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Are your “headlights” on?

As we were driving home one stormy night, my husband said, “I don’t want to scare you but I have a question.” I replied, “Ok, what?”. He asked, “Are my headlights on?” I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or if he was having some fun with me as his sense of humor ranges anywhere from Monty Python to Steve Martin.

So let me as you a similar question: Can you see where you (or your business) are going? Except, in this case, I’m not joking.

Doors have windows so you can see what is going on before you open the door. Cars have headlamps so you can see down the road, before you get there. We tell children to “look both ways” before crossing the street.

In our physical world, we understand the importance of “seeing” prior to moving. It eliminates running into things or getting run over by those things. The same can be said for the business world.

While we cannot see the future, tracking certain things may give us a heads up that a disruption is coming if something isn’t changed. These are called “leading indicators” and in a way allow you to “see” as you move forward. Measuring the past is helpful in showing progress to a goal however it gives you no indication of what the future will bring. You always see those types of statements associated with the investment community, “past performance is not an indicator of future success.”  But on the whole, it should give you some form of a head’s up. A warning perhaps. Or maybe an inkling.

Thinking through what metrics you need gives you sight that will allow you to take action early. Small problems are hard to see but easy to fix whereas big problems are easy to see but almost impossible to fix.

You need to find metrics that that both confirm you are improving and that you have a clear path forward. So if you find yourself on a dark road on a stormy night, you won’t scare your passenger by asking, “Are my headlights on?” Be proactive. Find your metrics.

Be intentional,

I can’t get no satisfaction

For most people, job satisfaction is inextricably linked to feeling appreciated. Everyone, at some level, wants to know their work and efforts are appreciated. For some, being appreciated means more than money.

It is easy to appreciate work and efforts when the team is doing great. When metrics are green, when times are good, saying thanks is easy. But what about when the team works a 24-hour shift and still misses the delivery due to circumstances beyond their control? What about when your team has done everything right and still “loses”? As a leader, do you still recognize the sacrifice? If you don’t, are you a true leader? I’d argue that you are skirting dangerously close to being yesterday’s news.

Here’s the tricky part. How you show genuine appreciation while holding people (both on and off the direct team) accountable for missing the goal (whatever that may look like in your world) is what separates you from yesterday’s news.

Here are a few thought starters to consider for those times:

  1. What are the goals? Do you have strong goals and an understanding of what it takes to make the goal happen? That is the basis for accountability. Has the team had a chance to digest the goals and make them their own? If not, why not?
  2. Have you, as the leader, taken the time to appreciate the effort in real time. Regardless if success occurs, saying thank you in the moment is where appreciation starts. Good manners never goes out of style.
  3. Pay attention to sacrifices people make for the team. If someone had to juggle child care or some other appointment to stay late — you better not take them for granted. People appreciate when their sacrifices are noticed.
  4. Even if it is someone’s job or responsibility, saying thank you goes a long way in helping people feel the job they are doing is worth something. Like I said earlier, good manners never go out of style.

Appreciation starts by noticing the people reporting to you.  It is accomplished when you treat others as you would like to be treated. Case in point. My husband likes to tell the story of the time he came back from a huge project win at his NASA customer. They’d presented to the top of the house at Johnson Space Center. The Director of the Mission Operations Directorate told them they’d “..contributed to human space flight”. Getting back to his office he ran into the top of his house and told them the great news. In return, he was asked, “Did you bring back any new business? If not, that’s worthless to me.” It wasn’t long after that my husband changed jobs…

As a leader, choose to show appreciation. It means more than you’ll ever know.

Be intentional

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

There are 8 days a week, right?

“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss*

“The best thing about the future is that
it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln*

Time management can be a sort of oxymoron when you really think about it. Do you really manage time? Or is time a constant that you manage to?

Many businesses report initiatives in equivalent hours. While this helps in some ways, it hurts severely in other ways. Calendar days are unforgiving and do not recognize average equivalent hours.

Unlike the song, time cannot be saved in a bottle. Nor can it be saved for a later date. Time cannot be stopped and started like a stop watch. Averaging out that a task takes 4 hours may not take into account that the four hours is distributed across two actual days.

The good news is that everyone has the same amount of time to spend. No matter where in the world, everyone’s clock has 24 hours.

Here are three suggestions to make the most of a calendar day

  • Plan ahead so that your “average hours” can be accomplished in the calendar days allotted.
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do now. It may only be 30 minutes, but if you wait until tomorrow, those 30 minutes now equals a full 8 hour day.
  • Tasks stack up. If, on average, five tasks take one hour – you can still only do one task (or part of that task) at a time. The lapse time is five hours. Manage your calendar days to meet the required deliveries, whether it is a report or a product.

Time marches on. It always will in some form or fashion. You can’t save it. So spend it wisely as best you can based on today’s information.

Be intentional