Viewing entries in
Employees

Comment

Fences . . . Make Good Employee Relations.

Wikipedia Fence

Wikipedia Fence

New Manager . . . and a conundrum

Ever had an employee whose motivation--and their subsequent behavior left you . . . puzzled? Have you struggled to find ways to communicate with them, encourage them, even motivate hem to succeed?  Ever given up on an employee?  At some level, most people who perform well enough to be given the responsibility of leadership expect other employees to act like they do—seek out and perform in a responsible way. When those people do not respond in this way, it can cause confusion for the new leader.

I remember an employee I supervised when I was a young manager.  This employee perplexed me.  They were, after all, a professional, with a degree, a license, years of schooling and extensive experience. In my “armchair assessment,” I believed that they were competent in their work and, on a human level, I liked them personally. But one thing persistently was a problem with this employee. They simply could not complete their paperwork. Now this, I realize, is not an uncommon problem in health care.  In fact, I had already experienced professionals who had trouble getting their paperwork done.

I had experienced already, in my short career, employees that had been put on “improvement plans,” given warnings, or their paperwork addressed through continuous quality improvement programs. Most managers, I believe, have at least one employee they have to consistently monitor and remind about their paperwork in my profession. (Perhaps this problem is exacerbated in the helping professions where "doing paperwork" is often viewed as taking away time from "helping people.") But in this particular employee’s case, even compared to other helping professionals, it was extreme.

I sort of thought I understood what the problem was.  The paperwork that was completed, upon inspection, was done to an extreme level of detail. Where my "average" professional would give me a treatment plan with three goals each having two or three objectives each.  This professional's plans had 8-12 goals with as many as 20 objectives under each one! I would have been overwhelmed, dreaded starting such a big task, and probably lagged behind and I surmised that this individual needed some external "motivation" to help them get caught up.  My method, of course, would be to encourage, communicate, and partner with the professional to get this accomplished.

I made efforts to try and communicate and reinforce elements that could fix the problem.  We reviewed the treatment planning process and I emphasized you should have no more than 3 goals with 2-3 objectives. I tracked and reported to each and every professional what paperwork they had outstanding and when it was due. I personally met with this tardy professional and discussed the need to get the paperwork caught up. When this did not fix the problem, I mandated no more than 3 goals and 9 objectives. Nothing worked. the paperwork was not getting completed, I felt stuck.

Of course, not all managers focus on the same things. As a manager, my natural tendency is to try and create "emotional ties and warm connections" in my work groups; the focus of this style is on building consensus, providing support, and valuing openness.  It is what William Schutz (creator of the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation Instrument or the FIRO-B) called "Affection" which he contrasted with a managerial need to express "control" or "inclusion."  Since my attempts at creating a consensual response to "getting caught up" was not working, I had to look to other ways of expressing this managerial need.

Relationships and Leading

Before telling you how developing fences or boundaries helped in this situation, I want to draw a connection to the type of leadership that might benefit the most from this construct. 

Developing strong fences, and defending those fences, is, I think, an element of expressing control. In Schutz’s definition control is not “being controlling” in the sense of bullying, dominating, or playing psychological games. Healthy control is about efficiency, stability, sustainability, predictability, and good outcomes. I leader high in wanting to express control—a good practice detailed manager—will be hands on in creating systems, procedures, and will shepard the on-going activities to keep them on track. Not my preferred managerial style. Being low in Expressed Control, I want employees to be professional—show up, do the job, and have the freedom to make the job their own—these are valuesI like to “express” in working with employees. To be clear, the best employees, to me, are those that respect boundaries without being told and but strong effort into what is best for the team. But, as leaders we need to grow or become ineffective, and this was a moment where"control was now a factor that I found myself in need of deploying—or I would let this one employee’s behavior hinder the team as a whole.

BTW: Knowing a leader's preferences and identifying what they "want" and would "like to express" as a manager (with a tool like the Firo-B) helps identify common challenges this style of leader will experience.  For leaders whose managerial orientation leads them away from a "control" stance to foster an environment of inclusion and/or affection, maintaining good boundaries--fences if you will--and seeing those fences as a beneficial tool and not simply an uncomfortable or even harmful behavior is a challenge.  But, even the most affiliative manager, if he has the courage to face it, will recognize the need for control at times.

Setting Boundaries

Ultimately, this delimma led me to a follow up meeting with the professional. The purpose of the meeting being to set a boundary (establish a fence) on the paperwork issue.  I started by stating the problem (paperwork was not timely), then we established a clear target (completing the oldest treatment plan), added a timeframe (on my desk by Friday at 5 pm) and the resources to accomplish it (you can delegate or ignore other duties as needed to complete this task this one time).

The result? . . . no treatment plan on my desk by the deadline.

What I did get was a message promising to get it done ASAP.  Not good enough.  The end result was another uncomfortable second meeting.  I clarified what we had talked about the week before, asked for an explanation of why the target was not met, explained the delimma I was facing (not doing my job if I ignored this problem), and asked for input.  The professional, after this was all laid out simply said, "I'm not sure I can do this job."  My response?  A sad (remember I think in affiliative and collaborative terms) confirmation, "I'm not sure you can either." I pointed out that we were now at a point where I would have to continue take formal action ("writing up" a formal poor performance plan) and if he could not bring his performance into line with the expectations . . . that it could result in eventual termination.  

The professional chose to resign.

The fences or boundary setting succeeded (in terms of resolving the issue) where my earlier approaches had failed.  Yes, I felt bad. In my “dream world” as a young manager, I thought I would always be able to motivate, encourage and support people to success.  In the real world, it turned out that it was not all up to me. The hardest "shift" in thinking for me was to see how these fences were actually helpful to people—unidentified problems are likely to be ignored and persist. Allowing someone’s poor performance to create resentment for them among their team members and not honestly challenging the employee is, at best dishonest, and at worst, something that is anathema to most people . . “just tell me the truth” is a common value for most people.

If you are struggling with this idea of setting boundaries and the need for control, ask yourself, "How would this have ended, if I continued to simply try to encourage and motivate this employee?"  There were many possibilities, many of which were unpleasant for one or many members of the team. The team itself could continue to become increasingly angry at the underperforming peer . . . and the supervisor. Team members could “escape” the situation and resign. The employee and/or the supervisor could face potential firing for incompetence. The agency, due to the incomplete documentation and effective controls, could lose it’s accreditation due to poor performance on audits. Community funding for the program could dry up—especially if the accreditation was lost. Maybe others as well?

Boundaries and protecting people?

How did this boundary setting protect people? Several ways, including:

  • the professional avoided being fired (they resigned)

  • my role as the supervisor was not placed at risk

  • the team, who were aware of the deficiencies of their colleague, saw that the organization was serious about timeliness being an important aspect of providing our services to clients

  • the professional was able to negotiate the terms of his leaving (although completing the paperwork was a condition that had to be met)

  • the paperwork did get completed (they brought last batch in when picking up final paycheck)

  • the company was protected from liability issues, losing accreditation, funding or facing fraudulent billing accusations

  • the client was "best served" by the files containing all the necessary information for treatment, referral, or historical record purposes

Leaders need to step up and set appropriate boundaries. This also means that the leader, at times, will need to “be the boundary” or enforce the need for the fence being in place. It is a great irony that those who need to have boundaries set are the very people that do not get the need for the boundaries in many cases. Think of it like this, you don’t need a fence with a good neighbor; you need a fence with a neighbor who does not naturally respect their own, and your, boundaries. Remember, employees lie to themselves. People with boundary problems often shift the focus of the problem to something outside of themselves—thus perpetuating the problem unless stopped by something outside themselves.

New managers, especially those who want to express their leadership through terms of affection rather than control, are particularly at risk for trying to continue the tried-and-failed approaches to motivate employees that are underperforming . . . and there by, exacerbating the negative impacts on their team. Like a football team that needs to “establish the run” so they can open up the playbook and get their passing game into high gear, these leaders need to see setting and enforcing boundaries as tools that allow for, and preserve the ability to maintain, healthy relationships within their team. Only then, can the team function to it’s fullest capacity.

A P.S. for Family Business, Non-Profits, and Ecclesiatistical Bodies

This need to develop good "fences" is especially tricky when the organization or business has an emotional component beyond a typical business venture . . . partnerships, ecclesiastical bodies, non-profit service organizations, and family businesses struggle on other levels that a "typical" business venture does not. In these circumstances there is a critical need for help from professionals who understand human systems.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

Comment

Comment

Things You Don't Know . . . Broadening your View . . . and Listening . . . to Understand

The more you think you know, the less you are inclined to listen and learn.
— Bryan G. Miller

Things You Don’t Know . . . Broadening your View . . . and Listening . . . to Understand

My wife and son watching Old Faithful. We saw it “go off” three times. Once from the observation area, once from the mountain top in the background of this picture, and once through the eruption of Castle Guyser.

My wife and son watching Old Faithful. We saw it “go off” three times. Once from the observation area, once from the mountain top in the background of this picture, and once through the eruption of Castle Guyser.

Things I Know I Don’t Know

There’s a lot I don’t really understand. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that but I think in our complex world it is true for everyone. Take geysers for example. I can listen to an explanation (which I did several times at recent “Ranger talks” at Yellowstone National Park and understand the basic principles of geyser “mechanics” . . . but really understand it? No, not really. But then again, even the Rangers note that the experts have trouble predicting most geyser activity and not understanding some elements of the phenomenon . . . so I feel—slightly—better.

Side note: In 1973, my maternal grandmother, from Valdosta, Georgia, traveled to Nebraska and accompanied us to Yellowstone for vacation. Since then, I have returned to the National Park twice, with the last time being this summer. Yellowstone, if you have not visited, is a world-class attraction. Visitors come from all over the globe, in fact this last time I heard more languages and dialects in two days there then I have experienced in any other single place—even while traveling Europe. Being around people—just like your own family—who have markedly different cultural expectations for personal space, social mannerisms, communication patterns, among others, makes for an interesting study of the effects of your own culture and your own personal assumptions. But, that’s another post, now back to things I don’t understand . . .

Managers are Tasked with Understanding People—Do they really get it?

There are also other things, more understandable, that I don’t really fully comprehend. For example . . . protecting yourself from a bear attack. Yellowstone literature, signage, and it’s staff were replete with information . . .

If you spot a bear, keep 100 yards away; If closer, back away, slowly. Don’t run! If the bear approaches, use your bear spray. If the bear charges, fight back. If the bear stocks you, play dead—but only if the bear is a grizzly never play dead with a black bear. (Oh, BTW not all grizzly’s a tawny colored and not all black bears are black!). If the bear continues to approach you, fight back. And this last one gave me pause . . . If the bear attacks you in your tent, fight back. What? No backing away slowly? Really fight back? What other option is there? Probably didn’t help my sarcastic attitude that we were sleeping in a tent and I didn’t like the implication.

I should have bought stock in bear spray! Here is my, unused can, safely back in Nebraska. Where I can guard myself from raucous raccoons and, of course those coyotes—without looking for rocks! (see below)

I should have bought stock in bear spray! Here is my, unused can, safely back in Nebraska. Where I can guard myself from raucous raccoons and, of course those coyotes—without looking for rocks! (see below)

In Nebraska, almost no one—except perhaps in the far northwest corner—thinks about or would ever own bear spray. We in this state also are woefully lax in thinking about hurricane preparedness, forest fire prevention, or building for earth quakes. Most of us colluding identify a “circle hook” or have ever seen the halibut it is designed to catch. Yet each and every one of these things is critical somewhere to someone.

Here is an example of what you find everywhere in the park.

Here is an example of what you find everywhere in the park.


in my opinion, as an “aside,” this one good reason to encourage travel—and a reason I promote it for my children—becoming aware of what you don’t know including the predispositions that your local culture has hard wired into your own way of thinking and behaving. Why do we stand 3-6 feet away from others? Talk in financial terms about the choice of having children? ”We can’t afford it right now.” Or expect ourselves and others to ask if we are working “hard enough” rather than working “too much?” Culture.

But People are Different!

But, “People are people!” right? Well, if we mean that their are basic commonalities among all humans . . . basic needs like eating, companionship, etc. Then, sure, People are people. But people are shaped by their experiences, the age in which they live, and a host of other things that make each one unique—just like each geyser or bear “encounter” is unique. In a way, every person is a culture of One. Things shared and not shared with others.

But what is “culture?” I would suggest that it is the product of real experiences at specific times and places in history that develop patterns of thought, behavior, and customs. Functional or dysfunctional on a larger world stage . . . it has come about due to something real.

We happened to stop by my brother-in-law/sister-in-law’s home in another part of Wyoming on our way back home. While there, they collected the memory cards from their “trail cams” on their property and we reviewed its content . . . it included pictures of a couple mountain lions, a black bear, and a moose among others. They have had a black bear on there deck and found muddy paw marks on their sliding glass door downstairs. They talked about monitoring lighting storms and finding, reporting, and helping extinguish a first fire. Living with these threats, having lived only in the midwest and south, is also something I don’t understand.

Case in point, I have never felt the need to either a) buy bear spray or b) own a hand gun. However, I know from residents of Wyoming that these are often common items carried on trips in the wilderness. I get it. A story i saw on our return from Yellowstone about a “good samaritan” that saved a family from a wolf attack in Canada by kicking the wolf drives the point home. Is “kicking” a viable defense? The next day, there was this story about a hunter getting attacked by a Mountain Lion not far from where we traveled. He drove off the mountain lion with a pocket knife but lamented that if he had brought his pistol he could have shot it in the air and perhaps avoided harming the lion. In both cases, these people were lucky. The wolf gave up and the mountain lion retreated.

(Speaking of broadening your view, listening, and understanding . . . I know some people will take offense at my mention of a gun—even though the hunter thought the gun could have prevented the attack and eventual destruction of the mountain lion. This, I think illustrates the point. Too often, we don’t want to listen. No, I don’t have a need for bear spray or a “pistol” in Nebraska—but I don’t face wolves or mountain lions! Listening doesn’t mean agreeing—perhaps there are other ways to avoid these encounters—but it does mean “wanting to understand” and not just pre-judge other’s views based on your own preconceptions. Something quite the opposite to our current political climate. Judging other’s actions based on your own presuppositions is easy. Understanding another’s experience and viewpoint—before passing judgement—requires work.)

Things They Don’t Know

On our last night in the park, we were down on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, and as we came back up to the road, a family with Mother, Father and two children—possibly middle eastern from their accent—met my son, “Did you see the coyote cross the road?” the Father asked. “No. I didn’t,” my son answered—probably wondering what the big deal was (we have coyotes in Nebraska). I followed. The Father inquired, again, of me, “Did you see the coyote"?” “No, I didn’t.” I replied. “Well, I didn’t have that” . . . he said, pointing to the bear spray on my belt . . . “so I picked up some rocks,” he stated, showing me the items in his hands. I suddenly realized that I had never thought of coyotes as a threat. Certainly not one needing the protection of bear spray or rocks!

Back home in Nebraska, we go out on late winter nights to listen to the lovely sounds of the coyotes and their new litters. We don’t take anything for “protection” and we don’t feel any risk. If you spot a coyote, they tend to “skitter away” . . . and their diminutive and normally ragged appearance is hardly threatening.

I didn’t try to explain all this to my new found “friend” at Yellowstone. In reply to his bravado—in picking up the rocks to face this unexpected threat—and bravely continuing on their path to the lake with his family, I simply said, “It’s probably a good idea.” I figured this to be true—for the family’s peace of mind even if not necessary for protection from the canid. But, perhaps his “coyote” was our “wolf?” So I did remind myself how the bear spray worked once again.

Leaders and Things they Don’t Know

The best Leaders have a good grasp on what they know, their own presuppositions due to their own experiences, and a desire to understand other’s experiences in an effort to lead the team or organization to it’s optimal performance. This is one reason that any effort on a leader’s part to better understand themselves is a good exercise! Because for the leader, their actions, their behavior and choices are the key tool of managing others.

Leaders need to remember that employee’s lie—mostly to themselves—and leaders also are at risk of believing lies about their own roles. Managing the “difficult people” is key to a manager’s success. Deciding if the employee has value or is not a right fit is a difficult, but necessary function for leaders.

The problem is . . . all these decisions are commingled with the leader’s own personality, experiences, and coping strategies. For example, one leader, who had very good insight, stated that their organization was struggling because they were trying to integrate a new team into an old one and the old team mates had all been picked for the same basic personality types—aggressive, rationale, fast decision makers—the new team had different strengths and the two groups were struggling to mesh. This leader understood that the strengths they are developed in the old group were now a barrier to integrating new team members. But many leaders could have fallen to the temptation to blame the new employees for failing to join this productive team. She didn’t, and the result was a better, more well-rounded, and even more productive team.

Often this journey to understanding can begin through an honest evaluation of who it is that the leader does not understand—those employees that most frustrate the leader. Or, another way of saying it is, “Who pushes your buttons?” This attempt at understanding is not a pass for weakness, managing by fear, or to enable the continuing of any unproductive behavior; instead, it is to help the leader determine what motivates this particular employee, analyze their relative strengths and weaknesses, determine if they can support continued growth in that employee . . . and if that employee can be a productive part of the organizational culture.

As a leader, here are some things I struggle to understand or traits that “push my buttons:” Employees or people who . . .

  • are not self-motivated

  • fearful avoidance that results in self-fulfilling failures

  • any behavior that seems disrespectful of others

  • acting in a dominant way and interpersonal tasks as a win-loss

  • lying and “selling” their integrity to rather than admitting a weakness or failure

What are your “hot buttons? How do these “issues” invite you to prejudge team members that may be different? Have you taken the time to understand their viewpoint before making a judgement about their motivation, commitment, or value to the team? Can you set aside your fear, temporarily, in order to listen and inform your decisions so as to minimize impulsive actions and steer a steady and predictable course to success.

No, this doesn’t mean to be slow to act, procrastinate on dealing with issues, or any extremes (that are just as destructive to a team), it simply means taking a moment to check your own assumptions, engage with the employee, listen well, re-check your assumptions, and then, act.

Engaging Cover Mini copy.png

Learn more . . .





Comment

Comment

Reclamation . . . part 2

Another view of some of the wood . . . notice the reclaimed shelving and original Depot floor mixed with the new quarter-sawn oak cabinets and Maple “butcher block” counter top in the foreground. Oh, yeah, then there is the Flair stove . . . made in 1964 by General Motors. But that’s another story!

Another view of some of the wood . . . notice the reclaimed shelving and original Depot floor mixed with the new quarter-sawn oak cabinets and Maple “butcher block” counter top in the foreground. Oh, yeah, then there is the Flair stove . . . made in 1964 by General Motors. But that’s another story!

Reclaiming Employees — Part 2

I recently wrote a post about reclaiming wood . . . and . . . well, retaining employees . . . valuable ones who may have some flaws. (I also shared several pictures of projects I made out of the reclaimed redwood from an old deck.) If you read that post, you know that I, for one, have learned to find value in trying to reclaim things . . . be it wood or employees. But let’s talk about what it really takes to engage in a reclamation project . . . because

Reclaiming is not the easiest path . . . if your focus is short-term solutions not quality ones.

Reclamation is not a quick or easy process! As an example, in reclaiming wood from the old deck I mentioned in the first post I had to . . .

  1. Tear apart the deck.

  2. Pull all the nails, screws, scrape off glue, etc. and cut off and discard pieces with imbedded metal.

  3. Plane the rough boards to reveal the wood underneath the weathered/stained exterior and further reveal any parts of the boards that were damaged or unusable..

  4. Carefully choose boards that would work for each project—boards that had the right length of “good wood,” ones where the knots or knot holes would not interfere, boards that matched other boards to minimize additional ripping, cross-cutting, etc.

  5. Remove rotting areas, broken spots in the board, places where the board had split, been notched, or ripped to be narrower than other boards.

  6. Re-plane, rip, and/or cross-cut then sand as necessary so the boards were be properly sized and ready to used to build the project.

Finished baton case.

Finished baton case.


Six steps to get these boards usable “like new” boards. Obviously, you wouldn’t go to this much trouble for just “any old boards”—boards that have little of no value. It’s often easier and better with “poor quality” boards to just tear out and replace. But often, people tear out old wood (or employees) that have great value and replace it with something of inferior quality. Why? Leaders may see employees as “expendable.” Either because they haven’t learned to value the older, more valuable resource or they don’t have the “know how” or tools to turn the old wood into a beautifully restored piece of usable lumber. Other leader’s just don’t want to go to the trouble because, once again, reclamation in the short term, takes more time and effort.

Years ago, I ran across a “leader” who recommended that leaders taking on a new team or organization find the one “indispensable” employee and fire them. The point being that no one is above the team or organization. I get the point. I abhor the practice. Maybe there are times where the arrogant, self-serving, “hero” types are causing so much damage to a team that getting rid of them is the only option. But, in my world, an employee once seen as ”indispensable” in the past should be given the opportunity, and tools, to change before being terminated. To do otherwise is reprehensible . . .and poor leadership.

It may “fix the problem” for the moment, but in the long-run this leadership practice will only be tolerated in environments where the leader has strong control, and incentives, over the employees. If the leader doesn’t possess this strong hold, employees will begin to undermine the leader who will have lost their respect and trust—or they will simply move on. Often this leads to s “simmering resentment” a loss of trust and an eventual “eruption”—often immediately after experiencing some sort of crisis—reduction in revenue, job injury, key employee resigning—just when the leadership needs to count on employee support.

What do you do for a door stop when you live in an old Depot? A railroad spike of course! Here’s one more use of the old redwood.

What do you do for a door stop when you live in an old Depot? A railroad spike of course! Here’s one more use of the old redwood.

The best defense is a good offense
— Jack Dempsey

Steps in reclaiming a valued employee.

So what exactly is involved in reclaiming a valuable employee?

  1. It starts with robust honest conversations and deep listening. Communication is one step that most leaders think they do well . . . and often the one they neglect the most. In woodworking you need to carefully inspect the wood. With employees you need a very rigorous process to really understand the experience of the employee. As we have demonstrated in other posts, people generally listen very poorly. Leaders are no exception. To resolve long-standing issues your understanding must go beyond the surface. You need to really “get in their shoes” and understand the territory of this particular employee. Any progress on this journey must start where the employee is now.

  2. It validates the employee’s experience but challenges them to present their best effort. Employees will change their behavior if confronted or threatened. But they will sustain those changes only if they feel understood and challenged to move toward what most of them want . . . to be their best, most successful, selves. Remember, employees tell themselves stories about themselves that my enable or exhibit their performance. Sustainable change starts where the employee is now. Leaders who generally manage and make decisions can be effective. Great leaders though inspire employees to give discretionary effort to making their teams the best.

  3. It sets clear goals. You won’t get there if you don’t know where “there” is. Don’t assume the employee knows what changes they need to make. Spell them out. An honest dialogue with a focus on the employee’s value—and the need of the team or organization to have that value realized, is critical. It is here that you can acknowledge that the employee may not want to strive to reach the goals—they may be burned out, have personal issues impending their performance, or other outside factors may influence their motivation. This is the time to determine if they need to move on or if they will engage and be a part of the reclamation process.

  4. It takes investing in time, resources, training, etc. If they are willing to focus on the challenges and goals, give some thought to what it will take for the employee to successfully become an engaged part of the team. Do they need more mentoring or coaching? A new work challenge? Reassignment/ More resources or training? Just like “cleaning up” and preparing the old boards, valuable employees need to be “prepped” for their new purpose.

  5. It requires frequent and consistent monitoring. Unlike boards, people' have complex motivations. Employees that agree to setting goals, who seem to be open to re-engaging, may through their behavior prove that they are not. Remember, employees lie. A leader needs to stay in close contact through this process. Is the employee making effort? Are they improving their fit into the team’s needs?

  6. It requires transparency from the leader. Leader’s need to model and demonstrate the behavior they want to see from the employee. Honesty, integrity, and courage to be truthful. Traits that world-wide demonstrate good and affective leadership. They need to speak “truth” meaning both highlighting the value of the employee (not playing games) and clearly defining how they are performing at any given time (timely feedback). No employee, if they are reasonably emotionally and mentally healthy, should ever be surprised by how the leader sees their performance—they should already know given the feedback they have received from their supervisor.

If a leader sees the value in trying to reclaim valuable employees, there will be some significant steps involved. The leader will need to exercise patience but also close monitor, continue to communicate, and evaluate the progress of lack of progress. Yes, they will likely have moments when the thoughts of “just buying new boards” float up in their minds. But as I mentioned in the previous post, once a leader has successfully completed a reclamation project, the leader will, themselves, have changed and will know the value of restoring old boards.




Comment

Comment

Reclamation . . . Old Wood/New Wood; or Is that employee worth it?

I love the reclaimed depot wood we put on our cabinet ends. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

I love the reclaimed depot wood we put on our cabinet ends. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

Leaders, like a builder, can choose to get new employees or work with the old ones. Employees with issues can be seen as disposable—out with the old and in with the new—or as valuable resources worth working toward reclamation.

A Change

I have found a new joy in reclaimed old wood. Old redwood to be precise. Redwood salvaged from a deck that provided the framework for a porch that had deteriorated over time. It surprises me a little bit—this joy of working with tis old wood—because I’ve always been favorably predisposed toward “new.” Maybe it’s my history of allergies. Maybe it’s laziness. But I always enjoyed building with new wood—from scratch if you will—rather than recycling something old . . . and often not being happy with the result. But now that’s all changed.

The destruction phase. If you look closely, you will see our Melodrama sign (to the extreme left) later in our shelving picture on the—mostly—completed porch.

The destruction phase. If you look closely, you will see our Melodrama sign (to the extreme left) later in our shelving picture on the—mostly—completed porch.

The Wood

It started with a tear-down-and-rebuild project. We live in an old converted train deport. An amazing amalgam of construction. One hundred year old “bones” and newer additions make up the primary building. One of the features we loved was the “four-season porch” on the back. That porch, not in great shape when we bought the property—and poorly built originally—had deteriorated to the point that it needed to be torn off completely or rebuilt. Tear off and rebuilding . . . again not my favorite. But, it had to be done. The next couple of years, with the guidance and assistance of my contractor, consisted of working on weekends on this project, and after finishing the major work with the contractor, I am still working on the finishing touches as I write.

Redwood boards. Planed and ready to use for projects! You can see the discarded metal wagon box in the background. See the redwood wagon below!

Redwood boards. Planed and ready to use for projects! You can see the discarded metal wagon box in the background. See the redwood wagon below!

The porch was built on top of a redwood deck. Well, it was partially built on a redwood deck. The builders had cobbled together a porch stoop (by the door to the right) and a deck (covering the rest of the porch)—which allowed the whole structure to settle unevenly—there was even a metal stand probing up one part!—and helped the general deterioration. We tore out the whole underlying structure, including the redwood, as part of our rebuild.

Now, if you aren’t into wood, you should know that it is expensive to buy redwood today. When I started building shelving from this wood, I priced new redwood to see how much it would cost to build one of the shelves and found that the wood, alone, would cost me close to $500 to buy new. Now that gets a guy’s attention and makes him look at the reclaimed wood in a totally new light!!

Here are some of the shelves and other Christmas projects—vase stand, and guitar neck rests. Notice the same sign in the background that was in the earlier tear-off picture. No floor yet. Finishing the walls first.

Here are some of the shelves and other Christmas projects—vase stand, and guitar neck rests. Notice the same sign in the background that was in the earlier tear-off picture. No floor yet. Finishing the walls first.

From the salvaged redwood I have built a few sets of shelves, a child’s wagon, a dozen or so guitar head rests (for changing strings), a bunch of guitar picks, one flower-vase frame, and a conductor’s baton case. Mostly these are for gifts, partly for fun. I could show you lots of pictures . . . but I’ll limit myself to one more, that should make the point.

Some of the smaller projects. Mostly the redwood. Some ebony, maple, too.

Some of the smaller projects. Mostly the redwood. Some ebony, maple, too.

Leaders and People

All this . . . chaos? . . . effort? . . . history? . . . came to mind recently when a business owner, who was told about our process of helping organizations with their “people issues",” asked, “Why don’t they just fire them?” This sentiment, “just fire them,” sounded eerily like my attitude about wood. Just buy new wood! It’s easier. There are no problems to deal with . . . like there are with old wood. Old wood is too much trouble.

Some leaders see the world in much the same way. They would rather start over with a new employee than struggle to find a solution to their managerial problem. They minimize issues within their culture, system, or leadership that contribute to the problem. The propose superficial fixes and ultimately blame the employee for not changing. These decisions reveal the leader’s true values.

Yes, every leader has to face the fact that sometimes the only choice is to let someone go or do harm to the team or organization. But, as a leader, are you eager to adopt an “out with the old and in with the new” attitude?

I have worked with a few leaders who, a review of history or observation, revealed a pattern of employees passing through a “constant revolving door.” Rarely do these leaders see these decision as driven by their own ego or their behavior and that of the organization as the constant in this pattern. They don’t understand how lies that effect employees and leaders. Communication suffers along the way. They may struggle to see the value of mistakes in creating strong teams. They believe that failure is always bad. Other leaders see value in preserving the value of seasoned employees. They recognize that an investment in these employees may provide a superior long-term benefit.

Yes, working with the “old wood” means you have to engage with the wood in a more rigorous manner . . . trim some damaged wood away. You have to pull nails out of the boards so you don’t ruin a set of planing knives. You will make more cuts to find the solid, usable part of the boards and to reveal the pretty original grain. Finally, you will also have more cut-offs to discard.

Seven Reasons Leaders Should Focus on Retaining Employees

But there are good reasons not to start over with new wood . . . or a new employee.

  1. New wood isn’t the same as old wood. Anyone who has been building for more than 20 years knows that the wood you buy today at the big box stores isn’t the same quality as old wood. Fast-growth, sap-wood, poorly dried, cheap lumber dominate the industry. Old wood has dimensional stability, strong grain, color, hardness, and character.

    In most circumstances, employees also gain value over time. They have institutional knowledge, they have experience with the trials and errors of the past. They have awareness of what it was like before the product was available. They have relationships with coworkers, vendors, and customers. Finally, successfully “reclaimed” employees can become the biggest champions of the organization and leadership.

  2. There is a cost . . .to buying new. My father-in-law continues to “whittle-away” at a big block of Desert Ironwood from Mexico that he bought years ago for a little over $100. That one log has been part of projects for more than 20 years. Today, a 3/8" thick, 1.75" wide, 5" large stick will cost $12-15 plus shipping . . . if you can get it at all. A log like my father-in-law’s would run close to $1,000.

    Those who study business also talk about the high cost of employee turnover in organizations. The impact on “onboarding,” training, and other “real costs” may be secondary to the impact on the culture, morale, leadership trust, and other “soft factors” that, while critical to success, are less frequently measured. The big problem is, most leaders don’t have an easy cost comparison when deciding if firing an employee is in the best interests of the organization and many minimize the impact on the culture of the team—especially if this is perceived to be a pattern of the management.

  3. The old wood has a unique attractiveness —because it’s old wood. Part of the beauty of working with this old wood is the blemishes . . . the nail-holes, checked areas, and uneven coloring. It leeks “used,” but when the wood is cleaned up, trimmed, planed, sanded, and finished, it is more beautiful that a more “perfect” new board.

    “Reclaimed” employees can have this save value. When we do interviews in an organization we typically take a plant tour. We request a guide—an employee who is not a “company ‘Yes!’ person” but who is also not the company critic. When leaders guide us to the right employee for this guidance . . . often someone with a reclamation story about the company . . . other employees’ trust in that individual helps us get very honest information about whatever issues we are seeking. The “stability” of this employee (see below) promotes trust and creates the opportunity for an open dialogue that is priceless to the organization. Other employees see the value in this employee and trust their reliability, know their past history, and see the openness about the organizations past challenges . . . and their faith in the leadership.

  4. Old wood has known attributes where new wood has unknowns. Once again, old wood is far from perfect. But, you do know what you are likely to encounter in working with the wood. That’s worth something. New wood may have a high moisture content and tend to cup, warp, or crack. Old wood, once reclaimed will remain true to form, stable, and increase its value. New wood is an unknown. It may age and become cherished old wood or it may warp, crack, or fail.

    As we noted above, a reclaimed employee, in the same way is a “known” commodity. Other employees develop a respect for the employee that has come through challenges to remain a part of the organization. They trust someone who they know has not always “had it together” and see themselves in the real story of that employee. They note the optimism and faith the employee chooses to place in leadership despite the past. A new employee may have those traits, but it is an unknown risk at the time they are hired.

  5. There is a unique satisfaction to reclaiming old wood. Sustainabllity, history, value, reduction of waste, or character and beauty . . . there are many reasons that reclaiming old wood is satisfying. In the same way, there is nothing like developing, challenging, and supporting employees to be their very best . . . and then seeing that benefit the team or organization.

    Many leaders are, in fact, very open to the idea of trying to “reclaim” employees. There are several challenges however that can make this fail. This, in itself, could be it’s own post, for our purposes, suffice it to say that a poor understanding of human behavior, a weak commitment to reclamation, a lack of consistent attention over time, fear that it will fail, poor communication or planning . . . these are but a few reasons that it may not succeed without a clearly implemented and monitored plan.

  6. Developing a love of old wood opens up new possibilities. Living in an old Depot was daunting at first. The prospect of reclaiming a structure that had been turned into apartments—with it’s three kitchens and six bathrooms—did not sound like fun. But, tearing out the old porch, finding the redwood, and beginning to use this resource has created possibilities where none existed before. The cabinet ends pictured at the top for example. These boards were, in my estimation, a merely a nuisance, piled up in the attic . . . old, dusty brown boards that I was going to have to deal with at some point. Now, after several layers have been stripped, the boards planed down into quarter inch panels, the rotten parts cut away . . . they are a real center point of our remodel.

    In the same way, I have seen leaders that were burned out, dreading coming to work, contemplating leaving their position, who after working through a process of reclamation, were, once again, energized, excited about the next challenge, feeling more optimistic about their role and the organization. As the saying goes, “Success breeds success.”

  7. Working with old wood changes the woodworker. Maybe it’s obvious. The old wood/new wood dichotomy is not new. What has changed is me. Once the woodworker opens him or herself up to using old wood, the world begins to change. Board piles are interesting, seeking out businesses that reclaim wood becomes a passion, helping to tear-down old properties becomes a treasure-field to explore. One sees the cheap woods of modern building. There rekindles a joy in the old, the weathered, the sturdy.

    One of the best reasons to be inclined, first, toward reclamation when it comes to employees is that it changes the leader. (A good reason to try and “reclaim” leaders as well! Because they can be more valuable.) No, a desire to focus on reclamation will never preclude firing a bad employee. We have mentioned several times that not all the old wood was kept . . . the bad parts of the board were cut off and discarded . . . the point here is that by taking a positive view toward reclaiming the old many boards can be salvaged, materials have a longer sustainable life, and the leader becomes a more functional, well-rounded, and energized leader.

They put the wagon to immediate use! But it’s not about the wagon, is it? People . . . that’s what it is all about!

They put the wagon to immediate use! But it’s not about the wagon, is it? People . . . that’s what it is all about!

Comment

Comment

Employees lie

Photo by  Kristina Flour  on  Unsplash

Employees lie.

How does that statement strike you? Do you respond with, “Yeah, of course!” Do you want to argue that “people are mostly good and wish to be honest?” Do you find yourself wanting to fall back on platitudes like, “Everyone tells white lies?” Do you believe that your context—a family business, church, for-benefit organization—makes your employees different?

As a leader trying to understand employee behavior, the most important question to pay attention to may not be, “Do employee’s lie?” But “Who is it that employee’s lie to?”.

Context

I grew up an a small midwestern town where you knew everyone in town—at least by reputation, even if you didn’t know them personally. If you didn’t know exactly “who they were” all it took to find out was a quick query and you’d soon find out. . A person’s reputation was regarded as paramount in that small town context. In that context, everyone saw others through the lens of “who they are;” meaning, of course, how their reputation had them labelled. From a sociological point of view, this it could be argued, was both helpful and harmful at the same time. But the good and bad of that societal epoch we will not debate here, I simply mention this context to paint for the reader the idea of the community in which I was raised.

Within that microcosm, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with parents who had integrity. Their private persona was no different than their public one, that as, they were who they appeared to be. The persona the public saw was actually who they were in private.

As a child in my home there was no confusing duplicity by my parents, no behavioral “skeletons” in the home closet, no hidden addictions or unexplainable emotional, cognitive or behavioral anomalies. I was blessed to grew up around people whose behavior, thinking, and emotions were predictable and reliable. Thus, my parents modeled a trust-worthy lifestyle (For example, see my post on the Greatest Act of Leadership) and I grew up trusting people and assuming that others were much the same. In short, I learned to trust too much.

Public school, particularly the washboards (waterboarding?) of “middle school” began to make me aware of the myopathy of this view, that people could be trusted. Fellow students, I noticed, were not always honest, self-critical, or displayed integrity. Amplifying my surprise, I learned that, many times, their parents did little to model better patterns than their children. Still, most of the people I “hung around with” had good models for parents and didn’t display “really bad” behavior. The others, were easily labelled, relegated to the “proper” recitative category, and dismissed. So, some residue of trust remained.

While life continued to educate me in terms of human behavior, It wasn’t until later—probably when I was working on my master’s degree—that I really had to come to grips with the variability in the true “nature” of humanity, good and bad. Or if you don’t like the terms “good” and “bad” perhaps you prefer, “useful” and “dysfunctional.” A step in the process of understanding the full variability of people’s behavior was discovered it in a Tennessee penitentiary.

Interviews with Inmates

As a student, we had to go interview people in many different contexts. One of them was in prison. Our professor gave us a list of questions to ask, in each context, during the interviews. The first question we were required to the prisoners was, “Why are you here?” So, I made the drive through the razor wire, past the towers, and into the interview room, and dutifully asked the question.

“They got the wrong person,” one said. “The judge had it in for my family,” said another. “I got set up,” a third told me. “No one else got sent to prison,” a fourth told me. The pattern was unmistakeable. It clearly wasn’t their own fault that they were in prison!

At first, I felt confused by their answers. “Could this be true?” I asked myself after the first few interviews. Could all these people be in prison for the reasons they state they are in prison? Had I, somehow, drawn a sample that was somehow skewed and not representative of the population in the prison—a population obviously deemed responsible by the judicial system? (Later I found that this pattern occurred across all grad student interviewers, which bolstered my conclusion that this might be descriptive on the population.)

Next, I decided they were lying to me. The excuses and blaming was stretching all bounds of credibility. “It can’t be true that all these inmates are here due to the action of others alone,” I began to think. While some explanations were more plausible than others, most had the characteristics of a thin veneer masking a much more complex surface—and one that certainly held some personable responsibility. “Yep, that’s it, I concluded. They’re lying.”

But . . . .

As I observed their behavior, I also noticed that there were few “tell tale” signs of lying. The eye-contact was steady. Their manner compelling. No flickers of guilt. A ready answer for any possible contest to their preferred story. I began to edit my summary judgement. It wasn’t only that these inmates were lying. They weren’t “simply” lying to me, no, I concluded they were in fact lying to themselves—and believing the lie.

I was not surprised later to find research that said that criminals, compared to other populations in the community, tend to have high levels of self-esteem. They think of themselves as good people—better than most. This belief persists, even when society has deemed that they have done something worth of incarceration.

People labelled “Employees”

Inmates are people of course. So are ones labelled as employees.

This phenomenon, of lying to oneself, is not limited to inmates. Although “criminal minds” may take the “cat-bird’s seat” in the pervasiveness of this self-deceptive trait—it still demonstrably exists in smaller quantities in many others. Some teenagers for example, will blame everyone, except themselves, for the consequences of their decisions and actions. These “oppositional” teens may, or may not, be headed into criminal behavior but the thinking is reminiscent of the mind-set of the inmates and maddeningly resistant to parental “reasoning.”

But it is not limited even to populations we might define as “oppositional.” More normative populations exhibit it but in different ways. What about a individual with low self-worth? Or one with a super-inflated ego? Well, a close examination reveals that they too lie to themselves! Only the outcome is different. The first, blieving that they have little value, are unlikeable, doomed to failure, they act on those beliefs and co-create that self-fulfilled outcome. Giving up on tasks, assuming others know more or could do it better, self-sacrificing to the point of martyrdom. These employees may avoid engaging at work due to their own self-doubt, and thus are not providing their very best to their teams or organizations. While the second, keep the focus on themselves and create an erosive effect on their team.

Here we are not talking about common reasons communication fails (we’ve written about that elsewhere) or problems with the “creating a positive employee culture” but ways that individual employee’s beliefs constrain their ability to become high achievers within a team.

Leadership and Employee Lies

So, what’s to be done? Well, if you are a leader, trying to evaluate your team, ask yourself, “How is this particular employee lying?” and “What does this lie do for them?” Then ask, “How does this lie prevent them from being their very best?” Then begin to find a way to help the employee confront their own lies about themselves and to begin to again, grow and learn.

(Be careful here. Understanding human motivation and behavior is quiet complex. Still, every leader has the need to evaluate employees. The question is, will they do it well or poorly? Evaluations can be a subtle way to blame and shift the focus away from the leader. Thus, our final comments, below, on item 10 in our list of ways employees lie to themselves! If this still doesn’t make sense, check out our post on leadership and facts.)

[Jimmy Carter lacked] . . . the passion to convert himself from a good man into an effective one, to learn how to do the job. Carter often seemed more concerned with taking the correct position than with learning how to turn that position into results. He seethed with frustration when plans were rejected, but felt no compulsion to do better next time.
— James Fallows, The Passionless Presidency, The Atlantic, May, 1979

Okay, here we go . . . Ten lies employees tell themselves . . .

  1. I am well-aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. Few people develop good self-awareness without considerable “work” and an outside viewpoint. Coaching, mentoring, training. Self-awareness should be a continual process. (Have an employee who is not real self-aware? Here are some extra tips for dealing with a Maverick.)

  2. I am not a good/capable/smart/effective employee. Some employees fears stop them from continuing to grow. They hide, avoid, or give up rather than to strive, learn, and grow.

  3. If I fail, I am a bad employee. Some fall trap to a perfectionistic mind-set. Do things right and you will succeed. Fail and you will be a failure. The truth is we all strive to not fail but our failures or mistakes can be some of our best means to improving.

  4. Being open or sharing feelings makes me look weak. While no one respects someone who “over-emotes” and makes work a personal counseling session, that doesn’t mean being cold, distant, and aloof is better.

  5. I am a very valuable employee—more valuable than most. While “confidence” can be a good thing—event if it may be a beneficial myth—if it borders on arrogance or narcism it can be destructive to a team. If it is an unrecognized bid for control then it works to undermine leadership if not addressed.

  6. Playing it safe, avoiding conflict, and taking no personal risks makes me a good employee. Some employees “hide.” By playing the “yes person” and appearing to be a team player they are protecting themselves and not providing their full input into the team.

  7. I am good with people. I am a good listener. Any conflict is due to other’s poor behavior. It is remarkable how some employees, despite conflict or problems consistently “swirling” around them, can maintain the belief that they have good or even superior skills with people. But they do.

  8. I am not good with people. Despite the fact that I have a following. The opposite of the item mentioned above, some employees struggle to see that they have good people skills and may even be an informal leader within their team.

  9. People will “get over it” if I lose me temper or am reactive. Employees whose behavior is unpredictable, impulsive, or reactive often believe it is a virtue. Comments like, “It least everyone knows where I stand” or “I don’t play games” cover up the fact that others accomplish these same outcomes without the behavior that is damaging to the team.

  10. A final lie you should examine—once you’ve finished assessing your employees . . . is this, “What lies am I telling myself?” This may be the most important analysis of all. After all, “I’m the boss, this doesn’t apply to me!” may be the biggest self-deceit of all.

    (P.S. Here is a personal story you might like on teams and trust: My Coach is the Coach of the Year! Trust and Team building.)




Comment

Comment

Mr. Rex and Ego?

Photo by  Vern Ooi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vern Ooi on Unsplash

The Best Team Players? They know It's not about them.

Those of you who participated in athletics know that, as an athlete, you get to experience a lot of real time "psychology on display through behavior" as player's egos become involved in competing. Hopefully, for most people, the need to "stroke one's ego" gets resolved by the time we reach adulthood . . . but not always.

A few yeas ago I was playing "noon basketball" with a cadre of guys at a local gym. One of the amazing things about this group was that two of the most talented players were over 70!  Yes, 70! By "most talented" I don't mean that they had the most stamina, speed, or leaping ability when compared to the younger players,  but boy did they have skills and the experience to be a great asset to whatever team they played for.!  Both still played on traveling teams against player across the nation. Very impressive.

One of the players, I particularly liked. He was very laid back, competitive, yet encouraging to other players--a guy who was confident enough to play well himself and encourage the best out of others, both those on his team and the opponents as well, a real team-player. The other? Let's just say . . . that it didn't take a Psychologist to tell that his game was a little bit more about stroking his ego than just having fun competing--not that ego doesn't play a role for most of us at some level, some people just hide it more reliably. :)  Anyway . . . let's talk about .

The Day The Ego Demanded "it's Due!"

We were playing one day, as usual, when a new player joined us. His assignment was to guard Rex. Now, a new player, especially a younger one, would have no reason to believe that this would be a difficult task. After all, this is your grandfather--someone your should be able to outmaneuver, out jump, and out hustle. But Rex was an athlete, with a capital A. He could make shots all over the floor and from "way downtown"--far distant from the basket.

His favorite shot was a hook-type delivery off a drive to his right. Those of us who had played with Rex for a long time knew that the best strategy was to overplay his right side, and force him to go left where, although still capable, he was far less dangerous and effective. It was common knowledge and everyone who defended him more than once knew this.

The new player who joined us that day, however, didn't know this. As he tried to guard Rex, this septuagenarian shark, repeatedly drove right and drained the basket . . . time after time . . . scoring easily and, I think, frustrating the younger man's increasingly strenuous attempts to stop his scoring. Finally, the younger man, once again, beaten to the delivery of the shot, exclaimed, "Rex, you are unstoppable!" Rex beamed. But, unfortunately for Rex, the moment didn't last. 

Another player, let's call him Doug, who was known for his less-than-sensitive-candor, impulsively reacted. "It's not hard to stop Rex," he commented dourly.  "That's easy. He can't go to his left."  A statement, that over-simplified guarding this athlete, but never-the-less did communicate the best approach to stopping Rex's game. An awkward silence hung in the air, as players absorbed this Doug's "attack" on Rex's abilities and demonstrated Doug's own need to stroke his ego "against" a player, in Rex, that definitely had superior skills. Some glancing at Rex, uncomfortably, and wondering how Rex would respond.

Well, Rex wasn't one to let such blatant disrespect to pass. He said nothing, at first. I was surprised, but remained watchful.  The next time Rex's team had the ball, Rex, playing point guard, took the ball, drove to his left, executed his signature hook shot, banking it into the basket off the backboard, the pointedly directed a comment to Doug, "So, I can't go left huh?"

Flashes of Junior High School

"What is this, Junior High School?" The thought flashed through my mind.

So, Rex proved he could go left. Doug was "put into his place," and Rex's ego could remain intact--although why it was threatened so much by the comment remains unknown. Or so it seemed for a moment. Doug, unfortunately, didn't have the wisdom to let it go either, and the rest of "noon ball" was marred by a general pensive, irritation punctuated with some general aggressive playing and "bad will."

The funny thing is, for all the posturing egos on display, that day . . . nothing had really changed. We all still knew that the best strategy, when guarding Rex, was to force Rex to go left. No one thought less of him as a player, since all players have strengths and weaknesses to their game. And we were all sure that Doug would continue to comment on things that others would think but definitely not say. While Doug would rush in to fill the void. We also knew that Doug, no matter how long he played--would he even be playing in another 30 years?--would never be as good as Rex.

What did change was that it was clear that Rex's ego was tied up in his ability as an athlete (and so was Doug's, but that's another story) and that Rex would get defensive, react with somewhat controlled anger, if challenged . . . and this trait, could be turned against him, by unscrupulous opponents. That Doug, or others, could easily "get under his skin" with just a comment despite the fact that he was a great player. I can imagine some competitors I have played against in competitive venues, making comments,  "What's the matter, can't you go left?" and goading him into "proving them wrong" ---thereby taking him out of his best game and using his emotion against him—and disadvantaging his team.

Ego vs. Team

When Doug made his comment, and Rex visibly reacted, my intuition and experience told me that Rex would have to prove himself by forcing the next shot . . . going left. He did, and it worked, he made the basket. But what if that had not been in a "pick up game" but in a game that counted for something. Was that the right time and place to take the shot?  Maybe. Would a defender, as I did, anticipate his need to go left and position himself to block or alter the shot.  Possibly. But ego doesn't consider what is best for the team only what is demanded to keep the ego intact. 

Rex, it appears, didn't trust the team. He didn't believe that that everyone already saw him as a superior player--even if they recognized that he preferred shooting going to his right. He probably was fearful that others would "believe" John's view or that perhaps it would make it harder if the young man guarding him forced him to operate going left. Some subconscious fear drove his need to respond. Ultimately, however it was driven by his own fears about himself and his ability.

Another ego and it's effect . . . a starter on one of my high school teams "lost it" when his shoe came untied and the coach didn't call a time out to let him fix the problem. He responded by kicking his shoe off, sending it flying over the bench, and starting to hack (foul) other players. He fouled out of the game in the first quarter. I have never seen such a ego-driven temper tantrum quite like it before or since. Playing the rest of the game without our number one point guard and a great shooter certainly did not help the team and we lost the game.  Those whose ego strength, to continue the use the Freudian term, isn't sufficiently strong will not be able to laugh at themselves, apologize, admit mistakes, or put the team first.  They may be very talent and accomplished but, in some fashion or another, they will always be a one man show.

Leaders, Employees and Ego

When consulting with organizations you inevitably will run into people whose ego is a barrier to them being the best leader they can be. Whether as an employee or a boss, their fragile self-worth will manifest itself in defensiveness, rejection of valid criticism, and a stubborn refusal to examine mistakes and learn from them.  Often, these are very bright and accomplished people who has skillfully found ways to mitigate some of the negative effects--perhaps they are superficially charming, or hard working, or they maintain and aloof distance--but, like Rex, everyone knows of the ego-weakness and how it effects their work and the organization as a whole.

Attempts to point out the weakness results, again like Rex in the story, in them proving (at least to themselves) that the have a strong ego and the problem is not them but is the problem of the person pointing out the impact of their behavior.  

You can spot this trait often when a person "flip-flops" on responsibility when they can no long dismiss it. So, if problems are pointed out by another colleague or employee this person may simply dismiss it, or aggressively refute it. But if the problems amplify to the point the behavior is threatening the organization and they are forced to face their behaviors . . . the "Ego-challenged" person will admit a problem, superficially take responsibility for it, perhaps even apologize (if necessary) and verbally agree to a need to change.

But watched closely, and over time, they will reverse course . . . reverting back to their baseline, ego-protecting view, that "the problem isn't me."  When this happens, you can be sure that you are dealing with someone who, to reach their full potential, has a need for significant work on the ability to take constructive criticism, be self-critical, and learn to grow.  In Patrick Lencioni's words They suffer a lack of humility . . . thinking, albeit somewhat subconsciously, more about themselves that the good of the organization. In those moments it is, once again, all about them.

Give us your email and get Engaging Your Team a free eBook from HSC. Or buy it here.

 

Other Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.


 

 

Comment

Comment

Good Communication?

Photo by  Jon Flobrant  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Good Communication?

Vizzini: "Inconceivable!" Inigo: "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

When did you last feel like you really connected with some one as you talked?

Communication. Everyone does it. Largely we manage to get things done and seem to usually reach the same conclusions about what happened. Few, state that they are deficient in this basic skill. Yet, to those whose work is dependent upon communication, the pitfalls are only too obvious.

Consider this, why is it that nurses repeat surgeon's requests? Why do pilots have checklists and get confirmation from copious and air traffic before proceeding? It, obviously, is not a lack of skill or intelligence; no, it is the dependency on communication to be flawless in a critical task. 

Fortunately, just talking to your spouse, your kid, or your employee (maybe they are both relative and employee) isn't critical. Oh, wait . . .

So, here some things to consider . . .

Do they/you . . . Demonstrate these Non-verbals?

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Nod or use other encouragers
  • Have a neutral or positive facial expression
  • Avoid distracting behaivors
  • Face the speaker and lean slightly toward them
  • Incorporate both the speaker and yourself in your comments
  • Stay engaged and follow the speaker

Does their speaking include these traits?

  • Respectful language (and behavior)
  • Asks helpful, clarifying questions
  • Keeps comments short to allow listener to follow
  • Paraphrases and repeats speaker's points
  • Let's speaker complete their thought
  • Transitions smoothly from listener to speaker (and vice versa)
  • Encourages agreements but able to state their opinions

If these things are happening, it is likely that as the speaker you will feel "heard" and as the listener you will gain greater information and insight!

Engaging Your Team is a free eBook about people. Understanding what makes them "tick" helps in communicating well to your employees, supervisors, and others. Download it free.

Engaging Your Team Cover.png

Comment

Comment

New ideas vs. Old Practices: Getting employees to accept change

 

Introducing new ideas where there are old well-established practices can be difficult.  You need to remember that there are reasons that the processes and systems were created. They were the best thinking of their time. But, even the best practices need to be updated, tweaked, or eliminated. Suggesting changes can be tricky. Asking employees to leave a "safe port" for the uncharted waters of a new idea can be looked upon, at best, as a dubious suggestion; at worst, it can look like a "suicide mission." Mistakes will be made and from the process, hopefully, learning will emerge.

Consider Jillian and Tom.  Jillian is a senior executive, and supervisor of Tom, who wants to change the process they use to prioritize the team's work and avoid last minute crises--where the team has to drop everything else it is doing to get an urgent project done.  Tom is the supervisor that has to carry out the work with the employees he supervises.  

The Story

Jillian: Tom, we need to find a better way to track our projects.  Last week we had to "drop everything" to get that order out the door and we can't keep having that happen!

Tom: That wasn't our fault. The customer didn't commit to a firm date when they made the order then called and demanded it get done immediately.

Jillian: True, but we have had several projects that almost "slipped through the cracks" and I'd like to have a better system.

Tom: "Our system is not the problem! Besides we've tried other ways to track our projects and we always come back to this. It isn't perfect but it works.

Jillian: Well, I think we could create a system that helps us avoid these problems.

Tom: Are you ready for the team to fight you on this one? They're not going to be happy about a new manager messing with a system that has been working just fine!

Managers often face "resistance" when introducing new ideas.  When met with resistance it is easy to blame employees for not being flexible, team players, or just label them as unwilling to change. This can be especially challenging for new managers or managers whose orientation is to try and build their team through collaborative processes--especially if the leader wants to avoid conflict.

Often managers have no training at all in how to approach these conversations. Thus they wind up in "power struggles," conflict, and win-lose scenarios.

Consider the following conversation and how it differs from the scenario above . . .  then we'll outline steps leaders can take to increase the likelihood of successfully introducing new ideas.

The Story (Revised)

Jillian: Tom, what do you think about our system of tracking projects?

Tom: (Wearily) I guess it's okay.  It works.

Jillian: What is it that about the system that works well?

Tom: We generally know what is coming up. We can assign projects so that customers don't have a long wait for their products.

Jillian: I agree. The systems is useful for assigning the  work and the team really cares about getting the projects to the customers. Is there anything about the system that isn't working well?

Tom: No. I think it works well.

Jillian: I'm not trying to find fault with what we do. I am just wondering if there are any times that the system is not working optimally.

Tom: Only when customers don't give us firm delivery dates.

Jillian: Interesting. What happens when we don't get a firm date for a project?

Tom: Well, you know . . . it just kind of "hangs out there" until we get the date.

Jillian: Is that what happened with that project last week?

Tom. Yes.

Jillian: It's my understanding that we had time to do this project earlier when we were "slow." Do you agree?

Tom: I suppose so. But we were refining the projects that were due . . . they had priority.

Jillian: Right. That's our process . . . to work on projects that have a confirmed due date. If the customers always gave us a confirmed due date when they ordered would that help us avoid the "all hands on deck" crisis we had last week?

Tom: Well, yeah! But customers aren't always going to give us a commitment to a date.

Jillian: True. What do you think about us assigning a target date for projects where customers have not committed to a delivery date?

Tom: Some of those don't turn into orders. We could waste time on a project that never becomes an order.

Jillian: That's true and I certainly don't want us taking away time from actual orders to work on "iffy" projects. During busy times the confirmed dates should take precedence. But do you see any problems with setting the dates and during slow times working on these projects? Even if a few "fell through" would it be worth it to avoid emergency days like last week?

Tom: I dunno. Maybe. 

Jillian: What impact does an emergency like last week have on our team?

Tom: Well, the guys weren't happy about it, I know that. They grumbled all day about the customer . . . and it's always the same customers!

Jillian: I know it wasn't my favorite day. I'm happy to jump in and help when we have a crisis, I just wonder if there is a way to reduce the number of times this happens?

Tom: What are you suggesting?

Jillian: Well, I've been wondering how it would work to tweak our system to set dates for all projects. We would still have to be clear on which projects were actually orders and which ones are our priorities but I think you have a good handle on that already.  I am wondering if setting dates would help us use slow times to work on these "uncommitted" projects and avoid the emergency "fire drill" days.

Tom: I see where you're going . . . 

Reframing! Steps toward change.  

Just like new frames on a person's glasses or a new frame on a picture the context in which we are seeing issues will be different if the context changes. Many of our conflicts are due to different ways in which we frame problems. Is a teenager "disrespectful" or "trying to figure out life?" Is the parent "uncaring" or "tired and confused?" We all approach problems with a framework that limits what we see as possible.

Below, are six steps you can follow to try and help your employees move toward reframing issues from "can't do it" to "okay, let's try it."  From "we have always done it this way and it works" to "maybe it is time to re-think it and try something else."  Of course there is nothing magical about this "formula>" It is just a good reminder of "best practices" that you can use as a guide. (Memory Pneumonic?  MTIFPR)

  1. Get a Map. Take a aurvey of their view (See free eBook on Engaging Your Team). To help employee embrace changes you need to understand how they currently view the territory. Their views are based primarily on real data (not emotions although they can be involved) that you need to understand. The change will have an impact both good and bad. Leaders need to take time to understand the Map the employee is operating from.

  2. Select a Target. Pick an area or argument for reframing. Making changes takes time. Abrupt shifts are called "natural disasters" and "trauma." Sometimes large changes have to happen quickly--if the existence of the organization or people's jobs are threatened--but most of the time big changes are best accomplished in a stair-step gradual process. If the change is important it is worth the time to help it grow to be a strong component of the company.

  3. Gather Intelligence. Collect detailed information about that area to aid in a reframe. Leaders who want to make changes need to really be interested in the details of the employee's map. Here the leader "drills down" into the details of the area that he or she wants to try and change. You need to be able to anticipate where resistance is likely to occur and why. What are the real concerns of employees? Will the change have negative affects? What will they not want to give up for the new idea?

  4. Float the new idea and listen for resistance. Before introducing the "whole reframe" it is good to float a "test balloon." This is usually in the form of a question, "Have you ever wondered what would happen if . . . " or "Do you think we could tweak the process to keep X (the benefits) but eliminate Y (the targeted problem)? Pay special attention to any objections at this point. If the objections remain strong then you may need to drop the idea for now, spend more time surveying the territory, gathering more data, or even come up with a different idea altogether.

  5. Outline the Plan. This is where you introduce the Reframe. If you sense that the employee was open to the "trial balloon" then you can move forward to introduce the reframe. This is usually couched in the form of a proposal: "Given what you are telling me, why don't we try a trial run of setting dates to the "uncommitted projects?" We can then revisit in in three months and see if it has helped or not." At his point you are "armed" with all the information to help the employee see the benefits of your plan. You know the problems the old system has created. You know how the new plan could help the team. You've gained a "conceptual agreement" with your trial balloon that changes could be helpful. And, finally, the employee knows that you have done your homework.

  6. Respond to feedback. Sometime despite your best efforts resistance can re-emerge when the reframe is introduced. It this happens then the reframe is not likely to work. However, often you may get a wary, "Well, I guess we can try it." Which can be responded to with a comment like, "I appreciate your willingness to give it a try. I know this has the biggest effect on you and your team. You've done a really good job with the old system and I hope this might help make it better for everyone. But if not, we'll do something different."

Common pitfalls that lead to failure: . .

  1. Telling not listening. Surveying the territory cannot be rushed. Make sure to map it thoroughly. Be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak;” doing the latter only when you know, really know, the terrain.

  2. Statements not questions.  Telling employees what you know . . . "Come on, you know we can do this!" -- instead of asking for their wisdom, ideas, and support often backfires.

  3. Anger not understanding.  Anger often conveys judgement and is seen, at times, as a means to control others. A patient supervisor who takes the time to understand and guides the employees to new ways of thinking and operating will truly be valued. No one likes a bully..

  4. Quick fix not daily effort.  Real changes take time  . . . and effort.  Rarely are quick fixes to real problems successful.  Leaders have to give daily effort to engaging employees in the change process. Don't let impatience or frustration drive your actions.

  5. Power not humility.  Leaders often lose when they have to play the "power card." Yes, there are times when a leaders has to exert the responsibility of his or her position and use the power of their office to prevent harm to others, the company, or customers. But leaders who rely on power tactics have already lost the war. Employees will respond to poser tactics but only as long as you have the ability to exert that power over them. If you lose that control the "peasants" will revolt and you will be thrown down.

  6. “Preaching the walk” not leading the walkers; or“You first!” It should be obvious that no one wants to follow someone’s directives if they believe that the leader themselves would not put themselves in the same situation or expect the same performance themselves. Even a leader who “listens” rather than “tells” will be judged, by those with insight and wisdom, by what they actually do not what they say.

Resources

Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.

Lessons Learned Around the World: People-centered leadership,A. Keith Miller, Major, U.S. Airforce (Retired)

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

Private Practice Contracting: A path away from insurance dependency.

Comment

Comment

A Team . . . of Teams: How's that work?

Who, in most organizations, is the one person who really understands what it means to operate as a "team of teams?"  Who is responsible for the health of the teams and the organization?  I know who I expect it to be . . . the senior leader of the organization.  The Executive Director, President CEO, Owner . . . they are the visionaries that we often expect to have the magic touch to make an organization function dynamically and smoothly.

If you are fortunate enough to have someone who really excels at this, having a vision of how the organization can operate, the next challenge is how well are they able to communicate that vision to others.  Often I have worked with leaders who, I think, have a clear vision. But often, as I interview their staff, I find problems that interfere with the communication and operations of carrying out that vision.

Understood or not, the "team of teams' construct is one of the new fashions in leadership and organizational design circles. (In fact, this has been identified as a trend for 2016. Here's a good and recent article on this trend from Deloitte University Press

When a team of teams, or one might call it a human system of subsystems, works . . . it is a thing of beauty--like an professional orchestra--the violin section and percussion-- playing with effortless harmony and beauty. Employees are engaged (see our infographic on engagementi), they give of their discretionary time and effort to help the organization succeed, everyone pulls together and conflict is minimal. But when it doesn't work, the resulting discordant din of struggle rises and falls, filling the air with a tension that leaves it's audience, those working in the organization, contemplating the closest and most acceptable escape route.

Notice the "Skull and Crossbones" flag? First time I've seen that one!

Notice the "Skull and Crossbones" flag? First time I've seen that one!

 

Maybe I'm in the minority when I think that most organizations have only a superficial understanding of their human systems.  I know that most are aware of the impact of their human "element."  I hear senior manager's concerns about the impact of the business on their employees. But most see these elements in a simple "cause and effect" lens that leads, often, to assessing blame and limiting the options to address the problem.

Trained at the height of the systemic age of human sciences (I even had a course on cybernetics of cybernetics or the science of systems of systems!) theorists and researchers found that the "easiest way out leads back in" when you are talking about a system (mechanical or human). In other words, a simple approach to a systemic problem invariably does not change the system itself and thus the problem will persist. (When I was young people talked about putting saw dust in a transmission to "fix" a problem. It did not stop the transmission from failing!)

I often wonder, when I am beginning work with a new organization,  just how well prepared are the managers to understand the systemic dynamics of the people they are responsible for overseeing?  Often senior managers are tasked with casting a vision and creating policies and procedures (or culture) to avoid (or if necessary to "fix") any problems.  

But where do leaders develop their vision for leading a team of teams? My experience tells me their training will not have addressed it in depth and most of their practical models come from the success stories and personal contacts the leader or manager is exposed to in their professional contacts--or from the latest article or book on leadership.  Others recognize a need for a support system to guide them and adopt the trend of hiring an organizational behavioral consultant or executive coach.

Thus leaders chase the elusive "right mix" that will unleash the potential of their human systems and drive the success they envision. Yet, often it is largely the context itself--the industry, economy, or point-in-time--external factors, of those organizations, that determines if the team approach is working well or not. (Can you create another Pixar when one already exists?

Others may founder, not because of a lack of understanding their own organizational system, but because of the context in which their organization exists.  Leaders and organizations who enjoy a rich medium of growing markets, fat profit margins, and new research and development opportunities often have teams and a team of teams that are robust and "healthy" in their functions. Many of those same organizations however "get exposed" when adversity hits--with leaders "bailing," employee morale sinking, and public opinion declining. A system in a growth mode needs different things than one in a maintenance or declining industry.

Leaders need to understand the external context and then focus on the needs of their unique system; maximizing the contribution of the system through removing barriers, providing support, or challenging them to live up to the best vision of themselves and the organization. This often yields better results.

So, who is tasked with creating a "team of teams" in your organization?  Do you have a clear vision?  Is the communication of that vision being adopted by others?  Do you constantly have to encourage others to act inline with the organizations values?  Are teams really focused on what is best for the whole organization? If this is the model you are interested in trying to create or if it is one you have adopted but with limited success, then ask yourself, "Within our context, who has the experience, knowledge, vision and time to help us focus on operating as a true "team . . . of teams?" 

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

Comment

Comment

When you mess up my order . . . .

I have a son whose nickname is "Mac." I found this in New Zealand.

I have a son whose nickname is "Mac." I found this in New Zealand.

When you mess up my order . . . and you will . . . here is what I expect.

This rant starts with a meal I recently ordered in an airport --fast food for myself and my son. Our order was not difficult.  Two hamburgers. One with ketchup and pickles for my son.  One with ketchup, mustard, lettuce and onions for me.  What we got instead was one hamburger with ketchup and mustard, no pickles, and one cheeseburger with tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, and mayo. Not the worst "muck up" I've ever experienced but still decidedly wrong . . . and far too common. If you, like I do, engage in patronizing these places, then I ask you, "Have you noticed the slippage in the ability of employees to get orders right?"  It seems to have changed remarkably in the past couple of decades.  (Are we having more receptive language issues? Is this a case of English as a second language? Or, am I just becoming a grumpy old man?) But what surprises me even more is the response . . . or more correctly, the lack of response, to being informed that they have messed up your order!

Not long ago I was eating at a fast food place that really does seem to take customer service seriously. But, as we all know, everybody makes mistakes and they got something wrong in my order. What surprised me, and then surprised me that I was surprised, was that when I informed them of the error the person actually seemed to feel a sense of shame or guilt (unintended on my part), made me feel like she really was sorry and cared that it wasn't correct, then brought me something extra for my trouble.  I realized how different this was from my typical experience.

What is the typical experience?  Maybe a shrug. Taking the bag and dropping it into the trash. Informing the cook, flatly or sarcastically of the mistake, and then . . . silence.  Maybe a muttered "sorry" when the correct food comes but it certainly does NOT feel like the apology is heartfelt or that errors are considered "bad" and intent is to make them infrequent for that matter. The predominant feeling I think is one of indifference . . . if not out right irritation (at me, the coworker, their life?). Maybe its a new business model . . . waste is a cost of doing business . . . but I doubt most owners or upper managers look at it that way.

What do you expect when someone messes up?

In order to be clear about what I expect let me, first, tell you what I do not expect in my service providers. After that I will list what I do expect and then after presenting these bullet lists I will finish with what I think is the perfect story to illustrate the point I have been trying to make.

Here are things I don't expect:

  • You to really care (acting like it is good enough)
  • To perform without errors
  • Heart-felt shame or guilt
  • Defending your misunderstanding, communication, processes, etc.
  • Something free for my "inconvenience" (I mean really how inconvenient is it to wait two minutes to get the food ordered to your perfect expectations. If you still think this is a big deal . . . do some research on the third world as a reality check.)
  • Any preferential treatment in the future

 

Here's what I do expect:

  • Look me in the eyes and apologize first
  • Take the time to understand what was incorrect so there is not a "third time" to get it right
  • Do not be sarcastic, demeaning, or critical of your coworkers even if it was their mistake (you see if you are nice to me as a customer and mean to a co-worker I no longer trust that you really care about me . . . you are just putting up a front to get my business)
  • Let me go sit down and bring me the correct replacement
  • Apologize again when you bring the correct item, thank me for my patience (I try to always be patient), and ask if there is anything else you can do

Hey, well, there are the lists.  Now for the disappointment . . . or so I image it will be a disappointment.  There is no story.  You see, I messed up.  Although in my case it was intentional. I want to illustrate the idea of failing to meet expectations. Yes, the promise of the story was simply a writer's trick. The truth is there is, and never was, a story. I do feel bad about playing this little trick on you, my readers, and I promise not to do it again. Notice how your expectations play a role in how you react to my little ruse . . . and how I should respond.

As always, I would love to hear any comments you have or any suggestions for topics you would like me to address.  Once again, sorry about the lame ending.

Thanks for reading and especially for those who take the time to respond!

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

Comment