Power Plays – Getting the job done

Power Lines diagram functionA friend once remarked that “It is amazing how much you can get done if you just do it.” A look at a jobs offered column on line or in a newspaper will inevitably turn up several with the qualifier “Must be a self-starter.”  Why? Because you hire people to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. You do not, or at least you should not, hire people who make your life and job more difficult or complicated.

I’ve been writing about the flow of power within your department, company, or organization. If you’ve been following along, you are familiar with this diagram. The flow of power starts with and returns to you, the leader and/or manager. You’re the one to get things going, to set things in motion and ultimately to qualify their success.

The act of delegation, discussed in this post, passes a job off to a subordinate or associate.

The key is to pass off a responsibility, discussed here, not simply place someone in a position. The title is not the central focus. The responsibility is.

When the responsibility is defined and assigned, commensurate authority is assigned. In the article I wrote here, I explain how authority is conditional even while it grants some degree of autonomy.

Next, in this post, I discussed how you and those who work with you will define and describe precisely what terms by which the job and their performance will be evaluated. It is very critical that this step not be neglected. Institute a “no surprises” habit. You don’t like being blindsided, your associates don’t like it either.

The reason for and method of accountability comes next. The circuit, the flow of power starts to cycle back to you here. The mechanisms for reporting may be formal such as in written reports or informal such as a verbal report or both, but they need to be there.

Then, once you have defined what you are going to hand off, the person or persons to whom you will assign that responsibility is defined and solicited, the responsibility is defined, the authority is assigned, the evaluation criteria are agreed, and the method of accountability is contracted, then, and only then, do you hand off the task.

Function begins then. Admittedly some associates are well dialed in to what needs to be done and their responsibility in getting it done. Over time you develop levels of experience and trust that can leave some of the above steps implied simply because you’ve covered that ground with that person enough that everyone knows what’s what.

But for new people and new situations, you’ll need to make a judgment call about how much to define. My advice is to err on the side of caution at first. I will discuss how this can become annoying and irksome to trusted people in a future post.

The circuit, necessary for the safe flow of power, is complete. And it repeats itself over and over as you hand off more and more.

Why do you hire someone? Because they possess the skills and personality to do a certain task or set of tasks. Then let them do their job. Meddling is not managing. Pestering is not conscientious oversight.  Leadership is bringing people willingly to a place of growth, contributing to that growth when necessary but allowing those you lead the experience and satisfaction of doing their job. Most people want to do a good job.

But some employees and associates find it difficult to focus. They are easily distracted. They could be eager to please and over-responsible so they get drawn off into another job to help you or someone out. Then they are drawn off into another one, then another and never get back to their original responsibilities. This can be understandable because we all know that we cannot control every minute of the day. There are inevitable interruptions and at least some of our time is at the mercy of someone else.

Or they could be lazy. I worked with someone once who spent huge amounts of time figuring out ways to get out of doing his job. Or they could be in the wrong spot. It might be they don’t have the skills to do what they need to do and are either need more training or to be assigned somewhere else.

But all of that should either be discovered and discussed in the beginning or very shortly thereafter. If they can’t do the job, find someone who can. Remember, this is not personal. It is business. I hired a young man to work as a semi-skilled assistant in my shop. It became evident to me early on that he was not going to be a good fit. A visiting friend  of mine suggested that the poor fellow had a bad family life and needed a father figure to guide him in life. I reminded my friend that I was not a therapist and my shop not a therapy center. I had orders to fill, work to be completed, and hours to bill. If the fellow couldn’t cut it he couldn’t cut it. Nothing personal . Everything business.

The next articles in this series address power systems – how power is wielded, both properly and improperly. See you Thursday.

Power Plays – Evaluation

Power Lines evaluationSo far, you have articulated your vision for the company or organization. You have identified your circle of concern and your limited circle of ability. You have listed the tasks that can be delegated to someone else and created a list of people to whom you can delegate those tasks. You have identified and articulated the responsibility in terms of performance and objective and you have agreed contractually or what is to be done, how, where, and when.

Next, you have the responsibility to monitor performance. Now, I am not talking here about a 6 month performance appraisal. If 6 month or annual performance appraisals are all you do, please reconsider. They should NEVER be the only formal evaluation you do. I think they are terrible ineffective and not worth the effort. Get a copy of The One Minute Manager and read it. You can do so in less than an hour and then put it into practice.

Nor am I speaking here in this context of a personal evaluation for a raise or promotion like companies regularly do. You do those and they should be based on criteria you have developed for your situation.

I am speaking here of the evaluation that must be made of delegated tasks and responsibilities.

Thomas Monson – “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”

Depending on the level of autonomy you’ve been able to grant, schedule periodic performance reviews accordingly. To refresh, here are the six levels of autonomy you can grant I listed in a previous article:

  1. “Look into the problem, report the facts to me. I’ll decide what to do.”
  2. “Look into the problem. Let me know of the alternatives, include the pros and cons of each and recommend one for my approval.”
  3. “Look into the problem and let me know what you intend to do. Don’t take action until I approve.”
  4. “Look into the problem and let me know what you intend to do. Plan to do it unless I say otherwise.”
  5. “Take action and let me know what you did.”
  6. “Take action, no further contact with me is required.”

Be fair. Evaluate against commonly understood criteria. Focus primarily on objectives, less so on techniques. In the end you are not as much concerned about each incremental step as you are the outcome. Indeed, there may well be steps that must be taken to meet safety, procedural, or accounting demands and there is a danger in freestyling. But all being said, you want results and within whatever latitudes you can live with, concern yourself mostly about outcomes.

You are going to evaluate objective and subjective components

Objective components:

  • On Time – make sure everyone knows what it is.
  • On Budget – how much is it and how do we count it?
  • On Spec – what are all the specifications? Make sure everyone who is involved knows all of them.

Subjective components:

  • Resourcefulness – tapping into people and the physical components necessary to get the job done
  • Attitude – cooperative or adversarial
  • Team building – Success in enlisting cooperation and assistance from others if the job demands it.
  • Communicating – providing the right information to the right people in the right time
  • Conflict management – handling friction generated by time constraints, personality clashes, or confusion about roles
  • Strategic thinking – the capacity to see the bigger picture and how an incremental task fits in
  • Making presentations, negotiating, personal habits, friendliness, selling skills, dependability, conscientiousness, pride of work and any other traits if they are germane to the job

Any and all subjective evaluations must be defined in terms of expected outcomes. Do not rely on statistical analysis. For example, I was looking to hire another craftsman for my shop when a man came in with all the right credentials. There could be no doubt he had the hard skills for the position. When I checked references, however, I discovered he had such an abrasive manner that within a very short time he had previous workplaces in complete turmoil and disarray. I did not pursue hiring him.

Team- member evaluation

If the delegated task or the assigned position calls for working with others (almost all of them do), then soliciting the input and evaluation of others can prove useful. If you do be certain that there is never the slightest hint of retaliation or threat. When I worked for a major home improvement retailer the store managers got a lot nicer in August because the corporate evaluation forms hit our store in September. When the forms did come, you had to go to the HR guy who gave you the one with your name on it. Inside there was a code you punched in to a computer program to access the evaluation. Many, if not most, employees flavored their evaluations more favorably to the store because they did not believe that the evaluations were anonymous and they feared retaliation. The store should have provided a box full non-personalized access codes, enough for every employee in the store. Then when an employee came in s/he drew one of the codes, entered it, and completed the evaluation. The corporate suits would have an honest evaluation from that store and the employee would be anonymous. Instead, they actually believed their entries were tied to the number which was identified to be them.

Self-evaluation

I’ll be honest here and tell you I have never found this to be very reliable. It takes a very self-aware and psychologically secure person to provide a self-evaluation of merit. You can discover how another feels they did and get an idea of their soft-skill attribute of awareness. You can discover how confident they might be. And on occasion you will learn how things are going. But, that being said, this is a tough area to evaluate and I never relied much on it. I did not discount it altogether because it is important to give an associate their say.

The element of evaluation should be discussed and agreed upon at the time the task is delegated or the position is assigned. Institute a no surprises policy. The worst thing you can do is what Kenneth Blanchard calls the “let alone – zap” method of management which means you say nothing until something goes wrong then you lower the boom. Define what is to be done and how you BOTH are going to determine the degree of success or failure.

The element of accountability is next. See you on Thursday.

Power Plays – the 6 principles of delegating responsibility

Power Lines diagram responsibilityA man got on a crowded bus carrying a heavy briefcase. There were no seats, and he had to stand near the driver, holding on to a pole next to the driver’s seat. He held the pole with one hand and the briefcase with the other.

After a while, the bus driver looked at him and asked, “Mister, why don’t you put the briefcase down and let the bus carry it?”

So why don’t we let the “bus” carry our load? I am a realist so I am not naïve. Most of us have been burned when we tried to pass off jobs to others. Some of us may be so badly burned that we’ve decided to do everything ourselves or we have become very reluctant to delegate anything.

I cannot possibly address every aspect of this topic in one blog post. But I can in several of them, which I intend to do. For oh so many years I travelled from country to country and encountered a common challenge – overworked, overloaded, over-conscientious leaders and managers who cared deeply about their organizations or companies and wanted success for them and themselves.

I believe that you are reading this because you are a conscientious and responsible leader who feels the same way.  But are you letting the “bus” carry your load?

Some leaders, especially those who have built a company or organization from scratch are reluctant to hand off authority. They want to retain decision-making power for all those positions they’ve occupied along the rise to the top. Simple logistics should soon convince you that you cannot keep up the pace for long.

If you are ever going to reach your personal and professional objectives you soon understand that your circle of concern is always wider than your circle of ability. (See figure 1)

Figure 1
Figure 1

 

Delegation starts the process. It gets the power flowing. But just what does one hand-off? It boils down to this:

You will look for and engage people to whom you can hand-off specific tasks that will:

  • Increase their skills
  • Free their superiors (that’s you!)
  • Extend your reach
  • Multiply your effectiveness
  • Divide your work

You hand off RESPONSIBILITY, not authority. I will cover “authority” in a future post. Authority is created when one accepts responsibility. Never, and I mean never give out authority to a position unless and until that position is tied clearly, definitively, and permanently to a responsibility.

Here are 6 principles for enabling the responsibility-authority matrix:

Principle #1 – Give opportunity according a person’s ability. All effective delegation is intelligent and well-considered. You just don’t hand out jobs to keep people busy. Match jobs to people with the skills, personality, and attitude to match.

Principle #2 – Expect responsible behavior in return. The hand-off is never total and the release never final. You will demand…and receive ultimate accountability because you are still responsible for the results of your company or department. You hand off jobs not to get rid of them but to get them done and done well. HINT: Your best followers will return MORE than was expected of them.

Principle #3 – Responsibility is not completed until accountability is given. Power flows only when there is a complete circuit.  It is not wrong to expect those to whom you delegate to come and find you to give you a report of what happened.

Principle #4 – Shouldering responsibility builds a person’s credibility. Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing shouts competence like a job done well, done on time, done completely. I hired a computer repair firm once to repair a laptop. When they returned it they had done the job…almost. There were still things to be done but they told me, “You can handle the rest of the things.” I never hired them again. Why? Because I hired them to do the job but they did only part of the job. I delegated to them the responsibility to repair my computer. They did most, but not all of it.

Principle #5 – Acting responsibly assures leaders of a person’s dependability. We are looking for people upon whom we can rely. Handing out power to an unproven recipient is a formula for catastrophe. We are looking for people who can shoulder greater and greater loads of responsibility. We know we can safely do that when one handles a job well.

Principle #6 – When a person demonstrates responsibility, then and only then, should you grant appropriate levels of authority. Take a look at the last two articles again. You the leader/manager have a choice to make when you pass off a job. The amount of autonomy you give will depend directly on the confidence you have in the person. That confidence may come from personal experience or from referral but the final choice is yours.

Ok, so why make people responsible? There are four reasons.

  1. You care about people and what they do or don’t do.
  2. Keeping promises is important.
  3. If people do not do what they say they are going to do the entire organization suffers.
  4. Integrity is at stake – theirs, yours, and that of your company or organization.

So, when you delegate a task to another, there is one more component – the all-important verbal contract. The responsible party is guaranteeing to you three things:

  1. They are saying to you, “I believe this can be done.”
  2. “I will do it.”
  3. “I will tell you as soon as I doubt my ability to keep my promise to you, tell you why I was not able to keep my commitment, and explain what I am going to do about it in the future.

Once these criteria have been established, then you can delegate the job and begin to release authority. Not before. Once a person has proven their ability to shoulder responsibility, less and less specific agreement and action will be required because they have built trust between you and you can see the history of performance.

In the two previous articles I wrote about delegating (here and here). This is the fourth article in the series on Power Plays – those systems and procedures that keep build your influence and get things done in your business or organization.

Up next? Authority. See you Thursday.

The previous posts in this series are:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

 

 

Power Plays – How power flows

The mantra goes like this. We have a staff of employees, associates, and subordinates for three purposes:

To extend our reach – to make it possible for us as leaders and managers to get influence more people and thus get more done.

To multiply our effectiveness – the principle of reproduction works here. We impart to faithful people who are then able to impart to others. Our vision, our objectives, our enthusiasm, our ideas, our intelligence, our abilities are distributed through a network of trained and competent individuals, otherwise known as staff.

To divide our work – we add others so we can pass on task lists to them thus freeing ourselves to focus on those things that we can uniquely do. Discover what it is that you as a leader can do that no one else can. Give everything else away.

For those readers that have been visiting my blog for awhile, you’ve read the three purposes above before. (if you’re new and want to catch up, check them out here.) They sum up the definition of leadership which is:

“the process OF PERSUASION AND EXAMPLE by which an individual (or a leadership team) induces a group to TAKE ACTION that is in accord with the leader’s purposes or the shared purposes of all.”

Leadership does not happen in isolation. By its nature it involves, engages, and affects others. Therefore, leadership is primarily a function of influence, the capacity of one person to positively motivate someone else so that something happens.

No attributes of leadership are passive. They are all active. Something happens as a result of leadership. If nothing happens, if no one follows, if no one does anything, if nothing develops, leadership has not happened.

Like the great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “Leading is easy. The hard part is getting people to follow.” So, the mobilization of inanimate objects requires some sort of force.

In my last post I wrote of the gentle side of force. Today, I will discuss the dynamics of force as it energizes objects and creates movement. If that is to happen, there must be some sort of connection, power lines if you will, that transfer energy from one to another. It looks and works like this:

Power Lines diagram.docx

Leadership conceptually and practically demands that you, as leaders or manager, get the ball rolling. A good friend who served as manager for a major automobile manufacturer once remarked that

Effective leaders become the point of action and accomplishment while ineffective leaders become the point of reaction and resistance.”

My illustration above provides the outline for the next several posts. You as the leader or manager are the center point. Power starts with you. What you believe, what you say, who you are, and what you do either influences others or it doesn’t. Let’s take the premise that you are reading this blog because leadership rests on you.

With most subordinates, something must be said, tasks must be defined, and objectives must be clarified. The hand-off of power is called delegation. True enough, you may have associates who are quite intuitive and proven who can “read your mind” so to speak and pick up on what needs to be done, then run with it, but those associates are not many. Most will need, want, indeed wait for the hand-off from you.

If this does not happen, not much else will either.

However,NEVER DELEGATE AUTHORITY WITHOUT EXPLICITLY AND DEFINITIVELY TYING IT TO RESPONSIBILITY.

Never!

Power is not to be played with and never to be passed around simply because you can pass it around. Power has a purpose – to accomplish a specified and agreed upon task or objective.

Therefore, for you as leader and manager delegation does NOT MEAN abandoning responsibility even when you hand it off. Take another look at figure 1 above. Power needs a complete circuit in order to flow. Just like electricity, the power must return safely to its source.

The leader/manager always retains the responsibility to:

  • Know what is going on,
  • Set the direction for the department or company,
  • Make the decisions the delegated party cannot make,
  • Ensure that everyone stays on course
  • Open doors, clear the way, offer a guiding hand,
  • Assess performance,
  • Be smart.

In the next post I will explain the choices you have to make when delegating, how the process works, and verbal contracts. Check back in on Thursday.

Keepers – Trait #6 – Organization

lumber storageA woodshop in the Caribbean uses a lot of mahogany. Lots and lots of it. In my business, Dunigan Designs, (I sold the business a few years ago but you can check out the website here). Since we made doors, windows, custom furniture, closets, kitchens, and molding, we accumulated a lot of cut-off pieces called shorts that could be used in other projects.

Often there are several small pieces in a project so using a cut-off that would have been waste means a slightly higher profit margin. Over time those pieces piled up here and there around the shop. They needed organization.

So I asked one of my employees to find a way to recover the assets lying on the floor. 4 hours later he had built a rack, sorted all the wood lying around, and stored it by size. Now, when gathering resources for a project we could readily see what we had available that would have been scrap.

This is what organization does:

  1. It creates more out of less.
  2. It creates something out of nothing.
  3. It recovers resources and adds digits to your bottom line.
  4. It puts first things first, second things second, and establishes the logically ordered flow of work.
  5. It pulls reason out of chaos.
  6. It adds efficiency and economy of effort and resources.

Not everyone has the ability. At the same time, I had another employee who was patently disorganized. His workbench was always cluttered and piled high with tools, scraps, papers, and projects in process. When his bench was full, he would proceed to clutter up any available bench space and ended up too often working on the floor. I had to regularly stop him from working and make him clean things up.

Organizers are keepers because they do nothing but make life and work better, faster, easier. Organizers facilitate plans and planning. They create budgets and find the means to stick to them. They think ahead, a subject I cover later in this series.

Keeper trait #7 is diligence. See you Monday.

Motivators that don’t motivate – 5 Ways to kill the engine of ambition and progress in your associates and make yourself look completely inept.

Motivation is a very personal thing so when you find it alive and well within someone you work with, it’s in your interest and theirs to do all you can to keep it vibrant. The challenge with those who would be motivators is they easily disconnect themselves from the perspective of others. Being egocentric beings, we all look at the world through our own eyeballs. The trick is to see things through another’s while still doing your job as manager or leader.

In the end there is not much you can do to motivate someone who is themselves unmotivated but there it is fairly easy to throttle it down or kill it outright by making easily preventable and avoidable mistakes. Here are 5 of them:

1. Be sure to tell them how expensive the utility bills are for the store, shop, or factory so they will want to work harder so you or your company will have more money to pay them. Whenever you have an employee meeting make certain that everyone knows that the electric bill for last month was $25,000 or whatever. Why this doesn’t work? Each person you tell has his or her own utility bills to pay on whatever income they are earning. Hint: They don’t give a flying flip about the company’s electric bills and trying to help you pay them is so far down the list of important things to your associates it’s not even on the list of important things to your associates. In one business, the general manager tried this for quite some time until more than one of their key associates reminded the manager that their electricity at home had been disconnected twice because they had not had enough to pay the bill. Your overhead costs cannot possibly compete with the challenges they face for their own survival.

2. Remind your top sales people that the end of the accounting period is approaching so they need to snap to and address all the open estimates out there. Be sure and do this when they’ve had a great sales week and do this without saying anything about how terrifically they’ve performed so far. Remind them of how far there is to go without celebrating how far they’ve come.

3. Send a generic email to everyone using general terms and vague references commending progress for the entire team but avoid face to face commendations. Use email to hide behind while at the same time congratulating yourself on what a wonderful communicator you are. Better yet, don’t say anything until they are fed up and turn in their notice, then on their way out the door let them know how you’ve appreciated their contribution. That goes down real well. Hint: Get out from behind that desk, walk over to where they are and tell them face to face how they are a valued member of the team. If they’re in another building or State, pick up the phone and tell them. Emails are ok. Conversations are terrific. Face to face conversations are the best!

4. When they come to you to report on a big sale, a deadline that’s been nailed, a contract that’s been secured or a project that’s been completed, let the first words out of your mouth be an interrogation over why they didn’t do more. I actually saw this happen more than once (Truthfully I’ve seen all these things happen more than once and done some of them, I am ashamed to say, myself). A salesperson would call up the sales manager or a general manager and tell them they had just closed on a big, big order then the first words out of the manager’s mouth were to ask if they pushed any add-on sales. This one has to rack up there as one of the stupidest things a manager/leader can do. The message conveyed is that nothing the associate does is EVER good enough! Dumb, dumb, dumb! If the car is running and travelling at high speed, don’t puncture a tire.

5. Mess with their pay and tell them it is a positive move going forward. All employee and associate issues are local. See #1 above. You may be a member of management in your company or you may represent management in your company and you may be dialed in to what the company has to say and speak what they decide to do from their perspective. But your associates, your employees are dialed in to WII-FM, What’s In It For Me and they do not take kindly to being compromised. Never forget that your associates and employees are not stupid and can see a spin from a thousand yards away. One major US company suddenly and with but a three day notice eliminated all sales commissions and spiffs from their sales staff telling them that they did this for the employee’s benefit. The spin was that “We know how difficult it is to budget when your wages are inconsistent from paycheck to paycheck so we’ve eliminated the commissions so you can have a consistent known amount each pay period. This is a positive move going forward.” This is not only unfair it is insulting. Every affected person could see it as a positive for the company but a negative for themselves. It’s only a positive move if it affects your associates and employees positively. Everything else is considered negative no matter how you try to spin it. If pay cuts and benefit cuts are beyond your control, empathy for those who now have to get by on less won’t hurt. One manager of said company above added insult to injury by advising his people that they really shouldn’t consider their pay to be that important but to buy stock in the company for long-term growth and wealth. This is an example of high position blindness brought on by forgetting what it is like to be a wage earner. I can guarantee you that every employee whose wages, benefits, commissions, or spiffs were cut has only one long-term objective and that’s to get the hell out of that company as soon as they can.

If your biggest cost is personnel it should also be your biggest asset if you work it well. What examples of demotivation have you seen, experienced, or gasp, done yourself? I’d like to know and so would my readers. Know someone who could benefit from this, do them a favor and pass it along.

Management 101 – Part 2 – Organize

organizing calendarWhether you’re planning a meeting with your associates or the launch of a new product, the plans are doomed unless and until things are organized. Plans may make us feel better and plans do give us a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

But plans, in and of themselves, will remain locked in and of themselves. Organization must logically follow. It must be determined:

Who will do what.

When will it be done.

Where will it take place.

How will it be accomplished.

What will be required to get “it” done.

Who will get the stuff that will be required….and on the list goes.

The only why that should be asked is to validate the component pieces, i.e., why is this person or that thing needed at this time?

Organizing includes:

Specialization of participants and resources – This is the ability to focus on the tasks at hand and the  objectives those tasks are supposed to bring about.

Division of work – An organizer recruits or assigns personnel to the tasks that must be done, hands off work to them (delegation) and makes assignments requiring measureable results. By definition and implication organizers are precise not vague and they clarify not obfuscate.

Forming tasks and workers in logical and sequential order. – To organize is make lists, assemble resources, arrange components, and sequence tasks.

Organizing can be simple or complex depending on the size of the project and the skill and experience of those involved. Inexperienced personnel will need greater detail. More experienced people can get by well with more generalized plans.

Here are 7 Benefits of ORGANIZATION:

  1. Efficiency – To organize is to gain the most productivity from the least effort and hassle. Organization minimizes waste or eliminates it entirely. Duplication of effort is reduced, multitasking can result, or unneeded items can be eliminated from the budget.
  2. Fluidity of movement – Organized efforts avoid whiplash of the attitudes. Poor organization produced false starts, abrupt stops, and wild changes of direction.
  3. Economy – An organized manager/leader realizes the most expedient use of the resources at hand saving the company money and himself effort.
  4. Humane consideration of your associates – organizing gives evidence of planning which is the result of care. When you care about someone or something, you plan for them or it. When you are concerned about the outcome you pay attention to the in-between events that take up the space between the idea and its manifestation.
  5. Organization defines structure clearly, reveals how things fit together, and diagrams what relates to what, who relates to whom, and who cares for what. The entire organizational system might be in your head or it may be revealed in organizational charts. Whatever the depository, it should be shared an known by everyone who works within ints structure.
  6. Organizing enables managers and leaders to see where responsibility resides, where and how authority should flow, and from where accountability should come. See # 5.
  7. Organization builds the channels within which delegation functions so that power, the authorization to act and the releasing of resources to act, can flow more freely.

Remember the three fundamental objectives of effective leadership? To extend YOUR reachmultiply YOUR effectiveness, and divide YOUR work. The product of organizing is not more work for you, but to create less, to enable you to get more done by empowering others to execute plans that will accomplish your goals. Some managers and leaders are not naturally gifted organizers, and they do accomplish things, but at great labor, often much frustration, and a good amount of wasted effort.

Almost anyone can learn the basic skills of organization and many tools exist to help us.  The simplest is the venerable task list. I’ve tried the task list in Outlook. I use OneNote and Evernote. I’ve tried Google’s Calendar. All of them have been some help. None of them have been as handy and readily available as a pad of paper and a pencil.

Complicated projects require more planning and therefore more organization. You may have built in organization where you work. The chain of command, reporting procedures, and audit systems can be helpful when you understand them and work with them.

Tight organization may be required when risks and consequences are high. Looser organizational systems may work well when participants have a PROVEN record of responsible behavior, careful accountability, and mature use of authority.

Every effective manager is a competent organizer. Many effective leaders are not. Management’s specific domain is that of organization and implementation while leadership is to inspire and project. However, effective leaders recognize this and soon employ the assistance of capable organizers.

The first lesson in this series is Management 101 – Part 1 Planning. The next lesson is T = Train. Who is the most effective trainer you know? I have two more lessons in this series before beginning another. What would you like to see covered here? Drop me a line or leave a comment.

7 reasons why “one and done” doesn’t work for leaders

one and doneThere is a good deal of satisfaction in finishing a job. I make lists of tasks then check them off as they are done. I’ve noticed, as I am certain you have, that many tasks are done repetitively.  It takes one skill set to start up a business but another skill set to keep it running and make it prosperous. The two are not always found in the same person or when they are, do not always rise to the surface at the right time.

Putting something in motion and expecting it to run itself is the snake oil sold by internet marketers. There simply is no such thing. Inventors have pursued the dream of a perpetual motion machine. None have been successful.

The same principles that prohibit the development of a perpetual motion machine apply to your work as a leader and manager. I know you are unbelievably busy and long for opportunities to turn over responsibilities to others and just walk away from them. But the hard reality is that cows never stay milked.

You can put everything in place perfectly, consider all the contingencies, and assure that the details are perfectly communicated and explained. But it won’t be long before the unseen and unforeseen will demand your attentionS.

Here are 7 reasons why one and done will not work for you.

  1. Friction between parts – Put two people together or put a person with a machine and somewhere sometime the very fact that two objects make contact either physically, psychologically, or mentally, friction will occur. And friction causes heat which is the product of energy loss. Friction causes wear and eventual failure somewhere. At the very least you will need to provide for regular maintenance. Like the oilers on old locomotives, you have to know where the wear points are and keep them lubed.
  2. Friction between parts and supporting structures – see number one. Even if a person works in isolation, they still must interact with paper and processes. Over time this can cause problems in some because of boredom, frustration over systems that work slowly or with sporadic interruptions, or the isolation itself. You’ve heard the expression “Things are running smoothly” so that’s what you have to do – keep things running smoothly.
  3. Wear and tear – nothing is new forever.  Stuff breaks and someone has to see that it gets fixed.
  4. Fuel depletion – motivation must be reinvigorated and you have a major role to play in that. Attention and interest from you, the boss, keeps energy levels higher.
  5. We live and work in a dynamic state not static. Our work settings involve change, movement, action, and therefore change. So what exists today will be different tomorrow. The cow needs to be milked twice a day.
  6. Because sharp becomes dull with time and use. Fresh and new devolves into stale and old. We all usually engage new jobs and new assignments with some excitement and energy. After a while the new is gone and drudgery sets in. Some routine and repetition can be reassuring, but the smartest and most creative among your associates will not be content for long.
  7. Except for birth and death, most life processes are cyclical and repetitive. Of note is the fact that processes change as we mature because the way we interact with the world around us changes as we understand it better. Letting people mature in their positions is important here. One manager objected when her superiors demanded that her department’s associates complete a number of forms. She reasoned that the forms were there to assure certain tasks were completed and that the forms were unnecessary because the associates in her department had proven over time that they responsibly carried out those tasks without being reminded or monitored. “I work with grown-ups,” she said, “so those forms are insulting to their intelligence and sense of responsibility.” She was correct. What was necessary, even reassuring, to a child can be insulting to an adult.

As tempting as it may be to assign responsibilities, you can never completely divorce yourself from them. You may be able to hand off large and heavy loads, but somewhere along the way smart managers and leaders take a measure of just how well things are going.

What experience have you had in this area? Did you hand something off and walk away from it? What happened? If it worked just fine, why? If not, what happened and why? If you know an overworked colleague who gets frustrated at the demands made on his time and attention, pass this article on to him.

9 tasks of leadership, Task #9 – Renewing

refreshThe public is hungry for the newest and greatest. Advertisers know this and are quite good at hyping the new and improved features of products. The public will shake loose money if they think there’s a new wrinkle in something they want that will somehow make their lives better or at least more interesting.

But what works well with consumers and keeps them coming back to the store does not always work so well with producers. People who work in systems – retail clerks, salespeople, managers, factory workers, associates, anyone who actually does the hands-on work that makes fulfillment of your vision possible – need two things.

First of all, they need clarity. They need to know where the company is headed and how their role in the big gear box of your company’s (or department’s) machinery enables the machine to actually go somewhere. Admittedly it is a challenge to educate and inspire each member that their participation is vital. Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers instituted a bonus program that pays quarterly bonuses based on a matrix scored by several components that demand participation throughout the store. Everyone from the department managers down to those who handle incoming freight are supposed to be inspired. It hasn’t worked all that well because those employees who virtually NEVER interact with customers (shipping clerks, inner office personnel) cannot SEE how what they do has anything to do with what everyone else does.

I have used the work clarity because it really is a visual experience. You as leader have to see how the pieces fit together and how the machine runs AND the people who work with you have to see where they are going, how they get there, and how what they do (or don’t do) either advances that cause or retards it.

Secondly, they need consistency. Jerking things around strips gears. It wears them down and makes them so they won’t mesh (interpersonal conflict, friction, and stress) and it degrades their efficiency (takes more fuel and effort to get the same amount of work done). If you keep coming out with a new vision of the week, you will confound and dismay those who are responsible to make the latest vision into reality. Changing course quickly and often puts stress on the entire structure. Stress cracks will begin to appear after time and far more maintenance will be required. This can only mean more work for you and since one of your objectives is to create less work, you are working against yourself.

So, you ask, what does this have to do with the task of renewing? I began this article as I did by showing you what renewing is NOT! Renewing could also be termed refreshing in the sense of keeping the vision of your company, department, or group fresh, vital, and appealing. It happens when you tie everyday activities to the intermediate and ultimate objectives. It continues when you do this on every available occasion. As often as you can, tie “then” with “now”…clearly and consistently.

Here are 3 things you can do:

1. Let people grow. People change, their abilities increase, their attitudes develop, and their reasoning matures. Let them know you know.

2. Tell people you appreciate them and their efforts. You may have told your significant other you love them ten years ago but they want to hear, and you need to say it more often. The job gets old when you associates begin to feel their efforts are underappreciated and that their contribution is taken for granted. And make it specific. Tell them exactly what and how. Saying “You’re doing a good job” is ok. Saying “You handled that Morgansen job especially well is much better.”

3. Use graphs, charts, and accurate visuals to demonstrate how the associate’s performance and that of their group has contributed to the overall effort. People see far better than they hear. It takes time on your part but pays really big dividends.

What ways have you seen that renew the energy and enthusiasm your associates have or once had for their job? How clearly and consistently are you handling your job?

Who do you know that could use the information in this article? Pass this on the them and do them the favor of helping them become even more effective.

9 tasks of leadership, Task #8 – represent the group in dealing with others

talkingNo group anywhere exists or functions in complete isolation. Somewhere, somehow it connects with and interacts with other groups. Leaders of units, departments, divisions, regions, or entire companies still need representation.

Perhaps the most immediate function of representation is in grievances or problems. But a leader also serves as stand in when defining his group’s role in the grand scheme of things.

Here are 5 keys to effective representation:

1.       Be certain that your group understands that you represent them to everyone else and not the other way around. Your group must be confident that you have their back. Why? Because you need them to be honest and forthright with you. If they start withholding information, they will also start withholding ideas. This goes back to the two models of leadership defined by MacGregor – the X & Y models. Some of both are needed, but Y leaders get more done and have more highly motivated associates. So if you want a well-functioning team you yourself must be a team player too. To borrow from church liturgy, the leader is like a priest in that s/he pleads the case for his/her group before others and communicates the wishes of  higher ups to the group.

2.       The phone lines run both directions. If there is one predominant failure in this task it is that leaders represent the group’s concerns to others but fails to report back as to what happened in that representation. Do not make you group come find you and ask you what happened. If you want accountability, be accountable.

 For GETTING information:

  • Listen carefully. Pay attention to what is being said on every level. 
  • Get all the facts.
  • Make notes if it is more than a simple on sentence conversation.
  • Repeat back what was said to ensure you understood.

For GIVING information back:

  • Get everyone’s attention.
  • Explain what you said and what was said to you.
  • Ask for them to tell you what they have heard, what they interpreted it to mean, and what will happen next.

3.       Other groups or divisions will likely derive their understanding of your group by what you do and say. It is your privilege to accurately portray the role your group plays and how it contributes to the whole.

4.       When you represent the group, be sure to play your cards carefully. Reveal as much as necessary to keep your leader informed of the facts. Don’t forget to explain how your group feels and why they feel that way.

5.       If, in your representation, a decision was reached, be sure to understand how that decision was reached and communicate that back to your group.

What secrets have you learned as representative of your group? What problems have you encountered while trying to represent them?