Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: June 2016

Don’t lose sight of your important role in making decisions

Making decisions is what leaders do.  Whether it’s hiring staff, evaluating vendor proposals, or resolving process bottlenecks, making decisions is our bread and butter.  It’s why we get paid the big bucks! J  Given that making decisions is such a critical part of our roles, the tendency can be to fall into a routine, and even lose sight of how important this responsibility can be.  And invariably, our decisions stack upon one another – the first decision leads to a second, which leads to a third, and so on.  So what would happen if you made a poor decision somewhere along that path?  Logic says that it could potentially take you down a road that could lead to a sub-optimal or even damaging outcome.

MongooseThe world of natural science has numerous examples of how one seemingly harmless decision has led to devastating unintended consequences.  Consider the introduction of the mongoose to the Hawai’ian islands.  In the 1880s, sugar cane farmers in the islands were seeking ways to control rat populations that were destroying their crops, and in 1883, with the best of intentions, they imported hundreds of mongoose and let them loose in their fields.  It proved to be a decision that was enormously uninformed.  Continue reading

Be thoughtful about how you’re communicating information to your team

Most leaders I know are deliberate and thoughtful about ensuring that their employees feel like they are treated equivalently (after all, wanting to be treated fairly is a primal instinct).  But there is one circumstance in which this good intention often goes amiss.  I’m talking communicating information to the team.  I’ll start by saying that this communication failure is usually never intentional.

Business people talking togetherThere are some employees with whom you have more vocal or friendly relationships.  I’m talking about the team members who pop in to your office to chat about their weekends, or those ask you about your kids at the coffee machine.  And because you’re having more frequent conversations with these staff, you tend to talk about stuff.  And some of this “stuff” has to do with new workplace initiatives, or recent discussions at the senior management table, or process changes being considered.  Not surprisingly, these employees repeat this “stuff” to their co-workers, and suddenly, without you even realizing it, the rest of your team thinks you’re playing favourites when it comes to communicating information that’s important.  Definitely not what you’d intended, or likely even thought about!  But it’s something you need to be aware of. Continue reading

If you discourage honest and open communication, you may get a Potemkin village!

As leaders, it is critical that we foster an environment that encourages and supports honest and open communication between team members.  And creating the right workplace atmosphere that encourages these types of behaviours starts with us.  I’ve blogged previously about how sometimes leaders send mixed messages, the cavernous disconnect between what you say and what you do, which quite frankly confuses our people.  But continued mixed messages can also result in Potemkin villages.

PotemkinVillageA Potemkin village is a term commonly used in economics and politics to describe a literal or figurative construction that is created solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is.  The term comes from the tale of fake portable villages that were built only to impress Empress Catherine II and her entourage during her journey to Crimea in 1787.  The story is that after the Russian annexation of Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in 1783, Grigory Potemkin was appointed governor of the region with a goal to rebuild the devastated area and bring in Russian settlers, something he was not able to achieve.  But in 1787, as a new war was about to break out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Catherine II made a trip to the area with several of Russia’s allies.  Since it was crucial to impress the allies, Potemkin set up “mobile villages fronts” on the banks of the Dnieper River. As soon as the barge carrying the Empress and ambassadors arrived, Potemkin’s men, dressed as peasants, populated the village. Once the barge left, the village was disassembled, then rebuilt downstream overnight. Continue reading

Self-awareness: with size comes strength AND vulnerability

Self-awareness in leaders is a key component of emotional intelligence, of which self-confidence and accurate self-assessment are key characteristics. Self-confidence is certainty about one’s self-worth and capabilities, and accurate self-assessment is knowing one’s strengths and limits.  In fact, just earlier this year, I blogged about this very subject when I recounted a story from Indian folklore. With this knowledge in mind, leaders always walk a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  In today’s post, I want to discuss how that line between the two can blur as people have continued success in their careers.  The truth is that when you’re big, you tend to be fearless.  But your size can also make you more vulnerable.

GoliathGrouper2Consider the Pacific goliath grouper, a saltwater fish that grows to 6-8 feet in length, and matures to about 400 pounds.  In fact, if they live long enough, these fish can grow to as much as 800 pounds.  But they rarely do.  Because of their size, they’re inquisitive and fearless.  And because of their size, they’re relatively easy prey for spear fishermen.  To add insult to injury, their normal habitat is shallow water, and they tend to spawn in large aggregations returning repeatedly to the same locations, a double and triple bonus to the spear fisherman looking for an easy catch.  Continue reading

Are you (inadvertently) taking actions that set people up to fail?

Police_Giving_TicketSo I got pulled by a police officer the other day; and got a first-hand experience of what it takes to set people up to fail.  Turns out my vehicle registration had expired on April 30, and apparently I have been driving with expired plates for over six weeks.  Twenty minutes and a $310 fine later, I made my way to the vehicle registration office to renew the offending document.  Now you might ask why I was driving with an expired certificate (the officer did).  My answer – I didn’t know that it had expired!  You see, for the last more than 30 years, I have always received a notice in the mail a few weeks before the registration was due to expire, which was my reminder to make a visit to the renewals office.  This year though, there has been a change in procedures in the province of Alberta.  The applicable government agency made a decision in March of this year that effective April 1, they would no longer send out renewal notices via mail, a move designed to save the province (and taxpayers) roughly $3 million per year.  Instead, drivers are expected to go online and sign up for email notifications.  Hey, I’m all for saving money, but wouldn’t it have been more intelligent to send out one last notice in the mail advising people that the province was switching to email notifications only?  I get that email notifications are a more cost-effective solution, but how exactly was I supposed to know that I needed to sign up for this?  Making a unilateral change without a reasonable effort to advise those affected is inherently designed to set people up to fail! (See Are you guilty of setting your employees up to fail?)

Sure, the penalty is legitimate (I was driving with expired plates after all) and I’ll pay it.  Continue reading

When the policy manual is a good thing …

Last year, one of my regular columns in The Globe & Mail was titled Three reasons to ignore your company’s policy manual and in it, I made the case for being flexible in the application of company rules and policies.  Which might lead one to think that I’m against policy and procedure manuals.  But regular readers of the blog will know that I’m not; in fact, I happen to think that procedure manuals are definitely worth the effort, particularly when it comes to training employees, or dealing with crisis situations.  CombinationLockThe best way for me to explain this apparent contradiction is to use the metaphor of an old-fashioned combination lock.  If you know the correct numbers and the right sequence for a specific combination lock, then you can be guaranteed that the lock will open.  Sure, you may get a little confused, or your hands may shake while you’re spinning the dial, but if the numbers and sequence are accurate, and despite the fact that you may need several tries, the ultimate outcome is that the lock will open.

Think about your procedure manual as the established record of the required numbers and sequence in a combination lock.  When needed, employees can gain access to this information, and even if they are inexperienced or unnerved, they can still deal with the situation; they can still open the lock to get the outcome they desire. Continue reading

Don’t forget to praise those who work behind the scenes

CookingI admit it, I love watching television shows that have to do with cooking and food.  Not because I’m very good at the former, but because I love the latter!  Viewing these programs has given me an appreciation of the gargantuan behind-the-scenes effort taking place in the kitchen to produce the plate of food that eventually makes it to your table, not just looking fantastic and garnering praise, but also tasting delicious.  Long before your meal arrives, there’s cleaning, chopping, mise en place, cooking, seasoning, testing, tasting, and plating that happens behind the kitchen door.  It’s only after all these tasks have been completed that your server arrives and presents your meal with a flourish!  But what if even one of these steps was missed or done incorrectly?  Do you really want grit in your mushrooms because they weren’t properly washed?  Or potatoes that are unevenly cooked because they weren’t cut uniformly?  Or soup that is bland because someone forgot to add salt?  Or meat that is overcooked because no one tested the temperature?  I think you get where I’m going with this – if you don’t get the preceding tasks done right, then the final culinary creation likely isn’t going to be very good. Continue reading

How to deal with inappropriate workplace behaviour (and stay out of legal hot water)

StephenHammondI’ve often addressed how leaders should deal with specific dysfunctional workplace behaviours (including my suggestions in this article in CPA Magazine).  Today though, my professional colleague and friend Stephen Hammond comes at this very important subject from a much more global perspective.  The focus of Stephen’s professional practice is helping leaders improve workplace behaviour, and he’s also the author of a new book The New Norm: a manager’s guide to improving workplace behaviour…and keeping out of legal hot water.  I am thrilled that he agreed to write a guest post for the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog.

Why does anyone put up with inappropriate workplace behaviours, some of which can be described as harassment, bullying and discrimination?  After all, we’ve had decades of policies and education to address these very issues…yet problems persist in so many workplaces.

It seems we need to ask some very important questions: Why can one person poison an entire workplace? Why can a bully be promoted into a managerial role where she can wreak havoc on even more employees? Why does a bullying boss get a promotion, thereby indicating that the organization rewards bad behaviour? And why can people blow the whistle on bad behaviour and yet they end up with discipline, or worse, they get fired? Continue reading

Problem-solving tip: now is better than later

ShovelingSnowAs regular readers of this blog know, I often offer up ideas to help leaders deal with and resolve the myriad of issues you deal with on a daily basis.  In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the frequent identity crisis of analyst versus leader.  Well, just earlier this week, one of my professional colleagues said something that brought problem-solving to the forefront of my mind again.  He said – “Eventually snow melts.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in shovelling the sidewalk.”  His point was that even though issues may resolve themselves in the long-term, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages in taking action to sort them out earlier.  In the balance, “now is better than later” is a good principle for leaders to abide by as well.

Good leaders address problems and concerns sooner rather than later.  In fact, it’s been my experience that most leadership matters, left unaddressed, actually get worse.  Continue reading