Are You Filling In The Blanks?

Do you remember those fill-in-the-blank questions on the tests and quizzes you took in school?

Those questions where we had to fill in the missing word, phrase, or other answer to show that we understood the subject matter.

You realize all along that the teacher had the answer, and they never gave it to you. Why? Because it was your job as a student to study and know the material.

Does this sound in any way like your organization? Are there areas in your workplace that employees struggle with their jobs, because the leaders of the organization simply haven't given them the answers?

Many workplaces have this culture of gaping holes, or blanks in their organizations. It's these organizations where the staff tend to fend for themselves. With a lack of support, information, or flow, employee are put in positions to fill in the blanks alone.

There are those in certain leadership camps that do this purposely, to strengthen their people. They claim that if their staff are forced to be resourceful, come up with solutions, and become decision makers, then they have identified the strong employees from the weaker ones. Many also feel that it's the employees' job to get the information or resources they need.

The truth and consequences of this attitude, however, is disengagement, loss of productivity overall, and misinformation. When employees are left to fill in the blanks, it's anything goes.

Does there exist in your company an undercurrent of "that's your job, you figure it out" or some other fall-back statement that weakly absolves leaders from giving staff the answers they need?

It's remarkable that the similarity between teachers and leaders continues from here, but it's the key point that ineffective leaders make. Just as it's the teacher's job to make sure her or his students are taught the material so they can pass the class, it is likewise a leader's responsibility to make sure that each employee has been given everything they need to succeed in their work.

A good leader will work diligently to make sure those blanks are identified and filled in. They see their role not only as a teacher, but as someone who makes sure every system is smooth, communication flows, and processes are thorough. Great leaders work with open eyes and utilize continuous improvement processes and the like to prevent blanks from developing.

Here is a brief checklist to help you start looking for blanks in your organization:

Communication

  • Does leadership communicate consistently?
  • Are there rumors or potential for rumors that need to be addressed (such as around budget time or before mergers are announced)?
  • What is the temperature of the team; what do they know, how do they feel?

Training & Job Knowledge

  • Has every staff person been given full training that has not been truncated by time or budget?
  • Do people fully know what is expected of them?
  • Does each and every employee know and have full access to all the tools they need to succeed at their jobs?

Staffing

  • Are there holes in the schedule that employees are asked to fill, resulting in overtime or additional stress to their current roles?
  • What is leadership doing to temporarily fill those holes with themselves, and permanently have those staffing voids filled?
  • Are there potential gaps in staffing down the road? Are these good gaps due to promotional opportunities, or bad gaps due to attrition?

Work Processes & Systems

  • Do your customers fall through the cracks of processing orders?
  • Is there transparency in the ordering process for customers to know what their order status is in real time?
  • Does any workflow process have an "unwritten rule" for nonstandard situations?

Pass the test that you give, and set your folks and your customers up to succeed by filling in the blanks for your people.