Archive for December, 2013

Setting Priorities Need Not Be an Elusive Competency

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

The ability to set and, perhaps more importantly, to implement organizational priorities is a critical success factor for leaders. When there are dozens of things to be done, someone must step forward to bring order out of chaos. Too often, however, workplaces are filled with employees who feel discouraged because they are spinning their wheels, or frustrated by the lack of clear and consistent direction, or burned out because everything should have been done yesterday.

Here are some reasons why people find it difficult to set and implement priorities:

Indecisiveness due to fear of making the “wrong” choice.

Reluctance or inability to make hard decisions.

Mistaken belief that good intentions are enough.

Low level of importance or urgency.

Lack of accountability – i.e., there are no consequences for non-performance.

Consider these facts:

Priorities involve choices about how to use time.

There can be only one “top” priority: by definition, there is a rank order to choices.

Priorities are what you DO, not what you SAY you will do.

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Here are ten ways to improve your ability to establish and implement priorities:

Establish priorities:

1. Realistically determine importance and urgency by asking and truthfully answering two questions: (1) “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I do/don’t do XYZ?” And (2) “Can I live with that outcome?”

2. Only people, things, and tasks that are directly aligned with achieving the mission or goals can be priorities.

3. Treat the setting of priorities as a resource allocation issue: develop realistic, WRITTEN time lines and schedules that indicate when you will accomplish what is needed to achieve each priority.

4. Use effective, easily utilized and understood decision-making tools (e.g., ranking, paired comparison, matrices, other forms of analysis).

5. Specify decision criteria BEFORE you start making choices.

Implement priorities:

6. Have someone hold you accountable for achieving your stated priorities.

7. Set your priorities BEFORE you make commitments that require your time.

8. Focus on the end result or “big picture.”

9. Identify a reasonable number of priorities at any given time; add others as you complete them.

10. Find a process that works well for you and follow it consistently.

If you could do only one thing to increase the quality of your life, it would be this: make self-care your #1 priority – not “one of the top” priorities or “a” top priority, but THE top priority. Why? Perhaps counter-intuitively, tending to your own needs enables you to do a much better job of taking care of others. There’s a very sound reason why airline flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before trying to assist others: if you pass out, you are no good to anyone, including yourself. In fact, you have just become part of the problem.

As an added bonus: the techniques suggested above work just as well in personal situations as they do in the workplace.

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter Dec. 30, 2013

Monday, December 30th, 2013

How to Set Supervisors Up for Success

Alignment solution: To optimize your business results, invest in the quality of your supervisors.

Research and experience consistently demonstrate that the #1 reason employees leave organizations, and the primary reason they join unions, is dissatisfaction with their immediate supervisor. Unhappy workers cannot possibly provide excellent products or services, which means the organization’s bottom line will suffer. To increase the likelihood of success in your business, make sure you can attract and retain good employers by investing in your supervisors.

Research in the 1980s revealed that there are specific behaviors that influence employees’ satisfaction with their supervisors. None of those behaviors – e.g., the extent to which supervisors listen to workers, the way they treat those who make mistakes, and the degree to which they follow through to ensure problems get solved – are rocket science. However, people who are promoted to supervisory positions without benefit of training, preparation, or support seldom are fully successful because they simply haven’t been given the opportunity to learn how to manage effectively.

Here are seven ways that you can set your supervisors up for success:

  1. Provide realistic job previews during the selection process so candidates have an accurate picture of the position’s requirements.
  2. Ensure the candidates are willing and able to do (or learn to do) the appropriate managerial tasks.
  3. Once candidates are hired, set specific expectations of performance by clearly defining the required behaviors and results.
  4. Provide the necessary training and professional development at the beginning and throughout the supervisors’ careers.
  5. Help them make the transition from employee to boss.
  6. Reinforce desired behaviors and results.
  7. Help them pay special attention to the behaviors that influence employees’ satisfaction with their supervisors.

Providing this kind of support increases the likelihood that organizations will achieve their goals because they are able to attract and retain good employees. As the economy continues to improve, people will have more choices about where they work, especially those whose skills and abilities are highly valued. Supporting your supervisors so they can manage effectively will result in a huge return on the investment in their success.

To learn about additional behaviors that influence employees’ level of satisfaction with their supervisors, as well as how you can increase the likelihood of the supervisors’ success, take a look at our article How to Increase Employees’ Satisfaction with their Supervisors.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List!

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© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Not Everyone is Capable of Being a Manager – Are You?

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

If you have worked for nearly any organization in any capacity for any length of time, no doubt you have learned this fact: not everyone is capable of being a manager. Often employees are promoted to a supervisory/managerial position because they were really good at the job they were doing. Unfortunately management requires different skills, abilities, and competencies that they may not have. Sometimes the people who are hired or promoted have great potential, but their organizations don’t invest the resources in helping them be fully successful managers. In other cases, people are promoted to manager despite the fact that they don’t want the job: although they’d rather continue what they were doing, for some reason they felt compelled to accept the new, unwanted responsibilities.

Chances are very good that during your career you have had the misfortune of working for someone who never should have been a manager, or you’ve observed others (employees or supervisors/managers) in that situation – or perhaps you have been that person yourself. It’s not a pretty sight. And the results of this type of mis-match between person and position cause harm to the manager, the people he/she supervises, customers, vendors, and ultimately the organization.

So how do you know who is or is not capable of being a manager? Recently I saw a question on this topic posed by a journalist: what are some signs that people are NOT cut out for management? Although I prefer to answer questions from a positive perspective – in this case, pointing out signs that people ARE capable of being managers – I think there is some value here to identifying the characteristics that ought to disqualify candidates for managerial positions. Below are my answers to the original query. You are not cut out for management if you:

don’t like people.

don’t like working with others.

don’t have passion for the business.

are unwilling and/or unable to delegate tasks and responsibility.

are unwilling and/or unable to give and receive constructive feedback.

are unwilling and/or unable to act like a manager.

are unwilling and/or unable to take on management tasks instead of doing whatever you used to do.

are unwilling and/or unable to take responsibility for your employees’ poor performance.

are unwilling and/or unable to develop your employees.

need people to like you.

need to be one of the “guys” instead of the boss.

are a poor communicator.

are inflexible.

So what about it? Are YOU capable of being a manager? If not, let others be the boss. You are better off pursuing a career path that allows you to be fully successful using the talents and competencies you DO have.

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter Dec 18, 2013

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Face Your Fears,
Clear the Organizational Clutter

Alignment solution: To optimize business results, clear the organizational clutter.

I see a lot of “clutter” in organizations that has nothing to do with piles of paper or disorderly desks and offices. Organizational clutter can take many forms. See if any of these resonate with you:

  • Layers of bureaucracy that stifle creativity and innovation.
  • Maze-like organizational structures created to avoid confronting unsatisfactory employee performance or dysfunctional workplace relationships.
  • Hierarchies that slow decision-making and obstruct efforts to serve customers well.
  • Programs that drain resources and do not support organizational goals.

The consequences of such clutter include misalignment with organizational goals and substantial barriers to optimizing business results.

One reason for organizational clutter is that people are afraid to get rid of things. All kinds of scary implications come to mind: What if we discard something we later need? How would employees react if we discontinue this program? What if the replacement program, process, or structure isn’t as good as the one we have now? Rather than making tough decisions about what really is needed and then releasing what is not, leaders often just add on to what is there. The result, of course, is an inability to optimize business results.

A simple tool can help you eliminate some forms of organizational clutter by allowing you to confront the fears that prevent you from releasing things that no longer serve the organization well. It consists of asking and truthfully answering these two questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that could happen (realistically) if we did XYZ?
  2. Can we live with that outcome?

For example, what is the worst thing that could happen if you confront an employee who is not performing? Perhaps he or she would sue the organization. How likely is that scenario though, particularly when there is no legal basis for the action? A more plausible outcome is that the person will be unhappy, and perhaps will leave. Can you live with the loss of a non-performing employee?

People often blow their fears way out of proportion. Thus it is important to be realistic when considering the worst thing that could happen if you take, or fail to take, a given action. Consider the likelihood that this outcome will occur as well as the risk that it poses to the organization. Once the anticipated negative outcomes are examined realistically, they generally turn out to be quite acceptable. In fact, they often result in positive outcomes that people may not have considered previously because they were so focused on the specters conjured up by their fears.

To learn about ten additional actions you can take to clear organizational clutter, take a look at our article Clearing the Organizational Clutter.

Note: This article was adapted from my 2010 article Two Questions that Eliminate Organizational Clutter.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List!

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© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Are You Measuring the Right Things?

Alignment solution: The most influential, indispensable measures of an organization’s impact are those that demonstrate the value it provides its customers.

What do your measures say about your organization’s priorities? Do they emphasize its activities and performance? Or do they demonstrate the value it provides to customers? The saying, “What gets measured gets done” is true: people pay attention to the things that are measured. Yet countless organizations metaphorically shoot themselves in the foot by measuring their activities or performance instead of the value they provide customers. Is yours one of them?

First let’s define the relevant terms. Activities are tasks such as attending meetings, interacting with customers and vendors, and taking training classes. Performance represents outputs – i.e., what happens when people – individually, as a team, or as an organization – carry out their assigned activities. Typical output indicators include the results of individual performance evaluations and customer satisfaction surveys, and the availability of a pool of qualified applicants. Outcome is the desired end result, the “big picture” to which the organization aspires, such as “bringing good things to life” (General Electric) or “successful self-sufficiency and well being for all” (Community Action Agency).

Next, ask yourself this question: “Do our stakeholders care most about our activities, our performance, or the outcome we can provide them?” Unless they are highly unusual, they won’t care at all about your activities, though some may pay attention to your performance. Instead, their focus is on the customer experience they expect from you.

Here are three benefits to utilizing outcome measures: (1) you grab stakeholders’ attention because you are addressing what matters to them; (2) your organization is able to demonstrate clearly the value it provides its customers; and (3) because your employees unmistakably can see what’s important, their efforts will be directed toward the desired outcome instead of concentrated solely on activities or outputs.

How do you identify outcome-oriented measures? Follow these three steps:

  1. Identify a possible measure by asking, “How will our stakeholders know that we have done [insert action or result]?”
  2. Determine whether that potential measure matters to them by asking, “Do they care?” If they do not, return to step #1. If they do, proceed to step #3.
  3. Discover whether you truly have an outcome measure by asking, “So what?” If there is an answer, you aren’t there yet. Keep repeating “So what?” until there are no further answers. That result is your outcome measure.

For example, the Community Action Agency’s job is to oversee the implementation of various anti-poverty programs. Its stakeholders know the organization conducts job training programs because they see clients working (step 1). They care because the results show the programs are successful (step 2). So what? By helping people find work, the organization is contributing to the successful self-sufficiency and well-being of the community (step 3).

Please note: while activities and outputs are necessary and should be assessed, their measures are not sufficient to enable employees and stakeholders to remain focused on, and achieve, the end result. Keeping the big picture as the organization’s top priority requires outcome-based measures.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List!

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© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.