Act now to stop a reactionary roller-coaster work style


Our company’s management style is very reactionary. We end up working late at night to fix things that got out of hand during the day. We jump from one crisis to another. We tell ourselves, “Don’t worry, it will turn around.” And we hope for the best. But that makes the business a roller-coaster ride. How do we turn it into smooth sailing? Continue reading “Act now to stop a reactionary roller-coaster work style”


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.


Acknowledging the People Who Make it Happen

Things have been getting busier. That’s a good thing. However, I find that when we get busy we forget to acknowledge the people who are making it happen. Any suggestions on how to keep that top of mind, and use it as a tool to motivate everyone to achieve greater results in the upcoming year – we sure could use the push!

Thoughts of the Day: Acknowledgement is a powerful tool to motivate behavior. Make sure it’s honest feedback. Schedule time to review performance and recognize results. Help everyone to stay focused on their ability to contribute.

Build a positive culture. Make sure that what you stand for is what you’d want written on your tombstone. As you look around the company ask yourself:

  • Are my people truly happy doing what they are doing?
  • Do our suppliers and customers mirror our positive outlook?

Then move on to a rigorous personal assessment:

  • How does my attitude influence everyone around me?
  • What can I do to build an upbeat environment by realizing that employees, customers and vendors all strive to benefit each other?

Finally, ask about recognition systems:

  • Can my people trust that their efforts will be appreciated?
  • What can I do to make people more comfortable giving positive feedback?

The answers to these questions will speak volumes about how well your company does in the acknowledgement department.

As CEO you have tremendous influence. The tone you set leads to more of the same. If you are always criticizing, always looking at the down side, your people will pick that up and mirror it. Regularly recognizing people when they do their best can lead to an environment where people stretch to do their best consistently.

Start by giving credit where credit is due. No company would be where it is if the only person working in the company was the CEO. Give people positive feedback they can build upon by noting their efforts to do a good job.

Don’t overlook problems. Pose them in the context of, here’s what you’ve done right, here’s what I need you to work on next, I’m confident that given your successful performance on other tasks that you’ll be able to master this one as well. If someone is struggling, figure out if they should be in the job or if they should move on. Don’t spoil the mood in the company by tolerating poor performance and then being frustrated by what you see.

Acknowledgement isn’t just something you do while walking around the company. Set up goals and reports to review performance. Look for specific examples of where people achieve results. Revenue, service levels, profit and productivity are easy to measure and recognize.

Have a monthly meeting where you go over reports, hand out gold stars, and thank people for their contributions. Ask managers to share specific examples at company meetings. Teach all your employees how to give acknowledgements. In addition to recognizing performers, use job-well-done examples to teach other people what you’re looking for.

Each day make a list of people you’ve observed doing good work. Send out thank you notes. Each week spend time walking around, observing and commenting on the good things you see happening. Also make notes on things that need improving, in the context of, “Now that we’ve achieved x, it’s time to work on y.”

Encourage people by showing them the upside – the appreciation that goes with a job well done. Reward people when they take initiative by making them shining examples in front of their peers. Make sure that your employees, customers and vendors all know how much you value them.

Looking for a good book? Grateful Leadership: Using the Power of Acknowledgement to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results, by Judith W. Umlas


Want to print this article? Acknowledging the people who make it happen


Say No to Being ‘Yessed’ to Death

One of our key employees  yes’s us to death. She tells us what she thinks we want to hear. I don’t know how to get across to her that we need to know what’s going on – good and bad – so she – and we – can deal with it.

Thoughts of the Day:  Make sure you’re emphasizing the right things. Set up a process for identifying and solving problems.  Log and prioritize issues.  Reward employees who seek to improve.

It can be scary to admit that something’s gone wrong or that one is in over his/her head. It’s natural to avoid risk. How you lead your employees will speak volumes about your company’s ability to make progress on big and little issues  – now and in the future.

When things go wrong, how do you react? Do you get upset? Or, do you put on a game face and embrace opportunities to make the organization better?

It takes time to change. People have to be able to step back and look at what’s going on. If they’re already overbooked, an interruption is a burden that leads to more overtime, less productivity, and more blaming when work doesn’t go out on time. Who wants to deal with that? Better to ignore the problem, hope it goes away. Instead, set up an environment where change can happen.

Look at workload. If employees don’t have some free time during the day to work on improvements, if they’re always behind, fix it. Look at how work flows through that area. Reorganize tasks and get additional staff. It may seem like it costs more, but until you make time to deal with problems at the root, they just keep costing you time, money and energy.

Even with extra time in the day, it’s impossible to deal with everything at once. Set up a log where everyone can record things that need to be worked on. Schedule work sessions to review the log. Assign people to work on items and review outcomes. Report company-wide about improvements that are being made.

Teach employees to consistently approach problem solving. Step 1: identify the problem. Step 2: Define the problem. Step 3. Make a list of all possible causes. Step 4. Decide who else to involve in the problem solving process. Step 5. Brainstorm possible solutions. Step 6. Try out solutions. Step 7. Evaluate results. Step 8. Assess outcomes. Step 9. Make adjustments. Step 10. Write it up for future reference.

Teach employees how to look for root causes. Talk about the importance of investigating why something went wrong, rather than fixing the surface. Make sure employees understand that permanently getting rid of problems requires tracing things back to their source of origin.

Sound like a lot? So is overlooking things that need fixing. A systematic approach to problem solving will lead to better outcomes and more permanent solutions. And long term, that means less stress, higher productivity and bottom line savings.

Make it clear that as problems come up, they are to be solved, not ignored. Make that a core value of the company. Teach employees that they contribute the most when they look to build better outcomes.

Look at what happens when employees come forward with issues. Are they promoted or penalized? Are they recognized for being outspoken, or shoved to the side as always complaining or challenging the status quo? Build a better organization by recognizing employees who identify problems and solutions over those who promote the values of being in control and covering up.

Loss of status, credibility or opportunity for promotion may go along with admitting a person can’t handle a situation.  Make sure this doesn’t happen in your company. Make people hero’s and winners because they continuously look for ways to improve what’s going on. Talk with your yes-ing employee about how her life gets better when she eliminates stress by working with openly with team members and management to make things work better.

Looking for a good book?

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Dealing with VUCA in Business

I heard someone use the term VUCA when talking about management and leadership. What does VUCA mean? How can it apply to helping run a successful business?

Thoughts of the Day: Let’s start with defining VUCA, where it comes from and then get around to how it relates to management and charting a path for success in business.

VUCA is an acronym: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. It comes from the U.S. military, the Army War College.

The term is relevant to the business world, as well. In today’s world, conditions change quickly, in unpredictable ways, with a myriad of impacts that are not at all clear as to how they will play out. In other words, VUCA.

Learning to deal well with VUCA can result in a paradox: be prepared by learning to live with not being prepared. In a stable, constant world, it is possible to prepare through static examples: if “a” happens, we do “b”; if “c” happens, we do “d”. When the world becomes volatile, the game goes to those who can think their way through ambiguity without getting lost in the complexity of information or hung up on the uncertainty of options coming at them.

Winners are more likely to be those who can craft a flexible strategy, and constantly adjust tactics. And who recognize that sometimes it pays to be lucky. In which case the survivors must quickly get moving, set their eye on the horizon, and take steps to figure out a new game plan.

What does that mean for management? It means educating your workforce. It’s about teaching people how to take action, which is more than memorizing what to do next. And for many business owners, stuck in the command and control of, “do it because I told you to”, that means significant, personal behavior changes.

Owners must learn to step back and allow their employees to practice dealing with uncertainty. Instead of giving people answers, ask them what they would do, and encourage them to take chances. By experimenting with options, and learning to make corrections, individuals build skill and confidence. Over time they learn that they can handle more complex situations without relying on someone else to tell them what to do.

Owners must let go of control and instead look for ways to involve employees in situations that are ambiguous. Teach employees that it is okay not to have all the answers. Help employees to hone their judgment skills, while teaching them to take action even when they’re not clear about how things will come out.

Find the leaders in your group of employees. Encourage them to test their skills at building confidence in the people who work with them. Develop a matrix environment, where no one relies on just one person to lead or take action. Build team decision-making and action-taking skills, such that a group can function effectively even when there are multiple opinions for how to proceed.

Expose your company to VUCA. Help your people to trust what they learn from experience while also growing their ability to embrace change and try new things. Encourage risk taking – within limits – and help people develop critical thinking skills.

Be sure to embed ethics in everything you teach and do. Stress can tend to bring out the worst in all of us. Teach your people about the importance of integrity. Help every one who works for you to build a strong, positive character to sustain themselves in difficult times.

Keep in mind that unstable conditions often result in breakthrough opportunities. Instead of putting your head down trying to solve today’s problems, look up and anticipate what the world will need tomorrow. Involve employees, customers and suppliers in brainstorming sessions about the future. Teach everyone around you to see the world as full of opportunity.

Looking for a good book? If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21-st Century Leaders, by Doug Moran.

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