30 Second MBA

August 31, 2009

I don’t have an MBA, so I don’t have direct experience of the programs; and I’m sure most of them deliver a great education in business, finance, analysis, operations, and all the trimmings. But I’m not a fan of the idea because of my personal experience with so many of the MBAs who came out of their programs in the 80’s and 90’s.

The irony was that most of these folks were straight out of biz school when I knew them, and they didn’t know anything about how business really worked. They only knew how it was “supposed” to go. They’d been taught that business was something that could be managed utterly by numbers, and that the end results justified the management means. Some of them were the dumbest smart people I’ve ever known.

I had plenty of conflict as an executive: it’s part of business, and most of it was straightforward and quickly resolved. Good conflict — effective and productive. The bad conflict I had was always with those MBAs who answered human needs — for respect, for communication, for collaboration — by pointing to the numbers and saying Look how well we’re doing, that’s all the answer you need. And a lot of times that’s all the answer our company looked for: having an MBA gave those inexperienced people more credibility than the advice — and the results in engagement, loyalty, productivity and retention — of the experienced managers.

But I think MBA programs are changing. I think there’s attention paid to the subtleties of managing people as well as the subtleties of process improvement and evidence-based decision making. And there is so much we can all learn from experienced people about how to manage them all together.

That’s why I’m glad to see the 30 Second MBA at Fast Company. Every day, a business leader or expert delivers a thirty-second distillation of his or her advice and experience on a particular topic. They’re not all great, but that’s part of the lesson — using your own instincts to tell you what tips make sense is the only way you’ll ever refine those instincts. The 30-second limit means there isn’t a lot of depth, but that’s also fine: the point is to give you simple and effective ideas, insights and techniques. (And one of the things I’ve already learned: if you have a 30-second limit, don’t go over it. It makes you seem either unfocused or arrogant; either way, people stop listening).

I don’t think this is a substitute for either education or experience. But if you can spend 30 seconds a day evaluating someone else’s advice, and perhaps putting another small piece of your own management style into place, that seems a pretty good return on investment.

Hello, my name is Kelley

August 10, 2009

I didn’t go to President Obama’s inauguration, although I did weep for joy through the entire event in the comfort of my own living room (see Comments section to learn why this is edited). But if I’d been there, I would certainly have been wearing a name tag.

Sharing your name is an act of courtesy, courage, and confidence. It’s a way to connect; it’s the beginning of community. Forget about those people who throw their name around like a weapon or a bribe (and just so you know, if you do that, other people talk bad about you when you’re not around). Most people aren’t impressed by your name; they’re impressed by the gift of it.

So don’t ever assume that people at your company or in other parts of your life “know who you are” — that just makes you look either insecure or enormously arrogant, neither of which is really the ideal path to getting things done.

It’s not hard. Smile and say, “Hi, I’m Kelley.” From that simple connection, you can go almost anywhere.

Power Talk

July 13, 2009

Power Talk offers brief ideas and good basic suggestions for communicating more authentically and effectively in personal and business situations, and to groups. Pamela Ziemann offers a variety of perspectives ranging from the spiritual to the pragmatic — check out Power of Speaking with Intention and Notre Dame Speech, my favorite line as examples.

Style is substance

May 18, 2009

I think everyone with a job of any kind should read this interview with Greg Brenneman. He distills some of the essential skills of planning, management, communication, engagement, authenticity, and interacting from our values at work. Sure, he’s talking about his experience at the CEO level, but the strategies and skills he highlights are those that any of us can, and should, be using in our jobs. These are all things that will make our work together better.

You’ll notice that Brenneman emphasizes simplicity and focus. When you read the interview, pay attention to his style as well as his words. He comes across as smart and succinct. That’s a marvelous combination in a leader — whenever you find such people, pay attention to how they do it, and notice the impact it has on those around them. When people realize that you’re consistently clear, authentic and on point in a few well-chosen words, they will always pay attention to what you say.

So many managers and leaders reveal their insecurity by needing to say everything in detail at least three times without checking whether the folks they are talking to actually need the repetition. It comes across as either patronizing, or as if you’re not that clear yourself on what you have to say. Be clear with yourself; then be clear with the people around you. That’s effective whether you’re a manager or not, no matter where you work.

More on ground rules

May 13, 2009

I’ve been thinking more about ground rules since my exchange with Bob Sutton about using them to help manage meetings. As Harold Shinsato points out in his comment on that post, “ground rules and team commitments need not only be restricted to meetings.” That’s absolutely true.

I believe strongly in team agreements as the foundation for team structure and culture. Done properly, specific agreements about behavior, process, and roles/responsibilities aren’t anal-retentive corporate fiddlefaddle. They are the tools that create a level playing field for everyone on the team, so that everyone can expect the same basic experience of being a team member. An effective, happy team becomes everyone’s right and everyone’s responsibility; and that’s when teamwork really takes off.

    I think every manager should facilitate Team Ground Rules. Like meeting ground rules, these are specific behaviors that everyone on the team helps define, and then agrees to. Together, the team creates a set of behavior guidelines that they believe will:

  • Make it easier for them to do their individual jobs
  • Make it easier to work together as a team.
    General team ground rules can cover a number of areas:

  • sharing information
  • communication
  • areas of authority or responsibility
  • commitments to training and development
  • handling mistakes
  • raising concerns
  • addressing interpersonal conflicts

Here’s an example of Team Ground Rules from a team I’ve been part of:

    Noise and Privacy

  • Avoid extended loud conversations at our desks.
  • Tell people if they are being too loud. Don’t stew about it.
  • Respect when someone says they are busy. Tell them what you want to discuss and ask when they are available to talk. You should both take responsibility for following up.
    Communication

  • Let each other know if something is bothering us.
          — Be polite and respectful.
          — Be direct.
          — No ultimatums.
          — Get a manager to facilitate the conversation if necessary.
          — Assume that we all have good intentions.
  • Stay approachable and open.
  • Keep helping each other. We all have different skills to share.
  • Let the team know when you are absent, and identify a proxy.
  • Share information about our priorities, responsibilities and workload.

Your team can decide on whatever ground rules you think will make it easier to work together. The point is that everyone agrees.

I also strongly recommend that you develop Manager Ground Rules that apply specifically to how managers on your team behave. It’s important that every team member feel confident that the team is managed consistently, whether you have multiple managers on the team or it’s just you. Again, the team works together to create these rules — they are not Handed Down From On High. It can be scary to give your team input into how you as a manager behave with them: but I guarantee there is no more powerful way to create a connected, supportive and successful team than to ask people how you can best manage them.

Here’s an example of Manager Ground Rules (again, from a team I managed, so I was bound by these rules along with other managers on the team):

    Working with team members

  • Hands-off attitude. Allow people to do their job in the way that works best for the individual except where necessary to meet team standards.
  • Delegate properly. Make sure people understand the work that is required, and then let them go.
    Resist the urge to do the work yourself.
  • Get involved in hands-on details only when you need to learn a new area of the business; to assist in problem-solving; to get information for a decision; or to provide training.
  • Balance between making suggestions and giving directions.
  • Know when people need help. Know when people need smaller goals and more manager involvement, and then when they are ready to go it alone.
    Communication

  • Share information consistently, especially information that team doesn’t have access to.
  • Overcommunicate at first and then pull back as requested.
  • Give context for information.
  • Communicate important information verbally as well as in writing.
  • No mutual mind-reading. Everyone has to communicate. Employees have to also take responsibility for the relationship and sharing information with the manager.
    Decision-making

  • Listen. Hear all details and information first before jumping in.
  • Be fair. Get all the information and perspectives you need to make a decision, then inform everyone of the decision.
  • Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Consider all input, even if you can’t give everyone the answer they want.
  • Explain decisions.

I devote an entire session of the Humans At Work curriculum to teaching managers how to define and create a variety of team agreements, including Team Ground Rules and Manager Ground Rules. You’ll also find examples of all agreements in the Tools and Materials document.

Ground rules

May 11, 2009

I left a comment the other day on Bob Sutton’s thoughtful post about what poorly-run meetings can indicate about the managers in charge. My comment was about Ground Rules, a very useful tool for meetings of all kinds.

Bob kindly took my comment and created a post around it. Please stop by his blog if you’re interested in ideas about Ground Rules; and please stay to read his other wide-ranging and excellent advice on creating better workplaces and better managers. I admire his work very much, and in fact have a notion to someday create a series of blog posts here that reflect on the items in his sidebar.

That’s how these ideas of new ways of working together will spread: as we all learn from each other, as we all become engaged in this great conversation about management, leadership, and being human in the midst of it all. So please, visit Bob’s blog and add your voice to the conversation; and come back to Humans At Work whenever you’d like to talk. There’s always a seat at this table. That is, in fact, one of my Ground Rules.

Pull up a chair

April 1, 2009

Wow. What would happen if we all just started talking — and listening — at work?

I’ve been a part of initiatives similar in philosophy (although never using the Chair approach, which I think is brilliant), and they work. It can take a while to earn people’s trust — that they will not be punished for expressing their feelings, that their ideas will be heard, that they are part of a meaningful process as opposed to a feel-good experiment. When you do earn that trust, you get the enormous reward of people who are so engaged that they will make time in their work day to find you and tell you things they think you need to know, good and bad. How much is that worth to you?

Many thanks to Allison O’Neill for the article link. Sign up for Allison’s RSS feed — her posts always have something useful to say to any manager.

Audit your secrets

March 12, 2009

Allison O’Neill, author of The Boss Benchmark, joins me today as a guest blogger with a very timely article on keeping secrets at work.

Allison is an expert on bosses. She is the New Zealand-based author of The Boss Benchmark – a book about how to be an amazing boss, endorsed by high profile worldwide CEO’s. You can download the first few chapters free (and purchase a hardcopy or e-version) at her website.

Allison blogs regularly on the topic of being a boss and would love to hear any questions, ideas or feedback you have about this article. Start a conversation here, or email Allison.


Why you should audit the secrets you keep from your staff

In the past when there were stiff hierarchies there were probably lots of things management knew that staff did not. Perhaps management thought staff were not important enough to be told many things. The futuristic workplace though, has an ‘all in’ attitude — anything management knows staff should too. Such open attitudes are positively overhauling our workplace cultures. It shows staff they are respected and trusted and it increases engagement. Most places want to do away with the ‘them vs. us’ of management and staff. It is not a helpful vibe, and should have been given the boot a long time ago.

Some bosses use secrets simply to make themselves feel awesome. Anyone who keeps secrets purely to make themselves feel superior is pathetic — but they do exist. It is impossible for a team to unite and truly function as a ‘team’ under those conditions. I knew of a boss that wanted to show his team he had ‘the power’ so staged fake job interviews to frighten the staff that were on thin ice. Its like he was trying to scare them into performing better — or they’d be replaced. Mind games like this should have absolutely no place at work. Its not healthy — the boss is unfit to be a boss and it makes the staff live in fear. What a gross environment!

‘Secrets’ you shouldn’t share

If a staff member shares things with you in confidence they should of course be kept private. There are many instances where an employee needs to inform a boss about something happening in their lives that may affect their work, but that does not mean everyone else should know too. Some examples:

  • They have a health problem they are managing privately.
  • They are separating from their partner and wish it to be private.
  • They need time off for a mental health issue.

Also, in businesses where husband and wife owners work together, should they have marriage problems it can affect the entire business and team. Personal problems should be kept out of work –- if not, you will really impact your staff members and their work (often even if you think you aren’t). If it has affected the team already, apologize and inform them you will be keeping work and private lives separate from now on. If you do end up separating, draw up some rules to help you manage your work relationship and be open about what is going on with the team. Don’t leave them to guess, wonder or gossip.

‘Secrets’ you should share

I know a boss that made a huge mistake by listing the business for sale without telling the staff. The staff saw the ad when reading the paper on Saturday morning. They were very annoyed that the boss had been feeding them lies about “everything being fine”. Instead of feeling embarrassed about having to sell up, the boss should have been open and included the staff in this process honestly. Instead the culture was tense and disconnected while the sale went through. The boss didn’t regain the trust or respect of the team.

In the past a lot of businesses kept financial details secret from staff –- as if it was none of their business or they didn’t need to know. Businesses that do share such information are often better off. One great reason to share is the clarification about how much profit the owners really do pocket each year. Some staff believe it to be gazillions, which is why they get so annoyed at their wage which they may feel is miserable. Often when all the financial details are on the table they see they are paid very fairly and the boss doesn’t take home four million each week!

You should share things like:

  • If there is a drop in sales tell the team -– don’t just keep it within the boardroom.
  • Tell everyone what the high margin products are so they can focus on selling those items.
  • If there are financial difficulties discuss it with everyone and pen a survival plan together — especially since staff know the customers much better than management does. Their contribution will be very valuable.

It is important to tell staff margin details because if they are earning commissions on each item, they can sometimes assume you are pocketing a lot more from their great sales work than the miserable commission you are paying.

Audit your secrets

  1. Ponder everything management knows but the staff do not.
  2. Figure out why these things are not public knowledge amongst the team.
  3. Identify at what cost the secrets are being kept.
  4. List the pros and cons of staff knowing (more often than not, the honesty is of higher value than any negative that may come from sharing).
  5. Come clean with your secrets and tell the team that management intend on being more open about such things in the future.

Involving staff in these kind of ‘secrets’ is not rocket science –- they are stakeholders, after all. Gone are the days when the boss knew lots of inside secrets and the staff were clueless — often wandering aimlessly around scratching their heads. The workplace of the future is without old-fashioned hierarchies and is full of openness, honesty and much bigger success.

See it, be it

March 9, 2009

As a follow-up to talking about the importance and power of focus, here’s a great article by Srinivasan Pillay on why and how visualization works — what happens in the brain, and in our lives, when we visualize.

Visualizing works. And it’s an enormously important skill for managers. It goes hand in hand with focus. As Pillay points out in the article, feeding your brain a “plan in a thousand words” is less successful than giving it a single, specific image. The real work is getting to that single image.

But that’s all it is — work. We can all do it. It’s a process. Most of us start with a jumble of ideas, feelings and thoughts that don’t really draw together into a coherent set of goals — that’s perfectly normal. Like anything else, it gets easier with regular repetition. We can teach ourselves to visualize focused goals, and we can figure out the right steps to take in pursuit of those goals. And along the way, we’re also fighting the paralysis of fear for ourselves and our teams, making our businesses more successful, and making our brains more healthy and our spirits more resilient.

Part of the science behind visualization that Pillay describes (see his second paragraph) is mirror neurons. You’ll find some exercises to help you and your team understand the power of mirror neurons in Session Two of the Humans At Work program. And at the end of Session One, you’ll find some questions you can ask yourself to begin visualizing the best manager you can be. You can make that a long-term visualization — or you can adapt the questions to consider how your “best manager” self would respond to your specific team or company situation right now.

And finally, here’s one of the article’s most important points for me:

Remember, a failure is not a final statement that you will not succeed. It is information that your vision has to be changed, refined or repeated.

In work, as in life, we do not have to be perfect the first time out in order to be successful. We just need to keep working on it.

Fight fear with focus

February 25, 2009

Many thanks to Terry Seamon for inviting me to contribute to his series “Leading in the Crisis” at Here We Are. Now What?

I found myself struggling to decide what to write about — with so much stress on all of us these days, what can I offer that can make a difference right now? I had a thousand ideas, and they all seemed useful in some way — but Terry didn’t ask for a book, he asked for a post. So how to decide which idea would be best?

And then I understood the real lesson. The fact that I couldn’t choose an article topic — that I wanted to write about everything — was a powerful reminder for me of how losing focus makes even everyday decisions difficult. Imagine that lack of focus playing out throughout businesses worldwide… that’s the stuff of nightmares. And it’s very easy to lose focus in times of fear. So now, more than ever, focus matters.

The article begins:

These are hard and frightening times — hard because of the financial crisis, frightening because so many of us feel powerless to do anything except watch the world slide away around us.

If this were simply a question of managing money troubles – cutting costs, revamping strategies, becoming more innovative – we’d know what to do without hesitation. But the real challenge we face today as leaders is helping people manage fear.

I hope you’ll head over and read the rest of the article at Terry’s blog, where you’ll also find the thoughts of others on how we can all keep on course during these difficult times. Let Terry know what you think of these posts, or come back here for more conversation on staying focused and managing fear.

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