How to get your managers aligned with your company’s vision and policies Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2010

Your company may have the best policies and procedures in the world, but if your managers aren’t implementing them consistently across all departments, you could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit.

Having a handbook is not enough, says S.A. “Sam” Murray, CEO of ManagEase. You have to train your managers and meet with them regularly, both to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to hold them accountable.

“Managers tend to implement their own values,” Murray says. “They impose the ways they have always done things on their employees, which is usually not the same as what managers in other departments are doing and may not be what the business owner wants them to do. In this type of environment, when an employee is fired for some infraction, this person can easily claim that the practice was not fairly implemented across the company and that he or she was somehow discriminated against.”

Smart Business spoke with Murray about how to clearly communicate your vision to your managers and how training can help you hold people accountable.

How do you make sure your vision is being clearly communicated to your managers?

A company leader needs to meet with department heads on a regular basis, preferably weekly, and vision needs to be a part of that meeting’s agenda. When vision is regularly discussed, managers become focused on how they’re implementing the vision of the company, the initiatives of the company, the immediate and long-term goals, and how they are working toward long-term sustainability. Meeting regularly assures that these vital topics are always top of mind.

How do you get managers to implement policy consistently across departments?

You need to train people. You can’t achieve consistency by just telling them or giving them a handbook; you need to have more comprehensive training on how to implement policy. Then you need to have training on how to correct employees who aren’t following policy, what actions should be taken and how to write a performance improvement plan.

Too many times, a company focuses on having managers oversee employees on whatever their job is. If employees are producing widgets, the manager is just checking to make sure that widgets are being produced.

Instead, managers really need to be trained on how to manage employees in a way that correctly implements policy. They need to be very well instructed on what appropriate behavior is, when to correct employees and what kind of climate you — as the business owner — are trying to achieve in the workplace to best manage your liability.

What would you say to business owners who say they can’t afford the time for training?

It doesn’t have to take much time. Every company should have an HR calendar, and on that calendar should be two or three manager training sessions. Just a few hour-long training sessions over the course of the year can really make a difference. Training with respect to policy implementation is critical and needs to be recurring; you can’t train someone once and expect that, five years later, they will still be following the instructions received in the past. Too many owners tell their managers something one time and think that everything will stay the same and they don’t have to reinforce the message periodically. They assume things are being done a certain way, and they don’t find out they are not until they are sued.

Business owners want to spend time doing what they’re good at, sales or product development, for example, and if they can get more wheels under their managers, it really unburdens the owners to spend time doing those things they do well. Having reasonable but modest training programs scheduled throughout the year can help keep those manager wheels greased.

What are the consequences of failing to train and consistently implementing policies?

Say, for example, one manager is writing up his employees for being five minutes late, but in another department, employees stroll in 20 minutes late and nothing is said. This kind of inconsistency causes resentment; rank-and-file employees tend to resist the supervisor who is following the letter of the law, and resent coworkers under other managers who are getting away with murder. They’ll sabotage that manager, gossip and waste time, stonewall requests from the other department. Sooner or later productivity declines and often customer service is impacted.

Employees often start keeping records of every conversation or decision the manager makes, thinking they’ve been treated unfairly and that they need to be prepared to sue if they get fired. It’s very damaging and consuming to all involved.

How can you ensure managers stay on the same page?

Weekly meetings are critical. Business owners trying to run in one direction make a huge mistake when they don’t realize that managers are running in another direction and, worse, feeling justified in doing so. The futility of this situation costs you money in ways you often can’t measure.

It’s not only communicating your vision — it’s coaching managers on how to implement it. Don’t just tell them customer retention is a priority; meet with them regularly, talk to them about their customers and their retention strategies, give them the tools to improve the necessary skills and provide a forum for them to discuss what they’re concerned about so you can guide them toward success.

Make it as easy as you can for managers to measure their department initiatives against the company’s initiatives. And at meetings, have them talk about what they’ve done that week that ties into your vision. They will learn from the responses of other managers, creating more alignment and more productive interaction within the company.

S.A. “Sam” Murray is CEO of ManagEase. Reach her at (714) 378-0880 or sam@managease.com.