In baseball, there is something known as the 3-2 count (three-two). It means three balls and two strikes. It means the person who is up to bat has only the next pitch to get something done.
Three strikes and you’re out. If the pitcher misses the strike zone and the batter waits to swing, it will be called a “ball” and the batter gets to walk to first base.
While all pitches in baseball count for something, there is nothing like the three-two moment to feel the pressure rise.
The same is true in business. Managers and leaders have to make decisions all the time, but only some of those are real “3-2 decisions”.
What do you do when you realize the situation is a 3-2 moment? Some managers freeze. They ask for more data. Or they try to stall in some other way.
Other leaders are quick and confident to jump in and make the call.
What makes it so much different?
According to John Maxwell, the 3-2 count results in something he calls “PGE results.”
Pain, gain, and experience. The outcome of the decision you make in a 2-3 moment results in PGE.
Pain – the results might be painful. The results can be painful to you, your team, the company, and even the community you serve.
During Hurricane Harvey in the Texas Gulf Coast area, a tough 3-2 decision had to be made by the Corps of Engineers. Two large dams northwest of the greater Houston area were about to burst from being overfilled by 52″ of rainwater.
A 3-2 decision was made to intentionally release water from the flood gates, pouring into thousands of homes downstream. Billions of dollars of damage happened.
Yet, had they NOT opened the gates, the entire structures could have burst, flooding out most of the entire Houston area, some 6 million inhabitants.
It was a very painful result for some, but it saved so many others.
Gain – the results will be rewarding. Good decisions can result in a miraculous gain. Once I was flying some friends in a small single-engine airplane, a Piper Arrow.
The weather had changed from good to bad as we approached our destination. Plus the winds had picked up and shifted to crosswind conditions.
Crosswinds are the worst kind of wind to land a plane. It means the wind is blowing across the runway, causing a force that pushes the plane sideways while you are trying to follow a straight line to land.
I took in all of the information I needed from the tower about landing that day. I set up my final approach and begin a severe crab angle to land. Crabbing involves turning the plane at as much as a 45-degree angle to the straight line of the runway.
With the angle, you fight the crosswind until the last possible moment when the plane has to be turned into alignment with the center stripe of the runway. I won’t go into all the details, but we experienced a textbook crosswind landing that day.
My pilot training had prepared me to do that landing in a definite 3-2 situation. My passengers appreciated the fact we got home safely without incident despite the bad weather that day.
Experience – Working through a 3-2 decision gives you added experience. Experience alone is not a good teacher. Informed experience, studied and analyzed gives you better instruction.
Whatever the outcome, the experience from making a 3-2 decision needs to be evaluated and reviewed. What you learn, once properly vetted, can be applied to future decisions.
In the baseball story, if the batter strikes out on 3-2, he will review the video replay of that at-bat. Anything he can find about his stance, his swing or his posture, will help to improve the odds of making the next 3-2 situation have a better outcome.
Managers and leaders have to stay sharp for 3-2 conditions. As I write this, I’m hearing leaders expressing concerns for their people, businesses and families. Rightfully so. There is so much uncertainty.
This is one giant 3-2 situation. Use your informed experience to muster the training and resolve you need to make good decisions for your team, your family, and your community.
With so many of us confined to limited movement during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been touching base (OK touching is a bad word) with colleagues, clients and close friends. The gist of the discussions have to do with “what do we do now?”
An old title from my archives came to mind. I thought I’d dust it off and share. I hope this thought will be helpful to you as you figure out your “new normal.”
Here it is from the vault.
We all suffer the daily grind. Some days are better than others. For anyone in management or leadership, you need to take a pause to make some critical assessments. I like to call it recalibration. This is a key leadership quality.
Let’s face it, the demands on your time and your life can get overwhelming. In today’s tumultuous market, we really never know from day to day what next may come.
In my consulting days, I was project manager of a very large engagement with over 600 consultants working for me. It was a coast to coast assignment with teams scattered across 7 job sites. I had nine different work streams running concurrently, with cross-over dependencies between teams.
The hours were long and the travel compounded the pressure. The client was a large national banking institution and the mission was to help the bank respond to a critical regulatory mandate. To say the least, the stakes were great. It could have been easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of the situation. I confess, at times I did feel consumed.
Fortunately, my many years of prior training, both military and civilian, had prepared me for just such a mission. I was a long time practitioner of the principle I am about to share
If you let these pressures mount without routinely asking yourselves some essential questions, you run the risk of spinning off into some other orbit that you never intended.
I suggest that one of the most essential questions to ask yourself is :
Are you managing your world or is your world managing you?
There is an old story of the frog in the pot. The story says that if you drop a frog in boiling water he immediately jumps out. But if you set him in cool water and slowly add the heat, he’ll boil to death. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be like the frog.
You have to gauge the temperature on a regular basis. Are you getting comfortable with the heat rising?
You have to pay attention to the circumstances around you. There needs to be the routine recalibration of your own role in the middle of the work demands going on around you.
React or Respond?
Here’s another point. If a doctor prescribes medication and I have a reaction to it, that is NOT GOOD. Yet if I respond to it, I am going to get over the condition. Just like with the medicine, being reactive to the things in our world really will not help the situation. Of course there are things that may happen that are totally unexpected. We have to deal with that.
At the core of this idea is the challenge between being proactive or reactive. The point here is that we should not let everything that happens become a topic of reaction. Truly we should be able to do some things to be proactive with what may come. Proactive people are better positioned to respond to the situation and manage their world. However, being reactive allows the events of the day to manage YOU.
So where do you stand? Are you more inclined to be in control of the things happening around you or have you started just reacting?
People Can Mess Things Up
You may think you have developed the best plan in the world to attack the next chapter of your life (ok, maybe just the next few hours). Then, what do you know, the very first person who walks into the office seems to blow the whole plan out of the water. What do you do?
Don’t react! Force yourself to pause and process the matter according to your plan. This is how you manage things rather than let things manage you.
Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why we so often feel overwhelmed at the end of the day.
Even if you are successful at maintaining the focus on your plan, it likely will take lots of energy and effort. But people who have been able to adopt a discipline for doing this find it becomes easier to do. If your outward aura is true to this inner control, the people around you will start to get the picture. Their demands will become less intrusive, plus they will learn they cannot get “the reaction” out you they used to be able to do.
LIFE IS A SELF-HELP JOURNEY
Maybe self-help books are not as popular as they once were. The truth is, this journey we call life is full of self-help moments. Rather than waiting on others to pitch in or hoping that circumstances may change, you need to take control of your own destiny.
Personal and professional growth only happens when you choose to make it happen.
At each and every step of the way, keep asking yourself if you are managing your world or does your world manage you? Take the time to recalibrate. Get back on plan.
Question: When was the last time you were able to stand back and realize your world was managing you? How did you regain control?
It would be surprising if anyone on the planet with access to any form of communication (old or new) didn’t know about the coronavirus. We have news of it popping up every few seconds as messages unfold about closures, cancellations, and other alerts regarding the spread.
I respect the need to be cautious, proactive and vigilant. Many of the gatherings and events I was scheduled to attend have been suspended, postponed or canceled outright. There have even been moments where I was part of the decision to cancel something. I get it.
However, I am not convinced I’ve seen perfect examples of leadership demonstrated in every announcement or bulletin. I’ve seen supposed leaders take a podium and simply spread fear and concern.
In the face of a global pandemic, as it is now called, leaders in both public and private sectors need to stay calm. Calm is a tricky proposition for a leader.
On one hand, you should have your own personal concerns about what is going on. If you are high enough in an organization, you might be leading a major project team. Having a totally external force like COVID-19 interrupt your plans is frustrating at best. Again, I don’t want to sound irresponsible or insensitive but hang with me a bit.
When a leader begins to gain momentum, the last thing you want to have happen is for something to break the cycle. Especially something that comes from outside your organization.
We Need Calm
Calm needs to be the focus. Here are four key principles to think about during a crisis.
C is for Clarity. Simplify your messages. Speak clearly and intentionally, thoughtfully. Immediately respond to those who seem unclear after you communicated.
People will need clear communication about your new expectations under new and perhaps stressful situations.
A is for Action. You still need to act. If your decision has not been formed, say so. But don’t wait too long. This virus situation is a fast-moving event. Be ready to respond as information changes.
L is for Leadership. Perhaps it should be obvious, but some may get busy and not be intentional about their leadership wheelhouse.
Dig deep in your leadership tool kit to make ready the best tools you have to guide, direct, inspire, and influence during troubling times. People need us now.
M is for mean it. Be sincere. Don’t rely on cliche and platitude. Stay connected with your people. I mean emotionally connected. Up-level your empathetic listening. Hear people out.
Be relevant and relatable so that people maintain (or increase) their trust in your leadership.
Forget About It
We also need to forget some things. A client from long ago posted these wonderful reminders. He’s a very accomplished CEO and leader in the mortgage finance industry. His name is Bill Dallas. Here are his thoughts.
1. Forget About Yourself; Focus on Others. You will become a source of confidence (and calm) for everyone else.
2. Forget About Your Commodity; Focus on Your Relationships. Every time you strengthen a relationship, the viability of you are selling will increase.
3. Forget About the Sale; Focus on Creating Value. Most people don’t like being sold at the best of times.
4. Forget About Your Losses; Focus on Your Opportunities.
5. Forget About Your Difficulties; Focus on Your Progress.
6. Forget About the “Future”; Focus on Today.
7. Forget About Who You Were; Focus on Who You Can Be.
8. Forget About Events; Focus on Your Responses.
9. Forget About What’s Missing; Focus on What’s Available.
10. Forget About Your Complaints; Focus on Your Gratitude.
The Leadership Premium
In times of crisis and concern, leadership value rises to a premium. You, as a leader, must be the one to help others survive. Encourage those around you.
No need to argue the merits of a decision someone else has made. Yet if your people are beginning to act in extremes, encourage them to reconsider. Lead toward calm.
When you have a business, it is only natural that you try to examine it. We all know that the more information you have about something, the more significant your chances of making correct decisions for the business.
Entrepreneurs scan their business often, even though many already know their ventures like “the back of their hands.” When you think about it, the cliché “knowing the back of your hand” is a bit false.
In fact, only a few of us know how the back of our hands really looks. We just think we do because we see it every day. However, we also take that view for granted, and very few of us can honestly say that we have memorized every detail of the back of our hands.
The Business Case
How does that connect with how entrepreneurs look at their businesses? Well, most entrepreneurs nowadays want to believe that they know every detail of their ventures. But the truth is, very few do. You see, there are disadvantages to being the boss.
You have to be the Chief Everything Officer. Yet, in reality, there are plenty of details that can slip by while you handle other, more pressing matters.
Heard It Thru the Grapevine, Or NOT
For one thing, the boss always seems to be out of the grapevine. The boss hardly ever gets wind of any trouble that goes on in the workplace. It also means that there may be some problems that the boss will not be able to know unless the entrepreneur scans his environment.
So how should entrepreneurs scan their environments? Well, a good idea is not to act like a drill sergeant and start shouting down your employees to get the answers you need.
For one thing, it shows that you mistrust your employees and this would only keep you out of the loop, as it were. Another thing is that you cannot expect to get the information you want this way. With intimidation, you only get the information you want to hear, not the information you need.
You should let your employees feel that they can trust you. Be one of the team. However, be sure that you do not cross the professional boundaries that exist in every workplace. [for more on building team trust click here]
You should show your employees that you are the kind of person whom they can come to for any problem. Remember that any small issue of your employees can affect the way you do your business.
Further, you need a systematic accountability process. You must inspect what you expect.
Now, you know the proper way entrepreneurs scan their businesses through the employees. But there are, of course, other factors to consider so that your business is the best it can be.
You also need to assess yourself. What kind of entrepreneur are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How well do you handle the business and everything else that the world throws at you?
Remember that sometimes, we are not the best judge of our character. We tell ourselves a story about who and what we are. That becomes our sense of identity. But what we do and how others perceive us becomes our reputation. It is the reputation you must change, not your identity.
Most entrepreneurs scan their characteristics by getting an outside opinion. This opinion, of course, should not be biased to be helpful to you (your spouse is not a good source). You need to have someone tell you to your face all of your faults and give you credit for your abilities.
Entrepreneurs should also scan their environment. What are the potential markets available for their business? What threats out there can affect their business? Entrepreneurs examine the situation around them because it is one factor that they cannot control.
All you can do when something in the environment, whether opportunity or threat, takes place is to adapt to it. The change means that you have to be able to prepare for any contingency. It is necessary to plan to succeed. But you know that, right?
Entrepreneurs scan the market for any signs of behavioral changes that could mean the collapse of their business. Why do you think that chips and sodas develop different flavors all the time? People change all the time. One example is a change of preference. If a market gets tired of your product, you would be in considerable trouble.
Be Sure to Adapt
You need to adapt your product to the trends of the present. Anticipate future changes and do your best to prepare. However, you also need to remember your past. Sometimes, people dislike changes that a company or product goes through and, as a result, takes their business elsewhere. Ensure the continuing legacy of a good product if you think you have one.
What is a self-eating watermelon? Definition : A project that contains enough seeds of success right within its own boundaries.
How many of you work for or in a self-eating watermelon project or organization?
I doubt many would say yes. You see I hear a lot of excuses why a project fails.
Outside influences get a big part of the blame. Low budgets, poor facilities, bad technology, broken tools, weak ideas… the list goes on and on.
What about bad leadership, or no leadership? Any organization that suffers a leadership gap is destined to miss the self-eating watermelon kind of success.
Great leaders can overcome basic obstacles. OK the tools may be dull, the budget may have gotten cut back, the building is second rate. Many great world changing events have happened with far less in terms of physical resources to do the work.
An Old Story
Leadership made the difference. I’m old enough to have been a student of the great war, WWII. Leaders like Dwight Eisenhower or Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill looked at the mess the world was in and saw a vision. They dug deep into core principles both human and domestic to design the way out.
Leaders like these inspired thousands to stand up and fight. Troops fought with second rate gear sometimes. Warm clothes and rations were scarce. Yet the forces that were mustered heard the call and forged ahead, securing victory for a free world.
If you get a chance, go tour Churchill’s bunker underneath the streets of London. By today’s standards, you just cannot imagine suffering years of isolation running the war effort from there. But his team and the plans they made were a true self-eating watermelon project. The seeds of success were grown right there.
Those who helped the effort saw a clear picture of the need. Churchill had his detractors. He was a classic modern day politician with a large percentage of the country not voting for him, yet his leadership shined brightest when the country needed it the most.
He rallied the support when it was needed. His influence on the situation was undeniable.
The Newer Story
A seldom told tale comes from banking. In the 1980’s, the automated teller machine was blazing its trail into our lives. The hardware was operating before the software. While each bank could purchase their own machines for use by their customers, there was no access sharing between banks.
I worked for a large regional bank called Texas Commerce. We had 71 locations spread across Texas. We were one of the three largest banks of our kind at the time. You have to realize we did not yet have interstate banking laws, so each state had its own banks; leave the state without cash, and you might be stuck for a while.
I was sitting at the table when our Chairman, a banking legend named Ben Love, was presented a plan to operate these ATM machines. Again, understand this was the very early days of the idea. Ben heard all of the pros and cons, saw the numbers, but decided to pass on the opportunity. In his mind, there were far too many variables, yet unknown.
In the case of the self-eating watermelon, no one knew what the seeds of success needed to include. Ben took a pass, but specifically told the team to stay vigilant, watch the other guys try, then, when the time was right, we’d jump in.
It was almost two years later that we took our dive. And dive we did. Not only did we enter the market, but we crushed it, becoming the founding members of the PULSE Switch. You see the network required to connect all of these machines needed to be built. We needed a technological super highway to carry the transaction data from one machine to the next, regardless of which bank sponsored the machine. PULSE solved that.
As a founding member of PULSE, we also captured a large share of the transaction fees that went with each swipe of a card. It was a huge play for the bank and banking in general. Yes, I know ATM’s are a given these days. No one thinks about this card or that, which network it runs on, or who gets what, when. The old model blazed the trail to create a new normal.
Ben Love had other historical accolades too. He championed branch banking and interstate banking, exerting a strong influence in the Texas legislature to pass the laws needed to open the borders for eventual e-commerce. His ties to New York banking led to the eventual merger of our bank with what is now JP Morgan Chase.
The seeds of this monumental success were sown into the very fabric of who and what we were as a bank. That, my friends, is leadership. Now, let it be said, Ben Love had his detractors too, just like Churchill. Not everyone who ever worked for Ben left with a positive appreciation for Ben’s ways. But you cannot deny the influence he had at so many levels.
Leadership Is the Key
In summary, there are no self-eating watermelon projects or organizations that exists without strong, capable leadership. It is the presence of leadership that steers the course, musters the resources, and wins the day.
You can be a manager, flipping switches, making a few things happen. But leadership takes the venture much further than mere management can.
If your project needs a few self-eating seeds implanted, call me for some ideas on ways to grow your team into this self-actualizing champion of your industry. You can grow your leadership ability, let me show you how.
Footnote: I was introduced to the “self-eating watermelon” terminology by Kent Cummins of Magic Hotline. Kent is a renown speaker and author.
Entrepreneurs make up the vast majority of our world economy. While corporate giants fuel activity in many sectors, it’s the grind and grit of dedicated individuals who make the world turn.
Entrepreneurship is not new. Having your own business goes back for centuries. Think of the market scenes in great old movies you love. Every one of those street vendors was an entrepreneur.
Even some of the large name brands you know today started as entrepreneurs.
Ray Croc and McDonald’s
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple
The list goes on
Starting a Business
However, starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It takes dogged determination to make your idea fly. Once the new idea starts generating revenue, you immediately get challenged by the need to understand how to operate the business. Entrepreneurship develops into a much bigger view than just the simple idea you started.
This is where finding resources to help you run and grow your business becomes so critical.
I’ve been coaching business owners for decades. First, as a commercial banker, I met dozens of owners who needed help getting to the next level. Then as a business consultant, I helped companies and their leadership teams find new and better ways to make the business grow.
Today, I am still coaching, advising and consulting with clients, but I’ve broadened my own reach by writing my blog “Leadership Powered by Common Sense”. I also produce a sister lineup of podcasts and video content that follow the articles published in the blog.
These resources along with many of my checklists, tools, and ebooks are offered free of charge. Just hop over to the home page and browse through the pages of the blog to find links for the various resources you can grab.
Finding Bigger Success
You started your business to fulfill the dreams and goals you had.
Creating time for family
Leveraging your expertise or passions
Creating independent wealth
Creating something that makes a difference
All of these are great reasons to become an entrepreneur. But it takes doing the right things to make the dream come true. A business coach can help you get there faster than your own trial and error. Plus, it costs a lot less in the long run. Often I can show a business owner a win in the first few meetings that is valued at 5x or 10x over my fees.
Why not join thousands of others who are following my blog and podcasts? Click here
Business leaders know the challenge it can be to lead change. When there is a new announcement about something changing, you can often hear the groans that arise.
Work teams of all kinds resist change. Understanding ways to overcome the resistance can be a leader’ s best answer in times of change.
As I’ve mentioned before, managing change can be very darn difficult. Within the body of change management that is so readily available, much has been written about overcoming resistance to change. I have found one particular explanation for ways to overcome the resistance, that makes things crystal clear.
In the 1960’s David Gleicher put forth a comprehensive explanation of the theory of change. Others after him altered his work slightly but gave credit to him as the creator of this view. Here’s what Gleicher said.
Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. A formula for overcoming resistance to change looks like this:
D x V x F > R
These factors are:
D= Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V= Vision of what is possible
F= The First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;
By multiplying these three factors, if the product is greater than Resistance, then change is possible.
Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one of the factors is absent (zero) or low, then the product will be zero or low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.
To ensure a successful change it is necessary to use influence and strategic thinking in order to create a vision and identify those crucial, early steps towards it. In addition, the organization must recognize and accept the dissatisfaction that exists by listening to the employee voice while sharing industry trends, leadership best practices and competitor analysis to identify the necessity for change.
Let’s Unpack the Factors
Dissatisfaction – When dissatisfaction with the current state is present, change can be easier. We deal with these kinds of change every day. If the temperature is too cold, we turn on the heat. If it’s too hot, we turn on a fan or an air conditioner to cool us. In these simple examples, resistance to change is practically zero because the dissatisfaction is so high.
In a job setting the dissatisfaction is harder to identify and measure. If your team’s computers are getting old and outdated, they perform poorly. Sometimes they freeze. The need for change can be obvious. So you offer a chance to upgrade technology. Resistance might be low.
However, when you change a computer system seeking some other goal, the work team may resist that change. When the perception is things are working well, a change can see a greater resistance because dissatisfaction is low.
Vision – The leader’s ability to paint the best vision picture can be one of the greatest strengths. People can and do rally around a good vision for the future; a look at what could be. You can be operating with very little dissatisfaction, but have a vision for something greater and still overcome resistance to the change.
Mergers and reorganizations come to mind. The leadership sees an opportunity for something much greater so an announcement is made about reorganizing or merging entities. The natural response from the staff is resistance. Yet when the vision is presented well, with great conviction and quantifiable gains for everyone, the resistance can be overcome.
Forgetting to add the proper vision when driving change can create the zero value in this DVF>R equation, thus making resistance too great to overcome.
First Steps – Being able to reduce resistance can actually be easier than we think. Taking solid, specific first steps toward the change can create the momentum you need to break through the resistance and effect change.
The first steps are often forgotten as critical to successful change. The big transformation project gets mapped out, but the first steps are merely buried in the details with little if any focus and intention.
Successfully managing change requires focused effort to get the first steps right. Again, having zero impact with first steps could negate the whole equation, keeping resistance high, keeping change from happening.
When you are faced with a leadership challenge for change, think about this simple formula. Review the three elements present in your own situation. Do what you can to enhance and control the factors so that your ability to eliminate resistance is effective.
Once the resistance goes way or at least gets minimized, you have a much greater chance of making change happen.
Think about your own experience managing change. Test this theory and review where the gaps occurred. I think you will find the model holds true. Focus on the three components described here and you will greatly increase your own effectiveness leading change.
What do you do to overcome any resistance to change? Share, leave a comment.
In recent posts, I’ve explored two great themes that have received a lot of attention on social media. Leaders and managers can benefit from both ideas. Today, we’re going to do a mash-up of the two.
The first topic is “Inspect What You Expect“. It’s about an old piece of sage advice that often gets spoken but can be misunderstood. When you set goals or objectives for your team, you have to follow-up and check up on them.
The other topic is increasing accountability; your personal accountability as well as making those around you be accountable.
If we do the mash-up on these two principles of leadership, you’ll get a much better understanding of a powerful way to get the most from your team.
First, let’s review Expectation Inspection.
Inspect what you expect maybe a bit obvious, yet it is frequently ignored or forgotten by busy managers.
Once you explain your vision for your team and begin plotting the course for what success should look like, you will be tasking members of your team with their own duties and responsibilities.
If you then hide in your office and simply wait for results, you’re going to be disappointed.
You have to mingle within your team, making yourself available to answer clarifying questions, lead people through problem-solving, and guide the effort.
Periodically, you have to simply ask about progress. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Let people tell you whether they have roadblocks or not. Give them the chance to show you the progress they are making.
A few decades ago a popular management theory grew up called “management by walking around”. I still run into managers who were taught that as their primary leadership style.
It sounds great, but it’s too easily misapplied. Just walking the office floor or shop area isn’t enough. It’s what you do out there that makes a difference.
You have to engage with the team. Interact with everyone at all levels. Let them ask you questions.
Good teams set goals and standards. Great teams are accountable for results. It all starts with the leader.
Leaders need to clearly communicate the vision, plan, and expectations. There has to be an understanding of what a win should look like.
If your team is not clear on these basic terms, the leader must do more to provide clarity.
However, once the clarity is understood, everyone on the team, including the leader, must be held accountable for driving toward success.
To understand more about the reasons accountability is so important, refer to this article.
Hand In Hand
Applying both principles creates a big win. By setting the vision and creating standards you now have the measure of success.
But to get there, you have to inspect the very thing you expect. If adjustments are needed, that is the accountability piece.
Holding others accountable, then re-inspecting what you expect assures greater success.
It’s really a cycle that needs to be administered daily if you really want to score high returns.
Do you remember the last time you took something out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave? You were hoping for a tasty treat. But when the buzzer went off, you grabbed your food and stuck your fork in only to find a frozen middle.
The edges were hot and bubbly, but the center was just as cold as when you got it out of the fridge.
In today’s ever-increasing complexity of business, companies of all sizes are developing frozen middles.
What exactly does that mean?
Senior executives spend their days plotting vision and trying to get the workforce to execute on that vision. Yet the larger the corporation, the greater is the chance to suffer from the frozen middle.
Here’s how it happens.
Senior leaders set a course to deliver a new product or service. Junior executives distill the demands from the top and begin trying to communicate the details of a complex plan.
If the company has reverted to more of a matrix style reporting structure, i.e. people have dual reporting responsibilities, subordinate workers begin to suffer from command and control fatigue.
Signals get crossed and focus is lost. Rather than do something wrong, the folks in the middle freeze. They stop ‘doing’ for fear of doing it wrong. They will work, but the level of productivity lags simply because there is an unintended fear of doing something out of line or off the mark.
Creativity, collaboration, and even inclusion suffer.
Gifted and talented workers simply freeze in place.
What can Leaders do to thaw or avoid the frozen middle?
First, pay attention to your communication. The bigger the company, the greater is the flow of information. New policies, new procedures, new systems, etc. All of these serve to complicate the message(s) circulating through your offices and workshops.
You must strive for crystal clear clarity at every turn. Are your messages coherent and complementary to one another, or have you sent mixed signals?
Are your instructions consistent with the vision, mission, and goals you have launched?
Next, are your subordinate managers able to state the mission, values, and goals? Watch for simple parroting of the message; that is, repeating it back to you like a robot. Instead, they should each be able to state the purpose and vision for their teams in their own words. Yes, it should align with the greater good, but it has to come from their center of understanding, not some plaque on the wall.
Encourage your direct reports to work on this clarification of the message with their individual teams. Coach them through the process to create the message for their teams.
In addition, build trust in your circle of influence so that trust can be shared beyond just your inner circle. Model a trusting behavior for others to see so they can begin trusting you.
Speak empathetically. Embrace change.
Be patient. As change comes, not everyone aligns at exactly the same pace. Many will lag your understanding and enthusiasm. As a leader, you get an early preview of the changes that are needed.
Just because you “got it” and became excited about the change, not everyone else will immediately get it too. It is likely you needed your own time to process a pending change. Remember that. Allow your team their time to process change.
Finding Tools and Solutions
There is simply no better way to avoid the frozen middle than finding ways to keep your teams on the same page.
I’ve been coaching and advocating the Big 5 method of performance management for decades. In every situation where Big 5 has been adopted, work teams experience higher productivity, reduced stress, and greater team morale.
Tools and solutions like Big 5 go a long way to help. Big 5 is a way to get every employee to align with stated priorities for the next week or month. Then a simple, and short, review with the team lead/manager/supervisor can provide coaching and a checkpoint for keeping things aligned.