Check It Off

Productivity suffers when your staff’s organization skills are weak. I’ve been studying this because it’s rampant in the workplace and an issue that many clients face. People are overwhelmed by the volume of tasks that cross their desks, their lack of knowledge of how to become better organized, and how to handle the technology that invariably creeps into the equation.

A checklist, for example, is an old tool whose form has morphed from analog to digital to apps. Any version will work, and as I’ve said repeatedly, the best system is the one that you actually use and helps you to stay organized.

Checklists can’t be stagnant tools. One person told me that he reviews his checklist first thing when he arrives at work. But he also revealed that often this review is derailed because other things require attention immediately.

Leadership Accountability

Consider your key employees. You trust them. Rely on them. Give them more responsibilities. And then one day things aren’t the way they used to be. You notice that they’re leaving work a little early on most days or missing agreed-upon deadlines or getting into arguments with co-workers.

Something has changed. Although their performance has slipped and their attitude may have deteriorated, consider how you may be managing them. Have you kept pace with the way things have changed, or are you managing them the same way you did 10 years ago in a less complicated environment?

Someone’s slip in performance may be due to no longer knowing what you expect. Your expectations have changed, but you haven’t clearly communicated what is different.

In other situations, however, the person may be resisting doing the job as it has evolved. They may not have the right skill set or may not be motivated to change with the position.

A Microscopic Miss

Over lunch with a good friend, I learned that his team had missed an aggressive financial goal by .2%. That’s two tenths of one percent, to emphasize the point. This was especially disappointing because one key stakeholder neglected to complete his piece on time.

What do you do when this happens? Do you beat yourself up because your team is an eyelash away from the goal? Do you blame the stakeholder who wasn’t accountable? Do you make up another narrative to make excuses?

In some respects, it would be easier to miss the goal by a substantial amount, because it is easier to excuse away a big miss if there were volatile market conditions or a natural disaster.

Is Your Team Keeping Pace?

If you’re a leader in a rapidly growing environment, you may find yourself in a quandary about how your staff keeps pace with the business growth. No matter how well you hired until now, you’ll find that you have employees who don’t cut it now and that you need to contemplate new ways to build your staff.

This can be extremely challenging, especially if some of these employees were loyal to you during earlier stages when they did whatever it took to keep things going.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon these employees; rather, think about who you need to add to take it to the next level.

Perhaps you need to consider a middle level manager who can add some much needed supervision and guidance to an otherwise overworked senior manager. Or you may think about adding administrative support which didn’t exist in the past.

Deconstructing the Unknown

When organizations undergo change, one of the commonly expressed concerns is dealing with the unknown. Leaders who are directly involved with the change process will be well served if they take time to anticipate specific concerns and diffuse them before they take on a life of their own.

In order to illustrate this, I’ll use the example of the departure of a senior leader who is replaced by someone from outside the organization. Inevitably, there is buzz about the newcomer. What is she like? What changes will he make? Will it be business as usual or will things change dramatically? And the most important….

…How is this going to affect me personally?

The new leader needs to keep in mind all of the unspoken chatter that is implicit in this question. Will she take me seriously? How is he going to understand how I think? What if he doesn’t value my contributions? Will she take an interest in me? I thought I was going to get her job – how am I going to save face among my co-workers?

Learn from a Legend

I often suggest to clients that they “collect” attributes of leaders who inspire them. Over time they create a composite leader profile, one which incorporates the best aspects of who they aspire to be.

I added to my own collection as I read and listened to the stories about Coach Pat Summitt, who died earlier this week. She began coaching when she was 22 years old and had an illustrious career as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols. She never had a losing season and had 1,098 wins, the most of any NCAA Division I basketball coach (man or woman) in history.

She was an intense person and commented that she always felt that intensity could bring out the best in anyone. Her toughness, competitiveness, and intention to win were consistently conveyed to her players.

Time to Move On?

A client recently asked me how to motivate an employee whose performance is lackluster. I made the distinction between motivation and inspiration: we can inspire the people who work with us, but motivation needs to come from within.

He was especially frustrated because he hasn’t been able to inspire this employee to perform at a higher level. He suggested that the employee’s work was about a B- level and he wanted to raise the quality.

People work for many different reasons, and some do the bare minimum because they see it as just a job. This is frustrating, especially for a proactive manager who wants to get the best from his or her staff. If someone works for the security of a paycheck and not much more, it’s difficult to get more out of them.

The Hover Factor

Last week I wrote about developing new managers, as the skills that brought them this far in their careers are not likely to be the same ones they’ll need as they enter the managerial realm.

That’s one part of the equation. You also want to launch them.

What do I mean by that? Give them space to try on the new job for size and see what it’s like. Provide the environment for some small wins to give them confidence as they move forward. Allow them the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again with their new insights.

Let them do their jobs without hovering around them. I’ve seen many situations where someone is promoted and a senior leader preempts everything she does, every decision he makes, and every attempt to establish him or herself in the new role.

Simply put, this doesn’t work.

Cultivating New Managers

It’s a big deal when you grant managerial responsibilities to one of your key employees. You’re entrusting this person to be a steward of people, processes, and profits. From the employee’s perspective, it can be an important rite of passage.

Unfortunately, executives often tend to promote their best people into managerial roles without consideration for whether they actually possess managerial talent. If you promote someone without evaluating whether he is actually primed to be a good manager, it can be a set up for failure.

The best way to evaluate these skills is to use an objective assessment process. The results will reflect their strengths and weaknesses. But there’s another piece to this: you need to identify the specific managerial competencies that are aligned with the actual job. Your employee may have some great skills, but if her strengths don’t match those that the job requires, her success will be hampered.

Are You Settling for Less?

We all compromise from time to time. The problem with compromise, though, is that someone gains a little and someone loses a little, so often it’s not a win-win scenario.

But what about compromising with yourself? The same thing can happen. Of course, there are times when you may need to do so, but when it morphs into a longer-term proposition, it can turn into the “settle for” syndrome.

When you settle, you give up something. If it happens repeatedly or when it lingers, you may even forget what you gave up.

Settling can create a slow seepage of spirit, which can be demoralizing. Your energy and enthusiasm can drop perceptibly, and if unchecked, this can be the beginning of a downward spiral.