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Archive for June, 2006

Miki’s Rules to Live by 1

Friday, June 30th, 2006

As even the most harried CEO knows, Tuesday is the Fourth of July and that means two things to a blogger like me. First, few will be around to read what is posted today and Monday, so there’s no sense in posting brilliant (or what passes for it) information. Second, It’s a great excuse to have some fun.

So I’m gonna celebrate my Fourth by sharing two of the rules I live by. You may have seen them circulating in cyberspace, but whoever the authors were they certainly predate the Net!

Here’s the first…

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely
in a handsome, well preserved body, with a neat haircut and a nice smile,
but rather
to skid in sideways,
making as much noise as possible,
chocolate in one hand,
wine in the other,
adrenaline pumping,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming
“WOO HOO what a ride!”

Negatives and MAP Action 2 (management by walking around)

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

One of the main purposes of management by walking around is to access information that you wouldn’t normally hear. Unfortunately, that often means it’s negative and the actions taken require more finesse:

“Did you know I was pulled off that supposedly critical MIS project and assigned to this stupid auditing of cycle counts?”

Since it’s likely that the executive is unaware of the reassignment she needs to first verify that the employee’s assertion and analysis is true.

“I didn’t know that, Jim. Was the assignment supposed to be permanent or temporary? Who reassigned you? Was it Bill?”

Many times, detailed probing reveals that despite the person’s obvious irritation, the situation has a reasonable explanation. But if you decide, after some checking, that the incident the employee is complaining about merits further investigation, you must move carefully.

No matter what your policy is, giving out the name of the person who asked a critical question, or made a critical remark, can expose her to the wrath of whoever is implicated and dry up that source of information.

Further, you cannot assume that she’s is completely impartial, or, for that matter, correct, in what’s been reported. Employees interpret management actions in the light of their own experiences, which may not aptly apply; and they are perfectly capable of bending the truth a bit to enhance the impact of their remarks, as are managers (it’s a human thing).

If, in fact, Bill is the person who actually made the decision to pull Jim off the MIS project, you should approach Bill indirectly without prejudging the situation.

Q: “Are your cycle counts off a lot, Bill?”

Bill could have made a perfectly reasonable management move, if the MIS project is on schedule but cycle counts are far off. However, what you may hear from Bill is a problem with serious consequences that is just starting to bubble up out of the depths:

A: “You know, I suspected some sort of pilferage because the cycle counts are off so far, so I’m temporarily transferring some of the MIS people to audit the counts.”

Or the answer could indicate a different type of management problem:

A: “No the counts are fine. I moved a few of people around just to shake the group up.”

There are many other possible scenarios that you might need to deal with, but the bottom line is that management by walking around will have provided good internal organizational intelligence—more than justifying the time spent.

Conversing and MAP Action 2 (management by walking around)

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

In order to get the most out of management by walking around, you must sort the wheat from the chaff. The questions and comments you hear will come from a diverse workforce, so you must make allowances for the differences in education, experience, philosophy, etc., between yourself and your people. You manage people who

  • may not fit your definition of “people like me;”
  • are different from your friends and neighbors;
  • were raised in a different culture; or
  • hold vastly different views of corporations and/or society.

These differences, however, do not diminish the value of their question or information, and you’ll do yourself irreparable harm if you react with scorn or boredom. Even if the employee has a highly distorted or meaningless question on some trivial management matter, you must listen with apparent concern or he will shut down the process and you will miss something very important later on.

If management has followed the policy of complete truthfulness toward employees, then the actual answer to most questions is straightforward; if it hasn’t, you may find yourself being forced to prevaricate and even rethinking your desire to be in the company! You may have to clarify or explain what an employee heard second, third, or fourth-hand in order to correct the perspective, but you should be able to answer almost all questions without reservation, even if they seem absurd to you.

When responding, don’t roll your virtual eyes or give curt answers that appear dismissive or demeaning, and whatever style you use, be consistent. One approach, used successfully by several of quasi Spock-like managers I know, is to use a slightly professorial air, without being patronizing, and teach your people a little about management and business as you go. This approach, or variations of it, pay off handsomely over time because your people will take more ownership when they understand why something is done and they’ll brag about what they learn—which makes recruiting easier, too.

Tomorrow, in the final (for now) installment on management by walking around, you’ll learn what to do about the negatives you’re bound to hear when you’re walking.

By request: More MAP Action 2 (management by walking around)

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Last week I talked about management by walking around (MAP Action 2) and buried my inbox. The emails ran the gamut from asking for more info and examples to saying that it seemed like a big waste of time. OK, if you think it’s a time-waster then I suggest that you skip this week’s posts, but for those of you who wanted more, here it is…

The reason that management by walking around is still one of the best ways to uncover problems that are not brought up via normal management channels is that it taps into all the information that people have that they don’t even realize is of value, as well as stuff that they aren’t about to, or don’t know how to, bring up. In other words, in order to both manage and lead, you must have a well-rounded picture of what is going on in your bailiwick.

The risk taken by an executive who regularly walks among his people on the job, and asks “how’s everything going?” is that they’ll really tell him and the answers will be radically different from what one, or more, of his managers have been saying. For example

  • The MIS project that the manager claimed was “going perfectly” is, in fact, “going down the tubes.”

Or

  • A question that comes seemingly out of the blue, “Are they really going to lay off half the staff when the company is sold to Gutem Industries?”

There are as many reasons that executives avoid appearing informally as there are executives, but most are based on fears of one stripe or another—no matter how they are disguised:

  • They don’t like to hear anything that conflicts with the (sycophantic) information from their direct reports.
  • They would have to deal with things that normally wouldn’t surface.
  • They fear the embarrassment of being asked something they don’t know.
  • They don’t like to fraternize with “those people.” (No joke! I’ve had managers actually say that!)
  • They’re too busy.
  • They’re concerned that the questions will require answers they consider “confidential”.

Hey, nobody ever said that managing was comfortable; and if you want to hear off-the-record information, you need to be prepared to give some out as well.

A special note: I’d like to thank Scott Allen for his marvelous write-up about my blog. Thanks Scott, you are the best (and so is your blog:)!

Keys for managers 2

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Here are two more keys for your collection.

Management’s ability to read dry numbers and spot signs of coming problems, or their willingness to listen to that news from an unlikely source, may be the only early warning they get to avoid/weather a storm.

When presenting complex subjects to your employees simplification is good, but patronizing them is disastrous

MAP Action 4 (surveys)

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Although mostly a CEO tool, Surveys can be used by any “boss” who wants to get a better handle on the organization. They are useful for discovering problems, attitudes, product directions, company standing, etc. as perceived by employees and selected outsiders—confirming or refuting what you are being told.

While internal surveys should be anonymous, a code on the form can be used to identify the department (marketing, finance, etc.) or the level (professional, support, etc.) of the respondents. Knowing where the information comes from helps when evaluating it—to clarify the various points of view and to flag possible prejudices.

For example, if reports from manufacturing indicate everything is running smoothly and the opposite information comes in from a majority of the production people then a red flag is raised and it is up to the CEO to investigate.

The true value of the survey comes when the information is used—it must be acted upon in some way. The result of survey-induced actions is to build trust and increase employee buy-in to, and participation in, the survey process—because something happens!

But people are smart! If the results serve no active purpose, then the survey will be seen as useless and time wasting—a turn-off to employees and outsiders alike—or worse, as a “con” run by top managers to create the “look” of an interested and engaged management team.

MAP Action 3 (open-door policy)

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Here’s another oldie—great for the talk, much harder to walk. An Open-Door Policy is a key infrastructure to many cultural features, such as no surprises, pragmatism, manager vigilance (MAP Action 1) and especially open communications.

Through its many incarnations its meaning has expanded and changed based on the current definition of the word “open.” Open is much more inclusive in 2006 then it was in 1968 or even 1998.

Simply stated, it means that any employee can approach any manager at any level at any time and discuss any subject in confidence and without prejudice. They can ask a question, lodge a complaint, voice a concern, or present a problem knowing that any form of retribution is absolutely forbidden.

What happens then depends on the employee’s preference:

  • If an employee allows the use of her name and the subject broached then the manager has one week to investigate and report back to the employee as to the measures taken for resolution.
  • If an employee specifies that his name and the complaint remain confidential, then the manager should point out that without the ability to mention either, her response is limited to advice only,
  • except when the information is extremely sensitive, such as alleged criminal activity, unethical practices, etc.

This type of information requires careful investigation and verification of the allegations before any disclosure. It is imperative that the investigation be kept private and off the company grapevine for as long as possible.

  • If the allegations are true, then the privacy is needed to investigate properly.
  • If they are unfounded or turn out to have a malicious basis, they could permanently damage reputations and invite lawsuits.

The upside of an open-door policy is that it can make an enormous difference in keeping the company on track and moral is higher. Problems surface earlier while they are small and more easily solved; disagreements aren’t left to fester; and trust grows at Net speed.

The downside is that a well functioning open-door policy is totally dependent on the managers. It’s difficult enough when a manager doesn’t “buy into” the program, but it is far worse when a manager violates the trust—whether through active intent, or benign ignorance.

Achieving buy-in is the responsibility of “the boss,” whether CEO, department head, or business owner, as is enforcement and discipline if it is subverted. An open-door policy is one of those things that only works when actively supported from the top.

MAP Action 2 (management by walking around)

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Remember Management-By-Walking-Around? It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Great managers work to spend at least 25% of their time wandering around chatting and building trust with their people.

Don’t have time? Maybe that’s because you never really thought abut the benefits. Getting to know your people this way helps you to

  • spot high-potential workers;
  • raise your trust quotient with employees;
  • improve retention;
  • attract talent;
  • discover molehills before they’re mountains, and, most importantly, it’s the best, if not only, way to
  • know what’s really going on.

To work it must be the norm—that means it needs to be done constantly, not just when there’s a problem.

Consistant, casual visits make people feel comfortable and encourages them to chat—saying what they are thinking without editing it. To pass on information, rumors, and the like without wondering or worrying that it will boomerang and hurt them.

While wandering, you’ll hear enough to validate or repudiate what you heard from somewhere else. It lets you protect your sources—which means they’ll continue to pass on information—and it helps you avoid acting on erroneous information.

The higher you rise in the organization the more important this intelligence becomes. One of the greatest dangers for any manager is getting isolated and hearing only a sanitized or slanted version of what’s going on within the group, department or company. This is especially true for the CEO and senior staff.

Bottom-line—get off your duff, out of your office, wander around, say hi, listen, be a sponge and soak it all up.

Invest the time—that’s what managers do—and it will pay off handsomely!

MAP Action 1 (manager vigilance)

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

What can I say? I lied. Yesterday I said, “… things you can do as a manager to foster whatever culture you are working to create.” But, in fact, the actions I have to offer only work/reinforce positive cultures. Hmm, on the other hand, those who propagate negative cultures probably aren’t reading this blog anyway, so I’m OK.

It all starts with Manager Vigilance. Sure, this should be so automatic that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned. However, in today’s world managers get very busy—schedules slip and must be redone, staff must be hired, goals are set and met, and the list goes on and on. But no matter the workload, every staff’s creativity, productivity and success, rest squarely on manager vigilance.

So what is it? It’s a constant awareness of what is going on and a willingness to deal with the reality of it immediately.

This two-fold promise to your people means that you become as close to omniscient as humanly possible and that you deal with each thing that comes up now—not “as soon as possible.”

You do this because, in the end, a company is only the sum of its people and it (creativity, innovation, productivity, fun, happiness, success, et al) all rests on them.

It’s all about MAP

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Culture of innovation; retention; fairness; work-life balance; the list is long and, as “the boss,” it’s your responsibility to make them happen in your company.

Making it happen isn’t about money (spending it), consultants (hiring them) or even HR (bulking up), it’s about MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)™, yours and the managers at all levels of the company. Because no matter what you learn or believe needs to be done, if it doesn’t fit your MAP it won’t happen—can you really imagine Chainsaw Al Dunlap (bad enough to earn his own book) creating a true culture of innovation?

Almost everything I’ve written touches MAP one way or another (whether I point it out or not), since all our thoughts and actions are dictated by our MAP. A good deal of the last three month’s posts involve how to know and modify/change your MAP.

So I thought I’d take the rest of this week and talk about some things you can actually do as a manager to foster whatever culture you are working to create.

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