Biggest Room in the World

What is the struggle? I want to know the pain. Often, the largest pain is the crucible for the largest gain. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.

Don’t avoid the struggle. I know it hurts. It appears debilitating. Lean in. These are the areas of greatest opportunity. Context is important because the struggle that is causing pain looms large when you are up against it. Step back. Place the event of your struggle into a longer time frame.

  • What does the pain teach us?
  • What are the most effective moves now to change the painful circumstances going forward?
  • What are the most difficult moves that must be made now?
  • What must we learn to make those difficult moves?
  • How long will it take to learn those new skills?
  • How long will it take to master those new skills?
  • What is the long term impact of that mastery?
  • What will be different about you when that happens?

Compared to What?

We have numerous metaphors that allude to higher level thinking. Seeing the big picture. Not a sprint, but a marathon. In it for the long haul. Humans have the unique ability to observe things directly and also to observe themselves, observing things directly. Higher level thinking.

This is context. Humans can not only see the “event,” but the context of the “event.” It’s only an event. An event is anything that gets our attention. Context provides meaning for the event.

Ray Dalio, Principles, alludes to this higher level thinking. “Higher level thinking gives you the ability to study and influence the cause-effect relationships at play in your life and use them to get the outcomes you want.”

Elliott Jaques codified higher level thinking with his discovery of timespan. Timespan is the context, the timeframe in which an event exists. Higher level thinking is simply a longer timespan context. Jaques created a numeric reference for these timeframes which helps as a shorthand to describe each context.

  • Level I – 1 day – 3 months.
  • Level II – 3 months – 1 year.
  • Level III – 1 year – 2 years.
  • Level IV – 2 years – 5 years.
  • Level V – 5 years – 10 years.

An event has meaning in the context of a season. A season has meaning in the context of a year. A year has meaning in the context of a decade. Timespan perspective helps us understand single events in the midst of multiple events. Context answers the question, “Compared to what?”

To Kill A Project

Apoplectic, enraged, irate, spitting mad. That described how Theo felt during his brief encounter with Brad. Two weeks ago, they sat in a delegation meeting, everything according to plan. But here they were, three hours to deadline and the project had not been started. Theo’s ears rang as Brad defended himself, “But you never came by to check on the project, I thought it wasn’t important anymore. So, I never started it. You should have said something.”

Lack of follow-up kills projects. In the chaos of the impending deadline, the manager gets caught up, personally starts, works and finishes the project, often with the team standing by, watching.

One small change dramatically changes the way this delegation plays out.

Follow-up. Schedule not one, not two, but, three or four quick follow-up meetings to ensure the project is on track. Segment the project, and schedule the follow-up meetings right up front, in the planning stages of the project. Check-ins are more likely to happen if they are on the calendar.

Just a Little Bit of Truth

One inch higher on the left and the magnetic white board would be level. It had been the subject of much speculation on the shop floor that morning. There were several theories floating around, but no one had correctly guessed what the boss had in mind.

While the shop floor was organized according to a logical work flow, production had gotten further and further behind. The right jobs were late, the wrong jobs were early.

Last Friday, the boss had taken an informal poll. “George,” he said, “tell me, how do you know if we are ahead of schedule or behind schedule?” It was a fair question, but one that George did not know how to answer. “Well, boss, I guess if we were behind schedule, someone would come out here and tell us.”

It was an interesting response, seeing as how the floor was running only 28% on-time delivery. The boss walked over to the foreman’s office, leaned in and asked, “Say, John, when we are behind schedule, which I know is most of the time, do we ever tell anyone out on the shop floor?”

“Oh, no, boss, if we did that, they might get discouraged and quit.” Another interesting response.

You see, the boss had just heard of an experiment in a plant where they simply published production numbers on a daily basis to everyone in the plant. Every time there was an improvement over the previous day, the manager would circulate and thank everyone. No bonuses, no pizza, just a complimentary remark. The slow group in the plant improved from 83% efficiency to 87% efficiency. The fast group, however, improved from 96% efficiency to 162% efficiency (62% beyond predicted capacity.)

One inch higher on the left and the magnetic white board would be level. I wonder what your numbers would be?

I Care What You Do

There are four pieces to the Culture Cycle

  • Beliefs, assumptions, values, way we see the world
  • Connected behaviors
  • Connected behaviors tested by the consequences of reality
  • Customs and rituals

Unfortunately, we often spend too much time attempting to define our beliefs, assumptions and values, and too little time defining connected behaviors. I don’t care what you know, don’t care how you feel. I care what you do.

The Managerial Fishbowl

Most managers are unaware of the fishbowl in which they live. Years ago, I received some sage advice from one of my scoutmasters as a young patrol leader. “When you look at your own behavior in front of the other scouts, remember, you can’t go take a pee without everyone knowing about it.”

Every move a manager makes is amplified and remembered. If a manager arrives at work and walks past the receptionist without saying, “Good morning,” well, then, the business MUST be going down the tubes.

Jules Feiffer, a famous cartoonist, used to have a series he called, Little Murders in which he depicted the little murders we each commit every day. Little Murders we commit, often without intention or even awareness. We may not be aware, but it is still a Little Murder.

Who did you walk by today, without stopping, without a cheery remark, without a smile? How many Little Murders did you commit today? Remember, amplification works in the other direction, too. A few moments, a kind word, a warm handshake, a listening nod may make all the difference in a team member’s day.

New Role, New Authority?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was recently promoted as lead tech of a lab. My boss feels I undermine her for things I do without discussing them with her first. I explained directions for another technician, so she could speak to patients with more clarity. I was told I undermined my boss because of this. I asked our director, in front of my boss, if she was aware of an issue and I was told that I undermined my boss because I asked without consulting her first. I wonder if it’s a lack of trust or if I undermine her without meaning to?

Response:
Yes. It is both a lack of trust and you undermine your manager without meaning to. The solution is in the question. You must build trust AND stop undermining your manager. In your new role, you have new and specific accountability and authority. Unfortunately, these are rarely defined and that is where the trouble begins.

You have appropriate accountability and authority and your manager has a larger (longer time span) accountability and authority. Your manager is working in a longer time span context, aware of things you may not know. This is why the manager-team member relationship is so important (and often fragile).

Monthly 1-1 conversations with your manager work to bridge that gap. For you, in your role, to be in alignment with your manager, you have to understand the larger context of your manager. The only way to find out is to talk about it.

Following is an example of discussion elements for your next 1-1 with your manager.

Whose Decision Is It?
With accountability, comes authority. Whose decision is it? Is it yours or your manager’s? If you don’t talk about it, you won’t know. Here is a framework for the discussion.

  • Which decisions are reserved exclusively to my manager?
  • Which decisions are reserved to my manager, AND based on my input?
  • Which decisions are mine, but have to be discussed and approved by my manager?
  • Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager before I pull the trigger?
  • Which decisions are mine, but I have to tell my manager, after I pull the trigger?
  • Which decisions are mine, and I don’t have to tell my manager?

As a new lead technician, you have new accountability and new authority. That new authority has to be defined.

Three Team Members

Who is on your team?

The first type of person always shows up early, helps to arrange the chairs, sits on the edge of their seat and is a frequent volunteer. This is the person I call the Eager Beaver.

The second type of person is never early, but never late. I call this person the vacationer. They are very happy to sit in meetings, because after all, they are not back in their cubicle at work. Responding to a discussion, sometimes they will participate, sometimes they won’t, doesn’t really matter to them, because, after all, they are on vacation.

The third type of person is precisely punctual, sits in the back of the room with arms folded, daring any person around to engage them in conversation. Body language is simultaneously defensive and aggressive. This is the person I call the hostage.

Which of these three has the insight, the brilliant idea that will save the day?

As the manager, we don’t know. No manager can afford to have a single team member disengaged. We need maximum participation, no coasting, everybody plays.

How often do we sit in meetings and watch people check out? One ear open to the meeting, one eyed glancing at a report they were supposed to review yesterday. One brazen team member, laptop open, supposedly taking notes of the meeting, but more likely checking e-mail.

Who is responsible for creating a different atmosphere, a different context? Who is responsible for creating the crucible in which a problem can be explored, alternatives generated and a solution selected? Who is responsible for creating the kind of meeting where each team member is engaged from beginning to end? Who indeed?

If that’s you in the mirror, the next question is “how?” How can you create maximum participation from every person in the room? How can you create full engagement?