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Daily Dairy from Contented Cows

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.

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:

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?

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.

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:  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?"

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:

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.”

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.

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.

Three Essential Steps to Improving Your Managerial Coaching Results

by Bill Catlette

Few would argue that coaching has become an important part of any leader’s repertoire for improving human and organizational performance. Yet, most have given little thought to when, where, and under what circumstances coaching is most effective, let alone trying to define or understand its key components. Let’s try to shed some light on the latter, with an eye for things that can immediately be put into practice and used to move the needle.

Workplace Productivity in the Post-Inauguration Period

By Richard Hadden

Psst! Psst! Yeah, you. Look around. Listen. What do you hear? Does your workplace look and sound like it usually does? I bet it doesn’t. Odds are that more people than usual are paying attention to news portals, be it television, radio, social media, or other digital news outlets. I’ll venture too that there is more politics and civics inspired banter between co-workers than one usually finds 11 weeks post-election. The bad news is that while this is going on, other things aren’t, like work. Your productivity is getting hammered, and it’s only a matter of time before customers and shareholders notice. Here’s a prediction - It’s not going to end anytime soon.

So, Mr. or Ms. Manager, your workplace productivity is getting dinged as your staff spends considerable time every day wondering aloud about their new government, and perhaps worrying privately about their healthcare, their job, and what it means to be an American these days. For that matter, this isn’t a we vs. them thing. You’re wondering and worrying the same things. So, what do you do?

Coaching Session Part 2, Debrief

by Bill Catlette

 NOTE: This post is a debrief of a mythical coaching session that was posted yesterday. If you haven’t already read that post, please do so before proceeding further.


The coach’s objectives in this case were to: 

  1. Begin to build trust thru truth
  2. Engage in a somewhat jarring, but narrowly focused session keyed to the individual’s self-interest
  3. Define and arrest, albeit momentarily, unhelpful behavior
  4. Create the first step and timely follow-up on a path to improvement and success

Coaching, particularly at senior levels, is an intensely personal, trust-dependent process. Each party must believe that the other is sincere, competent and is an interested partner. The player (President in this case) must believe that the coach has his best interest at heart.

Five things that I liked about this conversation:

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