Do your employees understand how their work contributes to organizational outcomes?
Although engaged much of the time in day-to-day tasks, most communicators believe we are making a significant contribution to the achievement of our organization’s goals. Through communication, we like to think we can also point managers in the right direction. But how can we specifically check if employees understand how their work contributes to organizational outcomes?
Well, we can ask them…And we can ask ourselves…
Leading US consultant and professor, Lawrence Hrebiniak says short-term thinking is fine as long as it directly supports long-term strategic thinking. He recommends checking if managers have communicated about objectives sufficiently by asking their staff two questions:
- What activities and objectives do you routinely work to in your department / unit / branch?
- What business strategy do these activities and objectives support?
The answers will quickly show the extent to which managers are succeeding in their strategic role. Unfortunately, much of the time employees don’t know the answers. Essential communication has not taken place to help them understand the strategic importance of their work – connecting the big picture with the little picture.
I can vouch for this from my own experience. I can’t recall any organization for which I have worked actually relating daily work to organizational goals and objectives. As a communicator and manager, I was very aware of this, but it would have been a huge task to turn around the mindset of senior management. I think they considered such connections unnecessary because they thought required work got done regardless.
It is often quite difficult to show this connection because routine tasks are often perceived to be far removed from higher level strategies. But strategies can be segmented into more practical, tangible subsets, and employees can be shown how their routine tasks contribute to the local or departmental outcomes which contribute to business unit or divisional outcomes which in turn contribute to organizational outcomes. In this way, employees can see more clearly how they are contributing to organizational success. And therefore they become more focused, more motivated and more productive.
If you are a manager, you can ask your staff these two key questions. And you can also act to see if the questions can be included in communication audits and employee surveys because the responses are vital to the effectiveness of the organization. When employees know how their work impacts on the bottom line, they become more focused on their work.
When the results are reviewed, the relevant manager or supervisor then needs to take responsibility for communicating with their staff about the extent to which they are aware of their desired direction and focus.
- Lawrence Hrebiniak. (2005). Making strategy work: leading effective execution and change, pp. 49-50.