Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice!


At a crucial point in the game, the coach yelled, “Take care of the ball!  We’ve had two fumbles already.  We don’t need another one.”  All players focus on “don’t fumble” and too often there is a fumble or another mistake.

Managers see repeated mistakes as something akin to the pneumonic plague and admonish the team with, “We are supposed to learn from our mistakes–not keep making them!”

To reduce repeated mistakes, consider three approaches.

One, shine the spotlight brightly on successes, no matter how small.  Start catching employees doing things right.  Cheer all improvements.  Managers who focus strongly on mistakes, like coaches who prioritize fumble avoidance, create tense environments which actually contribute to error-making.

Two, require checklists whenever appropriate.  Pilots who have successfully performed hundreds of take-offs and landings still complete checklists.  Why?  Checklists are proven devices for reducing mistakes.

Three, consider removing an employee from a task if, after training and experience, the employee continues making dumb mistakes.  All tasks, no matter how simple, require some degree of talent to be performed well.  Remember Shaquille O’Neil, after untold hours of practice, could not improve his free-throw shooting.

Relentless, Stoic Leaders Win the Day


“To be a good leader,” lectured a university professor, “you have to build up morale, appreciate what others do, pat’em on the back, show them that you care.  Take care of your people; they will take care of you.”

A hardened, construction superintendent addressed his team.   “All of you need to know that I expect you to work hard every day.  We will stay on schedule and we will follow all safety processes.  I’m not here to win a popularity contest.  I’m here to get the job done.  If you accept that, we will get along fine.”

Who’s right?  The polished college professor or the crusty, construction leader?

“It depends on the situation,” you say?  In some cases, fun-loving, pat-them-on-the back cheerleaders win the day.  In other cases, the no nonsense, get’er-done drill sergeant fills the bill.

Some argue that the really good leaders toggle back and forth between people-pleasers and task-oriented grinders.

Personally, I think Sam Walker, in his book “The Captain Class:  A New Theory of Leadership,” has a better answer.  Great leaders are relentless (They do not quit.), and they exhibit ironclad emotional control (Don’t get too high; don’t get too low).  Most other traits are inconsequential.

Increase Your Influence by Becoming More Likeable


(Part 3 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

“Harriet gets others to cooperate on projects when no one else can,” commented a peer.

“It’s true,” said another.  “Peers, employees in other departments and even customers and vendors go out of their way to help her.”

“Everyone likes Harriet.”

When asked why Harriet had so much influence, acquaintances responded:

“She is very understanding and always takes an interest in what you are doing.”

“She is a genuine person.  What you see is what you get.”

“She does not draw attention to herself, but she is very confident in her abilities.”

“Harriet is open-minded and good-natured.”

“Harriet is calm and consistent; never seems to get ruffled.”

In other words, Harriet is a person that is easy to like and likeable people are more influential.  When given a choice of helping a repugnant person with a high-value request and a likeable person with a less-valued request, almost two-thirds of employees prioritize the “likeable” request over the “repugnant.”

To increase your influence, behave in ways that are more winsome.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Discuss common interests.  Offer support.  Acknowledge others.  Be quick to give credit. Be a good neighbor.

But always remember, these behaviors make you more attractive only if they are genuine.

 

Act as a Catalyst to Motivate Others


“I work hard to motivate my employees,” lamented a manager. “I pay them well, they are trained, and I express my appreciation frequently.”

The manager continued, “I expend a lot of energy pounding the pavement in search of fresh motivational events. We do holiday events, celebration parties, landmark events, hams for the holidays, and end-of-the-year awards.”

Perhaps there is an easier way. Researchers Buckingham and Coffman suggest that managers think “catalyst” as a way to create “ooh” and “ah” performances. From your basic chemistry class, you recall a catalyst is a substance that speeds chemical reactions in other agents.

Actions of catalyst leaders might include asking for opinions, listening, encouraging, energizing, removing obstacles, and ensuring that employees have the tools they need.

Of course, training, recognition and financial rewards are important. However, these tools are ineffective for employees who lack the talent and drive to perform.

Try rolling the cosmetic dice. Find people who want to do what you need and clear the path for them to proceed. As one manager said to a recruit, “If you are looking to me to motivate you, you are probably not the hire I’m looking for.”

Employee Motivation is Not Rocket Science


When asked to identify his strength as a leader, Steve responded, “I’m a motivator.”

“How do you motivate your team?” I asked.

“I encourage my employees to push themselves.  I tell them how important their jobs are. I applaud their efforts. I’m always trying to build them up.”

“How is that working for you?”

“I think it works pretty well.  Not everyone responds the way I would like but I keep encouraging them.  I think most appreciate my efforts.”

Employees said they liked working for Steve.  They described him as “helpful,” “energetic,” and “caring.”

I applaud the efforts of leaders like Steve, and I’m confident that most employees would appreciate working for him.  However, I think a highly motivated work team also requires two additional ingredients.

One, employees’ motors need to be running when they come to work.  It is near impossible to kick-start a low-energy employee into spirited performance.

Second, employees’ must have the natural talents and acquired skills to perform the tasks well.  Long-term commitment to a job requires earned pride that comes only from doing something well.

When these two elements are present, Steve’s methods work great.  If one or both are missing, Steve’s well-meaning approach will likely whiff on motivation.

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 5 of 5

Helen, age 64, has been with the organization 33 years.  For most of those years, Helen’s performance was exceptional. “She lived and breathed the organization,” is the way a previous boss described her.

Helen has recently experienced serious family problems that have affected her health to the point that she is unable to adequately perform her job.  Helen says that she wants to work 10 more months and retire at 65.

The president said, “I’m in a dilemma, I feel sorry for Helen and I’m very grateful for what she has done for us.  Still, I’m not in a position to hire another person.  If Helen stays, others will have to take some of her work.”

“Could Helen take an early retirement?” I asked.

The president reported that he had suggested early retirement but Helen said that she would like to stay on until sixty-five if she could.

I say tell Helen and anyone else that you absolutely will honor her request.  Helen’s thirty-plus years of loyalty and productivity are surely enough to earn her another ten months.

When others complain about having to do part of Helen’s work, listen with empathy.  Smile and say, “I understand and I really appreciate what you are doing to help us out here.”

 

Avoid an “It’s your turn” Justification for Decisions


Jacqueline cheerfully announced to her team, “Because we’ve had a great year, the company will pay all expenses for me and one of you to attend our national meeting in Orlando.”

After an awkward silence, Helena said, “I’ll go.”  Since Helena was an excellent performer who was respected by all, many nodded their agreement.

After returning from the meeting, Helena held informal luncheons and briefed team members on what she had learned.  Everyone benefited.

The next year, the company offered the same perk.  Jacqueline announced the decision to her team; and after a brief silence, Helena offered, “I don’t mind going again.”

“Thank you for volunteering,” Jacqueline responded.  “The meetings are informative and fun.  Perhaps we should send someone else this time.  Stanford, wouldn’t you like to go to San Diego?”

“Sure,” he replied.

The perk continued as an annual event.  In Year Seven, although he was a marginal performer with a whiney attitude, the department sent Randell.  Why?  Because it was Randell’s turn.

I see too many managers use an “it’s your turn” justification to allocate schedules, trips, accounts, projects, equipment and the like.  While the motive is to be fair, the result is:  stars are overlooked while marginal producers receive unearned rewards.