Operational Excellence is one of those terms that can have a wide variety of meanings depending upon who you speak with. For one group it is about streamlining processes. For another, it is about developing and tracking key operational metrics. And for others, it is about developing an "engaged" workforce that can spot and adjust to necessary changes quickly. I am sure you have your own unique understanding of what operational excellence is and what it means to your group. The fact is that all of these things are correct. Operational excellence is a dynamic blend of organizational design, process improvement, the development and use of metrics, continuous improvement, performance management, and employee engagement. Key though, to all of it is that really great Operational Excellence factors in the Hu (Human Element).
This interesting blend of approaches is indeed dynamic and the unique ratio of each of these elements will reflect your company, it's culture, and what it needs. What is not dynamic and what is not up for interpretation is the purpose of operational excellence. Improving profitability. This can mean "becoming" profitable, increasing your profit margins, ramping up a competitive advantage, increasing client satisfaction, increasing quality - you get it - and the list goes on. All of these goals have their nexus around increasing profits.
Let's look at a couple of examples; one that was pretty straight forward with an immediate outcome. And a second scenario that took a bit more time but with pretty spectacular outcomes as well.
We Need To Free Up Budget Room Now!
Company A was in the advanced stages of implementing operational excellence into its field workforce when it suddenly realized it needed some pretty drastic and immediate savings around its Op-Ex budget. Gains were beginning to come in from the field but this was a bigger and more immediate issue. A team of facilitators was brought in and various components of the company came together to spend the day brainstorming. Breakout rooms were created for teams that had representation from each department that touched production from start to finish. I facilitated one team and had them create a process map from when they came into the picture to when they handed it off. It all went up on one wall and for the first half of the meeting, it was just each department mapping their part of the process. In the second half of the meeting, each group described their process and needs until all had presented. Then the magic happened. For many of them, this was the first time they saw the process in detail from start to finish, and questions and ideas began to percolate and flow. By the end of that session, they had come up with a pretty extensive list of potential operational savings. I won't say that every item was approved but that session generated literally millions of dollars in savings!
Law of Unintended Consequences
Company B wanted to get field operations to learn to use performance metrics to drive day to day activities. For the executive, it was really about developing a more detailed data set to stay in front of needs and issues. We took it a bit further by teaching the frontline leadership to not only get their crews to develop their own metrics but to use those metrics to drive performance and innovation for their teams. In a short span of time crews increased performance by over 40% (based on their own metrics), downtime virtually disappeared and it was not uncommon to have more "perfect days" each month than days with issues. Crew engagement went up and client satisfaction soared! And oh yes, they collected so much valuable data that clients were now coming to them to use it. One of the unintended and pleasant side effects of this improvement was the awarding of several very high-value contracts (over $100M) with clients that only months before were considered well beyond the group's reach!
Necessity is The Mother of Invention
Two different companies, two different applications of operational excellence yet very similar outcomes in terms of impact on profit. Two things I want to make note of is that first of all key in both scenarios' was the involvement and work of the people in the process. The other thing I have come to notice is by the time I get called in the pain is unbearable for these companies. In desperation they look for answers they would not normally have considered. I guess necessity truly is the mother of invention! My question for you is simply this; why wait? Operational excellence is something any company can implement and it works! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
We are living in "interesting" times. Where I live we have been hammered by COVID shutdowns on top of energy unfriendly policies emanating from our nation's capital and an actual downturn in our energy sector. These times have seen victim after victim of the downturn and lockdown. Industry sectors who are used to going through this type of "contraction" every few years see it as just another part of the cycle. Markets go down, people get laid off, markets go up we hire them back. This is the tune everyone sings. But I suspect that this time that tune may be coming to an end, that as we GOT (Game of Thrones) fans are apt to say "winter is coming." There has always been a cost to these things, so in true operational excellence tradition, I am going to lay out some "placeholders" just to give us an idea of what that cost looks like.
The Immediate Cost
There is a lot of research in HR circles around the estimated cost of losing an employee (voluntarily or otherwise). Those numbers are often represented as either loss in months of salary or percent of salary. In the months model, the number most frequently provided is nine. That is to say that it costs the equivalent of nine months' salary to replace someone in that same position. For the percentage model, the numbers range from 15% to over 200% of those positions' salaries to replace them. This is based upon the premise that replacing an EVP is more costly than replacing a manager or geologist. For the sake of this discussion, I decided to opt for both. I figured that nine months' salary is the same as 75% so why not use that as a place holder. It is not 15% but it's not 200% either.
I did some further research and a study done by Hayes Oil and Gas Recruitment a couple of years ago pegged the average O & G salary in Calgary at around $130,000. When we take that number and multiply by 75% and then factor in an example of 300 laid off we get a cost of $29.25M. That is to say, this is what it will cost the company to get these positions back when things turn around. These numbers include things like recruitment, interviews, background checks, on-boarding, and training (assuming they get each hire right the first time around). It also includes lost productivity as it is estimated that workers don't get back up to pre-exit levels of performance for at least six months.
"But wait!" you say what about the savings to the company in terms of wages? Fair question and again using the latest set of layoffs as an example it would mean that our company has saved an average of $39M. Factor out the cost for re-hiring later and that is a net gain of $9.75M. A respectable number to be sure but is it really a net gain?
Decline in Engagement
Research done by Gallup shows that during down cycle periods employee engagement drops from an average of 33% (let that sink in for a second) to somewhere around 28%. This is attributed to low morale created by the loss of coworkers and the uncertainty of the current market. New metrics measuring profit per employee have been conducted and the numbers for this come in at $366k (USD) per employee. Source: Zacks Investment Research. Again for the sake of argument lets assume a straight 1-1 correlation between engagement and profit per employee. That two percent drop in engagement works out to a drop in profit of around $50M/year. Of course, that is a ridiculous number and doesn't factor in things like the current drop in market prices (impacting profit per employee) and so on. So let's drop our number to 0.5 of one percent or one half of one percent. That still works out to a drop in profit of $12.6M. Suddenly that $9.75M savings doesn't seem quite as respectable does it?
Now before all the accountants and CFO's form a lynch mob let me restate, these are only place holders and there is going to be variation between companies and these will be impacted by many factors. The point is they DO tell a story that contraction may not always be the best solution.
Winter is Coming!
Here is the kicker. When markets pick back up companies are going to be confronted with a very different workforce demographic. The "boomers" have decided that this downturn is just the motivation they needed to take that step into retirement and they are now moving out of the workforce in large numbers. As Stats Can reports that rates retirement have already moved from 175,000 per year to over 250,000 per year and that is expected to climb to 400,000 per year shortly. This group takes with them all of that "tribal knowledge" around operations and productivity and they take a large amount of leadership knowledge and experience. The demographics that are following this group the Y'ers, X'ers, Nexters, and Millennials are much smaller, lack that "tribal knowledge" and lack the leadership experience and skillsets.
Rather than ramping back up as anticipated many companies are going to be scrambling to fill those positions with qualified people. It won't be business as usual and companies that are not RIGHT NOW training and preparing their teams to use operational excellence - to do more with less - are going to be ill-equipped to compete. Winter is coming and what are you doing about it? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This is the next in our series on the "Hu" (Human Element) of Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership.
"The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say 'I'. They don't think 'I'. They think 'we'; they think 'team'."
Today, in looking at "Hu" centered leadership I want to explore the idea that a good leader will know and utilize the skills found on their team. For some, this is an easy topic and for others, it can be a bit intimidating. It is one of those "mom, apple pie and Hershey bar" type of statements where everyone nods agreement. In practice, though it often is missed either intentionally or for other reasons.
You are not Superman
I have to say that new leaders will often avoid this area as they have come into the role under the false impression that as a leader they must know it all. After all, it is a natural and common mistake as most people will move into leadership for technical expertise, not leadership skills. Validation has come not from what they do as leaders but how they contribute from a technical expertise perspective. Interestingly enough this struggle to let go of one's "expertise" to allow others to use their skills is not new.
Probably the best example I can provide is that of the game of chess. Aside from the pawn the weakest player on the board is the king. What exists on the board are in fact a team (okay army) of players who each have a unique skill (movement). The king doesn't have to do it all and in fact, can't do it all. But an effective chess player knows how to utilize the unique characteristics of each player to further their position in the game. And so it is with a good leader in a business unit, or crew or company.
You may have guessed from the previous pieces of this study that this does require the leader to get to know the skills on their team. Some companies are already getting pretty good at this and certainly, one useful tool is to develop a skills matrix. It will help you identify where there may be gaps in your team's skillsets and will allow you to address those gaps with either training or hiring. However whether the company has something like this or not, it is a good idea to get to know what your team members can contribute.
Look for the gems in the mix
Skills focus is about all your team's strengths which may include hitherto unknown skills (Excel wizard comes to mind) or if they have skills around things like communication, teamwork, detail vs global thinkers, and innovators. Since this series of articles is derived from Gallup's Strengths List suffice it to say that they have an extensive list of skills to explore and it makes for a good team-building exercise. There are other tools out there as well such as Myers-Briggs, Insights, and so on. And while I know that some of these items may be viewed as personality traits they are and can be profound skills as well which in the right circumstances can be used to really help the team meet its goals.
Everyone can contribute
Just a quick example (which is why the Excel wizard sprang to mind) of how that can work. One crew I was working with had developed personal metrics and team metrics but wanted to represent those numbers on something more than hand-drawn charts (which are fine by the way). It turns out that one of the crew, and literally the last person you would have thought of, had a real passion for Excel and volunteered to put a spreadsheet and graphs together for them. It was amazing and not only did wonders for the team but it really boosted that person's level of engagement as well. It was something that he was uniquely skilled at and he "owned" it.
Find your team's skills and be their advocate and encourager concerning developing them further. Train yourself to look for gaps that each individual can fill and let them go for it! Don't know your team's strengths? What are you waiting for? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This is the next in our series on the "Hu" (Human Element) of Organizational Effectiveness.
With the skill of being purposeful, we see how these talents actually fit together and support one another. If you have created outcomes and are driving your team toward them then being purposeful in prioritizing performance (metrics) instead of succumbing to organizational politics becomes almost second nature. In fact, being purposeful seems far less difficult, and "politics" becomes a non-issue.
Every Company Gets The Performance It Wants
When I talk about politics I use it in the more generic sense and really this could be interchanged with "company culture". Culture or the ethos created by it (politics) is a direct result of what company leadership requires and more importantly what they ignore. This is a powerful principle. For example, a company may give lip service to issues around safety but if they ignore or brush under the carpet safety issues in favor of increased profits they send a clear message to their team about what is really important. In the oil patch, there are companies that make so much money that issues of downtime and productivity are simply not important; the margins are so big. That is until the inevitable downturn hits but by then it's too late. Downtime is accepted and with a wink and a nod the supervisor or operations manager says "well its the oil patch - crap happens!" What that really means is that they don't care or know enough to realize that they could be operating at much higher levels of performance. In this instance, leadership does not have to be purposeful because nothing is being measured and there is more than enough padding in the profit margin to make up for those "little" mistakes. This is the type of "politics" I am referring to in our exploration today.
Purposeful Leaders Are Disrupters
So prevalent is this culture that both client and service provider make allowances for it; that is until someone who is decisive comes in to disrupt the natural order of things. In one case the change was stark. Service crews were working for a client. The daily schedule allowed for an hour of maintenance every four hours or so. Often downtime issues came up during those four hours of run time and when those issues had nothing to do with this service provider, out came the computer games while they waited for whatever issue was to be resolved. That is until one front line leader who was using outcomes to drive his team's performance decided that this was a horrid waste of good time.
Based on the data he was getting from his crew he calculated that there was quite a bit of maintenance that could be accomplished during these interruptions. This was a risk because he could be halfway through maintaining a piece of equipment and they could be called to get back to operations. But because of the input from his crew (the outcomes they had been measuring), he knew exactly how much time was needed and he didn't hesitate to talk to the site manager to confirm the estimated downtime for the issue and communicate to him what he planned to do.
What happened? It turned out the data he had was good and when interruptions happened his crew was prepared and went out to do maintenance. It was close sometimes but they were always ready to roll when the site manager asked them to. Here was the kicker; because they got so good at using these windows of opportunity for maintenance they did not need the scheduled downtime! Of course, the client was pleased as punch, and suddenly what had been the norm (waiting out interruptions playing on the computer) quickly faded away, and a new much more productive norm was put in its place. All because one front line leader made a decision and it paid off.
You Can't Have One Without The Other
It is important here to point out that this leader could never have made that decision if he had not already been driving outcomes with his team. Not only that but he could not have presented his case so effectively to the site manager if he hadn't had the data to back it up. You may want to be purposeful but without the outcomes and metrics, you are just taking chances. This is often where leaders who are purposeful run into issues; upper management is not going to run with your "hunch" when you have nothing to back it up with. So you may be naturally purposeful but you need that assertiveness and drive to outcomes to compliment it. You really can't have one without the other.
You may be reading this and saying to yourself that you want to be purposeful but that the company culture or your boss isn't open to it. Do you have the data to support your position? If not then set about getting it with your team, work with them on driving to those outcomes and just watch and see what happens! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all."
The second leadership skill I want to explore is that of decisiveness. This is not the type of decisiveness that is brash and aggressive but rather a steady, persistent drive toward outcomes. It helps to stop here and explore what I mean by outcomes because depending upon your motivations those outcomes may be somewhat different. If, for example, your outcomes are career advancement and never letting anything "stick to you" those are not the outcomes we are talking about. Or if your outcomes are to keep you and your team safely under the radar so as not to attract unwarranted attention, play it safe, and never stir things up then those are not the outcomes I am speaking about either. The outcomes I am speaking about are the ones you have developed for you and your team that not only align with company KPI's but also go the extra mile to explore ways to improve performance, add to the bottom line, and enhance everyone's experience of being on your team.
You Need to Know
Of course, what this suggests is that you have a clear idea of what outcomes you want. Too often we get the idea that good leadership is about doing your job, making sure your team does their job but really never exploring what goes into making that happen. A good symptom of that type of leadership is the recent phenomenon of companies abandoning their performance review processes. Don't get me wrong, there are many poorly structured performance management processes out there that don't do what they should but the bottom line is that they don't work because many in leadership don't know what they want as outcomes! Thus we find ourselves grasping at straws when it comes time to assess performance.
Job descriptions are not outcomes they are simply a description of the job that person has been hired to do. Outcomes are more about how they do that work, how they contribute to the mission of the group, how they contribute to improving the work they do. For example, a manager of an HSE group had a clear idea of the outcomes she wanted from her team. Their job descriptions were pretty straight forward in terms of ensuring there was compliance with the company HSE policies and that adequate training and onsite supervision were in place. This manager established outcomes that aligned with those aspects of the role and more. She began to require her team to establish their own outcomes such as determining success or failure rates of compliance initiatives in their area and all the reasons around those successes or failures. She had them start to track safety and environmental events both in terms of raw data but also using root cause analysis. And she required them to initiate discussions and training with operations leadership around behavior-based safety compliance that related to the outcomes of those root cause studies.
Keep it Simple
What then were the actual outcomes she drove? Simply this; Was her team counting? Were they counting compliance failures and trends? Were they counting safety and environmental events and trends? How many events had a root cause analysis done? How many recommendations and behavior-based procedural changes were brought forward to operations leadership and how did those changes impact the relevant trends around those issues? She had each of the team tracking and reporting on these things and they knew exactly what they were driving for.
What did she track? Aside from the data provided by her team she tracked how many times she asked for that information when meeting with them at various sites. She tracked how many had performed root cause analysis, how many had suggested procedural changes, and how many had established positive working relationships with the operations leadership. As she shared with me, "It was slow at first but every time they saw me they knew I was going to ask for their numbers and a rundown of what was happening on their site. I knew it was starting to take when I would show up and they already had graphs and information up and ready to show me."
Don't Stop Requiring
Getting her team to drive to the outcomes she wanted is the kind of decisiveness that good leaders practice. She knew what outcomes she wanted, she made sure her team knew as well and that they developed their own outcomes that aligned with her goals. She made sure to hold them all accountable for those things. You might be tempted to think that no-one enjoyed working on her team but nothing was farther from the truth. They knew what was expected of them, they knew where they stood and how they were performing and they loved it. What's more, is they felt that they were no just "doing" their job they were excelling and making a difference.
How is your decisiveness in terms of driving your team's outcomes? Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This is the first in a series of discussions around the core strengths people need to develop as part of becoming a high functioning leader. In focussing on the "Hu" Element in organizations leaders need to acknowledge their humanity and also the humanity of their team. Of course, we all know we are human but do we understand what that means? The list we are going to explore was developed through research conducted by the Gallup organization around what strengths folks need to have to be effective leaders. In fact, Gallup is so compelled by their findings that they have now taken the position that leaders should be hired for these strengths and not necessarily for their technical expertise in that given area. While it may seem radical it has certainly provided food for thought.
The first leadership talent is the ability to motivate others. The power of motivation is something that is found in novels and movies and stories. We love a good story where a leader motivates a group to overcome a challenge. It could be a sports story, a story around a crisis, or just a success story like the ones we find with people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Who hasn't been moved by movies like "Blind Side", "Gandhi" or "Apollo 13"? We are wired to respond to motivation and an effective leader will tap into that natural human aspect on their team.
Create A Compelling Vision or Mission
I can walk into a company or plant and immediately determine those leaders who are not motivating vs those who are. Our words are powerful indicators of one or the other; "don't ask questions, just do your job" vs "that's a good question let me show you how what you are doing is a key part of what we deliver for our clients." Get the difference? I recall one story where a manager in a fast-food restaurant told his drive-through staff to count the number of times they made their clients smile. It was a contest and it worked but it also tied into the much needed positive client experience.
I can think of two very different stories around this. In the first story, a young manager for a crew in an LNG production facility told his team that his goal was to make them the best crew in the plant. They sat down and agreed on a list together about what made a great crew, broke it into pieces for each of the crew, and set them free to do it. The work was no less redundant but the crew went at it with renewed vigor. Even though they were only measuring against their own previous performance soon the word got out and a friendly rivalry began between the crews and everyone's game went up a notch or two (or three!).
In the second story, an office manager struggled with motivating a group of office staff to come together as a team and ramp-up performance. They all did their work but did not seem to work well together. It was a source of frustration until one day a client came into the small office to commend the receptionist on having helped out with a billing issue and left a box of chocolates. Everyone saw it and the manager jumped on the opportunity. She brought the team into the conference room and sat the box of chocolates down in the middle of the table. She commended the receptionist but then asked her to think if there was anyone else that had made her help to this client possible? She didn't even have to think about it because she had needed to pull an archived file and one of the other people on the team got that for her. That team member spoke out about how it was a good thing that the information had been filed properly by another team member who was responsible for that and someone else talked about how the bookkeeper had saved the day as well with timely input on how to deal with the issue. By the time they were done they all realized that each of them in some way had been a part of that success with the client. That was enough for the manager to start to build a mission for that team on being a team and from that point forward things changed.
Clients, Tasks, or Team
Usually building a vision or mission that is compelling is going to involve looking at either how what we do impacts, clients, for the better, how the tasks we do contribute to the overall goals of the company. It could also be how we function as part of a high performing team. Sometimes these things are obvious such as being a doctor or firefighter where the benefit to the client is clear. Or in a manufacturing scenario where your task is part of a series of tasks that all combine to create a product. Sometimes it is simply that your task may not change the world or save a life or build a desk but it means a lot to your fellow workers in because it contributes to their success - no one ever really wants to let the team down. Whatever your situation look for where the best connection to vision is. That is where motivation begins.
Being able to motivate is something that you can learn to do or if you already are doing it, do it better. It is a key strength to have as a leader so ask yourself how is your "motivate" going? Performance Leadership - Think About It?
Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
Like the "Practice Random Acts of Kindness" movement this very effective tip is similar in that you need to practice it but it differs in that you absolutely must NOT be "random" about your recognition. If that sounds a bit contrived let me explain.
Where Is Your 90% Being Spent?
In my earlier posts on ramping up the "Hu" human element, we discussed that most leaders spend 90% of their time on 10% of their staff. The issue is that our tendency is to spend a large amount of time focusing on the under-performers. That being the case, the question becomes, what are you doing with that 90% of your staff who are performing at or above expectations? If we are honest while there "may" be the occasional recognition, for the most part with this group "no news is good news." The reality is that "no news is no news" and believe me they know it. This is the group you should be focussing on to drive performance.
Do You Know What You Are Looking For?
Connected with focussing on the performing group is the idea that you should know what you are looking for. What are the behaviors that you want that drive performance? In one case a supervisor wanted his Crew Cabbers (outside leadership) to be instructing and mentoring crews during set up and takedown. It was too easy for them to take over and go "butt up and head down" doing the work that the crew should have been learning and doing. So a rule was implemented that Crew Cabbers were not to be seen doing work but teaching and supervising work. One cold February morning as a crew was setting up the Superintendent looked at me and said "look at that, John (the names have been changed to protect the innocent - lol!) is actually teaching that guy instead of doing it for him!" With that, he went outside and gave "John" a hearty pat on the back and even brought it up later at the leadership meetings. The supervisor knew what he was looking for and so it was easy for him to spot and recognize the behavior he wanted.
It's Non-Random - So Make a List
Of course, it won't just be one behavior it will be several and so you should make a list to be sure you don't miss anything. In one case the head of a corporate group had a list of behaviors in a jar and each morning she would take one out and spend her day looking for that behavior in her group. She had enough behaviors on her list to last a few days and so she made sure she did not use the same item two days in a row. Her group did not know she was doing this but she reported to me what a huge difference it made in their performance and how much more satisfying it was to "hunt" for high performing behavior rather than bad behavior.
Make The Recognition Meaningful And Change It Up
Here is where the other tips can make this part easier. Through your listening, micro-meetings, tracking, and accountability you should have come to know your people pretty well. Make sure your recognition is something they will appreciate and respond positively to. For some a thank you is good enough for others it might be the chance to sit on a committee and for others, a "well done" during a meeting is good enough. The point is "know" your people so that naming someone at a meeting doesn't cause them to want to crawl under the table and disappear. Be creative in how you provide your recognition and don't let it get stale - as good as a "pat on the back" is, after 30 of them, it starts to get old! As well, make sure to provide the recognition as close to the behavior as possible. Waiting to say something during a monthly meeting is too long and it diminishes the effectiveness of the recognition.
Work at these things and you will be amazed at where your employee engagement goes and moreover what it will mean to your bottom line. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama
Before everyone's eyes glaze over let me set the context for this. What I mean is that you should be listening in the active or intentional sense.
I believe that those closest to the action are best able to identify the issues and opportunities. People want to do a good job and nothing is as frustrating as seeing a potential issue or opportunity and not having a structure in place to share it. As humans, we want to contribute and to help out. If you have been implementing the Hu element then by this point, you have staff measuring performance, you are touching base with them through micro-meetings and you are holding them accountable for tracking and improving that performance. The next key part of that journey is to listen to what they are telling you and if necessary be an advocate for their ideas.
Listening is NOT Chasing Opinions
Let's be clear managers and leaders deal with "suggestions" all the time and much of the time the "suggestions" fall into the "in my opinion" category. An opinion is something that is unsubstantiated and so using up time to listen to one is frustrating. However, by this time your team is tracking performance metrics and discussing findings. They should now have data to back up what they are seeing, whether it is a potential problem or an opportunity. Too often we allow ourselves to chase opinions without having the "numbers" or the data to back it up. This should not be the case with your team. They will be able to make a pretty compelling argument using the data they have collected so don't let that go to waste.
Listening IS Providing A Structure for Input
Often this aspect of your listening will begin with something brought up in a micro-meeting or when you are having staff share performance measures with you. These are the venues that are "gold" with regard to listening. It is an opportunity for you to affirm the work of your staff and to provide direction too. If, for example, someone presents a thought regarding a process that looks promising but still lacks data to validate it then you have a perfect chance to give direction about what sorts of numbers you want that would provide you with the comfort to make the change or take it to the next level. They will chase those numbers down because they are now invested in making sure they can provide support for their idea. This also becomes an affirmation that they are a part of the team and whether the idea sees the light of day or not they got a chance to contribute. That matters!
Listening IS Intentional
Often in my discussions with leaders, they tend to take a casual approach to this issue. We all think we spend a lot of time listening to our staff. The difference is that you need to be intentional. There are several reasons for this but let me share just a couple.
We Don't Listen As Much As We Think We Do
In several studies conducted on the issue of communication, a group of managers and leaders were asked to rate their level of communication with their staff. In addition, they were asked to list the various ways that they communicate and how many times they communicate regarding an issue. Managers felt that they were good at this skill and many cited emails and meetings as the primary tools for communicating. In this study, their staff too were given surveys on how well they viewed their manager's communication skills and the results were interesting. Where most managers used on average two or three methods to communicate a piece of important information it was found that to do this effectively they needed to layer their communication at least 7-10 different ways or times! The kicker though was that most managers emphasized communication as the dissemination of information to staff and staff put more emphasis on communication as the dissemination of information from staff to management. On this issue, they were miles apart! It was far more important to staff that they be able to communicate easily and openly with leadership than those leaders had realized.
If You Don't Track It, It Won't Happen
The other reason for being intentional about your communication is that in the rush of day to day activities it is easy to let things slide on the listening side. You need to make a list or set a schedule that you hold so that you "know" you are getting out and listening to your staff. It is too easy to get caught up in administratia and come to the end of a day a realize you haven't really seen anybody.
You want a team that is engaged and performing and if you have provided some key pieces to make that happen through tracking, accountability, and micro-meetings, then giving them a structure that provides an opportunity to share with you and contribute to team goals is a natural outgrowth of that process. If you don't provide it the result will be the same as starving a fire of air. You can provide fuel and heat but without air, it won't last. Take the time to listen. It is truly a key component to ramping up the "Hu" element on your team. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result." Bob Proctor
The most challenging behavior to master with regard to harnessing the human element is getting you and your team to embrace accountability. This has several layers of meaning that need to be extracted so that you understand what I mean by accountability. Certainly, it means monitoring and holding your people accountable for their KPIs or performance objectives but it also means being vulnerable as a leader as well as getting your team to be vulnerable around behavior dealing with team performance such as admitting mistakes, needing help, or just saying sorry.
Accountability is Hard!
It is not by accident that embracing accountability is not often written about. I won’t sugar coat it, this is the hardest behavior to master. In fact, statistically, this is the biggest challenge that leaders face over all the other behaviors that they need to develop. We all tend to get uncomfortable with the idea of calling someone out for a behavior or a performance issue.
If you are like most of us (and I mean most of us) you are not going to want to hold that team member accountable for negative or non-productive behavior. Rather you will probably make note of it during your meetings or say something in passing to others on the team or in your department. Regardless of how you try to spin it this is indicative of a lack of respect as there is nothing respectful about withholding information from a peer that could help them improve their performance.
Accountability is Affirming
The biggest affirmation you can give your team or staff is to hold them accountable. If you think about it from a personal perspective wouldn’t you want to be told that something you were doing or not doing was not only noted by your peers but was impacting their ability to do their jobs as well?
This will date me a little, but concerning walking in that mutual vulnerable trust let me use this old adage – “Only your friend will tell you when your fly is open or your slip is showing.” As difficult as it may seem, the idea of holding each other accountable for behavior that impacts the team has to be done and is one of those indicators of a strong and cohesive team.
Accountability is Respectful
Once you have your team tracking their own metrics around their performance you must hold them accountable. What that does NOT mean is walking up and looking at their charts tracking their metrics and tearing them "a new one." What is does mean is asking them to show you how they are doing, getting them to explain the highs and the lows (something they will want to do given a safe environment), and by asking them what their plan is to improve the problem areas they have identified. You can also keep the door open to them should they decide they need help - but let them tackle their issues first. A healthy team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice it. It is ultimately the highest form of respect.
No, it never gets easy, just easier, and once you have experienced working on a team that is cohesive and healthy and that practices embracing accountability you will wonder how you ever managed to get things done any other way. And what’s more, it will be rewarding, enriching, and fun! It's all about tapping into that "Hu" element. How accountable are you and your team? Performance Leadership – Think About It!
“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.” —Michael Korda
If you want to change something you have to track it. Don't believe me try improving your golf game or your bowling score without tracking the score! Setting goals and rising to a challenge is a key part of our wiring as humans. For example, I am at that stage in life where I am fighting an uphill battle against calories.
Up until the time I turned 30 I never gave a calorie a second thought as my metabolism allowed me to consume as many as I wanted with little impact upon my weight. Now however that is not the case and in my war with calories, I have discovered that if I don't track it - I lose - the battle that is. I don't lose weight I lose the feedback that I need to win the battle where it is most important, in those moment by moment decisions where the data on my calorie intake is crucial to maintain a stranglehold on those little stinkers! I have learned that these calories are important and I need to track them.
Pick Something To Track
The same is true with your team. Each of them has a role to play and things to do that either advance the team's pursuit of its overall goals or inhibit that pursuit. You will have a pretty good idea of what you want each member of your team to set as goals and what to track. Key in this discussion is that each of them has to make that determination on their own and they have to see the need for them. If you run a team of Executive Assistants for example you may want them to be proactive and set as a goal that they should always have their VP or CEO, CFO, COO's fully briefed and ready for each meeting. However, you need them to see the importance of tracking hits and misses on that metric and you need to create the climate for your team to experiment and honestly track those things.
You may guide the conversation but they should own the metric they want to track. Using the above example, the easiest metric would be to simply count the number of successful meeting preps vs the number of unsuccessful meeting preps. If they come up with that idea and decide to track it, they will own it. From there setting goals becomes easy.
Make Failure A Stepping Stone To Success
The key to all of this is to allow your staff to dive into the failed meetings. The failed meetings serve as a platform for them to drill down to discover why they failed and come up with solutions to try for the next meeting. If they are afraid to admit failure to you and hide it, you all lose. You have to give them the comfort to say they failed and also the accountability to come up with a solution. What is wonderful about this process is what amazing things will get discovered in those "post" meeting analysis and the solutions they will come up with to ensure success.
Don't Manage The Process, Let Them Do It!
You have to avoid the temptation to "manage" or engineer the process. In one LNG plant, there were issues with safety around the use of the golf carts that were used to get around the very large site. Golf carts don't go that fast but this site was built in a Louisiana swamp and so all the roadways were raised to alleviate issues around flooding and groundwater levels. Crews were being careless and rolling carts when doing things like backing up and so on. Since this plant was still in construction the upper management, who were engineers (bless them all!), decided to engineer a solution. Seat belts were installed, governors were put on to regulate speed and yellow safety lines were painted on all the roadways that the carts used. Guess what happened? Nothing - incidents continued at the same rate. Finally, one particularly bright engineer suggested they ask the crews what might be done about this issue. Guess what they found out? Most of the safety incidents were the result of two individuals who were notoriously poor drivers. They suggested assigning mentors to drive with those individuals for one month and to implement a policy of one-month suspension of cart use (that’s a lot of walking) for every incident. Because it was "their" idea the crews owned it and safety incidents all but disappeared. This was the crew's goal and they took it on and completed it.
Success Breeds Success
Regardless of what your team does whether it be front line operations or something in the corporate or office setting there are goals that they can be setting and pursuing. Once they do they will succeed and nothing breeds success like success. If it is important to the progress of your team measure it and set some goals. Setting goals and overcoming the challenge is a key human characteristic. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"The greatest complement that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer." Henry David Thoreau
Ramping up team engagement (a “Hu” element indicator) is one of those activities that many talk about but few know how to start. That is because developing employee engagement is one of those "soft" skills that they don't tell you about when you move into a leadership role. It is a big area of concern because the research and data on this topic are alarming. According to Gallup global employee engagement sits at 18% and North American engagement sits at 33%! Think of it this way, at best you get one to two days’ worth of real engagement from your staff each week. Does that put it in a more tangible context for you? This issue is similar to the research that tells us that as humans we really only use about 10% of our brain's capacity. Decades of study have been put into trying to figure out how to tap into that other 90%. The good news is that with employee engagement there are answers that are fairly straight forward and easy to put into place that will see your team's engagement soar!
Micro Meetings Starting At The End
Micro meetings are really an example of using many of the upcoming engagement tips we are going to discuss, all at once. I am going to take a counter-intuitive approach with this set of articles and start with this rather than end with it. Why? Because it is something that every manager can start doing now without even knowing what the other techniques are. What will become apparent though, is that as you learn some of these techniques you will see how easily they can be inserted into a micro-meeting.
This is also counter-intuitive in that adding another meeting to a schedule that is probably jam-packed with meetings seems like a bad idea. I have consulted in companies where I added up my meeting hours and out of a 40 hour week I had close to 28 hours booked with meetings - and that was the norm! So I get it - adding a meeting seems like a bad idea.
What IS Micro-meeting?
A micro-meeting is not your typical meeting. It is in reality a touchpoint during the day and not much more than that. Many places I have consulted they actually have micro-meetings although they don't call them that and don't even view them as meetings - they are and that this the beauty of it! In one place the operations guys would meet outside the shop first thing in the morning for a "smoke" break. This is a routine they had done for years. They visit, joke, talk about sports or family AND talk about what is happening in the shop. They share problems and discuss solutions, plan for the day, and then go to work. This is not formal, it is not planned and it usually lasts between 3-5 minutes! What is interesting is that the moment someone suggested a formal meeting at the start of each day the team balked at it as a waste of time - lol!
So a micro-meeting is exactly what these guys were doing - informally. Visiting, touching base, providing some social affirmation that they were part of the team (I wanted to throw some psychology in there to give that some weight!) and yes, discussing issues and brainstorming solutions. This should be organic and should flow naturally. Of course, introducing the idea of a micro-meeting to the team is going to sound formal and anything but organic so here are some options.
Looking For The Setting
Look for times during the workday where part or most of your team tends to congregate. It could be a break around the water cooler, or for a smoke break or at the coffee shop/breakroom - you get the picture. If you are already doing this informally and did not realize it then great, if not then start and for the first while at least, just listen. Soon enough you will be invited to provide feedback on something I guarantee it. Again this is not about being sneaky but it is about avoiding "formality" and building a relationship (remember that “Hu” element?). Look for when folks take a break and take a break with them. If you haven't figured this out yet you may need to do this a couple of times during your day just to make sure you have touched base with everyone on your team. In some cases what happens too is that people find out the "boss" is hanging with the group in the coffee room and eventually everyone wants to be there because it is an opportunity to have the "bosses" ear. Taking the time to just visit and listen is valuable on its own merit so if it stays at that level initially don't worry about it.
Take The Direct Approach
If those types of gatherings are not happening or don't lend themselves well to your situation don’t worry. It is okay to take the direct approach. Work with your team to come up with a time that would work for a daily micro-meeting. Give them the biggest say on this as you will need their buy-in and assure them it will never be more than a few minutes, 5-10 tops. Use it as a touchpoint but remember to also let your team visit a bit and do what you can to keep things as organic as possible. What you want from this micro-meeting are two things; first, build relationship and second take the pulse for what is happening on the team. Listen to what they are sharing and facilitate getting them to come up with solutions when issues arise. Where you can, support those decisions. Keep it short, be supportive, and it's okay to provide some direction too when needed.
Keep it Short
I know I keep stressing to keep it short because it can get away on you. With one group when they started their meetings ran usually less than two minutes - I know because I timed them! But as the team and the manager became comfortable and they began to see the value in the meeting it got to the point where it ran almost 45 minutes (their choice). You will be tempted to go longer because everyone is going to be invested but you can now harness that investment at the more formal regular team meetings.
You may be thinking to yourself can 5 to 10 minutes really make that kind of difference in engagement? It does! We are going to look at how this fits into the other tips for effective engagement in the next few articles. You are going to find that your team is going to blossom with the attention and you are going to start getting information that lets you stay in front of issues rather than chasing them down with a fire hose. You will be amazed at how accounting for the “Hu” element on your team can make such a difference! Performance Leadership - Think About It!
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw
What you say matters
One of the biggest challenges that I see business leaders face is the issue of "what" and "how much" information to share with their team and with their clients. For most who move into leadership because of their skills on the team, this is particularly true. Those folks you once complained with and vented with, are now "your" team and suddenly that type of activity could not only be counter-productive but very much a CLM (Career Limiting Move)!
What’s more, is suddenly you may also see what you communicate up the line to be something more problematic than it used to be. Do you share the issues you are dealing with and risk looking like a weak leader? Do you say nothing and hope you can resolve the issues on their own or better yet hope that those issues will simply go away? I always wondered why communication was considered a soft skill - lol!
Who do you emulate?
If you are in a healthy company or organization you will have a good pool of leaders to watch and emulate which in most places is how the art of communication is passed on. Open communication built on trust and vulnerability makes this skill so much easier to master. By that, I mean those types of groups where you can ask your question and not feel awkward. No one expects perfection just improvement and that comes with being transparent about the issues at play.
If you are in a company or group that is not healthy you will still have a pool of leaders to watch and emulate it's just that the things they pass along may not enhance your skills in this area.
These are the leaders who never really transitioned to a full understanding of their new role. They will share information and vent with their team much more than they should. The reason for this will be varied but typically they feel that it keeps the team on side with them. It may be an effective short term solution but upper management may see it as a negative.
Some leaders will be information hoarders who see this as a commodity and use it to advance their career or group goals. They become the informal conduits of information. This can clog up the flow of needed communication and certainly is a performance inhibiter.
Some will be the "keep your head down and mouth shut" type of leader who will strive to stay out of the limelight (good or bad). They take the approach that as long as the team doesn't lag behind the others and doesn't draw attention to themselves they can't get into trouble. Not bad per se just not performance.
And some leaders will be what I call the plumbers; delivering solid waste down and solid waste up. They think that leadership consists of berating and driving performance through threats and criticism. They think too that communicating the deficiencies of certain people on their crew up the line is a great way to demonstrate that they are "on top of things". It is a fear-driven approach to communication that is premised at some deep level upon the idea that as long as they are doing the shoveling of the solid waste none will land on them.
Right Is Not Always Easy
The question I am sure that has crossed your mind is how do you perform as an open and transparent leader in an organization that is not known for that? In one company that I worked with I had a group of young leaders that I was coaching in Operational Excellence. Of that group, a couple had decided they wanted to embrace my approach wholeheartedly. They were the newest leaders in the bunch and were at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. And yes, this company was not an open and transparent communication type of company.
While some of the older leaders in that group had become practiced at being "plumbers" these two new leaders went the other way. In each case, I saw transformational changes on their teams as they took to the new approach. It garnered a lot of criticism among some of their leadership peers but what could not be argued with was the improved results that they achieved. They upheld the company goals and explained them to the team in terms that related to them and how their work was relevant. They upheld their teams to upper management in terms of how they were striving to meet company goals and advance the bottom line. The result was remarkable and within a short span of time, they were rewarded with more senior positions. It only took two (and often it only takes one) to be willing to step out of their comfort zone to get others to take a new look at how they communicate. It wasn't easy but it was right.
Whether you have been in leadership for a while or are just moving into it examine how your company communicates, how you communicate and make sure you understand how to make your communication work for you and for your team. The need to be in sync with the company and the team and to know you are contributing is at the core of good communication and a key part of the "Human" (Hu) factor for improving workplace culture. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
There is an old Chinese proverb that states “May you be cursed to live in interesting times.” Well to say we live in interesting times would be an understatement. Whether it be COVID, the growing divide in society - literally everywhere, the breakdown of trust in our governments, in our media, the failing economy, climate concerns, and growing “tribalism” around any number of issues, I think it would be fair to say we are faced today with a myriad of problems that no other generation has encountered.
Most of us used to simply shrug our shoulders, put our heads down and keep moving forward. After all, if things didn’t really impact us, didn’t touch us why worry? Not so anymore. And to educate ourselves, to stay informed to find the information to stay anchored in these uncertain times we have found too that information is harder to find, and harder to verify as even in this realm everything has been divided into competing camps of “fake news.” Certainly, in Canada and much of the Western World trust in the MSM is at an all-time low as all pretense of objectivity has been tossed out the window and trying to find the “truth” in all the noise is getting harder to do. (Not to mention the Orwellian tendencies currently of “redefining” terms and phrases that once had a common understanding into something that has become foreign and double-speak to most.)
So let’s see if we can break things down into something much simpler to understand. First, society can be divided into two groups – those who build and those who tear down. One is really hard to do and the other we do all the time with ease. (You don't have to learn to tear something down.) No one ever says they are for destruction (except for Marxists and anarchists – but that is for another time) and everyone likes to say they are for progress and growth. The words are said, but do the actions align with them? My advice then is when examining the validity of something look at the actions that go with that group, are they building or are they tearing down?
Second, let’s examine a second filter, truth-telling. This on the face of it may seem a difficult if not impossible task but with some careful examination is actually pretty easy to do. Truth-telling is revealed in what I call the internal consistency of one's actions. Like building or tearing down, actions often betray a lie (internal inconsistency). For example, if they say they are for women’s rights but have actions that betray that statement then are a liar and not a truth-teller. If you have a group that claims they are for tolerance and understanding but have actions that demonstrate intolerance even toward one group, then they fall into the “non-truth telling” category and their words should be viewed with skepticism.
We all have an internal consistency where our actions will inevitably reveal our true attitude and perspective. This is not a new concept and so, for example, generations of people were encouraged to have long engagements so that those contemplating a life together could ascertain through their partner's actions whether their “talk and walk” lined up.
These are just two simple ways to remove some of the noise that can get in the way of figuring things out. Of understanding what is happening in the world around us. And, who or what group is actually building and truth-telling? You may not agree with them but at least you will know you are getting the straight goods from them, and that's a start.