Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Favorites - Should you rely on consensus to make team decisions?

Consensus is often the decision making tool of choice
Google Images:
when undertaking projects like strategic planning with a group. Yet consensus can be an obstacle to real team unity. Let's take a quick look at it.

First, an operational definition: Consensus is the common sense of most after the consultation of all. This means that consensus is not necessarily unanimity of thought. In Summit workshop and planning groups, participants are given the responsibility to verbally jump up and down if they disagree with the direction the decision is headed. That way they can slow the process down for a fuller discussion.

Pros of consensus as a tool
  • Probably the biggest pro is that you leave the process with the whole group's commitment to the outcome. If, instead of seeking consensus, you take a vote - someone will leave the process with the potential for a "win" if the initiative or decision fails. They will also be identified by other group members as opposing whatever measure was passed, creating the potential for in-groups and out-groups.
  • Because it doesn't require unanimity, consensus can keep things moving. You don't have to prolong the discussion to convince hold-outs as long as the group as a whole is together and the non-conceding parties have agreed to move forward despite their reservations.
Cons of consensus as a tool
  • In many work settings where you can see the decision locomotive speeding down the track. In some of those cases a particularly influential individual, or one with greater authority, presents an idea and the heads start to nod assent so quickly that you can practically feel a breeze. Whether flattery or self-serving is the reason, the yes-people let bad decisions make it through the gauntlet untested under the guise of consensus.
  • A setting of trust and openness is needed for consensus to work properly, and that's not always in evidence. Participants need to leave egos, titles and surnames at the door and have enough confidence in the safety of speaking plainly that they candidly share whatever reservations or concerns they have. If you don't have the prerequisite climate you have to establish behavioral ground rules in order for consensus to be real.
Alternatives to consensus
  • Items are listed on a board and each participant has, for example, 5 vote stickers to "spend" however they choose by affixing them beside the best of the various alternatives. This can allow the group to prioritize their favorite options without doing a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" vote on one of them. This method will still allow participants to see momentum toward one or more choices, so they may choose to get on board with one that they see is popular.
  • A slip of paper is distributed to each participant, where they write their preferred choice from a selection of options generated by the group. The papers are collected and counted, with the biggest vote-getter being the selection by the group. Because this is a voting method, individuals will still know whether they were opposed to a particular choice. But it does prevent individuals from feeling pressured into agreement - their vote is confidential. And it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for others in the group to hassle them later for their expressed points of view.
  • Provide group input but delegate the final decision to an individual. If this is the ground rule you are going to use, however, make sure it's clear to the group before you generate input. Otherwise, the participants might feel set up or resentful if their suggestions are not implemented.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Being there to support and share

With whom would you want to share your happiness,
Google Images:
those milestones in your life that become permanent hash marks on your personal timeline?  Who would want to be there with you?

This is a bit of a personal post today, because we are traveling this weekend to participate in my brother's wedding.  It involves a big chunk of travel to get there, but I wouldn't miss it.  His wedding has been a long time coming, and that probably makes it feel even more important to be there to witness, to share in the moment, and to celebrate with him.  There are certain moments that are best surrounded by the people that you care about, and who care about you.  Joy shared is joy multiplied.

When you think past the traditional origins of some wedding customs (like the groomsmen protecting the bride-to-be from being carried off by a competing suitor before the wedding ceremony), the other participants and guests are there for some very important reasons.  A marriage is between two people, yes, but there are more involved in the marriage than that.  The bride and groom are each becoming a part of a new extended family.  The relationship with the other partner's parents and siblings can be a support, a glue for the relationship.  The wedding creates the transition into the larger circle.

Somehow, even in the cases of longtime dating partners and adults who have made their own ways for a long time, to call oneself a husband or a wife changes the rules somehow.  Even though pre-marriage a couple creates its own dynamic, the names associated with the official wedded bond have habits of thought connected to them. The attitudes and expectations go back to each spouse's earliest memories, and sometimes they create a shift in roles.  These conditioned expectations show up and impact the married relationship even in the most mundane places as the item is placed on the To-do list of the husband or the wife:

  • Who takes out the trash without being asked?
  • Who pays the bills?
  • Who does the laundry?
  • Who cleans the house?
  • Who cooks dinner - and cleans up afterward?
  • Who has primary care responsibility for the children?
  • Who plans vacations?
  • Who has veto power over any and all of the above?
Even in contemporary relationships where both partners are working full time and the chores are shared, these deeply held habits of thought mean that somebody believes the buck stops with them.

The wedding is about the romance, the celebration, the legalization of the relationship.  The marriage is about working on the details as circumstances and partners evolve over time.  The couple needs its support system at least as much during the marriage as it did on the occasion of the wedding.  The new husband and wife observe the marriages of family and friends as models of how to navigate (or not).  They may consult loved ones in times of struggle - and every marriage confronts struggles.

We're here to support you brother, and to share in your joy.  We're so happy that you have chosen this woman to be your partner for the rest of your life.  We welcome her and her family into ours.  And we're there for both of you.  Congratulations!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The benefit of sitting back

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic,
Google Images:
tells a story about another conductor who jumps into a taxi and shouts to the driver, "Drive, drive!"  The driver asks, "But where would you like to go sir?"  And the conductor replies, "It doesn't matter - they need me everywhere!"

Do they need you everywhere?  Do they really?  Or is it that you feel the need to control things?

How will the people in your organization learn to solve their own problems if at the first whiff of trouble you race in on your white steed - screwdriver (or laptop) in hand - command them to step aside, and then take over?  They won't.  And then you will be the person complaining that you have no time, that you can't take vacation, etc.

Yes, preventable mistakes might be made.  Yes, they might do it differently than you would.  Yes, it might take more time for them to learn how to do it, at least this time - or even the next few times.  It might even cost you a little bit of money in wasted materials.

When you deny your employees the opportunity to learn you prevent them from increasing their value to your business.  Solving problems is hands-on, practical, just-in-time learning, unlike the classroom stuff that they may or may not have the opportunity to apply.

If this feels uncomfortable it's probably because you haven't stretched these muscles this far in a while.  If the risks are too great to simply sit back and let them struggle their way to a solution, make a point of training them my showing them how to handle it - before they ever have to handle it.  Have them watch one, do one with assistance, and then do one on their own.

Some problems won't go away on their own.  But some will.  Keep your eyes and ears open, but this is our challenge for you today - resist the urge to intervene.  Let them work it out without involving you.  Your company will be stronger for it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The importance of measuring progress

Would you watch baseball if they didn't keep score?
Google Images:
Probably not.  You might watch an unscored football game for the thrill of the occasional dirty tackle or fabulous passing play, but you wouldn't watch indefinitely.  The gratification (or the frustration) comes from knowing who wins - and who doesn't.

How do you provide (or receive) performance feedback when there are no results?  How do you know whether you're doing a good job as a leader if you never see an outcome?  For some leaders the cycle time for the outcome is so long that a lot of time can pass before the success or failure of a venture becomes evident. And that could mean that too much time and money have been squandered - or not - by the time the full cycle is complete.

Whether you're the player or the coach, the score is the means by which you determine the quality of the job. You can't wait until the end.  You need to see progress.

When you're the coach:

  • Give team members a way to keep score.  It might be volume of product shipped each day, or speed of order fulfillment.  You can keep track of the number of hamburgers served, or the profit margin that each of your commercial salespersons is achieving.
  • Make the score visible.  Hang it up so everyone can see how the group is doing.  In sales, a visible tally board with monthly results to date by salesperson, or some sort of top 5 list (measured by volume) can create conversation, motivation, and some healthy competition.
  • Divide the game into innings.  It's unlikely that you're doing the whole thing badly, or the whole thing perfectly.  Divide the work flow into phases, functions, steps, etc.  Keep track of the data for each segment so you can better identify which is working effectively and which is not.
  • Focus on the process rather than the people.  A broken process will chew up even the best people. Score-keeping data helps you to recognize whether your process works - or not.  You're looking for efficient (fast) and effective (getting the results you want).
  • Determine how you might help the folks actually doing the work to report their own data. The performance data is theirs, not yours, and self-reporting helps to create awareness and ownership of the results.   You might have reports in place with more detailed numbers that you share regularly.
  • Establish goals.  How much can your group produce in a day or a week?  How do you know?  If your team has a purpose (a goal) that it is pursuing, the adrenaline flows as the goal and/or the deadline grow closer.

When you're the player:
  • Give the coach a tangible result to point to. The coach doesn't see what you do every moment of every play.  His or her eyes need to be on a lot of things.   It's not enough to say "we're making progress". Help him or her notice progress by working toward visible, observable outcomes.
  • Create a game plan with benchmarks.  The coach wants to see movement, so lay out your plan with Task A scheduled to be completed by Date #1.  Let the coach know how you're progressing with Task A. On Date #1 let the coach know that Task A is complete (if it is!)  If Task A is running slow and won't hit Date #1, let the coach know as soon as possible, with information on why and your best estimate of your actual completion date.  He or she might have to take other actions to compensate for the missing of the benchmark date.
  • Be proactive with communicating upward to the coach. You want autonomy, yes, but you earn it.  It's his team, after all. Establish a standing Friday coffee chat appointment, or a 9:00 a.m. stand-up check-in meeting.  When the coach knows what's going on he is less likely to chase you down and "interrogate" or second-guess you.  He might not think that's what he's doing, but we know that's how it feels to you.
  • Hit your numbers. Consistently.  That's how you prove to yourself how good you are, and that's how the coach evaluates it too. You might have the best educational credentials or the most experience, and they might be the things that got you hired in the first place.  But the coach wants to see the hits, the runs scored, and the opponents prevented from advancing. Credentials and past experience be damned.  It's right now that matters.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Whose vision is it, anyway?

Peter Drucker said that "The purpose of business is to attract
Google Images:
and retain customers."  Sure.  If you have no customers you have no revenue, which means you don't have a business.  But beyond that it's all up to you.  As the owner of this venture, it's your vision that determines how you are going to fulfill Peter Drucker's definition - and sustain it.

Even if your business revolves around a single product - to whom do you intend to sell it?  How far afield do you intend to find your market?  From what kind of facility do you intend to produce whatever it is that you produce?  What is the impact you expect to have on your community?  On your industry?

Companies that flounder often do so because the vision has not been clearly defined.  Their daily work becomes transactional and immediate.  They respond to the moment, working IN the business instead of working ON the business.  And conflict abounds because there are no bigger reasons to delay gratification (like excess profit taking), or to make the difficult decisions that will bring long-term benefit.

The next problem that occurs is when the company leadership beyond the founder/CEO is not in sync with the vision.  They can't, of course, be in sync when there isn't one, but here's how the out-of-sync leadership team happens when the CEO already has established a vision:
  • The CEO doesn't share his or her vision clearly enough that the leadership team can understand it, much less implement it.
  • Individuals are hired for their skills without considering their values and attitudes.  This means that they may engage in behavior that compromises the company's future.  Or they may simply be dead weight, dragged along through extra energy expenditure on the part of the CEO.
  • The CEO of an established company chooses not to include senior leadership in the updating of the vision.  This is the CEO's prerogative, but if his or her goal is to have the leadership team implement the vision it's strategically beneficial to include key internal stakeholders in the plan updating process. Obtain their input and thereby their buy-in from the beginning.
  • The CEO neglects to reel in leadership behavior that is out of alignment with the vision.  The CEO should discuss misalignment issues promptly, directly and specifically with the offending party,  If there is not improvement, progress through the standard disciplinary procedures.  The CEO creates a cultural problem if and when he or she does not nip this behavior in the bud.  The problem will not go away.  It will grow.
The individual who chooses to start a business might have no idea how big it will grow.  Countless behemoth businesses started in a garage, or as a box of files under a bed, or with a truck and a toolbox.  The CEO of a growing business might feel tempted to avoid planning or to keep it under his vest because of discomfort with his changing role as the business grows.  The skills needed for running a one-truck HVAC business are quite different from the ones needed to run a company with a fleet of 20 trucks and 35 employees.  And unless the CEO owns a crystal ball (and knows how to use it) the future can be extremely difficult to project.

Who, though, is going to set the course if no destination is defined?  Ultimately the buck stops in the corner office, whether that corner is in a deluxe office suite or a work station in the back of a retail facility.  It's your vision, biz owner.  So let's get busy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Favorites - If U cn rd ths u mgt b a hllva ldr

Whether at work or at home, any leader worth his or her salt
Google Images:
recognizes that in any single interaction - even in every single phrase - many messages are being sent simultaneously.  When two people communicate you might notice three distinct (and perhaps conflicting) pieces of information - the obvious surface message, the message behind the message,  and the unintended message - and that's just for starters.

How you say it is incredibly important, yet oftentimes in situations where time pressure, mixed feelings, or high intensity affect your communication process it's easy to forget that unintentional messaging can easily become communication gone sour.  Let's talk about a few of the common pitfalls:

You may or may not consider yourself a spelling geek, but poor spelling can communicate lack of education or lack of intelligence.  This is not an attempt to be insulting.  Some people care about spelling and some people don't, but if you don't spell well and you have to write for someone who considers accuracy in spelling to be a key quality indicator, you are in deep doo-doo.  Use your spell check every time, and then check your checked spelling.  (Bank marketers, for instance have to use the words "note" and "rate" quite often.  Depending upon the particular typo, spell check would change the mistake into a recognizable word - just not the correct one.)

Use some.  Shorter sentences and relatively short paragraphs will help the message get through faster, and to a wider range of reading levels.  Understand though, that short sentences can also sound like commands.  That doesn't always serve your purpose (remember the message behind the message?).  On the other hand, if you go on and on and never break a thought for a pause and you keep the same sentence going and you connect all of the parts with the word "and" your unintended message will be that you are unable to sort the information in your head well enough to chunk it into comprehensible pieces and that will drive people to think you might be either seven years old or a little bit nuts.

Just a few days ago there was a post online that said you reveal yourself as over 40 years old if you allow two spaces at the end of a sentence instead of only one. One more thing - if you frequently use exclamation points or multiple question marks at the end of sentences people will know that you used to be a cheerleader, and that you have never gotten over it.

The order in which you choose to organize your words has a HUGE impact on the message perceived.  If you're Pennsylvania German (or perhaps a Yoda fan) you'll know what is meant by, "Please throw down the steps a pair of socks!"   If you're not, well, the person using that syntax has revealed himself or herself as Pennsylvania German (or a Star Wars wannabe) and that the local word sequencing has just overwhelmed sixteen years of schooling.  Colloquial (informal) syntax often isn't welcome in business communication.  In a global economy it can be greatly to your advantage to sound homogenized enough that you could be from New York, or from California, or from Wichita, or from "France."  (A Saturday Night Live Coneheads reference for you old geezers out there...)

Word Choice
It comes down to this:  you can choose to use big words, small words, foreign words, or swear words.  Any word choice you make reveals whether you think the communication is about the receiver of the message or about you.  Match the word choice to the audience.  If you don't do so, you'll risk coming across as a vulgar pseudo-intellectual with egomaniacal tendencies, a narcissist, a braggart, a ....  Enough said on this point.

Ambiguous Combinations
This communication method is sometimes unintentional, but often is strategically employed when you have been asked to say something and you want plausible deniability later.  There's a hilarious book on this, titled Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations, or L.I.A.R., by Robert Thorton.   This concept is best demonstrated with examples:
  • "I would place this student in a class by himself."  Really?  Why does he have to be alone?
  • "She works effortlessly."  Is it easy for her, or does she apply no effort to her work?
  • "You will never catch him asleep on the job."  Is it that he never sleeps on the job, or that you'll never catch him?
  • "Whenever he asked for a raise, we generally let him have it."  With a sledgehammer?
  • "There is nothing you can teach a woman like her."  She's not too bright.
In Summary
Tread carefully in your communication today.  Bee aware tht peepul are waching 2 sea weather you know what u r doing, and yur speech and riting reveal more than u realize.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Can't sleep? Stressed out? Try this...

Often when you can't sleep or you're experiencing chronic stress your brain is cluttered with short-term memory loops.  Concerns about work, personal problems, unpaid bills, that person who drives you nuts - even reminders to pick up bread at the store can circulate and recirculate, making it difficult for you to relax and/or to concentrate.

If you don't want to medicate yourself and you don't want to expend money on improving your situation, try meditation.  There are a number of forms, some of which you can do sitting in a comfortable chair in your home or office.  Meditation can include quiet mindfulness, guided meditation to an audio or video track, chanting, Tai Chi (a gentle form of Chinese martial arts moves) or Yoga.

You can look online and find a large number of tutorials if you are a beginner.  We have included a video here, that will help you to go on a guided meditation using colors and flowers.  Some people find it helpful to use an external voice like this one to help them to focus until they can train themselves to meditate on their own.

There are tangible benefits to be achieved through meditation, including:

  • Calmness
  • Improved immunity
  • Improved fertility
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Reduction in symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduction or elimination of other physical symptoms and conditions related to stress
It's called meditation practice because you get better at it the more you do it.  Be gentle with yourself and give it a try...