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Management by committee is often ineffective. And, empowering a person to evaluate work who is not knowledgeable about the work product is not just pointless, but can actually be damaging. At best, it can come across as overstepping bounds to specialists who did the work. At worst, it can come across as disrespectful, dismissive and threatening. This can cause deep rifts in professional relationships and is an underlying cause of employee turnover.
For businesses, the need to ‘stay in your lane’ is about respecting what colleagues and coworkers bring to the table: education, skills, experience and talent. At many companies, that type of overstepping arises from confusion and misunderstanding about the basics: who should be doing what. This failure to get everyone on the same page regarding job descriptions and decision-making authority leads to important tasks not getting done or not getting done right, wasted time when efforts overlap, friction between employees, and a disconnect between the leadership and staff. The same thing can also happen when companies deal with vendors and consultants. When there is a failure to respect work boundaries and respect expertise, it can seriously undermine performance and results.
The goal then is for employees to each focus on their job, secure in the knowledge that others are competently handling the other responsibilities that need to be done. While that may sound easy, it is not. That is because most employees and vendors lack clear direction about where a company is going and who is trusted, respected and responsible to make decisions about the work being done in order to get to that destination. This can be remedied by asking the following questions.
- What is the company’s vision? Every person in the organization and/or doing work for the organization needs to know what the company is trying to accomplish. If the owners or leaders don’t have a clear idea about what they want to achieve or don’t share it with the entire team, it will be impossible for everyone to support that vision and head in that direction. It is like rowers in a boat. If there isn’t someone guiding the direction and helping everyone to row in tandem, the boat will not move. What are the goals? Financial success? Market share? Client satisfaction? What does that look like? If a business owner can be specific about what they want to achieve, there is a greater chance that everyone can work together toward that.
- Are the employees buying into the vision? Is staff invested in the company’s success? Are there personal and professional benefits for working at the company beyond pay? Working with a good group of people. Having a direct impact on the success of the business. Helping clients in tangible ways. Career growth. Learning new things. Taking on new challenges. By sharing where the company is going, most employees will wear themselves out helping the company to succeed. The company’s dream becomes their dream.
- What needs to be done to achieve that vision? Now this is where the rubber starts to meets the road… or in this case, the lane. What changes are necessary to make to the business today for it to achieve the vision tomorrow? Is the business targeting the right clients? Is client support top notch? Are other goods or services needed? And, what employee skills are needed to build that company?
- What are everyone’s strengths? The next step is to assess the team to determine what skills, talents and training can help achieve the vision. What does each person bring to the table? What is their capacity? Is there any training, education or experience needed above and beyond what they have? Is anything missing?
- What is each person willing to sacrifice to achieve the vision? Each person has to step up and get the job done, even if it is not their most favorite task. This is where buying into the vision can go a long way. Motivated employees will do what needs doing, particularly if they believe that there are better things to come. Better opportunities. More growth. When employees or vendors don’t step up, it’s a pretty good indication that there isn’t genuine inclusion and buy-in to the vision.
- What lane should everyone be in? So we finally get to the point. The point is to focus on people’s responsibilities, not titles. Employees and vendors often are caught up in titles or labels. It is better to focus on what each person is responsible for doing and what is the highest and best use of that person’s time. The goal is to match everyone’s strengths with responsibilities. The goal is for each employee to have complete freedom to work within those strengths. That eliminates the two main reasons people stray out of their lanes: they are better at something other than what they do, or they don’t see how their contributions fit with the big picture. They may feel insecure with their current work or are not being told exactly what they need to be doing. By giving every worker the right responsibilities and making it clear that they need to stay in their lanes, colleagues are less likely to stray out of their own lanes.
For example, in hospitals, oncologists focus on helping patients fight cancer and get well. Their goal is to “cure”. They look for treatment options and try different approaches in hopes of sending the patient into remission. What often happens, though, is that the oncologist is so focused on finding a “cure” that they often overlook “care.” That’s where palliative care begins. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care focuses on relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is care… to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and therapists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment. Often, oncologists are so intent on treatment that they lose sight of how the patient is dealing with the side effects from treatment, and the emotional toll of illness on the person and family. In the most progressive hospitals, oncologists and palliative care physicians work together to ensure that the patient receives both cure and care, each one understanding their role and respecting the roles of every other expert on the team in order to achieve the desired goal. That’s what it means to ‘stay in your lane.’
It has been said that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. That proverb, dating back to 1575, indicates that when there are too many people involved in a task or project, it most likely won’t be completed to the highest standard of quality. That was true then and it is still true today. However, in today’s modern workplaces with flat management structures, there is pressure for leaders to invite a myriad of coworkers to give their input on a cross-section of programs, projects and strategies. In flat organizations, with few or no levels of management between supervisors and staff level employees, workers are encouraged to be very involved in decision-making processes for which they have little understanding of the work or its consequences. Entrepreneurs, managers, and staff would do well to remember and respect the expertise and skills that each individual brings to the table, and allow that to be the main guide. It is only when each individual understands their role and stays in that lane that an organization can make the most of its talent and avoid management missteps.
Quote of the Week
“Boundary setting is really a huge part of management.” Jim Loehr
© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.