Keeper Trait #7 – Diligence

diligenceI went through 26 employees. 26 employees hired and fired over the course of five years. In that time I was approached by the Job Corps people with candidates for work, by who knows how many walk-ins, and by people responding to ads in the newspaper.

Some lacked the talent to be trained for even low-lever jobs. All of them lacked diligence.

One of the seven heavenly virtues*, diligence is usually defined as

“A zealous and careful nature in one’s actions and work; decisive work ethic, steadfastness in belief, fortitude, and the capability of not giving up. Budgeting one’s time; monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness. Upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching (integrity).”*

We most often call it a work ethic. You would think it would be part and parcel to human nature but it is not. The culture from which I had to draw employees was quite casual about work. It was not unusual for workers to simply fail to show up for work for a few days then reappear ready to plug back in.

When I hired everyone and anyone I told them the same thing. “If you don’t show up, and if you don’t call in, don’t come back. I have zero tolerance for no shows.”

Many of them tested my resolve.

They all lost.

You cannot build a business on the backs of weakness when your employees are riddled with a casual work ethic.

I almost put this trait at the top of the list, but I have stated that the traits are not sequential. They are all number one. A work ethic might just be a little more number one than the others.

It has it all:

Motivation, ambition, carefulness, self-starting, energy, effort, awareness, concern about the expenditure of time, all of those wonderful characteristics that make an employee worth far more than they get paid.

I actually thought I would just have to close up the shop when I had to go through so many workers. But I finally found four men who exemplified diligence. They turned my business around because with diligent workers:

  • I could get work out on time,
  • I could get more work out,
  • I could produce a higher quality of work,
  • I could schedule more work because I knew I would have workers to do it,
  • I could predict cash flow more accurately,
  • I could cut down on waste in both effort and product,
  • I could concentrate on my side of the business (sales, marketing, customer care) because I knew the employees would actually show up and do their job.

They will do these things for you to.

Up next, trait #8 – Prudence.

*The seven heavenly virtues were derived from the Psychomachia (“Contest of the Soul”), an epic poem written by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (c. AD 410) entailing the battle of good virtues and evil vices. The intense popularity of this work in the Middle Ages helped to spread the concept of holy virtue throughout Europe. Practicing these virtues is considered to protect one against temptation from the seven deadly sins, with each one having its counterpart. Due to this they are sometimes referred to as the contrary virtues. Each of the seven heavenly virtues matches a corresponding deadly sin.

Keepers – Trait #6 – Organization

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

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

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

This is what organization does:

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

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

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

Keeper trait #7 is diligence. See you Monday.

Keepers Trait #5 – Creativity

sinksFor my birthday, my son took me to a new restaurant in downtown Ft. Myers, Florida, near where I live.  Ft. Myers was winter home to Thomas Edison. While here, he invited close friend Henry Ford down for a visit. Ford liked the place so much he bought the house next door to Edison. The estates are now a historic site and have prompted a number of Edison and Ford themed businesses. One of the newest is called Ford’s Garage, the restaurant we visited on my birthday.

The entire place is cleverly done, from the vintage Model T hanging over the bar, the shined-up institutional furnishings. The napkin rings are hose clamps. The thing I found most creative was the faucets in the bathroom. They are gasoline filler nozzles connected to the water lines with black rubber hoses.  Everywhere you look there is creativity.

This is not a plug for Ford’s Garage. It is an appeal for Keeper Trait #5 – creativity.

“Creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way. “

The operations of any organization, large, small, commercial, or non-profit all require people who can solve problems, tackle dilemmas, and inspire customers. We have become bogged down by data and analysis gained from gathering preference statistics and conducting focus groups.

Anyone who has stayed in a roadside hotel can spot it. Rooms are totally lacking in creativity. They all are about the same size, have the same style of furniture, are appointed with a bed, a desk type of area, a counter to put suitcases on, an mini-bar, and a flat screen TV with remote. The colors and décor may vary but the basics are there.

Spurs to creativity, says Vance, are change, stress, and excess. “Moderation kills creativity.” Average people can achieve great things, he promises, when “they’re pissed off” or “they’re on fire with a cause.”

Now, most of us are not in the business of designing new businesses or redecorating apartments. The most likely venues whenever we talk about creativity are in design businesses, graphics arts, or architecture. But creativity is a keeper trait for every business or organization.


Because there are three basic premises to creativity:

Premise #1 is that “A” must equal “A”. “A” cannot equal whatever you want it to equal. If creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way, one must know for certain what the old thing is and one must know what already is so that something new can be fabricated.

Premise #2 is the Law of Cause and Effect. Creative people understand the difference and are able to sort the differences out.  They know that most people will deal with effects but seldom get to the causes. Creativity comes in when they begin to develop solutions to problems, a highly useful and oft-needed skill.

Premise #3 is the principle of influence. Leadership is influence. People willingly follow because they are influenced by someone (positively and negatively). Influential people are people with ideas. Ideas require creativity. People with ideas are moving towards leadership. People without them are moving away. There is no such thing as leading from behind. One may fall behind. One may lag behind. But whoever is at the head is leading. Influential people are idea people.

There are two manifestations of creativity. On one hand, there is artistic and scientific creativity. Those are the Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs types who come up with brilliant ideas. I had a business partner once who was very creative. He could design a machine for our shop where no such existed.

On the other hand, there is creative problem-solving – the ability to overcome obstacles by approaching them in novel ways. This is the kind of creativity that comes in most handy in the business world. This is the kind we will find most useful to most applications for us. Success magazine recently ran a good article on this here.

Chanting once again my mantra about the purpose behind hiring others, let’s all say it together. We gather associates because they:

  1. Extend our reach.
  2. Multiply our effectiveness.
  3. Divide our work.

Creative people are idea people. They see solutions, embrace objectives, and find a path through. They are eyes through which we can see farther, ears by which we can hear more, and arms by which we can reach out more.

Keeper trait # 6 is organization. See you on Thursday.

Keeper Trait #3 – Emotional and Psychological Security

confidenceYou’ve encountered them, those insecure types who have a point to prove, weight to throw around, and a chip on a shoulder they are just hoping someone will knock off. Ok, it does sound like a cliché festival but it is true. (Clichés became clichés because their observations are both obvious and common.)

Remembering that the singular objective for all associates and employees is to solve problems. Their problem-solving skills must always exceed their problem-creating leanings. This series is laying out those 16 traits that are found in keepers, those not-so rare individuals who make life better. There are plenty of them around, perhaps most of them are thus. It seems odd to me that so many employers, leaders, and managers keep the less than best ones on the rolls. Skill for the job is critical but by no means the only criteria. Yes, I know there are labor laws that must be honored and having run my own businesses with employees, I know what they are. But the initial probationary period can and should reveal much so don’t squander that time.

In the early days of my millwork business I was interviewing potential shop workers. One man came in with impressive credentials. After he left the interview, my business partner revealed that he knew the man having worked with him earlier. It seems that the man’s ability is beyond question. However, my business partner explained that within one hour in the shop he would have everyone in there angry at him and each other. The guy’s personality was so abrasive he just could not fit in anywhere.

So, why am I telling you this? To encourage you that problem employees can possibly be redeemed. But failing the best efforts of yourself and whatever assistance you can muster, do not hesitate to put the needs of the business or organization ahead of an associate’s obvious need for growth and maturing at best, for therapy at worst.

I’ve written about it before here at TPL because it has been a recurring theme of mine for decades. The theme is that those people who join my team are there to:

Extend my reach

Multiply my effectiveness

Divide my work

Anything less cannot be ignored. It is a philosophy and a commitment that has always rewarded when followed and penalized when not.

This is part three of my series on Keepers, those people whose abilities and personalities are what you want to be permanently part of your team. The first two were:

Trait #1 – Resource-fullness

Trait #2 – Aggressive accountability

This post is about emotional and psychological insecurity. As is often the case, we can see qualities of light when it contrasts with dark so let’s look at the symptoms of an insecure employee or associate first.

  • Lack of confidence revealed by a reluctance to venture into new territory. This could be from a fear of failure (see the point that just follows) or it could be from fear of success (indicating deeper psychological issues) or it could come from unfortunate past experiences where venture was slapped down.
  • Evading responsibility when something they did goes wrong.
  • Fear of failure evidenced when an associate takes a failure to heart instead of to mind. You and I know that everyone fails from time to time, but that does not make them a failure. We know that failure keeps our feet on the ground but it does not and should not bury us under it. We know that failure shows us what will not work. Insecure people take it to heart and regard themselves as losers. The mere possibility of this provokes all sorts of defensive and evasive mechanisms, well beyond the scope of this post.
  • Over-dependency demonstrated by the employee’s constant checking in with you to be sure everything is ok. Accountability is one thing, an insecure need for continual positive feedback is another. It indicates either a lack of confidence in their ability or lack of clarity in your expectations.

Not so surprisingly, insecure employees often do not act insecure. They can seem confident, even boastful. They can be loud to the point of domination. They can be outspoken and opinionated. They can be Cliff Claven types ready with an answer for questions no one asks… or cares about.

Dr. William Menninger, co-founder of the Menninger Clinic and the Menninger Foundation lists out these characteristics of an emotionally secure person:

1. Ability to deal constructively with reality.

2. Capacity to adapt to change.

3. Few symptoms of tension and anxiety.

4. Ability to find more satisfaction in giving than receiving.

5. Capacity to consistently relate to others with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness.

6. Ability to direct hostile energy into constructive outlets.

7. Capacity to love.

All of them are important signs of emotional maturity. They have been the subject of volumes of material so we are free to narrow our focus to the context of working relationships and job performance, particularly working with you as their leader or manager or both.

First, when an associate or employee can confront a problem and respond with more objectivity than subjectivity, s/he has the ability to deal constructively with reality.

Second, change is constant. Secure associates can manifest whatever skills and attitudes may be mandated by present circumstance and modify them again as the next set of changes emerge. Insecure people retreat into routine and process for security. Secure people find security in their capacity to meet the challenge and adapt as necessary.

Third, aside from the odd and unusual genetic predisposition to ulcers, secure people don’t develop them. They handle problems and change calmly and objectively. Insecure people can’t. One non-profit I worked with had an extremely capable secretary whose high degree of competence made her a great part of the team. She was, however, fragile in the sense that any variation in the process, however slight, became a big, big deal. Fortunately, she worked in an office completely by herself which insulated others from her. Anxiety and nervousness has a way of going viral.

Fourth, secure people are contributors. They are team players and consensus builders. They are not users. They do not manipulate others to gain advantage for themselves. They seek advancement for the whole not the part.

Fifth, they bring others along, share information, show the way, and give assistance without expecting a return.

Sixth, they fight fairly. I do not want to even imply that secure people never disagree. They do, and probably should from time to time. But when they do, they do so constructively. They offer a counter perspective, substantiate it with sound logic, and offer a solution.

Finally, they are people who genuinely care about someone other than themselves. They are just nice people to be around. They are not abrasive and would be missed if they were gone.

Emotionally secure people are not rare but they are in demand. When you find them and can recruit them, keep them.

The next trait is personal and organizational loyalty. Check back in a couple of days.

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?


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.

Keepers – those not-so exceptional people who make their life and your job so much more successful

employeeShe was a hidden gem. A degree in Business Admin, she had taken a job as a server just to get a job. In the economy of her city, jobs were not that easy to find and even though she was way over-qualified, she took the job. For several months she worked, showed up on time, handled her duties diligently, and said nothing while her superior bungled his.

Eventually top management gave up trying to educate and train that manager to handle the minimal demands of the job. When they let him go, they asked her if she would accept the position. She did and grabbed onto it from the first moment. Within hours the top management saw that their choice had been the right one. Now, quite some time later, the positive report holds up. This is a true story, by the way.

So this event provoked me to consider just what it is in certain people that make them stand out, that make them valuable assets to a company or organization. I came up with the following list which I will discuss deeper and post, one at a time, over the next several days.

Here is my list of 16 personal qualities found in people you must keep around you. The series begins tomorrow.

  1. Resource-fullness
  2. Aggressive accountability
  3. Psychological security
  4. Loyalty (personal & institutional)
  5. Creativity
  6. Organization
  7. Diligence
  8. Prudence
  9. Sensitivity – they understand what is important to you
  10. Skills appropriate to the position
  11. Truthfulness – no sycophants need apply
  12. Stewardship
  13. Learn-able
  14. Teach-able – can bring others along
  15. Volunteerism (Initiative)
  16. Polite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 ways to make your important sales quotas, annual projections, and other vital numbers completely worthless.

He had one of two nicknames which I had given him and I used one or the other depending on my mood. He is the sales manager of a large retail outlet at which I worked for two years on my way to retirement from working at large. (I have since “retired” but powered up a whole new engine of activities, none of them involving golf.)

As a sales specialist in my department (millwork – doors, windows, moldings, and custom components) the company established sales quotas by some unknown and obviously esoteric formula. Those sales quotas were both general and specific. In general they set an overall number of total sales expected for the month. In specific they established targets for component sales, installations, and custom orders.

The first time it happened I chalked it up by reasoning that he must be really busy. Here’s why I thought that. The sales manager would walk down the main aisle and enter each department at the same quickstep pace, just short of a run. Then he would pass behind the desk and, without slowing his pace, he would drop off three sheets of paper on which were the sales quotas for each salesperson in the department. Often, he said absolutely nothing, just dropped off the papers and kept moving. Once in a while he would mumble something like “here are the sales numbers for the month.” But he never paused, never said more, always fled the scene. That’s why he got the first label I gave him – Drive By Shooter.

In my more generous moments I simply called him the paper boy because of the way he tossed the papers onto the desk.  Can you surmise what I did with my copy?

Correct! I threw it away without even looking at it. Why? Well, I will give you the same answer I gave the general manager of the store. “If it is not worth discussing, it is not worth paying attention to. If you expect me to give heed to the numbers at all, you must instruct your sales manager to take at least two minutes and talk about them.”

Brian Wernham, in his book “Agile Project Management for Government” says that

“People are motivated by the targets they are measured against. These targets need to be collaboratively arrived at, unambiguous, transparent, and engender trust by being safe from gaming.

So, let me list out the criteria by which effective goals, whether they be sales quotas or production numbers establish and maintain their effectiveness.

  1. Never let it be thought they the numbers are anything less than valuable. I was discussing the reported rankings that the store I worked for distributed monthly. They took the overall tally of sales made by sales specialists and compared them to those in other stores. Now there were issues with the numbers that intelligent and aware sales people saw through. Some big numbers came from sales people is very large stores that commanded a very large share of the market so obviously sales people in big stores had a leg up on those in small stores. Second, the numbers were raw numbers which tallied total sales dollars and did not factor in returns or mistakes (some rookie sales people would order the wrong thing, often several thousand dollars’ worth of the wrong things but they had “high” sales numbers.) For the intelligent and aware sales people, the numbers began to lose their luster when they realized this. But the worst revelation when the General manager of the store revealed that the list were largely vanity and held no real value. It was but a device used to massage the egos of sales people so they would feel good be more comfortable in their jobs. Now, this may indeed be enough for some and if so, more power to them. I found it highly insulting that I could be bought with such flimsy window dressing. Once the vanity aspect of your sales numbers or quotas is made known, they hold no value at all, at least they didn’t for me. So, if they are anything less than valuable, don’t bother with them.
  2. They work best when they are mutual. They work worse when they are mandates. Collaboration is the key. Engage your associates in the process, give them access to your thinking, to the reasons behind the numbers. In the store I worked at neither the sales manager nor the store manager set the sales numbers. They were set by someone working in a cubicle at the headquarters who, in almost 1oo% probability, had never spent even ten minutes as a sales person on a real sales floor. So, instead of throwing your list onto a desk where they sooner or later (in my case sooner) ended up in the trash, either don’t pass them out at all or take as much time as it takes to discuss the desired response to them. If they are collaboratively arrived at, they are better received and more likely to be met.
  3. There must be some payoff for reaching them and it should be personal and relevant. Get up from behind your desk, walk over to where the person works, look them right in the eye, and tell them they have done a great job. Do not, DO NOT, merely send congratulations for numbers met or exceeded in an email! Do not even once send congrats in a general email to all associates without having spoken it personally and directly to the deserving person first. If they work somewhere else, at the very least call them. Pay attention to your producers and they will produce even more. Neglect them and they will wander. Remember that man shall no live by numbers alone.
  4. Leave the “What have you done for me today?” approach to divas. Never use it on successful associates who regularly demonstrate the ability to accomplish objectives. One associate at my store had a fabulous week selling well above the quota. On Friday, the end of the fiscal week, the phone rang at her desk. On the line was the general manager and, as she told me, she expected him to congratulate her on a great week. Instead, he made no mention of her success. No mention at all. Instead, he said, “I see in the computer that you have about $6000 in outstanding estimates. Give those people a call and see if you can’t bring that end today. Thanks.” Then he hung up. She confessed to me she was deeply disappointed. He bungled an opportunity to score points, solidify his relationship with a top-producing sale associate, and add spark to the fire. I am confident that if he had called to congratulate instead of pointing out the obvious, she would have tried to close the sales on those outstanding estimates anyway. How do I know that? Because of her track record as a top performer. Too many leaders and managers do themselves damage by forgetting that those who produce will produce more if given the right acknowledgement. That manager either didn’t know this (forgivable but not for long) or he knew it and did what he did anyway (not forgivable and the mark of an amateur in over his head).
  5. Never game the system. If you promise something, don’t game it. You game the system when you use technicalities and loopholes to weasel out of keeping promises, of rewarding behavior, of doing the right thing. The other sales specialist in my department was a former employee of another large home improvement store. At that store he was the department manager over building supplies and lumber. As the end of the fiscal year drew near, the general manager revealed that the annual bonuses were not going to be paid because the store had failed to reach its projected sales goals and then asked everyone if they could help find a way to put them over the top. My friend called one of his contractor buddies, a man who regularly bought large quantities of building materials and sent them to a development project in Central America. The contractor came in and made a very large order which put the store beyond its projected numbers and triggered a bonus…for everyone except my friend who had made it possible. It seems that in order to be eligible one had to be a regular employee for a certain number of days and my friend fell short by two days. TWO DAYS! “Sorry,” the general manager said, there’s nothing I can do, but maybe next year you’ll make it.” My friend quit the same day. He discovered that the managers of that company could and would game their system to their advantage. So, remember that the people who work for you and with you are not machines. They think and feel. Don’t screw around with them. If they perform well, move hell and high water to make sure their effort is recognized and rewarded. And no, an “Employee of the Month” award is not enough. Give them the money!

Ok, there you are. Don’t sabotage your own efforts by thinking numbers on page will do for you what fair treatment and kind words will. You need numbers and numbers will reveal a good deal, but they will not and they cannot fuel the engine of productivity by themselves.

Management 101 – Part 4 – Control

steeringThe first three installments in this series covering management’s most basic principles addresses Planning, Organizing, and Training. Once those have been done, or more realistically, once those are being done, the final principle is that of controlling action.

If nothing is moving, the first challenge is to get things moving in an orderly manner. One that happens, the next logical addition is to control what is moving; minimize waste, maximize efficiency, and focus efforts.

Control happens when movements are contained within certain parameters. In engineering those parameters would be called “tolerances” because a certain degree of latitude is allowed. In retail businesses, they control inventory by budgeting for shrinkage, which is the loss of inventory, through breakage and theft. In manufacturing, control is exercised by managing time, predicting and planning for the supply of component parts, and monitoring specifications.

In all applications of control, there has to exist a standard from which all variance is measured. Here it might be helpful to borrow a term and concept from surveying. When new territory is being plotted, surveyors lay a base line, a straight line running a fixed length along which all other measurements are to be made. When the original settlers of the San Bernardino valley laid out the city their base line, now a busy street, ran for many miles. All other streets and the plots of land that would be parceled out to settlers were measured from that on line.

Management and leadership uses the same principle. A standard is established which becomes the target for measuring performance and therefore a basis for controlling action. Corporate run restaurants establish the target number of diners and their average purchase amount and they control costs by carefully controlling portions in both recipes and servings.

Corporate run casinos know how much money the average gambler will lose at a blackjack table per hand that is dealt. They also set the standard for how many hands the dealer should deal per hour and thus can predict with reasonable accuracy how much the table should earn. They then monitor the take from that table and can see where it deviates from the base line. If a regular pattern emerges, say one particular dealer is earning less than those who precede of follow him, the house begins to look for the reason why.

Base line control works just about everywhere. It was Peter Drucker who said that “if you cannot count it you cannot control it.” So the concept and practice of control is a counting action. Leaders do not do so well at this because the nature of leadership is less specific and more inspirational. However, if inspirational and motivational influence does not somewhere and somehow translate to measurable advances, leadership is relegated to platitudes and concepts. They’re pleasant but produce little in the way of lasting effect.

Control is a concept many people are uncomfortable with because it requires them to hold people accountable for results. We live in an age of fuzziness where we confuse feelings and attitudes with genuine advancement and progress. HR people and social scientists have proposed that we focus on the feeling side of work which can have a counterproductive effect if not balanced with real control targets. Your role as manager is to place the right people in the right positions so they can do the right job at the right time and produce the right results. Feeling good, loved, accepted, and fulfilled has value as long as that focus does not override the objective – to produce results.

On the other hand, too much control can result in friction (see my post here about that subject). If things are functioning smoothly and on track, a different kind of control is called for. MacGregor’s X and Y management styles addresses this and I will too in future posts (this is also the subject of my next book “How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned”) so be informed that that this subject is by no means exhausted here.

In summary, here are the 7 key components of the principle of control:

  1. Management is a game won or lost by numbers. To be able to control is to be able to count.
  2. A base line needs to be determined and laid out so EVERYONE who is accountable to it understands it and what it means. It is unfair to hold people to standards they are not aware of.
  3. Ineffective managers keep moving the base line. This inevitably causes confusion and resentment. If you arbitrarily move the baseline to put more money in your pocket while taking money OUT of the pockets of the people who work for you, count on your best and most productive people moving on.
  4. Ineffective managers have no baseline going in or they refuse to reveal it to their associates. People respond best when they know what is expected of them. If you are going to hold people accountable for numbers make very sure they know what those numbers are.
  5. Monitor deviation from base line numbers and find out why before jumping to a conclusion. There can be more than one reason why numbers are not met or exceeded.
  6. If you move numbers higher because of better than expected results make sure it is a joint effort and a reasonable one.
  7. To control results you’ll need to coordinate efforts. Until you have clear evidence otherwise, you may assume that most people want to do well in their jobs and will continue to do so if given the right tools and competent management. Demanding more with less will doubtless provoke resentment, grumbling, and plots of rebellion (just ask an ancient Pharoah when he demanded his guest workers, the Israelites, to make more bricks with less straw).  It takes lots of fuel and gear grinding to get a vehicle moving, but once it is on the road, a different type of control is necessary. You can let the machine do what it was designed to do and simply keep a supply of fuel, lubrication, and guidance to keep it on the road an on the way.

The first three installments of Management 101 are available here:

Part 1 – Plan

Part 2 – Organize

Part 3 – Train

I am yet in Uganda, East Africa. I spent the last two days on the road travelling up-country arriving back in Entebbe last night to discover that my internet access was no longer functioning. As of mid-day today it is still out. I have a wireless modem used here through the mobile phone providers but it is so slow I hesitate to use it. Nonetheless I have. Even getting airtime is fun. A trip downtown to the currency exchange office to but more shillings, then a walk down the street to the mobile phone office, a wait in line, then it’s my turn. Select the number of gb’s I want for a month and pay the fee while the tech retrieves the SIM card registration, gets the airtime and downloads it onto the stick. I am using the stick modem now. Thanks for your patience.