As managers and business owners, we are accustomed to being in charge of all day-to-day operations, but there are moments when we need to take a step back, pause, stop speaking, and start listening . . . in a different way. Solutions to daily complications may come from a surprising source — your own team.
Every day that they spend time in the trenches, your team is micro-focused on the intricacies of processing both internal and external work products, while you concentrate on the bigger picture with the explicit goal of growing your business. There is no more valuable resource for solutions than those involved with the inner workings of the daily process.
Conventional management techniques may no longer be applicable, as the corporate world becomes more complex through the introduction of new technologies, additional regulatory issues, and an intergenerational workforce. Since it is impossible for business owners and managers to know everything, let's use what might be the best resource available — your own workforce. How then should this be approached?
Consider establishing a regular internal forum where employees from all levels of the company are invited to talk about challenges they are facing. It could be a digital, remote event or held live and in person. Pay attention as team members offer their input to developing solutions. During the session, you can share exhibits and utilize a collaborative platform. Best of all, between sessions you may set up a "virtual suggestion box" to gather information for the subsequent session. We have found success using a single-page “one-on-one” meeting agenda.
This goes beyond the conventional feedback loop to create a work atmosphere that values and encourages employees' contributions. You might even entertain the idea of creating a bonus or incentive program for employees who find an answer to a problem that saves the business money. Why not reward positive, creative thinking and get the most out of staff members? We try to send the message that everyone matters in our company.
In an article published by Entrepreneur magazine, Andre Lavoie writes that “. . . it's always good practice for leaders to teach those working under them, there are things management can learn from their employees, as well.” He notes five important lessons to be learned from the workforce.
Generate new ideas for the organization
It is crucial for leaders to foster an environment that encourages dialogue and idea sharing. Employees can offer a unique viewpoint and be a wealth of inspiration. For instance, younger employees will contribute something fresh because they haven't had as much time to become accustomed to "the way things are."
Improve the hiring and onboarding process
Although the employer is participating in the process, it's likely that they haven't gone through it themselves in a while. The hiring and onboarding process are an employee's first engagement with your company. To make sure that these procedures are being followed in a way that is advantageous to your new hire as well as efficient for the firm, it is crucial to regularly assess and adjust them. Employees who have recently completed the hiring and onboarding process are most likely to provide an accurate account of what transpired, and businesses can use their observations to enhance hiring and onboarding procedures. Ask for input from staff members regarding the hiring and onboarding process and make this process ongoing.
Be a better leader
It can be challenging for leaders to assess their own performance. Employers can become better managers by soliciting input from their workforce. Use performance-review software or anonymous surveys to collect feedback to make staff feel more at ease. To achieve the most beneficial outcomes, ask straightforward questions.
Create a sense of community
It's easy for leaders to become distant from the daily activities and work of their teams. Because employees don't always feel at ease around their boss, there are clear boundaries between the two. However, co-workers who are on the same level and working on projects together or who are simply in proximity to each other every day frequently develop friendships and partnerships. Leaders can look at these connections, draw lessons from them, and use them to help create a sense of community and promote workplace culture.
Learn to trust
Few workers perform at their best when their employer is constantly watching them. The consequences of subpar labor and low production, however, can be severe for those in control. Good bosses strike a balance between being firm and allowing their team members some breathing room. Excellent workers can encourage their managers to relinquish control and have faith in their abilities to complete tasks. This can be particularly challenging for business owners accustomed to taking on every facet of a project. However, focusing on broader overarching issues can be achieved by letting go and having faith in the team to get the job done.
Let’s look at a real-world situation that occurred in our shop, where letting go and trusting the team yielded a great achievement. Our communication with employees encourages suggestions for helping solve business problems. This led to a team of employees recommending a facility change along with staffing and training adjustments, which resulted in a 20% increase in daily throughput. Specifically, an improved workspace layout allowing for more workers within an area coupled with a “buddy-system” workforce training method produced 20% more shipments, which was remarkable! Give your team members enough leeway to effectively complete the action, and they will.
Conventional wisdom says you should model your operation after the most successful companies. Today, those are often the most innovative and highly valued companies with the greatest out-of-the-box approach to business. Technological developments coming out of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and so forth did not happen in a vacuum. They result from a culture of extreme collaboration. Market researchers have proven that focus groups and consumer surveys often result in design modifications to the end product that make it more user friendly — and the process saves time and the expense associated with retooling an unsuccessful design. The same results can be achieved internally when we proactively solicit employee input.
Finally, consider also the cultural and generational lessons we can learn from our staff. Your workforce may include people from various age demographics, linguistic groupings, and ethnic origins. Our company has exactly such a mix. If we make the effort, we can learn what is necessary to effectively communicate with those employees and how to interact with them. They may increase their output, commitment, and excitement, if we only take the time to listen.
Engage your workers, and you might find that you have access to a wealth of expertise.
About the author
Paul K. Steck is the president of Exothermic Molding Inc., a third-generation, family-owned specialty plastics fabricator serving a variety of verticals including healthcare, laboratory sciences, and defense.