Dinosaur Tails and Backpacks — Check Your Six

Warning:  I intend to mix a bunch of metaphors in this article. If you’re an English teacher or just a self-appointed internet grammar snob, you may want to pass on by.

Nothing to see here.

These are not the metaphors you’re looking for… (waving my hand and using my best Obi-Wan Kenobi voice)

A senior executive client of mine is fond of saying he sometimes forgets that, due to his position, he sometimes swings a dinosaur tail behind him, using a T-Rex as an analogy.

In other words, he can, at times, overlook the short- and long-term impacts of his decision-making; he may be able to change directions on a dime, but can those around him – that he impacts both directly and indirectly – make that shift just as quickly and easily?

Experience tells him (and me) that the answer is “no.”

That big ol’ tail swings without even thinking, knocking crap all over the place and causing all sorts of commotion amongst those being swatted. The lesson here, of course, is to remember that our decisions and influence – our impact as leaders – extends well beyond the immediate intent.

People and processes are affected all up and down the organizational food chain. That dinosaur tail cuts a big-assed swath of real estate every time it swishes one way or the other.

So what to do? How do we manage this appendage wreaking havoc in our wake? Well, curiously enough, I have a suggestion or two. Or three. Actually, a couple of questions and suggestions. They go hand in hand…

Realize you have a tail. That’s right, young tadpole, you have a tail. You may not have it forever, but you do today – be aware it exists.

Don’t be like the traveling morons who have their backpack strapped on while maneuvering down an airplane’s aisle, forever whipping around to check an overhead bin for space or to chat with their fellow moron, all the while forgetting they have a 10-12 inch extension on their back that occupies… well, an additional 10-12 inches.

I’ve been hit in the head, spilled drinks, whopped in the face, etc. because someone didn’t even realize they had a tail in the first place.

You, too, should realize that appendage is present, and can do real damage if not considered.

Ask yourself — should you be wagging your tail at all? In other words, if your dinosaur tail has the capacity to cause such carnage, are most decisions and actions better left to those closer to the action?

Maybe left to those with significantly smaller tails?

Ask yourself that very question every time you feel the need to swish that reptilian extension around like a kid’s Skip-it apparatus. (Google that if you’re scratching your head…)

And finally, assuming you simply must swing that dinosaur tail (and adding one more mixed metaphor)…

Check your six. I was in the U.S. Air Force for a lot of years but was not a pilot. Ask any pilot and they’ll tell you unequivocally that there are only two types in the Air Force: Pilots, and those who wish they were pilots.

Now I won’t disparage my aircrew amigos by bursting their bubble, but I will say that as pilots, they had cooler lingo than we did as mere surface-dwellers.

Check your six was one of those cool terms used by pilots, originally referring to the need to visually identify an enemy aircraft lining up behind you in your blind spot (your “6 o’clock position”).

It’s use has since expanded to mean keep an eye on your backside so bad things don’t happen, and to check your mirrors (real or figurative) before making a major move.

So, for our use here, check your six means take a look around you before making those big, bold, often-boneheaded moves that create a buttload of unintended consequences. Use some of that situational awareness we hear about.

Sort of a look before you leap, but for the benefit of others.

As a leader, particularly a senior leader, your decisions, influence and directions have an impact. We hope that impact is always good and positive.

Sometimes, however, that impact can swing like a dinosaur tail, causing unintended consequences in the damndest, unexpected places.

Be aware of your backpack, don’t wag your tail without forethought, and check your six.

The aircraft image above is a print, The Hunter Becomes the Hunted, by William S. Phillips. B-17s in WWII are headed to Berlin, with Luftwaffe F-190s attacking, while U.S. P-47 Mustangs — the Wolf Pack led by Col. Herb Zemke – are on their 6 o’clock position. A signed and numbered print proudly hangs above my credenza.

Meetings Are For People Who Aren’t Too Busy

An old friend sent me a picture the other day of this blue ribbon that says, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email.” He obviously remembers how I feel about meetings.

Turns out you can actually buy the ribbons here, and I know a lot of bosses who should pass them out.

We leaders have got to get a handle on the endless parade of time-wasting, morale-draining meetings we expect our people to sit through!

Routine, regularly scheduled meetings – the ones that are on the calendar until the end of time – are the worst! They typically involve endless droning around a table about activities that only one or two people in the room care about. When the boss at the head of the table tolerates such time wasting, the expectation is that everyone has to say something, and we’ve all experienced the guy who’s a little too fond of his own voice.

A bunch of years ago, everyone in my directorate was required to attend a weekly staff meeting like the one I described above. I used to tuck a couple of Sudokus in my notebook to make it look like I was taking notes (I know, not setting a good example). One week, I asked the director if I could skip the meeting if I was too busy. He said, “Sure.” I never went again.

  Later, talking with a senior government leader about making meetings more productive, I got some pushback on my value judgement. He said, “It’s the only time we all get together. How else will everyone find out what the others are working on?” I remember an executive at the highest level of the Department actually saying, “The daily meeting’s not for you; it’s for me to find out what everyone’s doing,” as if there a throne at his end of the table.

Trust me, there are far better ways to connect the people who need information with the people who have information. If you’re a boss and doubt what I’m saying, give this to your people and ask for their thoughts.

Productive meetings don’t happen by accident. We would see a dramatic improvement in Return On Time Spent In Meetings (ROTSIM – a new metric?) if we try these proven steps:

Put someone (preferably someone who values efficient use of time) in charge of the agenda. Meetings without agendas usually end up being free-for-alls. If we absolutely have to have a routine meeting to update the boss, let’s make it clear in advance that no one brings anything except their most critical issues that a majority of people around the table really need to know about. Any issues that only the boss and the person speaking care about should be handled one-on-one or in an email.

Get rid of as many routine meetings as you can. I was once part of an organization that actually tracked the number of meetings attended as a performance metric. Really?? Instead, try only having meetings when there is something to decide. Have clear objectives, not open-ended ones like “Discuss employee engagement.” Send pre-work to the attendees so they can come to the table as an informed participants, not as sponges.

No marathon meetings! People lose focus and creativity when held hostage for more than an hour or two, especially after lunch. If need be, break the agenda in half and have two shorter meetings appropriately spaced.

Finally, make sure someone’s keeping track of decisions and deferred issues. Make it a written record, to include who is responsible and a deadline for each. Make information “due-outs” part of the pre-work to speed up decision making in the next meeting.

Did I strike a nerve with anyone? Any meeting fans out there? Might as well start ordering blue ribbons.

Leaders know how to improve ROTSIM. How about you?

 

The Workplace of the Future

The Workplace of the Future

Auntie Em, Uncle Henry…you’re not in Kansas anymore!

The Workplace of the FutureComing out of the chaos of the last 18 months, I’ve noticed that the people I work with have changed somehow. They sound the same and look pretty much the same, but they seem different. Kinda like Dorothy’s friends in the Land of Oz.

Has anyone else noticed it?

No, really. In the whirlwind that took us from Spring 2020 to Fall 2021, it feels like they changed while we were apart. Or was it me who changed?

What’s really changed is the workplace. While the difference may not as drastic as it was between Kansas and Oz, it may feel like that in some companies. Change is inevitable, yes, but poorly led and managed change on such a large scale can be the beginning of the end for previously well-led organizations.

The most obvious change is whether people are still working entirely at home, full-time at the office (if there’s an office left), or a hybrid of the two. Whatever the new work policies are, and how we came to the decisions about them, there’s a good chance we’ve alienated a fair portion of our workforce. So, what does the workplace of the future look like?

Lots of people are anxious about getting back out there after such a long time in some state of isolation. Just The Workplace of the Futuregetting back into an office with co-workers in close proximity and a commute that suddenly feels awkward can be intimidating, but having to sit in a meeting wondering who others have recently been exposed to can be downright paralyzing to some. Not to mention trying to avoid controversial topics in casual conversations in the breakroom.

That doesn’t bode well as we approach the end of another year and are trying to play catch-up to reach our 2021 goals.

So how do we as leaders decide what our future workplace is going to look like and how we’re going to ensure our teams can meet expectations? The first thing we have to remember is that nowhere in our organizations, departments, sections or teams does one size fit all. Where they work is different, what they do is different, and what we expect of them is different.

  • Start by focusing on what kinds of interactions between our workforce is critical to the success of the team (however we define it). Creativity depends on a different kind of interaction than routine information exchange. Some departments can get by mostly using phones and computers (HR and accounting come to mind) requiring much less face-to-face time in the office.
  • If it doesn’t matter what time of day (or night) a person’s work gets done as long as it meets expectations and is completed on time, why should we care when or where it gets done? Just one consideration as you decide who needs to be on-site daily.
  • Choice is important… within limits of course. The days of believing that everyone is more productive at the office than at home are long past. Does that mean each employee gets to decide where they’re going to work and on what days? The best answer I can give is maybe. It’s at least worth having the conversation.
    Employees’ sentiments change over time, so what they wanted in 2020 might not be the same at the end of 2021. What won’t work is re-establishing the old schedule with strict daily attendance policies.
  • Just be transparent in the decision making. Regularly listen to others to generate ideas and gain a higher level of buy-in.
  • We’ve gotten used to virtual meetings; do we have to go back to sitting around the conference room table?The Workplace of the Future If we’re still measuring a meeting’s success by who attends rather that what get accomplished, we’re still doing it wrong. And if we haven’t figured out how to have hybrid meetings by now, the IT team isn’t doing their job.
  • Speaking of meetings, what about reacting to the boss’s ever-changing meeting schedule? I would argue if that kind of flexibility is required, it’s easier to adjust virtually than physically, especially in the case of geographically separated offices.
  • Finally, we have to be willing to make different decisions when new information comes to light. I wasn’t alone in thinking – initially anyway – we were returning to some semblance of normalcy earlier this summer. My kids are mostly grown, so I didn’t consider the ramifications of a parent having to stay home with a quarantined school-age child – or two back-to-back.
    If we can let people work from home when their kids are sick, what’s keeping us from letting them work from home when their kids are healthy?

One last thought: talk to each other! No one in our generation of leaders has faced a global disruption in the workplace that we have – and are still having. You are not the only one having to make hard decisions about what the new normal will look like; others in your C-level and executive leadership circle are facing the same kinds of tough choices. Ask others what’s working for them and share what’s working for you. Together we can build a better workplace for the future.

There’s no clicking of heels and wishing things would go back to the way they were. It doesn’t have to be as crazy The Workplace of the Futureas the Land of Oz, but we’re never going back to Kansas again.

Are You Micro-Managing??

By D. Kevin Berchelmann

This is an interesting and pertinent topic to me, as many of my clients – some aware, some not – suffer fromAre you managing… or micro-managing?? the micro-managing malady. Are you micro-managing??

It’s been my experience that micro-managers do so from perceived need. At least in their minds, they feel they have a need for acute attention to detail in one or more functions, or with one or more (or all) members of their staffs.

From my experience, the underlying reasons driving this perceived need come from

  • real or perceived lack of competency of employee(s)
  • real or perceived lack of trust, and/or
  • an overdeveloped personal ego/sense of self-worth.

Realize that most people want to achieve the same results with fewer efforts, and micro-managing takes more effort, not less.  The dangers to me are straightforward: in times of economic scrutiny, we need employees to be thinking more, not less.

So, how can we tell if we’ve crossed that line into micro-managing? What do we look for, and what can we do?  Some indicators (and suggestions):

  1. You frequently get questions about problems without recommended solutions. Employees–even really good ones–tire of doing the legwork for a micro-manager, so will simply ask questions instead of problem-solving. “What do you want me to do?” is a typical question, and they are essentially absolving themselves of all ownership and accountability. You decide, you own. They screw it up, you own it.
  2. You regularly ask successful employees for status updates. Stop it. They didn’t get there by being an idiot, and you frustrating them isn’t helping. Set priorities and deadlines, and then allow employees room to do as you asked. Status updates, particularly those without major project milestones, are simply a display of distrust.
  3. Are you managing… or micro-managing??You’re questioning others’ good decisions. Usually because you would have “done it differently,” or are uncomfortable you weren’t involved in the decision. How about just saying “Good work, thanks…?” Learn to shut up; diarrhea of the mouth is a career limiter anyway…

Eradicating micro-managing is the responsibility of both parties–the staffer being micro-managed, and the manager “doing” the micro-managing.

Hey, this stuff works! — Whouldathunkit??

Apologies for the length. We recently received an email from a junior executive we had worked with for several years. He left the client company about a year ago, and decided it was time to let us know what he thought of us. For those who know us well, you know this could have gone several ways… 🙂

Ed. The tuna reference will just have to remain a mystery… feel free to ask one of us if it’s bothering you to untoward proportions.

2017 Survey of Senior Leadership (SSL)

>We just completed the survey in late November 2017. Not too many surprises from other years, or from our general expectations. Some of the results can act as a decent reminder for us all.

Specifically:

The top five business challenges began with Operating Cost Management. This remains consistent as #1 or #2, year after year. After speaking with many of you participating, it’s become clear to us that frequently this is mentioned as the result of challenges elsewhere. You may be concerned about operating costs, for example, because your management team is missing productivity or effectiveness targets…

…which is a great segue into the #2-ranked business challenge: Management and Leadership Performance.

Something near and dear to our hearts, obviously, and it seems to be a priority in your world as well. A couple of things stand out, particularly after a few follow-up conversations:

  1. Succession planning is still like the pea in Princess and the Pea; a continued challenge obscured by twenty layers of present-day priorities. We have to get better. Naming a potential replacement at the last moment is not “announcing a succession plan,” it’s replacement planning, and frankly, shows a lack of planning in general.
  2. Leadership pipeline development, the next-level from succession planning, is on many minds. Consider constant aging and retirement of boomers coupled with developmental shortfalls with our younger generations, and we’re headed toward a perfect storm. Someone must lead the rabble.

Individually (personally), your top challenge was managing change while maintaining focus. Gone are the days where each change gets summarily vetted through the organization prior to implementing, ensuring wide swaths of buy-in. No, we’re discovering what it’s like to change the oil in a car while driving down the road. At 80mph. In the rain. With our mother-in-law sitting in the back seat telling us to slow down.

It won’t get easier, though I do hope we can get better at it. Leading change is a learned skill, and though generalizing a bit, appears to be a key characteristic of some of the younger generations. Maybe join forces?

Staffing challenges will not lessen any in 2018, it seems. 36% see a slight increase in staffing for 2018, almost 10% see a significant increase with 44% staying the same. That leaves only 10% looking at reducing staff size in 2018. The war for talent rages on.

We’ll provide more detail from the survey throughout the year. Please download and utilize as you see fit and let us know if we can answer any questions. We’re here to help.

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