It’s a Trap

There were twelve incredible opportunities staring at Roger, all of them saying, “Pick me!”

Once an organization gets some traction in their market, over the hump of cash flow and all that, the next biggest trap is the incredible opportunities.

As your company grew, everyone said, “You’ll never make it,” but your company did. Who is to say that your company cannot be successful at all of the other opportunities staring down at you?

Sometimes, the most important decisions that you make, are the decisions about what not to do. The growing organization needs to focus its efforts on becoming more successful at their core business. There will be plenty of time, later, to chase down that incredible restaurant deal or that mail order pharmacy company.

Disciplined focus, execution, not opportunities. Stay out of the trap.

On Your Left

It was a late weekend morning. I was headed south on A-1-A, returning from a solo bike run to Boynton inlet. The headwind was light, but enough to knock the speed to an even 19mph. Three hours into the ride, I was in no position to hammer the wind, yet impatient to keep the speed up.

“On your left,” was a friendly heads-up as an unknown rider with fresh legs slipped in front. I downshifted and picked up the reps to catch his wheel. I settled into the quiet space of his draft at 21mph. Seconds later, I sensed a third rider on my tail. Now we were three.

For thirty minutes, we snaked down the road, changing leads, holding 21, taking turns on the nose. I was struck with the purity of teamwork between three people who had never met before, with only three words between them, “On your left.”

A team will never gain traction without a common purpose.

This was a team with nothing, except a common purpose, executing skillful manuvers, supporting each other, communicating precisely with each other. There was no orientation, no “get to know you session,” just a purity of purpose.

When your team works together, how clear is the purpose? What is the commitment level of each team member to that purpose? You don’t need much else.

A Shell Game for Amateurs

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about time-leverage. You talk about working one hour to gain two hours productivity. How does that work?

Response:
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’s Feedback System

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.

Stand on the Chair and Scream

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.

Which Flag?

Marjorie was puzzled. Twenty minutes ago, she adjourned a meeting with her development team. The purpose of the meeting was to share the newly published annual business plan. For the first time since Marjorie joined the company, the vision, described in the plan, finally made sense. They staked out a customer base and nailed down objectives for the next twelve months. It was the clearest flag the company ever planted. Then, why didn’t the team respond enthusiastically?

Which flag do you care the most about? Which flag does your team member care the most about? Here’s the news, nobody cares about your flag. People only care about their own flag. Companies are great at describing their own flag, but nobody cares. Customers don’t care, employees don’t care. People only care about their own flag.

As a Manager, to have any hope in the areas of motivation and alignment, you have to find out the flags of each of your individual team members. Finding out about the flags of your customers doesn’t hurt either.

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?