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Ripples in the Work Environment

Just as a stone hitting the water causes ripples, strategic decisions cause ripples in an organizational culture. I thought about that Monday night as my husband audibly gasped when Alabama brought in a true freshman quarterback to start the half. Really? The starting quarterback is 25-2. He’s proven himself. But yet the leader chose to throw a rather large stone into the pond.

Understanding the magnitude of the ripples and where they flow allows strong leaders to ensure the team and culture are prepared for the after effects of the decision. It might mean creating some safety nets for potential issues the decision may cause. Or, it could simply mean stepping up communication to ensure the team is prepared to address the next decisions coming their way. It is the responsibility of a leader to hone their decision-making skills to include addressing the potential of ripples.

Good leaders focus on making strong, well informed decisions that move the team in the direction to succeed with goals and objectives. Great leaders understand that current decisions always have ripples and work ahead of them by asking themselves these questions. Maybe that’s why Nick Saban has won 6 national championships.

  • What things will be influenced or changed by the decision? Is it the resources, culture, or maybe the manufacturing flexibility?
    • Develop a plan to address the challenges that will soon be coming so that the ripples do not overtake the team
  • What additional areas need attention to ensure the decision builds strength for the group?
    • Envision what things will look like in 6 months based on the decision. Start now to build the resources needed.
  • What other other groups or functions will be touched by the decision? Will their work load change or the actual task change? Will there be any “unintended consequences”?
    • Help them prepare so that the changes flow seamlessly.

Embrace the ripples and use them to your advantage. Don’t let them overtake and dampen your team. Hey, it worked in Monday night’s game.

Be intentional,

Integrity as a state of being…

Integrity, according to Webster, is the quality of being honest and fair. While not many words, they are words of great depth. Integrity is a state of being, driving motivation of behaviors. Being honest and fair is made up of lots of small actions, many perceptions, and consistency.

If you ask people (not the dictionary), integrity is made up of many characteristics.

Respect is one characteristic people apply to integrity. Respect is part of the quality of being fair. You do not have integrity if you are not respected. You do not believe someone has integrity if you do not respect them.

  • Treat others respectfully, even if you don’t feel like it. Listening to others, speaking without being condescending, body language — these and many more are actions you control that make people feel you are treating them respectfully. People with integrity treat everyone respectfully.
  • Earn respect by earning trust. Ask yourself why you trust people, and then act that way to others. Being dependable and part of the team ensures trust is built and thus respect is built. Trust does not mean people like you or always agree with you. Trust means you are consistent. People do not respect those they do not trust.
  • Look in the mirror. Hold yourself accountable to a high standard of honesty and fairness. People who are respectful of others respect themselves.

Be intentional

The two-sided coin of Innovation and Continuous Improvement

Innovation and continuous improvement are closely linked, though different. I tend to view them as two sides of the same coin. Encouraging both ensures your team or your company, is in a better competitive position.

So what are some of the main differences?

Innovation can be thought of as:

  • Achieving improvement through a completely different “mouse trap”
  • Seeing a need and finding a solution
  • Challenging the status quo with a process/idea that has never been done

Continuous Improvement can be viewed as:

  • Improving the current “mouse trap” to perform better
  • Looking at current solution sets and fine tuning them
  • Questioning the status quo with recommendations to improve current processes

Finally, the key to beating the competition is constantly performing better – quality, speed, costs, etc. No matter what you call it, encourage your teams to find a better way.

Be intentional,
Melissa Holobach

Keeping your “astronaut” alive

The folks who make human space flight a reality.

Have you ever known someone that was so right they were wrong? Or worse, have you ever been that person who when sharing their “right” you shared in such a way it caused a “wrong”?

Let’s face it, people like to win. We celebrate championships with ticker tape parades. At NASA they celebrate a little differently. They like to say they kept their astronaut alive. Their mission critical is different than for most of us in business. But we can and should learn from them.

In business, the fight must always be with the competition or externally, not with the team or internally. Driving for victory over your competition is a rallying cry that will pull your team together, align all efforts, and secure a promising future. Laying a foundation for team development, encouraging open and honest debate, and insisting on reconciliation creates a team that can claim victory over the competition.

But what is your rallying cry? Have you identified your mission critical?

There has been much written on the forming of a team and the four steps: Storming, Forming, Norming, and Performing. All of which are critical for a team to be victorious over the competition. While some steps are painful the team will never realize its full potential if you skip any of them.

Think back to when you were placed on a new team. You had to figure out who was who. The best ideas may not have been given by the best public speaker or maybe came from the most junior person in the room. There are lot of challenges a new team faces when coming together to solve an issue. Team members must have honest debate and challenge each other.

My husband was fortunate enough to experience working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Their culture encouraged “badgeless” meetings. It didn’t matter if you were the senior, junior, contractor or government employee – all of the storming was focussed around supporting the mission.

How often we forget in our storming phase to pinpoint the mission-focus or mission-critical we are trying to solve. For NASA, keeping their astronauts alive in space is the end all. What’s yours? Who wins? Who loses? Are you so right, you’re wrong?

EVA – the folks behind spacewalks

Once the team members understand each other, they better understand each other’s expectations. You have to allow the system flexibility in getting to a solution set. A system will always fight to reach its state of “equifinality“.

You learn when to push or when to “be still”. If you’ve all agreed on your mission-focus then the team’s working environment can be less about ‘winning’ against each other and more about solving the mission-focus.

The team comes to an agreement on roles and understands how best to work together. What at first seemed like a storm becomes the norm. You can begin navigating towards the mission-focus.

This may sound trite but it’s really not. The team can now make great strides because the sum of the efforts is greater than the sum of the individual contributions. The banking industry calls it the “magic of compound interest” – in the human capital realm we call it “good teamwork”. It’s about the mission-focus. What is yours?

Some people have to always win. I believe there are issues worth fighting for and there are things worth winning. There is a difference. It is good to make victory your outside focus and working together for that victory your inside focus. Remember to identify your mission-focus early on and use it to drive all of your team’s behaviors to achieving that. Keeping an astronaut alive taught me a valuable lesson.

Be intentional,

Starting with the last sentence first in order to get to a decision.

Strong decisions are based on good (and complete) information.

Early in my career, people would complain at the water cooler that Sr. Leaders were making all the wrong decisions. When I brought this up to my mentor, she told me that Sr. Leaders can only make decisions based on what they were told. She said it was our job, no, it was our responsibility to filter out the minutia and present the information in a way that strong decisions can be made.

Over the last 30 years, I have learned that 99% of the time people don’t hide the necessary information but rather the information they have access to falls into one of three buckets;

Bucket 1 – Prioritizing which information is most important to share
Everyone, from the front line worker to the CEO, must work on providing the right information at the right time for decisions to be made. My mentor used to tell me that all information isn’t equal yet all information can be useful. Some information while good, may not be necessary to make a decision. You have to decide which is relevant to pass on.

And yet, sometimes we provide the right information and the decision still doesn’t go as we planned or in our favor. If that’s ever happened to you, you may want to consider revisiting the data set and ask yourself the context you provided the information. Did you select the right data set? How can you improve your presentation of the facts for next time? Sometimes the data gets lost in the messaging.

Bucket 2 – Summarizing the details into an actionable story
What happens when you have presented the right information and no decision is made? In those instances it’s possible that your “ask” was lost or maybe you didn’t really ask for a decision. Leadership may not know you need a decision. A best practice is stating the decision needed with options/recommendations.

Sometimes simply asking for a decision may be what is needed. Remember, you’re living in your details whereas your boss is mired in theirs – they aren’t necessarily the same. Case in point, a CEO at an automotive company I reported to had his day broken into 15 minute segments. When I went to see him I kept my story to the essentials and focused on the ask/action/or result of our conversation. If he required more details, he’d ask. Which leads me to my last point.

Bucket 3 – Understanding what information is needed for a decision to be made
How many times have you watched a presentation meander on with no point in sight? I once knew a lead engineer who’d start a meeting by telling each presenter, “Start with the last sentence first” because he wanted to know whodunit. He wanted to read the last chapter of the book and know if the Butler was really innocent?

In those instances when you find yourself the subject matter expert in a subject and everyone is looking at you for the data. Take the time to think through the decision tree (maybe even flowchart it) for your boss. Present the options (good and/or bad) and results (good and/or bad). This will speed up getting a well vetted decision. Don’t get tripped up in arcane information but have it handy if the decision maker(s) need it.

In summary, everyone absorbs information differently: pictures, verbal, written. Find what works best for your audience and present accordingly. We are all part of the information flow that drives decisions. Think about how you can do your part to ensure the right decisions are made at the right time.

Be intentional,

Lebron without his team, is just a great player who won’t get to this years’ Finals

Forming a strong team requires intentional focus from both the leader and the team itself.

For a team to work, every member must want to be a part of the team and want the team to succeed. I’m looking at some of the news (some true some rumor) coming from the Cleveland Cavaliers and there seems to be a disconnect at the moment. If they don’t close ranks their dream of a repeat is in jeopardy. And like a sports team, if a business team’s members do not pull together, the team will fail in making its obligations.

Staying with the basketball analogy, one of my most favorite movies is Hoosiers. It is a great story of how a small high school decided that as a team they could do more than any single talent on the team could do. Game after game the coach would not let the best shooter on the team take the shot but instead he got the team to pull together as one.

While business is not a sport – there are no trophies or super bowl rings to be won – I have seen business teams do the impossible because they worked together and overcame obstacles. They beat the timeline, overcame the competition and drove their organization to a favorable position.

You’re a team member – how do you “choose to be a great team member”?

  • Learn what your team members do.
    It will help you understand how to support them. It will make communication better. It will allow you to cover during holidays and sick days because you keep the bigger vision in mind.
  • Be approachable.
    Trust is built on open relationships. Trust is built over time. Play the long game.
  • Don’t gossip or talk behind your team members’ backs.
    If you have an issue, get it on the table. Nothing destroys a team more than lack of honesty. Internal strife like we are seeing on the Cavs may hurt their chances come playoff time.

Being a great team member is hard work. However, the rewards can be huge. And like the Hoosiers you can win big. There may not be a trophy in it for you but the self satisfaction of a job well done may be worth it all.

Be intentional