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.

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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 3

Stepping back for a bit of perspective on the Indy 500 as an example of The 8 Essential Skills at work, we continue to see lessons for all of us who supervise and manage, such as:

Skill 5 – Managing Change: a 500 mile auto race with 33 cars on the grid at the start is a study in Change. Often rapid and abrupt change. And it can (and does) happen at any point in the race. Davy Hamilton returned to the Indy 500 after a nine year hiatus, only to crash on the first lap after Thomas Scheckter took Hamilton’s line in Turn 2, causing Hamilton to swerve, lose control, and hit the inner wall. Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, steadily worked her way up in the field over much of the race only to graze the wall on lap 125, ending her day. Often the 500 is lost or won in the pits and when a driver is given the “Go!” signal before the fuel hose is fully disconnected, a return to the pit on the next lap causes a delay and may affect that drivers finishing order. Constant change is the norm; how it gets handled and what adjustments get made makes all the difference.

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions: over the course of a 500-mile race each team will have literally scores if not hundreds of decisions to make. Do we bring our car in for fuel now or wait a lap or two on the chance that there will be a yellow flag (forcing everyone to hold their positions in the standings) later? How many of our 15 our “push-to-go” turbo boost uses do we save for the final laps? Should we adjust the front wings for more downforce or more speed? Given the heat (130 degrees on the track) how often should we plan to change tires? Problems to solve and decisions to make are just a normal part of the process and are treated as such. Frustrating perhaps, but “that’s racing.”

Next time – Skills 7 & 8

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 1

Just returned from a visit to friends in Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend and attended the warmest Indy 500 ever. 97 in the stands and 130 degrees on the track. In spite of the heat, I saw ample evidence of “The 8 Essential Skills” at work. Let’s see . . .

Skill 1 – Managing Yourself: from the drivers to the pit crews to the officials, to the volunteers, everyone knew their job and did their job. Everyone has a plan for how they will do their job, they manage themselves with that plan in mind, and when surprises occur (and they always do!) they manage their response with inspired professionalism.  Self-Management at work.

Skill 2 – Communicating for Results: the systems at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are top-notch and in spite of IMS’s size (2.5 miles around) information flows rather freely and quickly. Communication flow is clear and focused on getting the job done; people get the information they need to do their jobs well, and the fans are in the loop quickly with the variety of communication channels.

Next Time – Skills 3 & 4 go to the Indy 500

What do you think?

Teacher vs. Coach

When you manage you fulfill a number of different roles in the course of your work. In this post I’d like to take a brief look at two of those roles; Teacher and Coach.

Teacher

Managers and supervisors work with employees who have a wide variety of skills and knowledge. This means you’re frequently placed in the role of teacher with employees, particularly if they’re new to your organization or team. You will, in effect, be teaching them how to do their job. At the very least you’ll need to teach your employees about the expectations that will affect their success.

 You also teach employees what they need to know to help them be ready for new challenges and opportunities. Being a mentor is a form of teaching; you are imparting knowledge that will help the employee prepare for a new assignment, position, or project.

Coach

The role of a coach is different from that of a teacher. As a coach you’ll be a guide, motivator, encourager, and supporter in your interactions with employees. When you coach employees you’re less focused on telling or showing and more focused on asking questions or involving them in figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it.

When you coach employees you’re actively demonstrating your confidence and trust in them. If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs, then you either have the wrong people in the jobs or you haven’t sufficiently trained them. In either case the problem isn’t with your employees but with you as their manager.

What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people?

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.