First Line Manager Focus and Obligation

What does focus and obligation have to do with a first line manager’s responsibilities? Focus and obligation are the keys to a successful organization.

When I was a young boy my parents did not let me have a magnifying glass. They said it was dangerous; I could start a fire with it. When I got one the first action I took was to start a fire. When you bring the Sun’s rays to focus, they are powerful.

I remember someone did my Father a favor he replied, “I am much obliged to you.” Dad told me to take this phase literally. Obligations are real. Obligations are my commitment to action for a friend or an organization. I must honor an obligation.

Follow this, draw a rectangle on a piece of paper; inside it place the word, “employees.” From each bottom corner draw a line to meet centered about two inches below this rectangle to form a triangle. Now draw a rectangle touching the point where the lines of the triangle meet. In the lower rectangle place the words, “Department Mission.” Inside the triangle between the rectangles place the words, “employee energy.” Now you have a powerful diagram to visualize the concept of focus. The point is the focus of your employees’ energy on your department mission. A well-defined mission creates a burning employee desire to achieve it. You hold the magnifying glass.

A well-defined mission is the key. Not the mission for the company; but, the mission for your department. Your department’s mission dovetails into the company mission. You must clearly define this mission for your department. The managers you report to must support this mission. The department’s mission is a simple statement of purpose. The entire department’s focus must support this mission. Each employee must clearly understand this mission. Each employee must obligate themselves to accomplish this mission. There is no accountability without obligation. Be careful what you obligate your employees to do.

Maintaining this focus is the first line manager’s responsibility. Go back to the diagram you drew. On the bottom rectangle draw another rectangle on top. Put in that rectangle “another departments work.” Notice the diminished focus on your mission. This is what can happen if you accept work that does not pertain to your department’s mission. This is hard for you to avoid. Your manager’s agreement on the department’s mission is critical. You must tell other department managers your department can not do their work duties.

Here is what I mean about maintain focus on mission. We set up our new dispatch center. Its mission is to” keep customer’s lights on and when go off get them back on.” One department that folded into the dispatch center completed accounting orders for a business office. I talked to the business office manager; I told him we were not going to complete these orders. I explained how this process did not fit into the dispatch center’s mission. He said he was short one employee. I agreed we would continue to complete these orders until he hired and trained an employee. Now this is the key; I completed the accounting orders.

My employees’ obligation to the mission is the key to its accomplishment. If I continue to allow employees to complete the accounting orders, I dilute their obligation to the mission. I want to imprint the mission on the employees in the dispatch center. When I ask an employee why he did not achieve our mission, he could say. “I was behind on accounting order completions.” What could I say? I had only one choice, I did the order completion until the business office manager took this process. By doing this, I showed how committed I was to our new department’s mission.

You and your employees’ energy must focus on the departments mission. You cannot get commitment unless you show how obligated you are to the mission.

Keep it simple; focus all obligations on the mission.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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