Quiet Quitting– and more leadership malarkey

Okay let’s get this out of the way: this “Quiet Resignation” stuff is just a load of crap. Nothing more.

Don’t fall for it, thinking you now have some incredibly useful excuse for why people aren’t performing as you think they should. Sorry – no cigar.

It’s a made-up phrase to describe an age-old problem. Likely invented by some consultant or academic trying to sell you something. (wasn’t me, promise)

First, employees playing hide and seek with their efforts and attention is nothing new. It’s likely gone on since we had employers and employees.

Quiet Quitting Think common phrases like “whack a mole,” “duck and cover,” “keep your head down” and “staying off the radar.”

When I was in the USAF, we had a phrase we would use with people, especially as they were nearing a change in station, or were nearing their separation or retirement. We called it ROAD – Retired On Active Duty.

In other words, they had quit working for the most part, and doing just enough to make sure they didn’t get whacked.

Now we say, “he quit some time ago, just hasn’t stopped getting paid.”

This didn’t begin in 2022, so don’t pretend like it’s this newfangled, pandemic-apocalypse-WFH-related shenanigan.

if you’re just now hearing about stuff like this. Well, that’s on you. You’re likely easily bamboozled and equally confused.

Next, that whole “do more than required” has a name. It’s called discretionary effort.

Discretionary effort is that effort exerted or offered by the employee, beyond that which is required to keep their job.

Discretionary effort. I refer to it as the holy grail of leadership. You know you’re doing something right when those whom you lead offer you this added degree of ownership and effort. (Bad news – if you aren’t getting discretionary effort, well, that’s on you too!).

Here’s the rub; since we’re so incredibly bad (global leadership) at setting clear expectations, including written job descriptions, we may not realize… do you know what you call an employee who gives you no discretionary effort, only doing what is specifically required by the organization?

Quiet Quitting We call them a fully satisfactory performer.

That’s right, a fully satisfactory performer. A 2 out of a 3-point scale, or 3 out of 5.

You set the requirements. You set the expectations. You set the minimum qualifications.

And they did exactly as you asked.

So don’t act like they’re doing less than is necessary, or less than what we actually required, because it’s neither of those. In fact, it’s exactly what we asked for.

The reality is that we aren’t very good at setting clear expectations for others, so our expectation has become that employees would always “do the right thing,” even if we weren’t clear on what that right thing is. Even if we didn’t know what it was at the outset.

So don’t blame the employee for “just doing their job.”

If you insist they do something, spell it out. Put it in English. Then manage to those expectations.

Wait a minute… that sounds eerily like typical performance management.

Finally discretionary effort is given in only three circumstances, reasons or events:

  1. The employee is hardwired to do it. Some folks just can’t help themselves and will do a little bit more than expected of them regardless of their environment or for whom they work. They do it because that’s what they need personally to be satisfied when they go home at night.

The upside is, even with crappy leadership, you get the extra, discretionary effort from the hardwired crew. The bad news is, when they decide that that discretionary effort is not valued appropriately, they don’t just lower their effort.

No, they leave.

  1. Leadership trust. People will give us the discretionary effort if they trust that will do good things with it; they have to believe that that we won’t abuse the added input, nor them for providing it.In other words, they want to make sure that they can trust us to not take advantage of them, or take them for granted.
  2. Leadership influence – our ability to help people understand our vision, know the value of helping us pursue that vision, and then personally want to be part of wherever it is that were headed.This leadership influence is critical to the discretionary effort equation.

So, to put a bow on it:  if we hire the right person (#1 above), and we provide a reasonably successful vision to follow, and are capable of positively influencing others to go with us on our journey, the odds are stacked in our favor that we’ll get that coveted discretionary effort.

If not, we can always just blame it on the Quiet Quitting, or Great Resignation, or some other made-up fad of the day to excuse our own lack of discretionary effort.

Oops, did I say that out loud?

Remember, Grace and Accountability can coexist.

Teams, Gaggles, Flocks and Org Charts–The first rule of the leadership team is…

Just because we lump a bunch of people together at work and call them a “team,” doesn’t make it so. A group, gaggle, bunch, or flock just requires box similarities on an org chart.

Most identified teams, simply put, aren’t.

A couple of decent authors have stated “teams are a group of people that trust each other.” That doesn’t go far enough.

Teams are a group of people that trust each other to do their jobs even when absent. In other words, I know you’ll do what’s best by me, even if I’m not in the room.

Teams aren’t created, they’re formed. Even better, they’re forged.

So, as the leader of this heretofore mislabeled enterprise, how do you know if you are forging this team, as opposed to just creating it? Ah, young Jedi… the perfect question.

There are a few things to look for, both good and not-so-good.

Good:

  1. Do team members ask questions/offer opinions (in meetings) on other team members’ responsibilities?
    In other words, are they capable (and willing) to offer their opinion based on non-technical judgment or experience, in areas where they are not a subject-matter-expert?
  2. Do team members disagree (in meetings), and then LISTEN to the responses?
    Can they ask questions of each other without getting a perfunctory “jeeez,” and an eye roll from the owner of the topic?

    Well-intentioned devil’s advocates can sometimes be helpful.

  3. Are most decisions made by team members OUTSIDE of team meetings?
    Meetings should NOT be the place for a ton of brand-new information-sharing. It should be the place for actions and decisions that cannot be made between one or multiple members outside of a boardroom, on discussion items that have already been mostly hashed before the meeting.
  4. Do they regularly engage outside of required operational discussions?
    Are their routine drive-by conversations about kids, football scores and home remodeling (sorry, just can’t let that one go)? Periodic lunches, maybe even a dinner or other mostly social gatherings?

    People are forever trying and tell me that outside interactions are unnecessary for a high-performing team – to that, I say bullshit. It is
  5. Does the team keep team conflicts strictly within the team?
    If I can go to your subordinate and find out what you really think of your teammates, you aren’t doing your job.

    The first rule of the leadership team is that you don’t talk about the leadership team outside of the leadership team. No exceptions, unless you want to say fantastically complimentary things about someone, or perhaps praise the dickens out of the teams executive and leadership coach (Oops! How’d that get in there?).

Not-so-good:

  1. Do team members disagree silently in meetings, then caucus with the Grand Poobah afterwards?
    A sure sign of a dysfunctional team is the inability to offer contrary opinions, and the need to convince the boss outside the arena where decisions should be made, and actions agreed on.

    This ain’t a political primary – it’s a business and you’re a leader within it. Act like one. Have the guts to offer your opinion, even if not fully developed, where others can hear it and react.

  2. Do team members routinely speak to you about other members’ shortcomings or challenges?
    If the only way you, as team lead or senior-most leader, know that a subordinate is underperforming is for another subordinate to come and tell you… both you and that tattle-tale subordinate are key parts of the problem.

    If a colleague is performing sub-optimally, tell him or her directly. “Use your words,” as many parents tell their kids. Be respectful and direct, and come armed with specific examples. Ask me about our “Difficult and Courageous Conversations” for leaders. It’s a necessary skill.

    Or drop it and don’t mention it at all to anyone. Telling the boss first, however, is not option #3.

  3. Do others in the organization know about specific team conflicts?
    An extension of #2. When disagreements exist – when the consensus (including you) is to make Decision “A,” but you still fundamentally disagree – do you shuttle around your subordinates having “keep this between you and me” conversations with each of them about how yours is the best way?

    Stop that.

  4. Do next-level employees know which team members are “liked” or not by their boss?

    They shouldn’t.

    There is zero reason for someone who works with you or for you to know that you think less of teammate Brian in HR than of Lynn in Operations. The organization is hurt when this occurs, since those subordinates then carry some of that baggage with them, collaborating less, sharing less, and developing unfounded heartburn for someone merely because of their tribe.

    And that is because of you.

    Don’t do that.

There’s not an absolute litmus test for high-performing and high-functioning teams, as much as a continuum. One of the highest performing exec teams I’ve ever worked with continues to “work on” being better as a team. It’s a continuous process, requiring proactive efforts by all.

The team leader sets the tone and basic non-negotiables (CPA — condone, permit, allow). All else is done by the team at large and can’t be delegated.

Other than that – easy-peasy.

“Stupid should hurt…”

I was recently involved (as a participant) in a strategic planning event; the facilitator, Alan Pue, was discussing many of the ways that planning — and its subsequent implementation — can go wrong.

In part of that commentary, he mentioned as an example a firm’s inability to adapt to a necessary change in the market, and how that inability adversely affected their performance. Alan wasn’t sympathetic to their plight, nor even empathetic. In fact, he made it clear that the problem was their own doing, and the resultant pain was of their own creation. They did it to themselves, have no one else to blame, and these lessons — though valuable — can be painful.

I agree.

When we act so dumb in business that we can’t get out of our own way, the resultant pain is our own doing. Sort of like touching a hot stove, we hopefully learn that we shouldn’t do that again.

Stupid should hurt.

Span of Control

What’s the optimum number of direct reports? How many people should a single manager have working for them?

What we are referring to, of course, is “Span of Control,” and though there can be unique situations in some organizations, their are also decent historical guidelines.

Span of control isn’t simply dependent on individuals; it’s a basic limitation of all managers as it describes only their direct reports. Though any manager can control any number of people if there are enough levels in between, not so when it comes to direct reports.

Research (mostly military-based) has shown that a leader can directly control about three to six persons effectively. Additionally, the “relationships” among those supervised are as important as their actual number.

Managing four people who interact constantly might be harder than supervising five or six who work largely independently.

Generally, an executive (someone managing managers) should supervise a maximum of four or five people.

In real practice, you don’t have to be an expert to know if you’re in trouble with span of control. If you have more than half a dozen people reporting to you, it’s probably too many.

Even six could be too many if those six have consistent dealings with each other. The reason of course, is that in addition to managing relationships with each subordinate, managers have to get involved to an extent in their relationships with each other.

In simple terms, going from four to five direct reports, each with four direct reports of their own, potentially doubles your effective workload while increasing your output (productivity) capacity by only 20 percent.

If the people you supervise don’t interact, you can handle more of them.

Remember, too, that I’m discussing managerial span of control — managers managing managers. The numbers can increase significantly when managing individual contributors, particularly if highly skilled.

Just some thoughts…

Yooo-hoooo… Here I am!!

I didn’t disappear, just fell victim to the “wait until the end of the year to do that” disease.

I did, and it hurt. Traveled 6 out of the last 8 weeks out of the year… and remember, I’m one of those that doesn’t even like to travel. Simply brutal.

Further, with the growth of my business, I’ve been in something of a “hiring” mode, and that’s equally difficult to do — personally — while traveling.

Speaking of hiring… now that the new year is upon us, it’s a great time to do some cleaning up. And I mean the really difficult stuff. Have that performance conversation with the under-performing employee; hire that new sales or marketing pro; stop doing those things that don’t create enterprise value, and focus on those things that do.

I’ll be back soon with something to write home to mom about — thanks for tuning in.