Simplify Poor Performance

My team is in trouble!  Poor performance in almost every measurable category.  Poor performance in the unmeasurable categories as well.  Many, (actually all) organizations and teams struggle with poor performance.  Mostly, there is an up and down tempo that varies in frequency depending on many factors.  The problem with my team is lack of experience at the first-line supervisor level.  Again, there are many factors at play; some are good in their supervisory capacity but weak in the operational and technical functions.  Some are the opposite.  Others are poor in both supervisory and operational tasks.  If I could fire a few of them, I would.  So, without the ability to fire the low performers, I have to move forward with the personnel group I have.  How do I get them to perform?

Simplify.  Over the course of the past six months, I have thrown much at these supervisors.  Increased responsibility, higher standards and expectations, a new work schedule, a revamped training program, new projects and initiatives, and a complete culture overhaul. It is too much for them to handle.  Many have and will criticize the amount of work I put on them and questions my leadership, but I am a deliberate leader, and from the start, I have been testing the waters.  Finding their strengths, their weaknesses, how hard can I push them, where do they naturally excel?  All of these questions have answers now, and I have to adjust my strategy.

I will still hold high standards, but the team needs to have a chance to succeed.  Right now, they are just keeping their heads above water (barely), as I continue to push for high-quality work.  Now, I have to slow the game down.  Bring them together and work collectively on what is important to them and me.  Once we have determined priorities and agreed on the expectations, we can focus on them.  Innovation must be put on the back burner; extra activities will join innovation. The focus is placed on the core competencies of the organization and the primary responsibilities of the supervisors and other managers.

I never expect perfection.  To do so is an exercise in insanity.  But I will continue to expect high-quality work and a great product or service.  Our customers demand and deserve our best.  So, we will slow it down and simplify the tasks; rebuild the foundation and then start adding bricks as we become experts in those areas so we can continue to improve.  Eventually, we will pull the extra activities and innovation off the back burner and focus in those areas, but for now, the team needs simplicity.

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Is Changing Your Mind Good Or Bad?

It’s Good.  That’s the answer.  There are always circumstances that will dictate whether there has been a positive or negative effect from changing your mind, but let’s look at this question from the general position of, should one be open to changing their mind.  And from this perspective, the answer is unequivocally yes!

In politics, this is called flip-flopping.  A term flung around like it’s a disease.  In real life, being open to the possibility that your initial position is wrong, takes much more strength than stubbornly grasping to that position.  Not to say this is an easy task.  Our decisions are based on many things that we don’t always understand, outside of some experts in the field.  Personally, I struggle with this as much as anyone, although as of late I have been making a deliberate attempt to get better at it.

What positive effect does changing your mind have?  The first thing it tells them is that you are willing to listen.  This is a vital skill for a leader.  The ability to listen to the people you lead and the humility to let them change your mind cannot be understated.  I’ve experienced situations from both sides of this problem and can tell you that feeling like your leaders are listening to you gives you a great sense of belonging, says you have a voice and encourages engagement from the team members.

Changing one’s mind must be tempered to ensure you don’t actually become a leader that can’t stick to a decision.  Going back and forth is detrimental any organization.  There should be a point that a decision has been made and the group moves on.  Then the decision can be readdressed later if the situation changes or the results of the last decision were not positive.

What negative effect does changing your mind have?  I previously had a boss that had zero original ideas and never made a decision until he could get some sort of consensus.  His decision-making capabilities don’t sound so bad as I type it, but trust me; he was a “go with the popular opinion” type of boss.  There were so many occasions where a person would have a conversation with him, and there would be an agreement only to find out they changed their mind after talking to someone else.  It was almost a game to try to be the last one to talk to him before the decision had to be made.

Be wary of phrases like ‘That’s the way we have always done it’ or ‘We tried that before, and it didn’t work.’  These are indicators that the culture of your organization does not embrace change.  Which probably means your leaders are not open to changing their minds.  It’s time to have these kinds of conversations in our workplace and show how being open to new options and changing a decision does not automatically translate to a negative.

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Leaders Need NO!

The biggest problem with positional power is that most subordinates won’t say no.  All of your ideas are good ones, all of the things you say, they agree.  Once you realize the problems, you tell everyone your ideas to fix it, and they tell you, your plan was what they were thinking.  They will always be the “idea factory”.

So, what does no mean to a leader?  Weak leaders see it as a challenge or as disrespect. They often have no vision and don’t think through their ideas.  If there is a “don’t question the leader” feeling or culture in your organization, you know you are dealing with someone that has poor leadership skills or has been promoted beyond their capabilities.  These leaders will rely on micromanagement to get their way or to cover up their failures.  Tread carefully with these leaders, so you don’t become a victim of their insecurities.  It is possible to say no, but it must be done carefully and a significant amount of time needs to be invested into building trust and a relationship before you will be able to disagree effectively.  In general, this is a good idea anyway, but a good leader will be ready to accept disagreement without feeling threatened even before a relationship is built.

I’ve heard so many examples when these “leaders” will complain that they can’t get their people to work hard or have high-quality work.  The big problem is they do not allow anyone to dissent.  This creates a divide between them and their people.  It keeps them from being a team.  The people are aligned against the leader instead of them working together as a team.  They cannot work on problems and make real change because the leader can’t see beyond their control.  They use words like compliance and fail to see how compliance can be a negative quality in a workforce.  Compliance is passive and disengaged.

We need to get better at picking quality leaders.  A quality and confident leader will see disagreement as an opportunity to either test their idea or strengthen it with reasonable debate.  A quality leader will know all ideas have flaws and it is better to figure out what they are before any action has taken place instead of learning of these problems during the process and having to come up with solutions on the fly.

We need no!  You all have a responsibility to dissent! We need to be respectful, and we have to be careful to keep from turning into the person that is always doubting everything.  The reality is, if everyone knows what you are going to say, they no longer need to listen to you.

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2 Weeks Ago…I Made a Mistake

I implemented a stupid policy.  In my defense, the intent was to help my managers better plan their days, weeks, months, etc., but it ended up just wasting time.  I had discovered the managers were not very deliberate with their time and there was confusion among the workers.  To help them, each morning I asked the lead to sit with me and go through their plan for the day.  Yes, it is micro-management, but it was designed to be so I could teach them.  Plus, I had a deliberate plan to pull back once I started to see the results I had envisioned and allow even more autonomy than before.

Making a mistake, when we do it, can be one of the hardest things to admit.  But when leaders admit to mistakes it can keep us all from making more errors in the future or at least help keep us humble.  More than anything owning up to a fault will build trust between you and your people.

I’m sure many of you have drilled holes in my plan and have already guessed what the result was.  But for those who have not, it did not go well.  The managers did not plan better, they did not organize their people better, and it did not help them implement actions to better align them with the organizational vision I have established. What my decision did do was force the manager to prepare for the meeting with me instead of making sure their supervisors were given proper directions.  They were spending too much time worrying about how favorable I would judge their plans, and their focus shifted to pleasing me instead of focusing on their people and the organization’s operational needs.

Once I realized the decision did not have the desired effect, I put a stop to it.  And here is the important part.  Instead of telling the managers I saw what I needed to see and they had improved, that they were now organized like I wanted them to be and my idea (like all my ideas) was brilliant, and it worked just like I expected it would, I told them the truth.  Although the idea was an attempt to improve performance and my intentions were good.  The effects of this policy were mostly negative, and even the positive effects were small and insignificant.  In this case, the juice was not worth the squeeze.

Instead of forcing the managers to come to me and be scrutinized about their plans, I go to them.  I observe their operations more and engage them in discussions that are as non-threatening as I can make them.  The intent is still to teach and make things better.  There are drawbacks to this approach, but the manager’s people appreciate a leader that takes an interest in their daily lives and the managers know I’m right there if they need clarification or guidance.  I still get to hear about their plans and how their plans support the organizational vision, but we are much more agile because we have these conversations in real-time.  Everyone has a preference for how they lead, but admitting to mistakes is great.  Your people will not lose confidence in you over a few mistakes.  But if you are making many mistakes they will, and rightfully so.

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Is Your Professional Development Program Working?

Professional development, like many other topics in organizational management, seems like an easy one.  Just pick the topics you want and have people that are good at them develop a class and teach it.  Easy enough, right?  Well, mostly professional development programs are not effective.  They lack direction, vision, and most of all they are only focused on in chunks.

An excellent professional development program should hit a few key areas.

  1. A deliberate approach to the development of the employees. If you are taking the time to invest in your people, you should take the time to decide what attributes are going to contribute to the goals of the organization or reinforce the behaviors the organization deems valuable.
  2. Evaluate the program. Take time to observe the professional development courses being taught.
  3. Refine the courses and ensure they support the organization’s vision. If you don’t write down the organizational vision, it is easy just to assume you are making decisions that support your decision.  But the opposite is usually true.  If your vision is to create “experts” at whatever job your organization does, but you also create policies that are designed to keep your people from making fundamental decisions, your policies are not supporting your vision of creating experts.  Experts do not need policies to keep from making mistakes with basic functions.  And beginners need room to make mistakes so they can learn from them and the experts.

If your people find your topics boring and there is little support for these professional development events, perhaps you have failed to show they are important.  Also, it is possible they are not interested in these areas because the organization does not value the topics.  They are probably not focused on when looking at performance appraisals or top-performer awards.  If the organization does not value the topics you are trying to develop, the people of the organization will not value the professional development.

Attitude is everything.  Most of a successful professional development program is about the attitude of the people involved.  Having people with a positive attitude and showing enthusiasm about professional development is easier said than done.  But there are ways to create this environment.  The first few classes should have a hand-picked audience.  The audience should be the employees with the best attitude.  By picking those with the best attitude, they will spread the word after the seminar that the material was worth it and they learned something.  At this point, you will have momentum, and you can continue to build off of this success.

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