Showing posts with label leadership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leadership. Show all posts

Friday, August 21, 2015

Consistent Messages

When we send mixed messages... we create confusion and chaos.  Which spelling is correct? Close your eyes, and you can probably spell this word correctly.  I'll give you a hint, the correct spelling is in the foreground.  What's in the background is nothing more than mixed signals that create a confusing message.

Imagine the impact on a child learning to spell.  I am the very proud recipient of a spelling bee trophy from elementary school, and these signs initially confused me.  Road signs, like computers, are NEVER wrong!!!  Maybe only the white ones are correct, or is the the green?

I'm going to ask that you reflect...  are you sending, and receiving consistent messages? Or, like these signs, are you delivering confusing messages to your team, and receiving mixed signals from above?

Your mantra should be... manage from where you are, and send consistent messages.  Don't be afraid to point out inconsistencies that come from above.  Only when there is a clear destination can the journey be efficient, and... well... quite enjoyable.  Remove these stresses.  As a unit, refine your mission and vision, then refocus your efforts using consistent messages.

Consistency is critical in life, in parenting, and in your relationships.  As my children, all now adults, were growing up, they always quipped that they knew my answer to their questions before the words left their mouth.  How? It was through consistency.  If we know the parameters and expectations, we are more likely to be successful within those limits.  We can stretch the limits as we grow, as long as we communicate, maintain mutual trust, and deliver a consistent message.

Consistence is a result of words matching your actions.  If you want the respect of your peers and your team, be consistent.
  1. Provide excellent customer service -  You cannot expect excellent customer service and set high expectations for others, yet not provide others the same level of service.
  2. Be responsive - You cannot expect your team to be responsive, if you're not responsive.
  3. Commit and deliverYou cannot commit to deadlines and not deliver, then hold others accountable.
  4. Be trustworthyYou cannot commit to help others, then not provide the assistance.
  5. Be consistentYou cannot say one thing, then do another.
  6. Roll up your sleeves and helpYou cannot ask your team to put in extra efforts on a project, and not contribute.
  7. Finish what you startYou cannot ask your team to be dedicated, if each of your positions are just a stepping stone to your next promotion.
  8. Be transparentYou cannot ask for transparency, and not provide it.
  9. Be inclusiveYou cannot ask for a say in decision making, and not share it.
  10. Climb up on the balcony and look around - you cannot determine your state in life, on a project, or in an organization without taking the time for reflection.
I have worked for companies that have delivered an inconsistent message.  I can tell you that this is confusing, and has a huge negative drag on employee morale and motivation.  Needless to say, I have tried to provide feedback to improve these environments.  If this was unsuccessful, then it was time to find a better cultural fit.  Why? Confusion and inaction will fill the void created by a lack of consistency.  When there is confusion, there is inconsistency that can transform productive people into zombies that are incapable of making good decisions.  People don't lose their job for being safe, they lose their job from taking risks and making poor decisions when there is an inconsistent message.

So, I guess the moral of this post is be consistent, and prevent another zombie outbreak at your organization.  Use a consistent message to motivate your team, build morale, and create a sense of community.  If you work for a zombie company, you have three choices: undertake the hard work of changing the culture, assume resistance is futile and join the dark side, or exit and head for the light.

It's your move... choose one: action, inaction, or ambivalence.  Before you chose, remember that your career is a reflection of your life, and living differently outside of work than inside is asking for internal conflict.  So, make a choice, and move forward!

If you want to see the sign in person, it's in Cooks Forest, near Cooksburg, PA.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The I in Team (Te-I-AM?)

OK, so we've all heard it... there's no "I" in team. However, if you squint just right, and tilt your head a little to the left... you can see there is a "ME"... which doesn't leave any room for giving credit to you. Shuffling the letters a bit, you can get tea, meat, at, ma, am, mat, mate, tame, item, and so on... however, you're just shuffling the letters, and not adding value. Do you shuffle letters and take credit, or do you really add value?

So, in this brief thought piece, please take some time and ask yourself one simple questions? Are you a team player, or do you shuffle letters that don't add value and then take the credit? I believe humility is one thing that's very undervalued and often overlooked in our society. Leaders lead, they don't focus on constant jockeying to make themselves look better for their next opportunity. That's self promotion and salesmanship, and it often can come at the expense of their team.

Yes, I hear the chuckles... if you don't promote yourself, then who will promote you? My attitude has always been, if your team's doing a great job... then the entire team should get recognized for their contributions. You'll be recognized for your contributions, if your contributions really add value. That recognition may come from above, below, or from a combination of areas. Success stands out from the crowd, or at least it should.

We become stronger leaders by promoting the "true" success of our teams, the "business value" that they add to your organization, and giving credit where it is due. When we lead by example, they we encourage our team to reflect our attitude, ethics, sense of shared responsibility, ownership, and collaboration across the enterprise. Encourage your team to work smarter, not harder... take measured risks, and publicly give the team the credit they deserve. Add value by removing obstacles, coordinating across the enterprise, keeping a pulse on your projects,... roll up your sleeves, and really add value.

You succeed and fail as a team. As a leader, sometimes we need to take responsibility for a failure to lead. That doesn't mean protecting incompetence, that's a different subject, and outside of the scope of this brief piece. Taking responsibility means that you're willing to take measured risks as part of a continuous improvement process. Your staff should be confident that you support them. If they follow best practices, yet misjudge mitigation of a risk from the introduction of changes in your product or processes, they should be confident that they aren't going to become a sacrificial lamb. Risk should be managed and mitigated, not completely avoided. You should publicly acknowledge any incident; explain clearly what happened, and how you plan to mitigate this risk to prevent a recurrence of a similar event in the future.

Let's go back to business value. I like to use the perspective, as draconian as it sounds, if I owned the company, would I be willing to pay another staffer out of my own pocket for doing EVERYTHING that I'm doing? What does the company get back? If I wouldn't pay me, then why am I doing it? (And if you're honest, you already know you have some of these activities, we all have them.) You wouldn't pay a lawn-care company a million dollars to mow your one acre lawn, no matter how good it looks. You'd pay the market rate, and expect a well manicured lawn. You wouldn't want the workers swimming in your pool while they are on the clock, surfing on your computer, or any other of other things that don't improve the looks of your lawn.

There are activities that add value such as team building, because they teach staff to be more productive as a group than they could be as individual workers. I'm definitely not being critical of these type of activities. I'm also not talking about professional development, research, and networking. These are all highly valuable activities that lead to improved skills, processes, methods, and communications. I'm talking about activities that really add no value.

Finally, leaders try to hire people who are the most qualified for their open positions, are capable, share their approach to team work, have the same level of commitment, and take pride in their contributions. Leaders focus on ways to provide stretch opportunities, give frequent constructive feedback on opportunities for improvement, and provide examples where staff are leveraging their strengths. Leaders challenge their team to excel.

So in summary, here's a few thoughts.
  1. Lead by example, not by words.
  2. Promote the accomplishments of your team
  3. Look for continuous improvement and innovate, while mitigating risks. When you fail to mitigate properly, accept responsibility, and use it as a learning opportunity.
  4. Recruit, hire, develop, and retain the best staff.
  5. Focus on continuous process improvement and employee development.
That's it for this brief piece. Hopefully it causes you to think critically in one of the areas I've covered. Ask yourself, are you adding value in all that you do for your team? No squinting is required - approach this with your eyes wide open... be critical... and reflective. Do you see an I, me, or a team?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Employee Development

Every day... we learn something new.  If you don't, you have a closed mind... or your dead.  We learn from  many avenues, such as books, TV, our children, friends, peers, managers, and others.  We learn both positive and negative habits, as well as new information.  Some of this educates us, others hardens us... and yet others drive us to compassion.

What is your role as a manager in employee development?  It's helping to continually improve your staff, and preparing them for the next challenge in their career.  Like marriage... two way feedback is necessary to develop a mentoring relationship.  I try to follow a simple philosophy... challenge my team to continue improving and evolving... and try to listen for feedback on ways to improve.  Am I always successful, no.  It's the team's engagement in their development and sense of ownership that really drives this process.

One of my new members on my team was surprised by the "lack of egos".  I thought about this for a while... and I must say that for the most part... he's correct.  Egos and confidence are two different things.  We are a very confident team, and very customer service focused.  Since we focus on knowledge sharing and continuous improvement... our culture allows us to have the humility necessary to ask for feedback and assistance from other team members... regardless of their level.  Everyone contributes, and you level doesn't limit your ability to contribute and make a difference.  It also doesn't prevent staff in a higher grade from recognizing areas of expertise in a level-agnostic way, and asking for assistance on a regular basis.

So, how should we go about employee development?


  1. Be deliberate - take time to observe, evaluate, and provide feedback often.
  2. Be objective - try to approach each opportunity for feedback with an open mind.  If something occurs, and you can't be objective, write down your feedback... wait a few days... and then deliver it in a statement of fact method.
  3. Be timely, not reactive - If you deliver the feedback in a rash way when you're upset... or wait to long... it won't be viewed as career development... but lashing out... or bringing up the past.
  4. Be reasonable - evaluate staff at their grade... any improvement above that level is being a good mentor and preparing them for either a promotion, or the next opportunity.
  5. Don't surprise - if you wait until once a year to give feedback... shame on you.  Annual reviews should never be a surprise... they should be a confirmation of conversations that have occurred over the year on employee development matters, and to set objectives for the future.

I really like the idea of holistic continuous feedback.  If your employee is a level one... and their focus is technical, then focus on their technical skills and attributes necessary to get to a level two position.  Once they achieve level one... then focus on the development necessary to get to level two, and so forth.

Don't have tunnel vision.  Focus on all attributes... if someone has expert level .NET Skills... maybe they could use some development in SQL Server... or additional testing skills... responsive design, etc.  Don't forget feedback on team interaction, some people don't recognize themselves as leaders... and others don't recognize that they may be abrasive.  Give feedback on improving communications, being responsive, managing projects, improving presentation skills, etc.

Don't look at this as a once and done annual process.  Provide feedback on positive progress... don't be overly critical of your staff.  It's a journey, it's not a sprint.  Don't expect to change the world, or do this yourself.  Get the staff involved, and ask them to help provide feedback, confidentially or otherwise... and encourage team members to provide positive feedback to one another.

If you recruit, develop, and promote in an equitable way... and give credit where its' due... you may find that egos aren't an issue... people don't need to fight for recognition... they get it from the team.

Be humble, if your team succeeds... they deserve the credit!  It's your job to be a leader, and the best leaders are often those that recognize that they also are just another team member... whose job it is to help focus resources on what's most important.  If you're not sure what that is... well... that's a post for another time.