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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

One of the key roles for a manager, whether in steady times or amidst changes, is to act as a compass that guides employees and gives them clear directions to navigate any obstacles they may face.

Change is a reality for all organizations in our fast-paced world of business. But employees often view change with skepticism, especially since many change management programs – such as new policies, procedures, technology and training – fail to create the transformation for which they were designed. Studies find that regardless of how practices may have improved, only 30 per cent of change management programs are actually successful – that means 70 per cent fail.

Before managers can guide their employees they must be clear on what they and their team need to accomplish each day and why. What creates confusion for employees, in times of change or even in regular daily operations, is a lack of clear direction, information and clarity on what their team is aiming for and how a change will be implemented. It's a manager's job to remain calm amidst uncertainty, to answer questions, and be clear about what is within their circle of control.

Managers need to know the micro skill of direction – regular decisions they make daily that provide guidance and a compass to their staff at all times.

Here are four actions managers need to master to facilitate the micro skill of providing direction:

Pick a destination

Each day a manager has the opportunity to set the day's course. It's important that expectations are clear and realistic. Consider a pilot flying a plane from New York to Vancouver. The pilot must first plan the route and then factor weight, wind and distance to ensure the plane has the right amount of fuel to reach the destination safely. Similarly, it's helpful for managers to gather facts and clearly set the daily direction for their team so that everyone knows the path they're taking, what is the desired destination and why.


In order to properly set the day's course, it's best to do that through some form of communication – such as a morning huddle, call or e-mail checklist. Whatever works for your team. This lets you provide clarity on the team's daily goals and objectives and sets the course. During this process, encourage employees to ask questions when they are not clear on instructions. Clarity is powerful for helping employees feel productive and satisfied in their daily work. Confusion over daily tasks creates unwarranted stress and decreases productivity.

Monitor your course

It is a best practice to regularly check in with your staff to ensure that they're on the right route. When employees feel confused or perhaps a bit off course, checking in will let you know when to provide additional direction and encouragement to get them back on the right path. Asking simple, open-ended questions, such as 'how are things going today?' is an excellent way to find out how the changes are being managed and what employees are really experiencing. The more a manager engages employees in how any change is impacting them the more likely employees will be open to share that information with their manager. It is these open and trusted conversations that can create the insights and opportunities for managers to properly support employees through change.


Take a moment each day to acknowledge the successes of your employees. This can help reinforce purpose, mission and goals. A productive day is one step closer to a defined objective. A well-defined course has clear criteria on what success looks like. Each day is treated as important. This can help create discipline and shows the benefits for setting a daily compass and acknowledging results.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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