Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coggers and Commandos

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Just a cog in the wheel.”?  It describes a large part of today’s workforce. As my crew knows, I affectionately call these people “Coggers”.  What is a Cogger you ask?  Have you ever met someone who is mildly interested in their job and goes through the motions each day refusing to look outside their cube at the possibility of what could be or should be, while remaining completely DISENGAGED?  Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to The Cogger (Melancholy Cheers…).  If I spent time with Jeff Foxworthy I am sure we could build a pretty cool list of, “You might be a Cogger”-isms.  Let’s try a few.  If you sit in the same place each day, pressing the same buttons, having the same conversations, getting the same results, you might be a Cogger.  Or, how about if getting a new flavor of coffee in your office coffee pot engages you more than the mission and vision of your job, you might be a Cogger.  If your idea of team building is spreading the latest junk at the water cooler about Sally Manager vs. driving a new way to interface with customers in order to better meet their needs, you might be a Cogger. You see, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but ultimately they confine themselves to their small piece of real estate and safely stay inside.

Are Coggers born or made?  BOTH!  One sect of this dysfunctional body is made.  How?  That’s easy – by working in your boring environment.  If you choose to work at a place that does not constantly engage you to think, strive for more, or clearly illustrate how your work impacts the world for the better you will begin to burnout, lose your zest, and ultimately not give a flying rip about what you do each day.  High quality people will leave because they frankly have better things to do and know it.

The other sect is the born Coggers.  These types either had poor role models growing up or just have a natural disposition for mediocre bliss.  You have two choices – rehab or termination.  Sound harsh?  Could be…or it could be strict reality with a wakeup call for something greater.  My experience says that rehabbing is possible – but difficult.  We have hired our share of Coggers in the past and some made excellent progress while others crashed and burned. To successfully rehab Mr. Cogger, you have to have a clear people process which rewards the behaviors you value and want to see repeated along with a dynamic personnel development focus.  When Coggers become part of a kick-butt environment of accountability, purpose, and fun they either reject it because it is so foreign or they embrace it and begin living.  It’s pretty cool to witness the epiphany in some, but frustrating to observe the mindless rejection in others.

So, if having a group full of Coggers is not the goal, what is?  Great question Johnny!  By the way, I love how engaged you are.  Keep it up!  Our goal is to have a team full of people with a razor sharp focus who are constantly driven to improve their customers, co-workers, and company, while proactively taking the reigns on their own personal development.  We call these types Commandos.  Did you ever play the old school Nintendo game Contra?  It was a game where you were a commando dropped in the jungle who had to fight his way out against a host of nastiness.  You had multiple weapons and could basically fight your way out of any situation.  Have you ever seen a Commando in the workplace?  They’re intense, driven, full of ideas, and addicted to improving the current state no matter the cost – they are on a mission and failure is NOT an option.  Commandos interact with their clients in ways their competition does not.  They solve problems by providing tailored solutions which make the client feel significant.  In fact, Commandos are so covert that they can provide these solutions while saving their customers money and increasing profits at the same time.

What would happen if the workers assembling products on the shop floor began thinking beyond screwing part A into part B?  What if that office worker who presses the same buttons every day on her keyboard chose to start each morning by answering the question, “How can I make a difference today?” or “How can I make today better for my customer or my co-workers?  What if Sally Manager decided to make her employees’ environment engaging, full of meaning and fun today?  You see it’s all about thinking outside of the Cogger’s confined existence and opening up to something of substance and meaning.  So what’s holding you back from leaving your days of Cogging and enlisting in the adventure of being a Commando?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Lawn and Leadership Part 3 – Lawn Rehab Applied

Five years ago I moved to Atlanta to try to rehabilitate a struggling office, a bare spot on the lawn of our organization. Oddly enough, turning it around took the same skills that I learned when Jon and I re-established my lawn (read My Lawn and Leadership Part 2 to get the first half of the story). The landscape of employees was similar to the thin coverage of my previously mentioned lawn. They were weak and tired-looking, refusing to get along with each other, and completely unable make money no matter how hard they tried. “When was the last time they were truly inspired?” I thought. You’ll never guess what I figured out? They had never been inspired and many had little to no skill to do their jobs, but you knew that already didn’t you?

I have a few mentors in my life who come along side me in order to help me grow my family, business, and self in the best way possible. Each man helped me in their own way figure out how to succeed in turning around my newfound human lawn. Thanks guys!

The first step was to begin “disturbing the ground”, and I did it a few different ways. I made our goals visible. They never had a daily reminder of what they needed to accomplish. How can you hit a goal when you have no idea where you’re aiming? Next they needed a vision, so I cast one: profitability, teamwork, and a new, fun, and engaging environment. They were a bit skeptical at first, but over time they grabbed on to it and the beginning of today as we know it was born.

It wasn’t easy though. I had to address basic blocking and tackling from execution to basic office protocol. Some of the employees would show up 30-45 minutes late each day. Yeah, I didn’t stutter (can you stutter when you type?). I began to hold them accountable and raised the standards of basic things like promptness, lunch breaks, and smoke breaks. I rewarded behaviors I wanted to see replicated like exceptional teamwork, financial breakthroughs driven by brilliant creativity, and extraordinary customer service. Unfortunately, not everyone fit my vision. I began to terminate people that didn’t love what we did and whose performance wasn’t up to par with where we were headed. Instead I began to hire people who embodied what I wanted to become. I wasn’t perfect either, and made more than enough mistakes in the process. We were continuing to figure out what we wanted to become – a world class lawn or another disaster.

Ultimately I knew I couldn’t take the business to the highest level alone, so I established my leadership team, consisting of three people. I chose those who had the most influence, and began developing their leadership skills immediately. They desperately needed to be fertilized. We read leadership books and I wrote study guides. I was amazed at how well they debated ideas and challenged each other. In time they each grew into rock solid leaders.

Over the last five years, one was plucked by another company for a leadership position and another has been promoted to a corporate role. I have since promoted others as we’ve grown ensuring the process lives on. At the same time, our team became one of the fastest growing offices in the company.

When my family and I ended up selling our house, the yard was a gem. It only took one good growing season to sort things out. The key was partnering with someone with experience who had my best interests in mind, disturbing the ground, working the seeds into the soil, and consistently watering and fertilizing. I drove by the house a couple years later and to my disappointment it had regressed back to its former self. It was almost as if Jon and I had never been there. Taking care of an excellent lawn isn’t easy, but it all begins with the lawn’s leader. What do you want your turf to look like? How do you want it to grow? What do you need to do to make it happen? What is strategy do you need to employ to promote the right kind of growth?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Lawn and Leadership Part 2 – Lawn Rehab

The first house my wife and I bought didn’t have much of a lawn. The coverage of the dry, long bluegrass/rye grass mix was thin throughout proving its lack of proper care, but then again it was early spring. Obviously we didn’t buy the house for the lawn. My younger brother, Jon, was working for a lawn company at the time. I had him come over and check it out. He agreed that it needed a lot of work. We felt that if we did the right things we could produce a turf most neighbors would love to own.

The first order of business was to do some seeding.  There were multiple large bare spots in the back yard. The largest was a 6 foot by 2 ½ foot rectangle which obviously was the former location of a play structure or outdoor storage box.  I thought we would just throw some seeds down and start watering.  I was wrong.  Jon showed me that I needed to “disturb the ground” by pulling the weeds and any weak-looking grass to make it a cultivated mix of dirt and air.  We then sewed the seed in with a garden rake moving it continuously over and through the ground as if we were folding an enormous blanket until it looked like a beautiful marriage of rich soil and tiny seeds.  I know I’m a bit of a freak, but I was overwhelmed at the potential of that rectangle.  Could it really grow in as thick as we hoped?  I watered it for 5 minutes and then went and replicated the same process over the next few bare spots.

Jon stopped by and dropped some starter fertilizer a couple days later, and I continued to water the spots at night after dinner wondering if it would actually work.  Sure enough, about 10 days after the initial planting I started to see tiny, focused blades of grass fighting for the Sun. It was working!

The next 3-4 weeks more and more blades began to push through the soil until finally the bare spots were replaced by thick, brilliant, kelly green patches of grass.

Part two was killing the weeds. Jon took care of that with his weed death serum. Thanks bro!

By the end of the growing season the lawn looked like that obnoxious green lawn on a certain fertilizer company’s tv commercial.  Maybe it’s just me, but every time I see that commercial I question the legitimacy of the turf.  I swear it is computer generated.  That summer Jon and I rehabilitated my lawn. It was not easy and it took time, energy and focus, but the end result was magnificent. Do you ever look at the line where your lawn meets your neighbors’ and quietly celebrate your victory because yours looks so much better than theirs? I know…I’m sick.

Have you ever undertaken an opportunity where the landscape of your business, church, or team resembled the original state of my lawn? Was it bare, uninspired, and underachieving? I did. Check out my next blog entry for the rest of the story.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Can't Microwave Golden Brown Goodness

Can you imagine life without a Microwave? Percy Spencer hooked us up when he invented that lovely heating machine in the 1940’s. We don’t go a day without using it to do things like heat up drinks, warm meals, and cook popcorn. When my first son was born I figured out the exact amount of time it took to heat a bottle perfectly. Needless to say, my burned forearms got me into enough trouble during the testing phase to get my mental health questioned a few times…and times haven’t changed...that much.

Can you imagine not having a Microwave? We would be stuck relying on the old stove, the grill, or even starting a fire outside in a pit and it would just take too long. We hate waiting. It’s not convenient nor is it practical in today’s world. Unfortunately we don’t like waiting as our leaders grow and develop either. We spend time figuring out how to speed up their growth when we should instead be spending time figuring out how to enhance it.

Did you ever promote Johnny Poser before he was ready? Who would want to take the time to do it right? We have goals to hit, budgets to dwarf, and gross profit to drive. Very little equipping went into Johnny’s development, but you were convinced he would succeed. After all, he did his current job so well that you knew he would fit right into his next one with more responsibility. You kept telling yourself, “This will work out great! Johnny is perfect for this role!”  Then reality decided to show up after you made the promotional switch.  He wasn’t ready and his immaturity slapped you silly. You didn’t truly equip him so you try addressing the major red flags and Johnny doesn’t think he needs any more “help” because he has arrived. You begin to realize your desire for speed and ease blinded the reality of his developmental deficiencies. More and more issues begin to surface until you have no choice but to remove Johnny Poser from his newfound leadership role. I have made this mistake and it isn’t fun living through it having to undo something you never should have done. The problem is you put them in a growth Microwave and expected them to be ready in 45 seconds on 100% power.

I love roasting marshmallows.  My friends make fun of me because I get down and find the best part of the fire where there is no flame with even heat emitting from the coals.  My goal each time is to make the perfect blend of brown crispiness with zero burn.  The process of building the fire, lighting it and waiting for it to blaze to the point so it is ready to roast marshmallows takes time.  You finally get your little puffy ball ‘o goodness on the stick and begin roasting.  It isn’t ready immediately.  It takes time to get all the sides just right – golden brown.  What if you used the same patience and focus in developing your leaders?  Have you ever tried “roasting” a marshmallow in the Microwave?  It blows up.  The heat is too intense and you’re left with a sticky mess.  Take the time to invest, equip, and develop your leaders into golden brown globes of tasty goodness because if you try to Microwave them they’ll end up blowing up into a sticky mess that your wife will make you clean up. Trust me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Be the Leader Your Team Wants to Follow – not Porky Pig

One of the key differentiators in today’s work world is environment. It’s a common topic covered during the interview process. People want to work at a place they enjoy. The ultimate challenge for leaders continues to be architecting an environment where people arrive every day with anticipation of what could be, should be, and will be while making a difference and having fun. Ninety-five percent of people in leadership roles today don’t get it. They solely focus on the bottom line while forgetting that they are working with actual people – not robots. What if they focused on the bottom line AND focused on building an engaging, enticing environment for their employees? I have asked many leaders what keeps them from building an irresistible environment, and have received my fair share of excuses - “It’s too hard. I’m not that creative. I don’t have time. What would my peers think?” are just a few. The funny thing is that it isn’t that hard. It comes down to three things: investment, empowerment, and creativity. This blog entry will focus on investment. We’ll tackle the other two later.

I’ll be honest; I have written my fair share of training material and each time I ask myself if my team and/or audience will find it valuable. The fact is that when you spend time investing in your team's development they appreciate the gift they are receiving. They recognize it takes time, thought, preparation, and a smidgeon of risk. The majority of your employees will not come up and thank you right away, but if you converse with them over time and ask if your content was meaningful and applicable they will admit its value and you will see it payoff in their performance. Do you remember when you finally realized how smart your parents were? It happened over time and even when things started to take shape, I doubt anyone went and told them how amazing their wisdom was – I didn’t.

People want to be invested in. If you were to take a sample of employees out of an environment of investment and another out of an average environment, you would find that the “invested sample” would be far more interested, engaging and productive. Why? They are being fed and grown (I feel a lawn reference coming on, but I will wait to use it for another installment of “My Lawn and Leadership”). I know I referenced this book in the last blog entry, but Steve Farber’s new book Greater Than Yourself illustrates the idea of investment beautifully. I highly recommend reading it.

Investment is worth the time because if you, Johnny Leader, are continuing your own personal growth and development, you should have more than enough topics and ideas to teach. So, it all comes back to you. Are you learning and growing? If so, start finding a way to deliver those lessons back to your crew in a simple, easy-to-apply manner. It’s scary and stretching, but they need your knowledge and experiences to aid in their growth. Extreme leaders do this – average ones don’t. If you aren’t growing with purpose then you need to start, because that’s the reason why your turnover is so high and your employee satisfaction is in the toilet. You can only bribe them so long to give you the highest marks on your performance evaluation before the truth comes out, and you start stuttering to your boss in defense like Porky Pig. Make investment in your team a priority and be the leader they want to follow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Lawn and Leadership Part 1 “Let the Kid Drive the Lawnmower”

I love taking care of my lawn. The whole process is a metaphor for leaders. This entry will be the first of many paralleling lawn care to “people care” a.k.a. leadership. A good friend of mine once said, “Leaders take care of their people,” and I could not agree more.

The first time I cut the grass I was seven years old. I was watching my dad cut our bluegrass lawn to the recommended height of 3 inches and dreaming about what it would be like to do it myself. He noticed my interest and offered to let me take the self-propelled rotary push mower for a swipe. I must have done it correctly because he let me do it a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time and so on. I remember that day because he got my mom to come out and watch her upcoming first grader cutting the grass. Sometimes I wonder if my dad was really that excited because of my newfound responsibility, or because he opportunistically just sourced free, manual labor which would last for years to come. Either way, I was having fun and enjoying the new experience.

The image of that day and the process of leaders choosing, developing and mentoring their followers is remarkably similar. I watched my father cut the lawn many times, but that day he noticed my interest and chose to act. That’s right leaders, your followers notice what you do and many would love a chance to be the object of your development. Our challenge is consistently paying attention because we must identify the right candidate(s). Nothing warms my heart more than when one of my crew tells me that they want my job. The admission of desire gives me permission to begin molding them into something greater. What happens if the desiring individual is just not cut out for the role? Good question. My younger brothers were not invited to play with the Toro. Can you imagine a five year old and an infant trying to cut the grass? I don’t think my dad was interested in being the object of a parental stupidity story on 20/20. Sometimes people just aren’t ready for the investment. Timing is everything. You must assess the person’s readiness before you proceed. Ask questions in order to dig deep and see if they are truly willing to put in the work and dedication.

The second step is once you decide to move forward, start giving your world away one part at a time. I am not saying to turn over the keys immediately, but instead provide challenging assignments and projects that either mimic what you do or provide dynamic development opportunities to help them grow. In Steve Farber’s latest book Greater Than Yourself he takes it a step further. He suggests picking one person and focusing all of your attention to make them, that’s right, you guess it – Greater Than Yourself. You must teach them everything you know, connect them with your best contacts, share your greatest concepts, failures, and achievements, take them through your favorite books, and do everything within your power to equip them to be more of a success than you are today. Basically, open up your playbook. Giving yourself away is not a natural move. We like to hoard our expertise, and then sell it to the highest bidder while constantly reminding them of who graciously and benevolently opened up the treasure chest for a price. Give yourself away.

Finally, don’t stop. My dad didn’t just let me cut the grass and then put a fork in my development. He kept giving me more and more over time. I think sometimes we lose patience and forget that development, mentoring, and equipping is a process not an event – it takes time and cannot be rushed. Have you ever been guilty of trying to “microwave” someone’s growth? I have and it isn’t fun picking up the pieces of your feebly rushed attempt at supersonic development when everything hits the proverbial fan. The process takes time – just like when your lawn is growing in during the spring.

So do what Doug did, when your “kid” is showing interest and ready to test drive some responsibility give them the opportunity to drive the lawnmower and see what happens.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Change: Let Voltron Be Your Guide

Change is challenging for the young and old, the rookies and the veterans, the successful and the defeated, yet necessary. The job of the leader is not just to be a catalyst of change but to also know when and how much is needed. It would be nice if we all had some sort of barometer measuring conditions of change for our teams. Email me when you invent it.

Five years ago I inherited a highly dysfunctional team, and everywhere I turned changes screamed out. At the end of the first year, my leaders and I did an “autopsy of change” and listed every change we had made. The board was full. We had over 25 changes. Work hours, lunch hours, new account management and development methodology, along with fresh layers of much needed accountability dominated the list. What we learned was that both the amount of change and the depth of change are directly proportional to the leadership equity possessed by the top dog – yes friend, that’s you the leader.

The leader must, must, must have the trust and influence to cast the vision, drive the strategy, and facilitate the robust dialogue needed to build a solid operating plan used to execute needed changes. This obviously comes with time. That’s right Skippy, you can’t get this done immediately.

One of the key changes accomplished that first year surrounded changing the way the team interacted with each other through altering the way business was executed. Dictating would have been easy yet costly, so I chose to try something different. I picked two of the key influencers and asked them to help me drive the change. Instead of fighting it, they chose to get on board and help make it happen. In order to drive effective change it is imperative to use both your influence and the influence of your leaders. Together this creates an unstoppable force. For those of you cartoon nuts from the 80’s it’s much like Voltron. Do you remember what would happen when all of the lions came together? They created an unbeatable robot that nothing could destroy. Don’t worry. You won’t see me at DragonCON this weekend.

So here’s the punch line: if you are trying to drive change, assess your leadership equity. How much do you have? How much do your people trust you? How cohesive and focused is your leadership team. Where does their leadership equity fall on the grid? If you get high marks, go for it. If you are weak, then start building some muscle in these areas and start leading so you can be the catalyst of change your team needs.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Beginnings

Welcome to my BLOG,

When I was 16 my heart locked on to what I felt my calling was: developing leaders. At the time I was "committed" to being an orthopedic surgeon. Once I figured out I would go to school for another 12 years and then spend many more paying off the bills I would incur, I reluctantly stayed the course. I figured I'd just deal with the headaches because I couldn't think of anything better to do. I was a pretty wise 16 year old....yeah right.

My parents chose to put me in environments that would stretch and inspire me to lead. It was in one of these environments that I "caught" my calling.

The frustration began during my internship in college when I realized I couldn't immediately do what I loved because I needed......that's right, you guessed it! EXPERIENCE. Who in their right mind would listen to a 22 year old kid tell them how to be a leader? It's funny because there's no way I would now. That poor soul would be a prime target for some back-of-the-classroom harassing.

The last nine years I've grown, lead, risked, read, and experimented with different thoughts, theories, and crazy creative ideas as I earned some school-of-hard-knocks experience. Countless hours have been invested writing, facilitating, teaching and maturing my leaders. I tend to think they are better today than they were before they joined my team.

Therefore my readers, I encourage you to ask questions, challenge ideas and/or tell me I am full of nonsense. I want to throw some creativity your way because my goal is to expand myself and give as much of what I have learned away for the betterment of others. Enjoy....