Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘focus

When Performance Lags, Look to the Team Culture

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When team results lag, leaders must closely examine the team culture. The culture is established when the team is initiated and is defined by its charter, mission, norms, roles, responsibilities and performance goals. An effective team will define: specific performance goals, a work-product and a set of challenges to overcome and milestones to meet.

The team culture will define how and what the team will produce. Poor performance can be attributed to many areas including team:

  • Leadership
  • Norms
  • Roles
  • Responsibilities

However, most often a lack of team performance is the result of poorly conceived performance goals or a lack of clear understanding of what the team is to accomplish. Both are closely interrelated and will create a faulty team structure, which will lead to either a lack of results or ill-defined results that have little or no value to the organization.

A well-defined and performing team should be producing an output that has identifiable value to and for the organization. In other words, the output of the team is greater than the sum of the individual contributions of the team members. To achieve this, teams must be focused on the attainment of specific performance goals.

Effective team results and reliable outcomes are the result of the establishment of a firm team foundation from the outset of the team’s creation. When teams develop their charter and mission they are also setting the performance goals that establish the tone and aspirations of the team. In this fashion teams develop their direction, momentum and commitment by working to shape a meaningful purpose. Part of that purpose is defined by the results and outcomes the team is expected to produce when its work is completed.

If team performance lags or is ineffective, one must review the initiation points of the team, how it defined itself, and the work it planned to produce. The areas that need to be explored include:

Specific Performance Goals

The establishment of specific performance goals is an integral part of the team process. This assists the team to shape a common purpose that is meaningful to all of the team members. Performance goals should be compelling and challenge teams to make a difference. In addition, they should be linked to the charter and mission of the team and achieve its purpose in a meaningful way.

Upon its creation the team should immediately establish a few challenging yet achievable goals early on to build confidence and feelings of success. These goals should be both measurable and capable of assessment.

The Team Work-Product

The team work-product is different from both the organizational mission and individual job objectives. It requires equivalent contributions from all of the members of the team. This process should not be minimized or it will result in future problems for the team.

Assigned tasks and assignments that make up the contributions of the team should be completed by the team members and not delegated or reviewed by them. While staff support may be required, team members should perform the majority of the assignment, so that they acquire firsthand knowledge of the output that they produce. This develops respect, trust and accountability between team members.

The use of delegated work limits both the commitment of team members and their appreciation for its content and contribution. It also minimizes the insights and the innovative potential of the team. If team output lags, this may be a critical point of investigation.

Performance Goals

Performance goals should be clearly stated and understood by team members. When this happens discussions focus on how to pursue the goals or if they should be changed. When goals are ambiguous or non-existent, discussions are less productive. Teams will spend time revisiting issues and problems without making meaningful progress.

Attainment of Performance Goals

The attainment of specific performance goals assist teams to maintain their focus on getting results. If a team doesn’t attain its desired results and outcomes it can often be attributable to the team’s failure to establish specific performance goals. Further, the establishment of specific performance goals allows teams to create a series of small team wins that builds the commitment of team members.

Performance Objectives

Teams should establish specific performance objectives. In so doing they will allow for clear communication between team members and create constructive conflict to discuss issues and develop solutions.

Summary

As the reader can clearly see, many of the performance failures experienced by teams are the result of inadequate planning and preparation at the time the team is initiated. Proper performance goals, objectives and work-related outcomes must be clearly defined and understood if they are to be realistically attained. Any attempt to short-circuit this process will only create future problems. This will result in the team having to revisit their foundations in order to successfully accomplish their mission.

Excerpt: Developing & Planning for Team Results: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series.(Majorium Business Press , Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

How Personal Agendas Can Destroy a Team

The Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

Five Pitfalls Teams Need to Avoid

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Five Pitfalls Teams Need to Avoid

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Problems can arise throughout team development and management, but leaders must pay particular attention to the structure and focus of the team. There are many potential pitfalls associated with establishing a team’s mission and focus. These foundational problems can linger and hinder the team’s performance.

Teams can encounter many problem areas during their tenure, but most challenges arise during the establishment of the team. Without a strong foundation that includes a focus, a mission, rules, boundaries and objectives, teams will encounter chronic problems.

It is important for leaders to understand that team productivity will be diminished without a firm foundation. From the outset leaders must invest time and effort in team development to ensure long-term success. This process includes establishing a clear understanding of what to avoid to prevent future problems.

Quality improvement is a common task given to teams. Organizations with teams in this area often stumble into pitfalls and produce poor outcomes. The selection of the wrong process for a team to work on is the main cause of inappropriately focused teams.

Selection of a Project No One Is Interested in

As organizations assign and develop teams for various projects, one common problem stems from selecting projects neither managers nor team members are concerned about. Consequently, the project will likely die from inattention. Often individual team members are assigned to several teams, and will only focus their attention on the projects they are interested in.

Often the only motive that sustains the effort of the team is the commitment of its members. If uninterested in a project, individuals will resist it, hampering the team’s ability to meet and work together effectively. When leaders develop new teams, the projects they assign should be meaningful to the active team members.

Selecting a Desired Solution

Leaders tend to think they already know which improvements need to be made before a team meets to study a problem, analyze it and make recommendations. Consequently, they pick a solution for the team to consider rather than have it look at the larger quality improvement process. This tendency does not empower teams to come up with changes and improvements, and their creativity is held back. As a result, the most creative and effective solutions may not be brainstormed, recommended, analyzed, studied and considered, and the team’s effectiveness and productivity are diminished.

While the leader’s predetermined changes may in fact turn out to be the best way to proceed, teams should be allowed to arrive at their own conclusions, and be free to recommend actions they determine will yield the greatest success.

Projects in Transition

As companies evolve, many processes and projects are in transition. It is wasteful to assign a team a project or process that is undergoing transition or is scheduled for change. The exception here is if changes occur in a process because of the team. In such a case, the team’s resources can be effectively used to study and evaluate the process and determine the best changes.

Selecting a System

Managers often delegate projects that are too ambitious and that should be broken down into smaller components. Properly focusing teams on particular elements of a project facilitates a better chance of success. In this manner they can concentrate their efforts and make recommendations that are easily implemented. Once improvements are made in one small area, teams can methodically move on to other areas. This method allows them to build on their successes and, ultimately, to impact the entire system.

Improper Framing of the Problem

When problems are properly framed, team operational boundaries are defined. But teams can frame a problem too narrowly or broadly.

Broadly defined problems can create projects that are too vague or difficult to label. Consequently, teams quickly find they have neither the time nor resources to deal with such projects. Potential solutions also become broadly defined, ineffective and difficult to implement.

Narrowly defined problems create ineffective solutions. Tight parameters prevent teams from exploring all aspects of the problem and its possible solutions. The final solution can result in issues and concerns that are ignored but should have been considered.

Excerpt: A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:

How Personal Agendas Can Destroy a Team

The Use of Teams Requires Self-Discipline

When Performance Lags, Look to the Team Culture

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Focusing Your Employees on Common Goals

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The overarching principle behind organizational development is that all employees have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be harnessed and tapped into to enable the organization to grow. Managers are the organization’s primary facilitators of knowledge and experience at their specific level. Growth can only be successfully accomplished when employees are focused upon a shared vision and common goals.

With the increasing intensity of global competition, organizations must move forward or be bypassed. With this in mind, organizations wishing to experience growth must ensure that their employees change. Individuals must continue to grow, develop and improve themselves as employees. Organizations are comprised of people; therefore if they are to progress, so must their people.

It is important for managers to understand that they play an important role in the development of the employees they direct. They must create an environment that fosters a learning atmosphere. When they do this, they satisfy the basic human need to continue learning. Most people don’t want to stagnate, but seek opportunities to continue their personal development, whether on the job or with hobbies and other areas of interest. Research has shown that most individuals will seek new ways to learn whenever they have the opportunity.

As managers begin to focus their employees on common goals, there are a number of basic assumptions behind this task. Before managers begin to establish common objectives, they should take the time to review these assumptions with their employees. By doing so, they lay the groundwork of specific expectations that employees can use as a foundation for their goals. These assumptions include:

There Is a Better Way

Many organizations echo the sentiment, “We’ve been doing it this way for years—why change if it isn’t broken?” If this feeling permeates the organization, it signals a level of stagnation in the face of constant change.

There is always a better way of doing things. Research has shown that every time employees review their goals and functions in a group setting they do a superior job of stating them, measuring them and achieving them. This synergy is a clear sign that the organizational unit is growing in terms of its individual members and as a working unit.

Working Capacity

A common complaint is that employees are overworked and have too many demands placed upon them. The truth is that no one is ever working at 100% capacity. Research indicates that even the best performers are only working at a fraction of their true capacity.

There are a number of factors at work here. Some individuals make a conscious choice not to provide the organization with the best of their abilities, for whatever reason. Additionally, many managers are placed in a position where they are applying new leadership principles to old bureaucratic methods with internal resistance present. This resistance often stands in the way of desired levels of effectiveness. In other cases, the speed of change and pace of demands are so overwhelming that managers find it difficult to stop and reorganize effectively.

Motivation

Employees are not strongly motivated to accomplish the goals and objectives established for them by others within the organization. Resistance to authority goes back to childhood, when many resisted their parents and teachers. Most employees feel that the goals established by others underutilize their skills. This resistance is very common in most, if not all, organizations.

However, employees will work hard to achieve goals they set for themselves. They feel empowered and assume ownership of their ideas and concepts. When employees assume ownership, they are motivated to succeed, if only because they have been given an opportunity and do not want to fail. They feel bureaucratic constraints are lifted and they are enthusiastic and challenged by the opportunities presented to them.

Sense of Accomplishment

Employees are happier when they are given the opportunity to accomplish more. Many bridle under older, more bureaucratic rules and procedures that limit their personal ability to perform, grow and develop. Once these constraints are removed, employees have the opportunity to do more than they were allowed in the past. They develop a sense of accomplishment that brings most people pleasure and a feeling of importance.

Most individuals have a need to accomplish something worthwhile in their lives, and managers can use this psychological need to their advantage. If managers are successful in this goal, they will see their employees more interested and enthusiastic than before. The challenge lies in increasing the frequency of these opportunities.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point. WI 2011)

Related:

Five Critical Steps to Maximize Performance

Execution: Six Action Steps

Performance Plans Create Results and Maximizes Performance

Objectives Allow Managers to Focus on Obtaining Results

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Performance Management: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Maximizing Financial Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

October 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm

“Success is the Sum of Details”

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Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire) stated, “success is the sum of details.” The great leaders uniformly paid extraordinary close attention to details.

It is an important attribute or aspect of their thinking. It influenced virtually every aspect of their lives, which ranged from ruthless efficiency to product quality, to how they treated their employees. As architects of growth, their attention to detail allowed them to formulate comprehensive plans and blueprints, which supported the building and growth of their companies.

Many leaders like James J. Hill (Great Northern Railway), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) and Robert Wood (Sears) all devoured as much data and information as they could get their hands on, to generate detailed plans and blueprints for their business, as did William Boeing (Boeing) and John Jacob Astor. Bill Gates (Microsoft) “also has incredible focus and knowledge of his industry. As Ross Perot once noted, ‘Gates is a guy who knows his product.’ ”

In addition to paying close attention to details, the great leaders developed unparalleled competence and expertise through years of experience. They all emerged from long and dark valleys of frustration, disappointment, adversity and often failure, which tested their mettle, polished their skills and competencies and generated deep levels of perseverance and resilience.

None of the great leaders surveyed ever appeared to succeed without first enduring what I call a long and frustrating “crucible period.” These experiences and the lessons gained within this “crucible period” allowed them to possess the necessary skills, experience and expertise to take advantage of opportunities presented to them. They were able to recognize them for what they were, and knew how to plan and profit from them.

A notable example is Theodore Vail (AT&T). He “left the post office service to establish the telephone business. He had been in authority over thirty-five hundred postal employees, and was the developer of a system that covered every inhabited portion of the country.

Consequently, he had a quality of experience that was immensely valuable in straightening out the tangled affairs of the telephone. Line by line, he mapped out a method, a policy, a system. He introduced a larger view of the telephone business… He persuaded half a dozen of his post office friends to buy stock, so that in less than two months the first ‘Bell Telephone Company’ was organized, with $450,000 capital and a service of twelve thousand telephones.” [1]

In 1902, one hundred years after it was founded, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly known as DuPont, was sold by the surviving partners to three of the great-grandsons of the original founder, led by Pierre du Pont. He had grown up in the family business and had developed the necessary expertise to assume control over it. He understood the associated problems, issues and weaknesses that needed to be rectified, and drafted and executed the necessary plans to transform the company.

“As chief of financial operations, Pierre du Pont oversaw the restructuring of the company along modern corporate lines. He created a centralized hierarchical management structure, developed sophisticated accounting and market forecasting techniques, and pushed for diversification and increasing emphasis on research and development.

He also introduced the principle of return on investment, a key modern management technique. From 1902 to 1914, Pierre kept a firm rein on the company’s growth, but with the onset of World War I he guided DuPont through a period of breakneck expansion financed by advance payments on Allied munitions contracts.” [2]

As a primary supplier of paints and lacquers required for automotive production, DuPont became a major investor in General Motors. Pierre DuPont replaced William Durant, the company’s founder, as CEO. DuPont made a key decision in promoting Alfred Sloan to the office of president. Sloan developed a detailed blueprint that transformed GM into the largest industrial company the world had ever known at that time.

He “created structure so people could be more creative with their time and have it be well spent. He also came up with the idea that senior executives should exercise some central control but should not interfere too much with the decision making in each operation.

It is difficult to describe many of Sloan’s ideas because most of them would seem like common concepts of a business, yet they were new and innovative at the time. Largely due to his invention, GM became the pioneer in market research, public relations and advertising. Before Sloan, people had totally different conceptions of these common parts of the American corporation.” [3]

Due to Sloan’s success, his corporate model highly influenced the development of the modern American corporation. His theories were actively practiced for over 50 years and remained unchallenged until Jack Welch’s (General Electric) influence permeated the mid-1980s.

Related:

  1. Do You Have the Talent to Execute Get Things Done?
  2. Linking Structure to Action
  3. The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

References:

  1. Casson Herbert N., The History of the Telephone. Chapter II (February 1, 1997)
  2. Pierre S. du Pont: 1915 (www2.dupont.com)
  3. Alfred P. Sloan, Inventor of the Modern Corporation (Invent Help Invention Newsletter, August 2004)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Leaders focus on enhancing the customer’s ‘experience’

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Across the broad spectrum of products, services and industries, and the span of over 200 years, the great leaders shared a mutual focus to greatly enhance their customer’s “experience.” This incorporated the concept of “ruthless efficiency” to drive down costs, improve quality and increase efficiencies through innovation and continuous improvement. This resulted in better products at lower costs. This generated their record of growth and success through the practice of overwhelming and eliminating their competition, who couldn’t match their performance.

Edward Harriman (Union Pacific) illustrated this attitude.

“Walking some Southern Pacific track one day with one of his finest officers, Julius Kruttschnitt, Harriman’s restless eye seized on one of the bolts holding a rail in place. ‘Why does so much of that bolt protrude beyond the nut?’ he asked abruptly.

‘It is the size that is generally used,’ replied Kruttschnitt.

‘Why should we use a bolt of such a length that a part of it is useless?’ persisted Harriman.

‘Well,’ admitted Kruttschnitt, ‘When you come right down to it, there is no reason.’

After walking a bit farther, Harriman stopped suddenly and asked, ‘How many track bolts are there in a mile of track?’

Kruttschnitt did a quick calculation and ventured a figure. ‘Well,’ snapped Harriman, ‘in the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific we have about eighteen thousand miles of track and there must be some fifty million bolts in our system. If you can cut an ounce off from every bolt, you will save fifty million ounces of iron, and that is something worthwhile.

Change your bolt standard.’” [1]

Contrary to today’s focus on shareholder value, the great leaders attributed their success to the maintenance of a fanatical focus on the well being of their customers. The customer is the key constituency and is placed first, even at the expense of the stockholders.

Common sense told them that before profits there needed to be sales. And happy customers generated sales. Any actions that diminished the customer experience would be detrimental to the health of their businesses. Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stated,

“Customers want three things; the best selection, the lowest prices, and the cheapest and most-convenient delivery. At Amazon, all decisions flow from those fundamentals.”

When leaders lose their focus on building their business, and maintain a balance with their constituencies, their professional credibility suffers. Many who attain prominent positions are faced with numerous temptations, which come with the trappings of power. These can become the impetus that destroys their credibility and in certain instances, their careers.

Focusing on the attainment of their personal agenda, including prominence, personal notoriety, and popularity often tops the list of problematic behaviors. Some leaders are enamored with politics and the possibility of political office, while others are consumed with personal interests and activities.

Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard) fell into this trap as she was accused of acting like a rock star during her tenure as CEO. “Some critics said she became caught up in high-level strategy and high-profile marketing events to create buzz (such as appearing on stage at a trade show with pop singer Gwen Stefani a month before her firing), rather than homing in on the nitty-gritty operational issues…” [2]

James Cayne (Bear Stearns) was participating at a championship bridge tournament as his company faced imminent financial collapse in 2007. He was later accused of being more focused on his bridge activities than his company in the critical period leading up to the financial disaster.

“On July 12, chatting with visitors over lunch, Mr. Cayne seemed less interested in discussing the markets than in talking about a breakfast-cereal allergy and his stash of unlabeled Cuban cigars. On another occasion, he told a visitor he pays $140 apiece for the cigars, keeping them in a humidor under his desk. Five days later managers of both funds informed investors their holdings were virtually worthless.” [3]

Undoubtedly, many problematic leaders feel if their companies are performing well, they are free to pursue their own interests. In the case of Carly Fiorina, her personal focus was transparent and she was severely criticized in the press and in the company. This undermined her credibility, which ultimately led to the loss of her validity, and authority to lead. Her actions alienated her constituencies, who ultimately abandoned her when she needed them. She lost her professional credibility.

“CEOs can grow arrogant. They stop listening to trusted advisors and begin to breed negative energy, reflecting that back on the company. ‘Roger Smith became shorthand for a generation of managerial puppetry,’ says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute and an associate dean at the Yale School of Management.

To be sure, when highly visible CEOs make bad decisions or fail entirely, their companies suffer as well. ‘Personal actions, such as political decisions, take on more weight,’ says Peter H. Coors (Coors) ‘What we might do personally would have an impact on the company.’” [4]

P.T. Barnum (Barnum & Bailey Circus) offered sound advice, which is just as applicable today as it was then, when he said,

“Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed… When a man’s undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value… There is good sense in the old caution against having too many irons in the fire at once.”

References:

  1. Klein, Maury, The Change Makers (Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2003) p 128-129
  2. Zapler Mike, Analysts: Carly Fiorina Long on Vision, Fell Short on Execution at HP (Oakland Tribune) April 21, 2010
  3. Kelly, Kate, Bear CEO’s Handling of Crisis Raises Issues (The Wall Street Journal) November 1, 2007
  4. Benezra, Karen and Gilbert, Jennifer, The CEO as Brand — Their Names Are Synonymous With Their Companies’ Products — And That Presents A Slew of Unique Challenges (Chief Executive) January 1. 2002

For more information on this topic, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Adapt or Be Bypassed

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In the face of overwhelming change, it is often difficult to predict the future with any certainty. Managers must have the flexibility to adapt to change and harness its forces to their advantage. In many cases the results of such an upheaval cause a shift in both thinking and actions. While this process can be difficult for some managers to adjust to, one thing is certain: they can either adapt or be bypassed. Market and business conditions are unforgiving to the manager who resists change.

Managers must recognize that many of the traditional business models of the past are no longer applicable. A number of organizations have employed a host of management fads over the past decade with either limited success or disastrous results. Aside from the implementation of new ideas and concepts meant to enrich the authors rather than the company, it is certain that managers must deal with the ever-increasing forces of change that appear to be both overwhelming and unrelenting.

It is important for managers to understand that they are forced to adapt to and align themselves with the changes impacting their industry and company. The traditional direct-and-control role is being replaced by the principles of active leadership and empowerment as the most effective method to anticipate and handle changes in the business environment and marketplace. As a result, the manager is required to take a proactive rather than a passive stance. In this way leaders are on the alert and prepared to deal with the constantly changing business environment.

Managers must adapt to meet the demands of their company, customers and the marketplace. Their professional development and transformation into a proactive leader is interlinked with the changes their organization must make to survive and prosper. The shift can be accomplished by the continual application of the ideas listed below. Since change is continuous and relentless, the evolution of new ideas and professional development must also be ongoing.

Related: You Keep Innovating if You Want to Keep Leading

Brainstorm

Managers must always be seeking new ideas to implement in their business. The best source of new ideas and insights lies within the native knowledge of their individual employees. They are positioned in the front lines of the business where they gather feedback from both coworkers and customers, and see firsthand what the competition is doing in the marketplace. Unfortunately, in many organizations this wealth of knowledge is seldom tapped, much less converted into a useful form. Yet this source of information, insight and ideas are at the manager’s fingertips.

Managers need to schedule ongoing brainstorming sessions to utilize their employees’ knowledge and work through ideas and concepts. Where geographically dispersed branches or locations prohibit this, managers should consider a threaded discussion group using email as a tool to engage their employees as a group.

Brainstorming has distinct advantages in that it feeds on participant synergy in order to build on ideas and concepts. Most participants feel energized and motivated when the exercise is properly undertaken and all ideas and feedback are considered and treated with respect.

Related: The Need to Test Opinions Against the Facts

Abandon Prejudices

Most seasoned managers have personal prejudices regarding how things in their business should be run. Formed from their experiences and successes over the span of their career, these biases can hinder a manager’s ability to develop and implement new ideas and concepts. With the speed and impact of change in the world now, it is essential to know that what has worked in the past may no longer be effective, and that the fact that old processes may still be in place does not mean there are not better ways of doing things.

New ideas and concepts developed during brainstorming or from other forms of feedback should not be summarily dismissed as a “bad fit” for the corporate culture. Managers need to put aside their personal prejudices and examine viable ideas from all angles in order to determine whether they have an application or can improve employee and company performance.

Implement New Ideas

While managers should seek out new ideas from their employees, customers and their own research, more must be done. After developing these ideas, determining their applicability to the company, and prioritizing them, managers must then implement those that can have the most impact.

People generally fear that new approaches will not work. However, managers must overcome their reluctance by continually testing new ideas. If they do fail, they should learn from the experience and move on to other concepts. It is from a series of failures and the subsequent lessons learned that new and viable ideas are built.

Related: Four Major Barriers to Effective Empowerment

Remove Barriers

Managers must remove barriers their employees may encounter that hinder their effectiveness, productivity and efficiency. In the sales environment, this can typically include reports as well as reworking procedures that hinder their ability to directly deal with a prospect or customer.

Managers need to measure what is actually needed versus what is currently required. The implementation of new ideas and the increase in the level of customer service may require a streamlining of procedures to enhance the individual employee’s ability to be productive and attain desired results.

Think Small

From the mid-90s to the mid-00s there was a tendency for companies with a “bigger is better” mindset to expand through acquisitions and mergers. However, managers must now think small. This adjustment may include reorganizing units into smaller cells that are more adaptable to change. Additionally, thinking small should translate into the areas of goals and planning. IBM built their business on the philosophy of small successes. By breaking their goals down into a series of less daunting, more easily attained steps, employees were able to build their confidence and motivation by completing one after another. The outcome was the same as giving employees the entire goal at once, but in this manner it did not seem insurmountable.

Related: You Don’t Choose Your Passions, Your Passions Choose You

Lead with Passion

As managers transform themselves into proactive leaders they must evolve in their style so that they lead with a passion, sharing their personal vision at every opportunity with their employees, customers and suppliers. They will find that their passion is contagious and that it will impact the performance of the entire team.

Excerpt: Professional Development: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

 

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

August 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

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Within the workplace leaders need to emphasize the importance of questioning, and can do this by welcoming all those “why” and “how” questions, and asking a lot of them as well.

Leaders need to be content with leaving many questions unanswered, and by doing so, create a collection of unknown working elements that offer evidence to the prominent place that curiosity holds within the organization.

Leaders can use questions and answers to make the employees’ work life and environment curious and exciting. To do this, questions should mirror employees’ sense of adventure, interest and curiosity. Observing and questioning their world of work helps to establish an outstanding and superb sense of teamwork.

To make questions as important as answers it is necessary to safeguard employees against excessive organizational routines. Routine, rigidity and tight boundaries tend to snuff out the questioning process before it begins to achieve any glimmer of light, hope or momentum.

Organizational cultures often contribute to the problem of attaining positive workplace growth and development when they tend to allow, incorporate, or spread, a bland veneer of “sameness” or a status quo of “apathy” throughout the working environment and workplace landscape. This trend presents a special challenge.

Related: Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Faced with a bland, dominated working landscape, it is up to leaders to find ways to liberate their employees from the continuous shaping of ideas, opinions and the peer pressure of “sameness.” Employees can be freed from these organizational culture constraints by becoming good questioners. When employees are surrounded by leaders and supervisors who provide immediate, simplistic responses to all the questions they ask, a false impression is created that emphasizes: “Answers do not require serious thought or ingenuity.” Employees are prevented from observing firsthand just how initial questions spawn additional ones, which eventually lead to fresh answers. As a result, they tend to lose out on the opportunity to experience mind searching, analyzing and decision-making.

Related: Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Look at Questions and Answers as Part of an Uncompleted Puzzle

Working environments tend to present an endless supply of puzzles. The only problem is, many employees spend most of their time and lives avoiding puzzles and serious questions. Yet, if every question has a quick and easy answer, the purpose of inquiry is lost.

Puzzles within the mind tend to arouse a sense of curiosity and stimulate questioning. While some employees may be bewildered when at first attempting to figure something out, good questions will start to break up their mental log jam and begin to unlock everyone’s frozen thinking, while at the same time, setting them on the path to greater understanding.

Puzzle avoidance leads to stagnation. A healthy organization keeps its employees’ heads out of the sand and tries to see what is coming in order to be prepared. A healthy group of employees learns to wrestle with difficult questions and predicaments rather than rely upon recipes and formulas, which may have worked in the past.

If leaders provide a continuous menu of workplace puzzles to decipher, employees will develop at a faster pace, feeling confident and resourceful in the process. Ingenuity and skill will grow faster. Confronted by a problem, quandary or an impossible situation, employees will less likely be shaken or fearful. Over time, they will actually begin to greet dilemmas as a “challenge and a test of ingenuity.” However, at certain times it is important for leaders to make it a point to answer some questions, especially more complex or wide open ones, with an admission of ignorance or uncertainty.

There is no such thing as a “right question” or “truly perfect sequence” to search out answers since effective questioning tends to require a certain amount of “mind mining” and “muddling around.” Tough questions are intended to invoke some trial-and-error reasoning engagement and outcomes. Dilemmas, paradoxes and perplexities all deserve and require some “messy questioning” that is balanced by a degree of disciplined, logical inquiry. Thinkers who are able to “shift gears” from the right to left side of the brain, and back and forth between logic and license, will typically generate deeper and more workable insights.

Related: Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

Maintain a Focus on the Importance of Questioning

One of the goals leaders should have is to teach their employees how to find or fashion satisfying answers to work-related puzzles by learning to ask good questions in effective sequences and combinations. As part of their human nature, most employees will tend to seek stability, predictability and certainty in an uncertain world, instead of embracing the challenges associated with it.

Instead of learning to use good questions to adapt and adjust to a changing world, they more often than not, adopt a “foxhole” mentality. Unfortunately, without experience in the realm of unanswerable questions, employees will not be prepared to deal with the riddles of work and life.

As a second goal, it is up to leaders to share a sense of wonderment at the vastness of “what is unknown.” In this regard, questions will often end up becoming a collection of segmented pieces and bits of inquiry whose answers are as confusing as individual puzzle pieces that have no frame or outline to place them into.

The question is: How can employees be motivated to relish the challenge to find complex or difficult answers and solutions? Will they be able to deal with ambiguity? When leaders treasure and value the “mysterious and unknowable,” and extensively question things themselves, always seeking answers (even if certain solutions remain abstract, unreliable or unattainable), their employees will tend to become more prepared to deal with the puzzles of everyday situations, events, issues, as well as unforeseeable future occurrences.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on developing effective questioning skills in the workplace to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. Click here to learn more.

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog | 800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

August 7, 2012 at 10:48 am

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