There is a Yin and a Yang to Most Decisions

“I think absenteeism is getting to be a problem in our division,” a divisional manager explained.

A supervisor responded, “I’ve probably been a little lax enforcing discipline in my group.  It’s just so hard to hire people in this environment.”

Another supervisor agreed, “I’m sure I’ve allowed some of my people to come in late too often, but I don’t want them to quit.”

Most leadership decisions do not burn cleanly.  They have a “yin” and a “yang.”  The benefit of one option becomes a draw-back to another option and vice versa.

Even after making a decision, a leader may still be unsure as in, “Did I do the right thing?”  Here is a test—not perfect by any means—to help determine if you made a good decision:

  1. Did the decision improve overall team performance?
  2. Did the decision improve team morale?
  3. After implementation, did you feel an inner peace?

Should you get a strong “no” to any of these questions, perhaps you should consider options for fixing the decision.  Often, it is better to make a decision than to postpone it.  If the decision sends performance south, make other adjustments.


My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements

businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”


Continuous Coaching on Employees’ Weaknesses Frustrates Everyone

Max, a new supervisor, said to Jamison, a well-trained and experienced employee, “Your work is good but the metrics show that it takes you too long to complete your tasks.”

“I like to be very careful,” replied Jamison.  “I don’t release my work until I know it is right.”

“I appreciate that but I don’t think you need to spend time verifying information that has already been double-checked and approved.”

“I just like to see for myself.  I don’t always trust what I get.”

“Sometimes I see you completely redoing a task that is already in compliance with customer specs.”

“I want to make sure that customers get my best work.”

Becoming irritated, Max said, “You are making it hard for others to complete their tasks on schedule.”

“They should concentrate on their work and not worry about me,” replied Jamison.

The more leaders focus on fixing employees’ weaknesses, the more frustrated everyone becomes.

According to Gallup Surveys, continuous coaching on employees’ weaknesses creates frustration, anger, de-motivation and resentment.   After employees have had sufficient training, if their overall work is acceptable, it may be better to realize that not all will be superstars.


How to Respond When Squeezed Between Boss and Employee Requests

Top managers, in different organizations, discussed sensitive issues–combining departments, potential layoffs, prospective mergers–with their direct reports. All top managers requested that they “keep this in the room for now.”

In every case, rumors surfaced and employees questioned their immediate managers who made responses like:

“Where did you hear that?”

“I’m not at liberty to talk about that.”

“I’ll let you know something when I know something.”

“If I were you, I’d just do my job and not worry about rumors.”

These responses, and other similar ones, do two things. One, mid-managers maintain loyalty to their bosses by “keeping the information in the room.” Two, although unintended, the responses actively encourage employees to believe the rumors and pass along grossly exaggerated versions.

Unfortunately, managers too often find themselves squeezed between their bosses’ requests and employees’ questions. While it is not always possible, I suggest that managers strive to honor their bosses’ while maintaining employee confidences.

For example, “While I do not have an answer for you at this point, I want you to know that we are seeking decisions that best serve our customers while valuing our employees.”

Coach’em Hard and Hug’em Later

“He was tough and he was hard; as tough a man as I have ever known.”

“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing.’

“He drove you to exhaustion but was the most compassionate person I have known.”

“He suspended Joe Namath and Ken Stabler–two of his greatest quarterbacks–for breaking team rules.”

“He would tear you up on the field and then bring you into his office and ask how your Mom was doing.”

“He would find ways to help his players without letting them know that he was helping them.”

“He would jump in front of a bullet for his players.”

“He could pull people together, unify them and get them to commit to the mission.”

“His harsh, tongue lashings were not personal, he simply wanted to make you better.”

These are comments from players and coaches led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach.

Today, a street, a museum and a stadium display Paul Bryant’s name.  And more than seven hundred children of his former players have received generous university scholarships from the Bryant Scholarship Fund.

Of course, there are critics of Bryant’s methods.  And many of his practices are surely not appropriate for most corporate cultures.  Still, I think the leadership philosophy of “Demand a lot and care for the person.” is a sound one.

Is It High-Structure or High-Freedom?

structure-freedom-17Malcolm, a successful manager says, “I run a tight ship.  We have standard operating procedures for how we perform our work and specific work rules for attendance, safety and social media.”

Employees who work for Malcolm comment:  “You know what is expected.”  “All you have to do to be successful is follow the rules.”  “It’s pretty efficient.”

Louella, who is also very successful, operates differently.  “We don’t have a lot of rules.  We train our people on how to do their jobs.  We do track outcomes religiously but we have very few rules or required processes.”

Louella’s employees say:  “She is easy to work for.”  “No one is looking over your shoulder all of the time.”  “If I wish to rearrange my work day, I can do it.”

Malcolm’s work environment is high-structure; Louella’s approach is high-freedom.  Which is better?

Both approaches may work.  Each culture requires managers to recruit employees who fit their styles.  High-structure fits some people like a glove.  For others, tight controls are suffocating.  Self-monitoring employees work well in high-freedom cultures; less conscientious employees act out like rebellious kids in junior high.

For the long run, I favor an approach that recruits and develops employees to function in a high-freedom environment—not complete freedom, however.  Expected outcomes and a few core values should be clear to all.

Companies that establish high-freedom cultures tend to have better success retaining good employees, providing better customer service, and earning reliable profits.  And managers spend less time watchdogging, patrolling and sanctioning.

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!”