Even under the best of conditions, life and business seldom work as planned. For leaders, the capability to predict has become a pipe dream. For businesses to stay ahead of the pack, strategies must change quickly. The top-down decision-making system no longer works. Today, the best companies seek the knowledge of employees to generate strategies that meet six goals:
- Stay responsive to customers. No one knows better than front-line employees what customers need and anticipate. Those who work most closely with buyers should lead the decision-making in product development because these employees do not have to deduce to reach a decision-their close proximity to customers gives them both empirical and anecdotal knowledge that managers cannot have. Managers must expand their focus to the needs of external customers by helping create boundary-less organizations that permit information about and from customers to flow quickly to everybody. Managers must kill policies and practices that prevent a focus on the customer and include customer orientation and service in performance reviews, promotion criteria, and incentive compensation plans. Managers must have the external customer in mind at all times.
- Hire and develop the right people. Too many executives fail to recognize their primary mission: to make a direct contribution to corporate profits. The key is to hire the “right” employees based on desired skills and competencies and guide them through the right jobs. Human Resource managers can help determine where, when and how to integrate employee skills, training and competencies to achieve corporate objectives. The HR manager must engage in a consultative role with the leadership team, and become a partner in strategic planning. Every HR practice, principle, program, or process must directly support the business objectives and strategies. Work hard to bring into line people, programs, and practices with business strategies.
- Retain valuable employees. The number of employees working at any company now ebbs and flows. In place of a fixed workforce, companies hire up or scale down depending on production requirements. In theory, that makes sense. In practice, however, it often clashes with the realities of the new labor pool. Today’s young workers rank empowerment high on their list of expectations. For managers, the challenge is to create a workforce that thrives in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The best and the brightest employees must be retained at all cost. The best companies go to any length to protect their “intellectual capital.” To retain the best workers, companies are creating more dialogue to find ways to give them a strong sense of purpose, control, and ownership.
- Reduce management burnout. As cutbacks persist, many companies are transferring more work to a smaller management team. What results, of course, is premature burnout. Many managers, in whom the company has authorized a lot of training, suddenly are bailing out. Empowering all employees is a way to reduce pressure on managers. Teams also make it possible for managers to more broaden their knowledge, and to delegate more efficiently.
- Achieve greater flexibility. If workers see their role as merely to carry out a plan handed down from on high, they aren’t likely to adapt strategies to new circumstances. But, if they see themselves as having the power to shape the strategies, they are more likely to act flexibly and responsively. Today, our best companies find ideas and move them up to managers who then judge and prioritize ideas and facilitate their implementation. These decision-makers have the right to make the final call. Without these key managers, employee empowerment stands little chance of prospering. When empowerment is done appropriately, a company will retain good employees, reduce burnout, respond more quickly to customers, and be malleable enough to flow with marketplace changes
- Listen to build profits and morale. Managers need to hear employees’ suggestions because employees are closer to customers and processes. Most fast growth companies implore employee recommendations. Their success rests on a steady flow of ideas, and most employees want to provide suggestions: They want to express their ideas and beliefs. For a suggestion program to work, however, employees must be encouraged to submit ideas and rewarded for exceptional ideas. Management must act on ideas to create a supportive culture.
Leading companies track employee ideas. They measure suggestions per employee, percentage accepted, average turnaround time to handle suggestions, and percentage of eligible employees who participate. They proactively ask for ideas, and they respond to all suggestions quickly-within days, not months. They make sure employees know company priorities so their suggestions reflect these concerns. They create a strong sense of teamwork by bouncing ideas around while working toward the same goal. In companies with a strong team culture, ideas not only tend to come more often, but are better developed.