“It’s a basic concept, but one that I’ve seen forgotten time and time again, especially among the highest level managers, “says Mimi Kearns, Founder and CEO of Phoenix Spa, LLC, who, before starting her own business this January, spent 10 years in mid-level management at a prominent healthcare company.
“If you expect the very best from your staff, the only truly effective way to obtain it is to lead by example. I can’t tell you how many times I had managers who had no concept of what I actually did or how I did it. Some barely knew my name. It’s very disheartening. They were only concerned with the end result, which, as a concept in business, I find deeply flawed.”
So when Mimi started her company, she made a commitment to not only understand but also to be able to perform every position in the company, regardless of how busy she gets or how quickly they grow. And she takes that commitment very seriously:
“Of course there are some positions I don’t know well enough to actually cover for if someone is sick. I can’t, for example, take over for my IT Manager and expect the system not to crash in five minutes! I’m not trying to micro-manage here. I still appreciate the importance of delegation and teamwork. But I have seen great results by just letting a staff know that I ‘get it’. I understand what they go through in their jobs- the challenges, the pitfalls, the triumphs-because I have experienced them, too. I am not barking orders at them from behind a glass wall somewhere.”
Phoenix Spa is still a small start-up now, but the day may come when Mimi is not sitting three cubicles down from her clerical staff. We asked her: Isn’t it unrealistic to think you can perform almost any job in a company?
“I think if I am going to achieve success on my terms, it is unrealistic NOT too. This wasn’t exactly my idea, either, it was directly inspired by a manager I had years ago when I was just starting out. I worked in a customer service call center, and my manager would have no problems logging on to take phone calls when we got really busy. And she actually took care of the customers, because she knew the job and followed protocol. She didn’t pawn the customers off on her staff. There were times when we would be working on a direct mail project that had to get out on deadline, and she’d leave her office and sit down right on the floor with us and stuff envelopes. Not so for the other managers. Our team was so tight knit because of her willingness to pitch in. She wasn’t above jumping right into the fray and taking one for the team. We all worked so much harder for her because of that. She never had to ask twice if she needed someone to do some extra OT or work on a holiday. Because she wasn’t just the manager, she was part of a very well-oiled machine.”
So how do you go about acquainting or re-acquainting yourself with the details of your staff’s duties when you already have a full plate yourself? Here are some guidelines to help you get started:
- Read the training manual entry for the position you want to brush up on.
- Ask for case study reports from your team members. For example, if an employee tells you about a recent success, ask him to provide an outline of the steps take to get there and ask him to share it with the team.
- If you have staff out in the field, make it a priority to spend at least a half a day per quarter on the road with them. It’s also a good opportunity to distribute goodwill and small promotional gift items to valued clients.
- Make a video. Have each team demonstrate in detail the flow of their work day. The results will help you keep in touch with the routine of your staff, reveal challenges and inconsistencies, and provide a great training tool.
- Spend just five minutes a day, every single day with someone on your staff. One day you might help with filing, another you could proof-read website copy. Just pitch in. Observing is good, but ‘getting your hands dirty’ will create a bond and breed the kind loyalty that ‘just watching’ never could.
- Ask questions! Employees deserve to be heard. Give them a chance to tell their stories. Even if you can’t fix every problem right away, they will never-the –less appreciate the fact that you are sincerely taking an interest in addressing their needs.
Bio: Richard Larson is blogger and Brand Manager for GoPromotional, the UK’s leading promotional gifts supplier. He enjoys writing about business and marketing topics.