Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Resetting the Scales – Balancing People and Progress

The name of the game today is growth. Shareholders demand it, teachers push their students to pursue it, and pastors pray for it. The challenge is that at any organization where growth occurs, the priorities of leaders change. The percentage of time dedicated to their people begins to decrease while the focus on metrics, efficiency, and systems increases. How can we make more money? How can we cut out more waste and reduce our costs? How can we drive student test scores up? How can we increase our church attendance faster? All of these questions have merit, but not at the cost of slowing your people development process down. Leaders are typically tempted to sacrifice time where the return on investment isn't ambiguous, even though it is that investment that helped their organization grow. If you fail to readjust the balance, you will create other problems which will stem from low morale and unexpected turnover. I have lived this tension of people priority and chose to spend more time developing my people, which resulted in greater sustained growth. I hope you find the following ideas meaningful. 

Talk is Cheap. Time is Priceless.
I can't tell you how many organizations I have heard claim that building into people is their priority. The problem is that is doesn't cost much to make this statement. And to be honest, who wouldn't say that? Everyone wants to work in an environment where their development is a bullet point at the top of the list. Therefore, if you're going to say it, you have to pay it...in time. Nothing speaks louder to employees, students, or followers than a leader they all know is busy who stops to add value and build into them. 

This isn't an issue just for the CEO, Principal, or Pastor – it is an issue for all of those in leadership positions. We all know about the bad things that "roll downhill" and leadership rolls down the same hill. The chief leader must set the example and the precedent of how to juggle a growing tribe so that his/her leaders can do the same. When you begin, let them see how you schedule your time. Show them the tools and methods you use to make it happen so that they can see how to begin investing their own time in their people. 

Deepening Connection
This past year I served on the Student Advisory Counsel at my son's middle school. It is a special group of faculty, staff, parents, and business owners. We work together along with the principal to work on enhancements for the students. The middle school is one of the top schools in the state and has the highest rating possible. They've experienced success and have seen the school's size grow. We talk about grades, test scores and the annual plan, which is pretty normal.

The difference is that besides test scores, the principal's goal for each student is that they have a deep connection with at least one teacher so that if life gets crazy they have someone to help them navigate. He spends time between classes in the halls talking and connecting with students every day, which is tough in a middle school of over 1,000 students. His example sets the pace. The teachers are also focused on building these relationships because they know they could make all the difference in the world for the students. Connections are first and primary catalysts for development. When we get too out of whack in our priorities, we spend less time connecting (with people) and more time completing (tasks). Dr. John Maxwell calls it "Walking Slowly Through the Crowd". Connection is key. 

Learning to Leverage
In 1999, Marcus Pfister wrote the children's' book The Rainbow Fish. Some of you are probably like me and have read it to your kids. It's about a fish with a bunch of rainbow colored scales. Different fish ask him if he would share a scale with them because they're so cool. He chooses not to and finds himself all alone. The wise Octopus shows him that sharing may cost him his scales, but having friends is more important. By the end of the book, he has given away all of his scales but one and has a bunch of friends. 

When the schedule gets nuts, we tend to slow our own development down. One of my mentors, Steve Adams always encourages me to schedule an hour a day to read because "Leaders are Readers". If you stop growing, your people stop growing. It's pretty simple math. When you teach your people a new concept, lesson, or idea you are giving them one of the coolest gifts ever. They hear you saying, "I just learned the greatest thing that is making a difference in my life and instead of keeping it to myself, I am sharing it with you!" Your people want this. They want your valuable, rainbow-colored scales. 

Some of you have fallen off the bus and others have never gotten on in terms of developing your people. Whichever camp you sit in, the next step is the same. Start. Schedule something, connect with someone, or start reading and share an insight. Your people are dying for this and your next level of growth depends on it.