Byron's Babbles

Loyalty: Leveraging Your Expertise

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 9.59.29 PMI am a major fan and student of the late Peter Drucker. He certainly understood both management and how to lead people. One of my favorite quotes (and I have many) of his is, “Never push loyal people to the point where they do not give a damn.” Loyalty has long been valued by leaders. The problem is that many times organizations use and abuse this loyalty to stifle their best leaders into status quo or just going with what the organizations top leaders want to do, or not do.

Unfortunately, the more authoritarian and dogmatic the leader, the more they prize loyalty in their followers. Dictators, both political and organizational, love to surround themselves with “yes-men and women,” eager to prove their loyalty by saying whatever the person in power will find most acceptable. The pressure to fit into and organization led like this is particularly tough for the most talented and strongest leaders. Suppressing these unpleasant realities can be overwhelming. This, what I will call forced loyalty, stifles creativity and discourages people’s willingness to speak the truth about their leaders, themselves, their organizations, or their work. I’ve seen so many cases where too much unquestioning loyalty meant important issues were suppressed until it was too late. This is why I am such a believer in an intent-based and participatory led organization where questioning of authority (short of defiance), may be essential if we’re not to lose our way.Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 9.53.07 PM

So, I believe Peter Drucker was warning us not to just force our team members to have blind trust and loyalty just because they work for us. I hate it when leaders say, “You are a part of this organization, school, or company so just be a team player and conform.” I believe this pushes team members to, as Drucker said, “not give a damn.” I say, “All the more reason for us to want to make improvements and challenge the status quo.” Particularly when these improvements and challenges are in line with the core values of the organizations. In an organization where divergent ideas and open dissent are encouraged, loyalty is actually increased.

Loyalty has become a very precious resource. Some organizations and leaders still excel at cultivating remarkable loyalty within their teams. Nobody likes to work for a phony. In past decades, it was more common for employees to tolerate insincere and ineffective leaders. What we really want are authentic leaders. We need to put a greater premium on authenticity. Authentic leaders can be counted on to say what they mean and do what they say. They’re the same person to their staff, their own superiors, their customers, and their partners. When you’re authentic, your words and actions align with who you claim to be. Your followers shouldn’t be compelled to spend time trying to figure out if you have ulterior motives.

How are you leading your team toward excellence? Are you authentic in your leadership? Do your words and actions align with who you claim to be?

Letting My Lite Shine

file1-2A couple of weeks ago at one of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) retreats I was asked by participants to do a session about how to balance the amount of personal information that should be mixed with our professional lives. This can be particularly tricky in education. Of course I said sure, but I had no idea how challenging of a topic I had taken on. As I began to study I realized that there was not much out there on the topic except for people who thought you should reveal everything and those who thought you should reveal nothing. I wasn’t sure I agreed with either of those theories.

file-1 2Therefore, me being me, I decided to develop my own program from scratch with all my own thoughts for getting the discussion started. I really like to use a through line and some type of building or creating to get the process started. After quite a bit of thinking I decided to use Lite Brite® as the through line and creation activity. I purchased one of the flat screen LED Lite Brites® for all the participants. Hopefully you can all remember the Lite Brite® toy and have had the opportunity to create a picture on one.file-2 2

Mavin Glass introduced Lite Brite® in 1967. It was an electric alternative to painting. To me this was a genius toy to use for this topic. The black paper acts as a filter. Just as we have to filter out what we message/reveal at times. The filter element makes the picture worth a thousand words. The black paper which blocks a portion of the light acts as Lite Brite’s® filter. Without the black paper, the pegs poked in would blend in, leaving and indistinct message. It is not about letting all light out, but what light is limited. This is like asking the question: What is relevant and what is unimportant?

As leaders we must choose delivery design and place our pegs in a way people will understand our message. We have to design how much light to let through and design the picture in such a way it tells our leadership story. Remember, simplicity is not stupidity; instead it causes a better understanding. Lite Brite® is such a simple toy, but gives us such a great example of developing a balance of how much light to shed and how much of our true colors to reveal. The Lite Brite® bulb symbolizes our message – our thoughts, words, beliefs and ideas that we want others to know. The pegs then symbolize our points. Just as the pegs are colorful and beautiful, so are the differences that we bring into the world.

“It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.” ~ Aristotle

To begin our discussion I had the FLA participants take their Lite Brites® and make a picture by either using templates provided or a picture created by them. Here is a picture of all of their Lite Brite® creations: file-1

The participants then needed to describe why they did the picture they did and reveal something about themselves and their own leadership journey. This prompted an amazing discussion. I have included the graphic recording by Sita Magnuson here:file1-1

What Will You Reveal?

Your message won’t be bright if there is no light, but will chaos if all light is revealed. As a leader we need to take complex issues and deliver them in an understanding manner. We need to be adaptive leaders and make adjustments/orientations according to context. There is value in vulnerability and authenticity. This opens the door to dialogue and community. We decided in our discussion that knowing decreases judging. We need to experience feeling, listening, seeing, and embodying. We must decide what we will reveal and break down the barriers that are not useful. How will you let your Lite shine?

Share the Financials – the $100 Tool

culture_works_fbad_1This is a guest post from Kris Boesch originally published on www.choosepeople.com/blog

Share the Financials – the $100 Tool

Be open with your team about the flow of money. Sharing tells employees they’re important. Commitment grows and confusion declines.

Every year in an all-company meeting I would share our financials with the team using the $100 Tool (described below). It was amazing to see the light bulbs go on. Their entire awareness and attitude would shift. They would come up to me for weeks after this meeting with ideas on how to make and save the company money. They now realized why it was so important to take care of the trucks (cost of truck repairs) and to charge customers for boxes (high margin product) and not to forget moving blankets at the customer’s home ($13/each – easily four hours worth of profit.)

Some organizations are worried about sharing their financials, either because they’re struggling or very successful. Sharing financials when you’re in trouble is the only way engage your employees’ support. It helps them understand the urgency in your voice. Your employees aren’t stupid. They know if something’s off. Sharing the financials puts fears to rest because rather than grappling with the unknown, they can see what you see and participate in generating money making and saving solutions.

If you’re on the flip side and very successful and fear employees will want a bigger piece of the pie, communicate your growth plan and the need for cash to fund investments in equipment, technology, personnel or assets. Rather than envisioning all the extra money going into your pocket, they see it as a shared savings account. If you’re not looking to grow, make sure your people are well compensated and appreciated. This may also be a good time to share the risks and rewards of owning a business.

Use the $100 Tool to share your financials in a tangible, accurate, concrete way.

  1. Get one hundred one dollar bills.
  2. On a flip chart or white board break down by percentage your high-level income streams:$43 – local moves, $37 – national moves, $12 – storage, $5 – boxes, $3 – insurance. On another page or board break down by percentage your high-level expenses (fuel, truck repairs, truck maintenance, furniture repairs, regulatory fees, marketing and networking, utilities, insurance, rent, payroll – including workers compensation, payroll taxes, and benefits.
  3. Speak about how your organization makes money. Share which verticals, products and services are the most and least profitable. Explain why you choose to keep those that are less profitable — (loss leader, bread and butter, competitive edge.
  4. Then speak about expenses. As you detail each expense, hand out the dollar bills to individual employees. Saying for example:
    You are my landlord you receive $4 for rent.
    You are my accountant you receive $2.
    You are my utilities you receive $5.
  5. Speak to employee payroll, payroll taxes, work comp and benefits last. Employees are always wowed by the comparatively large piece of the pie that is directly theirs.
  6. Then show them, with the dollars left in your hand, how much profit is left.  Explain this profit is taxed, leaving a net profit and how that money has to be used to pay off debt as well as to reinvest in the company to spur growth. Explain how it is this money – the money that’s left over – that funds raises, better benefits, new uniforms, additional staff, or new equipment.
  7. Help them understand which numbers they can impact and which ones they can’t. You want them to leave knowing how they individually can help the organization make and save money.
  8. Depending on your team, it can also be valuable to explain the difference between profit and cash available. You may want to share the role of revenue to profit. Clarify that without profit, revenue is wheel spinning. Small increases in revenue beyond goal can cause exponential increases in profit due to the relatively static nature of overhead costs.

Owners tend to wonder how to represent their compensation when sharing financials. In the process I recommend above, simply roll your compensation into payroll. By being open with your team, you can begin to create a culture of honesty.

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Kris Boesch is the CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom line. Her new book, Culture Works, and accompanying workbook are available now on her website and will be available on Amazon around May 15.

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

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My Awesome Delta Flight Attendant!

I wrote the following post yesterday during a day of flight delays trying to get to Pensacola, Florida to ultimately hook up with my family. Literally, I wrote the post in the cover of the book I am reading by Frederick (Rick) M. Hess, Letters to a Young Education Reformer. This post came to mind as I was reading the chapter entitled, “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” Here’s what I wrote in the cover of the book:

Thanks For Not Being An Expert

I was inspired to write this post, honestly, by my flight attendant. She kept me up to date on what was going on during a day riddled with delays and cancellations. I had started the process in the afternoon yesterday when my flight to Atlanta was cancelled. I then started the process at 6:30 this morning and had been cancelled and delayed again until 12 noon when we finally got on the plane. I now did not think I was going to make my connection in Atlanta to get picked up by my wife and son in Pensacola, Florida. It might not have been quite as big a deal except for the fact that my son, Heath, and I were scheduled to go bow fishing tonight. rick_hess_book_portrait

For the trip I had brought along my friend, Rick Hess’s new book,  Letters to a Young Education Reformer. It is an awesome book and while sitting on a delayed plane I read the chapter “Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Faith In Experts.” As a guy that does not really believe in using experts, subject matter experts (SMEs), or consultants, I loved this chapter. Really, it’s not that experts are bad, but we just shouldn’t rely on their word as the final word. As Rick says, “I’ve found that experts often forget that their expertise represents just a tiny sliver of the world, and thus overestimate how much they know and what it can tell us. And that can cause problems” (p. 32).

My flight attendant let me know that my connecting flight had been delayed in Atlanta. She was not sure why we were not taking off, but she would see if she could find out and would keep me posted. Keep in mind, I was about the only friendly person on the plane. With so many flight cancellations and delays from the rash of storms across the south and eastern seaboard, everyone was struggling to get where they needed to be. The airlines were struggling to get pilots and flight crews where they needed to be.

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First Draft of This Post Written In The Cover of Letters to a Young Education Reformer

Here’s the deal; my great flight attendant did not try to be an expert, nor did she even want to be an expert. She was a great example of what I believe we should all strive to do – not give blind guesses or speculate. She certainly had flown enough to be considered an expert, but she did not try to baffle me with expertise or make assumptions based on past experiences like this one. Instead she impressed me by leading with clarity, not certainty! She used the tools and information available to keep me informed of my circumstances. As the expert flight attendant, she did the precise task, using her available information and training to keep me informed of what was going on. When I got to Atlanta she let me know we were at Terminal F, Gate 1 and that I needed to go to Terminal C, Gate 41. She also assured me I was going to make it because my connector flight had been delayed and I now had 1 hour and 10 minutes to make it on the plane. Just like with airline industry schedules, in education we don’t always have a lot of certainty as to what will work, we just need to strive for clarity. 51bHghz6ihL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Remember, the experts get it wrong all the time. The reality that when people become emotionally invested in their predictions, they cannot see straight—no matter how experienced or educated or smart they are. They become blind to other view points or the actual facts of the situation. All too many times experts begin speculating on past experiences and not the situation at hand. In his new book, “Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers,” Nat Greene calls this the “Expert Curse of Knowledge.” Experts think they know things and then don’t look at all the options. Experts should never be put in a position where their opinion means more than yours.

Are you acting too much like an expert or spending too much time listening and following experts?

Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters

file 9Decision Making vs Problem Solving — and Why the Difference Matters
By Scott Whitbread and Nat Greene

Decision-making and problem-solving are two very different techniques for conquering different challenges that businesses face. Choosing the right one in the right situation can mean the difference between business success and failure. However, businesses frequently use decision-making techniques when they should be using a problem-solving approach. This leaves important problems unsolved and value locked away.

The Difference Between-Decision Making and Problem-Solving

Both decision making and problem solving involve using information to inform an action. However, this is where their similarities end.

Decision-making involves choosing between different courses of action. The process of decision-making is clear: each option is evaluated based on a set of parameters or criteria. But the outcome is not as clear: the outcome from the decision only becomes clear when a decision is made.

Problem-solving involves finding a root cause among many possible root causes, whether or not the true root cause has emerged as a possibility in anyone’s mind. The outcome is clear: the problem should be solved in order to bring a business process back to optimal performance. But the process is not clear: what is causing the problem is not yet known, and the problem solver must explore the process without yet knowing their destination. They do not know their destination until they have discovered the root cause.

A detective is a problem-solver. Their role is to unequivocally determine who committed the crime, and thus exonerate all other suspects, and thus their objective is clear. Their journey is not clear: they may never find the criminal.

A judge is a decision-maker. Their journey is clear: they look at evidence, circumstances, and precedent in order to arrive at a judgment for a convicted criminal. But their purpose is not always clear: they face competing goals, including justly punishing the criminal, giving satisfaction to the victims, appeasing the public, setting an example for others, and not over-burdening the prison system.

In business, a problem to solve may be the explosion of the SpaceX rocket on September 1, 2016, which required detective work in order to identify the root cause. Product quality problems, talent retention problems, and customer service problems all fit this mold.

In business, decisions may include where to build a new facility and at how much capacity, what product to launch, who to hire, or what security system to use. All of these decisions are choosing between alternatives that are already apparent.

As in the case of a crime, decision-making frequently enters at the end of a problem-solving effort. Once the root cause to a problem is found, the business may need to decide between different possible solutions in order to maximize the value of the actions it takes. Before solving a problem, a business will choose which problem to devote resources to solving.

Why it Matters

When businesses correctly identify a challenge as a decision or a problem, they are able to apply the correct technique to overcome the challenge. But frequently a business will treat a problem as a decision, use the wrong approach, and fail to solve the problem.

One large chemical upgrader facility experienced frequent outages due to failing process pumps. These pumps cost millions of dollars apiece, and the outages were costing the business tens of millions per year. The pump seals were wearing down after a few months, causing the process chemical to leak. As pumps were replaced with spares, the business worked with its vendor to choose between potential upgrades for the pumps: harder seals, larger seals, or different geometries. They treated their problem like a decision to make, and despite multiple upgrades, they continued to experience outages.

When they pivoted to a problem-solving approach, and acted more like detectives, they closely observed the failures themselves, and found the presence of small, hard foreign grains. These grains caused excess friction and wore the seals down. Further problem-solving found the source of these grains–the “culprit”–and they were able to solve the problem.

How to Choose the Right Technique

A decision is the result of choosing among several alternative possibilities. You will see a decision in front of you when the business is attempting to take a step, and the next action requires identifying and evaluating the values and needs of the business in order to select an option that maximizes these.

A problem is an ongoing, intermittent, or one-time failure of a process or system to perform at an acceptable level. If a process produces errors or unacceptable products or outcomes, does not run as quickly or efficiently as it should, or poses a negative risk for a business during operation, you are experiencing a problem and should use a problem solving technique.

Choosing the right technique for your challenge requires understanding what kind of challenge lies before your business. Learning to recognize and differentiate between these kinds of challenges will help you pick the right approach, and successfully overcome the challenge.

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Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.

Early Departure

file 2I am excited to do a blog post about a new best practice I discovered when reading the great book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. I had always felt awkward when leaving a meeting or event early and would tell the host ahead of time and just slip out – hopefully unnoticed. I have since learned this is not best practice. Block (2009) suggested that when a participant leaves early, there is a hole and kind of emptiness left behind. The early exit leaves a void. There is a cost and consequence for this and the departure takes energy and resources from the experience of both the person leaving and those staying behind. We need to take this seriously, because this loss is an element of engagement.

We need to treat the early departure just like any other important element of the meeting or gathering. Here are five steps to how this can be done:

  1. Ask in the beginning for people to give notice of leaving. Ask them to leave in public, not to sneak out in the dark of night or in silence or during a break.
  2. Acknowledge their leaving in a deliberate way. Have them announce to the group that they are leaving and where they are going. This will create some discomfort, but that is the nature of separation.
  3. Have three people from the group say, “Here’s what you’ve given us . . .” This is a moment for the gifts conversation.
  4. Ask the soon-to-be-departed, “What are you taking with you? What shifted for you, became clearer? What value have you received as a result of being here? Is there anything else you’d like to say to the community?”
  5. Thank them for coming.

Clearly, there are variations to what I have provided above that would work. The most important thing, however, is that you do something for acknowledgment of early departing group members. Let me tell you, the first few times of doing this seemed awkward and counter intuitive to letting an early departing guest slip out, but honestly this has made our gatherings much richer. I believe our participants would tell you that it seems awkward to not do the above five steps now. In fact I used this process with a state official who left early during a World Cafe`style stakeholder gathering we did last week. He texted me after he left and thanked me for handling his departure the way I did. He had great insights to share before he left and the group left him feeling worthwhile with their comments before he left. This truly is a best practice.

In fact, if I have to leave a meeting early that I am attending and not in charge of, I ask if we can do this process. We owe it to our communities to take this seriously. How do you handle early departures?

Reference

Block, Peter (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Great Leaders Listen To Understand

file 6Today as I was going to get feed for our dairy cows I was listening to Sirius XM Hair Nation. Remember, I was in high school in the 70’s and college in the 80’s, so I still love the hair bands today. Don’t forget, KISS, is the greatest of all! But, I have digressed… While listening, the host at the time, Keith Roth, made a great comment: “We no longer listen for understanding. We listen to respond.” This is so true and reminded me that great leaders must listen to understand. And… of course I immediately tweeted the quote – you can follow me at @ByronErnest.

The quality of our listening determines the quality of our influence, and that brings huge benefits to our organizations. Research says we only retain about 25 percent of what we hear – why? because we lack listening skills. First, and foremost, we need to all start listening to understand. The good news is that we can learn to be a better listener and significantly increase our retention. There are principles and practices that can help us be intentional, purposeful, and conscientious when listening and that will make a huge difference with the spirit of our team members.file 4

By listening to others with an empathetic ear, by putting ourselves in their shoes, and by maintaining an open mind, we develop a culture of enthusiastic and energetic teamwork. Our conscious listening, which is listening to understand and learn, is our gift to others. I am a firm believer that if I am talking I am not learning – I think someone important said that one time and has been quoted, but I can’t remember who.

Listening is a very critical role of leadership. Listening may be the single most powerful action the leader can take. Leaders will always be under pressure to speak, but if building social fabric is important, and sustained transformation is the goal, then listening becomes the greater service.  As a leader, I am working very hard to be a convener and practice conversational leadership. Conversational leadership is a cornerstone in the effort to redefine the relationship between the ourselves and our organization’s internal and external stakeholders.

Listening needs to be the action step that replaces responding, solving, defending ourselves, and responding. Listening, understanding at a deeper level than is being expressed, is the action that enables leaders to convene great conversations. This means we have to change the nature of our listening.

If we truly want to learn to listen to understand we must become conversational leaders in all aspects of our life and work to enable authentic dialogue that makes a difference toward positive outcomes. I believe if we listen to understand more and practice conversational leadership we will find our teams don’t need a whole lot of training, new materials, or stuff in order to have productive dialogue, team meetings, or professional learning communities; they just need the focused time to talk together and discover what they already know about what they are doing and about what needs to be different.

How can we begin to cultivate both the organizational infrastructures and personal leadership capabilities that are needed to shift the trend of listening to respond to one of listening to understand?