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July 24 2006 04:33 PM

Congratulations! Since youve done such a good job with the Boston operation, were now putting you in charge of the New York and New Jersey operations as well.


Despite the positive tone in my bosss voice, I wasnt sure that was good news. Yes, wed been able to make some positive changes in the Boston mail and distribution center. But could I effectively manage three operations in three different cities? Soon, I was going to find out. And the lessons I learned would come in handy when a similar opportunity arose at another company five years later.


Whether managing one site or five sites, continue to use the basic management techniques that have made you successful. Developing a solid business plan, communicating that plan to all involved, knowing your customers and motivating employees remain the foundations upon which to build. The only change is the method you use to execute those practices.


Although youll probably modify it before everyones had a chance to read it, you need to develop a business plan for the short and long term. This is your opportunity to share your vision for the unit with management and employees. Use the plan to explain where you want the unit to be in six months, a year or even five years. Circumstances will dictate changes (some drastic) to your plan. But as the saying goes, failure to plan is a plan for failure.


The plan should represent your unit as a whole and not each site individually. Though the sites may serve different clients and have completely different functions, they must see themselves as part of a larger team. The business plan is the place to start building that sense of team. Everyone needs to know how they each can contribute to the big picture.


How you communicate that plan is essential to its success. You cant deliver every message personally, and you cant be in two cities at the same time. Even with cities in relative proximity, you cant be on the road all the time and remain effective. You must choose one site as your base of operations, spending most of your time there.


However, dont let that base become an isolation booth. Make sure that you reach out to the remote sites at least once a day. Send a short e-mail update. Make a quick phone call. Or hold a virtual meeting using Web conferencing. Whatever the method, use these opportunities to disseminate important information and provide support. Dont turn your communication into a daily big brother surveillance tool.


Plan onsite visits on a regular basis, at least once a month. Schedule one-on-one time with the site manager. Introduce yourself to new employees and welcome them to the team. Make sure you spend some time on the shop floor with the employees. Shake hands, ask how things are going and take the pulse of the unit. Remember, theres no such thing as a typical day. But if things dont feel right, schedule a return visit soon.


Use these visits to meet with your major clients at that site. If possible, form a group with open forums. Have your site manager sit next to you at these forums, reinforcing the concept of one team. Take notes on compliments and complaints. When you return to your office, prepare written minutes and responses to any questions and concerns. After reviewing this document with your site manager, distribute the information to the whole group.


Also, when onsite, schedule face time with the highest ranking manager of the business unit or his deputy. Dont worry if you only get 10 or 15 minutes of his time. This is just another way to emphasize that you care about your internal customers and that youre aware of whats going on. Again, follow up on any concerns with an e-mail or phone call as soon as possible.


When youre back at your home office, be sure to respond quickly to any phone calls or e-mails from remote customers. In fact, you need to respond to these requests faster than those from people at the home office. Because these customers arent located close to you, they may feel isolated and less important. Go the extra mile to reassure that distance has no impact on service and your onsite manager is more than capable of meeting their needs.


Keeping your employees motivated from a distance will probably be your greatest challenge. You need to be proactive in this area to counter the perception of out of sight, out of mind. When an employee anywhere in your organization does something commendable, call her immediately and thank her. Dont substitute an e-mail for a phone call, and dont just leave a voicemail. Take a minute to have a conversation with this person and reinforce the importance of her actions.


Keep a list of these events, and make sure you recognize people in front of the entire group during your next onsite visit. Any team successes should be recognized at all locations. If your New York unit set a record for getting the monthly shipments out early, dont just celebrate in New York. Have celebrations in every location, strengthening the concept of team.


The key to success in each of these areas is the site manager. He must be an independent person and a strong supporter of the team concept. Your site manager needs to keep the lines of communication open, sharing ideas, news and events. Most importantly, he must be confident enough to get any bad news to you as soon as possible, especially if it involves customer service.


Similarly, you must trust that manager to make the right decision. With the exception of hiring and firing employees, you must empower the site managers to do what they think is best. Often, important decisions will have to be made without consulting you first. Make sure they inform you of these decisions as soon as possible. When people make errors in judgment, be careful with your critique. You want your managers to make a better decision the next time; you dont want them to freeze and take no action without your prior approval.


Managing operations in multiple locations is a challenge for any manager. Time and travel will force you to be a better planner, communicator, motivator and delegator. Stretching these basic skills will shorten the distance to success.


Mark Fallon is the president and CEO of The Berkshire Company. For more information, e-mail him at or visit