When you bite off more than you can chew

kobayashi-hotdogs[1]Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual attraction on the 4th of July that attracts both competitors and audiences from around the world.  Mountains of hot dogs are stacked in front of the competitors as the anxious crowds wait to cheer their favorite competitor.

Takeru Kobayashi, a small framed native of Japan, holds six Guinness Records for eating hot dogs, meatballs and other junk food items. In 2001, he set his first record eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. The secret to Takeru’s success is his unique strategy to tackle monumental eating challenges by taking one bite at a time. Where many cringe and crack under the pressure, Takeru continues to set world records with ease.

Takeru realized early in his competitive eating career that the biggest challenge is not the number of hot dogs but the tendency for people to have mental barriers. He simply sets a goal and works toward it in a methodical manner.

When he was asked about his ability to think without limits, Takeru said, “I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is”. Unlike Takeru, you may find that members of your team have preconceived limits that hold them back.

So as a manager, how do you help your team manage through times when they feel they have bitten off more than they can chew?

There’s an old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Helping your team recognize that every project has bite-size pieces can be a good first step. Managing these smaller sized portions is an easy way to be able to avoid being overwhelmed.

As stress mounts, we tend to focus on the enormity of the problem rather than the more manageable solutions. Team members who appear to be overwhelmed need you to coach them on how to find the most practical strategy to complete their work. The real barrier may be all in their perception and an objective viewpoint could be the perfect diagnosis to this common problem.

Leaders should use Takeru as an inspiration for their teams and teach them that often the biggest barrier to success is a mental one that can be overcome with the right perspective. Helping your team learn how to accomplish their goals without cracking under pressure will not only enhance organizational productivity but also show your team that you committed to making them successful.

VA Scandal-When Policy trumps People

Boehner-White-House-agree-Shinseki-should-stay-on-at-VA[1]The recent scandal involving the Department of Veterans’ Affairs speaks to an issue that is not only prevalent in government-run organizations but many organizations regardless of size.  The allegations include deadly wait times and manipulation of client records according to recent reports.  In any organization, policies are needed to help provide a structure or operating procedure for basic tasks and processes associated with producing a product or service.  Unfortunately, if not properly managed, these policies can be come the golden calf of the organization resulting in such erroneous decisions as those associated with this scandal.

As a leader, we are tasked with managing not only policies but people.  I think there is a pandemic of management strategies that worship the policy with little or no regard to the people executing it or those affected by it.  Typically, organizations have managers in place to help ensure the efficient deliver of a product or service but the issue is not the policy that is implemented but those in charge of executing it.  When such constrictions are placed on an employee or group of employees, the consequences can be the death of an organization.  These policies that are the cancerous death of organizations could include those associated with production times or quality, incentive plans, processes or even human resources policies.

While there exists a need for policies and procedures, there also exists a need for team members to be able to make good judgement on the impact of those affected by the policies.  Teams should be engaged and empowered by senior executives to make such judgement calls when employees deem the impact to negatively affect a service, delivery, or end-client.  I have had experience working for organizations that valued policies over people and can attest to the miserable existence that results in such mantra.  While working in a leadership within those confines, I dreaded going to work, disdained any type of meeting, and lacked brand engagement.  After all, my views or opinions were not valued because at the end of the day because the policy is the golden rule and the most important aspect of the ethos of the company.

Evaluating your company’s priorities can be a daunting task but well worth the amount of time spent.  Ask yourself these questions to determine if you have a “Policy over People” policy:

  1. Do my team members feel empowered to make decisions that will result in the best interest of our client when needed?
  2. During meetings, does my team or I feel as though policy dictates strategy?
  3. If I were to do an audit of client complaints, what would be the percentage of complaints associated with policies being enforced where a simple work-around could have created a more pleasant client experience?

We could go even further to evaluate the use of incentive plans or bonus compensation plans being used to validate the use of policy over people, but that would open Pandora’s box.  Start with these three questions and if you find you have a problem, address it quickly, efficiently, and most importantly, NOW!

About the Writer:

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I have a passion for driving results and have since I started my career in banking.  This blog is about that passion as well as the frustration I endures from those who do not seek results or slow down the process.

I have a degree in Marketing and a Masters in Management with an emphasis in Project Consulting.  Over his career, Trent has worked in numerous positions including sales, sales management, consulting, HR and recruiting.  I currently work as a head-hunter and project consultant, while trying to stay abreast of all of the changes in today’s workforce.

For a professional resume, click here.

When to ask Why

In school, I would have pulled a stunt like this.  Actually, one time in college, I had to write four or five papers in one class.  I liked the professor, but I was certain he did not read any of the papers required.  Ok, maybe he read the first two and last two pages, but no more than that.  I had traditionally done very well on papers in his class, making an A every time, maybe a couple of points off for a poor reference or such.  For my last paper, I thought I would be a little daring and attempt to prove my point.  So, about halfway through the paper, mid paragraph, I inserted the following line: “And I know you’re not reading any of this,” before continuing the paragraph as normal.  I just knew I had done it.

The point to my story is, sometimes in a job, a project, or a proposal, I still find myself thinking, “Why am I doing this? They’re not even going to read it.”  Or sometimes, the statement might be said by a leader: “I know this is stupid, but we have to ask that you _____.”  This has always baffled me.  In essence, you acknowledge the stupidity of what your requesting someone to do, but still demand it?  Why?

Companies who enjoy the tediousness of their processes often do not enjoy great margins.  One company I consulted not too long ago explained their process of approval for a specific area.  They drew flow charts and showed me all of the pretty forms they had made that went into this massive binder with a pretty little cover sheet.  So after sitting through that meeting which lasted about 35 minutes (35 minutes of my life I’ll never get back), they asked me what I thought.  My reply?  “What are we talking about again?”

No, seriously, I went up to their great little flow chart and began simply asking “Why?”  For instance, why do three people have to sign this form authorizing an expense?  Answer: “To be sure it’s really needed.” Question: “Are these managers who have to sign it?” Answer: “Yes, three managers up the chain have to sign it.  Do you think we could make it easier?”  Answer from me: “Yes, fire the one who’s stupid or inept.”

Ok, I know that was pretty harsh but think about it for a minute: You have three people signing off on something that at least two people should be able to do.  Why the 3rd?  Granted, there are some instances where, depending on an expense amount or credit amount that there needs to be some extra checks and balances, but in this case, it was for something fairly nominal.  This sneak peek into the business model showed me a larger problem.  Why was I there?  To help accelerate the sales process.  What was the problem?  This company loved to make X very hard to find!

One question you as a manager can ask to drill down to the essentials of just about any function within your company is “why?” In fact, as a leader, you should ask more questions than give answers.  If you are consistently providing answers, you are doing two awful things to your company.

#1. You’re wasting your future time.  The old adage regarding a horse and water has a lot of truth to it.  If you are consistently giving answers out, you are, in essence, training your team not to think for themselves.  They know if they run into a question, rather than seeking the answer, they can just come to the great think tank who will spit out an answer or better yet, fix the problem all together.  This wastes your future time because you are not eliminating future questions.  If your team is anything like those I’ve managed in the past, you get asked the same questions time and time again.  Asking the question why can be as simple to start as, why am I answering this question?  Direct your associate to the answer, but let them figure it out on their own.  This will free up future time when they have another question.

#2. If you don’t ask why, you will never make great leaps in your company.  If you have a process in place, ask yourself and your team why you do it that way.  Is there a better, more cost effective or more efficient way of doing it?  Can you make it easier for your clients?  Also, in turn, you create a culture of excellence on your team because as time progresses, your team will begin to ask why and think outside the box.

Now, it should be said you will not get a lot of friends going this route, but, who needs friends when there’s progress to be made right?  Always seeking excellence sometimes means you will have to ask the occasional question, “Why?”

Oh, and about the paper I mentioned earlier in the article… I got it back and made my first B.  I got some points knocked off for trivial things.  I got 12 points taken off with a note from my professor, “I took 12 points off for assuming I don’t read these.”  He was a great teacher!

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

“To Do” or Not “To Do”- That is the Question

So, if you’re like any other regular, task-focused professional, you live and die by the great, all powerful “To Do” list.  Every morning or every night before you leave, you work feverishly to get your list going so that you can relax.  Unfortunately, it is also how you determine success on any given day.  How many did I mark off  today?  Eventually, you become so owned by the list, you forget what all of the tasks are there to accomplish.  Am I right?

Unfortunately, I suffered under the same curse.  I was forever making a to do list and then would make a to do item to add to the to do list.  Too bad few of the to do’s got moved to DONE.  Fortunately, I ran across a pretty interesting blog which opened my eyes to a new concept, but still let me keep my to do list.

Charlie Gilkey’s Blog, http://www.productiveflourishing.com, has been a great source of ideas for me.  One of the great “Ah Ha’s” I had while reading through his blog was the concept of managing your to do list according to the project they are associated with.  Simply put, lead with the project you will focus on each day and put your to do list in line with that project.  Although it is a fairly simple concept and makes common sense, I couldn’t think to let go of my precious to do list.

For one week, I decided to give it a whirl.  I began by using some of the templates Charlie provides on his website.  (check out http://www.productiveflourishing.com/free-planners/) It took some getting used to, but I found myself beginning to think first about the projects I wanted to accomplish and then the to do’s were secondary.  Could it be I was actually being rehabilitated?

On section in Charlie’s newsletter that always helps me stop to think during the month is his self-assessing questions:

While this list of questions is by no means exhaustive, it’s a good place to start. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to work through them – it may help to print out this message:

  • What have you accomplished?
  • What goals or projects need to be adjusted or dropped?
  • What are your priorities for the rest of the month?
  • What bills need to be paid, and do you have funds in place to cover them?
  • What projects/tasks have fallen off the radar?
  • When was the last time you rewarded yourself, and when will be the next?

Can you say that your to do lists are actually effective?  Wouldn’t you like to find yourself looking up rather than constantly looking down.  Isn’t it somewhat tempting to know there is a way to get your tasks accomplished without being slave to them?

So, to the original question: To Do or Not To Do…. what’s your answer?

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

Top Talent Acquisition: Stop Fishing in the Wrong Lake

You have to admit, this would suck.  Thinking you’re about to catch a fish only to find out you’re the prey.  Believe it or not, this happens a lot in talent acquisition.  Your goal is to find the right people to augment your group, only to find that you have just brought on board the one person in the zip code that makes everyone want to slit their own throat.  What happened?

A lot of times, I find managers will look for talent in the same ole places.  They’ll have a position and the first place they want to post it is Monster or CareerBuilder.  Don’t get me wrong, these types of sites should be part of your talent strategy, but they should not be the only lake you fish in.  Although there are a lot of great people who have their resumes out there on one of the job sites, most are out there for a reason.  My suggestion, use these two sites to help source candidates you will actually want.  How?  Ok, let’s use an example.

Let’s say you are looking for an Sales Manager for a new team you are putting together.  It’s natural to have the position posted on all of the latest career sites, but here’s a change in your strategy.  When you start getting resumes, start doing some flip research.  By that, I mean take John Doe’s resume, look at his last company and position held.  Is this the person doing some of the activities you are desiring?  Have they worked for a competitor or a similar company to yours that sells a different product?  If so, cross reference this person with others who might still be at the company they just left.  Use other means like LinkedIn to look up their network to see if they have people in their network who are currently employed and might be a better fit for your job.

In my experience, the first mistake any manager will make is to simply settle.  The second mistake they make is they don’t act quickly enough thinking someone else who’s better is out there.  Yes, I just painted you a green stop sign, but let me explain.

Never settle and I mean never.  It’s better for you not to fill the position than to simply put someone in there because they have a pulse and “some” of the qualities you desire.  You cannot build a fantastic organization or brand with mediocre people who suck.  There’s absolutely no way to do it.  Avoid making your talent acquisition strategy the “Cheeks in the Seat” mentality.  Instead, be willing to wait for the right person.  Always follow your gut.

On the flipside, there does come a point where you have great candidates, but you just want to be greedy and see if there’s more out there.  Stop it.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had to serve the cup of “I told you so” to a manager who wanted to continue looking for a little bit when they had the ideal candidate ready to go.  It’s a balancing act.  Sometimes, if wait too long, candidates will consider that to be an act of disinterest and move on.  Furthermore, it may show a lack of clarity in the organization and scare them off.  If you have someone who more than fits the bill, pull the trigger or the trigger will be pulled on you.

Finally, the last thing to avoid is not interviewing correctly.  We’ll discuss how to avoid this in the next post.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.

“Buzz Kill” Team Members

Everyone hates a buzz kill.  You know who I’m talking about, that person in the office that smiles during a meeting but then starts a behind the scenes revolt with their negativity.  I hate those types of people.  In fact, there is nothing that will kill my creativity, energy, and focus quicker than a buzz kill.  Most of the time, I, like you, will just deal with the negativity until hopefully they go away.

Well, this used to be my strategy.  I found that confrontation made others uncomfortable, even though I always felt better afterward.  I also found that after confronting such people, you usually become the target of their next campaign.  I know this because I have been one of the casualties of their bitter rage against anything that has life.  So what do you do?

Although the easiest solution would be to show them the hiding place of Hoffa and encourage them to get in, it isn’t practical or realistic.  Here are some tips that may help you with such people.

  • Call them out on it– So many times; these types get away with their behavior because everyone is so afraid to confront them.  Don’t be one of those.  If you are the leader of the group, for everyone’s sake, LEAD!  Sometimes confrontation can make someone aware of the behavior and allow them the opportunity to change it.  Other times, confrontation let’s them know they can practice their witchcraft, just not to involve you.
  •  Are they in the right job?  Another fault often accentuated by someone’s constant bitterness is a misfit.  Engineers do not belong in the sales “ra-ra” meeting.  They’re engineers, they’re going to find ways to be a buzz kill because they’re factual in nature.  There’s nothing wrong with them except they’re in the wrong role.  Help them make the transition and watch their attitude change.  If it doesn’t, help them find the right job or help them find the door.
  • Get them out! Let’s face it, there are those people who just enjoy being negative because that’s all they know.  They refuse to change because change scares them.  If you are trying to institute some radical change, they will do everything they can to keep status quo.  Don’t allow it.  Do everyone a favor and get rid of the complaining deadweight.

Dealing with buzz kills on your team can be draining.  With that said, you need to be sure you spend the necessary time to truly determine what is the root.

Trent Cotton has spent a number of years in management and business consulting. After spending some time in the field, he joined the HR department, beginning in recruiting and eventually serving as the Department Head of HR for one of the major lines of business. With such a varied background, he works to bring all of these together to help organizations incorporate best practices into their business to help them succeed. In his free time, he also writes a lot on his other blog, Christian Men, Christian Warrior.