Category Archives: Leadership

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?

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.

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.

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

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?”

Underperformance and Overperformance

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I was curious about a study in IT that showed that while managers can see underperformance, they can’t see who is over-performing.

Response:

Actually, the results of the study may be correct, however, the conclusion may be flawed.

The results show that managers easily recognize or identify underperformance, but they do not as easily recognize or identify over-performance. The conclusion is that managers do not have the ability to recognize over-performance. I believe that to be false.

Managers do not recognize or identify over-performance because they do not focus on it. Managers allow the distractions of underperformance to dominate their vision and efforts.

It is simply a matter of focus. It is a conscious choice to focus on over-performance, and once that decision is made, the focus becomes quite natural. But it’s that choice that is difficult. It is too easy (unconscious) to see things wrong and too difficult to make the conscious choice to see things going right. -Tom

Failure of Front End Influence

“So, what do you think was missing?” I asked.

Jamie retraced the steps of her company’s Quality Circles program. Like many good ideas, there was nothing wrong with the program. It was clearly designed to bring out the best in her people. It had short term results, but, in spite of a great deal of up-front planning and expense, the program experienced an early death.

“You are suggesting,” Jamie began, “that we did our front end work well, but we were missing something on the back end?”

I nodded. “One primary function of a manager is to influence behavior. Indeed, to influence behavior, we spend a lot of time in meetings, developing programs, teaching, training, writing manuals. We spend a lot of time up front, trying to influence behavior.”

It was Jamie’s turn to nod. I continued. “While those things we do up front do have an influence, most behavior is not prompted by what comes before but by the consequences that happen after. As Managers, we spend a lot of time training. We see high performance in the training room, but a week later, nothing has changed in the field. The fire is out, the behavior gone.”

Working Leadership Comes to Austin TX

Since 1995, our Working Leadership program has been training managers. More than 1200 have graduated from this program in managerial leadership. This six week behavior-based program covers the essential skills that managers are never taught.

  • Role of the manager
  • Communication one-to-one
  • Time management
  • Leadership styles (using the DISC program)
  • Team problem solving
  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Planning
  • Delegation
  • Decision Making
  • Accountability
  • Effective meetings
  • Coaching

If you would like more detail about the curriculum in each of these subject areas, just ask here. I will send you a more colorful sheet.

Here are the dates –
Session One – Aug 25, 2017
Session Two – Sep 1, 2017
Session Three – Sep 8, 2017
Session Four – Sep 18, 2017
Session Five – Sep 22, 2017
Session Six – Sep 28, 2017

Each session is 3-1/2 hours and includes field work assignments between sessions. This program is intended for Hi-S-II supervisors and S-III managers. The class will be held in Austin, TX.

Your coach for this program will be William Foster. William has been in the classroom for 27 years, is a Board Member of the Caldwell Independent School District, and received his certification to teach this program in 2016.

Space is limited to 15 students. If you have an emerging manager in your organization that would benefit from this program, you can pre-register here. Program tuition is $1600. Vistage members receive a $100 credit per participant (includes all materials and textbooks.) VISA-MasterCard accepted.

If you have questions, would like more information or if you would like to pre-register, please drop me an email or follow this link.

Curriculum Details –

Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and managerial roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which the rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Two
Leadership Styles. Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement. This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving. Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
Planning. This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effectivedelegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings. Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to find out more about this program, please drop me a line.
-Tom Foster