The buck stops here: Increasing accountability in the office

buck stops here

Accountability is one of the key ingredients to creating a high performing organization.  Being able to count on people doing the things that they say they’re going to do is critical for organizations to be able to improve and perform.  As a leader it is your job to create a team that can be counted on to execute.  If a team member fails to perform the fault ultimately isn’t with the team; it will fall on the leader’s shoulders who is responsible for their actions. I’ve made a list of some tips to help increase accountability around the office space.

  1. Remember at the close of every meeting to assign action items to specific people.
  2. When you send an email, specifically include your ask in the form a request to that person. Don’t just expect them to take the next step.
  3. Hold to deadlines and calendar dates.  If it was important enough to put a deadline on it, it’s important enough to keep to it.
  4. The flip side of that is also true. Make sure that you don’t arbitrarily assign deadlines and dates to things that don’t require it because then it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not.
  5. As a leader, manager, or team member, make sure you hold yourself to the same standard that you want everyone else held to.

As always I’m curious what everyone else thinks.  If you have any suggestions to add to this list I’d love to hear them.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The importance of being likeable

likeable

I was reading a blog post by the founder of Hub Spot the other day. One of the things that jumped out at me from the article was when he was talking about startups and how everything you need to get your startups going isn’t necessarily everything that you learned in business school. He was sort of making fun of all the complex models that you learn about in business school and how they aren’t necessarily as applicable as being able to read your bank account successfully, trying new things, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  All of it was really good and worth reading but what really jumped out at me was he when he talks about the importance of being likable. It really hit home with me because to some degree, as a leader, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have tough times, especially in a startup environment. So I think it really is important that you be likable.

You’re going to need to suffer through some times that aren’t ideal and you’re going to need people to believe in you. More importantly, you need people who want to succeed with you and want to play a part of helping you and the rest of the team get over the hump. I think that the importance of likability is undersold to a large degree within today’s marketplace. You read so many articles about the next big way for marketing your company, the next big way of inspiring innovation within your team, and things like that but I think he had it right saying without the likability factor those next big things are much harder to achieve. It was so simple which is maybe why we don’t think about it but I don’t think you can understate how important it is in terms of inspiring real results. Being likeable is a lot of the grease that gets things done. It is the stuff that helps people get through the hard times and I think that’s really important.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Working: In times of tragedy

I think most people here today, you got up this morning and your heart just goes out to the people of Boston and people that are directly and personally effected by yesterday’s events. It’s hard, if not impossible, to think about yesterday’s tragedy without thinking of all of the things that we’ve had to endure in our recent past and continue all the way back to 9-11 where we’ve just been profoundly affected by these national events.  For most of us today, we had to get up, get ready to go to the office, and continue to perform our everyday tasks in the face of heavy hearts and thoughts that might be other places. We’re not thinking about the spreadsheet that we’re looking at, the document that we’re working on, or the call we’re about to do.  It’s just hard to think and execute on the mundane and trivial things when you’ve got something like this going on in the country. So I think particularly as a manager, a leader, or team member, you should keep a few things in mind today and the days to come.

It’s in times like these it’s important to be sensitive to the people most affected by this and the extended network of those people, some of whom may be in your office. The Boston Marathon attracts people from all over the world and it’s not hard to believe that somebody in your office was there, had family there, had a friend there, and was touched in some way personally by this.  I think that it’s very important to recognize that in some way if you know that it is happening. You need to provide an environment that allows people to step forward if they want to acknowledge some sort of personal connection to this so that you can make allowances for that person.

This is a difficult time for people in this country because it makes people call into question their safety on a daily basis and makes them call into question the types of choices that they’re going to make.  Here in DC we’ve got a lot going on this weekend. There’s going to be heightened security and there’s going to be a lot of extra thought put into what you may or may not do this weekend on the basis of what happened at the Boston Marathon.  So I think that it’s something that we have to recognize is going to be a presence in our lives for some time to come. As such, we need to be very conscious of its effect on potentially the people that we work with. You need to let people be given the opportunity to put themselves in that camp so we can give them that extra consideration around things. This can be done by just a simple matter of saying, “I recognize that something terrible has happened in the country and I want to make sure that everyone here, our hearts, minds, and thoughts go out to the people of Boston. If anyone here needs some time or wants to talk to me about a situation that they have with regard to  that please feel free to do so and if there’s anything we need to do to accommodate that just let us know.”

Something that simple that allows people to either opt into the opportunity to have a little bit different interaction on the basis of this tragedy or opt out.  It’s very well possible that somebody does have a personal connection but they have too many different emotions going on right now to want to deal with it in a public way or with the team. So by virtue of that and them not saying anything, it’s a tacit sort of way of putting out there that they don’t want to have that discussion and you can respect that as well.  I think it’s best to lead with something like that as a manager or leader so that you give people the opportunity to opt out because some people are just going to want to be left to their own devices. I think you want to have the infrastructure in place to care for people when they need it as they need it but you also need to be respectful of people’s wants and desires.  Those are my thoughts. I’m very curious what other people have to say on this topic, ways that they’ve dealt with things. I know that in this area in Washington DC 9-11 shaped a lot of the thinking around it and I’m curious what other people think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Vanilla Ice had it right: STOP, Collaborate and Listen

Vanilla Ice

One of the things that I’ve realized over the last few years is that despite the fact that I’ve gained more experience, I’ve done more formal educations, taken trainings, and built a lot of personal capabilities, I seem to have trended towards more collaborative decision making. I now spend more time talking to people about decisions before I make them then I ever had previously. On some level I think that this is counterintuitive. You would think that as you gain more skill in something and you begin to understand some things better that you would probably spend less time speaking with others before you make a decision. My assumption would be that you have the expertise to make those decisions yourself but that hasn’t been the case.

What I’ve found is that as I learn more, I’ve also learned more about what I don’t know. I’ve come to value other people’s perspectives a lot more. As you get into making complex business decisions, I think you have to fight continually against your own biases. I for one thing know that I have a tendency to be extraordinarily optimistic about everything. If I don’t have other people there to balance me, I might make decisions that are based on my tendency to look at the big picture and make a decisions that maybe doesn’t take into account some of the things that might go wrong. So I need people to help balance me in that sense.

It’s amazing to me sometimes how differently someone will look at a problem just based on their past experience and I think that’s something that people really need to recognize. So much of our own decision making framework is influenced by decisions we made in the past and the results of those decisions. I think it’s important to be really careful about the lessons that you’ve learned from past decisions because you don’t really have the scope of experience to understand if you’re taking away the right things. If you, based on a set of factors, decided to invest in a project and that project turned out poorly, you might say that if presented with those facts again you won’t make the same decision. The problem with this is that the last time could have been a unique set of circumstances where things didn’t work out. It could be that in most cases those same set of circumstances would have led to a smashing success. So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got to be careful about the lessons that you’ve learned  from the past because they’re based on very unique sets of circumstances and not always going to lead to the same destination.  This is where having a strong collaboration base comes in handy.

You have a very strong tool at your disposal if you maintain a network of people that you can talk with about things and you’re able to bring in their lessons learned and their decisions making frameworks. I know that when I look at a problem or decision that I’m making I immediately begin to narrow down the field of approaches to solving that problem or addressing that decision. Again this process is based on the things that are in my personal tool kit, what my experiences have been, and the types of approaches that have been successful for me.  I don’t narrow down my approaches by explicit decision, but simply because I don’t have them. So I end up leaving out a whole host of possibilities that otherwise would have been there had I spoken to people who had a broader experience. So having the opportunity to collaborate with more people has allowed me to take in a much greater set of possible approaches than I would have otherwise considered.

So all of those things have pushed me to develop this more collaborative decision making process than I previously had. Even though on the surface at least with my growing experience and expertise I should be able to make more of those decisions without outside help, I’ve actually trended more towards that collaborative process. I really do think that there are a lot of great things that come with experience, a better understanding of situations, and issues but one of the things that you can lose if you’re not careful is that broader spectrum of experience. I think that’s a real trap that senior executives need to avoid.  They need to be careful on how heavily they weight their own experience because you may be closing off a world of possibilities that otherwise you’d be able to take advantage of.  So I’m a big believer in reaching out to your personal network, establishing a group of trusted advisors within your circle of friends, and colleagues so that you can have somebody to bounce things off of and get access to that broader range of experience. As always I’m very interested in what other people’s experiences are in this area and what they think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Recruiting for company culture

Recruiting for company culture

One of the things that we’ve tried really hard to do over the last couple years as a company is to recruit for culture.  When I say that, I mean we’ve spent a lot more time recently talking to people about:

  • who they are
  • what they want to do long term
  • what kind of work environment do they prefer to work in

While this is something we are looking at now more than we ever have previously, we obviously still do a technical interview where we make sure the people can do the job.  The difference is that the technical interview is really considered just a gateway at this point.  We spend a lot more time on fit then we do anything else. The first interview which is to get the person through the technical gate is usually conducted by whoever on staff is going to have them working for them or going to be working closely with them. They conduct the preliminary interview which is probably 60%- 70% can you do the job and even there, there’s a part of it that is seeing how they respond to things and seeing if they send back a thank you afterwards. As I mentioned before we are looking to see if this person will fit into our organization, will they get along with current staff, and for someone who shows basic good people skills. We want people that are considerate, the people that do all of the things that you learned in kindergarten very well. We are also concerned with what you learned in college but if you missed those lessons in kindergarten, we may not hire you just because it’s too hard to work in an environment where it’s all about solely the technical part of things.

I can see maybe in some larger environments where the technical may trump other things because it’s the thing that’s most easily measureable.  Maybe once you hit a certain size of organization some of that corporate culture is diluted. I myself don’t tend to believe that though because I’ve worked in some very large organizations that have very strong corporate cultures but I could see how it could happen. I just know that for us and for ours, one of the most important things that we look for is that ability a person shows that they’re going to be able to fit in and work with us and show that they can be a true teammate. We’re not looking for individual star performers or somebody who is solely focused on their own achievements because that doesn’t work very well in team environments.  So we engage heavily to figure out what types of things are they interested in and what are they interested in most about the types of people that they work with because you can pick up clues there about how and if they value teamwork and collaboration.  I’m very curious to hear about what other people look for as they interview and how they go about maintaining corporate culture in their own organizations.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Incentives: Making the world go round

Incentives

I think most managers are familiar with the phrase, “what gets measured gets done,” and I think our  common sense tells us that we ought to be careful about the things that we incentivize because it will affect the types of behavior that occur.  A lot of people will wonder why it doesn’t always work so well, why the performance management structure that they’ve set up isn’t getting them to the results that they want as quickly as they want. I think it’s because while the things I said previously are true to a large degree, people do the things they are incentivized to do and if you measure specific activities you’ll generally end up with better performance. When there are incentives, people are focused on getting them accomplished. On the flip side, I think you have to be careful about the general application of that rule. You have to identify some smaller steps to getting you to that big picture goal.

One of the problems that organizations have is that the goals may be set at such a high level that people don’t have insight into what activities they need to do to help the larger organization get there. Or they may not understand what the connection is between them and that goal so they lose the ability to correlate their day to day activities with advancing the organization towards that goal.  So it’s important for incentive structures and those types of large organizational goals to be decomposed enough so that the people that most effect change are able to do what they are incentivized to do.  An easy example of this is if you look within a sales organization, or if you are a company that incentivize on the biggest corporate wide revenue targets.  Those types of goals are great and most organizations target some amount of growth across the top line, but it may be worth looking at incenting specific behaviors among customers and basic activities that you, as a management team, believe are going to drive that sales team forward to success. A similar approach can be applied to anything, for instance, if you have a help desk, or really any activity that you have in your organization. If you haven’t created a tiered structure, you may be providing all the big picture guidance in the world of what you want to happen and have a line of how you’re measuring the things that you want done in your organization, but if you haven’t decomposed them enough to enable people to see how it applies to them, you probably won’t get the type of performance that you had hoped for.

I’m also aware that on the other side of that is this desire to break things down to such a level that so much time has been spent measuring that there’s no time left to spend performing. So there is a fine line there between breaking it down so much that the measurement activity gets in the way of achieving the measurement, but in general, you need to make sure that your incentive and measurement structure reaches far enough down so people can see how they’re connected to it.  I’m curious to know what other people think about this. If you’ve had experience designing incentive structures or performance management structures, please weigh in.  I want to how people try to make that tie back, or even if they do at all.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Battle Royale: Talent vs. Determination

Battle Royale

I think everyone has heard the saying, “Hard work will always beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  In my experience, this statement holds true.  I know that personally, I’ve always felt confident that I could outwork the other side through sheer force of determination and will alone. Whether it is athletics, academics, or work, there is almost always a way to get through a problem.  As I look back at the times when I was hiring somebody, especially when I first started looking at different people, I was hiring a lot of people based on talent and potential alone which hasn’t always worked out as well as it seemingly should have.  I recently addressed this conundrum in a blog post after I read a great interview in the New York Times with Kon Leong. He mentions that one of the things he most tries to identify in the interview process is not only smarts, but drive too.  He wanted people that were going to work hard because with those two things you could solve almost everything else.   It really changed the way I think about things.  Have you spent a lot of time being frustrated with people who you just know better than their performance shows? You know how talented they are, how smart they are, but you just aren’t seeing the results you expect from them.  I’ve sat there and wondered why this is.  Maybe they just don’t have the tools you thought they did, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I think the tools are there and maybe it’s just a lack of drive. Maybe it’s my failure to motivate or find the right way to get through to them but either way, as a manager you should position yourself to recruit for drive as well as intelligence in hopes of alleviating this problem.

I know that this may seem obvious but I think the part that we often miss is asking the questions that let you evaluate their drive.  That’s something that I’ve changed a lot and is going to be a much bigger focus in terms of trying to determine how to elicit those responses that give insight into whether people are truly driven.  I don’t know if everyone has a general drive to succeed.  Ideally, you want to find people that are passionate about solving problems and the things that you do at a minimum.  So it’s important to figure out what the right questions are and how do you make that determination early.  It’s never going to be a perfect evaluation. You have to recognize that you’re going to end up with some folks in your organization that are really smart and really talented but no matter what, you’re just not going to be able to get them to perform the way that you feel they should.  At some point you’re going to have to move those people out because if you’ve got a collection of people that have that drive and that ambition and you have a couple folks that aren’t on the program, you will not reach your potential as an organization.

This is just like being on a team when you’re a kid and your coach would say things like, “Everyone is a team here and we need to pull together,” or “We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” and I think these clichés among others are just as applicable in your work life as they were in athletics as a kid.  If you have somebody that doesn’t have the desire or the drive to push, they’re not there for the same reasons, or they’re detracting from everybody else’s efforts then you need to really question how long you want to wait for that drive or ambition to appear; and how many times are you going to attempt to motivate them before you make a decision that you are going have to part ways. If someone isn’t living up to the set standard and you can’t get them there fairly quickly, I think you need to make a decision about their future in your organization.  You can be as kind as you possibly can be about it but after I’ve tried a few things such as having a discussion with them about level of effort and it’s still not working out, it’s time to let go or otherwise you’re jeopardizing your whole team.

I’ve also come to the belief over time that it’s a lot easier to teach technical skill or soft skill, or interacting with the client than it is to teach drive.  So if you get somebody and you start to wonder if the effort just isn’t there or maybe something is distracting and it persists over a long period of time, you are never going to get that person out of that behavior.  At least that’s my general belief with the rare case that is the exception to the rule, but that type of behavior casts a pall over the rest of your organization and is just not worth whatever talent that one person may have.  I’d be very curious to hear what other people’s experiences are.  Have you had a happy ending to a story where you had somebody with a lot of talent but you just couldn’t get them to work and you found a way to motivate them?  I certainly don’t want to discount a manger’s ability to motivate or find the right way to get somebody to do things but I sometimes think there is too much emphasis on mangers and leadership getting people to excel.  Sometimes you just need to understand that you will not be able to motivate that person and you have to just cut them loose, but I’d love to hear other people’s takes on this issue.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.