5 Planning Tips for Meetings in the Matrix

Complaints about meetings are familiar. You know the list: too long, unproductive, costly since they absorb employee time that could be spent cranking on projects, unfocused, etc. While ensuring meetings are productive has always been a challenge, today’s matrixed environments, where people are brought together across functions, departments and countries, carry special planning requirements. Consider the following tips:

  1. What do you want out of the meeting? Never initiate a meeting without having a result in mind. A result would be a decision, a plan, an analysis, next steps on a project, etc. Simply getting people into a meeting for the sake of updating is not productive unless the update leads to further progress on a project.
  2. Who gets invited? Once you know the result you’re seeking from the meeting, consider who needs to be there. For a project or process involved with matrixed relationships, consider first what aspect of the project is being addressed? Who has accountability, responsibility and hands on expertise that needs to be included? What are the time differences to take into account? Is there anyone who might not be invited to the meeting but should be made aware of the meetings outcomes? It’s not too soon to give this consideration and plan for post-meeting communication.
  3. Create the agenda and determine pre-work. If you’re going to get a result from this meeting and keep it productive and efficient, then participants will need to give some thought to what will be discussed before they walk in (or call in) to the meeting. You can solicit input to the agenda if appropriate. Critically, make sure people know ahead of time what the agenda will be. The pre-work they need to complete may be anything required to maximize efficient use of time in the meeting: reading survey conclusions, assembling data to present, reviewing a proposal, etc. Participants should be held accountable to come prepared…if you have done your job related to Tip #4!
  4. Provide adequate time in advance of the meeting for participants to prepare. Don’t send out a 50 page document the day before a meeting and expect people to give it thoughtful review. People on your matrixed team will have to prioritize your pre-work in relationship to a myriad of other important tasks competing for their time. Ideally, you know their other priorities but if they don’t report to you, you may not have that visibility. Don’t assume other’s have the bandwidth to address your meeting prep requirements at a moment’s notice. If you toss out meeting pre-work without this recognition, you appear inconsiderate and the necessary prep may not get accomplished.
  5. Create your meeting roadmap. Walk into the meeting you’re leading not just with an agenda, which lists topics to address, but with notes to yourself. Jot down questions you’ll ask to obtain input, people you’ll ask to present or comment, and the flow of activities or discussions that will lead you to the intended results. Plan a wrap up that addresses who has responsibility to communicate to others that were not present at the meeting but need to know the meeting outcomes.

Notice that a great deal of meeting success relies on what happens before a meeting. Start at least a few days in advance to create and communicate your meeting plan and you’ll find far more productivity when you’re matrixed members come together.



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Managing Digital Natives’ Technical Savvy

Written by Marla Rosner, San Francisco Examiner.com, November 23, 2010

Digital Natives, otherwise known as Millennials or Gen Y, are those who have grown up in the digital age. For them there was no time before the Internet. Their ease with most things digital can be a joy for employers who rely on techno-savvy workers. Or not.

Digital Natives bring a different type of “connectedness” to the workplace according to Mr. Lawrence Knorr, faculty at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania and Director of Information Systems at Giant Food Stores. Knorr’s observations from his 27 year career are that “Where earlier generations focused on local communities and next-door neighbors, Digital Natives have ‘friends’ from around the globe in addition to their high school and college friends. While mostly superficial, these far-reaching digital relationships do bring people together from great distances to exchange ideas about fashion, art, music, politics, religion and other trends.” They have a comfort level in collaborating across cultures, a clear asset of today’s global corporations.

Ironically, employee mastery of these same technology systems  including broadly the Internet and specifically social media,  can also be liabilities for companies when Millennials ignore restraints firms try to impose.  Attorney Jason Schinn works with employers to address many of the classic technology issues that emerge when Millennials cross the line.

Schinn notes for example, “New grads and tech savvy hires often know of a software solution that would be perfect for a problem. But in the company setting, downloading or installing such software poses several risks for employers such as an unstable or untested product, the software not actually being owned by the user, or the installation exceeds the license agreement.”

In addition Shinn says,  “Many grads are accustomed to storing everything on a thumb-drive and transferring it between stations. With company information easily dispersed from servers, laptops, PCs, and transferred to home PCs, it is common for security issues arise.”

Issues can also arise when an employee changes jobs. “Employee mobility creates a lot of issues with respect to company data wrongfully leaving with an employee,” according to Shinn. “Often times an employee will download information (maybe a project he/she worked on, code, etc.) and take it with them to the next employer. This creates major issues for the former employer, the new employer, and the individual.”

Social media blunders are becoming standard fare. The classic ones are employees griping about their employer on Facebook. Whether or not this occurs during work hours or on personal time, to the extent that a Facebook friend may be a client or co-worker, such comments can lead to at best reputation damage for the company or its managers and at worst, lost clients.

Many companies now provide new employees with electronic resource policies as well as social media policies. Mark Wilbur, is President and CEO of The Employer’s Group which has a working relationship with both the San Francisco and Oakland Chambers of Commerce, supporting their members in the area of human resources. Mr. Wilbur points out that it is difficult to police a policy that says you can’t post on social media. He encourages employers to execute these policies with a balanced hand. Ignoring the policy breeches of a star employee while disciplining another employee for the same behavior works against the employer since it is perceived as favoritism by employees and can be a liability from a legal standpoint should such a case go to court.

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Orienting Digital Natives at Work

Written by Marla Rosner, San Francisco Examiner.com, November 14, 2010

First there’s the challenge for new college grads to even find a job in this tough economy. Once the lucky ones do, there are some adaptation challenges for them as well as for their employers. These Digital Natives, so called because they’ve grown up in the age of the Internet, digital gadgets and cell phones, are ahead of the game compared to generations that have preceded them in terms of techno-savvy. However some important skills they need in the business environment have become diluted if not decimated altogether in the course of their digital immersion.

Their propensity to rely on texting, transferring text acronyms to email and defaulting to digital communication in most situations means a bit of a learning curve is in store once they land a job in the corporate world. Though many a college grad has written a term paper, they do not instinctively use this more formal writing style in inter-office communication or with clients. Many employers complain that the young workers have never acquired writing skills adequate to create the most basic business letter.

Also, because recent college grads come from an environment dealing primarily with their peers, they tend to bring those behavioral norms with them to the workplace. A recent Northern California Human Resources Association chapter meeting discussion surrounded typical communication gaffes: taking cell phone calls while with a customer, texting during meetings, poor grammar in letter writing and a lack of savvy having to do with both company and personal reputation management.

Prepared employers know that new college grads will need some coaching as they start work in the business environment. Jessica Moore, a native of Fremont, California is now a seasoned 26 year-old with a few years of business employment under her belt. Ms. Moore recalls that at her first job as an event coordinator at a law firm, her employers worked very closely with her to fine tune her business communication. An “A” student and graduate of Carleton College in Minneapolis she realizes in retrospect that she really hadn’t understood what was expected of her in the area of business communication until her bosses spelled it out for her.

Following are six tips for employers striving to effectively transition Digital Natives into the workplace:

1. Verbally review the company’s Electronic Resource and Social Media Policies with new employees. The assumption that the new employee will carefully read and understand these wordy and sometimes complex policies is a mistake.

2. Managers should set the expectation that they will be closely monitoring written communication to help ensure the new young worker will transition successfully.

3. Provide new employees with sample business letters when delegating letter writing assignments.

4. Explain that face-to-face meetings and phone calls play an important role in business communication; careful thought should be given to whether email, phone or face-to-face meetings are appropriate given the situation.

5. Caution new grads to avoid acronyms normally used in texting when communicating with co-workers and clients.

6. Read all letters and communications from new grads and provide specific feedback until the new hire is on track.

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Younger Workers Push Digital Norms

By Marla Rosner , San Francisco Examiner.com, October 27th, 2010 5:31 pm PT

Digital Natives are those born after 1980 according to John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, authors of “Born Digital; Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” http://borndigitalbook.com/about.php. For all practical purposes they have no memory of a time before Internet access. It’s not surprising then that the seamless integration of gadgets and social networks into their lives would extend into the workplace. However there are some curve balls for the techno savvy college graduates who take their first jobs…as well as for their employers.

Mark Wilbur, is President and CEO of The Employer’s Group which has a working relationship with both the San Francisco and Oakland Chambers of Commerce, supporting their members in the area of human resources. Mr. Wilbur notes that “…what flies at the college level, peer to peer, is dramatically different than peer to peer communication expectations in the workforce.” Abbreviations and acronyms in business emails for example are not well received by older co-workers, let alone customers.

Digital Natives seem to prevail in some areas however. Though it may grate on some boomer and Gen-X employees, in order to assure retention many employers have surrendered to Digital Natives’ habits. Regular workday diversions including hopping on and off social media for a quick check-in with friends has become the new norm in many work environments.

The slowed economy however has prompted a new self-restraint among recent college grads who land jobs compared to grads entering the workplace prior to the recession. According to Mr. Wilbur, college grads who have been job hunting for 12-18 months enter the workplace so grateful for a job that, as a group, they appear to show more deference to corporate policies that discourage engaging in personal digital activities at work. This can manifest as fewer furtive attempts to text during meetings and more commitment to stay off Facebook during work hours. Does he think the trend will last? Wilbur thinks it’s not sustainable; over time, those habits are bound to return because they are so deeply engrained.

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5 Tips for Growing Tech Managers

Today’s Wall Street Journal featured an excellent article, “Do Techies Make Good Leaders?” http://tiny.cc/piihp by Robert M. Fulmer and Byron Hanson both of Duke Corporate Education, an affiliate of Duke University’s Fugua School of Business. According to the article, some inherent reasons tech companies fail to develop effective leaders include the speed of the industry’s growth along with the talent it draws, e.g. young techies with backgrounds in science and engineering.  Despite the obstacles, the savvy tech company can build effective management teams.  Following is a summary of the authors’ tips augmented by mine:

1. Formalize Management Development Processes: If a tech company is in startup mode, it may be premature to establish a structured training process to develop managers. And yet, a tough to recognize moment inevitably comes when formalized leadership development needs to be installed. The article authors urge companies to keep a close eye on the impending need for structure in this area. The risk of missing the magic moment, according to Fulmer and Hanson, is that employee retention takes a hit in the absence of skilled management. I would add that productivity and project alignment with company goals are also at risk with unskilled leaders.

2) What Gets Measured Gets Done: The writers point out that the techie population enjoys data, so use it to get the desire results. Measure management activities as a way of conveying the importance of this aspect of the tech manager’s job. Examples Fulmer and Hanson provide include collecting information such as how many performance reviews a manager has completed and adding a management category to the performance review of the manager. That always gets attention!

I also like the approach of measuring behavior change post-training. If a company trains managers to provide regular feedback to their direct reports about their performance, it could conduct post-training survey of employees to find out how often trained managers provide positive feedback – the easiest type of feedback to deliver and report on. Knowing that a measurement program is in place tends to produce results.

3) Place Value on Leadership and Mentoring: Not surprisingly, techies tend to find satisfaction in the technical aspects of their work. Once promoted, drawing away from technical activities and focusing on management activities like planning, directing and coaching aren’t as rewarding. Therefore tech companies need to take extra care to reinforce and reward management and mentoring behaviors as much as they limelight technical talents and accomplishments.

As we know from ample research on rewards, these should be adapted per individual. Mary may love the standing ovation at a staff meeting while John may cringe at the public attention and prefer sincere praise from his boss. Regardless of the approach, the commitment to acknowledge and reward management and mentoring starts at the top and needs to penetrate to all levels of the organization.

4) Match Training Methods to Techies: This doesn’t mean conduct exclusively online training for the technical manager. It does mean making it fast paced, varied and relevant – including best practices from seasoned managers. Competition and real-world problems keep trainees engaged in the training.

5) Select with Management in Mind: One item that didn’t get mentioned in the article is the role that initial talent screening plays in management development. One of my most successful tech clients makes its job of developing tech managers easier from the outset; above and beyond meeting technical criteria for a position everyone in the company is screened for interpersonal communication skills. If a candidate can only talk tech-speak, they don’t go further in the interview process. Sounds simple and yet most tech companies don’t make this a key hiring criteria. If this sounds like your firm and you want to make a shift consider the following steps:

  • Examine your job descriptions. Remake qualifications to include excellent interpersonal communication skills.
  • If your current managers are tech strong and communications skills weak, they may be hiring people like themselves, further limiting the talent pool in your organization. If that’s the case, have someone in Human Resources or an external resource do preliminary screening for tech positions to make sure your company is being fed the best candidates for future management positions.
  • Provide interpersonal skills training to your existing management team. Not only will they be more effective in addressing their team and your clients (external and internal,) they’ll be modeling skills for their direct reports. Consider communication skills training for current tech employees as well in order to build bench strength.
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New Employee Orientation: Sleep, Weep or Reap?

By Marla Rosner, Principal, InstillLeadership

New employee orientations seem a bit “ho-hum”? If so, you’re not alone in your thinking. Reviewing personnel policies and procedures is a bore for both employer and employee. So let’s reconsider what the goals of effective orientation should be so that they have greater meaning to both parties.

It’s essential to accomplish two things with a new employee and fast:

  1. Develop their competence in the assigned tasks, and
  2. Facilitate their assimilation into the team.

If either or both of these objectives are not met, the new employee will fall short in his or her competence, motivation, or both. I don’t know about you, but if I felt like a social reject or that I couldn’t do my job well, I wouldn’t want to show up at work anymore. Low confidence leads to low commitment. Even though it may be unlikely that a new hire would leave in this tough economic market, it’s important to have all players on the team fully engaged, not just going through the motions. Allowing a new hire to wallow in functional and social limbo does not lead to a productive contribution by that employee.

Though reviewing policies and procedures is essential, take the next steps to get newbies fully connected and productive in your organization. Check out the tips below.

New Employee Launch Tips

  1. Use checklists that include introductions to co-workers, orientation to corporate culture, assignment of a buddy/mentor, and specific training activities to quickly build competencies.
  2. Provide the same checklist to the new employee and encourage him or her to be proactive about getting all boxes checked in the appropriate time frame. This sets an early expectation that employees take initiative and not simply be passive order-takers.
  3. Don’t stop with checklists. An essential part of making new employees feel part of the team is laying the groundwork with the existing team in advance. The more the team has been involved in the selection of the new person, the more likely they’ll be receptive to him or her. Remind the team of their own first days on the job and encourage them to make friendly overtures to the new employee, show them the ropes, and fill them in on “how things work around here.”
  4. Finally, as a manager, touch bases early and often with someone new to ask what support and direction they need. Let them know your availability as well as how and when to make contact with you; e.g., knock on your door, send you an email or text, etc. If you know their needs and meet them, they’ll succeed and you’ll be their hero.
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Bridging Strategy and Execution

By Marla Rosner, Principal, InstillLeadership

“We spent a week off-site to formulate our strategic plan, and six months later, nobody’s using it!”

Execution Pollution

Whether you spent a week away with your management team or several sessions behind closed doors at the office to crank out a plan, you’re not alone if you’ve discovered that “working the plan” is more challenging than getting it on paper.

The sources of execution pollution – that gray fog that blurs the results in the horizon – are many. How the plan is generated and how management communication and decision making are structured are often significant parts of the problem.

Most organizations commit to regular weekly or monthly meetings of top managers and assume that this accomplishes the necessary alignment among functions to execute the plan. These meetings do not however ensure that the right information is being communicated across departments to support effective execution.

If managers are not required to share their function’s objectives, strategies and progress on their respective projects in a standard written format (that their colleagues are required to review), it is likely that they will be communicating what is top of mind for them. Each manager uses his/her own discretion as to who else needs to know “their” critical information. This often leaves critical communication to hallway “catch-up” sessions.

The unintended outcome of this type of communication may be that interdependencies, obstacles or conflicts between functions that should have surfaced in a management meeting with all key players present may not become apparent until it’s too late; manufacturing can’t meet the expectations set by sales and marketing or training can’t provide timely support to rolling out the new product to retail units. These are costly failures in execution that are preventable.

There is a Fix

Revisit the process of developing and implementing the strategic plan. Start with how the consolidated plan is articulated. The plan you present to your bankers or investment groups is not the same plan that should inform your organization. The wording of your working plan should be crisp and to the point so that the guy in the mail room of your company can read it and get it. I am not suggesting a plan using only 3-letter words, but rather a plan that brings discipline to the word-smithing process: think “less is more”. Go for one page (yes it can be done) for articulating the company’s vision, mission, measurable objectives, strategies and key projects. Bullet points are fine and in fact, are a must in describing objectives, strategies and projects.

In addition to your approach to writing the plan, think about strategic plan implementation. This should be a process that occurs over a designated period of time (6 weeks to 3 months). Once you have upper level management agreement about the consolidated plan, each functional head should then be required to articulate their own one-page plan for his/her unit. These plans are then presented to peers at management meetings specifically scheduled to focus on alignment.

All functional leaders should be present at alignment meetings to engage in dialogue about possible interdependencies, obstacles or conflicts. If manufacturing cannot produce to meet a sales objective, then sales needs to modify its objective or manufacturing may need to retool, expand resources or change priorities. If marketing cannot produce an ad campaign for a new product roll out because of competing projects, several people in the group may have input into what projects take priority and how to integrate schedules. Gaining alignment on the objectives, key strategies and projects across functions is essential for execution.

Once the plans have been aligned you’re near the end of the “cascading” process that starts at the top and works its way down through the organization. Now managers should share the consolidated plan as well as their unit’s plan with each of their teams. There may be substantive input at the department level that will continue to refine that function’s plan. Comments should then bounce back up to the management team level for consideration and refinement to the department plans.

Update and Communicate

Avoid the common pitfall of losing discipline in the process by not holding to rigorous updating and continued cross-communication between departments about their plans. Software is available that allows for all managers to view one another’s plans – a fabulous efficiency in the process of sharing information. For the elegant and efficient one-page emphasis, check out the One Page Planning and Performance System at www.onepagebusinessplan.com .

Simple documentation in plain language creates a working tool that keeps the important things on everyone’s radar and enables you to manage the results of your people and your business.

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Long Distance Delegation: Do’s & Don’ts

By Marla Rosner, Principal, InstillLeadership

Managing a far-flung team is increasingly the norm these days. Though a daily affair, delegating from a distance has a unique set of pitfalls. How do you know if those to whom you’re delegating “get it” when you can’t see facial expressions across the desk? Many managers who might be more prudent in delegating to somebody in their home office will abandon protocols when the individual receiving the project is out of sight. So what are the best practices of virtual delegation and how can you avoid common pitfalls?

Best Practices

1. Evaluate who you’re delegating to and their experience and capability with similar projects.

2. Make a conscious decision about your method of communication. A phone call is best for certain communications, while email is appropriate for other messages. For example, Sonya VandeKerkhof, CEO of Conscious Budget & Debt Reduction, Inc., who delegates to personnel in Australia, wisely provides her vision and inspiration about projects in a phone call when voice tone and inflection as well as dialogue with direct reports makes a difference in their understanding and “buy-in.” She also leaves more time for silence, to allow questions and comments to come to the surface.

In contrast, Sonya uses email to address timelines, methods, standards and other project details, enabling crisp documentation while still allowing for Q and A. She also takes advantage of Google Apps to have her far-flung team collaborate on project documents and color codes projects to signal priorities. Sonya makes email efficient by titling each message “FYI,” “Question,” or “Action Needed,” enabling her distance workers to prioritize their emails.

3. Listen carefully and follow up. In the absence of non-verbal feedback, reading “between the lines” takes on more importance. For example, Robert Mann, President at Lumenis, offsets the lack of non-verbal feedback from long-distance personnel by listening carefully to comments and questions in phone calls. He knows those receiving an assignment have understood it when they expand on the principles of the message, paraphrase and ask appropriate questions, and delegate appropriately to their direct reports. Robert follows conversations with email or text notes adding to the primary conversation.


1. Don’t drop a new project on someone through email and expect them to fully understand your needs and requirements.

2. Don’t assign a project without follow-up appointments to check on progress and challenges.

3. Don’t take the “one size fits all” approach when it comes to delegating. Consider who you’re communicating with and determine whether more or less detail is required. Efficiency may dictate one email to all project participants but may not account for individual needs to ask questions or get more information.

In short, virtual delegation requires more forethought, clear and crisp articulation, openings for dialogue, and solid follow-through to ensure assignments are understood and executed properly. Good delegation at the outset of a project saves time, hassle and misunderstanding down the road. If you think you’ve missed a step, however, rethink your strategy and shore up communication gaps to salvage projects that may have gotten off track.

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Facilitators and Trainers Note: Confessions of Reluctant Participants

cheerytrainerThough I’ve been facilitating problem-solving, strategy and training sessions for 20 years I’m still periodically baffled when I encounter certain reluctant participants. The first place I look for explanations is my own facilitation, e.g. “What could I have done differently to support greater comfort in these individuals?” I was recently driven however to explore what might be other sources of reluctance. Were these adults scarred by nasty elementary school teachers? Stunted by punitive parents at the dinner table? Or do they just have a propensity toward introversion or shyness?

I conducted an informal poll through “Help a Reporter Out” and the preponderance of responses addressed the differenct particpation style of introverts; they don’t think on thier feet, need time to process options and may have an answer they want to contribute after the conversation has passed them by.  However I thought the spicier responses below were even more eye-opening:

Death by Development

It’s not all about introversion however. Some different and very intriguing comments also emerged from my informal poll. “I have been on so many retreats and through so much training in the corporate world that I could scream! What trainers and workshop leaders may be experiencing is resentment about having the latest management fad crammed down their throats. And the forced group exchanges, problem-solving exercises, making collages, visioning, and so forth–well, it’s just too much. Perhaps the places I’ve worked have overdone this. The ‘games’ are the worst. I’ve looked around at all the expensive talent in the room and wondered if we could really afford the dollars/time being spent. Corporate America is filled with consultants who often waste people’s time and have no real lasting impact on how things are done… I’ve been working close to 30 years and have seen all kinds of programs and tactics, etc., come and go, many with very little impact on how businesses are run. I’ve been forced to take the Myers Briggs test 8 different times! Sorry to dump, thought you’d like one person’s view.” Gotta love it! I must say this person’s pain is palpable and entirely understandable. I think I’d clam up in a training program if I’d had this much over-exposure to professional development, team-building and facilitated problem solving.

Indecent Exposure

Here’s another frank and enlightening response to my query about reluctant participants: “I was part of a management team at a major pharmaceutical company that in the mid-90s was required to participate in a year-long training/team-building program … which involved multi-day retreats, in-office follow-up and integration into personal goals and work plans. … The training sessions demanded participants to reveal deeply-held beliefs, fears, and “secrets” in order to break them down and create new patterns of interpersonal behavior. As a result, many employees ended up leaving the company quickly because of embarrassment at what they had revealed during late-night, sleep-deprived sessions (extramarital affairs, drug abuse, etc), and others, myself included, experienced loss of faith in the management team for subjecting us to this experience in the guise of professional development…Years later, whenever I’ve been part of organizational training sessions, I find myself skeptical, fearful, and ultimately, withholding… I believe that the line between appropriate and inappropriate ‘sharing’ as part of team-building is a thin one and that this angle could be an enlightening one for your trainer-readers.”

Whew! Who knew?  So what’s a facilitator to do?  If you’ve landed this role in a training or team-building session without participation in a prior needs analysis, it’s pretty hard to ensure that the folks in the class are the right ones and aren’t suffering from “over-training”.  However if you’re crafting the training from the outset, gauging the saturation level of prospective participants is essential. And clearly, the “open the kimono/share all” style of building teams that leaves people raw, vulnerable and exposed is risky business to be avoided for everyone’s sake.

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How to Get Aligned Employee Engagement

ringpaperdollsHats off to Bruce Fern of Performance Connections International. In his recent study that interviewed 100 professionals across industries, 100% of the participants agreed that employees could be “engaged” but engaged in the wrong things, i.e., activities that are not aligned with the company goals or priorities.  The study goes on to state “One out of three employees are engaged, but engaged in priorities that are different from and potentially in conflict with the direction of the business.”  This is a critical nuance to surface and it bears our focused attention as HR professionals.

If “aligned engagement,” Fern’s apt moniker, is what’s missing, how can we connect people to corporate strategy and insure they are not simply engaging in projects that may be gratifying but are not connected to the direction and results required by the company? This type of disconnect has always been a sink-hole of employee resource. Now more than ever every cog in the company wheel needs to be functioning in an integrated manner to move the organization forward.

While I was listening to Fern’s research findings in a recent webinar,  I couldn’t help but jump to the One Page Business Plan as the perfect tool to create alignment and generate employee engagement as a by-product. By starting at the executive level with a concise articulation of mission, objectives, strategies and action plans, and cascading this through all departments,  everyone in the company can be in sync with corporate goals. At the same time the dialogue and feedback required in the process, builds empowerment and passion that every company sorely needs.

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