We have lived through the age of process improvement as Nirvana. We have discovered that checklists are great but they are not the whole answer. Efficiency and productivity are very important, but not to the point where they totally stifle innovation and the individual desire to search for ways to do things differently because they are better, not just different.
A culture is not- or at least should not be – a cage. It should be a set of values with behaviors attached to them, that create space for employees to do what they do best, feel good about what they are doing and to develop their skills and abilities so that they can continue to improve themselves and add value to the company. Cultures do have boundaries, as does any larger culture within which we may reside. But employees need room to make decisions, to experiment, to try out new ideas in the right places in the right way and at the right time. If those opportunities are built into the culture, then employees will have an allowed way to stretch themselves, to bring new ideas out that can help the company in ways that are beneficial.
Nobody wants to feel as if they are just checking boxes. It might be easy, but it is not fulfilling. People do want to make a difference. A culture should give everyone room to be a hero in some way. Has your company put up obstacles to this type of success? If so, how can you remove them and still remain productive and efficient?
Whether one likes it or not, change happens. The change itself is not good or bad, in reality it’s quite neutral. It becomes good or bad based on these two major factors – resistance or engagement. Interestingly enough, experience and research seems to bear out that more walls are built by individuals and organizations around change than windmills.With the economic and social climates in constant flux there is a feeling of instability which causes strong actions and emotions.
Walls are built because…
Windmills are built because…
Change happens as sure as the sun rises and sets. As 720thinkers, we prefer to build windmills. How about you, will you built walls or windmills?
Virtually everything on earth can be improved upon. We all wish we had better weather, better government, better schools, a better economy, and in many cases a better life in general. Business owners that are honest with themselves also wish for things to be better. They certainly wish for better market conditions, better sales, better employees, better customers. But wishing for things to be better is different than believing that conditions need to be fixed.
For something to need to be fixed seems to assume that something is broken. In the “old days”, we were in much more of a “fix it” mindset. Appliance repairmen used to fix toasters, mixers, radios and televisions. It was very more economical to get something fixed than to throw it away and buy a new one. The idea of “fix it” was much more central to our collective mindset. Not any longer. Those repairmen no longer exist. More items are considered expendables. We buy a new one rather than fix an old one. “Fix it” is no longer such a big part of who we are.
There are few in business who view their businesses as needing fixing in any way. Maybe this is because they don’t want to believe their organizations are broken. They are fine- they just need a tweak here and a tweak there. Tweaks are okay- they are not major and we can get to them when we get to them – or not. This is the alternative universe business leaders create to avoid having to do the hard work of fixing. A tweak is minor but a fix is major. And if I need a fix, I have to admit something is broken, and I don’t want to do that.
Few leaders are perfect in every situation- very few. Few have the skills, competencies or even patience to do everything well. Yet they are unwilling to move from tweak to fix. At one time or another everyone needs a fix.
If a sales manager is not up to the job- is not motivating the sales force, holding them accountable, pushing them to achieve success with the best customers or clients- is it a tweak or a fix? What would meeting expectations mean to the company? To the owner? If production managers are not pushing to get the best work out of their workers, is changing things around to get their best a tweak or a fix? If the whole company seems slightly disengaged is getting those folks to a higher level of engagement a tweak or a fix?
Any business, even a small one, is more complicated than it appears. All have processes and procedures, internal relationships that get things done, the passing and sharing of information, collaboration, strategy and tactics that lead to sustainability. It is unrealistic for any business owner to just assume that everything is humming along smoothly. There is a great opening scene in David Lynch’s movie Blue Velvet. The camera pans around a beautiful green backyard, showing what looks like a sunny summer day, a scene of tranquility and happiness. Then the camera begins to focus more tightly on the grass, individual blades of grass, then the dirt, bugs and worms crawling around those blades. The scene goes from one of calm perfection to one of turmoil and dark things beneath the surface. A different lens and a different angle give a totally different view of things.
Many things need fixing. A tweak will not do. A tweak may not even address the true underlying problem. Leaders need to address situations with the intent to fix. A team that is not functioning the way it should is hurting the company. The fix may be changing the team members, re-thinking the goals for the team, or dumping a strategy and building a new one. A process that is inefficient and has obvious gaps, holes or obstacles needs to be overhauled. If not enough new ideas are being generated in accompany a big fix may be required in the company culture.
Admitting the need for a fix is not and should not be embarrassing. It can be a major positive turning point. It can move a business off of a mediocrity track and onto an excellence track. And it can move a leader up a notch on the road to achieving leadership strength.
Everyone needs a fix at some time. Leaders need to take that need seriously. There is more below the surface than can be seen through a single lens. Leaders need to dig around, go below the surface and see what is really going on. When that is done and it is discovered that what appeared to require a tweak needs more than that, don’t stop. Think aggressive treatment or surgery not band aid. It will be worth it, and the results will prove it.
Business requires a lot of juggling- juggling thoughts, time, people, resources, ideas, dollars… All this juggling can make anyone crazy. In business, the owner, the executive, the solopreneur are generally the individuals with the most balls in the air. In fact, the very reason certain people are in charge is because they don’t just survive, they thrive on chaos and complexity.
How do they do it? How do they not only maintain control but move forward?
People get so wrapped up in the blur and excitement of being in overdrive that they can never gain clarity. Decision making becomes a nightmare and yet they continue to add to the pandemonium, putting more balls in the air, instead of truly focusing on the business at hand.
Leaders need to develop an understanding of what it means to to lead and to manage at the same time. Leadership generates strategy and planning which can be messy and mind-blowing. Management involves tactics, attention to detail and task-lists which are exacting and sometimes mind-numbing. They involve two separate mindsets, two different sets of skills. Those in the position of having responsibilities for both are juggling two different roles, needing to be successful at both. Keeping in mind, people are effective and things (machines, dollars, etc) are efficient.
In a recent interview, I asked a middle manager how well they believed their international, Fortune 1000 company shared their vision and plan. His response, “I’m not sure what the vision is any more. One minute it’s customer service, the next it’s profitability, the next it’s whatever flavor of the day, not the week, crops up.”
I next asked him what his company’s tagline was. “I couldn’t really tell you that either. I used to know it, but I don’t talk to marketing much. My vice president is busy maneuvering to be sure we have the resources we need. He’s a great guy but, honestly, that’s why I never wanted to move up. I can’t be that political, I just want to do a great job, provide a great service, hit my financial targets and unfortunately, that leaves me little time to help my company grow.”
Quite a sad testimonial, wouldn’t you say? It is simpler to focus on one aspect or the other. But it is almost impossible to create a situation where that luxury exists. There are business owners who seek to just lead, who delegate all managing to others. A few may succeed at this. But most lose touch with the business, its culture, and ultimately wake up to a business they don’t recognize or to a dire situation.
Please note this picture. It’s is so much clearer. Only two balls to juggle.
When the executive, owner, boss focuses on leadership and guides, coaches, facilitates and mentors; as well as manages and controls tangible things life will become much more positive and business would be much more successful.
As 720thinkers, we are continually striving to gain fresh ideas and insights to provide the best plans, strategies, tools and tactics possible to help people lead and manage at extraordinary levels. We support:
We would like to hear from you regarding your thoughts on how to master this juggling act – to lead and to manage.
Entrepreneurs need to have a closet full of hats. When they start a business they better be prepared to wear a lot of them, mainly because there is nobody else to fill the roles they represent. Think of all of the positions that exist in a company within all of the functions of sales, marketing, administration, finance, operations, production, design, customer service and more. The entrepreneurial CEO gets to fill most or all of those roles in a start-up. Over time, she should be shedding many of those roles and putting those hats away. How deep into storage should they go? Is there a “best practice” for hat management?
There are functional hats like those described above. Some entrepreneurs are quick to jettison many of them, as the skills required to wear them as the company grows are outside of their comfort zone or expertise. But throwing them away is not the answer. An entrepreneur who develops into the owner of a mature business still has ultimate responsibility for those functions. So the hats are still needed. Trust those who do the work but keep the head (with the hat on it) in the game. An owner cannot use delegation as an excuse for totally abandoning responsibility for a functional area. If the business and/or the paychecks still bear the owner’s name, the functional areas deserve her interest.
There are are also “role hats”. These roles include visionary, leader, innovator,motivator, cheerleader and external communicator.They are hats that some founders where forever, either by choice or necessity. For some that is because those roles really represent the highest and best use of their time. They are great at these things. Steve Jobs comes to mind. So does Mark Cuban. Others may not recognize that they are not good at certain of these roles but nobody will tell them, or they just won’t listen. As businesses grow, they need each of these roles, but there is no necessity that they be filled by the founders(s). Big egos can get in the way of success. Every founder needs a good “mirror” to see how all of the hats really fit.
To get the best employees, employers need another set of hats. They include a Team Player hat,
The “boss hat” may be the hardest one to take off. This is the one that an owner has to wear when she holds employees accountable. Everyone in the company has to recognize that this hat exists, and while it may be hidden under others at certain times, and therefore not visible, it is always in place. Others may actually hold some responsibility for discipline and accountability, but everyone has to know that the owner is invested in the culture and its values and backs those who reinforce them.
The “boss hat” should represent not just Power, but Authority- moral authority, leadership authority and intellectual authority.
When we look at hats in the external world, we think of them as giving us protection- from the sun, from precipitation, from the wind. They can also hide our faces or our hair (or baldness). But in the business world, they do not hide or shelter us. They invest us with responsibility, authority and expertise. They should provide some clarity- for those wearing them and those dealing with those wearing them. Role clarity is critical. If a leader is wearing multiple hats and filling multiple roles, others need to understand which role is addressing them. So, while hats may provide us with cover outside, they do not do that inside a business.
(None of the above should be confused with Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats.” (See www.debonogroup.com) His methodology separates thinking into six distinct functional roles unrelated to job function, each signified by a different colored thinking hat. The White Hat is for the facts. The Yellow Hat is for optimism and the person “wearing” it explores positives. The Black Hat is for judgment and for spotting obstacles and danger. The Red Hat is about emotions. The Green Hat is the opportunity to explore creative solutions. And finally, the Blue Hat is the hall monitor, the one that keeps thinking within the process. This is a very different approach that may or may not work in a given culture.)
Know your hats. Know which is appropriate on what occasion, which is needed to fulfill a certain function and which needs to be hung up in the closet, to be pulled out only at certain intervals. And make sure your team knows that when they see a certain hat, they know what it means.