Do Your Staff Members Know Your Preferences?

Two employees were discussing their new manager and one said, “He sure takes a long time to respond.”

The other said, “Really?  I got a quick response from him.”

“How did you do it?”

“I just emailed him and he responded in a few minutes.”

“Well, I called and left a voice message.  It was two days before I got a reply.”

News flash:  managers have unique peculiarities about how they prefer to interact with staff.  This manager obviously preferred email and text to the phone.   Most employees eventually learn to read their managers, but why should they have to play detective to ferret out their leader’s idiosyncrasies?

Are you comfortable with staff drop-ins or would you prefer appointments?

When staff reports, do you want a lot of details or would you prefer just the headlines?

When an unexpected challenge erupts, do you want staff to simply report or offer options for dealing with the issue?

Do you like to wander around the premises or do you homestead your work place?

Do you like data to back up suggestions or will opinions suffice?

Most staff can respond to a wide variety of leader behaviors, but they can do so more effectively when the leader clearly lays them out.



Do You Value Politeness More than Truth?

Adonai was feeling badly.  “I felt good about my proposal,” she said.  “I had worked really hard on it.  There were a few questions, but I got the impression the team supported my recommendations.”

Adonai commented that, although six weeks had passed, she still did not have an official go-ahead for her project.  “The team leader,” she said, “keeps giving me excuses for delaying approval.”

When I asked the team leader about Adonai’s proposal, he responded, “Some members thought it was pretty weak.”

“Were they critical of her presentation?”

“Not really.  Several told me later that they thought the proposal was flawed.”

“Why didn’t they tell her in the meeting?”

“Adonai is new.  Everyone likes her.  I don’t think they wanted to embarrass her.”

Dr. Harvey, in his Abilene Paradox Concept, explains that team members frequently avoid expressing their true thoughts during meetings.  Peers are reluctant to shoot-down another’s blue ribbon idea.  Some say it shows disrespect.  Others believe they are the only ones who were unimpressed.  Some just don’t like conflict.

In effective teams, members raucously challenge each other.  Questions, what if’s and alternate options spontaneously erupt.  Communication transparency clarifies ideas, spots weaknesses and builds commitment to the ultimate decision.



Learn from Failures While Avoiding Disaster

Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, often spoke of his many failures.  When giving a talk to sixth-grade students, I paraphrased Edison’s message as, “For every success in the laboratory, I had ninety-nine failures.”  Then I asked, “What is the significance of that remark?”

One youngster promptly replied, “It shows what he might have been able to do if he hadn’t been so dumb.”   He had already learned that failure was a bad thing.

Yet, most great successes were preceded by many failures.  Henry Ford (The Ford Motor Company) was broke five times.  R. H. Macy (Macy’s Department Store) failed seven times.

Michael Jordan, the basketball icon, who was once cut from his high-school team said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  That’s why I succeed.”

Successful leaders do avoid annihilation such as experienced by Sears, Eastman Kodak, Studebaker and so on.

Author, Sam Walker, believes veteran leaders rarely fail dramatically simply because they have failed before.  They have learned to avoid the fatal error.

The challenge is to find the sweet spot between failures that lead to growth and those that take you out of the game.  When taking on a perilous assignment, for which you have little experience, seek counsel from those who have been there.



Good Teams Respect Members’ Unique Ways

After returning from a lean manufacturing workshop, Alfredo decided to standardize the office layout and work flow of his ten direct reports.

Alfredo said, “I designed a plan for each office including such things as location of the computer and mouse, chairs, working papers, storage of manual files and the like.”

Alfredo did the same for the conference room; he even laid down markers for the computer and laptop placements.

An employee said, “Yes, he did that and more.  Alfredo developed an inspection sheet and periodically checked to see if we were in compliance.  That’s not all.  In meetings, Alfredo projected a spreadsheet onto the screen with our names and scores.”

“I thought this would make us more efficient,” Alfredo said.

One employee said, “I’ didn’t mind it.  I always kept a clean desk and had a space for everything.”

Another differed, “I felt fenced in.   My work space may look like an anthropology dig but I know where everything is.  A rigidly, ordered work space distracts me.”

As you might guess, Alfredo’s utopian fantasy produced resistance and frustration.  Even worse, efficiency and teamwork plummeted.

The take-away:  whenever possible, allow individuals freedom in how they work.



Why You Should Write Down Team Objectives

Great leaders reach their annual goals, meet or surpass quarterly objectives and insist on hitting weekly metrics.

Teams that show up and work hard will achieve a lot.  Teams that strive for specific objectives (outcomes) achieve more.

Yet, when I ask managers and employees to list the top three objectives for their teams, surprises bubble up.  I combine the individual lists and the result looks like a hundred-car pile-up.  Items fight with each other, general (often meaningless) statements emerge from the deep, and important outcomes disappear into the mist.  Literally no one agrees on the priorities.

Confusion abounds in spite of the fact that companies have systems for identifying, communicating and tracking objectives.

If you want to send a bat signal to your team, write down three objectives you want the team to achieve by quarter end.  List three measurable targets for each objective.  Communicate this list to your boss and employees.  Monthly, attach a symbol (green, yellow, red) to each objective to signal how the team is doing.  Discuss progress, or lack of, briefly in regular meetings.

To galvanize a team, members most know what defines success and they must receive timely feedback (scores) on how well, or poorly, they are doing.

Is It Important to Measure It?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

“The important stuff can’t be measured.”

These two opposing dogmas seep into management thinking.  I often ask workshop participants, “Are you working on things you cannot measure?”  Twenty percent of participants answer, “Yes.”

I ask for examples and get responses like “customer service,” “improvement projects,” and “employee morale.”  I counter that we have measures for all of those.  Take customer service.    How about customer retention?  Referrals?  Surveys? Average purchases?

For improvement projects, after a project is implemented, try comparing costs, completion time, error rate and the like to the period prior to the improvement.  We have long used absentee rates, turnover, and surveys as indicators of employee morale.

Participants sometimes say, “The measurement is subjective.”

I say, “So what?  It is still a measure.”

I side with, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  The numbers become your score card.  If the numbers spike downward, everyone knows they have to do something differently.  Upward trends yell out, “Keep doing what you are doing.”

Should an employee say, “You are just interested in hitting your numbers.”  My response would be, “That’s right.  Now we understand each other.”  Look, if we can measure Olympic figure skating to four decimal places, we can measure anything.

Short-Term Versus Long-Term Goals?

A manager said, “I take the long view.  We drive toward goals three to five years in the future.  Annually, we adjust and revise as needed.”

Another manager responded, “I have a general idea of a long-term vision, but I try to avoid getting ahead of my skis.  I pick the three to five most important things we need to accomplish next quarter.”

Personally, I side with the short-term view.  I understand that top-level leaders may dream of exotic future visions.  I’m also aware that most of these visions do not materialize.  And many dramatic developments (internet) were neither predicted nor planned for.

I say apply the effort toward reaching three-month goals such as:  shipping on time, ensuring supplies arrive, improving customer service, controlling costs, and the like.  Each department should have no more than three to five targets.

It is important to track daily, weekly and monthly progress with easy-to-understand metrics.  If the needle falls south of a metric target, the team can quickly adjust.

At the end of the quarter, all members know the score.  Leaders should also have clear insights about which goals to continue, add or drop.