Thursday, June 18, 2009

Delegate decision making

Leaders should push decision-making as far into the organization as possible, and make as few decisions as possible themselves. There are two things to consider: 1) allowing others make decisions gives them real ownership and feeling of conribution, which increases their loyalty and engagement; and 2) a leader can save his/herself for the few big, important decisions that arise a handful of times per month or year.

When my friend and I were moving to Paris for a year, back in 1994, I asked him how much money I should budget for each month. He told me, "think about how much you would need to live on here in the triple it, and you might have enough to live in Paris."

So I ask you the many decisions do you truly need to make as a leader? Think about how many decisions you make in a take 75% of those decisions, and have your people make all of those. Focus on the 25% big, important decisions.

Monday, June 15, 2009

You are more in charge than you think

It drives me crazy that people don’t think they can do anything about it…that they are not in charge of their lives at work. Too many managers are victims to micro-managing bosses or slaves to overly strict company policies or subject to the constant needs of direct reports.

Too many managers do not realize that they are more in charge than they think. They have the ability to make most daily decisions about how to work and how to run their teams. All they have to do is exert some ownership. You get to decide how to run your team not your boss. If your boss does decide, why are you asking how “they” want your team run in the first place?

A great excerpt from John Baldoni’s Leadership at Work blog:

To me it comes down to a simple proposition: exert your ownership. If your boss is not giving you feedback, ask for it. If your teammates are driving you crazy, talk to them. If you are struggling with an impossible workload, find ways to lighten it. Proceeding as you are is inefficient; failing to address the problem may be even worse. Bottom line, you have a responsibility to do the job for which you are paid. Do it.

All it takes is a little ownership, the belief that you do own most of how your run your work life, and action. Take action.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Being a leader is entirely up to you

If you are a manager or an aspiring manager who wants to rise within the organization, but you don’t feel your company does enough to develop managers, you are in big trouble. Companies, even those who develop managers well, do not offer as many development opportunities as they could. And for people who think their organization should offer more, know this…they never will.

Especially in lean times, one cannot expect an organization to spend much time and energy developing managers. Why should you? It is your responsibility, and yours alone, to develop yourself into a great leader. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for that three day manager training class in August to transform your leadership effectiveness or are you waiting for that three day session so you can get away from the office?

The best leaders…those who excel at getting the most out of their people do not wait for companies to offer training programs. They attend the training programs, work hard in them, get the most out of them, and most importantly, they take action immediately on what they learned.

It does not stop there.

The best leaders read books, observe other great leaders, and have the attitude that it is their responsibility to become a great leader.

Becoming a great leader is entirely up to you. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reduce pay, save jobs…but lose morale

In the Businessweek article, Does it pay to reduce pay? The interviewer poses the question, “In this brutal recession, more companies are doing it. It avoids layoffs, but some fear that morale and productivity will suffer.”

You will definitely lose morale and the talented employees when the economy turns around if you do not do the following:

Explain in redundant detail the reasons why

Do not be vague. Lack to detail as to reasons why leads to speculation, rumors, and adds to the view that management is taking it out on employees. Talk about how we are in this together, talk about what else has been cut first, and that this is a last resort because we don’t want to do layoffs. Communicate early and often about it. Don’t spring it on people with very little notice.

Give WIIFMs (What’s in it for me)

Explain the reasons why the pay cuts are good for them. Hard to believe there could be any reasons why a pay cut could benefit employees. Not everyone will respond to the same reasons, so talk about as many benefits as possible. Get some of your marketing people to help with the communications. They know how to explain benefits to customers. Some benefits could be…a pay cut means keeping your job, a pay cut comes with fewer hours and more flexible work schedules to spend more time with family, or the company could increase training opportunities while pay cuts are in effect. Talk in terms of your employees not the company.

Set milestones and a planned deadline

You must tell your people when their old salaries will be restored…even of you do not know due to the uncertain economy. Put a plan in place with milestones and dates and publish these openly, so employees can see the milestone, track progress, and participate in helping to achieve them. If you do not meet milestone and salaries cannot be restored, people will understand why, and they will respect that a plan was made and people worked hard to achieve it. People understand that not every goal can be reached.

Keeping the date or circumstances for restoring salaries a secret or opened-ended is deadly, and you will lose your people’s respect, their loyalty, and you will lose them to the competition when the economy turns around.

Not just for pay cuts

These principles above do not just apply these principles about to any management scenario. By explaining reasons why in great detail, talking in terms of employees and setting specific and clear expectations, you will be a better leader resulting in more loyalty from your people and higher performance.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The value of an employee

So many organizations like to try to convince us that people are their most important asset. Well, as a strategy consultant once told me, “that’s nice talk, but if you look on any company balance sheet, you will find that people are often a company’s biggest liability…looking at the line item for wages payable.”

Well that doesn’t sound good.

So which is it? Are people assets or liabilities? And what value should we assign to a manager, for example?

The value of an asset is the net present value of all future cash flows. If an employee is an asset, why not measure their value by determining the net present value of all future cash flows generated by that person?

A liability is a bill owed by the organization either on a loan or to pay a bill like a lease payment or electricity bill or salary. If an employee is a liability, he/she is simply a bill that must be paid…a necessary expense, like a phone bill.

If managers want to think of themselves as assets, and not be a liability, they should consider the present value of the future cash flows they generate. Easy for a salesperson. Not so easy for an operations manager. However, an operations manager does contribute to customer satisfaction, error reductions, process improvement, cost savings, etc. What is the present value of all the expenses saved from those improvements? Managers might want to look into that.

Are you an asset or a liability?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Employees more engaged, hunkered down

In a recent survey by Towers Perrin, employees are more engaged than they were three months ago. This is a surprising stat considering the cut backs and layoffs and fear of more job losses.

On the other hand, if you look further into the data, you will find stats that seem more in line with what you’d expect. The number of employees “who felt top management provides good leadership fell seven percentage points, to 50% from 57%. Only 63% felt their management gave a clear sense of direction. That is down from 71% the quarter before.”

It sounds to me like employee engagement is up because people want to keep their job in a tough economy not because they are more into their current work, manager or company. Employees seem to be hunkered down and do not want to look for another job.

What will happen when the economy turns around and companies hire again? The economy will recover and job growth will increase at some point in the future.

Companies should be asking themselves what they are doing to retain employees when the economy turns around. They should be asking that now because before they know it, employees will begin to leave for better jobs

I spoke to an HR manager friend of mine, who was promised a promotion to senior manager 18 months ago when business was good. When times turned bad, the promotion was put off indefinitely. Although my friend understands the reasons for it, she still has a sour taste in her mouth. Wouldn’t you?

What is the company doing to retain her? Her company should have everyone who was close to a promotion on a watch list. There should be retention activities targeted at these high-potential employees now, before they leave. In a few months, it will be too late.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just do your job, that's what you’re paid for

This headline sure does not give me extra incentive to come to work early, energized and engaged. How about you?

“Just do your job” is a common motivation technique used by managers every day. I have seen it in action, and it works so infrequently as to border on being one of the top causes of de-motivation. And yet managers do it every day.

When a manager says this they mean, “I am not interested in what you have to say. Leave me alone. I am too busy to stand here and listen to your complaints. Just go do your job, that’s what you’re paid for.”

Managers who want to improve performance on their teams should banish this phrase from their vocabulary immediately. Managers puzzled over low team performance should consider that by banishing this phrase…and more importantly…this attitude, most of their low performance problems could be solved.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What is your manager doing to retain you?

Look around the office today. Look at people’s faces. Listen to them in the break room. Listen closely. Many are disgruntled. Many would leave their job now if they could, but the job market will not permit it. On the other hand, they are thankful to have a job. Perhaps not thankful enough to be engaged in their work, but just enough to keep their existing job until the economy turns around when they can find something better.

Are you one of these people? Do you intend to leave your present job when the economy turns around? If you are, leave a comment below and tell your managers what they can do to retain you.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Doing more with less

Doing more with less is often heard around the office as a battle cry for “we’re not going to hire more people or increase the budget…just get it done.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of becoming more efficient or more effective. But as is often the case, we try to solve the problem with the wrong solution…just make people work harder.

If a project scope increases and the team is losing a member, who will not be replaced the project manager is told, “Look we gotta make this happen. We’ll have to figure out a way to do more with less.” Without much further debate on the issue, the business owner tells the PM to get his team to do a little more over-time. After all, it is just for a short period of time and “we just have to buckle down and all pull together on this one.”

The team was already working a lot of over-time, so as a VP I reported to once asked his team in a similar discussion, “aren’t we trying to squeeze water from a rock?”

More over-time as a solution to doing more with less is a great way to burn people out, cause people to quit and increase poor quality, which leads to re-work.

Try giving a graphic designer or a writer or an instructional designer half the time to complete a project and tell me if you think quality can remain “our number one priority.”

Telling people to worker hard in sprints can work well. But sustained gains in efficiency and effectiveness can only be improved by changing the processes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gain employee commitment

I was asked by a potential client in a meeting recently, “How do you get people to do more than just process customer orders and do more than just get by?” Understand that I was there to get them to hire me to help improve their training programs and thus the effectiveness if their people…to help improve people performance. And I answered the question as follows, “Frankly, most of that comes in hiring the right people.”

Perhaps, I had just talked myself out of a job.

I did go on to talk about ways that training can help improve people’s attitude about why taking care of customers is an important thing to do. The more I thought about it afterwards, the more I realized these lessons also apply to how managers should lead their teams. In other words, these are behaviors of good leaders who engage employees in the higher purpose of the job rather than as just a job to do.

Integrate company values throughout company life

Integrate company values throughout training programs, meetings, and employee communications. Companies often teach training classes as separate modules independent of each other, for example, Customer Service skills from 9am to 12pm; Product Training from 1pm to 3pm; and Systems Training from 3pm to 5pm. The customer service skills vital to company values should be integrated throughout all training, so it becomes part of the language of how employees should operate in their jobs.

These customer service values should be used similarly in team meetings, and managers should use this language when speaking with employees in any type of communication.

The golden rule

Make it personal, by asking your people, “how do you feel when you call a company for service and they don’t help you?” Do you want to treat someone else that way? Most people will answer no.

Set goals that encourage people to make customers happy

Watch how you set goals and recognize great performance. It is easy to set up policies that actually discourage helping customers. Set up your goals so that if a customer leaves your store happy or hangs up the phone happy, your people did a great job. Then, shout from the rooftop to everyone in the company, what a great job that employee did to make the customer happy.

Listen to your people

Listen to your people’s ideas about how to improve how customers get serviced and implement the good ideas. Your people talk to customers every day and often know more than you about what customer are complaining about and what customers want. People love to be heard. Show your people that respect, listen to them, and involve them in the process. They will surely be more committed to your cause, if you do.

Although it is true that the best way to get people to care deeply about servicing customers is to hire people with that attitude…think Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom and Charles Schwab…but there are ways to train and manage people to improve their willingness to care about your customers as you do. It all depends on defining how you want people to treat your customers, integrating that message throughout company life and creating an environment and incentives that encourage people to want to treat customers as you want them treated.

Not an easy task, but it can be done.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A true leader

There is this quote from a TV show, which I always remembered and thought was funny. It is also funny that I can remember the quote vividly, but not the name of the TV show on which I heard it.

Says the French radical, 'There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Freedom to choose your manager

In an interesting blog post by Gary Hamel in the, he writes, "In a well-functioning democracy, citizens have the option of voting their political masters out of office."

Why shouldn't employees have more say in who their managers are? I can hear the responses to this question by managers everywhere, "We can't allow employees to have that kind of power. There would be no organization and we'd have some teams bigger than others, and by the way, people should learn to work together....not everyone has to like each other."

But when an over-bearing manager is destroying passion and potential and performance, is this a better way to run a business?

I have known many people, who disliked working for their current boss, ask to be moved to a different team or assignment. The vast majority of requests, by far and going away, were denied, destroying employee morale in the process. A poor manager remains to lead people and most of the people remain, working far below their potential.

A manager's performance should be based on two factors, performance indicators (sales, productivity, quality, etc.) of the team and the team's assessment of the manager's ability to engage them...or put another way...employee satisfaction.

But too many companies are afraid to use 360 degree feedback and most of the one's that do, don't put much weight in them. What could be more powerful an indicator of manager performance than whether the people he/she manages like their job, whether they perform well, and whether they want to perform well?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It doesn’t take money. Hardly even takes much time.

I am reading the book 12 The Elements of Great Managing, from the authors of First, Break All the Rules, and it hits you like a bolt of lightning. None of the key ingredients to employee engagement cost a nickel. They all cost nothing more than a little shift in thinking and minimal time from individual managers taking a genuine interest in people on a professional and personal level. If you read this book and believe, as I do, that employee engagement will help you accomplish better results at work, then why not embrace these activities and practice them every day?

In all the years I trained and coached managers, they would tell me that they realize recognizing employee achievements is important, but “I just don’t have the time.” The more responsible managers say, “I just don’t make the time.” Regardless, there is a deeply held belief that it requires a lot of time that managers simply do not have or make.

But in each of these discussions, after thinking about it for a minute or two, managers begin to realize that the time it takes is minimal…to take a genuine interest in people. How much time does it take to say to a person, “Karen, you know, I appreciate the way you handled that customer this morning. I think you made a big difference in saving his business. I told the VP about it this morning. She really appreciated your efforts, too. I just want to say thank you.”

Doesn’t take too long does it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pick two

What’s the expression? You can have it good, fast and cheap, as long as you pick two. You can have it good and fast, but it won’t be cheap. You can have it fast and cheap, but it won’t be good or you can have it good and cheap, but it won’t be fast.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

You can either lead, follow or get out of the way

Those are my only choices?

Power leaders often cite this quote to imply that there is only one choice for success. To lead. Well, sometimes a leader has to get out of the way. Have you ever had a boss that impeded your progress or the progress of the team? Sometimes a leader has to follow. Have you ever thought your manager should have followed your idea instead of her own?

These are not absolute choices.

The quote should be changed, “You can lead, follow and get out of the way.”

Or maybe, “You can lead, follow and get out of the way. You just better know when to do which.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Give a gift and get others to owe you

In the book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini presents strong evidence that giving a gift to someone makes them feel obligated to repay it. Think about it, eating all those generous free samples at Costco, makes you feel a little obligated to buy some of those products…in some cases, products you would not otherwise have purchased. You may rationalize it by saying, “let’s try it.” After all, there is nothing wrong with trying new things, right?

Of course not. But for many of us, the act of receiving a “no-obligation” gift, makes us feel a little obligated.

Why not apply this well documented psychological principle with your people at work by giving them free gifts.

Try this out for the next two weeks at work and see what happens.

Give the following gifts at work:
  1. Give the gift of praise
  2. Public recognition
  3. Share people’s accomplishments with senior management
  4. Give the demonstration of respect - ask for their opinion and listen with genuine interest. Implement some of the ideas you heard
  5. Give the power to choose/decide how people do their work
  6. Give the freedom to set their own schedule
  7. Give the responsibility and authority to make decisions
Give these free gifts with no expectation of receiving anything in return. At least some of the people who received these gifts will feel some obligation to repay you…these will likely be your high performers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Retaining employees without cash

It's quite easy retain employees who generate profits for the company...sales people or traders on Wall Street, for example, you quite simply must pay the cash. And why shouldn't you? It is variable pay...more in good times less in bad times.

For all other employees, those in support organizations, you must do two things above genuine appreciation and share their accomplishments with senior management. People want to know their contribution matters and they want to feel important.

Monday, April 13, 2009

If Managers Would Just Ask What People Want

When I read this study, opportunity leaps off the computer screen. Managers have such a huge and, frankly, easy opportunity to increase employee morale and generate loyalty, without spending a dime. And yet, so often you hear from people that they hardly ever hear from their manager the top two things they look for in rewards and recognition at work.

But we don’t have the budget

Managers often think they need a budget to do rewards and recognition. Companies form committees and spend hours and hours trying to figure out how to institutionalize rewards and recognition programs, and in the end make them so complication and impersonal that they fail before they get to the starting line. As a VP of human resources once said in a meeting of this type, “are we going to end up hiring a ‘Manager of the Wall of Fame?”

Nothing personal

By institutionalizing rewards and recognition, it becomes impersonal and therefore, counter-productive. The example above, hiring a manager to be in charge of the Wall of Fame seems like a logical fix for a company that wants to show commitment to an “important” process by dedicating resources to it, ends up with the unintended consequence of removing the person’s manager from the process. What people want most is an “in-person” thank you from their immediate manager and that their immediate manager shares achievements directly with senior management. They don’t want recognition given to them by some HR manager in a remote office they never see.

Not to mention, managers now have another excuse not to participate in showing appreciation to their people because the company has a dedicated person “who handles it.” It is not intentional, but managers get busy and focus on their day-to-day tasks. Stopping to do the little things like showing appreciation gets lost. It happens.

Become one of the best managers right away

Managers have a huge opportunity to become one of the best bosses their people have ever had, and it will not cost them a cent. In fact, you can be a little bit of a rebel by ignoring company rules and processes for rewards and recognition and just ask your people individually want they want...mostly they will say, “show me some appreciation once in a while.”

Start today! Begin genuinely thanking your people, showing appreciation and sharing their achievements with senior management. Do that, and you will build a team with the highest morale and most loyalty in your company…and your people will begin showing you the same appreciation. This is the best way to show senior management how great you are at your work and what potential you have to grow in the company.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Goal Setting Caused GM's Demise?

I have seen enough quotes from successful people on goal setting and success to know that anyone who ever achieved anything of significance, set extremely lofty and specific goals...then pursued them with a singular focus most people cannot imagine. I find it difficult to believe that GM's (near) failure is a result of setting a goal to obtain 26% market share and working hard to achieve it.

GM is almost out of business quite simply because the cars it made were not as good as those of its competitors, not because it was too focused on stretch goals.

Run from anyone who tells you that setting goals for yourself is anything but a good thing to do. A lack of goals is the surest path to mediocrity there is.

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss
it, but that it is too low and we reach it." - Michelangelo

Monday, April 6, 2009

Taking Over from a Old Skipper

Imagine if you took over the helm of a sailboat after a long day of sailing down wind. The person at the helm had the wind at his back all day. He could take one hand for the wheel and the other for a sandwich or a coffee or to reach for the sun tan lotion. The sailing was fast and the boat was flat in those 18 knots of wind. He covered 30 miles that day in your sloop.

The next day was your turn at the helm…returning home directly into that same wind and into those 4-6 foot waves. You had two hands on the wheel all day. You were soaking wet from waves crashing over the bow and into the cockpit. You tacked at least a dozen times that day and managed to cover 10 miles before just making it to a protected anchorage near an inlet before sundown. You have one or two more days of sailing before returning home.

Is the first sailor any better than you at handling the boat because he covered 30 miles in one day and you managed to cover only 10?

Is this not the story of Jeff Immelt?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Executives Are Bewildered. Front-line is Not

In a recent survey of thousands of customers, 47% say they don’t believe company executives understand their experiences, citing problems such as rude customer service staff or employees who provide the wrong information or never solve the customer's problem.

In the same survey, executives would give their companies' customer service "B" grades; consumers give them "D" grades. That is a tragic disconnect that could have disastrous consequences for the future of these business.

Executives assume they know their customer’s experiences and problems because they have experience in the business and have access to reports that measure any number of data points. But they are missing what customers are actually complaining about during interactions with their company employees because they are not listening.

Your front-line certainly knows what your customers are complaining about…they hear it every day. Among the biggest complaints is about terrible service received from your employees.

Are your employees really not prepared? Do they really not care? Are they really giving out bad information on purpose? I would like you to consider that they are probably not. Management has in place processes and procedures that limit people’s ability to service customers.

Management does not trust people to make decisions beyond a certain point out of fear of losing money…so restrictive policies are set up to not allow customers to be served. Also, it sets up an environment in which feedback from customers and employees is not heard.

After all, why should your front-line employees communicate feedback on customer requests that are outside of policies? The last time an employee made a suggestion, their manager told them it was against the policy and nothing could be done about it.

Do you have systems in place that encourage feedback and a communication mechanism for letting people know the progress of that feedback? Are people rewarded for their feedback? Do people see others being rewarded for suggesting what customers want?

Consider setting up social networking technologies and encourage the front-line and executives to speak directly to each other about customers wants, needs and complaints. Teach managers how to encourage people to submit feedback from customers.

The front-line talks to customers every day and knows more than any report can show. Managers must learn to listen to the front-line and give them as much decision-making authority as possible when it comes to serving customers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

When a New Direction Requires New Leadership

One of the arguments for removing Wagoner as CEO of GM is that GM needs a new direction, and a new direction can only be achieved with new leadership. I wonder if that is true.

It is certainly true that people find it difficult to change, and when a program or initiative is someone’s idea, that person is particularly attached to it. Peter Drucker has written extensively about change over the years writing that pharmaceutical companies know that in order to survive they have to replace three quarters of their products with completely new ones every 10 years.

Do automakers know this? Does GM? GM is launching the new Camero in 2010. Is the Camero a new product?

It is hard to change.

However, there are stories of companies who can reinvent themselves. Andy Grove, in the 80s, knew Intel was in trouble and expected the Board of Directors to fire him. He asked his partner what the new CEO would do with the company when he takes over. The answer was that he would abandon memory chips (Intel’s bread and butter, then) and go into microprocessors. “Why don’t we fire ourselves, come back and do ourselves?” They did, and Intel thrived mostly famously with the Intel Inside Pentium chips.

Why are some able to abandon all they know for a new direction? Some can and some cannot, I suppose. But more people can learn to do this by adopting a belief that once they launch an initiative, they must start planning to replace it with something new in the future. That must be your thought process…to build change into the process.

It is the only way a manager can survive.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More Books for Managers

This is a good list of books every manager should read. It is not my list. It is from a management professor at USC (Fight On!).

The point is managers should be continuous learners and constantly learning new or different ways of motivating, organizing and developing their people. I know, the thought of reading a boring book about managing, when you already know how, turns your stomach. You’d rather watch that new DVD you bought. But leadership is a constantly moving target and requires you to constantly be searching, learning and applying new ideas. After all, you are dealing with human behavior.

Pick up one of these books. Or if you prefer, pick up a book from my list. The cold, hard fact is this…if you want to excel as a manager, you must keep learning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Actions and Influence of Managers

Front-line managers usually have the most direct reports, have close relationships with those direct reports and are the closest of all manager to customers and employees, yet they often have the least amount of authority, enablement and ability to influence company policy towards cost cutting, employee engagement, customer service, etc.

Often senior management ignores the input and ideas of the front-line citing their lack of experience or lack of access to information. Senior management fails to realize that the higher up they go the farther away they are from the action of customers and employees and the more they must rely on the front-line.

Senior managers must enable line-managers to make as many decisions as possible when engaging employees and customers. Company-wide employee engagement programs tend to eliminate individual ownership and become ignored.

The best way to improve employee engagement is to enable line managers to have enormous input and individual responsibility by pushing decision-making as far out as possible. Line management is closest to the action and must be able to act. In a paradox, line managers should be running the show when it comes to employee engagement.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Reinvent Yourself

There is good advice in this article from The Times. Over all, the main point is this…act like the job you want and start preparing and doing the job you want before you get the job.

Many times in the work place, I have seen people be given opportunities to take on additional responsibility and/or assignments. Too many people respond to that opportunity with resentment. They say, “If they are giving me additional responsibility, they should pay me.” Or “If I am actually doing the job, they should promote me first…then I’ll do the job.”

And that is just it…many of these people want the promotion, raise or title “before” they do the job. In reality, if you want the get ahead, you have to earn it…meaning you actually have to start doing it before you get it.

If your attitude is “I’ll do it, when they paid me or promote me,” you will not get ahead.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Those Who Need to Change the Most

In A River Runs Through It, Jesse, Norman’s soon-to-be fiancĂ©, speaks of her brother when she says (paraphrased), “Why is it that people who need the most help…won’t take it?” Norman of course understands this because he thinks of his brother, Paul.

Over the years, I have experienced similar thoughts about people with whom I have worked…those who needed to change the most, would not or could not. Maybe my colleagues were thinking the same about me.

We have all worked with people like this, and the question is: should we spend time on those we know need the most help in improving performance even though we believe they will not change? Or do we concentrate on those who do not need to change, but who likely have the ability to change…those who have the means, willingness, and ability to improve for the future?

For that matter, rather than spending time trying to change those who need it most, but who will not, should we spend time on ourselves? Changing us to adapt to those who cannot or will not change? After all, if we are capable of changing, why not change?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Isn't Everything Learned?

I know Michael Jordan was born to be a basketball player. He is 6’6”, has big hands and is fast as lightening. I am 5’8”, short and slow. I am definitely not built for the NBA. On the other hand, my friend Tom is 6’6” but I guess he was born to be an accountant. How did Spud Webb make it to the NBA? Was he born to play NBA basketball? He is shorter than me.

Every time I hear someone say, “He’s good because he was born with it” I cringe. I hear an excuse not to learn something. I hear someone deciding not to even try.

People often say this about leadership…that it cannot be taught, that leaders are born not made.

To be a leader, you have to learn how to be a leader. You must learn those actions and behaviors that great leaders do and then you must practice them. There really is not much more to it than that, but you must understand that you can learn to be a great leader.

It takes hard work and often times that hard work is unpleasant. Taking a class after work is a lot more unpleasant than meeting friends for happy hour. So is volunteering to organize an extra assignment at work, when you already have a full schedule. Or reading a book a week rather than watching TV.

To be good at anything takes learning and practice.

It seems to me that only things we are born with are vital organs and a body in which to hold them. Everything else is learned.

To Managing People Remotely: Manage Less

Managing people remotely is a little scary. So many questions go through a manager’s mind. How will I know if they are actually working? What if they play golf during the day and work all night, at the last minute, to complete their work? Is that fair? How will I keep track of their schedule? What if I forget about them (out of site, out of mind)? What if my boss wants to know what they are doing all day?

These questions, among others, are legitimate and should be addressed and can be addressed. But before you address them, I have one question for you…as long as work is being delivered, why would you worry about any of the questions above?

For sure, managers who have people working remotely or at home need to learn a few things that might be different from the skills they use to manager people in the office, but the basic principles of management still apply: define to goals and organization and motivate the team to want to work towards achieving those goals.

Here is a short list of things a manager should consider when managing people remotely:

1. Make clear assignments, checkpoints and deadlines - In a way, you need to let the goals, checkpoints and deadline do most of the management, In other words, learn to manage less.

2. Over-time, spend time learning how long certain tasks take so you can schedule properly. That way, you can set deadlines and forget it and know that people are not lolly-gagging so much.

3. Establish processes for the remote people to send updates and track their time (like lawyers and consultants...billable time per project). It will be better for all involved if remote workers are proactively sending updates rather than having managers spend time chasing tele-workers.

4. Managers should make frequent phone calls and IMs not always related to checking in on the task. In other words, spend more time relationship building. It is easy to forget about remote workers when they are out of sight. So making phone calls (and IMs) are a good way to maintain relationships. It is important that these phone calls are not mostly about specifically checking in on the current project assignment. They could be chit-chat, updating people on company business from meetings the manager attended, and talking about possible future assignments or ways to improve what the team is doing (forward-looking discussions).

5. Don't over schedule tele-workers. As long as they are attending all meetings, sending updates and delivering on-time, who cares if they sleep late and work late, or wake up a solid until 9am, so they can play tennis at 10am. Tele-workers will do that. But if they are delivering, be flexible and stay flexible. Your people will be happier and so will you.

6. If people start missing meetings and updates and deadlines, you have objective criteria on which to evaluate poor performance. Have these conversations right away. Same day. Conference calls and deadlines can be missed sometimes for legitimate reasons...frequent and immediate conversations can get to the bottom of these issues and more likely resolve them.

This short list of things to consider will get you started. As the working world becomes more spread out, managers will more and more have people on their teams scattered all over the place. By setting specific goals and deadline and manager can spend more time organizing and looking into the future, and less time hunting down meaningless updates from his/her team every four hours.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Survey: Your Experiences with Good and/or Bad Managers

I am collecting research for a book on the subject of manager behavior and how it impacts the actions and behaviors of people on their teams, and how it impact organization performance. This book will be written from the perspective of the people who have managers, not from the perspective of a manager.

I have set up a simple survey, which asks five short questions about your experiences with good and/or bad managers. I would appreciate hearing your stories, as it will add greatly to the entertainment and education value of the book.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Not to Do Your Job

In his book, The Future of Management, Gary Hamel asks this question: Do you spend 20% of your time on a project that has nothing to do with your day job? Do you allow your people to? If not…why not?

The implication here is that you should spend a significant portion of your time on some future looking endeavor, if only as a means to exercise your creativity. If you spend all of your time on your current job duties, you will not be ready for a future that is bearing down on you.

Alan Greenspan would schedule several hours every week, in the office, just to read…articles, books, reports, etc. He did this to escape his daily duties and to keep the flow of new ideas coming. When I read this, in Bob Woodward’s book Maestro, I immediately went to my calendar and scheduled every Friday from 2-5pm and called it, “Reading.”

For most of us, Friday late afternoons are light. We get a little tired, fewer people want to schedule meetings then, and we look forward to the weekend. We have these feelings even if we do willingly work some weekends.

In any event, I started blocking out this time, and I sat at my desk and read…articles, books, replayed recorded webinars I couldn’t attend during the week…and any other manor of self-education I could find.

At first people would walk by my desk and see me with my feet up, reading a book and thought I was slacking off. I would say, in no uncertain terms, that I was reading to better myself and to get new ideas for next week. I encouraged them to go do the same. Most people shrugged it off. Most people do not read books, I have discovered.

I also started encouraging my team to schedule time at work to read. And that if they did, I would not see it as a waste of time or as a means to escape work. I know they work hard, and I wanted them to spend some time thinking about new things we could try in the future. I am not sure we adhered to it as much as we should have, but when I read Hamel’s book, I was moved by the call for spending time on projects beyond our job duties.

I had not done that…spent time on projects outside of job area…and by and large my team had not either. I wish we would have and the next time I am on a team, I will get the team to decide that we should spend 20% of our time on projects beyond our job descriptions. What a great way to have variety at work and ready ourselves for a rapidly changing future.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Give Your People Room to Operate

“Don’t pen people in, otherwise they will emotionally wilt. Good employees will want room to operate (while still having their managers or team leaders establish realistic boundaries). Rhetoric about empowering people, coupled with lots of limitations, is asking for an outcome that doesn’t exist in nature. It’s like trying to breed a cross between and lion and a sheep.” – Emontionomics, by Dan Hill

Monday, March 9, 2009

Managers – Start Using Twitter, Improve Performance

Especially, if you manage a team remotely, start using Twitter. You can set up a Twitter account and protect your profile to keep your Twitter updates private, so no one but people you approve (your team) can view it. OK, so now that we got the privacy thing out of the way…how are you going to use Twitter to get your team better connected and improve performance?

Team Members Helping Each Other

As a manager, you should constantly be thinking of new ways to get your team to perform better. One thing to consider is to figure out ways to enable your team to manage itself more. For example, if team members needs help, it is often true that they first go to their manager. After all, the manager is in charge for a reason, right? He/She knows all the answers.

Even if that is true, and most of us know that it isn’t…a manager can quickly become a bottleneck if everyone on the team is waiting in line at the manager’s desk for answers.

With Twitter, team members can post questions and other team members can answer them. Voila! Team members helping each other. Performance is already improving.

Update Your Team

Now that you have freed up some of your time by getting your team to help each other, you can spend more time thinking of ways to keep your team informed of new events, changes in the business, customer reports, etc.

For example, don’t wait for your weekly team meeting to update your team on the VPs new plans for the department. Send a tweet right away.

Get Updates from your Teams

Have your team use Twitter to send updates on what they are working on. Short updates like, “just credited Mr. Johnson’s account $50…was mad about mistake on account statement. Happy now.” OR “The test isn’t going well……need another 2 hours. Sorry guys. I’m working on it.” Well, that was easy. The entire team learned something, and you know what is happening on the team. Less micro managing, that’s for sure.

Twitter will increase the transparency and openness on your team. Collaboration will increase and team members will begin to help each other more…because helping each other will become easier and more productive.

So what’s in it your you, the manager? You will get to manage less freeing up your time to work on important matters and less time on urgent matters.

Try it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Micro-Managers Are Micro-Managers

I don’t mean to be political, as they often seems to set off half the people I know, but recent events and actions of the federal government remind me of the micro-managers we have all worked with in the office.

The federal government is organizing plans and setting policies to fix the following: the Banking System, Wall Street, the Auto Industry, Health Care, the Energy Industry, and the Economy. And this is just a partial list.

It seems frequently, we read in the paper of another change to a plan or a new plan to fix something else. Meanwhile, we, the American people, are all out there, sitting at our desks, waiting for our manager (the federal government) to figure it all out and come out and tell us what to do.

It is true that we live in a republic and the voters elect representatives to go to Washington to govern on our behalf. But the federal government should consider delegating some of that authority by empowering the American people and giving us the freedom and responsibility to fix the problems.

That the federal government thinks the cause of our economic problems is a select few groups of greedy executives pursuing self-interest is not unlike the micro-managers view that if you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself. “People cannot be trusted to perform as task as I want it performed, so I must make all of the decisions and see to it that it succeed.”

One thing is certain…people who work for managers like that are de-motivated, discouraged, and actively disengaged. Performance suffers and in many cases, people quit micro-managers.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lead Change or Fail to Survive

GM announced today it has real concerns about its going-concern. In other words, they don’t think they going to make it.

Imagine, a mainstay of the American economy, gone. Seemingly just like that. If we were investors, we would take about how smart it is to buy big, strong blue chip stock and forget about it. That is the smart way to invest. Well, if you bought GM back in the 70s and held until today, you made no money. In fact, you lost plenty.

It is appropriate for a manager to reflect in Peter Drucker’s advice on leading change. He tells us that those who manage change will not survive; that once we release our products they begin to die; that the only way to survive is to lead change and create the future we want.

Perhaps GM did not read Drucker.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Change or be Irrelevant

“…unless it is seen as the task of the organization to lead change, the organization will not survive….the only ones who survive are the change leaders.”
– Peter F. Drucker
You know that expression about making it happen rather than waiting for it to happen to you? Well, Drucker sums it up well by describing the importance of being a change leader or better said…being someone who creates his own future.

If you are a manager worried about your job, as so many are, remember that you cannot predict the future. But you can create it. You can look for another job, start your own business on the side, or you can work extra hard at your existing job, and re-focus your efforts not only on delivering great results, but anticipating what your team will have to do in the future and start doing it now.

But whatever you do, don’t sit there and wait for something to happen to you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Educate Yourself...You Just Gotta

If you are a generalist, like a general manager, who has good leadership skills, learn a new technical skill. Perhaps finance or how to use Crystal Reports or VBA in Excel. At the very least, you will know more about what can be done with these skills, and with your forward-looking view, you will be better able to anticipate what you need, how it can be done, and what type of person you need to help you do it.

If you are a technical person, like an engineer, accountant or writer, you should learn leadership skills or selling skills. Yes, leadership and sales can be learned, practiced and mastered. Think about it, the two most important jobs in any organization might just be organizing, directing and leading the work of others and bringing in and retaining more business.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tighter and Tigher: More than Layoffs and What You Can Do About It

Quickly frankly, the only response to this scary scenario is to lead the charge in your organization to cut costs. It doesn’t matter if you are not a manager or do not have any authority over anyone. No boss is going to be upset that someone on the team took some initiative to save the company money.

Start acting like it is your business and come up with ideas to save money…then elicit the help of your co-workers. Lead by example by starting with the little, easy things. Turn off computers and monitors and the office lights every night. Remind your co-workers constantly. Be a pest. Post signs over all light switches that read, “Turn off the lights when you leave.”

Switch all the printers to double-sided printing and ink-saving draft mode. Better yet….have a goal not to print anything unless it is for a client. Encourage your co-workers not to print anything either.

There must be hundred of little things around the office that you don’t even think about…that are costing thousands and thousands of dollars.

Do you really need to buy a book (and expense it) to learn how to program in excel so you can finish the report for your boss, or can you get a book from the library or read some free articles on the internet?

Once you get the ball rolling on the little things, why not start going after bigger ideas. Organize a team of volunteers throughout your company and call yourselves the “The Company Cost-Cutters (CCC).” Meet weekly to discuss what you saved last week and what more could you save next week. Ask your boss to open up the budget and expense reports to show how much you are saving. Celebrate when ever expenses fall because of an idea you implemented.

Be out in the lead on this one…and suggest to your boss even bigger ideas like temporarily suspending the 401K match or eliminating bonuses, raises and promotions for a while. Think of all the things people do that waste time. All those things you talk about in the office when you, “I can’t believe we do it this way.” Time wasting processes are a huge drain on expenses. Come up with ideas for eliminating those wasting steps. Come up with a “Stop Doing List.*

This type of initiative says you feel it too and want to help sustain the organization for the long-term.

Be out in the lead on this one. In other words, do it to yourself before someone does it to you.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just Tell Me What You Accomplished

Could someone in a meeting please tell me what they completed and not what they are or have been working on? Too many meetings involve people rambling on about what they are doing, instead of what they did.

For example:

“Steve, can you give us an update on the product release?”

“Sure. John, Sara and I had some very meaningful conversations last week about next steps. We have also been going back and forth with Mike in operations about setting up a meeting to discuss his role.

“I left a message with Katherine about the additions to the budget, but I have not heard back.

“Also, the testing is going well and…blah, blah, blah.”

I would rather just here. “No update this week.”

Please. Unless you accomplished a task or milestone, please say “No update this week.” Unless you need help from the group in accomplishing a task, please say, “No update.” Unless there are circumstances that may hinder the completion of a task on time and you need help from the team, please say, No update.”

Meetings are not the venue for pouring over every detail of your daily activities. They are for updating the team on accomplishments. Time outside of meetings, during your work day that are for working with the team to get stuff done…making phone calls, asking for help, collecting data, preparing presentations and discussing pricing options.

During a meeting, busy managers are not interested in hearing about your activities…we just want to know about your results or what you accomplished. Having conversations with co-workers about the task is not an accomplishment.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tips on Empowering Service Workers

Saturday, February 21, 2009

…But all Leaders Must be Readers

The National Endowment for the Arts recently found that 57% of Americans did not read a book last year and an AP poll found that 27% did not read a book in 2007. Either way, the story is not good. I can tell you from first hand experience that most of my friends do not even have bookshelves, much less books. But they do have shelves and shelves filled with DVDs organized like the Library of Congress. These are terrible stats, yet has released the Kindle 2. Go figure.

If you want to get ahead at work, you should be reading constantly. If you want to succeed as a leader, you will want to read more than that.

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders must be readers. - Harry Truman
As a leader, you need a wide perspective. You need ideas from seemingly unrelated places. You need examples of how to do things from people who have done it before. You get these from reading. The more you read the more adept you will become at putting different ideas together as your own and implementing them.

After all, implementing (taking action) your ideas is all that matters.

Many people say they just don’t have time to read. Well, I disagree. There are few people busier than the President of the United States. George W. Bush read 95 books in 2006. Karl Rove, his advisor, read 110 that year. You can bet President Obama reads in similar fashion.

Do you still think you don’t have time to read? Make the time.

You should have a goal to read at least 12 books per year. Or if you prefer: one book per month. My goal is to read one book per week, and I am on book six for far this year. It is not that difficult to do if you turn off the TV an hour early every night.

I owe much of my success as a manager to reading all of the management and leadership books I did and putting what I read into practice. How could I just know how to do things without first learning about it? How could I find my own leadership-style without learning from the styles of others? I couldn’t. Nor can anyone successful.

So start today and make a point of reading more. It is the best way to get ahead and stay ahead. And in these uncertain, economic times, managers need all the help we can get.

This list ought to get you through the rest of this year:

The One-Minute Manager
The 360 Degree Leader
Self-Leadership and the One-Minute Manager
Jack: Straight from the Gut
Good to Great
The Practice of Management
The Effective Executive
The Leadership Challenge
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Managing Transitions
Whale Done

If you read all of these books this year, and take actions from each one in your work, it will make a noticeable difference in the performance of your team and thus, your performance.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Manager is a Leader Not a Follower

Too many times, I have seen managers ask their boss what they should do and how they should do it. If you do this, you are not a manager. You are an order taker.

A manager’s job is not to execute every decision of his/her boss or to ask the boss how or whether to do things a certain way. A manager’s job is to organize the work of others with the sole purpose of achieving a set objective. Depending on the objective, it could be set by the boss or it could be set by the manager. But mostly, the “what” is set by the boss, and the “how” is set by the manager.

A manager needs to figure out the how and that is one of the big rewards of being a manager…the ability to figure out how to do something and then do it.

If you have someone on your team that asks for vacation day…don’t discuss it with your boss. Make the decision yourself. You know the team workload the best. Decide. If John, who works for you offers to work late a few days this week so he could get a day or two ahead on his work, why not agree on-the-spot to his vacation request. You will gain respect, loyalty and goodwill from John, and you have freed your boss from another decision.

If someone on your team wants to work at home next Tuesday while waiting for the cable guy to come…..make the decision yourself. Don’t ask your boss. Decide. If Katherine, has a report due that same day, what do you care if she stays at home waiting for the cable guy…but wakes up early, finishes the report and turns it in by 9am. You get your report. Katherine feels respected as a responsible adult. And once again, your boss doesn’t have to bother with decisions that you, as a manager, should be making.

These seem like small, insignificant examples, but I have seen and heard managers have discussions with senior managers for longer than just a few minutes about whether someone on the team should be able to take a vacation.

I have also had managers tell me, “Well, my boss wants to be involved in these kinds of things.” Or “I can’t just let Katherine work from home…my boss will go crazy and what message does it send to the rest of the team…that they can stay at home and not work?”

First of all, and I ask again, if the work is getting done…what do you care? Trust me, people who work for managers think this…”If I send my manager the report early, why can’t I leave early occasionally to go to my son’s soccer game.” People love working for managers who are flexible and reasonable and respectful. They will work harder for bosses like that.

And as for the senior manager who “wants to be involved.” Why can’t you just un-involve them? Just start making decisions and saying to your boss, “don’t worry about it…I’ll take care of it.” Then, deliver results. Your boss will come around and grow to respect the fact that they do not have to worry about your team.

If your boss does not come around….find a new boss. But for Pete’s sake, be a leader; make decisions; treat people with respect; and deliver results.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How to Talk to an Executive: Ask Big Picture Questions

When you have an opportunity talk to an executive or anyone of importance for that matter, it is better to ask one good, big picture question and then sit back and listen, than it is to tell them about the details of your day.

Think about it, no one cares about you the way you do. And most people care more about themselves than about you. So people take great interest in people who ask about them. This applies to dealing with pretty much any one….it is better to be interested than interesting.

So when you have a moment with the CEO or the SVP of Marketing, ask a single question about the business…what is challenging or how the latest move by your competitor is going to impact your company.

Here are some examples:

Question: How have our customer reacted to our recent price increase? Have they complained or left?

Question: Has the initial reaction to our new marketing campaign been positive?

Question: I am excited about our new product line…have sales been what we expected?

Hopefully these examples will prompt you to come up with better questions specific to your situation. The key is to be genuinely interested in the state and future of the business and be actively engaged in finding out how it is going?

Ask your question and then listen actively. Be interested! Sometimes you will have an opening for a follow-up question and sometimes the executive will ask you about your opinion on the matter. Be prepared for a brief, but specific response to the executive’s question. Have an opinion.

If you ask the question, how have our customers reacted to our recent price increase? Have they complained or left? The executive will give you an answer and may ask you, what is your experience with the customer on this? Be prepared to offer an answer. Perhaps you could say, “Well, I don’t talk to customer directly in operations, but my friends in customer service are telling me X, Y, and Z…….and I do seem to be responding to more requests regarding pricing exception for some customers.”

The point of having a response ready is to demonstrate you are interested and have an opinion on the matter.

Once you have asked your question, listened actively and responded briefly to any follow-up questions remember to be the one who ends of conversation with a quick, “OK, then. Thanks for your time. I’ll get you.”
Let the executive go.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to Talk to an Executive: Less is More

In a series of short posts, I will discuss how to talk effectively with executives. When you are not an executive, it is difficult to know what they want, and since they are so high up in the organization with so much power, it is easy to be intimidated. This also makes it easy to make mistakes. But if you follow a few simple rules, the fear will melt away, you can avoid common mistakes, and you will begin to make a much bigger and better impression on high-level executives.

I’ll begin with a broad topic: Whenever you talk with executives remember that less is more. Executives are extremely busy people and their days move quickly. So in a classic paradox, the best way to get more time with executives is to take as little of their time as possible.

Be brief in your conversations. Stick to quick, short answers or ask them questions. Do not ramble on about the excruciating minutiae of every single daily event in your life. And always, always, always, be the one to end the conversation with a polite, “Well, OK…I’ll let you go…” and watch them jump all over that opportunity to scoot on down the hall to their next meeting. They will appreciate that!

Don’t worry, not all conversations with executives will be like this. There are times when good executives make the time to have longer, more meaningful conversations with employees. The good ones do this anyway. But I am talking about the day-to-day conversations in between meetings and walking down the halls. So remember…95% of your interactions with executives should follow the concept: less is more.

Start trying this the next time you have the urge and opportunity to speak with an executive. See what happens.

In the future, we’ll discuss more rules for talking effectively with executives.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Problems with Power

I love irony. It makes you stop in your tracks, if only for a brief moment. It makes you think, “That’s funny.”

I recently did some consulting work for a global energy and utility company. I was working with the IT group on a training needs assessment for a new software system they were implementing. The nature of the work I did is immaterial here except to say, it was interesting work and the people were smart, able and motivated to make sure their people were ready to use the new system.

OK. OK. I am getting to the irony.

On the second day, I wandered around the office to orient myself to the surrounding and find out where people sat, where the restrooms rooms were, and the location of the break room.

In the break room was a table with two microwaves and a small toaster-oven. There was a sign on the wall above the two microwave ovens. The sign read:

“Due to power problems, please only use one microwave oven at a time. Thank

I stopped in my tracks. “Wait a minute.” I thought. “This is a power company that supplies energy to millions of households in the U.S. and Europe, and they have power problems that will affect the use of a microwave oven?

“That’s funny.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Do You Have a Monkey on Your Back?

Sometimes as managers, we get weighed down with monkeys placed on our backs by our team. I have tried to fight this problem with varying levels of success throughout my career, and got better and better as I went along. It can happen in a flash, and managers should be aware of the dangers involved of letting this happen.

It happens to new managers often. It happens to micro-managers….well, nothing “happens” to micro-managers because that would mean sheer terror for a micro-manager. Let me re-phrase…micro-managers do it. Experienced, effective managers let this happen when they get complacent.

Here is the story.

A manager is sitting in his office one morning. He came in early to plan his day. As his team arrives to work it begins to happen…slowly at first. But by the end of it, it appears to have happened in the blink of an eye.

John comes in with a copy of a report and asks the manager to review it before he turns it over to marketing and wants to know what his next assignment is. This is a 20-page report and should be turned into marketing by tomorrow afternoon.

Lisa pops in to the manager’s office, chats a little about American Idol and then asks, “Could you help me with Peter from Customer Service? I am having trouble getting his help and I cannot finish my assignment until I get those customer retention numbers.”

Steve arrives and asks the manager to please schedule a meeting with the operations managers. Oh, and also invite Connie. Connie should really be there for this meeting.

Dooh! The manager dropped his guard for 20 minutes, and eight of his people, by 9:00am, have come into his office asking for help in some form or another. Now, the manager has eight people sitting at their desks doing nothing all day, waiting for a response from him, while the manager has to stay late to do the work of eight people.

This is not managing. This is doing other people’s work. And doing it ineffectively. The manager now has no time to spend planning, setting the team’s direction, meeting with other managers to discuss the progress of other company projects. There is no time now to have performance review meetings or to give any informal feedback to his people. He certainly does not have time to develop stretch assignments to give his people opportunities to grow.

This happens, to some degree, to all managers. It happens quickly and must be avoided. In each case, there is a way to turn it around back on his people to handle.

To John, the manager could ask if the report is in final draft stage, if John checked the figures with operations or obtained those cost figures from finance.

To Lisa, the manager could say, “Why don’t you call Peter and tell him what you are working on and why it is important. Tell him, I would really appreciate his help on this.”

The manager could ask Steve to set up the meeting…even create the agenda and lead the meeting. “Steve, you know this project better than anyone, why don’t you schedule the meeting, set up the agenda, and if you like, we can review your agenda together if you have any questions about how to proceed.”

WOW! Steve is feeling pretty good about being told he knows the project better than any. He feels important that he can invite all these executives to the meeting and lead that meeting.

Steve is excited and happy. The manager is free to set up and assign a new project to someone on his team. And, no monkeys!

How many monkeys do you have on your back today? Get rid of them.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are You Becoming Obsolete?

I mean it. Are you? Think about it. In today’s information economy, most of us are knowledge workers, who use our brains as our means of producing goods and services. It is through the knowledge we have acquired and its application that we can be paid for what we do. Whether it is writing articles for a magazine, setting up a computer network or helping someone invest their money, it is our minds through which we create value.

Do you think a computer programmer who knew BASIC in 1986 would have a valuable skill in 1998? Unless this person learned HTML or Java or Perl, they would be out of business.

Sony owned the portable music market for years. They practically invented it. If you are younger than 30, you probably have no idea what a Sony Walkman is. People of my generation used to carry around their Walkmans every where. Like you do with your iPod. I know. Hard to imagine anything came before the iPod, but like the Walkman, people can become just as obsolete.

Here are four ways you can avoid becoming obsolete.

Read. It is not much more simply than that. Set a goal to read at least a book a month. Notice I said, “at least.” By reading books, you can learn anything. How to use Microsoft Excel. How to be a better manager. How to analyze financial statements. How to writing winning sales copy. Anything. And if you use a local library, you can do it for free.

Go Back to School. Peter Drucker recommended that knowledge workers go back to school every 3-4 years. Imagine that. Every 3-4 years. Sounds impractical. Well, you don’t have to enroll in a full graduate degree program every 3-4 years. There are plenty of self-study programs or continuing education programs that are much shorter in length. Often times, you can get your company to pay for it. If you can show it will make you a more valuable employee and a more loyal one, most company will pay.

Volunteer for additional assignments at work. If you take a little extra time at work, you can volunteer to help out on a project outside of your area of expertise. Not too many teams will turn down extra help. Call up the manager of a company project that

Volunteer at a local charity or club in your town. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about leadership or sales or teambuilding, if you are on a committee to raise money for a charity function. Plus, you will meet new people, expand your horizons and help those less fortunate. Win-Win.

My point is this…keep renewing, rebuilding and reinventing yourself, if you want to survive and thrive in your career. You other choice is to continue to refine your knowledge of the BASIC computer language and hope someone will want that skill tomorrow.

Will Rogers once said, “Even if you are on the right track, if you are standing still, you are going to get run over.” Nicely put, Roy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gain Commitment and Loyalty During a Recession

Most experts would agree that the best way to behave with your people during a recession (or otherwise uncertain times) is to communicate as often and candidly as possible. This shows respect, and people respond well to being treated this way….even under circumstances in which they could be laid off.

And one type of conversation you can have with your people is about helping them think through and identify new skills they can develop, so they can come out of this recession more valuable. Whether your people (or you, for that matter) are laid off, having this discussion is a way to strengthen a relationship and earn commitment and loyalty.

There are many ways we can develop new skills and there are plenty of colleges and universities that offer degrees and certification programs that are easy to attend and relevant to these changing times. Take a look at a stock chart of the Apollo Group (the parent company of the University of Phoenix). The stock price has almost doubled since April 2008, as enrollment numbers rise. People are updating their skills and increasing their education to become more valuable coming out of this recession.

It is not always necessary to obtain a full bachelor or master’s degree, which can take 1-3 years. In shorter periods of time, one can obtain certifications in project management, human resources, all manner of IT skills (and many others) at scores of local universities that offer continuing education programs.

Talk to your people about programs like these and encourage them to explore this option. Check to see if the company tuition reimbursement program would cover some or all of these expenses. That could be a nice kicker for your people.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Do Different Leaders in Different Functions have Different Skills?

In my last post, I posed the question whether a leader needs technical expertise in the area they lead. If the answer is yes, it implies that different leaders have different problems to solve. IT leaders have IT problems. Customer Service leaders have customer problems. And so on.

However, Peter Drucker makes a point that all managers have the same problems:

"…management everywhere faces the same problems. Is has to organize work for
productivity; it has to lead the worker towards productivity and

- Peter Drucker in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices"

So you have to ask yourself; re managers on your organization leading people towards productivity and achievement? And does it matter whether they are finance managers or operations managers?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Does a Leader Need Technical Expertise in the Area He/She Leads?

Yesterday, Yahoo! hired Carol Bartz to be its CEO. Bartz was the CEO of Autodesk, which is a software company that develops computer-aided design 3D software. Some analysts criticized the move citing Batrz’s lack of experience in the consumer internet media business. Never mind her experience running a 7,300-employee, $4+ billion market cap publicly-traded software company in the Silicon Valley area. Never mind her experience managing C-Level officers, and her Ph.D. She lacks experience in the consumer internet media business.

The question is begged…does a leader need specific technical skills (in the case of Bartz, does she need specific consumer internet media expertise) in the area they manage? Does a supervisor of a networking team need to know how to set up computer networks? How about a senior manager of that same group? What about the Vice President of IT? What about the CIO?

Answers to these questions are debatable for some, but one thing is clear: the higher you rise in an organization the less important are your technical skills, and the more important are your leadership skills. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that new managers struggle is when they fail to stop doing the technical work are start managing the technical work of others. Need proof? Read Linda Hill’s book, Becoming a Manager. She talks about that very struggle...the transition from a person being an individual contributor to a manager. A good read and a subject for another day.

As a leader in any organization, your most important skill is the ability to lead the work of others. If you take the attitude that if you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself, you will fail. It is your job to get others to perform. Mike Leach is the coach of the Texas Tech football team. He never played college football. His team finished 11-2 this season. Does he need the technical expertise of playing college football to succeed? Do you think that when his team struggles, he thinks he should put on a helmet and suit up? The answer is “no” on both counts.

But too many managers think it is their technical expertise that will help them be successful. In other worlds, if John does not finish an assignment correctly, the manager takes over and finishes it themselves. How does this help John be better tomorrow? How does this allow the manager to spend time planning the work effort for the team next quarter? It doesn’t.
Managers need to let go of their technical expertise as a primary skill and develop leadership skills. Leaders make organizations succeed.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What Micro-Managers Do: Anatomy of a Meeting

I used to walk around the office past the glass conference rooms and observe the meetings in progress. At first, I was just walking through the office and casually looked in on who was having meetings...making the occasional gestures of hello to people who were my friends. Over time, I began to notice people’s behaviors in these meetings...some people sat up straight, others slouched in their chairs, some people looked down at the ground, some people always sat next to the manager, others consistently had food and/or drink with them. There were all kinds of interesting little things that I just thought were those interesting little things.

But there was one behavior that I became a little obsessed with. I noticed the same people always had their mouths moving. These were the managers that people called the micro-managers. The more I noticed it, the more obvious it became, of course…the micro-managers were doing all the talking. Maybe this is not a ground-breaking revelation. Maybe.

I am no behavioral psychologist, but I did seem to be observing some consistent behavior. And if you think about it, there may be something there. To test my hypothesis (micro-managers do most of the talking during meetings) answer the following questions for yourself: In your staffing meetings, who is doing all of the talking? Among your peers, who is doing all of the talking? Are you doing all of the talking in your staff meetings?

We have all attended meetings like these. I am sorry to say, I have led meetings like this. (No one is perfect). So I have started to put together a list of things that occur during a meet led by a micro-manager.

The anatomy of a team meeting led by a micro-manager:

  1. Meeting agenda created, sent out and followed by the manager.
  2. Key updates asked for and delivered by the manager. Well, in some instances, the manager will go around the room for updates…by think about it…once the team member finishes their first sentence or two, the manager jumps in, completes the thought, adds a few more and then assigns more thoughts for future tasks.
  3. 80-90% of the talking is done by the manager. It is not difficult to figure out why most team members feel meetings are a waste of time. All they do is sit there and listen to the manager who has all the answers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Leading in Uncertain Times

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article, "How to Protect Your Job in a Recession" (September 2008).

During tough times, many people get so worried about their job that they loose focus on their work. They update their resume, stop going to office events, stop questioning and challenging work processes out of fear of rocking the boat. They face inward when they should face outward. This is the opportunity for a leader to increase engagement.

When you read this article, you think about the things an individual can do to improve individual value and increase the odds of surviving a downturn, like being optimistic, focusing on customers and volunteering for tasks and projects beyond your job description. But when you put on your leadership hat, you see the advice in a different light, as a list of leadership behaviors. I am reminded of the work of Kouzes and Posner (The Leadership Challenge) in which they declare, “Leaderships is everyone’s business.”

Not all individual contributors realize that they are or can be leaders, so leading in tough times requires us to develop this belief and to help identify opportunities in which people can exhibit leadership, high performance and engagement beyond their job description.

Developing the Belief
There are many ways in which we can develop the belief in people that they are leaders. We can speak candidly with a balance between cold-hard reality and optimistic focus on customers, offering genuine support and belief in their abilities, and recognizing actions taken to face outward and increase the number of hats they wear.

Identify Opportunities
Leaders cannot force a horse to drink, but he/she can lead a horse to water by communicating the importance of being more involved and helping to create and/or identify opportunities for which people can engage. It is a leader’s job to help people realize the myriad opportunities beyond job descriptions in which they can expand horizons, create value and demonstrate leadership.

Individuals are responsible for their own lives and in the end, must believe in themselves and open the door when opportunity knocks, but a leader’s role in tough times is to make additional efforts to help people realize this.

I recommend reading this article and having your people read it too.

I also recommend that you ask everyone who works for you to read the Ken Blanchard book, “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager." It is a short, easy to read and entertaining way to learn about being a leader. The most powerful part of this book is the section on assumed constraints, which helps people realize most the constraints people perceive as keeping them from leading are assumed and self-imposed. A hard pill to swallow for some.