Friday, May 29, 2015

Focus On What's Important

Have you ever noticed that the people who need the most help with time management are really skilled at resisting any help with it?

I've heard so many excuses that they would fill Lake Michigan, and most are so light they'd float on the top. They're light because they ARE excuses, and not reasons.

That doesn't make them any easier to overcome. We fall in love with our reasons, even when others see them as excuses. We cling to our constraints as if they are holding us (body and soul) together.

What's a person to do? How do you help that time-challenged performer become more productive? Even more important, how do you become more productive yourself when we all have our little clinging constraints holding us back?

Goals are a way to help us focus on what is important.

It all starts with the goals. When we set goals that are aligned with what is most important (our mission, our values, our expectations) they help us navigate the waves of procrastination, time-wasting, and distractions. Clear goals help us to keep our focus.

Set clear goals that align with your purpose and include these three things:

Action words (what will you do?)
Results (what will you get?)
Time (when will it be done?)

While I do find SMART goals to be useful and often teach them to others, my simplification is easier to remember and will give you an even more focused results. Use ART goals. (Sometimes I use ARTS goals and add the element of Standards at the end: what are your criteria for quality? This can be an important part of some goals and is worth considering).


The right, clearly written goals help us focus on what's important.

And that's what's important about managing time: Working on what matters most.

-- Doug Smith

Front Range Leadership: Training Supervisors for Success

doug smith training: how to achieve your goals

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Involve The Right People In The Solution

How does it feel to solve a problem only to have many people complain about the solution? What are the chances of that problem staying solved?

It's tempting as a leader to take the fastest possible path to a solution. Sometimes that means deciding ourselves. Sometimes that means excluding the people who would be most impacted by the solution. That often leads to another problem to solve AND the need for some powerful change management.

Why create another problem?

Sometimes a solution aggravates people more than the problem did. Involve the people within the situation in finding a solution. 

You never have to convince someone that their own idea is right. Why not find out what their idea is?

-- Doug Smith

Front Range Leadership: Training Supervisors for Success

doug smith training: how to achieve your goals

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On Or Off The Team?

What do you do with a team member who doesn't seem happy on the team? What do you do when that unhappy team member fails to meet your standards or perform to your expectations?

Whenever this has happened to me it's been cause for deep concern. Why on earth won't they get on board? What are they waiting for? And, then I've learned that sometimes a team member's biggest obstacle to success is me. For one reason or another we've confused our messages, twisted our signals, and started on opposite paths unnecessarily.

The best place to start - if it's possible that I'm part of the problem - is in dialogue. Talk it over. Think through the situation. Find out the perspectives of the person involved. Reach agreement on building the start of an ongoing conversation that includes what I call the CLUES to Success:

  • Create agreements
  • Listen with curiosity
  • Understand the facts and the feelings
  • Express yourself positively
  • Share responsibility for success
When we're both able to agree to these guidelines conflicts are much more easily resolved, expectations are much more easily clarified, and agreements are much more likely to occur. It could take time, it could take patience and it could take training. When willingness overcomes reluctance, almost any improvement is possible. When reluctance rules though, it could be time for a different conversation.

If a team member is not willing to agree to the CLUES to Success as a way to improve communication and performance, then it's time to get really curious about why. What stands in the way? What does that team member truly want?

Sometimes, what that team member truly wants, and needs, is the fastest dignified exit from the team. As leaders, it is our job to help them with that, too.

Successful supervisors find ways to engage detached team members or help them find their way off the team.

Because there's no room on any team for detached and unwilling team members.

-- Doug Smith

Front Range Leadership: Training Supervisors for Success

doug smith training: how to achieve your goals

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Are Your Standards Consistent?

Did you ever work for someone who seemed to have one set of standards for you, and another for someone else? How easy was it to please them? How did it make you feel?

While we do need to act in flexible ways leading others, since each person is different, we owe it to the team to hold to our standards. Performance standards may be variable as a team member matures (they may be expected to do less when they are new to the team and progress in a reasonable manner to the top standard) but they should be consistent. When they stop being consistent who do you think notices on your team? Everyone.

If you suddenly change standards don't expect people to like it.

People need to know the reasons for things. Suddenly requiring everyone on the team to do more isn't magic - people either embrace the standard or resist it - and when the change is too sudden or unreasonable the only sensible choice is to resist it. As leaders, that's not what we want.

Instead, we should explain the reasons for any change in standards. We should calibrate carefully how much of a change is immediately possible and how much should be gradually implemented. We shouldn't surprise our people with what they perceive to be harsh implementation. That seldom works.

Yes, it's likely that as a leader you will sometimes need to raise the standards. Do it with care. Determine reasonable standards, implement them carefully, and communicate constantly - it's all part of high performance leadership.

How do your people feel about your performance standards?

-- Doug Smith

Front Range Leadership: Training Supervisors for Success

doug smith training: how to achieve your goals

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pay Attention to Details

Do you balance your strategic self with your tactical self? Even though the more responsibility we get the more strategic we should become (managers are paid to be more strategic than supervisors who should be more strategic than technical team members) we still must pay attention to the details.

Details left unattended tend to drift away from the level of quality you expect.

High performance leaders follow-up. They pay attention to details. They trust people to handle their tasks AND they follow-up to make sure that their trust is rewarded.

The work is seldom done just because it's delegated. The details still matter.

Supervising for success requires relentless attention to detail.

Is that micromanaging? It depends. Once you know that someone is completely capable of handling a set of details without your help, then of course allow them complete responsibility on that. But until you're sure, simply assigning something is no assurance that the details will be right.

That's one of those things that makes being a supervisor so hard -- and so rewarding at the same time.

-- Doug Smith

Front Range Leadership: Training Supervisors for Success

doug smith training: how to achieve your goals

Friday, May 22, 2015

Focus On Your Goals

Have you looked at your goals today?

I encourage you to do that now, or perhaps right after reading this. Take a look at what you've defined as important. Do you still agree? Is that the best use of your time? Is your action plan getting you where you want to be?

When we focus on our goals we tend to achieve them.

Take a look.

-- Doug Smith

Front Range Leadership: Training Supervisors for Success 

doug smith training: how to achieve your goals

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Solve the Problem or Manage It

What do you do about problems that can't be solved/

It's not that you can't solve them or that you haven't found the person who can solve them, some problems simply can't be solved. They must be managed instead.

The best source of help and information I've found on unsolvable problems is the book Polarity Management - Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Johnson.

The book includes valuable insights about spotting and managing unsolvable problems. He calls these polarities: "sets of opposites which can't function well independently." Within each pole, or opposite force, are upsides and downsides - things we would want to keep and things that we could live without. So often we do not get to choose one or the other - in order to keep the good aspects of a force we must live with the bad. To live with the bad, we must manage the forces in action.

We do not do that by eliminating either side. We manage both sides.  We make peace with the reality that faces us while still not giving in to dysfunction. Instead, we seek high performance results by skillfully using what's available in optimal ways.

A simple example from the book is breathing: In one phase we inhale to intake oxygen. In the other phase we must exhale to clean out the carbon dioxide and prepare us for the next inhale. The two are opposites and yet interdependent. You can't really have one without the other.

I like breathing as an example because it is such a crucial part of operating as a centered leader. When we face troubling situations, when we work on unresolved problems, when we deal with strong personalities we must remain to breathe skillfully, mindfully. Taking the time to manage that breathing (even for a few seconds) allows our natural systems to operate more effectively. We'll breathe no matter what (when we are alive!) and yet we can influence the quality of that breathing through intentional, practiced actions.

Similarly we will have unsolvable problems no matter what - yet we can manage them and achieve our best possible results when we skillfully, mindfully apply high performance management techniques and practices.

A problem that can't be solved can be managed. The future is always open to re-design.

I'm all about solving problems and achieving goals. But, when the problem is really a polarity to be managed, that's the path to take.

What unsolvable problems are you wrestling with today? Could it be that they include polarities (opposites) that could be regulated or managed? What's your next step?

-- Doug Smith