How to Create a 'Professional Organization'

May 10 05:03 2007 Richard Grimes Print This Article

"We need to have a more ‘professional' department!" How many times have you heard a manager make a broad, sweeping statement like that and asked yourself, "That sounds good but how will you do it?" This article will get you started in the right direction.

"We need to have a more ‘professional' department!"

How many times have you heard a manager make a broad,Guest Posting sweeping statement like that and asked yourself, "That sounds good but how will you do it?"

Although there are many ways to describe what ‘professional' may mean to someone, there are some common traits that we will use here; productive employees with high morale because of good leadership.

How, then, can conscientious managers develop productive employees with high morale? The answer is found by looking at some fundamentals of human behavior.

People who are satisfied with their work rarely work contrary to the purpose of the organization. Employees who enjoy positive relationships with their leaders rarely miss work or productivity goals. Likewise, they provide excellent customer service because they are happy with themselves, their future, their leader, and their organization.

Your employees are spending this portion of their work life in your department. They are fundamentally no different than employees in any other with the same needs for personal and professional satisfaction, encouragement, and development as do people working in banks, auto plants, farming, or any government agency.

Several distinct elements within an organization's culture (and its component departments) contribute to an employee's morale. As we discuss these issues, please keep in mind that we are not talking only about your employees: we also mean you. Ask yourself how your leader treats you in these areas and the effect it has on your morale. If you will do that, it will become very easy to understand how your employees feel.

After you have asked yourself these questions (and answered them to yourself as honestly as you can tolerate), ask your direct reports to ask themselves these questions, too. Finally, send these same questions downward though the management levels in your organization. The answers to these questions will help you find the sources of potential discontent within your department or organization.

1. What incentive do you have to work in this department from a financial, professional, and personal development perspective?

2. Why do any of your employees want to work for you?

3. If there were a job available in our department that a friend of yours could do, would you recommend working here?

4. What are the measurable (measurable in terms of how well, how many, and by when) goals this year of our workplace department?

5. What are the measurable goals of your unit in support of our overall department?

6. What are your measurable personal goals for this year in support of your unit's goals?

7. What are the top three things, in priority order, that you are paid to do today? What is your level of confidence that your leader will agree with that?

8. What are the top three things, in priority order, that each of your direct reports are paid to do today? What is your level of confidence that each of them can repeat those three in that exact order if you ask them?

9. What traits did the best boss you ever had use when leading you at work? (For example, "Gave me clear directions and left me alone to work", "Allowed me to find my own answers", "Gave me help when I needed it but did not micromanage".) What was the impact on you when your best boss did that? ("It gave me a sense of accomplishment", "Made me feel she trusted me", "It told me he was interested in my development.") What were your performance levels? ("I did 110% as my way of thanking him", "I made sure I never did anything to abuse that trust", "I did more than anyone else to show him how much I could do.")

10. What "best boss" traits would your direct reports list about you? How would they describe the impact of those traits on them personally and on their work?

11. What kind of feedback about your performance do you get from your leader: bad news only, good news only, a balance of both; or none at all? How often do you get that feedback: on a regular basis, only when something negative happens, or never?

12. What kind of feedback do you give your direct reports about their performance for you: bad news only, good news only, a balance of both; or none at all? How often do you give them that feedback: on a regular basis, only when something negative happens, or never?

13. Who is your most and least favorite direct report? Can you honestly say that you treat them equally when they do something of equal consequence wrong? How about when they do something of equal consequence right? Do you look upon him or her as your favorite because of how they perform on the job or is there a chance they perform favorably or as a result of how you treat them? Do you look upon him or her as your least favorite because of how they perform on the job or is there a chance they perform unfavorably as a result of how you treat them?

14. When problems occur at the lowest organizational level in your department, do you allow the employees at that level to help find a solution or does higher management step in to solve it and expect the employees to implement the "fix".

15. When is the last time you asked your direct reports to identify the three or four things that they value most that you could give them as a reward for doing the best job they can? (If your answer is "never", what is keeping you from doing it? Here is a hint: they will probably mention more than just budgetary items!) When is the last time you told your direct reports that you want them asking their direct reports downward through the organization that same question?

It should be apparent by the nature of these questions why employee morale is a major factor in determining the potential for success in any organization. Much contrary behavior begins when employees become frustrated as they try to do a good job in the midst of vague or conflicting goals, face unreasonable or non-existent performance expectations from management; witness real or perceived discrimination in rewards or punishment by management: or work under the thumb of a tyrant who treats them like non-thinking children and then is surprised when they act that way in response.

Create a "Professional" Department

"A more professional department wouldn't have those problems", you may think and you would be right. But that brings up another question, "What does a ‘professional department' look like?"

Finally, we have gotten to the nut of the problem. If we can define what a professional department should look like, we can start creating one.

A manager can start developing a professional organization by working with his or her direct reports plus a few high-potential employees from down through the ranks. (There must be representation from across the department because they are the people who are doing the work. If the manager creates their definition of a "professional department" and impose it on the whole department without any chance for input, the situation will not improve. Actually, it will worsen because the manager has deluded himself or herself into thinking that things will now get better and focus attention away from the internal problems that will still be there. Then, when they occur, they will be much worse because the inattention allowed them to grow bigger than before.)

Start the development process by selecting someone from outside the department (maybe HR) to act as facilitator for a series of meetings to collect input about creating a professional organization. The information gathered will help you identify the issues needing attention. The facilitator must be someone who is not influenced by the people in the room and, as manager, you must try to participate as one of the members, not the first among equals who can influence the outcome.

These meetings can focus on getting answers for the questions asked earlier in this article. For example, the first question asked, "What incentive do you have to work in this department from a financial, professional, and personal development perspective?"

If the group can list several reasons from a financial perspective but very few from a professional or personal development perspective, it becomes clear the department must begin developing some professional and personal incentives that would make people apply to the department for careers and help retain those already there.

The second question asks in general why employees would want to work for their leaders. If there are no compelling reasons to work for leaders across the board in the workplace department, it means that training and development of leadership skills at all levels are needed.

"If there were a job available in our department that a friend of yours could do, would you recommend working here"? List all of the reasons given for "yes" or "no" and use that to stimulate action for improvement. Be sure to keeping reinforcing the reasons for "yes" and do everything you can to remedy the "no" reasons.

Questions 4-6 deal with clarity of communication through the ranks. If every member of the department does not know the measurable goals of their employer, how can they help to achieve them? And, if they are not measurable in terms of how well, how many, and by when, how can they monitor their progress toward personal goals or the manager monitor progress toward departmental goals?

Questions 7 & 8 are about the quality of communication one step up and one step down between leaders and those they lead. Any department is in a constant state of evolution and the priorities change frequently. The people upon whom you rely to carry out the mission of the department must be kept aware of them. If they have to guess, you are planting seeds for more problems.

We need a word of clarification here. This change does not mean your department is unstable and you are a poor leader but only reflects the reality of your mission within the organization.

Questions 9 and 10 are a simple way for an employee to say to the boss, "Here are the buttons you should push with me to get the best performance I can offer". In other words, the employee is saying, "When the best boss I ever had gave me clear directions and left me alone to work, it made me feel she trusted me which encouraged me to do my best work." All a smart leader has to do with this employee is give clear directions and leave them alone to get their best work! How hard is that?

The questions should be part of the leadership training for all levels starting at the top and going down. As manager, you should at least attend an overview of the training with your senior management staff for two reasons. The first is that it will give you an idea of what your management down through the ranks is learning so you can make sure you do nothing to contradict what is taught. The second reason tells the department that you thought it was important enough for you to attend, too. The worst morale killer is an attitude of "do as I say, not as I do". If the department thinks it is not worth your time, then it must not be very important.

The art of coaching employees for performance underlies questions 11 - 13. Question 14 is about empowerment of employees. If you teach them how to analyze work processes and listen to their recommendations for improvements, you will develop a more confident work force. There will be fewer problems and less conflict between employees because they are focused on improving the department, not looking for something to complain about.

The last question, number 15, is about one-on-one communication and a positive reinforcement system between leaders and the led. As you strengthen the ties between employees and their leaders at every level, the potential for workplace violence will decrease.

Obviously, we cannot create a permanent remedy for an ailing department with a "how to" article in a professional magazine. The intent here was to help you get a feel for some of the issues in your department that may be the source of frustration, conflict, and eventual employee turnover.

The next steps to create a professional department are these:

1. If your answers to these questions made you uncomfortable, you must admit that your department cannot keep on acting the way it has and expect different results.

2. You must realize that only when your employees get what they want, will you get what you want.

3. You must find an organizational development consultant who will work with your department to help you create a culture that will attract, retain, and produce the best employees possible.

You must share the best practices you develop in your department with other departments in the organization. This way, your staff reinforces their skills by acting as mentors to others; your professional reputation continues to grow as a result of this model you have developed; and you create a legacy that will serve as a monument to your leadership long after you have moved up to better things.

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About Article Author

Richard Grimes
Richard Grimes

Richard ("Dick") Grimes uses his 30+ years experience in training and operations management for private and public organizations as a foundation for his company, Outsource Training.biz LLC (http://www.outsourcetraining.biz).

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