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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Compliance or Commitment

Quality Assurance is everywhere, and it is undoubtedly useful.  The rules that govern our processes are also there for a reason, and we should follow them.  It has most likely taken many years of trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  But in many organizations, there is a focused effort on compliance and little discussion about commitment.

Most managers or leaders would agree that commitment is better than compliance, but rarely do we talk about commitment.  I have heard the phrase, “culture of compliance” so much that it is clear to me these leaders do not think about commitment and perhaps do not even realize that compliance does not make things great.  It merely makes them acceptable.  When people agree to take a job that does not equal commitment.  Enlisting in the military does not equal commitment.  I suppose it is a form of commitment, but not the commitment I’m referencing.  Organizational commitment is when members of the organization not only comply but look for ways to push the organization forward.

We want members of our organizations to want the organization to succeed.  We need them to invest their time and effort to see that it does succeed.  We have all seen these employees before.  The question is how do we get people to be committed instead of merely compliant?

The first solution is to start asking for commitment instead of compliance.  When we focus on compliance, that is what we get.  We cannot expect commitment when we only ask for compliance.

Someone very close to me recently went through an issue that highlights this problem.  She worked in a small organization as the number two in charge.  The organization was a mess, and there were problems everywhere.  But she was committed to the cause and worked tirelessly.  She put in at least 60 hours a week and received phone calls constantly when she was away from the facility.  She stayed at this organization for only 3-4 months.  She was eventually burned out, but not from the hours or hard work.  She worked for people that wanted compliance, not commitment.  The people in charge of the budget would not approve additional staff to cover severe gaps in service, and she could not fire poor performing employees because that meant she would have to cover those holes.  Once there were not enough people to cover the functions, complaints increased, staff became frustrated, which caused more complaints, which prompted management to approach the issue as if there were a compliance problem.  This approach caused more employees to quit, which meant employee turnover increased.  The staff that resigned were those with options, the ones that stayed, were the poor performers that didn’t want to take the risk of a new job.

To focus on her employees and create an environment that showed them the organization would care for them helps foster a culture of commitment.  It starts at the top; if leaders do not engage the supervisors and managers, then the managers and supervisors will not engage the lower level employees, and problems will surface.  They mask themselves as compliance issues, but they are commitment issues.

 

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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.

Government Shutdown & the Organizational Leadership Lessons

I don’t believe anyone considers our government is the proper model to structure our organizations after.  But there are valuable lessons in the failures of our government and the continued political grandstanding that rips the branches of our government to shreds.  I’m currently awaiting news to see if I’ll be paid, but with the help of some DoD leaders and other great organizations like USAA, we will be taking care of.  To say we need change is grossly understated. But, I digress, here are some lesson you can watch out for in your organization.

Allegiances to Subordinate Teams

A massive problem with our government is the loyalty to their party and not to the good of the most significant and more important team.  In this case, the house and senate are loyal to their political party and are looking to push their agenda even at the cost of the people.  This is made clear by the 95% vote of “yea” by Republicans and a 5% vote of “yea” by Democrats for a recent proposal to keep the government open.  Clearly, the allegiances are to their party…

Each department or section in the organization can’t only be concerned for their own success.  Different departments will naturally lobby for what they need, and all organizations have a finite level of resources, but each department should know and be aware of the needs of the others.  They should be equally concerned about their success.  When the marketing department dominates resources and prevents the HR department from having all the tools they need to be successful, the organization will fail.  What do you need great marketing for if you have a failing HR department?

No Direction

Our legislative branch of the government has no direction.  Each major and minor political party have fractured the legislative branch to the point that I’m shocked they can get anything done. The problem with this divisive organization is they lack a unified and overall direction.

A successful organization brings each department together to create synergy.  They are not just the sum of the parts; they are more than that. The prevailing direction brings the departments together, they are no longer selfish but work out problems together.  Manager’s ambitions do not outweigh their appetite for reasonable, calculated risk.

Competing Priorities

This is probably the most significant reason for the failures of our government.  They have competing priorities.  The Democrats are looking to push the Democrat’s agenda, and the Republicans will push their agenda.  These agendas come at the cost of the legislative branch as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong; there needs to be debate, their needs to be conflict, negotiation, and compromise.  But this is not it.  Their priorities are to their party, not to the country or its people.

In your organization, you must ensure the organizational priorities are aligned.  Each department should work with the others to make the team prosper.  There must be a willingness to sacrifice your department to ensure another department is successful.

 

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Don’t Be Busy, Be Effective!

I hear so many people talk about how busy they are.  It is constant.  Each new task, each new problem, the same response every time, “I’m too busy to add more to my plate!” We’ve all heard it and might be true in some cases, but other times its just hyperbole.  It seems like the cool thing to say as a manager, that you are the busiest and have no time for anything else.  That you are overworked and many other descriptions of the same thing.

The problem is being busy is a bad thing.  How can you or your organization be agile and be able to adjust to meet demand if you are so busy?  A great quote I read once is “You can’t be too busy mopping the floor, to shut off the faucet.”  So being busy is just an exercise in priorities.  Sometimes you won’t have the option of what to do or which priorities you have, but you can always discuss it.  When you are in a position to determine your priorities, it is all about doing what is important for the organization to be successful.

So, how does an organization do this?  There need to be deliberate discussions about what is and what is not a priority.  Hopefully, the items determined to be a priority align with the organizational goals.  If they do not align, then this is a good indicator you have either the wrong goals or the wrong priorities.

Achieving a balance is needed because cleaning the bathroom might not be an organizational priority that will align with an organizational goal, if it is not done regularly, nasty things will happen. This is where the problems begin because at some point everything will become a priority.  What you end up with is managers not being able to distinguish priorities for their work.

Look at the typical tasks you are required to complete and build priority groups.  Doing so will help the members of the organization responsible for creating a suspense for these tasks a way to determine how long to give the group to respond.  You might create five priority groups that your organization can assign tasks to, then when something is a low priority, people won’t ask for a same-day turnaround.

Take, for example, a low priority task like providing the IT department the type of paper you use.  This job would easily fall in the lowest priority category.  That category would come with a minimum two weeks completion time, meaning you have two weeks to respond.  If the priority needed to be bumped up, clear and compelling justification would need to be provided.  Once your organization knows how to prioritize, it will be easy to find the balance that is “just right.”

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