If you haven’t seen the FedEx ad about sending “this box” to Germany. Watch it here.
I find this ad very funny, but its true brilliance comes out when we look at it as a metaphor for the problem so many of us face in our businesses and in our personal lives. We know where we are, we know where we want to go, but it’s that “fuzzy middle” that stops us from making consistent strides towards the goal.
This is where a good manager, mentor or business coach can help. He’ll help you clarify the goal – “Are you sure you want the box to go to Germany?” He’ll help as you figure out a plan, bringing the “fuzzy middle” into focus. And then, critically, he’ll help you stay on track when executing the plan – questioning, challenging and encouraging to make sure that you are taking the actions that will ensure you reach your goals. He’ll make sure you get the box to Germany.
Who’s helping you figure out the “fuzzy middle”?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
As a society, we love to talk about turning points.
That 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?
The past week’s Mike’s Musings:
Yahoo!’s New Rules
Are You a Pro?
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?
If you manage people, I’d like you to consider the following.
1. What work are they paid to do? (Focus on the results you want, not the tasks they do)
2. At the end of the week, month, quarter or year how do you know if the work is done?
3. At the end of the week, month, quarter or year how do you measure how well it was done?
4. If you asked your staff these same questions, would they give you the same answers?
If your answer to number 4 is not a clear Yes, try this exercise. Write out your answers to 1-3, then have your staff do the same thing. Compare the answers.
Clarify as necessary until you agree upon exactly what results the company or organization is paying them for. Now, start managing them by their success at getting the agreed upon results.
By defining and agreeing upon expected results, your performance reviews will be more about development needs for improved results and less about perceptions and personalities.