The United States Army regularly holds a Command and General Staff College and the most recent one included about 760 mid-career Majors and Lieutenant Colonels. They did a leadership survey with the participants and it uncovered some very interesting issues; the biggest of which centered on communications. Specifically, the three most significant problems mentioned were as follows:
1.) Minimal Dialogue Concerning Decisions – Too seldom is the rationale communicated regarding key decisions that their superiors make. Often times this causes the troops to simply speculate regarding why the decisions got made, often leading to sub-optimal ways the decisions get implemented.
2.) The Bosses are Simply “Too Busy” – The second biggest complaint was the lack of face-to-face communications. The bosses seem to be running in too many directions, generating too many emails, and spending inadequate time with their people.
3.) Counseling is Simply Not Happening – The staff values professional development and mentoring but they are not getting it. The sense is it is up to every individual to figure out the right way to do things and to do their own assessment of successes and failures and what they might learn from them.
I suspect the issues that are mentioned here are fairly typical of middle management. Thinking about the above in the context of my own experiences, there are two things that can easily be put in place which help make sure these kinds of problems don’t occur:
1.) The Weekly One-on-One – I believe it’s wise to schedule one hour on a given day, at a given time, for each week, for each of your direct reports. During this hour, you can go over performance measures, progress on key initiatives, key decisions, personnel issues, training, etc. Travel will sometimes cause this meeting to be cancelled but the important thing is to have it scheduled regularly on the calendar.
2.) Monthly Staff Meeting – Schedule a regular monthly one or two hour meeting of all of your direct reports and in some cases, going down two or three levels when the issues dictate that the larger group is appropriate. The agenda should be flexible, focusing on relevant current issues and having plenty of open time for Q&A.
The above steps force a leader into the habit of regularly communicating both one-on-one as well as with the group so that the kinds of issues described above don’t have a chance to fester.