Want Solutions? Ask the Right Questions.

If I have to inform you of a problem and I know you will ask me a series of questions about why it happened, I will prepare by coming up with a series of explanations and rationalizations to justify the problem.qmark master

If I have to inform you of a problem and I know you will ask me a series of questions about how to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again, I will prepare by coming up with a list of possible solutions.

Are you asking the right questions?

Image courtesy of Master / www.digitalphotos.net

Problem Solvers not Finger Pointers

Think about a time when you needed to solve a critical problem and time was of the essence.  Did you care whose fault the problem was? Nope. All you cared about was what information you needed to get a solution, and who and what you needed to implement it.  In a crisis we filter out irrelevant concerns and focus on the task at hand.

fingerpt pakorn

Finger pointers don’t want to focus on solving the problem.  Finger pointers rationalize that there is no need to change anything because they NEVER would have made the mistake that caused the problem.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Image courtesy of Pakorn / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Do people in your business, or personal life expend mental energy finding who to blame for problems, instead of solving the problems and finding ways to prevent them?  If so, why would anyone in that environment try a creative new idea that might take a few tries before working properly?  If people are afraid to make mistakes, forget about them coming up with a creative solution to a problem.  (oh, and financial incentives don’t help either, watch Dan Pink’s TED talk for more on that)

If we want to build a problem solving culture, in which deep thinking on elegant solutions is highly valued, our focus won’t be on who caused the problem.  Our focus will be on what needs to change.  And critically, what help is needed to change it.

The next time someone tells you about a problem that has occurred and your first instinct is to ask, “who’s responsible?”, catch yourself.  Instead, ask, “What do we need to do to fix it?”

Don’t point the finger.  Solve the problem.

The Turning Point Myth

As a society, we love to talk about turning points.

TPoint_Stoonn2That single moment in time when the momentum changes.

There is no such thing.

The notion of a turning point, creates an unrealistic expectation that all we have to do is decide to make the change we want and then continue as we were.

Change doesn’t result from one decision to change.  It results from a continuous series of decisions and actions that confirm our commitment to the change. It doesn’t end. We decide, act, decide and act again.  And we have to decide and act in more ways that support the change than in ways that do not.

What do you want to change? Are you committed to making the necessary decisions, again and again and again?  And again?          And again?

Image courtesy Stoonn / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Yahoo!’s New Rules

If you haven’t heard, Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced that Yahoo! employees who currently take advantage of a work from home program will no longer be able to do so.  All employees will be required to show up AT work every day.  Seems reasonable, right?

Many are up in arms however, because flexible work arrangements are viewed as the progressive approach to encouraging employee commitment and engagement, and actually taking advantage of mobile technology.  I have read some comments from ex-Yahoo! employees saying that there were far too many people slacking off, not contributing their share, and some who were actually starting other businesses while being paid by Yahoo!.  Which, at first blush,  makes the new policy seem even more reasonable.  The reports in the press indicate that Yahoo! feels that if people have to come to work, they will get more done, they will interact with other employees more, and it will help get results.

Now, let me be clear, I have no idea what it’s actually like at Yahoo!.  But,  please indulge my speculation as to what could really be behind this new policy. I think this decision is more about holding management accountable for the results they should have been getting, and less about the propagation of ideas through face-to-face interactions, or an indictment of the work-from-anywhere trend in business.  Yahoo! is a big company and my guess is that Marissa Mayer’s management teams’ first excuse for poor results was that they could not control their employees because they never knew where they were.    When you have managers who aren’t getting results and resort to excuse-making, you need to deal with the problem.

Step one – remove the excuses.  Everybody needs to be at the office. Done.

Step two –  hold management accountable for results.  “Your staff is at work every day, if they aren’t getting results, what’s the problem?”  This is where weak managers will be exposed and strong managers will thrive.

Step three – correct or remove the problems. Focus on the results, and provide help for those who aren’t getting them.  If poor performance continues, those accountable need to be fired.  Once the right people are in the right roles and are getting the required results, I expect Yahoo! will be less concerned where or when people work than with ensuring their work is improving the company.

My guess is that this is a quick way to take away excuses from management and start holding them accountable for results.  Once Marissa Mayer is satisfied that people are doing the work necessary to get results, a long term strategy giving employees more control of how they get those results can be implemented.

Get Started.

Human inertia.  It’s that inner hesitation that stops me from pouncing on my latest idea and running with it.  It’s a mixed bag of fear, insecurity, awe, trepidation, ignorance, analysis and a multitude of other emotions and feelings which keep me from just jumping in and figuring it out.

I find it interesting because I know that this inertia sometimes holds me back from accomplishing big things and from experiencing great joy.  Yet, sometimes it wins, I never get started.

I know the most satisfying projects, events, moments in my life whether they be personal or business-related have come when I pushed through the human inertia, got out of my comfort zone and made myself figure it out – whatever “it” was.  It’s when I’ve been most creative, most excited, and most enthusiastic.  It’s also when I’ve been the most serious, most hard-nosed, and when I’ve been most committed to the task at hand.  And it’s also when I’ve felt the best.

Take this blog.  It was tough to get started.  There were so many questions – where does one get one of these blogs? What should it look like? What will I write about?  Who will read it?  Will it be any good?  What if no one is interested? What if I say something really stupid?  How often should I post? If I don’t post enough will that look bad? Finally, I just told myself to get started.

And here it is.  It’s not the best blog in the world, but it’s getting better. It’s not the prettiest blog, but I’m researching how to improve the look. I’ve changed the name once, and may do so again.  I still don’t think I’ve fully found my “voice” but it’s getting refined. The important thing is I got started, and now, I know lots about blogging.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I view things.  I’ve had almost 600 views and had some pretty nice compliments. I find now, I feel great when I’ve written something I like – regardless of how many views it gets.  I’m more confident, I’m having fun with it and I get great satisfaction from making each post.  I’m also keen to find new ideas and write about them.

How many situations in life are like this?  We know if we push ourselves that little bit to get past the human inertia, off we’ll go – we’ll learn something new, we’ll improve, we’ll find a way.  And the rewards will be great. We just need to trust ourselves, and get started.


The Problem with Zero Tolerance

Every manager has done it.  You get sick of people complaining about something that you don’t consider worth your time to manage so you implement a zero tolerance policy.  “If this happens again then this punishment will be enforced. Period.”  There, that should fix the problem, right?  Wrong.

Unfortunately, zero-tolerance policies are often implemented because it seems like they’ll make managing the issue easier and less work so you can focus on “more important” things.  They fail because they are much more work to implement and manage. Often as managers we figure that if the rule is black and white, with clear consequences, people will abide by the rules and it will be easier to manage the odd indiscretion.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There will be indiscretions and the zero tolerance manager is backed into a corner.  No matter how minor the issue, because of the “Rule” the manager has to either enforce what seems like an unreasonable penalty or lose credibility by not doing what she says she will do.  Neither is good for morale. Neither is good leadership.

There are areas where zero tolerance policies work and are necessary – when an indiscretion can be devastating.  Workplace safety for example.  Often what seems like a minor issue can result in injury or death so the policy can be easily justified both from the view of the manager and the employee.  But they must be communicated clearly, frequently and they must be enforced diligently.  This is more work, but in the case of safety, it must be done.

Zero tolerance policies are a lot of work to manage.  Therefore,  the questions to ask before implementing a zero tolerance policy are:

1. Is the issue worth the extra work it will take to implement, constantly communicate, and consistently enforce the policy?

2. Are you as a company willing to do the extra work to implement, constantly communicate, and consistently enforce the policy?

Stuck in a Rut

A wise man once said, “A rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out.”

How to tell your organization is stuck in a rut?

  1. You’re excited about an idea and everyone you talk to tells you all the reasons it won’t work.
  2. In a Management meeting,  results are presented which are tracking well below target and no one in the room questions it, shows any surprise or any particular desire to change it.
  3. When asked about sub-par results, people defend and rationalize those results instead of discussing what options they have to improve them.
  4. Staff check with their manager for every little decision because they have no idea what the company objectives or values are.
  5. An emergency arises and instead of asking how they can help, people’s first concern seems to be to establish that it wasn’t their fault.

When in a rut, mediocrity inevitably follows.  Nothing great occurs in organizations where an acceptance of mediocrity is the norm.  The way out of the rut is never quick, and sometimes very difficult, but here are some guidelines to help you on your way.

  1. Come up with some simple, clear, attainable goals.  Document the heck out of them and let everyone in your company know what you’re trying to accomplish and why.  Post results for ALL to see.
  2. Update your progress regularly and give those who will be affected by your success or failure the opportunity to inspect your results – include managers, direct reports and front-line workers. Welcome their questions, and when they ask about your results be prepared to tell them what you’re doing next. This shows you know your results and have a plan to improve them. 
  3. When someone says there’s a problem, come up with countermeasures that can be executed right away. If the ultimate solution can’t be implemented immediately, ensure the first countermeasure is. This urgency to act on even the simplest of issues, creates a culture of action, which is critical.
  4.  Be transparent. If something didn’t work, tell people and come up with another plan. This is all about credibility.  If people know you’re trying, for the right reasons, they’ll stay on board.  If they think you’re going through the motions, and making excuses for poor results, they’ll quickly lose interest in helping you. Without the team’s help, the rut will just get deeper.

It’s very easy to slide into a rut and very hard to get back out.  Assess where you’re at.  Decide where you want to be. Make a plan to get there. Act. Repeat.