So many people in business wonder why people in their organization don’t connect to the business or don’t “get” what the management or the owner is trying to accomplish. While the focus and goals can be quite clear to management, and are discussed on a regular basis, how often do the rank and file hear about them? What mechanisms are in place to get people connected and actively participating in the business? Are your people dialing it in or equaling pulling on the oars to move the ship in the same direction? Is the culture conducive to people really engaging in the business?
In this article, I’ll outline seven ways you can connect the people to your business. These recommendations, if executed well, can help transform your business and get people connected in a way that propels your business forward.
Bring the strategy and mission to life
For many companies, if a strategy and/or mission are developed, it is an event of creating pieces of paper that wind up on the shelf only to collect dust. If done well, the strategy and mission set the foundation for what the company stands for, and what it aspires to be. It sets the direction and focus for the company and guides people on what is important. Southwest Airlines has been recognized over the years for how well people in their organization connect to the mission:
“The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to highest quality of customer service, delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit. Our Purpose: To connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” (source: Southwest Airlines website)
Simple, straightforward, easy to understand. People should be able to “get it” immediately. And it should be part of the daily life of how business is done, not just a one-time event.
Educate your people on your industry and your competitors
Why is it important to share general information with your people? Some industries operate on razor thin margins, some on constant innovation, and others are in cyclical business. In each case, the industry conditions will drive some focus in the business. Your people need to understand why you are focusing on the things that you are focusing on. For instance, if you are in a very competitive business with thin margins, people need to understand the importance of being cost conscious and reduce costs/improve productivity as much as possible.
Many companies want to grow and capture larger market share. If this is true of your competitors, they will be going after your customers. Your people can be a great source of intelligence on what competitors are doing. It also helps for your people to understand where your company stacks up vs. your competitors. Do you have a larger product or service offering? Are you in more or less locations? Why do your customers buy from you vs. a competitor? If you are winning or losing business to a competitor regularly, do you know why and what you need to keep doing or do differently?
By educating your people on your industry and competitors, they will be able to understand and anticipate needs in the business, as well as provide valuable intelligence of market conditions.
Talk about your customers and your products or services
Depending upon the business, a large portion of your employee population may never interact directly with customers. At best, there will always be some level of people that don’t see the customer based on their role. So, it is important to have the voice of customer present in your business. Who are your customers? Why do they buy your products or services? What are your products or service? How are they used? What sets yours apart from the competition?
It can be pretty amazing to get a cross functional group in the same room and create a dialogue about customers and products or services. The person who collects accounts receivable may have some feedback through speaking with their contacts that is helpful for the sales department. The people in accounts payable or procurement may pick up some intelligence about vendors that is critical to the production process.
The dialogue can not only connect your people more closely to the business, but can also create channels for valuable intelligence that comes about in the normal course of business on a daily basis.
Share the goals for the year and cascade them throughout the organization
What are you trying to accomplish this year? Grow sales? Improve productivity? Gain market share? Introduce a new product or service? By clearly outlining what you are trying to accomplish and why, the entire organization can participate. As goals are set, they should be connected all the way through the organization. For example, if you are increasing sales by 10% for the year, what are the goals for each sales person that adds up to at least 10%. What does that mean for production or service? Is more capacity needed through addition people or equipment? You get the idea. By cascading through a goal setting process, everyone in the business knows their part and how they support the larger goal of growing sales by 10%.
This should not be just a paper exercise. By talking with the entire organization on a macro level, it helps set the stage for the overall goal, how the company is going to produce and sell more (in this case) and how everyone will participate. If done well, people feel engaged and bought in by helping develop the goals and feel connected to where the company is going over the near term.
Have a town hall meeting on a quarterly basis
Town hall meetings can be a great way of keeping people connected to what is going on in the business, changes in customer or product/service offerings, trends in the industry or with competitors, etc. This is also a key time to share progress against goals of the organization. They need to be substantive and include the opportunity for dialogue about any of the issues of the day.
Key topics in this meeting should include:
- Financial results/progress against goals
- Sales opportunities and customer feedback/preferences
- Product or service innovations or enhancements (or fixes to problems that have occurred)
- The overall economic environment and how it is impacting the industry
- A perspective on what is going on with competitors
- Recognition of key milestones or accomplishments
- Time for Q&A
The meetings should involve a number of people to show alignment in focus, as well as giving people the opportunity to hear from the folks who are making things happen in the organization. However it is done, the information should be consistent across all locations, with additional site specific information as appropriate.
Create incentives and recognition
People want to be on a winning team and be appreciated for their contribution. Incentive plans are a great way to get everyone focused on achieving the goals of the organization. Simple is always best. A short-term incentive plan may be based on the company achieving a certain level of earnings and one other key metric that significantly impacts the business. Then each person has specific goals that support the overall company direction, which can be used to adjust their incentive payment based on individual performance.
In addition to financial incentives, recognize people publicly for milestone achievements – not just longevity, but performance achievements. This can be done through the quarterly town hall meetings, or quarterly or annual dinners with family members present to recognize achievement.
From an external perspective, apply for awards in areas where the company is active. They can be for charitable acts, through industry organizations for outstanding performance or innovation, or state or local business organizations for achievement across a variety of categories. Receiving an external award can be exciting and empowering for the team – especially if people from all levels of the organization accept the award.
Create a culture of learning and constant improvement
If you aren’t getting better, you are getting worse. Companies have to evolve over time to stay relevant and the more engaged the people are in the business, the better the chances are that the company will evolve and survive. The best way to do that is to encourage people to learn and innovate.
How do you create an environment where people learn, grow and improve? You must have a culture of learning rather than shooting the messenger. Let’s face it – we have all made mistakes in life. It is how the best lessons can happen. People should be able to openly talk about what is going well and why, and what isn’t and why. By being able to say “I screwed up” and here’s why, people can openly learn and grow. In all cases though, the mistakes should be made as part of a well thought out approach. Flagrant violations of company policies should not be tolerated.
Business is all about people and the more you can get your people engaged and connected to your business, the better your opportunities for substantial growth in value. People want to be part of something. What steps can you take right now to get your people connected?
Copyright © Heidi Pozzo.
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Heidi Pozzo is a strategy and performance improvement consultant. She has helped transform businesses by connecting the people in the company to the strategy, resulting in significant increases in earnings and business value. To find out more about her services,
or call 360-355-7862.