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.”
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