I manage a technical staff of fifteen at a large insurance company. As a matter of routine information sharing I have a staff meeting with my team every other week. You can imagine that these can become pretty dry and predictable. So, a few weeks ago, I had an idea to do something different. I created a quiz that tested general company and division knowledge and tied prizes to the first, second, and third place winners. While it was a fun exercise, the results blew me away.
Before I get to the results, let me tell you a little about my group. The team is composed of mostly forty-something males with an average tenure of 12 years with the company. These are highly technical gearheads that manage the most critical aspects of our company’s computing infrastructure. In short, these are smart people who should know a lot about the company.
As for the quiz, I thought it was innocent enough. There were 10 questions and 23 possible points. I covered company-level topics such as “Name each of the corporate values (there are 7)”, and “Name the CEO, EVP, CIO, and CFO”. With financial focus at the top of the company’s watchlist, I asked them to name our standard measure for monthly cost containment. I also asked about topics specific to the technical area which all should have known, I asked a question about the corporate training portal, and I even asked about the company match on their 401k. I thought that given their average tenure that I would get scores of 15 or higher. I was WAY off.
The highest score I received on the test was 12. Only one person named three of the seven corporate values and only two could name all four of the senior officers. One person named the cost containment measure correctly. As for the divisional questions, by and large they did pretty well, with all but two getting three of the four possible points. Only one-third knew about the company training portal, and only 3 of 15 answered the question about the 401k match properly.
In feedback received after the quiz, my team has relayed to me that those types of questions aren’t really relevant to them. They said that maybe managers need to know that type of information but that they just come in, do their jobs, and go home. I think that’s a sad testament to the state of their careers. What’s worse, I fear that my company is missing out on so much potential from these folks. With almost 4,000 employees across the company, I wonder how widespread this level of apathy is across divisions.
So there are three lessons that jump out at me:
- I can never assume that my team knows what’s been told to them previously. I need to talk about these things over, and over, and over.
- I need to do a better job of creating those “so what” moments – it is up to me to lead my team and make sure that they know how their daily job connects to the company’s values.
- While I might be the default leader of my group, my actions and intentionality at the helm will define how effective I am at actually leading my team.
These lessons are no different at home. Mom and Dad, you can never assume that your kids “get it.” If I’ve got a room full of smart adults that don’t understand or connect to everything that I tell them, why in the world would I think that my kids should understand? Communication is not a one-way street nor is it a one-time event. If we want our message to be heard, we cannot be afraid of rehashing it as much, and as often, as possible.
Questions: What important messages have you sent that may not have been received? Are you guilty of assuming that once something is said then the communication is done? What other lessons do you take from this story?