Posts Tagged ‘Management’

collaborationI’ve been thinking the past few days about something that’s bothering me.  As someone whose work the last several years has focused primarily on promoting and managing the use of collaborative tools inside the enterprise – specifically SharePoint (2008-2011) and our enterprise social network (2010-present) – I think I’ve finally come to a realization I don’t like.  There is nothing earth-shattering about the conclusion and, in fact, I’ve had the thought before.  This time, however, there are more years of background and experience behind it to give it weight.

First, some background…

We hear regularly about the need to collaborate more in companies.  It’s true that improvement in this area is an ongoing need in many organizations, so I’m not picking on my company here.  Over time, though, it seems that companies attempt to answer the question “How can we collaborate more effectively?” with a series of attempts to throw more tools and portals at the problem rather than address the more likely, weightier hindrances to collaboration which are personal and interpersonal.

In response to recognition that better collaboration is needed, typical responses include: create a task force to study the issue, install a new platform such as SharePoint, install an enterprise social network, upgrade the virtual meeting tools available, create a custom portal that gathers data and resources from various platforms, research other companies’ platforms and tools, etc.  Depending on who is involved with such solutions, the proposed recommendations can be rather predictable.  As someone who spent most of his adult career in IT, I can assure you that if you have mostly IT people studying the problem, their proposed solution will be another software install or development project.  That won’t solve the problem.

While there is great value in having the right tools for collaboration in a company (and I recommend having any of the above that help accomplish the business goals), at what point does leadership inside a company stop and ask “Why are we still not collaborating like we think we should?  We’ve introduced all these tools into the enterprise year after year, yet we find our collaboration lacking.  Why is that?”

May I suggest the following to any company that finds itself in this situation:

You already have all the tools you need to collaborate.  What you lack is the will, leadership and culture to do so.

If people want to collaborate, they can do so with or without the latest tools.  Give me a group of people eager to collaborate but with no technology in hand, and we can do a fantastic job of collaborating with nothing more than time spent communicating with one another while taking notes on pencil and paper.  However, if you give me a group of people unwilling to collaborate or who do not see such collaboration modeled by their leaders or who are not rewarded for such collaboration intrinsically or extrinsically, then no software installation or upgrade in technology is going to change that attitude and make it happen.

For collaboration in an enterprise to become the norm, several things need to be true that have nothing to do with technology:

  • You must have the right people on board.  Let’s face it – not everyone is inclined to be a team player.  If that’s the case, find a role for them where they can be a Lone Ranger, or let them go if they are unwilling to change their attitude and behavior.
  • Collaboration must be modeled from the top down throughout the organization. It can’t just be talked about.  For example, do leaders involve others in the decision-making process, or do they hand down edicts that foster resentment?  Are employees being told (mandated) to collaborate better, or are they being shown how to do so by example, experiencing the benefits first-hand?
  • Time must be allotted in projects for such collaboration to happen.  Anyone who has ever succumbed to the thought “If I want it done right, I’ll just do it myself” isn’t going to be inclined next time around to work with others on a similar task.  That may sometimes appear to be a quicker solution, but it’s rarely the best long-term solution or what’s best for the enterprise.
  • Successes at collaboration must be shared for others to want to share in that same kind of success.  That takes intentionality and time.
  • People need to experience the “What’s in it for me?” results, either via internal satisfaction or external recognition and reward systems built in to ongoing evaluation methods.

Until companies address the people and time matters above, the same problem will continue to be identified year after year – “We need to collaborate better” – and the same worn out and ineffective response of throwing another tool or portal at the people will waste time and money to little avail.

Don’t misunderstand my point.  Having great tools available can facilitate such collaboration.  When tools are used well, they can help reduce the time it takes to complete projects.  The social interactions possible via some tools can result in more innovation and success, but the mere presence of the tools cannot guarantee that success.  Social tools such as enterprise social networks, raise the bar of what is possible in an enterprise that recognizes the value of “working out loud” and collectively solving business problems.  But they must have many champions within the company at all levels to be adopted and used to such potential.

We can do better, but we will only do so when we choose to do so.  Cultures can change, but it takes a while, especially for large organizations.  It will take unrelenting determination from those who understand the value of the desired end result.  People at any level can make a positive difference and be a leader, modeling collaboration.  You don’t have to be in a management role to be that kind of leader.

I’m committed to modeling and promoting a culture of collaboration where I work.  What about you?

Related reading: “Is Social Business All Talk and No Trousers?

Worst BossIn yesterday’s post, I shared the characteristics and practices of The Best Bosses I’ve Ever Had.  Today I will reluctantly spend time reflecting on the worst ones of the bunch and what made them so.  Of course, I won’t name names or give enough background to identify with certainty who I’m talking about.  After 40 years of working, I’ve had many bosses across numerous roles at several companies and organizations.  Heck, I’ve had ten bosses in ten years with my current employer even though I’ve only been in three roles and departments.  Such is corporate life.  I lost count long ago on how many I’ve had over time.  So for those that know me, don’t miss the point of the article by trying to figure out who the “inspiration” for each item below may have been.

It can be assumed that the flip side of the characteristics of my best bosses would make the list of my worst bosses, but I won’t be that easy on myself in writing this.  Some of the items below are the opposites of the “Best Bosses” behaviors, but not all.  I have a different set of people in mind for these points and their characteristics drive the items below.  So let’s get to it.

The worst bosses I’ve ever had:

Are self-centered.  I don’t tolerate very well having to be around those who think predominantly of themselves.  Give me a leader who understands and lives the values of servant leadership any day, but not one who seems to drift along in his/her own little world of “what’s in it for me?” or “look at me!”

Constantly create or respond to one fire drill after another.  This may show itself in unreasonable, last-minute demands of dropping everything and doing something entirely different “by the end of the day.”  It may come as an emergency handed-down by my boss’s boss or someone else higher up, but that is no excuse for perpetuating the issue of allowing last-minute, random questions and events to determine what work gets done.  Management that follows this pattern shows no sign of having, understanding, or following a cohesive strategy for accomplishing the business’s objectives.  Life in such a business is one big ongoing game of Whack-a-Mole.

Distrust their own people.  Why would you hire someone you distrust?  Why would you distrust someone you trusted enough to hire?  Why would you continue to employ someone you distrust?  It all makes no sense to me.  This may be displayed by managers who refuse to delegate responsibilities and corresponding authority to their people to carry out needed tasks.  It may be evidenced by physical signs of keeping employees away from anything of value.  It may come via typical surveillance methods or asking others to spy on anyone suspected of wrongdoing.  It may show in overzealous methods of required documentation or using technology to monitor nearly every minute or keystroke of an employee’s time on the clock.  It may be evidenced by blocking common websites such as social media sites or shopping destinations.  People who distrust never cease to amaze me at the creative ways they devise to try to justify their fears.

Refuse to address personnel issues.  This is maddening and kills the morale of the remainder of the team.  Deal with issues fast, managers, or you may need to be dealt with next – either that or you’ll find yourself losing your good people because of your inability to solve the issues arising from your problem employees.  And please don’t place the burden of dealing with problem employees on their peers.  That isn’t what they are hired, paid or trained to do.

Disrespect their people.  This might be shown in a number of ways, from public condemnation and criticism to unreasonable time demands that encroach on their people’s personal lives, to speaking poorly of their people to others outside their department, to being offensive in word and deed through inappropriate language or physical behavior, or other ways imagined only by minds that I cannot understand.  I could try to play psychologist here and claim that such behavior is a sign of low self-esteem – demeaning others to help one feel better about himself – but I’ll leave that analysis to others more qualified.  Regardless of the reason behind the behavior, it’s wrong.

Fail to lead.  This can happen when someone is unqualified and ill-equipped for the role, unsure of what to do himself, and therefore unable to guide others.  It can come from the wishful thinking that laissez-faire, hands-off leadership will magically bring out the best in others.  It may come from those trying too hard to be friends with their subordinates.  It may come from a boss who is already disengaged himself or who is in disagreement with those above him/her in the org chart.  Businesses need people who know how to lead and who are not afraid to do so using sound principles of leadership – not dehumanizing, authoritarian abuses of power.

Must have everything their way.  Bosses must make the final call on some decisions, but to think that all or nearly all things must be done the manager’s way is surely the wrong approach.  It discounts the knowledge, talents, ideas and innovations engaged employees can bring to the table.  It stifles motivation and devalues the employees.

Micromanage.  Maybe some people need to be micromanaged, but I’m not one of them.  Anyone who tries to do this to me is just annoying.  I doubt I’m different than most employees in this regard.  That said, I concede that short periods of keeping a closer-than-normal eye on an employee may be in order when poor performance is documented and greater accountability is in order.  Still, it seems to me that if a boss spends all of his time peering over the shoulders of others to make sure they’re doing things a certain way, then that boss may not be necessary to the business.

Try to keep employees from advancing.  One of the potential downfalls of doing one’s job really well is that it can sometimes result in employers keeping you in that role even when you want to grow, learn, and experience other roles, be they lateral or vertical changes.  A boss who is concerned with the professional development of employees will go out of his way to encourage such growth and experiences.  Think of it, bosses, as your opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives, careers, and even the families of many people over time – a far greater contribution to the world in the long run that pigeonholing people into roles they are ready to leave.  If you try to “keep them in their place” too long, they may just leave the company for greener pastures, and then you’ve just blown it for the company permanently.

Are rarely available to their employees.  Too many companies end up filling the daily calendar of bosses with back-to-back meetings all day every day.  Not only does this likely keep the boss from doing much that’s actually productive, but it keeps him/her from being available to the very people most likely to want and need his/her presence periodically throughout the day.  Temporarily removing oneself from the area or occasionally closing an office door to focus on a task is understandable and reasonable, but rarely being around or always being behind an uninviting closed door creates an unhealthy barrier between bosses and their people.

Discourage employee engagement.  What I’m thinking of here is when a boss thinks that only he/she can do some things, failing to delegate in the best interests of the business.  The idea that only people at a certain level should make decisions or do certain things creates an “us vs. them” mentality rather than a team approach.  I’ve witnessed this in businesses and volunteer organizations where, oddly, volunteer engagement is discouraged in favor of staff-only decision making and execution.

Withhold vital information from employees.  There are times when company leadership determines that certain information about the business must remain hidden until some specified time at which it is unveiled.  That’s understandable, especially for a publicly-traded business that must follow strict laws.  However, there are times when bosses at their own discretion choose to hide from employees information that the employees may deem very important to their work or career decisions.  Consideration for the employees should take precedence in such situations.

Make you dread going to work.  When your thoughts during your morning shower start the day by dreading going in to work, imagining the potential conflict or irritants awaiting, you know you’ve reached a point where either a major change in the relationship needs to happen, or it’s time to move to a different position.  On the contrary, working for a great boss makes it a pleasure to be there today and for the foreseeable future.  If your non-work time is starting to be filled with negative thoughts, hindering your personal life as well, it’s time for change.

Overall, I have been fortunate with more jobs than not in the kinds of bosses I’ve had for the past 40 years.  There have been scenarios, however, where I have painfully been reminded by experience of the common maxim that people go to a new job because of the work, but they leave a job because of the management.  That is true all too often.  Sadly, the very managers most guilty of the negative behaviors and characteristics mentioned above are also the most clueless about their behavior, its negative impact on people and, ultimately, the impact on the businesses they are employed to serve.

For bosses reading this, I encourage you to look over these traits and the ones listed in yesterday’s post about my best bosses.  Do an honest self-evaluation.  Give yourself kudos for the positive qualities you think you regularly demonstrate.  Make note of the negative ones where you should improve.  If you’re really brave, initiate some 360-degree feedback from subordinates, peers and supervisors for a more complete analysis.  Then pick one or two areas for improvement and make a plan to improve.  Grab an accountability partner to help you in the cause.  Don’t focus only on your weaknesses; that’s unnecessary and depressing.  Acknowledge and celebrate your strengths.  Do this kind of evaluation at least annually and, if you’re in a better place a year from now, you’re doing well.  Keep it up.

For employees reading this, especially if you see more negative than positive qualities in your current boss, you have some decisions to make.  Do you stick it out with a poor boss in order to keep doing work you love, to keep working with great coworkers, or to maintain other benefits of the role?  Do you risk addressing the most important issues with the boss, unsure of what his/her reaction may be?  Do you chance the nuclear option of attempting to go over the boss’s head to his/her supervisor with your concerns?  (Be very careful about doing that.)  You have to make those calls yourself.  I default to the approach of privately addressing the issue with the boss as the most direct and proper method, even if it does have potential negative consequences.

Maybe you have other characteristics you’ve experienced in your worst bosses.  If you have some to add to my list above, feel free to do so in a comment.  I’d love to hear about them.

Here’s hoping for a brighter future with great bosses!

Best BossI got my first job at age 16.  I was a clerk at a locally-owned grocery store in my hometown of Winchester, Kentucky, happy with the $1.60 per hour starting salary.  I did my work to the best of my ability.  I was thrilled when I got my first raise of five cents per hour.  I got along with the owners and the extended family that ran the store.  They were each different with their own personalities and ways of doing things.  In that environment, I got my first taste of the differences that bosses can bring to the workplace.

That was 40 years ago.  Over four decades of working, I’ve had experience with a lot of different bosses – some great, some mediocre, some awful.  In this post, I will share with you the characteristics and practices demonstrated by the bosses I consider to be the best that I’ve had the privilege to work with.  My next post will discuss the flip side – those dreadful characteristics and practices that have made working under some bosses a painful time of endurance testing.

The best bosses I’ve ever had:

Are encouragers.  We like to be encouraged with kind words and with recognition of a job well done.  We like to know that others have confidence in us even if we aren’t quite as confident in ourselves at times, especially when tackling something new.  If you tell me you know I can do something, I will do everything in my power not to let you down.

Are approachable.  Whether via an open door policy or by ample other opportunities to engage with employees, bosses must create an environment where their direct reports know that they are welcome and encouraged to approach them any time with questions, concerns, suggestions, complaints, etc.  An unapproachable boss will be detached from the team and woefully unaware of the reality around him/her.

Are organized.  A boss who knows how to set priorities, plan and successfully execute sets a great example for those who report to him/her.  On the contrary, unorganized bosses can leave a whole team disorganized and discouraged by the constant chaos.

Are willing to do grunt work if needed.  I appreciate bosses who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, digging in when necessary to help the team churn out what needs to be done.  This can’t be the primary role of a boss, of course, but in those times when extreme work loads or looming deadlines tax the ability of others to get it all done, this is a great gesture of teamwork that goes a long way in developing good will.

Give me a job to do and turn me loose to do it.  I work best when I’m left alone to get things done without anyone peering over my shoulder or constantly checking up on how things are going.  If I need help or hit a roadblock that will take a boss to overcome, I’ll let the boss know.  Until then, he/she can assume all is well and on schedule – maybe even ahead of schedule and expectations.

Help me understand the big picture.  I don’t want to just know how to do tasks A, B,and C.  I want to know how the work I do fits into the overall purpose of the company and its larger mission.  I don’t want to just be good at tactics; I want to understand strategy.  I am helped by having core values that underlie the business reinforced in word and deed by people at all levels of the org chart.  I want a leader who can help a team take a step back when needed and help us remember why we do what we do.

Exercise fairness in how each employee is treated.  Any hint of favoritism from a boss toward one employee over another creates a very dysfunctional team.  If some employees seem to get away with poor work performance, excessive absences, or inappropriate behavior that is not tolerated in others, fellow workers are potentially demotivated from doing their best because of the disparity.  I don’t expect better treatment than other employees, but I do at least expect equal treatment.

Address personnel issues quickly.  This may be with an under-performing employee or it may mean stepping in to mediate interpersonal tensions between two or more employees.  Regardless, issues cannot fester or they do more damage the longer they are ignored.  Dealing with conflict or difficult situations must surely be among the least favorite roles a boss has to play, but it is an essential one that pays big dividends in the long run.

Tangibly reward top performers.  While recognition and encouragement go a long way toward job satisfaction, it is also true that none of us are employed full-time merely for the fun of it or the kind words that may come our way.  We work to earn a living, and if we go above and beyond what is expected, then we should be compensated accordingly.  Any business that places arbitrary limits on how much people can earn in certain roles or who do not allocate funds for increased salaries and bonuses only demotivate employees who feel like they have maxed out their earning and growth potential in a role.

Expect accountability.  My first boss at my current employer ten years ago was as good at this as any I’ve ever had.  Like clockwork, we had one-on-ones with a common, simple agenda that showed what we had accomplished since the last meeting, what we would do before the next one, and any issues standing in the way that we might need her to run interference regarding.  There’s something about knowing that periodic check-in with the boss is coming up to sometimes light a fire under you to get things done.

Do what they say they’ll do.  Just as I expect to be accountable to my boss, I expect my bosses to follow through and do what they say they’ll do without needing frequent reminders from others.  I know schedules can be crazy and demands from above and below in the org chart can be hard to juggle, but failing to follow through on commitments is discouraging to those impacted.

Challenge me to do better.  Regardless of how well I may perform my duties, I know there is always room for improvement.  When I was a training manager for about two dozen trainers at a previous company, I took seriously sitting in on the classes they taught and meeting with them afterward to discuss what they did well and what they might work to improve.  If someone comes to me and praises me for how I do A, B, and C, but suggests that I might consider some suggested changes to improve how I do D, E, and F, I’m going to value that information and take it to heart, trying to improve in those areas.

Welcome innovation and initiative.  I can’t think of a job I’ve had in 40 years where I did not go above and beyond what was expected, voluntarily taking on new responsibilities and attempting new things that I thought would be beneficial to the business and/or its customers.  That doesn’t mean that I was in a role where such was expected or demanded, however.  Good ideas can come from any level of the org chart at any time.  Good bosses hear those ideas, weigh them, give guidance, and, where appropriate, approval.

Delegate authority – not just responsibility.  There is not much more frustrating in a role than having responsibilities without the accompanying authority.  The power to make decisions and implement them needs to be pushed as far down the org chart as possible instead of being concentrated up the chain.  Work gets done more effectively and efficiently when this is the case.

Have my back.  Nobody likes being thrown under the bus by anyone, but especially by your boss.  I appreciate bosses who have gone to bat for me, defending decisions made and actions taken when challenged by others.  It’s like having an older sibling step up to a playground bully and say, “If you want to get to him, you’ll have to go through me first.”  Of course, it won’t be in those exact words in a business conversation or email (although that would be awesome!), but the positive emotional impact is the same when a boss takes up for you in discussion with others.

Show a sense of humor.  Humor goes such a long way in strengthening relationships, in making an environment fun, and in showing someone’s personal, human side.  Work days can get long and stress can take its toll, but if days are broken up with regular moments of laughter and fun, it makes them seem shorter and the stress more bearable.

So, there you have a number of characteristics or practices that I consider to be among the most admirable I’ve seen in the best bosses I’ve had through the years.  What about you?  Which of the above resonates with your experience?  Do you have additional ones from your work life you could add to the list?  If so, let me know in a comment.

(Side note: Some may question why I use the term “bosses” throughout this post and not something more positive or official sounding like “supervisor,” “manager” or “leader.”  Nothing negative or insulting is intended.  Any of the terms could have been used.  I chose the shortest.  Actually, I like the term and have on many occasions affectionately referred to various managers as “boss man.”)

Cat Bad DecisionWhat do you do when you realize you’ve made a bad decision?  I hate saying “it depends,” but correcting bad decisions really does depend on the significance of the decision and the reality of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It isn’t always easy, quick or possible to correct a previous bad choice.

Some decisions are mundane and easy to change.  If I make a wrong turn driving to a destination, I simply find a way to turn around and head in the right direction.  No harm, no foul.  On a more significant level, if I’m in school and realize I’m in the wrong degree program, I switch majors to head down a better path, understanding that there may be consequences such as more time spent in school and more cost because of my decisions.  If I accept a new job offer and then find myself working with colleagues or a company far from what I envisioned, I have to decide whether to try to make the best of it and improve that situation, or start the process of changing jobs once again.  If you’re an employer and realize you’ve hired the wrong person, what kind of sticky situation have you just created for yourself?  Do you follow the adage, “Hire slow, fire fast”?  If I realize I’m in a bad relationship, it’s one thing to change if you’ve only been dating someone for a short while versus being married where working on the relationship is more vital.

A few big-picture thoughts come to mind when I consider how to respond to situations born from bad decisions:

Bad DecisionsIt is best to reverse a bad decision quickly.  Allowing the negative consequences of bad decisions to linger, fester and continue to negatively impact the current situation may seem kindhearted and hopeful where other people are concerned, but it’s probably doomed.  Make the right call given the new understanding and move on.  Swallow any and all pride that may be keeping you from admitting the previous decision was wrong.  It’s OK to change your mind.

Get advice from others before major decisions.  Seek the wisdom of those who have traveled a similar path before.  Don’t rely just on what your best friends say because they may be biased in your favor to an unhelpful degree.  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” – Proverbs 19:20.  “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” – Proverbs 12:15.  This won’t help you with bad decisions in the past, but it can help you avoid future blunders.

Some situations may not be reversible.  I have for decades appreciated and reminded myself of the saying, “You have control over your actions, but you have no control over the consequences of your actions.”  There is a lot of humbling truth in that.  I can’t control consequences, but I can control subsequent actions on my part.  Perhaps those subsequent actions will result in better consequences.

Learn from your mistakes.  If we’re honest, we can probably think of multiple occasions in our past when we’ve made the same type of mistake repeatedly.  We have friends who make the same kind of bad relationship choices over and over.  Some people follow the same pattern in job hopping from one place to the next for short tenures, always finding a way to blame others for their circumstances.  It is all too easy to allow hope and emotion to cloud better judgment, even though past experience should warn us that we’ve been down this failed path before.  Proverbs 19:20 quoted above presumes that as we listen to advice, accept instruction and follow it, we eventually gain wisdom from that cycle and from our experience that makes future decision making easier and more likely to be wise.

I’ve written a number of posts over the last couple of years related to decision making that you’ll find listed here.  I’ve written about it a lot because it is a process that never ends.  We make decisions daily.  We face the consequences of past decisions daily.  When all goes well and we’re basking in the glow of a good decision, life is good.  But when we come to the harsh realization that we’ve made a bad call – perhaps a very bad call with significant negative consequences – then it’s time to admit it and do something about it.

Does that ring true with any circumstance in your life right now?

Clearly Bad Decisions