The response in the room was silence. Everyone counted, one, two, three, waiting for Jeanine to nod her head indicating that the discussion was over. Today would be different.
The team knew that the less they contributed, the less they could be held accountable. Jeanine would describe an issue or a problem, and then ask for ideas. No one ever had any ideas. No ideas meant no accountability. The team was not doing this on purpose. Most counterproductive thinking is unconscious.
Productive thinking requires conscious thought. It most often happens by design, rarely happens by chance. Jeanine’s statement of the issue played right into the hands of chance. “The customer is complaining that their product is always late, even though they know it was manufactured by the deadline. Does anyone have any ideas?”
Chance of an idea? Fat chance.
We changed Jeanine’s question to make it more specific. “In what ways can we move the customer’s product from our manufacturing floor to the staging area and onto the truck in less time?” Suddenly, there were seven ideas.
Productive thinking happens by design. Make your question more specific. You will get more ideas.
Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?
Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.
But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”
Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.
As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.
How many of your team members, do you suppose, drove to work this morning, thinking, “I will come to work today and do a really crappy job?”
Wipe that smirk off of your face, you know it is not true.
What makes the difference in the performance of your team members? Each morning they arrive at work, ready for the day. They could perform well, or they could perform poorly. What makes the difference?
Managers will most often agree on this management challenge: How do I motivate my people? My team seems to suffer from a lack of motivation. If I could just figure out how to motivate my people, everything else would fall in line.
The difference between poor performance, good performance and superior performance is the simple result of a choice. Managers cannot motivate their teams into high performance. Individual team members choose high performance. For every manager, the challenge is to create the circumstances where people most often choose the high road.
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
You talk about time-leverage. You talk about working one hour to gain two hours productivity. How does that work?
No manager can afford to work at a time ratio of 1:1. Working one hour to gain one hour’s productivity is a shell game for amateurs. Even working managers need a significant focus on time-leveraged activity. How does a manager work for one hour and gain two hour’s productivity, or work one hour and gain five hours productivity?
The central element of leverage comes from delegation. With a five hour project, rather than do the work yourself, try this –
- Call a 20-minute meeting with three of your team members.
- In the meeting, you describe your vision for project completion.
- Describe the performance standards for project completion (including quality and time frame).
- The rest of the twenty minute meeting is a discussion of the action steps and who will be responsible for what.
- Schedule two follow-up meetings (ten minutes each).
As the manager, you end up with less than one-hour of meetings, while your team members work five hours to complete the project. You work one hour, you get five hours of productivity. Ratio (1:5).
Here’s is the challenge, what does (1:10) look like? I consistently work with executives whose goal is (1:100), one hour’s work to produce one-hundred hours of productivity. How about you, what is your ratio?
Henry took the pushpins out of yesterday’s report and tacked today’s report in its place. This was a new initiative to provide statistical feedback to the floor. On the report were numbers indicating percentage of capacity, scrap overages and mean time to complete. Next to today’s number were the accumulated numbers for the month and the year. Each section of the report had a snappy little graph in color.
When Henry told me about his idea to provide daily feedback to his production floor, I was quite interested. When I saw the posting, I had more questions. I asked Henry to identify his three weakest links on the floor. That was easy, Henry pointed them out immediately.
I asked Henry to take the posting and get some feedback from his three chosen technicians. “How are we doing?”
Individually, the three studied the sheet, then slowly shook their heads. “I don’t know, I guess we’re doing okay, my supervisor isn’t yelling at me.”
Henry was disappointed. He worked hard on his charts. I asked him, “In what way could you present something that everyone will understand, quickly and easily?”
Henry finally settled on one number, today’s units produced. If the number was better than target, it was green. If it was below target, it was red. Next to it, in black, was tomorrow’s target. One week later, everybody understood. Henry’s feedback system was a success.
As the team left the room, Mandy had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There were lots of promises from her team, but in her heart, she knew that only ten percent of the project would be complete on time. It was, as if, Mandy should stand on a chair and scream at the top of her lungs, “I really, really mean it this time. We have to get this stuff done.”
Those of us who have children know the futility of standing on chairs and demanding. It is pretty entertaining for the children, but hardly effective.
In what way could Mandy create an atmosphere to drive higher performance toward the goals set by the team? If standing on chairs and screaming doesn’t do it, what does? Most Managers are not aware of, or do not leverage team accountability. Managers assume the role of the bad guy and essentially let the team off the hook when it comes to holding each other to account for performance.
Turn the tables. In your next meeting, when a team member reports non-performance or underperformance, stop the agenda. Ask each team member to take a piece of paper and write down how this underperformance impacts their part of the project. Go around the table and ask each person to share that impact in one sentence. Around the table once again, ask the team to create an expectation of how the underperformance should be corrected. Finally, ask the underperformer to respond to the team and make a public commitment to action.
Team members, holding each other to account is a very powerful dynamic.
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?
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.
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
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?
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.
We often fail to see the solution because we only recognize those things that fuel our fears.
Be a positive influence. Recognize fear for what it is and help others discover alternative solutions based on strength and courage. Your team is not a pity party. Pooh bear is not your mascot.