Building a more flexible employee

Wondering about how to solve this one. Got an employee who is good at things, as long as there are no changes. But we need more. Stuff always comes up and we can’t always put him in a place where he won’t be interrupted. We can’t protect him from problems that crop up, in fact, we need him to attack the problems, not just get in a groove and do what he’s always done. There are go-getters who solve problems and he’s an obstructionist. How can we turn him around?

Thoughts of the day: Change and uncertainty are hard for some people. Flexibility and adaptability are great skills to have. Build up training programs to help your less flexible employees.

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If Employees Aren’t Listening, Reflect on Leadership

Worried that people who should be listening to me, aren’t listening to me. Think about my employees, and ask myself, “If they’re not going to listen to their boss, who are they going to listen to?” How can I keep from getting pushed out of the way?

Thoughts of the Day: Take a look around you. Make time to think about what you want, and whether the habits of communicating are getting you there. Figure out how you can get better at communicating. Lower your perception of the consequences if things go wrong. Think before you speak. Plant seeds.

Is it really just you who’s being ignored, or are others having the same problem? Is it all employees, or just some? Is it the same employee over and over, or different employees at different times? Is it all the time, or just some of the time?

Figure out the conditions under which you observe that you aren’t being heard. Compare that to your observations about what others experience under similar conditions. Do a reality check on who, when, what, and how people go their own way without dialing in to you.

Then ask some questions. Are they attempting to spread their wings, trying to fly solo with new skills they’ve acquired? Are they repeating a habitual way of behaving with you – as in, they always dial you out? Or is it somewhere in between?

Now do a reality check. What happens if specific people do or don’t listen to you? Do they get better results with, or without your input? Or do they come out about the same either way? Do they get enough value from your input that they can achieve higher level outcomes? Are you making requests that make their life easier or harder? Try looking at it from the receiver’s viewpoint.

Time for a bit of self-reflection. How do you come across as a leader? Are you positively motivated, and are you positively motivating the people around you? Can you inspire confidence?

Think about this. If you’re not ready to empower yourself to achieve success, how will you impart that to others? On the other hand, if you’re leading and no one is following, why is the whole group following a different path? What is it about how you’re coming across?

Can you take as good as you dish it out? If someone isn’t listening to you, ask them why. But be prepared to hear some things that might make you uncomfortable. Listen without defense in order to learn.

What in your style of presentation is irritating people or pushing them away. It often comes down to what you say and how you say it. Is it all about getting what you want? What gets in the way of perceiving or responding to what the person across from you needs?

Negative approaches tend to generate negative responses, and vice versa for positive ones. Keep doom and gloom to a minimum – it’s neither inspiring nor motivating. Instead, search for purpose. Put people on a mission.

Give people a visual of how things might turn out. Make sure it’s one that they’d actually want to achieve. Make it something worth having, something worth reaching for, from theirs, not your, point of view. To do that, you’re actually going to have to invest some time figuring out where the other person is coming from.

Remind yourself that it takes a village to build well rounded solutions. Plant seeds. Ask for small changes. Encourage behaviors you want to see continue by saying, “thank you, I appreciate that.” Talk honestly about problems, but also build people up by showing them how changes they are making lead to a better world. Take time out to celebrate wins – more than the time spent moaning over losses – a lot more.

Looking for a good book? Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek.


Enlist a Team of Leaders to Avoid Micromanaging

Someone suggested recently that I spend too much time plugging holes and fixing problems. I thought it was my job as owner to ensure things run well. I realized that I’m not my staff’s backfill; they are my backfill. Can you help me get my head around this change?

Thoughts of the Day: A pyramid cannot stand on its point; it needs to stand on its base. Build your pyramid by building a group of strong, cross-supporting people under you. Expect people to help each other become leaders. Unleash results that come from people who willingly deal with difficulties and challenges. Take the weight off your shoulders by stepping back.

Think of your company as a total structure made up of individual blocks, built up from foundation to pinnacle. No one block could hold up the entire structure, but when set together in a common structure, interlocked, cross-supporting, they create one of the strongest structures on the planet — a pyramid.
Give people more opportunity to come up with answers, not less. Give them more room to crack open problems, inspect details and learn by making mistakes as they strive to develop winning solutions. Hold everyone, individually and as teams, accountable. If they come to you for answers, provide guidance but challenge them to develop their own solutions.

Your goal is to have a group of people who see themselves as colleagues serving a common mission, each leading in their own way while collaborating to achieve common results. Build a team of people who are ready to lead and able to back up each other. That gets you free from the drudgery of the day to day. That means more time for you to work on the strategic opportunities and long-term development of the business.

Develop leaders by treating all the people in your company as leaders. Foster leadership by giving people control over decision-making. Ask people to brainstorm together how to get the company where it needs to go. Put everyone in charge of protecting and nurturing the organization’s future. There should be no more looking to one person for a solution.

Make it clear to everyone that they are in it together. If they work as a group, collaborate and support each other, they will tackle more issues, identify more opportunities and come up with better overall solutions.
When team members back off of a problem or get stuck, have them reach out to each other rather than coming to you for the answers. Facilitate conversations, if necessary, by asking team members to gather. Instead of playing a director role in the conversation, sit back and watch how the dialogue unfolds. Ask pointed questions if you think the group may be missing something: “What about … ?” “What if you tried … ?”. Then back out and let the team work on solving the problems.

Do provide an overall framework: “We need to be on a mission this year to achieve a, b, c.” Then ask everyone to come together to create their plan, detailing the goals and actions they believe will lead to the accomplishment of that mission. Think of it as laying out a challenge, and let the group formulate how they think that challenge can best be met.

Encourage people in the company to form many teams, or mini pyramids, breaking down barriers to cooperation and collaboration, in order to accomplish the work ahead. People working across disciplines can often solve problems that people in silos can’t even begin to understand.

Looking for a good book? A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results, by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff.



Ramping Up Your Workers’ Experience

Have an inexperienced team of people. They’re eager and want to learn, and they are picking stuff up quickly. That said, I need to get them ready for a big seasonal push that’s coming within a few short weeks. I don’t want them making costly mistakes, or saying yes to something when they should be checking in first. I also don’t want them sitting around waiting to be told what to do. They’re bright, and I know they can handle it. I just want to get them started right, and do that quickly.

Thoughts of the Day: Getting things done right is important. Lay out a training plan, in writing. Test for comprehension in small doses. Look for trainers within the pool of people who do the work already. Get out of the way to find out if they can do it. Move people around until you get the right fit.

Doing work without mistakes saves time, effort and money. Multiply revenue by 1%. That’s a dollar estimate of what each 1% increase in costs related to errors means to your business. That should be motivation enough to make it worth your while to figure out how to move new people into the workforce with as little disruption and as few errors as possible.

Before you put people to work, prepare some written instructions. They’ll pick up more if you back that up with written notes they can refer to as they go about doing the work. Ask people to make corrections to the training notes as they go through the day – if they find something that doesn’t make sense, or that is done differently from the way it was described. Incorporate those corrections into future training.

Decide how much should be taught each day, and how to measure progress. The first time is the hardest, after the first round of training you’ll have benchmarks based on the first group’s progress. If error rates spike up, slow down the training until the error rate drops.

Go through each routine or job that people will be performing and lay out the parameters. Identify who should be consulted if there’s a question. If more than one person is involved, put it in writing – who to go to for what.

Set up a time at the end of each day to review how things went. Focus first on what went well, how much progress was made. Then talk about what went wrong, what errors or problems people encountered.

Encourage people to discuss problems openly. Ask them to describe how they dealt with the challenges they ran into, and what they learned. Make sure that people who are struggling get someone assigned to work with them one-on-one. Wrap up with encouragement for the next day, by focusing on the progress made so far.

Start the next day with a brief meeting to go back over what has been learned so far. Remind people about lessons from the previous day’s wrap up. Ask if anyone had any insights overnight that they’d like to share.

Find competent trainers who can teach people what to do and act as positive role models. Look at the pool of people who already do the job well. Ask one or two of them to do training part time. Look for trainers who take pride in a job well done, who do it with a smile, and who are good at encouraging those around them to enjoy what they’re doing.

Think twice about moving someone into training just because they’re good at the task. Make sure they have good people skills as well. A big part of training is motivating and encouraging people.

Steadily ramp up the tasks people are asked to perform. If they make mistakes, see if they recognize they’ve made a mistake, and if they can fix it on their own. Give people a chance to show you without being interrupted. If possible, make people figure out how to fix their mistakes instead of fixing it for them. If they don’t get it, then show them how to do the task and ask them to do it exactly the way you showed them.

Consider that people may have hidden talents. You might hire a person to do one task, and then find out they’re really good at something else. Don’t be afraid to switch people around. Move someone else in to do the task you hired this person for. Move this person on to the tasks for which they’ve shown more aptitude.

Looking for a good book? Enterprise Performance Done Right: An Operating System for Your Organization, by Ron Dimon.


Managing to Keep Key Employees

We have a couple of people who are really important to the business. We call them our key employees. It’s no joking matter – I worry about it all the time – if one of our key employees were to leave, or if something happened to them, we’d be screwed. How do I protect the business from something bad happening to these important individuals?

Thoughts of the Day: Key employees have probably earned the right to that designation over time. Keeping people engaged is essential to the well-being of the company. Protecting the business from unexpected events is part of any owner’s job. Know what your people want, where’ they’re going, and how your company fits into their overall plans. Make sure to build back-up solutions as part of a well-rounded contingency plan B.

Key employees are called that for a variety of reasons. Some have unique knowledge of the business. Others have special skills that are hard to replace. Some provide a level of support or planning that has taken a long time to figure out how to do it. Some could be very valuable to competitors.

When thinking about how to protect the company from the loss of a key employee, the first step is to insure you know who is considered to be key. There is host of reasons why people are considered essential. The list usually includes more than top executive. Think about who in your company might be seriously missed or difficult to replace if they left or couldn’t make it in for work.

Take time to reflect on each key individual. Is he fully engaged with the work he’s doing? Is she aware that the company values her contributions? Are plans in sync – yours for where you want to take the company, theirs for what they want to achieve. Do you even know what each key employee wants personally and professionally?

Many business owners, used to being in the position of command and control, make the mistake of assuming they should map out a future for each key employee. Actually, it’s a two way street, starting with a dialog about the future. Have an open and frank conversation with each key person – where do they want to be in 3-5 years, what does their life look like, what would cause them to say they were satisfied, want concerns do they have.

Listen carefully, without judgment. Try not to take control. Be open to the possibility that the person you’re talking to may want to go somewhere else for work sometime in the future.

Tune in to what motivates each individual, and what needs each has. Think about how you can use the resources of your company to help each key individual achieve what they want, as they help to get your company where you want it to go.
Be willing to think outside the box as to how you can help a key employee, but make sure it’s a fair trade.

Do they want to get additional education? Offer that, with the agreement that they’ll stick around for a period of time post-graduation, or reimburse part to the tuition if they leave sooner. Planning to have a family? Consider flexible work schedules. Many key employees work long hours and have concerns that they may not be able to spend quality time with their family. Get back-up so they can.

Consider ways to bond people to the company. Ask every key employee about why the company is important to them. It may be how your company treats its employees. It may be about the type of work or the clients served. It may be about the community they share. Look for common themes you can build on to create a culture to bond people together.

It may be possible to meet employees’ financial growth needs through profit sharing. Shares of stock may be valuable, but make sure to keep ownership internally focused by having a stock ownership agreement requires shares to be returned to the company when the employee leaves.

Make cross training a requirement for every key employee. It may take more than one employee to perform the functions of one key employee. Whatever it takes, make sure that someone can back-up every key employee up so that they can take a vacation, get sick, move on to learn something else, or even leave the company, and the company continues to function well.
Looking for a good book? Retaining Your Best Employees, by Patricia Pulliam Phillips and Jack J. Phillips.