Can Everyone Contribute?

Corporate strategy is at its best when employees are involved

“Every time someone asked if I should get this alarm system, I would say, ‘Get a dog,’” asserts Carene John, who once worked for a popular home security company in customer sales. “I don’t know what they’re doing now, but when I was there they had very poor customer service. And here I am thinking I would be offering a service to customers, and all I’m doing is fielding complaints that I know won’t really be corrected.”

As an employee who worked closely with customers, John, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, had a number of ideas about how her company could work more efficiently and better serve its clients. But frustrated with upper management’s treatment of employees, she quit. “They don’t care,” she remarks.

“Typically, a few senior people huddle together to create a strategy, then they hand it over to someone else to turn it into action,” says Tony Manning, business consultant and author of Making Sense of Strategy (Amacom, $19.95). “The outcome is absolutely predictable. Grand plans just never take hold, and there’s a gap between intentions and results.” Manning calls employees stockholders, maintaining that they should be an integral part of a company’s planning and business strategy. But that, too, requires a strategic approach.

Get ready to receive. “The challenge here is creating an environment of trust,” says Stephen P. Robbins, an expert on management and organizational behavior and the author of The Truth About Managing People … And Nothing But the Truth (Prentice Hall, $19). “People have to believe that when they say things, upper management will take them seriously and act on those comments.

“How are you responding?” Robbins asks. “Are you rolling your eyes or making funny faces?” Or are you totally noncommittal in your response? Robbins suggests sending a thank you note or e-mail and then a follow-up response. “When you do that it sends a message throughout the company that employee concerns are valid.”

Spend time in the trenches. “It’s called managing by walking around,” says Robbins. “This is where managers can receive rich channels of communication, where they’re not only getting the verbs but feelings and emotions. Managers should avoid general e-mails, bulletin boards, and those letters that come down from ‘the top.’” If you really want to see a difference in the way your business operates, you’ll need to interact with those who actually work with the product and interact with your clients. “Strategic planning retreats usually include just a handful of top executives. They try to decide what’s best for everyone else and immediately lose the support of their own people,” Manning says.

Realize that management itself can’t solve everything. “[Corporate leaders] can’t see the edges of their organization,” Manning says. Therefore, it is impossible for managers to generate the best response for each challenge. But that means a manager has to be responsive to criticism, suggests Robbins. “If an employee tells you that this product does not save time or this new screw-top is more difficult to take off, you’ve got to be

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