A large company’s president is making a summary closing for his top executives. He has several items to focus on during the year. He gets to one goal; communicate, communicate, communicate. When he starts discussing the goal, his executive vice president of customer service injects. The vice president states; “We have a problem. Most of our employees report to first line managers (eighty percent). According to our last surveys these employees trust their first line managers more than us. These managers do not know what we know. We have to communicate to the front line managers more effectively.” This vice president is upset about this.
What does he mean by his comment? Why does he want the employees to trust top management more? This company is one of the best in the industry. It is accomplishing most every corporate financial, political, and customer service goal. Is it just an ego thing? This is great, the employees trust their first line managers. These first line managers are a valuable resource. Top management can draw on this trust to carry out their strategy. If that is what he meant, what then?
Does he mean that the top managers need to get out of their offices more? Have his managers lost touch with the first line employee? It is not how many times each day executives go up the elevator that counts; it is how many times they come down. McKinsey and Company has an article on their website entitled,” How leaders kill meaning at work.” This article gives a summary of a study on top executives. It states, “In short, our survey showed that most executives don’t understand the power of progress in meaningful work. And the traps revealed by the diaries suggest that most executives don’t act as though progress matters.”
This article gives an example of a poorly managed company. It describes the lost of linkage between the stated company mission and the real mission. If you state we are an innovation company; but, financial goals are the real goal, say so. Employees become discouraged when the top managers do not give the funds for innovating ideas. They find the work management set them on is not really meaningful. They may trust the first line managers that encouraged the innovation. The first line manager helped the department define the innovation. It is the middle or executive level that turned their project down. Employees want to carry out the company mission; this is how they get meaning in their jobs. Executives walk your talk; or, do not get upset when you lose the trust of the first line employee.
McKinsey, in the articles last paragraph, states; “As an executive, you are in a better place than anyone to show and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create meaning that motivates people toward greatness.”
Communicate, communicate, communicate the mission, all you will; but, trust will be lost if your actions are pointing in a different direction. The problem could be you, if employees never see you on the first line of the company. First line employees like to see you and first line managers working together to carry out the mission.
My dad tells me a story of President Tom Martin coming to Mitchell Dam when the fourth generating unit was being constructed in 1949. He remembers Mr. Martin hopping up on the running board of a truck, sticking his hand in and saying; “Tom Martin is my name”. Mr. Martin’s reputation included showing up on the front line and in the local offices of the Company. He actually took the local managers to lunch to talk about issues. Mr. Martin did not feel this circumvented the hierarchy. He could get a feeling about communities and local issues first hand. I could tell my Dad thought Mr. Martin’s actions were special.
Point is, if top management wants a run of the mill company; do not tell your first line managers and employees to go for the extraordinary. But, if top management wants to be trusted and have an extraordinary company show up on the first line; this is where the real action of your company exists.