Recently I was coaching a manager of several security teams. The teams were working in a difficult environment and due to foreign laws were restricted in how they could respond to security threats. While the senior leadership of the company valued the safety of their personnel, encouraging team members to make their own safety a chief priority, staff were still not feeling supported. Company management were working hard to implement changes while balancing contractual requirements, budgetary pressures and the safety of their staff. Throw in foreign laws, turbulent politics and it quickly becomes a highly complex situation. As with any complex scenario involving multiple stakeholders, negotiations take time. However a lack of immediate action by management was perceived by frontline staff as a lack of concern for their wellbeing. Many were disgruntled, some had become complacent in their work, while others had chosen to leave all together.
The reality is that people interpret their experiences according to the considerations and priorities they have to deal with, especially in the workplace. For frontline staff, often the considerations and priorities relate to immediate surrounds. For managers and organisational leaders however, their world is often much larger. Their considerations often span teams, departments and even stakeholders outside their organisation. Their role often requires juggling priorities to ensure the organisation as a whole continues to move forward.
The question then becomes, how do managers, particularly those in large organisations, effectively communicate decisions in a manner that maintains the support of their employees? How do leaders get their people to think beyond their immediate bubble?
Here are six considerations for manager’s to help their staff see the bigger picture.
Promote the Vision.
Remind everyone why the organisation exists and what it is trying to achieve. Remind everyone that ultimately, they are all trying to achieve the same goal. For many employees, it was the vision of the company that would have played a part in attracting them to work for that organisation in the first place. By reminding staff of the vision they can be unified as a team around a common purpose. When staff consider organisational decisions through the lens of vision and common purpose, very often perceptions change.
Many people on the frontline get so caught up in the day-to-day tasks. So focused on just getting their tasks done, they never consider the broader impacts of their work. By articulating the contribution that the work they do makes to the achievement of the mission and vision of the organisation provides a sense of purpose and meaning to each aspect of their work. Likewise, articulating how management decisions contribute to what the organisation is trying to achieve also facilitates understanding and therefore acceptance. Articulation brings clarity; clarity brings understanding and understanding, acceptance.
Articulation brings clarity; clarity brings understanding and understanding, acceptance.
Provide the Big Picture.
Many times frontline employees aren’t aware of currently operational needs outside their immediate team, the number of considerations leaders must manage or the complex nature of stakeholder relationships both in and outside the organisation. As a result they are unaware of limitations placed on decision makers or of how decisions can far reaching consequences on other areas of the organisation. By providing some of the big picture to staff during team level meetings or similar forums, staff gain a level of awareness of how the broader organisation works and also of the many considerations and priorities that leaders have to take into count.
Once employees have an understanding of the big picture, transperant explanations of decisions allow staff to see what considerations and priorities were at play during the decision making process. By intentionally outlining how specific decision contribute to the vision of the organisation, staff are able to understand why decisions were made, and are much more likely to accept them, even if they do not totally agree. The real benefit of being transparent is that it engenders trust. By providing transparent explanations leaders are communicating that they trust their staff enough to let them know how they think and why they act, and such trust will be reciprocated.
Providing employees with training in role one or several levels higher than their current role has several benefits. Primarily, it broadens the perspective of staff. By gaining experience in a higher role, employees will be exposed to additional considerations and have to manage priorities that are beyond what they would normally experience. This form of experiential learning reinforces the explanation of the big picture. Thus when staff return to their role, they are more mindful of considerations outside their immediate bubble when interpreting organisational decisions. One-up training has two other benefits, the first being contingency. When individuals leave or are sick, others below them have the ability to step up and fulfil the higher role. The other is succession planning, which many organisations do poorly.
Do it all again.
While doing all of the above can provide great improvement in the short-term, if not followed up, employees will eventually return to their original mindset. The day-to-day grind of their work, their urgent tasks will preoccupy their minds and once again they will be interpreting the actions, decisions and messages of management through the considerations and priorities of their own workplace. Leaders will need to regularly and repeatedly promote vision, articulate contribution, provide the big picture, be transparent and encourage one-up training to keep employees thinking bigger than their immediate bubble.
By being intentional about each of these considerations leaders can help their staff see beyond their immediate bubble at work. In doing so, they pave the way for understanding and acceptance of organisational decisions, which leads to buy-in and engagement. More importantly, they are developing their staff by encouraging them to broaden their perspective, think more strategically and preparing them to perform at the next level of the organisation.