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?

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.

In my article, The People Age, I explained the importance of People in differentiating your company and maintaining a “sustainable competitive advantage”.  In order to successfully do this you will need to build an A-TEAM of people.  You must understand what your A-TEAM should look like and begin a relentless plan of attack to achieve it.  Without an A TEAM, you cannot win!

The easiest way to determine what your A-TEAM should look like is to make a list of attributes you would expect an A Player to have.  I have done this many times with management teams and it is surprising how similar the lists are.  The average list ends up being about twenty to forty attributes.  All of these are important and should be used in your evaluations.  But go a step further and identify the Top Ten attributes which are “must haves” for excelling in your company.  As a double-check, compare your list against your Top Performers and ask yourself if this list accurately describes them.  You may notice your list is very different from your company’s Performance Review Forms.  For example, your Top Ten List most likely does not include items like “neat work area” or “punctuality”.  Performance reviews have their place, but they are more about Surviving; what we are talking about is Excelling.

Here is a sample list of attributes describing an A-TEAM:

 

Once you have your list, you need to begin hiring people who are A-Players.  Your Top Ten “must haves” should set the foundation for a significant part of your interview questions.  This is so important that I encourage you to write out questions and follow-up questions to specifically discuss these attributes.  Work experience is good, but is the person driven?  Can they give you examples of when their drive has attained extraordinary achievement?  Your interviews will begin to take on a completely different approach.  You are no longer looking for someone who can just do the job; you are looking for the A-Players who will make a difference.  As you may know, most people think they are A Players, so you have to dig deep in your questions for verification, check references and even use profile test to help determine if the applicant’s attributes are a match. Hiring A Players is one of your most important jobs.  There are great seminars and books to help you improve this skill.  Take advantage of them.

Before we go further, I would like to make an important distinction.  I refer to “building” A-TEAMS  not “developing” them.  Many managers are taught to believe that it is their job to take C and F-Players and develop them.  This development philosophy usually includes training, motivating, explaining responsibilities and lots of hand holding dealing with old baggage.  This is a complete waste of time!  The idea that you are going to motivate a non-motivated person or create a sense of urgency in a slow-moving person is a futile exercise in the fulfillment of your own ego.  Stop trying to fix people.  This is not your job.  You need to remove people who do not excel and hire A-Players.  It is faster and you will see how the results speak for themselves.  Wouldn’t you rather provide motivation for a motivated person?  Wow! Think about what that might produce!

I was once sitting with one of my toughest mentors, John Smye, explaining to him that I thought I could have a certain manager where he needed to be in the next six months.  He asked, if  I started  looking now  for someone who is already there, how long would it take me.  I replied no more than two months.  He made it clear we did not have four months of time and company money to waste waiting for someone to learn a job they already had.  Not to mention what damage could be done while we waited six months for his group of thirty people to start performing.  He told me to fire the manager and find the right one.  As hard as this sounds, he was right!  Within sixty days I had a fully functioning manager in place who began moving his group forward.  The new manager had no baggage, no agendas.  He just wanted to take our plan and enthusiastically run with it.

Now for the tough part; what do you do with your existing team?  First, show them your list and make it clear you are looking for A-Players.  Next you need to sit down and evaluate them.  By each person’s name, without over-thinking it, write an A, B, C, or F.  Remember, to be an A-Player someone must have “all” of the Top Ten attributes.

You must immediately replace your F-Players. There is most likely some reason they are still there.  Keeping them for any reason (and I have heard some of the best) is just an avoidance of the inevitable and of your duty to the people you work for.  They cost you valuable respect from the rest of your team.  Do it now, within 30 days, and take the short-term pain if you have to.  Six months from now, you will be saying it was the best decision you ever made and wondering what you were so afraid of.

Now let’s talk about the C Players.  C-Players must be gone in 90 days.  If you believe there is anyone on the cusp of being a B-Player this is all the time you have to get them there.  C-Players are killing you; maybe even more than the F-Player.  They absorb most of your time and deliver mediocre results.  Imagine what could be accomplished if you spent that time with the A-Players instead.  Just think how the daily agenda would change from “how do we get people to do what we want?” to “we can do anything, so what should it be?”  The other major issue with C-Players is they lower the bar.  Joe, a C+-Player, sits next to Sally, a C-Player, and has it all figured out.  Since he knows he is a little better than Sally, he is “safe” as long as she is there.  Raise the bar!  Get rid of Sally, get rid of Joe and have Mr. B- looking over his shoulder saying, “I better get with the program or I’m next.”

 

Your culture will be driven by these decisions.  If you allow C-Players to dominate your team you will have an average (and losing) culture. The reality is you will lose your A-Players in a C-Culture.  If you dominate your culture with A-Players you will find yourself leading a dynamic “Can Do” Culture.  And it is important to remember, the new employees you will be hiring are walking into one of these two cultures.  Imagine the difference in their performance by walking them into an A-TEAM Culture.

Some of you are saying, “I would love to do that, but HR won’t let me.”  Or, I once had a manager try to talk me out of this program by saying, “Not everyone is exceptional.”  I realize there are obstacles and this is not an easy task.  But it is easier than dragging those C-Players around on your back.  You must find a way to make this happen.  Understand what HR needs, get your boss on board, set performance standards, support your A-TEAM (instead of the C-Team) and show the visible undeniable difference between the two groups.  You do not need to make everyone in the world exceptional. Just find the exceptional people you need for your team.  They are out there.

I know; what about the B-Players?  Remember you just raised the bar on them.  The bottom half of them just became your new C-Group.  Give it another six months and go through it again.  In a year, you will have the A-TEAM you and your company deserve.

If I haven’t convinced you yet as to how important this is, consider the following:

  • You became a Manager because you were an A-Player.
  • If you are leading a C-Team and getting mediocre results…
  • You are now a C-Manager.

Need I say more?