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How do you lead the best?

December 1, 2005 By    

Over the past four months I have offered an approach on how to hire the best employees possible for your propane company, establishing high expectations for the qualities we seek in our workers. Now that we’ve hired the best, let’s turn our attention to how we manage and lead this above-average group of employees. What do the very best want from managerial leadership? I submit these three basic needs:

  • To know what is expected of them.
  • To know where they stand in performance.
  • The opportunity to succeed in their role.

What should we expect of ourselves to meet these needs?

First, we should provide simple and clear expectations to our subordinates. Often, overzealous managers give employees way too many initiatives. I commonly find companies attempting too many things at once. We all want to work on growing and adding customers, improving safety, increasing service, enhancing efficiency and improving the bottom line.

 Carl Hughes
Carl Hughes

However, developing an overabundance of objectives with complex action and incentive plans can create confusion. The impracticality of overly complex goals and objectives generally becomes obvious to all but the authors.

I see the symptoms of this in companies of all sizes. Operating under limited resources and with tight timelines, employees ultimately become frustrated with missed objectives and confused over which action plan is more important than another. They also begin to question the strength of the leadership.

Overly complex goals and objectives will not get accomplished. Instead, establish a very short priority list – maybe no more than four or five key goals, initiatives or strategies. Communicate these basic objectives in terms everyone can understand, then give time to achieve them.

You also must foster an atmosphere of honest and open communications. A common management mistake is to assume that employees cannot handle bad news. We tend to keep much to ourselves, assuming it is in the employees’ best interest to not know about a company problem.

Other than selected topics that don’t belong outside the boardroom, you should be open as to the status of your company’s or the individual’s performance.

All too often, senior management avoids discussing performance issues with their reports, talking with everyone but the individual about the issues. I view this as a breach of trust that we would be direct, honest and open about employee performance. It is another way of letting them know where they stand.

For instance, customer service representatives who are cranky on the phone with customers need to be told their behavior is unacceptable. Employees who are disruptive and slow the work of others in the office should be confronted. Drivers who do not meet your standards for deliveries should be held accountable. Managers who don’t take responsibility should be confronted and the issues addressed.

As painful and uncomfortable as the conversations are, employees expect to be told how they are doing – good or bad. Quite frankly, it is your job to meet their expectations.

Consistency from senior leadership is crucial to a successful propane company.

Employees understand that unplanned circumstances require changes in operational priorities. However, all other directions to our staffs need to be consistent over time. Consistent objectives, standards, values and reinforcement provide employees with a solid atmosphere where they can focus on their performance. This creates an environment where employees can perform, learn, improve and become more productive.

We expect our employees to be loyal to our company and to be trustworthy employees. I am a firm believer that loyalty has to begin with the company’s leadership. The culture of your company will mold itself around the trust your employees see demonstrated in your leadership.

Since we hired the very best, the least that we can expect of ourselves is to meet or exceed their expectations.

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