Tag Archives: managers

Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work

The players have weaknesses. But it is our job as coaches to find the strengths in what our guys do. They all have strengths, and that’s what we highlight. What really helps is having Russell. He is so committed to improving on the littlest things every day. I try to find a word for this sometimes, but I can’t … it’s his refusal to fail. No detail is too small, and he makes sure to stress that every day.”

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator of the world champion Seattle Seahawks and former quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers provides a good guide for managers. “Russell” in the quote is Seattle’s quarterback Russel Wilson; also a UW-Madison alumni.

Street art in Singapore 4 people sitting and a kid

Street art in Singapore. Photo by John Hunter.

Managers should be setting up the organization to take maximum advantage of the strengths of the people in the organization while minimizing the impact of weaknesses.

“Refusing to fail” by saying you refuse and yelling and stomping around if you fail doesn’t work. But if you commit to improve, not just the exciting stuff but every important detail you can create a climate of success. You create a system that works and builds on the skills, ability and desire to do great work that your employees bring to work.

Sure you fix what is broken. But you also improve what is working well. You figure out where the system isn’t optimized for the abilities of the people and you address that by changing the system to take advantage of everyone’s capabilities while limiting the impact of people’s weaknesses.

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Indirect Improvement

Often the improvements that have the largest impact are focused on improving the effectiveness of thought and decision making. Improving the critical thinking in an organization has huge benefits over the long term.

My strategy along the lines of improving critical thinking is not to make that the focus of some new effort. Instead that ability to reason more effectively will be an outcome of things such as: PDSA projects (where people learn that theories must be tested, “solutions” often fail if you bother to look at the results…), understanding variation (using control charts, reading a bit of material on: variation, using data effectively, correlation isn’t causation etc.), using evidenced based management (don’t make decision based on the authority of the person speaking but on the merit that are spoken).

These things often take time. And they support each other. As people start to understand variation the silly discussion of what special causes created the result that is within the expected outcomes for the existing process are eliminated. As people learn what conclusions can, and can’t, be drawn from data the discussions change. The improvements from the process of making decisions is huge.

As people develop a culture of evidence based management if HiPPOs try to push through decision based on authority (based on Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) without supporting evidence those attempts are seen for what they are. This presents a choice where the organization either discourages those starting to practice evidence based decision making (reverting to old school authority based decision making) or the culture strengthens that practice and HiPPO decision making decreases.

Building the critical thinking practices in the organization creates an environment that supports the principles and practices of management improvement. The way to build those critical thinking skills is through the use of quality tools and practices with reminders on principles as projects are being done (so until understanding variation is universal, continually pointing out that general principle with the specific data in the current project).

The gains made through the direct application of the tools and practices are wonderful. But the indirect benefit of the improvement in critical thinking is larger.

Related: Dan’t Can’t LieGrowing the Application of Management Improvement Ideas in Your OrganizationBuild Systems That Allow Quick Action – Don’t Just Try and Run FasterBad Decisions Flow From Failing to Understand Data and Failing to Measure Results of Changes

Leading Improvement and Enjoying the Rewards

The better job you do of managing the easier your job becomes.

As a manager your primary responsibility is to improve the system: both the systems within your sphere of control and those outside of it. The more effectively you do so, the less firefighting you have to do. The less firefighting the less hectic and chaotic your days are. And the more time you have to focus on improving the system.

The better you are at leveraging your efforts, the greater your impact, and more quickly your job gets easier. Most effective leveraging involves improving the system. Improvement to the system continue to deliver benefits continuously.

A specific form improving the system is coaching people so they are able to be more effective at improving the system themselves. One valuable role you can play is to help avoid the existing traps that prevent improvements. Early in a transformation to a continual improvement culture there are significant barriers to improvements. Those not only prevent the system from improving rapidly they can easily derail the motivation people have to improve. It is hard to maintain a desire to improve if every effort to do so feels like a long slog through quicksand.

As you create a system where people have the knowledge, drive and freedom to improve you get to enjoy continual improvement without any direct action by you. As this happens you are able to spend more time thinking and learning and less time reacting. That time allows you to find key leverage points to continue the progress on improving the management system.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemKeys to the Effective Use of the PDSA Improvement CycleGood Process Improvement Practices

Practical Ways to Respect People

What matters is not your stated respect for people but your revealed respect for people. Here are some ideas I collected after being prompted by a post by Ron Pereira: 7 Practical Ways to Respect People.

  • Don’t waste people’s time: have meetings only when necessary and provide agendas in advance. Use email effectively instead of presenting material in meetings that can better be presented in email. Don’t have complex benefit manuals, aimed at making lawyers happy, that employees are expected to use.
  • Do what you say you will.
  • Provide bad news early (don’t hope it will get fixed somehow so you don’t have to address it, let people know what is going on and let them help).
  • Pay people fairly – I would venture to say most senior executive pay today is inherently disrespectful, If I am wrong about the “most” part, certainly a huge amount executive pay is inherently disrespectful.
  • Put the long term success of all stakeholders as the focus (don’t risk people’s jobs for short term bonuses, don’t use large amounts of leverage risking the future of the company…). Respect all stakeholders and provide them confidence their long term success is important. Companies that find themselves laying off workers due to managements failure to succeed over the long term are not being respectful to those workers. That failure is most obvious today but the important improvement is not in handling the layoff today, it is in the behavior for years before that did not build a system that was successful in the long term.
  • Tell people what they can do to improve. It is respectful to help people improve. It is treating people like a child that needs to be shielding from any hint of weakness in need of improvement.
  • Don’t expect a few people to do far more than their fair share of work because management allows poor performance to continue un-addressed.
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Warren Buffett’s Letter to Shareholders 2009

Warren Buffett published his letter to shareholders yesterday. As usual, it is of great interest to anyone interested in the economic, investing and management ideas.

In 1995, MidAmerican became the major provider of electricity in Iowa. By judicious planning and a zeal for efficiency, the company has kept electric prices unchanged since our purchase and has promised to hold them steady through 2013. MidAmerican has maintained this extraordinary price stability while making Iowa number one among all states in the percentage of its generation capacity that comes from wind. Since our purchase, MidAmerican’s Wind-based facilities have grown from zero to almost 20% of total capacity.

Our long-avowed goal is to be the “buyer of choice” for businesses – particularly those built and owned by families. The way to achieve this goal is to deserve it. That means we must keep our promises; avoid leveraging up acquired businesses; grant unusual autonomy to our managers; and hold the purchased companies through thick and thin (though we prefer thick and thicker).

Our record matches our rhetoric. Most buyers competing against us, however, follow a different path. For them, acquisitions are “merchandise.” Before the ink dries on their purchase contracts, these operators are contemplating “exit strategies.” We have a decided advantage, therefore, when we encounter sellers who truly care about the future of their businesses.

Some years back our competitors were known as “leveraged-buyout operators.” But LBO became a
bad name. So in Orwellian fashion, the buyout firms decided to change their moniker. What they did not change, though, were the essential ingredients of their previous operations, including their cherished fee structures and love of leverage. Their new label became “private equity,”

Berkshire Hathaway is a very well run company. Warren Buffett is a great investor. He is also a great executive. He hires honest and able people and lets them do their job. He ensures managers retain constancy of purpose by focusing on the long term and not getting overly focused on quarterly results. And have you ever read an annual report that talks of so many employees with such respect (granted it is a rare situation – something similar in an annual report could well seem disingenuous if it were not Warren Buffett writing)?

Related: 2005 Annual Report from BuffettWarren Buffett’s 2006 Shareholder LetterWarren Buffett Webcast on the Credit CrisisBerkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2008
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What Managers can Learn From Open Source Project Management

What managers can learn from Open Source by Murray Cumming

Motivation: People work on open source projects because they enjoy it. These happy developers are productive developers. Managers of open source projects must ensure that the developers feel valued and fulfilled. They must minimise the tedious aspects of the work to ensure that development remains interesting. Otherwise, projects fail.

Although money can provide some incentive it does not provide as much. Managers who say that money is the greatest motivator are justifying their own poor performance. Managers of proprietary software, just like managers of open source software, must ensure that their developers are motivated properly. It is not enough to think that they should feel motivated.

Open source projects have the benefit of direct feedback from users. Systems such as bugzilla and open mailing lists make it easy for customers to express their needs. That is the necessary first step to satisfying those needs. See the Structural Solutions section.

For instance, proprietary application server projects such as BEA and WebSphere seem deaf to the frustrations of their customers, but the open source JBoss project is happy to hear about those problems and avoid them in its own product.

Standards/Consensus: Open Source projects must conform to, and reuse, accepted, up-to-date standards. Proprietary projects, without the benefit of high visibility or feedback are free to make inferior decisions.

Don’t miss this great essay by Paul Graham: What Business Can Learn from Open Source. And you know what else? I don’t think open source projects use the annual performance review.

Related: Open Source: The Scientific Model Applied to ProgrammingDangers of Extrinsic MotivationWhat Motivates Programmers?Open Source Management Terms

Helping Employees Improve

One aspect of managing people is to provide positive feedback and show appreciation. Doing so is important. People benefit from encouragement and reinforcement. In addition to just telling them, take action to show your appreciation.

The Dilbert workplace is alive and well. And even in above average management systems there is plenty of resistance faced by those looking to improve systems. For those employees that are making the attempt to improve the organization go beyond saying thanks: actually demonstrate your appreciation. Do what you can to help them achieve.

A manager should be enabling their employees to perform. That means taking positive steps that help them perform. This is even more appreciated than saying thanks. And has the added benefit of helping the organization by helping along their good idea. It is win, win, win. They win, you win and the organization wins.

Thoughts on: Rewards and Recognition

Related: Keeping Good EmployeesRespect for People Requires Understanding PsychologyPeople are Our Most Important AssetMotivationIncentive Programs are Ineffective

Managing Passionate Employees

Passion vs. Productive

There are actually few organizations that can support passionate employees – even if they say they want them. That’s because the original industrial revolution was designed to support productivity. Productivity means you produce. That’s how you’re measured. Passion is difficult to quantify

Managers want passionate employees, but don’t always know how to manage them. Passionate employees question things, probe and push. Who’s got the time to deal with that? Productive employees get things done. No questions asked.

if you align someone’s passion with their job description—you just might boost your department’s productivity.

Passionate employees are often not the easiest employees to manage. If a manager confuses ease of managing with best employee they discount the value of a passionate employee. And they often do confuse the two values. A passionate employee can seem like a bother, not willing to just go along but constantly challenging and pushing for new ideas.

One of the things that great managers do is to understand the value of passion and make the extra effort to cultivate and support those passionate employees. Even if occasionally they just want that person to just do their job and stop being so different. The great manager realizes that treating everyone the same is a very bad meme that somehow seems to have taken hold in many people’s mind. People are not the same. Managing a system of people is not the same as maintaining a machine.

A managers job is not to make their own job as easy as possible. When the system is best served by an extra passionate employee, then the manager needs to support that employee. And smooth out others that might get annoyed (often others find the passionate employee should just be like everyone else).

Related: Enhancing Passion of EmployeesDon’t ask employees to be passionate about the company!Signs You Have a Great Job … or NotJoy in Work – Software Development