Leaders engage top to bottom
Q: One of the key findings the 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey is that worker satisfaction is more profoundly affected by perceptions of top management than by their immediate supervisor. What lessons can top leaders in the public and private sector glean from this?
It is the responsibility of leaders to establish conditions for people to succeed. The findings of the new federal Best Places to Work 2010 study illuminate a key responsibility for senior leaders: become engaged with people at every level of the organization.
Senior leaders set the tone for how those conditions are established and implemented as well as how they are respected and abided. Ideally when people in the middle see their senior leaders holding themselves accountable to the mission and values of the organization, they know such standards are important. Even better they realize they themselves will be held accountable for such behaviors.
This is the ideal. Reality is a different story. Research from the Gallup Organization, as distilled in the seminal book, First, Break All the Rules, shows that people relate most directly to their boss and that relationship lies at the heart of why employees stay or leave an employer.
Therefore senior leaders who are serious about creating conditions for employees need to succeed must get out of their offices and spend time with employees throughout the organization to ensure that values established at the top are practiced in the middle.
This is especially critical if there is new leadership at the top that holds different expectations for how the work is to be conducted and for how managers and employees are to interact. For example, if command and control styles were the norm but new leadership asks for more participatory styles that are based on seeking input from subordinates and delegating greater levels of decision-making, there will be conflicts. Managers schooled in the old ways will have a difficult time adjusting. And when adjustment turns into resistance then enlightened management at the top is extinguished in the middle.
Senior leaders need to understand that so often organizational transformations fail not because of lack of vision or even strategy. Failure of execution is the reason that good ideas die, and pretty easily, too. So if a leader seeks to change the way things are done, he or she must consider doing three things:
Engage with employees at every level. Communicate the mission and values. Spend time listening and learning about the organization. Ask always: what can I do to help you do your job better? This is very time consuming but necessary to ensure that employees and managers have what they need to succeed.
Instill culture of accountability. Make it clear that a manager's job is to enable employees to succeed. Success depends upon manager and employee working collaboratively to achieve intended results. Both are accountable to one another as well as for the results they produce.
Recognize results. Recognition is fundamental to the human condition; we all like to know how we are doing. Those who do a good job need to receive affirmation of their contributions. Those who come up short without good reason will be reassigned.
It is easy to formulate such action steps. The hard part is doing them. Managers at every level are often asked to do more and more with shrinking resources and escalating time frames. And it is for precisely those reasons that leaders at the top need to leverage the talents and skills of their people to allow them to think and do more to help the organization achieve its mission.
But as every employee knows, it is not what person at the top says, it is what he or she does that matters. What employees see their leaders do - and how they do it - matters most.
August 31, 2010; 8:39 AM ET
Category: A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Leadership Save & Share:
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