After interviewing over 30 founders and executives, I have learned that we all have similar frustrations on the path to sustainable growth. I wrote The High-Growth CEO Handbook, as a way to respond to common leadership challenges like hiring right, poor communication, and scaling culture.
One of the other main issues that frequently comes up is lack of visibility. You can’t fix what you can’t see, and you can’t manage what you are unaware of. This principle is true for both top-down visibility, as well as awareness of what’s happening on and across teams. Chapter 2 of the handbook is below, and includes valuable questions to help you take the pulse of your company.
Entrepreneurs and high-level executives are constantly seeking ways to gain visibility into every detail of their companies. Managers at all levels often ask themselves some iteration of this question:
How do I encourage front-line employees (who interact directly with customers) to be vulnerable, trusting, and open enough to offer candid information about their work experience and the challenges they face?
For starters, visibility depends on trust. According to Stephen Covey, “trust is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy”. In his book, The Speed of Trust, Covey explains how when people are trustworthy and build trusting relationships within an organization, that is when rapid growth occurs.
Covey discusses the four zones of the trust matrix, a combination of a high or low propensity of trust couple with a high or low degree of analysis. On one end of the spectrum is indecision. These are the micromanagers who have a low propensity of trust coupled with a low degree of analysis. On the other end of the spectrum is judgment. This is the ideal, and these leaders have a high propensity of trust and a high degree of analysis. They provide their people with ownership and accountability over tasks, thereby eliciting resourcefulness and creativity.
The best observation technique is to ask your team questions. Knowing what drives the team and knowing their pulse (what they need, how they feel) allows for the cessation of micromanagement and the establishment of space for employees to flourish creatively.
Visibility into the team gives managers the confidence to let employees do their jobs. You can quickly identify performance issues, triumphs, and the way that each individual team member feels. Then allow every team member the opportunity to freely tell you where they are challenged, since articulating problems begins the process of solving them. Employees then grow more and more confident in their skills and abilities, understand their roles better, and eventually unlock their potential.
Asking questions and receiving candid responses also creates a culture of communication and transparency. When everyone on the team is communicating, they can hold themselves and others accountable. You essentially have a whole team of managers without the confining aspects that damage employee morale or that interfere with autonomy.
But you can’t just disappear and assume that the employee can succeed on their own. The other half of the battle is staying involved and present. How often do you check in? Once a quarter? Once a year? Semi-annual or annual performance reviews simply do not offer enough insight into your employee’s world.
Ask questions to quickly gain visibility into team morale, align employees around company goals, and see where they feel challenged and need support. We have found the following questions to be phenomenally well-suited for leaders to gain visibility, for employees to be heard and recognized, and to re-calibrate your team:
Are you clear on the overall company strategy and how you fit into it? If not, what would help you get clear?
When an employee is unclear on strategy, take the opportunity to step in and realign them. Big picture goals should color every detail of their work, no matter how small.
What challenges are you facing?
Employers don’t actually have to step in and provide help, but knowing they are there is invaluable to an employee. Leaders can act like a spotter who psychologically add confidence when people challenge themselves to lift more weight.
What are your top 3 priorities for next week?
When your employee is aware of their top priorities, it means that they are working effectively by focusing on what is most important.
The level of transparency will vary by culture. On one side of the spectrum, some businesses keep information under lock and key. In my opinion this creates an unhealthy work environment. On the other side of the spectrum, everything is shared including employee compensation and stock options. That type of culture can quickly fall apart unless the entire team has integrity and trust.
Not all walls should literally be broken down with every employee having complete visibility into every aspect of the business. There must be balance between transparency and privacy. Provide enough information so that all members of the team feel like they’ve been hired into a unique and valued place at the company.
For example, according to Bob Marsh in this contribution to the SalesForce Blog, openly sharing sales leaderboards is an easy way to introduce light competition. That visibility created opens opportunities for coaching and learning between sales reps. Of course, management has to prioritize collaboration over competition for this to be effective.
There must also be team-wide visibility so that everyone knows everyone else’s status and where they stand relative to the greater mission. Clearly and openly articulate the bigger picture so that everyone knows which piece they own. By having transparency around the mission, employees know what is needed to accomplish results that are important to them individually and they can more easily hold others accountable for their part.
Once you communicate clear goals to the team, give each employee the autonomy to do what it takes to achieve them. Stay present with a fine balance. Micromanaging leads to stifling creativity and discourages employee engagement, but obtaining regular feedback is the first step towards fostering growth in your employees. The impact is enduring – you secure a mutual understanding of responsibilities and goals while keeping your finger on the pulse of progress.
David Hassell is founder & CEO of 15Five, employee engagement and performance software that helps create high performing teams by combining feedback, pulse surveys, objectives (OKRs), and peer recognition all in one lightweight weekly check-in. Follow David on Twitter @dhassell.