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?