Author Archives: Grant Tate

The One Big Thing–on a chart

One of my clients has a sales problem, not a big one, but this year’s results are lagging behind the projections. He wants to catch up.

We could go into all the analytics required to set up a sales recovery plan, but let’s make it simple. He needs to get the whole team focused on improving sales. Focus!

These days, we are all prone to do analytical work on our computers. We email, search for information, keep records. You get it. You know the drill.

But when all our stuff is inside our computers, even if we’re sharing data with our colleagues, we are in our individual cocoons. Yes, we could share a screen that says, “Increase sales,” but we’d all be looking at it individually.

Instead of burying your goal in the computer, put it into graphical form on a big visible chart. Put it on a wall where everyone can see it. There is nothing like the big chart on the wall to clarify goals and create focus. Every morning, gather your team around the chart and plot yesterday’s results. Will there be any doubt about what you want to accomplish as a group?

Put the one big thing on a chart and focus.your team. It’s magic!

Let Them Eat Popcorn

A big organization’s HR department wanted to encourage employee engagement so they sent each person a cup of popcorn. Maybe a good slap in the face would get employee’s attention a little faster. To me, both actions are insulting, illustrating how little the organization really cares about its employees.

A recent article in the Washington Post cited the many studies carried out by the Department of Homeland Security, while no effective action followed the studies. The article quoted one study: “Many DHS employees have said in the annual government “viewpoint” survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit.” However, as you might expect, one organization in DHS started a program, “In response to low scores on the viewpoint survey, officials had set up a program, DHSTogether, aimed at making DHS “one of the best places to work in the Federal government.”

Both the POPCORN HR department and the DHS unit seem to think “programs” are the solution to bad employee morale. If things are bad, start a program. Let them eat popcorn. Give them a free meal at holidays.

Problems of ineffective senior leaders, lack of innovation, a culture of poor performance are not solved by programs, but by sustained, effective leadership and management at all levels. If senior leaders are not effective, fix them or fire them. If there is no innovation, tear down the restrictive rules. Set up effective performance measurements at all levels and reward high performers. Examine the rules your HR department imposes on department managers and give them responsibility and authority to lead their departments to higher performance.

And keep the popcorn in theaters.

Fix ‘em or Fire ‘em!

“Fix ‘em or fire ‘em” is the often harsh and shocking advice I give to small business owners. Too often, they are putting up with poor or destructive performance, thus compromising the potential of their business. We’ll get into the reasons it’s difficult to fire someone in another column, but let’s focus on the physics of teams—why goal alignment is so important.

When we studied physics in high school or college, we learned that a force has two characteristics, magnitude and direction.

Now let’s consider a team. Let’s say, you are trying to move a big object, a big red ball. You know where you want to move it and you set the direction. And, you’re pulling with all your might. Joe “gets it,” and joins you in moving the object in the direction you want to go. His effort is not as strong as yours but, at least, he’s pulling in the right direction. Maybe if you talk to Joe, he might be able to increase his effort.

Mary, on the other hand is pulling a bit off target. Maybe she didn’t get the word, doesn’t know how to pull correctly, or just doesn’t agree with your direction. Part of Mary’s effort, her force, helps move the object where you want to go, but her effort also tends to pull the movement off the course you set. You have some work to do with Mary.

Herbert is a dead weight. He’d rather just sit there than participate in the project. Yes, his dead weight will also slow down or pull the project off course.

Sam is actively pulling against your direction. Maybe he disagrees with your leadership direction, wants to sabotage the project—who knows. But he is actively working against you.

  1. What does a “Fix ‘em or fire ‘em” strategy look like?

One approach is to increase your effort, then get Joe and Mary to pull harder. To do that, all of you must overcome Herbert’s dead weight and Sam’s negative force. But what are the chances your collective increased effort will overcome the resistance?

Of course, you’ll do whatever you can to align the forces. Talk to the team, talk to the individuals, give the inspiration and incentive to pull together. If, after that, Sam and Herbert have not changed their effort, what next?

To move the object, you must rid of Sam’s negative force, and get Herbert off his dime. Find out their problems, give them the incentive to cooperation and turn their arrows. If that doesn’t work, kick them off the team.

Of course, this is an overly simplistic view of team dynamics, but a clear analysis of the forces for and against your project can help define your actions. Have you been clear with your directions? Which way are the team members pulling? Goal alignment counts.

Count Your Fires!

“I can’t get the assignment done because we’re always fighting fires.” How often have I heard that one? My client was telling me he couldn’t get ready for our coaching session because too many things were going wrong in his business. “We’re always in crisis mode,” he said.

Too many small businesses run on the edge of being out of control–responding to customer complaints, fixing mistakes in production, dealing with unruly employees, resolving conflict among the management team. The result is crisis after crisis, fire after fire.

I suggested my client start counting fires–keep a log of the fires and make a graph we could discuss each week. Fires per day became a key business measurement. As part of the fire log, we asked these questions: What happened? Who was involved? What, precisely was the problem? What should be done to prevent such a fire from happening again?

Each week, we discussed the graph and the results. Soon, things were under control and we began to set longer range priorities for training, process improvement and management practices.

And, yes…we watched the fires/week line move down on the graph.

Count your fires. You’ll learn something.