Category Archives: Leadership

Give Yourself No Choice

Here’s a little tidbit that recently bit me in the backside. I’m coordinating the 50th year reunion for a group with which I performed in college. So I had the alumni magazine publish my contact information, and invited “all comers”. Well, they’ve started calling.

The problem for me is that I’ve been putting off building the roster. Other things inevitably came up. Well, now I have no choice. The word is out, the hall is booked, and they’re banging on the door. Time to get up from the fire and start working!

Stash stuff in your environment

Driving in to work at the military academy this morning, I really needed some chapstik. Normally I carry a chapstik and a USB flash drive in my right front pocket. But last night I delivered a lecture in my flight suit, and the stick was still in one of the sleeve pockets. Those sleeve pockets are just perfect for such small objects that need to be close at hand. Unfotunately, I don’t wear a flight suit to work any more.

This brings up a tactic for smoothing out all the daily disappointments and lost opportunities brought about by a distracted mind (I’m not going to say forgetful.) I like to stash stuff in all my normal haunts. At first glance this may seem at odds with the goal of crafting a life free of karmic garbage. But sometimes having more lets you DO more. I keep a small first aid kit in my desk at work, in the pickup truck, and in the basement shop. When you need a bandaid, you need it NOW. You can’t afford to stand around wishing you had a band aid.

So think about stashing stuff around your environment. Your mind will feel less cluttered, trust me.

The wonders of TRAF

If you’re alive in today’s world (and believe me, with some people I really wonder), you just can’t get away from managing your in-box. Even if you don’t work in an office, you still have something known as a mailbox, a perpetual in-box if there ever was one. Stuff comes in, and it all needs to be addressed. How do you keep from getting buried under all the garbage?

That’s where TRAF comes in. I can’t remember where I first heard about this process, but it works.

Trash It
Ninety percent of the stuff that appears in your in-box can be trashed. Right away. Ads, promotions, those annoying credit card offers. I like to keep one bin for recyclable paper and a shredder right by the front door. When mail comes in, most of it goes right out again. Same goes for an in-box at work: recycled or shredded right away. The email in-box is even easier. Read, delete. Read, delete. Getting a little zealous with the delete button can be a liberating experience.

Refer It
Of the material that’s left, normally just 10% or less of the original mound, you can refer about ninety percent away. Refer it to someone else. Send those memos on to your subordinates. Hand the lingerie or motorcycle parts catalog to your spouse. Not your problem!

Act on It
Now that you’ve whittled your way to the 1% that’s left, you’re probably going to have to do something with it. Act on it. Don’t wait. You’ve done the lion’s share of the work, so now close it out. Pay the bill, sign the memo, make that follow up call. Just get it done.

File It
You may discover something that you can’t trash, can’t refer, and can’t act on right now. It just sits there looking at you stubbornly saying “I’m here to mess up your Karma”! The last and best thing to do with such annoying material is file it. Put it away where it can’t do any harm, until such time as you must act on it.

Building an amazing filing system is a topic for another day. In the meantime, you can use the ever-powerful TRAF filing system to help unclutter your in-box.


Resources
An Article about TRAF from Stephanie Winston’s Book, The Organized Executive
– Here’s a word document that discusses the technique.

Avoiding the word BUT

Certain words are like signposts, warning of an impending emotional and negative exchange.

Effective Communication is a pivotal skill. When we as leaders consider requests, there are often times when we must communicate “no.”

Many entry-level manager classes include this tidbit: non-verbal cues make up at least 55% of verbal communications.  The actual words themselves may convey as little as 7% of the message, with tone making up the rest. Part of the tone includes the grouping of words. Certain groups carry a positive tone (“Happy Birthday!”), and others are more negative (“This is the IRS.”)

More skillful communicators have grown sensitive to the nature of this tone. There are many times I’ve presented an idea, been flatly turned down, and have still gone away with a smile on my face. This was not because of the negative words themselves, but rather the skill of the other person in avoiding a negative emotional tone.

As receivers we have also grown sensitive to tone, often on a subconscious level. Certain words are like signposts, warning of an impending emotional and negative exchange. One such word is BUT. It is a qualifier that can shut people down immediately. Perhaps this sounds familiar:

“Your idea has merit for several reasons, BUT those reasons are not sufficient for me to accept your request.”

Which part do you focus on? Is it the praise for taking a risk (the first part), or rejection of the idea (the second part)? That tiny little word BUT changes the tenor of the statement in a very tangible way. It shuts down further dialog and hampers constructive development. Now consider this response:

“Your idea has merit for several reasons. Those reasons are not sufficient for me to accept your request.”

The second phrasing allows the communicator to continue the conversation, perhaps:

“If you present better evidence, I’m open to reconsider.” Now the receiver is likely to go away and actually do more work for you! Avoiding BUT keeps the options open. By using BUT, an emotionally charged word, you shut them up tight.

As a challenge to my fellow communicators, try avoiding the word BUT for one week. Can you do it? Can you adjust your habitual speech and writing patterns to steer clear of the emotionally charged BUT? If you make the effort, you will discover many other words and phrases that impact the tone of conversations. The real challenge is bending that tone to reinforce elements of your message, team cohesion, and political effectiveness.

Sometimes an emotionally charged word or phrase is necessary, even desirable. But adding them to conversation should be a conscious choice.

Please share your experience with my communications challenge in the comments. Besides BUT, what other words did you find with emotional impact, positive or negative?

Training Minutes Really Do Matter

Finish Line

You work hard to keep the learning and development (L&D) wheel spinning. You know careful spending on L&D is a good bet.

And so here we are. You made the bet, took the plunge, and sent your people to training. You spent money on the program, had them off the job for a day or a week, and now with fingers crossed you honestly hope it was all worth it. Like you, I have made that bet many times. Here are some ideas that can help justify L&D for your team.

First, there are benefits for each employee. The links between L&D and employee loyalty, retention, engagement, and satisfaction are well researched. (Wranx has a good article based on various studies.) So, investing in L&D can make your people 12% more effective? Or save you one $50,000 hiring event in a year? Those may be reasons enough to justify a training budget.

Second, ask the employees themselves to estimate the impact.

“With what you learned, how many minutes will you save each day?”

Depending on the topic, each learner will probably save at least 5 minutes per day. If you sent 20 people to training, each making $25 per hour, those collective minutes just added over $10,000 in value for the team this year.* There are many ways to quantify productivity pre- and post-instruction. Pick something that works with your process. Saving 25-30 minutes per person each week is a real win any way you look at it.

Finally, some structured time away from “the grind” can focus everyone on a timely topic and yield real benefits. For example, “the holiday rush” is a good excuse to jumpstart the seasonal effort around a shared experience. A learning event gets everyone “on the same page” using common language and procedures. Standardized terminology and process alignment are both easy shortcuts to performance. Ask yourself,

“What is the cost of one mishandled order in December?”

If an hour spent in training can save a dozen mishandled orders, that hour was probably worth it. (Now, run the numbers and check!)

One last thought: it is better to move past “awareness” and towards L&D that is “hands on.” Real practice with real problems means better performance. Get those hands dirty, but in a controlled and safe environment. Your people will come back with better confidence and skill to tackle the real work. And at the end of the day, that’s really the goal.

As always, I would love to hear your “minutes matter” stories.

* (5 min x 20 people x 5 days) / 60 = 8.33 hours/week x 50 weeks = 417 hours x $25 = $10,425)

Copyright © 2016 Expeditionaire and Edward K. Beale
Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horse_Race_Finish_Line_(11888565543).jpg

(My book West By Sea is 20% off in August with discount code. Enjoy!)

 

Follow The Rules At Work

Do Not Touch

This is how we do things around here.
Sincerely, Workplace Culture

Behavior at work is driven by the law, market forces, the local environment, and preferences of the workers. Each driver comes with a rule book. Some rules you can’t avoid. Other rules you can control, absolutely. And of course there are rules for everything in between.

Rank-ordered from “jail time” to “nobody cares”, I group these rule books like this:

  • Regulation: required by law. Failure to comply means you will be deprived of money, liberty, or status by an outside force (typically government and the law).
  • Policy: required by the parent organization. Failure to comply means you will be deprived of employment, company-specific benefits, or status by an organizational force; applies to the entire company.
  • Procedure: required by the nature of the work and the work environment. Failure to comply means you face injury or loss to your person or your team; may not apply to the overall company.
  • Norm: not required, but everyone does it this way. Failure to comply may impact those performing the work, and result in ridicule or loss of status. Work unit preference.
  • Technique: not required, but individuals do it this way. Often more efficient. Must be supported by norms, procedures, policies, and regulations. Personal preference.

How do these drivers impact your work every day? A Federal regulation that directs your TPS reports? A company policy that controls billable hours? A procedure for signing out equipment? An office norm allowing casual attire on Friday? A technique for setting up your desk every day?

Each level is important for success. But rules can get miscategorized, too.

Has your office norm (“best practice”) become so useful, it should really be a procedure? Does that tedious company policy really apply to your team, or is it just a collection of antiquated procedures? What techniques can you discover from your local experts that could be codified in procedure or even policy?

Sometimes a rule is not really a rule! Take a look at what you do every day, and reassess the rules of the game. Every rule book is shaping your corporate culture. Take some time to make them right.

—–

Copyright © 2016 Expeditionaire and Edward K. Beale
Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PLEaSE_DO_NOT_TOUCH_(4366639799).jpg

(You may have different names for these rule book categories, so let me know what you call them in the comments.)

(My book West By Sea is 20% off in August with discount code. Enjoy!)

Make Training Look Like a Good Bet

Poker Chips

Make Training Look Like a Good Bet

My last post discussed why learning and development (L&D) should be a budget priority: it is easier to nudge a spinning wheel than to start from zero. In the end, headquarters agreed but still wanted cuts. So to match the 10% workforce reduction, I took a 10% reduction in student load, and absorbed the cuts across my various learning programs.

Still, I kept 90% of my annual budget under threat of deeper cuts. My argument started like this. For an organization with an annual budget of $10 billion US, my L&D team had a budget of $5 million US (with roughly $4 million of that sunk salary cost and $1 million operating cost).

“Would you be willing to bet that spending half of a tenth of one percent in developing the workforce will return at least that amount in productivity over the course of a year?”

Headquarters reluctantly agreed: it was probably a good bet. Looked at another way, my $5 million budget supported a 50,000-person workforce. I said,

“Do you think betting $100 per person on their L&D will return at least $100 as productivity (or just good will) per person?”

Of course – that’s less than nine dollars per month, or 30 cents per day!

When defending your L&D budget, I suggest a similar approach. Get the best numbers you can about organizational budget, the amount directed at L&D, and the size of your workforce. Then do the math, and if possible frame the results as a good bet.

And now, let me know what the answer looks like for your organization!

Image from: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gambling_chips.jpg

(My book West By Sea is 20% off in August with discount code. Enjoy!)

 

New Leaders Should Follow the STARS

Starry Night

This is an older HBR article by Michael D. Watkins, but it does not seem dated. When a leader is hired to replace someone at the Director level or above, Watkins asks the new leader to do a short analysis and adjust their strategy up front.

From the article:

“STARS” is an acronym for the five common situations leaders may find themselves moving into: start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, and sustaining success.

I was once handed a new supervisor who viewed every new role as a chance to “make his mark.” He had approached every job – almost a dozen – in this way for over 20 years. He was hard-wired to treat each new job as a turnaround. And my goodness, was he hard to work for. The work did NOT need to be turned around, decidedly not. The place was highly successful, and sustaining that success (or as I like to say “keeping the trains running on time”) should have been the main focus.

Instead, this new leader decided to “shake things up a bit” for almost a year. Half my time was spent convincing the new leader that his focus on rebranding, opening unfunded business lines, seeking growth in obscure markets; “doing more with less,” were not answers to any existing problems. The work suffered, the staff suffered, and in the end, the customers suffered so much that criticism rang out loudly in the surveys.

In 20 years as a tactician, this leader had never developed strategic skills, and floundered when those skills were needed most. If you are a leader new-to-a-role, or are working under someone who “just doesn’t get it,” this article may help.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_sky#/media/File:Starry_Night_at_La_Silla.jpg

(My book West By Sea is 20% off in August with discount code. Enjoy!)