Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Cost of Hiring a Coward

I don’t have the actual amount, but you can identify the effect of un-managed fear. When you do, you can approximate the cost of lost opportunities and unsolved problems.

“Coward” is a strong word. It’s also broad, so let me enumerate behaviors that I think are cowardly. You may or may not agree with me, that’s not important. Let’s focus on what these behaviors do to the workplace and the business.
  • Fear of goals – Some employees fear goals. They don’t like life goals, they most certainly dislike work goals. When people hesitate to set goals, they lack the motivation to take initiative. They focus on compliance and often, minimum compliance at that.
  •  Fear of change – cowards don’t like uncertainty. They like their comfort zone.  Your company cowards are often the first resistors of change.
  •  Indecision – Often, people who couldn’t decide, know what decisions to make. What they are afraid of is the idea that they might be wrong an fail. They fear failure and blame.
  • Inaction – One thing you can do with indecisive people is decide for them. Some people however, have overwhelming fear that even if you decide for them, they still fail to act because their afraid that you may be wrong and you will cause their failure.

I’ve always said that some fears are hard to detect. We often associate courage to mean big things like making bold decisions, taking leaps, challenging status quo.  These are not everyday stuff.  There are opportunities to show courage every day that people hesitate to do.  What are these? Not speaking up about a problem, not making an attempt to solve a problem, avoiding to learn a necessary skill, not disagreeing when they should, not taking initiative when they should. The cost of all these are not included in the usual business analytics because companies seldom measure lost opportunities or quantify the cost of inaction.

People who don’t have enough courage to act often underestimate three things; seriousness, urgency, and growth potential. They deny the seriousness of the issue, they look for “timing”, failing to realize that problems tend to grow when not addressed or that opportunities pass when not taken advantage of.  

What to do? I have a few recommendations:
  1.  Avoid hiring them, or hire them for positions that don’t require a lot of decision-making and initiative
  2.  Help your employees develop courage through training, coaching, mentoring and empowerment
  3.  Create an environment that promotes creativity, risk-taking and learning.
  4.  Model the way. When the leader is courageous, the followers develop the confidence to take courage.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Assertiveness and Managing Up

I've had too many experiences when I was already at the client's office 5 minutes before the appointed meeting time. The receptionist would tell me I have to wait because the person I am meeting was called to the boss's office. This would mean I have to languish in the reception area a minimum of 30 minutes before the meeting actually happens. That's a minimum!!! There are times when I'm feeling easily offended that I tell the receptionist I can't wait anymore. But that's seldom. I'm hard to offend. The person would be apologetic and say It can't be helped as it was the boss who called, as if it that is a valid excuse. It is not, OK? It is not. You could tell your boss that you have a scheduled meeting and that the person you're meeting is already there!

That's not all.  Whenever I do consulting or executive coaching work, I often encounter managers who complain about their being powerless to change the situation at work because their bosses make decisions  without consulting them. When I ask them if their boss knows they disagree with the decisions,  they  say the boss should know better because, well, they're the boss. In one occasion, I was talking to an HR manager who said her boss doesn't have the heart for HR and seldom gives instructions related to HR. When I talked to the boss, this is what he told me "Ed, I'm a mechanical engineer. I have a master of science degree in what I do. I know everything there is to know about the machines and the processes we have here. If there's one thing I know very little about, it's HR. I need all the advice I can get in that area. I expect my hr manager to give me the needed advice." Here in lies the problem. When we lack the assertiveness, to ask the question to our boss, we try to answer our own question, and often, the answer is wrong. When we don't have the assertiveness to present and justify a proposal to our boss, we grumble about why the boss can't figure these out for himself/herself when we can see the problem and the solution clearly. We become bitter about our assumed powerlessness and we start becoming prophets of doom to our fellow powerless people. This doesn't serve us. It doesn't serve anyone.

There is a need for assertiveness. The boss can declare open door policy and open communication everyday, but if we don't find it our responsibility to ask a question, express an opinion or painstakingly present a proposal, if we don't find the courage to do it, we will continue to suffer from powerlessness. Again, it doesn't serve us, it doesn't serve anyone.

Some people say, they're just not assertive as if assertiveness is a personality. It isn't! It's a competency! It can be learned! If you are a leader, you need to learn it! The other communication styles are bad choices! Aggressiveness promotes resentment, passiveness causes unnecessary tolerance, passive-aggressiveness, confuses people! Be assertive! Learn assertiveness! You will discover that you have immense power to control your life and to change situations if you are more assertive. Sorry about all the exclamation points! I had to stress it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

How to Deal with More Experienced Staff

It's a question that always comes up when I conduct leadership and management training in the Philippines.

It's one of those things that put a dent on the confidence of new managers and frustrates many of them. It happens a lot nowadays that management would hire or promote someone who has less experience than the people they are supervising.  Here are a few examples.

A factory in Bulacan hires Industrial Engineers with a few years of experience as supervisors of employees who have been in the company for so long that they have already named the screws and bolts in the factory and knew if there are problems with the machines just by hearing how they sound.

Another client, a retail company promotes people not based on their seniority but performance and other merits. This makes it likely for them to get promoted so fast that they get supervise people who used to supervise or mentor them.

So the question they ask is how do we deal with them? How do we make them follow our instructions? Here's my answer; respect them, respect their experience, and make them your ally. Having people who have more experience than you in your team should be an asset not a problem.

My age now seldom gives me the opportunity to lead more experienced people, but whenever I can, the first thing I do is express my appreciation that I am with people who can contribute greatly to team output and outcome. I tell them that the team would benefit a lot from their wisdom and advice, and that I wish to share leadership with them. I also tell them that I would get out of the way if I know that they're doing work that I know they can do well. I would also sit with them to discuss rules of engagement for collaboration and decision-making. I try to make it clear that I need their advice for important decisions but make it even more clear that unless I delegate decision-making to them, I make the decisions. We can argue or debate about those decisions, I can assure them that I will listen and will allow my self to change my mind as a result of their suggestions and as i see fit but will make my decision whether they agree with it or not, if i think it is the right thing to do and I expect them to respect my decisions.

New managers need to recognize or maybe even recall how frustrating it is  as well to work under a supervisor who knows less and are unwilling to listen.  Ignorance and stubbornness is a bad combination. As a new manager, we need to be humble enough about our blind spots and be willing enough to be guided in our decision making  by those who are very familiar with the terrain.

There are two important ingredients to teamwork, respect and clear expectations. Respect should be mutual but it's the leader who should show it first. Expectations should be sufficient to guide the behavior of all parties.  It builds trust, and trust helps get things done.