No MBA mumbo-jumbo, just stuff that's worked through 30 years of team-building in business and the military.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Leading Through Transition

Change is constant, especially with your team. People leave, people come. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes you have to transition a key person. Success then comes down to two things: training and expectations.

Training is more administrative than leadership, so it doesn’t need a lot of attention here. Suffice it to say the more training you can do with the outgoing person, the better.

Expectations, though, take some thought. Are they the same for the new person? Sometimes you end up with less experience and you want to lower expectations. Sometimes a new hire is a chance to up your game. No matter what you do, though, your team, and others, will expect the same things from the new person.

If you want transitions to succeed, and new people to acclimate quickly, you have to be very deliberate about thinking through what your expectations are, and then making sure your team has the same expectations. That way, the new guy or gal doesn’t get conflicting signals.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It May Be Your Fault They're Lazy

A colleague of mine is frustrated with the slackers on his team. Truth is, I have a couple too. But as we talked it through, we realized we were to blame.

First, we wondered where they got the idea that they can get away with slacking off. The answer: Us. We’re the ones who set the standards for our teams. If somewhere along the line slacking off got to be OK, it’s because we let the standard slip. 

Second, we realized that sometimes they just don’t have anything to do. There’s no demand for their work. In that case, we don’t have work flow balanced very well. That’s our job too, to make sure there’s the right amount of labor to keep every step of the process moving. Not enough, and someone waits (and looks lazy). Too much, and someone stands around (and looks lazy).

There are a few people in the world who will actively try to evade work, but I don’t think there are many. Instead, the ones you think are lazy more likely fall into the two categories described above: the opportunists, who just don’t work any harder than you make them, and the ones who run out of work. Either way, you can fix it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Get It Right

There’s a thing we say at the plant: If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

That’s a good concept for almost any kind of work, but it has special significance for leaders. That’s because there are a lot more questions than just how to redo the work.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to retrain your team to the standard? Your example is their permission; when they see you compromise, that becomes the new standard. So think about it the next time you’re tempted to not go back and get your safety glasses, or to skip that call to the customer.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do the corrective action? When you’re the leader, your lowered standards can result in process lapses, and sometimes someone else catches it. In that case, you might be ordered to fix it, or required by a customer to document you fixed it. Or even pay a regulatory agency a fine and then still have to fix it.

The fastest, most effective and most efficient way to lead is to do the right thing, always. Any so-called short-cut will only require you to come back later on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Leading When You Don't Feel It

Let’s be honest. Some days you just don’t feel like leading. The goal doesn’t inspire you, life outside work seems more engaging, you just don’t have the energy. Summertime especially we can all be vulnerable to days like that.

The first thing to do is remind yourself that you owe it to your team and your organization to lead. Now is the time for your discipline to take over; you have to do it no matter how you feel. That means you have to act as if. Do all the same things, even if you don’t feel the same passion.

It also can help just to focus on the next intermediate goal. Now is not the time for long-range planning, or recasting the vision. Trust the planning and vision-setting you did earlier, and just execute the next step. That will greatly simplify the mental part of leading.

Finally, cut yourself some slack. Instead of swinging for the fence, trying to connect on that home-run ball, just make solid contact and get a base hit. Someone once said, “Never try something vast with a half-vast attitude.” Some days, you need to give yourself permission just to tackle that one day as best you can.

The key, though: Don’t let yourself stay in this place very long. A few days while you cope with something else or regain your mental juice is OK. But if you’re thinking of mailing it in all summer, you need to do a gut check on whether you really want to lead at all.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

You're Not Using Your Best Motivational Tool

Write down the name of every team member you thanked for something in the last two days. What percent of your team is on that list?

If you wrote more than half of them, you’re an unusual person. Most of us reserve “Thank you” for people we need to ask things from, not for those we have authority over. And that, my friends, is the biggest danger with authority.

Because you should never have to use your authority to get team members to do things. Any normal worker will do his or her job because it’s the right thing to do. And if you want them to go above and beyond, then you should ask, not order.

And say thank you. If a team member ever does something that makes a difference (and they all do, all the time, or you shouldn’t have them on the team) then you’re wrong if you don’t acknowledge that. 

I struggle with this, because I’m old school. But the truth is that all of us just want someone to appreciate what we do.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let Them Tell You

Here’s a technique that’s so simple leaders seldom use it: Let them say what they’ll do. Then hold them to it.

I use this in most disciplinary situations, but it works other places too. When I have to discipline, I first tell the person why we’re talking - for example, “Packaging Line Two was idle for most of the morning yesterday because you were absent from your mill.” Note that this is a simple statement of what the bad thing was and what I believe the cause to have been.

I then ask them to explain, and listen while they do so. I may ask a few questions to clarify my or their understanding. And then I ask what they’re going to do to prevent a recurrence. We agree on something that should work, and then I ask them to write it down and sign it.

Only then do I talk about consequences, for this occurrence and the next. Consequences are completely separate from solutions, and probably less important.

The reason I like this method is that in all future cases we talk about a commitment that person made, not orders I gave. It eliminates a lot of the conversation right from the start. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

When Priorities Change

What’s the most critical thing your team has to get done today? If you haven’t thought about that question today, you probably don’t know. In that case, you’re still working a plan you made sometime in the past, and some factors may have changed. 

Change is most likely to come from two kinds of things: opportunities and crises. The common characteristic of the two is they can pop up at any time, and they don’t care about your plans.

So you need to have a habit and a process to keep up with the pace of change in your organization. My habit is to spend the last 15 minutes of the day reviewing the plan for the rest of the week. To know if changes are needed, I look at new orders in the system, and communication from salesmen, owners or key managers. 

It’s as simple as this: has demand (what we need to do) or capacity (the resources we have to do it) changed? If either has, you need to rethink tomorrow’s work, and likely someone’s number one thing is going to change.

If you don’t deliberately do this, some days your team is going to miss the most important thing.