Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Working in a Low Trust Environment

So there is plenty of press about how to change from a low trust work environment to a high trust environment from a management perspective and especially how to recognize the low trust environment. But what about when you are a subordinate supervisor or employee struggling to be successful and product a good product.

I had previously shared the go to book in my opinion that helps establish the high trust organizational culture: The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey.  Identifying a low trust environment is easy n my opinion (and confirmed by Stephen M.R. Covey): the constant checking, micromanagement, double checking, constant informational meetings that don't actually get any work done.  If you think you have a high trust corporate culture, just ask your subordinate supervisors or employees what they thing.

So even in a medium to high trust environment, I think it is safe to say we could do better. But how do I effect the environment from below?  To be trusted, you must be trustworthy.  But how do we regain trustworthyness?  We must first understand how we lost our trust.  A corporate trust issue must be identified from the source.  Is it that corporately, individuals did a poor job instilling trust at multiple meetings?  And over time, the lack of trust made it impossible to trust the organization?  Or was it an event, such as a failed inspection?

For the former, the only way to recover from a lost trust is to give upper management a reason to trust you.  Know the answers to questions that will likely be asked at the next meeting.  Script the responses just like you would for a job interview.  If you don't know the answer to a question, politely  say you don't know the answer, promise you will get the answer, and the follow-through with the response.  Practice speaking with confidence.  When you are done, close your discussion and move on.  Generally, stopping and constantly asking if there are any other questions and leaving lots of air time does not build trust -- quite the opposite. It appears that you don't know what other questions might be out there.  If you did, you would have already answered them.  Air space invites questions that may not be relevant and especially you may not have a good answer.

For the later (the failed inspection), this is quite possible the easiest to solve.  For most inspections I have been involved in, you know the "test" questions in advance.  Prioritize the most important ones, and work to ensure you will pass the test.  Make sure the team understands the importance in passing the "test."  Everybody should understand how much easier their life will be in a higher trust environment.

What if your low-trust environment is due to a higher than normal gathering of low-trustworthy individuals (not you, of course)?  This is probably the hardest to overcome.  But by becoming trustworthy first, you may be able to win them over. If not, you have done all you can do.

So in summary, to gain trust, be trustworthy.  Speak honestly, speak confidently, based on knowledge, promise to follow-up if you don't know the answers, and then honor that promise.  Know that it will take a while to build the trust.  Stick with it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Open Door Policy, Yes or No?

Like all good questions, the answer here is simple, “It Depends.” Do employees value an open door, or is it simply the fact that they want to see you as accessible.  If you have an open door policy, advertise it, but are never in the office, then you are not accessible and your credibility (esp if you advertise to all that you have an open door policy) is diminished.

Additionally, if you have an open door policy, but when someone wants to talk and you seem pre-occupied or distracted (put down that phone), then you are equally inaccessible.

So how do you make yourself accessible or should you?  First, yes you should, but you also need to respect your own time.  If you send all day hearing employee complaints, maybe you should rethink what people think when you say, come see me any time (or course if you are hearing that many complaints, there is probably something else going on).  I suggest using a simple signal.  The door is open, my door is open to your concerns.  If my door is closed, please come back later or schedule a meeting.  And you can close your door simply to get work done – not just for private meetings.

What, you don’t have a door?  Get creative and maybe even a little humorous and make a sign that says the door is open and on the reverse, the door is closed.  People will get the hint.

Next, schedule a time each day that folks know they can catch you in your office.  I have seen this most successful if you are an early morning type and 6:00 – 7:00 works.  There are a couple reason this works. People know they can catch you then, but it takes thought for them to get there, so you will limit frivolous drive-bye drop-ins. And this time is almost never interrupted by an external meeting.  Late afternoon open door sessions usually never happen.

Should require an agenda or a subject before I agree to a drop-in?  Probably not (otherwise, a scheduled meeting is probably called for, but see my blog on meetings here).  But folks should know there are two types of drop-is,  1) I need to vent!  If this is the case, clarify that is the intent as soon as you recognize it for what it is.  You may simple reflect back something like this: “Is there something you need for me to do or do you just want to vent?” Usually that will get a chuckle and will lighten the meeting and who, knows, you may feel that same way and can vent together. 2) I need something resolved.  Ask them what they need done.  If they don’t know, reflect back to them that it would be helpful if they thought about it and came up with a couple options.  If they just want you to solve the problem, you are probably not going to have a successful resolution.

Finally, if the vent or complaint is about a decision made by a manager between you and the ventor, you need to clarify real quick that if they haven’t discussed with the intervening manager, then the meeting is over (at least for now).  then you need to do your homework and find out both sides of the story. Then, I recommend you arbitrate a meeting between the two, if they cannot resolve it themselves.

So here it is simplified. 1) Have a clearly defined open door policy. 2) When folks utilize the open door, be present for them and have no distractions. If you cannot be present, ask them to come back when you can dedicate your full attention to the subject.  3) Make sure you know the purpose of the meeting. 4) Don’t take sides. 5) Listen to comprehend.

If you have an idea for a blog post, be sure to drop me a line using the link to the right called “Send me an idea for a post ---->.”  If I use your idea, you will receive 1 full year’s access to my blog absolutely FREE.

P.S. if the meeting is personnel related and your office is not sound proof, move the meeting to a conference room.

P.P.S.  You open door does not extend outside the office.  If you run into an employee at a restaurant and the subject turns to a vent, STOP. And invite them to discuss later during work hours.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Feel So Unqualified: Should I Apply for That Promotion?

I have had many people ask me about whether they should apply for a job. Sometimes they say that someone else is more qualified or worse, that job is Suzie's job, she earned it and they don't want to take her job. Sometimes it's a feeling of devotion to their current boss.

Let me start with the later excuse. Your current boss, if he/she is a good one will understand and should encourage you to advance in your career. Trust me, they will survive just fine without you.  Not that I am encouraging you to leave without deep thought, but that alone should not be the sole reason for staying if advancement is an opportunity.  Moves are hard on everybody (even families) and you should weigh all aspects of a career change.

Now I'll address the thought of not applying because you feel it would be better for someone else or that someone else is more qualified. My mantra for my career has always been if you are qualified for the job, and you would enjoy the work, apply. The selection committee will determine who is most qualified. If you are ultimately not selected, you should be able to ask for feedback to see where you might improve for next time.  Also, while you may not be the best qualified, the one the is better qualified may not apply or maybe even bomb the interview, leaving you to potentially work for someone that is less qualified than you are. That is definitely a bad situation.

I have been reading a little in John Maxwell's book which focuses on lifting your lids (the things that hold us back fro achieving greatness, see below for the link).  Primarily he suggests, you have to lift your own lid first. Then you have to help others lift their lids, AND you must allow others to lift the lid you are not able to lift yourself.  But common to us all -- we all have lids.

The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader's Day: Revitalize Your Spirit and Empower Your Leadership by John Maxwell

If you believe one of your lids is inexperience, lack of training, or lack of education, I say work on lifting those lids and allow others to help you as well (starts with a good mentor).

So apply on!  Good luck.  Ask for feedback and be a better employee first, then a qualified candidate second.

So you got the job. Should you continue to apply for more opportunities? Especially those that you feel qualified. My advice is to wait.  My personal feelings is you should stay at least 2 years before actively looking. You don't want a reputation of not providing value to the organization that promoted you.

Friday, July 4, 2014


So we all agree meetings are one of those necessary evils - some communication does really require face-to-face interaction.  But how you as a leader handle meetings are critical to set the environment and make your employees more effective.

First, respect the time of those that you require to be at a meeting.  Several shorter meetings with fewer people makes better use of your employees time.  If you have a three hour meeting, there will be people there that may only bee needed for the last portion of the meeting, which may actually never happen because you run out of time.  Thus, I recommend short meetings -- rarely over an hour.  I also recommend meetings 10 minutes less than an even hour to allow your employees get to other meetings they may have with their own employees.  And most importantly, stick to the schedule and if the meeting time comes to an end and the decisions that were required don't happen either reschedule the meeting or agree to extend the meeting only long enough to get the objectives met.  AND, be sure to allow anybody in the meeting to leave if there is another appointment they need to meet. Ensure if they are critical to the meeting, that the reschedule option is used.

You will find that if you stick to the posted meeting length, more meetings will conclude with decisions in the allotted times.  I have seen this in action and it works.

Secondly, I recommend you adopt a "Meeting-Free Monday" or some other day of the week.  This will allow your employees/supervisors to plan recurring activities (or just a break to catch up on weekly things that never seem to get done).  Be sure your people know that this is the day that meetings are only scheduled in extreme circumstances and are to be kept to the shortest time possible to get the job done.  You will find that meeting that you just knew couldn't wait until next week, keeps just fine.

Finally, make sure meeting objectives cannot be met in some other forum such as a broadcast e-mail or sharepoint post.  Also, don't be afraid to cancel recurring meetings if there just isn't enough business to justify the expense.

So in summary, shoot for 50 minute meetings, respect the end time, have more shorter meetings vs one wamma, jamma long meeting, invite only those necessary to get the job done, support a meeting free day each week and if possible, avoid a meeting all together.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

It’s Time for You to Stop Micro-Managing

So we have all been warned not to micro-manage our team, but somehow, all the day-to-day expectations creep in and we find ourselves playing a little too heavily in the decision making processes.  But none of us wants to admit that we micro-manage our folks.

In today’s blog post I will cover two things – 1) how to tell if you are micro-managing and 2) what happens when you micro-manage.

So what is the number one indicator that you are a micro-manager?  One simple test I will suggest is to look at how you spend your day.  Take a quick look at your meeting schedule.  If the bulk of your day is spent in what I refer to as an “informational meeting” as opposed to a “decisional meeting,” you are likely a micro-manager.  Even simpler, if you are spending your day getting updates or statuses vs removing barriers for your team members or recognizing their accomplishments, you are probably a micro-manager.

What is an informational meeting?  This is a meeting that is called to get the status on a project, progress toward contract award, or simply a meeting you call to hear yourself talk.  We sometimes call these “staff meetings.”  Check yourself. If these meeting typically resort to you providing input on how to solve the problems for the team, then you are micro-managing.  You may justify these meeting by the simple fact that the team isn’t bringing you solutions, but rather problems for you to solve (see below why this may be the case).  Rather, maybe start by asking what the team has done to resolve the problems by themselves and what they need from you to move forward.  Check number 2, if your day is spent in a conference room rather than the workplace or if your employees or team leaders dread coming to your meeting, you may have a problem with micro-management.

So, OK, maybe you are a micro-manager.  So what?  Your infinite wisdom and close control of the team can only make the end result better, right?  Wrong.  The biggest result from micro-management is this: “If you micro-manage your team, they will let you.”  What does this mean? Simply put, if you constantly provide program direction or worse, reverse decisions that were made by the team, they will stop thinking or trying to resolve their own problems  They will simply wait for the boss to solve the problem for them. After all, any decisions made by the team will likely be questioned and/or changed during the “informational” briefing, anyway, right. Compounding this problem is that problems will not be resolved timely – teams will wait for the meeting for the boss to resolve, losing valuable time in the process.

This is a death spiral.  So how do you get out of this mode?  Simple. Start with trust.  Especially on the simpler, low risk tasks.  Check yourself – is the minor “advice” you are about to offer worth the lowered trust factor with your team.  Let your team fly.

And speaking of trust.  An excellent book on the subject is “The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything.”  This book, by Stephen M.R. Covey (the son of the prolific and respected author Stephen R. Covey) discusses this trust issue in depth and describes how an organization can be held back to the level of trust within.  You can find this excellent book on Amazon here:

Start today with trust. Start today by setting up a tiered review process and let the team manage their own products.  Get project status via one-way communication (if you must) like a weekly activity report that will discourage you from asking a million questions.  And continue to micro-manage only the most important projects until the level of trust you need is established and you can “let it go.”

And another hint.  If you are a second level manager or above, don’t expect your tiered managers to know it all about every project. Doing so will drive their behavior to one of a micro-manager.  If you need answers, ask, then let them take the time to answer.  To expect them to have all the answers at all times drives the wrong behavior.

Good luck and TRUST!  It’s where it all starts.