minimal level needed to protect their job. Help your managers connect with the objectives and use their own experiences and resources to achieve them. This is especially true with younger employees, i.e. millennials, who want to be given the authority to make decisions and to be included in solving the problems of the organization.
Identify the one or two most pressing issues in each person’s range of responsibility. These could be driven by the problem areas that you outlined in the feedback you provided. Give them the responsibility and freedom to solve the problems or issues in their own way, while letting them know you are there to support and assist them as needed.
Make sure your direction doesn’t shut down their thinking process. Listen more than you talk in these situations. Let them explore the problems and find their own solutions. Otherwise, you run the risk of your team thinking less for themselves and becoming dependent on your knowledge and answers. Listen to make sure they don’t get too far off track, and use your regular one-on-one sessions to get updates on their progress.
Deal with Conflict Directly and Fairly
The workplace is a fertile breeding ground for conflict, as there is no shortage of emotionally charged issues among team members. Employees are keen observers of who takes action when needed and who doesn’t. They respect managers who confront difficult situations, just as they lose respect for those who typically avoid them.
Identify one or two areas of conflict among your people that you have been avoiding. Be honest with yourself and think about the interpersonal issues that are most damaging to your team and your business.
Get input individually from those who are involved in the conflict. As a mediator, you need to understand everyone’s perspectives and the situation from all viewpoints. Your goal is to understand the source of the conflict. It is important to get beyond a single incident that may have led to the visible evidence of a conflict. Probing questions like “When do you think the problem between you first arose?” will help to uncover the real issues.
Request solutions from all parties. Question them to solicit their ideas by asking “How can you make things better between you?” Then just listen. At this point you want to move the discussion away from finger pointing and toward ways of resolving the conflict.
Bring the parties together. Express the importance of working together as a team and having trust in one another. Communicate what you have learned from each of them regarding their perspective on the situation. Present ideas and possible solutions that come out of your discussions with the parties involved. Get the people to shake hands and agree to one or more of the solutions you discuss.
Reduce the potential for future conflicts. Ask each of the parties what actions they will take to prevent conflicts from arising in the future.
Management and leadership are multifaceted endeavors requiring a complex set of skills. Mastery of the fundamentals provides a foundation on which to build a more effective and successful organization. Those you are developing as managers will learn from your examples and become more effective. Use the opportunity of “spring cleaning” to sharpen your leadership skills, help to develop the key managers in your organization, and get your business moving in the right direction to successfully achieve your 2017 objectives.