Monday, January 30, 2012

Teach a model

Life is complicated and it has been for a long time.  Data come at us in a torrent that is absolutely crushing.  In some ways this is good, the availability of data gives us the raw material for making useful choices.  However, the simple volume of information makes selecting what deserves attention and what doesn't a nearly impossible task.  It is at this stage of managing change that people will get frozen in 'analysis.'  The fact that people get stuck in such a manner is useful to you, however, if you introduce the tool for moving past the jam.  That tool is the model.

Saying you have a model can sound very official but it's actually very basic.  A model is simply a way of making choices about what deserves attention and what it all means.  Everybody works off of models, though very few use consciously constructed models.  As we grow up, go through school, spend time with our friends and receive training at companies we are building ideas about what works and what doesn't.  That is why most situations don't cause us to freeze in the enormous volume of data available to us, we are constantly learning what to ignore.  The trouble comes in when we find ourselves in new situations, as is often the case when trying to change the way an organization functions.  It is when these situations are new and strange not just to you but to those around you when you can find the most advantage.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fail entitlement

Entitlement is a problem in all levels of our lives.  Have you ever been at a company party and not heard people complain, even though they spent nothing and did no work?  How often does a parent give one child a gift or praise only to have another child get jealous?  Or employees expect a raise (or promotion) simply because they've been at the company for several years?  This impulse is common and each of us feels it as well as fights it in our daily lives.  So what to do about it?

Over on the Harvard Business Review blog, Whitney Johnson suggests that we set boundaries for people and hold them accountable.  She seems to focus on boundaries for children and connects that to an ongoing effect throughout the person's life.  I agree completely that setting boundaries for children is critical and pays dividends for years to come, but I don't think that advice is of much use in most organizations.  On one hand, it is unlikely that a manager or supervisor can always be on hand to set boundaries (or even know what the boundaries should be).  That also just pushes the problem back one step, who sets the bounds for the supervisor?  On the other hand, accountability is often held up as a panacea for all ails, as if making people explain themselves (what usually seems to be meant) is enough of a motivation to inspire compliance.  Essentially, that the person will be embarrassed into appropriate behavior.  Yet embarrassment inspires defensiveness, a state that looks strangely similar to a feeling of entitlement.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Right about being wrong

One of the key factors to influencing your organizations is knowing what's actually going on in your organizations.  Paul Herbet makes the suggestion to get in the trenches and away from the table.  The trouble is that, of the many barriers we face to knowing the truth, the worst barrier is within our own minds.

It's normal for leaders or people who want to be leaders to get caught up in efforts to define problems, design plans, and assign tasks.  Sometimes they do this well and the ideas percolate through the organization and other times they do it poorly and it all ends at an office door.  There's always the possibility of an error in execution and usually that's what I address here.  Not today.  Today I would like to share a trick of thinking that has worked well for me.  A simple to say but difficult to manage trick.