Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

WellA couple of weeks ago I listened to several people discuss the topic of networking with others. The featured guest in the Google Hangout video chat was Stacy Zapar who happens to have the distinction of being the most connected woman on LinkedIn. She shared her experiences and insights regarding networking and is obviously very knowledgeable about the importance of it in the field of recruiting and talent management. You can view that one-hour video and review the archive of the accompanying Twitter chat here.

During the discussion, the focus was on how to build a personal and professional network in a way that is strategic, thoughtful, and leads toward helping accomplish goals and meet needs in the future as they arise. I didn’t realize until after the discussion that the title for the chat – “Dig a Well Before You’re Thirsty” – is based on a nearly identical book title by Harvey Mackay published in 1999. After some further exploration, it seems like a good investment of someone’s time to read that book, especially if you feel you could use some assistance in building a network for professional and career reasons.

Dig a Well Before You're ThirstySometimes, though, phrases jump out at us and immediately have application far beyond the original context. Such is the case with this book title. It’s true that I weekly pursue expanding my professional contacts in the field of enterprise social networking, especially through the weekly Twitter #ESNchat I host. But when I hear the phrase “Dig a well before you’re thirsty,” my mind immediately goes to other areas of life and the general advice to be prepared, to plan ahead, to not wait until the last moment to get things done, etc.

It reminds me that if I want, for example, to have a decent nest egg for retirement, I have to be contributing and investing wisely for many years before that elusive date. It means that if I have aspirations to accomplish larger goals in the future, I must be willing to lay the groundwork and put in place the stepping stones that are necessary now in order to reach those goals later.

Dig a well before you’re thirsty. That sounds to me like a phrase worth remembering and a philosophy worth living.

How would you apply it?

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!

Dilbert Vision

When I think of ambitious goals that I have seen or personally attempted in businesses I’ve worked at, it is easy to recall some that were successfully achieved and others that were not.  Of course, there are many factors that go into the success or failure of each individually, but I’d like to share some thoughts around the high-level components of any major endeavor and the business personnel implications of those components.

Vision.  Someone or some group of people needs to have and share a vision that others buy into.  If the company is to be more than it has been, if it is to make forward advances rather than maintain the status quo, then that vision needs to exist, be communicated, and willingly shared by those expected to implement the necessary actions to support the vision.

Some leaders are outstanding at this, sharing a vision and then providing high-level guidance, wisdom, and inspiration to keep the ship on the right path.  Others, unfortunately, may think they are good at this, fancying themselves as vision casters while the people lower in the org chart know it’s just a passing fancy most likely influenced by the latest book, article or conference to which the leader was exposed – one that will only be top of mind until another book, article or conference replaces it.  People in the trenches learn to not pay much attention to these types of pronouncements.

While those at the helm of organizations should be the primary sources of vision for their orgs, they should not discount the potential insights and contributions of others at any level of the org chart.  Being visionary is not limited to certain roles or pay scales.  Vision from others in the org need not compete with the large-scale vision for the whole enterprise.  It may relate only to a specific part of the business with which that employee has great familiarity.  As long as such smaller scale visions fit within the larger ones, they may be great assets to help move the enterprise forward.

Plans.  Some may not like me grouping strategy in with the plans section here, but I do that with the understanding that strategy refers to the high-level plans which must, of course, be broken down into far more detail for implementation.  How many times in different settings have we heard some grand vision proposed, only to never see it come anywhere close to fruition?  Why does that happen?  Perhaps because the vision was never translated into the necessary strategy and detail plans to make it happen.  Merely thinking about a direction we want to go (vision) doesn’t actually move the needle in that direction.  It takes plans and the people who are good at making those plans to take this vital step.

Action.  Finally, the plans have to be carried out.  They may or may not be executed exactly as originally planned, based on the ongoing evaluation process used to make adjustments and changes as needed, but it’s certain that the vision won’t become reality without people actually taking action to get it done.

It should be obvious that any major initiative in business needs the three components above.  Visions without plans die.  Plans without actions fail.  Actions that are not tied to plans made to implement the larger vision are wastes of time and resources.  That isn’t earth-shattering news.

However, there are personnel implications that we may need to remind ourselves of from time to time in light of the above components.  First, it will take a variety of people, skill sets, and personality types to fill all the roles required to formulate the vision, make the plans, and implement them.  Very few people are good at all three of the above.  Many enthusiastic entrepreneurs ultimately fail because they do not have and do not hire to account for the breadth of abilities it takes to handle everything from seeing the big picture to implementing the detail actions needed.  In a large organization, though, there is more likely a variety of people available to get the job done if they are properly positioned in the effort according to their passions and abilities.

It is tempting when hiring for an organization to hire others like ourselves.  After all, each of us thinks he/she is wonderful, right?  We might think, “How can I go wrong with adding more people like me?”  The truth, however, is that in addition to our strengths, we also have weaknesses whether we see them very clearly or not.  We’re really not good at everything individually, and it’s in our best interests as well as the organization’s for us to know where we need help.  We need people around us who are complementary (as in completing the knowledge and skills needed by a team) rather than just complimentary (as in paying us compliments).

If we do a good job at bringing on a variety of people to make up the right teams, then another challenge will quickly present itself – learning how to get along with a mix of others.  That takes people skills, some positive character traits, and a willingness to work together in spite of occasional differences.  It can be done with the right team.

When our team at work was looking to expand recently, we had to take time to consider where our gaps were, where we needed help, and what new roles fit within the overall vision of where we are going and our strategy for getting there.  I’m pleased to say that last week was the first week for our newest teammate to join us and next week we’ll welcome another addition to the team.  Those additions, along with shuffling some responsibilities between team members, will better position us to move forward the remainder of this year toward accomplishing the vision for our area, one that we know fits within the larger vision of the enterprise.

It isn’t enough in competitive business today to be mediocre, to remain the same, or to cruise along doing what you’ve always done just because that’s the way it’s always been done.  It takes vision, plans, and action to get from point A to point B in a desired time frame, and it takes the right mix of people all working well together to make the journey successful.

Do you know your company’s vision?  Do you know where you and your area fit within that vision?  Do you have a strategy and plans you can articulate to do your part?  Do you have the right team in place to get it done?

Doomsday PreppersThe lesson below is a guest post from my friend, Carla Puckett. She suggested the topic to me recently, but I thought it would be best if she shared her experience directly with my readers. Thanks, Carla, for an excellent lesson! Be sure to check out Carla’s blog at That’s What I’m Thinking.

I hate reality shows. But I watched “Doomsday Preppers” the other night after mistakingly DVRing it instead of a show on the Food Network. I watched the entire episode out of curiosity, and I’m glad I did because I learned something.

The show was about people who believe some mega catastrophe is going to occur – a natural disaster, collapse of the U.S economy, nuclear war, etc. – all of which they believe will lead to civil unrest and martial law – and they are planning and preparing for it by amassing enough food, ammo and other supplies to last them and their families for years. To say that the people on this show were obsessed with their “prepping” doesn’t even come close; all said they spend the majority of a 24-hour day prepping.

I’m all for planning and preparing; as a security consultant, it’s the main part of what I do. I tell people, churches, and other organizations how to plan and prepare for emergencies. I’m sure the people up in the northeast wished someone had taught them the need to plan and prepare for a disaster like Sandy, but I digress. What I teach and tell is not rocket science – it’s common sense. For example, here’s a security and safety tip for you, free of charge: take time to put together an emergency kit for you and the members of your household. Have enough food and water for you all for at least 3 days, and have any needed medications, a first aid kit, battery-powered radio, flashlights with extra batteries, and did I mention water? Make copies of insurance policies and other important documents and keep them in your kit as well. Also add in an extra set of clothes, and some blankets, and don’t forget food for pets. Keep all of these items together in backpacks or a plastic storage bin. You get the picture.

It’s OK to plan and prepare – the Bible tells us repeatedly that we need to. But it’s not OK to become so obsessed with planning and preparing for the future that you don’t have time for today.

Leap year lesson #336: Plan and prepare, but don’t forget the present.

I’ve had a few occasions lately where multiple meetings on a subject are proof that some people are inclined to spend way too much time planning the simplest things.  At some point I want to just say “Stop talking about this and do something!”

In one case, a colleague and I are locked into one meeting a week for more than a month just to plan another series of meetings.  I have a very low tolerance level for meetings to plan meetings.  We know what we need to do.  We could sit down together one time for a couple of hours and do all the planning needed.  All other individuals and departments we have met with about the same process have gotten the idea in no more than 30 minutes and are ready to act on it.  Unfortunately, we are not in charge of these particular meetings or the later ones being planned, so we have to endure the over planning.

The other situation with too much planning is related to a conference at which I am speaking later this month.  What is most needed at this point is for the panelists to have some extended time together to walk through the panel discussion and finalize who will address which topics during the talk.  Instead, we continue to talk about slides and eventually rehearsing the discussion at some point.  I think just doing the rehearsal will be the most beneficial preparation and will, itself, determine which of the many possible slides we include in the final discussion.

Planning is good.  No major endeavor should happen without it.  But it’s possible to plan too much.  At some point we need to act.  We can’t always think through every possible risk or issue that might come up before we try something.  That’s OK.  We learn best by doing, anyway, so we may as well get to the doing part as soon as we can.

There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to planning.  Be mindful of when you hit that point.

Leap year lesson #218 is Stop over planning and do something.