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Employees Leadership

Shadow leadership

This past weekend, I was listening to an employee share what to them was a collaborative way to solve a problem with the behavior of their customers. These employees organized a meeting among themselves because they weren’t getting sufficient support from their leadership regarding the behavior of their customers. This behavior is a pretty important factor in the successful outcome of the employees’ work.

The interesting thing about this meeting is that the supervisor of these employees is the second-most senior leader in the entire company. This person was not invited to the meeting. In part, they seem to be creating the problem by not carrying their weight leadership-wise, but it’s more complex than that. Remember, part of the role of leadership is supporting your employees and removing roadblocks from their path.

To be sure, some of those roadblocks are the employees’ responsibility. In this particular situation, that’s not the case. The unfortunate thing about this second in command is that they’re essentially first in command on a day to day basis for everything except legal and finance.

The second in command is failing to handle a sizable part of their leadership role because neither the number one leader nor the Board of Directors appear to be fulfilling some parts of their leadership role.

Danger has trailing indicators

When it comes to work that impacts metrics, KPIs, “your numbers”, etc, a lack of effort on your part shows up fairly soon and becomes obvious. When your lack of effort involves leadership, it’s harder to find numbers to tell the tale. Poor leadership has a trailing indicators. You know it when you see it – but if it’s coming from you, the metrics that inform you that you’re not getting it done might not be visible for months or even years.

If you’re not taking care of your responsibilities, someone else has to pick up the slack. Work piles up and metrics trend negative when this happens with measurable work. A lack of effort on work that’s not easy to measure is more difficult to see, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t piling up. In some cases, it’s rolling downhill to your employees and negatively impacting their work.

There’s not enough time, energy, and/or mental bandwidth to do that extra work. This is particularly challenging when the work is not the role of these employees (not within their authority) and/or it involves work they haven’t been trained for, such as leadership. In some cases, leadership duties may even involve work your team cannot legally perform.

The mental bandwidth to get that work done tends to be much higher than the typical bandwidth required for that employee to do their job. It’s very stressful to do your boss’s job, particularly when you have no authority to do so. Your team knows this can come back to bite them, but they’re often forced to make the least negative choice.

Shadow leadership is often born of neglect

We discussed “shadow IT” some time ago. Shadow IT is born when a company’s IT group is such a pain to work with, and is so difficult to get work out of for one reason or another, that a department becomes their own IT staff. They do their own purchasing and their own organization because they have expectations to fill. They have work to get done and they cannot afford to wait for an unresponsive IT department to do their job.

Shadow leadership has similar roots.

When I talked to this employee about their organization, it was clear that there aren’t too many things that I can do to help them because of the nature of the organization itself. I mentioned that if I was on the board of directors, I’d want to know about these situations.

The number one and number two leaders work at the pleasure of the board of directors. If directors don’t know that the employees are being forced to take on duties they have no business dealing with, the board can’t take steps to address the issue. An uninformed board of directors will never see that this unmeasurable work isn’t getting done by reviewing the monthly / quarterly reports they receive from leadership – not because they’re hidden, but because they have no metrics.

Until someone steps up

After numerous conversations about this situation, I suggested that this group of employees needs to find a way to get this scenario in front of one of the board of directors.

Once the director understands the situation with the second in command, they can discuss it with the rest of the directors, determine if the concern is legitimate, assess if the situation is being interpreted correctly, and determine what (if any) action to take.

It’s important to note that this is not me suggesting that employees go outside the “chain of command” as a first attempt to solve the problem. Anything but that, in fact. It’s critical that attempts to communicate this situation to anyone in your chain of command are done with humility because you don’t know what you don’t know.

I already know that this team has repeatedly attempted to address the situation with the number two leader (their manager), but have been turned away because that leader doesn’t have time to deal with the customer behavior issues these employees face. Other evidence presented to me indicates this (in part) prompted by a consistent lack of leadership from the number one leader, who is on their way out the door and as such appears to be treading water until their exit.

Leaders interested in preventing a situation like this should be asking their people what’s keeping them from getting their work done. That’s not the same as “Why aren’t you getting your work done”, or “Why aren’t you getting enough work done?”, or similar questions that won’t yield the right answers.

Questions like “What obstacles consistently come up that impede your work?” and “What work that’s outside of your role / authority is falling to you and/or is creating a situation that’s keeping you from being as effective as you want to be?” not only make it clear you aren’t asking about work output, but that you’re looking for environmental and process-related clues. You want to find out what’s getting in the way of their work and what’s taking time away from the work your team knows they’re accountable for. That’s part of what you’re accountable for.

Some leaders won’t ask

Unfortunately, some leaders won’t ask these questions. As employees, you have to try the chain of command. It’s the right thing to do and it’s what your leaders deserve, until it doesn’t work. It’s what you would expect of your team in the same situation. Still, it doesn’t work.

If you’ve made a legitimate effort to communicate these problems up the chain of command and the situation continues, then you have at least three choices.

  • Get over it. It’s possible that leadership knows more about this than you think. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask leadership to help you understand their decision so that your concern about it can be abated. They may have more data / context than you. Some of it may involve information that cannot be shared, but there is almost always a way to explain a decision to allay the team’s concerns.
  • Leave. Choose other employment / retire / start your own company.
  • Break the chain of command. Skip over a level or two of the chain of command and explain why you’re doing so when you report your concerns, making sure to be clear that you’ve already (perhaps repeatedly) attempted to use the chain of command. How you approach this makes all the difference. It must be clear (and true) that your concerns are for the good of the company and that you’re reporting these concerns because you don’t see any alternative. This can’t be about a class of personalities or egos. Again as in the first option, you need to be aware that you might simply be wrong or not have all the information needed to understand the situation.

Situationally aware

Leaders, all this is on you. your employees can only do so much, because there are some of you who will ignore them. Others will lose their mind with anger when they go around you because they felt they had no choice. You’re the one who may fire somebody who goes around the chain of command because your chain of command isn’t working. Employees know that. And yet, they will risk telling you anyway because the good of the company is that important to them.

You should consider that before you decide it’s a good idea to fire the people who had the gumption to tell you about something that’s not working.

Leadership isn’t an innate skill we magically wake up with. It’s learned. In fact, your team is learning it from you every day. Is your behavior a good instructor?

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Categories
Leadership

Leadership & change

We spend a lot of time talking about things you can do to make sure that your business is around next year, or a few years from now. It’s a continuous effort. Still, things change and will keep changing, of course. That may seem like an almost silly comment to make, but the thing is, it’s not just aspects of your business that change. The nature of change itself is changing. Not only the nature of those changes, but the speed of the changes as well as how fast the rate of change changes. That’s what can sneak up on you.

Pulling Gs

That “how fast the rate of change changes” thing may be a bit of a hair puller. What we’re talking about is the difference between speed (how fast something is moving) and acceleration (how fast a moving object’s speed is increasing). To put it in more familiar terms, think about how a car or plane accelerate or turn. Their change in direction is measured in “Gs” – ie: G-forces. A single G is the force we all feel from the earth’s gravity. A car might be going 40 miles an hour at a moment in time, but it might be accelerating at a rate that causes the driver to experience multiple Gs.

Most people don’t get the opportunity to handle more than a G or two. Why? Outside of roller coasters, multiple Gs are usually experienced only by professional race drivers and pilots. Think about any scene that you’ve seen in a movie or TV show where a novice flier is a passenger in a fighter jet. In most of these situations, the pilot is asked to have a little “fun” with the novice flier and make some high G-force turns. The novice flier doesn’t take that very well. After training and time experiencing multiple Gs, their mind and their body will figure it out and they’ll get used to it. That works for G-forces and for the pace of change.

Change at the office

The difficulty of dealing with multiple Gs is high. It’s not for everyone. The increasing pace of change is a growing challenge for owners, managers, and teams.

Think about your industry and what’s changed in the last five years, and consider how fast that change has occurred. Now compare that pace to the pace and volume of change in the 15 year period prior to that.

More things have changed in the last five years than changed in the prior 15. If you look back another couple of decades, you’ll see the same thing. Lots of things changed from 1980 to 2000. But as you got closer to 2000, the changes accelerated. As you came closer to 2010, the speed of change continued to increase. Dealing with this as a leader is your challenge and responsibility.

The issue?

The challenge of the ever-increasing pace of change is the same topic we discuss in other contexts all the time: Leadership.

The leadership in most companies and governments (large and small, at all levels) is not keeping up. If you look at how companies are being managed, many managed as they were 10 or 20 years ago. To be sure, it’s great that they’re still open after that long. It’s not a small accomplishment. I don’t mean to say that management a decade or three in the past was wrong, poor, etc. I’m simply saying that things move quicker than ever today. Preparing for, researching, and managing change was a substantial senior leadership responsibility a few decades ago. Today, this task is tougher than ever.

Your ability to keep up is critical to being here for another 10 or 20 years. You’ve also got to help your managers stay on top of whatever is changing in your market. It isn’t something you can set aside for years (or even months in some markets). Work it into your plans. You don’t necessarily have to adopt every change, but you do need to be aware of them and form a strategy to either adopt or otherwise deal with them.

While I don’t generally comment on political topics, these issues obviously confound governments as well. Drones, cybersecurity, the gig economy, and the internet in general stick out as obvious examples of areas where governments have struggled to deal with change. There are others – not all related to internet topics. Ask plenty of questions of your candidates.

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Categories
Leadership Management Project Management

Make a game plan, then work it

We’ve been mulling change, prioritization, and getting important tasks done. It’s time to get serious before the holidays distract you. When they’re over, having a ready-to-start game plan will help you get a solid start on the new year. Question is, what should be on your game plan?

Big rocks

We’ve all probably heard the story about putting the big rocks in the jar before adding pebbles, sand, & water.

The story resonates because we remember a time when we left the big rocks till later & then disappointed someone by missing a deadline, or being unable to fulfill a commitment.

These disappointments, failures or what have you often happen at least in part because we didn’t deal with the big rocks first. Old news for Covey followers, but worth a reminder when making a game plan.

A game plan of three things

I suggest starting with three big tasks. Looking at the list of tasks you want to accomplish in the next year, which three should have the most impactful and positive strategic result to your company over the long term?

Think about it. Discuss it with your team. Decide.

Consider the possible causes of failure. Some call this a “pre-mortem”. Make sure your game plan includes steps to defuse these issues or prevent them from becoming a problem. Think about the essential accomplishments needed to complete these tasks. Make sure everyone knows what these points are & that someone has direct responsibility to monitor them.

Painting the building may not be one of your three things, but it could be. I can recall on more than one occasion seeing a restaurant whose building had clearly been ignored for many years – and wondering if they handle food safety with the same level of care.

Up next – figure out how long these tasks will take. You need to know if your game plan is reasonable. This is not the place for fantasy.

On guesstimates

People are terrible at estimating how long a task will take. Eventually, some figure out a system for accurately estimating how long work will take because they got burned, fired, etc). This is particularly true in the technology business, but we aren’t alone.

Why is that?

We’re too optimistic about the pace we can maintain. We rarely bother to consider that we may run into an issue that we’ve not dealt with before – and the research, work (plus rework) & testing to resolve it takes time. These episodes don’t typically happen just once in a big project – which we also don’t consider.

We often discount the possibility of interruptions for urgent tasks that, while not of high importance, still must take precedence for a few hours or day. Naturally, we forget how many times this has happened based on our history, industry, team, etc.

Some folks estimate something, then “double it and add four”. Maybe that builds enough buffer into the estimate, but it’s still a wild guess with little more than gut feel to back it up. “Double/triple it” is a pretty good indication that you put insufficient thought into your estimate.

In some environments, you’ll find people will give an “instant” estimate to stop the “How long?” questioning. “You need to do this, how long will it take?” doesn’t usually have a legitimate answer when the task was unknown to you five minutes earlier. Saying “two weeks” without further introspection is simply avoiding persecution… temporarily.

It takes thought to produce a reasonably accurate estimate. This isn’t about making estimates correct to three decimal places. It’s about being reasonably close.

If you promise completion on January 15, you need to have confidence in that date from day one. If you know from the start that you’ll never make the date, don’t know if you can make it, or can only make it if everything goes perfectly – you’re asking for trouble.

Work backward

Big tasks should be broken down into pieces before you can estimate them. Starting from task completion & working backward helps us remember steps we might otherwise forget.

Estimate your list of steps. Break down steps estimated over four hours & estimate the new steps. Four hours seems extreme, but it’s a timeframe we can wrap our heads around. In your line of work, maybe it’s four days. You know where your estimation accuracy really shines.

Make a game plan. Work your plan. Get big things accomplished.

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Categories
Leadership Management Small Business

One thing to prioritize next year

As we approach the new year, you’re probably thinking of things you simply must get done for the coming year to be a big success. It’s a good bet that your “must do next year” list is long. There’s a good chance you’ll never complete it, at least not next year. Look at that list for what it is: Far more than you can get done in a year. That’s OK.

When we sit down and think about all the things we could do for our business, our team, and our customers – there will always be more things than time to do them. While we know this, it discourages us because we didn’t get it all done. To paraphrase Drucker, doing it all isn’t the important thing, doing the right things is.

Reflect & Prioritize

Last week, I mentioned your mile-long ToDo list and segued into managing the pace of change for your team to prepare for today’s discussion. Thinking about the year that’s about to end, how many major things did you get done?

Despite all that work, I’m sure you have improvements to make, new efforts to build and roll out (whatever that means for you), and other work to do. You aren’t alone. We all have a laundry list of important things to grow and improve our businesses.

When I look back on my year, I can think of two fairly major things and a longer list of less-substantial efforts. Probably forgotten is a laundry list of things that took less than a day or perhaps less than a week. I’m pondering this without looking at the system I use to manage such things. I’m sure I have forgotten medium sized projects that I now take for granted. The little things aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t the subject of this discussion. Still, there’s a massive pile of things I haven’t touched.

Sure and I have work to do

Rather than being disappointed about what you didn’t get done, appreciate what you did get done. It starts with looking at what you really can get done next year and how you’ll stay on the path.

I have 786 items in my project manager. Some small, some large. They won’t all be completed next year. Obviously, only a few are worked on at a time.

I prioritize the big things on my list on a weekly basis. The rest get reviewed monthly. Priorities / needs change for all of us. Something that was important six months ago might be irrelevant (or super critical) now. It’s rare that the most important things to complete in the next year will change, but it happens.

Your cycle of review / prioritize might be different, but it’s still needed. Imagine if next year you complete the three (or six) biggest items on your list. Today, that might seem crazy (“Crud, I have 780 to go”), but what impact will the six biggest items have? Only you know.

Yeah, but the Jones’

You may see other businesses getting a ton of new things done or perhaps more big changes than you could possibly do. Don’t think you don’t stack up, or that you aren’t as good as them. They may have more time, free capital, staff, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Don’t get trapped in the comparison thing. Remember that what you see is only part of the story. You have no idea if they’ve made unsustainable decisions to accomplish what you see them doing.

Your ToDo list will live a long time. It will grow and shrink repeatedly. There will be big things and little things. They’re important in their own context, but they aren’t the biggest thing.

While getting it all done, remember to prioritize being a better you next year than you were this year. If you need a daily reminder in your calendar to do the things that make this happen, so be it.

Challenge your team to do the same and help them get there. Show them what you’re doing to improve, even if they need to do something else. Share your struggles and successes so that they know the path isn’t without challenges. Some will need some help figuring out what that means, what to do first / next, and how to get started again after tripping up. Be a leader in that respect, whether you’re the owner or not.

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Categories
Leadership Management

Entrepreneur, self-heal thyself

Have you ever gotten to the office in the morning and found a tool missing that you were planning on using that day? It creates some frustration borne in the inability to do what you’d been planning all along. For some, it might make your work more difficult to do, or delay the finish time. For others, the inability to use a certain tool might turn your day upside down.

Time is more than money

“Time is money”, you might think. “The inability to use this tool is costing me money”, you continue, and you’d be right. Now consider the cost when your entire team is unable to work. In some businesses, you might simply send the team home. While your team isn’t getting anything done, at least they aren’t racking up hourly pay. Small victories, I suppose – but every hour they’re down (even when off the clock), your backlog is growing. Customers who are depending on an on-time delivery based on work you intended to have done today might also find themselves in a pinch. It might be a pretty big deal.

It’s possible that the inability to use a tool in your business today could cost your customer(s) business. They might lose a strategic moment, a customer, or a valuable employee who simply decides they’ve had enough of the frustrating inability to do the work they love.

Do you want to be the vendor putting customers in that situation?

Customers aren’t the only ones

It feels like it might be worse if you do this to a customer. If the impact is solely internal and isn’t detectable by your customers, your team will just have to deal with it. Still, it has a cost. In frustration. In time. In “Really? this machine / tool / system is down AGAIN?”.

At some point, your team is going to lose patience. If the problem is bad enough or happens with enough frequency, you could lose key staff members. The folks you depend on most are likely to be the ones frustrated first. They’re the ones who may have the least tolerance for the working conditions caused by outages or downtime. They’ll perceive these issues as a lack of professionalism, or a lack of concern for their career or ability to make differential pay, or whatever. They simply won’t put up with it at some point.

Dial tones

Remember when you never doubted that when you picked up the phone, you’d hear a dial tone. If you’ve never had a landline, think of it as you do your expectation for electricity or running water. While those things do occasionally have problems, your expectation is that they will always be there.

That’s where notification of problems is helpful, but notification doesn’t make things significantly better. Imagine if you got a text message at 6:45am telling you that all the roads in and out of your town would be closed for 72 hours. Or a text that says “Sorry, no electricity until next Thursday“. Sure, it’s nice to know, but without a correction on the way, your day just got turned upside down.

If your internet is down too often and the vendors available to you are limited, are you going to choose one and simply tolerate the cost of downtime? Why not choose two or more who aren’t dependent on the same infrastructure? It may cost a bit more, but so does a few hours (or worse, days) of downtime.

Self-healing

Notification is old news. If a system can monitor systems, assets, working conditions (etc) and notify you of availability problems, why stop there? Why not enable these systems to correct the problem? Can your systems be setup to repair a failing systems, restart it, automatically dispatch service people, etc?

These issues should be part of your risk assessment. If power outages are a frequent thing, you’re need to weigh the cost / benefit of uninterruptible power supplies, a generator, or some other solution. If machinery / tool breakdowns are a significant impact, should you have spares on site? Can you work out an arrangement to have temporary replacements provided / rented? If there is a possibility of contention for rented resources, can you pay extra to make sure your needs take priority, get delivered first, etc?

Your team, your business partners, and your customers see your systems, equipment, & infrastructure as an extension of you. If they can’t depend on those things to be in place and working, they can’t depend on you.

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Categories
Employee Training Leadership Management

Mental errors

So, this past weekend my alma mater’s football team visited Tuscaloosa. As with most guests of the University of Alabama football team, they came away with a loss. Despite losing by 41, it could have been worse. Really it could. The score didn’t really bother me – I mean, seriously – we’re talking about an unranked team vs the top ranked team in the country. We knew it was going to be ugly.

Coaching?

Even when you “know” your team is going to be clobbered, there are two things you don’t want to see. In fact, I spoke with a sportscaster friend from college about it shortly before kickoff. I mentioned that I’d like to see four quarters of motivated play, ie: no appearance of quitting or giving up, and four quarters without a bunch of stupid mistakes – ie: mental errors. Fortunately, we didn’t see the team giving up late in the game, despite a 40+ point deficit. Mental errors, however, were a problem.

We don’t generally expect major college athletes to commit mental errors week-in and week-out. If they’re a problem in a game, it happens, and you expect the coaching staff to spend some of the ensuing week’s training time to address them. It speaks to a coaching problem when these things happen repeatedly, particularly in consecutive games.

On two consecutive kickoff returns, two different kickoff returners made back to back junior high school football level errors – stepping out of bounds at the two yard line pursuing a ball they’d deflected, and catching a ball heading out of bounds inside the 10 yard line (rather than simply letting it go and getting it at the 20 yard line). Neither player appeared to be aware of their location on the field. I can’t recall the last time I saw this egregious an error of that type at the major college level, much less on consecutive kickoffs. It may not have affected the outcome this time, but it would against a different opponent. Unfortunately, these were not the only two mental errors – they’re simply the easiest ones to describe.

In a football game, you expect mental errors due to nervousness, fear, a pressure-filled situation, fatigue, and/or a lack of preparation. When you are down by 24 in the early first half, about all that’s left is the lack of preparation option. To me, that speaks directly to coaching. At this point in his tenure, there’s already the drumbeat of replacement – so fixing the preparation is essential. You can’t replace your team with better players (or players who fit better into your system) in the middle of the college season, but you can significantly impact their preparation. If you don’t, a lot of other things will likely go badly.

A tie to business?

Of course, there’s a connection to business. The situation speaks directly to hiring well, on-boarding, continuing education, mentoring, management, and leadership. Those things aren’t enough to eliminate mental mistakes, but they certainly help. The preparation that we didn’t see evidence of in last weekend’s game We all make mental mistakes in business situations.

The strategies that reduce or eliminate mental mistakes during the business day are the same ones as in football. Coaching, training, mentoring, and practice are all a part of preparation. Any one of them will not do the job. For example, you can stand at the front of the room and teach people, but until they get out in the field and do what they were trained to do, it’s extremely unlikely they will perform at a high level. Even when they do, practice and mentorship is essential.

An easy example? Your sales team. Some members of your team may not enjoy practicing sales calls with other staffers, or going over recordings of sales calls with a manager or an experienced, successful salesperson – but both practices have proven useful to developing expert salespeople.

It’s on the leader

While the team members are the ones making the mistakes, the responsibility rests largely with the leader. They set the tone and performance expectations, while deciding how much preparation of their team (or their staff) is enough.

Business leaders are all under some sort of deadline. Coaches can’t put off next Saturday’s game. Both have to field the team they have each day or each week. Both are responsible for making sure their teams are well-prepared. What can you do with your team to make sure they are better prepared for their next effort?

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Categories
Employees Leadership Management

Do small teams need good leadership?

Smaller companies are seldom known for having good (or even great) leadership. This isn’t because small companies don’t have great leaders. Instead, it’s because they are rarely discussed. Someone might talk about the business owner with four employees whose home-grown consulting business is doing good work and growing steadily. But do we hear about her being an amazing leader? Not often. It could lead you to believe that very small businesses don’t need good leadership. Don’t fall for it.

Are YOU a great (or good) leader?

At this point, you might be wondering if you’re a good leader. It isn’t solely about having a good relationship with your staff. One way to see how effective your leadership is, is to leave the office. Does the office work better when you’re gone? Does the office get less done when you’re gone? Do the wheels fall off when you’re gone?

Some teams get more done when their leader is out of the office because the leader is a distraction. This usually takes the shape of interrupting the team frequently to check on project statuses. Sometimes it goes a bit further. If your people are regularly being asked questions about work you know they have the expertise to do, you’re probably micromanaging them.

Does your team understand the big picture? If a stranger asked them what their company does, would they represent the company as you’d hope? Would they describe the company in terms of their job? Would they describe the company in terms of the good they do and how they help their customers?

Does each team member understand why their work is critical to the day-to-day success of the company? Do they understand how less than ideal performance in their department impacts other departments and the overall success of the company? Do they know exactly what they are responsible for? Not “Oh, I’m sure they do”, but “Yes, they have specific deliverables, duties, and expected outcomes for each day, week, month.” Are these things discussed regularly with each team member?

Get rid of the gaps

If you’ve decided that you need to get better at leading your team – what’s the next step? Go back over the previous section. Become a much better communicator. Leave nothing to assumptions, which doesn’t mean “Be a nag.”

You might be thinking “My people know what they are supposed to do.” That might be the case, but the truth is probably different. I suspect if you sit down with each member of your team and discuss your specific expectations, there’s going to be some gaps between what you expect and what they think you expect. Is that fair to them? Does it serve you and the company well?

If you find yourself frustrated with a team member, think specifically about what’s frustrating you. Are you absolutely, positively sure that they know they should be doing whatever you’re frustrated about? Are you sure that they know exactly what your expectations are? “They should know”, you might think. If you’ve haven’t explicitly told them, they might have the wrong idea entirely. They might not even realize how critical a seemingly minor expectation is because you haven’t explained how their work fits into the big picture. Rather than stew about it, take a minute to discuss it with them.

Make sure your expectations match their understanding of the job. Be sure they understand how their work fits into the entire process. Make sure every department knows *exactly* what is expected of them. If even one of your expectations are unstated, that can fester into a bad situation. Unstated assumptions can kill a company.

Water that garden

If you plan to grow, you need to cultivate the crops you’ve planted. It’s no different with your staff. As your team grows, someone (probably multiple someones) are going to stand out as up and coming leaders for your team. The point is, this isn’t solely about your leadership skills. Your ability to grow leaders and get out of the way is key to your company’s future growth.

As you grow, I guarantee the team will eventually outgrow your ability to manage it. People who have studied leadership and management in the real world will usually quote numbers from five to fifteen direct reports as the limit of the number of people a single person can manage effectively. Don’t wait until things get crazy to make a move.

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Categories
Entrepreneurs Leadership Productivity

Doing it faster, but poorly?

In today’s busy times, we’re always trying to create that little bit of extra time to get one more thing accomplished. Seldom is this item one more strategically critical task, mind you. In most cases, it’s simply one more thing because somehow we got the idea that we’re not doing enough things. No matter that we’re doing 100 things poorly – the focus is often on reaching 100.

Hearing or listening

Podcasts and audio books are a good example of this. We listen to podcasts at double speed so they don’t take as long. We listen at that speed under the illusion that we’re getting more done. This, despite the cartoonish voices and the almost certainly reduced comprehension. That way, we can listen to more of them. Or listen to them again because we didn’t really get anything out of them. We listen to more of them on the same topic because we’re struggling to absorb what we might get out of any one of them if we weren’t focused on how many we listen to and how fast.

Does it matter that you listened to 30 audio books last year if you didn’t get anything out of them? Or half of them? Obviously, audio isn’t the culprit, the same could be said for books, newspapers, blogs, or research papers. We sometimes forget that getting anything done well is better than getting that thing done faster and poorly. There is, of course, that “done is better than perfect” thing, but even “done” should have some context.

Years ago, a friend who owned several franchise locations of a fast food restaurant replied to some good natured ribbing from one of this friends who chided him that his restaurants made a lot of mistakes at the drive through window. He said “I don’t pay them to get every order right. I pay them to get the orders done quickly.” It’s a good example. Do you mind if you waited in line for five minutes if your order is right? Or would it be ok to wait in line for two minutes and frequently have your order wrong?

How is that different than whatever you’re rushing through today?

It takes an unbelievable amount of energy to resist reality.

Jim Dethmer

Advice from an old guy – and those around you

No, I wasn’t referring to me. Back in the ’60s, Earl Nightingale sold a ton of his book “The Strangest Secret” on albums. Yes, vinyl records. Some of the book revolved around his thought “Watch what everyone else does–do the opposite. The majority is always wrong.“, which I suspect rolled downhill from G. K. Chesterton’s “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.

While advice like this can be less useful when lived as a hard and fast rule, it has plenty of value. The real root of it is to understand the benefit of taking the time to be observant of the behaviors of those who are, and aren’t successful. What you won’t likely see from the most successful people you know is that they’re cramming more and more into their life. It may seem like it because they are doing different things than you are – and that has the appearance that they’re simply capable of doing it all.

They aren’t.

The difference is that they make a deliberate decision to remove unimportant things from their lives (like “Big Brother” or “Survivor”) so that room is created for the things that are important to them. They subtract, rather than add. Subtracting unimportant things from their lives creates the space that they fill with the things you think you can’t possibly make time for.

Do be careful while observing these folks and selectively extracting lessons to improve your own life and business. Don’t compare your life to theirs. The difference doesn’t matter, and the difference is never what you think it is because you never know the whole story – just like those who have judged you don’t know your whole story.

Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.

Alison Beere

You’re unlikely to make your bucket of life more full by cramming more things into it. Be fiercely selective about what you let in.

Categories
Business model Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Small Business

Small Business Scorecard

I’ve long focused on helping businesses one on one, by choice. From time to time, I’ve considered mechanisms (other than my writing) that provide help in a group setting. Ideally, this would let me help more people while not drastically increasing the time required to do so. Typically, this means holding webinars, group coaching, masterminds, ie: “one to many” events. This piece is intended to fill some of the gap between one-on-one help and one-to-many help, at least for now.

How we get help differs

When it comes to seeking help, business owners appear many forms. Some repeatedly seek help from people, books, and other resources. Others tend to accept help about specific topics, or when a resource is recommended to them by a trusted friend. Some read or listen to many sources of help / advice, but are pretty choosy about the things they implement. Some seek no help at all – and this group seems to be broken down into a group that knows they need the help but never take action, and another segment that simply figures it out on their own (or doesn’t).

Efficient learning varies from person to person. Some prefer reading, while others learn / retain more from audio, video, pictures and/or diagrams. Some people prefer brief information, others tend to consume “long reads” or extensive, highly detailed video. This time around, I decided to take a self-guided approach. I’d appreciate feedback on how effective the scorecard is for you – and why.

How the scorecard works

I’m calling this a scorecard, but the goal is not to arrive at a number and think “We got a 74, so we’re doing fine as is.” It’s more of a self-assessment & introspection tool. You’ll find statements about how things work in your business. You’ll agree with some. Others will have you thinking “That’s definitely not us.” If a seemingly-negative item on the list doesn’t pertain to you, cross it off. Look at the items you circled / checked as “yep, this is us” as a milestone on the way to a stronger company. Some may need recurring attention.

Marketing

  • Our marketing is completely automated across all media, digital or otherwise.
  • Our marketing is strictly digital. We don’t make sales calls, send US Mail, visit prospects, have prospects visit us, and we don’t go to trade shows.
  • Our marketing is strictly organic. We don’t advertise, other than having a website.
  • We test new ads against our ad that performs the best.
  • We market our work consistently.
  • We spent ad money effectively.
  • We have data that tells us what works and what doesn’t, marketing-wise.
  • Our marketing is executed based on a plan or marketing calendar.
  • We collect information about people who show an interest in our products / services.
  • On a regular basis, we reach out to people who have shown an interest in us. We send offers as well as useful information that will help them make a purchase decision.
  • In marketing dollars, we know how much it costs to get a highly-qualified lead.
  • In marketing dollars, we know our lead cost on each type of media.
  • For each of the media we use for marketing (radio, tv, newspaper, direct mail, various internet options), we keep track of lead quality, lead volume, and ad investment.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We use our lead cost to drive decisions about ad purchases – including internet ad options.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend when the market is tight.
  • We don’t really advertise with any consistency. You might say it’s driven by which ad salespeople call on us.
  • In our market, expertly-done marketing has ceased to become an edge. Everyone in our market is a good marketer.
  • We decrease our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • Most companies in our market are spray-and-pray marketers.
  • Some companies in our market are haphazard or random marketers, but there are some that we’d consider experts. They spend ad money effectively.
  • We increase our marketing efforts / spend in good times.
  • We’re one of the haphazard / random marketers.
  • We’re one of the more effective marketers in our market.

Operations

  • It feels like things “fall apart” a little when critical people leave, or are out of the office.
  • When the owner or manager are gone for the day, things seem more productive.
  • When a team member is gone, it’s easy to deal with their workload because we’ve been cross trained.
  • When someone is out of the office, it can be a little tough, but we have written process / procedures documentation to help us get the work done.
  • We rarely / never have to contact someone who’s out of the office to ask them how to do something, or to get online and help us deal with this or that.
  • When our front desk takes order / job status calls, they have to call back into the shop to get someone to tell them what’s up with an order / job.
  • We sometimes run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • It’s common for us to contact someone who’s out of the office because we need help dealing with something they do.
  • Customers can tell when a critical employee is on sick, off that day, or vacation.
  • When a customer contacts us to find out the status of a job / order, any employee can easily and quickly find the info and pass it to the customer.
  • Customers can’t tell when a critical employee is out of the office.
  • We never run out of the supplies / raw materials we need to do our work.
  • We use a system to track and manage our tasks / work.

Business model

  • Our products / services are one-off. We don’t make something once and sell it multiple times.
  • Once we make tooling, we can make and sell the same item repeatedly.
  • We sell services on a subscription basis.
  • The business doesn’t generate income when the owner isn’t working.
  • We serve a vertical (narrow) market.
  • We sell products and service them, so ongoing reputation is critical to get returning customers.
  • If we’re not on the job and billing hours, we’re not generating revenue.
  • We serve a horizontal (wide) market.
  • Our market has already been disrupted / is difficult to disrupt.
  • Once created, our services have a marginal COGS so we can make something and sell it repeatedly.
  • Our customers pay us each month. We deliver / replenish consumable products / services.
  • Our market could easily be disrupted.
  • We provide customers with a service infrastructure.

Staffing

  • We’re always understaffed.
  • We have trouble keeping people, but they don’t tell us why they leave.
  • We have trouble keeping people. They tell us why they leave, but we can’t or won’t do anything about the things they mention.
  • Customers can’t tell when an employee is brand new.
  • Our people rarely do things together outside of work.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because we’re careful to find people who fit our existing team.
  • Customers can tell when an employee is brand new.
  • We have trouble keeping people. We’re not sure why.
  • Few of our first line managers are familiar enough with the line employees’ work to take over for them in a pinch.
  • It takes a long time for us to hire someone because candidates are hard to find.
  • We’re overstaffed, but our workloads vary wildly so we don’t want to shrink the size of our staff.
  • Our team is a family – they frequently do fun / family / activities together outside of work.
  • Our first line managers could easily handle the work our line employees do, if they needed to.
  • We tend to promote from our existing staff.
  • We rarely promote from our existing staff.
  • Our team tends to be swamped one week, and might be sitting around with nothing do the next week.
  • Most of our team members are easily replaceable.
  • We have employees who have been here for many years.

Sales

  • Our sales team says they never have enough leads.
  • The sales team feels our leads are properly qualified when they get them.
  • Customers and prospects comment that our sales team was useful in helping them make a purchase decision.
  • Salespeople often comment that they’re getting leads who aren’t suitable for our products / services.
  • Our pipeline is difficult to confidently predict more than a couple of weeks out.
  • We have quotas, but we aren’t involved in deciding what they should be.
  • We close an acceptable-to-us percentage of sales when we have a highly-qualified lead.
  • I feel confident when I give a solid lead to one of our salespeople.
  • We have sales quotas – and we’re involved in determining those numbers.
  • We’re constantly under pressure to make quota – and we know it’s because the company’s cash flow is precariously low.
  • We get very few complaints about our sales team.
  • Finance is always bugging us to give them pipeline information, but we can’t consistently tell them anticipated revenue more than a week or two in advance.
  • Our sales team has an experienced leader.
  • It’s not unusual to get comments that our sales team is pushy.
  • Finance really appreciates that we can give them dependable sales pipeline info 30-60 days in advance, so they can depend on revenue in advance of receiving it.
  • Sometimes people send in feedback saying our sales team is more interested in closing a sale than they are about helping customers decide on a purchase.
  • We have more leads than our sales team can handle, but not all of them are well-qualified.
  • Our sales quotas feel like impossible expectations rather than achievable goals based on lead flow.
  • Our sales team is lead by the salesperson who usually sells the most.
  • We have more highly-qualified leads than our sales team can handle.
  • We believe that our product / service makes a significant improvement in the lives of our customers and as such, it is our obligation to offer it to as many qualified prospective customers as possible.
  • Our sales team easily handles all the leads we give them. They keep asking for more.
  • Most days/weeks/months, our sales team can handle the leads assigned to them.

Management / Leadership

  • You can ask any of our employees what motivates us as a company, or “What’s our why”. They all know.
  • Our people are an investment in our business.
  • We have to constantly watch our people to keep them working.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here – and it’s worked great for years.
  • Our people feel like a cost / expense.
  • Sometimes new employees have to wait to get a phone, desk, computer, tools, or a space in the shop. Those things aren’t always / usually available on their first day.
  • Employees know what our company long and short term goals are.
  • We’re an open book company.
  • Our managers are all family members who learned to manage here. I think the company would positively benefit from an experienced leader.
  • We don’t share any financial performance information with our people.
  • When a new employee get to their desk / work station / shop station on their first day, they have everything they need to get to work.
  • We have a 401K.
  • Team members don’t seem to connect their work with the company’s goals.
  • It takes new employees a few weeks / months to get their act together and become effective.
  • We routinely discuss the importance of 401K participation in our employees’ future.
  • Our financial performance is none of our employees’ business.
  • Any good manager could join us, learn our business, and be effective here.
  • Only our family can manage this business.
  • Our employees understand what makes our business profitable and sustainable.
  • New employees often comment about how good / refreshing our on-boarding process is.
  • We encourage our employees to educate themselves and offer ongoing training as well.

Finance

  • We know where the funds for our next payroll will come from.
  • We’re always on top of the required state and Federal reports related to employees and such.
  • Sometimes we have to pay our invoices late, but it’s not an every month thing.
  • We get paid late by our customers and it creates issues for us.
  • We don’t have receivables.
  • Our payables are always behind.
  • We never have any issues with state or Federal tax returns or deposits.
  • We’re always on top of tax returns.
  • If sales could deliver dependable pipeline numbers for the next quarter, our finance problems would disappear.
  • The owner / management hates accounting.
  • We’re always up to date on tax deposits.
  • We’re not very good at managing the company’s finances.
  • We tend to be late on tax returns. Sometimes we have to pay a penalty.
  • Managing our finances is one of our superpowers. We suspect we’re better at this than many other companies.
  • We tend to be late on tax deposits. Sometimes we are charged penalties / interest.
  • We do all our own bookkeeping and accounting / tax work.
  • Debt is an important ingredient in our ability to grow.
  • We do our own bookkeeping, but we have a professional handle the taxes and related paperwork.
  • We outsource bookkeeping.
  • We’re focused on eliminating debt for the long term, even though we know it may slow us down from time to time.
  • We have a professional handle taxes and related paperwork.
  • Our “numbers” drive strategic decisions.

Systems

  • We understand that “systems” might include automation, but also may include manual systems – such as checklists, documented work processes, job descriptions, manufacturing reviews, and similar items.
  • New employees learn our systems as they learn their job.
  • We’re gradually systemizing parts of our business.
  • None of our systems are “perfect”, but our imperfect systems save time, keep us on track, and help us avoid missed steps.
  • There’s one person who knows it all on our systems, but that’s it.
  • As an owner, I ask myself “Whose job is this?” every time a piece of paper crosses my desk.
  • Our systems are a strategic advantage. They make our work safer and more consistent. They help us produce a more consistent outcome for our customers.
  • We routinely review our systems with feedback from the people who use them. Reviews drive upcoming system improvements.
  • The nature of our business requires that we invent most or all systems ourselves.
  • We don’t have anything we’d call “automation” but we’re definitely a systemized business.
  • We have several team members working together to know, improve, and manage our systems.
  • Over time, we train new employees on all the company’s systems so that they help in any area if someone is out.
  • We understand that automation / systems can be leveraged in any part of our business, from management to finance to manufacturing, sales, and/or marketing.
  • We’re using systems and ideas that others have refined over time.
  • Systems (and particularly automation) are something we need in order to keep up with competitors. If we didn’t have to, we’d use as few as possible.
  • Our systems have been in place for years. We rarely change them.
  • Our systems are very close to ideal. We’ve worked hard to get there.
  • Our systems are difficult to change.
  • Our systems are a mix of commonly-known systems from experts and systems specific to our industry and/or business.
  • We train new employees on all the systems in their area.
  • Adding new systems to our work is easy.
  • It’s difficult getting new systems into our workflow.
  • When we hire people. we look for experience in systemized businesses and experience with systems like ours.
  • If we find job candidates with experience with systems unlike ours, we consider this useful as we might gain an edge from that differing background.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Hiring Leadership Management

Where to find tech candidates from underrepresented groups

Earlier this week, someone asked on a local Slack group about where they could find a more diverse set of candidates for a tech job opening vs. what they might find at the standard “big” job sites (Indeed, Monster, etc). The job sounds ideal. Good company, almost everyone working remote, Kubernetes expertise needed (ie: not stale technology).

I reworded the question a little and passed it along on Twitter. The response was pretty decent, so I thought I’d document it here in case readers have a similar desire to expand their reach when seeking out candidates. The responses below are in the order I received them and link to the author’s tweet in case you have questions, comments, etc. As I receive additional replies, I’ll add them here.

Note: A reader pointed out that there is a significant recruiter fee to place a job ad on techladies, so be a good consumer and read the fine print as the reader did.

Update: 2019-08-07: An AWS-related grant passed by me, so here’s the details: https://reinvent.awsevents.com/community/we_power_tech_grant/