Do You Inspire or Incinerate?Written by Robert E. Cannon
Throughout my career, I have asked managers what they look for in hiring new employees. The single most sought after characteristic is a positive attitude. Knowledge can be learned but a positive attitude cannot be taught and is recognized as being critical for success. Yet, if attitude is so important, why do we do so much to destroy it? (I use we, because as a manager, I was guilty of having done some of very things I have outlined below.) The following are some things I have learned that will enhance or destroy a positive attitude.
Demeanor. Early on in my career in Sales Management, it became apparent to me that I could single-handedly affect attitude of entire office just by my demeanor when I was visible to staff. If I smiled, they would smile and have a positive attitude. My smile indicated to them that things were going well with customers, with sales and in turn with revenues and safety of their jobs. If, on other hand, I scowled at them, they would hang their heads and generally be down at mouth. My negative attitude indicated to them that things weren’t going well and they began to worry. The attitude of entire office could be turned on or off depending upon whether I came to work with a smile or not. I have also learned that demeanor is more than just smiling, it is an outward expression of your own attitude. Whether we realize it or not, we lead by example. If you are excited about a project, people around you will be excited too. It’s contagious. If you have a strong work ethic, they will try to emulate you. If you are conscientious, they will be too. Once upon a time in an open and friendly office, I watched a new supervisor who was very cynical. Sadly, it wasn’t long until entire open and friendly office turned cynical as well and cooperation dropped to a very low level. It was all result of attitude of supervisor.
Language. I think too many of us have confused our roles as managers with function of problem solving. Much of what managers do is viewed as problem solving. The word “problem” by itself is a downer let alone what it represents. Seeking out causes of problems implies blame and raises defenses. No one was ever uplifted by words, “We have a problem.” The negative language is compounded by a process that uses phrases like “cause analysis,” “estimate consequences,” “evaluate tradeoffs,” “recognize uncertainty” and “estimate risk tolerance.” Most managers I have met spend more time and effort finding fault and criticizing employees than they do finding things they are doing right and praising them. Problem based language does not make any of us feel like celebrating. Just think about how they affect people around you. How much better would it be if we could develop a positive language that changed organization from one with problems to one with solutions. Using language that included words like: opportunity, options, praise, ideal and others would go a long way to maintaining or enhancing positive attitudes.
Involvement. In this era of downsized, everybody do more, how many of you have managed by declaration or edict? When everyone is wearing multiple hats and performing multiple functions, it just seems easier to make a decision and delegate implementation wherever possible. When we manage by declaration or edict, we are generally reducing speed of implementation, reducing likelihood of success and sapping positive attitude of people involved. People’s attitudes soar when they are involved in decision-making process and understand fully why of doing something. The success and speed of success of any implementation are directly related to involvement of implementers in decision process. Not only does involving people in decision enhance attitudes, but also they are enhanced again when decision is successfully implemented and they were a part of it.
Agility = Sustainability Written by Robert E. Cannon
High Engagement, it’s not your standard employee motivation. - All organizations today are faced with intense competition and rapidly changing markets, customers, products, delivery, systems and services. The rate of change is outpacing our ability to adapt. We are witnessing this inability to adapt every day as organizations in business, government, religion, healthcare etc. fail right before our eyes.
Sometimes, I think we overlook fact that rules of game have changed as well. Early on in my career, businesses were evaluated by amount of assets or “Retained Earnings” showing on their books. “Good Will,” used to be a bone of contention in determining real value of an organization. Today, little if any attention is paid to “Retained Earnings” as we have switched to measuring “Return on Investment” and other measures of efficient use of capital. In part, efficiency has become key instead of asset accumulation because a product and process that is generating a profit today may be tomorrow’s buggy whip. Change in our environment and change in rules we are measured by all point to need to be adept at change.
To me, an agile organization is one that is proficient at change. It can do anything it wants, whenever it wants. There have been lots of different operating strategies presented over last few years to help us transform our organizations to higher levels of performance. These strategies include, LEAN, TQM, Continuous Improvement, SMED, Process Reengineering, Mass Customization and others. Sadly many of efforts to implement these strategies have failed not because strategy was wrong, but rather because agility was missing in organization. Agility is a people issue not a strategy or process issue. Successful adoption of operating and transformational strategies will happen much faster and with less expense as an organization becomes more agile.
Like evolution and mutation in living organisms, organizational adaptability or agility is a core survival requirement. Achieving agility in an organization is contrary to way most of us were trained to manage. Most management training even today is still based on work of Frederick Taylor. It is an approach to management that worked well at beginning of Industrial Revolution, but is sadly out of date in today’s highly sophisticated world where computers, cell phones, internet, radio and television are commonplace and workers are better educated and more involved in their world than ever before.
As I witness changes in organizations, I become more convinced daily that all of process improvements in world will not by themselves solve problems facing organizations. It is time for a new approach to management that involves people in issues that affect them leading to engagement, creativity and commitment in workplace. Jack Stack in his book The Great Game of Business makes case when he says, “…productivity depends on people. I don’t disagree that machines can make you more competitive. They can absorb overhead. They don’t take breaks. They don’t go on vacation. They don’t sit around wasting time. What machines can’t do is figure out how to make money. Only people can do that. If you have people who know how to make money, you’ll win every time.” For too long, we have relied on a leader – who by virtue of position, greater experience, wisdom or skill, is relied upon as problem solver and that leader fails to ask for or accept input from team members. Psychologist Patrick Laughlin and his colleagues at University of Illinois recently released a new study that shows that approaches and outcomes of cooperating groups are not just better than those of average group member, but are better than even group’s best problem solver functioning alone.