As a leader, you may be doing the right things: You’ve hired the right people, developed a well-thought-out strategy and given your employees the right resources. So, why do you feel out of the loop and unsure of how things are going? Here are three reasons why, and three steps you can take to be in the know.
1. You are too far removed from your frontline employees.
Depending upon how many employees you have and how distributed they are, it may be impractical for you to have much interaction with everyone. However, not having any inkling of how frontline employees think and feel is a disadvantage. This is especially true if you don’t have a good idea of how well they are performing in the context of the organization’s business objectives.
2. You aren’t getting the right data.
Is the information you do receive from employees historical, tactical and disconnected from business outcomes? If not, the reason could be that your strategy has not translated to employees' day-to-day activities. If this is the case, they may be acting in ways they think are best but are not conducive to the company’s success. It’s no wonder the information they send up the food chain is not useful to you.
3. You're not getting the full story about issues.
Leaders are often the last to hear about problems. When an issue does surface, do you have to act like a police detective, querying all the involved parties to get to the bottom of it? Another CEO recently told me, for example, that he often has to “triangulate and calibrate” when something goes wrong. That kind of detective work makes for an exhausting, time-consuming cycle.
So, those are the problems. Now, here are three solutions for getting the information you need to lead effectively.
1. Tie strategy to execution.
Help your employees develop individual goals that tie their daily work to the bigger picture of the company. Only then will they become engaged in their work and do the right things. Then, hold them accountable by consistently measuring their performance on those goals (at least quarterly). This will enable and motivate them to provide you with information that is useful to everyone.
2. Ask regularly for the right input.
Next, ask employees for status updates at least weekly. These should focus on the future rather than on backwards-looking data that simply communicates what’s been done so far. Does the employee think he or she will complete the goal by the deadline? Why or why not? What is the quality level of the work done so far? What help does the employee need to deliver on time and at a high level? These types of questions elicit answers that help you understand how your employees are progressing and where to take action.
3. Provide mechanisms for consistent input.
You should also have a consistent method for employees to provide weekly status reports, with room for open-ended comments. Ideally, this would happen as part of a records system that shows everyone’s goals and how they tie to the department and corporate objectives. This kind of specificity helps align employees and shows them how their day-to-day roles -- as well as everyone else’s -- contribute to the whole.
This level of transparency also helps build trust. Used regularly, these mechanisms enable employees to realize that the weekly information they share will reach the leadership and be taken seriously.
For leaders, this system can help them become closer to employees and also provide a normalized view at the information that really matters: how everyone is progressing toward meeting the company goals.
It can alert leaders, too, to issues they can act on before it’s too late. They will still have to do some investigation when issues arise, but at least they will know about them and have a common language for discussing them.
There’s no substitute for taking time out to get to know your employees and how they are feeling about their work. However, as companies grow and become more complex, systems are needed that elicit consistent information from each employee and help leaders to improve their own performance.