About geraldgraham

Professor, author and management consultant.

Coaching Tone May Make A Difference


Elsie admitted that she had a tendency to procrastinate and get distracted. Her manager said, “Elsie, I expect you to verify all invoices, complete payments on time and enter data into the computer accurately.  Otherwise, there could be consequences.”

Elsie improved for about four weeks, then she drifted into carelessness—making mistakes and missing deadlines.

The manager said, “I like Elise but I get frustrated because I have to spend too much time micromanaging her.”

Eventually, Elise’s manager was transferred. Her new manager commented, “After observing Elsie’s performance for a couple of weeks, I sat down with her and in a friendly way worked out checklists and deadlines for completing her tasks.  At least weekly, I reviewed with Elsie her work.

The manager “thanked” Elsie for even her slightest improvements and patiently noted mistakes.  Elsie quickly apologized and immediately corrected the errors.

After about four months, Elsie’s performance, while not perfect, became much more reliable.  “Eventually,” her manager said, “I got acceptable performance from Elsie by asking her to give me weekly updates on her metrics.”

Elsie said, “My first manager made me very nervous.  I knew he didn’t like me, but I really like my current manager.  I don’t want to disappoint her.”

 

 

When Placed in Command, Take Charge


Ellis, a newly-appointed supervisor joked to his group, “Well, I guess they couldn’t find anyone else to take the job.  I’ve worked alongside you for three years.  You know what to do.”

In another division, Janice was also promoted from her group to be the supervisor.  On her first day, she held a meeting and laid out her expectations.

“My top priorities are: (1) we meet our quality metric 100% of the time, (2) meet 98% of all deadlines, (2) improve customer satisfaction scores by 15%, and comply with all attendance and safety policies.”

Performance in Ellis’ group actually declined.  One employee said, “Some just waited to be told what to do; others more or less plodded along with half-hearted efforts.”

By contrast, one of Janice’s employees reported.  “We all knew what she expected and we stayed focused.  Both performance and morale soared.”

As the late General Schwarzkopf said, “When placed in command, take charge.”

This does not mean that you know everything, refuse to listen, rule by fear or turn into a dictator.  It does mean that you should have a plan, be clear, stay humble, listen and act like a leader—a good one.

All Employees Are the Same; All Are Different


Eric’s manager said to me, “Eric will not take initiative. He knows his job but does only what I tell him to do.”

“What have you tried?” I asked.

“I’ve told him to do what he thinks needs to be done and don’t wait around for me to give him an assignment. He wasn’t responsive, so I started giving him detailed checklists.”

“How did that work?”

“Not so well.  Eric made a half-hearted effort to do a few things but mostly he just conjured up excuses.”

Effective leaders are attentive to each employees’ uniqueness.  Some like detailed instructions, some like broad guidance.   Some like public praise but public attention embarrasses others.  Pressure motivates some people to rise to the occasion, others buckle.

If your current way of dealing with an employee is not producing the desired results, then change your methods.

Since micromanaging did not work with Eric, maybe the leader could try giving him specific outcomes with deadlines and a lot of freedom in performing his tasks.

Of course, if a leader tries several ways to motivate an employee and none seem to work, it is likely that the employee just does not have the talent or commitment to perform.

Tell Employees Now or Wait?


Maybe Yes No Red Dice Representing Uncertainty And Decisions

“I’ve just reviewed our recent performance data, and we may need to change some work assignments,” the vice president reported in his Monday morning management meeting.  “But I want you to keep this in the room for now.  I’ll know more in a couple of weeks.  We can communicate the changes at that time.”

Although the vice president’s decision represents a typical approach, the result is usually exaggerated rumors and fear.

In most employee surveys, among the highest ranked items is, “the need to know about changes that impact me.”

“I believe in quickly communicating changes,” a manager said to me.  “But I don’t want employees worrying about things until we know for sure what we are doing.”

Employees are great at reading the tea leaves.  They notice whether orders have ticked up or down, and whether their managers spend more or less time in meetings, on the phone or traveling.  Many employees have contact with customers, vendors, information technology staff, regulators and truck drivers; all of which are information sources.

I say it is far better to err on the side of communicating too much too soon.  Employees will have greater confidence in leaders and the rumor mill will be less active.

 

The Participative Planning Illusion


(Part 2 of 2 Parts)

After assuming his CEO role, Harris’s message to employees was, “I believe we have a lot of opportunities for bringing on new products and improving our promotions.”  Harris further explained that he had scheduled a retreat with his seven direct reports to firm up a strategic plan.

Prior to the retreat, Harris and his team researched industry trends, competitors’ strategies, and the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses.

During the retreat Harris unfolded his vision of investing heavily in product development and changing promotions to rely more on social media and celebrity sponsors.

After vigorous and extensive debates, team members enthusiastically agreed that they emerged from the retreat with sound plans for improving products and promotions.

Following the retreat, Harris and his team presented goals, timetables and metrics to all operating managers.  After making a few modifications based on managers’ suggestions, all divisions understood and readily accepted their responsibilities.

The antidote to the illusion of participative planning is for the leader to initiate a clear vision and strategies.  Of course, the leader should encourage suggestions and accept improvements.   Also, particular departments should have some latitude in how they execute their contributions to the plan.

 

The Participative Planning Illusion


(Part 1 of 2 parts)

“I believe in participative planning,” the new CEO announced.  “I’m asking all departments to submit their views on our mission, goals and strategies.”

The CEO organized an oversight committee to guide the process.  Over the next few weeks, employees throughout the company met and debated their future.  “Our challenge,” said one team leader, “is to focus on something we can agree upon.”

As a deadline approached, teams scripted mission and goal statements.  However, most teams focused on their particular interests; and as you might imagine, there was little coordination among the different functions.

As the next deadline beckoned, to finalize a plan they could agree upon, the oversight committee converted most suggestions into abstract statements, such as: “Our vision is to be the best at what we do.” “Our goal is to deliver high quality service.” “We want to expand.”

While employees were engaged in their planning frenzy, the CEO opened a new division, successfully introduced new services, and redefined dealer relationships. None of these ideas surfaced via the participative planning process.

Participative planning is an illusion.  Neither cars, smart phones, airplanes nor most other great ideas emerged from planning groups.  To think you can convert the suggestions of hundreds of employees into a coherent plan is simply unrealistic.

 

 

Learn to Embrace Change


I recently asked an acquaintance, “How are you doing?”

“I am in a state of complete confusion,” he replied.  “In just the last six months, we have opened a new territory, restructured my division, upgraded our computer system, and my long-time assistant has retired.  I’ll be so glad when things get back to normal.”

The irony of my acquaintance’s statement, of course, is that his condition is pretty normal.

Changes in the workplace are so prevalent that they should not cause surprise.  As one manager said, “We don’t have programs on overcoming resistance to change; we just assume that managing and adjusting to changes are an understood part of the job.”

Should you feel blown about by the turbulence of continuous change, look for ways to make your job easier.

If the change is legal and ethical, support it. It is not necessary for you to like the change; and it is likely that some employees will resist—no matter what.  Don’t spend all of your time explaining the benefits.  Everyone already knows what they are—to make things better, faster and cheaper.

Do try to remove as many “unknowns” as you can and enjoy the ride.  Your team will embrace the changes more quickly and with less stress.