By Phil Key, President
One of our core values—and one that, in my opinion, is too often overlooked—is taking ownership in our company; making the conscious decision to think of it as “my company” vs. “the company.” This mindset plays a crucial role in shaping how you make decisions, offer suggestions, and resolve challenges. In all of our trainings, meetings, budgeting and goal-planning sessions, you’ll hear leadership say some version of “This is your company, and we want you to have the opportunity to shape it and to be proud of it.” These aren’t just words to us; it’s an invitation to take an active role in shaping the company you’re a part of. This is part of the reason we are an open book company. We want you to have all the information available to help you understand the direction in which we’re headed, the challenges we face along the way, why we do things in a certain way, and what role you play in that future. Everyone can and should influence the company’s direction—this is your company, so we encourage you to speak up if you have an idea or question and be a person that creates change.
As an individual, changing and shaping a company as large as ours can seem like a daunting task. But if done incrementally, while using one of our best resources– each other–positive change can take place at all levels.
Use your manager
The number one resource we each have to help increase effectiveness and personal value is our direct manager. Your manager should be your primary source for questions and information, such as: Why does the company do something a certain way? How is the company doing? How can I do my job better? This type of information should come from the person you interact with every day – your manager. It’s not only okay to talk to your manager, but actually required if we’re going to be a healthy company.
By the same token, it’s your job to inform and influence your manager by ensuring communication flows both ways. Tell them how you think you could do your job better. Talk about how management or the company could improve something. Suggest an idea you might have to streamline a field task or office policy. It is then your manager’s job to listen and act. But first, it has to start with you.
As with anything, the better prepared you are going into this conversation, the higher the likelihood that you’ll achieve the desired result. To communicate your ideas most effectively, keep these things in mind:
- Be mindful of your manager’s time. Schedule to speak with him/her if they’re not immediately available to ensure they are at their most receptive when you do have the chance to speak.
- Be precise. Present your thought or idea as a specific suggestion with a thought-out process. Writing it down may help you organize your thoughts. Remember, a complaint is not an idea. Bring up the policy or practice that needs improvement, tell them exactly how you’d make that improvement, and then consider the long-term implications of that change (i.e. we’d be saving “X” dollars each year; we’d be presenting the client a higher-quality service at lower cost; etc.)
- Often the first step in changing an existing procedure is understanding the complexities of the issue. Once you’ve had an opportunity to share an idea with your supervisor, listen to what they have to say in response. A full understanding of the entire issue is necessary to create positive change.
- Keep an open mind. Sometimes a policy is in place for a specific reason that you may not have fully understood prior to bringing your question or idea to your manager. Many ideas have already been considered; factors such as budgets, time constraints, safety and customer needs may have made them impractical. By understanding the other perspectives in a situation, you increase the odds that you will come up with the best solution for the company. Keeping an open mind is vital to influencing decisions, and those who do it consistently, significantly increase their value within the company.
- Be persistent. Valuable change takes time and may take several attempts. If you strongly believe something could be changed for the better and it hasn’t happened yet, keep working with your manager and tinkering until you’ve reached a happy medium at the very least.
Managers at all levels are responsible for considering these ideas seriously and resisting the impulse to immediately shut them down because “that’s just the way we do things” or because we don’t have time to think about or implement new strategies. If we are to succeed, we must adapt and continue to change as we grow. Sometimes change can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. And often the best ideas come from those who are in the field doing the hands-on work that our business is built on. So make the time to hear them out, and make a commitment to bring those ideas to the next level for further consideration.
To foster open and effective communication, managers should:
- Build relationships by getting to know your employees personally
- Maintain an open-door policy
- Solicit ideas and comments often (e.g. at weekly staff meetings)
- Encourage your staff to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts
- Put yourself in the employee’s shoes – understand the perspective that they’re approaching from (you’ve most likely been there yourself)
- Be committed to following ideas of merit through to the next level
- Understand/learn why an idea will or will not be implemented
- Follow through by reporting back to the employee and letting them know the outcome of your conversation. Has it gone up the ladder? Why or why not?
Bottom line: you shape our future. Regardless of the final outcome of an idea – whether it’s implemented, tabled for later discussion, or deemed not viable – the fact that it has been communicated gives us the opportunity to learn and expand our base of knowledge about our company and how it operates.
Thanks to all of you, in all corners of our company, who have played an instrumental role in shaping our company. Keep trying to influence the company’s direction by asking the tough questions and listening to the answers. We wouldn’t have gotten to where we are today without that kind of dialogue!