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In my role as a consultant, I have been running into a rash of Executive leaders that spend the majority of their time solving operational challenges.  I also run into Management teams that confuse operational improvements as strategy.  Running a business is a huge challenge and I have found that defining your operational constructs allows for clean lines of purpose and direction.  These constructs are not absolute, but they do represent, for me at least, what people or processes should be doing or creating most of the time.

One construct is that Executives work on opportunities and analyze threats, while Managers work on operations and implementation challenges.  This creates the expectation for one group to be made up of people who are reflective, creative, discerning and interested in what is new, while another group has strengths in task management, motivating people, and a high regard for consistency and efficiency.

One of the main reasons I see that Executive teams get caught up in problem solving is that there is very little definition around success, and less around the elements that create success, for either group.  Executive teams, and the Executive Director in particular, are of course responsible for the operation and how it performs. They are not left to dream all day about what is coming next.  However, instead of defining success for their management team to pursue, they tend to get caught up in the fray, reacting to problems and putting out the fires that are brought to their attention.  It is probably good to note that Executive team members are often people who have worked many years on the Management side of business and were very good at it, thus the promotion to an Executive title.  It’s not that your Executive can’t problem solve, it’s more that they should not make a habit of solving operational implementation issues.

Let’s use recruiting and retention as an example.  Has your organization defined success for your Managers in the area of recruiting and retention?  Is your organization even capable of creating data that can support whether or not your Managers are succeeding or losing ground?  Below are some bullet points using fictitious data or expectations to try and highlight my point.

  • Retention rate of 80% annually
  • No more than 21 days from post to hire for entry level positions, and no more than 45 days for supervisory positions or resource positions
  • Annual recruiting budget of $20,000
  • No more than 8% OT
  • 95% compliance with annual training requirements
  • No more than 10% vacancy in any one position at any time

These are examples of metrics that could be used to hold management teams accountable for the implementation of the agency’s retention and recruiting strategy.  Accountability also means clarity.  This is what you are asking your staff to hone in on.  These are the discussions points that will come up in staff meetings or in annual evaluations.  Behind each bullet point could be several policies and procedures. These policies and procedures have been vetted and approved at the Executive level.  Managers are now asked to implement the strategies and achieve the metrics outlined above.  When results are not obtained it could mean that a team or person is underperforming.  This is likely the case, however, the Executive team should also be scanning trends in the industry and making sure there have not been shifts in or changes that are creating challenges to the old organizational strategy. For the example above we could talk about the use of web based job sites vs. newspaper adds, or promoting jobs on a companies web site in addition to using web based solutions to filter applicants back to the company.

This isn’t to say that great ideas for change don’t come from management teams. Great ideas can come from almost anywhere and companies need to find ways to tap into a level of communication that provides access to these sparks of genius.  What I am saying is that you won’t know whether to strategize or implement a change if you first don’t have a clear target that people are trying to reach for.  If managers don’t know what being successful looks like, because it changes week to week, and from problem to problem, they will not be inclined to problem solve without Executive feedback or involvement.  And if Executives are busy problem solving daily operational challenges, then they are not keeping an eye on what new opportunities or threats are present that would mean a strategic shift in the company.  Instead, operational adjustments or problem solving look like strategic initiatives.[wysija_form id=”1″]

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