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Ducks In A Row: People Are Like Bats

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowDid you know that as nimble as an ordinary bat is when flying it can’t take off from a level place?
If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and painfully until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then it takes off like a flash.

That’s also a good description of what happens to workers who aren’t given what they need to succeed.

Whether it’s coherent instructions, correct and complete information, additional training, viable feedback, or something else, without it they struggle to survive, let alone thrive.

If you want your people to perform and succeed then it’s your responsibility to provide the slight elevation from which they can launch themselves.

Identifying and providing that slight elevation is your responsibility, whether you consider yourself a leader or a manager.

That small height isn’t one-size-fits-all nor is it necessarily what works for you, which means you need to learn through interaction and discussion what constitutes a feasible elevation for each individual and provide it.

That’s your job, whether you are a CEO, team leader or anything in-between, that is what you are paid to do.

So if doing it doesn’t float your boat and give you an adrenalin rush every time someone takes off you’re in the wrong position. You may like the paycheck, but you’re leaving your people to shuffle in circles and setting them up to fail.

And doing so will come back and bite you at some point.

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Image credit:  ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Review Love

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowPeople hate reviews, but done correctly reviews are a terrific tool to provide individual attention, improve retention and show your love—tention reviews as opposed to tension reviews.

I won’t bother explaining the latter; everybody has suffered through a tension review at least once in their life and probably far more.

The biggest difference between the two is in the level of communication and frequency.

Done correctly tention reviews happen constantly and are called feedback. Think of them as a manager’s response to the “how am I doing” sign implicit on every member of their team.

We all crave feedback, which includes

  • sincere strokes (given publicly),
  • constructive criticism (given privately),
  • career growth (what we have to do to take that next step), and
  • friendly general interest.

Truly great managers add

  • how can I improve,
  • what can I do to help you, and
  • how can I help our team excel?

Another part of review love is inherent in the communications necessary to setting solid, intelligent goals for each team member—

  • solid because they make sense and are achievable, while still being a stretch, and
  • intelligent because each person can see how their own objectives support their team’s goals, which, in turn, support the overall goals of the company.

Tention reviews also recognize that individual annual goals often need to be adjusted as a change in the company’s goals sets off a ripple effect throughout the organization.

And for those managers’ who claim they don’t have the time because of their real job, I’m here to tell you this is your job—cut corners or ignore at your own peril.

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Image credit:  ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Ducks In A Row: What is Fairness?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowYesterday I told you how monkeys lose productivity when treated unfairly.

Unlike the managers I described in that post, good managers know that unequal pay, but they also know that it’s not just a matter of title/grade.

Not everyone with the same title deserves the same compensation—in fact, to do so would be extremely unfair!

Most companies establish a range for each job and some guidelines within each range, but the guides frequently fall short of what’s needed in the real world.

How do you draw the lines to achieve fairness?

You might think that ‘fair’ is some kind of universal one-size-fits-all yardstick, but all the people I’ve talked with over the years define ‘fair’ relative to themselves and those around them.

Developers working in a small local company didn’t compare their salaries to the developers in IBM, nor to their bosses. They compared them to their peers, i.e., similar job, experience, background, company, industry, location and, lastly, title.

Workers are well aware that every position has a salary range; what they want is for their level within that range to make sense.

The problems arise when the person they sit next to gets X more dollars or a promotion for reasons such as those mentioned yesterday, reasons having nothing to do with skill, experience, attitude or actual work.

This is the critical knowledge that helps you develop working guidelines for your company’s ranges.

Let’s say that ABC Corporation uses a three-level structure in engineering: engineer I, engineer II, and senior engineer and that there’s a $20K range within each level. They currently have five people who are Engineer II. The salary range is $60K – $80K. Of the current people:

  • Judy was recently promoted and is at $62K;
  • Jim, $68K, and Craig, $72K, both have been working for six years. Although Jim has an MBA, he started in sales engineering while Craig had three years’ experience in a specifically needed skill when he was hired.
  • Tracy is making mid-seventies with five years of direct experience; and
  • Kim, at $80K and due for promotion, has a Masters’ and 17 years of experience, 5 of them in ABC’s field.

Although they’re all Engineer II, because the salary differences are based on factual points, not charm, politics, or managerial whim, the group is satisfied that they’re being treated fairly.

As usual, it’s not rocket science, it’s common sense—but I’m starting to think that common sense is rocket science these days.

But fairness is about more than just pay; please join me next Monday for further discussion.

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Image credit:  ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Leadership's Future: Leadership Through Initiative

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

prisonLast summer I coined a term to describe those who are chronologically, but not psychologically, Millennials; I called them aMillennials and there are more around then you might think.

Today I saw a great story about two aMillennials who showed their leadership by taking the initiative and convincing their university to provide comparable classes at a prison.

Four years ago, in fact, Wesleyan balked at a proposal to install such a program.

Two students, Russell Perkins and Molly Birnbaum, who had volunteered in prisons as students, revived the idea last year when they were seniors and figured out a way to finance it.

…a privately financed experiment in higher education that takes murderers and drug dealers and other inmates with histories of serious crime and gives them an opportunity to get an elite college education inside their high-security prison, the Cheshire Correctional Institution.

The professors involved say that the classes are just as tough as on campus.

These aren’t prisoners preparing for a return to society, in fact, some of them may never return. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn—120 inmates applied 19 spots.

Skipping the debate as to whether this is a good program or not, the initiative shown is a large lesson for all those who spend their time reading and studying leadership instead of doing it.

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Image credit: Rennett Stowe on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Planning For A Successful 2010

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowIt’s November, a time when the end of the year is suddenly much closer than you thought.

During the next two months people will be doing their best to tidy up all the loose ends, both business and personal, before the year ends.

Whether you do it yourself or have and executive team and thousands of employees, you can’t afford to focus only on wrapping up 2009; you need to plan for 2010.

The approach we use was drummed into my head since 1979 by Al Negrin, RampUp’s angel and chairman.

It’s called PBO (plans, budgets and objectives), but is very different from the old MBO (management by objective).

The critical act in PBO is to tie the plan to the objectives and to be sure that the budget, including headcount and other resources is adequate to support them.

For example, to achieve the objectives set for the marketing department requires increasing headcount by 5 people, but the budget for marketing only covers the cost of 3, so it becomes impossible for the manager to achieve the objectives.

Doing this actively sets your people up to fail—not the smartest approach for any manager.

And don’t sit quietly by if you receive an impossible set of objectives in the false hope that you can somehow protect yourself and your team.

In tight economies objectives often become more like wish lists; this is especially true after layoffs.

If your budgeting process is reality-based then there is no way to cut X% of a department’s headcount without reevaluating that department’s objectives as well as the company’s—it’s all connected.

Click these links to read a detailed explanation of PBO and how-to do it, and then tweak it to fit your own needs. If you need some help feel free to call me at 866.265.7267 or email miki@rapupsolutions.com, subject line about PBO (in case of filters).

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Image credit:  ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Ducks In A Row: 4 Major Avoidances

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowNii Dowuona started as a programmer, became project manager, then added engineering manager to his workload, picked up an MBA at night and is now VP of Development—all at the same company.

He recently shared four tips that he has worked to instill in his company’s culture.

Avoid giving unsolicited advice.
Always ask for permission first, and don’t be insulted if you’re refused. Reacting calmly will leave the door open for future conversations.

However, remember that people can’t/won’t solicit what they don’t know they need. It’s true that advice can be obnoxious, but suggestions can be offered differently or the advice can be phrased as a question that opens the subject up to discussion. The big problem is often not the offering, but the pushing. ‘I explained so nicely why you are wrong, but you still won’t do it my way.’ is what often is being passed off as advice.

Avoid “guilt trips.”
Never try to make your listener feel guilty. Few adults respond well to such tactics. Instead, straightforwardly ask the person for what you need, explaining the possible outcome of inaction.

This is so true and the same goes for hinting and expecting the other person to not only pick up on the hint, but also to interpret it accurately. Plus, it’s a boomerang whammy, because people who hint often become angry or disconsolate when the hint is missed/ignored or misunderstood.

Avoid offering hollow reassurances.
Don’t attempt to gloss over problems or try to hide the downside of what you’re proposing. Openly acknowledging the facts is the key to positive communication.

Glossing assumes the other party is too dumb to figure the downside out and comes over as insulting, contemptuous and condescending to the other person.

Avoid pressuring a person to change.
Allow team members to hold their own opinions and positions. Arguing won’t change those opinions anyway.

Pressure not only won’t change anything, it often makes the people dig in their heels; at the least, it eliminates any viable conversation on that subject and may cause the recipient to shut down to anything you say in the future.

Granted, none of these are rocket science, but stop and think about how often you do one or another.

What other acts do you work to avoid?

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Culture? Ask A Worm

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Company culture is a hot topic in the business press; CEOs are working to foster “cultures of innovation;” and culture is being lauded or blamed for a variety of happenings.

The bird’s eye view of what’s important in culture is as varied as the executives, academics, pundits, media and other experts who expound on the subject.

But what about the worm’s eye view—what do plain vanilla employees think and want? It’s important, since without them there is no company.

It used to be when I talked with people that it was easier for them to articulate the attitudes and behaviors they didn’t want to encounter in the workplace.

Even today, with a far more savvy and sophisticated workforce, people still tend to focus first on what they don’t want:

  • Too much politics: personal, group, or in senior management.
  • Unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • Poor management practices such as erratic management; intimidation; micro-management; belittling or contemptuous treatment; poor scheduling; no loyalty; the attitude that “we don’t have enough time to do it right but we have enough time to do it over;” workaholism; etc.
  • Any form of harassment, whether overt or covert
  • A generally negative attitude, i.e., the glass is half empty
  • Arrogance or an elitist attitude.
  • An unwillingness (at whatever level) to seek and implement the compromises necessary to meet most of the organization’s needs within the required timeframe.

But when you get them to focus on the positives, the sophisticated and savvier mindset of today’s workforce is even more obvious when discussing the factors they desire.

Here are some of the high points that people say they want for themselves and from their managers and company:

  • The opportunity to truly “make a difference.”
  • To be treated fairly.
  • To trust the management and be trusted by them.
  • To embrace the idea that work can and should be fun.
  • Accurate prioritizing of company, team, and individual goals while keeping them synergistic.
  • A positive “can-do” attitude (aggressive, but realistic—the glass is half-full).
  • Continuing development and quality improvement in people, products and services, and processes.
  • Committing to employees, customers, and investors—and meeting those commitments.
  • An open, accurate, company-wide flow of information starting from the top.
  • An environment that encourages people to reach their full potential, professionally and personally.
  • A conscious effort to stamp out “not invented here” syndrome (in all its varied forms) so as to not waste time reinventing the wheel.

There’s great value in this worm’s eye view. By eliminating what employees don’t like, and giving them what they want, you create a foundation on which to build the kind of innovative, profitable culture—the kind craved by investors, customers, and the rest of the outside world.

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

A Different View Of September 11

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Much will be done today to commemorate the lives lost on September 11, 2001. The story I’m going to share has a different focus than most and one I believe is worth your time.

Among those who died that day was the husband of a woman I knew casually and because our acquaintance was casual I was surprised when she called nearly six months later.

I’ll call her “Kerry” and we talked for hours, but the kernel I want to share is this.

She needed support to move; not just move on, it was too early for that, but to physically move.

Kerry said the reaction to “Craig’s” death changed when people found out he died in the attack. It changed from sympathy or empathy to an almost macabre interest in how she felt because he died “that way.”

Many seemed to feel that her politics should change (she is ‘liberal moderate’, her words) and that the event should be the main focus not only in her life, but also for her two young daughters and she didn’t want that.

Kerry said she called me because she remembered my saying that I found it sad that John Kennedy Jr.’s life seemed to be defined by his father’s death; that he never was able to become anyone other than the little boy who saluted at the funeral.

Kerry said that she didn’t want her kids to be forever known as “Kristy/Jenny-her-father-was-killed-in-the-September-11-attacks”

The problem was that many of her family and friends were horrified at how she felt. They acted as if losing Craig September 11 made his death a national symbol, not a personal tragedy.

We talked many times over the next few months and the upshot was that Kerry did move far away where no one knew them. When Craig’s death came up in conversation Kerry just said that her husband had died; she said when her daughters were mature enough she would tell them what happened, but not until they had the opportunity for a normal life—not one filled with other people’s baggage.

I think for Kerry I was “the stranger on the plane,” the uninvolved person to whom you can say anything because you will never see or hear from them again and I was honored to play that part.

The death of a parent is always tragic. I know; I was five when the driver of the car in which my father was traveling fell asleep at the wheel and drove off a mountain road.

The point I want to make today is that we don’t forget, but we do move on and as we move we grow and change.

No matter how horrendous the event we all have the ability to choose what defines us and what memories rule our lives.

Never allow others to force you into a role that fits their view of what should define you.

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Image credit: StarLight on sxc.hu

Ducks In A Row: Building An ALUC Culture

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Yesterday I described how managers can use ALUC (Ask / Listen / Use / Credit) to engage their teams, whether or not the approach is supported by the overall company culture.

But think how much better it would be to have ALUC embedded in your culture as a part of its infrastructure.

ALUC isn’t something that can be mandated, even by the CEO.

All the proclamations, recommendations and demands aren’t going to force managers to do it if they don’t see the value or their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) isn’t synergistic with ALUC.

What you can do is instill its value in those managers who report to you; they, in turn, pass the belief to their direct reports and so on down the ladder.

But how do you embed ALUC up your culture?

As Nike says, ‘just do it’—don’t talk about it—and it will spread by osmosis.

ALUC is a major productivity and retention booster, the results will speak for themselves, the how-to will be questioned, copied and implemented.

ALUC should also be a ‘make or break’ for all new hires in management roles, confirmed not only during the interview, but also through reference checking of previous direct reports, not bosses.

Not rocket science; most of the best cultural practices are simple, ignored, but simple.

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

ALUC Your Way To Success

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Every manager loves the folks who come to work champing at the bit, raring to go and bust their butt all day long. They love to talk about the high level of engagement their team has and brag about their productivity and innovative ideas.

If you want a group like this then make no mistake, It’s your responsibility to engender that attitude, i.e., engage them.

It’s not going to happen by accident and you can’t order your people be engaged.

Engagement happens because you, and hopefully your company are engaging.

This isn’t doubletalk or smoke, think about it. Think about what engages you.

  • The guideline is the same thread that has run through every major philosophy and religion for thousands of years—treat your people s you want to be treated—whether your boss treats you that way or not.
  • Authenticity is the current buzz word, but it translates simply to be honest, open and do what you say; never fudge, let alone lie, intentionally or otherwise.
  • There are absolutely no circumstances that warrant or excuse the messenger being killed. None. Because if you do, there’s no going back—ever.
  • If your company doesn’t have an engaging culture then you must be an umbrella for your people, because you can create one below you, even if you can’t change it above.

While managers may not be able to control overall corporate culture there are many things they can do within their own group’s culture to foster engagement.

The number one approach is to show your appreciation of your people. Study after study confirms employees’ desire to feel valued; to make a difference and be credited for it. But how, with budgets cut below bone level?

Here are four simple actions that you can implement at no financial cost and that don’t require approval from anyone.

  • Ask everyone for input, ideas, suggestions and opinions—not just your so-called stars.
  • Listen and really hear what is said, discuss it, think about it.
  • Use what you get as often as possible, whether in whole or in part, or as the springboard that leads to something totally different.
  • Credit the source(s), both up and down, publicly and privately, thank them, compliment them, congratulate them.

If you’re sincere, you can’t lay it on too thick; if you’re faking it, they’ll know.

And if you’re stupid enough to steal the credit for yourself in the mistaken name of job security you’ll have the fun of explaining to your boss the plummeting productivity and soaring turnover that accompanies the thefts.

Think ALUC; pin a note on your wall that says ALUC.

Ask!

Listen!

Use!

Credit!

ALUC will make you a winner.

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