There’s More than One Approach
Years ago when I was in graduate school, I rented a duplex near the university that was owned by the wife of a marketing professor. Whenever repairs were needed, she sent her husband to fix them. No matter what the problem, he would show up with his trusty roll of duct tape. The day he taped up my oven because it wouldn’t get hot, I had to wonder why in the world an otherwise intelligent person thought that duct tape was the solution to every problem.
The answer came in the form of a familiar adage: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Although he was very competent in the marketing arena, outside the classroom, the professor’s only tool in his toolbox was duct tape.
Something similar plays out in the workplace every day. In the U.S., most people are taught to resolve problems using a standard approach: identify the issue, determine its cause, and find ways to solve it. Although this process works well in many situations, it falls short in others. Just as a hammer sometimes is the wrong tool for the job, so too there are times that the traditional problem-solving framework is an ineffective option.
Imagine this scenario: you’ve just gotten a call from a major customer, who reported that a series of mistakes by your sales team enabled a minor incident to become much more serious. When the team returns to the office, the questions begin: “What went wrong? Who messed up? What happened? Why did you do X instead of Y?” Team members become defensive. Perhaps fingers are pointed and blame is assigned. The heated discussion ends on a very negative note, setting the tone for the rest of the day and beyond.
Now imagine an alternative problem-solving approach to the same scenario. Focusing on strengths and past successes, an appreciative framework builds on them to identify ways to improve in the future. The discussion begins with, “What did you do well during that sales call? What or who enabled you to do exactly what you needed to do?” It goes on like this: “Let’s talk about a time when you faced this same situation and you aced it. What did that look like? What did you do then, and how did you do it? How can you repeat that success in the future? What will that look like?” Instead of feeling like they are on the defensive, team members are energized. Asking them about their strengths and their successes reminds them of what it feels like when they are working as a highly effective team. They want to re-capture that experience. Focusing on a desired future instead of on an unchangeable past inspires them to do whatever is necessary to reach that positive outcome every time. In fact, they are highly likely to end up with a much better solution than would have resulted from the traditional problem-solving approach.
I am not advocating that you discard the standard problem-solving approach. It remains a valuable tool in many situations. What I am suggesting is that when the oven isn’t heating, you forsake the duct tape for the best tool for the job. The key is to identify which problem-solving approach is most appropriate for a given situation AND to have the skill to shift from one to the other as needed.
To learn how you can use the appreciative approach to problem-solving in your organization, take a look at my article An Appreciative Approach to Problem-solving.
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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
Archive for the ‘Optimizing Business Results’ Category
Early Saturday morning I went to the Long Beach Fire Department’s Training Center to attend a traffic control class for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members. The CERT program manager, Firefighter/Paramedic Jake Heflin, a highly respected and nationally recognized expert in emergency preparedness and response as well as a sought-after FEMA-certified trainer, came in a few minutes later. The look on his face suggested he hadn’t slept in days. Professional that he is, he rallied to get the class started by introducing our Long Beach Police Department trainer.
During the break, I asked Jake how things were going. He had just returned from a week-long trip to Phoenix, the White House had called him to request that he write a letter explaining how emergency preparedness would affect one of its initiatives, his work had piled up in his absence, and he was worried about the funding for his position, which ends in September. Plus he hadn’t seen his family in a week, and Sunday was Mother’s Day in the U.S. No pressure!
“Pat,” he said, “I need to be operating at the 50,000 foot level. Instead, I’m down here in the weeds. I need to learn now to delegate.”
“Jake,” I replied, “I have just the tool for you. It’s a very simple question that provides immediate clarity. Ask yourself, ‘Am I the only person who can do [the task at hand]?’ If the truthful answer is ‘Yes,’ then do it. Otherwise, delegate it.”
Though the question is a simple one that cuts to the chase, I find that leaders have a hard time actually releasing tasks they should be delegating. Sometimes there is no one to whom they can hand things off. However, even that “excuse” often can be overcome with a little creativity. Most of the time, there are beliefs that hold leaders back. See if either of these rationalizations resonates with you:
“No one else can do it as well as I can.”
“I can do it faster myself.”
Although these statements may be true, here’s why allowing such beliefs to prevent you from delegating tasks is problematic on three levels:
1. Organization: you are not serving your organization well because you are misallocating scarce resources, namely your time.
2. Employees: you are failing to develop your staff by withholding opportunities for them to learn and grow.
3. Self: you are hurting yourself because you unnecessarily are increasing the amount of stress you face, which has a negative effect on your health as well as on your performance.
So please – do yourself and everyone else a favor: stop making excuses and start delegating! By releasing those tasks that others can do and focusing on those that you are uniquely qualified to do (or that you love to do), you will experience a dramatic increase in well-being. As a bonus, those to whom you delegate the tasks will appreciate the trust you are showing in them.
© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.
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:
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.
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.
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.
There seems to be widespread consensus that the Obama administration’s roll-out of its signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a nightmare. Although one may say that “hindsight is always 20/20,” the fact is that this debacle could have been avoided – or at least mitigated significantly. Simply stated, it seems that the people in charge failed to think through this enormous undertaking.
Organizations cannot optimize their performance unless they execute their projects successfully. Toward that end, here are nineteen lessons that leaders can learn from the ACA’s experience and apply to the implementation of virtually any large project:
1. Create a clear “big picture” of the desired outcome, including users’ expectations of what it will do. Work backwards from that picture.
2. In advance, gather ALL the people with relevant knowledge and expertise and have them collectively think through what it will take to develop and implement the project successfully. Don’t wait till things fall apart before you go back to ask the experts for their advice.
3. Insist that ALL players/stakeholders be actively engaged and that everyone’s voice is heard.
4. Make sure the end result is user-friendly by hiring “interpreters” who can speak the language of both the end users and the experts who are charged with creating the system or process.
5. Conduct a pilot program with a small sample of the end users. This allows you to get valuable feedback, work out the bugs, and maximize your resources.
6. Communicate truthfully, fully, and in a timely manner to clients and stakeholders before, during, and after implementation.
7. Ensure the decision-makers are fully informed about short- and long-term consequences of the project as well as potential pitfalls.
8. Test the system before rolling it out. Address the deficiencies and re-test. Do not go “live” until the system truly is ready for its debut.
9. Have one or more experts or nay-sayers play the devil’s advocate role to poke holes in the implementation process.
10. Create an implementation plan (vs. an action plan).
11. Assign responsibility and create meaningful, timely consequences for non-performance.
12. Set realistic timelines for progress and completion. Monitor them continuously and investigate promptly if they are not met.
13. In the face of evidence that the implementation is not on track, stop and address the problems; do not insist on moving forward anyway.
14. Make the roll-out process transparent to all stakeholders.
15. Justify the costs at all stages of the project, beginning with the initial estimates and including any bid amounts. Closely scrutinize cost over-runs as they occur and take immediate action to stop or mitigate them.
16. Make sure the costs are realistic: not extremely high or low.
17. If you use a bid process, weigh expertise more heavily than cost. The lowest bidder is not necessarily the best choice.
18. Don’t tell the experts how they must do the work. Tell them what outcome you need and let them determine the best way to achieve it.
19. Put the right person in every job.
The above lessons can save you time, energy, and significant resources, not to mention keep your organization’s reputation intact. Many of them cost nothing to implement; others are likely to have a large ROI (return on investment). Why not apply them when developing your next large project?
© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.