One way leaders can connect effectively with their people is to understand the value of work, not by simply quantifying it in terms of dollars and cents but also in recognizing its strategic importance. It is tempting to quantify people's work in terms of an organizational chart, but that tells you only who is responsible, not who actually does the work. They may not be one and the same. Therefore, there are three questions a manager can ask:
1. What is the work? Work is anything an employee does to add value to the organization, whether it is creating a report full of statistics and projections, or stapling that report together for distribution to senior management. Work is work. But all jobs are not equal, and, therefore, it falls to the manager to decide who does what.
2. Who does the work? A great deal of work is tactical. It is the day-to-day things we do to keep a business humming or a nonprofit serving its constituents. Identifying who should do what is a manager's responsibility. It is important to assign people to tasks they can do well and that are best suited to their skills. Easy to say, but so often employees are in the wrong slots. Some highly trained folks are doing work that could be done by entry-level employees, or frontline employees are challenged to do more than they are equipped to do. Sometimes frontline managers spend too much time working beneath them; that is, they are too involved in details when they should be thinking of ways to let their direct reports do the work.
3. How does the work get done? We all want the idealized workflow: just enough to keep us busy but not too much to overwhelm us. But all too often, especially in times of scarcity, most of us are working over capacity. We are stretched to accomplish our "to do" lists, so we end up clocking long hours. This works for the short haul, but over time it becomes burdensome, leading to burnout and adversely affecting productivity.
The answers to these questions can provide a foundation for understanding the value of work in people terms. Once you know who does what and how, now comes the hard part: What is the role of the manager? To my way of thinking, managers have two prime responsibilities: Provide resources and remove obstacles. Each of these responsibilities can provide insights into the what, who, and how of workflow.
Purpose very often works best when tied to the strategic plan. The first time that Consumers Union (under the tenure of CEO Jim Guest) rolled out a strategic plan, employees did not understand how their work fit into the plan. So, when the organization developed a new plan, it communicated it throughout the company by holding meetings and workshops. Now, as Guest reports, when people debate ideas, they ask: "How does this fit with the five goals of our strategic plan?" Such clarity may seem simple, but it does link purpose to results and, more important, connects people's jobs to the plan.
When speaking of purpose, Guest likes to relate the story that Peter Drucker told about the stonemason. A visitor to a town encounters a stonemason and asks him what he is doing. The man replies that he is cutting stone. Another mason replies that he is building a wall. But a third mason replies with pride, "I am building a cathedral." Taking pride into what you do comes when you know the purpose, the big picture, how your work contributes to the whole—the cathedral you are building.
Providing resources is a matter of assigning the right people to the right task at the right time. The manager's challenge comes in looking beneath this mantra to determine if the people are truly right for the job—that is, do they have the right skills and training to do the work? Next, you need to figure out if they have the resources at hand to do the job in the given time frame. In theory, sure they do; in practice, not so often. That is where good managers improvise; they find ways to get quality work done with fewer resources. It requires good planning and also insight into the people doing the work. Allocating resources is one thing; finding the right people to manage those resources and use them efficiently may be more important. Therefore, you need to know what your people are capable of doing. Such knowledge comes from observing them in the workplace. You turn loose those who can do the job.
For those who are not yet ready, you provide training. But sometimes it becomes obvious that certain employees are not up to the task. That leads into a manager's second responsibility: removing obstacles.
Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from AMACOM from Lead with Purpose by John Baldoni. Copyright 2011, John Baldoni. Published with AMACOM. For more information, visit: www.amacombooks.org