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Monthly Archives: March 2012

It’s a leader’s responsibility to support his/her employees

Two weeks ago I stopped in for a short visit at the unusual Museo de Armas, literally Museum of Weapons, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tucked away in a corner of the Retiro district, this small, quirky, maze-like museum boasts over 2,000 bazookas, grenade launchers, cannons, machine guns, muskets, pistols, lances and swords, each one painstakingly labelled and impressively organized. As I wandered through the displays and dioramas, a single item in the World War II gas mask display caught my attention – a gas mask for a horse! As unusual as that may seem, if you think about it for a moment, it makes complete sense. Horses were used extensively in World War II for transportation of troops, artillery, and materials, and to a lesser extent, in mobile cavalry troops. It wasn’t good enough to just protect the soldiers from the effects of toxic gases; it was necessary to shield their horses as well. The horses formed an integral support structure to active soldiers in the military, so it was just common sense to safeguard them as well.

Common sense you say? It got me thinking about parallels in the workplace. As a leader, you have support structures in your place of work – administrative staff, technology experts, safety personnel, and perhaps most of all, your direct reports. When you’re under enemy attack (or at least it feels that way), are you taking steps to protect your horses? When things get difficult, are you taking care of your support structure? Or are you leaving them to struggle on their own and fight in a noxious atmosphere? As a leader, your foremost responsibility should be to your employees, and that means equipping them with their own gas masks.

So what do you think? What are some of the real-life equivalents to a metaphoric gas mask? The first one that comes to my mind is the importance of supporting decisions made by your staff, even if they’re unpopular ones. What would you add to the list?

Why perfectionism is NOT a good thing!

The most popular business books of the last two decades all advocate workplace excellence and organizational achievement.  No quarrel there.  But this constant emphasis on being “the best” causes many to think that perfection is the ultimate goal.  After all, perfectionism is positive, right?  It’s synonymous with being an over-achiever; the kind of person who sets bold goals and blazes new trails to momentous achievements.  But the unvarnished truth is that in the workplace, there are more downsides to perfectionism than there are benefits.

In this month’s issue of CGA Magazine, I lay out five reasons perfectionism is NOT a plus,  AND if you happen to be “guilty as charged”, five specific things that you can do to break the pattern.  Read Perfectionism is Not a Plus: The business case for 80 per cent resultsAnd once you’re done, c’mon back and share your views about perfectionism right here on the blog.

Are you judging or encouraging?

So last month I took a short holiday in Hawaii and as we drove back to our hotel one evening I couldn’t help but notice the vehicle in front of me.  Two travellers had turned a regular pick-up truck into their own unique convertible.  By unfolding two everyday collapsible deck chairs in the bed of the pickup, they now had two seats on the back of an open-air vehicle … almost (but not quite) like driving in a sports car with the top down!

I’ll be honest … my first reaction was “Yikes, redneck!”  But a few moments later, I moved to “Hmm, rather resourceful!”  But it got me thinking about how people instinctively react to things that unusual or are outside the norm.  Often, my first reaction (as I think it is for many others) is to immediately make a judgment about the situation or person (sort of like I did with the home-made convertible :)).  But once you look more closely, perhaps the different and unusual represents ingenuity, imagination and originality.  Perhaps, as leaders, instead of judging we should be encouraging our people to be inventive and innovative in the workplace.

As always, I want to know what you think?  Redneck or resourceful?  Safety hazard or inspired?  And what are you more likely to do – judge or encourage?

Training employees – process or logic?

When training employees, which do you think is more important?

  • Teaching the process – what and how to do the individual tasks and steps that make up whatever it is that needs to be done, or
  • Teaching the logic – not only the what and the how but also the why – why things are being done the way they’re being done.

Before you answer, let me submit some points to consider.  The value in teaching the logic – the how, what and the why – is that employees are better able to deal with things that are outside the norm because they understand the reasoning and thus the implications of taking atypical actions.  However, teaching logic takes much longer than just teaching a process.  It’s far easier to give an employee a step-by-step task or instruction list that they can follow every single time.  This instruction list can then also be placed in a “desk binder” or equivalent reference source for employees to consult every time they need to.  In fact, this process orientation is the foundation for many well-recognized (and well-regarded) quality management standards and systems. The thinking behind this “process” approach is that once employees master the process, then understanding the reasoning behind the actions and decisions can come later.

I pose this question because of an informal discussion I had last week with a group of leaders at a large multinational client organization.  Over the past few years, they have been actively centralizing many of their “routine” operational activities (such as contract set-up and administration, accounts payable, and first-level telephone customer service) to lower-cost corporate locations outside North America and Western Europe.  To simplify and fast-track the transitions, they chose the “teach the process” approach.  However increasingly, sometimes even two to three years later, they are finding high levels of errors, due mostly to employees executing transactions without fully understanding the logic behind them.

So, the question is – process or logic?  Where is the balance (and how does one achieve it)?  Have you had first-hand experience with such a situation?  Please share!

Deal with defensiveness in negative people

I am repeatedly asked about strategies to combat negativity in the workplace.  And in the past I have offered several proven tools to resist or reduce workplace negativity (see below for links to past blog posts).  Today though, I want to focus more specifically on the people who are negative and the tactics they use to create a toxic work environment.  In reality, there are only a limited number of ploys that negative people use, and if you know what they are, you can be prepared to deal with them.  One of the tactics most commonly used by the Negative Nellies of the world is to become defensive.  It makes sense if you think about it: low self-esteem is a root cause of negativity, and so such a person will frequently take a defensive stance to “protect” himself from perceived attacks.  “Why is everyone always picking on me?” or “No one ever returns my phone calls” are common refrains you might hear. Continue reading

QWERTYUIOPs = that’s the way we’ve always done it!

So what the heck is a QWERTYUIOP? If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the top row on your computer keyboard.  Now you might wonder why your keyboard is arranged this way; wouldn’t it make more sense to arrange the keyboard alphabetically?  The answer to this enigma lies back in history in the 1800s.  You see, before there were computers, typewriters ruled in the office.  And when the first typewriters were developed in the mid-1800s, the keyboard was organized much more logically.  But one of the problems with the early typewriters was that the keys in the type-bar system jammed up easily.  To temporarily solve this problem, the inventors split up the keys for commonly-used letters into an illogical sequence so as to slow down how fast people could type.  By the time a better and improved mechanism that did not seize up was developed several years later, typists everywhere had already learned the unusual sequence of keys and did not want the discomfort of “unlearning” and “relearning”.  So the illogical QWERTYUIOP keyboard became the standard.

Today, QWERTYUIOP is symbolic of things in organizations that are illogical, outdated or inefficient, but that have never been challenged or changed because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Think about it for a few minutes – whether it’s policies, business processes and practices, reports, meetings, task forces, or anything else – there are no doubt things happening in your organization (perhaps even in your department) that drain time, money and energy and continue to be done for no other reason than it’s too much effort to change.

What are your QWERTYUIOPs? Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look and see what needs to be changed … even if it makes you or other people exceedingly uncomfortable.  What do you think?

How to deliver unpleasant news

Do you hesitate or struggle with delivering bad news to your employees?  You’re not alone!  In this article I offer seven definitive things to keep in mind to help you navigate this challenging leadership responsibility.

Breaking Bad News: How to deliver unpleasant information with compassion and credibility

What do you have to add to this list of seven?  Do you have approaches you use that you can share with your fellow blog readers?  Do tell.

Ask your older more experienced employees to teach and mentor others

In the past, I’ve offered you some specific ideas on how to capitalize on the wealth of experience that older, more experienced employees bring to the table.  Here is another one to consider – ask them to teach and mentor others.  Just like any other employee, your more experienced employees want to feel valued and recognized.  And asking them to teach or mentor another employee is a great way to not only accomplish that, but also build up the overall capabilities of your department.  Be specific when you ask — Edna, can I get you to spend some time with Rick and show him how to re-activate or re-issue old customer accounts.

For other ideas I’ve offered in the past, see:

So … how are you tapping into the knowledge and expertise of your older, more experienced employees?  Please share.

What made that good boss so special?

My professional colleague and good friend Kit Grant is known to his clients as “The Director of Comfort Zone Infiltration” because he works with them to help create environments that foster personal responsibility and accountability. And today he makes a return appearance to the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog as a guest author.

Most people can remember a really good boss they used to work for, or still do. At the same time, it’s not hard to recall the one you didn’t like. If you were to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, you could list the good characteristics on one side and the not-so-good on the other. After making your list, you would probably discover that what sets the good boss apart from the other one is their ability to exercise better “people skills”. I am not suggesting technical skills are not important, but most people who leave organizations actually just leave a particular manager or supervisor.

So what are some of these important “people skills”? Here’s a few I have identified:

  • Gives clear instructions … it doesn’t matter whether you understand your directions, it only counts when they actually get it!
  • Good listening skills … the foundation of trust building and people will do almost anything for you if they trust you.
  • Enthusiasm for the task and for life in general … people get excited when the leader is excited.
  • High degree of self-esteem and self-confidence … usually gained by experiencing success by doing what you are good at — this has huge implications for hiring and delegating effectively.
  • Encourages continual growth and improvement …. we all have a daily choice of getting better or worse.
  • Makes decisions and addresses challenges after appropriate analysis … people do not like working for someone who won’t make decisions and gets bogged down in endless meetings after which not much happens.
  • Recognizes efforts of others and praises accordingly … feedback based on performance creates a motivating environment as opposed to no personal recognition ever being given which usually means your good people leave (because they can).
  • Expects good work from everyone … as opposed to demanding it — no one wants to work for “Attila the Hun” or “Hunette” as the case may be.
  • Can overcome resistance to change … people follow you because they think you know where you are going.

How many of the above characteristics would describe your leadership style? Implementing these on a consistent basis builds strong teams and personal loyalty.

So Kit asked: how many of these “people skills” would you use to describe yourself?  Do tell.  Please add your comments below.

And you can reach Kit through his website at http://kitgrant.com.