Implementing a Change

Harry dejectedly walked out of his annual review. It would be another year where his work was considered exemplary, but that he would not be getting a promotion. The reason this year was that he was not ‘strategic’ enough in his work, thus could not be promoted to a position where strategy was more important.

He was not the only one to receive this message. His colleague, Maise, was also told the same thing. While they both received a raise and would be bonus eligible, there would be no movement in the organization for them, at least for another year. They both suspected that next year would be another reason, or maybe the same reason, why no promotion would be forthcoming.

The reason for this pronouncement from their manager seemed almost ironic. Harry and Maise were the go-to people in the department when some strategy needed to be implemented. They knew where to start, where in the company to get the right people, had the right contacts, and knew how to make the plans reality. Their work had directly contributed to the department’s success and even to promotions for some of their reporting chain. Their successes had only bred more assignments where they were always teetering on being overworked. There were times during the year where they were asked why there were delays in their schedule, a point which was brought up during the reviews. The strategists did not want to hear that they simply had too much work. Didn’t they realize the department’s plans needed to go forward?!

Their morale low and feeling discouraged, they opened their separate projects and began what they seemed destined to do for the foreseeable future. They prepared their status updates and continued their work.

We laud the strategists. They are the movers and shapers of the company. They come up with the big ideas that drive the firm into the next few years. We revere their abilities to see into the future and navigate the ship for greater success and profits, at least it is hoped.

The one thing that always seems to be missing in that reverence is that without the implementers, the strategy is simply a piece of paper. Without the know-how, contacts, and expertise of those who bring the strategy for life, there is no forward movement and no glorious future. There are no back slaps in the executive suite and handshakes all around for another success. There are fewer promotions for a strategy well executed.

But we don’t see it that way. We see the implementers as something less. We see the implementers as not worthy of promotion because, well, they aren’t strategizing, are they? No, they can’t seem to get out of the drudgery of being concerned with the little things, the mundane, the ordinary. They need to think bigger!

Yet, what do you do with the implementers? Give them more to implement! They are so good at it, aren’t they? Just hand it to them, get some updates, and report the success. Or report the issues with the project and how you had to swoop in to save it, showing the implementers are just not ready yet to join the upper ranks. Either way the argument for the lower ranks to stay exactly where they are is justified, at least to your own mind.

It’s time we changed the conversation. It’s also time we changed the attitudes. A company can’t run with everyone deciding where to sail the ship and nobody taking the wheel. Those who implement are as crucial to the viability of a company as those who strategize. They should not be treated as undeserving of promotion simply because they have a different skillset, one that the company cannot do without.

If the conversation won’t change, then it is incumbent of those who strategize to take those skills and teach them to others. That is going to require sacrifice. It will require less work upon the implementers so they can learn to strategize. It will mean a lower chance of success because you have invested in the career of another human being. It will mean courage to explain that to your executives.

All that will take a different kind of strategy. One that will keep good people with the company and your bench strength filled. The question is, do you have the fortitude to be the implementer of that?

Preach and Practice

The message was clear during all the seminars the company was broadcasting to its franchisees. If they wanted to keep their employees during and after the current recessionary times, they needed to make them feel needed, wanted, and special. Many of the franchisees understood the message and shared that they were doing just that. They were engaging in one-on-one conversations with their employees, writing notes of appreciation, and doing what they could to keep the spirits up of the employees, either in person or remotely.

What’s more than that, it seemed to be working well. The leadership of the company received positive reviews for both the seminars and the message that was being broadcast. The franchisees were not losing their employees to the competition even when their commissions were lower due to lower sales.

There was only one group who wasn’t practicing these techniques. The leadership of the company itself. Yes, they were regularly sending out an email or having a team web conference and saying how proud they were of the corporate employees, who were working extra hours at reduced pay to keep all these seminar and other events going. However, as for any of the other techniques the company was advocating its franchisee base do, the actions of the company’s leadership was lacking.

Not one employee could say that the leadership had singled them out for an individual email, phone call or personal note expressing their gratitude for the crippling workload, or managing a household budget with a reduced salary, or for getting all their work done when their hours had been reduced. True, their local managers, mostly, thanked them for their hard work and said they appreciated their extra work. Some of the local management had even said for the employee to take a day off and not declare it as a thank you for the extra time put in. But the senior leadership? Except for the obligatory ‘thank you’ at a company meeting, nothing more seemed to come from their collective creativity to make the employees feel wanted, needed, or appreciated.

As the weeks of onerous hours and little pay wore on, so did nerves, and they were fraying fast. That seemed to be little noticed by leadership, which was always asking for more, expecting more, and even criticizing more when mistakes happened.

A simple fact of life that seems to escape many leaders is that it takes a happy staff to make happy customers. How do you make staff happy? Besides money, most want to be appreciated in some meaningful way. That is not a passing, “Thank you so much” in a company meeting. It is something done for the employees on a personal level. It is a recognition that the employee has sacrificed part of their lives to make the customer happy. A good leader will understand that and take the time to reach out to the employee to make sure that appreciation is expressed in a why the employee will find special.

The gap between words and action is amplified when you are giving one message to others and then not putting actions to that message yourself. Your message becomes disingenuous when you are not following it yourself. That leads to your employees wondering why they should continue their Herculean efforts when their leaders can’t be bothered to recognize that effort beyond a few measly words said to everyone.

Simply put, when you don’t make an effort to value your employees, what is there to entice your employees to value you or your business?

Make the effort, put in the time, and make the recognition personal. When you do, you’ll see all the words you are throwing at others can actually work for you, too.