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

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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Don't Clog Your Bandwidth

We’ve all had it - that moment when, in your impatience, you get too many things going over the Wifi and everything slows to a crawl. When that happens to me, I picture several large people all trying to push through a doorway simultaneously. That’s a good mental picture of what’s happening with my data stream.

Just like the Internet, leaders have only so much bandwidth. Just like the Internet, available bandwidth might depend on contextual factors. For that reason, you need to be selective in how you task your bandwidth.

There are some things only you can do. There are some things others could do, but you should. Those two kinds of things should get your first and best time and energy.

Then there are those things that anyone could do but you maybe like to do. Beware of those; they’ll suck your time away in a hurry. They’re the work equivalent of Twitter. And finally, there are things that you want to poke your nose into that really aren’t your job. Those not only waste your time, but damage your relationships as well.

My rule of thumb: I plan only for the first two, the things only I can do or the things that I should do instead of someone else. The other stuff will clamor for my attention, and get it if I don’t already have my time planned around the good stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Trust is Breached

I’m coaching a supervisor through a tough thing right now. He observed one of his team out fishing when he was supposed to be home sick. He didn’t say anything to the person, but came to me with his anger and frustration.

He’s angry because he trusted the guy. He’s frustrated because a missing team member affects the whole team. 

I’m coaching him again about the basics of work relationships: honest communication, and accountability.

He needs first to talk it all out with his team member. He needs to tell him what he saw, how he came to see it, and how it was different that expected. He needs to be fair but explicit about how this person’s behavior affected the team, and how it makes it hard to trust. And then he needs to listen just as long as he talked, to give his team member a chance to explain, respond and, hopefully, agree to responsibility.

But here’s the hard part: after all that, if possible, he needs to motivate his team member to hold himself accountable. Accountability that comes from the boss will only be effective as long as the boss is watching. True accountability comes from a person’s own sense of how their behavior affects things they care about, things like their friends or their career. That kind of accountability comes from seeing clearly the consequences of losing trust.

If successful, my supervisor will end up with a team member who no longer wants to play hookie because he understands it isn’t worth the potential bad outcomes. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Option B

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, is said to have a sign in her office that reads, “Let’s kick the s— out of option B.” That quote allegedly came from a friend whose life took an unexpected turn for the worse.

I like it for two reasons. First, it recognizes the reality that your plan A isn’t always going to work. Second, it focuses all the same energy and enthusiasm onto plan B. It says that we might have lost a battle, but we still intend to win the war.

We all want to take the direct, easy route to our goals, but sometimes life doesn’t let us do that. Sometimes we even get pushed past option B to C or even D. At those times we have a choice. We can get discouraged, or we can get to work.

As leaders, we can’t afford to get discouraged. If we do, we’ll drag our teams down, and it will take a lot of work to pep them back up again. So we need to do a couple of things for our teams. We need to always have an option B. And, when the time comes, we have to show just as much enthusiasm for that second choice as we did for our first. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Know Who You're Talking To

I used to think that it was dishonest to change my message as I interact with different people. I wanted to be myself and expected everyone to either like it or lump it.

With some gray in my hair, I’ve come to realize that the ability to adapt communication to other people is critical. In leadership, most conversations are about sharing ideas and encouraging behaviors. In both cases you really need to make it as easy as possible for people to get it.

That’s why you always have to think about who you’re talking to, and talk in the best way to be heard. That best way is based on what they value. People will always plug into their own values; only the most altruistic will go through the work of plugging into yours.

So when you’re talking to your boss, you talk about organizational goals. When you’re talking to your peers, you talk about helping them solve their problems. When you’re talking to your team, you appeal to what they want out of the work. For some that’s self-fulfillment. For others, it might be security in the status quo, or the excitement of change.

This isn’t cynical button-pushing. It’s recognition that everyone has different reasons for why they show up every day. All you’re doing is showing them all why doing the right thing is the right thing for everyone.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Handling Drama

Interpersonal drama is one of my least favorite things, but my team is made up of people so sometimes I just have to deal with it. In fact, I just finished leading my team through a situation that, even though it seemed like middle-school stuff to me, could have become a hostile workplace complaint.

Here are a couple of things I was reminded of.

Don’t add fuel to the fire. I was tempted to do some venting of my own. That just adds to the drama, though. You kill a fire by removing fuel and oxygen; you end drama the same way. You need to be the consistent, calm weight that smothers the passion.

Don’t let them get historical. The people involved want to point out every negative thing the other guy ever did, going back to the start of time. There’s no purpose to that. I said, “Look, everyone has flaws. Let’s talk about today.” Keep the focus very tightly on the incident at hand.

Go back to commonly accepted values. In my case, I leaned heavily on the company’s respect policy. “Remember, everyone deserves to be treated with respect. You need to do that even when you’re hurt.”

Finally, give it some time. No one can keep up a full head of steam forever, so a cooling-off period can be a big help. I separated some folks for a few days, and reminded them of expectations and consequences before I put them back together.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Don't Give Unspoken Permission

I’m coaching through a problem today: some team members saw an executive walking a friend to his car. The man was smoking, and we have a no-smoking campus. And several of my team smoke.

The old saying “monkey see, monkey do” doesn’t really apply to employees except for this. If they ever observe you pushing the envelope as far as rules go, they’ll take that as permission. If they get called on it, after all, they can just point at you.

That’s why I hold myself to a much stricter standard as far as rules go than I do my team. I know that seems backward. After all, isn’t rank supposed to have its privileges? But the way I see it, I’d rather cut them some slack and have them see it as kindness, than have them see me do something I won’t permit them to do.

It’s about obligations. I have an obligation to my organization to see that rules are followed, at least in spirit. I also have an obligation to my team to treat them fairly. So I give them a break when I can, but they know it’s an exception because they never see me doing it. It builds trust, and leaders can’t lead without trust.