Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Leadership… It’s the little things

I was just reading an article on data gathering in heavy industry, and it stated that it’s often the small incremental gains (or savings) that, over time, make the biggest impact, and it really struck a cord.

We often look for that one big thing that is going to change everything… make us rich, make us happy, make our work more satisfying or rewarding, become our passion…  only those things almost never happen.

Almost every “overnight success” story can actually be traced back to years of hard work.  

Putting more effort and care into our work, and becoming really good at what we do (over time) is what actually leads to being passionate about our work.  That, in turn, is what makes something (anything) satisfying and rewarding.

So why am I writing about this?  What does it have to do with Leadership or hiring the best people?

In my experience Leadership… developing the ability to influence others, is built on the small things that are done repeatedly and consistently over time.  It is rare that someone can influence others without a commitment to the small efforts and actions that define Leadership.  The people who work for you determine whether or not you achieve your (shared) goals… wouldn’t it be great if they worked at achieving those goals because it was important to them?  

So… what actions can we take in order to positively influence the people who work for us?

In order to influence others we must develop relationships with them.  To do that…

We must extend trust.
In real terms this means loosening up on the reigns and not micro managing.  If your boss tells you the expected outcome, proceeds to tell you how you need to achieve that outcome, and then constantly checks up on you, you cannot feel that your boss trusts you.  No one wants to be used as a puppet…

We have to allow our team members to make some decisions around how their work is accomplished.  This will be more, or less difficult, depending on the nature of the work you and your team are doing, and there is always some way of showing that you trust your team members.  

If this is difficult for you, perhaps you can start by allowing your team members to determine things like the order in which things are done; the timing of different tasks?  Even simply having a conversation with a team member about what needs to happen, why it needs to happen, and how that might be accomplished is a good start.  Asking someone ‘what they would change if they were in charge?’ will often yield good results.  However if you have not taken any steps to develop a relationship with them yet, understand they may not trust you enough to tell you what they really think or feel.  You have to be OK with that… It takes consistent openness, sincerity and honesty over time in order for people to trust you.

Allowing people to change how things are done will mean that mistakes will be made.  We could talk about dealing with this for hours (and perhaps we will…), and just keep in mind that in order for things to improve some changes have to be made.  That always means some mistakes and experimentation, and that’s OK as long as those changes are made consciously, purposefully and with everyone involved on the same page.

Following up from that;

Your team members need to know that their jobs will not be threatened when they make mistakes.
In real terms that means regular conversations about changes being made; expectations; acceptable and unacceptable outcomes, and stating OUT LOUD that you trust them.  Let’s try it… “Thank you for being so open to discussing this with me… I trust you with this.”  You both go in with your eyes open, and you both agree on the outcomes that are not negotiable, deadlines that need to be met, and any other critical issues.

Then when those inevitable mistakes are made you can simply have follow up conversations about what went wrong, and what the next steps are.  Do we try that again with changes based on what we’ve learned?  What we do not do is take mistakes or failures as a reason to take back control.  ‘See… I gave you this chance and you blew it, so now you will do things the way we always have/the way I say’ is not Leadership, and will not develop influence, nor will it allow you to move from average or mediocre towards great.

Some things to remember: you don’t have to hand over the reigns on things  that are critical to your business.  In fact you should never blindly hand over responsibility… trust and follow up.  These conversations about what and how things are done have to become normal, regular parts of our jobs… It’s what Leaders do.

We must make sure our team members feel valued.
In real terms this means making sure the people who work for us know… really feel that we are happy to have them on the team, and that their efforts are important to our overall success.  After all, are you paying anyone to do work that is not critical to your overall goals?  You would not be paying someone to do a job that did not need to be done, right?  So… we can work towards helping people feel valued by saying these words OUT LOUD to each and every person who works for you:  say it with me… “I don’t know if I’ve actually said this out loud to you before, and you are an important part of the team, and I’m happy to have you here!”  Just imagine if your boss said those words to you, with every bit of sincerity he or she could muster….  How good would that make you feel?  Do that for your team members.  Give them that gift of feeling valued.

Take the time, daily, or at least on a regular basis, to thank your team members for the work that they do.  This goes a very long way…

We need to make sure our team members feel heard.
In real terms this means more than just allowing people to talk to you.  We cannot really feel valued without feeling heard.  Most people can tell right away when we are minimizing their thoughts or feelings, and when we are not really listening but simply waiting for our turn to talk.  Most of us don’t always need to have someone agree with us, or need to have everything go our way in order to feel heard.  And as Leaders, if we want our team members to feel heard, we need to consciously listen to understand, and respond in a way that appropriately conveys that understanding.  

Sometimes, especially if we haven’t been great about this in the past, we have to take a couple of extra steps in order to accomplish this.  First, we might have to admit OUT LOUD that we are trying to be better at this; say it with me… “I know I haven’t been very good at this in the past, and moving forward I am making a real effort to listen to understand”.   Wouldn’t you appreciate it if your boss admitted this OUT LOUD to you, and then actually did it?

Second, we might have to repeat back what we heard that person say, so… “I understand that you feel you are being asked to do more than ever, in less time than ever, and with less help than ever… those things are all true.  And this is simply the reality of the world today.  It is the way things are pretty much everywhere.  This is what our jobs are now, and we can either make the best of it together, or we can find another job… however complaining about it to your coworkers is hurting the morale of the team, and cannot continue”.  We said what needed to be said while acknowledging our team member’s concerns by repeating it back to them in a respectful way.

In order to feel comfortable doing any of the things we’ve talked about so far, you will have to get to know the people who work for you.  No really…  you will have to actually care about each and every person on your team.  When we care about someone we want to know more about them; we care about the things that are important to them; we take an interest in their interests; and we want to help them achieve their goals.  If you want to influence the people who work for you, you must develop a relationship with them, and that is impossible without getting to know at least a little bit about them, and showing them that you care about them.  In reality this will look a little different from workplace to workplace, and is dependent on the size of your team.

“ No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” stated John Maxwell, and I have found this to be true.

It is not easy to make the time for all of this… it takes a commitment, as well as a lot of physical and mental energy.  None of these things is ‘once and done’.  We need to work on relationship building consistently in order for the results to build exponentially.   All of these little actions will help you develop that high functioning team you always wanted.

Oh yeah… and as Leaders, we do these things even though we might not get them from our boss!  The positive changes over time will be noticed, and it is possible to ‘influence up’.

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Are You A Poor Leader or Are You Hiring The Wrong People?

IF you are a good Leader AND you are hiring the right people:

You will have very low turnover.
You will be meeting or exceeding pretty much all of your goals.
Your business will be growing.
You will easily fill your new Leadership positions from within your team and you will not have to look elsewhere for your Leadership positions.
You will rarely find yourself putting out fires (your team will get ahead of most problems).
You will not have absenteeism or tardiness issues.
You will have plenty of time to spend developing the Leadership traits of your best team members.
Your team will be improving your systems and lowering your costs.

In general… you will be very happy with the way your business is running!
I understand it may be difficult for some of you to believe that the conditions described above are possible... that just means you have never worked on a truly high functioning team.

If the statements above do not describe you and your team:

You MUST admit that at least one of the following is true:

You are not the best Leader


You are hiring the wrong people

If you are not the best Leader:

You will need to find a mentor or coach, because if you could become a much better Leader on your own you would have done it by now!  This is the same reason we hire a golf pro, a personal trainer, hire a plumber or enroll in a class.  We generally cannot make significant improvements in our own skills by ourselves. 

We will all admit that being a better Leader will help improve every aspect of our business.  So if we had the time, inclination, and ability to become a better Leader on our own we would certainly do so.

Becoming a better Leader demands a mentor or coach that is a better Leader than we are.

If you are hiring the wrong people:

You will need to start by rethinking what you are looking for when interviewing and hiring.  Even if you decide to pay someone to do your hiring for you, some additional thought will need to be put into what qualities you should be hiring for.  The person you are paying might be giving you what you are asking for, only you are asking for the wrong things!  We need to get this right!

And… if we pay someone to do our hiring, we need to measure the results of their work just as we would measure the performance of everyone else we pay.  If we find that we are not getting the results we want/expect from the Leaders we have in place, (like not hitting the metrics, or not holding their team members accountable) most of us are pretty quick to hold them accountable with some sort of corrective action, and at some point find someone else to do that job.  Most of us hold our team members to even stricter standards.  However, we generally do not hold the people who are doing our hiring accountable for anything!?  Why is that?... Before you continue reading think about that for a moment.  

Do you evaluate the people who are doing your hiring in any way other than their ability to fill empty positions?  Do you evaluate the quality of their hires in any real way?

If the people you are paying to do your hiring are not consistently bringing on great people you MUST change how your hiring decisions are made OR make a  change in who is making those decisions.  Even if the people making those decisions are in your own HR dept., and you like, respect and trust them... if they are not bringing on great people something needs to change!

We can all recognize whether or not good hiring choices are being made.  This is reflected in everything we do.  Our turnover also directly reflects the quality of our hiring choices.  Yet so many businesses accept high turnover and second-rate team members.  It’s almost as if we believe the hiring process is some kind of black magic that cannot be questioned.  The end result is mediocrity… constantly struggling to achieve our goals, and trying new systems and implementing new programs to boost performance. 

It doesn’t have to be like that!

At this time I’d like to get some of the easiest excuses and justifications out of the way.

Blaming your team members in any way is unacceptable.  If we are good at hiring we should be able to ascertain the true nature of the people we are interviewing most of the time.  Sure… on occasion everyone makes mistakes.  And the majority of the time, if we claim that we (or the people we pay to do our hiring) are good at hiring, we should get this right most of the time.

Any excuses that center on blaming the team member are like blaming your SUV for getting poor mileage; blaming your neighborhood for being bad; or blaming your spouse for being who they are.  If you are unhappy with any these things… you made the wrong choice. You cannot pass the blame off onto someone else.

You might attempt to say “there are no good applicants in this area”… that is nonsense and rationalizing your underdeveloped hiring skills.  If you are a pretty good Leader you know that in any applicant pool there are plenty of people who can be great when put on the right team with a good Leader.  Plus, simply living and working in any area gives you access to great prospective team members who, for the moment, happen to be working for other people.  I am constantly finding great people out in the world who are very obviously under appreciated, under challenged, underutilized, and very often underpaid.  They are just waiting for the opportunity to be on the right team.

I have thought to myself something like “I inherited this team… I didn’t hire them and I am now stuck with them”.  That shouldn’t mean I am a poor Leader or bad at hiring, right?  Well… IF you just recently (within the last 6 months) took over this team AND you are actively working to help the wrong people (who you already know do not belong on your team) find their happiness elsewhere AND you are actively working to build relationships with the rest of your team members (and be careful choosing who belongs and who does not, as you will likely find some of the people other “Leaders” thought were poor team members will actually turn out to be good under a good Leader), then you get a pass. Otherwise…

I can’t wait to hear the rest of the excuses for either poor Leadership or poor hiring choices, or both.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mediocre At Best

Take a good look at your company, region, store, or department.  Is it outstanding?  Are you achieving most of your goals and heading for greatness?  Do you have wonderfully low turnover, with a line of the best people waiting to work for you?  Is your team full of those people that you would love to clone?  Are almost all of your customers appreciative and very happy with what they are getting from you?

Now look at other businesses… The ones your company buys from, as well as the ones where you and your family spend your money.  Are most of them doing an impressive job of exceeding your expectations?  Are they responsive to your questions and needs?  Do you believe that they really care about you and are working hard to meet or exceed your expectations?  Are almost all of the people you interact with in customer service wonderful to deal with, and obviously happy in their jobs?  Do they belong in customer service?

Very few of us can honestly answer yes to more than a couple of these questions.

Why?  Why aren’t businesses able to be great instead of just OK?  One of the biggest reasons is because most of the time

The People Who Do The Hiring Are In No Way Accountable For The People They Hire!

We will, of course, assume that those people are doing their best, and that they care as much as anyone about the people they hire as well as the success of the company.  And unfortunately

The people who do the hiring are almost never responsible for the actual behavior (the work) of those hires.  And…

They are totally removed from getting any actual first hand, real world and real time feedback on the quality of those people. 

They are doing the best they know how, and they are shooting in the dark.  I would also bet that most of the time the people doing our hiring are finding people who have what they are looking for.  Unfortunately… our own experiences in the world show us that they are clearing looking for the wrong things.

Even if the people doing the hiring are interested in the fate of their hires, it is all too easy to pass the blame when those hires don’t work out (or at least not up to our expectations). 

“They misrepresented themselves in the interview process…”
“Something must have changed, they were great when we hired them…”
“The manager/supervisor/leader must be doing something wrong because we are sending them great people…”

Unfortunately, most of the time the responsibility is laid on the person to whom those hires report, and sadly for them, they are usually already responsible for the team as a whole meeting its expectations.  We assume as well that these Leaders are also doing the best they can, so…

Where do we go from here with this conundrum?

Stay tuned…