The Perfect Tool in an Imperfect World

Managers are worried about their remote workers. If you’ve never had anyone work away from the office before, it can be unnerving. How can they trust what is going on? Are hours being used wisely? How can I make everyone more accountable?

On the flip side, employees who work remotely worry they are not going to be given credit for the effort they spend and the work they produce.

Having this air of uncertainty doesn’t help anyone feel productive. I’ve heard of talk about upping your communication. What does that mean? More zoom?

Leaders providing clarity of purpose, assignment, and mission must have ways to drive accountability. Simply talking more won’t get there.

It’s not a perfect system.

How can the two sides connect to provide clarity of expectations and certainty of delivery? Well, you can have daily zoom calls, but who wants to do that forever?

You could build a giant database but who needs that burden piled on top of the already difficult process?

There is actually a very simple yet elegant system I’ve used for years. Calling it a system may scare some people away already. Maybe process or habit is better.

Explaining the Solution

The process is called Big 5. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time I’ve written about this before.

But now is an especially significant change in workforce activity.

Big 5 can be the missing link for all you leaders who are worried about productivity and workers who wonder whether the boss knows your value.

Here’s how it works.

On a regular basis, every employee (managers included) writes out five goals or expectations they have for the upcoming month. These would be your ‘big rock’ priorities or ‘must wins’.

Next you write down your five biggest achievements for the past month.

Neither of these sections is long text in paragraphs. No, it’s simply bullet listed items.

You can add some comments about resource needs, constraints, etc. But focus first on goals and accomplishments.

Then send it to your boss.

gratitude smile

The boss can review and give feedback. It becomes a flash moment of coaching between manager and employee.

“I like your goals 1 thru 4, but let’s talk more about number 5.”

“Wow, I had no idea you got so much done last month. Thank you for such a big contribution.” Or…

“Sam I like what you can do for us. However I see you’ve been struggling with this remote working environment. Let’s talk about ways I can help you.”

When the next period rolls around, the things you said were goals should become accomplishments. Now, you update the goals.

Take really big, longer term goals and break them down into those bite size tasks.

Frequency of Reporting

Usually, when I teach Big 5, we start with monthly check-ins. However, with the massive change in the workplace, like what we have right now, you might ask for weekly updates.

I once ran a large project with very high velocity, rapid-fire activity. A weekly check-in made more sense. I was providing my client with a status report every Monday, so I had my team do a weekly Big 5.

When they left on Friday, they dropped me their individual reports. I could compile them into a summary picture I gave the client on Monday.

It was powerful, productive, and very effective. Huge goals were achieved, deliverables were met, and the client was very happy with the results.

What About Me?

You might be saying I don’t have a team, but I do have a boss.

Ok, write your Big 5 and give it to the boss. When he/she says “What’s this?” Explain it to them. Say you want to create more clarity and you believe this can help.

That is exactly how I was introduced to Big 5. The colleague who created it actually worked for me many years ago. We were going through tumultuous times in our industry and days flew by.

Finally, one day he dropped a printed copy of his report on my desk. Sure enough, I said, “What’s this?” He explained. We had a brief discussion about the content. He left with perfect clarity of my expectations for him and his team.

Next month he was back again with an update.

And we thrived after that with better clarity, alignment, and a sense of achievement. Sure, we had meetings in between, but the big objectives were being conquered.

Fill the Gap

If you are worried about the productivity of your team, introduce the Big 5 process. If you don’t think your boss understands what you do, give them a Big 5 report. Rinse and repeat.

I’ve added a special online course to my curriculum just for Big 5. If you are interested in learning more, click here. I am offering a special 40% discount for readers of this blog. Yes, regularly $47 now just $27 while this article is in circulation until June 15, 2020. Again, click here to take advantage of this exclusive offer.

Big 5 has even replaced employee ranking and annual assessment tools. If you’re doing Big 5 monthly, when the annual review comes around, you have 60 data points to discuss. That, my friend, is powerful.

It’s by far not a perfect work world right now. Why not use a more perfect tool to manage the crisis?

Big 5 Performance is created by Roger Ferguson of ISIHRConsulting. Big 5 has an app to automate the process. It even manages the reporting with the next level up managers. If the app is something you want for you, your team or your company click here.

Important Versus Urgent, or Both?

increase your productivity

We live in a crazy, busy world. That won’t be a surprise to anyone. The at-home quarantine for COVID-19 have even increased the load on workers and families everywhere.

Your day gets crammed with to-do list items that feel overwhelming. What can you do?

If you’re like most people I know, (myself included) you want to get it ALL done. But how do you decide what gets done first and what can wait?

In the face of this global crisis, turning to some old-school thinking just might help you.

Prior to becoming the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower served as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during WWII. As a general officer, Eisenhower was faced with daunting decisions concerning the tasks he needed to focus on every day. This led him to create a principle that can help us priorities our tasks by looking at whether something is urgent and important.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower uses four squares to define various stages. Stephen R. Covey in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People further popularized Eisenhower’s concept.

Here is how the four boxes work:

Box 1: Do First

I like to call these things that are both important and urgent your “big rocks”. These are the must win items to get done.

Many of my clients admit that the big rocks can get pushed aside in favor of clearing out a bunch of smaller things. There’s a flaw in that idea though. Fill your day with a bunch of little things like those 135 emails, and your day will be gone before anything got done on the big rock.

The things you know you need to do first can be put aside because of perfectionist tendencies. The thinking sounds like this, “I know this is big. I am not prepared to make it perfect, so I am going to wait.”

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Get busy on those Big Rocks, now!

Box 2: Decide When

Box 2 items are important but not urgent. So what they need is a decision about when.

Items placed in box 2 can have life changing impact; remember they ARE important. Yet you have time to decide when they get done.

Here’s where we need to talk about urgent versus important. People often associate urgent matters with being important, which is not always true.

There are many examples of Box 2 items. Getting another degree can be very important to your career advancement, but does it have to be done right now? Exercising is important for health, but you can schedule the right amount of exercise.

Staying productive

Box 3: Delegate It

Have you ever spent time doing something you thought was so urgent and important, but when it was done you realized it was not?

If so, congrats. You are in great company.

For Box 3 it is important to learn when and how to delegate things. If you lead a team, you have resources. You can salvage your time in favor of letting others do these particular tasks.

If you are in the middle of working on a big rock (Box #1) and the phone rings. You don’t have to answer it. If you see who called, ask a team member to return the call and find out what is happening.

Box 4: Delete It

You want to avoid much of Box 4 items. Examples are playing video games, watching old TV shows. Any mndless web browsing may be a Box 4 item.

You need time to invest in working boxes 1 and 2. The more time you free up by simply deleting things, the more productive you will become.

OK, yes, we need “downtime” to unwind and relax. Take that time. But watch yourself for wasted time doing very unnecessary things. That junk email doesn’t even need to be opened. Just delete it.

Procrastination and the Eisenhower Grid

As I mentioned earlier, procrastination can get you confused about this grid. Sometimes it’s easy to make distinctions between your tasks, other times not so much.

Everything you have in front of you does not fit in one of the boxes. The reality is that all things do fit somewhere, just not in the same box.

Picking up that gallon of milk has to wait while you find your car keys. There is a logical order to things.

For procrastinators, while you wrestle with box 1 and 2 things, you fill your day acting on things in boxes 3 and 4. Ultimately, you feel a sense of missed opportunity.

Here’s How to Use the Grid to See If YOU are Procrastinating

To see if you are spending the bulk of your time in the first two quadrants, do a one-week assessment. To do this, make six copies of a blank grid, and use one grid per day, listing the tasks you accomplished or the activities you did, and the time spent on each thing.

When all of the grids are full, combine the Monday-Friday data onto your sixth summary grid and calculate how much time you spent in each grid, then break those numbers down into percentages.

Evaluate how effectively you spent your time and whether your process needs to be reorganized.

6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.

Are You Ready to Take a Chance?

As businesses across the globe begin to ponder their choices for reopening in a post-COVID-19 world, people will be faced with choices. While governmental restrictions dictate some of those choices, it appears all other choices will be left up to the owner/manager. Are you ready to take a chance?

The choices will involve taking chances. How are you set for taking a chance? Here are just a few of the situations I am seeing among the businesses I serve.

Leader making choices

Social distancing is still going to be a ‘rule of the road’. Large companies with grand office footprints are talking about limiting on-site presence, at least for the near future. Ideas like allowing only those employees with enclosed offices to return to work first. Cubicle workers will stay home a bit longer.

Restaurants are looking at separating tables by six feet, reducing seating areas. Stores may keep the Plexiglas panels they have installed at checkout stands.

As an executive, leader or manager making these choices, you create a risk for taking the chance to do something one way or the other. How will you handle that?

The Basis for Decision

Responding to the post-crisis world will be testing your leadership resolve. Do you have the ‘metal’ to stand firm in your convictions about the right thing to do? Clearly acting too soon to deploy large numbers of employees, patrons, or traffic in your facility may tag you an outlier. Are you ready to accept that risk?

The process to make these choices will demonstrate what you have been made of all along. As John Maxwell says:

“Experiences make us, but crisis reveals us.”

How will you be revealed in the face of the crisis around you? As the world finds its new normal, will your leadership character be strong or weak?

Core and Edge Thinking

There is a good explanation for dealing with taking chances as a leader. It has to do with the agility you have in moving from your core out to the edge. Let me explain.

Your Core is the center of your leadership framework. It is made up of all your beliefs, values, and relational experiences. The core includes your technical training and experience too. Likely you have worked hard to develop your leadership core. Just like working on your body’s core at the gym, having a strong leadership core makes you a better leader.

Diagram of core-edge-agility

Your core provides the foundation of who and what you may be as a leader. It inspires your own sense of right and wrong, weak and strong.

However, your core can become your comfort zone too. You might be one who finds safety in staying very close to the core. This can be the downside of relying too much on core strengths.

Then There’s the Edge

For every one of us, there is an edge out there. The edge is the horizon of opportunity and challenge. The edge is where new growth happens. It is often an unknown situation or circumstance.

This is why taking a chance is a good example of being on the edge. The risk that is associated with going out to the edge is what makes leadership challenges so significant.

Explorers love the edge challenge. Finding new horizons.

That is why your willingness to go out to the edge is as much an indicator of your leadership prowess as is your core strength.

Agility

The third dimension of this model is called agility. Agility is a leader’s ability to move smoothly from core thinking to the edge and back again.

On one hand, being willing to freely go out to the edge is good, but if you get stuck there, you’re in trouble. You have to be able to get back to your center, your foundation. Think about Apollo 13.

taking a chance with core, edge and agility

Agility is the beauty of good leadership. Keeping your values high yet exploring new opportunities to grow and prosper your team, your work, and your business. By gracefully going to the edge while maintaining clear visibility of core strengths, you become a trusted leader.

Back to the New Chances

The new normal we are looking to establish represents the edge for all of us. The way we define the edge may be different, but it is an edge nonetheless. If your core cries out for certain values and expectations, but the edge is not clear, you are dealing with taking a big chance.

Your agility will be the factor that determines your success. Ask yourself what it will take to move forward.

Will an old habit of decision making fail you in this new crisis? Will you be afraid to take chances?

Or can you effectively, maybe even boldly, make the right decision to choose next steps for your business? By exercising your agility you can go out to the new edges, do what you have to do, then know you can always return to your core for strength.

Note: Core, Edge, and Agility concepts courtesy of Lee Hecht Harrison

Certain graphics courtesy of 123rf.com and unsplash.com

Are You Focused Deep or Wide?

If you start talking about leadership, you may get several different reactions; everything from eye-roll to serious looks. Regardless of the guru you follow or the school where you took leadership training, there is one key question that remains.

Will your leadership ability be deep or wide?

If you’re thinking about big organizations with high headcount and multiple lines of business, you are thinking about wide leadership influence. This includes large communities or tribes where your influence can be experienced.

However, if you think in terms of the immediate circle of your peers and direct reports, then you are thinking deep leadership.

There is not really a right or wrong to either of these two schools of thought.

Wide Leadership Thinking

As the name implies, wide leadership reaches far. The edges are way out there. You might be hoping to influence or impact a large population, whether that’s within your company or inside an industry.

Your idea of a vision has a really big scale to it. You are wanting to leave behind or accomplish making a big difference.

Ironically, a great leader with a wide vision isn’t necessarily thinking about numbers of followers. Instead, they focus on the need. Their heart centers on service.

The best picture is that of the pebble cast on a calm pool of water. The place where the stone hits the water causes ripple effects that have energy enough to reach the far edges of the pond or lake. If the pool was perfectly still, a single stone will create ripples that are seen the whole distance beyond the center of that circle.

Great leadership creates ripples of influence and impact in the hearts and minds of the ones who stand in the outer bands of the circle surrounding the leader.

The Deep End

Deep leadership is limited in numbers. It is a more personalized experience, dealing with a few.

In business, we think of it as our “direct reports”, those who are assigned directly to us with whom we have a day to day contact.

Mentoring someone is a deep leadership happening. The leader will be pouring wisdom, encouragement, and experience into the individual, one on one.

Deep leadership impact will be life changing for the recipient. Perhaps the influence will be limited to just a few nuggets of truth or learning, but the substance will be powerful. The person receiving the lesson will be forever changed.

The Best Do Both

The best leaders I have ever known or studied do both. I’ve tried being that kind of leader in what I do. I’ve tried teaching it to others.

When you take on a position of responsibility, you have to make the team work first. Your influence should be the deep kind. You must feed and nurture those assigned to you or hired by you. It is up to you to explain the vision and purpose.

You’ll be doing individual development of those around you.

As the team becomes productive, you can shift your focus to the wider perspective.

Your business may have many layers and your team is just a part of the bigger picture. Your influence as a leader can be felt by others outside your team. You do this by supporting other units or departments.

If you own your own business, you have to get it up and running smoothly (deep leadership) before you reach too far outside into the community to make yourself known (wide leadership).

A Pivot

I could go on about this and maybe will in another installment later. But I need to interject something.

I had this article in my writing queue for some time. My calendar was clicking by and my process to go to press was running normally. Then it was time to polish this one off and prep it for release on Sunday, April 12.

It hit me.

That Date is Easter.

Then it hit me again. What better an example of deep and wide influence than the story we know about Jesus’s life.

I intentionally do not force my faith and beliefs on you my reader. Nor will I start now. But please allow me a moment to reflect on this, a very significant holy date for many.

The story of Jesus began with him assembling a small group, twelve to be exact. His intent was to go deep with teaching, mentoring and messaging. He attempted to dispel many teachings of the day and bring better clarity on the subject of God and Heaven.

The disciples as this group later would be called, didn’t always get it at first. It took many tries to explain and demonstrate the principles to them. They eventually did get it.

Then focus turned to a wider audience. A gathering in a town square, a following on a hillside. The pebble was thrown into the lake and ripple it did.

The twelve are gone. Yet, the legacy created 2000 years ago remains.

I don’t judge your beliefs. None of this is an attempt to sway you otherwise. Yet for those who do believe this story and these teachings, the model is perfect.

Leadership delivered deeply to a few had impact far and wide on many. Today, we as leaders can do much the same.

OK most of you will not start a movement or create a global cause. But you can be the leader your team and your community need right now.

I encourage you to reflect in this Easter season.

Where does your leadership stand right now? Deep, wide or both?

Job Search Support

Join me and my close friend, Rick Gillis, as we open the mic to talk job search. We’re hosting a live ZOOM call Monday April 13 (next Monday) 6:00PM CT. https://dougthorpe.us/39QfLS7

Rick and I both worked together during the last financial crisis in 2008-2010. We helped over 4,500 job seekers with powerful ways to create a better job search plan.

About Rick

Being in the forefront of the online employment movement, Rick began speaking on search, promotion and advancement across the US, as well as on terrestrial radio and in online interviews in Australia, Panama, the Caribbean, Canada, and the UK. Rick has been featured on NPR, PBS, Business Insider; in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., the Houston Chronicle, CIO, Huffington Post, and more. Rick has also produced and hosted both radio and TV shows in Houston.

Rick has written four books on job search and a fifth book, PROMOTE, written for those professionals who aren’t comfortable promoting themselves on the job, is the little book that ‘begat’ The Quotient where, rather than write about equal pay for equal work, Rick advocates for the proper pay for the best performance.

My Role

I was the Founder and Director of Jobs Ministry Southwest (JMS), a non-denominational, faith-based 501c (3) jobs ministry which was featured in Fortune magazine. Since its establishment in 2008, the ministry has delivered over 35,000 training and career coaching hours.

While working with JMS, I created a program called STRIVE to help people with organizing a better and more meaningful job search process. That is now my latest book “STRIVE for Job Search Success.”

strive job search

On Monday, Rick and I will be opening the vault on ideas, tips, tricks and tools to help you find the right job.

Register here. No selling. No fees. Just sharing and caring.

Leadership in Times of Crisis – Finding the CALM

calm lake, leadership

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.

calm business man

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.

staying calm in times of stress

Stay calm.

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.

Is Your Project a Self-Eating Watermelon?

self-eaten watermelon

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?

self-eaten watermelon

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.

Ben Love

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.

Leading Change: An Old Model Reveals New Ideas

Overcoming change

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.

Overcoming change

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.

Conclusion

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.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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How to Avoid Having a Frozen Middle in Your Company

frozen middle image

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.

Manager Challenges

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.

Team success

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.