It is pretty difficult to get people to follow you if you are always looking down instead of looking ahead. They won’t know where you are taking them because you won’t know. Doing the work can have that effect because it can make you forget that you are the leader. There are always times where you need to pitch in to get something over the finish line. But that should be the exception and not the norm. Every team needs a leader that sits on top of the pack and provides direction. At times, it may be necessary to “do”. Make sure it is for the right reasons.
Don’t enable poor performance. When you routinely do someone else’s job for them, you are ignoring poor performance. And in so doing, you are making your organization weaker, not stronger. You are limiting the output of your organization to your output yet you are paying for more than that. It is neither sustainable nor productive to carry on that way. It is easy to feel empathy for struggling employees and leaders certainly need to be human. However, you should also feel empathy for your top producers who are carrying your company as they deserve more of your support and not less.
Assist doesn’t mean do all of the work. It means to give support or to offer help. They still do their share; you try to get them over the hump. Everyone needs a hand from time to time but taken to extremes, support can be a real disabler.
Don’t let tasks overwhelm you. Working lists are clear and easy to follow and you should supervise that they are getting done, by the people getting paid to do them. Don’t get lost in the weeds and confuse activity with progress. Activity isn’t necessarily progress if it isn’t moving your company closer to your goal. It’s your job to set the true north and guide your company in that direction. So pick your head up and lead.
As the Leader of your company, your choices will determine the ultimate fate of your enterprise. There is no net underneath you. If you make a bad choice, and it is a critical choice for your company, there may be no going back. So it is essential that you are extremely careful when you make big decisions like critical hires, new product development, acquisitions, divestitures, and new market entries (for example). Careful doesn’t mean slow. It means thorough. Think about the many consequences and plan accordingly. Use a whiteboard, write an email, have a conversation with a colleague but make sure you have tried to think through as many risks as possible. This is difficult to do and takes practice and will.
Engineer out emotion. Emotions can cloud your judgments. We are all in love with our own ideas. And, whenever we negotiate with ourselves, we always win. Real life can be different and the best thing you can do is to make sure you are seeing things clearly. A good way to do that is to propose your decision and rationale to a friendly source, and then defend it. If you can’t explain what you are doing and why in simple terms and then can’t defend why it makes sense, you probably should pause and think a little more carefully.
Give yourself time to process everything. Don’t hurry big decisions. Take the time to reflect. Utilize tools like email or staff meetings to cause yourself to clarify your thinking by expressing your rationale. Taking a time out, even for a day, to sleep on it or waiting to press send is a good means of controlling your risks. You don’t want to be remorseful because you pulled a trigger too quickly. Slowing down your sense of time can be helpful, especially if you are in a crisis.
Commit and get started! When you do make a final decision, dive in and don’t look back. Don’t increase your risks by going half way on implementation. If you’ve thought it through, you need to give the plan a realistic shot at succeeding. Hesitation isn’t the same thing as wisdom. It’s more like chickening out. So decide, then go!
Circumstances and people change so you need to be adaptable to different situations. That means you need to adjust your listening skills, sense of urgency, and tendency to be directive or passive, depending upon the problem, people and expected outcome. This doesn’t mean you morph into a new person every day like some 21st Century superhero. It is quite the contrary.
Be yourself. Between your DNA and life events you are who you are and you can’t really control that. But you can control your choices, actions, reactions and behaviors. They need to all be in tune with your situation and circumstances. Push when you need to and pause when you don’t. Be self-aware and very importantly, be a very attentive observer and a very aggressive listener of those around you.
Listen first. Collect information as often as possible, especially when you need to make a big decision. Reduce your risks of errors in judgment by basing as much of your judgment as possible on facts. Accepting input from those around you is a good way to develop new sources of information. The information is most valuable when it does not match your preconceptions so pay close attention. Agility mean that you can adapt and change whenever you need to. So if the facts change, your opinion should also change.
Focus on the goal. Think, listen, think but don’t get paralyzed. You do need to decide and act. But maintain a clear understanding of your true North, your goal, and decide and guide your team accordingly. Agility is an essential leadership skill for anyone that is building a new enterprise. To increase your chances of success, be adaptable but be true to yourself, listen and then decide.
Resources are always limited and in demand. Most employees believe in two universal truths; 1. They are underpaid and 2. They don’t have the resources they need to do the job. So resource allocation decisions can get tricky and cause heartburn. An alternative to never ending negotiations and conflict is to dig a bit deeper into the resource question by focusing on the unit drivers of work: phone call, customer visit, widget, report, etc. By concentrating on the driver you can use simple arithmetic to build your needed capacity and then allocate resources accordingly.
Determine the root causes of work activities. Don’t just concentrate on the output. Determine the source of the work itself. What generates the work? The idea here is to focus on the why and not the what. Once you determine the root cause, you can link it directly to other activities that lead to improvements.
Ensure that drivers form the basis for improvement projects. Don’t waste time on money by working harder, but on the wrong things. If you can simplify your world into a handful of key items that really drive your business results and work activities, you can easily engage your employees to make things better. It is in their interest for things to go well so alignment is easy. More, you can improve your competitive advantage, productivity or customer retention rates (to name a few) by focusing your resources on the right things.
Make sure they are easy to explain. This will take some real work because a natural tendency, when you are really busy (as all entrepreneurs are), is to be superficial and move on to the next thing. Avoid that pitfall by ripping away as many layers as possible until you find the simplest idea. The simpler the better. Simple is easy to communicate and act on. And you will need buy-in from your team to set and achieve your goals.
Try your best to avoid employee collisions and conflicts by being clear about who does what and why. People like to know what they are responsible for and the overall leader is in the best position to establish everyone’s lanes.
Match decision making to responsibilities. Are the roles you’ve put in place really designed to succeed? As an employee, do you have all of the tools you need to accomplish your goals? A lot of time can be spent on discussing fairness. A good way to avoid those conflicts is to take the time to match decision making authorities with the responsibilities you have set for the team members. If there is a mismatch, you will have conflict and under-performance by design. Avoid that by thinking through what you want out of the role.
Seek to increase collaboration while clarifying boundaries. You need to set boundaries so you don’t allow pushing and shoving over turf. Everyone likes to have a clear definition of their territory but day to day life isn’t so simple. Most business problems require a team effort to resolve. And, you probably can’t afford to give everyone on your team their own complete staff. So, make sure that collaboration is seen as a key aspect of your culture. Everyone must be able to work and play well with others in order to build a successful enterprise. Start setting that expectation from the beginning.
Provide a forum for disagreements. Collaboration isn’t always easy because people are, well, people. They will disagree and you absolutely want that. But you also want the matters to be resolved in a civil way so that there isn’t any long term aftershock that creates a drag on performance. Incorporate the positive aspects of disagreements into your environment but provide a means of resolving them through stand sessions like meetings. Weekly staff sessions or dedicated forums are equally effective.
Deciding between short-term gains and long-term goals is a false choice. Running a successful company does not require one or the other. You have to be able to do both to achieve short-term success while positioning your company for long-term prosperity. Shifting markets can put you out of business as easily as running out of cash.
Short-term tactical planning is the normal focus. Day-to-day can be overwhelming and can end up blinding you to big changes in the competitive landscape, shifts in customer needs, or major changes in underlying fundamentals. That needs to be handled.
Develop a long-term strategic view to provide direction. It is imperative — from time-to-time — to pause and examine your road map. Where are you exactly on your journey and does the end destination still make sense? It is not easy to do this during the daily grind so time slots must be allocated for this. Ensure your company is positioned to take that time out. Formalize this process if you can with an annual Strategic Review of the enterprise. Use it to ask challenging questions and independently reassess your progress. Then return to the daily grind but with renewed purpose. Pivot if you must. But do both: short- and long-term.
Establish a budget for misses or additional investments. Do not assume your plans or pivots will work to perfection. They will not. So be smart and save for a rainy day by account for some level of failure into your financial plans. Set aside some room for the costs of time delays, unforeseen expenses, customer loss, investments in new capabilities. Run lean but with a margin for error. Maximize your opportunities.
People behave according to metrics; production metrics can be used to enhance profitability. Metrics are best when they are representative, rational and achievable. But they can also be used to create a culture of continual improvement.
Use the group average to set the minimum standards. Do not let your lowest producers set the standard for your operations. Allow your best performers to set the standard for everyone.
Leverage the success of top performers. They are outperforming the rest for good reasons. Let them explain what they are doing to your other team members. Give them a forum to speak at a staff meeting or recognition meeting and allow them to share their expertise. Sharing best practices, experiences, ideas and tactics improves both engagement and productivity. Both will move the needle.
Periodically reset the new minimums. Capitalize on your teams’ improvements by upping the bar at scheduled intervals. Avoid being overly random or scientific. If you use actual performance averages, you will simultaneously capture the benefits of the leaders and also avoid a protracted discussion about fairness. Insist on improvement.
The design of your organizational structure can have a big impact on your company’s performance as it will ease or hinder communication and action. Contemplate your personal leadership style and key company challenges when deciding on your design to optimize the match of needs and outputs.
Hierarchical designs work best for a directive style. If you want to control your company from the center, a hierarchical design (with a clear set of checks and balances) is the way forward. It helps you decide the level you want to empower others with decision-making abilities. The downside is that it is harder to delegate, can be slower to implement changes and the more successful employees may not like it.
Adopt a flat design if speed is your goal. Managerial review cycles take time and with a flat organization, you really do not have a built in, 1 over 1 type of process. So you get the speed in decision making but without someone to double check, a higher risk may be incurred. Empowerment is easier and employee engagement should also trend up. But coordination can be difficult and you will need to create forums for collaboration to ensure the entire team is on the same page. In other words, if you go flat, make sure everyone talks to each other.
Loosely-defined organizations can enable innovation. It is always smart to have your best people work on your biggest problems. If you do not set clear organizational boundaries, employees will migrate easily and quickly to the problem areas, develop ideas and feel free to quickly implement them. Sounds perfect. There is a drawback to this design however which is especially risky if you are surrounded with a bunch of type “A” players. They will all migrate to the problem and then fight about who is in charge. If that’s the case, make sure that there is a designated apex predator in the group to keep order.
Your vision, strategies and key tactics provide a basic framework for decision-making, enabling you to delegate. Well-informed employees are easier to empower and are more effective. As you control information flow, you should use it to guide your teams to the outcomes you seek.
Set a common definition of success. Success can take a number of forms and look different to each team member; this can cause confusion which is not good. It is imperative to be clear about how all of the pieces fit together. Most employees operate at a tactical level (tasks), requiring a clear framework for their choices. The clearer the definitions the better the result. For example you may want to emphasize profit targets, customer satisfaction, customer acquisition, productivity, market share or employee satisfaction as key measures of success. Each requires a different focus and will produce different behaviors. Make sure you can articulate what it means to your company as it will provide a basic framework for decision-making, delegation and empowerment.
Give direction. This may sound like the antithesis of delegation but in fact delegation and direction need to peacefully co-exist. Some situations — like a crisis — can call for an immediate action. If necessary, you can tell folks to just do it, provided that you explain why. You may have access to information they do not and this will help them understand and improve. Good delegation skills allow for directives in the right circumstances. Balance is crucial
Engender participation whenever appropriate. Get all of your employees in the game early and often by seeking their input on key decisions. This will increase the capabilities of your teams, allow you to take on more complex tasks than you could do by yourself and help promote growth while strengthening your company. The balance is entirely based on situations and will require some agility from you. If you have created the correct framework for understanding, have utilized direction sparingly, and promoted engagement at all levels, your organization’s IQ will be optimized.
Company advocates can promote growth and should be developed simultaneous to your brand. A great place to develop advocacy is right in your backyard. Your community is a direct economic beneficiary of your company’s work and can become a strong asset for your business. Through social media and word of mouth, it can reach large and important audiences easily and quickly. Give it the same attention you give your ad campaigns.
Seek testimonials from customers, employees and other stakeholders. Let your core constituents carry your message to their social networks and friends by creating programs that benefit them. Give them a forum to talk about the great things you are doing and put it on YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat or others. Corporate social responsibility can be a profitable endeavor if you design programs that address the intersection of interests between you staff, employees and community. Examine the needs of each group (mentoring, financial literacy, health awareness, etc.) and find common areas of interest. Then, ask your employees to build a program around it within a certain budget. If promoted correctly, the programs will attract media interest and offset the expense of building your brand.
Leverage media coverage in lieu of spending ad dollars. Invite the media to the party. Events like education, construction projects, school volunteerism, resource sustainability, healthcare activities etc. can easily fill pricey column inches in newspapers or minutes of programming time on TV. You may get a 10x return on your investment in addition to the satisfaction of doing the right thing.
Improve employee satisfaction by building pride in your company. Everyone wants to be proud of their place of work and CSR programs can be a good source of pride for your employees. This sense of pride can create a level of engagement that can carry through the office into the customer experience and the numbers. Your employees in turn will become your strongest brand advocates and help create a virtuous cycle of growth. Harvest their ideas and commitments by providing forums for volunteerism and you will grow your reputation as well as your revenues.