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 – Accountability

Power Lines accountabilityNot long ago I sat across a desk from a small business owner whose business has experienced rapid expansion in the past two years. Going against the trends in the general economy his company was invoicing $750,000 annually last year and will invoice approximately $2,000,000 this year.

Among the items we discussed, one emerged that seemed to trouble him the most. In the expansion of his business he has hired several new technicians. However, there are two who have been with the company a long time. Neither of them have been able to keep pace with new technology and the inevitable changes in procedures and standards that come when a company expands that rapidly and to that degree.

“What,” he asked, “should I do with those two?”

I explained that the most personally challenging part of managing a business is addressing the problem of employees and associates who fail to keep up with the demands of their position. So here is what I advised:

  1. Business is business and all aspects of it eventually must be addressed as business. Delegate jobs and establish objectives using business objectives, not personal ones. Evaluations are to be made by those objective and subjective criteria that you have already established.
  2. Hold everyone accountable to the same standards if they are doing the same job and by the same standard of standards if they are not. Bricklayers are not plumbers but in both cases there is a level of acceptable work that must be maintained. If a person cannot meet that level, they cannot have the position. It’s not personal, it’s business. Never ever play favorites of any type in any manner.
  3. Morale will suffer and your credibility will begin to fail if you allow standards in one you don’t allow in another. Do not fool yourself. Others can and do see what’s going on.
  4. Every time I let someone slide and made personal and individual consideration for them, it came back to bite me. Take it from a seasoned veteran of the workforce trenches, you cannot expect reciprocity. If you let standards slide, make accommodations, or otherwise personalize a position thinking it will build loyalty and a sense of ownership, it won’t. Investment is made when it costs the investor something, in this case the effort to meet the responsibility. Granting indulgences only sets the grantee up for more grants.
  5. The action of holding accountable subordinates and associates, those to whom you have delegated responsibility, and the manner in which it is done may be the primary indicator of one’s leadership ability. Business ownership and organizational leadership means taking the heat for doing the hard things. That really is why you get the big(ger) money.
  6. There is a reason why the military distinguishes rank. Higher ranks have higher responsibility, can see the big picture, and know how to lead. Higher ranks quickly lose their capacity to command by being one of the guys. They are them and you are you. I am not even remotely suggesting that you remain aloof or be unfriendly. I am suggesting that there is the need to maintain distance. More about this in a future post.

Accountability, which is one of the traits of keepers I wrote of here, is:

  • The obligation to give a record of what has happened or not happened,
  • Accept responsibility for success, partial success, failure or partial failure, and
  • To disclose the results transparently, holding nothing back.

Show your associates and employees the diagram that accompanies these articles. Explain the process, and enforce it. You need to know and they need to be accountable, it’s part of being a responsible component in the organization.

Next week I tackle the final link in the power grid. See you on Monday.

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 – Authority

Power Lines diagram authorityPower has a source, a circuit, and a purpose. The laptop into which I am entering these words is powered by a battery which receives its power from a wall outlet which receives its power from a power line which is powered by a generating plant.

The circuit is completed when the power flows from the generating plant through the lines into my house into the adapter and into my laptop which completes the circuit by running it through the computers many components and back to ground. Since the generator is connected to “ground” the circuit is complete and made so when the power converts electrical energy into another source of energy which yields the desired results. My document is written and posted where you can read it.

Power without a complete circuit goes no where. The energy remains in the line until work is performed. If there is a short, there are lots of sparks and consequential damage which prevents the completion of work.

Ok, enough about the dynamics of energy transfer. How does that apply to us as leaders and managers?

The power starts somewhere, probably with you. But you might be a component along the way and get the power from someone farther up the line – your boss, supervisor, or board of directors. Your personal engine of competence can’t do everything so you’ve hooked up more tools and are delegating to them this job or that.

By now we have covered the first two components in the distribution of power throughout your department, company, or organization – Delegation and Responsibility. This unit in the series will address the concept and practice of Authority. Delegation is the power outlet, the wall plug-in that connects the power source to the device. Responsibility is the purpose of the device, the reason it’s connected at this time because it specifies its purpose. Authority is the flow of power.

I am a user of BusinessDictionary.com. If you haven’t used the site, take a quick look (wait until after you’ve finished this article, please). Definitions found there are contextually inclusive for those of us in business or organizational settings. I like what they say about authority:

1. Institutionalized and legal power inherent in a particular job, function, or position that is meant to enable its holder to successfully carry out his or her responsibilities.

2. Power that is delegated formally. It includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed, it is always accompanied by an equal responsibility for one’s actions or a failure to act.

They agree with me. Authority is forever and always tied to a job, function, or responsibility and it is consequential. It carries with it rewards or penalties.

You know how packaged inside the box of every new appliance there is a list of cautions and directives you are warned to read BEFORE using the device? Well, here is my list of ten things to remember before you start connecting people and handing out responsibilities.

  1. Authority is both delegated DOWNWARD and awarded UPWARD. You authorize someone for a particular job. They grant you authority to oversee and hold accountable.
  2. When a person accepts a subordinate role, they essentially delegate a portion of their personal AUTHORITY and AUTONOMY to their superior (that’s you). Subordinates do not act in a monarchy. They owe you for the responsibility and authority you have yielded to them.
  3. When authority is given, there exists an IMPLIED CONTRACT that says, “If you will commit yourself to accomplish this goal, we will delegate to you the authority you need to achieve it.”
  4. Authority must match the responsibility. Give enough to get the job done as specified, not more, not less.
  5. A leader can never give away all his authority.
  6. Authority should first be given to a POSITION and a FUNCTION (a RESPONSIBILITY) not to a PERSON.
  7. Always state:
    1. What is to be accomplished
    2. How it is to be done
    3. When it is to be accomplished
  8. Always get a VERBAL AGREEMENT on the objective.
  9. Request a WRITTEN PLAN on how the objectives will be reached.
  10. Authority given on this basis will FOCUS ON THE WORK TO BE DONE AND THE OBJECTIVES TO BE REACHED RATHER THAN ON THE AUTHORITY OF THE PERSON.

Authority, then, is official or traditional sanction for individuals occupying specified positions to perform certain directive tasks. Malcolm Forbes has said that “Those  who enjoy responsibility usually get it; those who merely like exercising  authority usually lose it.” I concur.  What experience you have had when delegating jobs? How did it work out?

Previous articles in this series:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

The Six Principles of Delegating

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 #16 – Nice

Nice guysA few years ago it was my privilege to officiate at the memorial service of an old friend. The family did not want a traditional structured ceremony. They asked that time be given for mourners to say whatever they wanted about the life of the man being honored that day.

For over 45 minutes, I simply acknowledged one person then another as they stood and offered their words of respect. To a man they all acknowledged the deceased as a man of honor, honesty, respect, grace, and ability. They all labeled him a “nice guy.”

Ok, the oft repeated words attributed to baseball coach Leo Durocher, who reportedly said “nice guys finish last,” seem to challenge my premise. But it all comes down to what is meant by the phrase “nice guy.”

This is the last article in the series Keepers, Traits of those exceptional people you want to keep around. I do not want to conclude this leaving any doubt about the overriding demeanor and attitude of a person who makes a valuable asset to you and your company or organization.

I have discussed these 15 traits so far:

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological and emotional security
  4. Personal & institutional loyalty
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity
  10. Skills and temperament appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able
  15. Initiative

But a nice person makes all other traits and capacities oh so pleasant to be around. I hate a workplace filled with tension, bickering, or Machiavellian maneuverings. Hate it! I’ve left jobs and turned down positions because one or more of those negative attributes existed.

Life is way too short to spend it in incessant conflict. There is a better, more excellent way. Peter Drucker once wrote of three principles that must guide our engagement with others:

  1. Build only on islands of health and strength.
  2. Work only on things that will make a great deal of difference if you succeed.
  3. Work only with those who are receptive to what you are trying to do.

Find nice people to work with. Not rude, not cynical and sarcastic, certainly not abrasive or manipulative.

Nice does not equal less assertive. Nice people are neither passive nor unambitious, they’re just well, nicer about it. They possess great strength, immense fortitude of character, and courage. They manifest it with grace. A wonderful example of this can be found in the lives of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They were both giants yet fulfilled their roles with great grace. They were nice guys.

Can not so nice guys get ahead? Surely. They often do. And some organizations or companies seem to want that type of person. I don’t.

Nice guys play fair. They give everyone their due, bring others along, work cooperatively and considerately. Nice people treat their co-workers with courtesy, say please, say thank you, offer assistance, are easy to get along with.

Nice guys are not saccharin. One may disagree but do so nicely. The reader should not infer that I am advocating a person who never makes a ripple, never disputes a decision, never challenges a decision. Nice guys as I interpret and apply the term in this context are not wallflowers. They make their presence known but do so in such an excruciatingly nice manner.

Nice guys build bridges, clear pathways, garner cooperation not by mandate but by winning over opponents and inviting participation.

Nice guys finish.

Nice guys, at least in my company, last.

Keepers trait #9 – Sensitivity

T101209-N-2943B-001his may seem like an unusual or even inappropriate trait and I want to be clear from this first sentence that I am NOT suggesting sensitivity in the emotional or psychological sense.  A sensitive associate is not to be confused with a touchy one. I do not mean someone who is easily set off, offended, or who must be handled with extreme care.

A sensitive employee is one who can discern and respond to subtlety. They “get it” quickly and clearly.

My father taught me, and I passed it on to my own children, that the way to make yourself invaluable to an employer is to quickly discover what is important to them and never disappoint them.  Find out their hot buttons and do everything you can to avoid pushing them. Instead, if they have areas and issues they prefer over others, meet them.

Sensitive employees do just that.

Sensitive employees and associates are:

  • Highly tuned in to the workplace. They can sense the mood of the moment and know how to respond to it.
  • Highly tuned in to the feelings of others and exercise great care never to offend, abuse, or ignore anyone on the team. This goes for managers and leaders too.
  • Comfortable working alone.
  • Respectful of the boundaries of others. They never intrude without an invitation or a compelling reason.
  • Particularly useful in service industries like restaurants, concierge services, and here’s a surprise, sales. Now you might think a sensitive person would be handicapped in sales because of the presence of rejection. But my sales model is not one of pressure, but of collaboration. In my last sales job I explained to all my clients that I was not intent on selling them anything but I was intent on helping them make the best selection for their particular needs.  (I was in the top 5% of sales for the region by the way.) We have all endured insensitive sales people who persisted on pursuing a script even though it did not match the setting. Telemarketers seem to be script-bound. Sensitive servers and salepersons can anticipate the needs of others before being told.
  • Capable of coming up with great ideas because they usually process information deeper. Sensitive people are usually inclined to creativity, have an inclination towards the arts.
  • Usually highly intelligent and possess great, active, vibrant imaginations. They are particularly good at finding a way where there is no way.
  • Know what your values are and match them.

There are downsides of course. Overly sensitive people can be moody, can be more inclined to self-medicate, and can be a bit hesitant to volunteer for fear of rejection. But, taken in balance, and used within the context I have set, this trait is an asset to the team.

Keeper trait #9 is appropriate skills and temperament. See you in a few days. I have been notified by my hosting service that they are moving my websites to faster servers so there might be slight and incremental outages in the service but it will be finished soon. Thanks for your patience.

Accountability, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #2

power plugI had ordered a meal and let the conversation around the table carry away the wait. When the order arrived, it was a different server who placed my plate in front of me. It was almost correct. I had ordered fish and what was on my plate was indeed fish. The problem was I had ordered it prepared a different way.

When the server sat it down I told him so and also suggested I keep it. I’d waited long enough.

In under two minutes the server who had taken my order was at the table offering an articulate and sincere apology for the mix-up. In that one moment, the server identified herself as a Keeper. Why?

Accountability!

An accountable person understands that mistakes happen and they own up to them when they do. They don’t have to be chased down and confronted about it. They don’t try to cover up or ignore it hoping it goes undiscovered. No, they report to you and explain what happened.

Accountability is an active trait, not passive. It takes the lead. Accountable people offer no transparent excuses, no blame-shifting, no relocating the guilt. There is a reality show series on TV called Restaurant Undercover or something like that. Restaurant owners who suspect an employee of theft hires a company to install hidden monitoring devices to find out what happens. I have watched a few episodes. In every one I’ve seen, when the culprit is caught they try to relocate their guilt back onto the restaurant owner. They all claim that their job performance is above and beyond the call of duty. They refuse to even acknowledge their incompetence or thievery instead they try to shame the owner because they are not more appreciative of the culprit’s hard work, sacrifice, and effort.

Weasels annoy me…big time. I live by the creed that if something is amiss, simply acknowledge it, find a solution, and keep moving. Accountable people exhibit two character traits that add to their keepability.

First, they conduct their lives with a high degree of responsibility. I will explore the traits of diligence and prudence later in this series, but those two traits find a seed plot right here. Accountable people don’t like error or defeat and live so as to avoid it as much as possible.

Second, when it happens, they report it to their superiors and those connected and involved associates before it becomes a bigger issue. They realize that failure is an event and live so that it does not become a way of life.

Throwaway people don’t. They live carelessly, fail to exercise due diligence, ignore prudence, and cover themselves with the slippery film of excuse-making and blame-shifting.

Whenever you are engaged with employing others, you do so because there are jobs that must be done that you, because of time or skill, cannot and should not try to do. I’ve said this so often in this blog through the years that it’s become almost a mantra. We engage others to extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work. We hire others, we delegate responsibility to others so they will solve problems, not create more.

The accountability component is built of the reality that a leader can never give away all his authority. S/he is ultimately responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen. All responsibility and the authority to fulfill that responsibility is released under a carefully determined agreement. Whenever you as leader/manager allow others to participate in the process of work for your company, whether it is one person or dozens or more, a contract implication exists.

By implication in accepting the responsibility the person accepting the job has agreed that if you will grant them the authority to do this job, they will award to you the accountability both you and the task deserve. Whenever an associate accepts a responsibility, they become, at least in that instance, a subordinate. Because authority and responsibility flows much like an electric current, if power is ever going to accomplish work, it must flow within a circuit. Current leaves the source, flows through wires and machinery, and returns to the source. If the circuit breaks, power stops and along with it the machinery. If it short circuits, a destructive fire could result. You as leader/manager release power (authority) to do the job but the circuit must flow back to you. The return trip is called accountability. The power source is you. To maintain a safe and effective flow of power, it eventually has to come back to you.

You have every right to expect that the accountability comes to you. You should not have to go get it from anyone. This initiative is what makes someone a keeper. They find you, make their report, and keep the machinery running. I do want to state that accountability does not only exist when something goes wrong. Accountability is not limited to the times something goes wrong. Perhaps most often accountability need to function when everything goes right.

When someone accepts responsibility they agree to three things:

  1. I will do it
  2. I will let you know as soon as I know if I am not going to be able to do what we agreed to in the time we set.
  3. I will tell you why I cannot meet my obligation and what I will do to prevent it from happening again.

Accountability is a broad topic and I do not presume to have addressed more than one facet of it in this post. However, I do want to include one more piece of the subject.

Some leaders/managers are uncomfortable either holding people accountable or accepting accountability from a subordinate or an associate. If this is you, you’ll need to acquire that ability. The flow of authority and responsibility depends on a system of accountability. Quality control, customer satisfaction, obligations to constituents, the very vision of the business or organization rests on the smooth flower of power throughout the system. Please do not minimize when an employee or associate brings news of a failure. Don’t over-react either. Deal with the issues, leave persons and personalities out of it, move on. Don’t gloss over it when they do well and report a success either. Celebrate the completion of a responsibility and build the bank of good will between your and those you rely on to carry out the many tasks of your group.

Next installment = Psychological security, maturity in action.

Resource-fullness, traits of keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful – #1

A fellow woodworking business owner has a unique and clever way of qualifying applicants for jobs. He brings them into the shop and offers to pay them for one week. During that week they have but one assignment. They can build anything they want in the shop, use the shop’s equipment and supplies under the condition that whatever they build must be planned, started, and completed in one work week.

The shop owner learns a lot during that week. One quality he is able to monitor is resource-fullness. He can observe, before he hires them, if they can learn their way around the shop, plan intelligently, use the machinery, complete something on time, produce commercial grade work, and solve the inevitable problems that arise.

Yes, I am aware that resource-full is misspelled. I did so intentionally. Resourcefulness is a dense word crammed with meaning. Resource-fullness crams in a little more.

In this series I am exploring the qualities that make for exceptional associates and employees; those capabilities, attitudes, and traits that make them keepers. The title says “not-so exceptional” because I believe there are lots of them around. They are all mixed in with everyone else but they are there in large numbers. Just not large enough.

I put resource-fullness at the top of the list because it is the most important trait by far when I look for associates. I want someone who can garner the components necessary to get the job done. Resource-fullness is both internal and external, that is a resource-full person has certain attitudes that always find expression in certain actions.

Inward Attitudes:

A Can Do spirit. One of my favorite movies in In Harm’s Way starring the Duke, John Wayne, and Kirk Douglas. In the opening segment, Wayne’s heavy cruiser is torpedoed and has gone dead in the water. A nearby destroyer pulls alongside to help. Wayne asks the destroyer’s captain if he can rig a line for towing and send over some pumps. The answer to both was, “Can do, sir.” Interestingly, the “captain” was not the ship’s captain at all but a Lieutenant JG. The captain had been ashore when the ship sortied to leave the harbor. You’ve probably guessed that the date was December 7th. The same Lieutenant JG soon found himself promoted, the result of his ability to get things done.

A Never Say Die tenacity. Resource-full associates just refuse to give up. If they don’t know the way, they find a way. If they don’t know the way to find a way, they find the way to find a way. Associates who are easily defeated are not keepers. Your work and that of your organization is too important to be placed in the hands of those who are easily stopped.

A High Capacity Server. I am borrowing here from today’s dimension of technology. If bandwidth is narrow and the number of users is high, connections are so slow. Some people are like that. They’re nice enough people, but way too slow on the uptake. Hint: If things have to be explained, and explained, and explained again, you are not talking to a high capacity user. Clichés become clichés because the meaning is so universal that the expression gets used and then over-used. One such is “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Well, it is. Resource-full people catch on quickly. Just a word and they get it, And then that run with it.

An almost paranormal intuition. Resource-full people are people who know. They can’t always tell you how they know. They may not even understand how they know. But they know. They possess a keen insight into the dynamics of how things work and can interpret that into what needs to be done. Resource-full people are not bulldozers, simply demolishing any impediment or opposition. They know the way through. Sid was working for a company in the middle of a giant relocation project. It was not a particularly large company but it had been in the same facility for many, many years and had spread over several buildings. They were downsizing and had to move. The deadline for vacating the property loomed and there remained yet lots to be done. The director had run out of options and was near panic. Sid called the local high school and asked if there were strong young men who wanted part-time work. Soon a squad of muscle arrived and the move finished off on time.

External Capabilities:

An Action Focus. Resource-full people move. They move forward, sideways, round about, but they move. They hate meetings, grind under the thought of a committee, and write reports only as part of the job. They love action. They are take charge and get it done people.

A Cadre of Contributors. Being full of resources, one depository of those resources is a band of others who know things to. They know suppliers, workman, technicians, counselors, and information people. They are able to tap into the best minds and warehouses available because their experience and personality has put them in connection with them.

Powers of Persuasion. They are skilled negotiators and persuasive managers. They have a natural authority and a command presence. In short, they are leaders just like you are.

Life is a problem solving venture. So is business. Daily, sometimes hourly, oftimes it seems momentarily we are confronted with something that doesn’t work, a system that has failed, a component that is out of stock, a machine that has broken, a person that is being contrary, a problem to solve.

You hire people to solve them, not create more. Resource-full people are those people. When you find them, try not to run them off (Hint: That is my next series – The ways we drive away our best people.)

The next installment in this series is aggressive accountability. Coming up Thursday, April 18th.