Eric Bloom, president of Manager Mechanics, a management-training firm based in Ashland, MA and quoted recently in Inc. Magazine, feels that technology has become an integral part of the backbone for any organization with multiple locations. He states that with the advent of the Internet, there has been a prolific surge in the number of collaborative tools that have spawned from it.
While many organizations rely on custom-built software platforms and intranets as collaborative platforms, some of the most commonly used tools are either free, cheap or available as a software-as-a-service, which means you can access these tools over the Web for a monthly fee. Some of the best and cost-effective options include:
Dropbox: An Internet-based file system that allows you to upload and share documents easily with others.
Google Documents: Gmail and Calendar for internal training and communication.
Basecamp: A popular Web-based project management and collaboration tool.
Facebook: The now ubiquitous social networking tool is just as useful for business as it is for personal applications.
Skype: The surge in VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) technology and software means that you can communicate with remote employees cheaply and effectively. All you need is a good Internet connection and a relatively inexpensive Webcam. Small group meetings can be held easily and quickly, you can see and talk to your team, and it certainly saves time and money. Many Smart Phones have an app for Skype also.
Many managers of multiple locations have been promoted because they are “Super Stuff Doers.” Early in your careers supervisors relied on you to get things done. You bagged more feed, bought more grain, loaded more railcars, or did more of whatever tasks were assigned. This made you stand out and you were promoted, so then you ended up selling even more feed, supervised several warehousemen, etc. Finally you were promoted to a position where you now oversee multiple locations. This presents an interesting challenge — you have to learn to delegate — which for many of you is against your natural instinct, i.e., you like to do things yourself.
What should you delegate? The short answer: everything! The day-to-day specifics of your feed or grain business will determine the exact answer, but the more you can have others help you accomplish, the more successful you will be. Managing isn’t about doing things, but motivating others to do things. A great definition of management is “the process of getting things done through other people.”
How do you successfully delegate? Delegate in blocks of tasks, not one line item at a time. Communicate about the task or project in advance… mid-afternoon the day before instead of the morning of. Delegate with a specific time in mind and don’t tell your employees “ASAP” unless it truly is an emergency.
The five steps to delegation are:
1) Tell: “This is the project we will be doing.”
2) Sell: “This is why we are doing it and how it relates to the big picture needs of the company/team/our customers.”
3) Consult: Ask what the employees’ thoughts are.
4) Participate: Talk about what will work and what won’t. Remember, many innovations come from the bottom up in companies. A good example here is the story of the Post-It Note from 3M, a product that was invented a bit by accident, but also definitely came from the bottom up.
5) Delegate: Send them on their way.
This isn’t a static list of how to delegate, but like most things, is dynamic. The complexity and importance of the task will determine where in the list you start and how much time you spend on each step.
Setting clear goals becomes more important when working with multiple locations. Everyone needs to know what you expect and how they are moving forward in your vision of the business. When setting goals, set SMART goals:
Specific: The goal should be able to be told in 30 seconds or less, or be able to be written on the back of a business card.
Measurable: If the goal can’t be measured, you don’t know when it is reached. Sell 500 tons of feed this month, decrease processing time by 10%, etc. are measureable goals. “Improve” isn’t measurable.
Agreed upon: All the stakeholders in the project have agreed to the goal. Here is where one-sided dictatorial leadership doesn’t work.