Monday, February 26, 2007

Don't push me

Last summer I was facilitating a leadership breakout session. I started the session out with a simple exercise:

I had the group split into two and face each other. They then put their hands up in front of them and gently put their hands against their partner's. At that point I told the group facing me to push. The results were predictable: the group that was being pushed, pushed back. This is human nature - we do not want to be pushed around - we don't want to lose control of ourselves or our situation.

One of the challenges of leadership / management is getting people to do things that they might not want to do, but are important. We need to push.

After everyone had sat down, the next question was: "what if the person pushing you had told you that a piano was falling and they needed to get you out of the way so you wouldn't get hurt (or killed!)?" The unanimous answer was "push all you want."

This is the key. People will allow themselves to be pushed or directed if they see there is some benefit to them. Too often management simply gives orders without explanation. The response is push back. It might be in the form of grumbling, complaints among employee groups, or even outright mutiny. All bad.

Take two minutes to explain what you are doing, or better yet, find a way to relate it to how it might benefit the people doing it. You'll find the pushing goes a lot easier.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

You reap what you sow

I had an interesting experience recently at a fast food restaurant.

I come to this place occasionally because the food's pretty good for what it is and the quality is consistent (if you haven't read "The E-Myth" I suggest you do, it presents some excellent concepts on what a franchise needs to do if it is going to succeed even moderately.)

The place had recently closed and reopened under a new franchise owner.

The service under the first owner was uniformly wretched. The quality of the food was consistent, but getting a correct order in a reasonable amount of time was not. The counter servers were universally rude (except of course for the owner who would occasionally wait on customers). Under the new ownership however, counter service was friendly and prompt. When the inevitable mistakes were made, an apology was always forthcoming with a smile and an expression of appreciation for the customer's patience.

Why the difference? The staff had turned over, but the newcomers were still teenagers (who we all "know" are incapable of good customer service - another canard used to let poor management off the hook.) Why was this group so much different than the last? I wanted to know, so I watched what was happening behind the counter while I waited in line.

Under the previous management, the staff had been treated largely like a bunch of difficult children. Requests for help from the owners/managers were met with sighs and cold lectures on how to do something. There was no banter or encouragement from the ownership, only criticism.

Under the new management, the staff is treated like what they are: important members of the team who are the face of the restaurant to the customers. Requests for help were answered with gentle and thorough explanations and encouragement. The management would involve themselves in conversations with their people, even allowing some good natured ribbing at their expense.

Now put yourself in those kids positions. In the first case, why should you care about the owners or the customers when all you get is noise about what a bad job you are doing? Would you care?
I'm not sure I would, and I have a strong service background. In the second case though, the people you work for show you they care - about the customers but also about you. The friendly and helpful environment behind the counter makes it much easier to be friendly and helpful to the people in front of the counter.

Now does this mean you need to be lackadaisical about the rules, or let some bad apples run roughshod over you? Of course not. Just make sure when you make rules, they are there to help the business function better, not make management's job easier by giving them an excuse to discipline or terminate someone for something instead of trying to find out what is going on and correct a potential problem. My own experience has been when you treat your people well, they will start to police themselves. Who wants to let a bad egg ruin everything for the rest?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I have always believed in the KISS principal: Keep It Simple Stupid! with the Stupid always being applied to whomever was designing or creating the thing that needed to be kept simple.

However, today I heard a new definition of KISS:
Keep It Short and Simple

Brilliant! That can apply to virtually everything you do: Instructions to an employee (think 1 minute manager), written documentation for a computer program, or a process designed to handle a particular business task.

Tip of the Hat to Melanie DePaoli of Omicle, and thanks for a wonderful new insight!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

International Networking Day

Last Tuesday (Feb 6th) I had the pleasure of attending International Networking Day in Pittsburgh. The reason I mention it here is the execution of the event was a "textbook" example of my management philosophy.

In what way?

The event was spearheaded by Deanna Tucci Schmitt . Deanna did two things that helped make the event successful:
1. She had a clear vision and an overall project plan (tip of the hat to Linda Schumacher's project planning skills) that she communicated to the people assisting.
2. She formed committees and then allowed each committee to do their job without micromanaging them. She held regular reviews of committee progress, but each committee was allowed to pursue their goal as they saw fit.

Deanna provided guidance, contacts and budget - i.e., she eliminated obstacles as they came up. Each committee knew what they were responsible for and each did their job.

The result was an enjoyable and smoothly run event attended by several hundred people - and put together in only 3 months!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Launching the blog

My management philosophy is based on two simple beliefs:

1. 95% of all problems in business are management problems... and the other 5%? Well, they are management problems too.

2. A manager's job is not to "boss" people around, or "make sure the work is done". A manager's job is to work as hard as they can to make sure there are no obstacles in the way of their people doing their job.

My technology philosophy is based on two simple beliefs:

1. Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

2. In all things automated: Keep It Simple Stupid! (KISS)

The posts that follow in the days, months, and years ahead will look at management and technology issues through those two lenses. I hope you enjoy it.