Well, OF COURSE no one trusts management…..

Backstabber_by_bat_bat

Backstabber by bat bat

In a conversation with a seasoned manager who asked me why I believed morale was so poor in his organization, I stated that the thing most often heard wafting through the cubicles was that people simply don’t trust the management here. “Well, that’s universal.” he stated, and quickly dismissed the concerns people were uttering as just usual, typical, workplace angst. 

And so, improving the situation quickly became impossible or, at the very least, set back for quite a while. 

Now, it would be easy to point out the ignorance of this approach, or how such thinking leads to long-term disengagement, to how the failure to put aside personal perceptions and attempt to understand a situation before launching into a solution is a far more optimal approach, etc, etc, etc.  Certainly, all of these things were my first, immediate, and emotional reactions. Upon reflection, however, I realized that this problem  was born from different perspectives on management’s role among the age groups in the organization.

Those who felt that the staff was – for lack of a better term – whining, were all north of 55 years of age, and most of those were north of 60.  Their expectation was that managers were tough, not very understanding, at that the entire management rank of the organization was something for everyone else to contend with and develop mechanisms around. 

The folks on the other end of the spectrum were all 30-40 years old, and had an expectation that, while management needed to be stood up to at times, its primary function was to enable workers as much as possible.  Managers, from their point of view, needed to make adjustments in their own behavior when confronted so that the organization as a whole, as well as the people within it, could thrive. 

Younger still, and with a very different perspective, were those who were 20-30 years old, who believed they shouldn’t even have to confront management and let them know where the problems were.  They expected management to be involved, engaged, and have a deep understanding o the work such that problems were prevented, not simply addressed when they arose. 

 Some of this difference in perspective has to do with simple matters of maturity.  s you get older, you get a little more grizzled, tougher, and less likely to expect that someone else is going to take care of you.  Some of it, however, is also generational – my belief is that those folks who are in their 20s now will be more likely to look for collaborative and trustworthy management styles when they are in their 60s, as well as be more likely to create a sense of trust in the organization as they rise through the ranks. 

They will not achieve it 100%, of course, since having to bend the young whelps into shape is a part of maturing and becoming a leader.  There are clear differences in the expectations that generations have of the role of management, however, and not all of those expectations will erode over time. 

For the highest ranks of management, this is an important element of team dynamics to understand.  There are going to be conflicts arising from role expectations, management styles, personality types and even just work habits.  But what is driving those attributes?  The root cause may be something so simple as understanding when a person was born.

My best advice to anyone, regardless of age group, is simple:  Seek understanding and reflect before speaking.  Every opinion is a valid one, and you will understand it better if you first learn to understand the premise with which it was made.  This will provide you with an opportunity to examine your own opinions and behaviors and then decide if you are the one who needs to grow up a little, or regain a little of your lost youthful optimism.

 

More on kids and the wisdom gained from teaching baseball

Memories (baseball)

Memories by RickyCrabbit

Last spring, when my older son was 6, I wrote a couple of posts describing what I learned about parenting, people and myself as I attempted to guide him through excelling at something he’d never done before.  You can seem them here:

That second post – about teaching the boys on my son’s team how to focus in spite of themselves, is one of the more popular posts I’ve ever written, if you judge by how frequently it has been re-tweeted.  As we move into spring time here in northern New England, the baseball gloves are re-emerging from hibernation, and there are already opportunities to learn more about guiding people.

My son had a friend over on what turned out to be a record-setting day for warm weather (which has been freakish in these parts for the past 6 months or so).  In 75-degree weather, which is about 3 months ahead of schedule, I played a little catch & hit with the boys on our front lawn.

My son and I have spent a lot of time over the past year or so on the mechanics of fielding and hitting.  While he’s not exactly the second coming of Derek Jeter, he has a decent understanding of how to throw, how to hold a bat and swing level, and how to move his feet to get in front of a ground ball and squat down to field it.  His friend, who has not played on a team yet, proclaimed he was awesome at baseball – and then proceeded to hold the bat incorrectly, throw with no mechanics, and every ball that rolled on the ground went through his crooked knees.

Now, this has nothing to do with me bragging about my son (okay, so maybe just a little).  It has to do with understanding how people learn, the importance of subjective experience and interpretation, and the role of coaching.  The other boy honestly and genuinely believed he was “wicked awesome” – based on his own experience and what people had, or had not, told him about the way he did things.  My son believed much the same, until a lightly tossed ball went off the heal of his glove and hit him in the lip, or he swung so hard at a ball that he completely missed it and the bat went all the way around until it bonked him in the head.

Each of the boys had a different interpretation of what “good” meant – and acted in line with that.  By their own definition, they were, indeed, “Awesome.”  So, it struck me, that when we interview candidates or assign people to tasks based on what they tell us about themselves, we are really only going on that person’s interpretation – which may be very different from our own.  Different professions have attempted to make the understanding of the job standardized by instituting certifications and licenses, however, there is still a great deal of variation in the ability to understand and implement those standards.  There is still one universal truth – the definition of what constitutes “good” is often developed after the fact and is done so according to subjective interpretations by someone with a need to save face.

In my mind, this episode with the boys on the front lawn emphasized the need to establish the criteria for success up front and to work towards it constantly.  There has to be some wizened expert in the mix, able to see the gap between what is known now, and what the ideal is supposed to be, in order to guide and coach those with little experience.

Without that, when simple games turn into genuine winner-take-all competition, the uncoached will be left to flounder and lose…..even though they were “totally awesome” in their own minds.

Plan for peak capacity, or get good at eliminating waste

overflow

71 by PixelSoulPhoto in deviantart.com

Recently, our eldest son, who is just 7, was diagnosed with mononucleosis.  Typically, teenagers get this infection, which is commonly known as “the kissing disease.”  Just how he got it, we don’t know, but he’s going to be fine so – thanks, but no need to worry.

The infection caused his spleen to be enlarged, which means that his skiing lessons, swim classes, gym class at school and recess time are all put on hold for the next 6 weeks.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for a 1st grader.  While his teachers and school administrators are all working hard to accommodate him, they are having a bit of a difficult time of it, as there aren’t any extra staff members around every day to make sure he has someone to work with.

That mindset, however, got me to thinking about a classic problem faced in many organizations, large and small.  It points to a problem in the way we view staff capacity.  Namely, the instinctive reaction whenever current resources are strained to simply go out and get more resources, or to complain that we can’t meet the need because we’re not allowed to go out and get more resources.

But……when does anyone start to examine how we do things, to look for inefficiency?  If we eliminated that inefficiency, how many hours of unnecessary processing, running around to find things or people, sitting in pointless meetings, etc. etc. could be done away with?

Inefficiency takes on many subtle forms.  Lean has 7 traditional wastes, and some would argue there are 8 or 9 other wastes to add, but the key to all of them is that they don’t necessarily jump out and bite you.  You have to be looking for them in order to uncover the really entrenched ones.

If you’re not looking for those wastes, when resources appear to be stretched to the limit, your reaction will never be, “We need to identify some unnecessary effort in order to make more efficient use of our existing resources.”  Instead, it’s always, “We simply need to get more capacity.”  This, of course, leads to more overtime, more people (who will get laid off when the peak is over) and, in general, the very mura  and muri that are at the heart of performance problems everywhere.

We know that all environments will, eventually, encounter resource limitations.  Managing for the unforseen, however, requires more than just building extra resources into the plan – it requires knowing how to slim things down when required, too.

 

We know life is too short, so why are we letting it get wasted?

The sands of time

The Sands of Time by Pieces-of-My-Heart on deviantart.com

A while back, I wrote a post called, “Time: the ultimate currency.”  Since that post, I’ve been focusing more and more on time, especially in the context of contemplating what is waste & what is value.

What I’ve come to realize, is that we all waste an awful lot of time doing nothing value-added.  When I say “time” (or anyone else for that matter) is being wasted, I start to think “life” instead.  Every minute we spend just sitting – accomplishing nothing of value to anyone – is a minute of our lives lost and gone forever.  It doesn’t come back, it doesn’t get recycled, it doesn’t break down or compress and eventually turn into a diamond.  It is just simply gone.

It starts when we are children, and we attend school for 6 hours a day.  Now, why are we at school in the first place?  Well, you could say that the value is to learn (or receive an education, and they’re not the same thing, which you can read about here, and also here).  How much of that time – how much of the students’ lives – is spent on actually learning?  Certainly, it’s not 6 hours’ worth, so why the paradigm that says sitting they should sit there for 6 hours?

We are also spending it at work, doing a job we don’t value, or chasing down errands that are the result of taking on far too many activities than can be accomplished, or any number of things we don’t want to be doing.  All this is just to have an hour or two of personal enjoyment at the end of the day, if we’re lucky.

With this in mind, I must confess that I get a very visceral reaction when I hear folks say they “Just want to win the lottery” or “I wish I could get someone else to do this” or “I wish I could work from home.”  All of those things, to me, sound like expressions of disappointment with how we are spending their time.

So how many minutes of each day are we spending doing something we value?  Is our commute valuable?  No, not really.  Is reading through an inbox full of HR announcements, IT system messages, and group-wide email broadcasts valuable?  Nope.  How about attending meetings for 4 hours a day?  No, nothing there, either.  So what portion of the day do we actually spend creating value for someone?  What if work were about the value you produce, and not the time you spend?  What if we decided to spend that time on something we enjoy, instead?  Would we be able to build that personal wealth we need in order to have what we want?

All of this time spent on things that, in most cases, don’t necessarily add value to anyone and spend our lives producing nothing of consequence for no one who matters.  And all of it to have just enough money to get by with a fraction of the things we want.  So, there are 2 variables that stand out – perhaps we should simplify and change the things we we value, and perhaps we also need to re-think who determines how our life is invested.

What if we judged employers not on the benefits and salaries they provide, but on the how much of our lives they take away?  What if we made it more personal, and instead of the ambiguous term “employers,” we said, “John C. Smith, Vice President of Stuff, requires you spend 47 hours of your life’s limited time in the office, regardless of the amount of work there is to do, because he believes the policy says you must.”  That kind of sheds a different light on John, doesn’t it.  He’s gone from a harmless drone with a rank & a title, to a very harmful drone with a rank & a title.  Hopefully, you value your life more than that.  Hopefully you believe your precious time is worth much, much more than thousands of empty hours creating nothing of value, just to have some of the money you need for what you do value.

Recently, I came across “Why Work Sucks and how to fix it.”  The book lays out the introduction of a Results-Only culture at Best Buy’s headquarters in Minneapolis.  The book goes well beyond the “What” of what transpired at Best Buy, and dives deeper into the organizational and behavioral aspects of why the initiative was successful.  At it’s heart, it is all about valuing people’s lives, and encouraging them to value their own, as well as each other’s, combined with an awareness that work and life are entirely intertwined.

The events at Best Buy are remarkable, and I encourage everyone to check out the book, as well as read the authors blog.  There is, clearly, a need to better understand what we consider waste and value in our organizations and in our lives, as well as a need to redefine how we measure it.

Our lives depend upon it.

The luxury of I Don’t Know

Clueless

Clueless by Sugargrl14 on deviantart.com

Did you ever hear 2 people in a conversation, or been in a conversation yourself, and when 1 person mentions that a problem could be solved if the other person did X, the other says, “I don’t know how” and then drops the conversation?

Maybe it’s dealing with a co-worker or trying to teach your kid something.  Maybe it’s just a stranger looking for some advice in the hardware store.  No matter where it occurs, using “I don’t know how” as an excuse for not doing something has to be the most irritating way to respond to knew information I can think of.

Seriously, it makes my skin crawl.  Why?  Because it is code for “I have stopped learning, I don’t need to, and I’m not even going to try.”

What we really should be focusing on is learning, which means trying new things.  Instead of the abrupt, “I don’t know how” and walking away from the problem, the response ought to be, “I need to learn how to do that.”  That response has several advantages:

  1. It makes a commitment to solving the problem.  Even if it takes time, at least knowledge will be gained so that when the same problem surfaces again, you’re prepared to handle it.
  2. It demonstrates you have an active mind that isn’t likely to grow complacent.  Always looking for the answer to a problem is never a bad thing, no matter what anyone tells you.
  3. It shows genuine concern.  You obviously care enough about the problem to devote extra time to learning how to handle it.

“I Don’t Know how” is, usually, a defensive reaction.  It’s far easier to use ignorance as an excuse for not trying to learn than it is to admit that we might not have the capacity to learn.  That, however, might be a matter of self-deception.  It’s not that we’re incapable of learning, it’s that we simply don’t have enough time to learn what we perceive is needed.  If you had a week to study the problem, could you solve it?  How about a month?  A year? 20 years?  Eventually, you’d probably acquire the knowledge and skills that you need.

So what is needed is time to learn.  But what if you truly don’t have time?  Well, the problem doesn’t go away, either.  The trick is not to learn everything you need to know, but to learn as much as you can in the time allowed before the problem becomes critical.  Then, take your best stab at it.  That success or failure, no matter the outcome, is a part of the learning process – so embrace it.

In the end, it’s the same lesson y0ur parents tried to teach you as a child:  “At first, you might not be good at it, but you’ll never get better if you don’t at least try.”