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 4am...work 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.