It’s OK to go off your script in pursuit of greatness

“Stay in your lane.” There’s a reason this has become a time-honored employee management guideline: It creates silos rooted in order from which productivity is typically an outcome. Certainly, you want productive employees … productivity is good. But I want great.

Yes, I want great because, like you, I’m just that guy. But more importantly, the children and adults with developmental disabilities that Our Lady of the Wayside supports deserve great. The agency has over 800 employees and if only one thing is certain, it’s that the great things happening at Wayside are a direct result of their hard work … and how great is that?!

As president and CEO, I make it my business to let staff know the truth:
  They are the organization’s most valuable asset and their differences in proficiency, perspective, work experience and life experience are Wayside’s strength.
  I am personally relying on them to do their job to the very best of their ability by marshalling every professional and personal resource they possess.
  Their ideas are essential to advancing the organization’s mission, and doing the next right thing for the individuals we support.

There are 850 children and adults who depend on Wayside for everything: shelter, food, access to medical care, community integration — and that’s just the macro-level stuff. Interestingly, the opportunity for greatness comes from our greatest challenge: limited funding.

When resources are limited, what you do have becomes fundamental to your success. Here are a few practices to maximize the potential of your staff:
  Training: Wayside invests thousands of dollars in training each employee. Yes, we have silos of expertise. However, limited resources necessitate staff be cross-trained to ensure the needs of the individuals we support are served 24/7. This gives the agency an agility that makes us uniquely skilled and competitive.

■  Collaboration: Special projects include staff from varying departments to ensure multiple disciplines are represented and reflect varying perspectives.

■  Conflict resolution: Mistakes are factored in and the resulting conflict can be incredibly productive. I work to make missteps into something positive, and the resolution process typically leaves employees feeling relieved, educated and motivated.

■  High expectations: I trust that employees are in lockstep with me as we work more, risk more and do more with less. With that trust comes individual accountability.

■  Acknowledgment: When staff is successful, I utilize what I know about the employee and the situation to create the best way to acknowledge the win. Best of all, implicit in every win is the employee’s knowledge that their work is making every difference to society’s most vulnerable individuals.

Of course, parking employees in silos and then insisting they change lanes is a gamble — even managed chaos can be messy. However, every entrepreneur knows that forward momentum is often powered by spontaneous innovation. And the risk/reward to managing a dynamic environment is creativity that leads to the discovery of … well … greatness.

Terry Davis is president and CEO at Our Lady of the Wayside