The Decision

The Decision, The Standard & The Lesson

What do you do when you come across someone doing the wrong thing?  The easy answer is to say something to that person.  But although this is the easy answer, it is far from easy to make that decision in the split second you notice a problem.  You then have to run through the dialog in your head about how receptive the person will be to your correction, whether you are correct, how you should approach the issue, is it worth the effort to correct, and many other questions and scenarios your brain comes up with.  Then perhaps you decide to fix the problem.  Has there been a clear standard established? What if you are wrong? Or what if you are right, but there should be a change to the standard?  Are you willing to listen and learn something?  That entire drama-filled paragraph is why it is essential to have the foresight to understand three things.

The Decision: 

I’ve heard many times that you don’t choose to be a leader.  Or that the best leaders are the ones that don’t want to be leaders.  I say that is nonsense!  I find it hard to believe that people are accidental leaders.  I’m sure it happens, but I’m willing to bet it is extremely rare.  I think you should want to lead.  Leadership encompasses so much that wanting to be a leader is only the beginning.  Taking care of people, making decisions, critical thinking, empathetic behavior, intelligence, honesty, competent, forward-looking or strategic, and many other things are great traits and actions for a leader.  But the best thing a leader can do is to decide to be a leader.  In any or all capacities.  Deciding to lead is the starting point, and it will open you up to a world of tough actions that lie ahead.  What do you do once you have decided to lead?  Determine the standard.

The Standard:

Everyone has standards but telling someone what your standards are is much more difficult.  A leader must be able to do this.  Perhaps not only verbally but through your actions.  Standards are what you use to guide your actions.  If someone in your organization does something wrong, what do you do about it?  As a leader, you must have that internal discussion and know what you should do.  What behaviors are expected in your organization and how do you articulate those behaviors?  Conversations.  Conversations are vital to the thorough understanding of concepts, and without conversations, we are limited to one-way communication which is a terrible way to establish standards. Once you have the standards figured out, you are good, right?  Wrong.

The Lesson:

The problem with experience is that is can create complacency, or at the very worst it can create arrogance and ego.  With arrogance and ego, the leader believes they know exactly what they are doing and no longer need to listen. This is why it is important to understand that a leader always has a lesson to learn.  There is always a better idea out there.  If you feel like you have arrived at the peak of your leadership mountaintop, there is a good chance you have only forgotten to look around.  You will always gain value from a different perspective, and when you don’t listen, you limit options.  Always look for the lesson you should learn, I guarantee there is one there.

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Leadership Patience

Leadership patience is the ability to lead without having to drive the train on every issue.  Many leaders struggle with this.  Even the best leaders struggle with letting go and gently guiding the direction of the organization instead of moving hard and fast on the issues.  Patience is often overlooked, especially when it comes to leadership.  Don’t get me wrong, there are most certainly times when you need to move quickly and decidedly, but if you are being a good leader, these moments will be rare.  Don’t worry, leaders don’t have all the answers, many times they have very few answers, but they do know how to get the team to discover the answers.  That is leadership patience.

Far too often I see leaders making decisions before the discussion and then fail to listen once the discussion happens because they already made the decision.  It can be difficult to hold off on making a decision, and most leaders know the direction they want to go, but make a deliberate effort to know the direction you want to go and then be receptive to different ways of how to get there.

New leaders need to be very careful about having preconceived notions about the organizations they are taking over.  Deciding what to do and how to do it before you have been brought up to speed on all the nuances of the organization is a costly mistake and the recovery can take significant time.  If you want to see how your ideas will be received, you can do that without giving away your desire to implement them.  Simply ask the question and listen to the response.  You should be able to distinguish biased answers from legitimately thoughtful responses.

Simply put, people do not like change.  In many cases, they will fight change even when they know it is a good change.  I think the biggest reason for this is because it takes energy to change.  In our busy organizations, change takes energy away from important things we are already doing.  Taking that energy and using it on change creates anxiety because the new process may not even work.  This is why following a change management methodology is wise.  It helps reduce the anxiety of change and can help create an intellectual and emotional drive to change which makes the effort worthwhile.

Listen to your people.  It takes longer, you might not get the answer you want, and your forfeit perceived control, but the only way to effectively lead is my listening to the people under your charge.  Listening is difficult for everyone and is especially difficult as we get older and more experienced.  So, take the time to listen, slow the process down and be patient!  We all know you could change it and be finished in a few days, but unless you want to be stuck doing the tactical level work, you need to be patient and take the few weeks to listen and create a plan the team is willing and excited to work with.

 

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The Death of Fun at Work

What is it with some managers?  Why do they hate fun?  Anytime they hear about a quick basketball game, game of cards, or anything that doesn’t contribute directly to the result the employees are hired for; they freak out.  Have they forgotten where they came from?  Have they lost perspective about how mundane work can get?

Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking, “I don’t let my people waste time.”  What I say is, I believe some time spent messing around and having fun is a good use of time.  Of course, many professions do not fit in with this theory, a surgeon probably doesn’t have time to stop a play a quick game of hearts, but we all know of those work environments where it is possible.

The key to this is good leadership.  But more than just good leadership, we have to evaluate the reasons these managers see only a waste of time.  They are not concerned about morale; they are not concerned for their people’s lives; they seem only to be concerned with completing work.  But not just work getting done but being done perfectly.  These managers find it so easy to tear apart anything.  Have a problem employee take a few steps in a positive direction? Nope, they will remind you of the times they made mistakes.  Even when they do good, there are usually times when they have made mistakes and these managers will remember.

It becomes such a pain for other managers to fight against the “fun-less” managers that we do avoid the fight far more often than we would probably admit.  There is plenty of evidence to support the position that happy employees do better and more work.  And fun at work is one way to make employees happy.  Fun at work is not the priority.  High-quality performance, efficient processes, discipline, accountability are all much more important than fun at work.  But when these things are happening, when you have a good work environment, it’s time to throw the football or break out the jump rope and have fun.

Unfortunately, I have not figured out a great way to change these managers.  Most of the time, they will continue to be a negative influence on the organization’s people until they either quit or retire.  They can be great operationally and still hurt the organization because they are poor leaders.  My tactic is to be relentless with progress.  I never stop my message and consistently come up with ways to try to push them in the direction of fun.  Little by little without them even realizing, they will change.  Small steps, which are barely even perceptible, will make a huge difference over time.  Yes, this is hard, but in the end, it is worth it to your people.

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Leadership Lessons From The Fireplace

We are all Tools!

When I was a kid growing up in Southern Utah almost everyone I knew had a fireplace or a wood burning stove of some kind. Almost without exception, sitting next to the wonderful heat producing factory was a kit of tools. In this kit contained a mini shovel, broom and what we called a poker! The shovel was used to remove the ashes from the fireplace, the broom for cleaning the around the fireplace after you inevitably spilled ash and charred wood on the floor. My favorite, the poker, was used to stoke the fire, move burning logs around so you could place additional pieces in the fire.

As managers and leaders in organizations, regardless of size, we have to always be mindful that we are leading people who have specific talents, skills, and abilities. Each of your employees is different! They have different drivers, biases, abilities, etc. and leaders need to take the time and get to know their team members. Who are the extroverts, introverts, the career driven, the content, the charismatic and the list goes on.

Talent management is vital to achieving the goals and overall mission of that organization. We are not the same and cannot all achieve the same level of performance at each task as everyone else. For instance, the shy, introverted, data analyst is not the best person to give a facility tour of your new freight distribution center to prospective clients. You have to pick a different tool for that job. If you have an underperforming branch and need a quick turn-around, who do you send? A poker! Not a broom or a shovel, you need someone to move things around, shake things up and stoke the fire. Who is your poker? When your organization suffers from loss, whether a tragic personal loss or your poker pushed the team and they still did not meet the goal, what leader do you send?

Very few companies are operating at this level of leadership and management. It requires deliberate thought and deliberate action to specific situations. We are tools. I am a specific tool for specific jobs. I know my limits and will not let personal pride hinder my team from accomplishing our goals and the overall mission of my organization. I will call in other leaders/tools to deal with specific situations when I am beyond my limits.

Be aware that some of your brooms want to be pokers and vice versa. This is dealt with during feedback and in my experience will cause conflict, which is good. If you go back to your conflict-resolution training, avoidance, in this case, is not an option. A broom can never be a poker!

The next time you see some ashes try to pick them up with the poker! You will see my point…

I’ll leave you with this;

What tools are sitting next to your fireplace?

-Do you need more options?

Are you aware of the tools you have available to deal with all the situations in your company?

Unfortunately, unlike purchasing a Fireplace Took Kit online for about $100, developing your supervisors and managers to look for the right person to attack specific concerns will not be that simple, but well worth your time to invest in.

The Storm

In November of last year (2017), I wrote an article about my team that articulated the trouble we were in.  Poor performance all around.  I also determined the course of action was to simplify the tasks and build a solid foundation.  We had quite a bit of turnover which caused chaos within the team.  Now, a few months later I want to revisit my team.

The decision to simplify was the right one.  I called a meeting with the team and wanted to discuss how we could simplify the tasks and still meet the operational mandates of the organization.  But before I could call the meeting, one of my most honest (and forthcoming) supervisors came by to talk.  He was frustrated; with me, with the job, with almost everything.  The bottom line was he was losing faith in me.  Admittedly, I was initially upset and frustrated that he couldn’t see my vision and was losing trust, but after some self-reflection, there was no way he could see things from my perspective, with all the turmoil going on in our division.  He was doing me a great favor by talking to me.  He was warning me about the storm that was coming.  A storm I could feel but wanted to believe I could prevent with my sheer willpower and leadership skills.  What I realize now is that the storm is essential.

With this new information, I still called the meeting, but instead of my original plan, I decided to have a very candid discussion about their frustrations and wanted to make sure they had a chance to vent.  Listening to them complain about the things I was and was not doing is difficult!  But I know myself and understand my strengths are not in sitting back and letting the team complain without interjection.  I challenged their thoughts and beliefs.  I wanted them to know I heard them, but most of their frustration was due to miscommunication and misunderstandings, which we addressed and agreed to work on.

Now we are moving forward.  I scheduled and held the meeting two weeks later to address simplifying the work and getting more organized.  And my team feels better because they have a voice and it has been heard.  At the meeting, we discussed, among other topics, daily tasks that are not accomplished and I reinforced our commitment to accountability.  The simplified tasks and functions have worked like a charm.  The mistakes are down, and morale is higher than it has been over the past year.  This is all due to higher quality work and clear expectations of performance.

Since we have reestablished our foundation and are performing well, we have begun to get back to more advanced training.  We have developed several new items to train on to push the employees beyond their comfort zone.  The entire division is doing phenomenal and consistently improving.  They complain a bit, but without pressure, there is no growth.

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Band-Aid Fixes are Bad

Does it take too long to complete your processes?  Do your supervisors fail to follow the procedures?  Do you feel like you have a never-ending list of problems to address?  Many managers face these issues and believe they have no choice but to work the problems as they occur and try to keep their heads above water.

One would probably guess this article is about time-management or strategic planning, but this article is really about finding full spectrum solutions for your organization.  This is also not about root causes.  Root causes are essential and are a part of full spectrum solutions, but the critical difference is that a root cause does not always affect other processes, but a full spectrum solution does.  These solutions will enable and eventually empower your people to solve the other issues that arise, leaving you time to dedicate to more strategic issues.

We all get caught up in the most recent issue.  The most recent problem is the “most important” issue because it is fresh.  A good manager will not automatically react to every problem as if it must be fixed right away.  A good manager will know there are many problems and just because this problem happened now, does not mean it is the more important problem to direct the focus.  This is reactive problem-solving.  It is not always a bad approach, but it is not usually the best.

How does one identify a full spectrum solution?  Mostly by what will happen if the solution is found and implemented.  For example, if there is a problem with a report not being completed correctly, but you have already provided training, and they just don’t seem to get it.  The initial solution would be to hold more training and perhaps start writing people up for accountability purposes.  But a full spectrum solution that will help with this problem would be to invest in the supervisors and help develop them into problem solvers.  This solution takes much more time and will require patience from the manager and their boss.

Another issue we must face is the expectation for instant results.  Most solutions take time, and nothing will ever be perfect.  So, guard against working only for short-term and immediate results.  This is called making a band-aid fix.  The problem with this kind of fix is the actual issue is never addressed.  A band-aid is placed on it for short-term success but the issue will continue to come back.

Here are a few places that are typically associated with full spectrum solutions:

Training programs

Supervisory development (leadership & management)

Equipment upgrades

Look for solutions that will have 2nd and 3rd order of effects

 

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What Comes First?

You are a Manager/Leader of Lies and Lip service and your employees know it! Just take a look at your structure and the lines of effort that come out of that structure.

Many organizations have a structure that supports the development of professional or technical skills. Most of the time this takes place upon initially hiring an employee and is sustained by on-the-job training and measured by supervisors. They also have a Human resources department that takes care of the mundane tasks of who is where what needs to be tracked and when John will hit retirement age. They also track and take care of specific training requirements, such as who needs and has completed Human Relations training. Maybe some will have a Talent Management division who endeavor to put the right people in the right place at the right time or delve into recruitment, but after the placement or replacement is complete, it is up to work centers to deal with the employee.

Human resources? Human Capital? Human Beings! People, Your People…

How much time do you spend on your processes? How much time do you spend on production meetings, operations, how high, how far or whatever your business is? I’ll call them functional competencies.

How much time do you spend on your people? People/Human competencies. What do you measure as a leader? How would you know if your organization was successful in this area? What do you expect your first line supervisors to do as it relates to People competencies? Know their names, birthdays, personal goals and desires?

You will do what is important to you, not what you say!

In the military, many organizations have a phrase that tries to keep leaders in remembrance of this balance between the function and people. “Mission First, People Always!” or sometimes it is said in reverse. For the most part, it is a good phrase, but I have found in my experience that in most organizations there is almost zero focus on the People. I have been in fantastic organizations where we spent a lot of time on the people, and the Mission of the unit (function) excelled. I would state the phrase this way “People First to First Achieve Mission Success. A lot can be learned from this.

As Senior Managers and leaders in an organization, we have to begin to understand that our best asset is our Human resource. We should strive to create a desire within our people to want to please their first line supervisors by their duty performance. I want my people to want to work for me, not because I am the boss, but because they know I care about them and their development as people. I have a desire to help them achieve their personal goals, even if those goals take them away from my company! Leaders at each level of the organization need to spend time developing functional competencies and human competencies. In most cases, each organization has programs that pretend to get after the task of human competencies. They may even write policies, hold seminars or conduct development courses but it rarely resonates with the majority of employees. Most of them will view the Senior Manager/Leader as a blowhard that is only focused on production, money or your board of directors.

We need to measure our leaders in our organization with two sticks:

How good are they at function production?
– If they are bad at their jobs, it matters.
How good are they at people production?
– If they don’t have measurable factors here, they have no business leading/managing, anyone. Let them go! It is better to have a mediocre function producer and a high people producer than the reverse.

I will state it again: You will do what is important to you, not what you say! Your people will know it, and it will impact their performance. It will affect your bottom line.

Develop lines of effort to directly get after each member of your organization. Get to know them as people, what makes each one tick. Know their kids’ names. Give them a day off for their spouse’s birthday and consider it an investment to your bottom line. They matter and without them, your functional competencies will only get you so far.