Sunday, April 13, 2014

Less is better

The best smorgasbords are those with the most variety, increasing the number and variety of dishes improves the consumer's perception of the offering. While more is better when it comes to smorgasbords, this is not the case with respect to politics or business initiatives: schemes, ideas, plans, proposals, programs, laws, legislation, etc.

Well-meaning legislators across the globe continue to propose and pass laws that over complicate the ability for citizens to live and conduct business every day. Much of modern legislation focuses on changing behaviour vs. outcome; a prime example would be that of the former New York mayor wanting to ban the sale of large soft drinks in an attempt to reduce obesity. Contrary to popular belief and victim thinking, obesity is not due to large soft drinks or any particular food but rather personal choice – period. A more beneficial approach to the problem of obesity would be to make those who are obese pay more for health care according to their BMI index, this is moving from behaviour (how) to result (what). Warning: since the last statement will probably offend some, please read this first.
Most organizations fall into this same trap thinking that more initiatives, programs, process will improve results. This overcomplicates the business, teams become overwhelmed with busy work and results decline. The legislators (managers) push harder on enforcing their pet laws (programs) on how to do stuff, but it is like trying to push a wet rope uphill. 
The good news is that it is very simple to determine how many initiatives are enough, to find the sweet spot or top of the inverted bell curve, ready for this . . . it is very profound: you get results! Therefore if your new initiative does not improve results – throw it away, put it on the stop doing list. Unfortunately, this does not usually happen, someone spent time and energy on that scheme and we don't want to hurt their feelings, do we? 
If the obese are not getting thinner, your attempt at legislation didn't work, focus on the result and the individual will find a way to get there that best suits them.

Tell the people what to do and not how to do it and let them surprise you with their ingenuity; G.S. Patton.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Set yourself up to leave

Every time your phone rings, each question or problem that comes your way, ask yourself, "how can I empower someone else to answer that question / solve that problem in the future?" Then do it empower someone else.

The real test, of course, is after you leave, and . . . everyone eventually leaves: did the organization, which you left behind, flourish? Great leaders who are confident in themselves will be proud to see their former team continue to achieve increasing success. However, there is a selfish goal to this as well: when a leader continues to empower others, hand over increasing responsibility, their job gets easier and easier. This leader can spend their time on providing well-deserved recognition, challenging the status quo, and looking for new and creative ways to achieve better results. This leader has time they are not overwhelmed with firefighting dealing with the urgent and unimportant activities. 

A wise mentor once said to me, "your job is to empower everyone in your organization to the point where you have nothing to do yourself, except drink coffee and relax all day." So that is what I do . . . empower others so that I can become irrelevant.

Have you ever drunk coffee all day? Hard to sleep at night.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You are partially to blame

Those that have to terminate / fire someone must share some . . . perhaps all the blame.

Good leaders set others up for success - they make it easy - they make it possible. In fact, they make it almost impossible to fail. Rules are clear and effectively communicated. Expectations are vividly clear.

Why would an individual need to be terminated?
  1. Not performing / not doing what is expected of them.
  2. Violation of policy (theft, serious policy violation)

1) Poor performance
Either the expectations were not clear or not communicated sufficiently. When expectations are clear and the leader appropriately addresses shortfalls through coaching and if necessary performance management, an employee will almost always self select, meaning: they choose to leave on their own. People will sign up and commit themselves to giving full effort to a well-defined goal or objective. Almost any individual is capable of great work under great leadership. If a poor hiring decision was made in the first place, who is to blame for that?

2) Violation of policy
This is a tough one to swallow at first: If the rules and the consequences of not following the rules are clear and there is strong awareness that systems and processes exist to immediately detect if the rules are broken, the vast majority of people will never violate the rules. Using theft or fraud as an example: within any group of people, there are those that will never commit a crime against your organization, but there are also a significant number who given an opportunity and believe they have a good chance of getting away with it, might. These are not bad people: but rather good people who succumb to temptation. If you left a $20 bill on the table in your staff lounge, how long would it remain? Most would turn it in, but some would take it.

The question we must ask ourselves if we are forced to terminate for theft, fraud or a serious violation of policy; was the policy clear enough? Where the consequences clear enough? Were the processes to detect such a problem known to exist? In many cases the answer to one or more of these questions is "no."

If we approach leadership with this perspective, we will communicate and apply accountability to our expectations well enough that we will almost never have to terminate anyone. Of course, this benefit [never have to terminate] is minor compared to the resulting success that the team will achieve.




Friday, June 21, 2013

Why do some say . . .

Why do some say . . .

"Sorry to interrupt," but then interrupt and continue speaking. Why interrupt if you are sorry?

Start a sentence with the word "honestly." Does this mean that everything said up to that point has been a lie?

Threatening an employee with "I'm going to write you up," meaning a formal written warning will be provided on a piece of paper. Why not just write them up without the verbal threat? More importantly, has there been a conversation about this problem behaviour in the past to resolve? In my experience, those who make these types of threatening statements have done a poor job communicating their expectations and corresponding shortfalls. That statement [write you / them up] should never be spoken. Do it [written warning] if it is necessary, but it is always the final step.

"Everyone believes / or does that . . . " Obviously, this statement can never be true. There are quite a few people on this planet; there must be at least one dissenter. This type of statement is used when one is losing an argument.

One more:
"That has been communicated to them hundreds of times; they can't seem to . . . "
"Sorry to interrupt, but honestly if you have to tell someone hundreds of times there is clearly something wrong with your telling.  Furthermore, if you don't get this fixed I'm going to write you up. Everyone else is able to get this done! Besides, I've told you million times not to exaggerate!"


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Open letter to leaders

Open letter to leaders, especially those at the top of the organization or team:

Allow me to preface my comments with a warning that some may be offended, but do consider a) that to be offended is a choice b) only those that are hit close to home by these comments are likely to be offended.

Dear Leader,

This may be hard to accept at first, but you are likely not the smartest person in the room (room being a metaphor for everyone in your company). Sure, you have the title, the pay and benefits, the university degrees, but you lack one thing; if you are like the vast majority of your peers, that one thing is that you are so far away from what is happening at the front line of your organization, you have only a limited idea of what is really going on. 

To find out what your customers want and to hear about the barriers and problems that prevent your organization from effectively delivering, you would have to speak with those little people out in the field. You know the ones, all they want to do is talk, sharing their job hang-ups and trying to give - YOU - of all people advice on how to run this company. I know, I know . . . it's crazy. Their eyes seem to start rolling back in their heads when you tell them how we are going to win. Yes, it is those ones. 

Those ones that actually speak with and serve your customer everyday. They get to manage through your brilliant decisions which sometimes, with slight adjustments could be some much easier to execute. But of course, their capacity is too limited to see the vast wisdom in your decisions.

Some of the most successful leaders in history made it a priority to listen to those little people on the front lines. In fact, some actually - believe it not - regard those little people as the most important in the organization and treat them as such. Leaders like Herb Kelleher, former CEO Southwest Airlines, who many call a servant leader seems to have managed to find some success through this approach. Sure it may have been all luck but you should look up his work someday.

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to get across to you is that if you could take some time – I know your schedule is probably packed with lots of those important meetings – but carve out a little time to go and meet with and listen to those on the front lines of your organization, you might find that they have some interesting insight which you have never considered. Heck, one of them may even have a good idea that could make your organization more successful and of course make you look better.

I am trying to be subtle, but I hope I got my point across.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ask don’t Tell

What kind of people do you want? Consider first how you treat them as this will largely determine what you get.

In the military, one is trained to be disciplined and obedient at all times. Do exactly what you are told to do–word for word. Never miss a thing they tell you to do, and never take shortcuts, or you will suffer the consequences. 

The hit 1960's spy parody television show "Get Smart" starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart (recently made into a movie - 2008) featured a humanoid robot named Hymie, which followed instructions exactly as worded. For example, when Smart tells Hymie to "get a hold of yourself," he grasps each arm with the other.

In retail, we use the term "facing" which means to front face or pull products forward to the front of a shelf. A colleague once directed a new employee to face an aisle in a certain department. Upon checking a while later, he found the employee standing and facing the shelves down the aisle not understanding what was asked of him.

A disappointing fact to some, people are not machines that perform continuously doing exactly what they are designed for and only require fuel and minimal maintenance. However, a leader's military style interaction and expectations can render their people pretty close to a basic machine.

The most effective leaders influence and inspire through open-ended questions vs. dictation. They have a vision and clear idea of where they want to go, what it looks like when they get there and craftily steer people and consequently the organization toward the goal.

This does not refer to becoming more polite i.e.: instead of telling someone to do something, ask him or her to do it. Rather it is the ability, through questioning, to persuade others to come up with the answer, idea, direction etc. that you have in mind. This is essentially coaching which develops self-sufficient empowered individuals.

In war, people die if orders are not followed explicitly. In business, organizations fail if people are not empowered to use their judgement.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


The most destructive force in any organization is that of individuals within treating others with contempt. Consider the following with respect to marriage relationships:

John Gottman, Ph.D., a well respected psychologist and marriage researcher, says he can predict with 95% accuracy whether a marriage will end in divorce within 15 years by micro analyzing a videotape of the pair talking for an hour. His secret is paying attention to the number of times in the conversation the couples participate in what he calls the Four Horsemen:
  • Defensiveness: A response like "It's not my fault, it's your fault!" to a real or imagined attack.
  • Stonewalling: The silent treatment. This seems to be more common in men than women.
  • Criticism: Labeling a partner with a negative trait such as "You're selfish."
  • Contempt: Labeling a partner with a negative trait as if the blamed person is inferior and the criticizer is superior. Contempt is often shown through body language: tone of voice, facial expressions, and body movement. Just a roll of the eyes can signal that someone considers themselves above you.
As reported in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, Gottman indicates that contempt is the single greatest indicator of a future relationship breakup. 
Psychology Today

Contempt is disrespect and condescension that attempts to put others on a lower plane. Gottman suggests that he can predict the future success of a marriage by just overhearing a conversation between couples in a restaurant over dinner, specifically listening for indicators of contempt.

A relationship is a relationship, why would there be any difference in the relationships within an organization? However, instead of divorce, we would have dysfunction, infighting, lack of trust and collaboration. In extreme cases, the destructive energy could be similar to what we saw in the 1989 film The War of the Roses (Michael Douglas & Kathleen Turner), where the goal was mutual mental and physically destruction.

Contemptuous behaviour in organizations should be confronted and dealt with quickly. Disagreement and debate is necessary. However, healthy disagreement is respectful and professional. Everyone inside, or who is exposed to your organization, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity – everyone.

We need to start with ourselves; do you view others (at work or at home) as inferior? The consequences of this thinking and the resulting behaviour are well documented.