More Structure or More Freedom?


“I believe in empowering my employees,” a manager said to me.

“What do you mean by ‘empowering’?”

“They know what we need to do.  I let them to do their thing. If they have questions, they know how to contact me.”

Another manager, taking a different approach, remarked, “I like to tell my team how I want tasks performed.  I use checklists, status reports, and deadlines as tools.”

“Do your people complain about micromanagement?”

“Not really, if they have suggestions they tell me and I listen.  I think they like to know what I expect.”

Recent management trends are clearly in the direction of the empowering, employee-freedom model.  Some companies even allow employees time to work on items of interest outside of their job responsibilities.

However, seventy-three percent of my workshop participants say that their organizations would benefit from more—not less—structure.  Suggestions for increasing structure include:  performance tracking, standardized processes and consistent application of policies.

High-performing employees tell me they like managers who tell them how they want things done and also listen to their suggestions for doing things differently.  Perhaps the key is to be both clear about what you want and open to employees’ ideas.

 

 

Employee Retention: Promotion versus Respect


“With such a strong economy, it is getting harder for us to retain our good employees,” a manager said to me.  “It’s especially hard to keep younger talent.”

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We are developing promotional paths for the people that we really want to keep.  We also try to keep our wages competitive.”

“Have you looked at your front-line managers?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do they relate to employees?  Do your managers treat employees respectfully?  Take a personal interest in them?  Seek their suggestions occasionally?  Show their appreciation?”

About two-thirds of the participants in our management workshops, when given a choice, say that opportunities for promotion are more important than employee-manager relationships.

However, research clearly tells us that the number one reason good employees quit is because they did not respect their managers.  It is true that many employees do get a pay increase when joining another company.

But as an employee said, “I did increase my pay but I just got fed up with my supervisor.  You could never please him and he had his favorites.”

Managers who develop professional relationships with their employees have much better retention records.

 

Leaders Show Up and Speak Up


In describing his approach to problem-solving discussions, Felix said, “I like to sit back and listen to what others are thinking.”

“Not me,” countered Marilyn.  “I get my ideas on the table first and then I encourage others to challenge my views.  The give-and-take helps me clarify, and often improve, my suggestions.”

“Aren’t you afraid you will suppress others’ thoughts by speaking so quickly?” asked Flex.

Marilyn answered, “No.  I encourage others to chime in.  In short order, we get our adrenaline flowing with rapid-fire comments and counter points.  We get more creative suggestions.”

“I see it differently,” Felix said.  “I’m very cautious about putting forth suggestions.  I want my team to own the solution.  I don’t get that if I talk too much.”

Most of us can recall verbal colleagues who express views on everything–including topics they know nothing about.  These people do lose influence because they eventually expose their lack of preparation.

Still, leaders do talk more than most during meetings.  Managers overlook some very capable people because they are reluctant to express their opinions.  To increase your influence and your value to your company, prepare well for your next meeting then show up and speak up.

 

What Makes a Good Coach?


Below are comments from employees in two different departments.

“Our manager, Gardner, is patient and always gives you a second chance.”

“He takes as much time as you need to help you work through things.”

“When we fall short, Gardner recognizes our challenges and encourages us.”

“Gardner is always there for you.  You can count on his support.”

Employees from the other department shook their heads and chimed in:

“Well, you know where you stand with Jasper but he is not too patient.”

“Jasper will show you how to do things and then he expects you to do them.”

“When Jasper praises you, you know you have earned it.”

“Jasper does not hold grudges, but if you violate policy you can expect a write-up.”

Good coaching, I think, is about achieving goals.  Good coaches set specific expectations.  They train and support their employees.  When employees falter, good coaches are quick to help but their interventions are usually brief and to the point.  While effective coaches relate well to their employees, they enforce the rules consistently and fairly.

Gardner, who is popular, may not get the most out of his team.  By contrast, Jasper is likely do what he has to do to get results.

 

 

Is It Better to “Think” or “Act” When Problems Arise?


Adrian and Stephanie approach problems differently.

“First, I like to determine the root cause of the problem,” Adrian said.  “Then, I like to brainstorm alternatives, evaluate them and make a plan. During execution, I may adjust the plan.”

Stephanie said, “When a process erupts, I quickly put a patch on it.  If my first impulse fails, I try something else.  I just continue experimenting until a solution finds me.”

Adrian, by moving logically from one stage to the next, exercises linear thinking.   Stephanie’s approach is less logical and more iterative.  Which is better?

Tom Wujec gave many groups an assignment to build a tower out of spaghetti and tape to support a marshmallow.

Not surprisingly, the best performing teams in Wujec’s experiments were architects and engineers.  However, kindergartners consistently outperformed business school students.

Business students, relying on linear thinking, spent a lot of time methodically planning and assigning team member responsibilities.  When the plan failed during execution, they went back to the drawing board to regroup and revise.

Kindergartners simply began trying different actions without planning (an iterative approach). When an action failed, they quickly tried another.  Their “try it and fix it” approach produced a better product in less time.

 

Lead or Sell Ice Cream?


“Leadership is not as glamorous as it appears,” said a frustrated Vinh.

After six years as a very productive and popular employee, management promoted Vinh to lead his department.  Employees were very pleased because they liked him.

Several weeks after Vinh’s promotion, some external surprises shocked the company. A new competitor, with state-of-the art service, invaded Vinh’s territory.  An unexpected governmental regulation choked some formerly, seamless processes.   To cope, Vinh asked his team to adjust.

“Some of my former friends got mad at me,” Vinh recalled.  “I explained to them why we had to change but they could not understand.  My friends shunned me.  The work environment seemed hostile.  I dreaded my job.”

Apple founder, Steve Jobs, once said if you want to be a leader and win, you must give up the right to be liked.  Winning leaders have to make tough decisions.  Even though a team may eventually be better off because of a leader’s decision–no matter, someone will always be unhappy.

Normal people leading normal lives can seek both comfort and popularity.  Leaders must give up both and strive to win.  As Jobs said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader; sell ice cream.

 

 

Terminate or Tolerate?


A manager said to me, ““I assumed leadership of a department of sixteen people about three months ago.  Most are reliable performers.  A few are really good and one is marginal at best.”

“Would your team be better off if the marginal employee were gone?” I asked.

“No question, much better off.”

“Then why don’t you work with your human resources’ manager to professionally remove the employee?”

“The employee is sixty three years old.  He was one of the first persons hired almost twenty years ago when the department was formed.  There is scant chance of removing him.”

“Have you tried training and coaching?”

“He’s not really interested in getting better.  I think he’s just holding on for a couple of years until he retires.”

When dealing with a persistent, low performer whom you cannot terminate, I think you just have to learn to tolerate the employee.

Be respectful of the low performer as a person, but do not waste time attempting to train, motivate, encourage, or improve the person’s attitude.  Minimize disruptions as much as possible.  Find work-arounds when you have to.  Understand that you may have to check more often than you would like.   Quit worrying about it.