Knowledge Exchange

Kathy Davis: While the Cat’s Away…the Mice Will Work?


I was recently away at a conference to meet prospects and build our business in a specific industry niche. This was obviously an important endeavor for me and my colleagues attending. But what lingered in the back of my mind over the three days I was away was the thought of how things were going back in our offices.

Luckily, my thoughts were of the positive type, because I knew what a great team and culture we have developed in our organization over time. But I suspect this is not always the case in many organizations. So I pose this question ‘When management is away, will the next level take over and keep things running smoothly?’ Will employees take it upon themselves to continue the same level of performance when no one is there to keep them on track? Do you need to be present and micromanaging things in order for everything to go smoothly?  Here are a couple of strategies to foster a dependable workplace:


The most important approach that will enable you to stop worrying about work and put your mind at ease is through making the right hiring decisions. Beyond reviewing their resume’ and interviewing for experience and job fit, make sure applicants suit your culture and show signs of accountability and self-sufficiency. This will be obvious in the hiring process through a demonstration of the candidate’s dedication to helping past co-workers, in taking initiative, and in their decision-making prowess.


The most effective way to not only have your business run smoothly day to day, but also to keep things on track while you’re away, is to make sure there is balance in the allocation of the work for all employees. Be sure teams can handle the workload they’re given and have the knowledge to identify when a team member is spinning their wheels and needs assistance.  In other words, be sure they know who is in charge in your absence and who can supply the help that you would normally provide.   This awareness requires consistent communication, especially with your direct reports, to ensure workload is appropriately balanced.


Processes are at the core of implementing your strategies and tactics. Without sound processes in place and the familiarity of them by all involved, your business can easily suffer when you’re away. Create streamlined processes to enhance efficiency and document them as much as possible. Share them with everyone and encourage your team to reassess the process if there are signs that existing steps can be improved if they are not the smoothest route to success.      


An important piece of the puzzle is to provide all employees with a sense of autonomy. A great way to accomplish this is to cultivate an environment where staff members have decision-making opportunities. On smaller initiatives, enable them to make the call.  On larger opportunities, allow them to work closely with you to gain experience and then give options from which to make a decision that still enables them to choose the direction. This level of autonomy will not only drive performance, but will build an inclusive atmosphere of ownership that will continue when you’re not around.


One of the most important ways to engage everyone in a self-supportive culture is through the dissemination of information. Conduct firm-wide meetings where you discuss everything from past data to the direction and future of your business. Provide explanations into why management decisions have been made. Allow staff members from any department or position to ask questions about any topic where they would like additional information or with which they have significant concern.  Information sharing drives feelings of cohesiveness and buy-in for the path your business is headed, which will enable employees to stay the course.

Hopefully you’re already using a number of these strategies in your business. Implementing the ideas discussed above should help you sleep a bit better on your next business trip and return happily to the same efficient and effective business you left.

Originally posted by Kathy Davis in May, 2015

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