Friday, November 30, 2012

Five ways that bosses destroy accountability

Watching by stringberd
Watching, a photo by stringberd on Flickr.
Nobody comes to work wanting to do a bad job, and that includes supervisors and managers.  But as with many other behaviors, supervisory behaviors can have an impact that is quite different from the intentions behind them.  In particular, the methods a manager uses to elicit action on his or her team can destroy the very accountability that the company needs.  For the purposes of this post the words "supervisor" and "manager" are being used interchangeably.

  1. Multiple "A" priorities - When everything is equally important, nothing is important.  Even if a staff member claims to be multi-tasking, they aren't really able to do more than one thing at a time.  They are toggling back and forth among the items the boss identified as important.  And the result is that all of them will be partly completed rather than any one of them being able to be checked off the list.  To improve accountability, the manager needs to help the employee establish a clear prioritization among their assigned tasks.
  2. Too many bosses - In this instance, the employee has to choose whose directions and assignments are to be completed first.  They might have two or three lists among which they are choosing tasks to perform - one for each boss.  This is particularly evident in matrix organizations, where staffers and specialists are prescribing activities in addition to those assigned by the line management chain.  The solid-line (direct) manager for the employee needs to be the clearinghouse for the employee's priorities.
  3. Circumventing lines of authority - Mid-level managers and supervisors have accountabilities for the performance of the individuals on their teams.  They can't do so effectively when managers from outside their department and outside their chain of command give instructions to individuals on their team without involving the attending supervisor.  This condition places employees in a position of having to choose which manager to follow in their attempts to do a good job.  In addition, if there are employee performance issues not being shared with the direct supervisor, the supervisor has no way to be accountable for improving the performance.  They can't train, discipline, terminate, etc. if they are not being kept in the communication loop.  Informing them afterward is no substitute for involving them at the time the incident is occurring.  And the longer the time delay between incident and communication with the supervisor, the more unreasonable the expectation of supervisor accountability becomes.
  4. Hovering and short-stopping - There are times in the early part of an employee's development when it is not only appropriate but essential that a supervisor have hands-on training involvement in the employee's assigned tasks.  But as an employee grows familiar with his or her workload, the supervisor has to free the employee to complete the tasks and then provide performance feedback on the work product.  It can be useful for the boss to touch base with the employee for progress checks along the way if the project is large, has a long time frame, or if it is strategically critical to the company.  But when the boss constantly peeks over the employee's shoulder in the course of the employee's everyday workload, the boss demonstrates that the employee isn't trusted to complete it on his or her own.  This erodes the employee's motivation to perform, and it also interferes with the company's ability to hold the employee accountable for the results they are expected to achieve.  If the employee is truly not performing, there  are training and other actions that can be taken.  
  5. Assumptions about what is and is not going on - With every level a manager rises away from the daily employee workload, his or her ignorance about what's really going on increases.  They see the tip of the iceberg and think they know what lies underneath the water.  Until and unless they involve front-line employees to gain first-hand information, they don't have the data necessary to validly hold people accountable for performance.  Managers might become upset with an employee for dropping a plate, not realizing that in the course of the everyday workload the employee is trying to juggle eight plates on two hands and one foot.  When employees feel like they are in "no-win" situations at work, at some point they give up and stop trying to be accountable for results.  Instead they detach from the frustrating expectations placed upon them and invest their energy in trying to survive.
As said at the beginning of this post, everyone - including supervisors and managers - has the intention of doing a good job at work.  But when this intention is played out in the form of the five behaviors listed above, the boss is wasting the company's money.  They are interfering with the very employee productivity that they want, and they are not working at their highest and best use in their own role.  In addition, if they can't trust an employee to do the job (and hold them accountable for the results they do or do not achieve,) they might as well not have the additional person on the payroll.  They might as well do it themselves.  And in most cases that's not what the boss really wants to do.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

You made it! Now what?

At the summit by Elizabeth W.K.
At the summit, a photo by Elizabeth W.K. on Flickr.
You've been climbing and climbing, and your sights have been focused on the summit.  The marker there started as a speck in your binoculars, hardly visible, and grew as you progressed closer.  Now you're here, looking out over the terrain that you covered in order to get here.  Now what?

  1. Celebrate - If you're physically standing on a summit, stop and appreciate how far you have come.  Remind yourself of the preparation and the energy it took to get you to this point.  Take a picture - or ten.  Enjoy a picnic while you're up there.  High five your climbing companions.  If you're not actually standing on the top of a mountain, only metaphorically so, do the same thing.  Take time to take note of your accomplishment.  
  2. Look around - Because of your achievement you have acquired a new vantage point.  You can see into distances that were not visible from your prior position.  You can see new possibilities.  Is one (or more) of them compelling enough to become your next destination?
  3. Rest for a moment - Notice that this doesn't read "stop completely".  You expended a lot of energy getting here, and the next leg of your journey will also require you to be strong and attentive.  Give yourself a bit of time to refresh, to summon your resources for your return to base camp.
  4. Assess - The person who stands here at the summit (that's you) is not quite the same person that set out on the journey.  What did you learn along the way?  What strengths and areas for further development revealed themselves during the climb?  How can you leverage or even further strengthen the strengths?  Are your non-strengths items that need to be shored up (potential deal-breakers,) or can you work around them by effectively applying your strengths?
  5. Chart your next climb - You might need more than a literal moment to do this.  You might need to assimilate all of the new information from this adventure, give yourself a bit more recuperation time, accumulate fresh resources, etc.  But unless you want this most recent achievement to define you, you probably have many more journeys ahead.
  6. Get back on the mountain - Take advantage of the properties of momentum and stay in motion.  When you sit too long your muscles start to atrophy.  The fears of heights that you conquered will sneak back into your awareness.  The seductive comfort of no challenge will lure you into an easy chair from which there is really no good view of the landscape.
Leaders are serial achievers.  The sizes of their mountains vary, and their choices of routes have different degrees of difficulty.  But leaders accumulate life lists of summits.  What's the next one you want to conquer?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Solving problems? Or rethinking your decision?

Management Decision Making Tool by rbieber
Management Decision Making Tool,
a photo by 
rbieber on Flickr.
This situation (as is the case with many behavioral situations) is usually easier to observe in others than it is to recognize in yourself, but here goes:

There is an unsatisfactory current situation that you want to improve.  Of course you don't want to be where you are right now - you want to be in a better place.  But for some reason you are having a difficult time bringing yourself to take action on what should be a no-brainer.  Why is this happening? Why won't you step out and do something about it?

You may be having a hard time differentiating between problem solving and decision making.  When you have truly made a decision you have identified a desired outcome, and you focus your energies on getting from here to there.   You are likely to encounter obstacles on the way to your desired destination - these are problems to be solved.

When you have made the decision to move forward the problems aren't show-stoppers.  You seek ideas for solutions, then determine and implement the action steps to move past, through, over or under the problems. The problems are way-stations and detours, but they are not the end.  The outcome you have decided to pursue is the endpoint.

If the problems are stopping you, or if you find yourself using them as "reasons" why you aren't closer to your goal, it's time to evaluate whether you have truly DECIDED to go there - or not.  A list of problems and obstacles as long as your arm - or longer - won't deter you if the outcome is important enough to you.

The difference between decision making and problem solving might not sound very big - but it is huge in the degree to which you consistently take intentional action to achieve results.  It's the difference between trying and doing.  When you say to yourself or others that you are going to try, you are saying that you will expend a certain amount of effort but you are not guaranteeing a specific result.  When, on the other hand, you commit to DO something (assuming that keeping your word is important to you) you will do whatever is necessary to get the job done.

Sometimes hidden behind this issue is the question of whether you really own the goal and "want to" pursue it, or whether it's a "should".  When your decision has been authored by someone else it's not really your decision, so your commitment to it isn't as solid as it would be for a "want to" decision that you made for yourself.  Isn't it amazing how much energy goes into planning vacations and hobbies and parties?  It's the "want to" factor at work.

Where are the artificial decisions - the "shoulds" - coming from in your life?  In many instances they are stemming from some taught ideas of what or who or how it is to be "appropriate" or "good" or "attractive" or "successful".  These conditioned criteria were never consciously evaluated by you when you stored them in your brain years ago.  They were simply stored.  And now you're fighting with yourself over truly committing to something that you might not really want.

Your first task is to decide, and then you can solve the problems along the way to get there.     

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Four reasons why it's not the right time

How time flies!! by het broertje van..
How time flies!!, a photo by het broertje van.. on Flickr.
Let's start from a pair of assumptions:

  • The goal of a coach is to help a client to identify "right action:" (right is determined BY the client).
  • Choosing not to act can be considered an action.  Notice the word "choosing".
What we're talking about here today are four reasons given by individuals when asked why they are not ready to take action.  This is not to say that they are valid reasons.  But they are cited (or implied) rationales for maintaining the status quo.
  1. No money.  This can be a real obstacle - cash is cash, and when you don't have it you don't have it.  But often it is a false obstacle. In many cases the money is there, but it has been allocated to different priorities.  This brings to mind a story about a client who hadn't been on a family vacation in years.  She set a goal to stop smoking and decided to deposit her cigarette money into a vacation jar on the refrigerator.  In only a few months she accumulated enough money to take her family on vacation.  She already had the money for vacation - she just had to make the decision to reallocate her funds from her smoking habit to the vacation purpose.  This happens in company settings every day as well.  The financials don't determine the possibilities as much as they reveal senior leadership's views of what is important.
  2. No worry.  Sometimes things aren't bad enough or threatening enough for a new course to be charted.  The motto for this reason is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  The consequences of continuing on the current course are not severe enough, or perhaps the potential consequences haven't been faced candidly enough, to move the person or company off the dime.  The problem with the "no worry" rationale is that conditions are rarely in stasis; they are either improving or deteriorating.  When the deterioration happens slowly it's difficult to notice until it reaches a point where action becomes urgent.  And when action becomes urgent, certain options have already been eliminated from the possibilities.  You can't buy a new car with cash that you haven't saved to buy a new car.  So if your car breaks down beyond reasonable repair you have to choose debt, a cheaper car, or some other less-than-optimal solution to the situation.
  3. No hurry.  This rationale for inaction is related to #2 above.  It revolves around the perception that waiting doesn't cost anything and doesn't increase risk.  Each individual has his or her own criteria to determine the balance between the risk of change and the risk of no change.  Some choose to gather more data to try to better manage the potential risk.  Sometimes the study of the salient information does give them insight into relevant pros and cons of taking different courses of action.  But sometimes the analysis rationale is only a stall tactic, based upon the assumption that no decision now is better than a wrong decision.  It's based in fear of being incorrect and fear of fallout, and in company settings can be related to concerns about retribution or negative career consequences.  That's not a "no" decision, but rather the absence of one.  Of course, over time no decision becomes by default a "no" decision.
  4. No time.  It would be naive to claim that there is never validity to the no time reason when you're absolutely slammed at the office.  If you are an online retailer you probably don't want to convert your computer system on Cyber Monday, when online holiday shopping is at its peak.  But if every day is an equally bad day to take a different action it probably means that every day is an equally good day to do so.   Improvement and crisis prevention actions are activities that aren't pulling at you - they aren't urgent - but they are important if you want tomorrow to be better and more manageable than today is for you. If you have identified payoffs that are significant enough, or consequences of no change that are dire enough, you will find the time to do what you need to do.  Your calendar is as revealing as your checkbook about what you truly see as important.  Of course your calendar might not be completely controlled by you.  In a company setting there are command performances that can gobble up minutes, hours, even days of your time.  But within your ability to influence it, you have the responsibility to allocate your time to the activities that generate the best results.
If you are using one of the four reasons above to avoid or postpone taking action you need to step back and look at the situation strategically.  What is the outcome that you want?   What is the difference between that and your current conditions?   Then you need to analyze the rewards of your desired outcome and the consequences associated with not achieving it.  If you want it enough, need it enough, you'll figure out solutions to make it the right time to act.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Because you can't un-break an egg

Broken Egg by JoziSkamp
Broken Egg, a photo by JoziSkamp on Flickr.
Sometimes you don't know whether an egg is rotten on the inside unless you break it.  But once it's broken you only have a couple of choices - clean it up and throw it away or cook it up and eat it.  You can't un-break the egg.

When it comes to the relationships in your life, some words can be smoothed over, apologies made and everyone can get on with things.  After all, nobody is perfect.  Sometimes feelings are hurt and preferences ignored, but with no real ill intent.  Perhaps an oversight, or a period of excessive me-focus strains things.  But there are some comments, some actions, that do more than roll the egg or gently shake the contents inside.  They break the shell, and the goop inside comes running out.  And now you have no choice but to do something with all of that stuff.

So what's the lesson in the egg?  Perhaps it's that the ties between you and other people can appear to be a solid mass, but appearances can be deceiving.  Relationships can be fragile things once their structure has been compromised.  That's a scary idea to consider, given that the comfort in many relationships is that you "should" be able to take them for granted, to assume that they will always be there, no matter what happens. You grow up thinking that your parents and siblings should always be there for you, even when you treat them poorly.  You say vows when you get married, repeating "for better or for worse," never really thinking how bad "worse" might get.  You simply assume that you can hang out in your pajamas, unshowered with unbrushed teeth, and they'll think you are not only acceptable, but sexy.  You might not be wrong.  Or you might be.

At work you are generally more aware of the fragility of the relationship.  You make a point to go to work on time, stay until the work is done, and you do your best to get along with the other people there.  Your paycheck is important to you, and unlike what you think you have at home, the workplace relationships are not unconditional.  They are accepted to be an exchange of value.  You can still break the egg at work, but you are more likely to be aware that you are doing it, and given the fallout you do so only with compelling purpose.  You never relax quite as much there as you do at home.  You wear your brain-to-mouth filter  (on most days).

You can break the egg by what you do, and you can break it by what you say.  But a relationship involves more than only you, so there are other factors engaged.  There might even be some pre-existing pressure on other parts of the egg that have weakened it already, and a smaller infraction than you imagined can become the final crack that shatters it.  You might say something that you intend as innocuous, and it generates a reaction far out of proportion from what you intended.

Now here's the question that goes begging:  do you really want to hit the internal pause button to avoid breaking the egg?  Is this an egg that should remain in its whole form?  Or is it your intention to break it?  Do you need to break it?  Do you mean to shatter it so you can salvage some nutrition from the cooking and eating of its contents?  There are times when an egg needs to be broken.  You know it isn't going to hatch a chicken, and if it sits there for too long it won't be good for eating either.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Why you should peel your onion - and how to do it

Onion by fgfathome
Onion, a photo by fgfathome on Flickr.
Metaphor alert!  If you don't like metaphors, you might as well stop reading right now and go see what deals you can find in the electronics department at your favorite store.

The onion is your friend. It is an integral ingredient in countless recipes because it contributes taste that can be sharp, savory or almost sweet.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the onion, though, is that it is structured with layer upon layer, each distinct from the other, that hide the core of the onion.  If you want to get to the core you need to peel the layers off.

So it goes for your reasons for doing (or not doing) the things you need to do to achieve a goal.  There are the superficial, papery reasons on the outside of your onion, the ones that sound good to you or that you think might convince somebody else.  There are the mid-level reasons, the layers of motivation that are real but not the most compelling ones.  And then there are the ones closest to the core, the reasons that engage some of your most fundamental values and beliefs.

Peeling your onion might reveal to you things like:

  • My basic view of myself is that I'm unlucky.
  • It's REALLY important to me that I see myself as a good provider.
  • I hate taking risks and I can't sleep well when I don't feel like everything is buttoned down and secured.
It might not be easy for you to peel your onion.  Sometimes it's helpful to have somebody outside your own head ask you the questions that help you to get at the core of the matter.  A skilled coach, facilitator, or mentor can remove the outer layers by asking you "Why?" in a number of different ways.  But if you don't have access to one of those right now, here are some onion peelers you can use on your own:
  1. What is the thought process that led me to that decision?
  2. What are the assumptions that I am making here?
  3. What's important?  (or most important)
  4. What will that do for me?
  5. How does this align with my values and beliefs?
  6. What is the impact of this on my job, family, friends, etc.?
  7. What does this do to help me fulfill my purpose?
  8. What else?  (or why else?)
When you sharpen your skills at peeling your own onion you become more self-aware.  When you understand your REAL reasons, the ones that are sometimes hidden or underlying, you are able to make choices that are in better alignment for you.  Better alignment means more consistent activity toward the desired result that you identify.  And of course more consistent activity means that you are more likely to achieve that which you set out to achieve.

Peeling your onion might generate a few tears, literally.  Some of your most powerful motivators are connected to strong feelings.  Don't allow the tears to deter you, if that happens to you.  That which makes your eyes burn when peeling the onion is the very same ingredient that adds just the right seasoning to your life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The ultimate rallying point for leading your team

Montana near Amy's cabin, a photo by Jay Gibble
This is the third and final post in a series about leadership strategies.

When you're the person in the corner office you have more than your own attitude and productivity to manage - your job is to create the climate wherein you can unleash the full capacity of your staff.  These posts don't document an exhaustive list of the means by which you can lead; they are intended instead as thought provokers, to increase your awareness of some of the strategies you may be using.  Some of them may be helping you succeed right now, but if you aren't seeing the results you want and need right now you need to consider changing the only thing over which you have complete control - your own leadership behavior.

Establishing a Compelling Goal
This is a method that uses the benefits of a single exterior focus (as in uniting against a common foe,) but that channels the energy in an aspirational direction.  When your team seeks to conquer someone they are breaking something down.  When, on the other hand, your team works toward a goal, they are building something up.

It's easy to become bored by the same old same old in the workplace.   When there's nothing other than the immediate upon which to place your focus, it's tempting to distract yourself by manufacturing enemies, or to become distraught by magnifying minor irritations.  But when your team is oriented toward longer view, a higher objective in the form of a goal, employees can get past the day to day and think about the bigger picture.

Sometimes the goal is defined by the overall company mission, and to that extent it isn't changeable.  But sometimes you have the flexibility to allow your team members to determine the means they would like to use to achieve that predetermined end.  They will become more attached to the achievement of goals they set for themselves than they will be to ones that are mandated for them.  When they are involved in setting goals they can, with your help, use their individual strengths to get the job done, and when they are using their strengths they are more engaged and more likely to be successful with less energy expenditure and less stress.

A goal is even better when it has been defined in specific and multi-sensory terms.  When your team truly understands what the achievement of the goal means, and what it will look like, feel like, sound like, etc. they acquire a greater belief in the possibility.  It might be a big, hairy, audacious goal, but if your team wants it badly enough they will go and get it.  Do you really want to sell them short by not even allowing them the opportunity to go for something big?

Wow.  So what it comes down to, when you really get down to the foundation of it, is that your team goal is really about you.  How much are you committed to this outcome?  How much do you believe in the skills and dedication of your team?  How well have you prepared them for the grand challenge that they are about to face?  And how willing are you to put yourself on the line by committing to something that you absolutely must have their hands, feet and brains to achieve?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Should you share confidences with your staff?

secrets by martoulette
secrets, a photo by martoulette on Flickr.
This is the second post on a series on leadership strategies...

There are a number of methods by which leaders create a climate for motivation and employee engagement.  Some are chosen intentionally, but a lot of them are the result of prior conditioning.  Moreover, a number of them have associated consequences that are not always intended.

Sharing Confidences
It's interpreted as a sign of trust when you bring an employee or colleague into the inner circle of information. After all, information equates to influence and interpersonal power.  Some leaders choose to give employees a heads up about developing company strategies, or they might share their plans for an employee's career progression to help to keep them engaged as a loyal part of the team even when the promotion is taking a bit longer than anticipated.  The leader, however, needs to proceed with caution.  In most cases he or she can assume that the information that was shared in confidence might become fuel for the company's informal communication grapevine, and it's likely to morph into an inaccurate version of the information as it is passed down the line.  Double warning:  personal confidential information is particularly risky, and is best not shared.  Yes, it can be lonely to be the boss.  But when you go personal in that way you make yourself vulnerable.  And although some vulnerability can humanize you, be prepared for the potential for the information to be used against you.

Identifying an Enemy to Conquer
Some of the unifying events in history in the US have been when the country was under threat.  An enemy in the form of a terrorist, or in times of war another country, caused people with widely disparate world views to come together.  Natural disasters become an enemy too - they are shared challenges that unify efforts and focus them on a specific single entity.  So some leaders intentionally vilify another party to unify the group for which they are responsible.  When the enemy is a person, a department, or country, though, one of the impacts is that it creates a depersonalization of the other party.  The enemy approach starts a process where employees start to suspect every move the individual makes, or to view every individual in the "evil empire" under a stereotype that is likely not to be accurate.  Nobody is uniformly good or bad, strong or weak.  Every person, every department, every company, every country is a mix of good and bad.  It's wasteful to discard the good work and beneficial contributions on behalf of a broad brush of mistrust and discounting.  And hatred and negative energy sap a department (and an individual) of productivity while time is spent enumerating the enemy's sins and flaws.

In the final post in this series we'll discuss one of the most effective leadership strategies you can use to unleash the energy and focus of your staff.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Should you join your staff for happy hour?

Happy Hour at Firebirds by Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
Happy Hour at Firebirds,
a photo by 
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill on Flickr.
This is part one of a series for leaders on strategies for building relationships with your team.

One day in an office not too far from here, an executive said to his colleague, "For you, I'd crawl across glass and nails from here to California!"  He was joking, of course, but just for reference that journey would be 3,000 miles.  He wasn't talking about a quick jaunt across the street.

How do you as a leader, generate the type of employee loyalty and a sense of team such that people would go the extra mile to help the company succeed?  How do you generate the unified team that collaborates effectively - and follows you where you need them to go?

Strategy #1 - Join them at happy hour
You might not believe it because you know yourself with all of your warts, but your employees are a bit daunted by your authority.  You might be friendly at work, clear with your instructions and free with the positive feedback, but still you are the hondo.  Despite your efforts your staff may (and probably do) shield you from bad news.  Some leaders try to humanize themselves and open the door to informal communication by engaging in social activities with their staffs, such as going to happy hour.  They see it as part of their investment in a good working relationship.  But there are a few risks involved in doing this.  First, if some but not all of your staff are included in these outside events you may be contributing to an insider-outsider dynamic that can be destructive to the team as a whole.  Claims of favoritism or discrimination can arise.  And of course when you are under the influence of alcohol you may be more likely to say or do something that may undermine the perception your staff has of you as a leader.

Strategy #2 - Roll up your sleeves
Some leaders believe that they should be willing (and able) to do anything that they ask their staff members to do.  In cases where technical knowledge or professional licensure is involved, the leader may not (and may not need to be) doing the exact tasks that the staff does.  But the willingness of the leader to pitch in and get his or hands dirty is perceived as symbolic of humility and appreciation.  It can garner leadership points among the staff, and shoulder-to-shoulder tasks can create a vehicle for informal interaction that would not otherwise be possible.  If you are hands on in tasks make sure that you're not demonstrating lack of confidence in your team by grabbing the steering wheel from them or doing their jobs for them.  And also be certain that if you are rolling up your sleeves it's not to avoid the more complex tasks that come with your job.  You can't keep your eye on the horizon when your feet are in the trenches.  Unless your job description is to be a player-coach, this should be an every now and then tactic rather than a regular occurrence.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Life in the matrix

S1C04 - Matrix Management by My 25 Percent
S1C04 - Matrix Management,
a photo by 
My 25 Percent on Flickr.
Which is better - a solid line of accountability or that in combination with several dotted lines?  Welcome to the world of matrix management, an organizational phenomenon of the 1970's that is causing consternation in many businesses today.

The goal of matrix organizations was (and still is) to provide channels whereby technical expertise can be developed and shared across functional boundaries within an organization.  Project teams that spanned company-wide could operate with the technical champions leading the charge, with functional representatives on the team focused on the application of the concepts in the field.  

Matrix management structure in the real world, however, is accompanied by a few significant shortcomings:

  • Multiple "experts" with dotted line authority create a top-heavy and costly management structure to sustain.
  • Functional leaders have numerous priorities thrown at them, coming from their solid line bosses and the various dotted line leaders that impact their area.  They find it difficult, sometimes impossible to fulfill the expectations of all of the managers.
The culture within a firm, specifically its effectiveness in communication, can contribute to the success - or resounding failure - of a matrix structure.  Anne Field of Harvard Business Publishing Newsletters writes, 

"Communication problems aren't unusual in matrixed organizations. In fact, according to many executives and management experts, they're more the rule than the exception. When employees and managers with interdependent needs work collaboratively, often in teams, complex and awkward situations are bound to result. What's more, thanks to the convoluted, often ambiguous chains of command in these organizations, determining just who is accountable to who can become pretty murky, resulting in everything from misunderstandings and loss of trust to failed projects and lowered productivity. "

If your company operates with a matrix and it's creating problems, the first place to look for improvement is in the rules for engagement in the communication process.  Individuals with technical expertise serving the dotted line roles in the matrix organization may need development in relationship building skills.  And the functional leaders may be well served by a process through which competing assignments from their solid line and dotted line accountabilities can be prioritized effectively.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Protection for Business Partners

family business partners owners of a small bookstore by mauricio jordan
family business partners owners of a small bookstore,
a photo by 
mauricio jordan on Flickr.
It can be a very attractive idea to go into business with a partner.  When each partner has something that the other partner needs, a beneficial synergy can develop for the business.  But even with the best of intentions going in, partnerships can run afoul, destroying friendships, families, and the businesses themselves in the process.

A smart partnership prepares for contingencies when they are setting up, recognizing some key areas of risk to the partners, individually or collectively:

  • Unequal financial investment in the business.
  • Intellectual property or skill that is not easy to value financially, but that is essential to the success and sustainability of the business.
  • Financial or other liability, either now or potential.
  • Impact of personal circumstances of the partners on the business.  This includes financial demands, personal credit history, health, child care, aging parent care, upcoming college funding, anticipated years until retirement, etc.
  • Deterioration of the relationship among the partners due to personality conflicts or other challenges.
  • Lack of performance by one of the partners that places undue burden on the other partner(s).
It can become extremely important to have an official partnership agreement executed at the formation of the partnership to lay the foundation for things like:
  • Investment and commitments, financial and otherwise.
  • Definition of roles and scope of authority.
  • Process for decision making, including a tie-breaker in case of a stalemate.
  • Succession and estate planning.
The partnership also benefits from developing a strategic plan to ensure that the partners share and commit to a vision (long term view,) mission (nearer term objectives), critical goal categories and SMART business goals.  The plan should include a budget and marketing plan, and the partners need to verbalize and agree upon the assumptions that they are using in the development of their plan.

If the partnership is within a family group, the partners might be under the impression that their familial ties will help them to work together effectively without having to go through the formalities of an agreement.  It may be true to an extent that their shared background could give them a common view of the world and a compatible vision for the business.  But the emotional baggage that accompanies the business AND the family life outside the business can detract from the partners' overall quality of life if it's not actively managed. The roles of the respective family members might conflict inside and outside of work.  For example, an adult child might be the CEO of the company, although there is a living patriarch in the family who holds the ultimate authority outside the business.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Don't do as I say...

Lead Me by spleenboy
Lead Me, a photo by spleenboy on Flickr.
Last night, about 3 minutes before the voting polls closed, a man and young teenager burst through the doors of the building.  The poll workers had just relaxed after a long day, where local voter turnout in excess of 70% had left them no time to eat, and they appeared to brace themselves slightly for this last transaction of the election.

The father led his son in, saying, "I already voted.  I just want to show him how all of this works."  And with the assistance of the judge of elections, the dad and son made the rounds of the registry books and the computerized voting machines, dad explaining the process.  He said he would have brought his son along when he actually voted, but the son had soccer practice and couldn't come along earlier in the day.

In the lines outside the polls yesterday, many families came with children in tow.  Moms and dads wanted to make the voting process real and familiar to their children, and sought to model one of the key responsibilities of citizenship.  It wasn't enough to watch ads on TV, to talk about the election, or for the kids to participate in mock elections in school.  These parents talked about how they wanted their children to see the real deal, and to witness their parents participating in the process so that some day they would become participants in the electoral process on their own.

The benefit - and the challenge - in being a role model is that they are watching even when you aren't so intentional about the message.  You can talk all day long about what should be done or could be done.  The people who are being guided by you, however, are watching what you do.  Your actions are demonstrating the behavior that you actually think is acceptable, and your behavior trumps your words in value and impact.

What would your family life be like if your children would do as you do?  What would your workplace be like if every employee that reports to you were to model your behavior?  Would you be happy with the results?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The price of privilege

Voting by League of Women Voters of California
a photo by 
League of Women Voters of California on Flickr.
We say to our kids, "If you want a puppy you have to be responsible to feed it and walk it."  We say to our employees, "If you want to qualify for a promotion, you have to demonstrate leadership."

Responsibility precedes privilege.  Leadership of self precedes leadership of others.  Investment precedes dividends.

Participation in the electoral process is a hard-won right, first for people who were not landowners, then for women, then for people of color.  The very foundation of the United States was created because of the governance of the colonies without representation.  In parts of the world people are still dying to have the same voice in government that we have here.

Now there are times when American citizens forget that democracy is not a given.  The right to vote has been taken for granted, such that in many elections fewer than half of eligible voters actually participate in the process.  This is shortsighted.  Our form of government requires participation, or else the rule of the country is given over to the interests of the few rather than the common good.

You can protest by marching with signs, and that might attract attention.  If you cross the line of law it will also get you arrested.  But ultimately the only way to effect real and lasting change is to be a participant in the process.  Be counted in an official way by casting your vote for the leaders of your government.

This election is not too far away from you to matter.  Issues at hand right now will affect the security of your retirement, the health of women, the education of your children, the safety of the young men and women in the military, and the sustainability of the abundant lands on which you live.  Your individual priority and place in the fabric of our society are at stake right now, in the decision making in Washington, D.C. and in your home state government.

Our founding fathers fought for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for you, the citizens who came before and the ones who will follow you.  They didn't guarantee happiness.  And liberty and life are not automatic.  You have to participate to ensure that they are preserved for yourself and your fellow citizens. That's the price of privilege.  Go out and vote.

Friday, November 2, 2012

If you think they are lazy

Colouring for lazy people by sirchutney
Colouring for lazy people,
a photo by 
sirchutney on Flickr.
How are your employees performing?  Are they generally committed, devoted, firing on all cylinders?  Or do you have to check up on them constantly, making sure that they aren't trying to evade their responsibilities?

Numerous studies have connected expectations with performance, in classrooms and in the workplace.  To simplify, your expectations influence your behavior, and your behavior stimulates behavior in the other person or group.  Ultimately, their behavior will fulfill your preset expectations.

This happens for several reasons:

  • You create systems and processes around your assumptions.  If you think the people that work for you are inherently lazy or unmotivated, you will check in on them frequently, looking for completeness of work and an appearance that they are expending a satisfactory level of effort.  You are likely to give a lot of detailed instructions to make sure they are following procedures.  And you are also likely to default to written one-way communication to increase their accountability for the actions and the results you want.  It's all about enforcement.
  • This other person or group is aware of your negative expectations of them, because they are interpreting your compliance-related activities as a lack of trust.  They start to fear making mistakes, because their history with you leads them to believe that they will be called on the carpet (again) and raked over the coals.  Their fear of making mistakes leads them to slow down in their work, to stop trusting themselves and their judgment, so their productivity goes down.
  • Over time, a "why bother?" mindset sets in as they interpret your ongoing enforcement behavior as an indictment of their intentions, not only of mistakes they have made.  Once that defensive, cynical mindset develops in your employees you are more likely to see increases in tardiness, absenteeism, employee turnover, or in extreme cases, other sorts of retribution.
You can't control employee behavior - you can only manage the effectiveness with which you are creating a climate for good performance and employee loyalty.  This means that step one is for you do a candid examination of your assumptions about your employees:
  • Are they smart?
  • Do they care about their jobs and about the company?
  • Can they be trusted?
  • Are they doing the best they can?
  • Do they want to learn and make things better?
If you are seeing performance that consistently measuring up, a truly close look at your expectations may reveal that your employees are indeed fulfilling your real, deeply seated ones.  You may believe deep down that they can't and won't perform unless you hound them into doing it.  If that's the case - that you don't really believe that they can or want to produce well for you and the company - your expectations are the first thing that you need to focus on changing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Turning Maslow upside down

Firefighters/EMTs by «daveB»
a photo by 
«daveB» on Flickr.
When we talk about creating the environment for motivation in the workplace, Maslow's Hierarchy of needs is the go-to model.  The theory behind it is that motivation comes from unfulfilled needs, and that there is a pecking order for needs.  Physiological needs come first, followed by safety and security, then social, then self-esteem, then self-actualization.

Why, then, would some people choose careers like firefighting, law enforcement, or the military, where personal survival is not a foregone conclusion?  They step into harm's way as a matter of course to ensure the safety and survival of other people.  They work long shifts, long past exhaustion.  And they do so without huge financial compensation, sometimes without even a perfunctory thank you from the very people that they helped.

There are individuals in which core values transcend everything, and they turn Maslow's Hierarchy upside down.  Their concept of authenticity and meaning (the highest level need, self-actualization) includes putting themselves and their personal interests aside on behalf of a greater purpose.

When individuals are expected to put their own needs aside to do their jobs day after day, it becomes crucial that they are able to stay connected with a larger purpose.  The connection is more easily tapped in some individuals, who will strive forward because of a completely internal drive to contribute in a selfless manner.  But even for those people, the subordination of basic individual needs on behalf of a greater good can take a toll.  Even when they love what they do, it's hard.

Now for a brief soapbox moment:  it's really important to take opportunities to thank these people for their contributions and their personal sacrifice.  They see people and circumstances at their worst, and they persevere even though their jobs are physically demanding and emotionally wrenching.  To the first responders out there helping people rebound from Hurricane Sandy, thank you.  We are noticing your dedication and we value your contribution to our communities.