Band-Aid Fixes are Bad

Does it take too long to complete your processes?  Do your supervisors fail to follow the procedures?  Do you feel like you have a never-ending list of problems to address?  Many managers face these issues and believe they have no choice but to work the problems as they occur and try to keep their heads above water.

One would probably guess this article is about time-management or strategic planning, but this article is really about finding full spectrum solutions for your organization.  This is also not about root causes.  Root causes are essential and are a part of full spectrum solutions, but the critical difference is that a root cause does not always affect other processes, but a full spectrum solution does.  These solutions will enable and eventually empower your people to solve the other issues that arise, leaving you time to dedicate to more strategic issues.

We all get caught up in the most recent issue.  The most recent problem is the “most important” issue because it is fresh.  A good manager will not automatically react to every problem as if it must be fixed right away.  A good manager will know there are many problems and just because this problem happened now, does not mean it is the more important problem to direct the focus.  This is reactive problem-solving.  It is not always a bad approach, but it is not usually the best.

How does one identify a full spectrum solution?  Mostly by what will happen if the solution is found and implemented.  For example, if there is a problem with a report not being completed correctly, but you have already provided training, and they just don’t seem to get it.  The initial solution would be to hold more training and perhaps start writing people up for accountability purposes.  But a full spectrum solution that will help with this problem would be to invest in the supervisors and help develop them into problem solvers.  This solution takes much more time and will require patience from the manager and their boss.

Another issue we must face is the expectation for instant results.  Most solutions take time, and nothing will ever be perfect.  So, guard against working only for short-term and immediate results.  This is called making a band-aid fix.  The problem with this kind of fix is the actual issue is never addressed.  A band-aid is placed on it for short-term success but the issue will continue to come back.

Here are a few places that are typically associated with full spectrum solutions:

Training programs

Supervisory development (leadership & management)

Equipment upgrades

Look for solutions that will have 2nd and 3rd order of effects


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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.