About 40% of Fortune 500 companies were unprofitable in 2012; the percentage was even higher for small and mid-sized businesses. As a leader in your workplace, formal or informal, it’s up to you to revive your lagging enterprise and return your business to growth and profitability in the new year.
Here’s a leadership model that can fully engage employees and maximize performance in your business, large or small: “in command but out of control.”
As we all know, modern technology and mobile communication devices and combining to democratize businesses like never before. Through smart phone applications and laptops, your front-line sales reps can instantaneously access advanced product features, pricing models and competitive intelligence wherever they may be. These days, sales reps can add or delete product features and modify pricing and delivery terms right on the spot at customer locations with up-to-the minute intelligence and flexibility they never had before.
The other side of the coin is increasing employee demand for access to the “big picture” and for participation in decision making. Your highly motivated, upwardly mobile men and women routinely ask for increased latitude to demonstrate personal initiative. Most abhor constant hands-on instruction or supervision; they don’t want to be told precisely how to set priorities, apportion their time and accomplish their mission.
“Freedom of information” is helping to break down departmental “fiefdoms” and traditional hierarchical organization structures. Today’s business climate demands continual innovation through ad-hock task forces and circles of cooperation displacing the inflexible pyramid. Today’s offices have fewer “private” offices and floor-to-ceiling walls. Employees and their work stations get moved around a lot. Collaboration is today’s buzz word. Most of us would agree that flexibility and democracy in the workplace is a good thing.
As a business leader of middle age who may be used to doing things the old way, here’s a question you should answer: “How do I intend to distribute meaningful decision rights to qualified front-line contributors while retaining ultimate responsibility for the bottom line?”
Here’s a quick and simple answer to this highly complex issue: “Run your business like a bee hive. As leader, you are “queen-bee”, in command but out of control.” You must coordinate an intricate and highly complex corporate mission: gathering pollen, making and storing honey, building and maintaining the hive and marshaling security forces to protect against bears. In no way do you have the time or energy to personally direct and monitor daily activity of every worker bee–you’re far too busy laying eggs and devouring your mates.
How best can those at the top encourage individual initiative and collaboration while retaining arms-length command of a revitalized, positively out-of-control hive? Here are a few suggestions:
- Disperse intelligence widely. Routinely advise all employees on how well or badly their departments or task forces, your company as a whole and your competitors are performing.
- Grant every employee a personal franchise, limited or broad, depending upon qualifications and commitment. Encourage each contributor to expand his or her franchise.
- Through give-and-take interactions, obtain consensus in advance on personal and collective performance goals. In an ideal world, individual goals and targets merge neatly together to comprise the whole.
- Ask managers at every level to divorce themselves from routine, everyday micro-management. Redefine the ideal leadership model from “hands-on-supervisor” to “coach”: setting direction, establishing priorities, motivating team members and as needed revising the playbook.
- Leaders at all levels routinely monitor results and provide frequent and constructive feedback. No big surprises at annual performance reviews. Evaluation of results should be routine, non-threatening, give-and-take discussions to solve problems and overcome deficiencies, not to point fingers over past failures.
- Establish and enforce a strict uniform code of business conduct to guarantee absolute integrity in every transaction or interaction, both internal or external. This is the one area where you must be absolutely inflexible.
- Base rewards and promotions strictly upon measurable individual and collective accomplishments and documented qualifications. In your enterprise, “favoritism” must be a dirty word. (Note one exception: when promoting someone into a leadership role, you will need to factor in “soft”, undocumented people skills like vision, ability to get along with colleagues, assign and coordinate activities and inspire others.)
- Respect employee personal lives; your worker bees are not defined strictly by tasks assigned and accomplishments on the job. No well-rounded individual is a slave to the job. Outstanding leaders encourage employees to set personal priorities and to seek their very own unique work-life balance.
- “How can I solve a real customer problem?” As a business leader, your task is to sell understandable solutions that makes sense.
- “How can I give my customers peace of mind?’ Whenever they buy from you, the customers receives everything promised and more.
- “How can I create a WOW ‘feel good’ experience every time a customer buys our product or calls for help.” It should be easy to reach a live person via phone or email who kindly and efficiently helps answer a question or solve a problem.
- Get out from behind your desk and talk to your customers large and small. Whatever your title, your primary function is sales! You just might discover easily correctable deficiencies you weren’t aware of that are costing you sales.
- You are not only selling your customers a product, you’re helping them fulfill a need or desire, solve a problem or save themselves time and money. Poor customer service after the sale or lack of an effective “help line” encourages customers to shop elsewhere next time.
- Wow customers with continual small product or service enhancements. Innovation need not always be radical or dramatic. An enhancement might be as simple as repackaging and promoting “package deals” for product groups or parts frequently ordered together.
- Identify and target promotions to those customers most profitable to your company per dollar of revenue. These are not necessarily your largest customers! You may wish to shift away from or even eliminate major customers or distributors who are chronically slow pay, complain incessantly or routinely return merchandise after the sale. Managing these accounts may be costing you hours of employee time and attention, thereby bleeding profits from your bottom line.
- Carve out 90-minute segments each week for collaboration with leadership colleagues and front-line contributors to brainstorm product innovation and money-saving ideas. I’ll bet you spend at least that much time now reading your e-mail. How productive is that?