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.

 

Are You Teaching Your Employees to Fad Surf?


Prior to an all-hands meeting, an employee commented sarcastically to a peer, “What’s it going to be this time?”

“Whatever it is,” the peer responded, “the vice president will assure us that it will improve sales, cut costs and cure cancer.”

Rumors of a new program launch had been racing through departments like a grass fire in a wind storm.

Perhaps the employees should not have been so skeptical.  But they clearly remembered several previous aborted improvement efforts.

“Higher-ups” often are not fully aware of the extra work burden created by the latest catholicon.    And when managers are prone to latch on to the new “whatever,” employees quickly engage in what Professor Robert Sutton calls “fad surfing.”  That is, employees make minimum commitments to show cooperation but do not engage enough to ensure eye-popping success.

Program failures prompt managers to search for the next lever; starting a cycle of: (1) roll out a new program with great fanfare, (2) experience disappointing results, (3) regroup and center on another, even better, remedy.

When a new program flounders, management should not be so quick to search for lightening in another bottle.  A refocus on the fundamentals—hiring, training, supervision, recognition—might be the better cure.

 

Accept This Fact: Career Success is Very Dependent Upon Your Boss


Which is more accurate?

  1. My boss is more dependent on me.
  2. I am more dependent on my boss.

About seventy percent of participants in my workshops say, “My boss depends more on me than I do on him (her).”  This view, I think, may over state the role of the subordinate in the relationship.

Of course, higher-level managers depend on subordinates to fulfill their responsibilities.  And bosses, in some cases, may not even be able to perform their subordinates’ tasks.  Still, the boss has a lot of influence—much more than most of us would like to think.

Recall a time when you worked for a bad boss.  No doubt, you experienced a lot of frustration.  Compare that to an experience with a good boss.  Job satisfaction and career success are much more likely when working for good bosses.  Face it, you are very dependent upon your boss for a good work life.

Good bosses mentor and help staff members grow.  Bad bosses stress and frustrate all.  When considering a position, be sure to evaluate the boss carefully.  If you are frustrated at work, the boss still gets a pay check; you may get an ulcer.

The Five Toughest Personnel Issues


Part 2 of 5

Alfredo’s manager described Alfredo as, “a likable, high-performing employee who gets along well with others.  He has been with us about eight months.”

The manager continued to say that Alfredo had been traveling a lot lately and the office manager became suspicious of his expense reports.  Taxi fares seemed too high and some restaurant tickets included more people than necessary.

The manager confronted Alfredo about his expense reports and he responded, “I probably did inflate some of my expenses a bit.  My previous company seemed OK with that.  But I know it is wrong.  I won’t do it again.”

About thirty percent of participants in my workshops say they would give Alfredo a warning and watch him closely.  He is a good producer and a good team member.

But about two thirds say that falsification of records justifies termination.  Alfredo did admit his discretion but only after he was caught.  This is a character issue.  It is probably not the first time and will not likely be the last.

While some managers tend to overlook such practices, especially for high producers, I side with the two-thirds who argue that it is a character issue and grounds for termination.

 

Eat the Live Frog First


Ascham admitted, “As I was driving to work, I knew I needed to talk to Reginald.  He has an ego as big as the parking lot.”

Reginald, an employee with excellent work skills, sometimes produced excellent work– sometimes not.   Last week, Reginald disappointed his team with a sloppy analysis on a critical issue.  When questioned, Reginald became defensive, blamed others and stated, “I don’t think this is important anyway.”

Ascham said, “When I arrived at work, Reginald was on my mind; but I decided to respond to a couple of emails.  It took longer than I intended.  Then I got a call from the vice-president asking for a status update.”

Mid-day approached and Ascham had still not contacted Reginald.  “I intended to stop by after lunch but decided to go back to my office and update a couple of proposals,” Ascham said.

Just prior to leaving work, Ascham finally stopped by and had the awkward conversation with Reginald.  “If I had taken care of this first,” Ascham said, “I would not have worried about it all day.”

Mark Twain said that if the first thing you do each day is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that this is probably the worst thing that will happen to you.

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.

 

In God We Trust; All Others Bring Data


(Quote from the late W. Edwards Deming)

“I know that is your opinion,” stated a manager, “but where are your data?”

“I don’t trust the data,” responded the specialist.  “I rely on my gut-feelings.”

In the era of big data, analytics and algorithms, how important are your instincts?  Back in the day, Ford Motor Company’s Edsel model was probably the most researched automobile of the time.  Still, the product was a colossal failure.  You might say big data failed.

A recent Fortune Knowledge Group study reveals that six in ten executives rely on gut feel and soft factors when making big decisions.

Recently, Google quickly and accurately predicted the spread of flu by tracking people’s online searches.  Soon, Amazon will send you products before you order them because they will be able to predict what you want.

Do you want your doctor to rely on years of schooling and experience?  Or, would you prefer a computer-generated diagnosis based on a hundred million cases?

Of course, effective decision makers will continue to use both data and instinct.  But I suggest that decisions improve as we rely more on data and less on gut-feel.

I’m reminded of the Dilbert comic strip quote, “Where do you stick your head when you listen to your gut?”