Make sure your employees always know who’s the boss

If you ask, the vast majority will give you the wrong answer

Here’s an experiment that may surprise you. Walk out to any work area in your company and ask five random, midlevel supervisors and rank-and-file employees this simple question: “Who is the boss in this place?” It’s a good bet most will, with a quivering lip, say, “Of course it’s you.” Some might even smile nervously and respond in a boot-camp tone, “Sir, I take my orders from you, sir.”

To further my research for this column, I did the logical thing and went to the all-knowing Google and typed in the search bar: “How to know who is the boss.” Not surprisingly, the answers appeared in a millisecond that stated emphatically: the individual who makes you do things, someone who decides everything and one alternative even implied — with my reading between the lines — that it’s the person who makes more money than you. (No doubt on the dark web, there’s likely more pejorative definitions.)

Sure, some of these answers may be partially correct, but the unequivocal response should be the customer. Every employee needs to understand that without the customer, there is no reason for them to have his or her job because, otherwise, what is the company going to do with the stuff it makes or the service it provides?

For the second portion of my little test, I queried several CEO friends. The vast majority of them got it right by answering, “the customer.” However, unless everyone in your organization clearly understands who they, figuratively at least, take their ultimate marching orders from, they’ll work to please an individual and not to satisfy the end user who pays the bills.

It all begins with the person at the top who must beat the drums that everyone works to satisfy your customers — and the truly great companies become manic in doing so.
Companies spend an inordinate amount of time and energy ruminating and debating what their mission statement must convey. Some are supercilious and use too many words to say too little; others try to be homey and communicate in a gee-whiz style, and basically miss the mark completely. A formal declaration of purpose must be easily and quickly understood and, more importantly, be achievable by everyone from top to bottom in the organization.

An effective mission statement should in essence assert, in your organization’s nuanced vocabulary, something that succinctly shouts: serve our customers, provide opportunities for our employees, create value for investors and be a productive member of the community. Sure, this is like G-d, mother and apple pie, but it gets the job done. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet and, as the head of an organization, it’s your job to mix and match these letters to get your message across and then continuously repeat the tenets of your incontrovertible purpose every day to reinforce, remind and indelibly instill your principles for doing business.

As a leader, you will know you’re succeeding when you give an order, and someone asks: “Are we sure this is good for our customers?”

Google may know all, but make sure your employees know better.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.