I recently spent a couple weeks interviewing mid-level managers at a retail company as part of a consulting project. I found that most of these managers had a very similar profile – they started out with the company fresh out of college, worked their way up the management chain, had about eight years under their belts, and fully intend to spend the rest of their careers at this company. I was fascinated, so of course I asked each of them what they loved so much about their job and the company that they wanted to stay forever. Without fail, each of them said, “I can see the direct impact of my decisions. When I go to the store and look at a specific item, I know that I’m the one who made all of the major decisions regarding that item, and I love that.”
The consistent responses of these managers triggered memories from a past work life of mine. In my previous days working in human resources, I dedicated a large chunk of my summers to analyzing employee engagement survey results and following up with action plans. The very first time I participated in this project, the results from the employees were extremely clear across all functions, divisions, and management levels – they wanted to understand how their daily work impacted the overall company results and strategy. I spent the next year working with business leaders on initiatives to help build “line of sight,” meaning that we specifically clarified impact for employees. The results in the following year’s survey were also clear – improving line of sight (or understanding impact) improved engagement across the board.
Taking into consideration these line of sight initiatives, as well as the practices I observed at this retail company, I’ve come up with three key items for managers to communicate to employees in order help them understand their impact:
1. Communicate a clear mission and vision. I don’t mean that you should go around reciting some long, word-smithed, detailed plan. I’m talking about something short, direct, and memorable. I spent a quick minute researching Fortune 500 mission statements, and I found a few exceptional examples.
- Becton, Dickinson and Company – to help all people live healthy lives.
- CVS Corporation – we will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use.
- Google – organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Micron – be the most efficient and innovative global provider of semiconductor solutions.
- NIKE Inc – to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
By understanding very clearly what your company is all about, it’s much easier to understand how your work makes a difference. Any Nike employee could ask himself, “How does my work help bring inspiration and innovation to athletes?” and it wouldn’t be too hard to make the connection. If your company doesn’t have a simple mission and vision, then create one for your team (I worked for a business leader who did this, and the team loved it). When you clarify the overall purpose, employees can begin to understand their individual impact on the overall company.
2. Recognize employee efforts. And do so specifically. Recognition is a perfect opportunity to clarify impact. Tell your employees exactly what they did well and why it mattered. “Thank you for finishing the Q1 forecast ahead of schedule. This helped the operations team plan their headcount and hire the right people before the next big upswing, which will save the company thousands of dollars in overtime expenses and backlog next quarter.” This level of detail makes the recognition more meaningful and memorable and will encourage continued strong results.
3. Discuss short-term and long-term. Employees appreciate knowing how their efforts made a difference today, and they also need to know how their efforts made a difference in the long run. In performance reviews, be sure to discuss the impact of your employees’ work on immediate goals as well as long-term goals. Help bridge the gap between the daily grind and the company purpose by detailing it out for your employees.
Taking an extra thirty seconds to explain how your employees’ work made a difference costs you very little time and can yield big rewards in terms of employee engagement. Sure it takes a little extra forethought on your part, but those few seconds of preparation and communication can make a big difference in your employees’ understanding of their impact on the company. Plus, it gives you the opportunity as a manager to impact your individual employees. Everyone wins.