Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Favorites - 80% of the reason why leaders fail

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So what is the secret ingredient that creates outstanding leaders?  We've talked a lot in this blog about how there are a multitude of skills and attributes that can create strength in leaders.  You can be an extrovert, an extrovert, a visionary, a servant, etc.  In addition, situations call for different leadership styles:  in times of worker inexperience or crisis a more directive style works best, while in a more stable situation with seasoned workers more delegation and a lighter hand are called for.  So instead of exploring the possibilities and the spectrum, today let's go at it from the opposite perspective.  Why do some leaders flame out?

In his book People Skills Robert Bolton said that 80% of the reason why leaders fail is lack of people skills. In the world of production it's often the super-worker who is promoted to supervisor. It's common if not typical that their people skills (or the lack thereof) is not a consideration in the decision. And so the new leaders are, in many companies, fending for themselves in the interpersonal department. They learn what they think they need to know by modeling off of someone else (sometimes a scary proposition) or by using trial and error. (Who wants to be tried and erred upon until they get it right?)

If an individual is motivated to learn he can choose to turn his head to see more of the people around him and notice their reactions, positive or negative, to the circumstances around them and the actions the leader takes. But this is slow, and reliant on pre-existing conditioning for the individual to interpret what's going on with the people around him.  This method can't be counted upon to get somebody successfully through the transformation to leadership. There are several potential obstacles to becoming the leader with effective people skills:
  • The people side of things might not be on their radar screen. It's not that they don't care - it's just that they don't see it.
  • They are focused intently on their goals, their tasks. This can be the equivalent of wearing blinders while walking down the street - you see only what is in front of you, while the opportunities and hazards might be right beside you.
  • He or she is part of a system and a culture. Remember that role-modeling comment above? If the leader is creating his/her style based upon what he sees in the company he will think he only has a certain range of acceptable behavior available to him. Put a great people person in a dysfunctional culture and unless he is the senior-most leader (and sometimes even then) the dysfunctional culture will win.
If you want to see better leadership skills that result in more productivity and greater internal customer loyalty you have several potential actions to take:
  • Check yourself first. Chances are you'll figure out (if you're willing to see it) that the behavior that they're doing that's driving you nuts is a copy of what they see you doing.
  • Build a culture that reinforces the importance of interpersonal skills. It has to start from the top of the house. Interpersonal effectiveness has to be a factor in hiring, performance evaluations, promotion opportunities, etc. if you want to get proper alignment.
  • Do some diagnostics. Assessments like the Attribute Index can help you identify the extent to which Empathy is a master or a potential blind spot for this particular person. (It's simpler to ride the horse in the direction he's already going...) Then you can determine how to proceed with selection, development, and/or support systems based upon the data you receive.
  • Make a point of developing the people skills side. Effective leadership and supervisory behaviors can be learned just like technical skills can, yet it often receives short shrift in budget priorities. Success in this skill area makes the difference between employee engagement and disengagement, voluntary turnover, high or low productivity, etc.  These are not all soft, immeasurable outcomes! You can speed up the leadership development process by addressing all three legs of the leadership performance stool - human relations skills, goal setting and goal achievement, and the attitudes and assumptions that support them.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is satisfying work a right?

After all of the recent history about economic insecurity, it
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might follow that attitudes have shifted away from looking for passion at work toward being satisfied with a J.O.B. - one that pays the bills no matter what it is. Is that enough for you?  Do you have the right to search for something you love to do, even after learning some hard lessons about economic insecurity?
Over the years Summit coaches have worked with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of startups and closely held businesses.  One common denominator of all of those is the love the owner has for his or her work.
You could be a bit cynical and assert, "Sure, the startups haven't been in business long enough to see the downside.  It's all rosy before you really get your feet wet."  But there is more to it than that.
A number of times we have overheard heard business owners say, "I'm having fun."  When asked, "Are you making money?" they respond ambiguously, which translated means "No."  The challenger bounces back with, "How can you be having fun when you aren't making any money?!"  The answer lies in the intrinsic motivation that the work has for them.  They are drawn to the work.  For right now money isn't the point.
It might seem to follow that doing work that you love means that you will make money - as a matter of fact there are books written on that topic.  They write that you don't have to subject yourself to demoralizing, boring work just to keep body and soul together economically.  But sometimes people who do the work that they love truly don't care about the money.  They would do it for free, and sometimes do.  Sometimes they underprice because they want other people to be able to have their products and services.
Making money is in itself something that some people love.  For them there is no doing it just because you want to give it to somebody.  The call of the work is wrapped around the thrill of the chase.  It's not even so much about what the profit will buy as it is about the keeping of the score in numbers and dollars.
By now you've probably read multiple articles in the news about whether Boomers will be able to retire from work, and at what age.  For the Boomers, the generation that will take 100 years to turn 50, work provides much of the meaning in life. The money is only part of the issue.  One of the implications of doing work you love is that you can't imagine retiring from something that provides psychic fulfillment to you.  Perhaps the culture of the post-work society won't be so appealing as more people choose to call their own shots and do work that they love.
So what is to happen to people who don't love their work, for whom the job is not intrinsically rewarding?  Managers will need to find ways to help them have a level of autonomy about how they do their jobs, when they do them to the extent practical.  There are tasks within jobs that can be done with dozens of variations and still provide a good result, and if the manager can provide the wiggle room within which employees can choose their preferred methods, managers will provide opportunities for intrinsic reward.
Is satisfying work a right?  You might not be able to go that far in the argument.  Economic security is economic security, although have fun putting a sharper point on what that means in today's environment.  You might have to do some things that aren't all that fun in order to achieve a bigger, more important outcome for yourself and your family.  
But the search for work you love is a worthwhile pursuit.  You have so much to offer the world.  It's a matter of tuning in to determine what your gifts are, and then seeking out work that uses them, work that attracts you. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time to unveil the big idea

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Do you have a big idea that you have been keeping under wraps -  out of inertia or out of fear of failure? What's preventing you from taking a step toward developing that idea into something tangible? Is it possible that your big contribution is out there right now, waiting for you to get started on it? 

Fact #1 - The world has problems that are so tenacious and so big that it might be hard to believe that you could make a difference in them.

Fact #2 - There are solutions that have not yet been discovered or fully explored because the right people have not yet come together to collaborate.

Fact #3 - There are people out there in the same boat that you are in - with ideas, capacity, skills, and worthy intentions who could make a positive difference in the world.

Fact #4 - Economic sustainability and service to humanity (or the planet) don't have to be mutually exclusive terms.

You don't even have to be the one with the big idea in order to be a part of one.  What would you do, what could you do, if the right people were with you on a team?  There are jobs for a variety of contributors to do:

  • Catalyst - The one who throws the idea out there for somebody to grab onto, or the one who makes the case for a particular change or improvement.
  • Connector - The person who knows a lot of people, and who can notice opportunities to bring the appropriate people together.  
  • Technician - The person with stores of knowledge appropriate to the situation - this is the person who can build generators, or grow a successful crop of rice, or invent a new process.  
  • Financier - This is the person who has access to the money needed to pursue the project.  This isn't any old well-heeled person - it's someone who wants to do good and find interesting ways to use his or her money.  Immediate return isn't necessarily the primary motivator.
  • Soldier - Some big ideas require less in the way of high-flown technical solutions and more in the way of hands and feet doing labor to make the idea happen.  Soldiers go where the project needs them to go and do what the project needs them to do.
There is no problem too big that a team can't make a dent in it.  It's not instant, and it's not necessarily far-reaching at first.  But a big idea can stimulate other big ideas.  It can become a model, and from there it can be replicated and spread far afield from where it started.  What's your big idea?  Is it time that it come out from under wraps?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Quality focus run amok

The topic of quality receives so much air time, showing
up in company values statements and printed on meeting agenda after meeting agenda, that it becomes  a way of life.  It becomes a source of pride for employees and a source of gratification for customers.

Or does it?

Quality focus run amok can reveal itself as the sort of perfectionism that slows individuals and teams down.  It causes analysis paralysis, as more and more information is sought before making a 10-cent decision.  And it causes management gurus like Seth Godin to yell, "Ship it already!"

Quality is a worthy aspiration, but:

  • Regardless of quality you won't make any money on the products or services that have not yet shipped.
  • Anything beyond the customer's ability to perceive is not quality - it's cost.
  • Quality is also determined by speed and the total experience, not only by the thing that you are shipping.
Are you using quality as an excuse to delay taking a risk by making a decision?  Are you requiring a surgical level of precision on a backyard project?  Are you driving other people nuts because of your unrelenting process of scouring for errors?  And is your company overstaffed because you have checkers checking other checkers just to make sure that no problem slips through?

Here are the simple seven steps you need to take:
  1. Determine the requirements for the product or service, as determined by the customer.
  2. Hire and train the people to fulfill the requirements, and give them the power to interrupt the process to catch any problems as early as possible (and before you've invested more in the product).
  3. Produce the product according to spec, in a time frame that complies with customer requirements.
  4. Ship.
  5. Invoice and collect.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5
  7. After a reasonable sample size, evaluate the process for improvement opportunities, incorporating customer feedback and input from employees directly involved in making the product.
Are you thinking that this is oversimplifying your situation?  Perhaps it is.  Perhaps, though, you've been over-complicating it. Quality is a relative thing. It's a matter of the comparison between customer expectations and the delivered product or service.  The customer wants what they want, when they want it, through a process that is easy and convenient.  They want it at a price that is aligned with the value that they perceive they are buying.  Simple, eh?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Izzie's Rules

Isabel Rohrbaugh probably wouldn't think of herself as a leader.
Isabel Rohrbaugh
She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, and a beloved aunt and cousin.  She didn't conquer corporate life - that wasn't her thing.  She was a servant leader in the personal realm, touching and influencing countless lives.

Some would-be leaders tell you they are such.  They talk about what they think is important.  The real leaders show you instead.  You discover their values as they are demonstrated day to day.  This is how Izzie revealed her rules:

  1. Stay in touch with people.  Izzie was known for being a correspondent, and wrote to many, many pen pals.  Some friendships grew out of the pen-and-paper old school conversations, and some were sustained through that means.
  2. Show people they are special.  A person would always know when an envelope in the mail was from Izzie.  It usually had stickers on the outside, and often had glitter or more stickers on the inside.  The message was directly targeted at the interests and/or the sense of humor of the individual.  And when she chose humor it was the gentle sort.
  3. Show up.  She went to concerts, wrestling matches and to hundreds (maybe thousands) of youth baseball games.  If her grandson was playing she was sitting on the sidelines, cheering.
  4. Make an effort.  When family and friends came over for dinner they could be assured that their favorite food would be on the menu.  Izzie specialized in comfort foods - scalloped potatoes, baked beans with plenty of bacon, and cakes with fruit and nuts and cinnamon and....yum.  It was never too much work for Izzie to do something for somebody she loved.
  5. Be prepared.  Izzie joked that her daughter would often go grocery shopping in Izzie's special basement storage room.  The shelves there were always chock full - with soups, cake mixes, canned vegetables and fruits, beverage mixes, you name it.  Izzie's pantry probably could have sustained her and her husband Dave through the snowstorm or hurricane of the century - and her daughter's family too. And perhaps also the neighbors.
  6. Remember special days.  If you were Izzie's friend or family member you could count on receiving a card or gift.  She never missed.  And she took pains to check and find out a child's sizes and/or consuming interests so she could select just the right thing.  Izzie's house and front porch were always decorated for the season - bunnies, scarecrows and pumpkins, and snowmen helped Izzie and all who visited her house celebrate.
  7. Contribute.  Izzie gave of her time and caring.  She babysat, looked in on ill friends and aging relatives. She volunteered at school.  And she purchased countless fundraiser sandwiches, candies, raffle tickets, gift wrap and candles - all to contribute to nieces and nephews and neighbor kids' passions and help them feel successful.
  8. Welcome. If you were friends with Izzie's daughter or grandson, you were her child or grandchild too.  If you were a friend of a friend, you were her friend too. She had heart enough to go around, and you didn't have to meet any sort of standard to be in Izzie's circle.  She would take you as you are.
  9. Savor.  Izzie cooked.  Boy, did she cook.  She showed love through food, and that's also how she expressed her creativity.  She took classes, collected recipe books, and enjoyed the things she made.  Izzie's needs weren't complicated - someone to love, someplace that she could nest in, and something to cook.  Izzie enjoyed her life.
  10. Persevere.  The last few years of Izzie's life weren't easy.  Her vision was failing, and her mobility was becoming limited.  But she still did what she could to participate as fully as possible in what was going on around her.  She kept her doctor appointments so she could feel as well as her medical conditions would allow.  And she still made an effort to be there for the people that she cared about.
Izzie was a leader.  Not the corporate titan sort, but the sort that touches individuals smack in the middle of their everyday lives.  She was gifted in that, and she will be long remembered for that, too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Favorites: Which thinking hat are you wearing?

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One of the most commonly cited workplace time wasters is the meeting.  Groups get into a groove, and that turns into a rut.  Sometimes the discussion goes round and round with no actionable outcome.

Is your team running short on creative ideas? In your staff meetings do you feel like you're reliving the same old discussions (or arguments) about solving the same old problems and not making any progress? Try using the metaphorical "hats" developed by Edward deBono in his book, Six Thinking Hats to change things up a it.

The premise is this: individuals, and thereby teams, get stuck looking at things from the same perspective. The thinking hats can help your team members to adopt roles or points of view that change their perspectives and come up with fresher and/or better ideas. If you were to look at the issue wearing the:

  • White Hat - Information - Asking for information from others.

  • Black Hat - Judgement - Playing devil's advocate. Explaining why something won't work.

  • Green Hat - Creativity - Offering possibilities, ideas.

  • Red Hat - Intuition - Explaining hunches, feelings, gut senses.

  • Yellow Hat - Optimism - Being positive, enthusiastic, supportive.

  • Blue Hat - Thinking - Using rationalism, logic, intellect.
Take a look at the list. What hat(s) are you in the habit of wearing? Are there some that you resist, or that you're not sure you're "allowed" to wear? What impact has that had on your thinking, and on the decisions you've made?

When in a group setting, certain members tend to adopt roles that stem from their natural temperament, from the established patterns of communication in the group, or from one or more participant's reluctance to take on a certain role (like black, the hat of the devil's advocate.) Once the group has been introduced to the concept of the hats they can make a point of "putting them on" to
  1. Give greater notice to types of thinking not usually involved in the discussion

  2. Overcome reluctance or pressure related to certain types of thinking.  

  3. Reinforce a vocabulary for different ways of thinking about an issue

  4. Help individuals change from their customary roles, thus changing the interpersonal dynamic and boosting creativity.
Most group-based interpersonal issues are an outgrowth of ingrained habits of thought and the behaviors that are driven by them. Sometimes it's useful, even necessary, to disrupt or suspend habits temporarily in order to get good stuff done. The six thinking hats are a simple, yet very useful, method for creating a different dynamic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your name is your strategy

At first blush this post might appear to be targeted
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toward start ups and would-be small business owners.  But if you are considering doing any changing of name - to modernize, to overcome a less-than-stellar prior reputation, etc. - know that your name pronounces your strategy to the world.  You need to choose it with intention and forethought, and a bit of research doesn't hurt either.

Here are some of the naming pitfalls that can destroy your business:

  1. A name that nobody can pronounce or is difficult to remember.  How are they going to look you up online if they can't find your website?  GE Capital Retail bank did a Major Purchase Shopper Study that says 81% of consumers research online before they make big purchases.  It follows that a bad name (and of course a lack of online presence) will shut you out of the game at the start.
  2. A name that has already been taken online.  A URL search should be a standard part of your research.  Even if you are a local business that doesn't anticipate going outside of your local market, you are well advised to have an online presence.  Using a different suffix isn't going to be enough to differentiate you.  Prospective clients will try to find you under the .com designation.
  3. A name that is perceived to be in poor taste or off-color.  This is partly target market dependent; if you are selling to a young or fringe group, part of the group identity might be language that others would avoid.  But know that the "cool" appeal of your name with some can be off-putting to others.  If you sell edgy apparel to tattooed teenagers, Grandma might not be willing to buy her grandson one of your shirts for Christmas if your tag has a cuss word or vulgarity on it.  She might not even want to be seen coming into your shop.
  4. A name that is too narrow.  You might start off as "Hal's Necktie Shop", but what happens when you decide that you want to sell bow ties too, and perhaps socks, belts, Fedoras and even briefcases? Existing and regular customers will see your expansion in scope when they visit your shop.  But for new shoppers you might not even have the opportunity to compete, even if you carry the hottest Fedoras on the market.
  5. A name that is too ambiguous.  Your name should attract attention, and it won't do so for you unless maybe the name inspires so much curiosity that people can't resist checking it out.  YourName Associates says nothing about what you do.  If you call your business Purple Squirrel Advisers you might at least call attention to yourself.  But you had better be effective at explaining concisely and engagingly about what you do in all of your marketing efforts.  Your name doesn't do the work for you.
  6. A name that is your name.  It simplifies your start up process to use your name as part of your business identity.  But think ahead before choosing to use it.  Everything that happens in the business from here forward has your personal reputation attached to it, and vice versa.  What if you want to sell it sometime in the future?  What if you want to retire and have someone else run it?  Will you still be as happy having your name on the letterhead?
These aren't the only pitfalls in naming your company.  Even if you know that you have already made a renaming mistake of some sort, if you have already established a positive reputation you might incur more risk in changing it than you would to maintain the one you have.