Posts Tagged ‘Solid Thinking Corp’

Remember in Star Wars when Yoda said something to the effect that “There is no ‘Try’, only ‘Do’”?  Well I guess if you have supernatural powers and a light saber then that might be true.  But on THIS planet, there is often a lot more trying then actually doing!  In fact business experts say unless you are failing periodically, you aren’t trying hard enough.  So setting lofty goals is a good thing, right?

Yes but failing a lot may earn you a reputation for not delivering on your promises.  The more I talk with people in business about what qualities they want to see in their employees, the more I hear the phrase “Do what you say you will do”.  From engineering staffs to marketing teams, making things happen – – – key things and minor things – – – seems to be an increasingly important ability when HR departments look at potential hires.  How do you do this?

How do you build a reputation for Reliability?

  1. Be very reluctant to agree to do things in the first place.  Since your word is your bond, don’t give your word easily.  Instead of saying “I’ll make so-and-so happen by the end of next month” when you have no idea how you’ll actually make that happen, say instead “I’ll push hard to make that happen and it depends on our ability to get X and Y here parts in time” or just say “That is high risk but we will try it.”
  2. Be an ACE – – – Always Control Expectations.  If a task is going to be especially difficult make sure key people know it, for two main reasons:  a) You want them to know that the probability of success is low so they are not automatically counting on your success and are, instead, preparing back-up plans b) you may need resources in order to be successful and they can help you get them.

 Here is how you DON’T build a solid reputation for reliably making things happen:

  1. You don’t cherry-pick only those jobs that you know you can do, finding ways to reject/avoid all the others.  This will get you branded as a primadonna interested more in your corporate image than in the work of the enterprise.
  2. And you don’t play the blame game, finding ways to blame other people (coworkers, managers, suppliers, etc.) time after time when you are unable to complete assigned tasks on time.

As a boss, if people on your team are signing up for tough jobs and then unable to complete them on time, a process (or several) is probably broken.  Your forecasting process for sales may be unrealistic; your supply chain might be unreliable and impacting your deliverables; your project managers are not properly assessing risks and developing work-around plans.  Whatever is causing the problem, get a Tiger Team to tackle it.  They should dig until they find the root causes, no matter how politically painful, and then provide you with options and a recommendation to fix the problem.  This has the additional benefits of forcing people to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, helping teams become more self-directed and showing everyone that management wants solutions brought to the table whenever a problem surfaces.  Find a problem?  Good.  Bring some possible solutions (options for management) and a recommendation.  That last point, making a recommendation, forces people to take a stand and suggest a course of action.  Such assertive action, taking a public stand on something, builds character.   Managers always watch to see who does this – – – they are almost always the future managers and leaders for the enterprise.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Leader driven Harmony #33: Know Your People!

by Mack McKinney on July 15, 2011

I visited the director of a mid-sized aerospace company recently.  His group has over 200 employees and performs major maintenance, repair and overhaul on C-130s and helicopters.  I wanted to meet him and discuss the possibility of collaborating on some projects.  He has only had the job two years and was a career Marine, so I expected a rough, gruff, order-barking guy.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Unlike the guy before him, he is straight forward, but friendly.  One of my friends was just hired there and he says the employees all talk about people smiling and laughing on the job for the first time in years.  The line workers seem to really like him which is a big change for this operation.  Absenteeism is way down and productivity is way up.  When he first came aboard he personally reviewed each contract and renegotiated several of them that seemed unfair to his company.  (These were put in place by the manager before him and were poorly written).  He also personally reviewed every employee’s personnel jacket (record) and called them in to discuss the pay, what he expected from them and to ask what they needed from him.  I’m also told this guy shows no favoritism among the staff or workers.  Everybody gets a fair shake.

I enjoyed talking with him.  His polite straightforwardness was refreshing.  And we may do some work together later this year.  But it was a couple of little things that really impressed me.  His office is not very large, doesn’t have a breath-taking view and is located above a hangar floor.  It takes a good five minutes to walk there from the visitors’ parking spots in front of the building.  This is a controlled area and most execs would simply have sent their secretary out to meet me and escort me to his office.  But this fellow personally fetched me!  He walked all the way from his office, met me at the car and escorted me all the way back in.  (I remember a television journalist saying how impressed he was that King Hussein of Jordon walked him to his car after an interview in Amman and when thanked, the King explained “this is just common manners – – – I do this for visitors all the time.”

But even this was not the most impressive thing I saw that day.  From the parking lot to his office and then back along that same route an hour later we probably passed a dozen people and without exception he called each by their first name and asked them something personal:

  • Sarah, how’s your son doing?  Is he out of the hospital yet?
  • Jane, I hear you are leaving us?  Are you taking a better job with more money for your family?  (Yes I am)  Well then that is ok and let me know if there is anything I can do to make your transition easier.
  • Bobby, how are you doing?  Did your guys find that tool they were looking for?

I suspect this fellow knows the first name of everybody who works there and that is impressive.  Not just that he can memorize them but that he does.  This is old-school leadership behavior and the people who work there will never forget it.  Do you know the first names of all the people who work for you and your colleagues, and their family situations?  Why not?  Even an old Marine does it!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

A highly creative team can make or break a company and they require special care and feeding (literally).  The complaints coming from creative people we have worked with through the years fall into three buckets of “frustrations”:  mundane, daily frustrations; professional frustrations, and management-induced frustrations.  Let’s look at each one and see how we can prevent it.

  1. Mundane, daily frustrations – These include heavy traffic lengthening the daily commute, difficulty finding a parking spot, and not having change for the soft drink machine.  So managers, allow people to work from home one day each week.  Also encourage carpooling to ease the parking challenge and reward carpoolers with gas money.  Lastly, put healthy drinks in the machines and let the company pay for them (select the “coinless” setting in the machines or buy your own machines).  One firm we know did this and also keeps a large kitchen fully stocked with instant soups and other fast foods, all free to employees.
  2. Professional frustrations – Engineers never seem to have requirements that they can use.  They always want better requirements.  And your engineers do deserve the most solid requirements you can generate, blessed by the end users of the system.  So make that happen.  Visit multiple users and get the system specification, contract and the requirements aligned.  Also, scientists always seem to need better tools and equipment.  This gets expensive fast but you should meet their needs whenever it makes good business sense.  But do two things here:
    • tie new tools to higher output, faster analyses/studies, etc. and
    • require the scientists to triage their needs so you work on filling the most crucial needs first.
  3. Management-induced frustrations – and here there are several:
    • Mismatched expectations, when management thinks they have asked for one thing and the staff provides something different.  Usually this is caused by management thinking they have hired mind readers.  Managers, be overly thorough in your assignments and get confirmation by asking “Now, what are you going to go do, and why?”  You’ll sometimes be amazed at the answer you get!
    • Great inventions and technologies get embedded in technologies and systems, but the project gets cancelled.  Technical/creative types understandably want to see their ideas take wing and launch!  So have an ‘idea greenhouse” where orphaned ideas can await a new home.  And reward people for planting wild ideas there (a year’s membership in the World Futures Society at www.wfs.org or a trip to a super science symposium or a great museum).  Let people know you value great ideas, even (especially?) those ideas that are ahead of their time!  And to prevent premature death of a project, design your projects as carefully as you design your systems (learn to do this in the Project Dominance course offered at Solid Thinking)
    • Hidden assumptions or unvoiced expectations cause the end user to reject the system.  Usually this is because management failed to get user buy-in during the design and development of the system.  Remember that just meeting the specifications is not enough – – – management must seek out representative users and get their vocal support for the system as it is being conceived, developed, built and fielded.  Anything less is risky.

Lastly, here are some Do’s and Don’ts for leaders managing creative teams:

  • Don’t accept problems brought to you by staffers, unless each problem comes with options and a recommendation.  This is how you build creative thinkers (and a replacement for yourself).
  • Don’t belittle noble failures.  Instead, celebrate them with luncheons and rewards (a half-day off, a dinner at a nice restaurant, etc.)  Make it a fun thing.  Build an accepting environment for new ideas, whether they find a home or not.
  • Don’t overlook talent you have within your organization(s).  You may have mission expertise in your organization that you know nothing about.  One of our clients has a “Mission Experience Library” of people with military experience.  If they need someone familiar with aircraft maintenance, for instance, they can query the database and find that ex-sergeant wrench-turner who can provide input on the new automated technical order system being contemplated.

“Take care of the people and the people will take care of the jobs.” (source unknown)

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

With the horror of the Japanese tsunami catastrophe still unfolding, ask yourself this.  If there was a 9.0 scale earthquake in the city where you live and you managed to survive it, what would you do then?  Let’s suppose you cannot “shelter in place” (a FEMA term) because your apartment building is unlivable or gone.  A week goes by and no help arrives.  You are running out of the food and water you managed to gather up.  The power grid is down and you have seen no soldiers, police, fire fighters or power company repairmen.  There is no water coming from the faucets and criminals are looting the stores and roaming the streets.

Admittedly this is a very bad and unlikely scenario but the smartest thing you could do might be to get out into the farmland that surrounds many big cities and offer to work for food, shelter (even if just a place in the barn) and protection.  In the rural areas of most countries people still grow their own food and many even build their own homes.  Their one- or two-story buildings are more likely to survive a major quake than high rises and they will certainly know how to grow and preserve food to last a few years.  And at least in the US, they are likely to have guns to protect themselves and their neighbors (and hopefully any temporary lodgers like you).

Individual Responsibility & Accountability

The pioneering spirit that drove people westward in the 1800s, and founded towns across the plains all the way to the west coast, is still alive and well in this country.  And I come from that heritage – – – my dad said his family was so self-contained on the farm in West Virginia that except for the scarcity of flour, sugar and salt at the local store, they barely noticed the depression in the early 1930s.  They grew and stored everything they needed.  Even today there are two groups of mainly-rural Americans who are still this self-sufficient; those that need to be (due to poverty) and those that just want to be.  Let’s talk about the latter.

There is an amazing satisfaction that comes from being individually accountable and responsible for building/repairing things and growing food with your own two hands.  Some people grow their own food in the suburbs or on farms, usually starting out with vegetable gardens but sometimes extending to orchards and even farm animals such as chickens, sheep, hogs or cattle.  Still others repair their own cars, trucks and farm tractors.  Some people move “off the grid” entirely and build power generation (solar, wind, etc.) and power storage systems to run their basic lights and home appliances without a monthly electrical bill.

In many parts of the USA – – –  the West, the Midwest, far North-East and the South for example – – – self-reliance is a matter of cultural pride.  Farm kids are taught how to grow corn, beans and potatoes; to preserve food to last at least a year including canning vegetables, salt/sugar curing of meats, etc.; to kill and pluck a chicken; to get a diesel tractor restarted after it has run out of fuel; to sharpen a dull mower blade with a bench grinder; even to weld metal parts back together.  I was taught all these things as a kid and they have served me well through the years. I’ve added basic building skills such as forming and pouring concrete, building stud walls, wiring a room, laying shingles and hanging drywall.  As an airplane owner I’ve even learned to maintain an aircraft, changing oil and spark plugs and doing any number of other maintenance tasks permitted by the Feds and common sense.

Basic Skills

Going back to our hypothetical survival situation, there are LOTS of scenarios that could require you to improvise to survive. Some basic skills could mean the difference between surviving and not.  Even if you have only limited hands-on skills, here are some basic jobs you really need to master:

  • Safely jacking up your car/truck, removing a wheel, breaking-down a tire, installing a gooey rubber “plug” in a hole, remounting the tire and remounting the wheel on the car.  Yes I know AAA usually just tows the car for us and a garage mechanic plugs the hole, but what if neither the AAA nor the mechanic are around anymore, and escaping from danger (approaching weather, bad people, etc.) requires you to drive away?  You need to be able to do this yourself.
  • Know how to “dress” a fryer and I don’t mean put a small shirt and pants on it.  That means at least being able to cut it into leg, thigh and breast. Ideally once a year you should go to a farm, buy a freshly killed (beheaded) fryer, take it home and then pluck and then gut it, setting aside the heart and liver (aka giblets) for stewing.  If all hell breaks loose someday, you are thrust into a survival situation, and a chicken wonders across your path, you will be able to eat.  Let your kids 10 or older see how this is done.
  • Develop (or hone) basic camping skills: how to erect a tent and tie a few basic knots, how to use a whetstone to sharpen a kitchen/other knife and how to light propane/camp gas lanterns and stoves.  These stove skills could enable you to boil water so it becomes safe to drink, especially important since a person can go 14 days or so without food but only 3-5 days without water.
  • Know how to safely siphon fuel using only a 3 foot piece of rubber hose and your thumb or mouth.  (Do not email me about this being too dangerous to even try, because teenagers have been stealing gasoline this way for almost a hundred years.  Just don’t swallow!)
  • For a bunch of reasons, know how to shoot a rifle, shotgun and pistol. Go to a range, rent a gun if you don’t own one, and get an instructor to teach you basic weapons safety, handling and shooting.  This could save your life someday.
  • Throw a survival skills booklet – – – there are dozens of titles and styles – – – into the trunk of your car or into your closet at home.  Many pilots already get this training as part of their survival education or when in the military and other people get it in school through the Boy/Girl Scouts or 4H Clubs.  But a good refresher course and reference book would be a great gift idea for everyone.

You don’t need to move into a cabin in the wild and become a fully self-contained homesteader.  But adding a few basic skills will improve your self-confidence and your sense of self-reliance.

Donate Carefully

The Japanese people who are suffering terribly now desperately need our help.  But scams are appearing and even established charities are asking people to be careful how they give money.  For example please do not give to the Red Cross or other charity and earmark your contribution only for disaster relief in Japan.  This really ties their hands.  And to avoid being the victim of relief-scams, before you donate anything see these comments from the Maryland Attorney General

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Use the Four P’s To Get Your Ideas MOVING:  Be Pleasant, Be Professional, Be (Somewhat) Patient and Promote Like Crazy

Picture this scene:  You are the new person at your office.  You’ve been there a month and a great idea just occurred to you.  This idea will help your group save money and deliver a better product or service.  You describe the idea to your colleagues and they like it.  So you mention it to your boss and she likes it too.  You are now very excited!

Adopting the idea won’t cost your group much money and the savings are remarkable, so you would like to get the idea adopted . . . yesterday. . .  immediately.  But nobody else seems to share your sense of urgency.  So what should you do?   Pick one.

  1. Push like Hell.  You probably have enough people believing in the idea already.  Make this your signature cause and get noticed.  Stand out as a change agent and do it now.  If you back down now, people will see you as a quitter.  This would be a bad reputation to get when you just arrived.  Make as much noise as needed to get that idea adopted and senior management will have to notice you!
  2. You are just too new to push ANY idea.  Convince your boss, who knows the group and how to make things happen, to push the idea, hopefully bringing you along.  Organizations fear change anyway, especially if the change is pushed by somebody new like you.  If your boss won’t champion the idea, drop it like a hot potato.
  3. Change jobs. If your group will not act on a great idea that is this OBVIOUS, you will never get them to change.  And if you cannot contribute, why are you working there?  You haven’t been there long enough for the job change to even show up on your resume.  Move on.  These people are dinosaurs and you will never fit in.
  4. Push the idea gently but don’t lose focus on your job and your career.  If you can’t get this idea adopted with gentle, steady persuasion, there must be some other reason(s) for the resistance.  Walk away.  Rethink it.  Repackage it.  Growing in your current job is more important than satisfying your ego.

Before we give you OUR answer, we’ll give you the secret to making things happen at work:  the four P’s – – – Be Pleasant, be Professional, be Patient and Promote.  Do these things and you will get your ideas accepted, guaranteed.  [Unless they are bizarre, aluminum-foil-on-your-head ideas, in which case you need the fifth P – – – Prozac.).

The four P’s are easy to do.

  1. Be Pleasant:  This doesn’t mean you have to suck up to anyone or abandon your deepest principles.  To be pleasant just think “face and back” – – –  Smile whenever you meet or greet people face to face.  Make it look like you are genuinely glad to see them.  Even better, BE genuinely glad to see them. Every time.  With everyone.   And never, ever say anything behind a person’s back that you haven’t already said to their face.  Ever.  And lastly, let others have their say.  This applies to your idea or to any idea or concept or world event or . . . well . .  . anything.  Let other people talk and don’t feel that you have to correct their opposite-from-yours view on the subject.  Practice letting it go. Go reread “Desiderata” and practice it!   Whenever tempted to go nose-to-nose with a real dufus, remember the phrase “Never wrestle with a pig.  You both get dirty but the pig likes it.”
  2. Be Professional:  You were hired to do a job.  Learn to do that job better than anyone on the planet.  And stay focused on that huge task.  Every day.  Be passionate about learning everything there is to know about your job.  (See our previous post about passion titled “Get a Fire going In Your Belly”).  Talk with other inquisitive, curious people about the work you do, why things are done the way they are, what problems existed previously and how they were solved, etc.  Always take the wide view of a situation and ask “what am I missing here?” when tempted to snap at someone.  The PAUSE is a powerful thing and it is sooooo easy to use!  More on that in a future post.

Next week we’ll show you that a little patience is desirable but that too much can be a very bad thing.  We’ll also show how you can promote your idea without becoming that boring/aggravating person everyone avoids at the lunch table

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corp.