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.

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“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.

Why Super Committees ALWAYS Fail…

“With insects most of us know that bees are called swarms, and ants are called colonies. Among ocean life, I was aware that whales are pods, and fish are schools. Cattle are herd, birds are flocks, and if you watch Lion King, you know a tribe of lions is a pride. If you grew up in the country, you might know that crows are murders. Maybe the most unnerving one is an ambush of tigers.” Brace yourself…….

“I was surprised to learn that a group of buzzards waiting around together to feast on leftover carnage is called a committee. Just this one insight is worth the price of the whole book. This explains so much of what’s going on in churches – a lot of committees waiting around to live off human carnage.”  Erwin Raphael McManus

I would daresay that this doesn’t just apply to church committees but now, in the ever so evident present, it applies to government and stretches into the private sector.  Undoubtedly, you’ve been part of one.  In case you’re wondering, take a look at these questions to help you decide:

  • Have you ever sat in a room with colleagues who you may or may not agree with to discuss a topic, only to arrive at no solution?
  • Have you ever been assigned to work on a particular issue with a group of people and found yourself beating your head against a wall to at least make some type of an impact?
  • After a three hour meeting, have you ever walked out and found yourself having had an out of body experience where you temporarily went to your happy place to deal with the lack of progress?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’ve been a part of committee.  So why do they not work?  There are too many reasons to discuss.  It can be wrapped up in two words: pride and ego.

If you’d like to learn some ways to avoid the carnage associated with a committee, check out these posts:

The New KISS: Keep in Simple Strategy

Calling in a Threat During a Meeting

Getting the Pit Crew Involved

Why Most Corporate Meetings are Like NASCAR-Part II

Most Corporate Meetings are Like Nascar

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.

Why You SHOULD “Date” Those Who Report to You

Why You SHOULD “Date” Those Who Report to You!

Posted on April 21, 2011 by wtrentcotton

One of the most misunderstood leadership concepts surrounds recruiting. Most managers botch the recruiting function in two ways:

  1. They are reactionary to openings
  2. Once someone has joined, they stop recruiting

In essence, recruiting is much like dating and the relationship we have with our team members can function a lot like a marriage. The cycle is incredibly similar. Let’s just look at behaviors during the dating cycle vs. marriage.

Dating Marriage
You eagerly wait to answer the phone when the “love interest” calls. You will answer the phone, but the excitement is gone. You tend to see it more as a task to be completed.
You go out of your way to communicate your feelings and reassure your “love interest” of where they stand. You assume that since you said “I do” there should not be a need to reinforce this phrase. I mean after all, you wear the ring every day right!?
You are intimately aware of each little behavior and constantly analyze whether this is a good thing or bad thing in terms of your relationship. Again, you said “I do” so some things can be ignored as “everyday life”. You discount things as a mood swing or bad day.
No gift is out of the question. Anything to show your affection. You even go so far as to notice what type of drink they like or where they like to shop. Your gift is the roof over the head or the house being clean or in some of the more serious cases, the fact you’re still around.

Now, I am not in any way saying the marriage column is indicative of my marriage or how any marriage should be. I am also not endorsing any sort of real dating of any of your team members because that ultimately leads to disaster, but hopefully you get the point. Now, let’s talk about the two mistakes.

Reactionary Recruiting

Granted, there are many times where an opening catches everyone off guard. With this said, however, as a leader, you must accept the simple fact at some point, you will have an opening on your team at some point. So if we know this is an inevitable truth of leadership, we should take the notion to always be recruiting right?

Most of the successful leaders I have worked with have a “hit list” of prospective employees. Although they may not have a position currently available, they make time every week and/or month to meet with the perspective A-Players in their market. As a recruiter, I can tell you this is the best strategy as it provides you a very non-intrusive manner to build a relationship with a perspective candidate. There’s an added benefit in being able to meet with members of the competition to gain market intelligence as well. So when you look at it from a practical stand point, this ideology is a win/win situation for any leader!

Continuous Recruiting

The other pitfall to avoid is stopping the recruiting process once the candidate is hired. In fact, you should, as a leader, always be in recruiting mode. You could go on as an ostrich with your head in the hole of daily activities and ignore possible warning signs of one of your team member’s impending departure, or you could make it a daily goal to constantly recruit your team be more of aware of potential members at risk.

Think back to your most recent recruiting win. Chances are, your “6th sense” as a leader was incredibly heightened to every little twitch in the candidate’s behavior. You were more in tune with changes in inflection of their voice, behavior changes, and even nonverbal cues. This is normal because at the time, this was someone you really wanted so you naturally became more aware of each little idiosyncrasy that would either confirm or challenge the recruiting process.

Now, think of how you are with your team. Are you as aware of such minor changes? Unfortunately, once someone joins our team, we have a tendency to get into a routine and assume all is good, thus numbing our leadership antennas to potential changes in our team members. This is not a good thing. It is this type of behavior which typically fosters the phrase, “I never saw it coming” after a loss. Ironically, if we were to continue the recruiting process, even after someone is hired, we would remain consistently aware of our team members’ state of mind at all times. How do you do this? The same way you courted them!

  • Make it a point to be aware of where your member’s state of mind is which will require you to be engaged with them
  • Look for ways and/or times you can “date” your team members. This could include a lunch to just catch up on them, non work related.
  • Little gifts are always great. This could be something as simple as a handwritten note to thank them for a job well done on a project or a gift card to their favorite joint. This doesn’t have to be anything expensive in terms of money, but needs to be expensive in terms of your thought and time in the effort.
  • Frequent communication is key. Try not to be one of those leaders/managers who only talks to their team when there’s a numbers update or a crisis to manage. Take some time to just “hang out” with them.
  • Be spontaneous. An idea for your team might be bringing in a Wii or Playstation with a sports game and having a challenge during the lunch hour where you bring lunch in. Cut out one afternoon and take everyone to a movie or …. Fill in the blank. Again, it’s not hard and doesn’t need to be expensive in a dollars sense. Showing you care will go a long way with your team.

So, take some time and think of ways you can date your prospects and date your current team. You’ll have a healthier team, become a better leader, and who knows, you might actually find you enjoy the people who work for you. If not, then, well we’ll talk about how to divorce team members in another post! Happy dating!

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.

For my professional resume, click here.

Tip for Success: Know When to Shoot the Bird

Have you ever tried doing something to push yourself out of your comfort zone and against the odds, only to have nay-sayers constantly balking at you every step of the way? Like the poor climber in this picture, leading a change or striving toward success can be extremely difficult all by itself. However, when you add the negativity of others and the constant picking, you can find yourself wanting to give up.

In order to effectively deal with these types of challenges, you have to first address the aspect of change, not only how it affects you, but how it also affects those around you. Here’s my own personal definition of change using the acronym SUCKS:

  • S – Something that quickly gets
  • U – Under our skin and has a tendency to
  • C – Cause us to rage, often
  • K – Keeps us up at night, and
  • S – Strains our very self-control

Believe it or not, making the decision to succeed can be one of the most challenging changes any of us have to manage. This is especially true when the change involves motivating a team to embrace the change as well. In this recession, there have been numerous companies who have simply fallen into financial despair as a result simply playing it safe. On the other hand, there are other companies who have chosen to use the recession to their advantage take a better hold on market share against the odds. I would imagine, if you are the leader for that type of an organization, you could easily identify with the poor climber illustrated in this post’s picture.

One case in point is LG Electronics of Seoul, South Korea. It has tried to seize the initiative by taking the offensive, even down to the use of military metaphors to dramatize its objectives. It created a “crisis war room” in January 2009 with the aim of cutting costs, improving efficiency and prioritizing business plans, such as new product development. Evoking images of battle might seem an over-reaction, but it appears to have helped to galvanize the company. Despite the downturn in consumer spending, LG has continued to launch new television sets, mobile phones, home appliances and other products. “We’re finding that people are cancelling vacations and spending more time in their home, so they’re willing to invest in more expensive home experiences,” says Bradley Gambill, executive vice-president and chief strategy officer.

Now if you are going to pick a time to grow, a recession would not be the most likely time to “go on the offense.” Common logic would suggest playing it safe, retaining the clients you can and riding out the storm. At almost all firms, including LG, innovations require something of a maverick mentality. “Agility and flexibility go counter to how you run the core business. The core business is all about repeatability and predictability. You have to meet the numbers, have efficiency. The trick is how to combine flexibility with efficiency,” says Vijay Govindarajan, professor of international business and director of the Center for Global Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

So think about your firm or business. What uphill climb are you trying to spark? Do you feel like the birds are squawking at you and picking at you? Perhaps you might feel with all of the noise around you the birds are diving in, trying to get you off course or trying to just wear you down until you give up and go back to the bottom where they feel you belong. In those cases, my encouragement to you would be the same I’d give our friendly climber in the picture. Shoot the bird! Push on towards your goal and soon, you’ll be able to look back and realize you made it through one of the toughest economies, and not only are you better for it, but your firm or company is as well.

Happy climbing!

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.

For my professional resume, click here.