Below are 10 questions for discussion at your next staff meeting. Alternatively, you could have 10 staff meetings and have a discussion of one question per meeting. Before you begin reading the questions, I ask that you read the last paragraph first. Here’s to a great staff meeting.
1. Why are we in this business?
Although every business must make a profit to stay in business, going into business just to make a profit is probably a bad strategy. Employees should know the company’s story. They should know the history of the company and company’s real mission. They should know what drew the founder to the particular type of business. Did the founder(s) believe that there was a niche in the industry for a new company, or was the company a brand new way of doing things for customers?
2. What are our core competencies and unique skillsets?
In other words, what do we do best? Perhaps the company has superior technology or professionals who have a special set of skills. I know of one business owner who spins off new companies based solely on the skills of his current employees. He had one employee, for example, who had a very special set of skills and who had to move to another city for personal reasons He started a subsidiary company in that city so he would not lose her special competency.
3. What type of business do we want to develop?
While the history of any company is special and should be known by its employees, it is becoming more uncommon than not to find a company that is still in the business that it started in. Technology and society prevent opportunities for companies to expand into new businesses.
4. How do we want to be viewed by our customers?
The message that is sent is never the message that is received. Many managers and employees have lamented, “If only our customers knew us like we do then they would appreciate us more.” Companies these days pay a lot of attention to branding their companies so that their customers will have an automatic image of the company. Those efforts are a waste of money if a customer who is told that the company puts customers first encounters an employee who puts customers last. Successful companies that I have known put a lot of emphasis on point of contact with the customer, whether it is a face-to-face contact, telephone contact or online contact.
5. How do we involve all employees in this vision?
This is one of management’s greatest challenges. Managers tend to have a big picture view of their industry and their company, forgetting that frontline employees do not have the same view. One of the best ways to involve employees in the vision of the company is constant, meaningful training.
6. Where do we want to be in three, five and seven years?
Employees want to know what the future holds. They even want to feel that they can have some input and be part of getting to the future. If employees get the feeling that the future is bleak with the company, then they will look for a company that articulates a better future.
7. How do we develop goals and who should be held accountable for the outcome?
Ask this question and then seriously reflect on the responses. If no one is responsible and accountable for achievement of goals, then they probably will not be achieved. When I facilitate goal-setting sessions for companies and organizations, I ask participants to sign their names beside the goals that they will be personally responsible for achieving. It is sometimes an awkward moment, but sometimes it is an exciting one when participants want to be part of goal achievement.
8. How do we monitor our progress?
If it can not be measured, then it can not be managed, according to just about every management principle. Progress is more than an increase in sales or profits.
9. How do we reward performance?
Employees should have personal targets and company targets. They should know that if the company has a successful year, then they will receive something.
10. How do we attract the right personnel to meet our vision and goals?
As business book author Jim Collins would say, “How do we get the right people on the bus?”
So, there you have it. Your challenge is to ask the questions and just listen to your employees. The key idea here is that you merely listen. It will be very tempting to try to explain when an employee responds to your question with, “So, what is our policy on that?” But, the fact that the employee asked that question is an indicator that you now have some excellent opportunities for training and communication.
Phil Hardwick is Coordinator of Capacity Development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.