Solving a Misunderstanding

meetingIf you have ever dealt with another person in your life, you have had a misunderstanding.  Things like cream in your coffee instead of black or who forgot to set the alarm when you leave your house are issues that can be very easily handled and, after a quick remedy, are put behind you.

When a misunderstanding happens at work, however, they tend to blow up bigger than they really are.  Things like forgetting to send a package or returning a call can become huge issues.  Tempers escalate even further when a shipment to a customer is messed up and no one is notified or a report is run with outdated data and huge projects are based on that report.

As a leader, you need to know how to diffuse both types of issues because they affect your team’s performance and their trust in each other.   In order to lead through the fall-out from misunderstandings, you need to:

  1. Create a culture of accountability.  Many times mistakes and misunderstandings occur when there is a lack of control over a project or task.  People need to know what they are expected to do every day and that they will be held responsible if their tasks are not done properly.   A leader has to own your (or your team’s) mistakes.  The buck has to stop with you and you need to recognize when mistakes are made by your team or you and accept the consequences.  You cannot blame others for your team’s issues.
  2. Communicate with your team and key contributors.  Misunderstandings and hurt feelings usually occur because of poor communication.  Keep your team and the other people that you need to be successful informed on changes, decisions, and other issues that may cause problems.
  3. Empower your team to solve their issues professionally without you getting involved.  Having mom or dad solve the issue usually causes more hurt feelings.  This is especially true when a leader has to mediate between team members.  The one that “won” is smug and the one that “lost” is demotivated.  Let them try to solve their own issues before getting involved.
  4. Keep HR in the loop.  Human Resources is a leader’s best friend during misunderstandings.  They know whether the issue is a job related mistake versus harassment.  HR also can help sensitize your team to avoid issues altogether.  Telling someone you like their sweater may be a nice compliment but it also can be construed as an advance.  Make sure your team knows how your company wants employees to interact with each other.

As with most of my articles, these are pretty simple on the surface policies to enact.  However, it takes a dedicated and determined leader to stick to these principles- especially when someone books you to go to St. Louis, MI instead of St. Louis Park, MN.

Pride in the Name of Your Career

coffee potYou come in the office and the coffee pot has exactly one mug left in it.  Later your luck continues as you use the last of the toilet paper and the final hand towel in the dispenser. Without a blink, you just go about your day.

Now think about the person who followed you in the kitchen and washroom.  They had to clean the coffee pot, start a new pot of coffee, replace the toilet paper and reload the hand towels.   They are probably now having a bad day.  All of this extra work in an already crappy day.

Imagine if your boss was that person and he/she passed you in each entrance way.  Do you think they will have noticed that you used up everything and didn’t replace it?  Did your day get worse because of theirs going south?

There is an old Italian saying that “Clean doesn’t cost anything”.  They couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t have personal pride in their space.  It costs the same amount of money to have a clean or dirty area.

The same can be said for employees who do not take the time to clean up their work area, common areas, and themselves.  Their outward appearance is that they are not observant, do not have pride about their work appearance, and potentially are lazy.

Leaders need to be neat, buttoned up, aware of their surroundings, and selfless.  It is really hard for a person to be a leader of others if they cannot manage their own stuff, humble themselves to think of others first and sweat the small stuff that affect their team.

The person who lacks self-awareness goes through life not worrying about what comes next.  That disregard often leads to shortsighted decision making- affecting the results of their team and company.  It affects their reputation with the coworkers and management as they are seen as self-absorbed and spoiled.  Make sure you take pride in your appearance and your surroundings, you never know who is watching.

What You Do Next is the Key…

Baseball season enderWhile watching the Home Run Derby last night, I started to think about all of the players that flamed out after a year or two.  Players like Mark Fidrych, Mark Prior, Joe Charboneau, and Dontrelle Willis.  They all had tremendous initial success, but were not able to sustain it.  This is compared to a player like Tim Duncan who was outstanding for almost 20 years in the NBA or Derek Jeter formerly with the Yankees.

This also happens in the business world.  A product manager has a hit, is on the fast track, then somehow gets derailed and their career stalls while another one gets product after product into the marketplace and their career grows exponentially.

It got me thinking about why someone is able to sustain their initial success and why others aren’t.  In my opinion, most times it boils down to effort and attitude.

  1. Effort- our world today is all about instant gratification.  What can I do now to make myself- happier, looking or feeling better, etc.?  By having success at an early age, most workers will become satisfied and consciously or unconsciously have their drive diminish.  What separates them from the “best” is that the best drive themselves every day to improve.  Instead of only looking at the positives in a project, they look at the negatives to see where things could be done more efficiently or effectively.
  2. Attitude- being told “how great you are” tends to give you an inflated opinion of yourself.  If you believe that hype, your attitude wanes and you become an expert in all things.  Being a valuable member of a team is no longer a goal of yours, you need to be the smartest person in the room.  As this happens, your team loses its trust and faith in you.  It makes being able to adjust to your environment harder and harder until you become a dinosaur in your company.  A person with a great attitude is always will to improve and adapt.  They are able to literally hit whatever is thrown at them.

There are no one size fits all ways to be successful for a sustained period.  You need to constantly work hard and be a team player- even if you are the boss.  By staying humble and driven though, you will most likely be able to stay a star.

Managing Change

happy-customersThe business world and life in general are full of challenges.  How you respond to those challenges makes all of the difference as a leader.  Most of your business challenges are brought on by your competitors.

To lead your team and beat your competition, you need to do the following:

  1. Analyze where and why your competitor has an advantage
  2. Review and adjust your strategies to close the gaps
  3. Execute your plan perfectly

Three simple steps involving 25 simple words are the most elusive part of any business plan.  Why is it so hard to see where your competitors are better than you, to change your plan on the fly, and for your team to follow your vision?

The reason is that people are resistant to change.  And managing through change is the hardest thing a leader has to do.  Using the following techniques, you’ll improve your skill and your team’s performance will thrive.

  1. Over Communicate.  During times of change, normally sound minded people tend to overact to every situation.  By making sure your team is loop into every part of the analysis and strategy, you will reduce some of the fear of the unknown associated with change.
  2. Stay Positive.  It is easy during a period of change for you to lose confidence and worry.  But a true leader will always look to the end goal and pull his team with him.  Being negative is not going to help your team beat your competition.
  3. Be Open.  When reviewing competition, look at them from all sides and really focus on their positives and negatives as well as your teams.  This will help you actually improve your performance and narrow the gap between the teams.  Take your corporate glasses off and see what is really happening.
  4. Plot and Plan.  Once you see what is really going on, build a plan that both maximizes your team’s strengths and your competition’s weaknesses and neutralizes your weaknesses and competition’s strengths.  This is not usually a five-minute meeting.  Take the necessary time to do it right.
  5. Act Decisively.  Once the plan of attack has been approved, lead your team in a focused way to achieve your new goals.  Trust that you have done your best to provide the right roadmap and make sure everyone is following it.
  6. Be Prepared- to Change Again.  No plan will work forever.  Make sure your team is ready to embrace changes on the fly.  Look at how football teams change their play calling every down to maximize how the other team lines up.  You need to be ready at a moment’s notice to punt- or to throw the ball down the field.

You need to be an agent of change if you are going to be a successful leader.  By practicing change management, you will become a pro and your team’s performance will soar.

Make Sure You Are Covered

beach umbrellaSummer is vacation season.  You are taking time off to explore new worlds.  Creating lasting memories that can be passed on for decades.  You are living in the now- not worrying about work.

Wait!  You are still worried about work on your vacation!?  That is so wrong.  Your vacation is given to you to decompress and come back with fresh ideas.  Not stressed that your work isn’t being done.

In order to have a relaxing vacation, you need to give your team ample instructions on how to cover your position during your time out of the office.  Your checklist should include:

  1. Your Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Tasks- list the tasks that you are required to perform each day.  Include detailed instructions on how to complete each task and when they are expected to be completed.  Also write down who is supposed to get the results of each task- which supervisor gets which report for instance.
  2. Your Key Contacts- list the key people inside or outside of the company who may try to contact you and their contact information and give a little background on why they may be calling.  Leave space on the list for your covers to put notes on when they called, why, and the actions taken to help.
  3. Your Voicemail and Email Instructions- aside from the obvious changing your messages so your team knows that you are out of the office, when you are returning, and who to contact while you are away, include how you’d like the covers to keep you in the loop with calls and emails.  I prefer that every email to one of “my” contacts provide me with a direct copy and that any calls answered on my behalf have a follow up email to summarize the conversation.
  4. Your Passwords- work with IT to create temporary passwords for your computer and applications that may require someone else accessing them during your vacation.  This is especially important when you are accessing programs that send the lost password email to you and/or restrict your access when passwords are entered incorrectly.  Make sure you change your passwords back as soon as you return to work.
  5. Your Filing System- whether it is a physical file or a computer file, show your covers how and where you put files.  This will make it easier for them to find files but also for you to find new ones upon your return.
  6. Your Project List- leave a list of all of the projects that you are working on and where to find the files (electronic or physical) with your covers.  This helps them understand what they may need to pitch in on and see how busy you are.

Most people mistakenly try to get everything done before they go on vacation.  Instead you should make sure everyone knows what you are doing and how to get that accomplished.  One of the surest signs of a leader is that they can leave the office and the work still gets performed at a high level.  By outlining the information above, you could probably take a full month off.  Imagine that!