Building Better Working Relationships

Last time we suggested taking a look at which of your working relationships could use some attention. If you’ve been truly honest in your self-examination, you probably have discovered one or more key relationships could stand some improvement. Perhaps you’ve neglected one of your high-performers to focus more attention on a marginal performer. Or you may tend to avoid dealing with a co-worker who kind of rubs you the wrong way or who you frankly don’t like much.

Whatever the situation, unless you do something to change the equation, the relationship is unlikely to improve. It might continue to deteriorate if you do nothing, but it’s unlikely to improve on its own. So, what could you do?

You might begin by asking yourself several questions:

  • Why is this relationship important to me?
  • Why do I feel the relationship could be better than it is right now?
  • What would be the ideal relationship with this person?
  • What would I be willing to do in order to improve it?

Once you’ve examined the current state of the relationship, it’s time to decide what you want to do, and when you intend to do it. Realize that there may be no single “best” thing to do or say; the key here is being willing to try different things and keep at it as long as it takes to see the relationship improve.

While there certainly are plenty of practical suggestions (see Skill 3) in The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers, here are a few that might be a good place to start:

  • Be patient! – most problem relationships did not get that way overnight; they won’t improve overnight either.
  • Be interested in the other person’s ideas, suggestions; ask for their opinion.
  • Be flexible – be willing to try different approaches until you sense things are moving in the right direction
  • Be clear about expectations – yours and theirs, but do so in a non-confrontational way
  • Re-recruit your high performers from time to time; they will appreciate the attention and value your commitment to building the team
  • Realize that changing the relationship is up to you!

As Stephen Covey so eloquently said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If we think more about understanding the other person, seeking their perspective, asking for their ideas, and seriously listen to what they have to say, that cannot help but move the relationship in the right direction.

Don’t you think so?

Paul

Fear in the Workplace

Long before I founded Midwest Consulting Group in 1990 I worked in a variety of organizations in management roles. One thing I noticed was the presence of people who seemed to be in fear much of the time. I came to understand that Fear is a reality in many working environments. You may define workplace fear differently, but what I sensed and saw were some of the following fears:

  • Fear my boss will fire me; I could be without a job, lose my house, etc.
  • Fear people will realize I don’t really know what I’m doing.
  • Fear others will think my ideas are silly or unworkable.
  • Fear I’ll be viewed as not a “team player” if I disagree with plans or priorities.
  • Fear I’ll make a bad decision, support an unsuccessful initiative, or chose the “wrong side” in disputes within the team.
  • Fear of . . . some unknown something that might happen someday.

Recently I worked with a nonprofit arts organization where most of the above fears seemed to be operating. Even the director exhibited some level of fear. As you can imagine, the atmosphere and energy around the group was decidedly negative; people were constantly watching their back.

In “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” Freedom from Fear is described as the “foundation” of Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships. When the relationship is one based on Fear, the higher-level aspects – honesty, trust, personal interaction, acceptance, good communication, development and growth, mutual benefit – simply cannot happen.

Over the next several posts we’ll examine the components of successful relationships. As our colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus says, “It’s all about the relationships.”

Paul

Pres. Eisenhower’s Gift to Managers

If there is one thing General Dwight Eisenhower learned during his military career it was this simple fact: the only person responsible for getting the job done, no matter what that job may be, is you!

That’s why “Managing Yourself” is Skill 1 in The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers. If you can’t manage yourself – your workload, your projects, your tasks . . . then how can you be successful at managing others?

Long before he become Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe prior to D-Day 1944 he began to use what eventually became called “The Eisenhower Box.” When Stephen Covey modified it in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he called it the “Four Quadrants”

Whatever you choose to call it, the Eisenhower Box has two Axis: Urgent and Important. Using this matrix you can classify nearly everything you have on your plate as falling in one of four categories:

  • Urgent & Important – Things you must do – critical issues that command your attention
  • Urgent & Not Important – Things you can delegate to someone else
  • Important & Not Urgent – Thing you must decide about – who & when?
  • Not Important & Not Urgent – Things you can delete; not do; forget about

Eisenhower used this matrix every day, listing the issues he had in front of him on this form. Then he used this approach to help him manage himself every day, whether he was General Eisenhower or President Eisenhower.

Give this simple yet powerful tool a test drive for a couple of weeks. Where would you place all the projects and tasks on our plate right now? What are you committed to accomplish in the next week? What could you delegate to someone else on your team who is read for a new challenge? What could just be dumped in the circular file as not worth the effort? After all, it’s up to you to determine what you will do today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Paul

 

 

Perry Smith’s Powerful Phrase

In the late 1990’s I had the pleasure of teaching in George Washington University’s executive programs. And that’s where I got to know Perry Smith. As a retired Maj. General, author of numerous books, veteran of 180 combat flights in SE Asia, fighter wing commander, former director of strategic planning for the U.S. Air Force, former commandant of the National War College, Ph.D., former military expert of major TV networks, and all around high-level thinker, Perry is an interesting guy to be around. He is definitely not your average kinda guy.

Perry’s a great guy for checklists; things to handle, work on, get better at, pay attention to . . . One of his “useful phrases for leaders” that has stuck with me is a simple yet incredibly profound statement:

“Help me discipline my In-Basket; don’t send me issues you are competent to decide.”

Think about the implications of his statement and what it says to your employees. It works well on several levels:

  • It says, “There are issues that fall within the scope of your job and expertise, and I think you can figure out which issues those are and what needs to be done about them.”
  • It says, “I’m confident in your ability to make good decisions on those issues and implement them.”
  • It says, “When you face an issue that you think I can help with, let me know how I can best do that.”
  • It even says, “You decide what to keep me informed about and when to do so.”

What an affirming, empowering viewpoint!

How many times have you said to yourself, “it’s just easier for me to do this myself than to take the time to teach someone how to do it.” What would it take for you to honestly be able to say Perry’s phrase instead of yours?

Paul

PS – now a young 81, Perry has always reminded me of the Energizer Bunny; he just keeps on going. If you want to learn more about this remarkable man, take a look at his website.

What If the Answer is “No?”

We seem to have this notion that becoming a supervisor or stepping into a middle management position is an irrevocable shift from being “one of us” to becoming “one of them.” Certainly our formal organizations – corporations, universities, government agencies seem to work that way. Many nonprofits too, for that matter; especially the large ones.

Supervising and managing is, frankly, not for everybody. And yet our organizations are set up in a way that basically says, “If you want to make more money and have a more secure future for your family, you need to become a manager.” I guess that may make sense to those that run larger organizations; certainly it was the path I chose for much of my career, since I worked in large organizations.

Suppose you’ve stuck your toe in the “supervision pond” and maybe even jumped in with both feet. There’s lots to like about management, but perhaps you miss the thing that brought you to the organization in the first place. Maybe that was direct contact with customers or clientele. Maybe it was the hands-on “making” of something; you, creating something of value. So where is it written that when you become a manager you no longer can do the things that attracted you in the first place?

I think it makes great sense for every supervisor, every manager, to stay in touch with their roots. Keep a hand in the game, an oar in the water to make sure you are connected to the folks that make it happen out there every day; the people making the products, delivering the services.

In the University world, presidents often make sure they continue to teach a class or two in their field, CEO’s take time to get out of the executive suite and see what’s going on in the trenches. Managers make sure they keep connected to their core interest by spending time with their sleeves rolled up.

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

Paul

Adventures in Lego-Land

Recently I attended the monthly meeting of InterCom, the organization for professional communicators in SW Michigan.  InterCom has become a must-attend for me in recent years because of the quality and variety of the monthly programs.

March’s meeting featured Renee Shull of integrated play. The couple of short “building” exercises she had us do using Lego blocks was certainly fun. It was also revealing as she explained the use of the small blocks as a metaphor for our perceptions about success and work. But what particularly struck a chord with me was when she talked about the need to remake herself after a career in corporate HR and how it led her to working with former NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA athletes. Renee has built her business on helping former athletes and others create successful transitions from their current career to whatever comes next for them and their families.

As she pointed out, some professional athletes have a relatively short career and in their 20’s or 30’s realize there is going to life after the playing field or arena. The average NFL career is 3.5 years while the average in the NBA is 4.8, the NHL is 5.5, and MLB is 5.6 years, so it’s clear that most professional athletes are going to need to do something else at a relatively young age. Long-lived playing careers, such as Derek Jeter’s 20 years as the New York Yankees’ shortstop are unusual to say the least.

Thanks, Renee, for a fascinating and fun InterCom meeting. And best wishes for continued success with integrated play. For the rest of us, this is a good reminder to keep working on Skill 8 – Growing Yourself

What’s next for you?

Paul

Choices And Expectations

Whenever we see performance problems the culprit frequently involves expectations. Someone’s expectations about what was to happen did not get met. Those might involve results, behaviors, communications, relationships, or a combination of unmet expectations.

Expectations are often unstated or implied, the person “expecting” certain behaviors or results rarely has been explicit about the specifics of the expectation. Far too often the offending party has no idea what they have done wrong, and when an expectation goes unmet for days, weeks, or even months, the relationship sours, perhaps to the point of somebody losing their job.

Expectations come from a variety of sources, for example:

  • Employees have expectations about how their manager communicates with them.
  • Managers have expectations about when an employee needs to ask for input or permission and when the employee can act on their own.
  • Customers have expectations about the relationship with your organization, including how and when you will communicate with them.
  • Peers and co-workers have expectations about the relationship and communications between you and them, as well as between your unit and their unit.

Those are simply a few examples of where there are expectations, but you get the general idea. And in many instances the expectations are strongly held but completely unstated. Think about what kinds of expectations might be operating in your particular situation. What expectations do you have about how your subordinates are to behave and which of those expectations are merely implicit? How often has an expectation not been met but you’ve said nothing to the employee? Look at some of the examples below:

Managers Expectations – samples:

  • Be flexible in responding to shifts in priorities or direction
  • Suggest improvements to will help the organization be more successful
  • Keep them in the loop about what is happening in your unit
  • Be a self-starter, honest, trustworthy, and reliable

Employees Expectations – samples:

  • Manage under-performers so they either succeed or leave
  • Listen to their ideas, concerns, problems, and proposed solutions
  • Keep them informed about things that have a bearing on their work
  • Provide clear information about what you expect them to do

Peers Expectations – samples:

  • Pull your share of the load; make sure your team does too
  • Train and develop your staff
  • Be an active member of the team; provide ideas, suggestions, feedback
  • Share information that helps others get the job done successfully

These are just a few examples of typical expectations; you can easily come up with others. And there may be expectations unique to your own organization. Yet time and time again these kinds of expectations are not communicated to the key people you work with every day. What would happen if you sat down with your boss, your employees, your peers and had a real conversation about expectations? Do you think it might help people work more cooperatively, more positively, more successfully?

I think so. What do you think?

Paul

Do You Really Want to be a Supervisor?

Being a supervisor . . . managing others . . . leading a program staff or production team where you work is often rewarding and energizing. It provides an outlet for your creative passion, and can be a very real way to contribute to your organization and your local community. And of course it can also be difficult, challenging,, disappointing, and a major pain in the neck (or some other portion of your anatomy).

Many times we think becoming a supervisor is more or less expected; the next step on our career. Moving from an individual contributor or team member role to managing a group is often viewed as a right of passage in the organization. That’s great if being a manager is what you really want. But there are so many other ways to make a positive and substantial contribution to your organization.

Taking on a new project, developing a new product or process, taking the new team member under your wing and teaching them how to get things accomplished, looking for ways to exercise your sphere of influence (see: “It’s All About Choices“) to help your team and the organization move forward . . . all examples of “leading” without becoming a supervisor or manager in a more formal sense.

So when the opportunity appears to move into a management role, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to be a supervisor or if there are other ways you can contribute in your current role. Get a good handle on the expectations for supervisors in your organization. Managing a team or a unit isn’t for everyone; make sure it is for you before you step into that role.

Think about it.

Paul

It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

360 Assessments Underway

Conducting a 360 assessment process is an important part of each ONEplace Nonprofit Leadership Academy, and the data-gathering is well underway for the 2015 Academy group.

We’re using a pair of excellent multi-rater assessments, the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI) and the Professional Communications Inventory (PCI) – [click here for more info]. Each Academy participant selects the 360 that best fits their situation and provides us with a list of people they want to ask for feedback. The scores are provided only to the Academy participant and individual rater’s responses are reported in aggregate, so confidentiality is assured throughout the process.

At the March session the group will receive the results of the assessment process. For many this will be the first time they’ve received this kind of feedback, and the enthusiasm within the group is pretty high.

When is the last time you got really honest feedback on what you do (and don’t do) as a professional?

Stay tuned,

Paul

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