Working with "Friends and Family" - HOW?

“One person is being open, friendly, caring, helpful, considerate, cheerful, confident, even joyful in her work, while the other is being closed, distant, uncaring, inconsiderate, grumpy even resentful of what she is doing.”

- God from Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

Most Seniors teach the Middle that having a friend or a family member work as one of their Teamers or developing a friendship with your Teamers is the wrong thing to do, but I’ve have found that is simply not true. Over my years as a Middle, I have developed many friendships with Teamers and only rarely has this led to problems working with them. Trusting one another just naturally leads to be becoming friends too. But you can’t let your friendship lead you to situations of inequality between your Teamers or not doing fair performance reviews or project assignments for everyone. Even though they are your friends you must treat them the same as your other Teamers. You can’t allow any prejudices to develop as you perform your responsibilities as the Middle.

Establish “ground rules” for working with all of your Teamers (as well as the rest of the folks in your Organization), including those that are also your friends. Those Teamers who are also your friends will understand the need for these ground rules for consistency and if they don’t, they aren’t really your friend.

One of the first steps that you should consider is formally publishing a “code of conduct” that you want all of your Teamers (and you) to follow each day. One of the best Seniors that I’ve ever worked with (my thanks to Senior Tom) handed out the following “code of conduct” to all of his supervisors and managers reporting to him (I’ve editorialized it a bit to match the terminology that I use in my book) after a major reorganization that had him managing all of the engineering resources worldwide during his first meeting with his new staff. As he said then “I want to get us all on the same page on how I want us to work together.” Again, this is only a sample to get you to start thinking about the code of conduct you feel is needed for you and your Teamers. I’ve always used a code of conduct and suggest that you give it a try too. The code of conduct is the foundation for your ground rules on how you want your Teamers to work together and the rest of your Organization.

A Code of Conduct

  • I will actively work to insure each of my Teamers is challenged by assignments.
  • I will actively work to insure there is opportunity for each of my Teamers to grow and develop.
  • I will actively work to insure increasing levels of responsibilities for each of my Teamers as they are ready.
  • The needs of the people I manage come before my own needs.
  • A Teamer’s concerns are always treated as legitimate.
  • Responses to a Teamers’ requests will be in a timely and a respectful manner.
  • Criticism of an individual will be handled in private.
  • I will not criticize the Organization or another supervisor/manager in public.
  • Once a decision is made, I will support the decision as if I originally agreed.
  • A Teamer’s personal data is to be treated confidentially.
  • I will support Organizational policies, procedures and goals.
  • I will strive to insure that our working environment is both safe and healthy.
  • I am committed to insuring that each of my Teamers has a clear understanding of specific performance expectations.
  • I am committed to insuring that each of my Teamers has a clear understanding of how their performance will be evaluated.
  • I am committed to providing fair and timely feedback on a Teamers’ performance.
  • I will work to insure that each of my Teamers is compensated fairly for their work.
  • I will strive to inform my immediate supervisor/manager of impending problems as early as possible.
  • I will assist other personnel in the Organization in an appropriate manner.

In addition to a formal, written Code of Conduct I offer you the following suggestions and ideas for your consideration that I “found” for fostering a good “friends and family” environment with your Teamers.

“The things you say about others, also say a lot about you.”

- Mark Amend

Remember the Birthdays of Your Teamers

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

 - Lao Tzu

Simply collect a list of the birthdays of all of your Teamers and sort it by the months of the year. Then buy a box or two of generic birthday cards so that you can write a simple greeting in each of them. Always mail the card to the home of each Teamer. Never give the card to them at work or try to use an email for a greeting! Hand write your greeting, buy a stamp and send it a few days before their birthday. Your Teamers will love it!

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

 – Maya Angelou

Give Your Teamers Holiday Greetings

“Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.”

 – Richard L. Evans

The day before each holiday I always made a habit of walking around and giving each of my Teamers the appropriate greeting. “Have a very Merry Christmas,” or “I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.” This seemed to make the Teamers happy and I also felt great exchanging greetings with them!

“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.”

 - James Dean

Celebrate Teamer Anniversaries

“There isn’t a person anywhere who isn’t capable of doing more than he things he can.”

 - Henry Ford

I always worked to have a special anniversary celebration for each Teamer. Not on the one or two year stuff but on the major ones, that is five, ten, fifteen, twenty etc. I usually sprung for a cake and some drinks to help make it a special event for the Teamer. You don’t need to do anything extravagant, just take time to acknowledge the event and their time and contributions to the Organization. You will be surprised how much your Teamers will appreciate this.

“Keep in mind that the true measure of an individual is now he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good.”

 - Ann Landers

Always Look Your Teamers in the Eye with Total Honesty

“It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

- John Steinbeck

One essential trait that you must develop is to look your Teamers in the eye each time that you talk with them. Looking down or away or at papers will simply not provide them with “the trust” that you want them to have. In meetings I always worked to look everyone in the eye, moving my focus from one Teamer to the next. The bottom line is that if you can’t tell them what you have to tell them without looking them dead in the eye, perhaps you don’t really believe what you are telling them. Being a Middle can be a very difficult life to lead. You are always between your Teamers and the Seniors of your Organization. Difficult decisions will be made by your Seniors and your Organization and you will need to be able to explain them to your Teamers with honesty that you may not get from your Senior.

You must realize that you are the only real link and translator of all that your Senior and Organization decides to do. This must be translated to your Teamers no matter how difficult this can be for you, with as much total honesty and trust as you can develop. You need to develop the habit of looking your Teamers directly in the eye as you talk with them. Just practice and it will become second-nature for you.

You may also experience “extra side benefits” from always looking your Teamers in the eye when you talk with them. One of the side benefits that I experienced was working with Teamer Karen. We were having a One-on-One session as I recall, and she commented that I was the only manager that she had ever worked for that didn’t look at her chest. Now admittedly, Teamer Karen was a very attractive young lady and well endowed, so I completely understood the behaviors of her other managers, BUT I took it as a compliment and rededicated myself to always looking Teamers in their eyes when talking with them. 

“If I only had three words of advice, they would be, Tell the Truth. If I got three more words, I’d add, All the Time.”

- Randy Pausch

Trust Them

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

-  Carl Jung

Trust is a critical ingredient in being a good Middle. Trust is a “two-way” relationship; you must trust your Teamers in order for them to trust in you.

Almost all of the folks that I’ve worked with over five decades really wanted to do good work and feel good about their performance and contribution to the success of the team and the Organization, so I recommend that you trust your Teamers until they prove that they can’t be trusted. If you have a Teamer that doesn’t want to do good work and be a part of the team that does, then it is time for you to help them find another opportunity.

Once you give your Teamer the assignment let them make mistakes. You must trust them to do the project. That’s part of the motivation for the project! My suggestion is to meet with them as frequently as you think is needed to avoid a disaster. Focus on their concerns and problems as well as their accomplishments and plans. Can you help them? Then do it! Work with them often so that they don’t go too far from what you want them to accomplish and give them immediate feedback on their performance.

Mutual trust may be the most critical ingredient in empowering you and your Teamers.

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Manage by Walking Around to See What’s Going On                  

“You’re the only guy up there in that computer palace that ever comes down here on the shop floor to see what’s really going on and what we really do. All the others up there just tell us what they want us to do.”

- Anonymous Machinist at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company

My door is always open is a great idea, but you need to get out on the “floor” and talk with your Teamers. You need to focus on managing people not things, but also focus on getting and using things to help your people and make their lives better.

The quote above came from an old crotchety machinist that I worked with at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company, at that time the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world. I was a computer programmer working on a bill of material/parts explosion system. The customer would order machine tool number whatever and the system was to identify all the needed “parts” (down to screws, bolts and nuts!!) that needed to be built, with all of the appropriate lead times and shop floor locations to maximize and speed up the assembly of the machine tool. It took over two years to build some of these machine tools! This machinist told me straight away one day, “Those computer wizards up there don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground! I build these tools with these cards!” And he reached into his shirt pocket for a stack of worn 3 x 5 inch index cards about an inch thick with an old rubber band holding them together.

“Are you serious?” I asked him. And he responded, “See that’s the difference between you and those other computer wizards. At least you ask questions and listen.”

This event provided me with a lasting insight that I always needed to be out on the “floor” talking with and listening to everyone; my Teamers (and Co-Workers too) looking for problems and potential solutions. Perhaps it was new software, a change in your processes, or perhaps your policies that can make things work better.

Lastly, every payday I always walked around and handed out the pay checks to all of my Teamers with a personal “thank you!” to each of them. Make sure that you spend time with each Teamer, as often as possible aside from One-on-One sessions. Impromptu meetings are often the best and most rewarding and you can’t have them just staying in your work space on your computer or telephone. Get out there!!! 

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

- Maya Angelou

Thank Them!!!

“Happiness and personal fulfillment are the natural consequences of doing the right thing.”

- Epictetus

First off, you should look for every opportunity possible to thank a Teamer for something well done. A good job, a great job, or truly outstanding performances, whatever, take every opportunity to thank your Teamers.

If you thank them you encourage them to do it again and that’s good. You also encourage other Teamers to improve their performance to get a “thank you!” It can be contagious!

I’ve been asked whether to “thank” your Teamers in public or in private. I always tended to thank people in public. Most times I would call an impromptu staff meeting and then thank them or present them with their service award or special recognition.  

It’s really your choice if you thank them in public or privately just make sure that you thank them!

“The possibility for rich relationships exists all around you - you simply have to open your eyes, open your month and most importantly, open your heart.”

- Cheryl Richardson

Coaching

“All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.”

- Bill McCartney

In sports, coaching is simple.

  • Show and tell them what you want them to do.
  • Watch them do it.
  • Stop them and tell them what they are “doing OK” and “not OK.”
  • Give them help and ideas on fixing their “not OK’s.”
  • Put them back in again.
  • Do it all over again when you spot another “not OK.”

Coaching should also be this simple in the corporate world too, but it usually isn’t.

Coaching is a daily and even hourly event. Don’t wait if you see a problem, take a moment now and do a special coaching session with your Teamer. Immediate feedback on performance is the best and most meaningful for your Teamers!

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Reward Them

“Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.”

- Loretta Young

I’ve seen all sorts of simple reward programs work well for Teamers and the Organization such as reserved parking spots for a month or so or just a plaque with the names of the featured employees selected each month prominently displayed.     

I had an “Employee of the Month” program where we awarded just two movie tickets. Teamers were encouraged to nominate fellow Teamers for accomplishments well done and we would have a team meeting each month to announce the winner. The key is to have all of your Teamers be a part of selecting the employee to be award. Every so often we had to award two sets of tickets but that was really rare. The team always seemed to agree easily on the person to reward for the month. Later, we also added a quarterly award of one hundred dollars for a dinner out.

If you can’t get your Organization to pay for this, just do it yourself. Buy two movie tickets each month. Most movie theaters will give you a discount if you buy tickets for a year. You will be surprised at the positive reception this simple program will provide.

At my last Organization, the president and owner had set up an annual reward program that focused on the “top 10 percent” of the entire Organization. Each manager was allowed to nominate the top 10 percent of their Teamers. The winners got an all-expense-paid trip to exotic locations with their spouse/partner. I always surveyed my clients for their thoughts and suggestions on which of my Teamers deserved this recognition and why, and that really worked out well for me and the team.

Lastly, I suggest that the real key to the success of any reward program is to obtain and include the opinions of your Teamers and your clients in the process of selecting the person(s) to be rewarded. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do this alone – get everyone to contribute!

“Make a game of finding something positive in every situation. Ninety-five percent of your emotions are determined by how you interpret events to yourself.”

 - Brian Tracy

In closing this blog I can only suggest one more “final, bottom-line” suggestion on how to work with “family and friends “ that is always tend to lean towards helping and favoring your Teamers in all that you do. Remember, without them you’re not much of a Middle.

I wish you empowerment, happiness and every success!!

Jonesy

 

 

 

 

Core Values to Consider

First off, let me define for you what I mean by a “core value.” Simply a “core value” is a rule, a principle, a belief or a guideline (whatever, please call it what you will!) that guides, controls and directs you in all that you say, do and think during your day. 

In this blog I want to share with you five key core values that I suggest you consider adopting in your daily life as a Middle and encourage your Teamers to do the same. Now I don’t what to be too “preachy” about all of this, but these are things that I have found and adopted over my five decades as a Middle and I suggest that you consider them. The key is displaying them; if you haven’t truly adopted them you can’t display them. Got it?

“The most powerful thing you can do (and it is very powerful) to change the world, is to change your own beliefs about the nature of life, people, reality, to something more positive… and begin to act accordingly.”

- Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization

Due unto Others

“Four things support the world: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the good, and the valor of the brave.”

- Muhammad

Again, I don’t want to get too “preachy” in presenting these core values to you and especially not on this one. My guess is that most of us heard about the Golden Rule in Sunday school or church. To “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the foundational teachings of Christianity, or as some call it “the ethic of reciprocity.” But you may be wondering “what does this have to do with my work life” and my response is potentially everything!

One of my “hobbies” over the years has been to study religions other than Christianity and I’ve always tried to focus on the similarities and likenesses between them, rather than on the differences, and I found that this core value is present in lots of other religions. In fact, I find that no religion misses teaching this value entirely. For example, you find this value in Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam and Taoism and many other religions.

In Buddhism, this value is called Karma and is defined as the “actions of body, speech and mind that spring from mental intent and which bring about a consequence or result.” Hinduism also refers to this value as Karma and defines it as “a moral law of cause and effect that binds together the notions of free will and destiny.” My dictionary defines Karma as “action seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.”

If all of this religious stuff is too much for you (and I understand), I suggest that you just try adopting the concept of “ethics” in your daily life. One of the definitions that I found for ethics is “the branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.”

Again, call it what you want to – the Golden Rule, Karma, ethics or just doing the “right thing,” but I have always found it is best to treat the folks in your Organization (no matter how difficult) as you want them to treat you. You may find it difficult to adopt this core value in your daily work life, but I strongly encourage you to make every effort to make it a part of your daily work life.

“A daily routine built on good habits and disciplines separates the most successful among us from everyone else. The routine is exceptionally powerful.”

- Darren Hardy

Working in the “Flow” – The Only Way to Go!

“Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.”

- H. Jackson Brown Jr.

If you have ever participated in sports you most likely have experienced being in the “flow” or the “zone.” It was the best game, match, set or round of your life! Everything was right with the world!  And it can be like that at work too for your Teamers if you help to empower them.

If you never had the chance to work on a project and get into the “flow” I have sincere sympathetic feelings for you. If you’ve ever worked in the “flow” you know that you have experienced the best possible working experience.

You must adopt this core value to always provide your Teamers with the best possible project definition and processes to enable them to have every opportunity to work in the flow. Make sure that you provide at least the following information and processes to your Teamers for all of the projects that you assign them.

  • Clear directions and goals on what to do
  • Real responsibility and authority to do the project
  • A “panic button” to push if you or they get into trouble and immediate feedback on their efforts
  • They are empowered to use their creativity and judgment
  • The schedule for the project is aggressive but doable
  • Balance between the challenges of the project and the Teamer’s skills
  • Your Teamers should have no worry of failure

In other words, you must strive to provide everything needed to get your Teamers to work in the flow on their projects every day. Working in the flow creates a Teamer that loves what they are doing, actually often loses track of time while working on a project and typically wants to do more. If you can empower your Teamers to want to do the work because they want to, you can accomplish unlimited potential with your Teamers.

I strongly suggest that you read the book Creativity written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that describes the flow and the psychology of discovery, invention and creativity. It is an amazing read and provides many more insights and ideas on how to provide the environment and tools for your Teamers to achieve the flow and the associated creativity.

“Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if…’ And then do it.”

- Duane Michals

The “Client” Is Always First

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

- Henry Ford

Note that I didn’t say the client is always right. They are not! But you and your Teamers must focus on providing “first class service and products that match or exceed expectations on a consistent basis” to your client to make them feel “first.”

Perhaps you are thinking that “I don’t have clients, we do this work because the boss tells us to.” You are wrong. Everyone has a client. Perhaps it is the future user of the software system or a potential job candidate that will use the benefits collateral that your team is developing. Internal or external, you and your Teamers have clients; you just need to look for them and recognize them.

I remember asking one of my Seniors (thank you Senior Ron) why he always called our clients “clients” rather than “customers” and he replied “seems to me that hookers have customers, I prefer to work with clients” – enough said! “Client” is a much more polished and respected term, which may also help make your client feel like they are number #1.

Always encourage your Teamers to deal directly with your clients. You can only be in one place at a time, so delegate and encourage direct client interactions with your Teamers to provide projects and services that match or exceed the work requested by the client on a consistent basis.

“So I think instead of focusing on the competition, focus on the customer.”

- Scott Cook

Run It like Your Own Business

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

- Zora Neale Hurston

I got this core value from two printers (my thanks to Teamers Vince and David) that I had the privilege of working with and learning from for several years, but first a bit of background.

I was the Middle for a marketing communications team that created marketing collateral for internal product marketing managers within the Organization. We were having problems with the “turnover” of the electronic publications from the graphic designers in my team to both internal and external printers that were outside of my team. Now the printing was managed by one of the “facilities managers” that took care of printing, purchasing, copiers etc. We seemed to have a communications problem with the printing specifications for the publication between the graphic designers and the printers. I reasoned that this was due to the fact that they were positioned in two different teams and perhaps “marching a bit to different drummers.”

I suggested to my Senior (who also led the manager of printing) that if the designers and printers were in the same team the problems would go away. The creation of the marketing collateral would be seamless, from writing and design all the way through to the actual printing. The next day the internal print shop and outside printing were moved under my direction (my thanks to Senior Bill).

My first step was to call a meeting of the graphic designers and the internal printers and explain the reorganization, and then challenge them to work more closely together, improve the turnover process and printing requirements for each publication, and talk with one another if they had questions to reduce cost and improve the overall quality of our print collateral. It worked like a charm.

But the real secret was that these two printers had previously worked for commercial printing businesses and their values and attitudes were much different from most folks that I had worked with. They often told me that they “wanted to run their internal shop like an outside business” rather than just a job. And they displayed this goal with their daily focus being on not wasting supplies, meeting and often exceeding their internal customer’s expectations and making sure that their internal charges and quality were competitive with outside printers to make their services attractive to their internal clients. I saw the benefits immediately and encouraged all of the rest of my Teamers to think like this. What a concept! This switch changed everyone’s attitude and direction and my leadership style. You win, your Teamers win and your Organization wins.

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”

- Mark Caine

Provide Vision, Direction and Leadership Daily

“I continue to find my greatest pleasures, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.”

- Thomas Edison

First, you must accept and realize that you are the most critical ingredient in becoming the leader of the team that you always wanted to lead. You must provide vision, direction and leadership to your Teamers each day. This can be very difficult for some Middles, since they are used to just hearing what their Senior or Organization wants done and just retelling their Teamers what they have heard. But really effective middle management requires that you translate and properly define the project and the overall goals for each project. This requires that you develop the abilities to provide vision, direction and leadership daily to your Teamers for each project they accept. Some definitions are needed.

My dictionary defines vision as “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.” Vision is the ability to see what’s coming and be right most of the time, and help your Teamers respond and plan for upcoming, potentially unseen changes. Vision is also the ability to be flexible, sort of like a coach that sees problems with the team’s performance and changes the defense based upon what the other team is doing.

My dictionary defines direction as “control, guidance and supervision in overseeing during execution or performance.” But direction is also setting guidelines on what to do, what not to do, and always providing your Teamers with clear goals and expectations.

 Leadership is always asking how can I help. How can we improve? What should we stop doing and what should we change or start doing? Leadership is also “coaching” that is giving daily, even hourly attention and guidance to your Teamers by talking with them to find out their problems, questions and concerns with their projects.

As mentioned, this can be a very difficult core value for some individuals to develop and adopt. You must develop the abilities and trust in yourself to translate the goals and expectations that come from your Senior and your Organization so that your Teamers can truly know what to do and what is expected of them. You are the only person that can do this.

“To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world”

- Ebony Mikle

 

 

 

 

 

Another Meeting?!?! Ugh!!

“Meetings are a great trap. Soon you find yourself trying to get agreement and then the people who disagree come to think they have a right to be persuaded. However, meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Meetings can be “the best of times, the worst of times” (my apologies to Mr. Dickens my favorite fiction writer and Steinbeck would be my second favorite just in case you might be wondering). Okay, meetings are usually a waste of time, cost too much money and don’t get the desired results. But a well-run meeting can identify problems, focus your team on quality and improve the overall performance of your team.

In this blog I want to present some general ideas and suggestions that I’ve “discovered” over my years as a Middle for having the most productive meeting of any type. Then I will present more specific ideas and suggestions for four very unique types of meetings that I strongly suggest that you adopt with your Teamers including:

  • The One-on-One Meeting – You need to have meetings with all of your Teamers on a regular basis to encourage understanding and bonding between the two of you.
  • The Walk-Thru Session – Use the Walk-Thru session to gain consensus with your Teamers on project objectives and plans so that you can move forward on projects knowing what is expected of everyone.
  • The Post-Mortem Meeting – This can be one of the most enlightening and challenging meetings that you can ever facilitate, where you review the project after the completion to see where problems occurred and why and also what made a project extremely successful and why!
  • The Performance Review Meeting – This meeting occurs during the Performance Review process to gain consensus and agreement between you and your Teamers on their overall performance for the period and their future objectives and training needs.

“Never bear more than one trouble at a time. Some people bear three kinds – all they have had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.”

 - Edward Everett Hale

Meetings 101

“The only means of strengthening one’s intellect to make up one’s mind about nothing – to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.”

– John Keats

Well run meetings have certain key characteristics and I suggest that you immediately implement a new set of rules and guidelines for all future meetings that you and your Teamers schedule and attend to include the following as appropriate:

  • Never go to or schedule a meeting without an agenda. The meeting agenda should include at least the following information and be available to meeting attendees well prior to the meeting including at least these topics: what topics to discuss, who will discuss each topic, why discuss the item, what’s the proposal or action needed and a time estimate for each topic.
  • Have some time set aside for “general junk.”
  • Have a facilitator to keep the meeting on schedule. I suggest that you pick someone as the facilitator that’s not involved with any of the meeting agenda topics and is an independent thinker.
  • If you have a meeting with Coworkers from other departments or organizations, be sure to start with introductions so that everyone knows everyone.
  • Start the meeting with an “ice breaker” agenda item to get the conversation flowing. “How they got assigned to this project?” can be a good one.
  • Have a scribe to keep notes of the meeting and action items. Actually use a recording device if needed.
  • Appoint a time keeper. Again, to help stay within the agenda and time estimates for each topic.
  • Always keep meetings to one hour or less. Meetings are expensive. I once worked with a guy who had meetings without chairs. His quote was “If we don’t all sit down and get comfortable we can get this done quicker! I’ve got work to do!” I suggest you try it at least once as a “wake up” for your Teamers.
  • If you need more time schedule another meeting. If everyone wants to continue to complete a topic go another 15 minutes or so, but try to keep the time limited.
  • The facilitator should stop idea judgment or judgment statements of any kind.
  • The facilitator should stop letting multiple people talk at once. Let each person share their ideas without interruption.
  • Stop endless talking and arguing. Play the “bad cop” if you have to.
  • Encourage brain storming and idea hitchhiking, that is “What if we did that, what would happen?”
  • Encourage everyone to stay on schedule and stick to topics and solutions.
  • No cell phones unless it is a REAL emergency!
  • Always include the Rumor Round-Up agenda item in all of your meetings. It should be at the close of the meeting. Start the agenda item up with open discussion. Ask your Teamers what they have heard? What rumors are flying around?  I suggest that you use this session to head off problems that might come from a rumor that doesn’t get addressed. Sometimes Teamers have things to ask but most times not, but it’s important for you to represent the Organization to each of your Teamers. Sometimes they may ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to. Simply say that you “don’t know” and that you will get an answer from the Organization to the question and get back to them as soon as you can.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

The One-on-One Meeting

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

– Albert Schweitzer

The first thing that you need to do is to understand and know each of your Teamers. What are their goals, values, skills, wants, needs and potential contributions to the success of your team and the Organization?

Start having regular meetings with all of your Teamers. The frequency is up to your working relationship with each Teamer. Once a week is best to start out with, but some folks will only need to get with you every other week or even once a month. The frequency will depend on the person, their assignments, your understanding of their needs and your overall working relationship with them. But make sure that these meetings are habitual that is “every Tuesday at 10:00.” Depending on the number of Teamers that you have you will need to reserve blocks of time during your work week. I suggest reserving an entire morning or afternoon for these sessions. You’ll get into the One-on-One “groove!”

Make sure that this is not viewed as an adversarial meeting or a gotcha session due to the name. It is to help the two of you get to know one another better. This should be a special time spent together. Spend your time wisely with your Teamers. Make it a positive time together. You should have only two goals for the One-on-One meeting:

  • Help your Teamer feel better about you, themselves and the Organization.
  • Help you understand them and their needs, wants, dreams and concerns so that you can help them work in the “flow” as much as possible.

You both should prepare a written agenda for each One-on-One meeting. Keep each One-on-One to no longer than a half hour. If you need more time, set up another session.

Sometimes you “inherit” Teamers through reorganization and you don’t know these folks as well as those that you have hired. The One-on-One meeting is an excellent way to “get to know” new Teamers. I’ve “inherited” lots of new Teamers over my years as a Middle usually through budget and staff cuts and reorganization, and the One-on-One meeting helps these new folks feel more comfortable working with you now, rather than old “what’s his name” (you!) that they’ve heard all about though the “grapevine.” Your goals are to get to know them and to get rid of their concerns and problems with the “transition.” Empower them by knowing them to help them work in the “flow!”

Some suggested agenda items for One-on-One meetings would be at least these:

  • Accomplishments during past time period
  • Goals for next time period
  • Problems or concerns
  • Training opportunities
  • Other general “stuff”

Your goal must also be for your Teamers to walk away with a positive feeling about your meeting, including the following:

  • They are in a comfort zone and can freely express themselves. There is trust and honesty present in each meeting.
  • You work on what needs to be done – direction!
  • Make needed decisions. Stop tangent thinking and the paralysis-by-analysis syndrome.
  • Have them feel that you really care about them, their work and their overall success and that of the team and the Organization.
  • Address any problems or concerns they have.

It is your job as the Middle to do everything that you can do to create the best possible meeting environment. Ask them how their One-on-One meetings can be more effective and how you can be a better leader for them. Then listen and do what you can to address their ideas and suggestions.

I want to thank Senior Tom for being the first to ever have a One-on-One meeting with me and teaching me what these times could be. He taught me a lot and was one of the best Seniors that I ever worked with.

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

- Abraham Lincoln

The Walk-Thru Session

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

- John Steinbeck

The Walk-Thru session (again “session” may be better than “meeting”) is basically a team meeting focused on problem solving, consensus building and idea generation on a project to be done or a problem to be solved. No matter what the project or problem, new software requirements, a plan to sell more lawn mowers or a new recipe for chicken salad, there is (or should be!) a “document” that describes the project. That is what’s to be done and how (the project scope) and when (the project plan). This document should include these topics for the project:

  • Target User or Audience for the Project – Who is the user or customer of the project?
  • Current Situation – What is the current “situation or problem” that you want the project to solve or address? 
  • Project Objectives – What will the project do to solve the user’s problem(s)?
  • What are the Main Benefits Offered by the Project – What are the benefits that the project must provide for each user?
  • What are the Alternatives to the Project – What are the major alternatives to NOT doing the project?
  • What is the Budget for the Project – How many dollars do you have to implement the project?
  • What is the Call to Action – What’s the next step(s) for your Teamers and Senior for this project?
  • Timetable – What are the steps and time estimates for each step to complete the project?

Reviewing, changing and approving this document are the desired results of the Walk-Thru session. I suggest that you consider using the Project Work Plan as the ideal document for all of your Walk-Thru sessions.

All of the people working on the project must be invited to attend the Walk-Thru and get a copy of the Project Work Plan well before the meeting so that they can review it for their agreements, disagreements and their concerns.

Appoint a facilitator, a scribe and a time keeper for the Walk-Thru. The facilitator should collect the comments, agreements, disagreements and suggestions from the Teamers that are going to attend the Walk-Thru, again before the session and send them out to everyone as the agenda for the upcoming session. The scribe will collect and distribute the minutes of the session, and lastly, the time keeper should be empowered to keep everyone on track with the agenda items and time estimates established for the Walk-Thru.

To reiterate, the desired output of a Walk-Thru session is an understood and agreed-upon scope and plan for the project.

The Walk-Thru session is held to start a project or to fix a project that’s alive but not well so that your Teamers can redefine and replan the project and move forward to completion.

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

- Warren Buffett

The Post-Mortem Meeting

“By three methods we may learn wisdom; first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

- Confucius

The Post-Mortem session is done after the project (or phase of a project) is completed, to determine what went right and what went wrong to improve quality. If you have a problem project do this meeting! Or, if you have an exceptional project do this meeting to find out what made it exceptional. Don’t spend all of your time looking for problems, also look for successes to repeat efforts and approaches on future projects.

Meeting rules are: 

  • Everybody who worked on the project attends with their prepared written agenda of items, things that went poorly and things that went well along with his or her reason(s) why.
  • The facilitator gets all of these agendas together before the meeting and shares them with everybody so that they can review and prepare for the meeting.
  • Have a time keeper.
  • Also have a scribe to collect and record all of the information developed during the Post- Mortem meeting. Use a recording device if needed.
  • Topics for the agenda must at least include: what worked and why, what didn’t work and why, what went really well and why, any lessons learned and why and any changes needed in policies or process and why.

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”

- W. Edwards Deming

The Performance Review Meeting

“When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.”

- Dom Helder Camara

Set aside a special time for a meeting with your Teamer to review and compare the “drafts” of the ratings on the Performance Review Form that each of you have completed. Again, make sure to share copies of these “drafts” before the meeting so that both of you have time to review them and make comments and suggested changes. Make sure that your Teamers understand that “nothing is cast in concrete” with these draft reviews. Compare both sets of the ratings and then agree on the final ratings.

I think that you will be surprised at how often your performance ratings will agree. Focus on and discuss the differences in your “draft” ratings. Ask your Teamer for their ideas and reasoning for ratings that don’t agree. Ask for examples of performance that would justify a rating higher than the one(s) you supplied on your “draft” review form. If you flat-out disagree on a rating, I almost always went with their rating and made sure that they understood that we would closely monitor performance in that specific review category as a regular agenda item during One-on-One sessions.

Also, set aside time during this meeting to talk with your Teamer and address these specific questions:

  • What did the Teamer feel that they did particularly well during the period?
  • What did the Teamer do that they really liked doing? Perhaps it was project management or a special presentation or a chance to work directly with customers. Spend time with each of your Teamers to find out what things they really liked doing.
  • Also work with your Teamers to find out what they want to do more of and what they want to do less of during the upcoming period. You may not be able to completely meet their needs, but it is well worth the time to investigate their wants and to try to do what you can to satisfy them.

Now is also the time to address any areas for improvement or training needs for your Teamer to cover at least these items:

  • Include any specific areas for performance improvement; that is any specific Job Success Talent that needs to be addressed and how to address it.
  • Include any upcoming projects that the Teamer will be working on to set goals
  • Also include any special projects that you will need their help with.
  • Include specific training opportunities that will address areas for improvement. Encourage your Teamers to actively look for future training opportunities.

Make sure that your Teamer participates in setting all of these goals for their next performance review. It’s critical to get their buy-in on their goals and opportunities.

“If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling in the world.”

- Joseph Addison

 

 

 

Quality: "To Be, or Not to Be?"

I feel that “quality” has been the most misused and misunderstood “buzz” word in the working world since at least the early 50s (“productivity” would be in second place just in case you might be wondering). But what is quality really and how do you improve it? In this blog I want to explain why quality must be a priority in all that you do and present some ideas, techniques and processes on how to define quality, develop an improvement system that matches the goals and talents of your Teamers and how to measure and therefore prove your improvement in quality.

What is Quality?

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”

- Aristotle

The simplest definition I can offer for quality is the “conformance to requirements or expectations.” But that simplicity often doesn’t address the typical real world, that is, the Organization’s questions, problems and concerns about quality. So let me try again. Quality is having the products or services of your Teamers match or exceed the expectations of your client or customer. Much has been written about quality and improvement by famous writers including Peter Drucker, Tom Peters and Stephen Covey and many, many others but I think that the two writers and thinkers that influenced me the most were Philip B. Crosby and W. Edwards Deming.

One of the best book that I can recommend to you is Quality Is Free by Philip B. Crosby. It was written in 1979 and I read it in the early 80s as part of a quality improvement program that was started in my Organization’s engineering team (my thanks to Senior Tom). This book introduced the principle of “doing it right the first time” (DIRFT). It dispels the myths that quality costs more or takes longer to achieve. Crosby’s belief was that an organization that started a quality program would have savings that would more than pay for the costs of the quality program and offered these four major principles for any quality program:

  • The definition of quality is conformance to requirements. Do your projects meet the requirements or expectations of your client or customer?
  • The system of quality is prevention.
  • The performance standard is zero defects.
  • The measurement of quality is the price of non conformance.

But my interest in quality didn’t start with Crosby. I had read an article by W. Edwards Deming who had saved Japan from producing poor quality products and services. My guess is that you aren’t old enough to remember when “things” from Japan were terrible and often the laughing stock of the world. What turned me on to Deming was that he had been teaching quality here in America but was largely ignored. Times were good then! But Japan found him in the early 50s and asked him to help them in their pursuit to improve quality. A number of manufacturers in Japan used his teachings and achieved greatly improved levels of quality and productivity. The improved quality and lower cost created a worldwide demand for products from Japan.

But as I said, his teachings were largely ignored here in America. It wasn’t until 1981 when Ford Motor Company, with sales falling, recruited the services of Deming to jump-start a quality movement. I feel that Deming’s teachings on quality were, to say the least, way ahead of his time. His basic philosophy was that “the key (to quality) was to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not bits and pieces.” I highly recommend two of his books for your consideration. First, Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position published in 1982 and renamed Out of the Crisis in 1986 and The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education which was published in 1993.

I recommend that you adopt Philip B. Crosby and W. Edwards Deming as your “partners” in your efforts to improve the quality of the products and services provided by you and your Teamers.

Lastly, perhaps you and your Teamers can identify quality as what it is not, rather than what it is. I remember one of the first quality improvement launch meetings that I had with my Teamers. The team had a tradition of each member bringing doughnuts and pastries for sharing with everyone when you had a birthday. I never understood why it was you who brought doughnuts in on your birthday, but anyway everyone loved a good doughnut or pastry and we often starting meetings with doughnuts and pastries on me.

But for this meeting I arrived with the typical “big white box from the bakery.” I sat the box on the meeting room table and opened it up to share with the team only five packages of cheap store-bought mini doughnuts! I pushed a package toward each group of my Teamers and said “Please help yourself and enjoy!” Their reactions and faces were priceless. This wasn’t the quality that they were used to or expected.

And we all had a “got it” moment that is “what quality isn’t.” Sometimes it is easier to start quality improvement by identifying what is not quality; a process step that often fails, a project hand off between Teamers that has failed or simply training that’s needed. Consider working on the obvious things that aren’t quality to get you started on defining what quality is for you and your Teamers.

Oh, I did excuse myself from the meeting to get another big white box from the bakery filled with the expected goodies and everyone’s satisfaction level went up immediately! Matching expectations will always do that!

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

- Henry Ford

Tell Me If You Measure Up – This Is NOT Easy!

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.”

– John Wooden

Trust me, quality systems can be very difficult to implement and make successful. Before you start a quality improvement system with your Teamers you need to make sure you understand that you will need to formally define these requirements.

  • State your quality objectives.
  • State your quality processes. You will need to develop documents on the quality assurance steps within each Project Life Cycle phase and step
  • State how you monitor and measure quality, perhaps client surveys
  • State how you improve quality

This is difficult and time consuming work. You need to know what you and your Teamers are getting into. I once wrote the manual for the Organization that I worked with to become ISO 9000 quality certified. Now ISO 9000 is a strict family of standards for quality management systems to help organizations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders. Here’s a summary of the topics and concepts covered in this manual that your quality system must have to be ISO 9000 compliant:

Management Responsibility, Quality Management System, Contract Review, Design Control, Quality Management System Document and Data Control, Purchasing, Supplied Products, Product Identification and Traceability, Product Creation and Process Control, Product Inspection and Testing, Testing Tools and Techniques, Inspection and Test Status, Control of Nonconforming Product, Corrective and Preventive Actions, Product and Service Delivery, Control of Quality Records, Internal Quality Management System Audits, Training, Servicing and Product Maintenance and Statistical Techniques and Measurements

Now, I don’t want to scare you, but are you and your Teamers really ready to implement a quality improvement system this complex?

Quality programs usually start up in one of two ways. Things are “really bad” for the Organization and the Seniors decide to launch a quality program so it comes “top down” to you and your Teamers. Or, the other reason for the start of a quality system is that it is launched by a Middle (that’s you!) for reasons that I’ll cover later in this blog.

Whichever “way” the quality system gets launched there’s lots to do and think about, but trust me it can be worth it and extremely rewarding for everyone. Seeing your Teamers working together, brainstorming ideas to improve the quality of their products or services for their clients or customers is a most rewarding experience for everyone!

But, it is best to match the quality improvement system selected to the real everyday needs and abilities of you and your Teamers and the Organization from day one. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Ease into the quality system if you can. Once you’ve had some success, you can take on more and more complex and challenging quality improvement steps in your system.

“Quality has to be caused, not controlled.”

- Philip Crosby

How to Improve Your Quality

“If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.”

- Thomas J. Watson

Improving your quality is simple, find a problem or process and fix it. Have regular team building meetings and empower your Teamers to find things to fix or improve. Help your Teamers adopt the “do it right the first time” attitude in all that they do to help improve the quality of the products and services provided by you and your Teamers.

Start with having a staff meeting to announce the start of your new quality improvement system. Send out your announcement with the single agenda item of having each Teamer bring their idea(s) on a “potential problem to fix” that the team should tackle. My guess is that some “old problems” will come up, things that you’ve heard before. “Purchasing always takes too long to approve printing bids and puts us behind schedule” or “the designers never check the proofs quickly enough!” Be prepared! Some of the problems that your Teamers will bring to the meeting may have been “stewing” for them for some time. 

If you can afford it, get a copy of Quality Is Free by Philip B. Crosby for all of your Teamers, sort of like a “handbook” for their new quest to improve their quality.

Some of your Teamers will complain that they “don’t have time for this” so you should reassure them that all of the quality improvement stuff can be recorded as “administrative time” on your time recording system. Simply, I would encourage you and your Teamers to find the time to address quality improvement. If one of your Teamers simply does not want to participate in any of this “quality BS” don’t force them to participate. Give them the option to leave the meeting now.

Here’s the agenda that I suggest for your first quality improvement meeting:

  • Collect The Problems - Collect all of the problems from your Teamers on a flip chart or a blackboard. Have a scribe, if you need one, to create an electronic list of the problems. Ask each Teamer to explain and describe the problem briefly and why they think it should be considered. Also consider using a recording device. The key is to collect all of the problems, discussion and ideas so everybody’s got “skin in the game.”
  • Vote On The Problems To Work On - Have your Teamers vote on which problems to attack. I suggest that you give them more than just one vote with these options and of course make the voting anonymous.The top problem to work on, the top three things to work on, the top five, the top seven (this may be too many!)
  • Choose Up Sides For Teams - Once you have the “winners” of the problems to work on, you will need to form quality improvement teams for each problem selected. My suggestion is that you don’t want to take on too many quality improvement projects since you will most likely be the facilitator for all of these meetings until you can get more facilitators trained and ready for team assignments. Depending on the size of your staff, I would start with three to five quality improvement projects and teams.
  • Volunteers Anyone? - Once you have the projects selected, ask for volunteers to work on each project. Try to get a cross section of your team to work on the project to give you a variety of views and opinions. You need to have at least three Teamers for a team, but don’t have too many Teamers assigned to any single problem. Try to spread them out and a Teamer can serve on more than one team if they like. Work to get as many of your staff involved in a quality improvement team as possible. Again, if Teamers don’t want to participate don’t force them.
  • Collect Results and Problems – Each team needs to take minutes of each meeting highlighting their results, plans and any problems or concerns that they have in making the needed changes to address and fix each problem.

“For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

- Steve Jobs

The Post-Mortem Meeting

“By three methods we may learn wisdom; first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”

- Confucius

If you have a problem project do this meeting! Or, if you have an exceptional project, do this meeting to find out what made it exceptional. Don’t spend all of your time looking for problems, also look for successes to duplicate those efforts on other projects.

Meeting rules are:

  • Everybody who worked on the project attends with their prepared written agenda of items, things that went poorly and things that went well along with their reason(s) why.
  • The facilitator gets all of these agendas together before the meeting and shares them with everybody so that they can review and prepare for the meeting.
  • Have a time keeper.
  • Also have a scribe to collect and record all of the information developed during the Post- Mortem meeting. Use a recording device if needed
  • Topics for the agenda must at least include: what worked and why, what didn’t work and why, what went really well and why, lessons learned and why and formal changes needed in policies or process and why?

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”

- W. Edwards Deming

How to “Prove” Quality? Ask Your “Client” and Measure!

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

- Carl Sagan

If you think of the people that your Teamers do projects for as your “clients” you need to ask them how satisfied they are with the projects or services provided to them. At the end of a project send them a “satisfaction survey.” Email is not good for this since it is not anonymous, so I suggest that you send the survey by email, suggest that they print it and then snail mail back to you the completed survey. Keep the survey simple to encourage your clients to respond. A team that I worked with had a simple five question survey sent to the client after the completion of all of the marketing communications projects with these questions:

  • Was the project completed on time?
  • Was the project completed within budget?
  • Did the project meet your overall communication needs?
  • Would you use the team’s services again for your next project?
  • How satisfied overall was the client with the project or service provided to them by rating their satisfaction on a scale from “1” (Very Satisfied) to “5” (Very Dissatisfied)?

Collect the responses to these questions and prepare anonymous reports to your Teamers and to your Senior frequently, perhaps monthly. If you get a survey with really poor satisfaction ratings meet privately with the client and be sure to do a Post-Mortem meeting on the product or service to find out what went wrong and why, but always keep this information anonymous.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”

- Kim Collins

Have Patience; They’ve Never Done This Before!

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

- Steve Jobs

After you start your quality improvement system and teams make sure that you have patience with them and yourself.

Most of these folks have never thought about their work under the watchful eye of quality improvement before. They’ve never done brainstorming sessions to find problems, had Post-Mortem meetings after the project completion to look for good and bad results or surveyed clients on their satisfaction and actually listened and responded by making changes and improvements based upon what they heard from their clients.

Quality improvement takes total honesty, trust and a complete lack of judgment.

Coach your Teamers to be tolerant of one another and not judgmental in meetings.

“A cardinal principle of Total Quality escapes too many managers: you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.”

- Stephen Covey

Most Quality Programs Are Started by Middles

“Whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect. There is some work that will never be done if you don’t do it. There is someone who would miss you if you were gone. There is a place that you alone can fill.”

 - Jacob Braude

I was attending a quality improvement training session (I honestly can’t remember how many sessions that I’ve attended!) when the instructor mentioned on break that most quality improvement efforts were started by middle managers to gain agreement on “what is quality” between their team members and their management.

I’m not sure if this is true, but starting a quality improvement system can provide these specific benefits for team members, management and you:

  • Provides a contract between management and the workers - helps the middle manager know what to do.
  • As W. Edwards Deming points out “Quality is everyone’s responsibility.” This must be true within your Organization. Work with management and the workers to address quality improvement.
  • Defines what and how everyone wants quality to be.
  • Helps the Middle be truly effective in satisfying their Teamers and their Senior and the rest of the Organization.
  • In most cases, you can initiate a quality improvement system within your team without approval from your senior! Just do it and seek “forgiveness” later, if needed.

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There’s a thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the biggest idiot on earth.”

- Cynthia Heimel

I wish you empowerment, happiness and every success!!

Jonesy

 

 

Some Resolutions to Consider

During my various positions as a Middle spanning over five decades I have discovered lots of ideas and processes that I adopted as part of my daily work life and as we begin a New Year I thought that I would humbly share a few of them with you for your consideration.

I wish you empowerment, happiness and every success during 2018!!!

#1 - Manage by Walking Around               

“You’re the only guy up there in that computer palace that ever comes down here on the shop floor to see what’s really going on and what we really do. All the others up there just tell us what they want us to do.”

- Anonymous Machinist at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company

My door is always open is a great idea, but you need to get out on the “floor” and talk with your Teamers. You need to focus on managing people not things BUT also focus on getting and using things to help your people and make their lives better.

The quote above came from an old crotchety machinist that I worked with at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company, at that time the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world. I was a computer programmer working on a bill of material/parts explosion system. The customer would order machine tool number whatever and the system was to identify all the needed “parts” (down to screws, bolts and nuts!!) that needed to be built, with all of the appropriate lead times and shop floor locations to maximize and speed up the assembly of the machine tool. It took over two years to build some of these machine tools! This machinist told me straight away one day, “Those computer wizards up there don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground! I build these tools with these cards!” And he reached into his shirt pocket for a stack of worn 3 x 5 index cards about an inch thick with an old rubber band holding them together.

“Are you serious?” I asked him. And he responded “see that’s the difference between you and those other computer wizards. At least you ask questions and listen.”

This event provided me with a lasting insight that I always needed to be out on the “floor” talking with and listening to everyone; my Teamers (and Co-Workers too) looking for problems and potential solutions. Perhaps it was new software, a change in your processes or perhaps your policies that can make things work better.

I had lots of impromptu staff meetings when some new information would come my way and I simply wanted get everyone together (with the help of Teamer Carolyn!) with a walk around verbal announcement of “let’s get together in 10 minutes in conference room 3.” I always wanted to tell my Teamers now rather than let the rumors start. I also used impromptu meetings for service awards and special recognition of my Teamers and they seemed to enjoy the “spur of the moment” nature of the event.

Always push yourself to escape from your computer and telephone and get out of your work space and walk around and talk with your Teamers as often as possible. This informal interaction will improve the overall communications and trust between you and your Teamers immediately. This is a must do NOW!

Lastly, every payday I always walked around and handed out the pay checks to all of my Teamers with a personal “thank you!” to each of them. Make sure that you spend time with each Teamer as often as possible. Get out there!!! 

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

- Maya Angelou

 #2 - The Rumor Round-Up Agenda Item

“Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.”

- Shana Alexander

Always include the Rumor Round-Up agenda item in all of your team meetings. It should be at the close of the meeting. Start the agenda item up with open discussion. Ask your Teamers what they have heard? What rumors are flying around?  I suggest that you use this session to head off problems that might come from a rumor that doesn’t get addressed.

Sometimes Teamers have things to ask but most times not, but it’s important for you to represent the Organization to each of your Teamers. Sometimes they may ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to. Simply say that you “don’t know” and that you will get an answer from the Organization to the question and get back to them as soon as you can.

“Never bear more than one trouble at a time. Some people bear three kinds – all they have had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.”

- Edward Everett Hale

#3 - Always Look Your Teamers in the Eye with Total Honesty

“It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

- John Steinbeck

I’ve talked a lot about building a trusting relationship between you and your Teamers and this all starts with your honesty. Being a Middle is a very difficult life to lead. You are always between your Teamers and the Seniors of your Organization. Difficult decisions will be made by your Seniors and your Organization and you will need to be able to explain them to your Teamers with honesty that you may not get from your Senior.

One essential trait that you must develop is to look your Teamers in the eye each time that you talk with them. Looking down or away or at papers will simply not provide them with the trust that you want them to have in you. In meetings I always worked to look everyone in the eye, moving my focus from one Teamer to the next. The bottom line is that if you can’t tell them what you have to tell them without looking them dead in the eye, perhaps you don’t really believe what you are telling them.

You must realize that you are the only real link and translator of all that your Senior and Organization decides to do. This must be translated to your Teamers no matter how difficult this can be for you, with as much total honesty and trust as you can develop. You need to develop the habit of looking your Teamers directly in the eye as you talk with them. Just practice and it will become second-nature for you.

You may also experience “extra side benefits” from always looking your Teamers in the eye when you talk with them. One of the side benefits that I experienced was working with Teamer Karen. We were having a One-on-One session as I recall, and she commented that I was the only manager that she had ever worked for that didn’t look at her chest. Now admittedly, Teamer Karen was a very attractive young lady and well endowed, so I completely understood the behaviors of her other managers, BUT I took it as a compliment and rededicated myself to always looking Teamers in their eyes when talking with them. 

“If I only had three words of advice, they would be, Tell the Truth. If I got three more words, I’d add, All the Time.”

- Randy Pausch

#4 - Listen First and Watch What YOU Say

“Words have special powers. The power to create smiles or frowns. The power to generate laughs or tears. The power to lift up or put down. The power to motivate or de-motivate. The power to teach good or evil. The power to express love or hate. The power to give or take. The power to heal or harm. Choose your words carefully.”

– A.D. Williams

As a Middle you will be judged by what you say by your Senior, your Teamers and Co-Workers. I suggest that you avoid the following phrases that I always worked to stay away from.

“We” Versus “They” - I always tried to stay away from “they are doing this” or “they are doing that” since as a member of the Organization we are all in it together and should think of everyone as “we.” If I heard someone use “they” in a meeting, I always suggested that “they is really we” since we all work for the same Organization and hopefully have the same goals. Using “we and they” tends to foster separate thinking and battles over resources and power. I’ve had managers (and even one owner) that actually created “we and they” thinking between teams to create a sort of “checks and balances” system in decision making. My experience is that we and they create more problems than it solves. Always use “we” in your communications.

Working for Me - I never like it when a Teamer said that “they worked for me.” It sounds too much like a blue collar and white collar working arrangement. I always suggested that the Teamer “works with me not for me” and it always seemed to improve our relationship and trust that I had with each Teamer.

Thinking Outside the Box - Lots of people say this but I hate it. First off, don’t ever put yourself or your Teamers in the box.

Touch Base With You - “I’ll call you” or “write you” or “stop by to talk with you” but please don’t touch base with me. That sounds like you are patting me on the head for a job well done!

We’re In This Together!! - Oh really? I usually heard this one from my Senior and they didn’t really demonstrate that in their actions, so I tried never to use it with my Teamers.

We Can Make This Work - Oh really again! We can’t make the project work if it is poorly defined, planned, staffed and monitored. Projects work because they are clearly defined, properly staff, managed well and corrected when needed.

I’m Just Doing My Job - “It’s nothing personal, I just have to let you go.” Perhaps you’ve heard this one too. There are times and situations when you just have to say “I’m not going to do that” and try to stick to it with your Senior(s). There is always the right and wrong thing to do, and you need to live with yourself and your Teamers.

At The End of the Day – Again, I never really liked this one. Perhaps “bottom line” is better and I always wondered what was going to be different at one minute after midnight?

My simple suggestion is that you do more listening than talking and always think about and plan ahead what you are going to say before you open your mouth.

“Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.”

- Frank Tyger

#5 - Tell Them What You Heard Them Tell You

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth – not going all the way, and not starting.”

- Buddha

I developed this habitual technique that I suggest you consider adopting. Whenever meeting with someone or a group I always tried to summarize and repeat back to them what I just heard them say and commit to. After listening to them and perhaps taking notes as needed, I would approach them with “now please let me tell you what I just heard you say.” No one seems to get offended, and trust me on this it works to ensure understanding and agreement between everyone on what needs to be done, by who and when.

You can actually tie together multiple statements and commitments using this technique during meetings. For example, assume that you are doing a direct mail post card campaign to generate new sales and you follow up in a meeting with the following “okay, I just heard that the copy and graphics will be finalized by the 12th, and if we allow five days for printing and two days for mailing we should have our Call Center ready to receive calls on the 20th – correct?” Always repeat what you’ve heard, back to everyone to seek a simple “yes” or “no” response. No “maybes” permitted! Never just assume that everyone knows and agrees with the commitments that have been made.

“The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about the given situation. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth.”

- Don Miguel Ruiz from The Four Agreements

#6 - Provide Vision, Direction and Leadership Daily

“I continue to find my greatest pleasures, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.”

- Thomas Edison

First, you must accept and realize that you are the most critical ingredient in becoming the leader of the team that you always wanted to lead. You must provide vision, direction and leadership to your Teamers each day. This can be very difficult for some Middles, since they are used to just hearing what their Senior or Organization wants done and just retelling their Teamers what they have heard. But really effective middle management requires that you translate and properly define the project and the overall goals for each project. This requires that you develop the abilities to provide vision, direction and leadership daily to your Teamers for each project they accept. Some definitions are needed.

  • My dictionary defines vision as “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.” Vision is the ability to see what’s coming and be right most of the time, and help your Teamers respond and plan for upcoming, potentially unseen changes. Vision is also the ability to be flexible, sort of like a coach that sees problems with the team’s performance and changes the defense based upon what the other team is doing.
  • My dictionary defines direction as “control, guidance and supervision in overseeing during execution or performance.” But direction is also setting guidelines on what to do, what not to do and always providing your Teamers with clear goals, expectations and immediate feedback on their performance.
  • Leadership is always asking how I can help. How can we improve? What should we stop doing and what should we change or start doing? Leadership is also “coaching” that is giving daily, even hourly attention and guidance to your Teamers by talking with them to find out their problems, questions and concerns with their projects.

You must develop the abilities and trust in yourself to translate the goals and expectations that come from your Organization and your Senior so that your Teamers can truly know what to do and what is expected of them. And, you are the only person that can do this.

“To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world”

- Ebony Mikle

Trust is a MUST between You and Your Teamers

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

-  Carl Jung

Trust is a critical ingredient in being a good Middle. But trust is a “two-way” relationship; you must trust your Teamers in order for them to trust in you.

Almost all of the folks that I’ve worked with over five decades really wanted to do good work and feel good about their performance and contribution to the success of the team and the Organization, so I recommend that you trust your Teamers until they prove that they can’t be trusted. If you have a Teamer that doesn’t want to do good work and be a part of the team that does, then it is time for you to help them find another opportunity.

Once you give your Teamer the assignment let them make mistakes. You must trust them to do the project. That’s part of the motivation of the project! My suggestion is to meet with them as frequently as you think is needed to avoid a disaster. Focus on their concerns and problems as well as their accomplishments and plans. Can you help them? Then do it! Work with them often so that they don’t go too far from what you want them to accomplish and give them immediate feedback on their performance.

You need to think about and implement the following five steps NOW to start to develop mutual trust with your Teamers!

Co-Develop Job Success Talents for Each Position

“In creating, the only hard thing’s to begin; a grass-blade’s no easier to make than an oak.”

- James Russell Lowell

Job Success Talents are the skills and strengths that a person needs to have or develop to do a job well. Perhaps you are wondering “what’s the difference between skills and strengths” well it is really fairly simple. I think that the best description of the real difference between skills and strengths is provided in the book Don’t Retire, REWIRE! written by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners on how to find fulfilling work after retirement. They focus on identifying your skills and strengths to help you find the right opportunity that matches them and you. They offer that the difference is this. “The most practical and useful way to look at it is that strengths are innate and skills are learned. Strengths are what you have to work with; skills are what you develop.”

“Innate” means talents that you have from birth or that are native to you. You can’t learn them but you can improve them with training and practice. An example of a strength could be being “self-motivated” while an example of a skill might be “oral or written communication skills.”

Please note that not all job positions have the same needed Job Success Talents, and not all job positions need the same level of Job Success Talents. For example, everyone needs to be able to write, but a professional writer needs to have a very high level of writing talent, while a graphic designer can function very effectively with a lower level of writing talent. I’ve worked with organizations that use “expectation ratings” for Job Success Talents. For example, “essential or must have,” “nice to have” and “needed but not essential.” Using these ratings can help when comparing candidates.

Developing the Job Success Talents for all of your Teamers is not easy and it will take some time. But how can you hope to recruit new Teamers without knowing what Job Success Talents each position requires?

I suggest that you ask your Teamers for help in developing the Job Success Talents for each of the job positions in your team(s). You should write a “draft” list of Job Success Talents for each job position and then have your Teamers review them and make suggestions for additions and changes.

Once you and your Teamers have agreed to the Job Success Talents for each job position within your team(s) you are ready to start using them during recruiting, job postings, candidate interviews and Teamer performance reviews.

During your recruiting interviews don’t waste valuable time asking “generic” and really  “meaningless” questions like “why are you interested in joining our organization?” or “what do you feel that you can provide to help our organization?” During candidate interviews always ask targeted questions to determine if the candidate really has the Job Success Talents that you need. For example, if you need a person with great “oral presentation skills” ask them “what’s the best (or worst) presentation that they’ve ever done and why?” If you need someone who can handle stress ask them “how do you deal with stress?” If the person you need must be able to solve problems, ask them “what’s the biggest problem that you’ve solved?” Get the idea? A resume tells you what the candidate wants you to know about them, but you need to ask the right questions during the interview to get a better idea if they really have the necessary Job Success Talents.

During the interview always encourage the candidate to feel free to respond to your questions with answers from their work life as well as their personal life, that is church, clubs, school and other life experiences. People often demonstrate a talent outside of their “daily work world” that could prove of interest.

For additional ideas and suggestions on co-developing Job Success Talents with your Teamers, I refer you to an earlier blog.

“We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.”

 – William Arthur Ward

Co-Develop a Job Description for Each Position

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

- Lawrence J. Peter

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, recruiting must be your first step in improving the overall happiness and performance of you and your team. You can’t expect to improve your quality, productivity, planning or communication without having the best possible talent on your team and you can’t expect to find that talent without have a clear definition of the talents needed and overall responsibilities for each of your Teamers.

Simply stated, the Job Description is the “foundation” of all that you do with your team. Most people know what a Job Description is but few know what a Job Description can be. Most Middles see a Job Description as just as another piece of paperwork that you need to do to get a hiring approval from your Boss or the Human Resources group. Most employees see it as a waste of time, since it never really relates to what they really do, how they do it and how they can improve their performance.

Think of the Job Description as the following tools to address these critical needs:

  • It’s an agreement between you and each of your Teamers on what you want them to do, what responsibilities they will have, what qualifications they must have or develop and how they are to work with other Teamers and the overall Organization.
  • It’s a tool to help you measure each Teamer’s performance.
  • It provides information for your Salary Administration group to determine the appropriate salary for each position.
  • It provides information for your Human Resources group to use for advertisements and internet postings for hiring. Think of it this way, how can you possibly develop a job ad/posting and recruit a person for your team without knowing what you want that person to do?
  • It provides standard expectations to feed your reward, empowerment and performance review processes for your Teamers.

A good Job Description is the “vision” of the person that you want to work with and have as a member of your team.

I know that most Organizations have “guidelines” on what your Job Descriptions might be like but trust me, YOU are the best person (along with your Teamers) to write these Job Descriptions. It is not easy work but most necessary!

A Job Description should contain at least the following items or topics:

  • Position - The actual title for the job.
  • Date - The date of the most recent change to the content of the Job Description.
  • Supervision Received - Who is their boss?
  • Supervision Exercised - Who do they manage or supervise?
  • Position Summary - A high-level description of what you want this person to do within your team. What are they supposed to do each day? Here are a few examples
    • Responsible for providing project status information to clients…
    • Acts as a single point-of-contact for clients using the services of...
    • Responsible for monitoring the client satisfaction for projects…
    • Administrator of the project time management system…
  • Responsibilities - Provide a specific list of tasks that the person filling this position must do. Here are some examples:
    • Work closely and proactively with team, clients, consultants…
    • Expedites all “crisis” jobs…Monitor the results of client satisfaction surveys…
    • Monitor the results of client satisfaction surveys...
    • Develop and implement processes to improve productivity...
  • Qualifications - Provide a specific list of skills, talents, strengths, characteristics and educational needs. Here are some examples:
    • MBA preferred
    • Must work well under pressure
    • Must have great organizational skills 
    • Must have excellent attention to detail and ability to meet target dates

Your Job Descriptions must include the Job Success Talents that you and your Teamers developed in the Responsibilities and Qualifications sections.

Ask your Teamers for help in writing and updating Job Descriptions on a regular basis, but you must be the one to start the process by writing new or updating existing Job Descriptions and having them reviewed by your Teamers and include their suggested changes. They are the people actually doing this work. They know what it takes to do their job!!! Trust them and always work to include their changes and comments!

For additional ideas and suggestions on co-developing Job Descriptions with your Teamers, I refer you to an earlier blog.

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boast the self-esteem of the personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

- Sam Walton

Ask your Teamers to Help in Interviewing and Selecting New Hires

“When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I really would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream.”

- John Lennon

Now it is time to move to the “next level” of trust by asking your Teamers to help you with the candidate interview and selection processes. You will notice a process here, of moving to higher and higher levels of trust between you and your Teamers. If you can’t trust one another, you can’t get much done in being a better Middle and having the best team possible.

I’ve work with lots of Middles that think that asking for your team to help in recruiting new talent is a sign of “weakness.” I think that is completely wrong. Asking your team to help interview and select new talent that they will be working with makes perfect sense to me. Why keep it a “management thing” or a “select standard group” for interviewing and hiring decisions? 

I highly recommend that you adopt a team interview process in your recruiting. Rather than just you and one other Middle interview a candidate, line up Teamers and perhaps future co-workers to be a part of the interview and selection processes.

I would always select a variety of Teamers from different “disciples” to do the interviews. For example, if I was hiring a marketing writer I would recruit a graphic designer, another writer, our editor and the project manager to be a part of the interview process. You get different ideas and opinions from a true cross section of your team. I kept the interview to no more than four Teamers and myself. I would do the opening and closing of the interview process. Make sure that everyone uses your Job Success Talents and appropriate targeted interview questions, but of course not the same ones.

As a team, use an interview agenda including each person doing an interview session, time estimates, topics and questions for discussion. If you follow an agenda like this you are talking about a half day total interview time for a candidate.

I always had a meeting with everyone that was part of the interview process as soon as possible after the interview. Before the interview started, I would have a pre-interview meeting and ask that the Teamers doing the interview “set aside” time around the closing of the interview to get together to present and discuss their opinions and suggestions on the candidate. Doing a group debrief meeting immediately after the interview keeps everything fresh and you’ll make better decisions.

Each member of the team interview process should use a standardized “evaluation form” to rate, compare and evaluate Job Success Talents during team interviews. It’s just a simple approach to rank and compare candidates from the interview team’s opinions to gain collective agreement on each targeted Job Success Talent for each candidate. Use a general rating scale like this:

  • 5 points – Much more than acceptable
  • 4 points – More than acceptable
  • 3 points – Acceptable
  • 2 points – Less than acceptable
  • 1 point – Much less than acceptable

During group debrief meetings make sure that everyone shares their opinions freely and openly. Share the ratings from each person’s evaluation form. Gain consensus by collecting your Teamer’s ratings for each Job Success Talent. Keep these records with your recruiting data. Use these rankings to compare potential candidates. Make a group decision on hiring, if you’re not comfortable doing this, don’t! I always have, and the group’s best candidate selection has always worked well for me.

“Every time you take a risk or move out of your comfort zone, you have a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and your capacity.”

- Jack Canfield

Schedule One-on-One Sessions With all of Your Teamers

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

 - Albert Schweitzer

One of the most critical things that you need to do is to understand and know each of your Teamers. What are their goals, values, skills, wants, needs and potential contributions to the success of your team and the Organization?

Start having regular sessions with all of your Teamers. The frequency is up to your working relationship with each Teamer. Once a week is best to start out with, but some folks will only need to get with you every other week or even once a month. The frequency will depend on the person, their assignments, your understanding of their needs and your overall working relationship with them. But make sure that these meetings are habitual that is “every Tuesday at 10:00 o’clock.” Depending on the number of Teamers that you have I suggest that you reserve blocks of time during your workweek. I suggest reserving an entire morning or afternoon for these sessions. You’ll get into the One-on-One “groove!”

Make sure that this is not viewed as an adversarial meeting or a gotcha session due to the name. It is to help the two of you get to know one another better. This should be a special time spent together. Spend your time wisely with your Teamers. Make it a positive time together. You should have only two goals for the One-on-One session:

  • Help your Teamer feel better about you, themselves and the Organization.
  • Help you understand them and their needs, wants, dreams and concerns so that you can help them work in the “flow” as much as possible

You and your Teamer should prepare a written agenda for each One-on-One session. Keep each One-on-One session to no longer than a half hour. If you need more time, set up another session.

Sometimes you “inherit” Teamers through reorganization and you don’t know these folks as well as those that you have hired. The One-on-One session is an excellent way to “get to know” new Teamers. I’ve “inherited” lots of new Teamers over my years as a Middle, usually through budget and staff cuts and reorganization, and the One-on-One session helps these new folks feel more comfortable working with you now, rather than old “what’s his name” (you!) that they’ve heard all about though the “grapevine.” Your goals are to get to know them and to get rid of their concerns and problems with the “transition.” Empower them by knowing them to help them work in the “flow!”

Some suggested agenda items for One-on-One sessions would be at least these topics:

  • Accomplishments during past time period
  • Goals for next time period
  • Problems or Concerns
  • Training opportunities
  • Other general “stuff”

Your goal must also be for your Teamers to walk away with a positive feeling about your session including the following:

  • They are in a comfort zone and can freely express themselves. There is trust and honesty present in each session.
  • You work on what needs to be done – direction!!
  • Make needed decisions. Stop tangent thinking and the paralysis-by-analysis syndrome.
  • Have them feel that you really care about them, their work and their overall success and that of the team and the Organization.
  • Address any problems or concerns they have.

It is your job as the Middle to do everything that you can do to create the best possible environment for these sessions. Ask them how their One-on-One sessions can be more effective and how you can be a better leader for them. Then listen and do what you can to address their ideas and suggestions.

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

- Abraham Lincoln

Start Having Regular TEAM Building Sessions

“This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

 There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry with that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

 It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

- Author Unknown

Team building is just that, getting your Teamers to work together as best that they can. They need to understand each other and the ways and means of what they think and do and the values they have.

One of the first team building sessions that I ever was a part of was the Morris Massey presentation on What You Are Is Where You Were When where Dr. Massey presents the concept that people are impacted by certain times in their lives (such as World Wars, the Great Depression, the Kennedy assassinations and the attacks of 9/11), and they typically bring the same values analysis from that “time and place” in their thinking and feelings. If you and your Teamers understand why each individual thinks as they do and the values that they have, the team performs better and is happier since everybody “knows each other!”

Have regular team building sessions where you encourage your team to:

  • Look at work as a team as it flows from one Teamer to another. How could they work together better and transfer work between them better?
  • Look for ways to improve handoffs to other teams or groups.
  • Look for ways to improve the quality of the products and/or services provided by your Teamers.
  • Look for process changes and improvements that need to be made.
  • Look for policy changes that need to be made.

Lastly, always the following these rules for having outstanding meetings:

  • Never go to or schedule a meeting without an agenda. The meeting agenda should include at least the following information and be available to meeting attendees well prior to the meeting.
    • What topics to discuss
    • Who will discuss each topic
    • Why discuss the item, what's the proposal or action needed?
    • Time estimates
  • Have some time set aside for “general junk” and a Rumor Round-Up session.
  • Have a facilitator to keep the meeting on schedule. I suggest that you pick someone as the facilitator that’s not involved with any of the meeting agenda topics and is an independent thinker.
  • If you have a meeting with Co-Workers from other departments or organizations, be sure to start with introductions so that everyone knows everyone.
  • Start the meeting with an “ice breaker” agenda item to get the conversation flowing. “How they got assigned to this project?” can be good one.
  • Have a scribe to keep notes of the meeting and action items. Actually use a recording device if needed.
  • Appoint a time keeper. Again, to help stay within the agenda and time estimates for each topic.
  • Always keep meetings to one hour or less. Meetings are expensive. I once worked with a guy who had meetings without chairs. His quote was “if we don’t all sit down and get comfortable we can get this done quicker! I’ve got work to do!” I suggest you try it at least once as a “wake up” for your Teamers.
  • If you need more time schedule another meeting. If everyone wants to continue to complete a topic go another 15 minutes or so, but try to keep the time limited.
  • The facilitator should stop idea judgment or judgment statements of any kind.
  • The facilitator should stop letting multiple people talk at once. Let each person share their ideas without interruption.
  • Stop endless talking and arguing. Play the “bad cop” if you have to.
  • Encourage brain storming and idea hitchhiking, that is “what if we did that, what would happen?”
  • Encourage everyone to stay on schedule and stick to topics and solutions.
  • No cell phones unless it is a REAL emergency!

“The people that get on in this world are the people that get up and look for the circumstances that they want; and if they can’t find them, they make them.”

- George Bernard Shaw

Mutual trust may be the most critical ingredient in empowering you and your Teamers and YOU as the Middle must do everything that you can to achieve this environment for your team.

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

I wish you empowerment, happiness and every success!

Jonesy  

 

How to Do a GREAT Performance Review

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

- Albert Einstein

A key ingredient in being a good Middle is to have trust with all of your Teamers. They must trust you and you must trust them. The Performance Review is perhaps the highest level of trust. You will tell your Teamers about their performance, they will share their opinions about their performance and then you will come to agreement and consensus.

Everyone knows what a Performance Review is but few know what it can be. I’ve had good, great and really bad Performance Reviews over my years and once you’ve had a really great one you will realize the difference it can make as a reward for your Teamers. Perhaps you are wondering, “How can a Performance Review be thought of as a reward?” The simple truth is that people really want to know how they are doing with their efforts and if they don’t care, you should really encourage them to find another opportunity elsewhere.

It is critical to involve each Teamer in the process of doing an interactive Performance Review.

Now my guess is that you have done Performance Reviews before, but I would humbly suggest that you consider using the following process the next time you need to do one. I feel that a really great Performance Review process (never call it an “appraisal” that sounds too “judgmental”) has these six steps:

  • Develop a Performance Review Form for each of your Job Descriptions.
  • Have your Teamer develop their “Summary of Accomplishments.”
  • You and your Teamer do a “draft” of their Performance Review Form.
  • Meet to compare the drafts of the Performance Review Form.
  • Make changes as necessary and gain overall agreement on the review.
  • Copies of forms to all and do it again next year!

We’ll cover each of these steps in the following sections.

“When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”

- William Arthur Ward

Step 1 - The Performance Review Form

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

- Yogi Berra

In your Performance Review Form you need to define the performance areas to address in the review. You need to cover at least these topics:

  • Job Knowledge
  • Quality of work
  • Quantity of work
  • Timeliness of Work Completed
  • Performance on Objectives
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Development of Subordinates (if appropriate)

Some Organizations may require other performance topics but I’ve stuck with these “magnificent seven” unless directed otherwise. And of course most Organizations will have a “scale system” to use in rating or ranking folks. You know, a “AAA” or a “1” indicates that you “walk on water” while a “C” or a “5” means that you are on a 90-day review cycle in hopes of improvement before termination.  I understand that you will have to use your Organization’s form and rating system, but I encourage you to expand on each of these topics to include the Job Success Talents (covered in earlier blog). This helps to fine tune the review and agree upon desired skills, performance and improvements. Get your Teamers to co-develop each Performance Review Form for each Job Description in your team.  

The following presents a list of Job Success Talents for each performance category that I co-wrote (my thanks to Teamer Tracey!) for the Performance Review Form for an Instruction Design Engineer (AKA a training course developer).

Job Knowledge

  • Research/Analysis
  • Innovation/Creativity
  • Problem Solving
  • Written Communications
  • Oral Communications
  • Listening
  • Oral Presentation Skills
  • Hardware Skills
  • Software Skills
  • Self-Organization
  • Decision Making
  • Planning/Organization
  • Negotiation
  • Leadership

 Quality of Work

  • Attention to Detail
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Work Standards

 Quantity of Work

  • Energy
  • Job Motivation
  • Initiative

Timeliness of Work Completed

  • Planning
  • Scheduling

Performance on Objectives

  • Adaptability
  • Tenacity
  • Resilience

Interpersonal Relations

  • Controlled Demeanor
  • Sensitivity
  • Communications Skills
  • Meeting Skills

Development of Subordinates

  • Leadership Skills
  • Team Building

This level of detail in defining the skills and talents for each Performance Review category builds an agreement on the expectations between you and your Teamer. The Performance Review should pin point areas of strength and areas for improvement and rate their overall performance for each Job Success Talent.

“Form and function are a unity, two sides of one coin. In order to enhance function, appropriate form must exist or be created.”

 – Ida Pauline Rolf

Step 2 - The Summary of Accomplishments

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”

- Daniel J. Boorstin

The first actual step in the Performance Review process is to have your Teamer collect and write down their accomplishments for the period for the review. Projects completed, the latest status on projects in progress, training completed and ideas and suggestions made. Make this Summary of Accomplishments document reflects your team’s specialties and discipline and the Teamer’s overall role in the team and the Organization. I always encouraged my Teamers to keep a log of these things throughout the period so that they didn’t have a “panic” effort in trying to remember all of their accomplishments when the time for their Performance Review came around. 

Have your Teamer send you a copy of their Summary of Accomplishments so that you have sufficient time to review and comment on the content. Perhaps you will remember something that they may have forgotten. Schedule a meeting with your Teamer to review, agree and disagree, modify and approve the overall content of the Summary of Accomplishments before you move to the next step of doing “draft” Performance Reviews based upon those accomplishments.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

- Confucius

Step 3 - Do “Drafts” of the Performance Review Form

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”

- Bernice Johnson Reagon

After agreeing on the overall content of the Summary of Accomplishments ask that your Teamer do a “draft” of their Performance Review Form based upon their Summary of  Accomplishments and their feelings on their overall performance.

But first, you need to ensure that you and your Teamer are on the “same page” as far as what each performance rating really means. For example, with the Performance Review Form described earlier with the ratings from “AAA” down to “C” each rating had the following meanings:

  • First, let’s start in the “middle.” The A rating is for performance that fully meets the expectations for the position and is in the “good to very good” range.
  • The AA rating is for performance that exceeds the expectations for the position and is in the “very good to outstanding” range.
  • The AAA rating is for performance that is truly exceptional and seldom if ever achieved.
  • The B rating is for performance that approaches the expectations for the position. Please note that it is most important to let your Teamer know if their performance is improving towards meeting the expectations or has been declining during the period.
  • Lastly, the C rating is for performance that is far below the expectations for the position and usually would result in some sort of disciplinary process in hopes of serious performance improvement.

Whatever ratings scale and performance system that you use, make sure that you and your Teamer understand and agree to them before you start this step in the process.  

You also need to do a “draft” of their Performance Review Form for comparison. Share these drafts with one another so that each of you have sufficient time to review and comment on each other’s ratings and then set up a special meeting to compare and review these Performance Reviews in detail.

You will be surprised how frequently their ratings will actually match yours. This process and meeting (maybe two meetings) allows you to focus on the areas of difference of opinion and try to reconcile them to achieve overall consensus and agreement on the Performance Review.

“It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.”

- Judith Martin

Step 4 - The Performance Review Meeting

“When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.”

- Dom Helder Camara

Set aside a special time for a meeting with your Teamer to review and compare the two “drafts” of the Performance Review Form. Again, make sure to share copies of these “drafts” before the meeting so that both of you have time to review them and make comments and suggested changes. Make sure that your Teamers understand that “nothing is cast in concrete” with these draft reviews. Compare both sets of the ratings and then agree on the final ratings.

Again, I think that you will be surprised at how often your performance ratings will agree. Focus on and discuss the differences in your “draft” ratings. Ask your Teamer for their ideas and reasoning for ratings that don’t agree. Ask for examples of performance that would justify a rating higher than the one(s) you supplied on your “draft” review form. If you flat out disagree on a rating, I almost always went with their rating and made sure that they understood that we would closely monitor performance in that specific review category as a regular agenda item during One-on-One sessions.

Also, set aside time during this meeting to talk with your Teamer and address these specific questions:

  • What did the Teamer feel that they did particularly well during the period?
  • What did the Teamer do that they really liked doing? Perhaps it was project management or a special presentation or a chance to work directly with customers. Spend time with each of your Teamers to find out what things they really liked doing.
  • Also work with your Teamers to find out what they want to do more of and what they want to do less of during the upcoming period. You may not be able to completely meet their needs, but it is well worth the time to investigate their wants and to try to do what you can to satisfy them.

“If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling in the world.”

- Joseph Addison

Step 5 - Define the Goals for the Next Review Period

“Goals. There’s no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. There’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.”

- Jim Rohn

Now is the time to address any areas for improvement or training needs for your Teamer. Reserve a “spot” on our Performance Review Form to cover at least these items:

  • Include any specific areas for performance improvement; that is any specific Job Success Talent that needs to be addressed and how.
  • Include any upcoming projects that the Teamer will be working on to set goals.
  • Also include any special projects that you will need their help with during the period.
  • Include specific training opportunities that will address areas for improvement. Encourage your Teamers to actively look for future training opportunities.

Make sure that your Teamer participates in setting all of these goals for their next Performance Review. It’s critical to get their buy-in on their goals and opportunities.

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

- Kurt Vonnegut

Step 6 - Performance Review Agreements

“Life is really simple, but men insist on making it complicated.”

- Confucius

Once you have worked through all of the Performance Review categories develop a “final” version for sharing with Human Resources, a copy for your Teamer and one for your files and the review cycle is done for another year. I always tried to do a Performance Review for each Teamer every year. It’s lots of work, but I think Teamers really appreciated it.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

- Aristotle

In closing I want to add one very critical suggestion for you to consider when doing a Performance Review that is not actually part of the six-step process that I’ve just covered. Never ever, ever discuss salary during any of these Performance Review steps!!! The Performance Review must be just that, a time to review and understand the overall performance of a Teamer, not salary dollars and expectations. First, agree on the performance of the Teamer and then “plug” that into the salary review process which is usually based on the Teamer’s anniversary date. You will need to have the Performance Review done at least a month before their anniversary date. Using each Teamer’s anniversary date will help you set us a Performance Review schedule for each month during the year.

 

Job Success Talents

“In creating, the only hard thing’s to begin; a grass-blade’s no easier to make than an oak.”

- James Russell Lowell

Job Success Talents are the skills and strengths that a person needs to have or develop to do a job well. Perhaps you are wondering “what’s the difference between skills and strengths” but it is really fairly simple. I think that the best description of the real difference between skills and strengths is provided in the book Don’t Retire, REWIRE! written by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners on how to find fulfilling work after retirement. They focus on identifying your skills and strengths to help you find the right opportunity that matches them and you. They offer that the difference is this. “The most practical and useful way to look at it is that strengths are innate and skills are learned. Strengths are what you have to work with; skills are what you develop.”

“Innate” means talents that you have from birth or that are native to you. You can’t learn them but you can improve them with training and practice. An example of a strength could be being “self-motivated” while an example of a skill might be “oral or written communication skills.”

Here’s a collection of strengths (again you are born with these) that I’ve used over the years:

Ability to Learn, Adaptability, Ambitious, Analytical, Attention to Detail, Caring, Confident, Controlled Demeanor, Creativity, Decisiveness, Determined, Direct, Energy, Ethical, Fair/Open- Minded, Flexibility, Friendly, Goal Oriented, Hard Working, Honest, Logical, Initiative, Innovation, Integrity, Leadership, Motivation, Patient, Persistent, Resilience, Results Oriented, Self-Development, Self-Motivated, Self-Organization, Sensitivity, Team Player, Tenacity, Thoughtful and Trustworthy.

Here’s a collection of skills (again you learn these) that I’ve used over the years:

Adapting, Analysis, Consensus Building, Counseling, Critiquing, Decision Making, Delegation, Empowering, Hardware Skills, Interpersonal Skills, Judgement, Leading, Listening, Managing People, Management of Meetings, Mediating, Mentoring, Motivating Others, Negotiation, Oral Communications, Oral Presentation Skills, Persuasiveness, Planning and Organization, Prioritizing, Problem Solving, Project Management, Research, Scheduling, Socializing, Software Skills, Strategizing, Stress Tolerance, Teaching, Team Building, Thinking, Training, Work Standards and Written Communications.

Again, for the most complete list of “strengths” and “skills” that I’ve ever found I would refer you to Don’t Retire, REWIRE!

Please note that not all job positions have the same needed Job Success Talents, and not all job positions need the same level of Job Success Talents. For example, everyone needs to be able to write, but a professional writer needs to have a very high level of writing talent, while a graphic designer can function very effectively with a lower level of writing talent. I’ve worked with organizations that use “expectation ratings” for Job Success Talents. For example, “essential or must have,” “nice to have” and “needed but not essential.” Using these ratings can help when comparing candidates.

Developing the Job Success Talents for all of your Teamers is not easy and it will take some time. But how can you hope to recruit new Teamers without knowing what Job Success Talents each position requires?

I suggest that you ask your Teamers for help in developing the Job Success Talents for each of the jobs in your team. You should write a “draft” list of Job Success Talents for each job position and then have your Teamers review them and make suggestions for additions and changes.

Once you and your Teamers have agreed to the Job Success Talents for each job position within your team(s) you are ready to start using them during recruiting, job postings, candidate interviews and Teamer performance reviews and they should be a part of these documents:

  • The Job Description - The Job Success Talents should actually dictate the content of the Responsibilities and Qualifications sections.
  • The Candidate for Employment Evaluation Form used during team interviews with targeted questions to probe for evidence that a candidate actually has the Job Success Talents that you are looking for.
  • The Performance Review Form where you rate a Teamer’s performance on their predefined Job Success Talents.

During your recruiting interviews don’t waste valuable time asking “generic” and really“meaningless” questions like “why are you interested in joining our organization?” or “what do you feel that you can provide to help our organization?” During candidate interviews always ask targeted questions to determine if the candidate really has the Job Success Talents that you need. For example, if you need a person with great “oral presentation skills” ask them “what’s the best (or worst) presentation that they’ve ever done and why?” If you need someone who can handle stress ask them “how do you deal with stress?” If the person you need must be able to solve problems, ask them “what’s the biggest problem that you’ve solved?” Get the idea? A resume tells you what the candidate wants you to know about them, but you need to ask the right questions during the interview to get a better idea if they really have the necessary Job Success Talents.

The following is a list of potential Job Success Talents and a matching question or two that I developed for a technical writer Job Description years ago. These are only sample talents and questions to help you start writing your own interview questions for you and your Teamers to use. As you develop questions you will also need to focus on your business and discipline to create the best Job Success Talents and interview questions for you and your Teamers.

Ability to Learn – What’s the most difficult “learning” project that you’ve completed recently and why?

Adaptability – How do you deal with change?

Attention to Detail – What’s the biggest “mistake” that you’ve found and what did you do with this information?

Creativity – What’s the most creative “thing” that you’ve done recently?

Decisiveness – How do you make decisions?

Delegation – How do you assign projects to your team?

Energy – How do you organize your day and why?

Flexibility – What do you do to overcome “problems” that occur during your efforts on projects assigned to you?

Initiative – What have you done recently to make your job easier or your team work together better?

Integrity – Give me an example of when you’ve had to “bend” a rule to ensure the success of a team project?

Judgement – Give me an example of a good decision that you’ve made recently and why?

Leadership – Tell me about a project that you’ve recently done that highlights your leadership skills?

Listening – How do you make the person you are talking with feel like you actually hear what they are saying?

Motivation – What “things” motivate you and why?

Oral Communications – What’s the best team communication situation that you’ve experienced and why?

Oral Presentation Skills – What’s the best and/or worst presentation that you’ve ever done and why?

Persuasiveness – What’s the best idea that you’ve “sold” to your boss and why?

Planning and Organization – What’s the biggest/most complicated project that you’ve done and why?

Problem Solving – How do you develop the scope of a project?

Resilience – How do you feel when your “idea” is rejected by the team and what do you do about it?

Sensitivity – What do you do when you “find” a problem that needs to be addressed within your team?

Stress Tolerance – What do you do to deal with stress?

Tenacity – What’s the biggest problem that you’ve had to address in a “I just can’t quit” style?

Work Standards – What do you think of as “work standards” and why?

Written Communications – What’s the best and/or worst communication that you’ve written and why?

Lastly, during the interview always encourage the candidate to feel free to respond to your questions with answers from their work life as well as their personal life, that is church, clubs, school and other life experiences. People often demonstrate a talent outside of their “daily work world” that could prove of interest.

“We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.”

 – William Arthur Ward

 

Working in the "Flow" - The ONLY Way to Go!

“Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.”

- H. Jackson Brown Jr.

If you have ever participated in sports, you most likely have experienced being in the “flow” or the “zone.” It was the best game, match, set or round of your life! Everything went perfectly and your Teamers can have this same experience at work if you help to empower them.

If you never had the chance to work on a project and get into the “flow” I have sincere sympathetic feelings for you. If you’ve ever worked in the “flow” you know that you have experienced the best possible working experience.

You must adopt this core value to always provide your Teamers with the best possible project definition and processes to enable them to have every opportunity to work in the flow. I suggest that you use a formal, written and approved Project Work Plan that includes at least these topics and definitions:

  • Target User or Audience for the Project – Who is the user or customer? Identify the specific audience this project will help in as much detail as possible.
  • Current Situation – What is the current situation or problem that you want this project to solve or address for the user? What are the problems that the user is having, or may have had that this project must solve or address?
  • Project Objectives - What will the project do to solve the user’s problems?
  • What are the Main Benefits Offered by the Project? – These benefits tell not just what a project does, but what it does for those who use it. List the user benefits the project must provide for each user.
  • What are the Alternatives to the Project – What are the major alternatives to NOT doing this project?
  • What is the Budget for the Project – It’s is important to know how much money you have to work with. Up-front budgets give everyone an idea of whether they’re looking for a Mercedes or a Ford – both can get you where we want to go, but each project carries a different price tag.
  • What is the Call to Action – What’s the next step for your Teamers and Senior(s) for this project?
  • Timetable – The plan for the project. The steps and time estimates for each step to complete the project.

In addition to a Project Work Plan you must also make sure that you provide at least the following information and processes to your Teamers for all of the projects that you assign them.

  • Clear directions and goals on what to do
  • Real responsibility and authority to do the project
  • A “panic button” to push if you or they get into trouble and immediate feedback on their efforts
  • They are empowered to use their creativity and judgment
  • The schedule for the project is aggressive but doable
  • Balance between the challenges of the project and the Teamer’s skills
  • Your Teamers should have no worry of failure

In other words, you must strive to provide everything needed to get your Teamers to work in the flow on their projects every day. Working in the flow creates a Teamer that loves what they are doing, actually often loses track of time while working on a project and typically wants to do more. If you can empower your Teamers to want to do the work because they want to, you can accomplish unlimited potential with your Teamers.

Again, I strongly suggest that you read the book Creativity written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that describes the flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. It is an amazing read and provides many more insights and ideas on how to provide the environment and tools for your Teamers to achieve the flow and the associated creativity.

“Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if…’ And then do it.”

- Duane Michals

 

How to Improve Your Quality

“If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.”

- Thomas J. Watson

Improving your quality is simple, find a problem or process and fix it. Have regular team building meetings and empower you Teamers to find things to fix or improve. Help your Teamers adopt the “do it right the first time” attitude in all that they do to help improve the quality of the products and services provided by you and your Teamers.

Start with having a staff meeting to announce the start of your new quality improvement system. Send out your announcement with the single agenda item of having each Teamer bring their idea(s) on a “potential problem to fix” that the team should tackle in the meeting. My guess is that some “old problems” will come up, things that you’ve heard before. “Purchasing always takes too long to approve printing bids and puts us behind schedule” or “the designers never check the proofs quickly enough!” Be prepared! Some of the problems that your Teamers will bring to the meeting may have been stewing for them for some time. 

If you can afford it, get a copy of Quality Is Free by Philip B. Crosby for all of your Teamers, sort of like a “handbook” for their new quest to improve their quality.

Some of your Teamers will complain that they “don’t have time for this” so you should reassure them that all of the quality improvement stuff can be recorded as “administrative time” on your time recording system. Simply, I would encourage you and your Teamers to find the time to address quality improvement. If one of your Teamers simply does not want to participate in any of the “quality BS” don’t force them to participate. Give them the option to leave the meeting now.

Here’s the agenda that I suggest for your first quality improvement meeting:

  • Collect The Problems - Collect all of the problems from your Teamers on a flip chart or a blackboard. Have a scribe if you need one to create an electronic list of the problems. Ask each Teamer to explain and describe the problem briefly and why they think it should be considered. Also consider using a recording device. The key is to collect all of the problems so everybody’s got “skin in the game.”
  • Vote On The Problems To Work On - Have your Teamers vote on which problems to attack. I suggest that you give them more than just one vote with these options and of course make the voting anonymous. The top three things to work on, the top five or the top seven things (that may be too many to start out with!).
  • Choose Up Sides For Teams - Once you have the “winners” of the problems to work on, you will need to have Quality Improvement teams formed for each problem selected. My suggestion is that you don’t want to take on too many quality improvement projects since you will most likely be the facilitator for all of these meetings to start out with. Depending on the size of your staff, I would start with three to five quality improvement projects and teams.
  • Volunteers Anyone? - Once you have the projects selected, ask for volunteers to work on each project. Try to get a cross section of your team to work on the project to give you a variety of views and opinions. You need to have at least three Teamers for a team, but don’t have too many Teamers assigned to any single problem. Try to spread them out and a Teamer can serve on more than one team if they like. Work to get as many of your staff involved in a quality improvement team as possible. If Teamers don’t want to participate don’t force them.
  • Collect Results and Problems – Each team needs to take minutes of each meeting highlighting their results, plans and any problems or concerns that they face. As each team finds solutions to address the problem implement them and monitor the results to make sure that the solution actually fixes the problem. Make your successes public to draw attention to your quality improvement efforts. Then move on to the next problem to fix!

“For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

  – Steve Jobs

 

Meetings

“Meetings are a great trap. Soon you find yourself trying to get agreement and then the people who disagree come to think they have a right to be persuaded. However, meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

- John Kenneth Galbraith

Meetings can be “the best of times, the worst of times” (my apologies to Mr. Dickens). Face it; most meetings are a waste of time and money. But a well-run meeting can identify problems, focus your team on quality and improve the overall performance of your team. Well run meetings have certain key characteristics and components. I suggest that you immediately implement a new set of rules and bylaws for future meetings that you and your Teamers schedule and attend and review and include the following as appropriate:

  • Never go to or schedule a meeting without an agenda. The meeting agenda should include at least the following information and be available to meeting attendees well prior to the meeting.
    • What topics to discuss
    • Who will discuss each topic
    • Why discuss the item, what’s the proposal or action needed?
    • Time estimates
  • Have some time set aside for “general junk” and a Rumor Round-Up session.
  • Have a facilitator to keep the meeting on schedule. I suggest that you pick someone as the facilitator that’s not involved with any of the meeting agenda topics and is an independent thinker.
  • If you have a meeting with Co-Workers from other departments or organizations, be sure to start with introductions so that everyone knows everyone.
  • Start the meeting with an “ice breaker” agenda item to get the conversation flowing. “How each person got assigned to this project?” can be good one.
  • Have a scribe to keep notes of the meeting and action items. Actually use a recording device if needed.
  • Appoint a time keeper. Again, to help stay within the agenda and time estimates for each topic.
  • Always keep meetings to one hour or less. Meetings are expensive. I once worked with a guy who had meetings without chairs. His quote was “if we don’t all sit down and get comfortable we can get this done quicker! I’ve got work to do!” I suggest you try it at least once as a “wake up” for your Teamers.
  • If you need more time schedule another meeting. If everyone wants to continue to complete a topic go another 15 minutes or so, but try to keep the time limited.
  • The facilitator should stop idea judgment or judgment statements of any kind.
  • The facilitator should stop letting multiple people talk at once. Let each person share their ideas without interruption.
  • Stop endless talking and arguing. Play the “bad cop” if you have to.
  • Encourage brain storming and idea hitchhiking, that is “what if we did this or tried that, what would happen?”
  • Encourage everyone to stay on schedule and stick to topics and solutions.
  • No cell phones unless it is a REAL emergency!

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

 

Manage by Walking Around

“You’re the only guy up there in that computer palace that ever comes down here on the shop floor to see what’s really going on and what we really do. All the others up there just tell us what they want us to do.”

- Anonymous Machinist at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company

My door is always open is a great idea, but you need to get out on the “floor” and talk with your Teamers. You need to focus on managing people not things BUT also focus on getting and using things to help your people and make their lives better.

The quote above came from an old crotchety machinist that I worked with at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company, at that time the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world. I was a computer programmer working on a bill of material/parts explosion system. The customer would order machine tool number whatever and the system was to identify all the needed “parts” (down to screws, bolts and nuts!!) that needed to be built, with all of the appropriate lead times and shop floor locations to maximize and speed up the assembly of the machine tool. It took over two years to build some of these machine tools! This machinist told me straight away one day, “Those computer wizards up there don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground! I build these tools with these cards!” And he reached into his shirt pocket for a stack of worn 3 x 5 index cards about an inch thick with an old rubber band holding them together.

“Are you serious?” I asked him. And he responded “see that’s the difference between you and those other computer wizards. At least you ask questions and listen.”

This event provided me with a lasting insight that I always needed to be out on the “floor” talking with and listening to everyone; my Teamers (and Co-Workers too) looking for problems and potential solutions. Perhaps it was new software, a change in your processes, or perhaps your policies that can make things work better.

I always had a project status meeting every week; always on the same day and at the same time (again habit forming for all). Project status information is critical to everyone. Teamers could come and go as they needed based upon our predetermined meeting project agenda, but you had to be there when your project came up.

I also had staff meetings when needed. I had more impromptu staff meetings than regularly scheduled ones. Some new information would come my way and I would get everyone together (with the help of Teamer Carolyn!) with a walk around verbal announcement of “let’s get together in 10 minutes in conference room 3.” I always wanted to tell them now rather than let the rumors start. I also used impromptu meetings for service awards and other special recognitions of my Teamers.

Always try to escape from your computer and telephone and get out of your work space and walk around and talk with your Teamers as often as possible. This informal interaction will improve the overall communications and trust between you and your Teamers immediately. This is a must do NOW!

Lastly, every payday I always walked around and handed out the pay checks to all of my Teamers with a personal “thank you!” to each of them. Make sure that you spend time with each Teamer, as often as possible aside from One-on-One sessions. Get out there!!! 

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

- Maya Angelou

 

The One-on-One Meeting

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

 - Albert Schweitzer

One of the very first things that you need to do is to understand and know each of your Teamers. What are their goals, values, skills, wants, needs and potential contributions to the success of your team and the Organization, as well as for their career?

Start having regular meetings with all of your Teamers. The frequency is up to your working relationship with each Teamer. Once a week is best to start out with, but some folks will only need to get with you every other week or even once a month. The frequency will depend on the person, their assignments, your understanding of their needs and your overall working relationship with them. But make sure that these meetings are habitual that is “every Tuesday at 10:00 o’clock.” Depending on the number of Teamers that you have you will need to reserve blocks of time during your workweek. I suggest reserving an entire morning or afternoon for these sessions. You’ll get into the One-on-One “groove!”

Make sure that this is not viewed as an adversarial meeting or a gotcha session due to the name. It is to help the two of you get to know one another better. This should be a special time spent together. Spend your time wisely with your Teamers. Make it a positive time together. You should have only two goals for the One-on-One meeting:

  • Help your Teamer feel better about you, themselves and the Organization.
  • Help you understand them and their needs, wants, dreams and concerns so that you can help them work in the “flow” as much as possible.

You and your Teamer should prepare a written agenda for each One-on-One meeting. Keep each One-on-One to no longer than a half hour. If you need more time, set up another session.

Sometimes you “inherit” Teamers through reorganization and you don’t know these folks as well as those that you have hired. The One-on-One meeting is an excellent way to “get to know” new Teamers. I’ve “inherited” lots of new Teamers over my years as a Middle, usually through budget and staff cuts and reorganization, and the One-on-One meeting helps these new folks feel more comfortable working with you now, rather than old “what’s his name” (you!) that they’ve heard all about though the “grapevine.” Your goals are to get to know them and to get rid of their concerns and problems with the “transition.” Empower them by knowing them to help them work in the “flow!”

Some suggested agenda items for One-on-One meetings would be at least these topics:

  • Accomplishments during past time period
  • Goals for next time period
  • Problems or Concerns
  • Training opportunities
  • Other general “stuff”

Your goal must also be for your Teamers to walk away with a positive feeling about your meeting including the following:

  • They are in a comfort zone and can freely express themselves. There is trust and honesty present in each meeting.
  • You work on what needs to be done – direction!!
  • Make needed decisions. Stop tangent thinking and the paralysis-by-analysis syndrome.
  • Have them feel that you really care about them, their work and their overall success and that of the team and the Organization.
  • Address any problems or concerns they have.

It is your job as the Middle to do everything that you can do to create the best possible meeting environment. Ask them how their One-on-One meetings can be more effective and how you can be a better leader for them. Then listen and do what you can to address their ideas and suggestions.

I want to thank Senior Tom for being the first to ever have a One-on-One meeting with me and teaching me what these times could be. He taught me a lot and was one of the best Seniors that I ever worked with.

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

- Abraham Lincoln

 

The Job Description

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

 - Lawrence J. Peter

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, recruiting must be your first step in improving the overall happiness and performance of you and your team. You can’t expect to improve your quality, productivity, planning or communication without having the best possible talent on your team and you can’t expect to find that talent without have a clear definition of the talents needed and overall responsibilities for each of your Teamers.

Simply stated, the Job Description is the “foundation” of all that you do with your team. Most people know what a Job Description is but few know what a Job Description can be. Most Middles see a Job Description as just as another piece of paperwork that you need to do to get a hiring approval from your Boss or the Human Resources group. Most employees see it as a waste of time, since it never really relates to what they really do, how they do it and how they can improve their performance.

Think of the Job Description as the following tools to address these critical needs:

  • It’s an agreement between you and each of your Teamers on what you want them to do, what responsibilities they will have, what qualifications they must have or develop and how they are to work with other Teamers and the overall Organization.
  • It’s a tool to help you measure each Teamer’s performance.
  • It provides information for your Salary Administration group to determine the appropriate salary for each position.
  • It provides information for your Human Resources group to use for advertisements and internet postings for hiring. Think of it this way, how can you possibly develop a job ad/posting and recruit a person for your team without knowing what you want that person to do?
  • It provides standard expectations to feed your reward, empowerment and performance review processes for your Teamers.

A good Job Description is the “vision” of the person that you want to work with and have as a member of your team.

I know that most Organizations have “guidelines” on what your Job Descriptions might be like but trust me, YOU are the best person (along with your Teamers) to write these Job Descriptions. It is not easy work but most necessary!

Lastly, perhaps you are thinking “I can’t write!” Yes you can. Everyone can write, just some better than others. Just focus on these simple rules. Write fast and edit slowly. Always ask your Teamers to review your copy and include their suggestions and changes.

A Job Description should contain at least the following items or topics:

  • Position - The actual title for the job.
  • Date - The date of the most recent change to the content of the Job Description.
  • Supervision Received - Who is their boss?
  • Supervision Exercised - Who do they manage or supervise?
  • Position Summary - A high-level description of what you want this person to do within your team. What are they supposed to do each day? Here are a few examples:
    • Acts as a single point-of-contact for clients using the services of…
    • Responsible for providing project status information to clients…
    • Responsible for monitoring the client satisfaction for projects…
    • Administrator of the project time management system…
  • Responsibilities - Provide a specific list of tasks that the person filling this position must do. Here are some examples:
    • Work closely and proactively with team, clients, consultants…
    • Expedites all “crisis” jobs...
    • Monitor the results of client satisfaction surveys…..
    • Develop and implement processes to improve productivity…
  • Qualifications - Provide a specific list of skills, talents, strengths, characteristics and educational needs. Here are some examples:
    • MBA preferred
    • Must work well under pressure
    • Must have great organizational skills
    • Must have excellent attention to detail and ability to meet target dates

Your Job Descriptions must include the Job Success Talents, which are the skills (these are learned) and strengths (these are innate) that a person needs to have to do a job well mentioned in an earlier blog, in the Responsibilities and Qualifications sections.

Ask your Teamers for help in writing and updating Job Descriptions on a regular basis, but you are the one to start the process by writing new or updating existing Job Descriptions and having them reviewed by your Teamers and include their suggested changes. They are the people actually doing this work. They know what it takes to do their job!!! Trust them and always work to include their changes and comments!

 “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boast the self-esteem of the personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

 - Sam Walton

Things NOT to Worry About

Okay, in this post I want to do things a bit differently. Instead of giving you some ideas, tips, techniques and processes to do I want to share with you some ideas on some things not to do! In my humble opinion there are things that you should not spend much (or any would be ideal!) time thinking and worrying about. Over my decades, I’ve seen lots of Middles spend an ungodly number of hours dwelling and working on things that were bottom line, a waste of their time.

My guess is that as some of you read this post you will think “this is bull” that these “things” are extremely important “things” to do, but trust me, once I was removed from the working world and reflected back on all of the things that I did over those years I realized the importance (or lack thereof) of these items and suggest to you that they are pretty much a waste of your time. I suggest that you focus on empowering and rewarding your Teamers, managing your projects and monitoring your quality. Having a positive working relationship with your clients and vendors will prove far more beneficial to you and your team than dwelling on any of these topics.

Plus, perhaps you can find the time to do some of the other ideas, tips, techniques and processes presented in this website by not spending time on any of these topics. Here’s a list of topics that I think are basically a waste of time worrying and thinking about.

What You Can’t Control - This one is simple. Why spend time thinking, worrying or working on “things” that you can’t control or influence? The older I get, the more I realize that there are just things in your life that you just can’t control - the stock market, politics or your Coworkers’ attitudes or opinions for example. Only spend your time and energy on what you can control.

 “Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”

 - Steve Maraboli

Money and Budget - I’ve spent countless hours doing budgets only to find out that my Senior already had a funding level in their mind. I humbly suggest that you simply “cut to the chase” and just ask your Senior your budget number and work with it! 

 “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.”

 - Billy Graham

Your Senior’s Attitudes - You may influence your Senior’s attitudes, but you can never really change them. Learn to deal with it!

 “I put a dollar in one of those change machines. Nothing changed.”

 - George Carlin

Egos – Everyone has one, but don’t get into “battles” to see who is the smartest or fastest or most in-the-know, that’s just a waste of time.

 “We also consider our ego as essential, this self that we have constructed! But let me tell you that you haven’t constructed that self. Somebody has done it for you. People have told you whom you should be and whom you should not be, how you should move, how you should smell, and how you should do most of what you do. How wonderful to step back and do what the Asian says: ‘Leave your ego on the table.’ Step out of yourself and leave it there. Say, ‘You just wait a while.’ That is the only way that new messages are going to come in.”

 – Leo Buscaglia

Living, Loving & Learning

Office Politics, Rumors and Gossip - This is everywhere, big organizations and small. My suggestion is to simply ignore politics, rumors and gossip.

 “Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.”

 - Swami Sivananda

The FUD Factor - FUD stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt. I believe that some Organizations actually try to create an environment where Teamers worry about things to keep them and that limits your Teamer’s ability to feel empowered and happy doing their work.

 “It’s the little things you do that make the big things happen.”

 - Mike Dooley

Fear of Failure - Don’t worry about making a mistake. If you take a risk, you risk making a mistake. Only make sure that you learn from them.

 “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

 - Albert Einstein

Resource Wars - If you provide a product or service, you may encounter “wars” between your clients for what you can provide them. The bottom line is they ask for more resources and capacity than you have and usually The Boss or your Senior won’t help with more resources or limiting their complaining sessions.

My fundamental suggestion is that you only work on projects that are really ready to be worked on. Don’t spend resources on projects that haven’t been properly defined with a budget, a plan and necessary approvals.

 “Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after other have let go.”

 - William Feather

 

 

Key Core Values to Display Daily

First off, let me define for you what I mean by a “core value.” Simply, a “core value” is a rule, principle, belief or guideline (whatever, please call it what you will!) that guides, controls and directs you in all that you say, do and think during your work day. 

In this post I want to share with you some key core values that I suggest you consider adopting in your daily life as a Middle and encourage your Teamers to do the same. Now I don’t what to be too “preachy” about all of this, but these are things that I have found and adopted over my five decades as a Middle and I suggest that you consider, think about, develop, adopt and display daily. The key is displaying them; if you haven’t truly adopted them you can’t display them. Got it?

Due unto Others - Think about it any way that you choose – ethics, Karma or the Golden Rule, but I am convinced that you “reap what you sow” so I will preach that you need to treat your Teamers and others in your Organization as you would want to be treated by them. This is the first core value that you need to adopt!

 “The most powerful thing you can do (and it is very powerful) to change the world, is to change your own beliefs about the nature of life, people, reality, to something more positive…and begin to act accordingly.”

 - Shakti Gawain

Creative Visualization

Working in the “Flow” - The Only Way to Go! - I talked about this in my earlier post on empowering your Teamers. You must adopt this core value to always provide your Teamers with the best-possible project definition and processes to enable them to have every opportunity to work in the flow.

Always use a Project Work Plan to define and agree to the expectations for each project (again refer back to the post on empowering). Always make sure that your Teamers have the responsibility and authority to do the project and that schedules are aggressive but doable. Make sure that you provide a “panic button” for your Teamers if they get into trouble and immediate feedback on their efforts.

The reason that this is the second core value covered is that if you can get your Teamers to do the work because they want to, rather than because you want them to, it would make for a great place to work and all these other core values much easier to implement.

 “Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.”

 - H. Jackson Brown Jr.

The “Client” Is Always First - Please note that I didn’t say “always right.” They aren’t. And neither are you. But without the client there is no business and without the business…you know what is next, your job or one of your Teamers or the whole Organization goes down. Develop a value and a philosophy of focus on putting the client’s satisfaction first in all you and your Teamers do each day.

 “So I think instead of focusing on the competition, focus on the customer.”

 - Scott Cook

Run It Like Your Own Business - I got this one from two printers in an internal print shop that had been “assigned” to me during a reorganization. They had worked in the outside print world and preached the gospel of running the internal shop like “their own business!” If it needs to be done, you have to do it.

 “The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”

 – Mark Caine

Provide Vision, Direction and Leadership Daily - You’re the Middle. You are the leader of your Teamers. You must provide the direction, vision and leadership to all of your Teamers every day. This is not easy! You will have good days and bad days, a problem with a friend or your family, an unexpected car repair or a day you simply don’t feel well, whatever! Take a moment and look around your Organization and then ask yourself “If you don’t do this, who will?” Your Teamers are depending on you and you must deliver.

 “To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world.”

 – Ebony Mikle

Don’t Worship Control Over Others or Technology - Over my years, I have witnessed Middles who have worshiped their control over others and technology, which led them to problems. Being in control over Teamers can be a very difficult challenge for some Middles to balance properly and can lead to problems working together. And don’t misunderstand me, I think that technology is great. But too many times it is the only solution to the problem and generally some folks like product A and other folks like product B so it gets into a bitching contest and a waste of time and sometimes it’s the process that’s the problem not the technology. Technology can also replace human skills like talking to one another face-to-face rather than with email.

 “Just remember, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything and the wrong way is to keep trying to make everybody else do it the right way.”

 – Colonel Potter

M*A*S*H

Always Move Quickly – Simply, you and your Teamers don’t have time to waste in analyzing a problem to death. Gather information, study it, debate it and then make a decision and move!

 “It is better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonize at length and be right too late.”

 - Marilyn Moats Kennedy

Always Look them in the Eye with Total Honesty - This can be a very difficult core value to have and display. The Organization makes an announcement that’s very unpopular for whatever the reason and you, as the Middle will have to talk with your Teamers about their concerns with total honesty about things that you might not agree with or have any control over.

 “If I only had three words of advice, they would be, Tell the Truth. If I got three more words, I’d add, All the Time.”

 – Randy Pausch

Your Attitude - Your “attitude” at work is the sum total of all of your core values, beliefs and teachings. It’s the karma and presence that you bring to work each day.

 “Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret power working twenty-four hours a day, for good and bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force.”

 – Irving Berlin

Friends and Family - I always wanted to work with people that I could think of the same as my “friends and family.” Perhaps it’s a dream, but why not?

 “One person is being open, friendly, caring, helpful, considerate, cheerful, confident, even joyful in her work, while the other is being closed, distant, uncaring, inconsiderate, grumpy even resentful of what she is doing.”

  - God

Conversations with God

By Neale Donald Walsch

 

Managing Projects

Let’s start off by defining what a “project” is. A project is something that you want to do, to build, implement or change. It could be a software package to calculate sales commissions, a marketing strategy to sell more steaks or an email campaign to generate new business. All projects require management from project definition, through planning on to completion, and as the Middle you must lead your Teamers in doing better project management. But always remember you don’t manage projects, you really manage the people doing those projects, and managers who don’t “project manage” aren’t really good managers.

This post presents these ideas, tips, techniques and processes to help you transform an idea into a tangible finished project; that is creating “something from nothing” – perhaps the ultimate in creativity!

“Visualize” What You Want to Build or Do - The first thing that you have to do is define the project. You need to imagine what the “world would be like” if the project existed. This requires some creativity and is hard work, but again, well worth the effort if you want the project to be successful.

In order to make certain your projects are on target with the objectives, you need to develop and use a Project Work Plan for each project your Teamers do. Your Project Work Plan should include at least these topics:

  • Target user or audience for the project
  • Current situation
  • Project objectives
  • Main benefits of the project
  • Alternative(s) to the project
  • Budget for the project
  • Call to action or next step(s)
  • Plan for the project

Once you develop this document, review it with your Teamers and Senior to get their suggestions, changes and approval and then start the project.

 “If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.”

 - Zig Ziglar

The Life Cycle - All projects have phases and steps and even sub-steps associated with them. It is critical that you identify all of these for the project that you want to do. Identifying the phases and steps for your project will help you in doing the actual planning for the project. The simplest example of a Life Cycle may be a cooking recipe. The recipe defines the parts (ingredients), each phase and stage of preparation and the overall time requirements for the food offering.

The Life Cycle is different for each project, but it represents all of the “things” that need to be done (and by whom and by when) to complete the project on time and within budget.

 “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

 - Mark Twain

Monitor Planned Versus Actual - Once you have planned the project and started it you need to keep track of the “actual” time spent on each step in the plan. Did a step take more time or less time than planned? Was there a problem with a certain step? Understanding what really happens along the plan during each step for the project will help you know where you really are on the project and develop better project plans in the future.

 “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

 - Aldous Huxley

Timekeeping - Lots of Teamers may complain about having to record their time against each project planning step, but that’s the only way to monitor the actual time spent on a step in a plan. Find a time recording system and keep the effort needed to record their time to a bare minimum and make it easy as possible to enter and make changes. Make sure that your Teamers know that this isn’t a “gotcha tool” and that the only purpose of the tool is to keep tabs on what time was spent doing what and when on each project.

 “Don’t say that you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

 - H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Move, Monitor and Modify - I got this one from the founder and owner of my last Organization. He preached and lived that you should always “move, monitor and modify” in all that you do. First, you have to move on the project, monitor your progress constantly and modify what needs to change to make things better.

Lastly, don’t wait for your Senior to tell you what to do. Take the initiative and be willing to take risks to achieve quality and results and encourage your Teamers to do the same.

 “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

 - Will Rogers

Adding Staff Won’t Give You the Results You Want - This is generally a myth. Throwing more dollars and staff at a project once it is started usually slows it down. Don’t be tempted to try this! For a project that is really “in the tank” use a Scope Change Process. Get all of your appropriate Teamers together and work to define the current problems with the project, then redefine and replan the remainder of the project’s Life Cycle phases, steps and estimates and be on your way.

 “The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory.”

 - Paul Fix

Getting More Done With Less – It Can Be Done! - You can get more done with fewer resources, but you have to be responsive to the needs of your Teamers. I suggest that you instill some core values for your team for “good” working relationships with all of the members of your team.

  •  Communicate
  • Have empathy
  • Volunteer and take risks
  • Keep target dates
  • Don't be selfish
  • Admit a problem
  • Take time off when possible         ·           

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

 Nelson Mandela

 

 

Communication Is Key to Everything

Outstanding communications may be the most critical ingredient in everything you do as a Middle. You need to take the lead in improving and directing communications between you and your Teamers, Senior(s), Clients, Partners, Coworkers and basically the rest of your Organization and perhaps the world.

This post will help you get the best communications possible with these ideas, tips, techniques and processes. 

Meetings - Meetings can be “the best of times, the worst of times” (my apologies to Mr. Dickens). Face it; most meetings are a waste of time and money. But a well run meeting can identify problems, focus your team on quality and improve the overall performance of your team. Well run meetings have certain key ingredients. Here are a few from my book that I offer for your consideration.      

  • Never go to or schedule a meeting without an agenda, that is what topics to discuss, who will discuss each topic and why and the time estimate for each topic
  • Always work to keep meetings to one hour or less.
  • Always use a facilitator to keep the meeting on schedule, a scribe to keep notes and a time keeper to stay within the time estimates for each topic.
  • No cell phones permitted unless it is a REAL emergency!

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

 - Leonardo da Vinci

The “Rumor Round-Up” Agenda Item - This was always the final agenda item for any meeting that I’ve ever managed. Simply take time at the end of the meeting to ask your Teamers if they have heard any “rumors” that are flying around and do your best to get back to the person with the question or concern. I suggest that you use this item as a way to head off problems before they can get serious.

 “Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.”

 - Shana Alexander

The Walk-Thru Session - Use the Walk-Thru session to gain Teamer consensus on project objectives and plans so that everyone can move forward on projects knowing what is expected. No matter what the project, there should be a written “document” that describes the project, that is what’s to be done and how and when that all of the Teamers assigned to the project have reviewed and approved.

 “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

 - Warren Buffett

Listen First and Watch What You Say - As a Middle you need to listen to people first and also to watch the words and phrases that you say. You are under the microscope by your Senior, your clients and your Teamers. Not many workers have that dilemma to face each day. You really are “caught” in the middle!

 “Words have special powers. The power to create smiles or frowns. The power to generate laughs or tears. The power to lift up or put down. The power to motivate or de-motivate. The power to teach good or evil. The power to express love or hate. The power to give or take. The power to heal or harm. Choose your words carefully.”

 - A. D. Williams

Internal Communications - These are communications with your Teamers. I always had a project status meeting every week, always on the same day and time to make it habit forming for everyone. I also had impromptu staff meetings when some information would come my way. I always wanted my Teamers to hear the news from me rather than as a rumor or from someone else.

 “Ears that hear and eyes that see – the Lord has made them both.”

 - Proverbs 20:12

External Communications - These are communications with the “rest” of the Organization and perhaps the outside world. This represents a very diverse collection of audiences and information needs. I suggest that you do everything possible to have one report rather than multiple ones that covers your policies, your message(s), your processes, your current staffing level, the latest status on all projects and your current quality improvement efforts.

 “Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.”

 – Vernon Howard

Reports for Your “Clients” - These are specific reports to your clients typically on project status. Your clients simply want to know the latest status on their projects. You must provide them with an easy way to look for the status of their projects without “bugging” you and your Teamers too often. I suggest that you provide them with “read-only” access to your status report and make sure that you and your Teamers keep this report updated to reflect the latest information on each project.

 “Written reports stifle creativity.”

 - Ross Perot

Tell Them What You Heard Them Tell You – I developed this simple technique long ago to help ensure understanding and agreement with others. Whenever meeting with someone or a group, I always summarized and repeated back to them what I had heard them say and commit to.

For example, assume that you are discussing the plans for a direct-mail campaign to generate new sales in a meeting with Teamers you might follow up with, “OK, I just heard that the copy and graphics will be finalized by the twelfth, and if we allow five days for printing and two days for mailing, we should have our Call Center ready to receive calls on the twentieth. Correct?” Always repeat what you’ve heard back to everyone to seek a simple yes-or-no response, no maybes permitted. Never just assume that everyone knows and agrees with the commitments that have been made.

 “The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about the given situation. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth.”

 - Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements

 

Rewarding Your Team

This post provides ideas, tips, techniques and processes on how to really show your appreciation and reward your Teamers with these topics:

The Performance Review – Perhaps you might be wondering “How can a performance review be thought of as a reward to a person?” The simple truth is that people want to know how they are doing on their jobs. Helping your Teamers understand and agree with their performance and perhaps more importantly, how to improve is viewed as a “reward” to most folks. As I said earlier on Job Description, most people know what a Performance Review is, but few know what a Performance Review can be. I’ve had good, great and really bad reviews over my years and once you’ve had a great one you will recognize the difference it can make for you as a reward. It is critical for you to involve each of your Teamers in the process of doing an interactive Performance Review.

A really good Performance Review process has these six steps:

1. The Performance Review Form – You need to develop a form or document that defines the areas to include in the review. I suggest that you cover at least these topics - job knowledge, quality of work, quantity of work, timeliness of work completed, performance on objectives, interpersonal relations and development of subordinates.

I also encourage you to define each of these topics to include the appropriate Job Success Talents described earlier to help to fine tune the review and agree upon the desired skills, performance and improvements. For example, under Job Knowledge you could include written communications, oral communications and decision making.

2. The Summary of Accomplishments – The first step in the Performance Review process is to have your Teamer collect and write down their accomplishments for the period being reviewed, that is projects completed, projects in progress, training completed and ideas and suggestions made. Once the two of you agree on this Summary of Accomplishments it serves as the basis for the review of their performance. I encouraged my Teamers to keep a log to record their accomplishments during the period instead of having a “panic” effort in trying to recall them.

3. Do “Drafts” of the Performance Review Form – After agreeing on the overall content of the Summary of Accomplishments, ask your Teamer to do a “draft” of the Performance Review Form based upon their feelings on their overall performance. You also need to do a “draft” and then share and compare the two. You will be surprised at how frequently their ratings match yours.

4. The Performance Review Meeting – Set aside a special time for this meeting with your Teamer to review and compare the two “drafts” of the Performance Review Form. The overall goal of this meeting is to reach agreement and consensus on the review ratings. Focus on the differences in your “draft” ratings. Ask your Teamer for examples of performance for ratings that don’t agree. Also spend time discussing what they feel that they did very well and what they really liked doing during the period and also what they would like to do more of and less of in the upcoming period. You may not be able to meet their requests but it is important to understand their wants and try to help.

5. Define Goals for the Next Review Period – Now it is time to set goals for the upcoming period and address any areas for improvement and training needs. Make sure that your Teamer participates in setting all of these goals for their next review.

6. Performance Review Agreements – Once you have reached agreement on all of the review categories and set goals for the next period make copies of the paperwork for everyone. I always tried to do a review for each Teamer every year. It is a lot of work but I think Teamers appreciate the effort!

 “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

 - Albert Einstein

Keep Performance and Salary Separate!! - Never mix performance and dollars together in the same meeting. Performance will dictate dollars and you must agree upon performance first. Set up a monthly schedule to do performance reviews at least two months before each Teamer’s salary review time.

 “Before you can learn a new way of doing things, you have to unlearn the old way. So beginnings depend on endings.”

 - Rick Maurer

Training - Dollars spent on training for your Teamers is a wise investment and is viewed as a “reward” by most, especially when they “found” the training opportunity themselves. I always tried to target about 10 percent of the salary budget for each Teamer’s training. Make sure it is a two way process. Have them bring possible training to you and you should look for training for them. I always had training opportunities as one of the agenda items during One-on-One sessions.

 “Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.”

 - Jim Roth

Manage by Walking Around - I was never a Middle that liked to stay in my office/cube. There was too much going on “out there” and I often would “sign-off” from my desk, telephone, email and computer and seek the first person I could find that would talk with me. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve found a “problem” or a “solution” while cruising around among my Teamers.

 “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

 - Maya Angelou

Thank Them!!! - While you are out there cruising and problem solving always take the time to thank your Teamers for something well done. If you thank them you encourage them to do it again and you also encourage other Teamers too – it can become contagious!

 “The possibility for rich relationships exists all around you – you simply have to open your eyes, open your mouth and most importantly, open your heart.”

 - Cheryl Richardson

Coaching - Coaching can be a key ingredient in helping your Teamers work in the “flow” on projects that they love. Coaching should be a daily even hourly event. If you see a problem take time now to work with your Teamer.

 “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

 - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Flex Time and Flex Benefits - Not every Teamer wants the same things. Each person has different work related needs and wants. Be flexible in work hours. I offered a 4-day work week and a varied start time schedule and they both worked great! Be flexible with your benefit program if you can. Some Teamers may want dental insurance and some may not. It’s that special touch that Teamers love.

 “Never assume that what motivates you is what motivates others. It is also important to recognize that sources of happiness may vary widely between people.”

 - Confucius

Reward Them - I’ve seen reward systems work time and again from the most simple to the most elaborate. I always tried to have a reward ceremony with all of my Teamers each month. People appreciate being thanked in public. I had a simple “employee of the month” reward program that awarded two tickets to the movies to the selected Teamer. The key is to involve all of your Teamers in the nominating process.

 “Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.”

 - Loretta Young

 

 

 

Empowering Your Team

This post presents some ideas, tips, techniques and processes on how to empower your talent. But first, let’s define “empowerment.” To me “empowerment” means that your Teamers are really getting into what they are doing and wanting to do more and better work. They can make decisions on their own and help directly influence quality control and customer satisfaction. You need to do everything possible to help them to work in the “zone” or in the “flow” which is the state of mind that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned expert on creativity, describes in his book Creativity as a “feeling of engagement and focus that time seems to pass unnoticed.” If you have participated in any sports most likely you have experienced being in the “zone.” It was the best game, match, set or round of your life! Everything went perfectly and you can have this same experience at work if you empower your team.

You need to consider and initiate these ideas, tips, techniques and processes to help you empower your Teamers:

The One-on-One Meeting - You need to have meetings with all of your Teamers on a regular basis to encourage understanding and bonding between the two of you. This is the next step or phase in developing trust between you and each of your Teamers.

The first thing that you need to do is understand and know each of your Teamers. What are their goals, values, skills, wants, needs and potential contributions to the success of your team and the Organization?

Start having regular meetings with all of your Teamers. The frequency is up to your working relationship with each Teamer. Once a week is best to start out with, but some folks will only need to get with you every other week or even once a month. But make sure that these meetings are habitual for example “every Tuesday at 10:00 o’clock.”

You should have only two goals for the One-on-One meeting:Help your Teamer feel better about you, themselves and the Organization.

  • Help your Teamer feel better about you, themselves and the Organization.
  • Help you understand them and their needs, wants, dreams and concerns so that you can help them work in the "flow" as much as possible.

Some suggested agenda items for One-on-One meetings include at least these topics:

  • Accomplishments during the past time period
  • Goals for the next time period
  • Problems or concerns
  • Training opportunities
  • Other general "stuff"

Your goal must also be for your Teamers to walk away with a positive feeling about your meeting, including the following:

  • They are in a comfort zone and can freely express themselves. There is trust and honesty present in each meeting.
  • You work on what needs to be done - direction!
  • Make needed decisions.
  • Have them feel that you really care about them, their work and their overall success.
  • Address any problems or concerns they have.

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

- Abraham Lincoln

Team Building - You need to have regular and constructive team meetings to encourage team understanding and bonding between each member of your team. This is another “trust building” program to encourage your Teamers to trust one another.

Have regular team building sessions where you encourage your team to:

  • Look at work as a team as it flows from on Teamer to another. How could they work together better and transfer work between them better?
  • Look for ways to improve handoffs to other teams or groups.
  • Look for process changes and improvements that need to be made.
  • Look for policy changes that need to be made. 

“The people that get on in this world are the people that get up and look for the circumstances that they want; and if they can’t find them, they make them.”

- George Bernard Shaw

Let Them Fail - This is a tough one. Most managers won’t let their Teamers fail since it may be a reflection on their performance.

If your Teamers fail, help them to learn the lessons they need to improve and not make the same mistakes on the next project or task. A cause analysis and team problem-solving session can help identify the problem(s) made by your Teamer(s) and the reason(s) why.

“Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.”

- Roger von Oech

Tell Them What You Want To Achieve, But Not How - You need to have your Teamers do at least the planning, scope definition, resource allocation and quality control on the projects assigned to them.

Meet with your Teamer and give them the assignment, but don’t do it for them! Be as specific as you can on what you want them to do. Then ask them to prepare their ideas and plans on how to do the project and get back to you. Have your Teamers present their ideas and plans and listen and make suggestions and modifications to their ideas and then go!

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

- Walt Disney

Trust Them - Most of the folks that I’ve worked with over the years wanted to do good work and feel good about their contribution to the success of the Organization, so work to trust them.

Trust is a critical ingredient in being a good Middle. Trust is a two-way relationship; you must trust your Teamers in order for them to trust in you.

Once you give your Teamer the assignment, let them make mistakes. You must trust them to do the project. That’s part of the motivation for the project!

Work with them often so that they don’t go too far from what you want them to accomplish and give them immediate feedback on their performance.

Mutual trust may be the most critical ingredient in empowering you and your Teamers.

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

-  Carl Jung

It’s The Work That Motivates Them - In my opinion one of the major myths of management is that a person can motivate another team member. The only two things that motivate people are the work itself and the “environment” or working conditions that they work with each day.

But what makes the work a motivator? Doing work in the “zone” or the “flow” as often as possible and you need to accept that you must be the focal point and the initiator to help your Teamers get to work in the “flow.” That’s true empowerment! There are key ingredients for projects that empower your Teamers to work in the “flow” including:

  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback on their progress and performance
  • Good balance between the challenges of the project and the skills of the Teamer

“If an egg is broken by outside force, Life ends. If broken by inside force, Life begins. Great things always begin from inside.”

- Jim Kwik