The Problem Is Not the Problem, Part 2

Doug Thorpe blog post header

Many moons ago I wrote about a borrowed thought from another coaching friend. It was his quote:

The problem is not the problem.

Last week we had the ice storm from Hell; yes hell did freeze over here in Texas. For several days, vast areas were without power and water. Communities suffered from bone-chilling temperatures with little to no opportunity to thaw.

Temperatures dipped into single digits in many zip codes.

I realize some of you who read this will laugh. You routinely experience cold weather, ice, and snow every year. You have 4 distinct seasons where you live. But you have to understand, we here in Texas usually have just two seasons – mild and HOT.

Where I live, we lock down when the needle drops below 40 degrees. At 30, we board up the windows. At 20 we begin calling the priests for last rights. Ok just kidding, but it gets serious real fast the further the temperatures drop. Suffice it to say, we don’t know exactly what to do.

The News

The mainstream media is having a field day. One side is blasting the other for everything from bad designs and plans to poor leadership. In rebuttal, people are blaming the infrastructure for the fails.

Regardless it’s a big problem. But just what problem is it? That’s my point.

Right now, we don’t know nor will we know exactly what the problem is. On the surface, people lost power and water. THAT’S a problem, sure.

But is that really THE problem? I don’t think so. It’s just the manifestation of something else that happened. Yes, when a family loses power and water in their house for more than 50 hours, they have a problem. I’m not minimizing that.

As the after-action reporting and various investigations unfold, no doubt we will hear about this state agency or that one doing this and that wrong. People will get their names thrown around with severe connotations. As an old friend once said, “sternly worded memos will follow.”

But will we discover the real core of the problem? I hope so. But honestly, I doubt we will.

The Extreme Case

My story so far is an extreme case. But in business, problems arise every day. Things don’t go as planned. We try to dig into causes to determine why the problem is there, but often we miss the mark.

If we get too consumed on the solution, we might miss the root cause.

Once we err on finding the real problem, we are likely to repeat the situation.

The same can be said of the very thing that your business may be about. When you started your business, you had a vision. There was some product or service you wanted to deliver. Likely you firmly believed your ‘thing’ was going to solve everyone’s problems. Right?

As your business grew, did you focus more on your solution rather than the problem you were trying to fix?

If you lose sight of the original problem, you have a bigger problem. Your company may be headed for becoming irrelevant. If the market doesn’t have your kind of problem to fix, then your solution is meaningless.

You cannot survive by being the solution looking for a problem. You have to be solidly aligned with the problem you think you can fix. And the real problem must be very real.

The whole dot com bust was about solutions people created for problems that didn’t exist. I once saw an episode of Shark Tank where a young entrepreneur had created a phone app that showed you where things were in airport food courts.

If you’ve been to a food court lately at your local airport, things are pretty much right there. Having an extra app to map the booths and kiosks wouldn’t add much to the expereince.

This young man was crushed to find none of the sharks were interested. In fact, they got a little rude as he stressed the value (in his mind) of this app.

His app was a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

If your business is not producing the results you thought it should, maybe you are solving the wrong problems. Your creation may be wonderful, but if it doesn’t deliver the right value to solving a real problem, you are just fluff.

Fluff only sells for bedding and jackets, which we could have used more of here in Texas last week.

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Handling the Smartest Guy in the Room

smartest guy in the room

We’ve all been there before. You’ve either worked with or for THAT person; “The smartest guy in the room.”

They can make you feel small, disregarded, uncomfortable. They have ways of expressing their thoughts to make your ideas seem so wrong.

I once knew an executive who was always the smartest guy in the room. His IQ was off the charts. He could dissect any argument, slicing and dicing his way to outcomes that were usually his.

The story is told of this man one day actually being stumped by a new topic that had been brought up by a junior member of his team. He seemed stunned but undaunted.

The next day a follow-up meeting was held. This gent had gone home, opened his vast libraries and began studying the topic. His academic prowess proved once again superior.

As the new meeting began he was now and would evermore be the smartest guy on the subject. And he was.

Being the smartest person in the room is not just about academic skills alone. It can come from vast experience through years of exposure to all aspects of a business or industry. The knowledge that gets captures is retained.

Typically executives who are tagged the smartest guy have very little interpersonal skill. They plow through the day problem solving and sharing their superior knowledge, leaving hard working souls in their wake.

Working with these people is very hard to do. When they are stakeholders on a project, they can become the derailer.

What can you do?

Finding ways to work with or through these special people can be very frustrating. If you’re not intimidated by their knowledge, you might be put off by their behaviors. They often make terrible bosses.

So what can you do?

Over the years, I’ve had several clients who reported being frustrated by TSGITR (the smartest guy in the room). Whenever I hear this, I recommend one solution.

Arrange a one-on-one. Present to TSGITR the following comments or whatever version of this works for you.

“Look, whenever we meet to talk about ____________________I want to acknowledge you are the smartest guy in the room. You are an important stakeholder in the project. Whenever I try to explain the alternative ways we are working on this problem, I’d appreciate your help resolving it, not just dismissing ideas that don’t stand up to your standard.”

“I am sure no one is trying to challenge your wisdom on these subjects. I’d like to find a better way for you and me to work together. Is that ok?”

Whenever a client has used this approach, they tell me it worked well. The senior person stopped and admitted they had no idea their communication was impacting people that way. I’ve even heard of situations where TSGITR asked for help being called out when they start down that domineering path.

Managing Up the Organization

I don’t believe in the concept of managing up the organization. See my mention of that here.

However, those who are true leaders, regardless of your level in the organization, can garner respect and thereby influence those above you.

To have that kind of respect, you have to bolster your confidence, speak boldly but gracefully. Don’t find fights to fight. But likewise, don’t shrink away from objections and stronger personalities. Create your boundaries. Fight for what you know needs to get done.

If you discover that important information is missing, you can change your position. But don’t do it because of intimidation and boldness from TSGITR.

Try this out next time. Let me know how it went. Then if you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to schedule a call or leave a comment.

Also, I am offering coaching on demand through my sister site at FLASHCOACH.ME

Coaching on demand is the ability to arrange professional coaching support without a long term, ongoing contract. You can buy blocks of hours on specific topics you believe a coach could help you with. Try it out!

To Be a Great Leader, You Must Inspect What You Expect

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

What does it mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with leadership?

Well…

Have you been guilty of spouting a directive then letting it die a natural death? We’ve all done it at one point or another—whether accidentally or intentionally, we’re all guilty.

When a leader sets out a goal or directive, that goal can only be achieved with good monitoring, or, inspection.

Whether you run a big business, a team, or are working on a small project, in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to be mindful of these simple words: inspect what you expect.

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

Great leadership principles you need to know. Leadership powered by common sense

The “inspect what you expect” principle takes many forms.

During my days as a second lieutenant, we conducted regular health and welfare inspections.

While the military inspects a lot of things, this was unique. Those of you who have served in the military know why.

Those of you who don’t: buckle your seatbelts.

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

One early morning at 3:30 a.m., the entire cadre (all of the managers and supervisors) of our training unit surrounded a barracks where a portion of our troops lived.

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

This “health and welfare inspection” was actually a search and seizure mission.

We burst into the barracks and surprised all of the soldiers sleeping there. They were ousted from their bunks and told to stand at attention beside their footlockers while we searched the premises.

Sure enough, we found a stash of drugs and some paraphernalia tucked inside one of the footlockers.

Our target was achieved.

We could have preached and threatened the law about drugs, but we had to inspect what we expected.

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

Because even the best strategic planning simply won’t matter without proper execution.

A great leader must push forward to make things happen. They cannot stand still; they must be in constant motion, pushing towards a goal to reach success.

They must be focused.

Every plan and strategy associated with a goal must always be monitored and inspected to ensure proper execution and achievement.

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

Six Sigma is a specific set of tools and techniques used to to help businesses improve their processes.

Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management.

For process improvement, a concept known as DMAIC is applied.

DMAIC

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

With DMAIC, you analyze results as they occur, checking them against expected outcomes.

If you find yourself off the mark, adjust and do it all over again. In other words, you are staying alert—at all times—to the things happening around you that affect your process and your progress.

The devil is in the details.

There is so much more to being a great leader than stating your plans and giving directives.

Great leaders walk the floor.

If you’re not walking the floor, you’re not being a good leader. You’re doing it wrong.

Leaders who don’t walk the floor find that things are not happening as they expect. Always remember: the devil is in the details.

You have to constantly be checking in, seeing what’s going on—walking the floor. You have to constantly ensure the appropriate measures are being put in place to achieve the right outcome.

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

For example: if your business enforces things like safety or regulatory compliance, your role as a leader is to inspect and review events and circumstances. You have to check work every single day to ensure proper compliance.

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

When issuing a directive, always be clear about your expectations. Be as specific as possible.

Volumes, dollars, incidence rates, hours, cost saves, the list goes on. The expectation you give will determine the outcome.

2. Be Consistent

Constantly inspect, and keep your inspections consistent. Keep communication open and be consistent in everything you do. Be open and don’t beat around the bush. Share your results.

3. Stay Visible

People need to know you are engaged and involved in the review process. Don’t get stuck behind your office door. Show your team you are active in the process. Be around them. Answer their questions. Motivate them.

Remember: you are the leader guiding the vision to the final outcome. Be available to talk it through with those who have questions. Walk the floor.

If your team is spread out geographically, remain visible with the right frequency of check-in calls and team meetings.

Let your team know that part of executing the mission is routine reviews.

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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Are You a FAST Leader?

The 5 C’s of a Trusted Leader

Leadership Effectiveness Can Work with Simple Triggers

Why Trust Matters to Leaders; Leaders Build Trust

team trust

For decades, business leaders have been equipping themselves with every book, philosophy, reward, and program the so-called experts have convinced them to buy into, yet companies everywhere continue to struggle with toxic cultures, low performance from teams, and the unhappiness that go with them. Yet how can leaders build trust?

From our earliest days on the playground to modern-day business board rooms, there is one giant factor that makes the difference between success and failure.

That factor is trust.

Companies work long and hard, spending millions of dollars to build brand awareness that shows trust. Consumers have to trust something before they buy. Managers and CEOs spend time and money trying to build better work teams.

Recent studies in several sectors have discovered the biggest contributor to team success is TRUST.

Building Team Performance

Google broke the ice on this topic with their “Aristotle Project.” Following the success of Google’s Project Oxygen research where the People Analytics team studied what makes a great manager, Google researchers applied a similar method to discover the secrets of effective teams at Google.

Code-named Project Aristotle – a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (as the Google researchers believed employees can do more working together than alone) – the goal was to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”

The runaway winning attribute in highly successful teams was “psychological safety” or simply trust.

The Google study found that this element of trust was the most significant factor in helping teams do more, even among their peers of highly educated, well trained employees.

When trust is broken, relationships of all kinds stop working well.

The Brain Science Behind Trust

Adding to this interesting discussion comes the book “The Trust Factor” by neuroscientist Paul Zak.

In Trust Factor, we are shown that innate brain functions hold the answers we’ve been looking for. Put simply, the key to providing an engaging, encouraging, positive culture that keeps your employees energized is trust.

When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle between management and staff, and–voilá!–the end of stubborn workplace patterns.

The book incorporates science-backed insights for building high-trust organizations with successful examples from The Container Store, Zappos, and Herman Miller. The Trust Factor explains:

• How brain chemicals affect behavior

• Why trust gets squashed

• How to stimulate trust within your employees

• And more

What’s a leader to do?

For you who are sitting in the corner office or who are building a small business, you hear these things and wonder. I understand it, but I have no idea where to start. I’ve had so many ‘bad hires’ I can’t imagine getting this thing going. And trust an employee????

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Let’s turn back to the Aristotle results and get the answers. Leaders build trust. Here are five key action areas that leaders can control.

The five key dynamics of effective teams that the Google researchers identified are rooted in the wider world of team performance research. Whether you’re coding at Google, riffing in a writers roompreparing for a trip to Mars, or skating in a hockey rink – teams are essential to the work experience and output.

At Google, now that the Project Aristotle team has identified what makes for an effective team at Google, they’re conducting research to figure out how to take the next steps to create, foster, and empower effective teams.

Whatever it is that makes for effective teams in your organization, and it may be different from what the Google researchers found, consider these steps to share your efforts:

  1. Establish a common vocabulary – Define the team behaviors and norms you want to foster in your organization.
  2. Create a forum to discuss team dynamics – Allow for teams to talk about subtle issues in safe, constructive ways. An HR Business Partner or trained facilitator may help.
  3. Commit leaders to reinforcing and improving – Get leadership onboard to model and seek continuous improvement can help put into practice your vocabulary.

Here are some tips for managers and leaders to support the behaviors the Google researchers found important for effective teams. These are based on external research and Google’s own experience:

Psychological safety:

Dependability:

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of team members.
  • Develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work.
  • Talk about some of the conscientiousness research.

Structure & Clarity:

  • Regularly communicate team goals and ensure team members understand the plan for achieving them.
  • Ensure your team meetings have a clear agenda and designated leader.
  • Consider adopting Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) to organize the team’s work.

Meaning:

  • Give team members positive feedback on something outstanding they are doing and offer to help them with something they struggle with.
  • Publicly express your gratitude for someone who helped you out.
  • Read the KPMG case study on purpose.

Impact:

  • Co-create a clear vision that reinforces how each team member’s work directly contributes to the team’s and broader organization’s goals.
  • Reflect on the work you’re doing and how it impacts users or clients and the organization.
  • Adopt a user-centered evaluation method and focus on the user.

If after considering these things, you still struggle to get your head around this complex challenge, I can help.

I’ve developed a Team Trust Model that provides a clear, concise framework that teams can embrace. In places where I have introduced this framework, it becomes that vocabulary the team uses to communicate with each other. It allows a structure and process to something that otherwise may feel too vague. With it, leaders build trust.

This model has been used by leaders at corporate giants like ExxonMobil and UPS. But it has also been used by small business owners too.

Anywhere you have three or more people assembled for performing tasks, you need Team Trust.

PS – I realize that the new era of COVID remote workers really impacts your ability to connect with your teams. However, as you study the key elements here, it is easy to see why following these ideas is more critical now than ever before.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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Have You Turned Away from Networking Groups?

networking

We are T-minus 2 weeks into 2021. Are you having fun yet? Have the New Year’s resolutions taken root or been abandoned?

People are still trying to make sense of the new normal we call COVID. I’m no different.

But today I want to drill down on a topic that has been recurring more and more often in my circle of business owners and corporate execs I talk to. That topic is business ‘networking’.

What Is Networking?

There are a lot of different meanings when you say networking. Most often in the business sense, it has to do with sales and lead generation; go to some event, meet people, and get new prospecting contacts.

However, the one I want to talk about is the mastermind, the roundtable, or peer-to-peer advisory type. Call it what you will. It’s the situation where a few people sharing the same general profile gather. There is a common thread reaching across the group. The meeting is usually facilitated by someone. The events can be paid for or free.

On one hand, the concept here is a good one. “Iron sharpens iron” is a Biblical principle taught for 2000 years. Napolean Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” preaches the idea of the power in a Mastermind Group. That was 1920. It’s been around ever since.

So gathering with peers to share experiences and offer solutions makes sense, right?

Over my career I’ve participated in dozens of these group formats, logging hundreds of hours of participation. And yes, I’ve gotten great value. Hopefully, I’ve shared some value too.

Even today, I belong to or facilitate several.

The Rub

The concern I’m hearing from clients and prospects though is that in today’s business VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), the measurable value in these meetings is in doubt.

mastermind

I can honestly say, I have more clients exiting their groups than I do joining groups. Why is that?

Here are five BIG reasons I see today.

First, with the pivot to everything being virtual, you get a mixed reaction. While you’re saving time commuting to the breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting, you’re just tired of Zoom/Teams calls.

Having one more virtual gathering is painful. Plus the connection with the group may suffer by doing it virtually. Yes, we’re all getting better at communicating this way, but the deeper, more meaningful connection (like these should be) gets compromised.

Next, the group dynamic may be skewed. In almost every group, there will be one or two ‘know-it-alls’; people who have something to say about everything. You know in your gut they don’t really know it all, but these geniuses will convince you it’s true.

Having to spend a portion of your time with the group either debating or ignoring the know-it-all personality is unproductive.

Thirdly, the focus is unclear. If the organizer/facilitator is not skilled at bringing value to the group, then there may not be any sense of purpose. Who needs to spend an hour or more each month without focus? It just becomes a social event.

Likely you have other circles of friends and colleagues you’d rather spend your social time with, not a peer business group. And certainly not one you may be paying to attend.

Next, a sense of trust is missing. In any small group, especially one committed to sharing thoughts and ideas, there has to be a ‘cone of silence’ or TRUST. The group needs to be expressly committed to protecting trust with each other.

If you do not feel the trust in the group, the depth of the issues you open up will suffer. You’ll be more likely to skim along, never reaching deep into concerns and questions.

Lastly, do you struggle to fit in? Not all groups are created equally. Depending on the sponsor organization building the groups there may be little to no filter on the way groups are set. You can waste several months exploring the fit, only to find it’s not going to be good.

Issues like conflicts of interest, competing business markets, and company size can be alignment factors that impact the effectiveness of the mastermind.

These five reasons are the main objections I hear now. I am sure there are others.

But id this to say STOP all your group attendance? No, of course not. If you are finding value, then by all means stay with it. Just be certain you are receiving a meaningful return on invested time or money.

The Alternative

If you are still hungry for advice and counsel, what can you do?

The other choice apart from those networking groups is to engage a single advisor. This is someone who can be your personal, trusted guide. Just like a personal trainer at the gym or a yoga or golf instructor, having a business advisor makes sense.

With a single advisor or a small group of advisors, you get the exact attention your business needs. There are no distractions from others creeping in and consuming the time. It is YOUR time.

Selection of your advisor takes a little work though.

The market has been flooded with new, young professionals offering to be business coaches and consultants. Beware. The canned programs that many of these agents subscribe to are ‘business in a box’ solutions. One size does NOT fit all.

You need someone who has been there before, accomplished the greater things you want to achieve, and someone who knows the realities of running bigger businesses.

call a coach

Why not align with someone who has proven success at the higher level you want to go to? What could anyone possibly tell you about growing from $1,000,000 annual revenue to $5,000,000 or from $10MM to $25MM, if they haven’t already done it themselves?

If these thoughts resonate with you, perhaps we should talk. Click the button below to arrange a call. I look forward to hearing from you.

5 Ways Managers Can Get More from Their Teams

You and I both control one big thing in our daily lives. That ‘thing’ is the effort we choose to spend. As managers and leaders, we want to get more effort from our team.

We all choose what level of effort is used, whether it is effort at work, at home, in the gym, on the golf course, fishing, playing sports, or building relationships,

The various levels of effort we spend depend usually on what we think is required. How many of us get behind the wheel of our cars and miraculously arrive at our destinations with little if any thought or conscious effort to do so? As scary as that thought may be, it is true.

There are certain things we do every day that receive the minimum effort required. Other things we feel more effort is needed so we ‘work a little harder.’

The same is true with everything we do at work. Whatever the job requires, you make intentional or unintentional choices about applying the best level of effort.

Learning about Discretionary Effort

Going the extra mile is called discretionary effort. You voluntarily choose how much extra you give.

For those of you who are gym rats, you know about discretionary effort. As an example, it’s the extra rep at the end of a long set. It’s the extra plate on the weight stack. You choose to try more, applying all your remaining strength to get it achieved.

fitness and effort

The Leaders and Managers Opportunity

As managers and leaders of business, how can you inspire your people to give that little bit extra? Just like a good sports coach gets a little more out of his athletes, you too can become the coach your people need so they are willing to give that discretionary effort too.

Here are five ways you can up your game as a leader.

First, answer their questions. Every employee arrives at work with basic questions. They need these questions resolved in order to fully apply themselves to the work. Giving the ‘extra’ effort requires all the questions are answered completely.

I’m not talking about obvious questions, but sometimes intangible ones. For instance, here’s the list of core questions employees ask:

  • Do I even want to be here? The people question.
  • Do I believe in the purpose for this team? The why question.
  • Do I believe in the plan we have to execute our roles?
  • What is the practice or process? Do the tools, systems, and procedures work?
  • Will my performance be recognized?
  • What is the payoff? Not just monetary, but the sense of accomplishment.

If you can work with your team to have critical questions like these answered affirmatively, then you will see the increase in discretionary effort employees use.

manager answering questions

Next, you need to be trustworthy. Leaders must work to create an environment of trust. It starts at the manager’s desk. You cannot dictate nor demand trust from your team if you are not trustworthy yourself.

The way you build trust for yourself involves these key things:

  • Be real, don’t fake it
  • Stand by your word
  • Be relatable, work to connect with your team, not as friends, but as co-workers

More Ways to Get More for Managers and Leaders

The next opportunity involves creating a vision. Because your people wonder about the purpose of the team (see above), you have to be the one creating the vision. Too many managers rely on the bigger picture statement from above about purpose and vision.

NO! If you got put in a manager’s seat, YOU need to create your own vision for what the team can and should be doing. YOU need to define what it means to win. It is YOUR job to paint that picture for your team.

After you can share the proper vision for your team, your employees will find ways to help make it happen. Everyone wants a purpose. Great Leaders inspire that.

Next, provide an accountability framework. As small children, we all want to know where the boundaries are. An absence of boundaries actually creates insecurity.

It happens at work too. That is to say, if your hiring process is reasonably effective (not perfect but good enough), the people you hired will want to do the right thing. However, if you fail to show them that, they get unsettled, confused. Just like small children they may act out. If you have that happening, it’s your fault.

Build the right structure for monitoring, evaluating, recognizing good performance, and helping those who are falling behind.

Inspect what you expect.

Anonymous

I use and teach a process known as the Big 5. It’s a beautifully simple way to have employees get on the same page. It provides you with coaching moments to help guide your people. For more on the Big 5 method click here.

Lastly, have some fun. Yes, that may sound weird. But people respond better if the effort they choose to spend gets recognized. There is no better way to recognize good performance than celebrating your wins.

Above all, use the milestones in a project to have small celebrations of victory for achieving that. In addition, if you pulled a series of all-nighters getting a project out the door, celebrate!

Don’t lose an opportunity to have fun with the good work people are delivering.

There you have it

Five ways to inspire your team to choose to spend discretionary effort at work. By following these ideas, you too can get more from your team while improving team trust and developing an environment of rewarding experience for your people.

How great would it be to have employees that honestly say “I love working here?” This is how you can do it.

If you’re still not clear on exactly how you too can get more from your team, give me a call. We’ll explore your exact situation in more detail.

Solving Productivity Challenges in Small Teams

servant leader

You’re a small team, and you often feel like you need to do a lot with a little. But, despite the fact that you don’t have endless resources and limitless hands to share the load, you want to help your team figure out how to be productive.

Even when you have everybody fired up and ready to crank through their tasks, you still get stuck. Deadlines are missed, team members are burnt out, and you end each day with a to-list that’s barely been touched.

What gives? Productivity challenges are common on teams of all sizes, and even more so now that a good chunk of your team is figuring out how to be productive at home. 

Let’s dig into the details of why achieving peak output can be such a struggle, as well as how you can help your small but mighty team get over those hurdles. 

Why is productivity so tough? 

If operating at maximum productivity was easy, a lot more teams would be doing it. But, let’s face it: getting a lot done is hard. 

In their quest for to-do list domination, your team is dealing with some (or even all) of the following barriers: 

  • Lack of clarity and communication: Communication is always challenging, and that’s especially true when your team is working remotely. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that collaboration and communication are the biggest struggles when working remotely. When wires get crossed, team members don’t know what to do next — and that makes it tough for them to keep the wheels in motion.
  • Overwhelm and burnout: Perhaps your team isn’t making progress because they have too much to do. When they’re stuck on a hamster wheel of endless tasks, they can burn out entirely. A Gallup survey concluded that 23% of workers say they feel burned out more often than not, while 44% reported feeling burnt out sometimes. 
  • Tool fatigue: A separate survey found that 43% of workers believe they need to switch between too many apps to get their basic work done. Not only does that waste time, but it also contributes to confusion. When they’re working between too many platforms, team members might miss important updates and notifications. 

7 strategies to boost productivity on your team

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

Yikes. There’s no shortage of issues that can throw your team’s productivity off track. But here’s the good news: You can do something about them. We’re breaking down seven strategies to help your team figure out how to be productive during quarantine — and well beyond. 

1. Streamline your intake process

Does this sound familiar? Work lands on your team’s plate, and then you need to spend hours (or even days) tracking down all of the information you need to get started.

That’s not only a hassle, but it also slows you down. Standardize and streamline your intake process with Wrike’s request forms. They require that project requesters submit all of the information your team needs, and then automatically trigger a project or task in Wrike from that predesigned blueprint. No more hunting for those must-have project details.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 2

2. Integrate and automate what you can

Only 39% of the workday is spent on actual work. Where does the rest go? Emails, unproductive meetings, and administrative tasks are some of the biggest culprits monopolizing your team’s time.

Give them some of their hours and energy back by integrating and automating work. Wrike integrates with a ton of the platforms you’re already using, so that you can automatically create tasks from emails or Slack messages, seamlessly share image files across platforms, and collaborate in real-time. You can also automate entire workflows and take some manual effort off of your team’s shoulders. 

3. Use dashboards for increased clarity

Half of employees don’t understand what’s expected of them at work. When your team members don’t understand what to start on next, it’s impossible for them to be as efficient and effective as possible.

Wrike can help boost clarity and empower your team to get more done. Wrike’s Dashboards enable team leads to get a bird’s eye view of team performance, spot any risks or bottlenecks, and nudge overdue tasks along. Team members can drill down to personal or project-based dashboards, so that they always understand what to do and when. 

4. Understand task dependencies

Nothing will stall your team’s productivity levels like a bottleneck. They can’t make any progress when they’re waiting on approval from a client or a resource from another team.

That’s why it’s important that you account for task dependencies, and Wrike’s Gantt Chart can help you do just that. You’ll be able to visualize how different items are connected, plan for dependencies, and keep projects moving forward.

Solving Productivity in Challenges in Small Teams 3

5. Track your team’s time

If you want your team to be more effective with their time, you need to understand where it’s going. That’s where time tracking comes in. It not only helps make things like billing more straightforward, but it also enables your team to get a grasp on where they’re investing your hours — so you can work toward better effort allocation. 

Wrike’s Time Tracking feature allows your team to log their hours with the click of the button. Worried that your team members don’t want to be watched that closely? Don’t panic. 79% of respondents in one survey said they’re fine with their employers monitoring their workplace-related activities. 

6. Reevaluate your processes

The working world has changed a lot in recent months, and now your team is trying to navigate how to be productive working from home. 

This means some of your old processes might no longer be helpful. Fortunately, your procedures and workflows aren’t set in stone. Reevaluate them regularly to determine whether they need to be revamped, reconsidered, or even removed entirely. 

Try Wrike: fast, easy, and efficient project collaboration software

7. Be realistic about workloads

38% of employees feel overwhelmed by how much they have to get done at work. One of the best things you can do to support your team in increasing their productivity is to ensure you’re being realistic about their workloads.

Wrike’s Workload charts help you visualize your entire team’s workload and bandwidth. You can easily allocate tasks and ensure you aren’t spreading any one team member too thin. 

Wondering how to be productive? This is your guide

Productivity isn’t a piece of cake, especially on small teams. Your team is responsible for a lot, and sometimes it feels like you’re all struggling to keep your heads above water.

You can support your team in getting even more accomplished, without needing to deal with extra stress and elbow grease. Use the strategies we’ve outlined here, and your team will work smarter — not harder. 

Learn how to boost your team’s productivity (and how Wrike features can help) by watching this webinar and signing up for a free two-week trial.

Editor’s Note – This article was written by Kat Boogaard at Wrike. It first appeared on September 23, 2020.

7 Strategies for Being a Better Manager

team leadership and better managers

Most managers get their start because they were good workers. There is nothing wrong with that, except…

Being a good manager requires a level of leadership. Without the right training and development, you might find that being a manager is a struggle.

“Management is about process. Leadership is about people.”

To reach your leadership potential, you need to be a fearless, bold, and effective coach. But where do you start? Check out these 7 strategies that will help you become the manager your employees (and company) need you to be:

Talk less, listen more

We have two ears but only one mouth; great managers should keep that ratio in mind as they help employees grow. Instead of talking at employees, use that time to listen. They all have career ambitions they’d like to achieve, but that won’t happen if managers are more focused on their own points of view.

As a manager, you should guide the discussion, but ultimately, it’s the employee’s voice that needs to be heard.

There’s something called empathetic listening. That’s when you, as the manager, are fully engaged; really hearing what the employee is saying. You not only hear their words, but begin to feel their passion about the topic. With this level of connection, you can build better trust with that employee.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Zig Ziglar

Play to your (and your team’s) strengths

Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses can really change how you coach and give feedback. While you, the manager, might be a great verbal communicator, you’ll need to acknowledge when your direct reports may not have the same skills.

Tailor your relationship to what enables them to be the most open about their goals; if possible, leverage your learning & development solution to strategically address weaknesses and encourage their personal growth.

I’ve written before about ways to perform your own personal SWOT analysis. Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses while you engage and learn your team members’ too.

swot analysis

Manage teams, not individuals

Performance reviews typically look at individuals, but managers are ultimately responsible for their team’s performance. By identifying individual strengths and skills gaps, you can encourage team members with complementary skills to team up; this promotes teamwork, learning opportunities, and increases the likelihood of project successes.

For more on team performance and building team trust visit my program here. I have a whole 6-step model that defines the process for creating a team environment with high trust, collaboration, and support.

building team trust

Accentuate the positive

We all know our professional strengths, but our weaknesses represent our best chance for growth. Celebrate employees’ talents, but also acknowledge areas that need to be developed. By addressing them through training, you may turn a negative into a major strength.

Also, don’t be afraid to celebrate the “wins”. There’s a strange attitude among high performers. When you win, you feel like it’s no big deal. “I was supposed to do that.” is the logic. The reality is that you cannot sustain long term high performance without taking a moment to celebrate the win.

As a manager, you need to decide on ways to celebrate with your team. Use your next team meeting to have a celebration. Cater lunch or have an ice cream afternoon. Do something to let the team know you know they deserve a celebration.

Be inspirational

The most successful companies have one thing in common: they inspire more success by publicly acknowledging employee achievements and talents. Whether an employee earned a new certification or learned a new skill, celebrate this among the team. When team members see their colleagues being rewarded for growing, they’ll take it upon themselves to seek out development opportunities.

Give feedback frequently

Acknowledging achievement is Management 101: give feedback frequently – it means more in real-time than 6 months later – and do it publicly when appropriate.

Yet when you need to correct the occasional misstep, be direct and private about it. Just ensure you make it clear you’re talking about the employee’s action, not them as a person. Above all, honesty will make sure your feedback carries the most weight.

Learn more about powerful ways to deliver feedback by using the Big 5 performance tool.

Make performance reviews about people

Performance reviews are ultimately about blending employee goals with company strategy. Demonstrate how their efforts drive the bottom line so they feel less siloed and that their work is a big part of the company’s growth. This boosts engagement and productivity.

However, a performance review should not be limited to the annual prescribed company tools. Great managers have performance check-ins routinely. One very powerful yet simple way to do that is with a tool called Big 5. You can learn more about Big 5 here.

Get going

By following these 7 principles, you will rise above the crowd as an effective and respected leader. To receive more tips and ideas for up-leveling your game as a manager, subscribe to this bog. I’ll send weekly updates to get you going toward better performance as a leader.

Note: Portions of this article were inspired by my friends at Cornerstone on Demand, a talent development company specializing in building effective teams and leaders.

Be SMART About Your Goal Setting

SMART goal setting for new year
SMART Goals Explained Graphic Square
Coach peers round laptop saying SMART Goals

Go straight to the SMART Goals Special Report .PDF here >>

Who is this SMART Goal Setting Guide for?

Whether you’re interested in goal setting tips for you, your business, or to gain a deeper understanding of goal setting to help your clients, this SMART goal setting & Action Planning GUIDE can help.

Starting with an overview of the SMART Acronym and a helpful SMART graphic, this guide goes deeply into each element of SMART goal setting. It includes examples and more to help both you and your clients set well-rounded and SMART Goals and Actions!

So, What is a SMART Goal?

A SMART Goal is simply a goal where the SMART criteria have been met. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebound. A SMART goal is also easier to achieve, and track progress for, because it’s well-rounded and clearly defined.

SMART Goals Stand For:

  • Specific             (being clear and specific makes goals and actions easier to achieve – and start!)
  • Measurable     (helps you know when a goal or action is complete and measure progress)
  • Actionable       (ensures you have direct control over the actions needed to achieve the goal)
  • Realistic           (avoid overwhelm and unnecessary stress and frustration by making the goal realistic)
  • Timebound      (helps us stay focused and motivated, inspiring us with a date to work towards)

SMART Acronym Graphic

SMART Goals Explained Acronym Graphic - Horizontal

A Little SMART History

The SMART Goals acronym began as a set of criteria for management to set better goals within organizations. But the SMART acronym is so powerful (and catchy) that it began to be used in personal goal setting too.

When were SMART Goals created?

The first reference to SMART Goals (according to Wikipedia) is in 1981 in a magazine called Management Review.

Who created SMART Goals?

George T. Doran is the creator or SMART Goals. He wrote a paper: There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. In this paper he discussed the challenges of documenting goals and objectives for management within organizations. Of interest to coaches is that George believed it was the goal combined with the action plan that was most important. In this paper George T. Doran’s SMART Acronym was:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable – identify who will do it
  • Realistic
  • Time-related

Interestingly, the A (Assignable in George’s acronym above) is the only letter that has substantially changed in the switchover to personal goal setting. In personal goal setting “Assignable” doesn’t make sense as the goal is already assigned. And because taking action is so important, I have chosen A – Actionable as the replacement A in the SMART criteria.

Variations on the SMART Criteria
There are many minor variations on the SMART criteria. The “Specific” and “Measurable” criteria are almost always consistently used, while the “A” and “R” may vary. The “T” is usually some version of timebound.

Some other SMART Criteria examples include:
Other A’s – Assignable (original definition for use in setting management objectives), Achievable, Attainable, Agreed, Action-oriented, Ambitious, Aligned with corporate goals.
Other R’s – Relevant, Resourced, Reasonable, Results-based.
Other T’s – Time-related, Time-limited, Time-based, Time-oriented, Timely, Time-sensitive.

SMART Goal Setting

SMART goal setting is an art! We start with a vision or an idea and gradually refine it, making it more specific and measurable so that it becomes a goal we can take action on. A coach sits on the outside asking questions to help the client refine and hone their ideas so that their goals become actionable, achievable – and SMART!

How to Set SMART Goals Example
All too often people set goals that are not SMART. Here is an example of how you might take a non-SMART Goal and make it SMART.

Starting Non-SMART Goal: Get more sales!

Consider: With the goal Get more sales, how would you know when you’ve achieved that goal? How would you measure progress/know you’re on track? Where would you start?

Let’s look at how the SMART criteria can help:
Make it Specific – Double the sales of my healthy eating eBook.

Make it Measurable – Increase the gross annual revenue from my healthy eating eBook from $10,000 to $100,000. We have added a $ amount and made it clear we are measuring gross revenue. This allows us to break down the goal and track progress.

Ensure it is Actionable and within your control. One way to do this is to think about specific actions you could take that will directly impact the goal. Here are 4 example actions within your control:
1. Create a new, more exciting front cover.
2. Create a marketing action plan.
3. Ask 25 people to read and review it on Amazon.
4. Increase the price from $9.95 to $12.95.

Make it Realistic – Increase the revenue from my health eBook from $10,000 to $25,000 (reduce the amount to make it more realistic and achievable).

Make it Timebound – I would like to complete this goal by October 31 of next year.

The Final SMART Goals Example now reads:
Increase the gross annual revenue of my healthy eating eBook from $10,000 to $25,000 by October 31 next year.
TIP: Whilst SMART may seem like an acronym to follow one step at a time, as above, when you apply it you’ll find yourself jumping around. Be prepared to change your goal as you hone, refine, and understand it more deeply!

SMART goal setting is a process – and an art.
Coach Pointing for make goals S - SPECIFIC

SMART Goals are Specific

Have you ever struggled to get started on a task because you don’t really understand what it is, or the task seems too big and fuzzy?

Well, you’re not alone! Many people struggle with getting started on their goals – simply because they haven’t made their goals specific enough.

But it’s well worth the effort: The more specific goals are, the easier they are to achieve! When we’re clear on what we want, it makes it easy to make decisions and take action because we know exactly what we’re trying to do.

 I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific. Jane Wagner

How making goals SPECIFIC makes them EASIER to achieve:

 TIP: SMART is not just for Goals! In order for you to be most effective both your goals and actions should be SMART. After all, actions are really just small goals!
Client squinting trying to size up with hands for M - MEASURABLE

SMART Goals are Measurable

How will you KNOW you’ve achieved your goal unless you can measure it?

If you can’t prove you’ve completed the goal then it’s not measurable – which means it’s not a SMART goal. Measurability is a very important part of making your goals specific.

SMART Goals Examples

If your goal is to “Get more people signed up for your newsletter”, how will you know you’ve succeeded unless you know where you are now, and what you’re aiming for? Instead, your goal could be to “Double your newsletter subscriber list from 250 to 500 people”. This also allows you to track progress and adjust your action plan if it looks like what you’re doing isn’t getting the results you need.

More SMART Goals Examples:
Change “Follow-up with prospects” → “Phone 5 warm leads from last weekend’s workshop”.
Change “Decrease my website bounce rate” → “Decrease my website bounce rate to 40%”.
Change “Run more workshops this year” → “Run 3 free workshops and 3 paid workshops in the next 12 months”.

3 TIPS to Make Goals SMART – and Measurable

  1. One way to find your measure is to ask “Why am I doing this? Why bother?”. This will help you identify why you’re doing it – and to identify the measures you need to be sure your goals are successfully completed.
  2. Your measure could be a financial amount, a percentage increase or some kind of count. Note that for some goals and actions, the only measure is a “yes” or “no” to completion of the task. Ie. your new website is live, or you have registered your business name.
  3. If you don’t know how to prove to someone that the goal is complete, then your goal measure is not specific enough. The “acid test” for measurability is to ask “How do I prove I’ve completed this goal?” So rather than “Create a new product” your measurable goal could be “The new product is available to buy on your website”. And rather than “Finish my book”, your measurable goal is “The final manuscript has been sent to the editor.” Clear – and provable!

Measurability is important for Actions too (actions are really just small goals!)

SMART Action Examples
Change “Write an article” → “Write a 750 word article for LinkedIn on how to set boundaries with your boss”.
Change “Follow-up with your prospects” → “Phone each of the prospects (from the free seminar I ran) by the end of Friday this week”.
Change “Practice coaching” → “Ask 50 friends and family if you can give them a free coaching session (and book a time with those who say yes)”.
Coach with Folder and Pen setting SMART Goals for A - ACTIONABLE

SMART Goals are Actionable

We can’t control fate – or other people. For a goal to be SMART it must be actionable by us, and within our control. Otherwise it’s not a goal, it’s a wish!

Actionable Goals

Actionable goals are those you can DO something about ie. where there are a number of actions – within your control – that lead to achievement of that goal.

SMART GOALS EXAMPLE: Your goal is not to “Get potential clients to see what you offer as excellent value” (you have no control over what people think of you), but to “Write a document that lists my unique selling points and the benefits of my service to potential clients”. This goal is now actionable.In addition, two follow-on actions could be, to “Add these selling points and benefits to the ‘Why coach with me?’ page on my website”. Another could be “Pick the 3 most powerful points and send them to my graphic designer to add to the back of my business card”.

Also Make Your Goals Action-oriented…

Making a goal action-oriented also encourages you to write ACTIVE and not passive goals.

SMART GOALS EXAMPLE: Your goal is not to “Have a giveaway with newsletter sign-up on your website” (this is vague and passive and while loosely actionable, it is not action-oriented and does not inspire action). But your goal could be to “Write a one page special report on 7 ways to take better care of our feelings and add it as the newsletter sign-up gift for your website”.
Coach hugging laptop to make R - REALISTIC Goals

 Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.  James Allen

SMART Goals are Realistic

It’s important to feel GOOD about your goals. When we set ourselves a goal that’s out of our reach we often end up feeling overwhelmed, we self-judge, and sometimes we give up altogether. Truly SMART goals feel great!

This means it’s important to factor in existing commitments and lifestyle when setting goals. SMART goals and actions need to be challenging enough to inspire you. AND they need to be realistic enough that you believe you can achieve it. It’s all about setting yourself up for success.

4 TIPS to Make Goals SMART – and Realistic

  1. POSSIBILITY: Is it physically possible to complete the Goal or Action in question? While stretch goals can be inspiring even if they’re unlikely – this is rarely true if they’re impossible!
  2. CHUNKING DOWN: Struggling with a big action or goal? Break it down.
    • For Goals ask: “What would be a great stepping stone?”, “What goal could I set that would prepare me or give me knowledge or experience that will help me achieve this bigger goal?” and “What could I achieve in a month, 3 months or year that would get me closer to my dream?”
    • For Actions ask: “What could I start or spend a chunk of time on?” and “What would be an easy first step, preparation action, request for help or action to remove an obstacle?”. You can break out the first step into an action or set yourself a target of working on something for a chunk of time like 1 day or 3 hours
  3. COMMITMENT: Make your action doable, ie. the right size so that you can commit to it 100%.
    NOTE: Commitment is important – although it doesn’t necessarily mean the goal or action will get done. Sometimes life gets in the way and opportunities or problems arise which prevent us from achieving what we set out to do. However, people CAN commit to achieving it.
  4. SCORING: One way to check-in as to how Realistic your goal is, is to score how likely you feel you will achieve your goals (out of 10). If your score is LESS THAN 8:
    • Your goal or action may be TOO challenging or large.
    • You may not feel connected enough to WHY you’re doing it.
    • You may lack self-belief (which is an obstacle in itself)
    • There may be some other obstacles you haven’t fully acknowledged or addressed yet.
TOP TIP: When estimating, think carefully how long the action will realistically take.

This is because we tend to underestimate how long tasks will take, especially if we haven’t done it before.

A good rule of thumb (from my Project Management days) is to double your first thought of how long the action or goal will take. And if you haven’t done it before, try tripling or even quadrupling your estimate. It sounds extreme, but this is a great way to reduce stress – and surprisingly accurate.

Create a RANGE of Goal Achievement Levels

One way to make a goal realistic, is to create a RANGE of goal achievement levels. Having a goal completion RANGE is a great way to take the pressure off, while still inspiring yourself with a stretch goal.

  • Minimum – This should be relatively EASY to achieve. Set a level that is EASILY achievable this year. After all, life sometimes does throw unexpected things our way – positive opportunities, charming distractions and painful experiences!
  • Target – This is your IDEAL level. What would be a good level to aim for? What would be enough of a stretch to be interesting, but not so much of a stretch that you find yourself switching off or avoiding it?
  • Extraordinary – This is your STRETCH level! What would be amazing, brilliant, wonderful? Put in a measure here where you would say, “Wow, that is fabulous!” NOTE: Be sure that your measure here is POSSIBLE, even if it is not PROBABLE.
Goal RANGE Achievement EXAMPLES: The range you use could be DATES, for example:
– Minimum level could be completed by – December 31
– Target level could be completed by – September 30
– Extraordinary level could be completed by – June 30
Your range could also be NUMERIC – a $ amount, percent or a count. For example:
– Minimum = 250 Facebook likes, 1 new client a month, $1000 in sales/month
– Target = 500 Facebook likes, 3 new clients a month, $2000 in sales /month
– Extraordinary = 750 or more Facebook likes, 5 new clients a month, $5000 in sales/month
Coach with pen and diary adding deadlines to their Goals for T - TIMEBOUND

 If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau

SMART Goals are Timebound

WHY? SMART goals and actions are always Timebound ie. they have a date by when you plan to complete them. Without a date there’s less incentive to work toward our goals – what are we aiming at? We’re all so busy! How are we going to fit more activity into our lives? How do we know how to prioritise our activities unless we have a deadline to know this goal/action is important to us?

Also, an action plan to achieve a goal will be very different in terms of effort, solutions and help required if the deadline is a month from now, as compared to a deadline of one year from now. Setting a date allows people to work backwards and figure out an appropriate action plan.

A date also gives us the opportunity to visualise completion. It allows you to imagine that time in the future when you have completed it- and that helps you commit to the goal!

With annual goals we often have an automatic “deadline” of December 31. And sometimes a date is fixed or imposed on us, for example if we’re booked to deliver a workshop on a specific date. And sometimes we must choose a date, so we have something to aim at.

3 TIPS to Make Goals Timebound

  1. Pick a date that inspires you, but that’s not so challenging that you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Different dates may also represent the relative priority or urgency of different actions. Fore example, a goal or action with a completion date of March 31 is likely to be higher priority than a goal with a completion date of September 30.
  3. For each goal, you can give yourself a RANGE of completion dates (Minimum, Target and Extraordinary) as detailed under the “Make it Realistic” above.

5 Final Tips to Be Smart about HOW We Set Our Goals

It’s not just about setting goals using the SMART criteria. We need to BE smart about our goals. Here are 5 final tips to help you and your clients both set – and achieve – your goals.

  1. Work hard, but know when to rest. Forgive yourself – for what you don’t yet know, for your mistakes and what might get in the way.
  2. Be kind to yourself! Know that we tend to over-estimate what’s achievable in a shorter time-frame, and under-estimate what we can achieve over a longer period.
  3. Anytime the goal isn’t working for you, change the goal! The best goals flex when they need to.
  4. Remember that SMART is for Actions too!
  5. More important than hard work – determination and perseverance are essential qualities for achieving bigger goals! Keeping going when the going gets tough is what sets you apart from the crowd. These qualities also build self-confidence, resilience and make you proud of yourself!

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Wrap-up

Goals can be fun and inspiring. What the SMART criteria do is help us clearly define our goals so they’re easier to get started. SMART also makes it easier to take action, stay motivated – and ultimately succeed!

I have always loved goal-setting – and SMART goal-setting in particular! So I hope this SMART Goal-Setting and Action Planning Guide helps you and your clients set smarter and more inspiring goals – and have more fun working towards them!

Finally, remember this:

GOALS are there to INSPIRE YOU, not to beat yourself up with! Now that’s SMART!

If you liked this article about SMART Goals, you may also like:

© 2020 Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.

About the author: Emma-Louise Elsey is the CEO of Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd. (The Coaching Tools Company.com and Fierce Kindness.com are divisions of Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.) She is a certified Life Coach, NLP practitioner, and recovering perfectionist who loves meditation, questions, quotes, creating coaching tools, and writing.

Since qualifying as a coach in 2004 she has worked with many successful professionals and business owners. For inspiration and to help you with your businesses, there are many more Free Coaching Tools & Templates including coaching questions, coaching exercises, business admin templates for new coaches and forms to help with your workshops.

Article (or Graphic) by Emma-Louise Elsey, professional life coach and founder of The Coaching Tools Company.com. Reprinted with permission from “The Launchpad” newsletter and blog – for people who love coaching. Get more helpful articles for coaches, coaching tips, free resources, and more. Visit The Coaching Tools Company [link to the original article] to learn more.

Categories: Clarity & FocusCoaching Ideas & InspirationCoaching TipsCoaching Tools & ResourcesGoal-SettingSMART GoalsThe Coaching Tools Company

Image of Coach peering around laptop by stockfour via Shutterstock

Image of Coach pointing to S – SPECIFIC by Asier Romero via Shutterstock

Image of Client making SMART goal measurable using hands for M – MEASURABLE by Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock

Image of Coach making notes in folder for A – ACTIONABLE by EHStockphoto via Shutterstock

Image of Coach Hugging Notes for R – REALISTIC by ESB Professional via Shutterstock

Leaders – Stop Solving Everything!

problem-solving team

If you have responsibility for a business, a company, or a team, STOP solving everything. Please stop solving everybody’s problems.

That sounds like a crazy person talking, right?

Here’s what I mean. It is likely you climbed the business ladder by solving problems. As a sole-contributor on a team, you helped make things happen. Whether it was customer service, design engineering or framing a house, you did it well. You made things happen; you solved problems.

Small transactional events or separate work moments were completed because you knew how to do that. Then one day, you got promoted.

Yes face picture
Person getting promoted

Either your old boss left or there was an opening somewhere else in the company for a supervisor, so you got the job. Why? Because your performance was appreciated and recognized. But it was still based on solving problems.

Then, as a new manager, you realized you could solve other people’s problems. Perhaps it started within your own team, but people came to you with their problems and you “fixed” them. It came naturally. So you did it more and more.

Now you’ve gotten several more promotions and you’re still solving everyone’s problems.

It’s time to start leading and stop solving problems.

Lead People, Don’t Solve Their Problems

Still sound crazy? Let me break it down a little further.

Real leaders do many things. One big thing they do is develop their people. They help people grow. Growth can be professional, technical, or personal, but there is growth.

Solving everyone’s problems cuts short the opportunity to help people grow by learning how to solve their own problems. It’s like the old saying:

“Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

Solve someone’s problems, you helped them for a day. Teach them to solve problems and you set them up for life.

If you, as a leader, are not helping people learn to think critically or work their way through their own problems, you are just enabling a weak version of what your people could otherwise be. Please stop doing that.

It Applies to Entrepreneurs Too

Even in a smaller business, if the owner does all the problem solving, your business will stay small and stuck solving problems. But if you teach your people why and how you solve problems, you can grow your company.

I talk to too many business owners who feel stuck in the day to day. Usually, it comes down to having to make every decision and solve every problem.

On one hand, there is a period of time in the life of a new company when that situation makes sense. Yet if the business has any growth at all, the owner must give up some of that constant hands-on approach. There is a need to have others on the team capable of solving transactional problems.

Save the big picture thinking and key strategies for the owner, yes. While doing that, teach and mentor your staff to make their own decisions.

Doesn’t that take more time?

You may be saying “I don’t have time to do that sort of detailed effort. We need stuff done.” I get that. And yes, I’ll agree, certain moments in the heat of battle just have to get done.

“FIRE!” When someone in the office yells that, you have to move quickly to get out. There’s no time for teaching. Hopefully, your teaching was done during a fire drill for your building.

As the leader, you have to use problem-solving in the moment as the focus for teaching and learning during one-on-ones, or small group meetings. Don’t just do a post-mortem on a situation, but walk people through how and why you would do what you would do to solve the problem.

As you do that though, don’t just talk it down to them. Make it interactive. Tease it out of them with questions. Questions like:

What else could be a factor here?

Have you thought about anything else?

What do we know about x, y, and z?

If X happens, what will Y do?

The list is endless.

The questions are the natural way your brain thinks about solving the problem. By using questions to reframe the matter at hand, you help your people see how you process the problem. You’re modeling the problem-solving behavior so they can absorb and adapt to it.

Back to the time issue. Hiding behind time constraints is a convenient excuse for not helping your people grow. You are no different from the great leaders you may have known.

You both have 86,400 seconds in the day. It’s how that time gets used that makes the difference between good and great leaders.

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