7 rules of engagement that make it easier for your associates to work with you

rule-bookUnless you are the sole proprietor of your business and work in isolation, tucked away somewhere in a closed room, you have to work with, for, and alongside others.  In every job there is a certain amount of give and take with which we must all contend. We must be able to get along if we are going to go along. There are 7 rules of engagement that will make your job…and that of your associates…easier.

  1. The golden rule doesn’t mean what you might think. I’ve always thought that if I treated others the way I would like to be treated those “others” would be pleased. But it doesn’t quite work that way. If I treat others the way they want to be treated, if I step intelligently and insightfully into their shoes and understand how they want to be treated, it works much better. Some people are very direct. Others aren’t. Some are quite open and talkative. Others are not. If I am gregarious and open I must not assume that everyone else is too and treat them the way I want to be treated. It will, and does, create resentment and irritation. Instead, figure out how they are and what they like then treat them accordingly.
  2. Choose simple over complex. I wrote about this in the last post so I won’t belabor the point here. Complications are, well, complicated. They make failure and frustration more likely.
  3. Choose the direct path to an objective over the indirect path. Expedite everything when at all possible.
  4. Be open rather than closed. I know this seems to run counter to #1, but I am addressing the “others” among us who need to open up some. A closed person can be misunderstood as being aloof or resistant to joining in. Those with whom we work need a place to connect.
  5. Be forthcoming rather than withholding. Don’t force someone to discover and ask just the right question. Supply any and all information that someone else might need to do their job without waiting to be asked and or waiting to be asked just the right question. I once called to ask what time a business closed. They told me the time. I got there a half hour before closing time to discover the door locked for the night. I called the next day, explained what happened and that I had called to ask. “Yes,” they said, “we do close at that time except for last night when we closed early.” When I complained that I made a trip, they defended their response saying that I did not ask when they closed that day, just asked when they closed. Don’t make others ask every little nuanced implication to find out what they need to know. Tell them.
  6. Report before being asked. Be actively accountable. Let superiors and associates know what’s what. Don’t force them to run you down and pry information out of you. Withholding information is a device used to control others. It becomes devious and Machiavellian…and it does not make for beneficial, benevolent working relationships.
  7. Volunteer the information others need to do their job. In this sense you become the mature adult in the room. We all work together and need ideas and information to flow freely. Participate in that yourself. Play nice.

All of the above describes a good citizen, one who behaves maturely, avoids pettiness and silly games. We often look for esoteric and scholarly secrets to define and describe smoothly running companies when they are most often simple and obvious.

6 things effective leaders know about talking and talking too much

 

talking_too_much2Effective leaders know that enough is enough

We love to talk. We came from the manufacturer that way. It seems that leaders are talkers. Indeed, some languages have no word that would translate “leader”. Their word is orator, one who speaks eloquently.

So we tend to say things…a lot of things. But perhaps there are times when we shouldn’t.

You don’t have to say something just to say something. When a group of mentors met to assist an entire team of potential business owners, the sponsoring institution conducted a follow-up debriefing. Wanting to improve the program, the coordinator asked for input. One mentor had something to say about each and every idea anyone and everyone else brought up to the point he made some ridiculous suggestions. He just had to say something. It was Mark Twain who said that it is better to remain silent and let people think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Know when enough is enough, when to stop talking. When offering congratulations, we often ramble on and on and on. Congratulations well and sincerely spoken are weighty enough. More talking tends to dilute the impact and diminish the effect. The same thing happens when making a point. Learn how to make your point, conclude your statement, and finish speaking. In speeches a fine conclusion is as important as a powerful opening.

Acknowledge and submit to the reality that too much talking causes over-exposure, you become background noise. The more you talk, the less others listen. Like music played in elevators and restaurants, it becomes something to ignore, something to push back from. The last thing you want is to be deemed irrelevant and talking too much pushes you toward that label. To be more effective in what you say, speak economically.

Too much talking discourages others from talking much at all and trains everyone to wait for you to talk. When planning a meeting, give others a heads up. Notify ahead of time that you want others to speak up. If the attitude that you do all the talking is well-entrenched, try assigning others a portion of the subject –“Mike, would you prepare to share with us all 4 or 5 reasons why we should move ahead with this project?” Or, Sarah, when we meet on Tuesday, would you give us all an up-to-the-minute status report on the Henderson project?”

The more you talk, the less you listen. We are all guilty of making assumptions. Let me use a non-threatening example. I stepped up to the counter and the clerk asked what I would like. I tried to order donuts but as soon as she asked me for my order she began speaking to another employee behind the counter, her words stepping on mine.

“Will that be all?” she asked.

I challenged her. “What did I order?”

She counted back my order. I had asked for only two types of donut but she got both of them wrong. Why, because she was so busy talking she did not really listen.

You get what you reward. If you want to encourage the input of others, if you want to develop others and sharpen their skills, don’t be so quick to dismiss their ideas. Shooting down every suggestion…no, let me rephrase that…shooting down most suggestions will soon teach others not to make any. Even if their idea needs work, learn to instruct without disputing. Engage them on the process of discovering where a flaw might be. Don’t be so quick to point it out.

Leaders often defeat themselves. They claim no one will speak up, no one listens to them, no one has any ideas when almost always it is not anyone’s fault but their own. Know when to talk and when to shut up.

 

9 characteristics of benevolence in a superlative leader

 

benevolence-title-imageIt was an embarrassing display. I was in a another city working for a non-profit organization. The organization’s director , I’ll call him Clark, and I were at a local restaurant for dinner. The waitress was having a difficult time that evening and got a couple of things wrong. I watched in stunned disbelief as Clark berated the poor woman for her errors, then endured the rest of the evening as his mood soured. The entire event turned into awkward conversation then silence.

I would have chalked Clark’s actions up to having a bad night and that this was an unusual occurrence. But on the job and in the workplace I had noticed his aloof and patrician manner that kept associates at a distance, made him difficult to approach, and hard to access.

Some people think that leadership demands an aloof manner or superior attitude but it does not. Only weak or immature leaders think this or act thus. Superlative leaders are friendly, kindhearted, and downright nice. They speak politely to everyone regardless of their salary level or job position. Janitors and vice-presidents are treated with the same degree of graciousness.

I’ve put together a list of 9 characteristics of a benevolent leader. Here they are in no particular order.

  1. Benevolent leaders are committed to making society better both inside and outside their organizations. They will produce a profit, no doubt. But they will not do so at the expense of anyone.
  2. Benevolent leaders are approachable and accessible. They are not obnoxious or closed.
  3. Benevolent leaders are neither wimps nor pushovers. Whenever I brought a new hire on, I always warned them not to mistake forbearance for indifference. I would be longsuffering but would not tolerate employees who took advantage of me. I expected them to be conscientious and responsible because I would be, too.
  4. Benevolent leaders welcome good news and invite bad news. The last thing you want it for your associates to withhold information from you because they think you either don’t want to hear it or you will blame them for it.
  5. Benevolent leaders communicate. They keep connections close and lines of information flowing. The send information out because they want information in.
  6. Benevolent leaders get to know their associates and employees as they really are before they expect them to be something else. They understand that people are not machines. They grow in their jobs and make room for it.
  7. Benevolent leaders acknowledge progress, reward success, and celebrate achievement. They walk around trying to find people doing things right. They do not simply look for error or failure. You might think that people leave your company or organization for lack of pay, but that ranks third or fourth. Most leave because they feel unfulfilled and unappreciated.
  8. Benevolent leaders are servant leaders. By that I mean that, like a superlative waiter in a fine restaurant, they anticipate the needs of their charges well-before they’re asked for. Indeed, they don’t want their charges to have to ask. Therefore, they provide the tools and information that their workers will need to do their job well.
  9. Benevolent leaders do not claw their way to the top, they earn advancement and success. Others carry them up there. They attract top talent around them and inspire achievement because they are competent, likeable people.

For some this comes quite naturally. Others might have to work on this. If you sense you might need an outside voice to speak into this for you, find someone you trust, a close friend or mentor, and ask.

 

6 otherly competencies of a superlative leader

talk“Good luck on your new position,” said the outgoing chairman. “You’ll start heading towards your objectives, look behind you, and find no one there.”

“I don’t know why no one will help,” complained another leader. “Surely they can see I am overloaded. I can’t understand why they don’t step up and pitch in.”

If there is a number one always present failure in leaders, I would say it is in the competencies or rather lack of competencies they have in working with others. It seems to be endemic among leaders, who are almost always observant and aware and actively involve themselves with the job at hand, that those leaders expect others to be as observant and aware as they are.

But they seldom are.

Indeed, superlative leaders possess highly competent skills in relating to and working with others. Here are six ways they do that.

1. Communicate effectively and appropriately with others. Email and texting has its place, but effectiveness may preclude them. In a CYA (Cover Your A**) world, the desire to have a written record of communication has its place. But nothing works as well as a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation. Use email to summarize what you’ve talked about. Give enough information for others to do their job. Don’t use information or withholding it to control others. And don’t make people ask you the right questions. I’ve seen leaders dole out answers based on the question refusing to discern and intuit what the questioner really wants and needs. Many times subordinates don’t know what questions to ask, certainly won’t know all the nuances of a situation that they might need to respond responsibly.

2. Always develop others. Hardly anyone will be at the level of competence or commitment where they can respond to the demands of the situation without some adjustment. Superlative leaders actively and deliberately develop others around them. I am writing a course on this very subject which I will make available in a few weeks. Make this competence something you do on purpose.

3. Demand accuracy and truth. I wrote earlier about how the Allied chief of staff was informed about the evidence indicating a German offensive but the headquarters refused to believe it. The other side of the coin is to have associates who tell you only what they think you want to hear. Never tolerate sycophants. Insist that you are told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

4. Build and maintain relationships. Powers of persuasion need someone to persuade. Leadership is a people process. Our circle of concern is always bigger than our circle of ability. Tools and technology will help us. People will help us more.

5. Manage teams and work groups effectively. This goes along with #4. The temptation to do it yourself is at times overwhelming and oft times more efficient. But in the end it’s less effective. You have neither the time nor the talent to do everything that has to be done. Your role and objective to become even more effective demands that your competencies extend to the ability to monitor and direct the work of teams you have in place.

6. Build bridges and deal with opposition. You can provoke antagonism or you can ameliorate it. You will have those who oppose what you do. Develop the competence to deal with it. Weak leaders resort to blame shifting, accusations, and playing politics. Strong leaders don’t.

On Thursday, I will sum up the competencies of a superlative leader with 6 universal abilities.

6 secrets to keeping your team working for the same goals.

road closedDoes your right hand know what your left hand is doing and why it is doing it?

In assisting organizations, businesses, and individuals in developing and implementing an effective vision one of my first questions is what is your vision for this company? After hearing their definition, I will ask the department heads, the associates and assistants the same question.

It is seldom the same answer. But it should be. The right hand knows not what the left hand does or why.

This is the inherent problem with vision statements. They tend to arrive from somewhere up the chain, migrate onto a plaque or posters hung on a wall, and fade from memory.

Why am I harping on this?

Because the people who work for you and with you are, for the most part, intelligent, conscientious, ethical people. (I know, I know, there are some low level employees who seem incapable of processing anything so far-sighted as a vision statement, but I’ll address that condition later.) The people you’ve recruited and hired are responsible and you have every right to expect them to honor their sense of responsibility. They deserve to know what the vision of your company is, will better serve the company when tey know it and what it means, and are better served by the company when there is consistency between what you claim to be and what you actually do.

So, processing the IMPLICATIONS of a vision statement is not unrealistic if, and it’s a big if, those implications are defined and explained in real terms.

So here is what I recommend:

  1. Take the vision down off the wall and burn it into the collective and individual consciousness. The vision cannot and must not be a mere corporate or organizational document relegated to the archives. It must be something every person who makes up your organization understands and can connect to real work and life in the company. Repeat it often, apply it always.
  2. The vision must become part of your brand. They don’t call it branding for nothing. The brand, which in cowboy circles in burned into a cow’s hide so anyone and everyone who sees it know whose it is and what it represents. There must not be disconnect between what you say you want to be and what you are. This causes cynicism to displace enthusiasm. The brand becomes confused.
  3. Do not displace the vision with platitudes. It seems that every industry and every organization, even religious ones, develop their own dialect and promote the use of jargon. “Bringing the whole world to the foot of the cross” sounds so noble but is not anything everyone can grab onto. Platitudes and jargon often deliberately keep the relationship between the vision and the activities that make up the day fuzzy and indistinct. As you will learn the next several posts, the vision directly impacts what everyone does and why they do it. Effective leaders are scrupulous about making the connection and making sure everyone understands how this job relates to that statement.
  4. Find ways to regularly determine if everyone on your team is on board with the commitment to vision you’ve made. If not, why not? Do they not understand it? Do they not agree with it? Check out this blog post where I explore this more.
  5. Restate the vision in other than its written form so others can see how comprehensive it is. When a customer found the window coverings specialist at Lowe’s, that specialist was discussing her department with the assistant store manager. The customer complained that his order was complete and installed except for one small part which was still not installed even though it had been 5 weeks since he reported it missing from the original order. “Take care of your customer,” the manager said to the specialist. “Lowes takes care of its customers.” This is incarnating the vision in everyday activity and relationships and it is the primary venue wherein that glorious sounding statement on the poster meets real life.
  6. Celebrate incremental advances toward the vision. This is one of your most powerful tools as a leader. When you connect what an employee or associate does and make the celebratory connection to the overall objective it powerfully displaces cynicism (see #2 above) and replaces it with a sense of success. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Keeping score lets everyone know just how well they are doing (another reason I hate 6 month performance appraisals if that 6 month interview is the primary time you talk to your people). Read Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager if you want to see how this is done.

It’s time for your own personal performance appraisal. How well are you doing each of the above 6 jobs? If you thought your job was primarily with numbers and forms, how does knowing these 6 things change your perspective about your work and how does it alter your task list today?

The principle of promissory note

broken eggYou see them too if you ever scan the listings. I am talking about the jobs sections of Craigslist. You can make thousands of dollars working for an unnamed company whose application address is a blind one.

This is a common theme of mine.

The setting was a private school. The newly installed headmistress faced a tall pile of unresolved challenges. The school was not a wealthy one but did allow for some reduction in school fees in exchange for volunteer commitments from parents. Therein lay a problem.

The new headmistress was confronted daily with parents who simply did not show up at their scheduled times to shoulder their promised responsibilities. Most didn’t even telephone in to say they weren’t coming. When the headmistress began to hold those parents accountable, one of them said something incredilble.

“We’ve never had anyone who actually expected us to do what we said we would do.”

Keeping promises is critical in every relationship. You cannot build a solid team on unreliable people.

In fact, a national poll released just this week (December 2, 2013) shows that most American do not even trust each other. So bad has it become that we not expect to be misled and let down more than we expect to be told the truth and given promises someone will actually fulfill.

In the first installment of this mini-series, I wrote about the principle of good faith, that law that assures people who work with us that we are worthy of their trust. A relationship, even those on the job, are like banking, loans, and bank accounts. They are built on the unexpressed but nonetheless vital principle of mutual trust.

Whenever I hired people for my businesses I would tell them that I hire people to solve problems not make them. I had no need to pay people to create problems for me because I am more than capable of creating ample quantities on my own. I also warned them that I had a zero tolerance policy for no shows. “If you don’t show up and if you don’t call me, then don’t come back.” If people I hired could not keep that simple requirement then they could not earn wages from me. And I enforced it.

Here’s why.

When you do what you say, others learn that you mean what you say. Never promise what you cannot deliver. Never make rules (like my “don’t show up” rule) and fail to enforce it. If you do, others will learn the very first time that your word in meaningless. Motivation drains away when that happens.

Keeping promises you make and holding others to promises they make synergizes to make a key ingredient that is mandatory for long-term relationships – RESPECT. The esteem and regard held by others towards adds to our line of credit. They grant us greater authority. If there comes a time when you cannot keep your promise, do not simply ignore it. Speak clearly and honestly to those affected and never try to BS your way through. It will only make it worse. When we have respect for those who work for us and with us, we regard them too highly to do anything less than be completely honest.

This principle is called promissory notes because it communicates the image of obligation. Indeed, the fabric of civilization is woven with the threads of personal responsibility and fulfillment of obligations.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. Dwight Eisenhower

The principle of foreign exchange – 6 mistakes motivators make

foreign exchangeIn the first article in my Flipping the Switch series, I wrote about a sales manager frustrated with a top performer on his team (article here). The problem came about because the sales manager and the salesperson in question were after two different things.

The article immediately before this one (the Principle of Positive Balance) I likened a working relationship to that of a bank account. Leaders and managers build a positive balance in their associates and employees by what they do. I admit, a prime objective of this is so we will have a reserve to draw down  in the event of a problem, emergency, or crisis. Too many of us try to function with a near zero balance, always at risk of overdrawing, which places undue and unnecessary stress on the relationship.

The Principle of Currency of the Domain means that you are making investments in things that are of perceived value to the associate, staff member, and employee. The operative word here is perceived. It is simply not enough that we offer incentives, rewards, inducements, values, or anything else intended to incentivize the people who work for us.

It is their perception that matters, not just yours. Oh sure, you can mandate that someone respond to something we offer, but don’t be deceived that they will feel the same way about it just because you say they should. Trying to do that is tantamount to announcing that the beatings will continue until morale improves.the-beatings-will-continue-until-the-morale-improves

In 2012, Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers suddenly eliminated spiffs and commissions for their sales specialists. Especially hard hit were the appliance people. For most of them  their take home income dropped by tens of thousands of dollars. The store explained the sudden change like this:

We know that having an irregular income can be challenging for you to manage because you do not know what each pay check will be. So, to make it better for you we’re eliminating those pesky spiffs and commissions. We will take the total spiffs and commissions you earned for the past 12 months, divide that amount in half, then divide the sum by 26 and add that amount to your pay. After all, we all have to sacrifice for the good of the enterprise.

When the new wage structure was explained to the sales specialists, the manager of more than one store said it was “a positive move going forward.” Large numbers of experienced, productive sales specialists summarily left the company. Why? They did not perceive it as a positive move going forward.

You must reward people in the currency of their domain. It must be something they value, something they can understand and appreciate. In one episode of MASH, the American TV series about a mobile army hospital in Korea, Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester tried to pay a debt with a porcelain vase. The good doctor saw it as a valuable antique piece from an ancient dynasty. The man he owed the money to saw it as a simple dime store pot. What one placed a high value upon the other saw as virtually worthless.

When people work for us, we are indebted to them. They work BEFORE they get paid so we are always in arrears to them. But the curious thing about working is that workers put in more than time. They invest talent, skill, personal worth, and long-term viability with us. When we motivate them we can never forget he sovereignty of THEIR domain and the need to conduct transactions in “currency” acceptable as a medium of exchange in their kingdom.

We have given a lot of thought and written millions of words on the subject of empowerment. It became a corporate mantra for a while with managers and leaders falling all over themselves to assure everyone that they were committed to empowering their people. Sadly, few considered the currency of the domain. FYI – This is a major problem with marketing too. We package and present products we think the customer ought to like. Manipulative people are really, really guilty of this and resort to a number of devices to get people to do what they want those people to do, all along chanting that this is being done for the good of those people. Politicians are particularly inclined to this.

So, what and where are the pitfalls? I have listed below 6 mistakes we make to remember when setting up a foreign exchange bank in your head.

  1. Assuming education equals ability. You may have an advanced degree but that does not make you smart enough to manage people. If we are not careful, advanced years of formal education can blind us with an intellectual elitism. We tend to think of employees, associates, and staff as less intelligent, less perceptive, less understanding. We tend to expect them to allow us to determine what’s really best for them. We must replace that with a higher degree of respect for those who work with us. If we do not we can never understand why they are not as motivated as we think they should be if only they would listen to us. We might then be genuinely convinced that “this is a positive move going forward” when we’ve instead seriously impacted their health and well-being.
  2. Ask people to sacrifice their advantage for your benefit. Sacrifices are for real battles fought for country or for noble causes in charity, religion, and non-profits. Even then the individual must perceive some value and reward. For most of us, the people we employ need a job. They’ve probably believe they’ve made enough sacrifices and are looking to a positive cash flow.
  3. Assume they are stupid. They aren’t and can see through it. When Lowe’s made its decision they apparently never assumed that people could readily and cynically see through the gloss to the bitter reality that while the suits in North Carolina would get more, they were going to get less.
  4. Try to rationalize. See #1. It only makes us look stupid when we try to do so. Just tell it like it is, empathize with those for whom our actions will have an impact, and do the best you can to fix it.
  5. Forget that the reward or incentive must mean something and continue to mean something. Never be guilty of neglecting to build the future on the foundations of the past. If you have a top performer, it does not hurt to continually laud achievement. Too many managers and leaders neglect that communicating instead that “I know you had a good week last week but what have you done for me today.” This does not motivate to do more. It communicates that one has never done enough. Our associates and employees will not keep reaching for the carrot just out of reach inconsequentially. At some point they need a bite.
  6. Failure to personalize everything. They are not going to do things “for you” for very long. Eventually they will personalize everything. Americans are particularly independent. Call it self-centered if you want, but it is human nature to seek out personal advantage. Remember WIIFM – What’s In It For Me. Associates must know that somewhere there is a personal benefit. If not, your efforts are only attempts to manipulate.

6 Bases of Power – Charismatic

Wizard-of-OzThey stand out, those charismatic leaders.

Larger than life and more enduring than time, their names remain known and their works referred to yet today.  People like Jesus, Caesar Augustus,  and Charlemagne anchor ancient history.  In the more recent past it is Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Henry Ford, Aimee Semple McPherson, Churchill, Hitler (despicable but charismatic nonetheless), Patton, Walt Disney, and countless more known less well but effective within smaller circles.

Charismatic power has traction because the leader is verbally eloquent and able to articulate a vision of meaning to his/her followers. They are celebrities in their own right even if their field is not entertainment. And in a world where media reigns supreme, charismatic leaders have a lock on power.

Plus it doesn’t even matter if they know what they’re talking about.

The influence of a celebrity is why product endorsements are so lucrative. The product endorsement business is gigantic, many millions of dollars every year. Despite a few failed associations, celebrity endorsements work.

We grant authority to charismatic figures (we cede to them power) because of their supposed status. Indeed, some charismatic leaders are persons of exceptional heroism, character, and ability. Sadly, most are not. They only appear to be. It has more to do with the relationship between the leader and their followers than it does with the leaders exceptional abilities. The charismatic leader who finds a receptive audience has struck a chord within them and they respond. Too many of those charismatic leaders tend to be two dimensional, possessing bigger than life appearance. Often they either lack depth or they simply are not what one supposes and ascribe them to be.

Often manifest in religious groups and politics, both of which require a suspension of credible belief to function. They call on ideals, evoke images of a brighter, better tomorrow, and persuade followers to participate in their pursuit of that tomorrow.

C.S. Lewis defined a celebrity as one who is well known for being well-known. They play on their image behind which there may or may not be any substance. I am not implying deception although I will acknowledge that it does sometimes occur. Like the wizard of Oz, they do not want you to see behind the curtain. Television, radio, the internet facilitate this quite well because of its ability to broadcast an edited performance allowing the leader to control what the followers see and hear.

The farther away and higher up the ladder, the more power we tend to give them.  I call this the prophet from another country syndrome, taken from the words of Jesus in the New Testament when he said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. It implies that if you really knew who the person was and understood what they were really like, they would not have nearly the same power.

Charismatic leadership works because it taps into a dynamic of motivation all effective leaders understand. When followers admire what you have to say and how eloquently you can say it, they will follow enthusiastically. Conversely, as I will address in the very next post, there are men and women of exceptional character who lack eloquence and flash. Their possess intelligence, vision, and character, but are handicapped because of a lack of charisma.

Charisma is not a bad thing. It is merely a dynamic. Used by unscrupulous people it is disastrous. Employed by persons of character and honor, magnificent things happen.

Here’s the video:

 

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.