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A considerate reader emailed to say he wanted to sign up for the newsletter but the captcha was invisible.

I have two sign up forms – one for the newsletter and another for a free ebook. Well, it seems that the captcha in the the form located on top works while the captcha in the second one down the sidebar does not. It doesn’t seem to matter which. If I reverse them the same is true. Both forms were ceated the same way and are coded the same way.

So, I have been in communication with the tech people and they haven’t figured it out yet either. So, until they do, I have disabled the free ebook. When we get it resolved I will set it in again.

Thanks for your patience and if you’ve tried but couldn’t sign up, please try again. If you have an idea of what could be worng, I’d like to hear from you.


Do you sanction incompetence? 6 questions that will reveal if you do.

incompetenceTwenty six! Twenty six employees came…and went.

They didn’t quit. I let them go. Most quietly, some not so. But they left. Eventually and over time I hired, fired, gleaned and screened until I assembled a crew that could think, plan, and work without constant direction from me.

Now, I am not so naïve as to expect that employees can or should be entirely self-directing neither can they or should they function in complete independence. I have written about this here.

Depending on the competence and confidence of an associate in any particular position, the degree of your engagement as a leader/manager will vary. The farther down the scale the more participation will be required from you.

Employees/associates, depending on their experience, education, confidence, and competence will rank somewhere up and down this scale:4 levels

Lower level employees typically require more intervention and interaction with their manager. This consumes time and attention which, if too many associates demand it, the overall productivity of the group will suffer.

So, why did I hire and fire 26 people? Because none of that 26 could ever rise to the point where I could confidently let them work with an advanced degree of independence that would permit me to do what I as owner and manager have to do. I was limited in the challenge of doing what I could and should uniquely do as owner and manager because the people who worked for me could not shoulder their responsibilities without significant input from me.

I am consulting for a business now looking for ways to make it more efficient and therefore more profitable. Yesterday I had to fire the manager. After several weeks of intervention on my part he was unable to rise to the level of performance the job requires. Too many facets of the job just fell beyond his grasp. I instructed him to complete a simple task that would prevent internal theft of a certain product. The remedy would take less than ten minutes to complete at the end of the day. Nine days later it still was not being done and the losses continued.

The higher the level of an employee’s responsibility, the greater demands there are upon his line of site. He must be able to see farther and better than those who serve under him. In the circumstance at hand, the manager I recently dismissed consistently failed to grasp both the scope of work required and the detail necessary to manage the business.

Now, all this is predicated upon your ability to understand and define the demands of the job. What’s more, the following 6 tests will reveal if you are sanctioning incompetence.

Question #1 – Have you settled in your thinking and behavior that the demands and criteria you must establish are strictly business? You should possess with some reasonable clarity what will be the successful outcome of an employee’s engagement with your company. It might be easily measured by profit margins. It might be counted by widgets made in a measured amount of time. It might be, as I explained above, in the capacity to determine what needs to be done and make sure it is done. A friend once recommended that I hire a friend of his because the man was having a hard time adjusting to adult life and needed a father figure to help him along. My response? My business is not a therapy center and I am not a therapist. Therapy is costly, too costly for me (or you) to absorb just to “help people along.” You are in business, your organization exists to pursue and eventually realize the stated objectives, not provide work therapy for troubled individuals.

Question #2 – How well do you and your clients attack the problems brought to you by your customers? All businesses and non-profits are problem solving entities. We exist to resolve an issue or issues. We fix problems brought to us by our clients. This is easy to see in repair or service companies. It is less obvious in other companies but true nonetheless. In my millwork business, I educated all my employees that we are problem-solving people. A client needs something made or installed to satisfy functional or aesthetic problems, usually both, and it is up to us to do it. Further, in creating that resolution, your employees will encounter numerous problems to overcome – understanding the intent, engineering a workable design, devising a logical and safe sequence to produce the resolution, finding and sourcing the materials and components necessary to make it happen. You do not need, and cannot tolerate, excuses. You need results and that is what you pay for.

Queston #3 – Do your employees solve more problems than they create? If an employee or an associate is creating more issues than they solve, the indications that they are in the wrong position grow more pointed.

Question #4 – Do you underwrite and support work that falls short of the standard? You can excuse incompetence but you must never sanction it. Never, and I mean never rob from strength to pay for weakness. One of my more successful failures was a brief venture in a partnership. It was a door and window manufacturing company. My part of the deal was to be the front man. I did the marketing, met with clients, and sold products. Our very first job was for several windows and doors, all of hardwood. I turned the order over to my business partner whose job it was to oversee the manufacture of the products. In due time the components were delivered to the client who then called me the next day. He was not happy. I visited the jobsite and discovered why. Honestly, any high school woodshop class could have turned out a better product. I brought back one of the defective windows, set it up on the bench, and gathered the crew.

“This is what we are turning out,” I showed them the window.

They looked it over and incredibly said, “What’s wrong with it?”

I then showed them item by item the flaws and there were many.

My business partner then countered, “Well, we can’t do any better.”

“Then,” I argued, “we can’t be in this business.” Soon thereafter I sold my shares because it became very clear that the manufacturing side could not do any better indeed. In a short time the company was out of business. Be frank, be honest, be frankly honest, be brutal in your assessments of performance. Some people are excruciatingly nice but they may not be up to the job. The decisions to be made are business ones. We are surrounded by incompetence because we sanction it. Margins of error can become very broad highways for incompetence if we let them. If you are required to go back over an associate’s work, to continually monitor their performance, to run them down and demand accountability, there is a problem and if won’t go away by itself. You might be able to fix it by more training. But if you try that and fail, it’s time to make the hard business decision.

Question #5 – Do your employees or associates mistake forbearance for indifference? You may be patient, tolerant of error, slow to react, willing to invest time and effort to bring someone along. However, make sure all your associates know that your forbearance should not be taken to signal indifference. If you continually ignore poor performance, missed goals, and failed attempts, if you set a standard but do not enforce it your associates and employees will lose respect for you and exploit what they assess to be weakness. I fired the manager yesterday because I am serious about the standards required by this business and I intend to make certain they are in place.

Question #6 – Do you play fair? Demand the same principled level of performance of everyone. Never let one get away with neglecting what another is required of another. This fosters the concept that a good ole boy system is in place and truthfully, if you do favor one over another, a good ole boy system is indeed in place.

I am sure you have discovered more What principles and practices of building competence have you tried? How well did they work for you?

Does everyone who works with you understand what business you are in?

There is a story about a man in Chicago who was rather wealthy and interested in boats.  His interest was in more than bass boats. He was interested in large boats, ocean-going blue water yachts and had the money to buy them.  As he looked through a boating magazine he found one he liked listed for sale at more than $100,000.

He called the boating company to see if it was still available and when he could look at it. The time was about 4:00 pm when he called.  He was leaving later that afternoon on a business trip, however.  When the man called, he reached a receptionist who informed him they had the boat.  However, she told him, the company closed at 5:00 pm. and the office would be closed by the time he could get there.  The man was very disappointed and left on his business trip later that evening.

While the man was on his business trip, he called the boat company again.  This time he managed to get past the receptionist and spoke with the sales manager.  The potential buyer told the sales manager about the particular boat he wanted to buy.  The manager assured him they still had the boat.  They made an appointment for the buyer to look at the boat when he arrived back in town. 

While they were on the phone, he told the sales manager what had happened on the day he originally wanted to see the boat.  He related the story how the receptionist told him they closed at 5:00 pm and that, though he wanted to, he couldn’t see the boat that day. 

As soon as he hung up the phone, the sales manager called the receptionist into his office.  He asked her, “Do you understand what business we are in?  We are in the business of selling boats.  If we don’t sell any boats, we don’t make any money.  If we don’t make any money, you don’t have a job.  The          only reason that you exist, the only reason that this company exists is to access people to the boats that they want to buy.”

Incredibly, the receptionist said, “I didn’t understand that.”  She failed to understand her particular role in that company.  That she was there only to facilitate people, to access them to what it was that they wanted.  She thought that she was the protector of the phone lines.  She viewed herself as the guardian at the door.

She considered herself to be responsible.  She thought what she had done was the responsible thing to do.  It didn’t matter that it could have cost the company thousands of dollars in commissions and certainly cost them in public relations.  She did not understand her role in relation to the organization that she worked for. 

So, what business are you in? HINT: It is almost certainly problem solving. When I owned a millwork company I explained to everyone who worked there that we are in the business of solving problems for our clients. They have a need for a piece of furniture, matching trim, a custom fixture, or a place where the visual or utilitarian appeal is deficient and we can fix that problem by our design and production facilities. Continuing on with the concept, ours was a high-end business. We did not market and we did not try to compete on price. Some companies do and if that fits your business model, there is nothing wrong with that. My business model was to market to a small but well-heeled market share by producing outstanding work in a timely manner at a price that reflects the quality of component and construction our clients want and deserve.

Restaurant owners provide more than food. They provide a dining experience whether it be fast food or fine dining, they deliver for their clients the food and beverages the client wants to buy in the manner and atmosphere he wants to purchase it in.

Someone once asked the CEO of Rolex “How goes the watch business?” His answer? “I have not the slightest idea.” Why? Because he is not in the business of selling watches. Rolex and other luxury product manufacturers are selling much more than the product the consumer buys. They sell the cache’ that their product has come to represent.

In the 1950’s luxury car manufacturer Packard abandoned their cache’ and began selling just cars. In less than 5 years the company was gone.

In the 1970’s General Motors, headed at that time by an accountant, thought they needed to be in the business of selling a cheap car. What the consumer wanted was an inexpensive car. GM produced some of the worst cars in its history in those days because they lost track of what their business was.

What business are you in? Take ten minutes right now and write out your definition of your business. For help, here was mine at my millwork business: To provide for our clients outstanding work delivered in a timely manner at a price that reflects the quality of components and construction our clients want and deserve.

Next, are you certain that everyone who works for you understands what business you are in? If not, how will you bring them up to speed?

Please pass this along to someone you know that could benefit from it?

9 tasks of leadership, Task #9 – Renewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 3 things you can do:

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

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

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

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

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

9 tasks of leadership, Task #3 – Capitalizing on motivation


Adam36 - http://www.stockfreeimages.com/
Adam36 – http://www.stockfreeimages.com/

Motivation cannot be readily created by a single, isolated act. Motivation can be unlocked, channeled, and maintained, but you cannot create motivation that endures from a pep talk, a monthly award, or a company newsletter.

People are motivated or they are not. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a motivational act you as a leader can perform that would work like an energy drink? It’s been tried but it takes much more than that to make motivation stick.

Most skilled leaders know that the secret is to capitalize on the motivation that intrinsically exists within their associates and keep the fire burning. It is far, far easier to perpetuate motivation than it is to initiate motivation.

Why? Because motivation is much more personal and individualized and requires far more effort than bromides of enthusiasm can ever hope to unleash or perpetuate.

Motivation is the result of successful encounters with the exigencies of life. Victory begets victory. Failure sets us up for another one. Few people rebound readily and quickly from failure if the preponderance of their experience has been failure. Few people tackle new assignments with vigor if their past ones were not successful. So, you have to grab enthusiasm where and when it exists then do what needs to be done to keep it going.

Here are 5 keys to capitalizing on intrinsic motivation:

  1. Do what you need to do to comprehend the hopes and fears of your associates. Some are universal, most are personal. Let me say again that motivation is very, very personal. There are general principles to be sure, but each person runs on their own blended fuel.
  2. Appreciate bread and butter needs. For some, the need for the next paycheck is paramount. For others, their energy comes from more intangible assets like job satisfaction, admiration for their boss, or helping people solve problems.
  3. Appreciate the need for security in a broad sense, i.e., confidence in the group they work for and with to solve problems. A major retail corporation recently announced a comprehensive modification of the way it does business. It was going to bring the company into the 21st century with a capital investment in technology. The news was met with cynicism (motivation’s negative counterbalance) by the company’s employees because the company had been promising an updated computer system for over five years and failed to produce even a minor advancement. To support their commitment to the future, the company spent multiple millions on I-phones for the sales floor. The problem was the I-phones worked worse than the old wireless phone system. Soon, employees were carrying both I-phones and the new phones. Then, the company installed credit card swipe machines at sales desks throughout the store in major departments. With great fanfare the machines were introduced, but they wouldn’t work. It seems the company could not work out the technological side of connecting the machines to the store’s computer system. They kept revising the date when the machines would become operational until they finally announced that they had no idea when they would get them to work. Every employee saw the non-functional machines setting on the desks every day, reminded that the company had yet again failed to follow through with its big promises. Confidence by the associates in the group’s ability to solve its problems plummeted and remains virtually non-existent.
  4. Comprehend your associates’ longing for a good future. They have hitched their hopes, ambitions, and dreams to you and your organization and have every right to expect that the future will be better than the present.
  5. Inspire confidence by being upfront about reality. One manager completely de-motivated his sales staff when he announced that the company was cutting sales commissions and retaining any earned vendor spiffs by saying “This is a positive move going forward.” The associates not only faced a reduced paycheck, but now considered their boss to be out of touch with reality.

When associates lose confidence, it provokes images of defeat and failure, helplessness, and self-contempt. Any and all of those emotions deflate motivation. The result is employees who go through the motions but bring little more to the job than their physical presence.

The direct result is incapacity to summon energy and creativity in the pursuit of purpose. Associates demonstrate an unwillingness to take risks which yields a fatal timidity to act when moments of opportunity break. They will move less meaning you will have to move more.

The most common response when negative attitudes arise is bureaucratic defensiveness with the result that the entire system rigidifies. A stand-off  brings the whole movement to a stop. Those who had been committed to their job and their company and more than enthusiastic about making the company a success (because the company’s success translated into personal success) now abandon that notion.

So, the most effective approach is to not go down that road at all. Remember that every person on the face of the earth is wired to WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? It is your job as leader to channel that righteous self-interest in such a way that BOTH their interests and yours are fed.

Barrier #3 – We Have Preferences Because of Our Personality

relayraceEvery person is a blend of attitudes, opinions, gifts, and experiences. There are open people who will readily reveal things about themselves. Others who are more closed would not tell someone very near them. Some are quite direct and to the point. Others can be so indirect that some consider them devious, even scheming and conniving. If you are open and direct, indirect and closed people will find you forward and threatening. If you are indirect and open, others will wonder why you don’t get to the point and focus on the topic at hand. If you are indirect and closed, others might consider you to be devious. If you are direct and closed, others will likely consider you to be solitary and hard-driving.

In the grand setting of leadership and life, no personality style is superior to another nor is one more effective than another. They’re just different. People of every personality type achieve success and enjoy effectiveness, but the really successful and effective ones have done two things.

First, they have accurately identified their personal manner and style, understood what advantages they lend and what disadvantages they offer. They learn, hopefully sooner rather than later and easier rather than harder, that the personality they brought with them from birth through adolescence both propels them forward and holds them back.

Second, successful people add to themselves those who will supplement their strengths and compensate their weaknesses. Only secure, confident people can do this. They identify what they will need before they qualify whom they would add.

The upshot is that you will likely be able to relate well to only about 25% of those you work with.  (Check back to this post for a real-life example of how this syndrome manifested itself in a real-life setting.) The problem comes when we don’t recognize this as a fact of life and take action to compensate for it.

I do not think you can correct it. You are who you are by virtue of the personality your encoded genetically and by the training you received as your matured. With some knowledge of your personality type and management preferences, you can adapt…somewhat. In an earlier post I addressed the differences between Y and X style leadership, first identified and articulated by Douglas MacGregor. This calls for an adaptation of your APPROACH to managing tasks in any given set of circumstances. As an intelligent and self-aware person, you should have little challenge managing this.

But the large set of behaviors that make up your overall personality which manifests itself all day every day is another story. Those behaviors are written in the code and cannot be readily rewritten. So, accept that as a fact and do what must be done to compensate for it. This series is dealing with the four barriers to extending your reach so that you are able to find and address the limits of yourcircle of concern circile of concern which doubtless extends well beyond the circle of your abilities.

Knowing what those limits are is a start. Accepting those limits as you would accept any set of conditions is progress. Doing something intelligent and appropriate is great progress.

Here’s a common mistake. When leaders add people to their strategic staff, they often add people who are just like they are. Those staff additions are people with similar personalities and temperament. Why do we add people like ourselves?

Because we are comfortable with them. We understand them. We like them. But that will not readily extend your reach! Surely, they can do more things because they are another moving body. But they cannot do things necessarily differently and better than you can, just more of the same.

You will want to add people who possess skills and traits that complement yours but not simply duplicate yours. The idea is to get more done, yes. But it is also to get everything done. And that demands people with additional skill sets and personality traints. They can reach people that you cannot easily and comfortably reach. They can motivate and connect with others who might find your personality uncomfortable to be around (admit it now, there are those who just don’t like you and that’s not because your an unlikeable person).

We call personality and skill deficiencies SHORT-comings because they cause us to fall short of where we want to be. Longer reaches require others who can make up for those short-comings. So, identify yourself. Use plain and accurate terms to detail who you are, what you can readily do, and who you are not and cannot readily do.

List out the skills and traits that compensate your own generous set of skills and traits. Find those people and bring them on board. Hear’s a caution though. Find people who possess the maturity to COMPENSATE you not COMPETE with you. In no uncertain terms define what you are ddoing with them, why you have selected them to compensate, and what you expect.

Monday’s post will reveal the final barrier to extending your reach. See you then.

How to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned – part 2 – Four Reasons Why We Work Alone.

Four Reasons Why We Work Alone.

 width=First, We Find It Too Daunting to Release Responsibility to Others.

 We have an  intuitive understanding of our ultimate objectives and the things that need to be done in order to reach those objectives. Often the people to whom we would release responsibility don’t. Our natural instincts, insight, and understanding make us singularly capable. Yet that very deposit within us also creates a barrier preventing or at least impeding the entrance of other people who could enhance and extend our gifts and enable us greater reaches of influence and accomplishment. We know the what’s, why’s, and most of the how’s but we are often not so good at revealing them to others so that they can grasp our vision and make it their own.

 Second, When We Have Attempted to Add Others to Our Team, We Have Nearly Always Picked the Wrong Candidates.

A common and debilitating misstep, it often makes leaders gun shy. Having pulled the trigger on a misfire, it “blew up in our face” and we’re reluctant to do it again. We tried to light a fire under someone and got burned. The practice and art of selecting the right people receives a thorough investigation and I will explain in detail over the next several weeks, so I won’t elaborate here.

 Third, We Find the Task of Keeping Others Motivated to Be Too Distracting and Too Draining.

We feel, and correctly so, that the job of stoking the fire takes us away from what we really like and need to be doing. As people are added to us as strategic partners, there is an initial period where more attention is required from us towards them and less towards what we want done. But if, and I emphasize if, we have carefully selected people to work with and through, and if we know how to light a fire under them, the temporary “distraction” of fire kindling and stoking pays remarkably huge dividends over the longer term. The fire will ultimately burn independently, we’ll be able to move away from its flame, and we won’t get burned!

 Finally, We Simply Do Not Want to Take the Time and Effort to Channel the Activities of Others Unfamiliar With Who We Are, What We Do, and Where We Intend to Go.

We have too much to do in too many places. Our gifts have made us successful. That success has created a demand for what we do. That demand has expanded to the point we simply cannot even consider adding one more task to our list, especially ones so mundane as selecting, training, and deploying visionary strategic partners. That’s the paradox. Working busily on really important objectives, we need assistance. But that would mean taking time away from what we do to recruit and train assistants, time we think we cannot afford.  So, we have assembled and almost exclusively limit ourselves to tactical assistants.

 Competent Tactical Assistance is a Must.

Without it the stream of activity in your professional or personal life loses its direction in the same way a great river descends into its delta. The energy and force that characterized its flow as a young stream becomes lost in a broad range of relatively shallow activities. Focus, force, and direction enable great rivers to cut new paths, change the landscape, and alter the environment. Over time and distance, that focus broadens and clearly defined purposes and objectives become fuzzy. The river’s force dissipates and it finally empties itself out. Its direction becomes less certain, less definitive, more inclusive. The best features of the river seem to lie behind, in the past, upstream.

But it doesn’t have to be!

With deliberate planning and execution, we can maintain focus, sustain force, and preserve direction. Rescuing us from a multitude of organizational and mundane tasks, tactical assistants do enable us to accomplish more than we can alone.

But not nearly as much as we could do if we utilized a strategic staff!

You simply cannot accomplish as much in as wide a range at as high a level by yourself as you can with a staff of competent, motivated, reliable associates. In your realm of  responsibility and activity there are many things that just about anyone can do. There are many things some people can do, but there are a few things only you can do!

It is usually those few things only you can do that make possible your success. Your unique blend of personality and proficiency needs to find the center spot on your plate of responsibility and activity. To reach the highest levels of accomplishment, discover what are the things only you can do and do only them.


Leaders and managers who hold an objective of accomplishment, appropriate the skills and obligate themselves to the challenge of creating and deploying strategic partners. They have learned to light a fire under others. Robert, the man I referred to in the previous post, having tried and been burned or perhaps couldn’t keep the fire going without providing too much fuel which he himself had to provide, simply gave up and indirectly, perhaps even unconsciously, decided to limit his personal and professional successes to what could be accomplished using only tactical assistance.

Tactical teams are more easily managed because their tasks can almost always be defined in quantitative terms. You can post or schedule a list of activities – filing, typing, setting appointments in an office environment, drilling holes in widgets, attaching whatzits to wherezits in a manufacturing environment. Then the list can be quite easily managed by plotting tasks that must be done against the time it will take.

But they will not, indeed they cannot provide the broad sweeping support and multiplication that comes from a strategic staff of associates. And that is the subject of Monday’s post. Talk to you then.

In the meantime, I’d like to know what problems you have encountered in your quest to develop and deploy associates. I promise to direct future posts to answering your questions. Either leave a comment below or send an email on the CONTACT ME page.

How to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned – part 1

When your circle of concern is greater than your circle of ability.

 width=Robert’s second floor offices are crowded with papers, files, memos, phone messages, charts, and project plans. On his belt hangs a smart phone. A secretary in a front office handles the business telephone, which rang a dozen times in the few minutes I sat with him.

He is a busy, busy man, and not without reason. Robert is singularly responsible for the redevelopment of downtown districts in two small cities, for creating an arts district in an neighborhood of blight, crime, and decay, sits on the boards of a half-dozen more companies and foundations, and has taken his organization from nothing to something significant in just a few years. He has done so for two central reasons:

First, he is a very capable person – his natural gifts, post-graduate degrees, personable manner, and skills honed through considerable experience equip him to accomplish much.

People possessing abundant personal attributes, like Robert, expect much of themselves and consequently require much of others. They have placed high demands on their time, drawn deeply into personal reservoirs of strength and skill, and pushed themselves (or allowed themselves to be pushed by the opportunities presented to them) to the limits of personal talent and stamina. Because of their abundant personal attributes, the Roberts of the world think farther ahead and at a deeper level than almost everyone else. They are usually quick studies, grasping new ideas and possibilities with ease. They get a lot done in a remarkably small amount of time. The Roberts of the world seem to be able to do everything.

However, this both reassures and intimidates co-workers. It inhibits others from getting involved because they consider their abilities to be no match to Robert’s and therefore of little possible use to the project at hand. So they are reluctant to offer their assistance. A superman-like atmosphere implies to others that Robert has the task well in hand and has no need of their assistance to the point they don’t even offer.

So his abilities have brought Robert to an advanced level of success which has filled his plate with responsibilities. He simply cannot work any longer or any harder. Therefore, working alone, Robert’s abilities have produced an enviable level of achievement but at the same time almost certainly preclude further success. He will neither be able to maintain his present level of activity (too hectic and demanding) nor expand to new regions of interest or need (not enough time or energy).

Secondly, he is a very concerned individual – his is a big world, a world of many personal interests and ambitions, a wide circle of people, events, circumstances, and conditions he wants to impact professionally and participate in personally. He is not content to put in his eight hours and go home to vegetate in front of the television. He is a participant, but not a meddler.

Participants involve themselves because they are concerned about OUTCOMES; they want to better the world in which they live, the company or organization for which they work, the people to whom they relate. Meddlers, however, involve themselves because they are concerned about CONTROL; theirs are issues of power, domination, and manipulation. They get involved because they consider their participation to be a buy-in enabling them to interfere in the affairs, techniques, methods, systems, procedures, processes and to some extent, the very lives of others.

But this is not Robert. Robert is concerned for the right reasons. He is a caring person. He likes people and wants to enable more people to live better lives.

So he works hard at it. Regardless how hard he works, his circle of concern will always be bigger than his circle of ability. I went to see him because everywhere I inquired in the city, Robert’s name popped up. “You need to meet Robert,” I was told. His reputation is excellent , his successes obvious, his role in the community crucial. I scheduled an appointment to learn more about this leader and the reasons behind his successes. I wasn’t disappointed. As we talked, he reviewed his many achievements, responsibilities, and ambitions. I wondered how well and how much he employed the talents of others. What I discovered was no surprise because it is so typical of so many leaders in every field.

His feats are almost entirely singular. Although he doesn’t work alone, those working alongside in his office are almost entirely tactical. They are paper handlers who organize, store, then retrieve the many documents collected and generated by Robert. They answer his phone and make his appointments, and maintain his office.

It isn’t that he has no choice but to shoulder the workload alone. He has always worked in a group setting where the responsibilities were greater than one person could manage alone. In each and every setting there have been those who have offered or been directed by superiors to assist. Some have done so more successfully than others.

In his present position, Robert stepped in at the infancy of the company and built it to one of significance and considerable effectiveness. So he finds himself in the top position of a smallish organization, and for reasons discussed below, can afford to determine who will work with him, with whom he will work, and what those workers will do. By deliberate choice forged on the anvil of circumstance and under the hammer of experience he mostly works alone.

I don’t mean to imply a hermit-like seclusion from the world, laboring away in some dark, musty room surrounded by stacks of books, papers, and empty take-out Chinese food cartons. Robert’s work environment is one of bright, well-trafficked offices, gaggles of meetings, close associations with government officers, bankers, and board members, jangling telephones, zipping printers, and taps on the door. He works with lots of people. Except for his clerical staff (which I refer to as a tactical team) those other workers plug away on their own projects steadfastly pursuing their own objectives.

As to Robert’s circle of responsibility and concern, well, he handles that alone. When someone offers to come on board, to join the team believing they can make his organization even more successful, Robert declines the offer. He surveys the challenge of informing, training, motivating, and managing another person and is convinced, because his experience at developing and deploying associate workers has apparently failed, it is easier to do it himself. When I met with him it was apparent that doing good was not good for Robert. He had tried, and failed to light a fire under others. Either some just would not ignite, or, more often, he’d been burned by well-meaning, well-intentioned associates. They had let him down.

Robert’s success has pretty well put a lid on greater success because he has not learned to light a fire under others without getting burned. Would you like to know how? Come back to this blog on Thursday for the next installment in this series

4 necessary qualities of incentive

by Shannon Pifko

A major big box home improvement store recently changed the incentives program they use to compensate their sales staff. In the not-too-distant past, salesmen were given bi-weekly (that’s when the paychecks were issued) commissions and bonuses based on personal sales. What happened to or with another salesman did not matter. Each earned what each earned.

The company made a decision to change the incentive structure to a collective system. They call their new system SSEI – Sales Service Employee Incentive. When we asked a Human Resources manager to explain the system, he stumbled around using words like matrix, factors, and “other things.” He could not clearly work through the formula for it because it was an obscure mix of numbers lifted from various components of the business. But, the feature that dooms the system is its collective nature. The numbers are measured store-wide and depend on the top level performance of EVERYONE in the store. Fall short in one area and the entire incentive payout is lost. It is measured on tangibles like sales numbers, inventory shrinkage, and margin. But it is also measured on intangible and subjective criteria like customer satisfaction based on customer complaints and minimum wage mystery shoppers. In short, most stores never earned it.

The store managers are pretty good at looking disappointed, shaking their heads with not-too-sincere sorrow, and telling everyone, “You know, you almost made it. Just a little more effort and you’ll get it the next time.”

What happened to motivation in the sales force? It collapsed. What happened to sales? They fell off. There are some lessons here if you as a leader are trying to incentivize your employees. Here are 4 critical qualities in an incentive plan:

  • It must be personal. Collective systems depend too much on the performance of someone else. Group systems can work, but only if there is a genuine benefit as a result of individual effort too. Collectivism has never worked, has never yielded the productivity idealists say it should. Remember the oft-repeated acronym WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?
  • It must be relevant. The incentive must be based on some act or action directly relevant to the employee’s specific job. An incentive, if it is to ignite the fires of energy, must be directly and specifically related to the efforts and productivity of each individual person.
  • It must be controllable. SSEI fails because it depends too much on actions an individual employee cannot control, upon the behavior of someone else, or worse, the skill of the store manager. One thing that kills it in the above referenced store is margin loss brought on when store managers, anxious to boost top-line sales numbers, sell products and services at a margin loss in order to get the sale. The daily numbers look great, but the bottom line suffers badly because sales are made at the expense of profit. And SSEI is factored considering margin. The sales people learned to refuse to make margin loss sales. The customer finds a manager and complains. The manager makes the sale with margin loss. SSEI is missed again because the manager torpedoes it.
  • It must be reachable. The target numbers for SSEI are set by someone in some cubicle in the company’s headquarters. They are made with no knowledge of local conditions or local economies. It is easy to fix the equations so that SSEI bonuses can never or seldom be paid by setting sales budgets just high enough they are impossible to reach. Even if it isn’t done deliberately, the opinions of the company’s employees is that the company does do it deliberately. The result? The incentive fails.

Those four elements – personal, relevant, controllable, reachable must be the guiding elements when you devise an incentive program.

What system do you use? What have you tried that failed? What have you tried that worked? Leave a comment below and share it with the others.

NOTE: This is a holiday week here in the US. Most worked start to power down beginning today. Some are already traveling to family destinations. Normally I post each Monday and Thursday, but this will be my only post this week. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.