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Daily Dairy from Contented Cows

3 Steps to Being More Like the Leader You Always Wished For

by Bill Catlette

02.26.17 

 

Along the way, we’ve all observed and noted better (I hesitate to use the word, “best”) habits practiced by leaders we have come into contact with. I’m willing to bet that most of those habits are simple, straightforward, and have a high degree of commonality from one person to another. Here are three that stand out to me:

It Starts With Us, Not Them - We value being able to work in the company of someone who challenges us to be our best, someone who takes an interest in us, who listens to us, values our ideas, and tells us the truth. Someone who has high standards about work and conduct, but doesn’t burden others with their personal issues and neediness. They are eager to shine a bright light on the accomplishments of others, but don’t waste spotlight wattage by clapping for themselves. Selfies aren’t part of their game. You can do this. You just can’t do it if you’re going to be self-centered.

Sunday, 26 February 2017 00:27

How to Avoid Cow Tipping at Work

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How to Avoid Cow Tipping at Work

by Bill Catlette

02/25/17  Memphis

Urban mythology has it that teenagers, likely fueled by alcohol have, in the pursuit of fun, been known to enter a pasture, sneak up on a grazing cow and, through brute force upend the animal, pushing (aka “tipping”) it onto its side. Rural mythology, however, aided by people who have actually touched a cow with something besides a fork know that “tipping” a cow is a lot more difficult than the legend allows. In fact, tipping a Toyota Celica onto its side would be considerably easier. The Celica after all would at least hold still. 

And you’re wondering what on Earth cow tipping has to do with a management-oriented post. Fair question. For the last twenty years we’ve maintained that just as well cared for dairy cattle produce more milk (that’s not an AltFact), well led humans in the workspace produce more and better stuff (also a fact). We’ve done more than “maintain” that notion, we’ve proven it, and written three books about same.  If you’ll permit one more little extension of the metaphor, I will submit that there is a LOT more cow tipping that goes on in the workspace than in any pasture. Here are three ways that managers derail, frustrate, or prevent outright the best efforts of a contented (read, engaged) workforce:

Hanging Onto “Non-Producing and Misfit Cows, ‘er Workers” - Even after proving beyond reasonable doubt that they cannot or will not produce / behave as expected, many employees remain in position because their management chooses to avoid confrontation with the individual (or HR), doesn’t want to expend the energy to hire and train a replacement, or has fallen in love with them for other reasons. Managers then look to A and B players to pick up the slack. This thoroughly disrupts the “spirit of the hive” as others rightfully resent having to carry someone else’s load, and lose pride in what they view as a diminished team. Nobody gets up in the morning and says to themselves, “I want to go lose today”, or, “I want to hang out with losers.” By tolerating this behavior, management tacitly lowers its standards and disenfranchises its best performers.

Systemic Defects - Embedded in every (yes) work process are policies, procedures, methods, tools, equipment, etc. that are not working as expected, and as a result, they add friction to productive effort. Left untreated, this friction is demotivating to the entire workforce. By way of example, the next time you board a commercial aircraft, take note of all the extra effort that flight attendants must exert in order to shoe horn the over-limit and excess carry-on luggage into the overhead bins. Add to that the inevitable arguments with passengers, delays due to deboarding excess luggage, and the realization that this occurs on nearly every flight. If these ladies (mostly) wanted to work for a freight hauler, they would have signed on with FedEx. Your people are enduring comparable irritants. You would do well to spend thirty minutes a day discovering and dispatching these dispiriting productivity killers.

Bad Hiring - By hiring people who, by virtue of pace, preference, values and temperament are out of sync with the organization, managers are adding people who are easily “tipped over”. One misfit person in the right position amidst a hundred others can represent critical mass. Smart managers and smart recruiters take pains to put job fit requirements on an equal basis with talent, and to recognize and deal with hiring mistakes as soon as they become apparent.

If you would like to hear more about this topic in a one-on-one coaching session, keynote speech, or seminar, we would love to hear from you.  

Friday, 24 February 2017 21:43

Why Stars Sometimes Fail as Leaders

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Why Stars Sometimes Fail as Leaders

Richard Hadden


A bright and promising software engineer, we’ll call him Jay, had made a real mark on his company, developing and innovating some of the most important products and processes in the organization’s portfolio. One Friday, Jay’s boss called him into his office and told him,  "You’re so good at what you do that we’ve decided to make you a manager in this department! You start on Monday, and you've got all weekend to figure out how to do the job."

Jay soon found himself in a position for which he was ill-suited and even less well-trained. He knew how to do the work, but not how to lead others to do the same. He’d never had any training, or maybe he just wasn’t cut out for this. Whatever the reason, ultimately, he failed. His boss offered to quietly return him to his former position. Nobody needed to know why. But Jay couldn’t do it. He left. He got another job, as a software engineer. But it didn’t have to happen this way.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017 20:26

Discretionary Effort...When the Show Must Go On

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Discretionary Effort...When the Show Must Go On

Richard Hadden
Feb. 23, 2017

 

This past Sunday morning at 8:30, Ashley Yarham learned that a key member of her team had called in sick - totally legit -  quarantined with the flu, and would therefore not be at work that day for her 2:00 shift. Not good. 

OK, you say, people call in sick all the time. What's the big deal? 

The big deal is that Ashley, a speech pathologist offstage, is also the director of a musical comedy, "City of Angels", playing at Jacksonville Beach's Players-by-the-Sea Theatre, for a three-week run, with a highly Committed cast and crew of more than 30. The stricken team member is an actor, cast in the dual roles of Donna and Oolie (lead characters), and the 2:00 shift is, in fact, the curtain time for that day's matinee performance to a pretty well-sold house, with plenty of walkups expected, thanks to some rave reviews in the local press. 

This is community theatre. Volunteer work. Understudies are a luxury they don't really have. If you're familiar with this show (which won the Best Musical Tony in 1990), you know that the Donna/Oolie roles call for some challenging acting, dancing, and singing.  With little choice on such short notice, Director Ashley rolled up her sleeves and stepped in to perform the two roles. 

What happened next is a perfect example of what Bill Catlette and I have been talking about for better than a decade now - Discretionary Effort - doing that which we CHOOSE to do, not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to. 

A Little Less Conversation (About Race), and A Little More Action Please

by Bill Catlette (title by Elvis)

 

First things first, I’m delighted that President Trump visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and afterwards made some solid statements about “bringing the country together” vis-a-vis race and anti-semitism. (Good job, @CraigMelvin) It’s a good step for him, one he’s been needing to take. Now it’s time to back up the talk. 

That said, I would submit that, generally speaking, we should have fewer rather than more “conversations about race.” Conversations about race in this country somehow seem to devolve to everyone doing their own little uncomfortable dance on the head of a pin. In reality, they aren’t conversations at all, but awkward sessions marked by lots of emoting and very little listening, resulting in bumps, bruises, and too little observable progress.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 15:59

Don’t Overwork Your Horses

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Don’t Overwork Your Horses

by Bill Catlette

02.21.17 Memphis

 

New supervisors quickly learn that it’s to their advantage to know at all times who the most willing and productive people are on their team, who the ‘work horses’ are. These are the people with seemingly endless capacity to reach for and find another gear, and crunch their way thru whatever pile of work is in front of them. On too frequent a basis, we rely on and take too much advantage of that extra capacity.

And what’s the matter with that, you say? It’s what we do. It’s how we stay afloat. No disagreement there. We’re using a tool, an asset that is available to us to get the daily wash out. But here’s the danger: Not unlike the pain medicine, Oxycodone, there is nothing wrong with using that tool on a limited, specific basis to accomplish a purpose. Yet, it is a risky, potentially dangerous tool. It is extremely habit forming, for you and the people around you. It can mask other symptoms, like poor planning on your part and poor performance on the part of other team members. It creates an indebtedness that we’re not especially well equipped to repay. It’s the reason we often see managers looking the other way when a strong performer commits infractions that would get others penalized, or preferable treatment that isn’t available to others.

Some suggestions:

Monday, 20 February 2017 13:26

The Vision Thing... Passengers or Crew

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The "Vision Thing"...Passengers or Crew

Adapted from Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk

"It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that in an environment where there is a shared vision of excellence...where people can be the best they can be on a daily basis...where, when they know what is expected of them...understand that reward is linked to performance...and BELIEVE they can make a difference because they will be heard...they WILL make a difference. They will go BEYOND our expectations and great things will start to happen."

FedEx founder & CEO, Frederick W. Smith (Rhodes College 2/25/88)

Every major achievement in the history of mankind has been accompanied by one thing – significant, as in capital “C” Commitment on the part of one or more people. Think about it… Absent real Commitment, Christopher Columbus would have waited for better maps before sailing off the edge of the known universe… Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have marched in Selma, Alabama… and early NASA astronauts would have voted to send more monkeys up before strapping their butts to a relatively untested rocket. And on Presidents Day, let us remember President John F. Kennedy, without whose vision and Commitment there would have been no astronauts.

So where does Commitment start? It starts with an extremely well grasped destination or journey… a place, a concept, an over-arching purpose. What are we here for? What’s our raison d’etre? Where are we going?

Friday, 17 February 2017 19:39

Sometimes it's the Little Things

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Sometimes, it's the Little Things
 
Richard Hadden
 
When Alejandro Bustamante became president of Plantronics Mexico some years ago, he inherited, among other problems, a dispirited workforce with dysfunctionally high employee turnover. Nobody wanted to work there. Charged with turning around the plant, which makes telephone headsets and other communications gear, Alejandro knew he could do nothing to change the people working in the plant. But what he could do was show respect for each one of them. It was a tough environment. There was fierce competition for labor in the industrial region where they were located. Everybody was looking for qualified workers.
Tuesday, 14 February 2017 15:53

What Do You Mean - Contented Cows?

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What Do You Mean - Contented Cows?

Richard Hadden

If you've been following our work over the last 20 years or so, you could skip this post (but please don't). You know what the reference to Contented Cows is all about, and therefore our reason for titling this blog "Daily Dairy". But keep reading. A refresher never hurts.
 
However, if you're new to Contented Cows, and a lot of this blog's visitors are, here's the deal. Contented Cows Give Better Milk. It's established science. In the same way, satisfied, engaged employees give better performances at work. Now - let's hasten to point out that we are not, repeat not, suggesting that people, at work or elsewhere, should be compared to cows. So please, no hate mail bashing us for saying that people are like cows. We just said they're not. But I think you get the connection. And that connection always finds its way to your bottom line. We've written four books to support our thesis. If you want to know more, you can find our books on Amazon, among other places.

What to Do If Politics Are Taking a Toll on Your Workplace Productivity

This week, I contributed to a piece Noreen Seebacher @writeNoreen wrote for CMS Wire about steps managers should take to deal with the continuing decline in productivity owing to U.S. election-related politics and governmental affairs distractions in the workspace. Here's a link:  http://www.cmswire.com/digital-workplace/politics-are-taking-a-toll-on-workplace-productivity-heres-what-to-do/  If you find it worthy, I'm sure Noreen and CMS Wire won't mind if you give them a shout out.

The ONE Thing That Builds Employee Engagement More Than Anything Else
 
Richard Hadden
 
A young(ish) audience member came up to me at a conference I was set to speak at last year, and said, (I'm paraphrasing throughout, but not much) "Richard, I've read the conference program, and I see that you're going to be speaking on Employee Engagement later today. What's the one thing - the ONE thing," he emphasized, "that creates this engaged workforce that you talk about? I started a new company last year, and we're growing. I'm having a hard time finding good people, and that's slowing down our growth. I don't want to take forever to figure out how to get them, and how to keep them. And I'm the kind of guy who likes to get straight to the point. So - what's the one thing?"
 
Well, I'm a consultant. You don't think I gave him a direct answer, do you? 
 
"What do you think the one thing is?" I asked, in classic Socratic fashion.
 
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking you" was his reply. Fair enough.
 
After learning that he'd earned a boatload working for one of those fancy-schmancy hi tech companies in Silicon Valley, before getting a patent on a cool new process that I didn't begin to understand, and launching his own startup, I asked him, "So how engaged were you? How "into it" were you at your old company?"
Wednesday, 08 February 2017 19:59

Helping New Leaders Stay Out of the Weeds

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Helping New Leaders Stay Out of the Weeds

by Bill Catlette

Nearly every day we witness or experience the net effect of people having been thrust into front-line leadership roles without being vetted for leadership capability, and without the benefit of any management training. The evidence pile consists of long lines at retail shops because managers don’t know how to recruit, surly or inattentive front line employees who’ve not been coached, corrected, or had their own needs attended to, lowered performance standards that owe to a manager who sees their role as being more of a buddy than a leader, or staff vacancies because A-players got tired of having to work with turkeys and voted with their feet.

It’s the equivalent of tossing someone into the deep end of a pool and walking away, or, from the new leader’s perspective, stepping into the batter’s box with 2 strikes already against you. With frightening, yet predictable regularity, they flounder, gasp for air, and take untold numbers of people down with them, at immense personal and institutional cost. This doesn’t have to happen.

Here is some admittedly tactical advice for helping your new leaders stay out of the weeds:

Tuesday, 07 February 2017 16:01

Growing Pains - How Do I Fit In Around Here?

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Growing Pains - How Do I Fit in Around Here?

Richard Hadden

"If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you."

- Steve Jobs

 

People involved in the work of any organization, large, small, or somewhere in between, need to know how they fit in with the purpose of the enterprise. This doesn’t get any easier with growth. In small startups, everybody’s doing everything, including taking out the trash, and the customer line of sight is short, and straight.

But as we grow, it’s virtually inevitable that people will begin to lose sight of where they fit in and how their contribution matters.

In the 21 years that Contented Cow Partners has been in business (no, we can’t believe it either), we’ve worked with some companies that grew substantially, by acquisition, organic means, or both, during the time we worked with them. I remember, specifically, one CEO telling me, “When we had 300 employees, and I knew every one of them, it was easy for most of us to make the connection between our work and our customer. Now that we’re twice that size, we have to work four times as hard to keep that connection as strong.”

Friday, 03 February 2017 18:28

It's Not About the Phones

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It's Not About the Phones

Richard Hadden

If I hear this question one more time… I won’t be surprised. “How do we get these people to get off their phones and get their work done?”

First point: it’s not about the phones. The phones are irrelevant. They simply represent yet another distraction, and, let’s be honest, a tool which most of us (irrespective of generation) have rendered pretty much indispensable.

Second point: Please don’t rely on the law to solve this problem for you. It has little potential to do so.

In a day and age when we ask people to be electronically available more or less 24/7, we can’t really ask them to put away their phones when we want them to, but take them out when we need them to.

Last week, before speaking to an audience of 900 farming professionals in Chicago, I heard some sage advice from a successful entrepreneur whose farm provides fuel, food, and fibers to a large portion of the US, regarding this very subject. Here’s what he told me:

“I tell our folks, ‘You have a job to do. Here’s what we need, what we expect. I’ll reward you generously for meeting and exceeding our production goals, and for doing it the right way. Falling short will cost you. Because it costs me.

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 18:49

Sometimes Leaders Have To Put it All On The Line

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Sometimes Leaders Have To Put it All On The Line

Bill Catlette

In the late 1980’s I left a very good job because I refused to follow a direct order that, though legal, was contrary to both policy and practice of the organization. Moreover, carrying it out would have materially harmed the livelihood and careers of some good people for no good reason. I certainly didn’t take the matter lightly, as my family, like most, likes to eat and pay its bills. Yet, I’ve seldom looked back... until recently, when Acting U.S. Attorney General, Sally Yates similarly disobeyed an order (albeit more publicly), and paid a similar price. She got to hear the two words made famous by Donald Trump in his last job, without having to join the Screen Actors Guild.

I totally get the fact that people who refuse lawful orders in the workplace get fired. They have to, because no organization can or should tolerate insubordination.

That said, I don’t know whether Sally Yates was given a lawful order pertaining to the Muslim / Travel / Refuge Ban or not. But what I do know is that there is evidence aplenty suggesting that she firmly believed that what she was expected to do was wrong, and thus formed the basis for her refusal to comply. But this post isn’t about Sally, or me.