Comfortable with Discomfort

The armed and dangerous team tackles the tough issues. Its members run toward the fire, not away from it. Armed and dangerous teams become comfortable with discomfort. The pit of discomfort often holds the real issue.

When a team is comfortable and in total agreement, there is high likelihood they are not dealing with an issue of high consequence. It is only when there is disagreement and debate, where the team is in discomfort, that important issues are on the table.

The Underlying Problem

Often, the problem we seek to solve is only a symptom of something underneath. We examine the symptom to identify its root cause. And, sometimes, even root cause analysis fails us.

Sometimes, the root cause does not lie in the problem, but in the way we see the problem. The way we talk about a problem is a function of what we believe, our assumptions about the problem.

Does the way we state a problem have an impact on the way we approach the solution?

What we say is what we believe.

Before we grapple with the problem, it is important to understand our beliefs and assumptions about the problem. It could be the problem is not the problem. The problem could be what we believe about the problem that is simply not true.

Yelling Only Creates Avoidance

“But, I give them feedback,” protested Tyler. “They know how to do it right. Why don’t they just do it the way they are supposed to?”

“You want your team members to work the line in a specific sequence in a specific way?” I replied. “You are looking for very specific behaviors?” Tyler nodded his head in agreement.

“When they do it wrong, do you pay attention to them?” I asked.

“Of course. I am usually right on it,” Tyler replied.

“And when they do it right, are you right on it?”

“Well, when they do it right, they just do it right. When they do it right, I don’t yell at them.”

“Tyler, to get desired behaviors, you have to reinforce those behaviors in a positive way. Yelling at people for doing something wrong doesn’t teach them to do it right. Yelling just creates avoidance from doing it wrong. That avoidance behavior can by very erratic and unpredictable. They don’t know whether to scream or eat a banana.

“On the other hand, if you positively reinforce desired behavior, it becomes repeated and predictable.

“So, Tyler, you tell me. What has more value, erratic avoidance behavior or positively reinforced predictable behavior?”

Whose Drama?

“Work is personal,” Marjorie said.

“Would you want it any other way?” I asked.

“But, I don’t want the personal drama at work.”

“If there is no drama, people will bring it. What is your role, as a manager, to create drama, at work?”

“But, I don’t want drama,” Marjorie protested.

“The absence of drama in a person’s life is pathological. Why do you occasionally observe pathological behavior, yes, at work? If there must be drama, at work, whose drama do you want it to be?”

“You are telling me that I have to create drama at work?” Marjorie questioned.

“Drama is meaning, the interpretation of our world. Yes, I want you to create drama, I want you to create meaning, I want you to create context. Context for the work. Work is personal.”

Work is Personal

“I don’t understand why people have to bring their personal lives to work,” complained Marjorie. “I don’t need the drama. Can’t they just put up this virtual wall between their work life and their personal life?”

“So, why do you think people bring their personal lives to work?” I asked.

“I don’t know, because they have them, I suppose.”

“If there is no drama in a person’s life, what do most people do?” I prodded.

“Now, that’s funny. If there is no drama, people create it,” Marjorie spouted.

“If there is no drama, at work, what do most people do?”

“I told you, if there is no drama, people create it.”

“Please, understand that an absence of drama is a pathological condition. Drama is the meaning, the interpretation of our human experience. If there is no drama, at work, most people will bring it. And, in the absence of drama, in the absence of meaning, most people will bring it. If you, as a manager, have not created the context for the work, people will bring it. If what happens outside of work is more meaningful than what happens inside of work, you notice that people bring that outside in.”

Marjorie was listening. She spoke. “So, what you are saying is, that work is personal.”

It’s The Manager

It used to be that employee empowerment was all the rage. Now it is employee engagement. With unemployment at an all time low, there is a huge war for talent, finding it and keeping it.

“We are having a problem with employee engagement. One thing we would like to consider is an Employee of the Month program.”

I hate Employee of the month/quarter/year programs. They conspire to make one person a winner and everyone else a loser. Bad idea.

Employee engagement, as an issue, has been around for a while. Gallup, in their extensive research on employee engagement, well documented in a book called First, Break All the Rules, details the number one reason that people leave a company. It’s their manager.

A company can have the greatest benefits, competitive compensation, employee of the month programs, but if the team member has a lousy relationship with their manager, they quit and leave. Or worse, they quit and stay.

A company can have sub-standard benefits, on the low side of competitive compensation, no recognition programs, but if the team member has a great relationship with their manager, they stay.

So, if you want to focus on employee engagement, focus on every managerial relationship in the company. The most powerful managerial practice to create and sustain this relationship is the monthly 1-1, where the manager sits down, present in the moment, and has a dialogue with each team member.

This is dedicated time, each and every month talking about updates, projects, goals, aspirations, obstacles, ways around those obstacles. The focus is on the team member. If you really want to increase employee engagement, schedule 1-1s with each of your team members. You don’t need permission, you don’t need a committee, just start. -Tom

Home for the Holidays

People are scurrying to take off for the holidays. I see the hustle, bustle and last minute shopping. I, too, am battened down for a winter holiday, a little feasting, a little skiing. We will see you back here in January. For now, hug those around you and give thanks. This is our traditional post from Dec 2005.
_____

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch. The mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

See you all next year. -Tom

Stuck in a Pattern

“I just do what comes naturally,” Morgan started. “I manage my team the way it feels right. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.”

“Sometimes not?” I asked.

“Sometimes, what feels natural, puts me right back in the same problem as before. What feels like progress is just staying stuck.”

“Staying stuck?”

“In the past, I made managerial moves that didn’t work out. Like delegating a project, then dissatisfied with the result, taking the project back. Next project, same thing, over and over.”

“Over and over?”

“Like a grooved, routine behavior. I got used to taking projects back. Almost like a habit, even if it didn’t work. Taking a project back was comfortable. The project got done (by me) and the quality was up to standard. Problem solved,” Morgan explained.

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“Just because we do something over and over, doesn’t make it the best move. I have to do something different to interrupt the pattern, when the pattern doesn’t get what I want.”

“What do you want?”

“I want my team to solve the problem, and I want the output up to standard,” Morgan replied.

“So, how are you going to interrupt the pattern?”

Three Magic Words

“I don’t why my manager is so bull-headed,” Marjorie complained. “He asks for my advice and then argues with me. It’s infuriating.”

“Infuriating?” I asked.

“Yes, just because he has his opinion doesn’t mean he is right.”

“Marjorie, seldom are things so stark that one person is right and the other wrong, but if that is the case, doesn’t it make sense to make sure you are not the person who is wrong? The only way you can do that is through thoughtful dialogue.”

“Oh, yeah, and how am I supposed to do that?” Marjorie wanted to know.

“Three magic words. In the face of disagreement, just say – Tell me more.”