MANAGEMENT: Take steps to bolster your work force in 2013


Happy New Year and may your business flourish in 2013. May you become a better professional manager this year and may your employees all show new energy in all that they do. So what New Year's resolutions have you made to ensure that such desired results actually materialize?

No resolutions? Shame on you. My physical therapist tells me over and over: No pain, no gain. (I fell off a ladder at roof level and broke ribs and separated a shoulder and was told I was lucky.) However, most people don’t work seriously toward their resolutions — well, maybe the first one or two. If even that is true, let me suggest that you make at least one business-related resolution that you can bring to fruition — if they truly are important to you (and your business.)

Economic news that is mostly brighter continues to be reported across the country. Although the new year begins with much uncertainty about the nation’s long-term financial health there is also a yearning among the public (your employees) to move on after the acrimony of the fall to better times and a better life.

Business leaders can take the current environment and sit it out or be aggressive and be ready for a bustling spring. The election results helped us learn that the U.S. population is not homogenous and that there are a multitude of audiences in the political and business arenas. The growing heterogeneity of the United States will offer companies challenges and rewards. The one constant for a business is its employees, so consider this resolution to shore up our most important resource.

Resolved: All managers will meet with each of their employees, offer a tailored updated assessment of current performance and ask the employees for ideas for improving their own performance and that of the company.

Before these one-on-one sessions senior managers may recognize that some managers will need assistance in delivering an upbeat performance assessment and in soliciting ideas from employees for their own improvement and coaching employees on which ideas might be most productive for their work expectations and the organization's performance.

Assistance may be available from your organization's human resources and/or training staff. In most cases outside assistance may be the best answer. Your local community college's business division likely can offer assistance in getting your managers up to speed for this task. Naturally, there are professional consultants who might offer valuable counsel and training, but probably at a higher cost. Yes, there is always a trade-off in life.

The managerial interaction with each employee will involve:

• Providing an overall assessment of an employee's performance last year or in the most recent assessment period (perhaps the last quarter or the last six months.) This will require careful reflection about each employee's performance and specific examples of quality performance, as well as areas of needed improvement.

This can clearly be in addition to a formal structured evaluation already scheduled. Then determine how to deliver this information with the result of constructive reflection by the employee. An upbeat employee pool is a major goal.

• Working with employees to find out what they believe is needed to be able to do the highest-quality work in their job. What do they need — more assistance from you or others? More resources? Possible training or retraining? Recognition of success? — to mention only a few possibilities. Look particularly for training needs that might be common across work groups.

• Stress the importance of helping the company not merely survive, but thrive. What do you suggest that the department and the company do to improve its product, service, customer service, sales techniques, marina protocol, interdepartmental relations, business policies, etc., with almost no end to the ideas the employee may have?

When employees are given an opportunity to "participate in decision formulation" it can be a strong motivator. Gather the list from each employee; each manager should prepare (without censoring) a complete list for their senior manager of the ideas they gathered. Yes, this may take some time and effort, and one senior manager should act as cheerleader for the project.

Now there are three tasks remaining:

1. From lists of employee improvement ideas determine one or more training avenues that will benefit employees. What other supports may provide incentives for employees to view this year as one in which the company cares about them individually? Remember, the outcome or goal is to make a difference in the department, the company, and yes, the bottom line. Is it possible that several training opportunities also allow employees to choose which to participate in? The mere offer of such training will send a strong message to employees that they are valued and there is security for them.

Managers should then discuss with each employee what you have worked out as a means of supporting them in their job performance. Be prepared for the employee who may desire a different support tool than what the manager proposes. What will you do? Be the "bull" or see how to accommodate and have a win-win "battle."

2. Now about that list of ideas for improvement: This is a potential treasure trove that should be sifted and considered. Within 30 days employees should be told what will be "attacked" and worked on this year to show improvement in the department or companywide.

This is a valuable vehicle for changes that should be made; naturally senior management may wish to add to the changes and showcase all of them in a written communication to be given at the end of employee meetings by department. Because employees provided serious meat for the improvement ideas it is likely that they will claim ownership of the changes and push to see them implemented.

3. Who will be the cheerleader and architect of this endeavor? Not me, saith many. Who will step forward with ways of tailoring the above ideas to fit your company’s size and culture?

Warning: Do not even attempt this change management idea unless senior management makes a commitment to implement it.

If you dare to tackle the idea, give me a call and I will be happy to offer pro bono assistance and referrals. New Year’s resolutions are rarely implemented; hopefully at least one cheerleader will move on the resolution here and make 2013 a productive and profitable year for your company and its employees.

P.S.: I am working with one non-marine company, even as we speak, in pursuing this strategy. May we both succeed.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by email at


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