How do I challenge my managers?

Dear Ken Keller,

I recently had a staff meeting and asked each manager to come up with some goals that would help make the company a better place.

I did this after watching the managers go through the motions since January. Not only was I getting frustrated at the lack of focus and effort I saw a “clock in at 8am and out at 5pm” mindset regardless of what was going on or was left undone.

The staff meeting exercise was a complete waste of time. I did something I never did before, which was to get angry at the entire group. No one was engaged. I did not handle it well, but one thing did happen; the energy level and sense of urgency went up but only for a week or so. It’s now returned to the same, slow pace.

Do I have to be angry and frustrated all the time to get people engaged in what I am paying them for? There must be a better way. What do you recommend? — Brian S.

Dear Brian,

The first question I need to ask you is how engaged are you in making the company a better place? The speed of the leader sets the speed of the team.

It’s one thing to talk about doing something and it is another thing to do something about it.

By do something, I specifically mean, you do something as opposed to telling others to do it. You set the goal, determine the deadline, create the plan and do the work. When your managers see you actually doing something it, then they have an example to follow.

Having a staff meeting and asking for goals without example or context is always a non-starter. You blindsided your people; you did not have any of your own goals to model what you wanted from them. You got angry when they couldn’t come up with goals you had been thinking about for weeks. You gave them, what, ten minutes?

Managers and candidly, many owners are not strategic thinkers. I define this as not being able to correctly say or write an actual goal to achieve even if given hours to do it. Yes, they could write some things to do. What is needed is someone to teach them how to do it; checks the work and makes corrections and suggestions as needed.

That was your job; to teach them. You failed your managers.

If you want to improve your company and want your managers to help you, you need to paint the picture for them so that they can stop looking at the list of their things to do list to create a list of things that will make a longer term, strategic difference.

Here are two quick examples. Does your current facility display the kind of image that will attract and retain the best employees you can recruit to get to a better financial future? If not, maybe one goal will be to find a facility that will.

Second, will current team members move the business to higher level of productivity and efficiency? If not, who needs to be retained and who needs to be set free to pursue other opportunities elsewhere?

These are the kind of goals you can create so that your managers will be excited about being involved in creating action plans, setting deadlines and being part of the decision making. When your managers see a future you believe in, only then will they believe in you and follow you.