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Structure in action: setting up agribusiness leaders for success

Part 3 of 3: Senior management stepping aside is a vital step in empowering location managers with more authority and decision-making responsibilities.

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People Spark Consulting

“I want structure, but I don’t want to get so corporate that we lose our drive.”

Here we are in our third installment of our three-part blog. To remind you what we’ve covered so far, we’ve spent the last couple months working through the first two parts of creating clearer structure and organization in your business. These include:

In these posts, we’ve talked about how the structure of your organization will evolve as your business needs change and adjust. By having a clear strategy and goals already, you understand and can anticipate what you need structurally to make it happen.

You’ve also defined what success looks like for the roles in your organization to more clearly connect the work your team does every day to the overall goals of your organization.

Our final item can be one of the most nerve-wracking for leaders. Not because it takes the most elbow grease or time, but rather because it requires you to define expectations and boundaries for managers … and then step aside and let managers lead their teams.

Structure Point #3: Managers have clear expectations and decision-making boundaries

One goal our clients have had is the desire to have local leaders (i.e. store managers, location managers/leaders, etc.) fully “own” the customer relationship in their location. Because those leaders are the ones who are closest to the customers and know the "ins and outs" of the location, this makes sense.

The trouble is most of the time we have difficulty getting out of the way of those leaders. We still involve ourselves so much in the day-to-day — making decisions, directing the work — that we dilute the impact the local leaders can have.

Here’s an example. One client had the intent for their location leaders to be fully responsible for the customer relationship in their location, responsible for the P&L at that location, be the representative of their organization for the territory and be responsible for decision-making there. This was met with a great amount of enthusiasm from the senior leaders as a way for their organization to get more closely connected to customers.

But when we dug in further, the practices and boundaries in place did not allow for those location leaders to do what they were asked to do. They had spending limits of less than $10,000, and anything above it needed senior leader approval. Hiring, discipline and terminations of employees required senior leader approval or consultation. Even rebates and authority to make decisions on correcting customer issues and complaints required senior leader approval.

While there was a great plan in mind, the processes that supported any of these interactions conflicted with the plan entirely.

Instead, location leaders were responsible for their location to a very small extent. In some instances, they felt like they had all the administrative burdens but none of the autonomy to make their own decisions. This is how disengagement can seep into an organization.

What can you do?

Before you take action, I encourage you to spend some time defining what you want your managers and leaders to take on in your organization, and also define what authority they will have. How does that support your overall business strategy and goals? For example:

  • To what extent can leaders make purchasing decisions? At what point must these be reviewed at a more senior level? Why? (Note: defining the “why” here will be critical in your communication to leaders, so be sure to explain this!)
  • Are leaders expected to be giving day-to-day coaching and performance feedback to employees? At what point are leaders expected to bring in HR or a more senior leader to ensure the organization has consistency?
  • What is the role expected of leaders in the hiring process for their location?

Manage to the expectations

Once you’ve clarified these and shared them with your leaders, it makes coaching your leaders a bit easier. If there are attendance issues on a team that aren’t being addressed by the local leader, this now warrants a performance coaching conversation with the local leader. You’ve set the expectation that team members are getting feedback and coaching, yet the behavior is continuing because it isn’t being addressed.

On the flip side, when you see leaders rising to these expectations (and beyond), this is worthy of recognition coaching. Remember — giving recognition isn’t about giving participation ribbons. Giving recognition is giving attention to your leaders on the specific behaviors they are doing (yes, even if they are “part of the expectations”), so they continue to demonstrate these behaviors. Just saying “good job” isn’t enough — mainly because you aren’t being clear on what you want to see repeated.

The final step: Stepping aside

As I mentioned, most leaders struggle with this step. Once you’ve taken the time to define your structure, define success, and clarify expectations for leaders, it’s time to let your leaders lead their teams. You already know this, and yet we see leaders step in and intervene frequently.

It might be a simple question from a team member who is used to coming directly to you for answers. When an owner/GM/senior leader intervenes at this point, we continue to reinforce the old behaviors and aren’t allowing our local leaders to step in.

I am not saying that you should just throw your hands up and say, “You need to talk to Bill about this.” I am saying that you need to be clear with employees about your expectations for them and how they work through solving issues. I find having some pre-packaged responses can help make this feel less abrupt. You might try a response like:

  • “My intent is not to ignore your concern or idea; my intent is to make sure that we get Bill involved so he can make the best decision for the location.”
  • “I am not trying to make this a more difficult process for you. I am trying to make sure we are giving Bill an opportunity to participate in this discussion.”

It’s been a pleasure to share this three-part series with you, and I hope you’ve taken a few tools from these blogs to use. I’d love to hear what you are seeing (or even what you’re getting stuck on).

Have other questions you want to see in a future post? Send a note directly to Erin at [email protected].  

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