Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Time - Part 6: The Daily Meeting

This part 6 of in a series of short essays on fundamentals of leadership. While it is drafted for those who have just moved into their first leadership position, I hope there is a little something in here for the most practiced of leaders, a ‘getting back to basics’ that everyone needs every now and then.

Most organizations have one: a daily meeting to make sure everyone is ready to go, to share information, and pass out any new directives. Some organizations have them first thing in the morning, others late in the afternoon, etc. But, all share a common goal: to make sure information is passed both down and up and that everyone is ready to go for the day ahead.

There are many ways to hold these meetings, but a few simple rules will help you, no matter how or when you choose to hold this meeting.

Keep it brief: aim for 15 minutes, and don’t let it go beyond 30 minutes (You will miss this mark often, but keep trying to contain it). The meeting is not designed to settle anything; it is quick information to make sure everyone is ready. If you need more details, or you need to discuss something, save it for another meeting.

Have an agenda, and try to keep it the same every day. Tweak this until you get it right, then simply post it and pass it out. Again, keep it simple. For example: what is due today, what is due tomorrow, what meetings are you attending, who is not here today, safety notes if there is a holiday approaching, and then ‘around the room.’ One helpful process is to have the folks speak in the same order every day. Any protocol works: designate chairs and work around the room counter-clockwise, by position, whatever you want, but pick a process and stick with it.

Have a process that makes sense: if you keep changing things you will confuse and frustrate everyone, so tell them what you are going to do, and why. If someone thinks they have a good reason to change it, ask him for it and, if it makes sense, change it. This isn’t a religious ceremony; you are just trying to keep folks informed and stay informed yourself.

Inform your people. Don’t keep secrets. The daily meeting is to inform folks, use it accordingly. In particular, use it to squelch rumors. Tell them what you know, and if there are nasty or stupid rumors running about, this is where you can start to kill them.

Let them speak. Make sure everyone has a chance to talk. Easiest step is finish with an “Around the horn. What do you have for me?” And then make eye contact which each person.

If there are issues – redirect after the meeting. Remember, this is for sharing information; it’s not the Lincoln - Douglas debates. If there are issues, move them to another meeting with just the involved parties. Keep it simple.

No personal attacks, no personnel issues that might embarrass anyone. This goes without saying. Don’t let anyone attack anyone – present or not. And if there are personal issues involved, those are not to be shared with everyone. If there is something that will ‘get out,’ such as a sickness or an accident, etc., keep it simple and generic: ‘Joe is ill and will be on sick leave for several days.’ Keep it professional.

No gossip. Use the meeting to kill rumors. Don’t start them and don’t let others start them.

Keep it positive. Use the meeting to pass along news about the organization, and don’t withhold bad news – Never withhold bad news – but emphasize the positive. Leaders face difficulties, accept them as challenges and push through them. They don’t get depressed and they don’t let their people get depressed.

Thank and praise and encourage. The daily meeting is a good place to say thanks or pass out praise to anyone who did something of note the day before. A simple word handed out expeditiously is worth a great deal more than flowery words presented after everyone has forgotten the event.

Once again: Keep it Brief.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First Time - Part 5: Setting a Goal

This is part 5 of in a series of short essays on fundamentals of leadership. While it is drafted for those who have just moved into their first leadership position, I hope there is a little something in here for the most practiced of leaders, a ‘getting back to basics’ that everyone needs every now and then.

In the previous article I talked about building your first plan. You are probably thinking that this looks very simplistic – it is. Plans, and procedures, should be kept as simple as possible. They will grow extremely complex extremely fast, so ‘simple is good.’

As you get started, the initial purpose of the plan is simply to allow you to establish some control over the whirlwind around you. Everyone feels the occasional moment of confusion whenever they take over any organization. Establishing a schedule, a basic plan, gives you the first element of control over that ‘whirlwind.’

But, you may well ask ‘Don’t you need a goal before you have a plan?’ The obvious answer is ‘Yes.’ But you already have a goal; you were given it, implicitly or explicitly, when you were placed in charge of the division. The boss may have spelled it out, or he might assume you know. Irrespective, that goal is now your goal – at least to begin.

The next step is to set some new goals – your goals. Why? Because your goals should be YOUR goals; it’s that simple. First, the new goals have to include, at a minimum, the goals your boss gave you. But, add to that – what’s doable? Push a little beyond that. Talk it over with your deputy – if you have one, or a friend, your spouse, anyone you trust. Then, after refining, talk it over with your people. Get them involved – let the conversation include them and let it become THEIR goal. And then challenge them. This is how the goal will become possible: because they will want it. Your goal goes through a metamorphosis and becomes their goal – and now all you are doing is making sure they have what they need and helping them achieve.

Now: Brief the boss – one of the most powerful things you can do is to develop new – and greater goals and motivate your people with those goals. But it means nothing if your boss won’t let you seek those goals. And he may not if he thinks it is going to ‘cost him.’ So you need to sell your goals to the boss. You need to show some simple things: how these new goals can be achieved, how they will help the organization, and how they will improve the bottom line – long term as well as short term. If your goals not only help him achieve his goals but also pushes his organization beyond those goals – he looks good. And that means he will back your goals.

Friday, November 13, 2009

First Time - Part 4: Have a Plan

This may sound like either a blinding flash of the obvious (BFO) or, because of the size of your division and the degree of oversight of your boss, the most ridiculous waste of time anyone has ever put forward. It’s neither.

You need to have a plan. In the military there are all sorts of plans: plans of the day (the daily drill), daily, weekly, monthly and yearly training plans, operational plans, contingency plans, crisis action plans, maintenance plans, preventative maintenance plans, logistics and support plans, etc. There are also standard operating procedures, which really are not much more than the plans when nothing else is planned.

But you are the new guy. The fact is that people are looking for you to do something, tell them something. And what a plan does is give you something to build from. There is a simple way to proceed, without having to create more hours in the week.

Begin with some calendars (there are many ways to do this, but this one has worked for me and others for a long time and it has the advantage of being very simple to start), one page for each month, and run it out for the next 24 months – at least. (You will be regularly extending the calendar forward in time, adding another three months at the beginning of each quarter is an easy way to start).

Mark out on the calendar every significant date for your organization over the next 24 months. Start with the obvious stuff: end of year reports, quarterly reports, monthly reports, counseling and performance appraisals, etc. If a report comes out on the first of the month, when is your department’s input required? And when is your input required? Some simple backtracking will tell you when you need to get basic information together. Now you can tell your people and there will be fewer surprises. Do you have any organizational goals and associated dates? Put them on. In military units there are the obvious deployment dates and the monthly readiness and training reports, as well as various training and exercise dates.

Now, ask some simple questions. Is there any equipment or material that you need to reach those goals? When would you need it? If you need it, when do you need to order it? Is their training associated either with the gear or the goals as a whole? When is it needed? How long does it take? How long does it take to schedule? Spend some time going over these kinds of questions and put them down on the calendar.

You have just completed your first basic long-range plan. Now you can expand on it. Beyond the organization’s goals – the ones you were given – what other goals do you want to achieve? Put them down as well. Engage in the same ‘backtracking’ and identify necessary training and material and equipment associated with those additional goals. Now work out the scheduling conflicts and opportunities.

You now have a good idea of what things you need to do, when, to stay ahead of the routine tasks of the organization. In fact, you just ‘bought’ yourself free time to think about your organization as a whole.

Now for a daily plan. Most organizations have a daily and weekly schedule, and the organization you have just been appointed to lead is probably no different. So, begin with the existing plan. If you have no existing plan, there ought to be a similar division in the organization: ‘steal’ a copy of their daily plan and copy it. If there is no similar division then you will need to make something up –we will address that in a moment.

If you have an existing plan (your division or someone else’s), begin with a sanity check. Is there anything on the daily plan that makes no sense? If so, and assuming it is not required by your boss, delete it. If your boss requires it, take a good look at it. If you think it is there simply from inertia, consider deleting it and see if anybody notices. If they don’t – success! If they do, you can claim ignorance (you just got there) and then you can ask them if they want it as is, or can you offer some changes? Then, change it so that it helps you and your division (have this suggestion in hand before you go see the boss).

Pick at the daily plan so that it satisfies the following: it gets necessary information to you and the rest of the organization - beyond your division; it keeps your people informed; it helps them do their daily job and keep ahead of approaching events and deadlines; it doesn’t interfere with what they are already doing. This will simply be a result of practice, so spend a few minutes on your plan every day until you have something that works and is comfortable.

If you have no plan to copy, begin with the following:
Reports due this week
Reports due next week
Meetings this week
Meetings next week
Training scheduled for this month (who, when, where)
People on Vacation this month
Weekly goals
Monthly goals

Why do this? The real beauty of a plan is that it takes away headaches and allows you time to think about the really important stuff! And that is what you want: more free time to think about and act on what is really important.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First Time - Part 3: Motivating Your People

You have been told you are taking over division ‘X,’ a dozen hard working folks who ‘tune widgets.’ You understand that you are going to be responsible for making sure those 12 people have everything they need to keep tuning widgets. You are resolved to be a good leader, one who cares about his folks and does the right thing.

Meanwhile, your boss has told you that the division needs to become more efficient (tune more widgets per week, with greater accuracy). You need to figure out how. Where to begin?

The real issue here is how do you motivate your division to achieve this new goal? In short, how do you – how do YOU - motivate someone? The ultimate aim is that the people you lead take on the goals of the organization – that your goals become their goals. But that is quite a bit down the road; you need to begin someplace – today.

Begin with some ‘simple’ steps: build a ‘biography’ on each person: single, married, children and other dependents, education, experience are the basics. There should be a basic file on each that you can use to start your own file. Talking with them – the daily coffee - will give you more information to add to what you know of each.

Health issues will arise. They are essential to understand. And they will demonstrate YOUR motivations. If you are worried about their health and the health of their family, it will show. (One case in point: as much as possible, insist people take their annual vacations. People NEED time off.) You will need to know these people like your family – they ARE part of your family now. So, you need the details.

I can hear some HR folks saying you can’t know this kind of thing. Maybe you can’t in their world. But you need to. These people are not machines, they are human beings with very real problems, concerns, hopes and fear. Most of those hopes and fears have nothing to do with work. But those hopes and fears will carry over into work.

Now comes the hard part. Listen to them, and then connect ‘their’ goals – the individual goals of your people – with the goals of the organization. Though it has been pooh-poohed of late, Maslow’s hierarchy is an excellent place to start to understand how to organize and understand people’s needs and translate them into something that you can directly affect.

For example, almost certainly, if you are in your first leadership position you have a limited role in providing either pay increases or bonuses. But, as Maslow pointed out, there are several psychological drivers that are more powerful, often significantly more powerful, then economic reward vis-à-vis motivations. While there are few people who will not welcome a pay increase or a bonus, the fact is that most people won’t and don’t work harder because their paycheck got a bit ‘fatter.’ They will, however, work harder if they feel they deserved some sort of public recognition for their performance AND they received it.

This is not an easy process, nor is it done once and forgotten. It will require that you get to know each of your people well, and that you then ‘connect the dots’ on each one – separately. Each person will require his own ‘motivational map’ and you have to construct it. Some will be simple. In every division there are 2 or 3 folks who truly are self-starters. They are fully motivated, they are already out ‘pulling the sled.’ All they need is someone to sign the ‘requisitions’ once a week (or some such thing), and then you can get out of their way. One or two will simply need someone to listen to them rant for 30 minutes a week, then they too will go back to pushing the rock up the hill. (Frankly, those people can also be fun, you get to sit and listen to ‘Dave’ sound off for 20 or 30 minutes, you pick up some weird stories to tell your spouse over dinner, and then he leaves your office and he feels great because he got a chance to simply unload it all on someone who was willing to listen.) You then need to ‘figure out’ the rest. Whether it is an overriding concern about a sick spouse or parent, their children’s grades or getting the right fertilizer for their pumpkin patch, you need to figure it out and connect that to what they are doing at work.

Perhaps, it is simple - an exception to work hours so they can take someone to a physical therapy session, or twice a week arriving late so they can get the kids to hockey practice and then school. Maybe it is more difficult, requiring that you get involved and have the company work some adjustment to their healthcare. Maybe it is as obvious as determining a way to reschedule their work shift so that they can meet the requirements of their own schedule and yours; whatever it is, that is a place to start.

The point is this: the best motivations are about people having an opportunity to leave a mark on their world. Most of us may have fairly small worlds, but we still want to leave a mark on it. Money gets us through the day, but it really is rarely about money, once you get past the simple (but necessary) paying of bills. People want esteem, and self-respect, they want the respect of others, and finally, they want a chance to contribute to something else, to help to create something new and something of value. (Even among some the high-rollers on Wall Street it rarely is about simply money; in fact, from what I’ve seen, money was more a way of keeping score, the money itself was rarely important.) Most organizations can create something of value, at least to some limited extent. A fast food restaurant is arguably simply a fast food restaurant. But a fast food restaurant that is also committed to supporting the fight to cure diabetes or that supports inner city schools, or whatever it is, can step beyond the world of fast food, and in doing so provide a greater motivation for its own people. If you want to develop into as a leader, it is your job to find that path.

One final thought: the question of motivations is perhaps the most difficult question to ever answer. It is a subject that often comes up in combat zones, or more accurately, after you have left the combat zone and are looking ‘back’ at it. Young Marine PFCs* have often amazed me because they are, in fact, so motivated. They join the Marines ready to slay dragons. It is rarely as simple as young men filled with piss and vinegar who want to prove they are tough, though there is obviously some of that, and that is the most visible facet of it. Instead, you bump into them by the score in any Army or Marine company, 20 year olds who are truly determined to change the world, and who believe they have both the skills and the opportunity to do so. They are operating at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy. It is a testimony to the skill of their drill instructors that the gung ho spirit that led them to enlist has been nurtured and fed and pointed so that they get to their first unit and they are coiled steel, ready to spring.

That level of motivation reveals itself years later, when veterans will look back on their enlistment with a great deal of nostalgia, and why not: it is often true that never in the remainder of their lives will they ever operate at the very pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy. They may have spent a solid year completely self-actualized, whereas most people will rarely spend more than a few weeks at a time at that level of motivation. No wonder they do incredible things in the military!

* Private First Class

Monday, November 9, 2009

First Time - Part 2: Loyalty, Honesty, Trust

Before we go any further, let’s just say a few words about a subject that comes up often in discussions on leadership and is, sadly often presented completely wrong. I’m talking about three traits of the relationship between a leader and his team, traits that might be said to be different facets of the same precious stone: Loyalty, Honesty and Trust.

The truth is you can lead without these three traits; people do it every day. Worse, you can do it by ‘faking it,’ living the lie about these three traits, acting the part, but not believing in it and going back on your word in private. That’s possible too, and I see it regularly.

But you will never develop a superior organization, and you will become a great leader without truly practicing these three traits.

Loyalty. I have repeatedly heard people talk about how to instill loyalty among ‘the troops.’ The fallacy there is that loyalty does not work up an organization, it works down an organization. You really can’t ‘instill loyalty’ among the troops. You have to be loyal to your people, not the other way around. If you expect them to be loyal to you, you will be sadly disappointed. If, on the other hand, you are loyal to them, the team will reward you tenfold in both support and performance.

Honesty. It has been said that honesty is the best policy. That is unquestionably true. Be honest with your people. Don’t keep bad news from them, and don’t treat them like children. You should not only communicate with them honestly, you must fully insist that they honestly communicate with you. Which means you must never shoot the messenger. Insist on honesty at all times, no matter how painful. The more you insist, the more likely they are to tell you about a problem early, when it can be fixed, rather than delaying, and letting the problem fester. It’s been said that the boss who insists on loyalty will get honesty instead, but that the boss who insists on honesty will get loyalty. It’s a good point.

Trust. Trust is the gold standard of leadership. You have to trust your people to do what you tell them. There are some obvious reasons for this. First, you can’t be everywhere at once. And the bigger your organization grows, the more senior you become, the more impossible it becomes to do everything or to oversee everyone. Trying to do so will wrap the organization up in needless and unproductive reports on performance and inspections of activities. Second, a lack of trust poisons the organization, sending the signal to all that it really doesn’t matter what they say or do; someone will be looking over their shoulders to second guess them. And once you have ‘sent out’ that signal, it is remarkable how difficult it is to clear the air. Third, if you are doing your job correctly, you will have communicated the mission and trained your people so that they can execute the mission.

Great leaders – really great leaders – recognize that they are not only not irreplaceable, but that they must make it clear throughout the organization that they are replaceable. A great leader sets up his organization and trains and educates his people so that the organization can continue on and achieve its goals whether he – the leader – is present or not. That requires that he not only train and educate, but that he completely trusts them to do the right thing.

More than the most overbearing boss you will ever meet, the people who work ‘for’ you will judge you every day. Every single day they are going to look at you and make an assessment. If you fail in nearly every other thing, but hold to these three traits, they will follow you ‘into a burning building dressed in a gasoline suit.’ But, as the Good Book says, if you can’t trust someone in a small thing, then you certainly can’t trust them in a big thing. If you fail simple tests of honesty, loyalty and trust, ‘your’ people will do what you tell them, but nothing more. And you will eventually fail as a leader.

Loyalty, Honesty, Trust. These three traits form the keystone to motivating the people who work for you. In the end, most people will see through all the smoke screens and masks. What they are looking for is loyalty, honesty, and trust. Practice them early and continually, make them part of everything you do, and they will become part of your fundamental leadership skills.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Time

The below is the first in a series of short essays on fundamentals of leadership. While it is drafted for those who have just moved into their first leadership position, I hope there is a little something in here for the most practiced of leaders, a ‘getting back to basics’ that everyone needs every now and then.


So, it’s your first leadership position. Whether you are the new shop foreman, the lead nurse on the night shift, the junior vice president of the smallest division in the company, a platoon leader, or a division officer on a ship, you are now ‘in charge.’ What does it mean?

First, there is now a gap between you and the ‘rank and file.’ No matter how much you may want to deny that fact, you are now ‘in-charge’ and everyone will recognize it and will treat you a bit differently. Don’t revel in the difference. Despite what others may say, your real role is to make sure your people succeed, and that means you have to help them. In a very real sense, you work for them. The first time I heard that said out-loud it made me stop and think. You are ‘in-charge’ so You Work For Them. Your task is to make sure they ‘win;’ to make sure that they have everything they need to do their job, execute the mission and succeed.

How do you do that? ‘Easy.’* You provide Guidance, Support, and Motivation

That’s what you do: you provide guidance where there isn’t any, you support all the people who work ‘for’ you (SEE ABOVE), and you motivate them when they are not fired up about the job. How do you do that? In some sense, that answers is completely job dependent; the guidance will change, the support will change, the motivations will change. Being a ‘junior exec,’ no matter what the organization, can always be a challenge. You don’t get a real say in the goals of the organization (you may not even agree with some of them), your boss will provide you a framework of guidance within which you are free to act (and it may be confusing and restrictive), and you will certainly be given real limits on the assets – the stuff – you need to do the task at hand. In many cases you will think you have been given lemons. You need to turn it into lemonade.

So, first, don’t get discouraged: get on the bus! Accept the goals of the organization as a whole and move on to your own division goals. Now, you may have already been given goals: sales or productivity or readiness or whatever. You need to look at that goal and find a meaningful challenge that can be used to motivate your people. How to do that?

The key to all your success is going to come from one thing: Communication.

But, in one sense, the answer is always the same: Communicate. Talk with your people. Note, not to them or at them, with them. Communication isn’t a one-way street. In fact, it isn’t even a two-way street. Real communication requires that you not only talk with them, that you listen and understand, but that you also understand what they are saying to each other, both individually and in groups, that you come to understand their level of emotional commitment to the tasks at hand and to each other individually and to the team. Great leadership takes individuals and makes a tightly integrated team. And that comes from understanding individual motivations and connecting those individual motivations with the team’s – your team’s – motivations. And that all begins with communication.

While communication can be difficult, there is no magic here. It begins simply with talking and listening. A few minutes of ‘shooting the breeze’ before the morning meeting, sharing a cup of coffee, are great ways to begin this dialogue. One spectacular leader I know, who rose from the ranks to be the Fire Commissioner of Philadelphia would, as Commissioner, stop at a different Fire House every morning for a cup of coffee. While he learned a great deal about what was going on in the ‘ranks,’ it also presented the firefighters the opportunity to ‘hear it from the boss’ and, perhaps most importantly, it let them know that he was looking out for them. This idea of loyalty and honesty is the very glue of good leadership. And it all begins with sincere communication.

* I am reminded of the Vaudeville line: How do you make a statue of an elephant? Easy, get a big block of stone and chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.