Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Stopped Doing WHAT?

Sounds familiar!  During difficult times, the leaders of companies are working frantically to come up with turnaround strategies.  It is during such times, that one receives directives upon directives to execute.  Some of these directives may not even make sense, but as a senior manager you had your orders to execute.

For some, your company may be doing better.  The vision is clear and well communicated.  The video playing in your mind is similar to that of your leadership.  In this situation, enjoy your journey.

For others, the journey is challenging.  I remember a game I played at a carnival, when I was young.  You may have played it too.  It’s the Whack-A-Mole game.  A mole pops up, and you are to whack it down.  As you progress, they pop up at increased frequency.  Soon you will miss whacking some.  The initiatives and directives coming from the leaders of your company sometimes feel like the mole popping up.  You whack and you whack but they keep popping up.  It never ends!

So how do you end it?  You can get more people to help you whack the moles.  But that is against the rule.  The rule is “do more with less.”  In fact, they may tighten the rule by tying up one hand or blind-folding you.  You can of course walk away from the game and end the frustration.  You risk being labeled with all kinds of names for walking out.  That may not be an option either.  You have your pride.

As manager in your organization, you have your role cut out.  You cannot be piling initiatives upon initiatives; strategies upon strategies; and actions upon actions on yourself and your team.  Something has to give.  So, before you make a decision or take an action, ask yourself or your team this question.

What have you stopped doing in the last couple of months to create capacity so your team can focus on new strategies, actions, and behaviors?

When I was working on the strategic planning for my unit, I asked myself this question.  I asked my team this same question.  I can feel a sense of relief when the question was asked.  Of course, I asked many other questions but for this posting I wanted to focus on just this one.  I was surprised at the responses.  There were so many activities that we were doing that are questionable.  On further investigation, I found that the actions were taken appropriately to address certain problems.  Over time the problems have been resolved or the conditions had changed.  We continue the activities because no manager stopped them.  The action did not have an expiration date.  We all have selective memory, so a good documentation of why we took an action is important.  It helped me when we reviewed the action.

Reflect on these concepts! 

1.      To do more, we have to stop doing some.
2.      Every action or activity introduced must have an expiration date.

"You stopped doing what," may be a great strategy to improve your output and productivity.  It is time to ask this simple question. Be mindful that the answers may be difficult and complex.  In the end, they can only help strengthen your unit’s strategy and execution and move your organization forward in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Not How Many But How

Subtitle: Getting viewpoints.

I remembered a colleague who had an interesting approach to getting various views on the issue at hand.  Let’s call him James.   When he had a topic or pressing issue that needed a variety of opinions, he would seek out three different sets of views.  These views are at times opposing.  He said that this helped him developed a better solution and in a shorter time.

Getting in line to share idea?
James would stage the conversations.  I am his exploration person.  He came to me for building ideas.  He said, jokingly, that I am so “full” of it.  He would present his idea; my brain glows with excitement and I start building and adding to the original.

James will also find a person who will oppose and debate the idea with him.   He will pick a side for the debate.  He enjoys the debate.  The intensity of the debate can be quite daunting at times.  However, he said that the debate generated addition ideas, concerns, obstacles and other useful information that he may not have thought of otherwise.  He will also find a third person.  This person would be indifferent to the idea.  James will try to win this person over.  It is not a sales skill practice but really trying to understand the person’s need and determine if the idea will help this person out.

Now what was it that you disagreed?
James really has a wonderful process for what he calls rapid prototyping.  With each conversation, he modifies his idea.  In the end, the idea becomes more complete and robust.  When he prepares for his presentation later, he can position his pitch so the solution addresses a need.

It takes skill and courage to engage people to these types of conversations.  Even the exploration conversation has to be skillfully handles or it becomes unruly.  For me, the difficult conversation is the one that entails a debate.  I have to learn to distill the facts from the emotions.  So to build an idea it is not a matter of getting lots of views from people but the types of views.  You get them from people who are FOR, AGAINST and NEUTRAL to the idea.  I wish you a pleasant conversation.