To be fair this myth tends to perpetuate precisely because we get promoted for "hard" skill mastery. The shift from being rewarded for those skills and know how to managing others for those skills can be difficult. Add to that some of the traditional perspectives of being the "firefighter" or "problem solver" and its easy to see why this myth is so easily propagated.
One of the most common questions I get from new (and some seasoned) leaders is "What if I don't know the answer?" So let's explore that question - what happens if you don't know the answer? Several scenarios present themselves; you research and find the answer, you seek the answer from the collective wisdom of the group (a subset of the first scenario), you send it up the line or (and this is the one we all worry about) you loose face and your role as a leader is undermined. Of all of these possibilities which do you think is the least likely to happen?
The reality is that no-one has all the answers and when you think it through its a rather silly concept. Perhaps because of my role as trainer and mentor I am used to coming into situations where I know almost nothing about that industry sector. I am free from that concern and it allows me to help leaders approach this issue from a very different perspective; that of being a facilitator to help your team solve the problems. Your role as a technologist is to "do" the work so in many respects you are expected to be pretty conversant with the issues. But let’s face it, no matter how many years you do a job you are going to face something you have never seen before. As a leader the same holds true. Your role is to create an environment where challenges and problems are not feared but embraced as opportunities to learn and improve.
The same holds true with innovation. If we are honest with ourselves, we can all reflect on the roles we first had when we came into the work force and the ideas that came rather shortly thereafter regarding how to improve that work or task. Its normal and natural to see a task or job and look for ways to improve it. Yet, how many times did you present those ideas only to have them shot down or ignored.
Many leaders are intimidated by ideas generated on their team precisely because they hold to this myth; that somehow they are not leading if they are not generating ideas for improvement. This can lead to a stifling of innovation on the team or worse yet the theft of those ideas by the leader as a means of self promotion. (And yes that will stifle innovation as well.) In addition how many ideas get discarded because the leader is looking for the one "big" idea that will be a home run and money maker?
So that is the myth now here is the reality. The people closest to the tasks and roles are much better suited to come up with solutions and innovations. If you are a leader that is not you. If you are leading a team of leaders even more so. The higher you go the further removed you will be from that reality - that's okay as long as you are willing to recognize that. One of the strangest things I heard from a leader was the idea that “we pay R&D to generate innovations and operations are not paid to do that.” Really? I don't know of any company that afford to ignore a pool of potential solutions and cost savings, do you?
To be sure leaders will come up with innovations appropriate to their level of leadership but those tend to be less frequent for a number of reasons chief of which is time. I would rather develop a team that generates 10 ideas or innovations in a month in addition to the one or two I will generate. Instead of shunning ideas welcome them.
You are not going to have all the answers or ideas but that does not diminish your leadership. In fact think about it which is the stronger leader; the one who silos their team and inhibits innovation or the leader who's team is actively engaged in problem solving and generating innovations? Free yourself and your team from that myth and enjoy the ride!
This is pretty closely connected to myth #3 in that as leaders we get bogged down with "busy" work and begin to justify our absence by telling ourselves that our actions or attitude don't really matter that much to our staff. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth and you have far more influence than you realize.
The following is a good exercise to try; google the top reasons that employees leave a company. There is an interesting set of trends that come out of the surveys on the first page alone! Number one on the list is a bad boss. There are lots of ways that bosses are perceived to be bad but when I dug into the results a bit further a couple of things jumped out at me. Consistent in the top list of reasons after "bad bosses' was lack of respect and poor work life balance. How are these connected you may ask?
When you were climbing up the ranks and working toward those coveted promotions think about the bosses you had. We can all point to those bosses that respected us, that gave us an opportunity to be involved and who gave us work that challenged us. No matter how far we climb that ladder we will always seek those things from our boss. So the question becomes are you doing this for your staff?
New bosses struggle with this the most as usually they are promoted for their hard skills and often it is difficult for them to let go of doing those things as that is what brought them recognition in the first place. While it may be a comfortable place to be when you first move into leadership if you stay there you are inviting all kinds of issues. What you will communicate to your staff that they are not trusted to do the job or respected and they won't do anything unless they are certain they have your buy in. It will lead to a type of paralysis of action and innovation as no one desires to be found wanting in your eyes.
In a group of oil and gas service workers I worked with we developed a rule for front line crew leaders; you are not to be "head down - bum up" doing the work out there. If you were caught doing that you were called on it. The concept was they were there to lead not to do. That meant handing off those things they were comfortable doing and teaching their crew to do them instead. It became a bit of game but what they each commented on was how it forced them out of the old thinking so that they became better leaders. In addition, their crews responded well because for them it was a respect issue and they appreciated the effort being taken with them.
This also relates to work/life balance. How? Very often the issue of work/life balance really translates into valuing someone as a person not just as a cog in the machine. If you as their leader won't take the time to get to know them as people and appreciate them for who they are what are you communicating? That's right, they don't matter. We have all worked for those kind of bosses; the ones you know are only using you for their own gain. It is hard for even the most noble of us to go the "extra mile" for that kind of boss.
I saw a beautiful example of how getting to know your team can be done well. At a plant I was working with in the U.S. one of their workers was killed in a car crash on their days off. That person's supervisor knew them well, knew about the fact they had purchased a new house and had a new baby at home. It looked pretty desperate for his widow. This information was passed up the line and very shortly the plant and operations managers from the plant paid a visit to the widow with assurances of clearing all the obstacles with insurance, a pledge to help with the mortgage and a plan set up a college fund for the child. This was certainly above and beyond to be sure but what do you think those actions communicated to the rest of the staff? You got it; they were important - as people. Want to guess what their turnover rates were?
There are so many facets to how your attitude and actions can impact your team. Today we looked at the issues of respect and work/life balance (valuing your people for who they are) and what that says about your leadership. Respecting your people by taking the time to train them, to challenge them and getting to know them can become a powerful hallmark of your leadership and a powerful tool for driving performance.
It is a curious process and I have yet to come to a company where I did not see this happen. It is the phenomena whereby people come to view promotion as an opportunity to move further away from operations. (Yes it applies in corporate settings too.) It starts with something as simple as a promotion that gets me into the data van or into the control room. Or I get to move from a cubicle into an office or from an office into a corner office - you know how this works, fill in the blank. I have seen it even go so far as having the President or the President and Executive move onto their own floor. Some of it is status driven and some of it is comfort driven but the net result is still the same; the further up you go the less connected you get from the daily ebb and flow of your group or department.
I remember when I started out in this work there were all kinds of books out about "not sweating the small stuff and its all small stuff" and so on. Focus on the big things and the little things take care of themselves. Strangely my years in leadership have not born out that premise. In fact, I find it is just the opposite; the moment you let those little things "get away" on you it is only a matter of time before they become a bigger issue. In one case I was brought in to look at issues around operational improvement and why crews seemed to be uninterested in taking ownership over plant operations. As it turned out the crew were quite interested but their leadership was absent. There were shift leaders to be sure but the Superintendents that were responsible for all the daily activities "lived" in offices a few feet away from the control room and "never" and I mean "never" came out to interact with their crews. What looked like disinterest to upper management was actually a case of operations leadership not actually "knowing" the status and mindset of their crews.
When I get to work with new leaders this is an easy fix. On one frac crew I began asking the superintendents at different times during the shift if they knew where all their crew were and what they were doing? The new leaders picked up on this immediately and implemented their own personal schedule that made sure they got out to look at things at least two to three times each shift. What they discovered on those "tours" was the state of mind of the crew, issues that different crew were facing and valuable insights that helped them stay ahead of issues and prevent them from becoming problems. They weren't micro-managing and they weren't managing by walking around they were interacting with their crew, asking questions, getting feedback and actually getting to know the crew.
Want to know an interesting side effect of this process? That's right, their crews performed better, were more apt to communicate and took a much greater ownership of what they were doing. In reality those tours were a small expenditure of time that reaped huge benefits. The crew felt appreciated and the operations leadership felt much more "on top" of things.
Leaders with more experience were a bit harder to get into that habit and it is a tough one to break. There is no vacuum in a schedule and it you don't fill it with meaningful productive activity (do you know what meaningful productive activity is for you and your team?) it will be filled with "administratia." That is the seemingly endless paper chase and activity of filling out forms, doing reports and so on. We are quite adapt at filling our day with busy work. I witnessed cases where crews were facing some pretty serious crunch issues with a project and a client and in the middle of that the senior leadership left the site to go pick up a part. I suspect their time would have been better spent staying on site and keeping their crew on task and the client happy.
The only way to get a sense of how your department, division, company or shift crew are doing is to make time to get out and be with them. It doesn't take much time but it will bring you a harvest of huge rewards. "Don't sweat the small stuff?" Its all small stuff and its important.
This was actually a hard topic to title. The reason for this is that its not that we don't train people when they move into a new role or that some kind of instruction doesn't happen. Companies are good at ensuring these things take place and people are prepared for their job. Rather the issue that I want to discuss with you today is centered around the "why" and the "how" of the work people do and your role as a leader in providing that understanding.
It starts with you understanding the company vision and goals and how your team’s competencies contribute to those goals. It begins with you being able to answer the question; what does my department or group do to contribute to the overarching company goals. If you cannot answer that question, then it is going to be very difficult for you to get your group to understand their place either.
Once you have developed an answer to that question then things get really interesting. Ever have a member of your team who could describe the nature of their work and yet somehow never got the job done to your satisfaction? It could be that you did not sit with them to have them to work out the "why" and "how" of the work they do, their competencies. The "what" would be the technical competencies that go with that role like IT, support or operations. But there is so much more such as things like collaboration, communication, problem solving, initiative, building relationships and the list goes on. These are really the "how" of getting things done and they only make sense when you understand "why" these contribute to the company goals.
Take for example the role of a baggage handler which could be described as simply making sure the baggage gets onto the right aircraft, off at the right location and in generally the same condition it started the journey in. But we know there is so much more involved. Working as a team, communicating with that team, working against timelines, making sure that every detail is taken care of and so on. This role is probably the most under appreciated part of the industry yet regardless of how much you enjoy the flight, the aircrew or the quality of the aircraft if your bags don't get there with you and in one piece, that is what you will remember.
Or we can look at baggage handling as a key part of the company effort to ensure top of class customer experience and satisfaction (an overarching company goal). The "why" of what someone does as a baggage handler becomes clear - customer experience - not just moving bags. Now all those activities become unified under that goal. Things such as teamwork, communication, relationship building and taking initiative begin to make sense. It is why I love it when the handlers for a particular airline wave when a plane backs out to taxi - they get it.
People may want to do the right things and may be competent to do the work but it is up to you as a leader to make sure they understand the linkage between what they do and the company's overarching goals. When they come to understand the "why" then the "how" will make more sense and they will want to partner with you in that endeavor. Don't assume that everyone on your team "knows' their job, make sure they do.
Micro - Manage: to try to control or manage all the small parts of (something, such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
When I introduce the concept of Active Supervision one of the first objections I get from leadership at all levels is that it sounds like micro-management. This used to surprise me but having worked with so many groups I have come to understand where a lot of the confusion comes from. For some folks the confusion is founded on a genuine concern regarding not "hovering" over staff during the performance of a task. Others struggle with not wanting to communicate any sense of inadequacy to staff which is often a bi-product of micro-management. And by far the biggest issue faced by leaders is a level of discomfort with the whole issue of supervision in general. Which is to say that being uncertain about what good supervision looks like they back away from it lest they find themselves micro-managing.
These are normal reactions and are a reflection of the fact that people and in this case leaders, want to do a good job and care about their teams. They want to believe in their teams and their capacity to perform the work set before them and don't want to communicate any sense of a lack of confidence. Micro-management has a negative connotation and in trying to avoid being labeled a micro-manager most of us tend to err too far the other direction and supervision suffers as a result.
So lets look at what is fair game with regard to supervision. First and most importantly people want clear and consistent direction. Your job as a leader is to make sure that you understand the goals and objectives for your team and ensure that they know what those are and what they need to be doing to accomplish those goals. Often we tend to treat giving direction like the joke about the old married couple who when the wife complained that her husband never told her he loved her his response was "I told you I loved you when we got married and if that changes I will let you know." Providing direction is something that must be done regularly and consistently in order to be sure that you are communicating well. As the saying goes; communicate, communicate and when you are done that communicate some more.
A good example of this was an LNG plant I worked with. Upper management was concerned with the lack of detail around daily shift reports. They wanted more detail around safety, preventative maintenance, operations and downtime issues. I took this information and began informal meetings with plant operations crews to glean from them what they felt would be good information to put in a daily shift report. Turns out I got a list of items that was almost identical to the list the management had given to me. They created templates, made sure these items were addressed each shift and in very short order daily reports and the detail in them soared. What was really instructive in this process was a discussion I had with a shift supervisor when he asked what had prompted this process. When I told him the management had been concerned about the lack of detail he looked at me and said "Why didn't they just ask?"
Directions may have been given at some point in the past but those had been forgotten and things had fallen by the wayside. So it is with your team. Provide regular and detailed directions - it is okay to communicate what you want as a leader.
The second aspect to understand with supervision is that people actually want to know how they are doing and where they stand with you. The more you communicate what you require of each of your team the more opportunity you have to recognize them for the good work they are doing or correct for those things that are not yet in alignment with your objectives. Regular checking in on those things can actually be very healthy and people will appreciate it. I have said this many times but when I ask people how they know they have had a good day and they respond that no-one yelled at them I know that more communication and supervision is required.
It is okay to let your people know what you need from them and sometimes even how you need things done (set process for example) and then check in on them on a regular basis for recognition and feedback. This is not micro-management it is actually a key part of continuous improvement and driving performance. Checking in, discussions at meetings, getting folks to track something are all ways of communicating that what you want is important. Don't be afraid to provide direction and don't be afraid to take time to make sure that is being carried out. Active Supervision will give you a chance to get to know your team and stay on top of potential issues before they become problems.
Active Supervision is making sure the job gets done and your team is getting the feedback they need to make that happen. Micro-management often involves inserting yourself into the process and no one wins in that scenario.
Ever notice how we are all prone to fads? Whether its clothes or music or beards (for those that can pull that off) we see fads come and go. The same is true for business and in particular leadership. There have been all kinds of fads and they come and go but what about the things that work? How do we know if there wasn't something there that when stripped down to its core was really something that is a "best practice" behavior?
Let’s take the issue of metrics for example. In my work with Continuous Improvement and Operational Excellence metrics are core to those processes. Yet more often than not we use our metrics as lagging indicators and never really explore how to use them as leading indicators that can drive performance improvement. Admittedly metrics by their nature are lagging indicators in that you measure something that has happened - the number of widgets made, the time line for an order to be filled and so on. In these cases, the effectiveness of the metric will depend on how much of a "lag" you allow for. For example, safety metrics that are reported quarterly or yearly will have a diminished effect on changing safety behaviors whereas safety metrics discussed at daily shift meetings will have an immediate effect on safety behavior. Simply collecting metrics will not drive performance and will not promote operational excellence. How fast you use them and communicate them will and that is where accountability comes in.
Before I go into this concept in detail let me be clear about what I mean when I refer to accountability. In the traditional sense (real world) accountability was about who would be left "holding the bag" when something went sideways. Usually it was some poor person in middle management or if they were deft enough it was foisted upon someone in operations. As the joke went when something like that happened, you found the accountable person and you "hung em high to teach them a lesson." That is the old application of accountability.
When I refer to accountability it is framed within the context of a work environment that allows for mistakes and uses them as stepping stones to improvement. It is centered around the idea that there is transparency in the process and the goal is to identify issues and deal with them as quickly as possible. In this scenario accountability is not punitive but transformative. We move from looking for someone to blame to looking for solutions to the issue that confronts us.
Let's use a quick example from the airline industry. Baggage handlers are a key element of the industry and there are many metrics that can be employed in assessing performance. Total time to load, turn around time for transfers, dropped luggage, customer complaints, lost luggage and so on. These are all useful metrics and they are all lagging indicators and all the best dashboard reports in the world will not change that. Accountability will. When a manager or leader reports on a metric guess who "owns" that metric? You are right, they do. When a baggage handler reports on a metric like number of drops for example, who owns it? Again you are right, the baggage handler.
Here is where accountability can be used to take a lagging indicator like a metric around dropped bags and transform it into a leading indicator and a performance driver. If I require my baggage handlers to report to me every day on the number of bags they dropped during a load or unload what behavior am I going to drive? You are right again - they are going to focus on making sure they don't drop bags. Now I am using a metric to drive performance. How do you think that works if they only have to report this to me once a month? Once a week? Once per shift? Which do you think is going to be most effective? Right again, the closer to the activity you require the communication the more impact it will have on behavior.
Metrics are extremely useful but they will never drive improvement or performance until they are hitched to personal accountability. Get your team to identify their own metrics as they relate to the larger goal of the department and get them to track and report them. Then stand back and watch the transformation. Only then will you have the gas to drive performance.
Welcome everyone to 2016! We are going to kick things off by completing the Continuous Improvement 101 segments that were started in December. I hope that everyone had a good rest and a great holiday and that you are ready to jump into the new year with a new lease on life and a renewed vigor toward continuous improvement.
I want to start things off with a discussion around the idea of active supervision. This should not be confused with "management by walking around." And active supervision should not be confused with the "other" type of management supervision - passive supervision - or what we have come to know as "fire fighting." In fact as you develop the skill of active supervision you will find yourself doing very little fire fighting.
Firefighting in management is dealing with issues "after" they have become issues. It is not proactive but reactive and strangely enough it is the kind of activity that gets rewarded by those further up the line and it carries a heavy dose of immediate positive feedback for the manager doing the fire fighting as well. Why is this?
For the person doing the fire fighting there is that rush of positive feedback in that you have dealt with a problem and solved it; saving the day. You feel useful, engaged and it is one of those times when as a manager you feel as if you actually got something accomplished. Your superiors too will give you kudos and a pat on the back. We all know of that person on the leadership team who is rising up the corporate ladder because they have become excellent fire fighters. It feels good to be that "go to" person.
Admittedly part of your role as a leader is to remove obstacles for your team so that they can succeed but that is not the same as fire fighting. When you evolve into being a fire fighter you continually dance on the fine edge of failure and eventually fatigue and burn out - pardon the pun. You will discover quickly that you will not be able to be there to catch all of the issues or problems and you will begin to notice that fewer people on your team take on responsibility for addressing challenges and more and more of those issues get handed off to you. Sound familiar?
So what is the difference between passive supervision and active supervision? Active supervision involves the communication of expectations and goals to your team. (Do you know what those are?) Following up on results and resolving issues with employees and process. In some respect it is akin to the difference between a leading indicator vs a lagging indicator. Fire fighting is a lagging indicator and you are dealing with something after it has happened. Active supervision requires a greater level of presence in some respect but only as means for you to ensure you are out in front of issues "before" they become issues.
By far the biggest part of this is communication. You need to know what you want from each member of your team, communicate that to them and you need to follow up to ensure you are getting the results from each of them that you require. As a good friend of mine once said you need to "inspect the expect." I share the following statistic with leaders and it resonates with all of them. You will will spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your team who are the problems (we sometimes call this micromanaging). Active supervision equips you to devote more of your time with the other 90% of your team who are doing their job and who will do a better job because you are now spending time with them.
To be fair there will always be a need for some fire fighting as problems may arise from time to time. The question is this; as a leader how much of your time should be spent fire fighting vs active supervision? Which leader is doing their job well; the one constantly putting out fires or the one who has their team working well and smoothly? That's what active supervision can do for you.