January 9, 2017
For context, I’ve spent the past 25 or so years working both on the client-side as well as in Big Four consulting. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of the brands you know and love, and have gotten an amazing look into a variety of companies, cultures and organizing models.
I’ve learned a ton.
And while each brand I’ve worked with has had its own nuances and peculiarities, there’s been one theme that’s been persistent virtually everywhere:
Employees are passionate and want to do more to advance the business, but are often handcuffed such that they cannot.
While it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this must be due to poor management, it’s not necessarily. In fact, I believe that a simple behavioral shift can reduce attrition while making your team more productive and motivated.
The Million Dollar Question: Why?
‘Why’ is hands down my favorite question as a consultant. It’s a critical tool in exploring and understanding a business. And when interviewing a team to get a sense of challenges and opportunities, I throw it around like suds at a car wash.
Here’s an exemplary conversation that I’ve had more times than I care to count:
Me: “What do you do?”
Interviewee: “A thousand things including X, Y and Z. I’m well beyond capacity but we’re short staffed.”
Me: “What is your biggest time drain?”
Interviewee: “The monthly reporting dashboard. It takes me about 40 hours to gather the data and make it presentable.”
Me: “Why do you create it? How do you use the data?”
Interviewee: “Not sure. I create it and send it to (names of a handful of people).”
And when I eventually reach out to (names of handful of people) to understand the value of the data and how it’s leveraged by the business, I learn that few have ever taken the time to open the report let alone absorb the data.
I’m sure that at one point in time there was a very viable need for this data. But time marches on, priorities change and, unfortunately, we don’t. And while this is a simple example, it’s more than likely happening in your organization as you read this.
So how do you identify opportunities to open the relief valve for your team while giving them back precious time to perform more interesting and strategic activities?
1. Align on key objectives
This discussion happens all too infrequently. At a minimum we should be having it twice a year if not quarterly.
Take the time to pull your team together and review your organizational and business objectives. Use this as a forum to ask if everything they’re doing somehow rolls up to these objectives. Have a productive dialogue on the outliers to understand necessity and business impact.
While there may be legitimate activity that doesn’t directly roll up, this is a great way to make your team feel included. It helps them understand how their activity supports the broader business and also helps provide context around their role in the bigger picture.
2. Empower them to ask ‘Why?’
A good leader surrounds themselves with smart people. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all of the answers, but I know how to build a team that does.
Ensure your team understands that they’re empowered to question the status quo. That they’re more than just people executing tasks, rather that they’re subject matter experts who have a unique perspective that is of enormous value to the organization and the business.
Regardless if it’s routine work, inbound demand from an external organization or a new initiative, let them know that you’re counting on them to get the job done in the most efficient manner possible – and that they’re empowered to call out inefficiencies and opportunities as they see them. And most importantly, you’ll have their back.
There’s nothing worse than a team that’s simply resigned to execution. It’s bad for the individual, the organization and the company.
3. Challenge them
Often when immersing myself into a new organization I’ll ask team members “Are there any tasks you’re currently performing that, if stopped, no one would notice?” You might be surprised at how often I get back a laundry list of potential opportunity areas.
Challenge your team to identify three things that they can stop doing immediately that will not negatively impact the business but will free them up to do more rewarding and impactful activity.
Make this a mindset as opposed to a point in time activity.
4. Have a ‘Plus / Delta’ discussion
Another personal favorite from the consulting handbook - This one is best facilitated by someone from outside the organization. Facilitating yourself could prohibit the open sharing of ideas.
Get the team together. Ensure access to a white board or flip chart. Make two simple columns. On the left, the ‘Plus’ or ‘What’s working’ category. On the right, the ‘Delta’ or ‘What could we do better’ category. It’s important to reinforce that a delta doesn’t necessarily mean something is broken, rather it represents an area of opportunity for exploration.
Open the floor up for comments in either category and ensure everything is captured as the conversation ensues. While rudimentary in its approach, I’ve found this to be a very effective way to get a team to open up and collaborate on ways to work more efficiently.
I’m sharing this for your consideration as I’ve seen far too many talented individuals unnecessarily demotivated or frustrated in their job. It’s a no-win situation and is often easily solved.
In my experience, these relatively simple tactics and conversations can go a long way to change the dynamics of a team and help reignite their passion.
Cheers to you and your team in 2017!
Len Devanna is the President of digital strategy firm Trepoint and a future resident of Colorado. Throughout his career he’s helped brands like Apple, EMC, Cisco, Skype, Jim Beam and many more better understand and engage their audiences through digital media.