Articles: Leader Tools & Tips

8 Leadership Tools & Tips from Leaders

ATJ-Selected Tools for Achieving Results Through People

These 8 Tools & Tips were provided by top management thinkers. Their words bear repeating.  They were circulated to Consortium leaders & practitioners and like most management tools and tips, they hold timeless value for the right use.  You never know when the situation they are needed for will arise. It pays to keep in mind that no two companies – made up of dissimilar individuals – can never ever be identical.    As time passes these changing times yield new opportunities for tools you may have dropped.  They just may be the perfect solution for today.  

We have only three components to work/succeed with:  People, Processes, and Technology!  And People is by far the most critical component of the three in achieving sustainable results.  For leaders, the vast array of solutions & tools is daunting and not getting smaller.

Here are eight selected ‘thinkings’ which have been positively received across North America by practitioners in Manufacturing Consortia  struggling to find the management hand-holds to help them achieve sustainable results that their companies can win with.  The authors provide management tips and identify the forces that cause managers to make bad decisions – while offering thinking to help create the right conditions to ease disruption and succeed.

The Question: Are We Any Better At Managing People?

Observation 1:  Good Coaches Are Trained, Not Born

By Mike Croxson:  Mr. Croxson is president of Columbia, Md.-based Amerix Corp., which provides technology support to non-profit counseling agencies.  

Employees want more from their managers, more from their employers, and more from their careers than ever before. How can you meet both employee and management needs? Leading companies are starting by making performance reviews and feedback productive. High-performing companies are embracing a model that supplements annual reviews with micro-reviews. These sessions give an opportunity for immediate feedback and open dialogue when a project’s successes and failures are fresh and lessons can be learned for everyone’s benefit.

Honest feedback is a beautiful thing, and leading companies take pains to make sure that the exchange of opinions isn’t colored by concerns about who’s going to point a finger. The best way to make that happen is to remove the manager barrier. Hold an employee information session without managers, and let employees express their ideas and concerns to a neutral third party-they’ll gain confidence that management is concerned with their viewpoint but not interested in a witch hunt.

Leading companies today apply the boss-manager model less often than the manager-as-coach model. There is a big difference: A coach is rewarded for team wins; managers are rewarded for the bottom line. The beauty of the coach model is that a winning team creates a healthy bottom line

Observation 2: Make the Easy Stuff Easy     

By Brian Hackett:  Mr. Hackett was until recently a senior research associate at The Conference Board. He wrote “What Do You Know?” in the March/April 2001 issue.

Prior to World War II, Frederick Taylor’s scientific management was the theory that informed the practice of supervising workers. After the war, the human-behavior theories took hold. People were no longer just factors of production-they were “human resources” with hopes, fears, and dreams. They were motivated to reach “self-actualization.” At least that’s what the books and magazine articles proposed. In reality, in most companies people were and are still viewed as factors of production, not the “most valuable assets” referred to in annual reports.

One major factor is that managers are rarely taught how to supervise. They don’t learn to listen, to handle conflict, or to understand what it’s like to be in their employees’ shoes.  If anything, all the processes and systems make workers more cynical. If these programs worked, there would be no Dilbert. Performance evaluations may be the biggest culprit: They are done only once a year, usually at the last minute, and both managers and employees avoid the process. Most performance appraisals spend 10 minutes on the worker’s strengths and 50 minutes discussing weaknesses. It’s a remedial process based on outdated views of individual development.

Too many HR experts are trying to make the easy stuff hard. Workers want some basic things from their jobs: They want to belong to the team-a good place to work and, they hope, a winning team. And they want to be recognized for their contribution to the team.

A key issue may not be how managers manage or leaders lead but, rather, why followers follow. It comes back to hopes, dreams, and fears. The successful companies work with managers and workers to think about respect, honesty, and trust-with each other, the customer, suppliers, and the communities they serve. It’s a rare thing to find these days, but it exists.

Observation 3: The Wrong Kind of  Ownership

By Charles O’Reilly:   Professor O’Reilly teaches at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where he directs the Human Resource Executive Program and the Leading Change and Organizational Renewal Executive Program. He is author of Winning through Innovation: a Practical Guide to Leading Organizational Change and Renewal.

Faced with the so-called “war for talent” and a perceived loss of corporate loyalty, managers and HR professionals talk about the importance of creating a sense of “ownership” among their employees. But what does this mean? Most firms equate ownership with stock or stock options, figuring that if employees hold stock they will also act like owners. But did the senior managers at Enron behave like owners? Do the employees at United Airlines, who own 55 percent of the company’s stock, behave like owners? Anyone who has flown on United recently understands that owning stock isn’t the same as acting like an owner. Indeed, Southwest employees, who more often do act like owners, own only about 13 percent of the company. What accounts for this difference?

When managers talk about ownership, what they typically want to instill is not financial ownership but psychological ownership-a feeling on the part of employees that they have a responsibility to make decisions that are in the long-term interest of the company. Yet research has shown that financial ownership-holding stock-has little to do with psychological ownership.

So how do managers create psychological ownership? The simple part can be discovered by asking yourself a straightforward question: What has to happen before I as an employee will feel like an owner? Owning stock, while symbolically important, isn’t the answer. The real issue is whether there is in place a set of policies and practices that actually treat employees as if they were owners. Do we listen to our employees and involve them in making decisions that affect their jobs-as do New United Motors Manufacturing and the SAS Institute-or do we treat them as simple cogs in a machine, to be allocated like any other physical asset? Do we openly share operational and financial information so that employees feel like they are trusted and involved-as does power company AES Corp.-or do we restrict information, signaling that people are either not to be trusted or too dumb to use the information productively?

Do we invest in all people in the company, signaling that every person is valuable-as does Men’s Wearhouse, or use training only when people need to be “fixed”? Do we share the benefits of our success by providing equitable compensation-as does Southwest, or do we reward handsomely those at the top while working hard to minimize labor costs elsewhere? Underlying the answers to these questions are managers’ assumptions about people.

If we adopt the traditional economic view that people won’t work unless impelled by incentives, that the interests of managers and employees are fundamentally not aligned, and that people will take advantage of the system unless carefully monitored, then we will design the top-down, formal systems that characterize most modern firms-and we will continue to lament employees’ lack of ownership and loyalty. If we begin with the assumptions (which we typically apply to ourselves but not to others) that people want to contribute, are willing to accept responsibility and accountability, and want to learn and develop, then we think about control in a different way-one based on information sharing and mutual responsibility.

Observation 4: No Follow-Through, No Development

By William C. Byham:  Mr. Byham is chairman and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Development Dimensions International Inc., a consultancy specializing in hiring and leadership issues.   

In recent months, as part of the speeches I deliver to executive groups around the world, I have been asking audience members to estimate the percentage of managers who actually change their on-the-job behavior after going through a leadership-development program. While the responses fall across the spectrum, most select “less than 10 percent” as their answer. Think about that: The executives driving their organizations’ investment in leadership development view it as only 10 percent effective.

I find this curious because, having spent 32 years in the leadership-development business, I think the overall quality of most leadership-development programs is better than ever. Where the problem lies is in the transfer of learned leadership skills to the job. That’s why senior executives give low marks to leadership-development effectiveness. And it’s an indictment not of the training itself but of how poorly organizations support the application of newly learned behaviors and skills.

This happens four ways:

1)  There’s no opportunity to apply skills after they are learned-and thus, the individual loses the     skills. This often is caused by putting individuals into development experiences too early.
2)  Individuals are told they are responsible for their own development, yet most development           experiences (job assignments, task-force assignments, supervisory coaching) are outside of      their control.
3)   The individual’s boss does not model, reinforce, or encourage the use of leadership skills-or may actually suppress their use through negative comments or behaviors. In these instances, there’s little coaching or support to ensure that the learning “sticks.”
4)  Behavior change is not measured. There are relatively few leadership skills whose application will produce immediate feedback. The right metrics must be in place to measure intermediate and long- term change over time.

Observation 5: Same as It Ever Was

By Andrew Mayo:  Professor Mayo is director of U.K.-based Mayo Learning International Ltd., visiting professor of HR management at Middlesex University Business School, and author of The Human Value of the Enterprise.

Forty years ago, Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise, introducing his Theory X and Theory Y and proposing the idea that people were more than machines (or “human resources,” as we call them today). It is worth revisiting, if only to realize that human nature has not changed-the choices and dilemmas faced by the people manager are the same.

It is true that we have a veritable host of tools, books, manuals, e-learning programs, and training opportunities aimed at helping me be a better person and a better manager. But I see all the same problems with organizations that I experienced 10 and 20 years ago: talent leaving because they do not feel developed or because of problems with their managers; HR people frustrated with the quality of appraisals and development plans; training-and-development plans canceled as budget cuts bite; supervisors too busy to coach and help their people.

Part of the problem is that expectations have increased: Younger employees are conditioned to expect more, just as customers are. In addition, the range of demands placed on managers has grown exponentially. But the reality is that the distribution of people’s capability is fundamentally unchanged. The number of natural-born leaders who need little help from an organization remains small. Each new generation of managers has to learn for itself, and 80 percent of that learning comes in the school of experience. Perhaps one reason we have not made much progress is that we overemphasize programs and analytical feedback tools rather than traditional person-to-person, on-the-job coaching.

I was trained to be a supervisor by Procter & Gamble, which gave me six months’ training and continual coaching. I believe that company did a superb job; they took considerable time and trouble, and had built in cultural disciplines and expectations for their managers. They did it year after year, consistently. Peter Drucker describes innovation as “sheer hard work,” and so it is with building capability.

Of course, most organizations are still conditioned by a hierarchical mind-set. There is a better solution than putting so much responsibility on the managers-and that is to help people to take much more themselves. But that requires trust, empowerment, support, and a no-blame culture. Sadly, we have not made enough progress on this front either. And no one could say we were short of advice on how to do it.

Observation 6: The Scientific Method

By Aubrey C. Daniels:  Professor Daniels is founder and CEO of Aubrey Daniels International, a consultancy based in Tucker, Ga., and author of Performance Management: Improving Quality Productivity Through Positive Reinforcement and Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement. He teaches at Harvard, Florida State, North Texas State, and West Michigan Universities.

Managing people may not be rocket science, but it’s close. If behavior is lawful-and it is-those who understand the science of human behavior and put it into practice will be more successful than those who don’t.  In the average company, people management is far from a science. Organizations are still flailing around, trying one corporative initiative after another, hoping to find an answer to the perennial problems of motivation and morale. For example, in the last 50 years, the performance appraisal, the bane of most managers’ existence, has changed only cosmetically. Both those who give them and those who receive them despise the process.

Additional evidence that we have changed little is that in very large organizations, employees often are selected to develop a more effective reward-and-recognition program. Clearly, managers have given up on being able to motivate employees and pass the problem to the employees to motivate themselves. And just as clearly, most managers think that people management is really just so much common sense: All you have to do is get a group together, and they will have enough knowledge about people to come up with the correct answer. American companies spend more than $46 billion on reward-and-recognition programs every year, yet few companies can demonstrate a direct link between them and performance.
When these things exist, how can we say that management is getting better?

I have been on a crusade for the last 30 years to help managers move from a common sense database to a scientific one-behavior analysis-in managing people. Although the thought of managers “doing science” while managing day-to-day sounds unreasonable and unrealistic, it eventually saves time in reduced firefighting and not having to work on the same problems year after year. All science requires is that we specify the valuable behavior we want from an employee, determine the current rate of the behavior, intervene in a precise way, track progress, and evaluate the results. This may sound like common management practice, but it is not. Until managers practice science on a daily basis, organizations will still be trying to solve the “human equation” at work 50 years from now.

Observation 7: Training-Too Little, Too Late

By Madelyn Burley-Allen:  Ms. Burley-Allen is founder of Dynamics of Human Behavior, a consultancy, and author of Listening: The Forgotten Skill, Managing Assertively: How to Improve Your People Skills, and Memory Skills in Business.

Today’s managers often receive the technical skills to perform their job, but for many of them, the training needed to be more effective in managing people is still an issue. Since 1996, I have compiled data from approximately 1,500 managers-all with five years or less on the job-pertaining to the types of behaviors, actions, and techniques that they thought would be important for them to be more successful. The data is clear: A major area of not feeling competent is the lack of good people skills.

Many of the managers, it turned out, had been promoted because they were hard workers who didn’t cause problems, not because they knew how to handle or manage others well. Those with at least a year’s experience complained that the training they were now getting should have happened before they were promoted or within six months of the promotion. They also complained about inheriting a problem employee who had long gotten away with violating the rules or performing poorly; but when they wanted to discipline the employee, they received little support from their boss. Often they were told, “Don’t rock the boat,” “Don’t worry about it,” or, “We don’t want to get sued.”

In addition, in the last three to five years, another factor has arisen that is causing stress, frustration, and an inability to effectively handle people. This factor is the increase in laws that closely govern what they can do: sexual harassment, ISO 9000, OSHA, and the fear of being sued by a disgruntled employee.

Observation 8: No Success Without Respect

By Brian G. Mulvaney:  Mr. Mulvaney is executive vice president of human resources and public affairs at Aramark Corp., a Fortune 300 managed-services company based in Philadelphia.

Are we better at managing? The simple answer is yes, and the evidence is the extraordinary gains in productivity we have witnessed. Some might counter that such increases are in large part due to gains in the technology arena, but that is a self-defeating argument. Where did the gains in technology come from? From the efforts of people who work in environments that are positive and conducive to bringing forth their best efforts. Such environments certainly are the product of good management.

There are hundreds of varieties of instruments such as performance evaluations or SMART goals, and many are better than those of 10 and 20 years ago. But the real issue is whether or not the manager is respected. Do employees view the manager as competent? Do they like working with that person? Do they feel the manager is challenging them? Does the manager make work fun? If so, workers feel good about their manager. If not, they don’t.

I have seen managers do an incredible job of giving feedback and developing people without formal systems. Likewise, I have witnessed others using the latest management techniques and failing miserably. If you are fortunate enough to have talented managers who have access to good programs, the result can be terrific. However, the best programs in the world won’t save a manager who isn’t respected.