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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Handling Workplace Complaints, Concerns and Issues

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Leaders in the workplace hear several complaints every day. Some are minor and easily resolved; others are more complex, requiring complicated solutions. Leaders should have a specific procedure or decision tree set up to guide them through the resolution process fairly and consistently.

Decision trees come in different varieties, some more suited to particular issues than others. One type can be quite logical, providing the leader with a rather intuitive model to follow for simple problems. Difficult problems, on the other hand, require more complex models that give leaders the more intricate guidance they require.

Unresolved complaints are symptomatic of underlying issues in the workplace. When left unsettled, these issues fester and ultimately surface as major problems that can impact productivity, efficiency and performance, as well as expose an organization to legal liabilities. Leaders must always strive to resolve a problem; otherwise, employees who continually complain about the same issue yet don’t see action being taken likely have legal recourse. Even a seemingly minor issue can have potential legal ramifications that make the company liable for failing to address the complaint.

Effective leaders understand the importance of immediately addressing and resolving complaints. They know that lingering issues hinder the performance of their organizational unit by disrupting the harmony and balance required to maximize output. Additionally, the time invested in “nipping a problem in the bud” is well spent when compared with the time required to deal with a complaint that has exploded into a major problem. Good leaders furthermore understand that a quick and effective response to a complaint limits the company’s legal liability.

Undoubtedly, leaders are well-versed in dealing with daily operational problems (e.g. production, quality, scheduling and efficiency) associated with the organizational unit’s performance. And while it is possible these methods are effective at resolving related employee complaints, they are not the focus of this lesson. For present purposes, complaints will be limited to general workplace issues such as intimidation, harassment, bullying and other employee-related concerns.

When a complaint is initially brought to the leader’s attention, he or she will most likely immediately classify it as a problem that is either major or minor. This tendency is natural, as quick classification leaves the leader with the necessary time and energy to identify and resolve the problem.

However, leaders must take care not to minimize a complaint. They need to recognize that it takes courage for an employee to voice a concern. In fact, before the complaint is made, quite often the issue has been going on for a sustained period, with the employee making many failed attempts at resolving it. Hence, it is important that the leader carefully consider the complaint’s seriousness. Even if the individual tends to complain or whine about everything, each grievance should be examined on its own merits. If, after thoughtful consideration, the leader finds there isn’t much to the complaint, then it may be dismissed. But a repeat pattern of similar complaints may require further action on the part of the leader. On the other hand, some employees rarely complain, and when they do the problem may be more serious than it initially appears.

Once the legitimacy of a complaint has been established, several steps must be taken. A decision tree, as outlined below, guides the leader to the ultimate solution.

Preliminary Investigation

A preliminary investigation identifies underlying causes, the individuals involved and impacted, and the extent of the problem. When the problems causing the complaint are rooted out early, potential solutions can also be identified right away. If this is the case, leaders can act quickly to resolve the problem and move on to more pressing issues. If not, leaders must move on to the next step.

Documentation

If the problem is bigger or more advanced than originally thought, then leaders must begin to document its extent—that is, the activities of the individuals causing the problem, and the complaints and actions of the employees affected by the problem.

Effective leaders understand the importance of documenting the problem: the process helps develop objective facts necessary for a satisfactory resolution and protects the company if the termination of employees is required.

Interview All Participants

An initial investigation of a complaint and a documentation of the facts should include personal interviews with everyone involved in the issue. This gives all parties ample opportunity to express their viewpoints. Leaders must take care to stick with the facts and not be biased by previous experiences with anybody or let their personal feelings impact their decisions.

Pinpoint the Causes and Solution

After interviewing all participants and listening carefully to what they had to say, leaders should be able to pinpoint the underlying causes of the problem. Sometimes the issue to be dealt with is obvious; in which case, immediate action is advised.

In more serious cases, leaders may need to consult with their superiors or the human resources professionals in their company to determine further action or attain recommendations. When issues of legal liability are involved in the solution, leaders must seek counsel from others more familiar with the issues. Effective leaders understand the limits of their responsibilities and the importance of calling on others with more expertise. When in doubt, it is best to call human resources to get their view on possible courses of action.

Implement the Solution

Depending upon the seriousness of the problem and who is involved in crafting and implementing the solution, leaders must take action as soon as possible. Clearly, the solution can take many forms and have a variety of actions. As a result, leaders will often have to sit down with the people affected, either individually or together as a group.

In these sessions the problem will be plainly laid out, the findings and extent of the problem will be reported, and a discussion of the possible solutions initiated. In certain cases where the problem is very serious, solutions can be presented without options, leaving the people who are causing the problem with clear instructions to cease their behaviors or face specific consequences. In other cases, the parties will discuss and agree upon a solution.

Once again, leaders aren’t doing this alone: they are guided by the seriousness of the problem, instructions from their superiors, and the legal liabilities and ramifications if the issue is not resolved. Each area offers unique guidance that, along with understanding the particular circumstances surrounding the problem, will help leaders identify the final resolution and the actions they need to take.

Monitor the Solution

After a solution has been implemented, leaders should actively monitor the solution and periodically interview the employees affected to assure their satisfaction with the outcome. The leader’s central purpose here is to ensure that the problem is completely resolved. If unresolved, then further action must be taken. Consequences may need to be revisited and more drastic action may be called for.

Leaders must understand that every complaint and problem is unique. Dealing with workplace issues means working with complex human behaviors that often have no simple or straightforward solutions. While some solutions are mandated by company policies or management direction, others require the leader’s persistent application of logic until the problem is completely solved.

Excerpt: Negative Employee Attitudes: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

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

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 © 2014 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

The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

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Louis Gerstner - IBM

Louis Gerstner – IBM

Before leaders can assess risks they must be intellectually honest to completely comprehend the reality surrounding their circumstances. A noteworthy illustration of the practice of intellectual honesty is  (IBM), who was appointed to turn around the floundering company. “He spent his first few months visiting all of IBM’s facilities all over the world taking the opportunity to explain to his concerned employees that his intention was to help the company recover, while at the same time preparing them for forthcoming tough decisions. He also spoke to customers, competitors, consultants, and analysts. Gerstner came to several conclusions:

  • Customers wanted to be provided with solutions to their problems not sold hardware.
  • Computer networking had the potential to transform the way people worked and required different hardware and software to that which IBM was producing.
  • IBM’s products were not the best in the market.
  • The existing plans to split the company were inappropriate because the company could gain many advantages through better integrating what it did.
  • Cost cutting was essential and, despite a reduction of 20 per cent in the workforce over the last six years, more employees would have to go.” [1]

Before Gerstner could transform IBM, he had to face a foreboding sense of reality. The five conclusions he arrived at provided a sobering picture of the reality of what IBM was facing. Without being intellectually honest about what he was dealing with, Gerstner would not have been able to succeed to the degree he did at IBM.

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) also exhibited a high degree of intellectual honesty. Rockefeller’s greatest gift… was the ability to keep a clear head. Hope never skewed his calculations. ‘Look ahead,’ he advises. ‘… Be sure that you are not deceiving yourself at any time about actual conditions.’ He notes that when a business begins to fail, most men hate ‘to study the books and face the truth.’[2]

David Packard (Hewlett-Packard) exhibited a similar characteristic. “Even though Packard is… remembered as a gruff, straightforward man who wasn’t afraid to point out what was wrong and suggest improvements. When he returned to HP in the early 1970s after his stint as deputy secretary of defense and found the company on the verge of borrowing $100 million to cover a cash-flow shortage, he immediately met with employees and gave them what came to be known as a ‘Dave Gives ‘Em Hell’ speech. Packard lined up the division managers in front of employees and told them, ‘If they don’t get inventories under control, they’re not going to be your managers for very long.’ Within six months, the company once again had positive cash flow, to the tune of $40 million.” [3]

Jack Welch (General Electric) made the following observations concerning investment opportunities, which are risks, since the outcomes are never known and can be difficult to accurately predict. He noted, “The facts are, not all investment opportunities are created equal. But some leaders can’t face that reality, and so they sprinkle their resources like cheese on a pizza, a little bit everywhere. As a result, promising growth opportunities too often don’t get the outsized infusions of cash and people they need. If they did, someone might get offended during the resource allocation process. Someone, as in the manager of a weak business or the sponsor of a dubious investment proposal.” [4]

Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) incorporated and institutionalized intellectual honesty into his company. He observed, “From the very start we would get all our managers together once a week and critique ourselves – that was really our buying organization, a bunch of store managers getting together early Saturday morning, maybe in Bentonville, or maybe in some motel room somewhere. We would review what we had bought and see how many dollars we had committed to it. We would plan promotions and plan the items we intended to buy. And it worked so well that over the years, as we grew and built the company, it just became part of our culture. I guess that was the forerunner of our Saturday morning meetings (where company managers get together and review what they’ve seen in the stores that week). When we made a bad mistake – whether it was myself or anybody else – we talked about it, admitted it, tried to figure out how to correct it, and then moved on to the next day’s work.” [5]


[1]  Johnston Robert, IBM – Creating a Customer-Focused Organization (Warwick Business School, 2007)

[2]  Baida Peter, Rockefeller Remembers (American Heritage Magazine, September/October 1988, Volume 39, Issue 6)

[3]  O’Hanlon Charlene, David Packard: High-Tech Visionary (CRN, November 8, 2000)

[4]  Welch Jack, Bosses Who Get It All Wrong (Business Week, July 23, 2007)

[5]  Sam Walton in His Own Words (Fortune Magazine, June 29, 1992; from: “From Sam Walton: Made in America” by Sam Walton and John Huey)

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 © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Productive Response to Failure

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Fred Smith - Founder and CEO of FEDEX

Fred Smith – Founder and CEO of FEDEX

The great and influential leaders were no strangers to failure. My research illustrates that most experienced levels of failure and adversity that would compel typical individuals to pack their bags and quit in frustration and disappointment. The levels of success they achieved did not come easily, but from persistence. Their personal levels of perseverance and self-reliance are what realistically defined them. Most viewed failure as a learning experience, rather than a defining event. Fred Smith (FedEx) observed, “Just because an idea isn’t implemented or doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that a person has failed.” [1]

Early in his career at Johnson & Johnson, General Robert Wood Johnson taught James Burke a valuable lesson about failure. “Shortly after he arrived at J&J in 1953 as a product director after three years at Procter & Gamble, Burke attempted to market several over-the-counter medicines for children. They all failed-and he was called in for a meeting with the chairman.

‘I assumed I was going to be fired,’ Burke recalls. ‘But instead, Johnson told me, ‘Business is all about making decisions, and you don’t make decisions without making mistakes. Don’t make that mistake again, but please be sure you make others.’”[2]

In 2001, John Chambers (Cisco) saw his company’s revenues and stock price fall off the cliff during the tech and telecom busts. He was challenged with the reality of massive and likely fatal failure. “Within days of realizing Cisco was crashing, Chambers leapt into trying to fix it. ‘He never dwelled on it,’ says Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM (IBM) … ‘John kept the company focused. He said this is where we are, and he drove the company forward.’

He reached out to [Jack] Welch (General Electric) and a handful of other CEOs. They told him that sudden downturns always take companies by surprise, ‘so I should quit beating myself up for being surprised,’ Chambers recalls. He did. Chambers decided that the free fall had been beyond his control. He now wraps it up in an analogy he retells time and again, likening the crash to a disastrous flood: It rarely happens, but when it does, there’s nothing you can do to stop it… Those other CEOs also told Chambers to figure out how bad it was going to get, take all the harsh action necessary to get through it and plan for the eventual upturn.” [3]

David Packard (Hewlett-Packard) faced failure and adversity in a gruff and straightforward manner. “When he returned to HP in the early 1970s after his stint as deputy secretary of defense and found the company on the verge of borrowing $100 million to cover a cash-flow shortage, he immediately met with employees and gave them what came to be known as a ‘Dave Gives ‘Em Hell’ speech. Packard lined up the division managers in front of employees and told them, ‘If they don’t get inventories under control, they’re not going to be your managers for very long.’ Within six months, the company once again had positive cash flow, to the tune of $40 million.” [4]

John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) advised, “‘Look ahead… Be sure that you are not deceiving yourself at any time about actual conditions.’ He notes that when a business begins to fail, most men hate ‘to study the books and face the truth.” [5]

[1] Federal Express’s Fred Smith (Inc. Magazine, October 1, 1986)
[2] Alumni Achievement Awards: James E. Burke (Harvard Business School, 2003)
[3] Maney Kevin, Chambers, Cisco Born Again (USA Today, January 21, 2004)
[4] O’Hanlon Charlene, David Packard: High-Tech Visionary (CRN, November 8, 2000)
[5] Baida Peter, Rockefeller Remembers (American Heritage Magazine, September/October 1988, Volume 39, Issue 6)

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 © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

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problems

When difficulties are encountered, individuals tend to adopt a mental framework that allows them to simplify, classify and structure the information they are collecting about the problem. This allows individuals to deal with the complexity of an issue in a way that they can understand and manage. The major pitfall lies in people simplifying problems in ways that compel them to choose the wrong alternatives.

All people apply their own set of perspectives, experiences and insights in solving a problem, yet it is a major mistake to create a set of assumptions based upon personal biases. These assumptions subjectively and inadequately define the problem, and thus yield faulty solutions.

When individuals allow preconceived assumptions to blind them to the facts, they set out to solve the wrong problem. The best possible options are thus overlooked, or the individual loses sight of important objectives necessary to identify the best solution.

Individuals will consciously or unconsciously frame a problem. Framing is similar to looking out a window, in that the window defines what the individual is capable of seeing. Just as a window restricts an individual’s visual perspective, frames can keep the problem solver from seeing the entire landscape of solutions.

It is important to appreciate the degree to which frames have the power to influence a solution. Therefore, problems must be framed by facts rather than preconceived perceptions, assumptions or biases. The most useful problem solving frames will highlight what is important and categorize all other aspects as secondary. Additionally, solid frames allow individuals to remain open to unanticipated facts and data that may affect the outcome or solution. When facing an issue, individuals should create a frame specifically designed to solve the problem at hand, taking into consideration the following critical factors:

Boundaries

Boundaries define the breadth and scope of the problem. As people’s boundaries are most often defined by their daily activities and tasks, they will tend to draw narrow boundaries and develop a solution from within, which creates a myopic view of the problem and potential solutions. Since boundaries influence decisions, a broad approach is advisable when defining the scope of a problem.

Reference Points

Reference points are the focal point of decisions. They are used to compare one solution with another. A simple shift in reference points can change the entire outlook of a problem. For instance, from a customer’s perspective, a problem with a product or service can be catastrophic in terms of loss of income, time and productivity; this is their reference point. On the other hand, the company representative may view the same problem as minor when in fact it may take a service person several days to attend to. The reference points are different and so are the individual perspectives. This is often where conflict and hostility arise.

Measurement Standards

The measurement standards used to view a problem and develop solutions can be problematic. If a company sells a customer a small supply of product, they might consider the problem to be minor. However, if that small supply of product is a critical element in the customer’s production and its failure has closed down their entire operation, then from their perspective the problem is major. These are critical factors that must be considered by all parties if further problems are to be prevented.

Metaphors

Many people frame problems using common metaphors related to sports, warfare or family. Thinking in these terms can influence their decisions and solutions. Good decision makers will choose metaphors carefully to highlight important aspects of the problem. However, individuals should be aware that the use of metaphors might restrict their perspective and influence solutions.

Thinking Frames

Thinking frames are the borders people create to make sense of a wide array of issues. These frames are typically a result of an individual’s personality, occupation and education. Individuals should be aware of their own thinking frames, since these bring a natural bias or set of assumptions to all problems they encounter. When individuals are aware of their biases they are able to compensate during the problem solving process.

Cultural Frames

Cultural frames are similar to thinking frames except they are created by the national, geographic, industrial and corporate cultural boundaries that someone is part of. Each aspect of a cultural frame can influence and bias an individual’s view of a problem and its potential solution.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: 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

Seven Proactive Steps to Take to Deal With a Problem Employee

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manwithproblememployee

Employees must remain motivated if they are to perform to their maximum capabilities. Negative attitudes and behaviors not only impact personal performance, but left unchecked can spread like a cancer through the entire unit. It is essential that managers identify and address these problems as quickly as possible in order to minimize their overall impact.

When managers identify a problem, the natural tendency is to directly confront the employee and place him or her in a defensive posture. The natural reaction of the employee is to exhibit fear of repercussions and punishment for his or her behaviors and attitude. While this may be emotionally satisfying to the manager, it does not move him or her any closer to a solution. In fact, the solution may be even further away than before the employee is confronted.

It is important for managers to deal with negative behaviors and attitudes in a factual and objective fashion. By remaining emotionally and personally detached, managers will be more able to pinpoint the cause and identify acceptable paths to a productive solution.

When dealing with a negative employee, the manager must approach the individual with an open mind and remain free of personal bias and emotion that may taint the process. The following steps can be used to successfully rectify the problem.

Identify the Problem

The initial step in dealing with employee negativity is to formally recognize that there is in fact a problem requiring corrective action. The problem may be initially indicated by a decrease in performance or by a remark or complaint made by an associate or customer.

Once a problem is identified and is verified to exist, the manager needs to examine and document the extent of the problem along with possible implications and ramifications.

Talk to Employee About the Problem

Once managers have examined and documented the extent of the problem, they need to meet with the employee and objectively get the problem out on the table. This presentation should be factual and free of emotion, finger-pointing or assignment of blame. Such subjectivity will only inflame the situation, create barriers to a solution, and place the employee on the defensive.

Allow the Employee to Provide Input

The employee should be given adequate opportunity to provide their input. While he or she may be allowed to vent any frustrations, managers must keep the discussion as free of emotion and subjectivity as possible. Both the manager and employee should work together to identify the sources of the problems in a factual manner.

Identify the Source of the Problem

Often employees are so involved with and close to the problem that they are unable to look at it objectively. By remaining calm and at arm’s length, the manager should be able to pinpoint the root causes behind the problem. As often the employee will only exhibit symptoms of the problem, it is up to the manager to probe more deeply in order to uncover the problem’s causes.

Identify Potential Solutions

Once the problem is adequately identified and defined, the manager and employee then brainstorm to identify all potential solutions that are available to remedy the problem.

Again, when problems are approached in a calm, objective and factual manner, the fear of repercussion is diminished. This allows the employee to be more open to the possibility of an acceptable solution.

Agree Upon a Plan of Action

After the manager and employee have had an opportunity to brainstorm all potential solutions to the problem, proper time should be taken to carefully review each. Some will be revealed to be impractical for obvious reasons, while others may provide paths to concrete resolution of the problem.

Both parties should agree on the best option. Once chosen, a specific plan should be detailed and agreed upon. In this fashion, the employee is empowered to solve his or her problem and is accountable for implementing the plan and the solution.

Monitor Solution and Provide Feedback

Managers should actively monitor the employee’s progress in carrying out the plan to resolve their problem.

Managers should provide feedback to the employee on the acceptability of his or her work to resolve the problem. If they are meeting or exceeding the plan, praise should be given accordingly. Conversely, if he or she is failing to meet the goals of the plan, the appropriate punishments should be administered. The goal of the manager is to work with the employee to rectify the problem and eliminate the negative behavior.

If and when these steps fail to rectify the problem, the manager may have no other recourse than to terminate the employee.

Excerpt: Negative Workplace Behaviors: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

16 Ways to Motivate Employees and to Celebrate Their Successes

Recognition Must Be Given Liberally, Frequently and Publicly

Motivation Is More Than Money

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

Using Change to Increase Performance

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woman-w-data

The impact of change can often seem overwhelming to leaders, as most problems associated with it require the complete cooperation and participation of employees. This is especially true of problems occurring during the incremental phases comprising major changes, requiring countless decisions before effective solutions and methods can be implemented.

A single event or person does not control change. Change is often brought about by a series of internal and external forces that impact all within the organization. The forces that bring about change are too dynamic for any single individual to oversee and direct. Consequently, for change to be managed and controlled effectively, the willing participation and input of an organization’s entire workforce must be harnessed.

Change demands that all employees become actively involved, not only in the process of change itself, but also in the many decisions that change requires if a successful transformation is to occur.

Decision-making and leadership is a dynamic process in the face of change. Rather than passively dealing with change, leaders must become proactive in their decision-making, using the dynamics of change to increase performance and improve overall results.

The elements that enhance overall decision-making in a dynamic atmosphere include:

Freely Empowered Employees

There is no set formula or pattern for implementing or dealing with change. As an organization transforms itself, change is implemented by countless daily decisions made at all levels of the organization, which are solely guided by the leader’s vision. Unless employees, teams and workgroups are freely and fully empowered to make these decisions, a centralized decision making process remains in effect. This only works to hamper the organization’s ability to readily adapt to change. Centralized decision making quickly bogs leaders down, greatly reducing their effectiveness and motivation.

Leaders must ensure their employees are free to make operational decisions on issues impacting their jobs and performance. Even reluctant employees will be swept into the waves of change, compelling them to be full, active participants in the process, regardless of their feelings or apprehensions.

Free-Flow of Information

The facilitation of effective decision-making demands an open exchange of information. In the past, managers controlled information as a means of holding power and influence. In the face of change and transformation, all parties must be free to share all useful information and data so that more informed and lower-risk decisions can be consistently and expediently made.

A free-flow of information is not channeled into a single direction. It demands progression openly and in all directions, so that all parties are fully informed regarding the progress and impact of change at any given point in time. This gives the organization the ability to react quickly, and also allows it to readily adapt to changes on a needed basis.

Open Communication

Leaders must facilitate open channels of communication. Open communication encourages otherwise reluctant employees to report bad news or poor results free of fear of retaliation or punishment. If change is to be effectively managed, employees must feel free to openly communicate their feelings, observations, criticisms and findings with confidence that what they have to say will be fully respected and considered.
Encourage Experimentation

Change incorporates countless new ideas and concepts. Employees must be encouraged to take risks and try new methods and experiments. Not every idea will be successful or even feasible. Because of the pioneering nature of change, it is imperative employees understand they will be awarded the necessary freedom to experiment and tinker with new ideas, trial-and-error methods and creative concepts in order to isolate what works does and does not work.

The fact that many ideas might fail should be emphasized to help reduce frustration levels. In the midst of change transformation, failure is not as important as the lessons gained from it. Employees need to be encouraged to share their findings with others in the organization. The key is to test quickly and frequently in order to move the organization forward as expeditiously as possible.

Frequent Assessment

Leaders should hold frequent meetings with their employees to assess the progress of change within the organization. Their primary purpose is to share information and results based on the successes and failures of various ideas, trials and approaches.

Meetings should be used as a tool to tap the power of the group and provide realistic feedback and suggestions from astute observations. A successful meeting generates multiple employee perspectives and insights in order to disclose and detail what is working or not working within the organization.

Drive Down Decision Making

Leaders must drive decision making down deep within their organization. They must allow employees, teams and workgroups to make the daily tactical and operational decisions directly affecting their individual jobs.

Allowing members of the organization to generate decisions and solutions does not mean the leader shuns the responsibility of remaining actively involved in their decision making process. Rather, the decisions are guided by the leader’s vision and direction, and many will necessitate his or her input. However, to get the most out of their employees on a consistent basis, leaders empower them to make group and individual decisions having a direct impact upon their individual performance.

Close the Decision Making Loop

Leaders must ensure all decision-making loops are closed by closely monitoring the results of the collective decisions of their employees, teams and workgroups. Leaders must then share these findings with their employees so they can make any necessary adjustments, improvements or modifications based upon their feedback. Readjustment and the quest for improvement will naturally channel the process back to the starting point of the free-flow of information.

Excerpt: Facilitating Change: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:

Dealing With the Challenges of Change

Anticipating and Handling Employee Fears of Change

Use These Seven Strategies to Respond to Change

Communication Has to Start With Telling the Truth

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Facilitating Change: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Dealing with the Challenges of Leadership: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Strengthening Leadership Performance: 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

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If You Want to Lead… Innovate!

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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)

“You keep innovating if you want to keep leading… Exceptional leaders cultivate the Merlin-like habit of acting in the present moment as ambassadors of a radically different future, in order to imbue their organizations with a breakthrough vision of what it is possible to achieve.” [1] Within the context of this chapter, the breadth and scope of innovations introduced in multiple areas demonstrates the great leaders’ ability to lead within their respective industries.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) asserted, “Research, I think, is the lifeblood of innovation in the economy. But big companies always have a problem taking their research and making sure it’s focused on the problems that count. And even if you make a breakthrough, do you really get that research into the products that you ship? In our industry, companies like Xerox or AT&T are famous not just for doing fairly good research, but in many cases not ever being able to bring it to the marketplace. So when we started Microsoft Research, we said, let’s make sure we’re the best case ever not only of great researchers, but getting that into products. And so events like this — where it’s almost like a festival — you come and see all the neat research advances. That’s one of the ways we make sure these groups are working like a team.” [2]

Innovation is a time-intensive process, which normally doesn’t fit into neat time blocks. Amazon is a noteworthy example. Jeff Bezos explains, “As far as time-frame is concerned, innovations at Amazon usually take 5-7 years before they make any meaningful impact on the company’s economic situation. This is a big risk and is offset in a number of ways. One is to minimize the costs of experiments. Amazon has a web lab just for that purpose, which undertakes these experiments on a massive scale, collects real usage data on what works best, and is constantly trying to push the costs of these experiments down. Again, taking a long-term view, it helps when building innovation on things that won’t change in the next 5-10 years. For Amazon, these are basic customer preferences, such as: choice, low prices, and fast.

There are three more core-attitudes, which I think have a big impact on the way innovation takes shape at Amazon. One is, to always ask the question ‘why not?’”… The biggest mistakes at Amazon come from not doing something, rather than taking the risk. And asking ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why should we do it?’ opens up a whole other universe of possibilities. Similarly, there are lot of difficult decisions that Amazon has had to make over the years, such as allowing reviews on their site. The vital question there was ’what is better for the customer?’ Last, but not least… ‘Be Stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details.’ ” [3]

Andy Grove (Intel) made the following observations. “ ‘It is not something where you have a crystal ball to start with and you guess right,’ he emphasizes. ‘You constantly have to guide your efforts and add more ingredients – effort, money, people, undertakings, and alliances. It is partly anticipation, and partly turning that anticipation into a reality. When you have a three-to-four-year development cycle and factories that take three to four years to build and ramp up – and you add a year or two where you are making decisions about what the information technology world will want five years into the future, part of it is learned guesswork. You do your own guesswork – and then you work like hell to make your guesswork become reality… And you obviously need a whole industry to support some of this, so you turn to evangelism. And to make sure your evangelism carries weight, you invest in some [small start-up] companies to make sure you are taken seriously.” [4]

As the examples cited within this chapter clearly illustrate, innovation takes many forms. They include concept, product, process, practice and application. Each is succinctly fueled by the practice of “ruthless efficiency,” designed to improve the customer’s experience by increasing quality, efficiency and driving down costs. Most innovations were the direct result and consequence of a series of continuous improvements, sprinkled with several “Eureka!” moments. Leopold Mannes, co-developer of Kodak’s Kodachrome photographic film stated, “Invention is primarily the art of getting out of trouble.” [5] Fueled by necessity, the great leaders pioneered innovation to solve problems to leverage available opportunities, and to achieve a competitive advantage.

  1. Meyers William, Conscience in a Cup of Coffee (U.S. News, October 31, 2005)
  2.  A One-on-One Interview with Bill Gates (CNN.com, March 1, 2002)
  3.  van Wyitck Vincent, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on Strategy & Innovation (not Kindle-related!) (Tech IT Easy, November 20, 2007)
  4.  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)
  5. Brayer Elizabeth, George Eastman. A Biography (University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, 2006) p. 224

Related:

Building Employee Support Requires Interactive Leadership

Eight Ways Others Evaluate Trust in Leaders

Five Strategies to Build Trust

The Concept of Change Means Leaders Must Communicate

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Leadership Roles & Responsibilities: Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Negative Employee Behaviors: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Impact of Change on Individuals: 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

Effective Problem Solving Requires A Systematic Approach

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problemsolving1

Effective problem solving in a complex world and in times of uncertainty demands a systematic approach that allows managers to be fair and consistent in the solutions they create. As both customers and employees are placed under more and more pressure to produce, problem-solving skills take on a heightened significance.

Effective problem solving requires that managers use a systematic approach rather than their intuitive judgment alone. Studies have shown that managers make more accurate judgments when they use such an approach for resolving problems and making critical decisions.

Many of the problems managers must resolve involve customers and can impact their business. The use of a systematic problem solving approach ensures that managers will consider all aspects of the issue before making decisions. Additionally, an established system is more efficient and effective than spending hours in unorganized thought considering the dimensions of an issue and creating a possible solution.

As resolving issues requires a series of determinations to arrive at a successful conclusion, it follows that successful problem solving is not possible without effective decision making. When encountering a problem the following techniques should be utilized:

Identify Primary Issues

Often problems are stated in terms describing symptoms rather than root causes. It is a common pitfall for managers to react to these symptoms and take action to resolve them without identifying their underlying causes. To avoid this misstep, managers should stand back and examine the problem to identify actual causes and the degree of difficulty involved in resolving the issue.

Identification of the primary issue is key to the rest of the resolution process. If not properly identified, the manager can waste valuable time and resources on inapplicable solutions.

Frame the Problem

Framing is another word for structuring the problem. Once the preliminary issue has been identified, framing allows the manager to structure the problem in the proper context, identifying the resources and potential solutions that may need to be employed. It should be noted that how a problem is framed does create a bias toward one solution over another. For instance, in terms of accounts, compare, “How can this problem be solved without impacting my profitability?” to “How can this problem be resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction?” One solution is clearly customer focused while the other is internally focused. The solutions framed by both questions will produce markedly different results.

Gather Information

The third phase of problem solving is the gathering of facts and information to clearly define the extent of the problem and point to the causes. One pitfall managers must be cognizant of is not to discount information that challenges their perceptions and personal biases.

The key to information gathering is to go about it in a systematic manner that allows facts and data to be developed in an organized fashion.

Identify and Prioritize Potential Solutions

As information and data are organized, correlated and analyzed, a series of possible solutions should begin to emerge. When able, managers should use brainstorming techniques with all of the involved parties to identify several paths to take. At this point, limiting factors and other criteria should not be considered. The key is to flesh out ideas and concepts, group them and develop a final series of potential solutions to be considered.

Once the list of all potential solutions has been created, the manager should examine the feasibility of each in regard to time, cost, ease of use, satisfaction and any other important criteria. Solutions should then be ranked from best to worst.

Agree on Optimal Solution

The ideal solution is the one that is acceptable to all parties. The top one or two potential solutions should be considered and modified to meet the needs of all concerned. A win-lose solution may be expedient, but will create ill will in the long-term; as such, where possible it is always better to arrive at a win-win solution.

Assimilate Lessons

The final aspect of problem solving often overlooked by managers is the ability to assimilate the lessons learned from the situation and to refer back to those lessons when a similar problem arises.

Managers need to establish a system to learn from the results of their past decisions. This may require that they periodically spend several hours, once or twice a year, to review those decisions and their subsequent impact and ramifications on their business.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: 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

Resolving Negative Employee Behaviors Takes the Right Solution

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manwithproblememployee

The easiest and most obvious solution to a behavioral problem is for the manager to arbitrarily pick a solution that he or she deems appropriate to resolving the problem. However, this does not take into account the motivational issues that can affect the final outcome.

A poorly chosen solution can compound rather than solve a problem, especially if the employee is resistant to the idea.

When confronted with an employee’s behavioral or attitude problem, the manager has several choices to make. If the problem is serious enough, termination is an option; yet with the high cost of recruiting and training, this may not be the best option.

However, dealing with negative behaviors and attitudes present sticky motivational problems of their own.

There may be resentment on the part of the employee concerning any solution presented to them. Often the best approach is to involve the employee in the development of the solution. When the employee is involved, they gain ownership of the solution, which insures that they will actively and successfully be involved in its implementation.

Additionally, they are privy to the process and see that a solution is arrived at in a fair and just manner, not arbitrarily. These steps minimize the motivational problems associated with the resolution of the problem and make it easier for the manager to work with the employee during the implementation phases.

Arriving at an appropriate and effective solution to remedy negative behaviors and attitudes need not take an inordinate amount of time. However, it should be done in a systematic manner so that the employee is actively involved in the process, can readily see how the solution has been arrived at, and understands it serves the interests of all involved.

The following steps should be adhered to during the resolution process:

Brainstorming

The most practical approach to developing a workable and effective solution to a problem is through brainstorming. In these instances the manager is limited to brainstorming ideas and solutions with the employee who has the problem and with other managers and superiors who are aware of the problem.

This problem solving approach produces specific benefits by identifying all possible solutions from every perspective. Additionally, it includes the employee in the resolution of the problem. Empowering them by giving him or her ownership of the solution, gives the employee a vested interest, realizing a successful outcome.

Both the manager and employee should list every possible solution—even those that appear unlikely or impractical. Nothing should be dismissed without careful consideration; otherwise a negative atmosphere as opposed to an open-minded approach to a solution will be created.

Selection Criteria

Obviously not every choice brainstormed will be practical or feasible. However, before any idea is discarded, both the manager and employee should identify the criteria that will be used to evaluate each possible solution.

Criteria should be established according to specific parameters that result in the successful resolution of the problem. These might include the cost, timeliness, time frames, effectiveness and total resolution of the problem so that it does not occur again. Other criteria can be selected that assist both parties in achieving the overall goal.

Bracketing Choices

Once the manager and employee have agreed upon the criteria, it is an easy task to filter all of the choices developed through brainstorming and to bracket the specific options meeting the selection criteria. All other options are eliminated from consideration.

Since the employee is actively participating in this process, they can see the logic of the decisions that will impact them, which eliminates resistance to the final resolution.

Prioritize and Select the Best Option

The bracketing of possible solutions will typically identify several options to resolve a problem. Both the manager and employee should reach a consensus and prioritize each of the solutions in order of their effectiveness.

Invariably, the employee will not wish to see specific options chosen since they are not in their best interest or will take more effort than they are willing to invest. This is why a consensus should be reached as to what will ultimately constitute the best choices for a solution.

The final step is to choose the best solution to the problem, one that satisfies both management and the employee while solving the problem.

Related:

Six Ways to Turn a Poor Performer Around

Unresolved Conflict is Corrosive to Leadership

Seven Proactive Steps to Take to Deal With a Problem Employee

Excerpt: Negative Workplace Attitudes (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 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 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

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