The Gallup Organization's recent poll of 80,000 managers in 400 companies confirms a management principle that I've been teaching for 10 years: the No. 1 cause of employees' failure is the boss' failure to convey clear expectations. Too frequently, bosses simply fail to make clear to employee what they should and should not do.
Many managers ask me why their employees fail or leave. They don't like my answer. "It's usually not the employee's fault," I tell them. "It's the boss' fault." If an employee chooses to quit, the reality is that he has really fired the boss. Most instances of failed followership flow from failed leadership.
Which of your employees are failing? Could you be the cause? Two key causes of failed leadership are lack of vision and lack of communication. Let's look at how you can clarify your expectations.
In previous articles, I've described a paradox: the power of a company vision constrained by the foggy or distorted picture most employers convey of that vision. Without vision, the carpet stores perish. Or, to paraphrase the great New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, if your employee doesn't know where he is going, he might end up somewhere else.
How clear is your vision in the minds of your employees? The test: how clearly and accurately can each of them express to you what you expect of her or him? How well does each one know both the processes and the results you expect? Have you asked them? When you fail to clearly define the results expected, you put your employees in a race with neither a track nor a finish line.
People have a need to feel they have control over their fate. The changes that inevitably occur in most organizations cause many employees to feel stressed and out of control. This change is the result of significant disruption in established expectations. It occurs when people believe they have lost control over some important aspect of their life or their environment.
Dictating or anticipating a company vision can meet this need for control. People want to work toward a vision that inspires them to give their best. Describing the future to them (vision), and helping them feel excited anticipation about reaching it, can satisfy their need for control. When they perceive that the evolving reality is matching their expectations, they establish a sense of control and equilibrium that generates security. This sense of control comforts them in times of change, eliminates fear, erases helplessness, and increases productivity.
Thus, you empower your employees as you paint a clear "vision picture" and communicate it so articulately that they grasp it. The quality of your leadership will be determined by the quality of your communication. A leader gains followers only as he articulates his vision, and helps those followers internalize and take ownership of it. Great leaders, according to Fortune magazine, expect constituents to take their vision seriously. Of course, these constituents can do that only if they fully understand the vision.
Great leaders don't leave things to chance. They understand that trickle-down communications guarantee confusion and misunderstanding. Leaders don't use intermediaries. They keep the lines of communication short and simple. Thus, great leaders generate an inspiring vision and communicate it until employees understand it, appreciate it, and take ownership of it.
What, then, do you want to communicate in your vision? Vision is a picture of a desired end result - such as how your store will look and perform when you have lifted it to full potential. Vision is the company at maximum value. Integral to vision - and encompassed by it - are the company's mission, values and beliefs. Those are the means to the end result (vision).
A mission states the company's purpose, and expresses its intrinsic values. Values are the principles you select to guide every business decision. Employees should use them, and find that they result in order, security and growth. Once you've clarified your company's values and communicated them clearly, you have given yourself and your employees criteria for making decisions.
Buck Rogers, IBM's vice president of marketing in the late 1970s and early '80s, said, "Most successful customer service companies have a written, well-communicated set of values which humanize the work environment by setting the tone for the way people in the organization do business. The values become as much a part of the company's operations as its products, services or policies."
Friendliness and cleanliness, for example, are two key values of the McDonald's restaurant chain. You'll find friendly employees and clean bathrooms in any McDonald's restaurant in the world. I know this from personal experience. I've found them in Russia, Germany and Spain.
Disney's values include safety and courtesy. They've successfully run Disneyland for nearly 50 years on these values. Employees apply them. The test of your values is how much they affect the actions in the company.
Great leaders work until they have proof that every employee understands the values, knows how to apply them, and does apply them.
As a subdivision of the company mission, leaders must clearly define each job and each task within that job. They must describe each position's responsibilities (from bathroom cleaning to accounts receivable) in writing. This helps prevent task overlaps and gaps. Further, it assures that employees know the results for which they are responsible. Your expectations become clear.
For the "science" parts of each job, great managers go further and write "standards" that describe how the job is to be done. (For the "art" parts of each job, great managers teach correct principles and let employees employ their wit and wisdom to achieve the agreed-upon result.) As one great leader put it, "I teach my people correct principles and they govern themselves."
These standards express minimum levels of performance. For the warehouse manager, for example, the standard may require that every item be labeled with its manufacturer, color, roll number, and current length. For salespeople, it may be to greet customers within 30 seconds of their entering the store. (For a list of standards for salespeople, check my website at www.allmanconsulting.com.) Managers should train employees until they perform all tasks up to the standard, without supervision.
In addition to the minimum level of performance expressed in the standards, managers must teach the elements of good performance - especially for "art" type of tasks. They identify desirable behaviors and outline the results of optimal performance. They limit the number of rules. They understand the obstacles that inhibit good performance.
Once you write out your standards of minimal and good performance, when do you start teaching them to employees? You start it before they are hired. During the hiring interview, you should read the standards and ask, "Do you have any questions about what I expect of the person who fills this position?" This leaves nothing to chance. Watch the candidate's response carefully. It may reveal how well the new hire will try to abide your standards.
From your own experience, which is the most important day in an employee's life? It's his or her first day on the job. Critical to any new employee's long-term success is the orientation you give them on that first day. Though it's really no excuse, sometimes the leader is so busy on that day that he sends the new employee out to the showroom with this orientation: "If you have any questions, remember that the fuzzy side goes up." Obviously, that leaves a lot to be desired.
Better is the orientation that includes a history of the company and its culture. You should explain and discuss the core principles that the company values. You should provide a written employee handbook that clarifies policies regarding dress code, vacations, sick leave, and your other employment requirements. (You know that legal risks run high these days, so do not fail to clarify your policies up front.)
Ask the new employee to sign a statement that affirms that she/he has read and understands what the handbook states. As you orient, you ask the new employee for feedback, repeatedly, until you are confident that he or she understands and wants to adopt these principles to govern his/her actions.
Whoever orients your new hires should set aside whatever times it takes to make sure that they comprehend everything - from the job descriptions and standards to the company's policies and vision. When you devote enough time to carefully and methodically communicate these critical ideas, new hires will feel impressed that you consider them important. That impression will lead to better followership.
Communicating your expectations is a never-ending job. After the initial orientation, you should frequently refer to your values and standards in memos, posters, meetings, and one-on-one chats. That reinforces their importance. Remember, the quality of your leadership will be determined by the quality of your communication. And again, it is a job that never ends.