How to deal with the Meghan Trainors in your Office

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Having a 13 year old daughter allows me to keep up with all the current music. After dealing with a particularly rough day last week, my daughter and I were jamming in the car when Meghan’s song “No” came on.  Although the song is referencing a woman fighting off advances of an unwanted guy, the chorus of the song summarized the people I had dealt with that day.

Every company or organization has them…you know who I’m talking about. It’s that individual or department you loathe dealing with because it seems like all they want to do is tell you what you can’t do or simply just find unique and creative ways to tell you “No”. I have a personal little reference for these types, kind of a profiling term if you will.  I have dubbed them the CantNos.

Sidenote: In my earlier, less mature days, I would actually have contacts’ first name followed by a last name CantNo to remind me who I was dealing with on the phone.  I’ve evolved since then though.

As a driver,  I think one of the hardest things I have to deal with are those in the workplace whose first answer is instinctively “No” or “We can’t”.  I guess I’m just too optimistic or “Polly Anna” when approaching problems or even trying to find alternative ways to further the brand, expand a message or take our game to the next level. Sometimes I think how miserable it must be to always find ways to kill someone’s idea or squash their passion.

Just as the CantNos have an instinctive response to most every situation, I have a guttural reaction in dealing with them.  I often find myself counting in my head to calm down, imagining a great post about them on social media or silently throat punching them in my happy place. (Figuratively of course, no violence in the workplace)  Unfortunately, what I don’t say usually can be seen all over my face. Disgust, anger, bewilderment in some cases. This is a group of people I just can’t understand.

If you’re in a position of leadership and can readily identify this group, here are some things to consider:

  1. Are their responses warranted?  I do know there are times when you have to deal with a department whose primary role is to protect the company or organization. Groups like legal, compliance, regulatory or finance have to keep the company in the right lane. I’m sure most of them do not relish in killing every major idea but it seems a number of these groups just accept that as part of their role. If you are a leader, challenge these departments to find a way to soften the blow. A simple, “Let me find a way to help you” would go a long way. As a driver, if I know you’re at least trying to explore an idea but find it is absolutely impossible or too risky, I can accept that.  It’s all in how you frame it.
  2. Do they just get satisfaction from being dream killers? This is a toxic group. You can hire the brightest talent in your industry but if you have a one, two or more of the CantNos in your organization, you may find yourself with a revolving door. If it’s more of an attitude issue, you need to confront it head on. This could include having a direct coaching session or even eliminating the CantNos from your company. You’d be amazed at the change in morale once you have the spine to pull the trigger.
  3. Be self-aware. I know I’m an intense guy, I’m a driver. I have learned to take a moment to identify if the issue is really a potential CantNo or if it’s me being unrealistic.  There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing or super creative but I have learned to be more self-aware to recognize the difference between people who are helping me be more realistic versus those who are CantNos. This has helped mitigate some of the internal frustration I once suffered from while furthering my own evolution toward a better team player.

Saint Augustine said “Anything in moderation is ok” (paraphrased). The same holds true for this topic. Identifying the root cause of CantNos can help you determine the wheat from the chaff in your organization. It can also help you better prepare yourself for interactions with them.

If you haven’t heard the song, it’s a great little tune so that’s my #MondayMotivation gift to you!  Enjoy!

Why I’m Jealous of Magneto’s Helmet

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As a driver-minded guy, I’m always finding lessons in life, especially in movies and television series.  One of my favorite genres is Marvel…. anything Marvel.  The complexity of the characters and their development throughout the story-line always leave me wanting more.

One of my favorite characters in X-Men is Magneto. He’s quite the complex antagonist. Unlike traditional adversaries, Magneto does not have the a-typical plan to destroy the world to motivate his actions. His motives are to protect the race of mutants from the efforts of the human race to track and exterminate.

One thing I find myself jealous of is Magneto’s helmet which protects him from the telepathic attacks from other mutants.  Sure, in the real world we don’t have to worry about such attacks (or do we), but I’d like a little variation of his helmet to make my life a little easier.

I am one of those who struggles with being inside of my own head. For those who do not share this debilitation, it is best described as over-analysis paralysis on your own actions, thoughts, and words throughout the day. There are times I’ll find myself so wrapped up in mental if/then scenarios, I exhaust myself with little or no productive results to show for it.

Here are some examples:

What did person X mean when they said Y? Was it because they misinterpreted what I said? I hope they knew  I was joking. Man, I should work on that, not everyone has my sense of humor.  Could I have handled that better? Maybe they’re not responding because they’re upset? Or what if they’re just busy? Should I acknowledge that I may have made a mistake? No, that would seem like I lack self-confidence.

If you’re an X-Men fan like me, this little dialogue is similar to when the audience gets to experience what telepathic hear when they use their powers. Magneto, however, simply puts on his helmet and is able to tune all of it out. #Jealous

Being self-aware is in no way a bad thing… in moderation of course. If it were as easy as placing something on my head to keep it in moderation, life would be golden. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t made anything like that yet so I have to resort to other measures.  Here are a couple of my tricks:

  1. Workout- I workout twice a day during the week. This routine is more about mental clarity than it is about physical health, although the physical benefits are great too. I have found true balance when I’m able to break away from the world, put on a good book or favorite playlist, and crank out a physically challenging workout.
  2. Honest Friends- An important lesson I’ve learned is to surround myself with people who will tell me when I need to get out of my own head and move on. These people are priceless and a must have in my life. They know when I’m truly struggling with something real versus something I’ve concocted in my head. More importantly, they are bold enough to tell me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.
  3. Journaling- I know it sounds cheesy but sometimes, it’s good to write things out and then reread your thoughts. I’ve found this is a good way for me to remain as objective as I can and force myself to view reality, not the augmented reality I sometimes create.

Everyone has their own way of “putting on the helmet”, these are just a couple of my tricks.  What works best for you?

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.

What Leaders Can Learn from The Costa Concordia Tragedy

The Costa Concordia was Europe’s largest-ever cruise ship when it launched in 2006, however, not a lot is being said about that now with the ship being on the rocks.  Considering the age with high tech GPS and mapping systems,it is pretty hard to believe something like this could happen.  Furthermore, it is more than tragic the lives that have been lost in something attributed to human error.  So what could leaders learn from this awful tragedy?

Before we get into that, let’s address one of the major leadership issues of this particular tragedy.  The captain.  What does this captain’s actions after the crash say about the state of leadership today?  It seems with not only this tragedy, but the more recent business “crashes” that gone are the days when leaders/captains stayed with the ship to ensure everyone is taken care of before worrying about themselves.  I would have been ok if he darted from the ship to go for help, but from most estimates, he didn’t even send a mayday call.  What is going on here?  What has happened to the leadership today that whether it be large cruiseships or large companies, no one sends mayday messages or helps their passengers/associates get to safety before bailing themselves?  Now that the soap box is done, let’s talk about some of the lessons.

Lesson 1: Stay the course.  From the reports, we have have learned the captain went off of the normal course and right into a patch of rocks which took the ship to its doom.  So often, leaders get brazen and neglect to follow the standard instruments used to keep the business in the “right lane”.  Of course, there are times when following your gut could lead to tremendous success, but you have to weigh out the costs of those decisions on those on the ship with you.  Unfortunately, there are also times where staying the course, as boring as it may seem, is what needs to be done for the safety of your passengers.

Lesson 2: Be sure to use the mayday signal.  I am not sure whether it is pride or stupidity that prevents a lot of leaders of companies to admit they need help.  A true leader leans on the experience and knowledge of their team and is willing to be open to asking for help when it is needed.  There are a number of resources available to leaders who need help with a particular problem in their company.  Everyone experiences bumps or potholes in the path, the smart thing to do would be to lean on help from those who may have already tracked down a similar path.  Wisdom is often as easy to obtain as learning from the mistakes of others.

Lesson 3: Make sure everyone knows the directions for the lifeboats. If you’ve heard any of the accounts of when the ship went down, you heard the mass chaos which ensued once everyone on the ship was aware of the scale of the tragedy.  As a leader, you must make sure everyone on your ship knows the necessary directions for when trouble arises.  Mass hysteria can add unneeded noise to a tense situation.  If everyone on your team is aware of the “disaster recovery plan,” things will go a lot smoother.  Additionally, if you take the course most commanders do in the army, be sure you have a statement of “commander’s intent.”  As a leader, you cannot possibly be there to help your team think through every single dilemma they experience, but through the use of the CI statement, you can at least arm them with what they need to know.

An example would be Southwest Airline’s “low fare” strategy.  This is  a strategy set forth by executive management, but is known to all employees.  So when a flight planning team is looking at making a major decision, they first weigh in whether this decision would fall in line with Southwest being the “lowest fare” airline.  If the decision does not align properly, they seek another course of action.

Clearly, on the Costa Concordia, there was no CI, mostly because the was no “C” (commander) on the ship so who could know the I (intent)?  Barring from a leader making this tragically stupid mistake, there should have been some type of CI for those workers on the ship to ensure the safety of their passengers.  Clearly, we can make some deductions from the situation based on how the crew acted.  Obviously, one could say the captain was most likely a top down type of leader, one who provides more commands than direction.  How do we know this?  Look how his team responds to a crisis when he is not on the ship. This is an awful tragedy on many levels.  I continue to hope more survivors are found in the short term.

Lesson 4: Even big ships fall victim.  Think about 2008 and the business giants who fell.  Similar to the Costa Concordia, these mega giants veered off of the normal course of business and ran aground, taking many innocent lives with them.  Whether it was investing in mortgage backed securities, or being too aggressive, almost stupid in their assumptions the bubble would not burst.  Generations ago, businesses would not have made such mistakes, rather, they would have used their instruments to navigate safely through the waters.  It seems many of the captains of these monster ships thought their vessel was too big to fail.  Unfortunately, many leaders of large organizations seem to believe the same lie and fall victim to a similar fate.  Last time I checked, doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity.  I guess they no longer teach common sense in business schools anymore.

We can all learn from this tragedy and take a moment to reflect on the ship we are the captain of at the moment.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you staying the course?
  • Does your team know the CI for the company?
  • What steps do you need to take today to right the course of your ship to avoid the rocks ahead?

Continue to pray for the lives of those yet recovered and the families of all who are involved.  One tragic misstep a lot of us make is forgetting their are lives involved in the mess.  As a leader, that is one take away I hope you remember.

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.

So what does the title of this blog mean?

I had a subscriber recently email me this question and I found it ironic.  For someone who constantly talks about clarity in communication, I kind of dropped the ball on this one.  So, here’s the answer to where I got the title, “Driver Minded Guy in a Passenger Minded World.”

Driver Minded– One of the strongest strengths and weaknesses I have is my “driver” mentality.  I am one who likes to get things done, often at the sake of creating awkward silences in planning meetings.  Unfortunately, I haven’t learned how to totally get around making others uncomfortable when the Driver comes out in me, but I have taken some of the edge off of it.  I enjoy planning and creative sessions, but find equal enjoyment in getting action items together and most importantly… DONE!  So, as you can imagine, this can create quite the conflict in this head of mine when I know I need to take the RPMs down but can’t seem to find a way to do so.

Passenger Minded World-  Unfortunately, I have noticed over the last several years the transition of most people to taking a passenger mentality.  It seems so many people are afraid to make decisions and feel more comfortable allowing others to make the decision and they simply comply (and complain when no one is looking).

Frankly, these people drive me absolutely crazy.  I am one who enjoys progress and a lot of times, have to remind myself not everyone thinks like I do.  I also have learned, through many hard knocks, that it really is better to seek to understand prior to being understood.

Passenger minded people drive me crazy because sometimes, they have the best ideas, but just do not want to stick their neck out there.  I have been through numerous meetings where I have sat next to a passenger minded person who had the best idea in the room.  Had they not sat next to a big mouth like me, the idea would have gone unnoticed.

So, all of that to say, this blog is about some of the internal battles that go off in my head as well as some practical thoughts on various business topics.  I hope this answers the questions of those readers who asked.