Thursday, October 9, 2008

Should A Manager be Loved or Feared?

From my point of view Neither is required. Being loved or feared has no bearing on the success of an organization and the effectiveness of a manager.
It would be much better if the team members LOVED the system(s) they work under and FEARED failing to execute under a proven system that they had an opportunity to create or improve.

The best compliment a manager can expect is that they are organized and fair. That means that the manager made it very easy for each individual in their team to focus on and be successful at what they are delivering. They achieve this by effectively communicating standards and values and by providing the resources and training required by each person to succeed.

The best managers know how to make work fun. These managers have dynamic systems that can deliver the corporate objectives efficiently and effectively, systems that are open to improvement by the people who deliver them. The system is so efficient and effective that new team members would not need to have previous experience and/or existing team members wouldn't need to be flexible, multi-tasking workaholics to succeed.
After all there is little time or room for fun if when staff are frequently asked to shift priorities followed by intermittent calls of "Fire" that require them to work late.

Good managers defend their employees actions as they understand that they are responsible for and accountable to their employees actions. Employee failures are failures in systems that require improvement.

Good managers are on a path of discovery. They practice with organizational models and methodologies.

Are you a practicing manager?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ideas! And How To Deal With Them In Your Business

Ideas. Meetings are scheduled around them, water cooler discussions are dedicated to them, and in the end very little, if anything, is accomplished.

So why do we keep entertaining ideas?

It's because there are great benefits to new ideas, whether they are strategic or tactical, as they can open new avenues of revenue and/or efficiencies within an organization and drive innovation. Innovation is the cultivation of new ideas specifically those that come directly from or benefit the end user or customer.

So what's going wrong?

There are 2 rules when it comes to ideas.

1. Ideas are a drag on productivity! And
2. An idea has no value unless someone is willing to buy! See Rule #1

Unless someone is willing to foot the bill or commit the time to implement an idea, the idea will only succeed in fulfilling rule number 1. Time and resources (financial and human) need to be assigned to turn ideas into reality and the whole delivery process needs to be contemplated from design through to support and the risks weighed.
Oftentimes ideas are launched or implemented without the aforementioned process or resources and the idea dies an untimely death and the company never realizes the value of the idea or gains any market insight or intelligence. The idea may have been valid but their was no organization or resources applied to really validate it. Activities are typically thrust upon workers who already have their plates full, creating conflicting priorities and little time to figure out how to best implement the new idea. You can just hear the balls dropping. If the organization has no formal way of integrating ideas into their daily operations ideas just end up being ignored or a drag on productivity.

So how do we use ideas appropriately to avoid rule number one?

Know your audience. If a buyer is not at the table when you pitch your idea then rule number one is fulfilled. Pitch your idea to someone who is in a position to act on it. They will either get excited enough to buy the idea or not. And if not, move on.
Also, it's important to avoid getting married to any particular idea (product or service). Let your customer(s) define your idea. Many times we can be so focused on the idea we're trying to pitch that we don't hear what the buyer really wants.

The best way to deal with ideas is to create a formal system within the organization to deal with them. Systems of change/improvement like a suggestion box creates a process for which ideas can be passed along to the people responsible to be reviewed at a scheduled time. This is really important. Having a system for change within a department or across an organization presents a formal avenue for ideas and is a way to capture future opportunities, system improvement and innovation. Also, if you include interested staff when reviewing ideas you will teach them how your thought process works on validating and/or prioritizing ideas. It also gives you the opportunity to ask the person with the idea to make their case for the idea including resources required, return on investment, benefit to customers internally and externally and how the idea conforms to corporate strategy, values and standards. This process will slow down and even stop the frivolous ideas that could put a damper on your productivity and precipitate longer meetings. Eventually anyone with an idea would create a formal case for that idea and really take ownership of it (think it through) before they usurp someones time with it.

What's your next meeting about?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How to Contain the Complainers!

There always seems to be a few complainers in every group. People who are just negative or who regularly complain about their work and their bosses to coworkers.

In response to this issue I would suggest that there are any number of possible causes. It could be that the person has succumbed to some external force that you have no control over, OR there are those that complain about work that they feel they have no control over, AND then there is nothing worse than the complainers who complain about something they have complete control over. I find this latter type the most infuriating as they are always looking to blame someone else for their own failures.

So what can we do about it?
Now let's break down the areas that enable the complainers. The first is Motivation which falls under the domain of leadership and the second is Organization which falls under the domain of management.

Let's start with Organization.
One of the first tools I learned in the battle against negative Nelly's or complainers is to make them the managers. I know, this seems counter-intuitive and when I heard it for the first time many, many years ago I was shocked. My initial reaction at that time would have been to weed those people out of the organization.

I first heard of this technique from a plant manager who was running a unionized automotive parts manufacturing facility. He couldn't fire unionized staff so he did the next best thing, he promoted them to non-unionized positions - supervisor or manager. The complainers either raised themselves up and took on the challenge of correcting their own complaints or if they were complaining for the sake of complaining they quickly exited or were fired for failure to deliver. Problem solved.
This seems like a great technique until you analyze the process. What is really happening here is that the manager does not have a system to deal with problems in the team so the manager abdicates his/her responsibility by passing it on to someone else. This may work short term with a single individual but couldn't possibly deal with all of the complainers, just the most vocal ones. This will really just ensure a cycle of problems for the manager to deal with. At some point you may end up with too many managers and no one to do the work.

Another tool is the old stand-by of fear and intimidation. This typically raises the level of complaints but drives them underground for fear of the manager hearing them. This management technique creates a management bubble which ensures that any feedback, either positive or negative, will not reach the ears of management. Again, it doesn't address the problem and tends to be demotivating, increasing turnover and quashing innovation; all of which are a drag on productivity and efficiency.

A tool that I've applied to great effect is to move the complainer into a client facing role. After a few days of listening to client complaints, especially complaints that are the result of that person's own work, the person will finally start to think about the effects of their work and start to focus on what's really important and stop complaining about things that are not.

The best solution would be to institute a change management system (the complaint department) and put the complainers in charge. What you achieve by doing this is to effectively turn the complaints into solutions and the complainers into solution providers. You also force the complainers to think their complaints through to a solution and then delivery. They either come up with a solution and participate in it's delivery or they come to the conclusion that it wasn't worthwhile and stop complaining.
A change management system is where all of the complaints, internally or from customers, are entered and reviewed monthly by the domain manager individually or in a meeting with the team.
This will give you a formal process with which to help you build better systems and refocus everyone on improving systems instead of blaming or complaining about people.
A wonderful side effect of this process is that this process will teach the participants the decision process of the domain manager effectively delegating it.

Of course, in order to keep people thinking about solutions you have to act upon them. If you don't your staff will return to complaining.

Now we come to Motivation or Leadership.
Great leaders have a bold and compelling vision. A vision that energizes and motivates everyone to achieve an objective. A vision that turns people from ordinary to extraordinary.
The message and actions of the leader will convey a set of objectives, values and standards that will emerge as the corporate culture. If there is a lack of leadership then there is no unifying purpose. If everyone is exercising their own vision for their own purpose you will essentially have anarchy. It's hard to stay focused if you are questioning the purpose of your role in an organization or worse the purpose of the company. This lack of purpose is a breeding ground for complaints and complacency. It's hard to get engaged when your future is uncertain or unknown.

Actually complaints are signals or signs that you are not communicating coherently and without complainers you would never know.

Great leaders don't assume that they know all the answers or what the future will hold. They don't want to miss out on the next big thing and their culture tolerates, and even rewards, complaints. Keith R. McFarland writes in his book, "The Breakthrough Company", that one of the characteristics of the $250M rapid growth companies he examined is that the leadership was very tolerant of dissenters and even let people pursue ideas for new business even when they thought they were wrong. Sony is another great innovator who has been known to finance an employee with a new product idea so as not to loose them or miss out on a new opportunity.

The real lesson learned here is that the people who are doing the complaining are typically the ones who actually care about your business. They are the vocal ones, the people who are more than likely to participate in and take on organizational responsibilities. In other words, affect change. Without these people things wouldn't change and change is required if any organization is going to adapt and be successful. "If you don't complain things will never change".

The same kind of system that initiates organizational changes can be applied to corporate leadership changes as well. It's a great way to get people to start thinking beyond their individual role and start to think about how what they do effects the whole organization and the success or failure of the organization. People are less likely to complain if they understand their purpose and feel like they are contributing beyond their cubicle. Setting corporate objectives, values and standards should be something that everyone who wants to participate in be given an opportunity to do so. This could be an "open door" policy to something more formal where there are cross functional teams who engage in strategic planning at regularly scheduled intervals. Knowing the big picture and what's coming next is very empowering and can be very effective in quelling the complaints.

If you don't embrace change it will be at your organization's peril. If you do not have a system for change then your organization will be locked into practices that don't work for, and don't include, everyone which leads to complaints, high turnover and limits growth potential and productivity.
Don't turn off your complainers, nurture them by listening and teaching or mentoring.

Why do your staff complain?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mission and Vision and Mantra, Oh My!

There is some buzz in the business community about having a Mantra. Those of us who have lived through Missions and Visions, I trust, don't see a Mantra as being any different so I'll cut right to the chase. Mission, Vision and Mantra statements fail because people forget that these statements are starting points and not the end. Some will spend endless hours and engage endless consultants to finally come up with the right Mantra and when finally done, breathe a collective sigh of relief and then, move on. Does a Mantra alone really have any value internally with employees and externally with clients? I think we all know the answer to that one.

In order for one of these statements to be of any true value, you would have to put the statement into practice. And by practice I mean practice as in 'practice makes perfect'. Perception is the key here. Your Mantra would have to be tied to a set of values and standards that every decision and action is accountable to from the board room to the front office.

One of the things that I try to impress upon my clients over and again is that "an idea without a buyer is of little value". So if you actually believe that someone would be willing to join your organization or buy from you based on a Mantra then I suggest you start testing different Mantras on your potential clients and potential employees and see which one works best. Once you have found the perfect Mantra that engages clients and employees you would need to change the entire organization to successfully live up to that Mantra. The other option is to create a Mantra from the values and standards that endear and engage your organization to your existing clients and employees. Hopefully your organization will have some of those qualities and you can encapsulate them into a 3 to 4 word statement. You may discover that the most appropriate Mantra based on existing values and standards is 'We are Evil' but don't fret as you won't have to change anything to live up to it. And just think, with a Mantra like that you could be opening up a whole new untapped market segment.

For those of you who believe that a Mantra is 'old school', I have just coined the next corporate image term and it is "Chant". It is based on the premise that if you say something enough times , something being a 3-4 word statement, people will start to believe it. This ensures the desired effect and doesn't require any organizational change other than making it mandatory to memorize and recite the statement at every opportunity.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What The Job Requirements REALLY Mean

It's amazing that in this day and age hiring managers and HR staff still use generic terms when advertising their internal positions. Some of the terms used are really just fluff, and purely subjective, meaning that if you asked 10 people what they meant you would undoubtedly receive 10 different answers.
If you really think about it you'd have to wonder why anyone would want to work for a company that required their employees to be self-motivated, flexible, creative and able to multi-task in a fast passed and dynamic environment. The picture that is painted in my mind is that you'll be air lifted onto an ocean tanker with a belly full of oil in the middle of the North Atlantic just after it ran into an iceberg and you are responsible for saving the oil as well as your corporate bosses from legal/environmental liability. As you watch the helicopter that dropped you melt into the horizon the first mate reports that most power systems and all external communication systems are lost. I guess if you are the kind of person who likes to be in a continual state of emergency without any lifelines this seemingly would be the perfect position.
In stark contrast, the following description would be far more enticing. "We provide a work environment that offers you the time, training, freedom and flexibility to create something extraordinary for our clients, coworkers and most importantly, yourself."
A job posting is an advertisement for the company and should be written with at least as much care and attention as any other client facing document. The posting should engage anyone who reads it so they would feel motivated to respond and, if not selected, would feel obligated to tell others how great your company is. Of course, in order to really pull this off and have prospective employees clamoring at your door you would have to use the standard defined in the latter job description and create that environment.

What message do these common job posting terms really convey to prospective employees?

Multi Task - We aren't able to do any one thing well (Sure! I can drive while reading, shaving, eating and calling you as long as auto insurance is not a requirement)
Flexible - Your time is our time. We need you to be able to drop what you are doing and do something different most of the time.
Self-motivated - Motivate yourself! We don't like what we are doing either!
Creative - We haven't yet developed systems, processes and resources for this position - you're on your own.
Passionate - We can't seem to convince anyone to believe in what WE do
Fast paced - We are running in many different directions all at the same time
Dynamic environment - No sooner than the team starts to gel and deliver results we'll mix things up again.

What do these job description terms mean to you? Or feel free to add your own.