For years, I’ve been fascinated by managers. The more I learn, the more I realize their vital role in the execution of strategy. I’m convinced that the development of managers should be a top priority for organizations wanting to deploy and sustain business strategy. But experience tells me that managers are the single most underinvested-in group in business today, yet they are at the heart of every business. Their role is to ensure that the strategy coming from the leaders is interpreted consistently and that the front line is engaged in the execution of that strategy.
About 7 years ago, I was working with a large grocery chain to deploy a customer service strategy directly connected to new brand messaging. Everyone from corporate through part-time would be engaged. The goal was to create the understanding that each team member represents the brand through every customer interaction. They also wanted everyone to know that clean, fresh, and in-stock were key factors in customer service and the brand experience. Finally, everyone needed to view the brand and customer service as an advantage over the competition.
As we tested the training tools, managers started asking great questions about their role in bringing this initiative to life. This team of managers had always used a control-and-command style, but they knew that this would no longer work. They wanted to know how to connect this idea of brand and customer service to hourly workers in a way that was tangible, actionable, and measurable. They wanted to understand their role and what they needed to do differently.
With these questions as our foundation, we dissected the composition of successful managers, those who could truly drive results through their teams. What we found was no surprise – great managers engage their teams continually and know how to link individual efforts to team goals and team goals to the overall strategy. We designed a way to help managers see their role as their teams’ Chief Engagement Officers, and we developed some basic tools to help them “fake” their way through this concept of engaging their team until they could really “own” it.
By working with many managers in dozens of organizations, we’ve been able to hone these learnings. You might be surprised – or not! – to know that the keys to developing great managers are very basic. But together, these foundational elements forge a manager development framework that really makes a difference.
Within a few months of implementing this framework at the grocery chain, we heard this story. As a produce manager walked to his car, a teenaged employee called to him as he collected carts from the parking lot.
“Are we gonna hit it?” the employee asked.
The manager was puzzled. “Hit what?”
“Are we gonna hit our number? I know we’ve got a chance to have our best month ever in the produce department. Do you think we’re gonna do it?”
In that moment, the manager recognized what had happened. This part-time, non-career employee understood his department’s goals, how the game was played, the current score, and his connection to the big picture. More than that, he was determined to achieve the goal. He was engaged! And the manager understood his own role – as a great manager who created that engagement.