Employers and Employees

The Kalamazoo Gazette on Friday, September 10, contained a Viewpoint by Karen Momber titled “In today’s work environment, employers hold all the cards.” In her Viewpoint, the writer paints a thoroughly negative image of employers as nasty, mean-spirited, scheming, abusive, unethical, and downright evil. I have no idea where Ms. Momber has worked in her career, but it certainly has not been in any place I’ve ever seen.

With more than 20 years of working, teaching, training, and advising hundreds of organizations and thousands of managers all over the U.S., I have found the vast majority of employers and managers to be the opposite of Ms. Momber’s description. Sure, there are lousy jobs and crummy managers. Some actually are jerks. Unfortunately, the writer uses a broad, all-encompassing brush to paint a wholesale indictment of business organizations and those who own and manage them. If personal experience has informed her views, she has my sympathy. But I believe the portrait she depicts represents a tiny fraction of the private sector.

The vast majority of managers understand that building and running a business means generating a reasonable profit over the long term. Otherwise, the business simply disappears, taking everyone’s job with it. They also understand that treating employees well yields much better results than treating them poorly. Employees who are treated as Ms. Momber describes will be minimally productive and will leave the first chance they get. If enough employees do this, the business ultimately disappears.

In any event (and thankfully!), organizations and managers that embrace “The 8 Essential Skills” don’t look anything like Ms. Momber’s Viewpoint. In the unfortunate event that your employer or manager does look like she describes, buy a copy of the book and leave it on their desk. You’ll be glad you did!

Order your copy today at Amazon.com

When Things Go Wrong

Communications Stories from the Trenches – II

Nearly 30 years ago I sat in one of David Allen’s seminars on personal productivity and heard him say, Virtually every problem that would show up in your business can be traced back to communications; somebody didn’t talk to somebody about something.” The truth of that statement was brought home to me recently as I met with a long-time client. Our monthly discussions tend to be an equal mix of business strategy and people management issues. The CEO realized that on those rare occasions when people’s performance fell short or when a project did not turn out as planned, the cause was almost always a breakdown in Communication. Indeed, somebody didn’t communicate something to somebody.  

Much of the time, when things go wrong, the cause is a lack of clear expectations. You’ve hired good people, you’ve brought them on board and have come to rely on them to produce the results you’re looking for. And they become pretty good at getting things done well most of the time. When things go wrong, ask yourself, “what did I do or not do that contributed to the results? Was I clear about the outcome we were looking for? Did our focus shift somewhere along the way so we lost sight of the objective? Did priorities change? Did we overload the person or give them conflicting guidance?”

When things go wrong, instead of looking for “who screwed up,” look in the mirror and ask yourself what you could have done differently or better. Whether you are running a large organization or a front-line team, the results they achieve are an outgrowth of the communication you have with them.

You may want to check out Skill 2 – Communicating for Results in “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” To ordervisit Amazon.com.

That Derailment Thing – Again

Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership have studied the reasons behind managers derailing and crashing. It seems to come down to three things: 

They don’t successfully adapt during transitions

They are difficult to work with

They fail to lead in a team-centered way

As I look back at supervisors and managers who derail somewhere along the line, I see lots of examples of people who failed due to one, two, or occasionally all three of these reasons. How about you? Can you think of examples that stand out in your own career?

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 2

This past weekend’s Indy 500 is probably the 10th time we’ve been a part of this event. Over the years I’ve watched the physical plant evolve and observed changes in the way in which the event is managed.

Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships – there are all kinds of people associated with the business of producing the spectacle called the Indianapolis 500. Many of them, particularly some of the drivers, owners, team managers, officials and pit crews have fairly strong personalities. Despite a huge amount of talent and some pretty Type A personalities, all these people come together and create solid working relationships to create this event. Competition? Certainly, but plenty of cooperation among the various functions within that spirit of competition. It’s exciting to watch; it’s almost ballet.

Skill 4 – Managing Others – IMS is a big place with lots of different functional teams working together. Still, in each team, there is a “boss” of some sort; the person who choreographs the team’s activities and directs its reponse to rapidly changing circumstances. In the pits it may be the crew chief who directs the pit crew as they refuel and change all four tires in less than 10 seconds. All around the track there are teams who spring into action when an emergency occurs. In the stands the staff in their yellow shirts handle some 400,000 fans and help keep them safe. But in every case there is a manager or team leader who helps keep the team focused and supplied with information.

Next Time – Skills 5 & 6

Why Managers Fail – 6

Recent posts have described five reasons why 40% of the superivors and managers moving into a new position are likely to fail within the first 18 months in the job. The sixth and final reason is:

Maintaining an Inappropriate Work/Personal Life Balance

Having balance in your life is generally viewed as desirable. It means taking time to build and nurture your family and other personal relationships as well as your professional network. It might mean volunteering in your community for a cause you believe in. And, yes, it means actually taking vacations. Balance means working hard but not becoming a workaholic. Research has shown that if your workweek regularly goes beyond 52-55 hours, your ability to be productive and make good decisions goes downhill quickly – something that no organization wants. Routine 60-70 hour workweeks are a recipe for disaster.

There will be times when a long week (or even a few long weeks) might be necessary, but you can’t effectively sustain that kind of schedule without paying a severe price personally. A failed marriage, missing your children’s lives as they grow up, and generally not having a life other than work are the results of inappropriate balance. At the same time, if your boss can’t count on you to be at work regularly because you are always gone with a family emergency or crisis, you’ll be viewed as someone who isn’t reliable. In the end it is, after all, a question of balance.

How’s your work/personal life balance?

Why Managers Fail – 5

 Another reason the failure rate for supervisors and managers is so high has to do with your ability to do your job within the context of the organization’s culture and way of operating. The fifth reason cited by CCL’s research is:

Lacking Internal Political Savvy

We may complain about it, but the reality is what we call “office politics” is often simply the relationships that help move an organization ahead. Having internal political savvy means understanding how decisions are made, who has real (positional) power, and who the informal leaders are in your organization. As a manager and leader it’s essential that you build a solid internal network within the organization, and that you know how an agenda you’re pushing will affect other parts of the organization.

An important part of political savvy is the approach and tone you use. Constantly raising issues in an aggressive, complaining, tactless manner will be seen as being a P.I.A. (Pain In the Ass) by those above you in the organization. As one executive recently said, “If you are constantly in my face, run me down to others behind my back, and generally behave as a pain in my rear end, why would I want to promote you?”

In every organization there are ways to get things done, raise issues, make suggestions, and transmit important information. Having internal political savvy means understanding how to effectively communicate and interact with others in the organization. Being successful does not mean kissing ass, being a toady, or a yes-person but it does mean understanding how to do a good job within your organization.

What do you think?

Why Managers Fail – 4

For someone who believes, as my colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus does, that “it’s all about the relationships,” then this is a major cause of supervisors and managers derailing in their careers.

Failing to Build Partnerships & Cooperative Work Relationships

Most successful organizations have effectively broken down the walls or silos that once existed among their internal units or teams. People move so frequently in larger organizations, and responsibilities change so quickly, that you can’t be successful unless you build effective relationships. Your potential for success in higher levels of management depends on your ability to build partnerships and positive relationships with your boss, your employees, and your peers. In the end, being a successful manager and leader is indeed all about relationships.

Think about your own key relationships. Are they all in the shape you’d like them to be? Could one or two relationships benefit from greater effort on your part going forward? In The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers, you will find some excellent suggestions and tips for improving those key relationships.

Harry the Patriarch

During the past 25 years Harry had built a successful trucking business. The company had grown from four employees and three trucks to 150 employees and a fleet of more than 100 vehicles. Harry was nearing 50 and wanted to slow down a bit. Most of his management team had been promoted from within, typically starting behind the wheel of a truck or in an entry-level office job.

As founder and CEO, Harry had been the focus of the business for 25 years: making the decisions, guiding and building the team, regularly driving trucks just to remember where he came from, and otherwise acting as the center of the universe. He expected his long-time, dedicated employees to now make more decisions and take more initiative. Unfortunately, his “at the center of everything” approach for so many years meant his managers had little ability and willingness to step up to their new role; they hadn’t been properly prepared. Harry had great difficulty letting go and was visibly impatient when his managers didn’t immediately rise to the challenge. The management team expected Harry to stay around and be “daddy” for a lot longer so they wouldn’t have to make tough decisions.

Lessons Learned

As an organization grows and expands, the role each person plays is likely to change too. Harry and the managers had mismatched expectations. Harry failed to understand that his expectations for sudden independent decision making were unrealistic given his history of having to be at the center of everything. The managers didn’t understand why their usual expectations suddenly weren’t being met.

What would you have done in Harry’s situation?

Don’s Derailment

Don was a manufacturing expert whose personal style of being “one of the guys” on the shop floor (including crude language and hard-drinking, back-slapping, dirty-joke-telling, in-your-face, confrontational communication) helped him turn around the operations of a large manufacturing company. An expert in lean manufacturing, he had been popular with the work force while obtaining excellent productivity from his employees.

Don moved from operations director to vice president and then to president over the course of two years. Then he began having problems with his board of directors. His demeanor hadn’t changed from his “one of the guys” persona, and he failed to understand that the board expected him to become more diplomatic, more sophisticated, and more “presidential” in his demeanor, communications, and personal style. He aggressively argued with the board one too many times and was fired after barely six months in the corner office.

The board members didn’t clarify their expectations prior to elevating Don to the presidency, and he didn’t ask for clarification. Too bad. His considerable talents were lost to the company and Don was unemployed for more than a year before finding a plant manager position at a much smaller company.

Lessons Learned

As you move to progressively more responsible positions your reporting relationships – and the expectations that go with them – are going to change. Don didn’t take the time to step back, clarify expectations, and decide how his approach to others needed to shift. The board was unhappy when he didn’t intuitively understand what they wanted. Do you think Don learned his lesson from what happened to him?

Skill 7 – Leading & Empowering

No matter where you work or what you do, if you are going to be effective in managing your team and getting the job done, you will need to be a leader. If managing yourself (Skill 1) is the foundational skill that begins your path to success, then leadership helps you expand beyond yourself and your immediate team. Becoming a leader provides you with a chance to dramatically widen your sphere of influence

Both leadership and management involve acquiring and developing knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Once you are reasonably adept at Skills 1 through 6, you will be ready for Skill 7 – Leading & Empowering.

What do you think? How do you go about leading your team to success? Are your employees truly empowered? How did you get that to happen? Let us know what works for you.