Leadership And “I’m Waiting For…”

The world is getting faster. We live at speed like never before and especially in business you need to move fast if you want to stay competitive. I won’t talk today about the inherently stressful situations this bring but I will rather focus on what mindset you need to adopt if you want to keep up with the best.

Sense of ownership and urgency

Instant is the key word of today. Instant communication by mobile phones, instant information available through internet, instant coffee in your kitchen and instant escalation of any problem your business faces. You know what’s going on every single second and the environment demands you respond.

Having a sense of ownership means that you accept responsibility and accountability for delivery. It might be you commit with your team to deliver the best customer experience, it might be you committed to produce a great product, it might be you committed to roll out a new initiative. Regardless the situation having sense of ownership means that not only you feel accountable for success and combined with sense of urgency it means you also act instantly.

If you want to grow your business, grow your team, or grow yourself you need to really feel responsible and you need to be willing to act now. Keep in mind that the world is moving forward and if you don’t move you will be left behind. I’m not promoting here that you need to be online 24×7, in fact I personally spend significant portion of my time offline and unreachable but I always make sure that someone else would be able to step in and understand the importance of moving things forward.

Data and consensus building

It is so easy to access data today. In fact, it is too easy. You might be so overwhelmed by data that you need more of them to make sense of those you’ve already got. And what if you have a team? Each of them has access to the same amount of data and may interpret them differently. And you want to be a democratic leader who empowers others so you want them to make decisions or even better build a consensus.

Consensus building is a great thing as long as all the people share all the data so they have the same view of the world, are able to constructively discuss and then decide instantly with everyone committing to the outcome. If that is not the case then attempts for consensus usually lead to one deadly sentence…

I’m waiting for…

This is the one sentence that shows you or your team don’t have the sense of ownership and sense of urgency. These words may sound reasonable at times but it promotes culture of passivity, feeling of us against them, and leads to lost momentum, lost drive and lost opportunities.

“I’m waiting for Bob to deliver his part,” well go and help him work on it!

“I’m waiting for approval from my boss’s boss,” well get the preliminary work done so you can move fast once approved!

“I’m waiting for more data to make a decision,” paralysis by analysis, get the necessary minimum of data and just decide!

“I’m waiting for the results of last year’s employee survey before I do anything,” so you really have no idea what is the most likely outcome to get at least some work on the way?

“I’m waiting for summer to start my exercise regimen,” oh, I guess because it is impossible to exercise during winter?

Most of us are using these dangerous words as an excuse for not being willing to commit and do what it takes. And don’t even get me started on “but it is not my job!” If you have sense of ownership you move things along regardless whether it is your job or not and regardless whether you have the formal authority to do so.

Bias for action

The top achievers have bias for action. Instead of waiting for something to happen or forever debating what needs to be done they just go and do it. That is the strategy you should follow if you want to be wildly successful. Will you always make the right choice? Of course not. You will make your share of mistakes, get your share of beating but that is all fine because you also know that you “won’t be waiting for” someone else to course correct you when needed. You move, you move fast, and when you realize you are not moving in the right direction you don’t stop but just change where you are heading and continue at full speed.

 

What is your approach to decision making? Are you biased towards action or prefer to wait and see how things work out before you get involved? What situations you experienced where waiting hurt the outcome?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The ugly truth behind having secrets

Information is power. What information should you share with your team? What are the things that are better kept secret? And how does leadership fit into the picture? What secrets should you have as a leader and what things should you never hide? Being strong believer in transparency and honesty I don’t think there are many things that should be kept hidden. I can imagine there can be things that if shared would have legal implications but that’s it. Anything that doesn’t have legal impact should be in the open. Let me make my case.

Reasons to hide information?

I have often heard from managers that some information shouldn’t be shared as they would have negative impact on motivation of the team. The team would question some of the decisions, and people wouldn’t understand why something was necessary. Sometimes there is this fear that when you share information it can be used against you. Let me debunk some of these myths.

Sharing negative information will demotivate the team – why should it? Explaining the situation as it is will be seen as a show of respect and trust. After all, we are dealing with mature adults who know that life is complicated. And if you can follow up with a vision of the future you may even create a sense of urgency and make people act to change things for the best

Things can change – so sharing proposals that are not approved will create friction. People hate uncertainty. And people from most cultures also hate not being included in decisions that impact their lives. Keeping your team in the loop even during a decision making process will allow them to contribute and will create a feeling that their opinion matters. When you share the final decision it will be much easier to accept by the team.

People would question my decision if I share too much information – why should they? I assume you based your decision on a certain set of data points, information, values and beliefs. It is exactly the other way around. People will be more likely to accept the decision if they understand how and why it was made.

If I share this proposal someone may steal it finish and take credit – great! That would free your hands to do other stuff. Getting someone to take your idea and execute it is the best thing that can happen to you as I mentioned in Leave your ego at the door article.

If I share information with others I won’t have advantage over them – why should you have advantage over anyone? You work with the team towards a common goal. The moment you start playing office politics and trying to get advantage over others you no longer work towards that goal and will destroy your reputation as a leader in the nick of time.

I’m the boss, the team doesn’t need to know the details – you are right, they don’t need to know. But again, if you want them to follow you and work towards the common goal the more information you provide the bigger likelihood that they will have the sense of ownership and work to the best of their abilities to achieve the goal.

I’m shielding the team from too much information so they don’t get distracted – why did you hire bunch of legally insane people? And if you hired smart and adult individuals why do you believe you need to filter information for them? It is their responsibility to filter things they need and don’t need. By giving them the opportunity to decide what is important you treat them with respect and it is more likely they will follow you. I love this quote by Ricardo Semler “Workers are adults, but once they walk through the plant gate companies transform them into children.” Or something similar said by Jason Fried in his book Rework – “When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies and managers treat their employees.”

Why to share information?

And to share one more quote. Some time ago I heard this (not sure about its origin) “In absence of a good story someone else can make up a story of his own.” People love to speculate and imagine things, the less information they have the more wild things they will come up with and the more damaging these speculations will be. Being open and transparent pretty much prevents unwanted speculations and gossip and creates a culture of mutual trust and sense of ownership of the common goal and future of the company. Let us look at a manager who shares information and creates environment of transparency, inclusion and trust.

Transparency and trust – by being transparent you show a great deal of trust that your team will be able to handle the information like reasonable adults. When you trust people they will trust you back.

Inclusion and sense of ownership – by including people in decisions and sharing information with them you are making them part of the decision and you create a sense of ownership.

Honesty and human face – by being open and honest even at times when you are lost and unsure about the correct course of action and if you freely admit mistakes you put a human face on you and will be more acceptable for others. They will follow you because they will know that you won’t lie to safe your face.

Sharing and empowerment – sharing information, sharing responsibility and sharing the means to get things done leads to empowerment. Empowered teams will accomplish the goals, will stay together and will love their work without much external stimuli

What about compensation?

The ultimate test of open environment is sharing information about compensation of the members of the team or at least that of management. Compensation is one of the most emotional topics in the business environment and figuring out a way to get it out of the table can have a really positive effect on productivity and motivation of the team. If you hide the information, you have unclear rules on how are individuals compensated, you don’t communicate openly decisions why someone got increase of salary and why this particular number you create an opportunity for guessing, gossip and false beliefs. People are curious so they will try to estimate salaries of others, their own worth and will most likely create picture that is very far from the reality. Most of us have the tendency of overestimating our own value. At the same time we tend to believe that we are not compensated well enough and the others must make whole bunch more. Why else would they look so happy? Wouldn’t it make sense to introduce as much clarity and transparency so you align better the expectations and the reality?

In a book “Maverick!” Ricardo Semler describes some of the inner workings of Brazilian manufacturing company Semco. It is a workplace where he created completely transparent environment with very flat organizational structure and without hidden agendas and office politics. It is a place run by democratic principles where employees are truly empowered. For example, each of the executives could set their own salaries without any need of someone approving it. Of course, everyone in the company would know their salary so that created environment where people would set salaries for themselves that would be seen as fair by others. Or another example from Semco, before people are hired or promoted to leadership positions, they are interviewed and approved by all who will be working for them. Every six months managers are evaluated by those who work under them. The results are posted for all to see thus pushing the manager to constantly improve and make sure their teams are willing to follow.

Twitter type summary: “Information is power! Give as much power as possible to the team and create a sense of ownership and desire to reach the common goal.”

What is your position? What sort of information do you believe should be hidden from your team and why?

It’s not my job!

There are not many situations that irritate me more than people reacting to a request by words “It is not my responsibility” or “It is not my job, someone else should do it.” And sometimes it doesn’t even needs to be spoken but it is implied by acting (or not acting).

Let us consider a rather trivial example. You have a meeting with ten people. After the meeting everyone leaves and there is an empty cup on the table (someone just forgot it there). Now, what happens?

You have a person who sees the cup and decides to ignore it. It is not his job so why should he take it to the kitchen? It may be laziness, feeling of being too important for such a menial job, or just simple “I don’t care” attitude.

And now look at second person, someone who sees the cup and without a word grabs it to put it to a dishwasher. It is like a reflex for this person and she is not even thinking about who should do that. That shows a great sense of ownership, a desire to keep things neat, a way of thinking that will most likely show also in other aspects of her life and work. The way she works with customers, with the team, how is she approaching her job. She simply sees that something needs to be done so goes and does it without a word or thought whether she is the one who should do it.

Who would you rather have on your team?

The same can be seen in software development. A developer may say “It is not my job to test the code I just wrote, QA department should do it.” “It is not my job to review code of my colleague I need to focus on my own code.” Or manager saying “Why should I talk to this person who needs help, he is not from my department.” If you have culture like that you are in troubles. It shows a lack of ownership for the product, the company and the job. It shows very low team spirit and it is something you want to fix.

So what do you do? If this is happening you need to get back to basics and talk about values of the organization, why they are important and what does it mean to do things the right way. And obviously, you don’t just talk. You lead by example. Even if you are a team lead, a manager, a director you still need to be able to get your hands dirty when you see a job that needs to get done regardless how menial it may seem.

And if someone still doesn’t see why they should do work that is outside of their job description then reminding them that only by expanding their current tasks can they learn new things, develop and grow, should do the trick.

Let me finish with a personal story that illustrates what I’m talking about. I was heading an office of more than hundred and fifty people. On the team I had an office admin who was among other things responsible for accepting mail and deliveries. What happens when such a person takes a day off? Well, mail is still coming, someone has to take care of it, and no one else has it in a job description. What did I do? I just sit for a day at the reception desk and handled the mail, welcomed visitors and other small tasks that needed to be done. At the end it had a negligible disruptive effect on my day and my ability to get my real work done. And the best part? By doing it, I was more visible to the team. I lead by example. People would talk to me more as I was the first person they saw when coming to the office. And I learned something small about a job of a receptionist…

What does this mean for you? Do you see similar situations around you? How do you react? And how you do to improve the environment when people just don’t care?