I believe the greatest responsibility of a leaders is to make their teams better. Jack Welch, the former outstanding CEO of General Electric phrased it this way, “The team with the better players usually wins.”
Whether the arena be sports or a company, there are three major strategies for improving your team.
One, invest heavily in developing current team members. “We are always training and retaining our operators,” a manger told me. “And whenever we get a new tool or discover a better process, we educate members thoroughly.”
Two, consider shifting the roles of some of your team members. A member, who performs marginally in some tasks, may perform well in different tasks.
A manager of a floral shop said, “Soon after I assumed my position, I began getting many customer complaints about one of our employees. I asked the owner, why he had kept the person and he said because she is a genius in floral arrangements. I moved her to the back of the house arranging customer orders and she performed exceptionally well.”
Three, if marginal employees do not respond to training and if there are no other tasks they can perform well, the only remaining option is to replace the marginal employee with a more talented individual.
“Many of your staff members describe you as a perfectionist,” I reported to a manager.
“I know,” he said. “I want one hundred percent of our customers to give us an “outstanding” rating. I want every project delivered on time. I want no errors. And I want one hundred percent attendance.”
“You will never get all of those things.”
“I know. My team does a good job but I want them to be the best. I think by asking for perfection, I actually get more. They know I do not tolerate mistakes or violations.”
Members of the team responded with comments like, “No matter what we do, you can never please him.” “Why should we work through lunch and stay late? He’ll find something wrong anyway.” “Even when we do a good job, he always points to things we could have done better.”
Perfection is a fairy tale. A fact check showed that performance metrics had not improved in two years under this “perfectionist” manager. Morale was quite low and a couple of good-producing younger employees had left the company.
Employees are more engaged and more productive when leaders focus on getting better—not perfect—just improve over the last period.
An engineer said to an employee, “I think it might reduce our assembly issues if you washed the parts in a cleaning solution prior to attaching them. What do you think?”
“It might be worth trying.”
“I’ll get the correct cleaning solution for you; and if you don’t mind, try it for a few cycles and let’s see if it helps.”
“Be glad to.”
In another case, an engineer suggested to an operator, “I’ve made some slight adjustments in the design of these attachments. They are going to work a lot better for you.”
The operator, handling the new attachments like the hot end of a branding iron, clumsily affixed them to the part. The result was a failed inspection. “It doesn’t work,” the operator reported, seemingly pleased about the failure.
Both requests were similar but there was a casual, give-and-take between engineer and employee in the first example. The second was a more direct, authoritative requirement.
When attempting changes, even minor ones, interpersonal relationships between change agents and others frequently trump facts and figures. While title, position, and expertise are important; the ability to rapidly affect changes hinges on the degree of trust and respect earned by the change agent.
According to the Labor Turnover Survey, about 3.5 million employees quit their jobs every month. The average tenure for employees in their workplace is less than five years—longer for older employees, shorter for millennials.
Most job offers look pretty good from a distance but not all turn out to be so. Still, few employees treat a job change like major surgery. As one said, “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just look for another.”
I think the analysis of whether to go or stay boils down to two basic issues—the work itself and the boss.
Concerning the work: Do you like what you are doing? Does your job allow for personal growth? Do you value the mission of your company?
Concerning your boss: Does your manager respect and appreciate you? Is your manager interested in your development? Do your opinions count?
If the answers to these questions are compelling “yes’s,” I suggest that you lean heavily toward staying in your current situation. Still, I understand moving for opportunity. Although I’ve chosen to remain with my current organization for more than forty years, I did change jobs seven times in the first eight years of my career.
When I’ve asked managers how they make important decisions, I get responses like:
“Who can say. We talk about an issue and after a lot of back-and-forth propositions and challenges, an option sometimes emerges.”
“We discuss and discuss. We may not even agree on the problem.”
“It’s like trying to get a pro golfer to explain how he hits a ball so far. We just do it.”
Too often, leaders plunge into discussions that just keep churning and churning until there is a brewing chaos. Amidst doubt and confusion members adjourn without a clear direction. Or worse, members agree to a watered-down option for which there is only lukewarm support.
To avoid endless delays or high-risk moon shots, present an issue and discuss until key players agree on the exact problem. Set a deadline for making the decision. Create a climate that encourages vigorous debate of multiple options. View differing opinions as helpful. Take no votes or polls.
Strive for an option that most all can, at least to some extent, support. If no such option emerges, the leader makes the call. Close by saying, “This is what we are going to do and I need everyone’s commitment.”
Vendor: “There will be about a two-week delay in the delivery of your supplies.”
Customer: “It may be another four weeks before we get our revised specifications to you.”
Project Manager: “We’ll need another three or four weeks to complete the project.”
A print company increased its business dramatically by promising and delivering product with much shorter lead times. A manufacturer of auto accessories doubled its business in three years by shrinking delivery times. A retail outlet increased profits and reduced labor costs by anticipating customer questions and resolving issues in their first communication.
News alert—speed adds value.
Surprisingly to many, it is often possible to be faster and better at the same time. Look to increase speed in multiple ways–shorten meetings, schedule fewer meetings, time agenda items, create deadlines on everything, make the decision (If it does not work, change it.), reduce approval processes, ensure that people have the talent to perform their jobs, time every major task, complete lesser tasks quickly, assume your day ends at noon.
Make it a point to deliver some items ahead of schedule. Money swirls down the drain when projects, decisions and deliveries take too long. Contrary to the fable, fast is better than slow.
“We have a very cohesive team,” a manager commented.
“How do you determine that?” I asked.
“Members respect each other and get along really well. I think it is because I seek consensus when making tough decisions.”
I had a chance to visit with some of the members of this manager’s team and got differing opinions.
“He calls a meeting,” said one member. “Two team members are pretty vocal. They offer opinions and most everyone else just goes along.”
Another member commented, “I did offer a different view at one meeting but no one responded. The conversation continued as if I had never said anything.”
Still another, “We are all very polite and friendly and we tend to go along with whatever the talkers want. But I don’t think the team is really committed.”
Managers who strive for consensus decisions often send signals that conflict is undesirable. But in reality, team members will have differing ideas about almost any issue.
Effective leaders understand that “disagreement” is the natural order of teams. They strive for passionate debates among members and then select the option that best serves the mission. If disagreeing members have a meaningful voice, they can still support the decision.