Are You an Unintentional Tempter or Temptress?

August 6th, 2013   •   no comments   

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were temptresses, luring mariners to destruction on the rocks surrounding the islands on which they lived.  They sang songs which the sailors just could not resist. In the early scenes in the Bible, Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent,  and Eve, succumbing to the temptation, was lured to the dark side, with catastrophic results.

A tempter or temptress does not lead individuals to good, but rather to give in to desire to break the rules. Such people are not just stories from our deep past or mythologies- they still exist in the business world.  Those with bad intent are one story. They intentionally create mischief or worse,  sabotage others in pursuit of a personal agenda.  But perhaps worse, otherwise intelligent and well-intended leaders can unintentionally become tempters, leading to the demise of individuals or entire organizations.

How can this happen?  How do they become the serpents in the garden?  There are five conditions that foster temptation.  serpent

  1. A state in which employees feel that the leader is not paying attention, or worse, doesn’t care.
  2. A state in which there are no set rules, regulations and policies.
  3. A state in which rules, regulations, policies and standards are applied randomly.
  4.    A state in which leadership sets a negative example.
  5. A state in which there is no accountability and there are no consequences.

In all of the above scenarios, breaking a rule would seem to be a low risk situation, with perhaps a high reward.  Who could resist? Leaders who allow the above states to exist are creating temptation that many will fall prey to.

Workers who sense that they could be rewarded for non-compliant behavior are at the vanguard of the destruction of the organization. Once they start taking liberties and nothing happens to them, it causes others to either follow their lead or leave the organization in disgust.  What do these behaviors look like?  They fall into four broad categories:

  • Ignoring goals and targets where there are no consequences for missing them. This leads to an overall lack of accountability, which inevitably leads to no standards, a fall in productivity, a decline in business results, the departure of those who care and ultimately failure.
  • Not living up to the brand promise. Customers, vendors and the public start to have uneven experiences with the organization. Previously loyal or satisfied customers start to look elsewhere for services and products until sales fall below sustainability.
  • “Forgetting” the organization’s values and the behaviors that support them. This can be reflected in a change in interpersonal relationships within the organization. Bullying and harassment may take hold. A hostile or unfriendly workplace may arise.  Backstabbing may become the order of the day.  Again, good employees who seek order and rationality will bolt, leaving a horror show behind.
  • Stealing.  If the boss raids the supply closet for personal reasons, others may begin to do so. Then it may be false expense reports, mileage claims and worse. The most valuable asset these employees steal is time and productivity.

Leaders need to look in the mirror and take responsibility for creating a tempting environment. They need to act to turn things around before it is too late. Creating order out of disorder is hard, but not impossible.  They need to wake up, take a look around and get things back the way they need to be.  Those that can’t comply with the movement back to sanity have to leave if the owner wants to save the organization.   And if the owner cannot do it, he or she has to leave or the organization dies.


Quick Fixes

July 31st, 2013   •   no comments   

Quick fixes are not always the answer. Band aids can cover a sore without really doing much long term good, without healing the underlying infection. Covering a hole in the wall with a picture may hide a defect but does not fix it.  On the other hand, some quick fixes serve a useful purpose.  Putting a sheet of plywood over a broken window or glass door until it can be properly fixed keeps out the elements and provides a modicum of security.  bandaid

The key is understanding what one is accomplishing with a quick fix. It cannot be confused with a more permanent solution. It must be recognized as an immediate action step providing temporary relief.

At 720thinking, we do a “deep dive” into organizations, enabling us to ferret out underlying causes of problems and locate the sources of organizational stress and turbulence. We can collaborate with ownership and management to effectuate long term solutions.  But while that process is going on, there are always some immediate steps that can be taken by an owner or leader to make things better quickly.  They are stop-gap steps and they may or may not be part of the overhaul, but they serve a strong purpose.  If you are not doing them, here are a few actions you should take immediately:

  • ·         Sign every check yourself. Many leaders, particularly entrepreneurs, find the finance side of the business to be the least pleasant. So, they delegate it as soon as practical- including deciding which bills to pay when; and the actual writing and signing of checks.  BIG MISTAKE!!  Delegate but oversee.  Know what is going on in the business and make sure everyone in the company knows that you are doing this. That way nobody will get any ideas that you are not paying attention.  To add to this impression, ask for the bank statements each month.  If you cannot be totally invested in the financial side, at least look like you are.
  • ·         Break the chain of command. Leaders who observe a strict chain of command get most of their information in a filtered fashion, as it passes through layers of management.  The leader can never really know how many rear ends are being covered by the time information finally reaches her. Step outside the chain of command once in a while and find out what individuals think and believe right from their own mouths.
  • ·         Call five customers or clients.   Not your role?  Of course it is.  If you do not treat all of the customers as yours, they may leave when the employee handling them leaves your business.  Check in, reach out, go to dinner. And ask them “How easy is my company to do business with? Where are the rough spots?”  Who better to tell you?
  • ·         Survey your employees. Show your teams that you care about their opinions. Learn about what is important to them, whether they feel they have all of the tools they need, whether management is acting on the right information- whatever you want. But get their feedback and act on it. Get them to be part of the solution.
  • ·         Re-visit your vision. You may have to dig it out of a file cabinet or out from under a pile of papers. Review it. Does it still apply? Is the organization still headed toward it? Does everyone remember it? Is everyone aligned with it?  If not- remind them.
  • ·         Do some sort of training or employee development.  If budget does not exist to hire someone to lead this, handle it internally. But show employees you want them to be constantly learning more and improving.
  • ·         Be transparent about one thing.  Tell your employees one thing you would not normally share with them. Take them into your confidence and see if they earn that confidence.
  • ·         Set a few short term goals to create some quick “wins”.  Create opportunities for successes that can be built upon and for workers to be appreciated. Find a way for everyone to be a hero, even for a day.
  • ·         Set up meetings with your three biggest vendors and discuss the relationships. See if you can improve your terms- time to pay, credit limit, etc. It never hurts to ask.
  • ·         Take an hour to think.  What are the best uses of your time? Are you spending it on things that only you can do? Or are you being the prima donna entrepreneur who just does what he wants, not what the business needs? Are you doing your part to make the business great?  quick fix

There is no magic to this list. There are lots of actions one can take.  Don’t just sit around waiting for a new strategic plan to be created or for some big outside event to happen.  Use your time to learn more about your company and what will make it stronger. The above quick steps take little budget and minimal time, but can yield immediate benefit without conflicting with long-term plans.

Lead Your Teams to Own, Not Rent

July 26th, 2013   •   no comments   

car_rental_July_23_2013Recently, I heard this comment on a talk show – “One does NOT wash a car rental.” The discussion went on to explain that a person doesn’t wash a rental because they don’t OWN the car.  Pretty simple concept and oh so true.

 With a car rental, we obey the rules, return the car without scratches and dents, fill the gas tank or pay for it, but we don’t wash the car or clean the interior, that’s the “real” owner’s job – the rental company. 

 Employees often take the same approach.  The partially interested, partially engaged employee will be sure to follow the rules, work within the parameters of the job, stay within the confines of the budget, keep their nose clean and generally return the job at the end of the day to the owner without “washing.”  Sure, they met requirements of the job, but did they take the time to examine, review, evaluate results and readjust plans for improvement the next time?

 As much as leaders, executives and entrepreneurs want a team that takes pride and owns their responsibility, the reality is all too many leaders actually allow their employees to be renters, to just be mediocre. What if the leader found ways to build ownership? 

 First, let’s review some leadership behaviors that support “renting.”

 ·         Fixing.  A wise man once wrote – “People’s destiny is not really in your hands. In the final analysis, every man’s destiny is in his own hands.” Norman Vincent Peale.  Leaders all too often what to “fix” people. The mistake in this approach is that people don’t need fixing.  They need to be inspired.  When, we try to help others overcome their flaws, their shortcomings, their inadequacies they often wait for us to give them the solution.  This only enables them not to learn, to not grow, and to contribute only marginally.  You tell us what company can afford to invest time in repairing others’ work.

·         Let it slide.  Richard Yates, author of Revolutionary Road, wrote, “It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or cares any more; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn mediocrity.” Being easy going, giving and nurturing is NOT the role of the leader. Being a leader is tough. We have to step up to the plate and OWN our responsibilities. People may want to sit and be comfortable, but what they need is to have some adversity and challenges to overcome.  Quality products and services don’t get made or delivered by average workers. When leaders overlook behaviors that support passing the buck, blaming , hiding under the radar, or just plain – not doing their job –  they sabotage any hope for success.

·         Seeking consensus.  I love this quote by Margaret Thatcher – “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies.  So it is something in which no one believes and no one objects.”  There are many problems with always trying to build consensus. Problems such as wasting time, losing focus, or trying to be popular, not productive.If leaders want to build strong teams, they have to be willing to set the target and allow people to step up, act as team and get results.  The more we attempt to coddle and cajole employees, partners and other stakeholders, the further we get from achieving truly extraordinary results.

·         Telling People YOUR Vision.  If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”   George Patton  The average, mediocre team can spout off the “canned” vision statement.  Leaders often mistake people’s ability to state the company’s vision statement for understanding, buy in and appreciation of the big picture.  This generally is furthest from the truth.  When people don’t have to think, they generally have not made an emotional connection to the lofty idea and ideals of the company.  They do what they are told and nothing more.

motivated_employee_July_23_2013So how do leaders build ownership?

 Rather than fixing, letting it slide, seeking consensus and telling your vision, leaders can build ownership in many ways. For 720thinkers one of the outstanding actions to promotes ownership is to inspire people.  Again, I would like to share another quote by Dr. Peale – “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

The strongest leaders engage their employees by helping them to discover their motivations and belief in their own capabilities. As a results, individual motivators will help align goals and actions with a vision that is so compelling, so addictive that they wouldn’t think of returning their job at the end of the day with a thorough cleaning because they own their job.

Promoting ownership is one of the leader’s primary roles.  Are you the leader that promotes employees “renting” and not owning their jobs?  If so, now is the time to consider the ways that you can lead people to own not just rent their job.


What is in Your Tool Kit?

July 22nd, 2013   •   no comments   

It has been said that “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Put another way, if you only have one tool in your kit, you are going to approach every problem the same way, approach every issue through the bias of that single tool.  hammer

To be successful in the professional world of for profit companies and non-profit organizations, leaders must feel comfortable with multiple approaches.  They must have an array of tools at their command.  It is easy to picture the basic tools that a carpenter might take to work-saws, planes, levels, hammers, chisels, screw drivers, drills, nail guns, etc.  But it is not so easy to visualize the tools that a leader needs to have at hand to address situations that could arise in an average day.

Let’s try to construct a basic tool kit for organizational leaders. The leaders using a basic tool kit are carrying the bare minimum. They will be allowed to upgrade to the more advanced tools once they prove they can handle the starter kit. The rules of golf limit the number of clubs (tools) a player can carry in her bag to thirteen. The rules of business have no such limit. So…where to begin?  Here are the absolute necessities, The Basic Seven:

  • ·         Business acumen– if a leader does not understand how the business functions, how the various departments need to interact and what the factors critical for success of the business are, there is no hope.
  • ·         Integrity– integrity gives credibility and credibility leads to trust. Those who are led must trust those who lead or full effort and focus will not be given.
  • ·         Accountability– setting and holding everyone (including the leader) to standards that will lead to business success is critical.
  • ·         Empathy– being able to listen, understand and care about what drives others and being there to help them achieve personal and organizational success builds loyalty, teamwork and success.
  • ·         Collaboration– working together with others to utilize everyone’s skills, keep everyone engaged and make each person feel as if they are part of something meaningful.
  • ·         Critical thinking– being able to look at all sides of a situation, utilize different lenses, explore potential solutions or results and make informed decisions is one of the most important tools.
  • ·         Communication– speaking and writing clearly, requesting and getting feedback and making sure that there is clarity around every message.
  • ·         The hammer– just for argument’s sake, let’s include the hammer- to be used in special, limited circumstances when required to drive home a point, show strength of belief or enforce vision and values. The hammer is like the fire axe in a glass case in a corridor- only use in case of emergency. (Not one of the Basic Seven, it is still a good idea to keep this one around just in case.  tool belt

Some people come to work with many more tools such as vision, negotiation skills, conflict resolution skills, salesmanship, innovation, charisma, great intelligence, gravitas, wisdom.  Over time, all leadership teams should have all of them.  They may take a little more time and experience to develop in many people.

Leadership gurus differ on which tools to use.  Some say use the ones that are your strongest. Always play to your strengths. Others say to find your weaknesses and develop them into strengths.  Leadership tool belts are not “one size fits all.”  Just remember that leaders lead people- people who have needs, desires, fears and anxieties; people under pressures of which leaders are not aware They have to get the most out of those people they can in a way that they feel well utilized, well appreciated and proud of the work they and their organization are doing.

Knowing what tools leaders need is the first step. Developing them is the second step. Utilizing them well is the third.  As one moves higher within an organization, more tools need to be added to handle different and more complex situations. A great leader can never have too many tools at her disposal.

The Comfort Zone – In or Out?

July 19th, 2013   •   no comments   

With the weather we have been having on the east coast over the last few weeks, it is easy to define almost everyone’s comfort zone- being in air conditioning with a cold beverage close at hand.  When we leave the easy chair behind and get to work, be it from a virtual location such as a home office or at company headquarters, the phrase “comfort zone” takes on a different meaning.

In his 2009 book “From Comfort Zone to Performance Management”, Alasdair White defines  the comfort zone as a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. Obviously, each person’s comfort zone is different.  Accountants and bookkeepers find comfort in numbers, whereas others may find it in working with their hands or utilizing their writing or artistic skills.comfort zone

Based on the definition above, a comfort zone sounds like a pretty good place to be.  There is no high level of anxiety leading to stress and beyond, and there is fertile ground for good performance.  In Gallup’s Q12 methodology, Q3 is “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”  For many, that sounds like the comfort zone. But what about these quotes?

·         Engaging in activities devoid of difficulty, lounging in risk-free zones, is life without great meaning.

Jon M. Huntsman Sr., Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times

·         If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.

 John Maxwell

·         We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.

Max DePree

·         One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

Abraham Maslow

·         A man grows most tired while standing still.  ~ Chinese Proverb

So, a comfort zone is a good place but it may not be the best place. Or think of it as a launch point or home base from which one can venture in measured steps to explore new territory. Individuals and organizations that strive for excellence cannot stay long in a comfort zone. They must be constantly stretching themselves, seeking positive change and improvement to keep them ahead of the competition and thus remain sustainable.

Leaving the comfort zone  Some have it in their DNA. Their makeup calls for them to be reaching and               expanding their skill set- that state of growth is their comfort zone. A person’s, and for that matter, an organization’s  personality can be described by their idea of their comfort zones. It is a type of mental conditioning that causes one to create and operate within mental boundaries that tend to create a false sense of security.

  If a company believes that by continuing to manufacture one product or one     product line without expanding or improving, they are sticking to what they know and what they do best, they are failing to observe their marketplace and what is happening around them. And they are failing to avail themselves of the talent that might enable them to stretch in a variety of directions.

If a technician believes that he can sustain his career by relying on skills he developed many years ago, without learning new technologies or techniques, he is fooling himself. By staying in his comfort zone he is almost guaranteeing his obsolescence at some point.

Like inertia, a person or organization that has established a comfort zone, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside their comfort zone, they must cultivate new and different behaviors, develop a different mindset and then focus on the positive rewards for change.

“Change or die.”  We’ve all heard that before. It is a title of at least a couple of books.  In today’s fast-paced world, change is a necessity and it is a constant. Everyone and every organization needs to be primed for it.  Change doesn’t mean racing away from comfort zones, but it does mean taking studied, measured steps in new directions to achieve growth, fulfillment, success and survival. After every few steps there may be a new comfort zone that will be better than the last. A career may involve a whole series of comfort zones. Comparing the first to the last will bring about a realization that growth was good and necessary and a positive for the organization and the individuals that moved forward. Those that couldn’t or wouldn’t step out, by necessity fell off the train a number of stops back.  change4

Enjoy your comfort zone- just don’t stay there too long-don’t even unpack. There is something more just around the corner.