Broken promises

28 06 2007

“The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

It’s too easy to make a promise.

We promise the customer that the product will work, solve their problem, and maybe change their lives.

We promise our coworkers that our part of the work will be delivered on time.

We promise our business partners and suppliers that we they can count on us.

We promise to follow up after the initial sales call, that we will always be there with customer service.

We promise that our priority is the customer and the customers satisfaction.

We promise to hit the sales goals and meet the budget.

All our promises are all full of good intentions, it’s what people want to hear, it’s what we want to deliver.

But, can we guarantee that we will deliver?

Never take a solemn oath.  People think you mean it.  Norman Douglas

The best way to ruin your reputation and lower your ability to lead and manage others is to promise something and not deliver.

We make a promise because it gives others confidence, it seems to make negotiations easier and it reflects our hope that all will go as planned.

“All promise outruns performance.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

A common error of new managers and leaders is the perceived need to make promises to their organization and team.

Don’t promise it.

Promises are very powerful compromises, but extremely fragile and difficult to achieve.  Take care when offering them to others.  

In the place of promises, offer firm plans, describe actions and possible outcome, dedicate the time and resources required.

Do more than you say you will.

Perform, don’t promise.

“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality.”  Harold Geneen





Improve your leadership profile

19 06 2007

Ever wonder if your leadership style should be less interactive, less personal with your team?

Do you believe that the “cold emotionless leader” approach will bring better results to the organization?

Teresa Amabile in an interview entitled How Team Leaders Show Support-or Not in The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge newsletter, outlines her study published in 2004 in The Leadership Quarterly, and gives insight into leadership characteristics and styles as they impact group performance and creativity in organizations.

She identified 4 key behaviors that will improve the perception of team leader’s support by the team members (and by association improve group attitude and final results).

The groups perception of the leader’s support were positive when:

  • they received on-time feedback and prompt response to problems. On-time decision making
  • they were supported in their decisions on a personal AND professional basis by the leader and a sense of relationship was developed through exchange of personal information. Create personal relationships.
  • they were recognized individually and in public for their achievements. Praise and recognition.
  • they were included and asked for ideas and input about decision making. Inclusion and participation of all team members.

Sound familiar?

They are fundamental characteristics of any leader or manager.

The groups perception of the leader’s support were negative when the leader:

  • Did not manage the work efficiently. Lack of timely decision-making, disinterest, disorganization.
  • Unable to provide clear role definition and objectives. Lack of focus and objectives.
  • Unable to solve problems or avoid them. Lack of strategy and planning.

Becoming a good leader is not all about barking orders or the implementation of revolutionary, new and improved ideas about data management and numbers analysis .

It’s about listening, doing your job and making decisions that affect others on-time.

It’s about dedicating time and applying common sense to create and maintain human relationships.

Related Links

How Team Leaders Show Support-or Not

Leading your team to mediocrity

Are we killing team performance by over-communicating

Step by step beginners guide to project management

Leadership, do you want the job or just the title and benefits

What defines an exceptional leader





Oil and water

30 05 2007

Oil and water don’t mix.

That’s what I believed until today.  Oil and water do mix after all

In an organization there are departments that don’t mix well, or not at all.  Sales, finance and production departments are notorious for having problems or “not mixing”.

Each of these groups has a different way of thinking, they create very different processes and final products, it makes sense that they will not agree to, or understand what the other departments are doing.

Tension, misunderstandings, frustration and chaos can result if left unattended.

Sales and marketing is concerned with creating or identifying demand for the product and negotiating an agreement.  It’s about people and relationships, emotions, taking advantage of opportunities, being creative innovative and adaptable, exploring new ideas, making sure the customer is satisfied.  Uncertainty is a large part of every business day.

Finance focuses on numbers.  What did we do in the past, what are we doing now, what will we need in the future and how do we reduce or eliminate our risk.  Structured, predictable, logical, they label everything.  Their evaluation and decision making is based on guaranteed outcomes and not on uncertainty.

Production is concerned with efficiency and is also numbers driven.  Processes are studied, analyzed and standardized in order to maximize control and eliminate  errors.  They prefer set plans and actively resist rapid or constant deviations and modifications.  Believers in contingency plans and backups, logical, not fond of uncertainty.

The goal is to acknowledge that every group is very different, with different points of view, and that these differences are essential to the success of any organization.

The entire system (organization) benefits from the interaction, questioning, and controls required by each department.

If there is total agreement, all the time, something is wrong.

Leadership’s role is to provoke, question, listen, analyze and push this chaos toward a goal.

Successful leaders know how to make oil and water mix,  and make it happen on a regular basis.

Related Links 

New Scientist – Oil and water do mix after all

Are we killing team performance by over communicating 

Leadership, want the job or just the title and benefits

Leadership – who do you want to lead





Is your company noble, moral, virtuous or ethical

15 03 2007

The terms noble, virtuous, ethical or moral seem out of date.

In fact they seem to be words right out of a fairy tale.   Words and  concepts that have faded away with the modern world and it’s complexity.

Perhaps it’s not cool to be labeled as virtuous, moral or ethical.

Is it because we live in a complicated world that has us making more decisions about the “gray areas”?

We don’t read about organizations being ethical or noble.   In fact we hear about unethical companies and employees much more often.

Business magazines doesn’t write front page articles about virtuous executives and CEO’s (I hope this is because it’s not popular and not because there aren’t any).

Are there any reasons to promote and reinforce these values in your organization?

Are there good reasons to avoid discussion of them?

Perhaps the fact that unethical behaviour is reported, and considered scandalous, is a clear signal that it is outside of “normal” business conditions and draws attention.

Let’s begin with definitions, that should clear up some of the confusion.

Moral – Conforming to a standard of what is right and wrong, correct, trustworthy.  How could anyone want to work with others who don’t know right from wrong and behave?

Ethical – Principles of conduct governing an individual or group, a set of moral values, a guiding philosophy, decent, respectable.   OK, this one sounds like it should be part of the package too.

Noble – Moral eminence and freedom from anything mean, petty or dubious in conduct and character.  In simple terms doing the “right thing” all the time, excellence.  If it looks bad, don’t do it…pretty good advice and words to live by.

Virtuous – Implies moral excellence in character.   Not only knows good from bad, and adheres to it, but is exemplary in their behaviour and practice of their beliefs, honest, good, without reproach.  I can’t find any customer, shareholder or employee who wouldn’t want their company to be virtuous.

Which of the terms can your company live without in their employees?

Are any of these characteristics that should be found and promoted in your management and leadership?

Which of these concepts and behaviours are important to you, your customers and your organization now and in the future?

Do you have a written policy in place to promote, identify, and create noble employees and a virtuous organization?

Do you point out and recognize when a person or organization has done something noble, virtuous or ethical?

Related Links

Corruption, bribes, mordidas and tips – Doing business in Mexico 

Where do you draw the line 

The future of our entry level workforce – gloomy





The dangers of success

13 03 2007

Today a Google search for the word “success” turned up 321 million websites.

“Failure” got 218 million sites.

We all want to be successful. Leaders are expected to be successful.

We’ve been trained, rewarded, pushed and prodded to become successful. School, work, games and personal life, we are always focused upon success.

It is probably genetic in nature. Competition to survive demands success, and therefore the desire to succeed is an inherent quality in human beings.

Success brings recognition, wealth, favor and fame to the individual or group. All are benefits and rewards of being successful. We like the rewards and benefits….we really do.

Business loves success. In fact, business is not very tolerant of failures, especially leadership failures. To be a leader in a business environment means that you must be successful and get your objectives accomplished.

We strive for success, we really want it to happen, we plan for it, we train, we learn new things, we even modify and manipulate external factors to assure the outcome we desire. Despite all our planning, spending and preparations we are not always successful. No one is successful all the time.

We often forget that past success is not a guarantee for continued success, and that failure is always a learning experience, not always a bad outcome.

The illusion that we must always be successful, and the glory and attention that success brings is not always a good thing.

“Pray that success will not come any faster than you are able to endure it” Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe

Success, and particularly continued success, can lead an individual or organization into the following behaviours and attitudes.

  • Cult of Personality / Fame. The focus is on the personality and not on the present or future work outcomes. It becomes more about who is doing it and less about what to do.
  • Fear. Avoiding or agonizing about doing something different, new or original, “ we were great doing this…let’s keep on doing it”.
  • Can’t let go. Inability to let go of a success and move on to the next challenge. Unwillingness to say “that project and party is over…what’s next”.
  • Over Confidence. Invincible attitude leads to strategies, theories and attitudes that may provoke attacks on enemies or punish those in a weakened position.
  • Loss of control. Inability to gauge or control excess or weakness. Losing touch with the reality of the situation.
  • Yes Men. Lack of honesty from the people around you, no real challenges to ideas, methods and objectives.
  • Hangers on. Distractions and undesirables begin to fill the agenda and schedules.
  • Closing Networks. Cutting ties with old networks and individuals to move “up” in status.
  • Depression. When the happiness or emotion of succeeding does not reach previous levels of emotional highs or didn’t meet the expectations.
  • Risk. Anxiety about repeating the success may drive one to take larger risks, or to eliminate risks.

So go on seeking success, it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t take the failures too hard, learn from them, pick them apart and understand exactly why failure occurred.

Celebrate when you do succeed, take your 5 minutes in the limelight. Then put your feet back firmly on the ground and get back to work.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather become a man of value” Albert Einstein.

Related Links

Why do we fail

Leadership lesson – A Message to Garcia





Starting over

9 01 2007

Ever get involved in a project that requires modifications, and then those modifications led to more modifications and more and more?

Before you know it, the project has lost sight of it’s objectives, and the team is working on solving problems unrelated to the original goals.

I’m reminded of Rube Goldberg and his famous machines. We don’t intentionally try to complicate our work, but if we step back and look at the objectives, and the current processes and procedure in order to reach those objectives, we can often find distortions and diversions of comical proportions.

There are two simple actions that will eliminate and control our spiral into complexity and error.

  1. Step back and look at the problem, objectives and current procedures on a regular basis. What is working, what isn’t working, and why? What are you doing to modify or adjust the solution procedure or process instead of moving closer to a solution?
  2. When you discover that something is not working, and have analyzed why, don’t be afraid to START OVER. Throw out the current plan, and begin again.

We tend to avoid re-doing and restarting a project or activity because we want to salvage the time, money and effort that has been invested.

This inability to “do over” and start from scratch often prevents us from implementing better and more efficient solutions.

Our initial attempts to solve the problem have educated us about the requirements and environment. There is nothing wrong with starting over, in fact it may be the best and most efficient way to solve the problem.

Related Links

12 reasons why we ask for business help

Analyze and plan using 7 simple questions

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

9 steps to better decisions

Rube Goldberg Website





Are we killing team performance by over-communicating

30 11 2006

Are we killing team performance by over-communicating?

That is the premise of Kevan Hall in Drowning in Co-operation and followed up with additional comments in the Slow Leadership blog The Truth about Communication.

The idea that we must communicate and include everyone in the team in every part of the project, all the time, is a classic example of a good idea that has gotten out of control.

Teams perform well when each team member:

  • Has a specific job, not shared with others
  • Is proficient at what they do, no learning curve required
  • Has easy access to the resources, tools and information required in order to get the job done
  • Clearly understands the group objectives and expected outcome
  • Clearly understands how their input/output affects the other team members
  • Is individually responsible and accountable for their performance and on-time results
  • Is not smothered with controls and time wasting meetings
  • Shares relevant information and communicates with those team members who need that information in order to do their job correctly

Analyze how a relay race squad works together. Each member has a specific and unique function, each member runs their part of the race alone, they expect their co-worker to hand them the baton at the right time in the right place, they all share the same goal and final outcome.

There is no stopping for meetings and communication between members during the race, there are no meetings with the coach halfway around the track to see how they are doing.

The runners do not stop to explain why they are passing the baton to only one member of the team.

The coach selects the qualified members of the squad and interacts with the team members before (preparation and focus) and after the event (evaluation of results), not during the race.

The focus of each team member is on doing their job efficiently and professionally, in order to reach the shared objective in the shortest time possible.

As a leader your mission is to identify the people with the best skills required for each part of the project, empower them by giving access to the right tools and training, build enthusiasm for the project and the other team members contributions, clearly identify the goal and the expected performance for their part of the project and let them do their jobs.

Encouraging communication between team members and leadership is only important and desired when it is focused and shared with those who really need the information to get the job done.

 

Related Links

Leadership, want the job or just the title and benefits

Leadership – who do you want to lead

13 tactics guaranteed to kill any project

Step by Step beginner’s guide to project management

Slow Leadership: The Truth About Communication

Management Issues: Drowning in Co-operation