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.

Assigning value= Proper priorities

Assigning Value

One of the things I think most people spend a great majority of their adult life doing is putting a value on things. That’s how you prioritize things and in business a lot times, that means dollars and cents.

  • What’s my return on investment going to be?
  • What’s the value to the organization if we make this decision?
  • How much growth can we expect?
  • How much better are we going to be able to meet the mission?

It’s that value exercise that helps you understand which things you do first and what things are going to get you the most bang for your buck. The problem that I see is when we get away from that. One of the areas where we often see confusion or a lack of discussion in value terms is in planning.  What often gets substituted for the value discussion is a best practice discussion where people are like, “This is the right way to do it solely because it is best practice or this is the standard.” I don’t believe that is a substitute. You still need to know what the value of doing something is to your organization if you want to get really good results.

I believe that it is always worth knowing the value of the action you’re about to take.  If you can’t put a value on it, how do you know you’re doing the right thing?  Now I certainly don’t want to advocate against following best practice, a particular methodology, or standard because I think there’s a lot of value in it. It certainly helps you in the absence of developing your own processes and methodologies from scratch and learning all the lessons that were learned on the way to something becoming best practice or a standard.

I think there’s enormous value in adopting standards and best practices because it allows you to stand on the shoulders of those that have come before you. It should help you be able to better illustrate the value conversation. Oftentimes with standards and best practices there are benchmarking studies, expected returns, and numbers that are out there and available for you to pull from that aren’t there when you go the custom one of kind route.

So I think one thing that would really serve people well, particularly those in strategic planning roles, enterprise architecture roles, and the many people in information management in general, is to get comfortable with the idea that there needs to be a conversation that occurs. This conversation should decide where you’re able to take the value of something that you’re doing and putting it into the language that most business folks are comfortable with and into the context of your organization. I think anytime that you see a planning organization or an enterprise architecture organization that is under budgeted or underfunded, one of the things you can almost always point to is:

  • Are they showing the value that they bring to the organization in the language of the organization?

Very rarely do you see an organization that complains of underfunding that is able to point to that value.  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.

3 Rules for creating a constructive 1st draft

First Draft

I want to talk a little bit about what I believe a draft should be. Obviously there’s a lot of latitude in this subject but I think that it’s really important to understand that no matter what you call it, everyone has an understanding of what a successful draft looks like at the end of the day.

Our internal process for idea generating is very team oriented. We may have 3, 4, or even 5 people in a room working on a whiteboard, sheets of paper, or different drawing tools trying to get some concepts out. We may go back and forth, go and work individually, come back share things, and talk about anything that crosses our minds. I consider all those things to be part of the idea generating phase of doing things. The more people the better in many cases as the whole point of what you’re trying to do is come up with a lot of ideas. Then you want to vet those things down to just a few good ones. Once we have it narrowed down I like to hand it off to somebody to take as their own.

I think that when you get to the point where you’ve squeezed the idea sponge until its run dry in the room and you’ve winnowed your brainstorms down into a  more reasonable amount of a few different things that the team believes have legs its then time to hand that off to a person. Ideally I hand it off to one person or maybe just a couple people that work well together if it’s a big project to get a draft together. If it’s a document maybe that means an outline or if it’s a drawing, an architectural artifact, or whatever it is, there should be an accepted form to it.  I believe no matter what that accepted form is there are a couple of rules that people should follow to know when their draft is ready for exposure to others.

  1. The first thing that should happen is your draft should be able to clearly tell the story of whatever the next phase is going to be. For us, that usually means you’re going to go through a few different drafts, you’re going to get some critical inputs and refine things. Even in that first draft there ought to be idea clarity. What I mean by that is that you ought to be able to explain to me why the things that are in there are in there.  There should be a reason for all of the stuff on the page. So that’s number one and if you can’t do that then it’s not draft ready.
  2. It should not enormously deviate from the concepts that were put together by the larger team. If you’re responsible for taking the work product of the group and further developing it into draft form, I think it’s important that you be true to the concepts that were developed in the group.  If you don’t do that then there was almost no point to having that group work done.  If you get into it and find that there’s just too much new information that makes you want to go down a different route, at that point you need to go take it back to the group and vet that with them before you run with it.  I think that’s important because one of the most critical things that you got out of that big group session was consensus around some of the things that are important and needed to be expressed. So if you’re going to greatly deviate from what had been set forth in the brainstorm sessions you need to go back and get buy in even if you’re right. It’s important that you have those preliminary communications otherwise you’re going to end up presenting those ideas to a group of people who have never seen it before. You’re going to have some people, no matter how good your idea is, think that you betrayed the trust of the group by doing that. They’re going to dislike it just for those reasons and maybe a really great idea goes unused because you didn’t have the professional courtesy to express it or validate your new direction with the group.
  3. Finally the third big thing in knowing when something is a draft that it still has to have a certain level of professionalism. Now this is an area where I have gotten a little push back from people before.  They will say, “Hey it’s still a draft and I just want to have things on a page,” but I will tell you that won’t cut it a lot of times. I’m actually not one of these people but for a lot of others if you haven’t hit spell check and you turn a draft over to them, they can’t get beyond the fact that you misspelled a lot of words. It distracts them from the overall concept and so the five minutes it would take to run spell check is worth doing.  The same thing with drawings and things like that.  If you have an incredibly cluttered page where you can’t clearly express why things are working the way they are or why you’ve laid things out the way you have, it’s not ready and it’s not a draft.  I believe draft materials should be sufficiently developed so that they can be sent to somebody via email. They shouldn’t require extensive oral communication to have an outside party understand what you’re trying to get across or I don’t believe that they’re ready to be shared.  If you have to spend a half hour explaining to me the chicken scratch on a torn out sheet of notebook paper it’s not a draft.  It might represent some really great thinking but it needs to have just a little bit more polish.

Now I’m the first person to tell you don’t waste a lot of time making draft materials client ready but there is a certain amount of effort that is required to get something into a state where people can understand it and that is the point.  You want your draft materials to be good enough to convey the point of what you’re trying to accomplish and there are not distractions in them that prevent people from understanding the concepts that you’re trying to put forward.

Now those are my big three things needed for a draft to be completed.  This is to me, what makes something a draft. I think that way too often people don’t put enough thought into or don’t take the time to step through the idea to product phases enough to end up with the type of product that they should. I think a lot of those mistakes occur because people don’t pay attention to detail in the drafting process. So that’s what I believe constitutes a good first draft for any high level document, drawing or any other knowledge work product. I know that other people have great ideas about other things that should be in there but those are the big three that I find myself talking about more than any others.

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.

Make somebody’s day and show your appreciation

Make soebodys day blog

No matter who you are I think it’s always nice to get a compliment especially if it comes out of the blue and you weren’t expecting it. Somebody says something nice and it can just change your whole day.  For the better part of the last week or so I’ve been working pretty hard on things and I’ve had my head down. So when I had somebody kind of unexpectedly say something really nice it just completely brightened up my entire day and it’s sort of carried forward the rest of the week. It’s amazing; you can have all the self confidence in the world, you can believe in what you’re doing, and it’s still nice to hear someone say, “Hey you’re doing a great job” or “I believe in what you’re doing.”  A simple compliment can make a lot of the time and effort that you spend worthwhile.

I think the biggest reminder in that for executives and managers is that sometimes you got staff that work really hard all the time. It’s not that they’re not doing anything extraordinary they’re just doing the great things that they do all the time at all times. It’s easy to forget that what they’re doing really is exceptional.  So I think you almost have to file a reminder away somewhere to make sure that you don’t overlook the everyday excellence. You need to take time to compliment people for the great things they do every day.  I know I’ve talked about it a few different times on here about making sure that you give credit and provide feedback both positive and negative. Particularly making sure that you provide positive feedback where it’s applicable but I think it’s something that’s really easy to forget the power that a quick little bit of positive feedback or compliment can have on a person.

Having that occurrence the other day just reminded me of how important that is to everybody, no matter who you are. It makes a difference, raises your performance, re-energizes you, and I think it’s something that everybody should try to do on a regular basis. So if you haven’t done it recently and you’ve got people sitting in your office today that really deserve a compliment for all their hard work, make sure you take the time to walk by, pick up the phone or get on a conference line and say thanks for all the hard work. Make sure to shoot them a quick note because it really makes a difference for people to be recognized for all the hard work they put in every day. Anyway I’d love to hear back from people and get their thoughts on things and if you want to call out somebody in particular for all their hard work and effort feel free to here.

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.

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Nobody holds the monopoly on good ideas

Every once in a while I find myself disregarding advice, even though I know that it’s good advice.  I have to stop myself, take a step back, and remember that there are other people that are worth listening to. I was thinking about that this morning. I was having a conversation yesterday where somebody was talking me through an approach to something and I found myself kind of shaking my head. When the person finished and walked out, I thought about it a little bit more and realized I had fallen into the classic “not invented here” trap.  You should never be so smart that you can’t take somebody else’s advice and I’ve really made an effort to over time, make sure that I listen to other people. I am always trying to focus in on the fact that it’s hard to learn while you’re talking.

I have a tendency to want to be the person that comes up with the solution. I have to work to remember that I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and sometimes the best solutions come from outside. I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling among managers and executives. A lot of times you got to the management position you’re in because you were the one with the good ideas and the ability to come up with things quickly. I know at least for me it was a big part of the advancement of my career and so as a manager and executive, I’ve become a little bit less technically focused and have had to grudgingly learn to rely more on the people around me to supply solutions and ideas.  If you don’t embrace that approach, you won’t be nearly as effective at managing people, working together in teams, functioning as a communications coordinator, and all the other things that are important to managing people. You can’t do that and have the monopoly on good ideas too.  It’s definitely a hard transition to make and it’s something that I think most people struggle with for their whole career in management.

Everyone wants to be the person with the good ideas because that’s the person who gets the biggest pat on the back. Probably one of the most exciting parts of being on a team is when you come up with that good idea that everyone on the team gets behind and adopts.  There’s a real sense of pride and accomplishment in that and as a manager, those moments seem to get farther and farther apart. Even if you’re sometimes able to have unique insight into a problem because of your experience in a similar situation, a lot of times you just don’t have enough to supply much beyond the kernel of an idea because technology and capabilities are changing so rapidly. With this fast paced change going on you have to be more reliant of people on staff to supply the real nuts and bolts of how anything will actually work.  It’s been a really big challenge for me and I’m curious to know how other people have dealt with that. Has it come easily or did you struggle in making the transition from a subject matter expert or a technical resource into a management resource?

Photo By _Max-B

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.