Recognising Your Choices…

Most of us have bosses.

As a result we experience ourselves reacting to both people and events that are outside of ourselves.  It feels to us like control lies elsewhere.

“Mike you don’t understand.  I can’t make any of this happen unless senior management buys in and supports the idea.  Once we get them on board we will have a chance.”

A reluctance to take full responsibility for our actions develops.  We learn to shift the blame elsewhere.  We lose sight of our responsibility for the type of organisation that we have helped to build.  We genuinely believe that the mediocrity that surrounds us has nothing to do with us. It is all the work of someone else, somewhere else.

Of course it is true that there is nearly always someone who has power over us.  But even in the face of this reality, we still have choices.  Choices that can lead us towards enterprise and progress – entrepreneurial choices; or choices that lead us towards safety and maintenance – bureaucratic choices.

We can choose to operate from an entrepreneurial mindset or a bureaucratic one.

We can choose between:

  • Maintenance and Greatness
  • Caution and Courage
  • Dependency and Autonomy

In my experience many managers do not recognise these choices.  They wrap themselves in the  cultural cloaks of the organisation – usually more bureaucratic then entrepreneurial – and lose sight of the fact that THEY can make a difference.

In the short term of course the bureaucratic choice has many advantages:

  • You blend in rather than stand out.
  • You risk little.
  • You minimise the chances of failure (and success).
  • You help to build a culture of shared contentment with mediocrity.

In the context of making the most of your life however the entrepreneurial mindset wins every time:

  • It allows you to find and develop your own unique contribution
  • You take more risks – and develop the relationships and experience that will help you to manage them effectively
  • You increase the chances of failure – but also give yourself a chance of great success.
  • You help to build a culture of enterprise and excellence

So just reflect as you go through your working day what do your actions say about the choices that you have made – entrepreneurial or bureaucratic?

The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half – unless he is bloody careful!

Mike Chitty

Conscripts, mercenaries, and volunteers

Willing volunteers outperform conscripts and mercenaries every time. They are more innovative and creative as well more diligent and disciplined.

Volunteers have bought into a mission and a purpose rather then been bought into it.

Much of the private sector is struggling with how to turn salaried staff from conscripts and mercenaries into volunteers. Finding ways to engage them in the work of the organisation. To provide them with fulfilling and rewarding work.

Much of the public and third sector seems to be taking almost exactly the opposite path. It finds ways to turn passionate and caring volunteers (people who have bought into the mission) into conscripts and mercenaries. This is achieved by:

  • making them servants of the system rather than servants of their customers
  • imposing performance management systems that often fail to recognise quality service delivery
  • entering into inflexible and output related contracts for service delivery that shrink opportunities for innovation and improvement
  • managing them as if they are units of production rather than as caring and compassionate people full of insights into how to improve performance.

It is a strange paradox that many private sector clients are making genuine efforts at developing employee engagement in pursuit of profits while so many third sector and public sector organisations are developing processes and systems that alienate employees and volunteers in pursuit of efficiency.

If not here then where, if not now then when?

People are inherently creative and passionate problem solvers.

If they are not creative and passionate problem solvers at work then they will be creative and passionate problem solvers somewhere else.

If they are not being passionate and creative problem solvers now they will look for an opportunity where they can be creative and passionate problem solvers soon.

There are people who have given up on the possibility of being creative and passionate problem solvers. They have learned that their attempts to make things better are unwanted or unsuccessful. They have given up trying to make progress and have settled for maintaining the status quo.

  • Do you manage people who fit this description?
  • What part has your management style and ’organisational culture’ in fostering this kind of passive behaviour?

Goals, Priorities and Resources; where does it all go wrong?

Spending time developing and clarifying goals is rarely time wasted. Although some of us spend time clarifying our work goals few of us spend time developing goals for other important aspects of our lives – family, community and self. This is one of the reasons why we find work-life balance so hard to achieve. Goals that have been set in our professional lives are not balanced by goals in other areas. The goals that we have set start to demand creativity and resources and before we know it…

Sometimes we set goals that do not provide clear priorities. Or they provide us with so many priorities that we may as well have no priorities at all. Priorities are immediate next steps that will move us closer to our goals. Good priorities are ones that we cannot fail to address. They are so simple and appealing that they cry out for us to get on with them.

But often we forget to allocate time and other resources to our priorities. Without resources to go with them our priorities are worthless. Without doubt time is the most precious resource that we can commit to a priority. I often find myself working with senior managers to clarify goals and priorities (no more than three or four at a time) and then schedule time in busy diaries to spend on them.

By scheduling two 90 minute blocks of time every week to work on priorities many managers ‘magically’ start to make tangible progress towards goals that had previously frustrated them.

Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier

This is the title of a provocative post over at Management Issues.

Rather than adding value to their organisations, two thirds of British managers actually create negative working climates that leave employees feeling resentful and frustrated.

Research by Hay Consultancy has shown that a fifth of UK workers are frustrated in their jobs, with rigid bureaucracy and poor management structures and systems hampering innovation and productivity.

Half of workers believed they did not have the authority to make decisions crucial to their jobs, with the same proportion complaining of being discouraged from participating in decisions that directly affected their work.

Managers were failing to design jobs in such a way as to capitalise on the talents of their workers, Hay also argued.

More than a third of the workers polled believed their job did not make best use of their skills and abilities.

The study of more than 3,100 leaders across 12 industries found that close to half of the managers were creating demotivating climates for employees, while a further 15 per cent generated only a neutral environment.

Good managers who really add value (in the eyes of their employers and their team members) are few and far between.  Just a quarter of managers were able to create a high-performance climate, according to employees, and only an additional fifth managed to generate a ‘moderately energising’ working atmosphere.

But while the findings do not surprise me the headline (Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier) does.

Getting rid of managers is not the answer.  Managing their failure to perform is.  In my experience if we manage managers well – tackle management under performance – and make sure that they manage effectively using feedback, coaching and delegation it is possible to quickly build a management culture that promotes high performance.

Money and Stress

As the legendary Bruce Springsteen said back in the 1970s when he just started to win recording contracts – ‘When they pay you $400 a day you get to have $400 dollar a day problems’.

I found a great blog yesterday that quoted some research on the relationship between wealth and stress.

The following five types of deal were offered:

  1. The Bum Deal: Being stressed out, overworked, and making less than $100,000 per year.
  2. The Really Bum Deal: Being stressed, overworked, and making less than $25,000 per year.
  3. The Submission Deal: Making around $20,000 per year, but accepting your dirt-poor status. Your dire situation, in turn, leads to a sense of resignation that allows you to relax and enjoy your free time.
  4. The You’re-An-Idiot Deal: Being ultra-rich (making more than, say, $3 million per year off interest income), having nothing to do, and stressing out over golf games, financial managers, and all the poor people trying to bilk you out of your fortune.
  5. The Sweet Deal: Making more than $3 million per year off interest income and relishing your liesure time with hedonistic pleasure. At the same time, you’re conscious enough to avoid misogyny and gambling addictions.

Now I think that sometimes the deals people settle for are a reflection of their self worth, as much as of their potential or achievement.

  • What deal have you got?
  • And why?

You can read the original post here.

The Fine Art of Progress

I get fired up about management because it the best tool for helping both organisations and the people that work in them to make progress.

Outstanding managers are able to facilitate the progress of both the individual and the organisation and to connect these in a way that results in win/wins for both.

They do this by:

  • regularly creating time and space to allow people to understand what progress looks and feels like right now – for them and for the organisation
  • building a consensus around the ‘direction(s) in which progress lies’
  • enabling people to make things happen in pursuit of progress – they promote a ‘bias for action’
  • by building the skills and confidence of people to act creatively and pro-actively in pursuit of progress within the mission, vision and values of the organisation.

One of the greatest opportunities for performance improvement is to take more time to explore these questions about progress in some depth and then to link them to immediate next steps – practical things that individuals and groups can do to close the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.  And this is what Brilliant 121s are all about.

And Peter’s Rewards…

To enjoy this in its full glory make sure you checked out the previous post on The Motivation Problem first.

121s, Covey, and Priority Management

Time and Priority Management Quadrants - Covey

Another reason why 121s are so powerful dawned on me this morning.  And it relates to the Stephen Covey Priority and Time Management Quadrants shown above.

121s almost compel you to focus on quadrant 2 type activities.

Quadrant 1 stuff has to be done almost immediately- it can’t wait for a 121.  And who is going to continually bring quadrant 3 and 4 items into play with their manager?

So the existence of 121s more or less forces attention onto the important but not urgent quadrant which is the one where the greatest value tends to be created.

So pay attention to the content of your 121s and see what you can do to bring the focus onto quadrant 2.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

This is the title of blog post by Jim Estill over at CEO Blog – Time Leadership.  And as Wally Bock says this is ‘one of those hoary old management sayings that hangs around because it’s both true and useful’.

Interestingly in the main body of the post Jim changes the saying slightly to:

What gets tracked and measured gets done.

The addition of this one word makes a massive difference.  The truism leads to poor management because it often gets put into practice as:

  1. What can be measured (objectively) that appears to be a reasonable proxy for what we want to get done?
  2. Let’s measure it and then hope we will get the important things done.

However many of the ‘important things’ are difficult to objectify and measure.  But they can usually be tracked.

Take for example this core value:

‘We challenge complacency and the second rate and embrace change’

My guess is that it would not ‘get measured’.  My second guess is that it would rarely be tracked.  And my third guess is that it would therefore rarely get done!

So how might it be tracked to see if it does get done?

By asking regularly (in 121s perhaps…) questions like:

‘Have you found yourself putting any of our core values in to practice this week?’

‘Which ones?’

‘How did they help or hinder your progress?’

we can regularly track core values and are far more likely to get all team members thinking about how they live the values (or not) in their day to day work.  We can track which are being used to shape practice and decision making and which ones aren’t.  Can you imagine the impact on equality and diversity in your organisation if every employee was asked regularly:

How has your work, this week, lived our value of ‘welcoming people’s differences’.

Or have you found any situations this week where living this value was difficult?

So revisit the mission, vision, values, principles and objectives of your organisation and ask yourself:

  • Are these important enough for me to want to measure or track regularly?
  • How can I track these in such a way that they are more likely to get done? (If you are doing 121s this should be a no-brainer!)
  • Do we have the balance right between tracking and measuring the ‘whats’ the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’?
  • What are the risks of writing these sorts of statements and then not tracking them regularly and building them into expectations around employee performance and development?

Your answer to this last question might feature some or all of the following – hypocrisy, mediocrity, blandness, disillusionment….

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