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“Take Five” Management Series: Part II

This is the second in a series of JJ Johnston’s “Take Five” articles designed to help deal with the rapid pace and ever constant changes in business today, and the challenges that come with them.

Avoiding Flameout

In part one of the series we talked about the tectonic shift in business today. There is a new world out there. A few are doing what many used to do.

Over the next twenty years, one thousand Canadians a day are turning 65. The old guard is retiring or being retired, offering a plethora of advancement opportunities. Many are being promoted into new positions, but not always given the training, coaching and mentoring needed to set them up for success.

There is a critical need to revisit the tool box, and find new techniques to cope and thrive in the new reality.

Last time, I detailed the importance of a commitment to self investment and suggested the idea of a “Personal Board of Directors” support team. I also spoke to the value of professional talent which many are utilizing these days. True performers recognize the importance of “sharpening the saw” and through this process often an edge they never even knew they had.

Here are more thoughts to help with dealing with new and complex realities.

Focus on the right things. You are working in multiple markets, often from dusk to dawn and pulled in many different directions. You may be finding it increasingly difficult to focus on the right things.

Do you honestly know what right things are these days? And, even if you do, it can be easy to forget them or lose attention to focus, especially during crisis situations. Discuss regularly with your leader to make sure you are both clear on the ever changing priorities and hyper focus on them. Write the focus items down on paper or on a white board to keep them visible at all times.

Job role clarity.

In a busy world, spending time with your team can take a back seat. Avoid this shortcut. E role clarity is some of the best employee time you can spend. Just like you, everyone needs to focus on the right things and be crystal clear on job descriptions and expectations. This will take a bit of time up front but will save you a lot more time on the back end.

Involve employees in the clarity process. Ask them to provide you with an updated version of their Job Description. You will quite often find they are focusing in on what they like to do, not necessarily the important things.

And going in don’t forget to ask them this powerful question: “What are your expectations of me?”

Negotiate the expectations together, finalize, sign off and follow through.

Initiative truly kicks in when one truly understands their accountabilities.

Empower your people. We all get promoted because we get things done, and new or inexperienced managers are prone to be doing everyone else’s work.

I once walked into a department with a few simple operational questions and was told “you will have to wait for so and so (the manager) to come back from lunch”. Remember these were very basic things that everyone should have known. I said “why”. The response was “He/She takes care of that”. My immediate thought, and I was right, was they were working for a top down manager who was uncommunicative and possessive and in turn carried most of the accountabilities in the department. Operating with employee exclusion expedites the path to lethargy, insurrection, high turnover and/or manager Flameout.

Poor managers are hesitant to give people new assignments

The overly-empathetic manager is hesitant to hand off more responsibility to employees and taking up more of their time.
Intentions are good, but this thinking leads to resentment when your employees are not allowed to perform their function and try new things.

The insular, autocratic or inexperienced manager may feel it’s just as easy and quicker to do it themselves. Lack of respect, trust, and wasted employee growth opportunities are results of this thinking.

Some managers may be concerned the staff has different ideas theirs and they will get in the way of getting things done. They ram their ideas through.

Example: We’ve all worked for managers who spent a great deal of time creating the plan. When they present the plan, they often get a stiff reaction. The manager’s inside voice gets loud with questions like “Why are they not more receptive? Why are they so quiet? Why are they not appreciating my great work?”

What is the issue? The manager is likely not inclusive, and in a sense the presentation is an “order” to follow “his/her” plan. Lead this way and people resent your plan, haphazardly manage it, and the accountability all comes back to you if it goes wrong.

Nobody washes a rental car. Engage your whole team, let them own their functions and they will participate heartily. Take some of the load off your sagging shoulders and place it where it belongs.

Keep the onus on them. This renders big rewards for both of you. When someone comes by to tell you about a problem, refrain from saying “How can I help you” or “Let me fix this for you”. The “I” and the “me” in those phrases squarely put accountabilities back on you.

Practice asking these questions in those situations: “What you do you think you should do?”, “What are the solutions you are contemplating?” The key word is you.

“I don’t know, you are the boss” is a likely response from employees who have been in a long time top down situation. Answer back: “I know you have probably been thinking about a few solutions. What’s coming to mind?” And then say nothing (crickets). Listen. Encourage them to go forward with their ideas, and make sure they know you have their back.

Chances are their solutions may have crossed your experienced mind. Be very careful not to inadvertently take credit. Refrain from statements like “Good idea. I was thinking the same thing” or “Yes I thought about that solution too”. Those are huge deflators and destroyers of the trust you are building.

If they are stuck, communicate that you will help them out this time, but in the future you would like them to come by with solutions. They ultimately want the accountability and it’s important for both of you to put it back on them.

You know you have a home run when someone comes in to tell you about an issue, how they’ve pulled it apart to determine the cause, and proudly explain the concrete solution they have moved on.

Avoid reverse delegation. I have always been a fan of getting the team together for brainstorming. In the early days of my leadership career, I tried to get the best of their ideas going but in a hectic and multitasking world it was not possible to get around to them all.

Once, in a one on one with an employee, I was told the meetings were a waste of time because the ideas were never implemented. From that point forward when people came to me with on-strategy suggestions, I would put it back on them. I’d say “Interesting idea, how do you want to proceed with that?” At first they would say “I brought this to you to get done because you are the boss”. My response was “You are right. I am in the management role and as you know there are many things on my plate. an interesting thought. Why not try and bring your idea to life?” Staff would either go out and do the valuable homework, or forget about it. They could not say there was a lack of follow through.

Again, put the onus back on them. You are not paid to do their work and strong performers do not want you to do their work. Clear placement of accountability renders great results for your team and for you today.

Practice these techniques but be patient. This is not a quick fix, but if you are committed you will find your teams and yourself more engaged, productive and happy.

In future Take 5 “Avoiding Flameout “columns, we will discuss the of Priority Management and The Fine Art of Delegation.

Jim JJ Johnston is a Co chair of CMW 2014 and nine time Canada’s “Program Director of the Year” winner. His successful leadership roles in Media/Management include Corus Radio, Standard Radio, and Moffat Communications. He is CEO, President and Executive/Talent Coach at JJ International Media/Management Solutions and is working with a number of media and non media companies to help them expedite their business growth. Reach him at jj.imsconsulting @gmail.com

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