ASAP Means “Never”

A Truly Terrible, Over Used Acronym – An Indicator of a Sloppy Culture

ASAP – “as soon as possible”, this acronym has been in use for over 50 years. Its use is ubiquitous.

ASAP is all too frequently slapped on to every memo or email where a dues date is to be found. How does this help to prioritize work? What does it say about the person making the request? Will sometime tomorrow be just as good? Maybe next week sometime? Perhaps the requestor does not really know when they need it. When does the person requesting really need it? Is this a symptom of out of control work processes?   Continue reading

Critical Element Missing from Fast Company 3M Article on Innovation

Fast Company published an interesting article about an old story, 3M’s innovation culture yesterday, “How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo” by Kaomi Goetz. The article repeats the well-known story of 3M’s policy of giving employees time to develop new ideas.

There is a critical element missing from this story.

Business Unit Managers at 3M are required to generate a rolling average of 20% from new products year in and year out. If they fail, their business unit is dissolved and the products rolled into someone else’s business unit. This drives business unit managers to continuously look for new ideas and invest in them. It is difficult to create new ideas, even harder to bring them to market. This policy drives the organization to make this critical step happen.

Podcast – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Be a More Effective Manager – stop answering those questions, seize your time, and it’s your fault


Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Become a More Effective Manager – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps

In the world of planning and strategy, there is a truism that too much planning, too much detail, too much analysis, leads to inaction, to a loss of opportunity. Along the same line of observation, in the world of learning to becoming a more effective manager, there can be too much study, too much thinking, too much integration of the many many skills and aptitudes required to become more effective. In both strategy and management skills action is almost always preferable to another round of study. Action bumps you up against the real world and provides the real basis for improving skills and results.

But, that still leaves us with the nagging question as a manager, especially for rookie managers and supervisors, how do I get started?

Based on many years of personal work as a manager and many years coaching managers, here are three steps you can take that will get you into action and guarantee striking results. These results will come in your personal effectiveness and in of the results of the organization you manage.  Remember,  by results, I am referring to the three meanings Drucker defined: (1) direct business results (usually measured in $s); (2) improved organizational culture (values); and (3) development of people. ((see Chapter 2 – What Can I Contribute? in his book The Effective Executive))

1. Stop Answering Questions

If most managers could listen to themselves, the proverbial fly on the wall, for just a few hours, they would discover that they are chronically enabling dependency all around them and undermining whatever formal delegation systems are in place. How is this happening? Just listen and you will hear a stream of questions coming at them followed by answers in response. You are enabling the following the reflexive pattern: ask the expert and be rewarded with answers. Ask the boss, get an answer, and be safe from responsibility for the answers.

If you want to get people to take responsibility and be involved in the business, you can’t go on answering all these questions. They will just go on asking whether they need to or not. And, you are spending an enormous amount of your time, your most valuable resource, to answering all of these questions.

What should a manager do to break this pattern? Continue reading

It’s Always Your Fault – taking responsibility for personnel

Attracting, selecting, training and mentoring, and pruning human resources are among the most important tasks a manager confronts. Almost everyone agrees that, at the top level of organizations, managers need to be devoting a significant portion of their time addressing the people needs of the firm. Without the right people in the right positions, no strategy, no matter how clever, can succeed.

To be truly successful in meeting these responsibilities, a manager must embrace an all important management rule: “If an employee is working below expected or required performance it is always the manager’s fault.”

The first place to look is at the manager. After all, the manager hired or selected the person. The manager defines the work, provides tools, training, and all other resources required for the job.  The manager is responsible for the success of every person they supervise.

An important effect of this rule is that it prevents you from entering the whinny land of thinking, or worse, saying:  “Why doesn’t Joseph pay more attention to detail?” “Mirabelle keeps making the same errors over and over in these quotes.” “Walt just doesn’t get the big picture of where this project is going and he is heading down the wrong track, for the umpteenth time.”

Embrace your responsibilities and powers to make your personnel successful.

  • Make sure that you really have well thought out and planned jobs.
  • Are job definitions focused on results?
  • Are the task definitions actionable?
  • Do the skills listed actually match up with the results you want to achieve?
  • Have you provided the training required?
  • Do your personnel understand where the company is going strategically and is it clear how the results of their jobs connect with these strategies?
  • Have you acted promptly to provide feedback and take corrective action to support performance?
  • Do you have a company culture that embraces, supports, and demands full participation by everyone?

Selection and promoting personnel are management tasks with a high error factor. Every manager needs to acknowledge that their judgments are not always perfect, nor even close to perfect, in selection and promotion. So, faced with a weak performance from a new hire or newly promoted person, managers must ask the question early, “Did I make a mistake here?” If you come to that conclusion you need to act promptly to correct the error.

The central point is that you selected your personnel, you set the conditions and environment of their work, your provide the tools and training, you set the expectations, the results required. If you are not getting top performance from your personnel, look to the basics, look to your own responsibilities as a manager first. After all, if you are really holding yourself accountable for these responsibilities, you will achieve equal or better performance from everyone in your organization.

Building a Positive Culture – the no jerk zone

A very common question from managers is, “How do I build a positive, supportive, productive culture in my company?” This seems like a very abstract objective until you face up to some of the negative behaviors that can be found in many companies. When you identify these behaviors, and they are not hard to notice, you are then presented with an important opportunity to improve the culture and set a better standard of behavior. But, this requires you to be forthright and take action.

Here is an example. “What do I do with an employee who is disruptive, disrespectful, in short, a jerk?” Frequently this question concerns an employee who is perceived by the manager as very productive or a key player in the organization.

One of the first steps to take is to clearly evaluate the true costs of having this person in the organization. Jerks are like zones of repulsion that disrupt work all around. People avoid communicating, or worse, working directly with a jerk. Many people will have a hard time not reacting with their own negative behavior to fend off jerks. When you add all of this up, jerks are always a negative, no matter how individually productive they may seem to be.

(Before going on to the next steps, review your company personal policy carefully concerning disciplining employees and conditions for termination. You want to be sure to follow these procedures carefully. )

So, what to do? The first step is to confront the jerk. This is best done by direct observation and immediate feedback. Wait for the negative behavior to be demonstrated and immediately take the person aside to a private space and indicate to them that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated. Do not engage in a colloquy or argument. This is a policy statement, not an invitation to a discussion.

To be honest, you take this step, rather than just dismissing the person, because it is the right thing to do, not because there is much hope for reforming the bad behavior of an inveterate jerk. You are doing this because it is sound human resource management practice and because it is sound interpersonal behavior. Good management of people demands observing real behavior and taking corrective action immediately. And, surprise, surprise, sometimes better behavior breaks out!

Now, you must be ready to act. Sometimes, once a jerk is confronted about their behavior they will in fact make good faith efforts to change. If you see this, be supportive and provide immediate corrective direction when the person falls back toward the bad behavior. On the other hand, confronting a jerk may just as well cause them to flee, to quit. Be ready for this and have a replacement, or backup, in the wings. Finally, true jerks will revert to their natural behavior shortly and, without repentance, continue along. Follow your company’s procedures for terminating the employee closely. If you feel that the employee is unsalvageable, do the right thing for you, the company, and the employee, insist on termination not a transfer to another department or division.

You will be amazed at how others in your company will react to your handling this situation so well. They will know that you are not going to tolerate disruptive, disrespectful behavior and they will feel positively that you handled the situation with respect and care. So, you have taken a clear step towards a positive, supportive, productive culture in your company. There is much more to be done, nevertheless, you have taken a highly visible step.