So long, Ray Lewis, and a tale of two retirements

Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless
Ray_Lewis_by_youngandreckless

Ray Lewis by youngandreckless

If any of you watched the Ravens – Colts football game this past weekend, you were treated to the final home game played by one of the NFL’s all-time greats.  Ray Lewis, an iconic figure for over a decade in the NFL, has announced he will retire at the end of this season. While I am not a fan of Ray Lewis, personally, any fan of the game of football still must respect and appreciate him for his tenacity, toughness, on-the-field and locker room leadership and overall football smarts. 

 What has always turned me off to Lewis is his ballsy bravado and showmanship that is so very much the hallmark of many a famous athlete.  It does nothing for me, whatsoever.  Nonetheless, watching him play the position of inside linebacker has been a site to behold for a very long time.  

The Ravens defeated the Colts handily and, although the game was well out of reach, Lewis took the field for the game’s final play – a meaningless kneel-down to run out the clock from the Colts rookie QB sensation, Andrew Luck.  There was no need for Lewis to be on the field.  In fact, he stood about 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage, deep in the defensive backfield, avoiding even the suggestion of contact on the final play of a game in which he played with a large, heavy brace on his injured arm. 

This play, however, was the most memorable thing for me in the entire game, even with amazing circus catches from Anquan Boldin and explosive runs pulled off by Ray Rice still lingering in my mind’s eye.  Ray Lewis left the stadium where he made himself a legend in the one place where he should have – on the field.  He was not on the sideline, high-fiving teammates, hugging coaches or waving to spectators.  He was active, involved, in the game and doing his job – no matter how trivial or small the play he was going to be remembered by everyone in that stadium as spending his last final moments right where he should have been – on the field. 

Now, let’s contrast that with another story…… 

I knew someone who, after spending over 30 years with a company, decided to retire.  After a long but unspectacular career, it was time to leave the rat race as just about every single one of us who is not a legendary NFL icon will do.  Unfortunately, also unlike those legendary NFL icons, leaving the job with an iota of respect wasn’t in the cards. 

You see, the rulebook indicated employees needed to work on such-and-such days in order to receive certain benefits.  This meant reporting to work for 2 more days, even though operations on those days were just about completely shut down for the Holidays.  And, of course, there’s no way that a full day of work could be done with all the retirement congratulations going on, not to mention the complete lack of motivation to throw yourself into anything knowing you are never – ever -never-ever-never coming back. 

Rather than thanking this person for a lifetime of commitment and riding off into the sunset with a feeling of admiration and respect, like Ray Lewis, the company required reporting to work for a couple more days just to satisfy some meaningless policy requirement from which no value to anyone could be derived. And that is the difference between running an organization on the basis of cost vs. running one on the basis of value, and the difference between people in an organization that understand what Respect for People means, and those who do not.

Ownership is easy when you’re not fighting for survival

Fight In Wolf Pack
Fight In Wolf Pack

Fight In Wolf Pack II by amrodel on deviantart.com

Right on the heels of my recent post advocating the development of a “Shop Owner Mentality” in order to create pride and dedication within organizations, an article by Nacie Carson was published on FastCompany.com entitled “Think Like An Entrepreneur, Act Like An Employee.”

In my article, I wrote:

People who are proud of their shop always want to have that pride.  They want it to sustain and grow.  They never want to see their pride diminished.

In your workplace, do people act like shopowners?  Do they do work extra hard to take care of the shop, own its processes, design its delivery of goods and services, and constantly seek out innovative ways to provide value?  Are they looking for ways to grow the business, since that growth leads to both stability and prosperity?

Odds are, they are not.  Most people are just trying to survive it all, in return for a paycheck and some sense of satisfaction, if it can be found at all.  Most people have jobs and not purposes.  That lack of purpose prevents the emergence of any kind of pride in the ability to do the job, grow the company, satisfy the customer or improve the quality of whatever it is they are selling.  Instead, pride gets twisted until it becomes not pride of ownership, but pride of survival.

 

My perspective was this:  Most people would love to be calling the shots, but fear of reprisal prevents them from experimenting with risky project that, although they might have great rewards, just aren’t worth the potential downside if the project fails.  As a result, people embrace self-protection and learn to keep their heads down.  In other words, they learn to survive.  The only way this can be systematically overcome is for leaders at the top of organizations to embrace management styles and practices that encourage, and even reward, risk taking.

The FastCompany article has a different take on the situation:

Traditionally, the roles of employee and entrepreneur represent two completely different professional archetypes, each with their own ideal skill set. For example, success for an employee is often measured by how well they take direction from superiors, act within the scope of their job responsibilities or function, and reinforce the mission, vision, or values of the organization. Success for entrepreneurs is typically determined by their ability to direct their own work and act without precedent, to expand and grow their job responsibilities and functions, and to envision and support a mission, vision, and set of values on their own. Another way to look at it is to think of the role of an employee as implementing the tactics of an organization–the individual actions that contribute to the success of the larger strategy. The role of an entrepreneur is to develop that larger strategy, and implement it themselves or oversee its implementation.

From my experience in professional development and management consulting, I can tell you that the number one complaint organizations have about their employees is their inability to act tactically but think strategically–or, as above, to act like an employee but think like an entrepreneur. This requires being a follower and a leader simultaneously, and knowing which hat to wear when.

 

First off, I hate when someone says “the organization” has a complaint, perspective, takes an action, or anything else.  Organizations do not act – people within organizations act.  In the above passage, “the number one complaint organizations have about their employees” really means “the number one complaint people at the head of organizations have about their employees” or, in other words, “the boss is complaining about the employees’ inability.”

Yep – that’s right – the behavior of the rank & file is all their fault.  It’s not that management styles prevent risk taking, it’s that those people at the bottom just don’t know how to get to the top.

The article goes on to depict a situation where an entrepreneurial-minded young man rewrote some of the code behind one of his company’s critical reporting processes – without asking permission – and his efforts yielded success.  Of course, he was also a year out of college and, quite very likely, had nothing to lose.  Take a seasoned professional who isn’t yet vested in the 401K plan, has children in need of braces, summer camp, daycare, and a house to live in – and the willingness to unilaterally initiate an enterprise-changing project diminishes greatly.  Why?  Because in many places the very fact that you undertook something without three levels of review and approval threatens your ability to stay at least in the middle of Maslow’s pyramid.

The article’s point is well taken, and offers some very solid advice:

After all, if you are super productive, all you’ll get is more work to do, right?

Yes, and in more than one sense. You may be assigned more responsibilities and tasks, but you will also likely be offered more opportunity in the organization…as long as you make sure someone notices the effort. Like the proverbial tree in the forest, if a man works 80 hours a week and no one sees him, does he still get a raise? (No.) This is why productivity, when combined with a great professional brand, is an awesome recipe for increasing your value within an organization. The point is to look at your job responsibilities and required skills from a place of ownership, initiative, and personal direction. Remember, it’s about strategy and tactics.

 

However, I’d hate to be in the organization where everyone is looking for a big project to undertake in order to make a name for themselves.  That sounds like a place without standards, where it is more likely that people will seek to make themselves look good by making others look bad, and where management, rather than leading the people within the organization to reach their potential, is content to sit by and let the wolves destroy each other just to see which one is the strongest.

Wiggle room – The no-panic guide to staff development

tight spot
tight spot

Tight Spots... by Gatsusword on deviantart.com

You need to give your people opportunities to flounder.  Challenge them with the impossible.  Get them in over their heads.

You’re a senior person.  You’re supposed to know what can really hurt your business and what can’t.  If you don’t – then hurry up and figure it out.

If you do know what can hurt and what can’t, then you know you can give your people interesting projects that will help to benefit the business, but not destroy it as they struggle.

It’s as simple as having extra capacity on a bottle neck or schedule slack in your project – you have wiggle room…always.

This is where the cost containers get themselves in trouble – in the effort to contain cost they squeeze the life out of their organizations, suffocating it until it can’t breathe because there’s no room to catch a breath.  There has to be room to accommodate the unexpected.  Life happens.  Shit happens.  You will never predict it all – yes, you should try, because being prepared is better than reacting like a caffeinated cat all the time, but even the hyperactive feline needs room to hop around when necessary.

If you run every resource to its breaking point, the instant anything unpredictable happens – it breaks.

Project Management & Measurement gamed

Measurement

Measurement_ by spacesuitcatalyst on deviantart.com

In a recent article on his blog, Dan Markovitz offered this statement:

“One problem with stretch goals, I believe, is that they focus on outcome metrics, and can therefore be gamed.”

That got me thinking about how we analyze and measure progress on business projects.  All too often, I have seen project leads engage in gaming metrics as if their ability to adjust the numbers was the real purpose of their jobs.  As I indicated in my comments on Dan’s article, “How do we make these numbers look better” is an operational question, not a spreadsheet exercise.

Yet, project management tends to be all about outcome metrics.  Tracking costs vs. plan, Earned Value, Cost and Schedule Performance Indices, consumed slack – all are about what happened.  Granted, there’s an effort inherent to those practices that says the future can be predicted by understanding the past, however, that approach also seems to indicate that errors are acceptable.  Especially if we read a bunch of charts and graphs and variance analyses to tell us that we had a problem some number of days, or weeks, ago.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem good enough.

I’ve seen far too many managers who are completely distant from the day-to-day operations of the projects and processes that ought to be occurring right under their noses but, unfortunately, have become dependent upon analyst-manipulated reports to convey information.  This reality only seems to point out the importance of applying concepts such as leader standard work  to project management and controls.  Simply put – leaders need to have an understanding of not just the outcomes and results of their team’s efforts, but to be inherently familiar with the mechanisms and processes by which that work gets done.

When those processes are not measured, analyzed and understood – all that’s left is a pile of reports measuring the outcomes.  When those metrics don’t show things as expected, then there’s a loose interpretation of the inputs that goes on – in order to justify the manipulation of numbers before they get passed on to the next level of review.  “The data doesn’t reflect reality” or “we need to make an adjustment to the numbers” is heard all too often.  If the data is so easily, and subjectively, corrected then its method of collection can also be easily corrected, too so that good information is passed along, not manually tweaked information that results in nothing more than watermelon reporting (the phenomenon by which red projects get greener as the reporting moves higher up).

The best way out of this?  Understanding the way in which the metrics are compiled is one.  The better solution, however, is to be involved.  Know who is working on the team, and why, and how they work, and what they are working on.  Engage in the human elements and be aware of not only what is going on, but what should be going on.  This places a premium on good planning and strong servant leadership.

The worst project & program managers I’ve ever worked with very often never looked at the reports that were provided to them.  They simply didn’t understand the information and/or believed that force of personality was sufficient to effect positive outcomes.  Some of the best I’ve worked with didn’t read the reports, either – because there was nothing in all that data that they did not know already.

You are at the mercy of your analysts (and you don’t even know it)

Analysis
Analysis

Analysis by 0HerMajesty0 on deviantart.com

I have a question for all those in leadership positions, who spend some amount of time on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis reviewing reports and presentations to get a handle on their business.  My question is this – For all the data you review – how was it put together?

I am of the opinion that the vast, overwhelming majority of those who review charts and graphs have no idea how the data was collected, downloaded, analyzed and ultimately converted into a presentation.  How much fudging, adjusting, hide this, don’t show that – goes on?

Here’s a fundamental truth: If you do not know how the number was constructed, you do not understand the number.

Anyone who has worked for any amount of time doing staff-level analytic work invariably knows that, when reports are presented, people will glance over the numbers looking for anomalies but never bother to understand the computation leading to what is in that report.  Any attempt to explain the methodology results in blank stares, glassy eyes and, in many cases, utter disdain for wasting time explaining the math.

Unfortunately, what matters more than the number is the methodology.  Information can be excluded and massaged.  It can be changed to put a positive spin on the situation.  As such, acting on information you don’t fully understand can lead to a disaster.

You can’t just focus on the “results” – meaning the data that you are presented in some pre-formatted set of documents.  Focus, instead, on the process that gets the results, the planning that creates the process, the knowledge and experience that develop the plan, the personalities that shape the knowledge and experience…..this is where the foundation for the performance you hope to see begins anyway.   The complex interplay of personalities is what drives team and group performance.  If you have the wrong mix, or a homgenous no-mix-at-all situation, then you’re clearly never going to get to a sustainable good result.

Instead, what you will get is a hodge-podge of suboptimal processes and broken business operations.  You’ll never know it, however, because the way the data surrounding those deficiencies is presented will be mashed into presentable form by an army of analysts, and that process will result in truly useful information being obscured, eliminated and misinterpreted.