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"Let’s Make the Department Shine"

“The manager’s unique contribution is to make other people more productive. He may be charged with other responsibilities . . . but when it comes to the managing aspect of his job, he will succeed or fail based on his ability to make his employees more productive than they would be working with someone else. And the only way to pull this off . . . is to make your employees believe, genuinely believe, that their success is your primary goal.”
--Malcolm Buckingham, The One Thing You Need to Know
I’d like you to meet my friend, John Hudson. John’s had an interesting career, primarily in healthcare. He’s moved around a lot because he gets bored after a few years on the job. But he’s always able to find another job (usually a more responsible one) because he has a track record of taking troubled work units and turning them around. Over time, he’s developed a system for doing that. It’s not the system that might first come to your mind. John’s no slasher out to fix the unit by firing everyone and bringing in the replacements. His philosophy is simple and he makes sure his employees hear it soon after he arrives. Basically it’s this:
• His employees are the experts. They know more about their work area than he does.
• It’s the organization’s systems (and by systems he means everything from processes to workflow to technology to the work unit’s structure) that keep his employees from doing their jobs
• It’s his job to fix the systems
Can you imagine what that sounds like to a troubled work group or organization? There’s no blame. There’s only acknowledgment of what the group can do. There’s the promise of support. The result is, as John puts it, “they warm up to me.”
John doesn’t stop there. He shares with them his vision for the organization—his sense of the positive future it will be possible for them to achieve. He sees the vision as “his best stab at it.” It’s not immutable or perfect, but simply a place to begin. He tells the group that he will need to create a strategic plan to make the vision a reality and he needs them to help him create it. He then follows through with a series of management retreats and staff meetings. At the management retreat, department managers do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. John brings in consultants to talk to the group about best practices used elsewhere. From all this information, the managers develop a tentative action plan. Then in a series of all department meetings, the action plan is presented and employees have the opportunity to give feedback on the plan. Their feedback is considered and incorporated where it makes sense. The plan is implemented. An important part of the process is mixing up the groups so that silos are broken down and communication is enhanced.
It’s a fairly simple formula, really. Many management books suggest something similar. What struck me about John, when he was sharing this with me over drinks one evening, is his passion. His strategy works. It works, he says because he believes that almost everyone comes to work wanting to do a good job. He sees his role as harnessing that energy, in giving people a chance to succeed by focusing on the things they can control to make the work better. He told me a story about a group who were complaining that a major impediment to success was another department’s sloppiness. John’s reply to them is telling, “Here’s my struggle about that. They’re a moving target. We can’t fix them. Let’s try to fix what we can control, let’s focus on making our department shine. Then everyone else will have to come up to our standard.”
I think John does a great job helping employees see that he’s there to serve them and that by serving them the company’s goals are also served. Then he delivers what he says he will. He works hard with his employees to make sure the department will “shine.” I believe we could all take a page from his book.

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