I’ll Be Your Huckelberry

During a management meeting, the president said, “I’m not sure we can save the Western Division. Sales continue to decline, employees keep quitting and morale is in the pits.”

Managers sat quietly, fidgeting with their devices and avoiding eye contact. After what seemed like an eternity—probably fifteen or twenty seconds—Albertson spoke up, “I’m your Huckleberry!”

All eyes turned to Albertson. “What did you say?” asked the president.

“I’d like to lead the division,” replied Albertson. “I think we need to replace a couple of people, reduce the number of brands, and improve relationships with our dealers. Give me six months. Then we can reevaluate.”

When you observe a troubled department, consider volunteering to lead the group. But first, make sure you are empowered to replace personnel and improve customer service. If you do these two things, you have a chance of improving performance. Higher management will see great value in you. That’s how legends are made.

Of course, there is a chance you will fail; but if management has already labeled the department “terminal,” you will not likely be stigmatized.

The phrase, “I’ll be you huckleberry,” apparently appeared among the Knights of King Arthur and more recently as a movie line from Doc Holiday to Wyatt Earp. Translation, “I’m the person for the job.”


Four Actions to Consider Before Adding Headcount

We are running forty days behind plan,” complained Jeremy the plant manager. We’ve applied lean manufacturing concepts. We’ve reduced cycle time.  We’ve maxed out overtime.  Our only hope of catching up is to add people.”

“How many?” asked the site manager.

“At least thirty full-time plant workers.”

“How long to catch up after we get the thirty on board?”

“Should be meeting schedule in about four months after all are hired.”

After considerable debate, the site manager reluctantly agreed to add thirty employees. Fast forward six months. The additional wages and benefits spiked labor costs. And the plant is still forty days behind.

An influx of new people almost always challenges quality and safety practices, teamwork suffers, meeting time increases, decisions drag out, disruptive behaviors surface, and customer and vendor coordination requires more time.

Before adding headcount, in small or large segments, consider four actions.

1. Replace inadequate producers who have been given several chances.
2. Remove support personnel who are not critical and replace with operators.
3. Eliminate bureaucratic approval processes that bog down decisions.
4. Evaluate supervisors and replace those who are not effective leaders.

Should you still think you need to add employees, be deliberate and select carefully.


To Get “Buy-In,” Ask People To Do What They Are Capable of Doing

Shortly after Julie Walsh assumed the role of plant manager, she discussed with her front-line supervisors the need to reduce rework.

“During the last three quarters,” Julie announced, “only about fifty percent of our product passes all inspections on the first effort.  I think we need to get this down to ten percent by the end of six months.”

“That’s too much,” responded a supervisor.  “We won’t get buy-in from our employees.”

“How do you suggest we get buy-in?”

“Well, I think we need to discuss these metrics with the employees and get their suggestions on what is realistic.”

“Based on my experiences, with the changes we are implementing, I believe this is realistic.”

“You may think the goal is realistic, but I’m not sure our employees think it is.”

Push back is common when leaders ask employees to step up their performances.  Many leaders respond by asking employees for their opinions.  This usually results in some haggling followed by an eventual compromise and grumbling on all sides.

Leaders, in my view, have a good idea of what their people are capable of achieving.  When leaders’ and employees’ perceptions differ, as they often do; I say leaders should stick with their opinions.

At the end of the period, we may hear from employees, “I didn’t think we could do it.”  From leaders, the winning comment is, “I knew you could.”

How Much Do You Value ‘Effort’ Versus ‘Outcome’?

outcome-effort-17Two managers are discussing which employee they should select as project manager for an engineering team.

One of the managers said, “When complex challenges arise, we always turn to Article.  He consistently gets us focused on the right things.  His mind is exceptional.”

Another manager who supported Marcus said, “True, but Article doesn’t work very hard.  He never misses a break and I think he spends a lot of time on social media.  If anyone comes within ten feet of him, he starts taking—usually about whichever team won last night.”

Marcus’ sponsor continued, “I understand that Marcus does not have Article’s skills, but he makes up for it with perspiration.  It may take Marcus a little longer but he sets the standard for hard work.  I think we need to reward effort.  Look, no one here matches Article’s IQ.”

Both employees are well-liked, respect the team’s core values and are dedicated to the company mission.  It’s just that Article, with God-given talent, achieves specular outcomes with less effort.  Marcus, being blessed with high energy, gets results.  He’s just not the genius talent.

No doubt, most of us would be delighted to have either employee as our leader.  I chose Article.  As much as we value “effort,” it is “outcomes” that determine our success.




What Young Leaders Can Learn from Wild Horses

horse-herd-17Leaders should focus on executing current processes (Make the trains run on time.); and, at the same time, strive for improvements.  (Build a better mousetrap.)

Executing current processes—most leaders do well; making things better—not so much.

A new manager said, “I’ve offered a suggestion here and there.  Usually, I get the response, ‘We’ve already tried that.’  Eventually, I quit trying.”

Horses in the wild, like humans in organizations, exist in groups and both establish rules for membership.  Among horse herds and human groups, the more experienced, smarter, and established members are reluctant to allow lessors to modify the current order.

Occasionally, however, a young ambitious colt will persistently challenge herd order and achieve greater influence.

I recall a CEO of a food franchise saying, “One of our new managers wanted to add a salad bar in his restaurant.  I said ‘Our customers won’t pay for salads.’  The new manager kept pestering me but I wouldn’t relent.”

Eventually, the store manager, acting like an ambitious and persistent young colt, took a risk and installed a salad bar.  Customers flocked to the salad bar—eventually the CEO required all stores to have salad bars.

The take-a-way for young leaders is, “Don’t underestimate the power of persistence!”

Why Leaders Should Seek “Second Opinions”

ball-bat-17“When dealing with complex issues, I look at the analysis and then I go with my gut,” explained al leader.

However, David Kahneman, noted psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science, demonstrated that intuition often produces quick but incorrect decisions.

Here is an example.  A ball and a bat costs $1.10.  The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.  How much does the ball cost?

If you answered 10 cents, you gave an intuitive, typical and INCORRECT response.    If the ball costs 10 cents and the bat one dollar more, the bat would cost $1.10 making the total cost of the ball and bat $1.20 ($.10 for the ball and $1.10 for the bat).

Do not fret too much if you missed this one.  Fifty percent of Harvard, MIT and Princeton students also incorrectly answered “10 cents.”

Intuition may serve leaders well for routine, simple decisions.  However, leaders who rely on intuition when deciding complex, high-risk issues fare about as well as gamblers drawing to inside straights.

To thwart missteps based on intuition, effective decision makers insist on good data.  Further, they seek “second opinions,” from trusted colleagues who have the courage to speak truth to power.

FYI, the answer to the bat and ball riddle is, “5 cents.”  A bat, costing a dollar more, would cost $1.05.  Thus, 5 cents for the ball plus $1.05 for the bat ($1.00 more than the ball) equals the total cost of $1.10.


Leadership is More than the Sum of the Team Members’ Parts

group-vote-16A manager called a meeting of five persons and reported, “A customer has requested that we modify the specifications on an order in process.  We have to decide upon the most efficient way to make the adjustments.”

The manager asked each person for suggestions.  Three options quickly emerged but there was passionate disagreement on which option was best.  Although team members professionally poked and prodded each option at length, they could not get on the same page.

Eventually, the manager said, “How many can support Option A?”  Two people said they could.  Two supported Option B and only one supported Option C.

“OK,” the manager said, “we’ll eliminate Option C.  How many support Option A?”  Two said they could.  Three said that between the two options, they leaned toward Option B.  The manager chose Option B.

The team began executing Option B but quickly became frustrated.  Members fell back to supporting their original suggestions and several said they never believed that Option B was the way to go.

When making complex decisions, I think leaders should listen to suggestions from appropriate people.  But I do not think a majority vote is the way to reconcile differences.  Group votes may lead to options that most can accept.  But acceptance does not necessarily lead to commitment.

Effective leaders make the decision.  If the decision works, the team gets a lot of credit.  If the decision fails, we hold the leader accountable.  That is the way it works.