Outwit Unproductive Days
Follow these four steps to ensure you are always seen as dependable, reliable and consistent at follow through:
- Identify priorities and communicate them often – When you identify and communicate your organization’s top priorities frequently and consistently, you create a natural filter for all conversations and decisions. This will give you the ability to quickly filter requests brought to your attention and immediately decide what requires action. Keeping it front of mind and on your schedule will ensure you have a deadline holding you to your promise.
- Implement a system – Scheduling software and calendars remind us of meetings and time-sensitive commitments. Block off time increments each day to follow up on conversations and commitments made to others. If you are perpetually overbooked, use tools within your software that prohibit overlapping commitments, preventing you from overcommitting yourself.
- Repeat commitments in each wrap-up – When attending or hosting a meeting, make notes of all commitments made or discussed. At the end of each meeting, verbally list off each item to ensure you’ve documented them correctly and also so your audience can hear your commitment to the tasks. Lastly, follow up in an email to all parties about what you committed to doing and give them a reasonable timeframe for completion. Be reasonable with your commitments.
- Behavior Trap 1: Failing to Set Proper Expectations – Everyone has seen senior managers announce major directional changes or new goals without spelling out credible plans for achieving them or specifying who’s accountable: for instance, “We are going to reduce the use of cash by 40% next year” or “We are going to cut train accidents significantly” or “We are going to shift focus from mid market customers to the upper end during the next two years.” Such efforts go nowhere.
- Here’s an example: A large iron mining and processing company was receiving many angry complaints about quality from its largest customer. The CEO met those complaints with apologies and vague promises, and strongly reprimanded the general manager of the guilty operation. The GM in turn held management meetings and communicated with employees about quality—month after month—but there was no discernible improvement. He would have been affronted by the suggestion that his expectation setting was faulty, even though he’d never established specific goals or explicit plans for achieving them.
- Behavior Trap 2: Excusing Subordinates from the Pursuit of Overall Goals– Every operating or staff manager is naturally preoccupied with the performance of her own unit. People with such singular focus tend to “delegate” responsibility for organization-wide performance upward to already overloaded senior managers, who often don’t push back.
- For instance, the CEO of a large IT-based company had determined that demographic and technological trends would gradually render many of the firm’s business lines obsolete. When he tried to draft the smartest people in several units to help him develop new strategies, however, their bosses objected. They claimed they understood the dangers of obsolescence but protested, “We have critical problems today that we need these people to deal with.” The CEO backed off in the face of this strong and seemingly valid resistance.
- Unit heads’ tunnel vision is understandable. But why do senior managers just accept it? Having to play nursemaid to so many activities saps executives’ time and energy. Yet very few seem willing to assign a subordinate full responsibility for achieving results that will require substantial input from peers.
- Behavior Trap 3: Colluding with Staff Experts and Consultants – The work performed by internal staff experts and external consultants has multiplied by 20 to 40 times in the past five decades, and the scope of their activity has greatly expanded. But the vast majority of them still get senior management to go along with the same old flawed contract: They agree to deliver their “product” (such as a new system, organization structure, marketing plan, training program, or corporate strategy)—and even to implement it—but they don’t assume responsibility for outcomes.The reason is simple: They are confident they can provide their own expertise, but they are not so sure about working with the client to produce results, so they limit their commitment.
- One aluminum-processing plant hired a consultant to improve its automated control system with the aim of speeding up its rolling mill’s throughput. A considerable investment in software and hardware upgrades didn’t accomplish that, however. Instead of being apologetic about the results, the consultant hinted that the company was not exploiting the new system properly and suggested further improvements. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for consultants to recommend solutions that are impractical or that ignore the limits on the kinds of changes the client organization might be capable of carrying out.
- Behavior Trap 4: Waiting While Associates Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – Modern managerial culture worldwide is imbued with the notion that the first step in improving performance is finding new programs to produce the gains. Seldom does a leader naturally shoot for improvement within existing systems and structures.That’s because most managers want to believe they are already doing the best they can with the available resources. To safeguard their egos, they conclude that they can’t achieve better results without adding something new. They’re inclined to make announcements like “Once we get the new inventory system in, we ought to be able to get our inventory turns way up”—providing the illusion that the issue is being handled.
- The aluminum company with the rolling-mill problems fell into the perpetual-preparation trap. About 20% of its orders were shipping late. Since customers mainly used its products in their own manufacturing processes, on-time delivery was essential. The IT manager suggested a solution: Engage a consultant to work with her to install a customer-order-tracking system. If followed, that recommendation would have required six or seven months of work and several million dollars, plus an unspecified number of months to find out whether the system would improve deliveries. Having no alternative solutions in mind, top management seriously considered buying the system.
- Joseph Schumacher, CEO Of Goddard Systems, Inc. – “Transparency. If something goes wrong, it’s important to address it and let the organization know that A) something has gone wrong, B) what happened and how, C) it is being corrected, and D) this is how it’s being corrected. This may also empower employees to offer alternate solutions that wouldn’t have been considered otherwise.”
Sabrina Parsons, CEO Of Palo Alto Software – “Don’t hide the bad news–mistakes only get worse because employees are afraid to share bad news. Raise the flag and bring it up to your manager or exec team and own up to the mistake.”
Correct Weak Performance
- Managers were promoted into management roles because they were good at something else -People often become managers because they were great at something else. As a result, you often see people who are brilliant and talented independent contributors flounder when it comes time to managing others.
- They get little or no training in how to manage well – New managers are frequently thrown into the job with nearly no guidance in how to take on their crucial new role and are left to just figure it out as they go along.
- Managing well is hard – how to set goals that are the right mix of realistic and ambitious, how to give feedback that’s clear, specific and actionable, how to stay involved without being overly hands-on, how to hold people to high standards without being a tyrant, how to adjust your management style for different types of employees and much more. It’s not easy, and it’s no surprise that people without training or mentoring in managing well tend to struggle at it.
- Managers’ incompetence is more visible- When a manager is flailing, it impacts the quality of life and success of a whole team of people. So you’re a lot more likely to notice a terrible manager than a bad co-worker.
- The people above bad managers often don’t know how to judge good management, or spot bad management – Organizations with clarity on this know that it’s about building a great team that gets results over the long-term, but it’s common to find employers that just aren’t sure how to tell if they have effective managers in place or not.
- Many companies are slow to fire managers. – Companies that realize that they have a bad manager on staff are often slow to do anything about it. They’re usually inclined to give a manager the benefit of the doubt, even if they’re hearing employee complaints, and it’s common to figure that having a less-than-perfect manager at the helm is better than going through the work of having a senior-level vacancy while finding a new manager, training the replacement and so forth.
- Managers are often good at something other than managing, and the company focuses on those skills – A manager might be awful at managing a staff of employees but fantastic at strategy or raising money or even just schmoozing with higher-ups. If a company cares more about those other skills than the deficit in management skills, bad managers can end up staying in their roles and making their teams miserable.
Strengthen Loose Communications
As P&G CEO Alan G. Lafley once stated, “Excruciating repetition and clarity are important: Employees have so many things going on in the operation of their daily business that they don’t always take the time to stop, think and internalize.”
Banish Unnecessary Complexity
How To Reduce Complexity In Seven Simple Steps [Forbes]
- Clear the underbrush – An easy starting point for simplification is to get rid of stupid rules and low-value activities, time-wasters that exist in abundance in most organizations.
- Take an outside-in perspective – Simplification should be driven by the need to add value to your customers, either internal or external. So a key step in the process is to proactively clarify what your customers (internal or external) really want and what you can do to make them more successful.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize – One of the keys to simplification is to figure out what’s really important (and what’s not), and continually reassess the priority list as new things are added.
- Take the shortest path from here to there – Once it’s clear that you are working on the right things, root out the extra steps in core processes. Where are the extraneous loops, redundancies, and opportunities to make our processes as lean as possible?
- Stop being so nice– One of the patterns that causes or exacerbates complexity is the tendency to not speak up about poor practices. To counter this trend, use constructive feedback and conflict to keep your colleagues (and yourself) honest about personal behaviors that might cause complexity.
- Reduce levels and increase spans – . Another source of complexity is the structural tendency to add layers of management, which often leads to managers supervising just one or two people. To reduce this kind of complexity and stay away from micromanaging, take a periodic look at the organization’s structure and find ways to reduce levels and management and increase spans of control.
- Don’t let the weeds grow back- Finally, remember that complexity is like a weed in the garden that can always creep back in. Whenever you feel like you’ve got it solved, do steps 1 through 6 over again.
Engineer an In-Distractible Mindset
- The CEO Has No Vision – The number one requirement of a CEO in any organization is to see the company’s path forward.A CEO without a vision is a waste of space and salary, and there are plenty of them. Lots of CEOs who spend a great deal of time in front of the media pontificating about ‘disruption’ and other buzzwords have no idea where they’re leading the company.
- They Can’t Get Off The Dime – A CEO’s job starts with a vision, but the vision is useless if you don’t execute on it. This is where lots of CEOs fall down. They can’t get their teams to act on their visions, because they’re unclear in their communications, they change their mind every three seconds or they’re distracted by stupid and petty things. If your CEO can’t say “Here’s what we’re doing” and then make it happen, your best path lies elsewhere.
- They Can’t React To Changing Circumstances – CEOs who can’t react in the moment and turn the ship to the left or the right run into icebergs, and then they blame other people and leave with multi-million-dollar severance packages.
- They Avoid Answering Questions – CEOs who know what they’re doing don’t mind answering questions from the media, their employees and their customers. They want to talk about their ideas.CEOs who stay hidden behind their office doors aren’t worthy of your trust as an investor or your precious flame as a working person.CEOs who believe in what they say will publish their beliefs in a company blog or in an employee newsletter without hesitation.
- They Appear on “Undercover Boss” – The idea behind the reality TV show “Undercover Boss” is that a CEO can walk unrecognized among his or her own employees. That’s pathetic! A leader is visible. Good leaders put themselves in front of their employees all the time.