General Managers Who Default to Specialists do so at their Own Risks

“I think we can use a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software program to track our marketing efforts,” the Marketing Vice President said.

The Information Technology (IT) manager disagreed, “I’ve examined several vendor programs and I’ve not found any that fit our unique needs.”

“Can we modify a commercial program and make it work for us?”

“We can but I don’t think we will be satisfied. With a minor investment, my department can design software that will work better.”

After further discussion, some of which became quite passionate, the Marketing VP defaulted to the IT Manager.

Many design evolutions later, and weeks behind schedule, IT proudly pronounced the program ready. Of course, implementation went sideways. Staff complained about missing data, poorly formatted reports, excessive options and more.

“I should have insisted on COTS software,” lamented the Marketing VP. “But how did I know? I’m not the software expert.”

When dealing with specialists, I think it is the manager’s responsibility to bone up on the subject matter.  Question vendors, seek coaching from other experts, explore YouTube videos—do what you must do to prepare yourself to ask intelligent questions and confidently evaluate options.


Is There a Fourth of July in England?

“Do they have a Fourth of July in England?”

Two of three responders answer, “Yes.”

When I asked a large group in managers in Canada, “Do you have a Fourth of July in Canada?”

Eight of ten said “No.”

We discussed the issue for a while, and a person commented, “I think they do have a Fourth of July in England, but it’s in August sometime.”

This exchange represents a common and frustrating aspect of human communication.  Employees sometimes resist management communications, not necessarily because they disagree; but because they make different assumptions.  For example, do you assume “July 4” to be a calendar day or a national holiday?”

While we commonly assume that words have the same meanings to all, this is often not the case.  For example, we use the simple word “run” to mean very different things.    “Let’s run to the store,” “My watch has run down,” “We scored three runs,” “Nice trout stream run,”  “Running after kids,”  “Run in my stockings,” and many, many more.

When there is apparent disagreement, the first action should be to explore and explain the assumptions of each party.  Rather than assume disagreement, start the conversation with, “What did you interpret my message to mean?”  A reply might be, “Here is what I intended for it to mean?”

When an Employee Gives You a Relationship Assignment, Don’t Take It

Askov, an employee, says to his manager, “I don’t work very well with Renfro.”

“What’s the problem?” the manager replied.

“He’s hard to communicate with.  He doesn’t listen.  Never makes eye contact.  When I ask him about something, he doesn’t give me a good answer.  It makes it hard for me to do my job.”

It appears that Askov is surfacing a problem between him and Renfro and asking the manager for help.  However, Askov is most likely setting a trap for the manager.

Should the manager investigate, he will likely discover that Renfro has a very different take if he has an opinion at all.  The manager may have the detective skills of a Scotland Yard lifer, but he will not likely be able to resolve the issue to Askov’s satisfaction.

However, Askov now has cover and does not have to be accountable for his behavior.  After all, if the manager could not fix Renfro, why should Askov be expected to do so?

When employees try to give you assignments, don’t take them.  The manager could have mirrored Askov’s communication, as in, “So you and Renfro are not working together so well?”   Likely the manager will get from Askov, “That’s right, Renfro can’t communicate.”

Then the manager can refuse Askov’s assignment with a, “How can you deal with that and still get your work done?”




To Save Meeting Time, Plan Ahead

proactive-meetings-16“Meetings, meetings, meetings,” exclaimed Rupert.  “If I didn’t have to spend half of my day in meetings, I could get more done.”

“What was the purpose of your last meeting,” I asked.

Rupert said, “We met to select a new vendor.  We immediately began arguing like siblings over who was going to sit in the front seat of the car.  After an hour and a half, we were exhausted but had no solution.  So we adjourned and agreed to address the issue at our next meeting.”

I observe a lot of meetings where people get together, perhaps with an agenda, and all start sharing their opinions spontaneously—not good.

By contrast, I sat with board committee where the purpose was to develop next year’s training plan.  Shortly after the meeting began, Alisson opened a well-organized, three-ring binder and politely talked through a completed list of training topics with purposes, resources, and a tentative schedule.

Although no one had assigned this task to Alisson, all others expressed awe and support for her preparation.  Members quickly supported some parts of Alisson’s plan and recommended modifications for other parts.  In short-order, the team agreed upon a proposal.

One of the major reasons for long-lasting meetings, I think, is that participants show up and begin creating solutions during the meeting.  Meetings are more productive, not to mention quicker, when members come with thought-out, tentative proposals.  Members then devote time to critiquing and improving rather than creating from scratch.

Effective Leaders Try to Avoid “Wimp Wins”

compromise-16“I know this project is important,” admitted Jason, “but I’d like to schedule a week of vacation next month.”

“Jason,” the manager replied, “your contributions are critical to the project’s mission.  There is no way we can meet the deadline if you are gone.”

“I know,” said Jason.  “Five of my close college friends had a gathering planned for November, but a friend called yesterday and said they were rescheduling it for September.  Many of us haven’t seen each other in years.”

After further discussions, the manager and Jason agreed to a compromise.  The manager would approve three days of vacation and explain to the stakeholders that the project would need a little more time and budget.  Jason agreed to work the weekend prior to leaving for vacation and get as much done as he could.

This compromise is a “wimp win.”  Both Jason and the manager can live with the outcome, but both are troubled with the agreement.  For the manager, the project is late and Jason misses part of the reunion.

Before agreeing to compromises, strong leaders exhaust all options for all parties.  Perhaps they can move the reunion to October.  Maybe Jason can put in more time prior to going and be available via technology during the reunion.

Be wary of wimp wins.  Unfortunately, a pattern of compromises increases the likelihood of a growing bitterness among the parties.