As I collect with other Business Leaders in these hope motivated days, it is inevitable the discourse will magnetically be pulled towards inquiries of each other’s confidence of the

Busy People

ensuing market potency.  “What are you seeing out there?  How is your business doing right now? How are you feeling about the next several months?”  With the unrelenting nonexistence of visibility in the market, Leaders are imploring for reassurance that their yearning to “push on” is justified and affirmed by those Leaders adjoining them.  More often than not, these interlopes turn towards an interchange of a reciprocally experienced surge of activity.  “Wow, we are really busy right now.”  “We are so busy too. I’m thinking of hiring.”  “I am busier than I have been in the last three years.  Things are looking up.”

Everyone is busy these days! Are you busy too?  Doesn’t it feel wonderful?  It shouldn’t!

In recent years Leaders have travailed arenas filled with anxieties of desolate survival where it appeared there might not be enough activity to keep their doors open.  “Busy” comes like rain from the heavens to fill these drought vacant caldrons of worry.  I will ask again, “Does it feel good?”  If your answer is affirmative, you may have swallowed the temptress of non-productivity.  “Busy” is worthless.  It is a trap which takes a Leader’s eye off the ball.  At best, busy “by itself” can only mean one thing. Costs are likely to be increasing.

Busy is typically a young manager’s trap; a no-man’s wasteland where the act of being busy camouflages unproductive results and the inability to reach goals.  Their teams routinely run up against every deadline with only seconds to spare often creating a work product of lesser quality.  The call of this naiveté is usually to hire more people or reduce demands.  Busy does not equate with your team working harder; it certainly does not denote it is working smarter.  It only proposes that there is “activity” which is expanding to meet the time available.

The Busy Trap

As a Leader today, regardless of your standing, you must combat the Busy Trap.  You must avoid the temptation of the euphoric feeling that is created by witnessing the hustle and bustle of your team’s activity.  Leaders must resist the pride-felt utterances of impressing their bosses and peers with how busy they are.  They must further resist those feel-good “pat on the backs” to their teams with compliments of how they made it “just in time”.  In today’s challenge to move forward, being busy just doesn’t count.

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This interesting statement was made by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the famous British historian and author, in 1955 – first appearing as the opening line in an article for The Economist and later becoming the focus of one of Parkinson’s books, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress.

C. Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson had studied the British Government noting that regardless of the shrinkage of work due to the Empires retraction, government continued to grow by 5-7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”

Parkinson’s Lawwork expands to fill the time available for its completion – means that if you give yourself a month to complete a one week assignment, then (psychologically speaking) the task will increase in complexity and become more daunting so as to fill that month. It may not even fill the extra time with more work, but just stress and tension about having to get it done.  And often tasks are procrastinated until the last minute, all the while people remain ostensibly busy pontificating the progress they are making.

We all know the drill when we have too much time to complete a task.  We tend to slack off until the task becomes urgent.  Then, when meeting the deadline becomes imminently impossible, we become super-productive and miraculously pull it off — getting the job done just in time.  Does your team conclude essential projects at the last minute with a frantic fury of activity and emotion which drives the organization into chaos?  Instead of recognizing your team’s valor, you should examine the reality that they have more than likely expanded the work to meet the deadline.

As we grasp for restoration of profitability, growth and prosperity during these changing economic times, it is necessary for Leaders to preserve the focus on productivity in the proficient attainment of goals.  Leaders must have a system of measurements to determine if there are real gains in productivity before increasing cost structures.  They must scrutinize with a skeptic’s evaluation the true efficiency and effectiveness of their teams performance before entertaining the rookie manager’s mistakes of adding costs or increasing time as a solution.

Remember, during the economic slow-down your team became normalized at running 35 mph.  As they ramp up to competitive “100mph performance” levels they are bound to feel out of control.  Good Leaders will stay steady while demanding and inspiring increased performance.  Tight time limits and deadlines force your brain to figure out ways to get tasks done in the time available.  By assigning the right amount of time to a task, we gain back more time and the task will reduce in complexity to its natural state.  By increasing the work of an apparently busy team, you condense the time available for each task and improve key elements of your future success – Creativity and Productivity!

If you determine your team has “truly” become “busy”, without increased productivity or performance gains, it is time to revisit the effectiveness of your strategies.  Are you spending your team’s time pursuing winning situations?  Are you picking the right battles?  Do they have the necessary support?  Are goals clearly understood?  Are bureaucratic policies and people strangling progress?  These types of impediments can easily cause a team to be unproductive and busy at the same time.

One reason Parkinson’s Law is so prevalent, especially in corporations, is that Leaders have settled for the C-Team.  These C- Players question why they should improve productivity only to be given more work.  Rather than possess the Values of Excellence and Quality they fill their heads with degenerative thoughts of, “Soon as I finish, they’ll just give me more work.” Or “If I’m too fast they will just bring the deadline forward next time!”

If you are hiring, building, and rewarding your A-Team appropriately, you will see these barriers of negativity disappear from your team.  Keep your team focused on the prize and they will soar above these questionable distractions.  A-Players want to do more and be more.  They wish to excel and out-perform others, especially the competition. If you sense resistance to productivity gains from someone on your team, it is time to look for their replacement.

As a Leader you will be pressured and tempted to increase costs and headcount as your business grows.  Push back.  Push back hard!  One of my current mentors, Scott Lazarus, is known to say, “If you want something done, give it to a person who is already busy.”  Scott understands that productive people will always find a way to get more done and they thrive on the challenge.  Leaders must prepare for the growth.  Street Smart Leaders must exhaust Creativity and Productivity as the crucial tools for turning growth into bottom-line profitability.

Just for fun – Here are other Parkinson Law offshoots:

  • Expenditures rise to meet income.
  • The number of people in any working group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.
  • The amount of stuff one has expands to fill available cupboard space
  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage
  • Network traffic expands to fill the available bandwidth
  • Highways congest to the maximum allowable traffic

         Can you think of some others?

Time and again we are bewildered by strong and capable managers beleaguered in their attempts to achieve organization results.  These managers may have painstakingly built

The Blame Game

an A-Team of rock-solid performers and advanced dazzling plans with effective implementation, yet the fruits of their labor continue to evade a prosperous outcome.  When “good people do the right things” without achievement, vexation sets in and the “Blame Game” activates.  A Leader’s proficiency, causes, communication, and energies all come into question as frustration builds and the organization lingers in a downward spiral towards disaster.  When the A-Team is efficiently stalking the right plan without results, rather than find fault, a Leader should look towards the Structure of the Organization.

Structural problems can be some of the most testing to solve.  An organization’s structure is often deep set in years of subterranean unquestioned paradigms.  Structural tribulations can become such a monolithic impediment that even in the face of its delinquency most Leaders cannot start to fathom the idea of changing it.  An overhaul of the Organizational Structure is a colossal undertaking not for the faint of heart.  But as long as it remains scathed and broken all other attempts to improve performance are only temporary Band-Aids doomed for long term failure.

Structural problems usually raise their ugly heads in the form of Organizational Dysfunction.  Prevalent organizational dysfunctions, such as caustic internal competition, bottle-necked workflows, and fractionalized self-interests become mainstream currents throughout the organization.  Managers build their power base by successfully fighting for the benefits and domination of their own groups, willingly forsaking the well-being of the entire organization.  If this is the case with one manager, a bad apple exists.  But if virtually every manager within an organization seems to be at “locked horns” with each other, the Organization Structure requires a stark assessment.  A Street Smart Leader knows you cannot run the right plays from the wrong formation.

Un-Accountability - The Blame Game

The most widespread creator of organizational dysfunction remains the antiquated “departmental” structure.  I immediately become suspicious of a company structure when I hear employees using the expression “department” over and over again throughout the daily discourse.  Sales department, operations department, order entry department, service department, accounting department, marketing department, and all the rest of them are the code words for a stifled and frustrated organization.  Departments imply groups of people which are separated by function from each other for their particular purpose.  This separation generates a sightlessness which prevents each department from realizing the comprehensive advanced organizational functionalities which are essential such as growth, customer retention, and profitability.  Departments establish a configuration where those within the department strive for the department’s achievement as the paramount objective.  “I’m okay as long as my department is doing its job”, is the mantra.  Communication, vital information, and knowledge are repressed from other groups to be used as competitive weapons in the games of political capital and personal power.  Although we have been aware of the unhealthy consequences of departmental structures for decades, they continue to persist in organizations everywhere.

The principal problem with departments is what has been called the “Silo Effect”.  This term comes from the imagery of looking at a row of grain silos stacked next to one another.  Information, cooperation, and workflow must rise up through the top of one silo over to the top of the next one and then down inside of it.  In simple terms, a group of employees requiring the assistance of another department must first go to their Department Manager who then negotiates with his counterpart Manager before engagement becomes operational.  The Silo Effect creates a myopic environment in which employees only concentrate and comprehend the tasks within their immediate jurisdiction.  Their inability to see the whole picture causes them to believe that their isolated tasks exist in a vacuum unrelated to a larger, more vital goal.  Typically those working in departments are encouraged to focus on the objectives of the department’s success.

The Silo Effect - Departmental Structure

Since a Department Manager is responsible for constructing a successful department, they become very protective of their group permeating the conception that the other departments are the enemy.  Enhanced gamesmanship and political choreography stimulates a Department Manager to maneuver his group to gain a stronger “image” than the other departments.  These mounting Fiefdoms subvert the goal of real performance and diminish the reality of the “external” competitor.  Since the Department Manager is in control of every activity which enters and leaves the department a culture of unaccountability prospers within the department’s employees.  They begin to rely on their manager to tell them what to do and when to do it.

The problem inflates when Upper Management places department-based incentives in front of the Department Manager as a reward system.  Now the Department Manager is financially rewarded for making sure their group comes out on top regardless of the overall organizational effectiveness and success.  This scenario routinely causes such a high degree of political infighting that Upper Management ceases to focus on vision and strategy and relegates itself to the role of managerial referee.

Department structures are hierarchical and their basic structure.  Work flows in a vertical up-and-down methodology which is controlled by the Department Managers.  Ask to see most company’s Org Chart and you see the basic philosophy of this hierarchical structure which has been so embedded in our minds.  Leaders they must recognize that this archaic organism destroys the progressive mind share which is necessary for success in today’s highly competitive and advanced environments.  Leaders who are serious about creating a cohesive structure where A-Team Players can thrive must realize the negativity spawned from the departmental philosophy and strikeout to eliminate the very idea of “department” from every aspect in the business.  “Department” is a dirty word.  Do not even allow the use of it within your organization.

As a Leader you must tear down the divisive walls which block the cross functionality of your organization.  Good Leaders build structures which allow cooperation and information to flow without the need for management intervention.  Strong structures focus on the “delivery systems” of your goods and services to your customers while providing the company with a profitable outcome.  They generate a cohesive platform where different functions must come together to create a unified solution which results in an incomparable success.  Leaders are not the gatekeepers of work product rather they are the facilitators of workflow.  Today’s Leaders can find innovative success in denouncing the power coveted department roles of the past and embracing a larger, more momentous responsibility of establishing results across the limitations of traditional functional boundaries.

Cross functional work teams have been used over the last several decades to create a holistic approach to attain project success.  Members from different functional disciplines have been pulled from their daily responsibilities to participate on teams with multiple skill sets to improve a particular area of performance.  Originating within the Japanese models of Continuous Process Improvement, these methodologies have continued to evolve in today’s Six Sigma programs.  In many of these programs the managers send a member of their department to the process improvement meeting to be led by a Facilitator while they sit back continuing to manage from their power base.

Most Leaders compartmentalize this improvement process and fail to explore the opportunities it presents as a permanent Organizational Structure.  Cross Functional Structures take the traditional hierarchical model and transform its vertical silos into horizontal systems of self-managed workflow.  It removes managers from their role as the “Ruler” and challenges them with the responsibility of “Facilitator”.

A Cross Functional Organizational Structure begins with the focus of customer needs.  Various disciplines which support the needs of the customer are then teamed together as Strategic Business Units.  Each member of the business unit is accountable to work together with the other members of the team to plan, shape, and complete the team’s work for their customers.  The blame game terminates as each member of the cross functional team equally shares the responsibility for the accomplishment of goals.  As a Leader you have replaced the infighting of departments with a customer centric business unit which must work together if it is to be successful.  The Teams become protective of their customers and their results.

Accountable Organization - Cross Functional Structure

The ability to employ a Cross Functional Structure throughout your organization will also greatly flatten your management ranks.  Understanding customer’s needs, setting goals, and then expecting teams to deliver on those goals builds an Accountable Organization which is non-reliant on parental style management structures.  And as an added benefit you will find Cross Functional Structures are scalable.  In good times and bad you only need to add and subtract teams.  Teams also become “used to” each other creating “soft” efficiencies and “automated” communication which increase productivity.  Finally, C-Players, who often find hiding places within departments, are quickly exposed through peer pressure once they are on a team.  This places an upward pressure for managers either to get people “up to speed’ or replace them.  Believe it or not, your business units actually make firing decisions for you.  Cross Functional Structures produce lower structural costs, higher accountability, and stronger players.  A win – win – win!

As Facilitators, your manager’s focus shifts from empire building to team building.  Their focus is on improvement and progress.  They are able to manage daily work on an “exception” basis, getting involved when a Team asks for help.  And they are able to spend valuable time supporting and growing the A-Players within their discipline.  Cross Functional Structures allow managers to become Leaders.

It may seem a daunting task to consider the revamping of the Organizational Structure you have lived with for years.  But as a Leader in today’s economy you are challenged with creating a Customer Value Proposition which lowers cost while improving deliverables and quality.  It is a waste of time and a neglect of a Leader’s responsibilities to be the referee of the Blame Game.  If you believe you have built an A-Team of people and results are lacking while frustration and politics are increasing, it is time to examine your structure.  An effective Leader will understand the needs of his customers and the goals which must be accomplished for his company’s prosperity.  A Street Smart Leader will shape the organizational structure around these needs and goals to form an Accountable Organization.  He knows that A-Team players are success driven and have no need of protection, politics, or babysitting … they just need someone to help knock down the walls so they can do their job.

Tomorrow’s Leaders are being subjected to a regimen of reprogramming which is assailing and threatening the core essence of efficacious Leadership.  Fostered by intellectuals, this contemporary leadership fashion is concentrating on creating a softer, gentler, leadership style focused on a submissive approach to Leadership.  These new-fangled theories expound a fabricated Leadership value system based on conceptions such as, servitude to employees, gaining employee’s permission, self-deprecating humility, a duty to care for employees, adding value to employees, etc.  They preach a more emotionally available, compassionate, and sensitive style of Leadership.  Often at the foundation of their duplicity lies the concealed belief to convene a sophisticated “social justice” within the workplace.  These “new world” namby-pamby Leadership tactics are destined to fail and send converted disciples bolting, scared of their shadow, and demoralized with confusion and impotence.

This effete Leadership movement reminds one of the ‘90s crusade to change “real men” into ineffectual cross-beings known as a Metro-sexuals.   This scheme was initiated with the precept that in order to make room for compassion and sensitivity, strength and fortitude must be sacrificed.  We were told that for men to connect with women they

Who would you follow into battle?

had to devoid themselves of manhood and morph into a spineless slithering dribble of sentimentality.  Nowhere was this message reinforced more than on the Hollywood big screen. Over the last 20 years we have seen our leading actors change from Gable, Brando, Burton, Heston, and Peck to Alda, Afleck, Depp, Bloom, and Firth.  Even our women role models have been reduced in stature from O’Hara, Hepburn, Bacall, and Taylor to Roberts, Winslet, Paltrow, and Portman.   Really now, which group would you follow into a battle for your life?  Your company is constantly in a battle for its life and you are expected to lead it to victory.

Regardless of one’s personal dogmas of these metro-influences on our society, the “wimpifcation” of Leadership is a short road leading nowhere.  Do not buy into the falsehood that you need to become a “Metro-leader” to connect with your team.  The need will continue for both Men and Women to be Tough Leaders if they want to achieve the highest levels of success.  Your responsibility as a Leader is to assemble an A-Team of highly motivated people and compete with them to win out over the competition.  It is not your job to construct a Utopian World where everyone feels warm and fuzzy.  Is there a place for the “soft qualities”, often defined as EQ or EI?  Yes, but only to the extent that performance is amplified as a direct consequence of the method engaged.  Quite simply, being kind, or compassionate, or sensitive must have an ROI.  Sound Harsh?  This is what it takes to be a Street Smart Leader!

The most momentous menace presented in this new “Metro-leader” model is in its intrinsic proclivity for establishing an Entitlement Culture among your employees.  An Entitlement Culture is one where employees feel you owe them something that has “not been earned” because of who they are.  You need look no further than labor unions, government employees, or socialist countries to see the lack luster non-competitive performance that results from Entitlement.  Entitled people believe they have “Rights” which are constituted within their own minds.  They expect compensation and treatment as a result of these rights without having to deliver value.

If we go back to your Hiring Agreement with an employee, you will remember they agreed to perform a function with competency in exchange for a compensation package.  As an employee they do have certain “Rights” established by law, such as the right not to be discriminated against or to have a safe place to work.  But that is it; this is what you “owe” them.  Beyond this, as a Leader, you must determine the best way to maximize their performance and achieve company goals.  They have the responsibility to perform as well as they can, be motivated, achieve goals, be a good citizen, etc.  It is not your responsibility to provide these things for them.  Once you begin to try and manage their motivation or work ethic, you have allowed their responsibilities to be shifted to your shoulders and you have created an Entitlement.  Their performance is now your responsibility.  As a Metro-leader their inability to do their job means you have failed.  Guess who gets fired when the entire team fails because you have not “made them” successful.

Great Leaders understand the time and money tradeoffs between “good employee care” in order to gain results and “being nice” because it feels the right thing to do.  The “right thing” is a subjective and biased luxury which you should be able to back up with a good business reason before acting on.  Your customers are not willing to pay you anything additional because you are a nice boss who has established a great social program within the confines of your business unit.  So, unless your employee program directly increases productivity and cuts costs, you have just eroded your profits to fulfill your own “do good” ego.  This is a dereliction of the duty for which you were hired and only weakens your company’s future prosperity.  Eventually the “feel good” program collapses under the dead weight of its own incompetence.

The Cost of Entitlement

Here is a quick management discipline for you to adopt to ensure you are fighting off the Entitlement Culture.  As a Leader you are constantly asked for favors from employees.  For now on, never agree to a request unless you get something in return.  Keep a list of those items which you wish each person would be doing a better job at.  Then when they ask, “Can I leave 15 minutes early today to pick up my children?” You can reply, “Sure, as long as I can get that weekly report from you before you go.”  It may seem a small inconsequential tradeoff, but it will help you build an internal personal discipline to ensure you are receiving value for your consideration.  And it will really matter when faced with larger questions regarding how you determine employee related issues with a permanent cost such as an extra holiday or a ping pong table.

If you are a reader of my articles, you already know of my determination to build great teams of extraordinary people.  This begins with assembling great people who want to accomplish something of value with their efforts.  A-Players aren’t looking for soft, feel good Leaders or Entitlement Programs.  They are proud to earn their way.  They are willing to give 100% and expect 100% of your efforts towards them in return.  If you are receiving anything less than this bargain, you have work to do.  But don’t be fooled into believing that if you treat employees better, they will be motivated and then you will see improvements.  Your bargain begins with the setting of your expectations of them, to be followed by rewards for their accomplishments.

As a Leader you must measure the anticipated results on resources expended including those spent on employees.  It is your responsibility to bring home an ROI on these investments of time and money.  Leadership carries a colossal obligation to those who choose to employ you and those who choose to follow you.  It is not a game for social experimentation, it is about dollars and cents and winning and losing.  It may seem callous, but Leadership involves trade-offs and bargaining.  Your job is to make sure your company gets the better part of the deal.  Anything less is an Entitlement granted to someone which you cannot afford if you want to see your career prosper.  A Street Smart Leader is a deeply concerned and compassionate person who is driven by his passions – he just does it “Retro-Leader” style.

A craving developed deep inside my humanity as a fledgling teen; a potent yearning to distinguish myself.  My quest was not compelled towards extraordinary pursuits, but

MLK & RFK

rather evocative meaningful endeavors.  I was touched with a cognizance of my personal possession of an inner forte.    It was the era of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and emerging adults were challenged to be of consequence.  I was a typical boy, from a middling family, going to a normal school, living an ordinary “Wonder Years” life.  Then one

day as I altered my bicycle’s homeward route, my attention lurched to a spectacle which drew me in and tugged at my depth.  Quickly I jumped off, allowing my most prized possession to crash to the concrete, and with both hands clutched in the chain link fence I stared through the grid to witness an amazing exhibition.  There they were, “The Boys of Fall” – the High School Football Team engulfed in their practice session.  Mesmerized, I gazed as they executed drills with intense precision while smashing, grunting and roaring into each other.  They would take rise from heaps of calamity with yelps of exhilaration, high-fives, and a grander loftier persona…bursting with Pride!

The next season, after an effective plea with my mother, I “tried out” to join the game which I had become fascinated with.  “Hell Week” began, and swiftly eradicated the need for any explanation of the torturous designation. Practice was simply designed to “beat the hell out of you” physically, emotionally, and mentally.  The only football I encountered was the one I slept with.  Hell Week was an assault on your character and being.  It was exactly what I was searching for … a test of my mettle.  Following weeks of unforgiving regimentation, I was finally handed a football uniform.  Excitedly, I donned the apparatus while awkwardly comprehending how to regain mobility.  Not knowing what to expect, I was ready for my first “suited up” practice.  My Father took me aside, “Son there will come a point where the coaches will ask you to choose an opponent to go “head-to-head” against.  Be sure to choose the biggest and toughest boy on the team.”

As usual, practice began with us running and performing drills to the point of exhaustion.  The coaches then separated us into two lines and I watched my Father’s prediction unfold.  As players from one line began to choose equal or lessor players from the other lineup, I searched out my foe.  There he was, casually standing off to the side unchallenged, one of the team’s veteran brutes Hector Burrell.  We lined up against each other with the sole purpose of knocking down and running the other over into the ground.  My breath erratically shortened and my heart pounded barely allowing me to pick up Coach’s count off – “ready, set, one, two, three”.  In an instant I was flat on my back looking up at Hector’s silhouette surrounded by blue sky and painfully acquainted with the expression of “flattened by a freight train”.  After another hour of picking myself up off of the ground the grueling tribulation ended.  I limped, as straight-up as I could, to my Father standing at the edge of the field.  He looked at me and said, “Son, you did alright.  Anyone can win the easy battles.  It is more difficult ones that will make you stronger.”  I made the starting team, began winning my share of those “head to head” battles, made friends with Hector and we won the Championship that year.  I had set forth on my path to distinction!

Throughout those determinative years, the fierce competition of football provided framework for self-understanding, teamwork and leadership.  As a high school student, I became passionately engaged in coaching Youth Football soon becoming a Head Coach responsible for directing a coaching staff and leading the team.  These years were packed

Pop Warner - Father of Youth Football

with great coaching mentors who were smart, insightful, tough and inspiring.   These generous men not only enhanced my love of the game, but they demonstrated and taught me the skills necessary to out-think, out-play, and out-win your opponent.  Countless hours were spent with the chalkboards of strategy and tactics, but much more than the “brain work” they taught me how to build and lead a Championship Team.

In today’s multicultural, politically correct, oversensitive, and testosterone-free workplace, we are guarded as to the appropriate use of the sports analogy.  But if you will indulge me, I would like to share some of those life changing lessons about victory, passion, the battle, and the game which I learned over 20 years and continue to put to use every day as a Coach.

You Have To Be Tough

Business is an extremely tough game.  Companies put everything possible into a quintessential battle of strength and cunning against each other.  The game is scored and there are winners and losers – it is a zero-sum game.  Your team expects you to be a Tough Leader capable of competing and conquering the opposition.  They want discipline, structure, hard work, preparation, direction, recognition, purpose and success.  If you are able to provide these essential elements, they will follow you into the most difficult of challenges over and over again.  Business is full of disappointments and shortfalls.  You get knocked down.  You and your team need to be tough enough to get up, grab adversity by the throat, and strangle it until victory pops out.  Business is a severe game played by serious people who want to succeed at the peril of others.  Playing requires grit, perseverance, commitment, determination, and an unwillingness to fail.

Demand Unreasonable Excellence

Every member of your team has self-limiting barriers of what he can achieve firmly entrenched in his mind.  They believe they know when they are giving their best, working their hardest, thinking their brightest.  In reality, they are always capable of much more.  When they feel they have given 100%, they are nowhere near their potential.  As a Leader it is your job to push, cajole, drag, and inspire each player past their self-imposed limits.  The phrase “giving 110%” comes from knowing that everyone has more to give.  Be unreasonable and demand perfection until your team is unquestionably the best in the business.

Build a Great Team

Coaches must draft and select a great team if they are to win.  Building an A-Team is one of the most important responsibilities of a Leader.  You cannot consistently

Team Building

systematically win with a mediocre team.  Once you determine how you are going to win the game, you need to find the best person for each position on the team by matching up

your strategies and players to insure they possess the proper skills to execute your game plan.  The saying, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” continues to be a reality for Leaders.  Your competition is always striving to improve.  You must diligently stay ahead of them by constantly rebuilding and strengthening your team.

Competition Makes You Stronger

Even if you have selected great talent, established flawless execution, and conditioned your players to be tough, they still are not ready to win.  To bring out the greatness of your players and truly determine their capabilities you must make them compete.  Every plan sounds like a winner until you take it from the Conference Room and put it into action.  Competition hones the skills of a player.  Only competition and adversity can truly reveal an individual’s character.  Players need to compete internally, against the pool of available players, and against your industry rivals.  Winners relish taking on tough competition.

Win as a Team or Lose

Once you have challenged a player on his individual capabilities and know they have “what it takes”, it is time to begin team building.  Coaches build teams by drilling into player’s heads that regardless of their personal abilities and achievements they are stronger as part of a team.  Without teamwork they are doomed to fail against an opposing force of gifted players.  They will only realize the “payoff” of their talents and efforts by joining forces with their teammates, who are successful in their own right.  Once players embrace the “need of others” for their own success they only require a common goal to rally towards.  And that goal is simply, “Winning”.  At the core level, Leaders must instill the necessity of personal sacrifice and extreme effort for a player to compete at the top of their game.  Teams flourish when players comprehend this effort is only rewarded with a “Win” when it is united with other individual’s superb performance.  The Coach’s mantra is, “Without the Team, Individuals Fail.”

Winning Matters

Why does “winning” work as a reward system?  Any person who has exerted to put themselves “on the line” 110% and is victorious touches something inside their core which tells them they have done well.  Whether reinforced with money or glory the result is the same.  People love winning and are drawn to winners. It is appreciated, revered, sought after and longed for.  “Trying your best” does not get you there.  “Second Place” comes close but leaves an empty hollow feeling.  I believe you can take the meekest, most humble person in the world and still see the smile that comes to their face when they have won.  It is a universal reinforcing statement confirming we are of value.  Winning, even for an instant, proliferates more winning – It creates the remarkable phenomenon of Momentum.  Winning is good!

Celebrate Victory

We have all witnessed the Thrill of Victory as seen in a championship locker room.  The inspiration, acknowledgement, and joy for a battle well fought ending in the successful winning of a Championship.  There is nothing like it.  The celebration represents the culmination of a job well done as well as establishes a thirst for future success in the dream of returning to the celebration next time.  Leaders encourage their teams to celebrate.  Although celebrations are often public events there is a very private bonding which exchanges among the actual team members who endured the struggle together when no one was watching.  This bond solidifies and strengthens a team going forward.

Even more personal is the feeling a Champion carries within, after the crowd and praise disperses and he walks off alone. I have not found anyone to describe this endurable feeling of self-worth and personal glory better than the ultimate coach, Vince Lombardi.

Vince Lombardi

I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause

and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious. Vince Lombardi

Those early days of coaching football provided me with a Leadership Foundation which has carried me forward throughout my career.  I would not exchange the lessons learned and experiences gained on those patches of chalked grass for any MBA Program.  Leaders lead people in challenging pursuits by building powerful teams who outperform their own expectations and create winning outcomes.  Street Smart Leaders choose and win the “hard battles” which distinguish them and their teams far beyond the competition.  Throughout my career I have progressed through many business card titles, each one slightly prouder than the last, but the one which has made all of the difference is the first one I ever earned…Coach.

All Leaders encounter a disheartening reality when they have built an A-Team of veracious proficient people, and then discover success continues to circumvent their preeminent efforts.  They have distinguished precise strategies, the “smartest” goals, and elaborate action plans, but their A-Team continues to spiral downward into an exasperating abyss.  Despite superlative attitudes, immense dedication, and soaring urgency, results plummet on a downward trend.  Such a perplexing Cycle of Un-Quality is sufficient to thrust any manager to the brink of anxiety and anger.

The resulting resolution is to stereotypically require more obligatory meetings, pursue and discover blame, pressure team members for perfection, and retire from the chamber, hopeful that the theatrics of the day will now make a difference.  Instead, the manager classically ends up with an awfully frustrated collection of individuals who, while committed to performing at their highest levels, are failing on a personal level.  An A-Team will receive this blow hard and conceive it as a “set-up”.  A-Team players who feel they are performing but failing can easily turn against the team and their manager as the reason for failure, instigating an implosion which essentially stops the team dead in the water.

Cycle of Un- Quality

An experienced Leader discovering his A-Team in this “drowning” condition will detect the manifestation of “root cause” issues which are holding down the team’s proficiency.  And before he runs off to find fault with the “Corporate” initiatives and directives, he will recognize there is one area which must be scrutinized first.  It is time to analyze if the right people are doing the right things, but in the wrong way.  A comprehensive examination of the current “Process” is essential.  The most adept A-Team will not reach their goals if they are not correctly synchronized.  And if they are out of sync over and over again, they are set-up for a frustrating failure which will become absolutely unacceptable to their personal sensibilities and Values.  A Leader must diagnose this condition and implement process analysis measures if he is to effectively guide his team back to striving for and attaining their goals.

Process Development and Improvement, once thought only to reside in the domain of Operations, has become a necessity for every function within an organization.  Whether it is Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, or Strategic Implementation an effectual process is a minimum requirement.  A Leader who can develop an exemplary process will not only create enhanced and faster deliverables, but he will gain a competitive advantage with which to win over the competition!

There are many disciplines to assist a Leader in Process Improvement.  They range from intricate and meticulous programs such as ISO Standards to “hands-on” team involved Kaizen events led by Six Sigma experts.  All of these programs work with the proper intelligence, discipline, feedback systems, and follow through.  But a Leader’s principal responsibility is to possess the skills and insights necessary to ascertain fundamental process pitfalls within their dominion.  Sitting in the back seat and turning one’s team over to a facilitator, who knows little about the objectives of their business unit, will result in a Leadership void guaranteed to negatively impact the implementation of any newly developed plans.   Even the best facilitator, will work a team towards consensus through collaboration running the risk of a watered-down plan lacking committed buy–in.  A Leader must retain charge of the Process Improvement analysis and initiative.  Leaders carry the definitive responsibility for their team’s turnaround and therefore, must look at an external facilitator only as a resource to their Leadership.

As a Leader, it is your responsibility to understand the basics of Process Improvement.  There is a great amount of information available regarding Six Sigma tools and the effectiveness of properly run Kaizen Events.  Gaining a strong personal foundation in these skills, allows you to identify process problems early on with your team.  Swift action with the proper tools can change a problematic course before your team’s failure and frustration sets-in.  A Leader should be able to provide the “first line of defense” for his A-Team before it becomes necessary to call in the lifeboats and await their arrival.

You will discover many accessible tools: fishbone charts, brainstorming methodologies, from/to diagraming exercises, and the like.  But when I sense a process may be off-track and requires evaluation I seize a modest tool called a Deployment Chart created by quality guru Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  The Deployment Chart is a flowcharting mechanism which allows you to inspect a process and apprehend the numerous relationships different people in the process have to the tasks and to each other.  It originates with a comprehensive understanding of the basic roles and responsibilities of each team player, but focuses deliberation on the separation of tasks due to an ineffective workflow.

The Deployment Chart moves past the typical linear examination of task sequence and examines a multi-dimensional formatting process from a “people perspective”.  Upon embarking on any new management assignment, I ask for a copy of the written processes.  Then I take them home and at night and plot the processes on a Deployment Chart to determine early on where my new team may be struggling.  Just because the process has defined the correct steps in the correct order, it does not qualify for effectiveness on the “people level”.  I once walked into a consulting assignment where the company had implemented a new company-wide process, just weeks before.  Although they spent six months creating the new process, they were frustrated with the lack of progress and were already conducting Un-Quality Meetings.  I took the procedures, locked myself in a conference room for one hour, and then headed to the owner’s office (Deployment Chart in hand) to graphically show him why their new process was doomed to failure.  We identified and resolved the systemic problems the next day and rolled out a new process which continued working for years.

Preparing a Deployment Chart is actually rather simple.  On the left side of the paper, proceeding down a vertical column, you list all of the tasks involved in a process in their current sequence.  Across the top of the paper you list each of the roles for people who are involved in the process.  With the tasks on the left side and the roles across the top of the paper a matrix has been formed which will help us identify the efficiency of the process flow.  For each task on the left side of this page, identify the role on the top of the page that is responsible for actually performing and completing the task and then make a mark in that box on the matrix.  Only one role or person can be truly responsible for any given task.  If a task is somehow shared by two or more people, you should attempt to break it out into two separate tasks.

Poor Process Flow - Doesn't Have a Chance

An examination of our completed Deployment Chart will show us whether we have a smooth flowing process that makes sense.  Often times the Deployment Chart will display a process containing multiple hand-offs back and forth between people, or worse, between departments.  The matrix will highlight where “the ball will be dropped” and where departmental walls have the potential to block and delay the process.  You will also be able to identify unfortunate scenarios where two people who are required to be associated and connected with a particular part of the process are entirely detached and removed from each other in the process structure.

Good Process Flow - Smooth Team Interaction

Accurate examination of your Deployment Chart combined with constructive A-Team meetings should result in revamping your process into a smooth flowing platform.  A new process which addresses and flows toward a people-centric solution will intensify productivity, advance communication, diminish stress and frustration, and create innovative benchmarks for higher results.

All Leaders must understand the importance of Process Improvement and the potential gains they can achieve regardless of their organizational function.  But a Street Smart Leader does not wait until his team is drowning in the Un-Quality Cycle before he takes action.  He arms himself with the fundamental tools to take early and swift action as soon as bottlenecks, dropped balls, and team frustration materializes.  Waiting for the Six Sigma Team to show up only delays improved results and sets you in the back seat waiting for rescue.  Read the books and attend the seminars necessary to become a Process Improvement expert in your own right.  It is a major component of any Leader’s Accountability.  When the Kaizen lifeboat finally surfaces to pull your team out of the water, they will find you have already accomplished your process work and are soaring towards new horizons of success!

Leaders make Decisions!  In a world of quantum communication and overloaded information it should be no revelation when confronted by every man’s entitlement to a vocalized opinion.  In our era, society has imparted uncontested prominence to a person’s opinion.  Whether a derivative of careful thought, precise data, or notorious feelings – the right to “my opinion” is firmly entrenched in our culture’s fairness equation. “Well, that’s my opinion”, has become the justifiable explanation of any inexplicable reasoning or concept.  The resulting implication from these free-wielding opines is a stolen momentary sense of Authority which charms even the weakest of characters.  Observe a heated debate regarding a controversial topic and take notice of the abundant expertise of unsubstantiated solutions filling the room.  The empowerment of an authority capturing thought is an addictive substance for any conference table groupie.  But observe how Authority runs and hides when time is finished and a Decision is required.  A silence falls on the repartee,

Making Decisions

distraction lurks, shifting begins and everyone looks to the Leader … to make the Decision!

Opinions are weightless luxuries of shiftless minds.  They can be put forth with various methodologies, heavy-handed or sneakily, but in the final analysis they can effortlessly be discarded and abandoned.  The Authority of ideas and feelings, however great or passionate, is a passing plaything.  Only the Decision produces a “final” choice; a determined course of action to be embarked upon.  Making Decisions has little to do with captured “Authority” and everything to do with accepting “Responsibility”.  And Responsibility carries weight … the weight of consequence!

DECISION EQUALS CONSEQUENCE

REWARD or FAILURE

Good Leaders make Good Decisions.  Or is it the reverse? Regardless, when opinions are at odds it is a Leader’s responsibility to step up and choose one course of action for success.  The right “Decision” is the keystone towards advancement of goals and winning teams.  So, how do Leaders make decisions?

Good decision creation comes from a variety of techniques.  Leaders learn to blend contributing factors into overall analysis to determine the best possibilities for a prosperous consequence while limiting the risk of unintended surprises.  Whether decisions are made from Rational Analysis, Intuition, Advice, Avoidance, or Inspiration, a decision maker must be capable of sorting through the infiltrating influences to gain clarity of the dilemma.

At the aggressive age of 30, I was challenged with a philosophical disputation which forever changed my outlook on the decision making process.  As Vice President of Operations, I had become responsible for a handful of recently acquired unhealthy businesses with the goal of converting them to profitable, well run, prosperous, “Company Store” branches.  After months of “road work” the results were beginning to show.  I instituted vigorous tough change initiatives to progress performance and with a “take no prisoners” attitude began to see measurable improvements throughout the system.  Development was increasingly taking hold and I had every reason to believe we were on the right path.

About then, a great mentor of mine, Mike White (owner of the company) decided to make a road trip with me.  The establishment of direct distribution was one of his personal pet projects and he was very passionate, supportive, and protective about the program’s triumph.  We traveled to several of the branch offices and conducted multiple meetings.  Although the sales and productivity gains were very evident, Mike detected the grind our “changes” had put the employees through.  The contentious feedback from employees was not in-sync with the “on paper” results.  On our last leg back home, at 35,000 feet, Mike downloaded me with his thoughts.  Although he was proud of the progress made, he questioned if we could accomplish our goals without the workforce being more positive about the changes.  Quickly and adeptly I pulled my charts from the briefcase and began presenting my case to regain the affirmative position.  Not only had productivity, consistency and growth all improved, we also had been able to increase compensation and working conditions for many of the employees.  “Mike,” I petitioned, “Look at the facts, they are wrong.”  As I began to rant about their resistance to change, Mike stopped me cold with the words that would puzzle me for years. He said, “John, their Perception is their Reality.  And your job is to change their perception, not argue about it.”

Disputing facts and data with personal feelings and perceptions was a difficult pill for me to swallow.  I may have been right, but I had to accept that it did not matter if perception was against me.  Over the next few years, I matured as a Leader and the wisdom of Mike’s words set into my core and became a part of my reality.  With his constant guidance, he taught me to realize it takes more than facts and figures to make good decisions.  He helped me understand good decisions are based in the capacity to evaluate and mobilize people into the action we envisioned.  Realizing the vital importance of other people’s perceptions instead of my contrived reality was one tough lesson to absorb, but it opened a world of new insights and possibilities.

People tend to believe what they experience

And they tend to experience what they believe

As a Leader you need to understand the importance of the hard data.  But good decisions are grounded in the “perceived” reality of any given situation.  And although one can logically argue the premise of “Perception is Reality”, you cannot dismiss it.  Whether it is your employees, your boss, or your customers, you cannot escape the consequence of how they “perceive” your thoughts, actions, and contributions.

Through the years of struggling with this enigmatic question I came to appreciate the difference between Facts and Truths and the quandary between Perception and Reality.

  • Facts – A fact is an elementary principle which is indisputable by a personal belief and remains unchanged throughout time.  Example: 2+2=4 is a fact.
  • Truths – Something is thought to be a Truth when two or more people agree on the interpretation of an idea or event.  Truth is subjective, requiring a point of view.  It is a “consensus reality”.  Example: Those believing in God share a truth which the Atheist does not.
  • Perception – One’s knowledge and interpretation of past experiences.  These experiences form preconceived concepts through which new information is viewed, thus creating a personal reality.  Example: Someone perceives the world to be unfair.
  • Reality – Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be. Example: ? no one really knows.

Your team will follow you only if they believe your decision making talent is sound and verified.  Your ability to connect to them and to the realm where your business lives is of paramount importance.  Resilient decisions are conceived from understanding the entirety of the circumstance.  It would be a simple feat to feed data to a computer, add a few variables, and have it produce the best probable outcome.  But we know that isn’t enough.  Even with its data crushing dominance, no one is going to walk into battle based on a computer program.  Your team has instincts and their own perceptions.  And yes, they have opinions about whether you “get it” or “haven’t a clue”.  The Facts, Truths, Perceptions and Reality must all be considered in your deliberations if you expect conscientious action and lasting results.

The Wisdom of Decision Making

 

Structured learning and practice to assist you in making better decisions does not exist.  You cannot learn about people and their proclivities from a book.  But your awareness and curiosity into the human condition will accelerate your learning curve.  You must be smart to get ahead, but a true Leader seizes a much more valuable instrument with his “people” knowledge, experience, and judgment.  He cumulates the profoundness of Wisdom.

Wisdom is a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy. It is the ability to optimally (effectively and efficiently) apply perceptions and knowledge and so produce the desired results. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action.   (Definition from Wikipedia)

With Intelligence you will be noticed, but the accumulation and manifestation of Wisdom will set you apart and earn the respect of others.  A Street Smart Leader gets out of the way of his own reality and focuses on the soft elements and perceptions of the situation or opportunity.  Great Leaders are the difference between good opinions and good Decisions.  They crave the responsibility that comes with “making the call” and the opportunity to put themselves “on the line” to grab the prize.  Good Decisions do make Good Leaders, so choose yours wisely.  20 years ago, Mike White put me on a path leading to Wisdom and although its destination continues to elude me, the journey has provided a wealth of knowledge and understanding with which to grow as a Leader.

The Speed of Business

With the current unyielding imperative for furious production, impervious delivery, and flawless implementation savvy customers, armed with the knowledge of differentiating competitive dynamics, have elevated the standards for execution for almost every purveyor.  The obligation to deliver these new rigorous benefits with ultimate speed and impeccable perfection has placed a newfound emphasis on organized systemization and instantaneous communication.  The talent, not only to produce an ultimate quality product, but to over-protect, over-connect, and over-indulge your customers throughout the entire “process experience” is the “secret sauce” with which to win the hearts and minds of today’s highly demanding customers.

In an effort to grapple and compartmentalize the conceivable chaos of attempting high speed mass-delivery with perfection, many companies have broken their systems into programs and projects.  And with this organizational shift to hands-on process control we have seen the ubiquitous rise of The Project Manager.  Regardless of whether a process cycle is 20 minutes or 20 months, more and more we see the infiltration of project management disciplines sanctioned as the guardian for efficiency and effectiveness.

As a Leader it is important you possess the skill sets necessary to develop, enact, and lead “best in class” Project Management methodologies to ensure your processes, by themselves, present a competitive advantage.

In my article, Implementing Strategy with a Work Breakdown Structure – WBS, I discussed how to use a Project Management WBS approach in implementing internal strategic plans.  The advantages of these skills are wide-spread and should be implicit and exercised throughout your organization’s processes.  The rudimentary phases of fundamental Project Management implementation are rather standard.  Typically, they consist of the following high-level phases:

Project Management Phases

Each of these phases has their own disciplines and tactics for success.  Regardless of the exact project management doctrine, the singular goals required by all are: to deliver a program or project within Scope, On Time, and On Budget.  These three non-negotiable obligatory results are the decisive measures of any success.  For your Project Managers to consistently produce exemplary “best in class” victories, they need to possess a variety of important Leadership skills:

  • Planning & Goal Setting
  • Communicating & Directing
  • Delegating & Time Management
  • Tracking & Controlling
  • Measuring
  • Risk Assessment
  • Problem Solving
  • Utilization of Resources
  • Team Building

There are a multitude of programs and books to help guide one through the vast Project Management alternatives available.  And for those who require higher levels of Project Management capabilities, the PMP Certification Program exists.  A Leader who is serious about bringing the speed and reliability to his business that today’s competitive climate requires will invest serious time and energy into learning the disciplines necessary to engrain a Project Management ideology throughout his deliverable system.

Project Management Applications

With the accessibility of this formal curriculum, you might begin to believe the acts of bringing this knowledge to your team will spontaneously ignite fresh fires and generate brand-new competitive successes.  Although a good Project Management Program will provide the platform, there are some crucial additional dynamics which need to come into play.  In another article, Business is Easy … People are Hard – The Change Proposition, I spoke about how in spite of the best “business plans” the “people challenge” presents the most significant impediment to “getting things done”.

Throughout the years of implementing hundreds of projects and programs, I have formulated, “The Three Truths of Project Management”.  Understanding and interposing these Three Truths from a proactive position of potency is the difference between good planning and bona fide execution.  You will not find these Truths taught in any of the formal books or programs, but they are precepts I vehemently drill into the psyche of every Project Manager who leads our projects.

THE FIRST TRUTH OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT:

Everyone is out to screw you – they just don’t know it!

As a Project Manager you will discover it simplistic to gain support for your project from third parties.  Once set into motion, no one wants to be a negative influence.  As a result, people tend to tell you “what you want to hear”.  Sure, they can start on time and they will surely make the deadline.  It is easy for others to make commitments on “your” project.  They really do not anticipate any harm, so for cooperation’s sake they stay positive.  But their world has different and additional priorities than your project.  Realities shift, often resulting in them “doing their best” while your project suffers and fails.

If you assume anything, you must assume others will not deliver on their promises.  Not because they do not want to, but because something will happen “beyond their control” to cause a failure. It is your responsibility to “Protect the Plan!” This means realizing the zero value of promises.  You need proof, hard evidence, from everyone all of the time backing up what they are saying.  If they are to receive parts on Friday, you need to see the receiving paperwork.  If an item is in transit, you want the tracking numbers.  Protect the Plan!  Disregard other’s disdain for your conscientiousness.  Know where you are vulnerable to other’s failures and plan contingencies.  A Project Manager lives in a world of relying on others to carry out their responsibilities.  But you do not have to be dependent on them.  Diligently stay all over them, from beginning to end, if you want to be successful!

THE SECOND TRUTH OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT:

If you haven’t checked on it yourself – It is not going to happen!

On every project I wait to hear the ethereal words, “Trust Me, I’m on it”. This should be a Red Flag to any Project Manager.  You can’t afford to be surprised by a failure on your project.  Surprise raids you of your options.  Surprise propels you into a reactionary spin, often resulting in a less than optimum response.  You are not in a position to believe actions have been taken because someone said they would “take care of it”.

A heads-up Project Manager makes the extra calls and checks on the details.  He authenticates the reality to ensure the “ball wasn’t dropped”.  You must consistently check and follow up on the required actions of others.  Living with the liabilities created by others’ forgetfulness and dereliction is what keeps Project Managers up through the night.  You are not in the “trust” business – you are in the “show me” business.  Follow up on everything!

THE THIRD TRUTH OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

If everything seems on schedule – you are behind!

If we are half way through a project and I hear that we are on schedule, I immediately know we are behind.  The only acceptable answer I want to hear throughout the entire project is that we are “ahead” of schedule.  Project Managers should reject the concept of being “on schedule”.  Simply, you are either ahead or you are behind.

First, being on schedule implies you are not ready for the possibility of a forthcoming event which could cause a delay.   You are working without room to implement a contingency plan when something goes wrong.  When a problem does develop, which it will, you are forcing yourself into a position of playing catch up.  Catching up means “dollars”!  And even if you are able to recover those expenses from another offender, recompense does not happen without a great deal of time, effort, and aggravation against your project.

Secondly, every project I have ever seen, whether it is painting a room or rolling out a complete customer solution, results in the last 10% of the work taking 30% of the time.  It is amazing how close you can appear to being finished, and yet the project drags on with the final touches, clean up, last minute changes, approvals, etc.  If you are not ahead of schedule all the way through, you are looking at a last minute crunch to complete everything.  At the very least, this is a stressful and tiring way to finish a project.  Stay ahead of schedule by pushing hard from the start.  Do not count on your ability to make it up later.  Time is moving.  An expert Project Manager stays ahead of it!

Three Truths of Project Management

Today’s Customers are demanding new solutions be brought to them at lightning speed and with brilliant implementation.  Your Business Plan is bursting with projects.  Regardless of whether you are in Sales, Operations, Manufacturing, Marketing, you have projects which directly affect growth and profitability.  As a Leader you must be focused on Project Management disciplines and tools for the fast and effective execution of your plans.  A Street Smart Leader learns how to use the programs and tools of the Project Management craft to outpace and outperform his competition and deliver the “secret sauce”.  And he ensures his team stays focused on the Three Truths of Project Management to solidify and guarantee his triumph!