#20 of 37 Lessons -- Management By Walking Around

Management by Walking Around (MBWA) – in an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of learning, knowing, and using employees’ names. Perhaps the best way to use those names is through the practice of management by walking around. This practice might have roots going back to Abraham Lincoln when he would walk around and check in with his troops during the civil war. It was a way for him to get feedback on how things were going and how he could provide better tools and strategies for his troops.

So, if you care about your troops and want to help them do a better job; then, start walking around. Before you do though, think about these few tips to success:

  1. Be careful that employees won’t perceive your effort as forced or contrived. To the employee, it should be as if you just happened by and are taking an interest in them. 

  2. If you must schedule the time on your calendar, do so, but be careful that your intention isn’t telegraphed to your employees.  

  3. Ease into it with a few practice runs to perfect your technique.

  4. Treat employees evenly. Don’t only visit with employees you like. Spend time with those who might be troublesome, less likable, or have less in common with you. Only spending time with those you like will cause troubles for you and them.

  5. Get to know people on a personal basis. Look for personal mementos in their work area (e.g. a family picture, baseball pennant, movie poster…). Ask about those things and what they mean to the employee. 

  6. Ask how things are going and encourage candid, open and honest communications about how things are going.

  7. Be prepared to receive tough questions.

  8. When a tough question is received, it must be answered. The answer doesn’t need to be immediate. You can always say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

  9. If you say you will get back to someone – do it! Get back to them with an honest answer.

  10. Have fun! Take your people a little treat every now and then and keep your ear to the ground for how things are going. Show some personality. Tell ‘em a work-appropriate joke. Take another (higher level) manager with you from time to time. Before you know it, they may come to you before they come to you and they’ll come with a problem and the solution.

When will you start walking?

 Dan

#19 of 37 Lessons -- Keep Learning

Keep Learning – starting with kudos to my lovely wife for a huge learning accomplishment. Though she has been in the hospital pharmacy business for quite some time and is inching toward the sunset of her career, two weeks ago she completed a very significant and grueling certification in her field. She is now one of approximately 300 people in the entire country that holds the particular designation – congratulations babe. That’s a huge accomplishment.

During her studies, my wife remarked how the lessons helped her do a better job for her clients and her company. Obviously, one reason to keep learning is to make yourself more valuable at your job. Besides that, learning is good for your brain, improves its resilience and keeps you from aging prematurely. 

Learning is often a social activity that helps you to connect with others. It can open your mind to new ideas and adventures which might keep you from just becoming a couch potato. In this fast-changing world, there is much to learn. Think of the technology explosion. I remember when it was a big thing just to learn how to program a VCR. A VCR, for those of you who might not know is a Video Cassette Recorder, a precursor to the DVR and was notoriously difficult to program (at least in the beginning). Now we point and click, carry smart phones, talk to Alexa and Siri. We can have video calls with people around the world and stay in touch with anyone we wish and expand our minds even more.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Today, I learned, I have a lot to learn and don’t see any end in sight to the things I want to learn. What have you learned today and what do you want to learn tomorrow?

Dan 

#18 of 37 Lessons – Don’t Micromanage

Don’t Micromanage – in a previous post about delegation, I warned of the inefficiency brought about by poor delegation of duties. Even worse than poor delegation – micromanagement can be the death knell of employee morale. A good friend of mine works in a micromanaged organization. She is barred by her manager from sending any kinds of communications to higher ranking employees without the manager’s approval. 

This friend, is a highly-trained professional with many years of experience in several different organizations where she performed similar duties in each one. It’s not that she is a novice at her job, or is a screw-up waiting to happen. No. She is a throttled-back discontented employee looking for a place to go where her skills can be trusted, utilized and appreciated. She’s just biding her time for the right opportunity to come along and then when she leaves, her managers will wonder, “what happened?”

My aversion to micromanagement came at an early age. My grandmother owned “Pliszka Hardware” which was much more than a hardware store as it sold everything from nails by the pound to feminine hygiene products. As a young kid, I worked at the store and soon wanted to learn all things mechanical. I was especially drawn to cutting glass to size and mixing paint colors. Once I had learned to do both tasks, I didn’t want an adult looking over my shoulder – if I had a question, or concern, I would ask for help. Otherwise, leave me alone – I’ve got this! In short order, my grandmother trusted me and went on to do more important duties to keep the store running. 

As an illustration of micromanagement in reverse, one of my former employees was continually coming to me for permission to do things which were essential parts of her job. Soon, I said, “Samantha (not her real name), we pay you a lot of money to make decisions and get on with your job; it’s time you do so.” Probably not my best employee relations quote, though she quickly got the picture. I went on to say, “We trust you to do a good job and if you are unsure of yourself, come ask questions anytime. Equally, if you think something you are about to do will cause a kerfuffle, let’s talk about that too. I’m always here for you if you need me.” Samantha walked away with a smile on his face. Thereafter, her performance went through the roof – it was a great lesson for both of us. 

Steve Jobs said, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." Are you a micromanager? What important duties could you be doing instead of micromanaging your employees? Tell me your story.

Dan 

#17 of 37 Lessons -- Send Christmas Cards

Send Christmas Cards– we’ve sent the holiday season of 2018 into the history books. So, we think we have a lot of time before we’ll be saying, “where did another year go”? Early in my career, I was blown away when I received a handwritten Christmas card from a division manager who had more than 250 people in her bailiwick. I thought about how difficult I found it to send cards to friends and family and my list was way less than 250. Here, my boss’ boss took the time to send personal Christmas cards to each of her employees and no doubt, her friends and family too!

Her lesson wasn’t lost on me. I vowed to do the same when I had employees under my supervision and held true to that vow. Employees’ reactions were overwhelmingly positive. The first time I sent cards, almost everyone who received a card, came to me to thank me for the gesture. In future years, the same held true, employees appreciated getting a personal card from the boss. It was a little thing and went a long way to tell employees I cared.

In this crazy world we live in, you might not be comfortable doing the Christmas card thing. As an alternate, you might acquiesce to the more generic holiday card. If not that, you can go for birthdays, a seasonal celebration (winter, spring…), or some other obscure celebration such as “talk like a pirate day”. Regardless what you do, try not to offend with a holiday such as Halloween, which might offend, as some equate it with devil worship. You don’t want a well-meaning sentiment to back fire.

What do you think? What would make an impression on you and what might you do to boost employee morale?

Dan  

 

#16 of 37 Lessons -- Live Your Values

Live your values– until I searched for and found my core values, I never realized how much living out of sync with those values can affect your life. When you are out of sync with your values, you may feel somewhere between a little uncomfortable to utterly unhappy. We often can’t put our finger on what is bugging us and chalk it by saying, “that’s life”. You can begin to fix that uneasiness when you determine your core values. It will help you to see what is out of sync and how to begin fixing it. When you can take action to rectify the incongruences in your life, you begin to live your life and “that’s life” changes to “that’s my life”.

Until I defined “freedom” as a core value (see chapter 5 in my book), I couldn’t clearly explain my disdain for rules, regulations, and bureaucracy. Once I found freedom as a value, I began to look at the things that violated my freedom differently. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating anarchy where there are no rules and regulations. What I am advocating, is seizing your right to design and live the life of your dreams. 

Over the years, I have been fortunate to enjoy great freedom in almost everything I chose to do. It wasn’t always smooth sailing though, and could give many examples. I once worked for a guy who violated most of my core values, especially fun and freedom. Over the course of a year and a half, I tried to reason with him about having a little more fun and was rebuked with, “you’re having fun, we can change that”. He was serious, he didn’t think work should be fun. He was steadfast in working hours and I tried to get him to flex a bit, but he held fast. In most of his relationships, if the other party didn’t agree with him, it became adversarial. It never ended with this guy…

Fortunately, the example above is extreme. Rarely did I experience such egregious violation of my core values. However, because my values were being challenged, I attempted to fix some of the issues to no avail.  I then had to take extreme measures to rectify the problem by looking for and finding a new job. Simply running away from the matter is not always the cure. In this case, it was necessary. 

In other cases, I was able to pick and choose my battles. When bureaucracy reigned, I might reluctantly comply in a perfunctory manner while lobbying for relief from the unnecessary. When I recognized a task at work might not be fun, I planned to have fun outside of work and that brought me some of the balance I always look for in life. The bottom line for me is I’m much happier when I’m in sync with my core values of fun, balance, relationships, freedom, and cooperation.

What are your core values? Are they in sync?

Dan  

#15 of 37 Lessons -- If You Want to Learn Something, Teach it

If you want to learn something, teach it – for a few years, I taught Insurance and Risk Management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. An interesting revelation came about as I began to prepare for my first lecture. The revelation was how theories don’t always stand on their own when put into practice. Rather, they are combined, short-cut, or corrupted to fit the reality of its implementation in practice. 

A good teacher is prepared to answer questions from the most basic to the most complex. Therefore, the teacher must know the subject inside and out. Sure, I knew the subject, I had been practicing it for twenty years. The trick was for me to segregate the various theories and break them down to the lowest common terms in order to get the lessons across to an audience that knew little about the subject. Thus, I had to study and relearn the individual theories that were the basis of what I practiced. 

As I regained mastery of the theory, I was able to communicate the principles in addition to providing anecdotal lessons of how the theory was applied or combined in reality. I’d like to think, my students walked away better prepared to practice the theories in real work-world situations. At the same time, the students helped me learned through the tough questions they asked.

 What do you want to learn? Think about learning it so well that you become a proficient teacher of the subject.

Dan

 

#14 of 37 Lessons -- Learn People's Names

Learn people’s names– One of my most embarrassing “work moments” was the day I was in a meeting with a large team from another department accompanied by four of my team members. To start, the leader from the other department asked me to introduce my staff who were with me that day. I easily introduced three of them and drew a complete blank on the woman’s name who was sitting right next to me. I knew her name and for some unknown reason, that day, drew a complete and total blank. Finally, she spoke up, rescuing me and said her name to the group. 

 I was so embarrassed, not so much because I had some sort of senior moment and a fleeting lapse in memory. My embarrassment came because I had failed at one of my basic tenets of management – know and use people’s names. At the time, I had 28 employees reporting to me, so learning and using their names wasn’t a difficult task. 

Getting to know people’s names should be the first step of any good manager getting to know his/her employees as individuals. Getting to know your employees beyond just their name is vitally important to get the most out of them. When you know a little of their personal story, you can begin to understand when they can be pushed a little harder, or if they need to be cut a little slack. 

You’re not there to be their counselor, though you should have an idea of what pressures they may be enduring. Do they have a newborn at home? Is a family member ill? Are they going through a divorce? Any number of things will affect the performance of the individuals and if you know a little about them, you will gain their trust and earn their respect. It’s a two-way street.

Start down that two-way street by knowing and using their names. A good way to do this might be by asking, “What’s your name, who are you and what is your story?

Who are you, and what’s your story?

Dan 

#13 of 37 Lessons -- Someone will Die

Someone will die– not meaning to be macabre, it’s simple reality. Somewhere along the way, someone will die. This subject wasn’t on my original list of 37 lessons. However, it’s there now because of several circumstances.

Last week, J. D. Gibbs, son of the legendary NFL coach and NASCAR team owner, Joe Gibbs died and it got me to thinking. J. D. was only 49 years old – way too young. I can’t say I knew J. D., though we once talked on the phone about a potential promotional event for a club where we were both members. 

I also can’t say I really know Joe Gibbs, though we have spoken many times in person. For years, he and I frequented the same Starbucks. Over that time, we would greet each other with small pleasantries and from time to time we would talk racing. Once he gave me and my wife a copy of his book. He is a very admirable man. J. D’s passing made me think about how Joe is dealing with J. D.’s passing, though I’m convinced his faith in God will help him through.

This post isn’t about the Gibbs family, it’s about death. A few days after the news of J. D.’s death, I received word of another death. This one was much closer to home and it left me feeling some remorse. Locke Scripps, is a former neighbor, pianist, golf partner, wine enthusiast, friend and down-right great guy. We shared Wisconsin ties as we both spent a good bit of time there. When I moved from the same neighborhood as Locke, we lost touch.

Last year, Locke was diagnosed with leukemia and unfortunately, he did not survive. During the course of his treatment, I received updates from friends who encouraged me to reach out to him and my remorse comes because I never did and now it is too late. Locke died without me telling him what a great guy he was. 

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing happened and probably won’t be the last – unfortunately. What it is though, is a reminder to tell those who you care for how much you care for them. Don’t let too much time go by to reach out to friends and family.

Learn from my lesson and reach out. Who do you need to contact? Do it today!

 Dan 

#12 of 37 Lessons -- Employees Always Come First

Employees always come first– time and again, we hear of business ventures focusing on their “core business.” Surely a high priority, though the first priority of any business should be their employees. Even in a sole proprietorship where there are is but one individual, there must be an element of self-love in order to thrive and survive.

 In 2017, when the Clemson University Fighting Tigers won the College Football Playoff National Championship (they did it again in 2019), their coach, Dabo Swinney told an on-field reporter that the team’s entire season was about love. He went on to say, he told his team, “tonight, we’re going to win this game because we love each other.” Clearly, they needed football skills to reach the pinnacle and they demonstrated those skills in the game. What Dabo added to the mix of skills is the element of love.

 Arguably, college football players aren’t employees, though there is little difference between those amateur football players and the team which keeps your business running. If you think about the best job you have ever had, did you do the job solely because you loved the extrinsic motivation of pay, benefits and perks? Probably not, you likely loved other aspects which made you feel valued. Those intrinsic motivators helped you feel as if you were somehow making a difference. 

 Similarly, Swinney’s team didn’t win just because they focused on the core business of scoring more points than the opposition. They added an element of love to take the players’ and coaches’ contribution to the game to the very highest level. That is what makes a winning team.

 If you’re an employee and not feeling the love, maybe it is time to speak up, or look around. If you are the employer, above all, show your employees the LOVE! Make them smile. Make them feel appreciated. Employees are the key to your core business success. 

 How do you, or how have you been shown the love?

Dan 

#11 of 37 Lessons - You Can Always Change Your Mind

You can always change your mind– If you’re a regular reader, I missed blogging the last two days despite my previous pledge to blog for 37 days straight. Well, I changed my mind. Weekends are still important to me. Therefore, I choose to not blog on weekends, unless I change my mind and decide to knock one out. We’ll see what happens.

This is just one example of changing my mind. There are hundreds of other examples. The important thing is to look at issues from all sides, with different lenses and informational sources. At one time in my past, I would have hesitated hiring someone full of tattoos and sporting bright blue hair. Now, I think, “what does it matter?” There are so many things that are none of our business. Therefore, we should just let it be and tolerate what is. 

The ability to change one’s mind is important because we live in a dynamic world that is always changing. As new and different information comes to light, we can and should re-think past decisions. For example, as a long-time manager of people in the service sector, it was important to me that workers maintain fairly strict “business hours.” Now, however, because of technological connectedness, many workers can do their work from almost anywhere at any time.

The above scenario is still playing itself out in offices around the world, with some managers holding tightly to specific hours of duty because they think people won’t work if the manager can’t see them. I have news for them, if they aren’t going to work, they won’t work at their desk, or from home. Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets done.” So, measure the work outputs and quality. If employees are meeting an established standard, then hours of duty are insignificant. 

After changing my mind about office hours and flexibility, my mantra became, “get the job done.” I stopped worrying about time. If the work got done and done well, that is all that mattered. With some exceptions, there is no need to hold employees’ at work for arbitrary timeframes in the event they may be needed. Most are reachable 24/7 anyway, so why bother locking them in an office for specific periods?

What have you changed your mind about?

 Dan