Three things every manager needs to know

The Thinker
Brian Hillegas via Flickr
Three things every manager needs to know
The Thinker
Brian Hillegas via Flickr

We have incredible tools for improving workplace productivity, but for managers and executives, there's little help from technology. If anything, the inexorable trend toward information and communication overload has only made their jobs harder.

While it makes no sense whatsoever for anyone -- let alone a decision-making executive -- to be on 24/7, there's no denying the pull is there, especially in a global economy. Make no mistake: Now more than ever, executives and business leaders are pressed for time. 

More on: 10 Ways to stop communication overload

Unfortunately, the demands of the job are forcing executives and managers to spend more and more time on their computers, online. And that's simply not where you're going to find the critical information you need to excel at your job.

Notice I said, "excel at your job," not "do your job" or even "do your job effectively." That's because, in my book, just doing your job doesn't cut it. If you want to be successful, you've got to be better at your job than those in the fat part of the bell curve. That's the cold hard truth, like it or not.

So, if you want to be successful at managing a company or an organization, you've got to have a deep and relatively current understanding of three things:

What's going on inside the organization

It never ceases to amaze me how infrequently executives and managers get out and about and ask their employees leading questions like "how do you think we're doing?" and "what should we be doing differently?"

No, I'm not talking about employee engagement surveys; I'm talking about chatting one-on-one with key employees and what I call opinion leaders who aren't afraid to speak up and have a good sense of the what's really going on, good and bad.

That also means spending time with your key stakeholders within the company and having an open dialog about how well aligned your groups are and how well they support each other. If you run marketing, for example, key stakeholders include product development groups and sales.

What's going on at the customer

Companies exist for one purpose only - to win and maintain customers. Whoever your customers are, you've got to have some sort of process for periodically getting together with a reasonable number of your top customers or, if your customer base is broad and dispersed, a method for obtaining reasonably accurate and genuine feedback on the effectiveness of your products, services, and customer support. In addition, it's just as important to determine how well positioned your product roadmap is to meet their future needs.

In terms of customer input, a combination of qualitative information from in-person meetings and quantitative anonymous survey data works particularly well, although that depends somewhat on your industry and customer type, i.e. enterprise, small business, consumer, etc.

What's going on with competitors

There's one thing that few executives really seem to get. You can have what you think is an effective management team, a productive and engaged employee base, and loyal customers who love your products and services, but none of that means a thing unless it's measured against your competitors.

Ever heard of a SWOT analysis? That's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, in case you didn't know. Well, you can analyze those factors all day long, but unless each one is relative to the competition, you've really got squat. In the high-tech industry, for example, almost every company will list technology or innovation as a strength. Well, they can't all be the best, right?

These days it's popular for management teams to come up with their company's or product's value proposition. More often than not, what I typically see is wishful thinking -- how executives would like to be perceived -- not what really sets them apart from competitive products or companies.

Last word. When you put those three things together, you have a relatively complete picture of your organization's capabilities, competitiveness, and how well it's positioned to meet customer needs. In business, that's where the rubber meets the road. As for what you do with all that knowledge and information -- strategy, planning, and execution - you can start with these 10 Strategies that kill companies -- and careers.