To Fire or Not to Fire!

How many of your employees to you supervisors want to fire? The answer; more often than you think.  Your supervisors are most likely writing your employees up and turning it into HR or to the managers.  And if they are not writing people up it is because of one of two reasons.  You either have a smaller organization with great employees and a solid culture, or you are in a larger organization and your supervisors have given up on your ability to take action on the paperwork they spend time doing.

When a supervisor takes the time to do the right thing and document the poor performance of an employee, they are expecting the HR or management team to back them up.  The worst thing that can happen is to have you do nothing.  This sends a message to the employees that there is no accountability and that the supervisor does not have any real power.  A supervisor without the ability to document performance and use it as a tool to get the employees in line with the organizational values is like being stuck in the middle of a fight between your spouse and your best friend.  There is no way out, and they cannot win.  The employee will continue with the destructive behavior and the supervisor will either quit or give up and be resigned to accepting the low standard.

Supervisors have a grueling job to do.  Not only must they understand the work that must be done, but they also must know what the managers what and how to translate those desires and directions into actual tasks the employees can execute against.  Do your best to remember your time as a supervisor and how difficult it was to have to deal with a poor performer, especially a confident poor performer.  Letting the supervisor face these challenges alone will kill your organization.

If you help your supervisors hold the standard by supporting them when they need it, you will rarely be in a position to need to find new employees.  Happy employees will find other great employees for you, and your turnover rate will be low.  But unhappy employees combined with supervisors that have given up will also find new hires, but bad new hires.  The big difference is you now have a low turnover rate with employees that have low standards and an organization with a damaging culture.  It’s hard to sustain and you will find yourself in a never-ending cycle trying to deal with problems in the processes and personnel issues.

The final word here is to have your supervisors’ back and teach them when they make mistakes. Even at the cost of some lower-level employees.

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You Don’t Need More People!

Far too often I hear the complaint, “We don’t have enough people!” It’s used as an excuse to explain why things aren’t completed correctly or when they aren’t done at all. Unfortunately, many managers believe they need more people because the work they require their people to do is not getting done. It’s a logical argument, but they automatically default to blaming “personnel levels” without much thought to other areas and certainly without self-reflection. This excuse removes them and their people’s capabilities from the equation. This is the “checkers” level of management. One should strive to achieve the “chess” level of management. See an excellent article on this subject here.

The real challenges:

Poor prioritization – Do your people know what the highest priorities are? I have worked in so many organizations that do not prioritize the tasks their people are supposed to complete. This causes major problems. I have rarely seen them prioritize between administrative, operational, or developmental tasks. The problem with this is that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Personnel development gets the same priority as updating an office memo. What ends up happening is managers prioritize only the things that will get them in trouble with the boss. Which leaves much to be desired in many areas. The solution is to be deliberate about the priorities of the organization. If you don’t want people guessing, you must make it clear where the focus should be.

Poor Leadership – The leadership of the organization is charged with providing vision and inspiration to achieve goals. If the leadership has failed to provide clear goals, how can there be inspired employees? There needs to be deliberate communication among the leaders of the organization to address both the vision and inspiration. Without vision and inspiration, you have managers. Managers are great, but without leaders, the organization will struggle with change, innovation, and motivation.

No creativity – Your team needs to be creative when problem-solving. When things aren’t getting done, or when they are done poorly, there is an underlying issue. It could be training, it could be discipline, it could be equipment, it could be technology, and it could be a lack of people. The point is to utilize your people as best as possible. If you are only filling personnel gaps with random people without regard to their skills or how they complement the rest of the team, you will lose.

The moral of the story is to address low workforce levels only after looking at the other possibilities first. Hiring more people into an already mediocre organization only continues the mediocrity.

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You are the Standard of Performance

Your team’s performance will average around the leader’s standards. It is far too easy to say the team members are not performing to the standard, or they are poorly trained, or the supervisors are bad. But before any of that is evaluated, the leader must be looked at. When you are assessing the performance of a team the first place to start is the leader.

As the leader of a team or organization, your standard is the foundation for how the others will measure themselves and others. As you deploy your standards, the rest of the team will average around those standards. The leader needs to consistently evaluate themselves and ensure they never lower their standards just to make sure people can easily achieve them. But you must also be humble enough that you can admit it if your standards are too high. As I’ve written about previously, Perfection is dumb, and not a sustainable standard to expect. If you expect perfection, you can almost guarantee you need to adjust it. And it needs to be corrected quickly because the longer this expectation is allowed, the more demoralizing it becomes.

You will know if your standards are right when you have a few people that are not quite meeting them all the time, the majority meeting them consistently and a few others exceeding them regularly. As you get to this stage, you can increase the standards to move the team to a higher average.  You will also want to decide if those not meeting the standard consistently are worth keeping around.

Once the leader has established robust standards, he or she needs to evaluate the rest of the team. The leader needs to inspire the supervisors to hold high standards. The supervisors are the most important piece to this puzzle. They will be expected to take the leader’s standards and hold that line with the rest of the employees. When the supervisors are empowered and taken care of, they will perform to the leader’s expectations. Micromanaging them will only get them to do enough to not be fired.

The bottom line here is to know that your people will average around your standards, so if you have low standards, so will your people. Also, understand there will never be a time that everyone will always meet the standard, but you must hold him or her accountable and keep the standard high.

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Be Where Your Feet Are!

I was recently in a training class and there were just shy of 50 participants. There were 5 ‘participants’ that never looked away from their laptop. They were totally disengaged from the learning opportunity. They wasted their time, the instructors’ time and distracted from the learning opportunity. Their actions suggested they were busier and more important than everyone else in the room. Be where your feet are! Be in the moment, be present.

Zachary Davis wrote an article titled, How to Run a Meeting, he witnessed someone eating tacos during the meeting. This person was shouting I am here because I was told to be here. This person was not in the moment and wasted their time and caused a distraction for the team. What did this action represent? Is there a small crack in his leadership armor?

Leaders have to be ‘all in’ with extreme focus every moment they are with a team member. Leaders set the tone of this ‘be where your feet are’ mantra. Leaders must communicate this through actions and words. Reflection time: During your meetings either in person or video, is everyone engaged and focused on the task at hand? Do you need to take action? Let your actions speak so loud that they can’t help to hear your words.

This mantra is so important for parents as well. I see laptops open and heads dropped looking at phones during their children’s athletic events. What is most important right now? There are so many lessons to be taught by parents by observing and striking conversations but one must be in the moment, you must be where your feet are. At the dinner table, is the TV on, are the phones on the table, is the family present?

Take a moment to reflect. Zachary wrote in an article titled, What Makes a Great Leader, he made a good point, leaders must be self-aware. Whether you are leading at home or at the office, we must be where our feet are because somebody is always watching the leader.

Leadership is an active sport, get in the game.

Skill vs. Will

My high school football coach would say, “is it a skill issue or a will issue?” I borrowed this question and the meaning behind it and applied to my leadership and management arsenal. My coach took a simple question and turned it into a mantra of our team. This mantra enabled freedom and that freedom equaled success.

Now there are many skill will coaching models and management tools allowing a manager to assess an employee’s skill and will. Through this assessment the manager now can find the best approach to take with the employee for the given situation based on the data from the tool, matrix, or model. This seems to over complicate a simplistic leadership and management tool.

The next time there is a safety incident, failed inspection, a broken operational process, lack of performance, or high performance. Ask yourself and the team ‘is it a skill issue or a will issue.’ This approach has allowed the teams I have been on to find the root cause of the problem or define why an individual or team had success. If we were approaching a problem we would quickly identify if the individual or team needed resources to increase their skill or if it was a will issue. If it was a will issue then the leader knew more coaching was needed to put the individual or team in a position for success.

Leadership is an active sport so get in the game!

Infallible Manger Syndrome

What is the Infallible Manager? This is the person in charge of a section or department that dictates everything. They don’t listen to ideas; they never ask for opinions and only listen to opinions that affirm what they are saying. It’s called confirmation bias, but it’s annoying and frustrating. Who wants a manager that holds a meeting and asks for ideas or says they want to find a solution to a problem but have already decided how they want to handle it? Then either manipulates the group by leading them to their plan or simply telling them their plan up front and argues about different ideas until they end up deciding on their original design.

This is a problem everywhere, but an even bigger problem in the military. Young, inexperienced people are put in positions of authority every day. In the beginning, they are very open to suggestions, but it doesn’t last long, and soon they are doing the same things other bad managers are doing. From the subordinate to the “Infallible Manager,” here are a few ways to help with this.

Manager: Goals need to be clear. The basis of all work and communication will stem from communicating the goals and making sure everyone is on board with the goals. If some disagree with goals, ensure that you have more meetings with them, so they know the goals. The goals should be in line with the larger organizations goals.

Subordinate: Goals need to be understood. If you don’t know what the goals are it’s hard to work together as a team. Demand clear and achievable goals from your manager. Don’t let them off the hook if they don’t seem interested in establishing or working together to establish goals.

Manager: Unauthorized methods should be communicated. Once goals are finished, communicating the ways, you will not authorize. I’ve had too many instances where goals were clear, but the methods my team wanted to take was “nothing.” They felt they were already doing what they should be to achieve the goals. I know say, “Inaction is not an acceptable method to goal achievement.”

Subordinate: Risky methods should be discussed before experimenting. Reasonable attempts to reach the target are probably fine to implement and test. If you are thinking of going way off the road to come up with a unique solution, communicate this with the manager, they may not be up for it, but the risk falls to the manager, not the subordinate.

Manager: Listen to your people! When you pose a problem and need solutions, listen! This seems very obvious, but it is rarely practiced. It is human nature to try to solve the problem, but why do you have supervisors and subordinate managers if you are just going to tell them the solution?

Subordinate: Speak up! If you have an idea, you have a responsibility to speak it. If your manager is not open to suggestions, keep trying different approaches until you find something that works. Something I learned by reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was to get them saying yes and put them in a positive frame of mind. Talk about a recent success; repeat the goals to get the momentum in your favor. Keep trying these different things until you find out what your manager responds to. Just remember, not every idea you have is going to be great.

Take Care of Your People

Taking care of your people is such common phrase in the workplace. Managers and leaders use it often when they are describing managers and what they should be doing.   There is only one problem, many managers, supervisors, and leaders have no idea what it means to take care of you people. The most common technique people employ to attempt this feat is only to give people what they want. Although listening to your people’s wishes and wants is vital to a manager, only doing what they want will not improve the organization or the morale of its members. Let’s clarify what taking care of your people and how to do it.

Taking care of your people means making sure they have what they need to their job to the best of their abilities. What they need are physical things, like staplers or trucks, or psychological things like encouragement and praise. They also need standards and a supervisor willing to hold them to the standard and encourage them to exceed it. People hate working for a bad organization. It is like playing for a losing team. Nobody is happy when the team is always losing!

In my experience, I have found most managers only focus on one or two of these aspects. They usually understand the need for the physical tools their employees need but fail to realize employees don’t need sleep pods in their workspace to be happy or any other number of incentives managers use to improve morale and performance. Please don’t misunderstand, many of these incentives are great and can help, but if the foundation of the organization is not strong, morale and performance of the organization will be poor, these things will only provide a temporary boost. They are a Band-Aid for problems.

First, a leader needs to know that you achieve a high functioning organization with high morale by making sure employees know how to do their job and the manager holds them to high standards. Second, they need to know the manager expects all staff to contribute to the goals equally, or in their own way that has been discussed with the supervisor. Third, the leader needs to ensure there is fun in the workplace. So often fun is seen as a waste of time. If your people don’t have a good time at work, they will soon lose the desire to come to work. Find ways to have fun. Lastly, reinforce the behaviors you wish to encourage the type of culture you want.

My final point is about momentum. If you are on a losing team with low morale and poor performers, but you are not in a position to hire or fire, don’t be afraid to start in one area and focus on it intensely until it is right. Once those things start to fall in place, you will be able to use the momentum to make other changes and improvements. If you implement the fun things too soon, you will lose when you start focusing on the harder work standards. Build a solid foundation on the core tasks and then move out from there.