Leadership

“I Intend To”

Bureaucracy is a bitch.

What few people realize is that as an upper level exec, in a lot of too many organizations, there’s virtually no natural incentive to approve… well, anything. If you don’t approve requests or initiatives, what can go wrong? You don’t get some (rare) praise for accomplishing something – big deal. But if you approve something and it goes wrong??

As a young Community Manager, if I had a broken hot tub that needed a $1.6k repair and it was over my $500 spending limit, I’d need express written approval.  No biggie, right? I’ll just email my boss and get an answer.

After multiple follow ups, weeks later, there’s no answer beyond the yawning chasm of silence. Why wouldn’t they just tell me ‘no’ if that’s what they wanted? Because not answering the question meant they were the safest they could be.

See, there’s risk in saying yes to things. What if someone comes along later and says you screwed up by approving that thing which could have been done cheaper, better, differently, etc…? What if I get yelled at? What if… something something bad feeling?

I wasn’t alone. A LOT of my cohorts’ bosses did the same thing. Ignore, brush off, delay, deflect, slow roll, forget – anything to not have to take a stand on something that should be easy because the fear was always at their neck that they’d get ripped for it. They wanted express permission from the owner before they’d be ok saying yes. What point was there for their existence then? We could just get the permission from the owner if that’s all it was.

When the issue finally reached crisis level, the owner had the foresight to implement the system that Simon mentions at the 33 minute mark in this video: “I Intend To.”

The way it worked was, if we needed to do something and couldn’t get an answer, we’d fire off an email with “IIT:” in the subject line. If we weren’t told NO within 48 hours, we were free to do it. It changed the onus from getting approval to bosses having to say NO if they felt something shouldn’t be done.

As you can imagine, things improved immediately. Bosses who didn’t have good reasons to say no, besides their personal fear, could tacitly approve something without lifting a finger. Oh happy day!

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say there shouldn’t be checks and balances and proper vetting of capital requests. By all means, I’d include how many bids I’d received, what the nature of the issue was, what the repair proposed was, why that was a rational way to proceed and what the timeline would be. I’d proactively try to answer every question I could get to make sure it was in line with our company’s values and goals.

Bottom line or TL;DR: There’s all kinds of benefit in empowering your people as opposed to teaching them to subsist on compliance. Your people aren’t the problem, your environment, your culture are the problem.

Eliminate bureaucracy, breed commitment by increasing your team’s involvement.

 

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Show Up. Or, Why Omelets Don’t Matter.

Note: this is a classic post from July 2012, hope you enjoy.

We’re all presented with a thousand decisions in a day – even the ones we don’t make are technically decisions – and I observed a few today and I thought I would share as I feel they are:

1. Completely random – so a good example of our lives.

2. Indicative of a theme I’d like to touch on – but let’s not spoil the fun just yet.

First, we have a Bistro at work which serves between 4 and 12 thousand meals a week. No biggie there, we’re getting quite good at it. One of our front line people is the best – totally awesome. She makes remarkable omelets with the deft precision of a Samurai, that happens to hold a personal grudge against unborn chickens.

Mmmmmm Omelet

 

 

 

 

On this particular morning we’re hosting a large sports camp which features 120 kids and assorted coaches. Towards the end of breakfast this omelet samurai asks me if she can make one of her famous omelets for the Head Coach (it’s his camp) as she wasn’t sure if he paid or not. This concern was voiced directly in front of said Coach whose business we’re eager to retain – omelets are never extra with breakfast.

Second: I’m told that we reportedly rebuffed a new Resident who relayed that their AC was not in working order on Saturday. As it didn’t constitute an “extreme emergency” we told them to wait for Monday. For those not familiar with Florida in late July, allow me to put down rumors about the unending cold front we experience during this time of year. In fact, we have Emergency Maintenance defined as “No AC when the temp outside is over 85 degrees.” I believe it was 99 on this particular day, though it could have been 93.

Third: A Senior Associate informs me that a parent is on the phone and wishes to renew their kid’s lease under an old offer letter we sent out weeks ago. The current offer is a much better deal for the Resident/Parent and we always offer unsigned leases the current deal.

It's that easy

So, what do all these have in common? This question haunted my entire day.

 

 

At my old place of work, we had these portraits of all the employees on the wall and each had a quote that supposedly the person lived by. The majority said some fluff like “Seize the day” though one stood out to me for its simplicity and eloquence. It read simply “SHOW UP.”

I thought “Is this good?” and let it marinate. Then, after a half hour, I grilled it up with some delicious business acumen and served it with a glass of “OH YEAH.” The words were from a new friend named Dan O’Connor and I couldn’t help but roll around in their brilliance. SHOW UP! How deep did those words go?

The decisions I cited all shared a lack of “showing up” – not in the physical sense, but in the other, deeper sense. Of being mentally “there” where things really happen. I’ve come to appreciate that the big difference between getting it done and saying we gave it our best, is the belief that by simply standing our post, that we’ve managed to “show up.”

Not by a long shot.

It’s not stupidity or ignorance of lack of experience – these three individuals are all some of our best. Seriously, I tout their drive and desire constantly. This was a case of not being there mentally, in a moment, and that’s all there is.

Make the omelet! Paid or not, who cares!? I’ve never beaten or punished someone for giving away three eggs and some veggies! Take a chance! On the guy you KNOW is the “The GUY” we’re trying to impress. Don’t call him a cheapskate in front of his face!

What, exactly is “an extreme emergency” pray tell? As opposed to a regular emergency? Which we don’t care about? If Weather.com tells you it’s 83.5 degrees outside and they’re not happy, call it in!

They want to renew and you want to pick a fight? Over someone giving you their hard-earned money? TAKE IT! By any means! Make it EASY for them! Fall all over yourself to accommodate them and make them happy! That’s what we do!

I felt failure today. Failure in transmitting the message. I often state that “It’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter” though I recognize not everyone hears this message. That is my fault and it’s my charge to make sure it’s known, and known well. Not with bigger bull horns, but with a better plan – not more regulation, but with more discussion. Conversations build empires and right now? I have a fiefdom.

“The single biggest misconception about communication is the belief that it has occurred.”

Be A Super Ethical Leader in 3 Easy Steps

 

Immanuel Kant is a boss. Like, the boss of bosses.

As far as philosophers go, he’s like the RZA of this here ethics game. He’s the one that really summed it up nicely, and gave everyone the central cornerstone of modern ethics: The Categorical Imperative!

categorical

Put simply: Act so that the maxim of your actions should be made universal and necessary. 

Ok, put even simpler: In whatever you do, act in such a way that you’re advocating that all people, everywhere, should always act in the same way, in that same situation.

So, if you shoplift, you’re saying by your actions that it’s in the best interest of all people everywhere to do the same. If you disagree, and think all people shouldn’t shoplift, neither should you – so don’t do it. Duh.

If you hold the door for people walking 10 steps behind you and let them in first, you’re saying everyone else should do the same. Also a good idea.

Boom. Lawyered.

Or, philosophized? Whatever. 

literallykant

Kant’s other central points were:

  1. People are an ends in and of themselves, not a means to an end – so treat them that way. Don’t intentionally harm them.
  2. A good act is a good thing in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. Even if you failed, a good act is its own reward.

Taken altogether, if practiced, you have the lion’s share of what it takes to be a good leader – or at least not a giant-garbage-person.

My take away?

  • Love people. At the very least, respect their humanity. Every one of them. Treat them decently, even if you don’t like them.
  • Do a good thing because it’s a good thing to do. That means being honest, keeping promises, give your best effort, learn from mistakes. Even if you fail, you did the right thing and that’s all it needs to be. Success received for doing the wrong thing isn’t any success at all.
  • Be a model for what you think is right – make sure you agree with what your actions say you believe in.

I wish I had another Kant pun to throw in here to close this thing out with, but I Kant think of one.

Waitaminute… I see what I did there.  I just Kant get enough of these puns.

Business Culture, Prime Directives, and killing John Connor

I got sent this email yesterday, which was one I’d sent some three years ago while at CVI-Orlando. At the time we were six months into a $2 million renovation, and working concertedly to establish a new culture.

When you’re trying to build culture, it’s important to be honest and authentically one’s self. People loathe artifice and inherently move away from it. This email happens to be “me” in written form, and I think it was evident of something that’s worked for me over the years. People know it’s not just some corporate policy I’m being forced to endorse while a concealed derringer burrows into the small of my back, but something I full-throatily support.

I offer it here at as an unedited look, an example, of how I believe in communicating with my teams. Also, I just really crack myself up and I can’t get enough of my choice of analogy here. How great is that hipster John Connor meme?

Big thanks to Larry for 1. Having kept this all these years, and 2. For thinking of me enough to send it to me now. It was a nice laugh during a really busy time and a great glimpse of some of the most fun I’ve had during my career.

Ourmission

ourmission2

ourmission3

Don’t be a Lumberg – The Sacred Duty of All Leaders

Yeah. I’m posting a commercial. It works.

It works, unfortunately, because we’ve all been there. Some of us are there right now.

“Ah! You see this bulk? This bulk is great. Mmmmm. Look at it go.”

If you’re responsible for other people you have a sacred duty to not waste their time. You have an obligation and a trust to make sure that anything you require from them, that pulls them away from their mission, has value.

If you’re thinking about having a meeting, please ask yourself the following questions:

1. What do we want the participants of this meeting to come away with?

2. What’s the most efficient manner in which to do that?

If you can’t answer the first, or the answer is convoluted, then wait to have a meeting until the answer is clear. If you’ve answered the second question, but that’s not what your plan is – change your plan.

The irony would be humorous if it weren't so disgusting.

The irony would be humorous if it weren’t so disgusting.

Lastly, if you know the answer to number one, and you don’t know the answer to number two, seek outside help and ask members of the team. Involvement breeds commitment – the bored members of your team that are eye-rolling their way through meeting hell will jump at the opportunity to become part of the solution.

If you’re a manager, by all means, keep doing as you did before. You’re not reading this anyway.

If you’re a leader, you understand and respect people and you want to protect them. There is no greater evil than wasted time – start by doing everything in your power to kill it.

Sift Media has the right culture

While checking out the best of Slideshare 2014, I came across this gem. For anyone reading my blog, or anyone that knows me, this perfectly encapsulates my thinking on Company Culture and what it should be. Give it a quick run through and I think you’ll fall in love with it.

There are no cats in America?

Our futures are like this – devoid of risk or threat, far sunnier than our ravaged pasts. We can place our hopes there, safely, for we know that in the future all will be right.

The sad fact is that there are cats in America, and in our futures. All the singing in the world won’t get rid of them or change the fact that tough challenges lay ahead, wherever we are going.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t go there because of the cats – we should. But probably with both eyes open, and a little wary of the streets actually being paved with cheese.

What are your cats? Where are you going? What’s the plan? What are you overlooking through overly optimistic eyes?