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Managers, can you hear me now?Hard-Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results
By DENNY F. STRIGL FRANK SWIATEK
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2011 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy Managers Struggle
The overall reason managers struggle to be successful in their jobs is their behavior. It is what they do or don't do that makes them serious performers, marginal performers, or failures. It's all about their behavior; behavior is the key to achievement.
In her 1980 book Take Charge: Success Tactics for Business and Life, Joan Koob Cannie, former chairwoman of Learning Dynamics, an industry leader in organizational development, put it this way:
Research in several areas, psychology, management, and attitude change, shows that the single most important factor in success is behavior, not education or a string of degrees, not intelligence, not experience, or technical expertise—just behavior. And behavior is something we all do, the difference being in only how we do it.
Consider the following three examples:
Have you ever gone to a high school or college reunion and been totally surprised at the level of success that some people have achieved? They may not necessarily have been on the honor roll or had the highest grade point averages. They weren't the class officers or the most popular students. They certainly were not voted most likely to succeed, but they did so in their careers, and sometimes in very big ways.
Many managers I have encountered are seminar junkies. They attend all the latest and greatest management and leadership programs. However, when you look at their results, you would never know they ever attended even one program. They have a huge gap between what they know and what they actually do.
I have also met many newly appointed managers, some of whom made a great first impression. They spoke the language of success. They had a wonderful personal bearing and seemed to be a "package" that could not possibly fail. However, over the years, as I followed their careers, they never became exceptional performers despite all the advantages they apparently possessed at the outset.
These examples point out the truth in Joan Koob Cannie's assertion: it is behavior—based on skill, drive, persistence, and ambition—that creates management success. But it is not just behavior alone. It is behavior that is repeated until it becomes habit. Exceptional managers do the same things, day in and day out, creating positive results.
Specific Reasons Managers Struggle
It is easy enough to say behavior is the overall reason managers struggle and leave it at that. However, to understand the deeper reasons managers face so many issues, we must explore their specific behaviors—the things they do and don't do.
Reason Number 1: Managers Fail to Build Trust and Integrity
The first reason managers struggle is that they fail to build trust initially or they erode trust with their employees during daily interactions and operations. Trust is the glue that binds managers and employees. If the employees don't believe in the messengers, they certainly won't believe in the messages!
A key leadership priority is to create an environment where trust can flourish. It is incumbent upon managers to hold themselves accountable for the level of trust that exists in their department or organization. A key obligation of managers is to cultivate the faith and respect of those who report to them.
Here are some examples of manager behaviors that build trust:
* Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
* Seeking input and feedback from your team
* Treating people with dignity
* Being dependable in meeting commitments
* Creating clear focus and objectives for people
* Creating a climate of open, honest, and direct communications
Without trust, there can be little cooperation among coworkers and between departments. This situation will result in little risk taking that could otherwise prove fruitful, less employee empowerment, a lack of commitment among employees and to the organization, diminished confidence in employees, and a loss of genuine communication through-out the company. Results will be seriously hampered in such a trust-averse environment.
Here are some examples of manager behaviors that build distrust:
* Lack of openness with employees
* Lack of respect in communications
* Lack of integrity and honesty
* Self-serving, hidden agendas
* Words and actions that are not consistent
Failure to build trust and integrity will result in a very low level of commitment from employees; in turn, they will often do just enough to stay on the job.
Reason Number 2: They Have the Wrong Focus
Managers who struggle spend too much time focused on things that don't really matter. For example, they may waste time preparing useless reports nobody reads. It is also possible for managers to get hung up on bureaucratic and nonsensical issues that often get institutionalized in companies. Some may even go to extraneous meetings that are of little or no value to them in an effort to avoid "real" work that actually produces results. Other managers stick themselves behind their desks, writing reports or pushing papers because that is what they are most comfortable doing.
Add to these examples the number of distractions managers face every day due to constant interruptions caused by ready access to electronic devices. Managers can easily get absorbed with e-mail, text messages, phone calls, and phone messages—most of which keep them from focusing on what is really important.
"Stop doing things that don't matter!"
I always tell managers to stop doing things that don't matter! You will find people sometimes complain that they "have to" attend a meeting, file a report, or even go to a training program. My response is always the same: if it doesn't fit into one of the Four Fundamentals: growing revenue, getting new customers, keeping the customers they already have, or eliminating costs (discussed in the Introduction and detailed in Chapter 3), they should rethink what they're doing.
You will find that when enough of your employees get this message, the news about what you consider important will spread quickly. Productivity will improve, and so will results. But remember one note of caution: unless you, the manager, continually reinforce the Four Fundamentals and what's important, unnecessary activities will always creep back in.
Reason Number 3: They Don't Model or Build Accountability
It is critical for the manager to be the model of accountability in daily operations. Managers need to realize their behavior is in a "fishbowl" and thereby highly visible for their employees to see and imitate. Employees watch their manager in all situations, but especially when the manager is under stress. What the manager says and does in stressful situations sends a signal to all employees to imitate that behavior, even when they are not under stress. If a manager blames or bashes others, becomes sarcastic, or makes unethical choices under stress, that manager is setting a tone of unaccountability in his or her department—a tone that will have a negative impact on results.
Accountable behavior is at the heart of achieving results. Such behavior includes:
* Taking action
* Making decisions
* Being proactive
* Owning issues and problems
* Demonstrating commitment
* Rising above circumstances
* Taking extra steps to get results
"Poor performers thrive in an unaccountable work climate!"
Here is something I have discovered: poor performers thrive in an unaccountable work climate! Why? Because they never take responsibility for missing a deadline, not achieving a positive result, making a poor decision, or taking an action that backfires. There is always something or someone for them to blame, and they continually have an excuse. Unaccountable behavior is at the root of this poor performance and includes behaviors such as:
* Blaming others
* Rationalizing poor results
* Making excuses
* Ducking issues
* Letting things slide
It is important for the manager to build accountability in others as he or she attempts to improve performance. Specifically, managers must reinforce the concept of accountability through feedback, coaching, and performance tools. Using accountability as a consistent message in your feedback comments to employees, and in your coaching sessions with them, will go a long way toward letting all employees know accountable behavior is expected in your organization.
A variety of performance tools signal the importance of accountability in employee behavior. Clear performance measurements and milestones and well- explained objectives help ensure accountability for an employee's actions, behaviors, and results. With goals established, performance becomes as clear as your bowling score or your golf score—no one has to tell you how well you are doing; it's there for you to see. You have a set of visible metrics that you are accountable for, providing you with ongoing feedback on your performance.
You can also use a variety of reporting techniques to help you achieve an accountable work climate. End-of-week "5:15 Reports," for example, will help track both your and your employees' progress on the way to achieving results. Performance agreements such as these will clearly set expectations for the results that you and your employees are accountable for. Market and operational reviews will also formalize the reporting on accountable objectives, while tough questions and uncomfortable conversations during these reviews help ensure accountability. Finally, when accountable objectives are off track, performance improvement plans will help reestablish them through an action plan.
We will define and provide additional information on these tools, with specific examples, in Chapter 6.
Reason Number 4: They Fail to Consistently Reinforce What's Important
The fourth reason managers struggle is they fail to reinforce what's important. It sounds obvious, but I have found that it's not always easy to do. Managers often stress a particular message, a goal, a tactic, or a program, for a couple of weeks. Once they think their people "get it," they believe they don't need to talk about it anymore.
Unfortunately, they are wrong.
When managers assume their people get it is when "it" starts to be forgotten. Employees watch carefully to see what their manager thinks is important in an effort to please their boss. When managers stop reinforcing something, it usually signals to their employees that either it's not important anymore or it's not as important as it once was.
Another reason managers stop reinforcing something that's important is because they get tired of saying the same thing, and delivering the same message, over and over again. I've always cautioned managers that they are the ones who often will be the first to get bored with their message. However, don't let your own boredom cause you to change your message.
When managers change their message too often, people become confused about what's important. They wonder whether your last message was the one that was most important, or whether this one is, or whether the next one will be—what I call the "message du jour syndrome." The people who work for you perform best when what you say is consistent and frequent.
Reason Number 5: They Overrely on Consensus
Many times, managers struggle because they try to become consensus builders. They go to a lot of effort to get agreement from others before they make decisions or take action. These are the managers who like to touch every base and obtain agreement from everyone before moving ahead. In order to reach consensus, they usually alter their plans or modify their proposal in some way. To get the buy-in from everyone they work with, they will likely end up with a watered-down version of the original decision or action they intended.
These are the same managers who overrely on consensus, taking them much more time than it should to reach a conclusion on how to proceed. Consensus managers seldom survive long in their jobs, especially if they work for companies operating in highly competitive markets. In such markets, decisions must be made quickly to respond to rapidly changing market conditions. Generally, I have found consensus managers hesitate to take action because they lack confidence in their own decision-making abilities. They are afraid of making a mistake. If many others are brought into the process, however, and the consensus-building manager ends up making a mistake, he or she is comforted by the thought that the blame will be shared.
Here's an example to help clarify this concept.
If I'm a consensus manager, I want all the people with whom I work to agree to a course of action I propose, and if they don't agree at first, I will simply modify my position until they do. Ironically, what we all finally agree to may be so compromised that it might not accomplish what I initially set out to do.
Let's say I'm a district retail manager. I'm responsible for 10 of my company's stores located in the western portion of my state. Ten store managers report to me. We are experiencing a very slow period, and I am far off my sales targets for the quarter. I badly need to boost my results before the quarter's end, which is quickly approaching. So I propose a plan to get more shoppers into our stores by mailing a $10 gift certificate to those we consider our best customers, based on their previous purchases. The gift certificate would be applied to all purchases over $100 completed before the end of the quarter.
When I ask my store managers to agree to the plan, three of them say $10 is not enough, three say they want the $10 gift certificates to apply only to specific products, and the four remaining managers don't want to do anything because they are already meeting their sales targets for the quarter.
In order to reach consensus, I compromise by proposing a $15 gift certificate that customers can apply to a half dozen of our products. Six of my managers are satisfied. I also tell the four managers who are meeting their sales targets that they are not required to participate. The good news? I have reached consensus! The bad news? I've lost time getting my plan implemented. I've also caused customer confusion, since customers can use their gift certificates only in six specific stores. In the end, I have probably missed my sales targets for the quarter.
"It is more important to take action, even if it is imperfect, than do nothing."
I have always believed it is more important to take action, even if it is imperfect, than do nothing. Inaction or delayed action is a much bigger mistake than moving ahead, even though the action taken may need to be modified in the future. It's okay, in my book, for well-intentioned managers to make a mistake as long as they recognize their mistake quickly and take appropriate corrective steps.
I'd like to be clear that it is, of course, important to research your decisions and call upon the best resources possible to help you understand and reach the most appropriate courses of action. However, such informed decision making is much different to me than the counterproductive consensus-building process described above.
I have worked for several consensus-building managers over my career. They were nice people. They meant well. Unfortunately, managing results was not the job they were cut out to do. Eventually, they missed their objectives, and they lost the respect of the very employees with whom they worked to reach consensus on nearly every decision.
Reason Number 6: They Focus on Being Popular
"The first priority of a manager is to deliver results. It is not about building friendships."
The first priority of a manager is to deliver results. It is not about building friendships. Early on, managers learn that it's important to focus on the people who work for them. I agree: it is always important to focus on one's employees, but that focus is not on being their friend, nor is it necessarily on making them happy—which is a mistake a lot of managers make.
Think of it this way: happy employees don't necessarily bring you stellar results, although I would argue that stellar results often bring happy, or at least satisfied, employees.
When results are achieved, pride builds. When pride builds, so does confidence. With confidence comes the desire to do even better. Trust and loyalty then grow. Good managers understand this process and therefore "drive" results, giving little care to building personal friendships with employees. Instead, these managers want trust and loyalty, which is exactly what sustained performance gets them.
Here's a note to new managers: I've found that your employees, most likely, will not trust you, or even like you, at first. You may find they will want to do things the old, comfortable way even if it doesn't lead to positive results or if they aren't totally realizing their potential. University of Southern California business professor and author Warren G. Bennis calls this the "unconscious conspiracy"—the tendency for people not only to want to keep things the same but also to unconsciously undermine efforts to change. Of course, some employees will also consciously attempt to do so.
Excerpted from Managers, can you hear me now? by DENNY F. STRIGL FRANK SWIATEK Copyright © 2011 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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