Leaders Fuel the Organization’s Fire

The flame of a candle will go out in the wind, but that same wind will feed the flame of a fire.  Leaders of organizations need to understand the balance of the people.  We must do our best to build organizations that are full of people that can not only withstand the wind, but that thrive on it.

So, what is the wind in this metaphor? It is different for everyone, but for most people, it is probably constructive criticism.  The key word in that phrase is “constructive,” which means, “helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement.”  If you are scolding or just unloading your frustrations on your people, this is not constructive criticism.  Be specific about what is not meeting the mark and help them understand how to move forward.  If they are emotional, get through the initial emotional meeting and follow up later for a more level-headed conversation.  Time usually brings perspective, and even if you didn’t see eye-to-eye at the time, it would likely be a more relaxed conversation the second time around.  At the very least, you will have had time to think through the previous discussion, and you will know each other’s opinions ahead of time.

Oxygen is in the leader’s gas can.  A leader uses oxygen to fuel their people’s flames, and it is positive reinforcement.  Much research has been done to show that people respond to this type of conditioning.  Simply by adding words of encouragement anytime, someone does good work, meets deadlines, and meets expectations is reason enough to let them know.  I am not saying to go overboard here.  Your response should be on par with the level of work they did.  If they met the deadline, then say thank you for meeting the deadline.  If they completed their work early and the work was far beyond your expectations, then perhaps some bonus time off is in order or recognition at the next staff meeting will do the trick.  The key is to encourage your people to continue to do great things.  Also, you should be working to make this a habit, not all of us are good at it, and I’m still working on it!

Any positive reinforcement when not warranted is poison.  This creates confusion and sends the worst message.  It tells your people several things that are terrible about your leadership skills.  It says, you don’t know the difference between good or bad behavior, you are afraid to be honest, you don’t know how to deal with negative behavior or negative feelings, or you are short-sighted because you would rather lie to them for ‘good feelings’ now than to have a difficult conversation at the moment and the potential for a better future.

All of this will help create people that can handle the challenges of life.  Life is hard; work is hard; getting promoted is hard; finding a new career is hard.  If leaders don’t take the time to help create “fires” instead of guarding our actions and language to the point that all we have are “candles” we will continue to face weak organizations that are unable to change and shift with the demands of the industry.

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If Everything is Important Nothing is Important

Leaders of every organization must have deliberate priorities.  Whether it is in the form of a strategic plan or extrapolated through observation of recent actions; there must be priorities.  This is basic management, or what you would learn in an entry-level management course in college, but so many leaders are still not making decisions on what the organization should focus. Calling prioritizing your actions a basic management skill is deceptive.  Although it is learned early in most management programs, it is far from basic.  Everything can seem important at the moment and as a leader, if you don’t give everyone the impression that you care about the things that they care about or are worried about, won’t they lose faith in your leadership?

The result of a leader that tells their people that they have other things to work on is not about telling them they are unimportant. It is about telling them they are capable of handling it on their own.  It is about autonomy, delegation, and trust.  A leader should be concerned with the problem but should also know that solving all their people’s problems will only teach them to keep bringing them their problems.  This is all about how the leader handles the situation from an interpersonal relationship perspective.  Listen to what they have to say; let them know you have faith in their capabilities and trust their judgment to make the call.  If they really can’t make the decision, give them the options to come back to you, but let them know you do not expect that they will need to. This will put some pressure on them to decide on a course of action. 

The follow up will speak volumes!  Always check back in on them and ask how it turned out.  If they made a mistake, be very careful not to hammer them, this will guarantee they never make a decision again.  Use this as a teaching moment and move on.  The trust gained from this kind of interaction will pay dividends for a very long time.

Taking this kind of action will free you up to make three or four areas of the organization your priority.  Then you can focus your attention there.  If you establish a priority of growth, but there are no efforts from the organization to grow, then you have not made your priorities important to your people.  Establish your priorities first, then use them during evaluations and awards periods to determine if people are internalizing them.  If you have established priorities and communicated them, but nobody is paying attention to them, you are not leading, and your people are following someone else.

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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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Why is the foosball table killing your start-up?

Start-ups are well known in the world, however, what are they precisely? We can describe them as small organizations which are just starting their journey. Most of them don’t have their particular investment. However, they are financed by people who have. Due to that, we can often see a start-up without a genuine item, which means it is only beginning to develop.

The main issue with start-ups is that they need to start from the scratch. They have made a study, they have tried the market and they trust that their product or service has its place under the sun. The only word we have to focus on the last sentence is “trust”. It is the most important feeling in every person connected to the start-up.

Looking for the best people for the job

Upon taking the first step, developers need to start with looking for the best individuals for the group. Before that, they design the office and they get lost in it. The majority of them adore the possibility of a perfect office loaded with cool things which will help them bring the best people for the business. And that is a mistake. If you hire a person who came to you just because you have a cool office, then a “foosball table” will definitely kill your start-up.

What most developers don’t understand is the fact that new businesses are a just starting a battle for their place on the market. That is the reason you must be cautious when you are picking the people for the group. One individual might be a specialist in his field, yet that doesn’t mean he will be the best for the team and the start-up.

What this has to do with a foosball table?

In the most recent decade, Google has opened its way to the best office on the planet. That office is a mix of work and play. Individuals there can play foosball, eat as much as they prefer, sleep and do other things besides the ordinary work stuff. That makes Google a good example for organizations everywhere around the globe.

Google has the ideal workspace

Each organization wants to resemble Google, and they begin that by planning workplaces like Google. What they don’t think about is that they aren’t at a similar stage where Google is. Google can have all cool stuff, and it won’t matter because people will work hard to stay in Google. No matter how the office looks.

Start-ups can pull in wrong workers with cool office design, and that can be very bad for the business. What start-ups need are people who believe in their product or service? Those people will stay late at work if they have to, they will work for less money, and they won’t mind because they believe those people know that a little sacrifice can work a long way in the future of the company. By working hard now, they are investing in their future, and that is not so uncommon for workers who believe.

Workers who come in your organization because you have a foosball table or cool office should leave immediately because they won’t give their best and they will probably play foosball more than work. Your task is to discover persons who will work hard like you, so you can together build up an organization where a foosball table is an award and not a reason to work there. Try not to utilize a foosball table as the fascination apparatus; use it as a reward for your team. That way, the foosball table won’t stand in the way of your success.

Author bio:

The post is composed by Mark, who is a blogger and a wild foosball fan. He writes a blog about foosball to show to the general population that foosball is a standout amongst other game tables. He adores sharing his opinion about foosball, and he does that by being a part of the Foosball Zone. You can check out his work on this link: http://www.foosballzone.com/harvard-foosball-table/

Work-Life Balance? Or Work-Work Balance…

Work-life balance is a tricky subject. Many believe that the right balance between work and your personal life is about 50 hours of work a week. I’ve heard this number several times in my career and through other conversations. So, if we break down 50 hours a week, you end up with about 10 hours a day if you take the weekend off. This seems reasonable, especially if you get paid for the extra 10 hours. A big problem is when you are paid salary and once you hit 40 hours, you’re mostly working for free. There are many arguments for and against this. For example, many salary workers are given other benefits and perks to make up for the extra hours they won’t get traditional overtime pay. Or time over 40 hours is given back to them in the form of additional paid vacation. No right or wrong combination will make everyone happy, which is the key to this article.
There is no right or wrong combination of work-life balance. Everyone is different; everyone has different circumstances, everyone has different beliefs and different needs. What works for you will most likely not work for others. This is why it is imperative that you figure out what works for you and then help your people work out what works for them. Many run into problems when their work-life balance works for them but not their spouse, kids, or other obligations. One thing to remember is you will probably do what you find most important. And sometimes it is to sacrifice early to make things better later on. This can be dangerous, because you may never be able to escape that frame of mind.
Organizational managers or the organizational leadership needs to understand how work-life balance works for their employees. There is a belief that employees display dedication and commitment in the amount of time they spend at work. That those employees that get to work at nine to five are not as committed as the employees that work from six to six. Managers need to articulate how much time they expect employees to stay at work. They also need to know that there is much more to life than work. And unless the employee is in love with what they do, they don’t want to spend all their time in the office. It’s more important than ever to know your people!

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6 Steps to Keep Employees

There are many ways to keep employees around.  The key to employee retention is to create an environment that any reasonable employee will enjoy being a part of.  Not every job is glamorous, and many times people do not enjoy what they do.  Creating a happy working environment and having great managers by following the below steps will make things much better!

  1. Track your retention levels

There is no way to effectively manage the retention level in your organization if you do not track it.  The most common goal for employee retention is around 90%, but the reality is every field and organization is different.  The caliber of your staff that are leaving and the critical positions they are vacating might be crippling to your organization even if the number is higher than 90%.  Additionally, a little turnover is a good thing; fresh ideas, fresh perspective, fresh attitude, and the motivation of a new employee can be a great boost to the team!

  1. Culture

Culture is what you make of it.  You can deliberately determine culture, or you can let the culture grow on its own developing into whatever it happens to become.  Most managers do not take an active role in culture, and that is why many organizations have a poor or negative culture.  The first step to changing the culture is to decide what culture you want.  Write it down!  Print it on paper and tape it to your desk or in another area that is visible and read it often.  These parts of the culture you write down will need to guide your decision making.  If you are making policy and decisions, you should ask if your decisions and policies are in line with the culture you are trying to create.  If not, you need to change the decisions or the cultural goals.

  1. Invest in your Employees

Investing in your employees is usually seen as providing them education or training that helps the organization.  And if you can align a person’s wishes or passion and your organization’s goals, then you have the winning formula.  But in many cases, you will have a box packer that wants to be a nurse.  Or a concrete finisher that seeks to be a CPA.  So, in this case giving them training in the field they are currently in, will only get you a marginal improvement.  If you can make it happen, the best thing to do would be to provide aid for your box packer to go to nursing school.  Or give them a week of paid time-off so they can spend some time with a real nurse to see if it is something they want to do.  If you can help your employees realize their dreams, good things will always come back to the organization.  And it is the best thing to do.  Who knows, maybe you can bring him/her back after nursing school to create an on-site nurse position/department.

  1. Recognition

Recognition is one of the easiest things to do, but one of the most neglected.  A formal recognition program is mandatory.  If your company does not have one, then create one.  But outside of the formal program, you need to pay attention to the opportunities presented to recognize high-quality performers.  Add a reminder to your phone on a weekly basis to get out from behind your computer or whatever you are doing and find people doing good things.  Leaders seek out opportunities to thank their people and encourage positive behavior.

  1. Feedback

This is another thing that is easy but often neglected.  Informal feedback is super easy and very powerful.  Formal feedback can be detached and robotic if not done properly.  The key is to have clear examples of the behavior the person displays and use these models to eliminate negative behaviors and reinforce positive behaviors.

  1. Quality evaluations that strengthen the all of the above initiatives

Lastly, build or rework the evaluation system of your organization.  Take the time to review what your evaluations value.  What message do they send? They need to incorporate the new culture, initiatives and measure the performance of your people against the critical standards.

 

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THE LEADER IN THE MIRROR

Robert E. Wood

To find a potential leader in an organization, we usually do not have to go very far. Just about the time you think there aren’t any candidates to fill a leadership position, a guy like me comes along and tries to help you see the not-so-obvious. Leaders are all around us, they just have to be proactively sought out and developed. A shortage of leaders is more often than not due to a shortage of leadership and training. Not everyone can look in the mirror and readily see the leader within even though the reflection could build a great deal of influence if properly coached.

Some leaders didn’t even know they were a leader until someone else enlightened them to the fact, then all of the sudden the unwitting leader begins to focus on his/her teammate’s actions and response to his/her approach. This is the usual progression from someone who was satisfied with their current situation, then is offered an opportunity to take on a larger role in the organization.

When we say a leader’s job is to make more leaders, it’s because leaders aren’t natural born; they’re trained to help others recognize and develop their true potential. Most people, who accidentally do something great, get credit and some positive reinforcement from a leader; usually feel good enough to want to do it again. This is the beginning of the shift to greater influence.

I would rather mentor a multi-disciplined employee who has proven their commitment to the success of the organization over someone with a degree or skill. A degree doesn’t prove competence or commitment and skills can be taught. A leadership team that is focused on reinvesting in their own employees will find more of those employees recognizing the leader in the mirror.

The Rent to Own Organization

I had a supervisor (Bob) that used to ask, “Are you a renter or an owner”? It seems like a crazy question in the context of organizational management, so I would usually say “I rent my house, but own my car!” After that, I would usually get his famous LOD (Look Of Disapproval). The look was meant to get everyone to be serious when we were off topic and not focused. Bob continued to ask if we treated the cars we own better than the cars we have rented. Nobody wanted to admit it, but it’s clear we treat the cars we own better than the ones we rent. There are many reasons we do this, but one of the biggest is that we will not be around to see or even care about the long-term effects our nonchalance has on the vehicle.

At this point, we could mostly see where he was going. But the question still stood. How do you get people in an organization to treat it as if they own it? How do you convince people that are only there for a few years at a time to treat everything as if they are going to be there for 20 or 30 years? I’ll admit, it’s not an easy question to answer and there is never a perfect solution. Below are three things you can do to get a start.

  1. Give ownership to your people. An excellent way to get people to be owners is to give them ownership within the organization. Give them responsibility for processes, people, operations, or equipment. Give them autonomy to work within the parameters you set and allow them to make mistakes, learn, and they will start down the ownership path.
  2. Deliberately guide the culture. Culture can go a long way to making employees feel like owners. Culture is created from the top down. The leaders of the organization are responsible for showing the rest of the organization what is important. To drive culture, bring all the leaders together and develop a clear path to the culture you desire. Make empowerment and ownership a focal point for the culture and let the team come up with ideas to help move it along.
  3. Put people first. The greatest and most important way to make your organization “world-class” is to show your people that the organization cares for them. Do things for them without agenda or expectation that the organization will get something in return. A great example is to encourage personal progression outside of the organization. Help your people make progress on their dreams. If this action is taken, you will decrease employee turnover rates and even when you help someone get become qualified in an area outside of your business, you will gain their loyalty. These people will advocate on your behalf to other potential employees.

Apply the above three steps in your organization, and you will be well on your way to converting renters into owners!