Sitting at dinner with the managers on my team, I asked what do we (the company’s leadership team) do that is just stupid? What do we do that gets in the way of helping our frontline people be effective?
The answer surprised me. They resoundingly said, “You don’t trust us to manage.”
They gave me a couple great examples, both having to do with email. The first example is when someone from upper management (including me) sends information that is easily and readily available, like an email with a snippet of a daily report every manager already reviews as part of their morning routine. I might as well send an email that says, “Look, Dummy–you didn’t sell enough stuff yesterday; did you notice that?” (YES, they noticed!).
An even better example is when the Area Director sends a message directly to our team (skipping the Region Manager, District Manager, and Store Manager). The Region Manager often forwards the same message to be sure it is read (the perception is he or she does not trust the frontline managers to understand the importance of the Area Director’s message or he does not trust the District Managers to deliver the message with the appropriate emphasis). On top of that, the District Manager forwards the Region Manager’s forwarded message (because the District Manager does not trust the Store Managers to understand the implications of either the Region Manager’s or the Area Director’s message or because the District Manager wants to show he is doing his job by making sure the message has additional impact from him).
Of course, the buck stopped at the Area Director’s message. If it came from him, it inherently has more authority and impact than it would from the Region, District, or Store Managers. There is no reason to forward it or add to it. The frontline team members end up receiving the same message 3 times in 3 ways from 3 people. Heaven help them if the owner of the company sends a message! It gets forwarded by EVERYBODY!
The result of this madness, it turns out, is a lot of damage. Obviously, it generates email clutter which detracts from the importance of the original message. It works in the same way spam clutters your personal email. Too many messages make it hard to find the relevant stuff. Worse, piggy-backing messages by re-forwarding them undermines not only the frontline Store Manager’s authority (because if something is really important, then her team knows it will come from her boss’s boss’s boss’s boss) but it also undermines the authority of the Store, District, and Region Manager. It works all the way down. If the District Manager forwards a message to his entire team from the Region Manager, but with slightly added verbiage, then he is undermining both his influence and the influence of the frontline Store Manager. He is in effect saying, “I don’t trust you to deliver this message to our team so I am going to break it down for your tiny brain to be sure you do it the right way, which, of course, is MY way.”
It was a powerful lesson for me and, honestly, it was hard to hear. I like to think I am adding value to a message when I forward it or that I am saying something is extra important when I skip my managers and take command of their teams. As usual, this lesson applies to more than just business, too. How many times a day do I subvert my authority or influence by trying to re-deliver an already obvious message? How many times do I try to cram a message down someone’s throat, unknowingly?
We all know the type, right? You have met the guy who says, “Your hair looked better the other way,” and then after you say thanks for letting you know his thoughts (which you probably did not ask for), he continues, “No, I mean, it really looks bad the way you have it now. You should go back to the other way.” Did you not get the message the first time?
I now have a commitment to send no more than 5 emails per day to my team (I might fail sometimes, but this is the general goal). I have also committed not to skip my managers to deliver a message to their team but rather hold the managers accountable for delivering my message their way (and helping clarify or back them up when needed)–as they so movingly reminded me at dinner, “We got this. We will fight for you. That’s our job.” (I actually choked up when they said that.)
Finally, I have committed not to forward (or re-forward) a message already sitting in their inbox. Hopefully, this will help reduce their email clutter and help streamline their day. There is another added benefit, here… this means on the rare occasion when I do have something important enough to say to every individual team member directly, they will listen intently because it is not just clutter. It is that important.
When was the last time you asked your team (or your family) what you (or your company) do that just needs to go away? What do you do that’s stupid? Give them the space to answer and you might just find some lessons for yourself…