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Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette

Bill Catlette, @ContentedCows is an executive coach and business author who helps clients build lasting competitive edge by eliminating blind-spots and improving leadership habits.

For Better Leadership Communication, Put a Different Device in Your Hand

The fact that each of us has continually at hand, if not in hand, devices that practically beg to announce our every thought or emotion immediately upon conception represents one of the greater latent dangers to our reputations, if not careers. Put simply, the fact that we can emote nonstop doesn’t mean we should, particularly if we occupy a leadership role and have others looking to us for guidance and good example.

Though we have more communications capacity at our disposal than ever, most of us do a poorer job of actually making meaning. This occurs at a time when institutional knowledge is leaving our organizations at an unprecedented rate. (According to the BLS, about 100,000 Americans quit their jobs daily!) And it shows.

For a small proof of concept, ask a representative sample of your workforce to list the organization’s three (3) top priorities. Then, compare their answers. They won’t match!  To wit, how are you ever going to accomplish those things if people don’t know what they are? Your people want to read mysteries, not live them! We can, and must do a lot better.

Good Leaders Delegate Into Their Weaknesses

At the risk of adding fuel to a fire that’s burning pretty much out of control already, I will submit that, for those interested in learning, there are a plethora of leadership lessons currently being taught daily on the national stage. Some of the lessons come from good examples, while others involve some pain, ‘er tuition. One of the more recent ones involves the President, and it relates to areas where managers (any of us) lack skill, or perhaps sufficient interest in a given aspect of our job function, even a vital aspect.

It’s no secret that President Trump frequently runs into difficulty when he ventures anywhere near tragedies, people who feel aggrieved, or nationally sensitive moments, and the need to console or be appropriately respectful of people who are hurting. There are often live wires just beneath the surface of those situations, and he has demonstrated a remarkable propensity for finding and stepping on them through poor word choices, bad optics, poor preparation, or the felt need to add too much value to the situation.

Before anyone gets their red or blue knickers in a knot, let’s stipulate that we ALL have our own demons and shortcomings. In fact, this happens to be a shortcoming that I share with the President. Lucky for me, my job doesn’t require regular presence near disaster scenes, Gold Star families, or flag-draped coffins. If it did, at an age that is within a pitching wedge of the President’s (that’s two things we share), and some pretty well-worn habits, I likely would lean a lot harder on my Vice President to represent me / the Nation in such matters, not just because he’s available, but because he’s better at it than I will ever be.

Making No Decision Is a Decision, and Usually the Wrong One

Last week I spoke for a group of college students in a management course. Corresponding with a chapter of the text currently being studied in class, the subject of my remarks was,  “You Get Paid to Think.” 

As a contemporary template for encouraging the class to do exactly that, I challenged them to assume the position of the San Francisco 49’ers head football coach, team CEO, and NFL commissioner at the precise moment in the 2016 season when the team's quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first chose to sit rather than stand for the singing of the National Anthem. Despite a somewhat nervous look from the professor when I lit this candle, the students took the challenge in stride and put forth a variety of fairly thoughtful options ranging from talk, make that listen to the player (AFTER the game) to discussing with the team potentially more effective and less incendiary ways of making the point.

The most impressive part of their response was that no one argued for doing what the team, and subsequently the league have essentially done over the last year… nothing. As a result of this inaction, the demonstrations have spread to other teams, sports, venues, causes, a good portion of the league’s fan base is inflamed, @VP saw fit to fly 3200 miles round trip this past weekend purely to do his own demonstration, and you-know-who is practically wetting his pants.

Borrowing a lesson learned thirty years ago from FedEx founder, Fred Smith, we then discussed the fact that leaders don’t just get paid to think, we also get paid to decide, and we must bear in mind that the failure to decide is in itself a decision, and quite often the wrong one. All in, it was a great experience and, as usual, I probably learned more than the students did. (Thanks, Dr. T)

One thing I would ask you, our readers, many of whom hold pretty senior leadership positions to do is to encourage your teammates to thoughtfully react to episodes like this in a timely manner, pursue a reasonable decision process, and, in a work environment already too beset by fear, to pull the trigger, knowing that if they’ve done all those things, you will support them regardless of the outcome.

Staffing Is More Than Putting Butts In Seats
by Bill Catlette

During my travels as a veteran road warrior, I’ve recently encountered some rather remarkable signs of short-staffing, and employees who were (or should have been) wearing “trainee” badges, or perhaps personal flotation devices.

From a customer perspective, it’s disheartening to wait interminably for someone (anyone) to show up, check you in, take your food order, or answer the phone, and then to encounter a newbie who has obviously been prematurely dropped into the deep end of the pool with no life preserver or swimming skills. Though perhaps more readily apparent in the travel, hospitality, and retail spaces, this occurrence is by no means unique to those industries.

Through the first half of 2017, about 100,000 people left their jobs every day in the U.S. according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marry that with data indicating that the U.S. currently has a job vacancy backlog of some 6 million open positions, and you quickly understand why recruiters’ tongues are hanging out, and so many others are gagging over the service experience. It also might say something about the abysmal levels of employee engagement and national productivity growth we’re experiencing.

On the precept that one of the cruelest things we can do to employees and customers alike is to put new teammates into a situation where they simply cannot succeed, here are three suggestions for managers:

Adjust Your Sights – Having a new person join your team is closer to the beginning of the staffing process than the end. Truth be known, your staffing duties will never be over (indeed, you should never stop recruiting), and they won’t be finished with that new teammate until the individual is competent and reasonably comfortable in their new role. So don’t go rushing off the instant after you hand someone their new employee ID card.

Get Serious About Onboarding – It’s not unusual to see half of all newly hired hourly workers leave jobs in the first 4 months, says Dr. Autumn D. Krauss in a Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology publication.

Plus, an equal portion of outside hires that are brought into the management ranks fail in the initial 18 months of service, according to Dr. Bradford Smart, author of “Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People.” Many of these failures are quite preventable, and some can no doubt be attributed to poorly designed or badly executed onboarding measures. People who aren’t made to feel welcome, taught the secret handshake, and equipped with the necessary insights and nuances of how things are done in an organization probably won’t be very successful, have much fun, or last long. Moreover, they will tell lots of people about the experience, and your employer brand will take a hit. Speaking of employer reputation, if you haven't checked your Glassdoor rating lately, it might be a good idea.

 Take a hard, end-to-end look at your onboarding process. Is the knowledge transfer properly sequenced? Is it delivered in a manner that best matches the user’s preferred learning style? Do you even know what their dominant learning style is? Is it facilitated by your best and brightest, or simply whoever is available at the time? Are you and senior leaders checking in with new hires to build rapport, personally embed bits of institutional fabric and check on progress? You should.

Adopt some “re-recruiting” measures to provide a means of checking in with recent hires over the course of their first year or so with the organization. Doing so will pay handsome dividends.

Upgrade Skills and Practice De-Selection Where Necessary – Few argue that everyone who finds their way onto an organization’s direct payroll shouldn’t have a mutually developed personal development plan, with time and other resources set aside to work that plan. With the opportunity to build skills, and yes, to bolster one’s resume - a heavy driver of engagement levels - we would do well to be more diligent about this effort.

Strange as it may seem, one of the best things you can do for your staffing situation is to actively, but humanely, de-select (remove) people who are chronic non-performers. Failing to do so is committing fraud against them, your customers, and their fellow teammates, who are likely tired of carrying more than their share of the load.

Last but not least, don't forget to show your recruiters some love. They do important work, and don’t always get the recognition (or pay) they deserve.

When I begin a new executive coaching engagement, my due-diligence process usually involves conducting focused interviews with a representative sample of my client’s peers, direct and indirect reports, other close associates, sometimes their spouse, and of course, their reporting senior.

One of the questions I ask is, “Does this person enjoy the benefit of the doubt with you?” The implications associated with the answers to this question are material. If a significant portion of the people within my client’s sphere of influence are unable or unwilling to give them credit for trying and adopting new behavior, our task becomes more difficult.

This same principle applies for each of us as leaders, and on a broader basis, within our businesses and other organizations as well.

As leaders, our ability to get people to embrace change, overlook our imperfections and errors, endure hardship, accept unpopular decisions and occasionally leap before looking is tied directly to whether or not we’re getting the benefit of the doubt.

Three Ways You Might Be Undermining Employee Engagement

by Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette

We won’t bore you with yet another recitation of Employee Engagement stats. They’re ugly. And it’s costing businesses worldwide more than anyone can afford. Way too few people are excited about their work, and the organizations and people they work for. And it shows. Before (but not in place of) worrying about what you’re doing to increase engagement, let’s take a whack at three things you could stop doing that are presently depleting this precious commodity.

1. Giving Fake Reviews - A sizeable movement has been afoot for the last few years suggesting that we should either somehow make performance evaluations more fun (what is it, a dance party?), or perhaps eliminate them altogether.

Why? Because they’re hard… It takes time and effort to prepare for a fair and factual performance discussion; the conversation can be contentious, particularly if that conversation converts to money; and like many other leadership responsibilities, we’ve done an awful job of teaching leaders (at all levels) how to do them, or even providing a good example to emulate. So we should just stop doing them, right? Wrong! Under that logic, we should all stop brushing our teeth, too.

Recognizing and Dealing With Gross Leadership Failure

by Bill Catlette

Memphis: July 2, 2017 

Often there comes a time in the history of an enterprise when a designated leader has lost the followership of those they are responsible for leading. Followers don’t believe what he has to say, don’t feel he has their best interests at heart, they see her holding herself to a lower standard than everyone else, or are perhaps tired of seeing people treated in an abusive or disrespectful manner. At times, it’s just sheer incompetence. Any benefit of the doubt that the leader might once have enjoyed has vanished, permanently. This happens in businesses, governments, churches, non-profits, just about any type of organization you can think of.

There once was a time when it might have been possible to recover from such a gross leadership failure, a time when people were less distracted, more forgiving, and took a really long view of the employment relationship, where a single job lasted for at least half, and maybe an entire career. Those days are gone. In an age when most jobs last slightly less than the first term of an elected President, there simply isn’t time or the mood for redemption. The only viable solution is surgery, radical surgery involving the excision of the leader.

Preventing the Next Uber Dumpster Fire

by Bill Catlette

 

Nobody in their right mind flies an aircraft, rewires their home, performs surgery, goes skydiving, or engages in many other activities without the benefit of training and/or certification. And if we cared about someone, we wouldn’t stand idly by while they attempted such an endeavor. So, why in the hell do investors and boards with fiduciary responsibility continue to act as though having the requisite leadership skills to run an organization is factory-installed equipment on every entrepreneur or executive? It’s not!

 

Travis Kalanick and several of his compatriots at Uber are just the latest bright, gutsy entrepreneurs to crash and burn from high altitude due to unmitigated blind spots or missing components in their leadership tool kits. And, as is so often the case, it didn’t have to happen. Mr. Kalanick et. al. had resources available to them that, for one reason or another, they simply chose not to, or perhaps didn’t get enough encouragement to use. They will be just fine, though, and so will Uber…eventually. Let’s turn our attention instead to those who remain in or are just signing on to leadership roles, and how boards and senior leaders can do a better job of supporting them, and ensuring the success of their organizations.

 

Great Cakes Start With Great Ingredients

Regardless of position level, we should make certain that necessary hard-wired leadership capabilities are present in every, repeat, every leadership candidate, right from the start. Like lots of other occupations, some elements of the leader’s tool kit cannot easily be taught, if at all. Things like courage and humility are good examples. They either exist in sufficient degree or they don’t. Similarly, other factors which are antithetical to good leadership, e.g., narcissism (present in many who aspire to leadership roles or public office) require more surgery to remove than you or I are licensed to perform, so avoid them, at all costs. 

 

Coach Earlier and More Often

The average Major League Baseball team, with an active roster of 25 players, employs ten position coaches to work regularly with the team. Backed by voluminous performance data for every position and player, the coaches and manager are quick to spot both teaching moments and anomalies, and step in to guide the player. As senior leaders and board members, we should be fostering similar behavior. In that vein, serious attention to “player development” should be as regular a component of our budgeting, planning, and governance processes as any financial or customer metric. Moreover, it’s something that we should take personal interest in. Following are four questions we should all be asking in our organizations:

  1. What are our workforce development priorities?
  2. How much did we spend last year on leader development, and what did we get for it?
  3. How many of our managers have a professional development plan?
  4. How many of our hi-potential leaders are working with a coach, someone who can help accelerate their development, and make sure that they aren’t breathing too much of their own fumes?

If you get consistently accurate answers to even one of these questions throughout your organization, contact me (Bill@ContentedCows.com) and I’ll send you a complimentary copy of our book, Rebooting Leadership. (limited to the first 100 respondents)

 

Don’t Ignore Bad Behavior or Performance

On several occasions I’ve been invited to present to and answer questions from a corporate board about the progress being made in working with one of their senior leaders. I welcome those interactions, not because they’re fun (they aren’t), but because it’s a clear indication that the organization is serious about making progress. I wish more would behave in this manner, and indeed that some would be as quick to notice and sanction bad behavior as they are an earnings or other business plan miss. In nearly all cases, bad behavior will lead to bad performance, and if stopped early enough, it won’t become institutionally embedded like it was at Uber.

Keeping Some of Your Powder Dry

by Bill Catlette 

When coaching those who are new to a leadership role, one of the top five items we deal with pertains to the advisability of keeping some of your “powder” dry. Translation: Your role vests a certain amount of authority in you to use positional power in order to get things done; power to decide, to commit resource, to give instructions, even orders, the list goes on. The amount of power one has ready access to is usually a factor of our level on the organizational food chain. It is there for our use, but not abuse. It’s not easily replaced or replenished, hence it is unwise to squander or misuse it. Moreover, it’s really unbecoming.

We’ve all seen so called “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be to throw their weight around because they can, or think they can. In the workplace, they can often be spotted marching people around – Over here! No, over there!... belittling people, or seeking comfort for themselves while others are sweating or suffering. Those people aren’t leaders. There are other words to describe them, and there is always a day of reckoning for them, always. They will be found out and turned out, unceremoniously.

A few thoughts on your use of position power.

Be Quicker and More Courageous in Dealing With New Hires

by Bill Catlette

5/21/17  

Whether one works in the public eye or not, somewhere in the 50 to 100 day window after a person has started a new job, people around them are forming some pretty strong impressions about whether or not "this dog is going to hunt” as they say in Mississippi. I’ll let you in on a little secret; if they are at all self-aware, the person occupying that new job is likely figuring it out before everyone else is. Sadly, too few managers realize this nexus of thought and take advantage of it by initiating “check-in” conversations with the new staff member.

It would seem to stand to reason then, that on a fairly regular basis, monthly perhaps, it would do us good to check in with new hires (at all levels) and compare notes about how things are going. Do they feel fully successful in their new role? Do we share that point of view? What barriers are preventing them from being as successful as they want to be? What successes have they had, and what hard lessons have been learned? Are they having fun? Is the job what they expected it to be?

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