Archive for November 2017

One-On-One Meetings Are Important-Not Urgent

November 30, 2017

In 1994, Stephen Covey, along with A. Roger and Rebecca Merrill, introduced the four-quadrant importance and urgency matrix in their book First Things First.  In the book, Covey describes a framework for differentiating tasks that have long-term benefits (important-not urgent) from daily, more time-sensitive tasks (important-urgent). Without a concerted focus, the important-not urgent tasks are often neglected until they become important-urgent.

Regular (weekly or biweekly) one-on-one meetings between leaders and their direct reports fall into the important-not urgent category, but are often forsaken by leaders because they are too busy dealing with the important-urgent.  It’s in the one-on-one meetings that important-not urgent topics are discussed and dealt with before they become urgent.

During our leadership training sessions, we ask leaders to raise their hand if they’d like weekly one-on-one meetings with their boss (or would have liked them when they had a boss).  Nearly everyone in the room raises their hand (who wouldn’t want regular non-pressured meetings with their boss?).  We then ask the leaders to lower their hand if they conduct these meetings for their direct reports. Sadly, most leaders do not lower their hand.  Why is it that direct reports are willing to invest in the important-not urgent but bosses are not?

Empowered leaders conduct regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, and experience less important-urgent issues and more success.

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How Much Effort To Spend Before Making A Hire

November 21, 2017

Imagine an organization needs to make a $50,000 capital expenditure (equipment, IT, renovations).  Before making the investment, what actions might the team make?  Would the team gather with an objective expert to discuss the specifications needed?  Would they talk to several suppliers and assess various options?  Would they talk to references from the supplier to determine if they are trustworthy?  Would they make further purchases (insurance, warranties, training) after delivery to protect and maximize the investment?

Most leaders would answer, “of course, $50,000 is a lot of money and we don’t want to make a mistake.”  Why is it then that hiring managers don’t put forth as much effort when making a $50,000 hire?

Before making a hire, leaders should gather the job’s stakeholders to determine what is needed from the role and the type of person who fits best.  Hiring managers should interview and assess several candidates.  They should talk to candidate references to make sure they are the right fit.  Hiring managers should also invest in new hire training to ensure the new hire’s success.

And, unlike a capital expenditure, a talent investment will appreciate over time.

Effective leaders empower their team to treat their people investments with the same diligence as capital investments and experience more success.

Consider The Two Pizza Rule When Putting Teams Together

November 17, 2017

The two pizza rule states that the number of people working together should not exceed the number of people that can be fed by two pizzas.  The rule was popularized by Jeff Bezos at Amazon who believes two pizza teams create a decentralized and innovative workplace.

The idea behind two pizza teams is that the fewer the people working together, the more effective the communication becomes.  The number of communication links in a two person team is 1, a five person team 10, a ten person team 45, and a 20 person team has a whopping 190 communication links.  The U.S. Navy Seals have learned that four is the optimal size for a combat team.  Larger teams need more communication whereas smaller teams can have better communication.

When assembling a high-function team, a leader may be tempted to include team members from several areas just to make sure everyone is represented. That rarely works – look no further than our government to see what happens with large teams. Ideally, leaders should choose at most six or seven non-ravenous people if they want a highly functional team.

Empowered team leaders build teams using the two pizza rule and have more successful teams.

Group Job Activities Into Three to Five Accountabilities for Best Results

November 12, 2017

Chunking is a term psychologists use to describe a technique individuals utilize to group responses when performing a memory task. When we take pieces of information and group them into chunks, we are better able to remember the details.  Psychologists argue our short-term memory can handle anywhere from three to seven chunks.

What’s easier to remember: 2485222593 or 248-522-25-93? “Jobdefinitionisimportantforsuccess” or “Job definition is important for success?”  This is why we chunk numbers and words.

When defining job functions, leaders easily identify dozens of activities and functions required in the job.  This extensive list usually becomes the basis for job descriptions.  Unfortunately, employees can rarely recall all the job activities for which they are responsible, and end up not accomplishing everything.

The best way to structure job activities is to group them into three to five larger chunks called accountability buckets.  The leader and direct report can then think of the job in these easy to remember chunks, thereby improving their performance.

When defining direct reports’ job functions, empowered leaders chunk the activities and experience more success.

The Best Producers Don’t Necessarily Make The Best Managers

November 3, 2017

Do the best producers make the best managers? Almost unanimously, when leaders are asked this question, the answer is “no.” Yet too often leaders look for candidates among their best producers and select the best worker for the manager job. They assume that because an individual was successful in their contributor role, that individual will be successful in management, too.

Of course, many great producers can and do become great managers, but this is not always the case. Too often, when a superstar gets promoted to manager, one or more of the following happens:

  • They can’t let go of their old role. They take charge of details, undermining direct reports’ motivation and confidence and weakening their respect.
  • They manage by results only and expect everyone to produce the same results that they got, but are not good at coaching and giving people constructive feedback on how to get there.
  • They avoid administrative responsibilities and become frustrated by the many routine but important tasks that management requires.

Eventually, the direct reports stop learning and growing. They become disenchanted, disengage from their work, and may even leave the company.

Before promoting the superstar, leaders should treat them like any external managerial candidate and put them through a rigorous selection process (make sure they are comfortable with the manager job accountabilities, assess their leadership skills, and seek references from others who have seen them lead).  Superstar individual contributors are often happier and better serve the organization doing what they are doing.

Empowered leaders thoroughly vet a superstar before promoting them and are more successful.

Plans to Hire First Quarter

November 2, 2017

If you plan to hire in the first quarter, start your preparations now.

With the unemployment rate at an “unnatural low”, finding the right people to hire has become excruciatingly more difficult than when the labor market was more “normal” and we were all just trying to identify the best from the rest.

Of course, it’s a permanent part of our jobs now as leaders to create an environment in which people are motivated to excel and live our cultures, but short cuts in selection can be dreadful.  It’s hard to believe how much preparation needs to go into every hire we make.

If you’re planning on any hiring in the first quarter of 2018, I urge you to consider this.  New Year’s Eve brings with it hopes, dreams, and even commitments for a new start on so many fronts – some health related, some relationship-based, but often career oriented.  For ages we’ve known the first week or two in January has people looking for new opportunities who just a week earlier weren’t even open to conversations; these same people are looking before they have their resumes together!

Simply expressing the plans for growth and willingness to have some of the preliminary conversations before the need is urgent is more than just wise, it’s critical.

You know we profess gathering the stakeholders of the job together to have them define what success looks like (create the scorecard) and then identify the ideal person to do that work in your culture (create the Avatar).  As the holidays creep up on us, and pressure to push for goals before the end of the year becomes intense, getting those stakeholders all together for 5 hours is tough.  There’s nothing wrong with defining the job and the Avatar now for use early in January.