And even if an executive strikes the right tone for a mass audience, it’s a mistake to leave it at that. Company strategy has “really got to be translated down to employees in terms of their goals, and how what they do fits with the bigger picture,” says Gochman. That means the all-company meetings need to be followed up by departmental meetings, which should then be followed by regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees.
“One of the biggest things right now is for managers to truly sit down with their employees, one-on-one, and find out what is on their plate, what they would like to do more of, what they would like to do less of, and what their career aspirations are,” says Lori Dernavich, a human-capital consultant in the New York area. “One, it shows you care, and two, it gives managers a between-the-eyes honesty about what is really going on.”
A good question to ask in those meetings: “What can I do to make your job easier right now? And keep going at it: Is that all? Is there more?” she says. “You’ve got to really get them to open up to you, because by not letting your employees be heard, you’re doing far worse damage.”
Hosein says his dance number is just a small piece of his broader effort to engage the workforce, and to train his staff to do the same. “Managers are as much doers as they are managers, and one of the biggest concerns is that they tend to get caught up in getting things done and get away from the fundamentals of management, like complimenting employees when they do a good job, coaching them, and paying attention to them.”
Of course, such conversations “are meaningless unless something is done after the fact,” says Dernavich. Consider the approach of Joel Quall, corporate controller at global capital markets firm Knight Capital Group. He has been mentoring three junior staffers who are supervised by other senior accounting and finance personnel, taking them out to lunch (individually) about once a quarter and getting a read on their attitudes toward their job functions and responsibilities.
“I come back from lunch, talk to the other managers, and usually things are resolved,” says Quall. The most common complaint, he says, is employees not liking a particular aspect of their job, in which case, “we try to train others to do that task to free the employee up to do other things.”
A Chance to Learn and Grow
At companies that have made deep cuts, of course, reassigning certain job responsibilities is a necessity rather than a virtue, and usually entails adding more duties rather than taking any away. But even when the volume of work seems to limit a manager’s options, scrambling up job duties may be a smart move.
At seven-year-old, privately held Odyssey Logistics & Technology, a logistics outsourcer for chemical companies, CFO Cosmo Alberico has actually added staff in the past year, with zero layoffs and hardly any turnover. Still, he has about 40% of his 25-person finance staff cross-training on particular tasks. As an example, “you may generally be doing fixed-asset tracking, but now you’ll also be doing something in the treasury function, such as getting involved in moving money between bank accounts,” and vice versa, he says. Employees seem keen on the nearly year-old program “because it makes their jobs more interesting and broadens their knowledge base,” he says, and there’s a natural benefit to the company in having more backup when someone is out.