Ready to Finally Solve that Organizational Problem? Ask a Local

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The guy in the photo (below) is my nephew. He lives in New York City. Recently, my family and I spent a weekend with him in the Big Apple.

The excursion led me to an insight about your organization.

Assuming that your organization is made-up of people, processes, programs, etc., I bet that you are struggling to solve a problem or two.

Pretty insightful, right?

Hang in there, I have more to share. Do any of these situations resonate? You’ve:

  • Read every book you can find on the topic of your problem and attempted to implement the ideas you uncovered. Yet, you are still running into the same issues.
  • Invested countless hours Googling about the problem in an attempt to learn how other companies have tackled the challenge. Yet, the problem persists.
  • Spent considerable time, energy, and money on outside counsel and training classes to deal with the problem. Yet, the training wears off and things go back to normal.

If any of these situations resinate with you, take a look at this video as I share my thoughts on what you should do next.

Here’s the reality

Few people in your organization know more about a given project, task, or activity than those who work on it, with it, or near it on a daily basis. These frontline employees are your locals. Yet, when our organizations are faced with problems, we rarely take the time to gain a local’s perspective.

Whether our intentions are positive (e.g., we don’t want to distract locals from what they are doing), negative (e.g., we don’t want to “waste” time asking locals), or somewhere else on the intention spectrum, we often travel down a well worn path. We dream up the answer or employ outside resources to create a solution; then, we spring it on our employees.

Sure, we explain the reasoning behind the solution, discuss why it makes sense, and convey how the solution will make a difference. We wrap the solution up in nice words and, if the deal is big enough, we even serve food.

We do all of this in an effort to minimize objections and gain employee buy-in.

Buy-in is good, but in most cases its insufficient.

If you want to create a solution that will solve the problem today and into the future, reading a book or hiring a consultant may be a great start; however, don’t miss the chance to involve a local.

Locals live in the area, have a different perspective, and can often provide new and unexpected insights.

How Leaders Can Remove The Blindfold & Avoid 4 Blind Spots

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We all have blind spots. These are things that others know about you, but about which you are completely clueless. They can be small things…

  • A stain on your shirt that everyone sees – except you.
  • A conversation that you arrive late to and say something out of place. Everyone knows the arc of the discussion – except you.
  • A mispronounced word when speaking a foreign language. Everyone knows how to correctly say it – except you.

If you survived your teenage years, you’ve no doubt had at least one of these experiences. You might be embarrassed when the blind spot is revealed; however, the damage is typically not too significant – at least in the long-run.

On the other hand, if you are in a leadership role, some of these blind spots can be particularly costly. They can impact your professional reputation, performance, and organizational results.

In 1955, American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created the Johari window to help us better understand how we interact with others. They taught us four areas: open, hidden, unknown, and blind spots.

Open: Known to you and others (e.g., a certain skill, work experience, etc.)

Hidden: Known to you, but unknown to others (e.g., an insecurity, unrevealed feeling, etc.)

Unknown: Neither known to you or others (e.g., a bias that you have yet to discover, a fear that you haven’t uncovered, a capability that you never had reason to know you possessed)

Blind: Known to others, but not known to you. These are blind spots.

There are many potential blind spots, but I find these four are particularly pervasive and costly. Each is based on a specific assumption. Are you falling prey to any of these?

1. Assuming People Know the Goals

Research suggests that only 15% of people can actually name their leaders’ most important goals. But, many leaders assume everyone knows what’s most important.

I once worked with a client who swore all of his employees knew the top goal and challenged me to prove him wrong. The next day I presented a list of 23 different goals that his employees said were most important. All 23 stemmed from the leader. Although the leader saw himself as the goal-oriented, visionary-type, they felt he hadn’t met an idea that he didn’t like. Consider these questions:

  • What are the 1-3 most important goals for your team or organization?
  • Do your people know the goals?
  • How do you know they know them?

2. Assuming People Know What They Should Do

Clarifying and communicating a goal is critical, but insufficient. Employees also need to understand how their work connects to the stated goals. Assuming people understand the connection, or that a connection exists at all, is another leadership blind spot.

When you assume people know what to do, you may walk out of your meetings asking each other questions like, “That sounds like a great idea, but what can we do to impact that goal?” In these instances, people don’t feel empowered; they feel abandoned. Consider these questions:

  • Do your people know what they can do to accomplish the goals?
  • Do they understand how their daily work drives goal accomplishment?

3. Assuming You Know How to Best Do Your Employees’ Jobs:

Sometimes a leader assumes that he or she knows best how to accomplish the goal. The leader both tells the people the goal and how to do it. Unlike the abandonment issue above, these leaders are micromanaging. The leader assumes he is being helpful, but the people simply believe that they are trusted. Of course, this is a bad situation, but it’s even worse if the leader doesn’t really know how best to do the task.

  • Do you ask your people how they might choose to go about accomplishing the goals?
  • Are you too directive?
  • Could you be violating the concept that involvement breeds commitment.

4. Assuming You Know What Your People Find Motivating

Different things motivate people. What one might consider a reward, another thinks is far from positive recognition. Some leaders assume that if they personally find something motivating that their people will feel the same.

Be mindful that a financial reward isn’t too motivating if the employees simply want a few extra hours of free time. Most of your folks already have enough t-shirts and coffee mugs. Moreover, a pat on the back or a hand written note is sometimes reward enough. If you really want to know what motivates your people, don’t assume, ask.

  • How effective have your last reward/incentive programs been?
  • Do you know what truly motivates your people?
  • When was the last time you asked them?

Working to make government great!

Categories Leadership & ManagementPosted on

It was an honor to speak with 31 top executives in the United States government yesterday. My presentation focused on executing big goals across complex organizations in the midst of tremendous pressure.

It was equally thrilling to provide them the very first copies of my latest book A Winning Culture in Government: The Ultimate Mission Essential. Written with my friend and colleague, Shawn Moon, and published by the FranklinCovey Company, the book speaks to why government organizations, at every level – federal, state, county, local – should foster a culture of ownership.

Creating effective government organizations is a benefit to all and this book speaks to FranklinCovey’s 30+ years of hands-on work with government leaders and teams, at every level of government, in every function and mission area, and in countries around the world. If you work in government, work for government, or have any interest in seeing government organizations more effectively function, you need this book on your shelf. It speaks directly to the inherent challenges of operating in the government space and is designed to make a difference.

Available on-line later this month. Email government@franklincovey.com if you want to be notified of its release.

4 Ugly Truths That Great Leaders Know About Good Ideas

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GREAT leaders know 4 UGLY truths about GOOD ideas.

Are you aware of them?

Ugly Truth #1: There are more good ideas than you and your organization have the capacity to accomplish. 

You must learn to say ‘no’ to good ideas – even great ideas at times. This is a hard one. There are more good ideas then you and your organization have the capacity to accomplish. Honestly, who wants to say “no” to a good idea? Whenever you are about to fall into this trap, remember that great leaders learn how to say “no” to good ideas. In fact, they learn to say “no” to great ideas, so they accomplish with excellence whatever they chose to tackle.

Ugly Truth #2: Every good idea faces a natural enemy.

Chris McChesney, the author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, talks about the ‘whirlwind’. This is the tremendous amount of energy it takes to keep an organization running. Most of us operate in an extremely busy world. Phone calls, emails, meetings, client requests, and a myriad of other demands compete for our time, energy, and attention. When the whirlwind meets a new goal, left to its own devices, the whirlwind wins.

Why? The whirlwind demands attention – it screams urgency. It is a good ideas natural enemy.

Don’t believe me, I bet as you read this post, a new email showed up in your inbox – “Hello, Whirlwind!”

Ugly Truth #3: Saying something is a good idea may accidentally get the ball rolling.

Great leaders know that they have to be careful about how they react to an idea. If someone pitches an idea in a meeting and the leader says, “That’s a good idea,” it can be interpreted as a rousing endorsement. People will assume it’s approved and off they go.

As Stephen R. Covey wrote, “Leaders beware! Every time you open your mouth, you create culture.”

Ugly Truth #4. Once you pick an idea, the real work starts. Engage your people in a disciplined process.

The father of Total Quality Management, Edwards Demming, taught us that no one knows more about a given task then the person who works closest to the work. Forget about involving people solely for buy-in – that’s only 1/3 of the equation. Engage them for buy-in, ownership, and a better solution.

Have a process for ensuring that the goal stays on track, people are held accountable, you remain engaged, and wins are celebrated. Your reputation and your people will thank you.

What do these ideas mean to you? Well, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What goals, initiatives, and projects do you have underway that should never have taken off in the first place?
  2. What process do you use to evaluate and select ideas? Is the process serving you, your team, and your organization well?
  3. Of the four items I wrote about in this post, which one(s) has tripped you up in the past?
  4. What should you do today to improve your idea selection process?