Finding the Path

“No!” replied the client and hung up.

“I quit!” said Bill out loud. “I haven’t made a sale all day.”cubical-drewfromzhrodague

Jill, Bill’s big boss, happened to be passing his cubical as he announced his intent to terminate his employment, or at least sales calls for the day. “Bill,” said Jill, “We don’t quit. If you are having problems, I expect you to find a way to over come them. Getting to YES is an important principal of our division. I want you to spend the rest of the afternoon examining what what you have been doing and work with your team leader to figure out what you can improve. Both of you will report to my office in the morning with your findings.” Jill did not wait for a response. She turned and left. When she returned to her office, she called Bill’s team leader and told her about Bill’s problem and her expectations for corrective action.”

Jill said, “Getting to yes is an important principal.” She did not scold Bill for breaking a rule, but rather for failing to comply with a guiding principal. Guiding principals liberate leaders and employees from restrictive rules that require and prohibit behaviors by establishing clear boundaries, not rules. Employees operate within their boundaries established by guiding principals without fear of breaking some arcane rule. Employees use the principals to break the molds of past successes improving the organization. Sometimes people make mistakes, but in principle based organizations, leaders allow people to learn from errors, reorient themselves, and continue on the path to success. Guiding principles establish boundaries, not specific routes, for people to travel to achieve successful outcomes.

In the example at the beginning of this post, Bill probably violated several rules in his organization. Jill elected to call out Bill for violating a principle instead. According to Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, “A rules-based organization is a safe place to work…because as long as you follow the rules, you’re never going to be criticized. You go to the General Counsel for each opinion, so you never have to take any personal risk.”1   boundry-jesse_loughborough Rules tell each employee what to do and what not to do in a given situation. The problem with rules is no organization can write a rule for every situation, and organizations like the VA have tried. Often rules conflict in a given situation. When faced with a situation not covered by a rule, or one where the rules provide conflicting guidance, people have to make decisions. That is why guiding principles are necessary.

Guiding principals, sometimes called values, are a short list of ideas that establish behaviors for employees to accomplish the organizational mission regardless of the situation. In some organizations, they establish their guiding principals a single words like, duty, honor, country. Others may use short phrases like, get to yes, respect all stake holders, continually improve. Organizational leaders boil down ideas until only those most important remain. An area cannot be established with less than three points. More than seven and people will not remember the principals; the area is too large.

The following morning Bill and his team leader Jane were waiting outside Jill’s office when she arrived. After being invited into her office, Bill explained to Jill that he and Jane spent the afternoon reviewing his sales pitches. They discussed some small improvements he could make to be more effective. Jane told Jill that she would check in with Bill a couple times in the next week to review his progress and make additional refinements to help him get to yes. Bill said, “I’ve learned the importance of seeking help when I need it to deal with frustrations.” Jill smiled. Bill’s outburst helped her develop Jane’s leadership skills and Bill’s sales skills. Had she just reprimanded Bill for disturbing other sales representatives, neither Bill nor Jane would have grown.

Leaders who use guiding principals establish markers to follow allowing freedom of choice cairns-sean_munson.jpginstead of rules that fence in options. Guiding Principals develop effective organizations. They create a climate for employees and junior leaders to safely take risks within established areas. Leaders use mistakes as learning opportunities for the employee and others. Employees respond to increased trust by finding improved ways to accomplish the organization’s mission. All stakeholders receive the results they expected. By using guiding principals, people find their own route to success within establish boundaries. Now is a great time to review your organization’s principals and determine how you can improve them for increased success in the coming year.


Footnote


Photo credits

Cubical: Drew from Zhrodague from Flickr.com

Fence: Jesse Loughborough from Flickr.com

Cairns:  Sean Munson from Flicker.com

All used under Creative Commons Licenses.

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Everyone Needs a Mentor

“Every Soldier needs a Sergeant.” is an old Army adage based on the traditional role of Noncommissioned Officer taking care of their men. More senior sergeants use the phrase to encourage new platoon sergeants to look out for their young lieutenants with the understanding that the lieutenant is in charge, but the sergeants know what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and the correct way to do it. Smart lieutenants understand the wisdom of their sergeant’s advise and follow his lead.

TelemachusMentor

Career progression outside the military is less clear. What works in one company or organization does not work in the next. Even if you are the boss, like that young lieutenant, you need a trusted, wise guide to show you the path to success no matter how you define success. Like the old Army saying above, everyone needs a mentor.

It can be difficult to find a good mentor. Mentors are trusted guides. Typically mentoring relationship occur voluntarily between a person with less experience and another who has accomplished similar goals as the protege. The relationship is characterized by mutual trust and respect. Frequently these relationship occur outside supervisory channels.

Good mentors are interested in the success of others. They help their protege gain confidence and encourage growth. Mentors serve as role models. Mentors help their protege develop achievable goals, identify steps required to accomplish those goals, and as a result increase the likelihood of success.

Next time you take on a new task, think about finding a mentor to guide you along the way. You may find their experience leads you down paths you never would have found and methods to overcome obstacles. Every journey is an adventure, but with a mentor to guide you along the way, you improve your chances of reaching the end of the road and achieving the success you envisioned at the beginning of the trip.

Check your Map & Compass

Hard to believe, but it will not be long before people start making resolutions for the New Year. Last New Year I posted a piece on how to successfully complete your resolutions (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/time-to-reflect-plan-act/). I used the system I described before and also during this year to achieve goals successfully. One more birthday card and I can say I achieved the three resolutions I set for my self. How did you do? 2014 has not yet ended so there is time to dig up the written goals you started with and determine how much you completed on each of them. You may find there is time to finish one or more in the remaining days. If not, you can try again next year. Reviewing your progress is important, and so it reviewing your achievements. Today schedule time to take stock of how you did with your goals, the lessons you learned along the way so that your plans for next year include strategies to avoid pitfalls. Assessing is an important action to achieve continuous success.

Start your assessment by asking questions about your goal and plan.

AMCHutOverlookbyReg

  • Was my goal specificity stated?
  • Was is it measurable and did I have reasonable expectations and standards?
  • Did I allow reasonable time to complete the goal?
  • What resources did I lack? How can I obtain those resources for the future?
  • Is completion still desirable and reasonable?
  • Who can help me achieve my goal; a mentor, supervisor, friend, spouse or trainer?
  • If I choose not to complete this goal (notice the key word choose), what lessons did I learn that will help me with similar projects in the future?

As I discussed in my blog on taking time to review your progress (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/check-your-map-achieve-your-goal/), it is equally important to review and evaluate your successes. Learning to set small, achievable goals allows you to complete what you start. Evaluating your success enables you to see your new location on the map. As you set a small goal, achieve success, evaluate your achievement you begin to understand that small, regular improvements are more likely to help you obtain long term success that lofty big goals. Smaller goals allow you to adjust course frequently ensuring you end up where you wanted to go, not just arrive at the end of the road. Assessments also allow you to determine if you are still on the correct road, or if your course corrections have really established a different goal and destination.

This is a busy time of the year for everyone. Taking a few minutes to review your achievements allows you to learn from both your achievements and mistakes. It allows you to determine if you are on the correct course or if you need to make some adjustments. Even if you have not completed what you set out to accomplish, this assessment shows the progress made encouraging further small improvements. Dig up the resolutions you made at the beginning of the year. Assess your success and chart your course for 2015. Do it today!

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Photo Credit:  Reggie

For more information see my deck on SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/ChrisStCyr1/achieve-29982036 and

Leadership at Every Level

The newly elected President of the local civic group calls a meeting of his key leaders. The Vice-president, Secretary, Finance Officer, Program Director, Membership Chair and Information and Relations Director are all invited. In real life, the new Prez is a successful executive and understands the importance of focusing the energy of leadership of the organization on the organizational mission. The Vice-president and Finance Officer don’t show or call. The Program Director calls moments before the meeting starts saying she will be late and the Information and Relations Director shows up late without a call. All accepted these positions because they said they supported the vision of the yet-to-be-elected President in the weeks leading up to the election. Working with and leading volunteers can be difficult because of situations like this. Strong leaders use these opportunities to hone their skills, influence others to meet their obligations and achieve success for their organization whether a volunteer civic group, a municipal committee, a non-profit or a billion dollar cooperation.ShellVacationsHosp

There are lots of lessons in the above story that we will explore in the next few editions of this blog. This month, attracting the right people. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses the importance of identifying good leaders for organizations and guiding them to where they will most help the organization grow. Sometimes that requires pushing people out of their comfort zone. For example, someone who has demonstrated strong leadership with a background in engineering but desires to work operations. The engineering section lacks quality leaders but great engineers so she would better serve the organization (at least for now) heading up engineering. As the organization improves and she develops younger leaders to replace her, the head of engineering may be transferred to a supervisory position in operations.

In order to achieve this success both the Chief executive of the organization and the head of engineering need to identify the future leaders within the section. After they are identified they need to be coached, mentored and trained as leaders. In great organizations they will be sent to train with the best whether it is in seminars, college course work or operational assignments, the next generation leaders will be groomed to move ahead.

Some reading this now are in positions of leadership and may ask, “Well what happens if we spend all that money training someone to take over the section and they leave taking our training with them? Look at all the money we wasted.” Every organization needs some depth on the bench, so you should be looking at the section leader’s replacement today. However just imagine if you did not train that person to lead the section and they are promoted when the current section leader leaves. Without the proper education and training you have set them up for failure which may result in the failure of the organization!

Jerry.PansingAs the leader of an organization, any organization, your most important responsibility is the selection of those who will lead your units, sections, divisions or any other name you give your areas of responsibility. Your next most important responsibility is to develop your bench. Identify the future leaders. Train them and mentor them. Give them some operational opportunities to make mistakes where it matters little so they learn to lead, make decisions and learn from their mistakes. Remember to always share your vision so they are all following the path to success. If you are one of those one the bench, seize the opportunity. Step up and lead.

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Photo Credits:  Jerry Pansin, Shell Vacations Hospitality, from flickr.com.  Creative Commons License

Check Your Map…Achieve Your Goal

At the beginning of the year I pitched a way to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions. (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/time-to-reflect-plan-act/) 0322141247One of the steps I suggested was to periodically check your list to measure your progress and adjust your course. That time is upon us. I know because the reminder I set in my calender alerted me to check my progress on my goals.

I use a goal setting check list to help me focus on task steps and measures for success. I used to keep them on paper, but as time and digitization have progressed, I have found using a word processor or even better, the task list on my email client work great. Your worksheet does not have to be fancy. I combined the format I learned in the Army to evaluate training with some of the great ideas Ken Blanchard pitched in his book, The One Minute Manager with a couple of theories I have learned about SMART goals. If you did not put your New Year’s Resolution in writing in January, you still have time to do so. The benefit of having your goal in writing is being able to sit down periodically (like now) to review your progress.

For those of you who did make some notes, dig them out and lets check your progress. I have learned several things throughout the years I have used this process. Your work sheet is like a map. As you travel you find roads exist not appearing on your map, and some roads on your map are more like mountain foot paths. For goal setters that means you may have found some of the steps you planned to take were not required, however things you did not know when you began the journey require you to complete tasks you did not anticipate, and that is okay. Just like our journey on an previously unknown but shorter or better road, as one works towards a goal and finds a shorter or better way to complete the task, you do. Note the changes on your map during your review. Enter comments about the progress of each task and check off completed steps. Open your calender and schedule time to complete the next series of activities on your journey to completing your goal.

An important question to ask as you check your progress is, “How will I recognize success?” The answer to this question becomes the measures of the success for your journey. If you goal is to improve your health (a common New Year’s Resolution) how will you know you are healthier? Some metrics may include a target weight, the ability to lift an amount of weight, the ability to be able to run a certain distance in a given amount of time, the measurement of your waist so you can once again fit into your High School jeans, your blood pressure number or the levels of cholesterol. What ever standard you select, make it specific and measurable by some recognizable value.Image

Checking the progress of your goals on a regular basis is important to your success. By having a map in the form of a goal checklist you improve the chances of your arriving at your intended destination, your goal. Your check list should include the route of travel and measures of attainment so you stay on track, or recognize when you have to adjust course. If you don’t know where you are going, it is impossible to know when you have arrived. Take a few minutes today to review and update your goals. For those of you who have yet to do so, set ONE goal today and develop your route and metrics. I have posted a sample goal setting worksheet on SlideShare. Check it out and use, change and adapt it to your needs. Move forward by taking that next, charted step to your personal success.

Photos by author

AW…do we have to plan AGAIN?!

“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower. Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.Image
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principals. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brain storming sessions although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is to developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principals, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is they only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.

 

Photo by author

Time to Reflect, Plan & Act

It is common at this time of the year to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. People will establish a list of resolutions and many will moan about the resolutions they failed to complete from last year. Others look back, pat themselves on the back for what they have accomplished. So why the difference? The answer is simple, those who succeed approach the resolution process and establish personal, documented steps and goals. What follows may seem like a long lost secret to some, but much of the content I first read about over 30 years ago (when I was v e r y young) and has been reinforced with more recent reading.

The first step is to reflect on what went well, what you need to improve and what is not as important as once you thought it was. Of those things that went well, identify what actions to carry over into the new year. Also identify skills that were used to achieve those successes and how you can use those skills for future success. On the improvement side, focus only on the things that cause failure. None of us can do everything perfectly. Life is too short to fix everything, so instead work on your strengths and only those weaknesses that directly contribute to failure. Everything in the middle somehow works.

Photo by Reg

Photo by Reg

Identify goals and achievements you accomplished. Too often we dwell on failures. People rarely fail at everything every time. You probably achieved some successes. Concentrating on what you have achieve builds confidence to move forward. Enumerating skills you have overlooked in the first step helps you focus on your strengths.

After you have reflected on your successes and failures, your achievements and accomplishments it is time to decide where you want to go. The first two steps helped you identify where you came from, and where you are. This step sets your course for the coming year. In this process determine not only what goals and accomplishments you seek to achieve, but also task steps for each activity. In that process think about who you need to reach out to for help and what resources you need to assemble to be successful. There is no point developing a network if you fail to call upon them for help. The most important activity in this step is to write down your goals and action steps. At this point the most important thing to do is document each task step for every goal. As you work on this portion, it is important to write down action steps for every goal (see my blog about the Three Pitch Rule).

The final step is to schedule time periodically to check your progress. Grab your check lists in what ever format works for you and compare your progress against your checklists. Identify tasks on your list you can complete before your next check up and put them on your calendar. By scheduling task steps you give them a level of importance that increases the likelihood they will be completed.

Now is the time to act. At the end of year, when you sit down to make your 2015 resolutions you will find you kept your 2014 resolutions if you follow these simple steps. Seize the day, New Year’s Day to accomplish this simple task. There is no requirement to have dozens of resolutions. Focus on the one or two or three goals that will really impact your life and document them. Do it now. Perfection is not required for your plan. Do it now and adjust along the way. In the end you may find you accomplished more than you imagined, but only if you take the time to follow these steps. Really, do it now! Happy New Year.

I just posted a short slide deck on SlideShare.  Check it out:  http://www.slideshare.net/ChrisStCyr1/achieve-29982036