Organizations are Like Hair

When I was young and wild, I had beautiful hair.  To be honest, I’ve never cared for hair since I was in the 9th grade I’ve been cutting it as short as possible, and I’ve been doing it long enough now that I have no idea what color my hair is anymore. So, although I do not fit the bill, the metaphor I’m about to make, still works.  That metaphor is that organizations are like hair.

I know people that cut their hair every two weeks.  They never change the style, they never experiment.  They know what works and they are the guys that say things like, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, “you don’t mess with the classics.”  They keep tight control over their hair and never let it get out of sorts.  This example shows what most leaders and managers want in their organizations.  They fight to stay standardized and look to control as much of their processes as possible.  There are many organizations that this works for, but this kind of leadership does not leave room for innovation and progress.  You can’t adjust processes and functions when you are doing the same things.

Additionally, you can’t change your hairstyle in any meaningful way without going through that weird medium length sloppy-hair stage.  You know, the stage where some will only lay flat and others will only stick straight up.  This is the stage where you test your commitment to the new style.  How much do you want it? If you are weak, or if you aren’t sure of what you want, you will quit and go back to what you know.  This stage in the organization is where most leaders lose their nerve and think the new efforts have failed.  On many occasions, this early exit is a tragic mistake which causes future efforts to die before they even happen.  Leaders must accept there is going to be growing pains with progress.

Eventually, you will have to cut your hair.  That doesn’t mean you have to go back to your old style, but you do need to get it back under control and set things right again.  Organizationally, this means you have to pull the crazy experimenting back a bit and look at providing more stable processes.  There will always be a need to experiment and take some risk, but after letting your people get wild and outside of the box, you will need to bring all that back in and get the balance back to the organization.  Too much wild-wild-west type of stuff in the organization can be exhausting so you will want to keep some of the momentum going for progress, without so much risk and experimenting.

So, let your hair grow and give your people some room to try new stuff!

 

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Do Tradition and Heritage Hold You Back?

Standardization ruins organizations.  Once we get to the point that we are trying to make everyone do the same thing, without thought, we are doomed.  Most organizations and the people within them get into a rhythm.  They have the same annual events, traditions, and these events are rarely discussed with any serious intent.  The members of the organization are expected to uphold these traditions, and the leaders often expect everyone to participate.  But do these traditions do anything positive for the organization?

It depends.  Most of our traditions are no longer providing value to our processes but are more about culture.  But even traditions that contribute to culture can be problematic.  The military’s Change of Command Ceremony is one such example.  When the ceremony was created, it was done so out of necessity.  Most personnel in a military unit did not know who the commander of the unit was, and it caused much confusion on the battlefield.  This ceremony was designed to show everyone who the new commander was to alleviate that problem, and it worked.  Fast-forward to today, and we continue the tradition, but there is rarely an occasion where members will not know who the unit’s commander is, but we still spend weeks preparing for these ceremonies every two years.  The commander’s and their families enjoy them, and it is a great honor for them to earn a command, but almost everyone else is there because they are required.  The officer/enlisted structure is also antiquated and has lost its usefulness.  On the positive side, the military’s uniforms, many of the customs to include saluting, standing for senior members, reveille, retreat, taps, and countless others add to the discipline and positive culture of the units.

And what about the senior members of the organization?  Could they be holding back innovation?  Much like standardization, continuity is a term we must be careful with.  There is a point that continuity stops helping and starts holding the unit back from progress.  Something that was tried in the nineties may very well work now.  Not because we are better, but because technology may have made things easier than they were in the past.  We need to ensure our senior members value change and progress over standardization and continuity.

We must be cautious of sacrificing any future progress for short-term gains.  It might be tempting, but the short-term gains that too much standardization and continuity provide are addictive and will become the culture your organization begins to form around.  Soon enough, your organization will become irrelevant because short-term gains cannot compete with long-term progress.  Of course, this is not easy, and nobody has the perfect answer, but we must be brave enough to have the conversation.  It may feel bad to say the DoD no longer needs a separate officer and enlisted core, especially from the officer’s perspective, but it’s a conversation we must have, or we risk becoming too caught up in tradition.

 

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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.