Anything quantifiable — that is, reducible to numbers — is obviously a potential measure of how well an organization is doing. So profits and/or productive output, for example, are usually one valid measure of organizational performance. But numbers do not give one an accurate picture of the underlying human dimensions that drive those numbers and can make them rise or fall to the advantage or detriment of a manager.
So managers ask yourself, beyond the numbers, how healthy and conducive to high quality work is the working environment you are responsible for creating for those individuals entrusted to your management skills? How conducive to innovative and creative employee contributions are the attitude, tone, expectations, and responses you display in the face of every day events? Admittedly, these are not always easy questions to answer but doing the occasional “diagnostic” work to evaluate them in some way, is absolutely “what the best managers know and do”. And the best managers keep it simple, knowing that the more complicated you make the process, the less likely you will keep doing it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are a number of simple things a manager can do on her or his own to evaluate the work climate in their organizational space. A great place to start is with your honest assessment of the general mood or morale of those you see and supervise almost daily.
How much interaction and constructive conversation takes place between co-workers? What do the facial expressions you regularly see tell you about how people feel at work? Does teamwork trump competition, or is it the other way around? Is laughter and good humor common, despite the pressures of deadlines and output demands, or a rare commodity? Do co-workers eat and occasionally socialize together, or go their individual ways? Do you believe your subordinates really tell you what they think, or pull their punches? While some morale issues may only be temporary, unattended to they can have serious long-term consequences.
Attrition, retention, and position application rates are also often indicative of how employees inside and outside one’s organization view the working atmosphere a manager creates. Any indication that many subordinates can not wait to leave, or that few wish to replace the newly departed, is a sure sign of an unhealthy climate in need of immediate attention.
Perhaps most importantly, the best managers pay very close attention to the growth and development of those entrusted to them. A colleague of mine I often work with in management workshops — Jack O’Connor — refers to this as periodically assessing the capability and capacity of each individual for whom you are responsible. When employees are enhancing and multiplying their skills, increasing their productivity, and expanding the range of work tasks they are able to accomplish, it is almost always a sign that management is doing something right. Capability and capacity rarely expand in an unhealthy work environment.
GETTING THEIR VIEW AS WELL
Because your assessment — accurate as it may be — is but one optic on your organization’s health, I strongly recommend obtaining your subordinate’s assessment as well. Fear not, I am not suggesting an extensive and exhaustive employee opinion survey. Rather I believe something far simpler — yet something that involves your entire work team in the construction — is potentially just as effective in giving you the periodic “other perspective” you need.
While there are many ways to do this — and whatever way works well for you is obviously a good way — I always suggest sitting down with one’s subordinates and jointly developing a short list of those indicators everybody agrees are good signs of a healthy working environment; one conducive to high performance. Insure that the list is harmonious with your organization’s specific line of work and with the overall organizational culture. I suggest no more than 5 to 8 indicators or the task begins to get complicated.
In most cases, indicators like “open lines of communication”, “clear work expectations”, “an atmosphere of trust”, “tolerance of mistakes”, and “freedom to choose individual means to achieve ends”, make these lists. The key is that everybody agrees on the list.
Next, agree on how often everybody will address the list and rate the overall state of things. Keep the rating scale simple as well. I like: GOOD or NEEDS DISCUSSION. This exercise is fundamentally a communication tool and gets better as mutual trust develops. If things are good, fine. The group needs to primarily address the “needs discussion” items surfaced on each review and make a firm commitment to fix any problems. These discussions help everybody assess what is working well and what specifically needs improvement.
Assuming everybody agrees that the list of indicators is critical to their organization’s health and top performance, the periodic reviews helps build a sustaining collective commitment — managers and non-managers — to maintaining that health.