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.