Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Change Management: Fear Management

Change is natural and good. Reaction to change can be unpredictable.

One very important aspect of managing change is managing people’s fear. Since change is natural and good, why is it so difficult for so many people? Many respond to change unpredictably and irrationally. However, it can be managed.


Little is as upsetting to your people as change. Change has great potential to cause failures, loss of production, or falling quality. Still, nothing is nearly as important for an organization’s survival as change. A cursory search will find many examples of organizations, now extinct, that have failed to change. There’s a secret to successfully managing employees deal with change. That secret is definition and understanding. Resistance to change of any kind is based in fear of the unknown. There might also be an expectation of loss.

The degree to which an individual will resist change is determined by how they perceive the change. Is it good or is it bad? How severe is the personal impact? Personal acceptance of the change is based ultimately on how much resistance the person has and the quality of their coping skills and their support system.

As a leader, it is the manager’s job to address the resistance. Help the employee reduce their resistance to a minimal and manageable level. Do not bulldoze over the resistance.

Perception, it matters a lot

Moving an employee’s desk six inches may not even be noticed or a cause for concern. However, if the reason for moving the desk was to make room for another worker in an adjacent desk, that same employee might respond with significant resistance. It all depends on whether the employee feels the new employee is a threat to his job, or if the help is additional welcomed.

Most of the time we consider a promotion a good change. However, an employee who is uncomfortable with his ability to handle the new job might strongly resist the promotion. The employee might go to extremes to give excuses for not wanting the promotion but will never reveal the real reason.

Although you might expect a higher-level employee to be less concerned about being laid off since they have savings and investments that should support them during the subsequent job search, they may feel over extended. They might be concerned about an extended or complicated job search. Conversely, any concern for a low-income employee may be unfounded because of a nest egg they stashed away in anticipation of the cut.

Bulldozing your way through this resistance will result in failure. The employee whose desk you had to move will develop production problems. The top worker who keeps declining the promotion might quit rather than have to continue making up excuses for turning down the promotion. Overcoming the resistance by understanding the real issues, defining the change is key to success.


To begin with, you need to define the change in as much detail and as early in the process as you can. Give updates as things develop and as they become more clear. Before moving that employee’s desk, tell them what is going on. Don’t be afraid of sharing information. Information empowers the employee and helps them understand the need for the change. “We need to bring in more workers to help since our sales have increased by 40%.” One possible strategy for helping the employee deal with the change might be to get them involved. Seek out suggestions for how the space should be rearranged. Additionally, you need to get the employees to define the reasons behind their resistance.


Understanding is also a two-way street. It’s important for the employees to understand what is changing and why but you also need to understand the basis for their reluctance.
You have to help them understand. The employees will want to know what the change will be and when it will happen, but they will also want to know why. Why is it happening now? Why do they have to change? Why does it have to affect me? As important as understanding the change, they have to understand what isn’t going to change. This provides one less thing to make them worry. It also gives them an anchor, something to grasp as they face the troubled waters of change and uncertainty.

You need to understand their fears so you can help them overcome them. What are they concerned about? How strongly do they feel about those concerns? Is the change perceived as good or bad?

Manage The Issue

Do not rationalize things. Do not waste time wishing people were different or more predictable. Focus, instead, on opening and maintaining clear channels of communication with all your employees. Help them understand what is coming and what it means to them. They will appreciate you for your candor. The will be more productive before and after the change. The change will be more of an improvement rather than just change for change’s sake.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All You Have is Your Integrity (Part 2)

Developing a Code of Business Ethics

A large part of the value of initiatives such as developing a code of business ethics comes from employees talking about and identifying how to address key issues related to customers, fellow employees, and the organization. Upon completion, the final document is just the cherry on top of the policy sundae.

The processes involved in developing a code of ethics are, in fact, common to developing other products or courses of action that may require widespread support and ownership from employees. The Code of Business Ethics is based on values the corporate entity will embrace.

The Values Identification Process

Prior to identifying the organizational values, the executive group must complete the following:
  • Learn about and discuss the power of shared values.
  • Obtain consensus and commitment to creating a value-based workplace.
  • Define the role of the executives in leading this process
  • Provide written material the executives can share with their staff

Design and schedule a series of values alignment sessions in which all members of the organization will participate. A trained facilitator or internal facilitators who lead one session and participate in another can lead the sessions.

Prior to the values identification and alignment sessions, the leaders must do the following:
  • Share written materials as well as the spirit and context of the executives’ values discussion
  • Promote the rationale for, need for, and desired organizational impact of the process.
  • Ensure reporting staff members understand the importance of participation.
  • Answer questions and provide feedback about staff concerns to the rest of the executive group

Values Identification Workshop Overview

Each session begins with a brief overview exploring key concepts. These concepts are as follows:

٠ Each person brings his or her own set of values to the workplace.

٠ Sharing similar or agreed upon values at work helps clarify:

  • expected behavior and actions to each other and customers,
  • how decisions are made
  • exactly what is important in the organization.

    Steps in Workplace Values Identification

The workplace values identification session begins as participants identify their own individual values. Restrict these individual lists to the five to ten most important values individual staff members bring to the workplace everyday. It is through melding all of the values of the members of the organization that forms the current work environment.

This is a marvelous learning opportunity that can provide significant insight into the beliefs and desires of co-workers. Allow for a time that the staff can talk about their value list with another member.

Organize the participants into smaller groups of people from across the organization to identify which personal values are the most important for creating the desired work environment. These are then prioritized and shared as lists of five to six most desired values. Generally some values will be common to each group’s list.

Value Statements

Discuss how these values are currently operational in the workplace. Through this process have people define each value by describing what is seen in behaviors and actions when a value is truly incorporated into the organizations belief system. Graphic statements are stronger and better for producing an understanding of shared meaning. Here are a few examples of value statements:

Integrity: We maintain credibility by making certain our actions always match our words.

Respect: We respect each patient's right to be involved, to the greatest extent possible or desired, in making informed decisions about his or her health and plan of care.

Accountability: We accept personal responsibility to efficiently use organization resources, improve our systems, and help others improve their effectiveness.

Follow-up Process for Values Identification

Using the work and insights from the values identification session, volunteers meet to reach consensus on values; develop value statements for each of the prioritized values; and, share the value statements with all staff for feedback and refinement. The staff will discuss the draft value statements during organization-wide meetings, when possible. The total group adopts the values by voting when the organization believes the value statements are complete.

The Leaders' Role Following the Workplace Values Process

Once the values identification and alignment sessions have completed, the leaders will:
  • communicate and discuss the mission and organizational values frequently with staff members;
  • establish organizational goals that are grounded in the identified values;
  • model personal work behaviors, decision making, contribution, and interpersonal interaction that reflect the values;
  • translate the values into expectations, priorities, and behaviors with colleagues, reporting staff, and self;
  • link participation in the adoption of the values and the behaviors that result, to regular performance feedback and the performance development process;
  • reward and recognize staff members whose actions and accomplishments reflect the values in action within the organization;
  • hire and promote individuals whose outlook and actions are congruent with these values;
  • and meet periodically to talk about how the group is doing via living the identified values.

Make This Workplace Values Process Not Just Another Exercise

Be careful not to oversell the process, making sure to always anchor the values to real world problems. Encourage staff to identify where there are gaps between values, or beliefs, and behavior. Remember talking about values and beliefs will not alter how another person believes. These are opportunities to share, not change. To ensure the investment in workplace values identification is not lost, leadership and individual follow-up is critical.

The organizational commitment to change, to enhance work behaviors, actions and interactions must be real. Recognition systems and performance management systems must align with, support and reward the new behaviors. Additionally, consequences for behaviors that undermine the agreed upon values must be enforced. If the commitment is not there, do not even start the process. Doing so will create a group of very unhappy people who will feel misled and betrayed. The staff will hardly jump to embrace the next initiative. They certainly would have a right to feel disassociated.

Institutionalize Your Code of Business Ethics

Once developed, the critical component to making it an effective tool is using the code daily, if possible.

Carter McNamara has an excellent resource for business ethics at (

Organize your own challenge sessions and use the business code of ethics document to measure or guide all business actions and decisions. Reputation and integrity are just too important to leave to chance.

Friday, November 13, 2009

All You Have Is Your Integrity

Why Business Ethics Matter

When it comes down to right and wrong, everyone knows, right? Wrong. People disagree about what is right and what is wrong all the time. Ethics is always making a come back in the news. According to recent reports by the Washington Post, leaked papers describe over 30 ongoing ethics probes being conducted by the House Ethics Committee and the new ethics office. If everyone knew right from wrong, this just would not be happening.

The business world is not very different from the political world. Recent events have hit the headlines describing the next Enron, Arthur Anderson, or WorldCom. This is just too much to ignore. Business ethics is an issue. Even more fog covers the issue when the right answers – those that meet the needs of the most stakeholders: employees, customers, potential employees, shareholders, and board members – lie somewhere between the whitest white and darkest black. As much as we would like it to be different, this is not a world of black and white.

Challenges to Ethics in the Business World

Think about the following scenarios that happen every single day.
  • An accountant tells a supplier that their “check is in the mail” while he hasn’t even written the check.
  • A store misrepresents the quality of functionality of an advertised item.
  • A salesman marks parts as “sold” in the company database denying others the opportunity to sell the parts, even though his sale is not certain.
  • An employee surfs the Internet shopping for personal items on company time.
  • A plant manager decides to ship product to a customer regardless of known quality problems, which the customer probably will not notice.
  • An employee spends several hours a week on her cell phone talking with her children and their associated caregivers, schools, and friends while on company time.
  • A manager shares important company information with a competitor for his potential gain.
  • An employee takes office supplies home to stock his home office.
  • A finance officer accounts questionably for purchases and expenditures.
This kind of stuff happens everyday in the business world and no one seems to take a second look. These aren’t the only things that happen either. Are the people doing these things “bad” or are they “good people” making questionable ethical choices?

Are they even considering whether these choices are ethical? Certainly the plant manager may think the most important issue is on-time delivery. An employee might rationalize surfing the web on business time because of all the over-time and time spent outside work hours thinking about the job.

Let’s consider the potential positive affect a working code of business ethics might have on an organization. It’s not about the subjective fields of philosophy, religion or academia either.

Developing a written code of business ethics will guide the decision making and actions of all stakeholders. Trust will build on a foundation of ethical behavior and integrity – a very good place for establishing successful relationships with customers, employees, the community and stock holders.

Certainly a code of business ethics will not stop unethical behavior but it will give people something to measure against, something on which to assess personal behavior.
The foundation for a functioning code of ethics is in the hands of the organization’s executive leaders. It is these people who must commit to developing the business code and leading its implementation. They must continuously emphasize the use of the code as a measurement or guideline.

Next week, I'll touch on the process of developing a code of business ethics.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

De-motivating Employees

Most managers really do know the importance of motivating their employees. Although the effort is exceptional, the results can sometimes be much less than expected. Why? Well, one reason may be the manager is still doing things that de-motivate the employee. Although unintentional, these de-motivators are still very effective.

Managing can be a very difficult job. There is a lot to remember to do. There are also a lot of things we should remember NOT to do. Here is a list of Manager Mistakes we should all avoid.

Top 10 New Manager Mistakes

You Know Everything. Many managers are managers because they were very good operators. You might know a lot about the product, processes and policies but you do not know everything. Managing is more than process and equipment knowledge. The most important aspect of managing is the people. Listen to the people around you. Seek their input when appropriate and keep an open mind.

Show Everyone You’re In Charge. Interestingly, there is little argument about who is the manager. There is no reason to prove it. There is no reason to make a big show about being “the boss”. You do have to demonstrate you are making a positive difference.

Change Everything. Do not re-invent the wheel. Processes and procedures someone else put into place may not be exactly as you would have done them but that does not mean they are wrong. Different does not mean wrong – learn the difference between “different” and “wrong”.

Afraid to Do Anything. Maybe you didn’t ask for the promotion, you’re not sure you can do the job. Do not let fear prevent you from doing the best you can. You would not have been promoted if upper management didn’t have confidence in your ability to step up to the plate. You can do it.

Do Not Spend Time Getting to Know Your People. Although you may have worked alongside these people for years, that doesn’t mean you know them. Learning what makes people exited, how to motivate and what fears or worries they have, provides a foundation for more effectively leading them to greater hights. Get to know them as individuals. The people are what makes or breaks a good manager. Give them your attention and time.

Don’t Waste Time With Boss. Your job as a manger, just like an operator’s, is to help your boss. Make sure to budget enough time to meet with your supervisor to both give information and receive guidance and training.

Do Not Worry About Problems or Problem Employees. Don’t avoid problems or expect them to work themselves out. When something comes up, it is the manager’s job to figure out the best solution and get it done. This doesn’t mean you cannot ask for assistance or advice, it does mean it is your responsibility to make sure it is addressed.

Not Being Human. Bosses are humans too. Being the boss doesn’t mean you can’t laugh, show emotion, or make an occasional mistake.

Throw Them Under the Bus. Your employees are under pressure from all directions. Blame for failure comes flying in from other departments. Your boss may want to dump on your department. HR may determine the employees in your department are overpaid. It is the manager’s job to stand up for his or her employees, making sure they are treated as fairly as possible. That loyalty will be returned to you.

Avoiding Responsibility for Anything. As the manager you are responsible for everything that happens in your group. Everything. You may have not done it, or even knew about it. What your group does, or does not do, reflects on you and is your responsibility. Build appropriate communications to avoid surprises and be prepared to should the responsibility.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Confrontation and Conflict

Overcoming Roadblocks To Effective Resolutions
We’ve all seen the movie or television show that centers around some poor guy who finally blows a gasket, letting loose with a terrible rampage in which he kills, maims or attempts to bloody up an entire campus. The build up to the rampage shows the man having in-depth conversations with himself. His way to deal with his hurt is these conversations he has in his head. The people with whom he is angry hardly even know what is going on because he rarely speaks directly with them. The anger in his mind continues to build up; he continues to have the conversations. The man’s conflict avoidance heaps frustration upon frustration and eventually: POP! Death and mayhem.

Although this example is extreme, how many of us are guilty of holding mental conflicts and confrontations?

Many people are just not very comfortable when it comes to confrontation. A good reason to have these mental conversations is that it helps to prepare, plan out, what might be appropriate to say and how to say it. Additionally, there are times when the mental conversation helps settle the issue, as we realize we’re making too much out of the situation – making a mountain out of a molehill.

Mental conversations have their place but they can disrupt sleep, alter attitudes and harm health. They do not really resolve issues and can potentially damage relationships.

No, we do not need to confront every action. A single mental conversation is nothing to cause alarm. It’s when we constantly return to the same conversation again and again that we need to consider having a real conversation with a real person – preferably the person who has been the focus of the mental conversation. It is time to plan how to deal with the real confrontation.

Holding a Real Confrontation Effectively

Start by preparing for the confrontation – coming face-to-face with the real issue. Be able to state the issue in one or two, non-emotional, factually sound sentences.

Confronting another member of your team for taking undue credit should not be an emotional lambasting to allow a release of steam relieving pressure for a little while. Saying, “hey you took all the credit you stupid git!” will not effectively resolve the issue. It certainly vented some frustrations and was probably more effective than the mental conversations were but the longer-term damage is real.

Instead, rephrase the opening statement using the above guideline. Saying something like, “It looks as if I was uninvolved with this project. My name doesn’t appear anywhere on the document. I have not been given credit anywhere.” Avoid using words like “I feel” because that is an emotional statement unfounded in proof. The facts in the statement are beyond dispute but “I feel” is easy to refute.

Stop There. Allow the person to respond. Although human tendencies seem to suggest adding to the initial statement to justify the comment, don’t. Defending why the statement is true will generally just create an argument. Say what needs to be said (the confrontation) then wait. Allow the other person the opportunity to respond.

Because the mental conversation has been rehearsed more than just a couple times, the tendency is to predict how the other person is going to respond. This is a mistake. No one can know. Resist the temptation to say anything else at this point. Just listen to them; let them respond.

Avoid the argument. Confrontation does not mean fight. Confrontation is about saying what needs to be said. Listen to what they have to say. Many times the confrontation will end there. Is it important to prove the other person right or wrong? Does the blame need to be assigned? Relieve the frustration – get it off your chest – and move on.

Know the Desired Resolution Before the Confrontation. The initial statement, “You took all the credit . . .” is likely to put the recipient on the defensive. The response may be something like, “Yes, you have been given credit. I said both our names to the boss just last week.”

Knowing what the desired outcome is, you can move the conversation toward that goal. Do not get into an argument about whether something was or was not mentioned to the boss last week. That is not the issue. Do not let such distractions derail the confrontation. Keep an eye on the goal.

An appropriate response might be, “I would appreciate if in the future we could use both our names on any documentation, and include each other in all the correspondences about the project.”

Keep Focused on the Real Issue. The other person will either agree or not. Maintain focus on the issue, avoiding all temptation to get into an argument. The issue is credit is not being given – both names need to be on the documentation. That’s it. Not Blame, who is right or wrong or anything besides the desired resolution.

No one should become so they look forward to confrontation. It may never be something that is comfortable. It can be a skill. It is important to express frustration and anger before it becomes harmful. We certainly do not want to make the news because we cracked due to improper conflict resolution techniques.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How To Give Effective Negative Feedback

“Jane, you ignorant slut.” So, Dan Ackroyd used to say in the early Saturday Night Live shows when he was about to disagree with whatever Jane Curtin had said. His, however, was not a disagreement with what was said but who said it. This certainly is not the way to give negative feedback.

The correct way to give negative feedback:

#1 Keep your emotions under control. Anger and hurt feelings should be removed completely from the situation. You are likely to say something you do not mean or to react poorly to something that is said when you are angry. Step away from the situation enough to gain a calm that will allow a proper tone to the conversation.

#2 Keep it Private. Negative feedback should always be delivered without an audience. Although unavoidable at times, critique should never be given in a public forum. Take a meeting in your office, call the person into a vacant conference room, step into the break room if it is vacant. Take the necessary steps to provide the necessary privacy.

#3 Maintain a focus on actions. Feedback should never be personal. Any chance of correcting a problem is diminished almost entirely when you criticize the person. Focus on the actions you want changed. Concentrate on performance.

#4 Specific and to the point. There is nothing to gain from telling someone, “You have a bad attitude.” Criticism must focus on and identify specific actions the person did or said. No one can know what to change based on vague, unfocused criticism.

#5 Keep It Timely. Any criticism should be given as soon as possible after the event. You don’t want to start your rebuke off with, “remember last month when you…” If you see an employee being rude to a customer, don’t wait until their annual performance review to tell them. How many customers will they have angered in the meantime? Redirect their behavior immediately.

#6 Stay or Regain Your Calm. Keep your calm. Do not yell or scream. If the employee feels like they are being attacked, they will become defensive and will not hear anything you are trying to tell them.

#7 Reaffirm your faith in the person. Reinforcing step three, you maintain a focus on the actions but follow up by telling them you still have faith in them as a person and in their abilities. You want improved performance. Say something like, “you’re a good customer service rep, so I’m sure you see the need to be more patient with customers”.

#8 Don’t Do All The Talking. Once you described what specific actions were inappropriate, and why, stop talking. Allow the employee a chance to respond to or refute your statements. Listen to what they have to say.

#9 Define Specific, Positive Steps. Gain an acceptance from the employee on what future performance is appropriate. All actions the employee needs to start doing to needs to stop doing need to be clearly identified. Be sure to cover all aspects the organization or supervisor must do to ensure success (additional training, New or properly maintained equipment,


#10 Don’t Hold On To It. Once corrective action is made and a resolution is set forth, move on with the job. Don’t hang onto the ill will toward the employee just because he or she made a mistake. Do not hover over them, fearing they will make another mistake. Just as you would any other employee, monitor their performance, but do not obsess.

Breakdown of what you need:
  • A private place
  • A calm mind
  • Patience
  • Your sense of humor

Monday, November 9, 2009

Promote Self-discipline

Self-Discipline Minimizes the Need for Disciplinary Action

As much as supervisors dislike doing the traditional performance appraisal, disciplinary action is worse. It is uncomfortable and, at time, makes the supervisor feel like the bad guy or worse a babysitter. Certainly, Employees dislike disciplinary action even more than supervisors – no one likes to be told they’re goofing up. So, if everyone is so unhappy with it, why are disciplinary action procedures so universally a part of the working world?

Employee handbooks outline pages and pages of possible crimes and the resulting punishment the errant employee can expect. Employees are trained to understand what they can and cannot do. Some are masters of pushing the envelope just to the edge of reason. So much about most disciplinary policies is reminiscent of high school or even elementary school antics. It’s almost as if the enlightened understanding of positive reinforcement has not made it to the business scector.

Why is Disciplinary Action Framework Needed?

Litigation, fair treatment and employee development. These are all at the top of the list of reasons why a framework for Disciplinary Action has made it into the corporate culture. Of course, there also needs to be some way of dealing with our “gimme” society in which many people act as if life owes them a living for very little – if any – work.

Interestingly, a search of the internet for the words “self-discipline” will present volumes of information about raising children in ways that promote self-discipline. Additional articles about effectively administering progressive discipline processes will also dot the search here and there.

The Work Environment of Self-discipline

Nothing can be done about the past. Past environments in which the employees developed their skills, knowledge and work ethic are immutable. The way these things affect the current work environment and what they bring to the current organization is a matter of fact. There is just no controlling the past. So, move on.

What is within our control? We can create a work environment and supervisory interactions that encourage employees to develop and practice self-discipline. This will free managers up to do their jobs of planning, organizing, directing, and monitoring. This is far more important than redirecting, intervening, arbitrating, and babysitting. Additionally, supervisors are able to spend their time on the more important aspects of their jobs too – encouraging, developing and relationship-building.

Creating a Work Environment of Self-discpline

#1 Clear Expectations. Employees work more efficiently when they understand what is expected. If you want them to be involved in continuous improvement, show initiative and be problem solvers, tell them. Few people will step outside the comfort zone without a little encouragement. Fewer people will do more than they think you want them to do.

#2 Encourage initiative and self-discipline. Recognize the employee who shows initiative. Praise them. Offer support. Help the employee who exhibits self-discipline and initiative, making sure the idea or process is implemented. Let employees know their efforts are appreciated and encourage them to continue to contribute.

Rewards should be tailored to the individual. Consider options such as paid time off, time and attention from the supervisor, special assignments, leadership roles, or training and personal development opportunities.

#3 Your Employees are Adults, Treat Them As Such. How do adults want to be treated? More often they are comfortable in environments with minimal rules and guidelines that promote an ordered, fair, consistent work environment. They want to provide input about decisions that affect them or their work.

Respect is a hallmark. Adults are seeking more than just a paycheck. Many people find much of their social needs are being met in the workplace. They want to feel as if they are contributing to something bigger, more important than the individual.

#4 Training. Nothing is more discouraging than being thrown into a situation without knowing what to do. Good training for new employees or when implementing new processes helps employees feel appreciated. Give employees the tools they need and train them to use them properly. Help employees to contribute.

Provide employees with training in problem solving and in process improvement. Give them the opportunity and understanding they need to contribute to continuous improvement.

#5 Policies and Procedures. All policies and procedures should be available to all employees. Encourage employees to get involved in developing and implementing policies. Gauge employee reaction to new guidelines through focus groups. Discuss new policies in staff meetings. Once policies are understood and implemented, be consistent when enforcing them.

#6 Safe Zone for New Ideas. Make sure to promote an environment that is open to thoughtful, new ideas. Ensure people are not “punished” when well thought out ideas fail to work as intended.

#7 Get Away From Your Desk. Employees like to see you in their work environment. Walk through the work area regularly. Spend time discussing the projects and work flows. Make sure you make eye-contact and speak with each employee. This encourages a sense of importance among the employees.

#8 Know the Individual. No one likes to feel like they are just a number no matter what the situation. Your employees want to feel like they matter. Encourage the development of each person in your organization through coaching and encouraging them. When asked about what or how to do something, ask what he or she thinks is best.

#9 Open Communication. Effective communication is a two way street. Communicate all of the information that is available about your business, your customers, your profitability and your mission and vision. Share with the employees the organization’s overall goals. Employees will act and make the right decisions when they know enough to do so. Employees will also be more willing to share their feelings if they do not feel like they are being kept in the dark.

#10 Address it Immediately. Sometimes human beings do not practice self-discipline. When it happens, address unacceptable behavior immediately. Little can cause morale problems like letting inappropriate behavior go uncorrected.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Results Count More Than The Process

A little while ago, I talked about the four basic pillars of management, which are Planning, Organizing, Directing, and Monitoring. Each of these aspects of management are very important; however, it is all too easy to get hung up on planning. While it is important to plan, unless you get beyond planning you will not accomplish anything. Analysis paralysis. Sometimes we get so involved in our planning we aren’t nearly as efficient as we could be. Planning is very important and is probably the most overlooked part of business. We must remember, however, planning has its limits. Those limits should be dictated by the risks involved.

Important but not the end goal

Things like sending a manned spaceship to the moon, open-heart surgery or a bid for the office of president of the United States all have greater risks than throwing a weekend barbecue for friends. To send someone to the moon, the planning by necessity would be extensive because the risk is very high. A weekend barbecue for friends, on the other hand, isn’t such a big deal and doesn’t require nearly as much planning. Sure, you need to make sure everyone has enough to eat but the weekend barbecue isn’t rocket science.

Truthfully, planning is the step you take to ensure success in what you are doing. It certainly is not the goal itself. Many managers shortcut the planning stage because they do not think they have time. This is a big mistake. A bigger mistake is over-planning. I remember early in my college career, a few friends and I decided we were going to open a nightclub. We planned and planned and planned. You know what? We never got out of the planning stage. We had big dreams but never saw success because the planning stage became the purpose of everything we did.

If you’re someone who tends to over-plan because you don’t know when to stop, change your focus to the risk level. Make the plan good. Make them good enough but do not worry about making the plans perfect.

Sometimes people continue to plan because they are afraid of the next step. They know if they finish planning then they have to do something. To avoid that, they add more details. They revise and update the plan. Soon, the planning process becomes an exercise in thinking about doing something. They never do anything because they are always planning. Dragging out the planning process allows for outside forces to make decisions, leaves the manager in a reactive state rather than taking proactive action. Truly, this makes for some of the worst possible solutions.

Implement the Plan, Git ‘er Done!

As manager, our responsibility is to get things done. Avoid “analysis paralysis”. Do the planning but don't allow that preparation stage to get in the way of the doing stage. Get the job done.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take The Time to Think

Like any good manager, Bill Gates realizes he doesn’t need to know everything. He has employees that do that for him. He relies on them, as he should. He recognizes how important it is to learn from his employees, take the time to understand what they know. He learns from the ideas his employees have. He takes time to think about and ponder the direction Microsoft should take. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article, In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft's Future, in which Robert A. Guth describes one of Mr. Gates’ “Think Weeks”. He takes two one-week retreats from work and family. (The article is only available to subscribers.)

In any case, the idea of
Think Week struck me and got me thinking about innovation and the processes involved. Alone, Mr. Gates reads the manuscripts of Microsoft associates. The topics cover a large spectrum from the future of technology to the speculations of what the next best products might be – new products and revisions of current products. Did you know any employee could submit their ideas to Mr. Gates? He reads as many as 110 of these papers during his Think Week.

Beyond reading, Bill Gates responds to the employee. One of these essays could spawn an email from Mr. Gates to hundreds of Microsoft employees. The employees are anxious to see whether their paper or idea might get the green light from one of the Think Week retreat.

Reading and thinking during time alone offers Bill Gates the opportunity to utilize one of his greatest tools for innovation – his employees.

What this means to the rest of us.

A CEO whose time is worth about $3000 per second takes the time to read and ponder the future of Microsoft (estimates based on increase of Mr. Gates’ wealth from 2007 to 2008, working a 16 hour day). I think it just might be worth my time to read about new ideas, consider my work and life and make some changes. It’s probably true for just about everyone out there. Learning from the more successful people in this world is probably better than trying to emulate your drinking buddies.

Innovation and Creativity from Thinking and Dreaming Excercises
  1. Read with pen and notebook in hand. Take notes. No idea is a bad idea. Write down any idea that comes to mind while you are reading.

  2. Keep a notebook. That period of consciousness when you are thinking about nothing in particular before you fall asleep or while you are driving your car can provide significant insight into what might be going on in your life. Those ideas need to be recorded for future reference. Keep track of these ideas by keeping a notebook in your car and on your nightstand.

  3. Write one idea on a piece of paper. At the top of the paper, write your idea. Brainstorm any thought that comes from that one idea. Record any thoughts on the what, how and where to use the idea. Who can help you implement the idea? Record any other thoughts that enter your mind about this idea.

  4. Read non-fiction. You know, I love to read. I read a lot. Most of what I read is fiction, though. Like candy for the brain, there is not a lot to gain from this reading list. Pick up trade magazines and journals, read online articles. Get into some of the more meaty and brain-nourishing treats. Non-fiction is a good place to get some depth into your thinking.

  5. Keep a folder for reference. Keep articles in a folder of related articles or ideas for future reference. Then, periodically reference the folder. Glance through the folder for insight. You thought it was important enough to keep once. Look at it again.

  6. Utilize technology. Create “idea files” on your computer. Create an Idea or To-do file in your email program. Use this as an easy place to add ideas as they come to you.

  7. Stare out the window. Take the time to do something rote that allows for thoughts to spin uncontrolled through your mind. Play with a desk toy, take a quiet walk.

  8. Encourage staff and coworkers to do these things and share their ideas with each other. Sponsor “think” or brainstorm sessions. Schedule a place and time to plan and generate ideas.

  9. Develop an employee suggestion process. Employees are the ones doing the work. You might find they have some very good ideas for improving the processes they do every day. I tried an idea box once. It didn’t work. The process has to be a little more proactive. Creative ways to get employees involved goes beyond a box you hang on the wall.

  10. Make time. Schedule think weeks, days or hours for yourself or your work group.

Think and learn. Taking the time to think and learn is critical. Creativity and innovation don’t happen in a vacuum. There is truth in the old adage, “stop to smell the roses.” Make the time to plant ideas and harvest innovation. This will fuel progress and success.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Four Square Manager

The purpose of this blog is so I have an outlet to share my opinions as to some of the pressing questions facing the manager today. This blog will focus on just that. Here you will find articles focusing on methods the employer can implement to qualify, develop and guide employees to become more successful.